Chapter 13 : Density
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DensityChasing Pavements –Adele
‘A smile happens in a flash, but its memory can last a lifetime.’
Sam, James and Josh spent their final lesson, which was free, at the Quidditch pitch, half-heartedly practising for a while, then finetuning their broomsticks and talking.
‘So…that’s it, then? She’s really going with him.’
‘Wouldn’t know. Haven’t spoken to her about it.’
‘Yeah, right. Come off it mate, Owen told us everything.’
James glared at them both.
‘Stupid git. Knew he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.’
‘Hey, don’t take it out on him, mate,’ Sam said warningly, ‘none of this is his fault, ‘kay? It’s not yours, but it’s not his either. He was just trying to help.’
‘By what? Telling the world about our fight? What kind of help is that?’
Josh stood and collected up his broom-cleaning kit.
‘Light’s fading. I’m going in.’
‘She’s right, you know, you are a drama queen. He didn’t tell everyone. Just us, ‘cause he knew we’d have to put up with your sulking. He thought we deserved an explanation.’
‘Which is more than some people have given us,’ Sam commented darkly.
James stopped, considered everything, and sighed.
‘Sorry. I guess I should have told you. Just…I thought she’d have better taste, you know?’
Sam raised his dark brows.
‘Really? Is that so?’
They started up the hill towards the castle and dinner.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ James queried, feeling he was missing some important subtext.
‘Just that Scorpius isn’t such a bad guy. I mean, he gets good marks, he doesn’t get into trouble, and he’s not about to mistreat her or anything.’
‘Yeah, mate,’ Josh agreed, ‘you have to admit, there are worse guys she could go with.’
‘Just…shut it, okay?’ James muttered moodily as he strode on ahead, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
Leaving his friends behind, he hurried into the castle.
By the time he’d returned his broomstick and his kit to his dormitory, the rest of the student body were heading into the Great Hall for dinner. James followed them, sitting down next to Sam with a tight nod that indicated that he was in a somewhat improved mood from the last time they’d spoken.
Sam returned the favour with the obligatory raised eyebrows and slight shrug that conveyed both his comprehension and his approval. That done, they both settled in to eat.
Lunch was, as always, brilliant, but for once James wasn’t really paying attention to the food before him. His consciousness was ever-so-slightly diverted by the fact that their table was missing one crucial member.
Stac was sitting over at the Slytherin table, next to Malfoy. As much as he hated to admit it, she didn’t look unhappy. Then again, the expression on her face wasn’t exactly filled with love and devotion. More like…polite disinterest.
This gave James pause, and, unfortunately for him, that pause came just as Sam was trying to get him to pass over a plate of chocolate pudding.
‘Mate! Watch it!’
James fumbled with the bowl and half-dropped it, catching it just in time to stop the contents from being thrown onto the table.
However, this meant that a significant portion of the chocolate pudding was dumped onto the sleeve of his robe.
He wiped it off with a tight laugh and passed the bowl to Sam, who was shaking his head and sending him inquisitive looks, to which he did not reply.
James smiled wryly as the heat of the packed bodies made the scents around rise stronger. He may as well have been wearing Amortentia as an aftershave, although it would only have appealed to he himself.
His robes were still damp on one corner from the oil in his broomstick cleaning kit, and while the chocolate pudding now smeared on his sleeve may not be the same as in the pub, it came a pretty close second. Now if he could only find out what the third scent was and get a hold of it, he could market this stuff as Eau de James.
Not such a bad idea. Maybe he could convince his Uncle George to…
As if some mischievous little sprite had read his thoughts, a wave of citrus drifted across the table and directly into James’ nose. He looked up, startled.
On the other side of the table, Terry was holding out a dessert of some kind to Sam and James.
‘Try some,’ he was urging, ‘it’s really good. Dunno if they’ve made it before, they must be trying new stuff. It’s been ages since I’ve had a good lemon tart.’
James felt as if the air had been ripped from his lungs. He could have sworn that his heart stopped beating for a second. His vision started to blur and the voices around him faded, no match for the roaring in his ears.
He was suddenly lost in a memory so vivid it was as if he was looking into a Pensieve.
