Chapter 5 : Chapter 5: The Invitation
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His stomach rumbled and the twenty pound note he’d nicked from Leah’s (Tia’s?) bedside table was burning against his thigh. The sun still glowed in front of him and the pubs he passed were empty, save for the regulars in their flat caps and vests, supping at ale with as much taste as rainwater. His skin was starting to glisten with sweat from the uncharacteristically hot summer and he ran his hand over the back of his neck awkwardly. The clock on the town hall swung around to half past the hour. Back to the house it was, then.
He smirked. It almost felt like he had a curfew and his body was torn momentarily between submission and ignorance. To give in, admit defeat, cower before them, or to show them that he was not going to change for them, because why should he?
His stomach rumbled again, louder this time, and he groaned. It wouldn’t go amiss to have some properly cooked food in his stomach. The gurgling was becoming painful and the smell of a barbeque from a nearby house only made it worse. Scuffing the front of his shoes across the pavement, he turned the corner and wandered past rows of neatly mowed lawns, football goals set up on evenly paved drives, the screams of children as their fathers sprayed them with the hose. He smiled, but he wasn’t sure why.
The gate of the house was open when he got there and he let it swing shut with a clang so loud that even he winced. Realising he didn’t have a key, he knocked loudly on the glass and dug his hands into his pockets as he waited for it to open. There was a distant scent of burning sausages and his stomach shifted again. Footsteps hurried down the hall and the door flew open.
Hugo stopped pulling the tea towel through his hands and looked his cousin up and down. Gangly, taller than his father, the nineteen-year-old towered over James and shook his mop of flaming red hair in disbelief.
“Hugh! Come on, mate. Let me in.”
“No way, man,” the younger man responded, hand firmly on the door and his six-foot-plus frame blocked the gap. James smirked and chuckled. “Fuck off before anyone else sees you. They want your head on a plate.”
“Hugo, hurry up!” Hermione’s voice called from the kitchen, followed shortly by a crack and an exasperated sigh. The kitchen door cracked open. “Who is it?”
The boy turned from the man on the doorstep to his mother, then back to the guest. Feeling his lip curling, he lowered his eyelashes and looked to the kitchen again.
“Nobody. I’m dealing with it.”
“Okay, well dinner’ll be on the table in five minutes so deal with it quickly.” The kitchen door shut and Hugo turned. Tracing heavy brown eyes over his cousin, he shook his head once more.
“Why the hell are you here? Haven’t you caused enough misery?”
“When did our little Hufflepuff get so brave, hm?” James said, crossing his arms and leaning on the side of the porch with a teasing grin. He reached out and took Hugo’s chin between two fingers, pinching purposefully and moving his head from side to side in vague amusement. “I live here, alright? Let me in.”
“You live here?” Hugo struggled to restrain the disbelief and yanked his face free, turning his head to the kitchen. James sighed tiredly.
“Yes and I’m starving so let me in.” He stepped forward but Hugo blocked him again, arms crossed over his chest and his brow furrowed like his mother in deep concentration. “I’m getting bored of this now, mate.”
“Hugo, get a move on.” His father’s voice was followed by heavy footsteps and with relative ease, he peered over his son’s shoulder. His sigh fell into Hugo’s ear and he put a soft hand on his arm. “Let him in.” Hugo said nothing, did nothing. “Hugo.” The teenager looked back and shook his head, stepping away so James could cross the threshold and shut the door behind him. Ron’s hand on his arm tightened but he wrenched it away, turning back towards the kitchen.
Through the open door, they heard a murmur of, “Sorry, Mum, I’ve lost my appetite,” before the surprisingly light footsteps of the young Weasley started again. He didn’t look at his dad, nor at James, merely yanking open the door and leaving without another word. Ron stared at his godson blankly, the sunlight pulling out the crudest features across the man’s stubbled jaw line. A scar, possibly new but he couldn’t tell, cut from the bottom of the twenty-two year old’s ear to midway down his cheek. He looked … old, far older than he acted or would probably ever act.
“Ron?” His wife’s voice made him start and before he could react, the kitchen door had opened. “Dinner.” The last syllable was stilted, sharp, at the sight of her nephew. She had almost forgotten, almost, but now it was all clicking into place. Not being able to quite make eye contact with either, she turned away. “Both of you.”
“He’s back?” Hugo said once he’d let himself into the Potters’ house and found Lily in her room, sorting through a stack of paperwork. She looked up blankly at him and nodded. “Then why the fuck is he living in my house?” She looked back to her page, slipping her glasses off her nose and turning in her seat. She rested an arm on the back of the chair and leant her head into it, exhaustion reeling off her features with every movement.
“I don’t know,” she said slowly, measuredly. “Mum chucked him out when he turned up here.”
Hugo gave an exasperated sigh and sat down on the floor, placing his hands on the plush carpet and scratching at it idly. Lily looked at him for a minute before turning back to her work. The silence between them was weighted and the scratching of her quill across the parchment was to both of them magnified beyond belief. Each line told a tale. Each finished letter, a story. Every movement of Lily’s pale, freckled hand was too much to bear and Hugo snapped.
“Why’s he back?”
“I don’t know,” she repeated, frustration stronger than sadness this time. “None of us have said two words to him. I’ve not even seen him.”
She exhaled, this time pushing her paperwork away and twisting the cap back onto her inkpot. She rubbed her hands together and stood up. The window seat of her room looked over the front of the house, and over the tips of the trees that lined the front garden, the climb of the moors stretched ahead. She tucked herself onto the seat and her cousin tentatively followed. His tall, gangly figure barely fit, one leg hanging off the side, the other resting precariously on the seat. His hand on the window frame was all that kept him from slipping off and he looked to Lily, still small enough to curl into a small ball at the opposite end.
