Chapter 3 : False Impressions
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Mad World – Gary Jules
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’
- C. S. Lewis
Sunlight filtered through the red drapes and hit Anastacia directly in the eye. She groaned and rolled over, but the game was up; she could never go back to sleep once she’d woken up. Groaning again, she pulled her complaining body out of her warm bed and stumbled into the bathroom.
Twenty minutes later, having showered, dressed, done her hair, re-dressed and redone her hair, Anastacia finally felt ready to face the world. She also felt slightly ashamed of herself. Usually she had the strength of will to bluff her way through anything the day might throw at her.
But last night’s meeting with Marcus had sapped a lot of that strength. It was exhausting simply being in the same room as that boy, never mind being alone with him. She had to be aware of her every move, sure never to give him an opening or anything that could be taken as an indication of interest.
Merlin only knew what he’d get up to if he thought she returned his attention.
And then there was the whole debacle with James. She’d never admit it, but it had scared her. For a moment, she hadn’t been sure whether she would be able to help him in time, and in that moment, faced with the prospect of losing her best friend, she had felt more scared then ever before.
So it was a somewhat subdued Anastacia who made her way down to the hall for breakfast. She was early, but at least that meant she could eat without having to talk to anyone.
‘Grace, might I have a word?’
So much for that idea. Anastacia resisted the urge to groan for the third time that morning and turned to the group of people standing in a small corridor leading off the main one. She nodded serenely and followed them into an empty classroom.
Inside, one of the boys pulled out a seat in front of a desk and waited for Anastacia to sit. The only other girl in the room sat next to her on a slightly lower seat. The others arranged themselves in front of the pair, the blonde boy who had called to her standing at the front of the group.
‘Speak,’ Anastacia commanded blandly when the boy didn’t say anything. He cleared his throat and stood straighter, his hands behind his back as if reporting something.
‘I have written to your father detailing the events of last night,’ he informed her, slipping into German, ‘although I have not yet sent the letter. In it, I have given him a picture of your conduct since returning to school, including your continual seeking out of certain members of the student body.’
Anastacia slowly drew herself upright in her chair, letting the occupants of the room see her anger.
‘On whose authority did you do this?’ she asked him icily, her consonants harsh in the guttural language. The girl beside her shifted, went to touch her hand, then thought better of it and resettled herself on her chair.
‘On your father’s authority,’ the boy replied, ‘the authority with which he made me the head of your guard while you are here.’
He still stood tall, but his tone of voice had changed slightly; it was not as sure as it had been, and more deferential.
Anastacia looked at the faces of the boys standing in front of her. Not one of them met her eyes; they stared at the floor, features schooled carefully blank.
‘A position that can just as easily be taken away were I to express displeasure at your conduct. And this latest act has left me very displeased,’ she warned him, ‘very displeased indeed.’
Creeten made no reply, his face as blank as his fellows’. Anastacia smoothed her robe and addressed the room at large.
‘You are all aware that my father has deemed it acceptable for me to go about largely unsupervised this year. He has decided this based on my wise judgment and exemplary behaviour. Therefore, you are disobeying his commands when you persist in following me as you have always done. I am aware that it takes time to break life-long habits, but my patience is wearing thin.’
Folding her hands, she spoke directly to Creeten once more.
‘You will not send that letter, and you will not presume to go to my father without my knowledge again. I am most unsatisfied with your behaviour.’
The boy’s mouth twisted, but Anastacia ignored it.
‘You may leave. All of you.’
‘Your Grace,’ the girl sitting beside her pressed, reaching out a hand to lay it on her arm, ‘perhaps you did not quite understand the spirit in which it was intended–’
‘She has understood perfectly!’ the tall boy exploded suddenly.
Both the girls jumped slightly, shocked by the unexpected outburst. Creeten’s face was red, his hands balled into fists by his sides.
‘How can you sully your family’s good name by consorting with those blood-traitors? How can you save one of them? Do you wish to tarnish your reputation?’
The dark-haired girl gasped, one of the other boys moved forward as if to stop Creeten, but Anastacia stopped him with a wave of her hand.
‘I had no choice but to save him;’ she explained calmly, ‘I was standing right in front of him, and the entire school is aware of my abilities. Furthermore, my entire persona revolves around my being responsible. If I had not helped him, it would have been regarded as highly suspicious.’