He could see his twelve-year-old self heading for the Quidditch pitch after lessons. He hadn’t known why he went; something had just told him to go.
The Ravenclaw team was practicing on the pitch that day. Their blue uniforms whipped by as they ran drills with practise Quaffles and Bludgers.
James had been made a member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team that year, despite being a first year, and so he watched the other house with a critical eye, looking for weaknesses he could use in a game.
‘They look a bit bored, don’t they?’
James started. The voice had come out of the shadows by one of the stands. As James watched, a young girl walked calmly into the light to stand next to him. She watched the other team as well.
‘So…are you into Quidditch then?’ he’d asked, more for something to say then out of real interest. He couldn’t imagine anyone not being interested in Quidditch; it just didn’t make sense.
To his surprise, she frowned and thought for a moment before answering.
‘No-o,’ she replied, drawing out the word until it became two syllables, ‘I’m not really.’
She shrugged, suddenly unconcerned.
‘It’s all a bit boring, isn’t it? I mean, look at them.’
She gestured to the blue-clad players feverishly running drills on the pitch before them.
‘They look like they’d rather be anywhere else.’
James couldn’t think of an appropriate reply. Quidditch? Boring? Was she alright in the head?
‘That’s it!’ the girl continued brightly, ‘I know exactly how to make their practice more exciting.’
‘What do you mean?’ James asked curiously. Everything considered, they’d really only just met. If not for their night-time escapade a few weeks ago, he wouldn’t have known her at all.
And while he was all for pranks, he wasn’t really used to standing by while other people initiated them. Especially not seemingly innocent and helpless little girls.
‘Well, see that big one over by the goals?’
She pointed to the rather thuggish looking Keeper who would have fit better in Slytherin than Ravenclaw. James peered over and nodded.
‘Martin, I think his name is.’
‘Yes, Martin, whatever,’ she waved her hand dismissively, ‘ce n’est pas important.’
She pulled her wand out of her sleeve as she spoke and twirled it around a few times. It looked as if she were warming up her wand hand.
‘I saw him in a corridor the other day. He was having an argument with Emily, one of our prefects. She accused him of cheating on her with other girls, and he just laughed at her. He said that he had to cheat because she wasn’t good enough for him.’
Her pale eyebrows drawn together, she glared in the direction of the pitch.
‘Then he called her a lemon-faced tart and left her there. She was crying so hard she didn’t even notice me.’
James stared at her. Obviously, that wasn’t very nice of him, but what did it have to do with her? He couldn’t see how a guy breaking up with his girlfriend had anything to do with the little girl before him.
‘So…what are you doing here?’
‘Emily’s always been really lovely to me. She helped me to get settled in and she’s always looking after the younger girls. She didn’t deserve that. And besides,’ she added, shooting him a cheeky grin, ‘I couldn’t just let him get away with it, now, could I?’
Without further ado, she pointed her wand at the players on the pitch.
For a second, it didn’t look like anything had happened. James wondered exactly what she’d intended to do and idly hoped that it would have a permanent effect upon their Quidditch performance.
But before he really had time to follow that thought, an extraordinary thing happened;
All the balls being used in practice suddenly turned into large lemon tarts which started to chase the players around the pitch. A few seconds later, dozens of even bigger tarts appeared and zoomed towards the Keeper, knocking him to the side and leaving him hanging onto his broom by one hand. Some of the tarts seemed too big to fly on their own and fell to the ground before they made it to the pitch, but their fellows more than made up for it.
The pitch was thrown into confusion. Players sped around, trying to escape the speedy desserts chasing them. One of them, presumably the Captain, blew hard on his whistle and yelled at others, gesturing towards the castle.
The rest of the team turned in their tracks and sped off, away from the pitch. When they crossed the boundary, the tarts stopped attacking them, but the team didn’t slow down. Within a matter of seconds they were passing over the heads of the two first years by the grandstands.
Unfortunately for them, they were still laughing as this happened. James swallowed his laughter with a nervous gulp the moment that the bigger, older players had slowed in front of him, but the little blonde girl continued to giggle uncontrollably.
‘You think that’s funny, do you?’ snarled the Captain, who was quite thuggish himself up close.
