Chapter 15 : Laughter and Unease
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"Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light."
~ Albert Schweitzer
The next morning marked the beginning of Willow’s week with James and she knew instantly that things were going to be different. She was down late to breakfast having slept past her usual time and her bleary eyes had to scan the table a few times before spotting James. He saw her at the same time and immediately jumped to his feet and started waving enthusiastically. People looked around to see who had inspired this reaction from the infamous Marauder and most were shocked to see that it was not Lily like they had expected, but the Gryffindor nobody. Blushing slightly Willow made her way to the bench opposite James who had finally sat down and was now beaming at her. Holding back a smile at his puppy-like tendencies, Willow realised she was going to be spending a lot of this week being stared at.
And she was right. James never stopped talking; Ever. Most of his talking was accompanied by violent hand gestures and when he got really excited his voice steadily rose and rose, until he was basically shouting. The rest had been respectful, almost fearful of disturbing her, so unless she talked they rarely did. James had no such problem!
He told her about his family, how he was an only child and that his dad was an Auror and his mother worked in the ministry in the sports department. She had been a chaser with the Wimbourne Wasps and it was from her that he had his love of the sport. He shared so many details of his life with Willow that she couldn’t remember half of them and she heard nothing in any of her lessons that first day. In potions he set his cauldron up beside hers and with his incessant chatter managed to ensure that both hers and his potion turned into some gloopy mess and he had to cajole Lily into helping them rescue them. With an eye-roll for James and a sympathetic smile for Willow she did, much to the obvious displeasure of Severus Snape who was seated across the aisle. He glared at James with the utmost loathing and treated Willow to a nasty look too before turning back to his own perfect potion.
Snape wasn’t the only person that week who was annoyed by Willow’s new relationship with the Marauders and Lily and Alice. James was such a well-known character about the school that his reasons for hanging around with Willow quickly became a source of gossip, especially for some of the more catty girls of the school. They had long been resigned to James’ obsession with Lily and had largely given up on him. But now that he was paying attention to a girl who wasn’t Lily, they immediately perked up and set their sights on him again. None of them considered Willow any competition at all. Or at least they didn’t, until the Wednesday.
Flitwick was marginally late for Charms that morning and so the whole class was gathered together outside by the time he arrived. Everyone pushed in together and James, losing sight of Willow, proceeded to sit at the back in her usual seat. He bent to open his bag and heard a body drop into the seat behind him. Sitting up with a smile he turned to Willow. Only to find it wasn’t Willow. Sitting beside him was Heather Finch. Heather was a tall, sallow-skinned, Ravenclaw 7th year with shoulder-length black hair. She was very pretty and unfortunately well aware of that fact. She had been one of the last girls to give up on James when he began declaring his love for Lily and evidently she was ready to pounce again. She smiled confidently at him and tossed her hair back. James smiled hesitantly back and opened his mouth to ask her what she was doing. Before he could say anything though, Willow appeared in front of them. Willow only needed a glance at James’ confused face and Heather’s self-satisfied smirk to understand what was going on, and sighing to herself she stared calmly at Heather and dryly stated:
“Do you mind Heather? That’s my seat.”
Heather appraised Willow coolly, and clearly coming to the conclusion that she wasn’t a serious competitor for James, replied in a sickly-sweet voice:
“There’s loads of space around, er, Maud? James and I are settled nicely here.”
She flashed a brilliant smile at Willow and then turned to James, clearly assuming that would be that. Willow stood for a second, seriously considering demanding that the girl move. Or even demanding that she say her name right! Just as quickly as her anger rose though, it instantly deflated and she decided she just didn’t care about the drama that girls like Heather brought. So Willow calmly walked to the only other empty desk on the other side of the room. Various different people had been watching the exchange interestedly. Heather’s friends who wanted to see if she would succeed in charming James and so viewed Willow’s departure as a victory of sorts. However Lily, Sirius, Remus, Alice and Peter were not so pleased and shot the girl some rather nasty glares. None of which she noticed at all though seeing as she was busy batting her eyelashes at James; she really was the definition of vain, and rarely paid attention to anything that didn’t directly involve her, or wouldn’t benefit her. She assumed that now Willow had left, James would start to return her attentions but she was in for a surprise.
As soon as Willow left, indecision had danced across James’ face. He was unsure if she had left because she was mad at him, in which case he probably should leave her alone, or just because she didn’t want to deal with Heather. As she sat down on her own on the other side though, James decided he didn’t care which one; he sure as hell wasn’t letting her sit by herself again. It was one of the things they had all promised to ensure and he definitely wasn’t going to be the first to break that promise.
So grabbing his stuff he vaulted over his desk and skidded across the classroom, landing in the chair beside Willow just as Flitwick turned to start the class. Shock played across everyone’s face. Had James Potter, Quidditch Captain and Head Marauder, just abandoned Heather Finch, poster girl of perfection, for Mild Millie?! Whispers exploded across the room and Heather looked completely furious as she was left with no other choice than to sit by herself. However no-one looked more astonished than Willow. She just stared at James in amazement until he looked up and grinned;
“What? She’s not exactly the most interesting of partners!”