‘To those who do not matter, perhaps,’ Creeten spat, ‘but it would have prevented you from dirtying your hands with affairs such as his. You forget your place in life!’
‘And you forget yours!’ Anastacia shot back furiously, springing to her feet.
The room was still and quiet as Creeten struggled with himself for a long moment. Eventually, he dropped to one knee before the small girl and hung his head.
‘Forgive me, your Grace,’ he whispered, ‘you are right. I forget my place.’
‘Leave me,’ Anastacia ordered with distaste, ‘take him away from here. Do not let me see you for the rest of the day, lest I take offence anew.’
The other boys bowed as one and hustled Creeten out the door, bar one who replaced the chair behind the desk and followed the two girls at a discreet distance as they set off down the corridor.
‘Fancy that,’ murmured the dark girl under her breath, linking her arm with Anastacia’s, ‘Creeten certainly got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Marvellous work in there, by the way,’ she added, ‘you nearly had me fooled. I almost thought you were a bitch for a second.’
Anastacia smiled faintly.
‘Yes, well, thankfully Creeten isn’t as perceptive as you. That should be enough to keep him in line for a few weeks, at least. But it doesn’t help in the greater scheme of things.’
‘Grace, you just worry about surviving this year and let me worry about Creeten. I have a few ideas that might help…’
Anastacia gave a genuine smile and squeezed the dark girl’s hand.
‘Thank you, Celeste. It means the world to me that you approve.’
Celeste tossed her hair and grinned.
‘Approve? I’m positively eager for you to have other friends. Merlin knows you don’t get out enough, poor thing, and Potter’s the perfect friend to have if you want to live a little. Mind you,’ she continued wryly, ‘rather you than me if his Grace ever finds out.’
Anastacia laughed in agreement as they came into the entrance hall, which was starting to fill with people going in to breakfast.
‘I’ll say goodbye here. Better not raise any more eyebrows. Have a lovely day, and I’ll see you later, perhaps.’
They embraced. When they drew apart, Celeste bobbed her head, the public remnant of the obligatory curtsey. The boy following them gave a slight, almost imperceptible bow, and they separated as they entered the Great Hall.
James stood on the stairs watching the scene below him. He had caught sight of Anastacia as he came down from the dormitory, and had been about to call out when he’d seen who she was with. Celeste Montrose was a fifth year, gorgeous…and in Slytherin. So he’d stood watching, waiting until the two girls were finished talking and had kissed each other on either cheek, their customary farewell.
Then he strode down the stairs and joined the flow into the hall.
It was odd for him to see Anastacia with her Slytherin friends. Not because she didn’t see them often, but because she was so careful to keep her time with them separate to her time with him. This was probably just as well, seeing as he had an unfortunate tendency to hex Slytherins when he was around them for any length of time.
When they had first become friends, when he was still feeling his way around the new relationship, he had been surprised by the near constant presence of a group of Slytherins, most of them much older. They did not always make themselves known, but they watched her, constantly, to the point where their gaze became almost a physical feeling. It had always been that way, right from the first…
He’d been standing on the platform, nervous but trying not to show it, saying goodbye to his family before leaving for Hogwarts for the first time. His aunt and uncle, his cousins, even his grandparents had come to see him off. Victoire had started a few years ago, but it wasn’t the same; he was the first ‘Wotter’ child to start school. There had been a brief break in the smoke swirling around the platform and, in an attempt to dodge yet another of his grandmother’s teary kisses, he’d started to take his trunk and the rest of his possessions down to the door of the train.
That was when he saw her.
She was walking towards the train from the opposite direction, surrounded by a group of Slytherins of varying ages, most of them male, all of them severe and arrogant looking. He could remember thinking that it looked a bit odd, because they were all wearing wizard robes, not Muggle clothes like the majority of the people on the platform. Their robes, while not school issue, discreetly displayed the Slytherin crest and practically screamed money, while their faces seemed to dare anyone to mess with them and live to talk about it.
But the girl – James had looked at her more closely than the others. She was tiny, almost frail-looking. Long blonde hair, almost white, hung down her back, and she looked at the ground as she walked. One of the Slytherins, a tall girl with a mean air about her, held the small girl’s hand firmly in her own, almost as if she were escorting her somewhere.