She just let loose with a fresh round of giggles, to the shock of those around her. Amazingly, she didn’t seem to be scared at all.
The Ravenclaws looked furious and the burly Keeper started cracking his knuckles menacingly.
James didn’t know what to do. Any second they were going to turn on her. He didn’t have time to think, let alone come up with a plan, so he acted on pure instinct.
Picking up one of the large pies that had fallen near his feet, he lobbed it with the unerring accuracy of a born Chaser at the Ravenclaw captain.
It hit the bigger boy squarely in the face. He regarded James with shock for a moment, lemon curd dripping down his cheeks.
‘You like my joke, hey?’ James jeered with all the cheek he could muster, ‘Well, there’s plenty more where that came from.’
It wasn’t until later – after he’d had yet another telling off from McGonagall and Madame Pomfrey had seen to his numerous wounds – that he’d actually got to talk to Anastacia.
She was waiting for him in a window alcove in the common room. He walked stiffly across the room, still a little tender in several places, and sat down next to her.
‘Why did you do that?’ she asked bluntly. Her face was belligerent, but her eyes were confused.
James shrugged and winced as the movement caused twinges across his sore back.
‘Dunno. Guess I didn’t think you’d like it if they beat up on you.’
‘But you didn’t have to,’ she’d protested, still not understanding, ‘you didn’t have anything to do with it.’
‘Look, Stac, that’s what friends do. They stick up for each other.’
‘And do friends call each other names, too?’
‘What, ‘Stac’? That’s just a nickname, I guess. Sorry, I didn’t know it would upset you.’
‘No! It doesn’t! I mean,’ she paused and gave him a shy smile, ‘I like it. I’ve just…I’ve never really had a friend before.’
‘Well, you’ve got one now,’ he’d told her firmly, ‘and soon you’ll have lots more. I’ll make sure of that, Stac.’
He’d never got that as a nickname before. He wondered if it was significant in any way. As if reading his thoughts, she hurried to explain.
‘In French, when we say ‘j’aime’ we mean ‘I like’. Je aime,’ she repeated slowly, ‘it just reminded me of your name. Jem.’
Jem? James considered the word. It had a nice ring to it.
‘I like it,’ he decided aloud, ‘Jem…cool!’
He grinned broadly at her, deciding firmly to be true to his words and help her find some more friends. She seemed like a good sort.
Suddenly, she picked something up off the seat beside her and held it out to him.
‘Tart?’ she asked sweetly, an innocent, wide-eyed smile on her face.
James couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing again, and she joined in. The rest of the room looked at them like they were crazy, but they didn’t care. Together, they finished off the tart and relived the afternoon’s events.
James couldn’t remember ever being so content before.
‘What?’ Sam asked with a mouthful of pudding, but James was already gone, out the doors and nearly at the stairs.
Sam rolled his eyes heavenwards and swallowed his mouthful.
‘What is with these guys and running off lately?’ he asked of no one in particular. Then seeing the other boys staring after their missing mate with stupefied expressions, he heaved a sigh and got to his feet.
‘Come on you lot. That would be our cue.’
They trooped out of the hall and started the walk up to Gryffindor Tower.
By the time they reached the boy’s dormitory, James had hidden himself away inside. He’d even locked the door.
Sam tried the handle and let out an exasperated sigh.
‘Mate, have you gone mental? What the hell are you doing?’
‘Go away!’ came the muffled reply. It sounded as if he were talking through his teeth.
‘You…sound…like…a…girl!’ Terry panted, doubled over as he tried to draw in air. He wasn’t the fittest one among them, and the dash from Hall to Tower had left him decidedly out of breath.
‘Terry,’ Owen scolded, ‘Sam, really. This isn’t helping.’
‘Sorry, Mum,’ Terry muttered sarcastically.
Owen ignored him. Pulling out his wand, he muttered at the door, turned the knob, and pushed it open.
Nothing in their room seemed to be out of place, but they entered cautiously all the same. Better to stay out of James’ line of sight if he was in a mood.
The curtains around James’ bed were drawn tight. Sam glanced at the others, who showed no sign of initiative, and sighed. Squaring his shoulders, he gingerly drew back one corner of the heavy drapes.