Despite his flippant remark Willow found herself oddly touched by James’ action, and whether he knew it or not he had just made a statement to the rest of the class. She had a feeling she was no longer going to find herself invisible.
The students of Hogwarts proved her right and over the next few days rumours and whispers were spread. Not just about her relationship with James anymore, instead people began to focus more on her. It didn’t take long before her real name was revealed and plenty of people began to speculate on the mystery surrounding her identity.
Despite all this fuss and attention Willow had to admit to herself that she enjoyed her week with James and having spent the whole time trying hard to not laugh at some of the ridiculous things he said and did, she eventually cracked the last evening in the common room.
He was regaling her with stories of some of the Marauder’s close escapes from the caretaker Leech and one of them involved a mad chase around the castle ending with Peter running headfirst into a wall, that he thought was a secret passageway and knocking himself out. James’ expressions and gestures as he told the story and the image alone of Peter lying prone on the ground and Sirius, James’ and Remus’ panic as they tried to escape whilst having to carry his body were just too much for Willow and startling even herself, she let out a peal of laughter. Once she had started she couldn’t stop and sat shaking in her chair for a few minutes.
Lily, Remus and Sirius were scattered about the common room too and immediately looked up on hearing her laugh. They were shocked at the sight of Willow unable to sit straight and the tears rolling down her cheeks. James, sitting beside her wasn’t much better seeing as he had the actual memories and her laughter was so contagious. Sirius and Remus stared at each other before starting to smile and Lily muttered to herself ‘’well I never thought Potter would manage to break through’’ and stared at James with an unreadable expression in her eyes. Sirius couldn’t get the sound of her laugh out of his head, and he couldn’t help but think that her surname suited her perfectly. Willow went to bed that night still feeling the effects of her outburst earlier and finding it hard to stop smiling.
Peter’s week with Willow came straight after James’ and it was probably this fact that made it feel less exciting than the others. Willow had to admit to herself that she knew very little about the shortest Marauder and, as such, she went into the week just as apprehensive as he was. But she ended up pleasantly surprised. He mightn’t have been as entertaining as James or as interesting as Remus and the girls but he had a certain charm to himself.
The first few days were spent with very few words passing between them but, Willow didn’t find herself feeling awkward at all. Perhaps it was because she had begun to get used to being around people or maybe Peter himself had something to do with it. For a boy who didn’t say much he had very relaxed aura surrounding him and he conveyed much in his actions. One example of this came in Care of Magical Creatures when they began studying Thestrals.
The professor didn’t explain the lesson to them when they arrived, instead he just lead them a slight way into the forest and disappeared into the trees. Suddenly noises could be heard and people began to feel something brushing up against them. Everyone looked confused and a few screams broke out. People were panicking slightly when the professor eventually returned and were relieved to hear his explanation; except for 3 students who hadn't needed to his words to know what surrounded them. They were a boy from Hufflepuff who was staring to his left, shaking slightly, his eyes completely focused, and both Peter and Willow. A Thestral stood between them and as they both reached out to stroke it, they realised that the other was aware of its presence. Peter stared intently at Willow over the back of the creature and she felt like he was examining her. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant feeling and she shivered slightly. Blinking, Peter broke his stare and smiled sadly at her.
“I always wonder why creatures associated with such pain and grief are, for the most part, such docile and weak beings. Makes you think who was having a laugh when they were formed,” he remarked as he ran his hand down the nose of the Thestral before them.
His insight surprised Willow and, although his use of the work ‘weak’ disturbed her for reasons she couldn’t quite grasp, she was also gratified by the fact that he hadn't begun demanding why she could see the creatures. It showed a maturity and sensitivity that she hadn't really thought he possessed. Her week with Peter left Willow feeling a strange connection to the boy. He was a much more complex personality than she’d imagined or indeed witnessed with his friends and she felt there was even more to him further under the surface.
As she lay in bed that Sunday night she found herself reflecting on the memories she had of the past 4 weeks. There was such a mixture of humour, sorrow, entertainment and anger that her mind danced and whirled. She knew she was slipping deeper and deeper and soon, she would probably find herself caring about these people as friends. This thought frightened and, for the first time, excited her. The possibility of the laughter and companionship she had experienced becoming an everyday part of her life raised such feelings of hope and longing within her that she knew the battle for prudence and distance was half lost.
But as she drifted off to sleep, a feeling of unease crept over her and Peter’s voice whispered through her mind;
And for the first time in a month, the nightmares invaded her dreams.
A/N: Look a chapter that didn't take weeks! And I have the next one written too! I'm shocked myself ;) I know this one is shorter than the past few have been but I've found myself stretching situations that didn't need addition, just to try and get a larger word count and I think it affected the quality. So from now on where theres a natural break that's where I'm going to stop even if it seems pretty short. I'd rather have fewer words but a good chapter than a long chapter with no flow. Review please!!!! Because we're getting close to some Sirius moments at last!! :D
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