James had stopped on the platform as the group approached him, not confident enough to push his way through to the door. One of the boys at the front of the group stepped up onto the train, while the others took up positions either side of the door. The two girls had drawn level with James now, and as he looked at her, the small blonde girl raised her head and met his eyes.
What he saw shook him a little; the girl’s eyes were a very pale and clear blue. They were also the deadest he had ever seen, filled with a hopelessness he couldn’t even begin to understand. Then the moment passed, and she lowered her head again and allowed the boy on the train to take her hand and help her aboard.
James had stared after her and her group, but then Teddy and Victoire had swept him up onto the train. They’d all got in a compartment with Sam and some of their older friends and stowed all their stuff before hanging out the window to wave goodbye.
‘Take care of them, you two!’ Ginny had yelled to Victoire and Teddy, arm in arm with Sam’s tearful mum. Their fathers were standing back laughing and waving. Lee was like a bigger version of Sam; same dreads, same cheeky expression, same everything.
‘Mum, I don’t need looking after!’ James had protested for the hundredth time, but Ginny had shook her head and smiled and waved them off, her eyes tearing up as she watched the train disappear around the bend.
The journey had been largely uneventful; Sam and James had played exploding snap and spent far too much of their pocket money on sweets from the trolley. Teddy and Victoire had flirted nonstop the whole way there, and two hours into the journey Sam and James were so desperate to get away from the lovesick pair that they’d invented the excuse of needing to find an old friend to escape (Teddy and Victoire’s friends having already got sick of it and left).
‘Why don’t they just get a room and be done with it?’ asked Sam disgustedly. James shook his head, as bewildered as his friend. He didn’t really see how Victoire was that attractive, but she was his cousin, after all, so he supposed that was just as well.
They were walking aimlessly back down the corridors, passing compartments mostly filled with first years and heading towards their own, when a burly blonde boy came striding towards them from the opposite direction.
‘Excusez,’ he asked them in a thickly accented voice, ‘you haf see zee cart?’
James stared at him uneasily. Sure, he seemed nice enough now, but this guy was huge! He looked much too big to be allowed.
‘Ze cart,’ the boy repeated, sounding frustrated, ‘you haf see?’
‘Err…’ Sam started, but luckily the door of a compartment down the corridor swung open and Victoire stepped out.
‘The trolley passed about an hour ago, Trelain. You’ve missed it completely.’
Trelain, if that was his name, seemed to be about to say something, but Teddy stepped out of the compartment behind Victoire and put his hand on her shoulder, and the blonde boy shut his mouth again.
‘Danke,’ he muttered and left the way he’d come. Victoire and Teddy watched him go and then ushered the boys back into the compartment.
‘Who was that?’ asked Sam curiously.
‘Trelain Zarlow,’ Teddy explained, ‘Slytherin sixth year, nasty piece of work.’
‘He’s part of this weird group of Slytherins that all hang out together. They speak, like, half a dozen languages and only ever speak English when they have to.’
Victoire reclined against Teddy’s chest and continued.
‘I heard his brother’s starting this year. He’s called Cretin or Creepy or something like that.’ She giggled.
‘Stay away from that one, mind.’
Sam was laughing and coming up with more ideas for the stupidest name ever, but James’ thoughts were occupied. He knew he’d seen the Zarlow boy somewhere before, but he couldn’t remember where.
It took him until they were approaching Hogsmeade station to realise that Trelain had been one of the boys in the group on the platform. He’d been the one to hand the little blonde girl into the train.
James supposed that meant that the girl was somehow a part of the group Victoire and Teddy had been talking about. She didn’t look big enough to be even a second year, so she must be in his grade. But she was sure to be sorted into Slytherin.
James was still reflecting on this as he hauled his trunk down the steps of the train and onto the platform. He looked around, getting his bearings, and almost fell to his knees as a huge hand came crashing down on his shoulder.
‘James! Good t’see yer, lad!’
James grinned, looking up into two shining black eyes. Hagrid’s face beamed down at him before he turned and clapped Sam on the shoulder too.