When nothing happened, he let out the breath he’d been holding and drew the drapes all the way apart.
By the light now flooding into the darkened space, the boys could see…nothing. There was no one there. A quick search of the room revealed no James.
Terry stood in the middle of the room and scratched his head.
‘Where the bloody hell is he?’ he wondered aloud.
‘You might want to look over there,’ Owen suggested, pointing to the window.
The boys turned as one. Standing next to the window, staring out at the darkened grounds below, was James.
‘Umm, mate?’ Sam asked uncertainly, ‘Are you alright?’
‘Fine,’ came the dull reply.
‘You sure about that?’ pressed Owen quietly.
‘Oh good, he’s fine, we can go back to the common room,’ Terry gabbled uncomfortably, heading for the door, ‘come on guys, he said he’s fine, we’ve got homework to do, I’m sure he just wants to be alone–’
‘We’re not going anywhere,’ Josh told him calmly, standing in front of the door and crossing his arms, ‘isn’t that right, Sam?’
‘Yeah, that’s right.’
Sam took a few steps closer to the window.
‘Mate, seriously, what’s up? You can tell us, right?’
James was so still he scarcely seemed to be breathing. His shoulders rose and fell evenly, as if every breath he did take was measured and controlled. He still didn’t turn to face them, but from behind it seemed that every muscle in his body was set and straining, as if it were an effort for him to keep himself upright.
‘I told you, I’m fine. Go back downstairs.’
And he seemed to deflate before their eyes, as if someone had punched a hole in his side and let out all the pride and confidence that was keeping him up.
The boys weren’t really sure what to say. This had never happened before, not to James. The stillness, the unwillingness to talk to them or to whine and complain and share his problem – that was new. They didn’t know how best to react.
At least, three of them didn’t.
Owen was a different matter.
‘So…lemon tart, hey?’
That did it. James suddenly straightened and turned to face them.
Without any warning, he started to pace around the room, ranting wildly, his hands flying in all directions.
‘How the hell was I supposed to know? I mean, it’s not like it’s ever been obvious, has it? Ow! Not like it’s ever been something we’d talk about. I never even saw her that way, I swear! Dammit, ouch!’
A pile of books fell off the dresser as he stepped back, wobbling slightly. James’ pacing was not exactly…precise. Distracted as he was, he didn’t really pay any attention to where he was going, and as a result he’d already walked into the dresser and a bed.
‘And now, today, of all days, that’s the day we get lemon tart! I swear those bloody house elves are out to get me! Ow!’
Now one of the tables.
‘They could have made it any old day, but oh no, they wait till today! When it’s too late! Ahh!’
Now the side of a cupboard, narrowly missing Sam as he dodged out of the way.
‘Even yesterday, that would have been fine, wouldn’t it? Fine and dandy, could have done something – ow – but it’s not yesterday, it’s today, innit? And today’s too late, already too late, what the hell am I going to do, why do they do this to me, why me, I never did nothing to them, stupid hairy short little bastards – who keeps bloody moving the furniture?’
By now, the others were as far away from the disaster zone as possible, apart from Owen, who looked surprisingly calm as he stood before his fuming friend.
‘I’m not sure I understand. Why don’t you start at the beginning?’
James paused in his manic pacing and looked at his mate. All the tension left his frame and he slumped once again, his head in his hands.
‘I’m such an idiot.’
‘Tell us something we don’t know,’ Sam called a touch apprehensively from where he was flattened against the wall.
Owen shot him a reprimanding look, but James gave a shaky, shadowy laugh.
‘Yeah, well, about that,’ he raised his head, looking around the room nervously, ‘I may just have something for you.’
He was actually wringing his hands, twisting them over and over as if it would help him with what he was trying to say.
‘The whole…lemon tart…thing? It was, kind of…look, don’t kill me, kay? It’s…I…’
‘Yes?’ prompted Josh.
James took a deep breath and let it out raggedly.
‘I’m…in love…with Stac.’
A long pause. Owen’s face showed nothing. Come to that, neither did Josh’s or Sam’s. When the time was right, Sam let a small smile break through and he walked over to clap his mate on the back.