The only girl he could cope with crying, he sighed when he saw the tell-tale shake of her hands in her lap. He sat up straight, scooting into the centre of the bench, and let her crawl forwards and cry against his shoulder, as though it was the first day of school again and she was upset about leaving her parents behind.
This time, he was sure, she’d rather leave her parents behind a hundred times than face her brother again, and he wouldn’t blame her in the slightest.
James fiddled with the lock of the stolen trunk again, tugging it up and down and occasionally opening the lid in the vain hope that something of value would have materialised. Besides the discovery of a couple of shillings in the bottom of the box which he had promptly discarded in a mix of confusion and disgust, he’d had no such luck. Pushing the lock back into place, he stood up and glanced around the room. It was small, chest-tightening. The white was starting to become clinical, distant, blinding, and he strode to the door, pulling it open for more air. The stairs creaked and he paused.
“James?” Hermione said once she came into view. “Could you come downstairs, please?” He clicked his tongue on the roof of his mouth and shrugged, secretly glad to get out of the confines of the room that was beginning to mark itself on the backs of his eyes. Each step he made on the stairs made his aunt wince, his feet still wrapped in battered old trainers, and she stopped before the living room door. “In you go.”
He glanced down at her but she didn’t say a word, just walked past him and into the kitchen. From the lounge, he could now hear the faint humming of a hushed conversation and he pushed the door open.
His mother’s head swung up almost immediately and the urge in James’ chest to turn and leave made him feel like his ribcage was about to burst. He choked out an incredulous laugh, one deep note doused in confusion, in worry, and in a fear that he would never admit to, then raised his eyebrows.
James shut the door but continued standing, hands curled into fists at his side. Ginny glanced to her husband, who had one hand firmly over hers, but he shook his head. With her free hand, the woman tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and looked back to her son.
“Come home.” She paused to see his reaction, but his face hadn’t so much as twitched. It was like he was set in stone before her, and if only it were that easy. “It’s not fair for you to trespass on your aunt and uncle like this.”
“They could have said no,” he said, shrugging as though there was no problem in his mind. His own mother had as good as shut the door in his face, and his aunt could have done the same.
“You knew they wouldn’t or you wouldn’t have come.” She stopped again at a squeeze of her husband’s hand over hers. They were meant to be sounding convincing – forgiving – enough to entice him back. One step over the line that had formed so solidly between parents and son and they’d be back to square one. “We need to sort this out, James.”
“Don’t play the fool,” Harry warned, the first time he’d spoken and his voice laced in an uncharacteristic level of restraint. James coolly glanced to him before returning his gaze to his mother, willing her to go on with a lift of his eyebrows.
“You stole from your sister,” she said, her voice heavy. “Everything she’d worked for. Every last Knut of it.”
“Some people would say I was being entrepreneurial.”
“Entrepreneurs don’t use money to sleep with dozens of nameless women and travel halfway around the world -”
“I think I managed a full circle, actually.”
“Shut up. Now.” Gone from her voice was the tone of bitten back rationality and distant belief it would work, replaced by frustration, confusion, the urge to pin him down and force him to see what he’d done to her, to everyone. “You left your brother for dead and you know what, in spite of that, he didn’t even protest when we suggested we bring you home.” When James went to protest his innocence, Ginny stood up, dusting off her cloak and ripping her hand from her husband’s. Her voice was calm against the tell-tale flush of her cheeks. She was shaking but she wouldn’t let her son see. She had hidden tears from him when he was a child to save him hurt. This time it was merely to show she was stronger. “That’s what real bravery is.”
She kept her gaze on her son who hadn’t so much as flinched. He towered over her by almost a foot and dug his hands into his pockets.
“So you’re here because Al asked you to come?”
“We’re here -” Harry began, standing too and straightening his back. Smaller by a few inches than James, and decidedly thinner too, he managed to set his face in a gaze of neutrality paralleling his eldest child’s. James sank down onto the arm of the sofa and glanced up. “It was a shock, the other day. Now we’ve got used to it. We’re giving you a second chance.”
He didn’t need to say anything else. The ‘take it’ was implied in every word he spoke. James moved his gaze slowly between his mother and father, eyes dark and giving nothing away. Pressing his palms against his thighs, he forced himself up.
The urge to press for a thank you was burning on the tongues of both his parents, but they were both well aware that it had been an intentional slip. Not letting James rile them had been something they’d talked over and over about before leaving. He wasn’t going to break them this time. They knew what they were dealing with now. Their delusion was long gone.
“We’ll be at home when you’re ready,” Ginny said, through a tight grimace before taking her husband’s hand again and leaving the room. They stopped in the hallway, the door shut tightly behind them, and Hermione appeared tentatively from the kitchen. Ginny smiled at her, out of courtesy more than any form of happiness, and shrugged. The same question was on everyone’s lips: what happened?
A/N: Okay, so what James did – too much? Too little? Too vague? I’m still deciding which I think it is. I promise the in-depth details will come eventually –2-3 chapters time, I think. It’ll tone down the melodrama of this chapter, I believe, and just clear everything up for you.
Huge massive thank you to Molly (SnitchSnatcher) for reading this over and reassuring me that it wasn’t murderous. I really struggled with the second half of this chapter – writer’s block – so I know there’s a bit of a difference in quality between the two. I hope it’s not too obvious.
And in addition to all of the above, I hope you enjoyed it ^_^ Next chapter is being written as we speak. It's about 60% done so I'm not sure when it'll make an appearance but hopefully won't be long.
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by Serena Slade