‘And young Jordan! Blimey, we’re going to have to keep our wits about us this year, what with you two here.’
Teddy waved to Hagrid as he and Victoire set off down the platform.
‘So we’ll leave them with you, then?’
Hagrid nodded and waved them off.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of them.’
Hagrid waved the pair on and turned back to address the rest of the milling students.
‘Firs’ years! Firs’ years, with me!’
James and Sam left their trunks on the station platform and followed Hagrid down to the shores of the lake. They quickly got into a boat and sat watching the other students.
The last students to reach the lake were the group James had seen in London, the Slytherins, or Slytherin hopefuls, since they were only first years like himself. There were two boys, one tall and fair, the other short and dark, both of them solid and very strong looking, and the fair little girl with the dead eyes.
James and Sam watched, bemused, as one of the boys waded into the water up to his knees, holding the small boat steady near the bank. The other boy lifted the little girl into it, setting her down gently on the bench, before climbing in himself. The second boy joined them, careful not to jostle or tip the boat.
James couldn’t imagine Lily or Rose letting him lift them bodily into a boat. They’d probably hex him if he tried.
And yet the little blonde girl continued to stare straight ahead as if this were nothing out of the ordinary. One of the boys leaned towards her to murmur something, and she inclined her head slightly, but other than that the three of them did not speak.
‘Blimey,’ Sam breathed confusedly, ‘she’s a bit like the Muggle queen, in’t she?’
She did seem a bit like royalty; there was something faintly haughty about her demeanour, as if she were looking down on her surroundings somewhat. James and Sam talked a bit about the sorting and the other first years surrounding them, but they kept a curious eye on the girl’s boat the whole way across the lake.
The only thing that could shake them from their shameless staring was the first view of Hogwarts.
‘Cor!’ one of the boys in another boat nearby exclaimed, and James had to agree with him. Nothing had prepared him for this, no stories from his family could have made him realise just how amazing Hogwarts was.
The girl seemed to feel so too. Her boat was quite close to theirs now, and James thought he heard a soft gasp. But when he turned to look, the girl was staring at her hands, folded in her lap, with a bored expression.
They managed to get out of the boats and onto dry land without any major mishaps, the two boys once again handing the little girl out as if she were made of china. They seemed oblivious to the fact that they were both wet to the knees from standing in the lake to steady their boat. Hagrid lead them all up the hill and through the huge and imposing double doors that formed the main entrance.
Once in the hall, the first years had a chance to look around and catch their breath. There were a few quiet conversations, but most people just stared around the room in wonder, silently following the huge figure as he ushered them into a small chamber off the entrance hall.
Inside, a smiling man waited to greet them.
‘Hello,’ he began warmly, ‘I’m Professor Longbottom, the Deputy Headmaster. Welcome to Hogwarts. In a moment, you’re all going to follow me into the Great Hall, where the rest of the school is waiting, and we’ll start the Sorting. For those of you unfamiliar with our traditions, we have four houses here at Hogwarts; Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. You will be sorted into one of those houses, and that is where you will sleep, study and learn. They will become your family here at Hogwarts. I’m head of Gryffindor house,’ he continued modestly, ‘and I hope to see a good number of you there! Now, if you could just bear with me a moment while we sort you into the proper order?’
That accomplished, he smiled benignly down at them again.
‘Excellent. So, off we go!’
And without further ado he opened a door in the wall behind him and led them all through.
The Great Hall was bright with the light of what seemed like a million candles, and more than one first year gasped with amazement upon catching sight of the enchanted ceiling. Others, however, coloured with self-consciousness as they took in the hundreds of eyes staring at them from every direction.
Professor Longbottom strode down the line, giving James a quick grin and a wink as he went passed. He reached the front of the room, just in front of the staff table, and inclined his head to a thin lady with half-moon spectacles sitting in the middle of the long table.
Professor McGonagall nodded back, and Professor Longbottom turned back to the room and conjured a stool up with a wave of his wand. He took a tattered hat from under his arm and placed it on the stool.
You could tell the muggleborns standing in line; they were the ones who gasped anew when the hat straightened up and started to sing,
‘I am sure you fool your teachers,
I am sure you fool your friends,
You may even fool your family,
But here’s where your fooling ends.