‘Like I said, tell us something we don’t know.’
The sound of James’ jaw hitting the ground reverberated around the room. Sam’s grin only grew wider as he took in his best friend’s shocked expression.
‘It wasn’t all that difficult, mate. You weren’t exactly subtle about it.’
‘At least now you’ve figured it out for yourself,’ Josh counselled, ‘which is a good thing. Once you’ve admitted it to yourself, hard as it is, that’s half the trouble gone.’
Warm feelings swelled up in James’ chest towards his friend. Here was someone who understood, who sympathised, who cared…
‘Add to that, you just won me three galleons,’ Josh continued cheerily, ‘we had a pot going on how long it would take you to figure it out. Sam thought you’d graduate before you got it.’
The good feeling suddenly disappeared. James turned to glare at his friend.
‘Oh really? Three galleons?’
‘Yeah, between me, Josh and Terry,’ Sam scowled as he remembered, ‘thanks a lot, mate. You couldn’t have held out just a little longer?’
He and Josh started to haggle over terms and conditions. Phrases such as ‘self-acknowledgement’ and ‘questionable sources’ floated through the air around them.
James turned to Owen, who was still standing there calmly. This strange behaviour in the face of such upheaval brought back his old, secret wonder if Owen was actually a robot.
‘You weren’t in on it?’
The robot shrugged.
‘I knew you’d figure it out sooner or later, in your own time. When you and Stac ah…talked today, I knew it would be sooner, rather than later. I was thinking today or tomorrow. So it’s not really a surprise.’
‘How did you know it would be today or tomorrow?’
Owen sighed, an expression of…not quite pity, but more along the lines of sympathetic understanding and commiseration washing over his face. James gave himself a mental whack on the back of his head.
Owen wasn’t a robot. He was just the only one of them who understood the world outside their own little lives.
‘James, you’re a typical guy’s guy. You’re dense like that.’
‘You don’t even realise you want something till it’s gone? Honestly, haven’t you ever listened to country music?’
Yep, Owen definitely wasn’t a robot.
He was an alien.
‘But seriously, James, I always figured it was going to take something drastic to get you to notice what was in front of you. That’s why I agreed with Sam at one point. I thought that graduation and the prospect of not seeing her every day would be enough. That was before all this happened, of course.’
James reflected. That was something that very few people could do to him; make him reflect. Owen was one of those few, so he spent a few minutes in introspection.
When he thought about it, Owen was right. Looking back, nothing had really changed in his feelings towards Stac. The big shock with the lemon tart hadn’t been because he’d suddenly undergone a huge personality and philosophy transplant.
The feelings had been there for a long time, he just hadn’t been aware of them. Or, if he had, he’d been repressing them like no one’s business.
In fact, if Stac hadn’t have been going out with Scorpius, he probably never would have picked it up. The stupid lemon tart would have passed him by without any notice and he’d still be blissfully ignorant to the facts of the matter.
As it was, he felt it was safe to say that he was in deep–
‘Bollocks,’ he muttered again, ‘I really am an idiot.’
Owen was getting a bit tired of the whole back-slapping thing. He was starting to feel like he was in a bad school-boys fiction. So he refrained from doing so again, shoving his hands in his pockets and sitting down on one of the beds.
James sat facing him on the one opposite, ignoring the indignant yells coming from the other side of the room.
‘So…what do I do?’
‘Why are you asking me?’
‘I dunno…you’re the smart one, I guess. I mean, you know what’s going on. Half the time I think you actually understand women.’
Maybe Owen was a woman. That would explain a lot…nah…
‘So you can tell me what to do.’
Owen let out a short laugh and gave the kind of smile you give to a small child who has just got their finger stuck up their nose. That is to say, one of fascination, surprise and slight distaste.
‘James, I can’t tell you what to do.’
‘Because that’s not how it works! I can, I don’t know, advise you, I guess, but I can’t tell you what to do. That defeats the purpose. If I were going to do that, I may as well just go out with her myself.’
James bristled, but Owen sighed and flapped a hand at him.
‘Down, boy. Don’t get your pants in a twist. She’s my friend, that’s all.’
Taking a deep breath to calm himself and dispel the red haze that had pervaded his vision, James tried again.
‘So…advise away, then. How the heck am I going to get her away from Scorpius?’
To his surprise, Owen frowned.
‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’
When he saw the incredulous look James was shooting him, he hurried to explain.
‘Look, I know that it’s going to be all you want to do right now, I get it, but I don’t think breaking them up is the best–’
‘Just whose side are you on?’
He was loud enough that Josh and Sam paused in their argument to assess the situation. Obviously deciding that Owen had it under control, or that it wasn’t serious enough to warrant their involvement, they returned to their fight.
‘You low-down rotten scab–’
‘Oh, so I’m a scab now, am I? Why you dirty, lying–’
‘Ignore them,’ Owen told him impatiently, ‘concentrate on this. Now, tell me something. Do you think Stac is unhappy with Scorpius?’
‘Are you serious? He’s a stinking traitor Slytherin!’
‘That’s not what I asked.’
How Owen was able to maintain that calm face was beyond him. James had known older, stronger, presumably braver people who’d run from his glare, and yet here was fair, pasty Owen, not even flinching.
‘Do you think she’s unhappy?’
‘Well, not unhappy exactly…’ James admitted reluctantly, forced to tell the truth.
‘That’s my point. If she’s not unhappy, then we can logically conclude that she’s happy with him.’
‘Hey!’ James protested, determined not to be outdone by the fancy language, ‘Happy and unhappy aren’t the only options! There’s a whole lot of other things between them.’
‘Things that we’re going to ignore for the moment,’ Owen continued calmly, despite the deepening glare directed his way, ‘unless you’d like a repeat of this morning. If so, by all means, go ahead.’
James hesitated. This morning was not a good memory for him. All the yelling, the anger…he wished he could do the morning over and avoid it all. Some of those words would be rattling around in his head for days.
But worse than that had been the pain in Stac’s eyes. He couldn’t understand it. It had been there before the fight had even begun. It had been there when he talked to her the first time, outside the Great Hall.
It was the worst part of the whole debacle because of how much seeing it had hurt him, though he hadn’t understood why at the time. Even the mere memory of it now was enough to make his chest ache.
‘No,’ he whispered, defeated. He was finally out of ideas.
‘That being said, there’s no reason why you can’t keep a look out,’ Owen stated casually, as if the idea had only just occurred to him.
James’ ears pricked up.
‘Keep a look out?’
‘You know, follow them, watch what they do, where they go, how she’s dealing with it all. Then, the moment there’s a problem, you–’
‘Sweep in and carry her off!’ James finished, warming to the theme.
Owen smiled and nodded. After a moment, the answering smile on James’ face faded and he looked quizzically at his friend.
‘You’re telling me to stalk them?’
‘Some people call it stalking. I call it reconnaissance,’ was the sage reply.
With this final pearl of wisdom, Owen stood and stretched. Disregarding his former worries, he clapped James on the back and went to separate Josh and Sam, who were now wrestling on the floor as Josh tried to collect what he was owed.
‘OI! You two! Call it off! Do I need to get the hoses?’
He pulled the two of them apart and held them both at arms length. Sam was grumbling under his breath, and Owen gave him a shake.
‘That’s enough! The crisis is over, we have a course of action, so shake hands and let’s get down to planning.’
‘We get to make a plan?’ Sam cried, perking up considerably.
‘Shake hands first,’ Owen repeated in his calmest-yet-still-very-authoritive-and-quite-scary voice, the one that was a cross between James’ Aunt Hermione and Professor Vem.
Sam and Josh obeyed the voice automatically, smiling broadly now.
‘Alright! Planning! Let’s go, let’s go,’ Sam crowed as he made for the door, happy as a child at Christmas.
The others followed him, Owen pausing at the door to shout over his shoulder,
‘Terry! You can come out now!’
A tremulous voice called from inside the cupboard,
‘Is it safe yet?’
Alas, it's all just beginning...
So...thoughts, favourite moments, strange Trelawney-like predictions?
Ta for reading and reviewing and hope you have enjoyed the story so far!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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