For you can not hide from me,
And your cons are just a show;
When I see inside your mind
I will tell you where to go;
I’ll say ‘Hufflepuff’ if, inside,
Your heart’s loyal and true.
If you love to learn, then ‘Ravenclaw’
Will be the place for you.
If you seek to rise with cunning,
‘Slytherin’s where you belong,
While ‘Gryffindor’ calls those who are
Courageous, brave and strong.
So slip me on and do not fear,
Let’s have a little chat.
I’ll find the perfect spot for you,
For I’m the Sorting Hat!’
The hall erupted into cheers, and James smiled despite his nerves. Uncle Ron had once said that in his opinion the Sorting Hat spent all year sitting on a shelf, perfecting its next song, and James thought it was nice for the old hat to have a moment of triumph like that.
Professor Longbottom unrolled a piece of parchment and began to read out names.
The short boy from the little girl’s boat sauntered up to the stool. The Sorting Hat had barely touched his head before it yelled ‘Slytherin!’
No surprise there, thought James absently. From further up the line, Sam turned to grin tensely at him. His face was ever so slightly green-tinged under his dark skin, and James was sure his friend felt as nervous as he did.
The dark haired boy was sorted into Ravenclaw and joined that table, smiling smugly.
The first Gryffindor of the evening. James looked up curiously. A girl with thousands of freckles and mousy hair made her way over to the cheering table. It figured that Gryffindor were the loudest in welcoming new members. James could see Victoire giving the Brody girl a friendly smile, which she returned timidly.
James laughed at the grimace on his friend’s face. Sam hated being called by his full name; his mum was the only one who did it, and then only when she was angry. Professor Longbottom placed the old hat on Sam’s dreads and after a few seconds it called, ‘Gryffindor!’
James clapped and cheered along with the rest, happy for his friend but hoping more than ever to be put into Gryffindor. He didn’t know how he’d cope if he had to spend the next seven years in a different house to his best friend.
Ever since he’d received his letter, he had been looking forward to the sorting ceremony with a mixture of excitement and dread. He was terrified of being sorted into Slytherin, despite mum and dad’s assurances that there was nothing wrong with that. Now there was nothing for it but to stand quietly in line, watching as his future classmates took their turn one by one.
‘Potter, James.’ came the call at last. There were a few loud whoops from the Gryffindor table, and Professor McGonagall frowned briefly in that direction. James smiled weakly and stumbled forwards to sit on the stool. Professor Longbottom grinned at James as he placed the Sorting Hat on his head. The last thing James saw before it all went black was Teddy grinning and shooting him a thumbs up.
‘Hmm,’ said the Sorting Hat in James’ ear, ‘and what have we here? Another Potter? Goodness me, has it really been that long. Now, let’s take a look.’
James tried to make it say Gryffindor by thinking the word as loud as he could.
‘What’s this I see? Adventure, danger…oh, yes!’
The Sorting Hat, bizarrely, started to laugh.
‘What a ride you have ahead of you, young man! The both of you; I shall watch it with interest. Now, I think we’ll go GRYFFINDOR!’
The crimson and gold table erupted into loud cheers and cries. James pulled the hat off his head with relief and tried to walk casually over to the table.
Victoire pulled him down onto the seat between her and Sam and placed a large kiss on his forehead. On her other side, Teddy’s hair was changing colour rapidly from his excitement. He reached around Victoire to clap James hard on the back.
‘Knew you had it in you, Jamsie-boy! Have to say, I was a little worried when it didn’t sing out straight away, but I knew there was really nowhere else for you to go to.’
The rest of the first year Gryffindors were looking at James and Sam with awe due to their association with two older and clearly very popular students. He began to feel that maybe school at Hogwarts wasn’t going to be all that scary after all.
More students were sorted; a few into Ravenclaw, followed by a spate of Hufflepuffs and one or two Slytherins. But there were no more Gryffindors for a while. James began to lose interest. He stared at the empty tables, wondering when the food would arrive and wishing Neville would hurry up.
‘Sangraal, Anastacia.’ Professor Longbottom read out clearly. James looked up, mildly intrigued by the odd-sounding name. He’d heard the name Anastasia before, but the Professor had pronounced it ‘a-nas-ta-SEE-ya’, so at first he’d thought Neville had said ‘how-nice-to-see-ya’, which was what had really caught his attention in the first place. On top of that, it wasn’t a name he’d ever heard before.
His interest was further engaged when he saw that it was the small pale girl from the train. She walked slowly forwards to sit on the stool, flinching slightly when Professor Longbottom placed the Sorting Hat on her head.
The Hat said nothing. The hall was quiet for a moment, then whispers started to break out as people speculated what could be taking so long. James looked at Victoire, who just shrugged, as confused as he.
Finally, the hat opened its brim very wide, very slowly. The entire hall was literally on the edge of their seats, leaning forward to catch it’s triumphant,
There was an instant uproar from the Slytherin table, some of the members of the girl’s little group standing on the benches and yelling in what sounded like a foreign language.
The girl herself took the Sorting Hat off her head and handed it to Professor Longbottom. Then, somewhat dazedly, she made her way over to the table and sat down in an empty space, a fair way away from the rest of the diners. She looked over towards the Slytherins, still making a ruckus, and made some sort of gesture with her hand. James could have sworn that she was telling them to quiet down. Whether she was or not, the yelling stopped immediately, and the Slytherins resumed their seats, casting dark glances towards the Gryffindors and the staff table alike.
The rest of the sorting continued without any further mishaps, and as Professor McGonagall got up to give her start of the year address, James looked again at the little girl.
She was sitting very quietly, staring at her hands in her lap. Her face was very pale, paler than it had been at the station, and she seemed smaller than ever, as if she were trying to draw in on herself, making herself invisible.
James would have talked to her, but he’d been distracted by the arrival of food on the empty table in front of him. He and Sam got stuck in and didn’t surface for air until they’d eaten far more than was good for them. By then the prefects, Victoire and Teddy included, were starting to chivvy the first years along, so James did as he was told and followed his cousin and pseudo-cousin out of the Hall, up staircase after staircase, finally halting in front of a large portrait.
‘Welcome, my dears! Welcome to Gryffindor!’ the Fat Lady twittered, ‘Password?’
‘Flibbertigibbet!’ Victoire declared in her silvery voice, and the portrait swung forwards to reveal a hole in the wall. They all climbed through one-by-one, coming to a stop in the large and cosy common room.
‘Just as she said, welcome to Gryffindor,’ Teddy told them all warmly, ‘we’re very glad to have you. I’m Teddy, one of your prefects. If you have any problems, don’t be shy, alright? We might not be the most responsible prats around, but we do try our best to help you lot.’
‘Your dormitories are this way,’ Victoire interjected, shooting Teddy a ‘look’, ‘girls, follow me.’
She led them away up one of the staircases at the end of the common room. Teddy looked sheepishly after them and gestured for the first year boys to follow him.
‘Take my advice, boys,’ he confided to Sam and James as the trailed up the spiral stairs behind him, ‘leave off with girls until you absolutely have to. It’s more trouble than it’s worth most of the time.’
‘Ah, here we are,’ he continued, opening the door to a good-sized room containing five four-poster beds hung with crimson drapes.
The boys immediately claimed beds and started to set up their things. A laughing Teddy told them to go to bed and left them to their own devices.
Apart from Sam, who had claimed the bed next to James’, there were three other boys in their year. They wasted no time in introducing themselves;
The first, a boy about James’ height with light brown hair and a friendly sort of disposition, was Josh Alsop, from Surrey. His dad was a wizard and his mum was a Muggle.
‘But she can be a right witch when she gets angry, I tell you what!’
He had claimed the bed next to Owen Pennymon, a Welsh boy with sandy hair. Owen told them in a quiet voice that his parents were both magical and that his mum was the deputy head of the Welsh division of the Ministry of Magic. James pricked up his ears at that.
‘Pennymon? Is your mum Gwen Pennymon?’
Owen nodded, his face breaking into a shy smile.
‘She works with your aunt sometimes, yeah.’
‘Cool,’ James said, smiling back at him. Owen might be shy, but he had an air of kindness about him that James responded to instantly. He looked at Sam and knew that his best friend saw it too.
The final boy had brown hair as well, but lighter than Josh’s. He was busy sticking up posters of Muggle sporting teams and turned around to enlist James’ help.
‘I’m Terry, Terry Markham, from Shrewsbury. My parents aren’t wizards or anything; they’re…what’s the word?’
‘Muggles?’ Sam supplied as he helped attach a football poster to the wall. Terry nodded gratefully.
‘Yeah, that. Anyway, do you think anyone will hold it against me? Them being Muggles, that is?’
‘Nah, shouldn’t think so,’ Josh reassured him, ‘not now, anyway.’
Terry started to press him about what he meant, but James, who knew it would involve an explanation of the Second Great War and had heard the story far too many times and knew how long it would take to explain, suggested that they turn in and tell it tomorrow.
He’d been lucky; he’d known that even then, to get such a good bunch of mates in his year.
But then, what did you expect, he thought as he drifted off. You’re in Gryffindor. Everything’s better in Gryffindor.
He still believed that, six years later. And one of the main reasons he believed that had just sat down at the Gryffindor table. James strolled down the rows between the tables to slide into his normal space between Sam and Anastacia.
‘Morning all,’ he greeted them jovially.
Sam flapped a hand absently, too busy devouring a plateful of bacon to do more, but Anastacia gave him her special smile, the one that made him feel like the time he’d stuck a fork in the power socket at Aunt Hermione’s parent’s house, only in a good way.
‘You alright?’ he asked quietly.
Anastacia’s smile became a look of confusion.
‘Why wouldn’t I be?’ she asked with a laugh.
‘I dunno, only…I saw you talking to the Montrose girl, in the entrance hall. You didn’t look too happy.’
Her expression changed again, once more to a smile, but a different one this time. This was the smile she wore when she was lying to him.
‘Everything’s fine,’ she assured him, sounding for all the world like she believed what she said.
James gave a mental shrug and let it slide. He knew she lied to him, knew exactly when she did so, and he’d come to terms with it. He supposed she had her reasons, reasons she would eventually tell him, but in the meantime it wasn’t worth the quiet hurt he’d provoke if he pressed her. So he didn’t.
He did, however, know that her lying had something to do with the Slytherins. He wasn’t stupid, after all, or, at least, he wasn’t that stupid. He knew that she had her two separate faces because of the group of Slytherins that were constantly watching her. He’d even come up with a theory; the Slytherins were family friends who probably thought they were doing her parents a favour by making sure their pure-blood (for how could she be anything but) daughter didn’t fraternize with any unsavoury people.
They must have been furious when she was sorted into Gryffindor, the home of unsavoury people like the Wotters. As it was, they literally growled when James came anywhere near Anastacia in public. At first it had been unsettling, but he’d got used to it over the years.
He’d also learned to adapt, developing a bit of a double persona himself – he knew it made Anastacia upset when he made her watchers upset, so he didn’t make such a show of their friendship in public. That didn’t mean that he liked having to pretend not to be close to her, didn’t mean he wanted to go sit on the other side of the room when they had classes with the Slytherins, but he did it so that she wouldn’t be upset.
He’d do a lot more than that if it meant she was happy.
With the watchers on the other side of the room, sitting together at breakfast was alright, though.
‘What’s this? Slytherins making trouble? If they steal my gorgeous girl from me, someone will pay, I swear! Isn’t that right, dahling?’
Anastacia giggled and returned Sam’s hug. It was great joke with the two of them; upon finding out that Anastacia’s watchers thought he was gay (presumably due to his long hair) in second year, Sam had deliberately started to act so in their presence. He was so over-the-top that everyone else saw it for a joke in an instant, but he seemed to have fooled the Slytherins, which was a never-ending source of amusement for him.
It meant that the same Slytherins who glared every time James came within a hundred-foot radius of Anastacia didn’t even bat an eye when Sam hugged her tight and kissed her cheek, as he was doing now.
James reflected that it was just as well there was nothing between them. Otherwise, he might just have to kill his best friend.
Where did that come from, he wondered, mildly shocked. Killing Sam for being interested in Stac? What did it matter to him?
Shaking his head to get rid of stupid thoughts, he turned back to the much more pressing issue at hand; breakfast.
Hello again, and thanks to all those brave souls who have kept reading this far. As always, reviews are greatly appreciated, so if you've got the time, leave a line! Ta!
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