Chapter 22 : Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow *
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Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow
Bleeding Love – Leona Lewis
'Love is a friendship set to music.'
E. Joseph Cossman
The last five days had been hell on earth.
After living through them, James thought he’d never complain about anything for as long as he lived, provided he didn’t have to go through something like that again.
Five days of forced civility, of Neville glaring at him and pulling him aside for little ‘chats’.
James had had more ‘chats’ with the Headmaster in the past few days than he wanted to have again, ever.
There had been the expected jubilant owls from his mother and grandmother, as well as several other members of his family. James didn’t really know what to think about those. He was happy that his mum was proud of him, for once, but what would she think if she found out how begrudgingly he went about his Head Boy duties?
This was one of the many things that Neville had threatened him with over the past five days.
To his credit, James felt that he was doing the best he could, under the circumstances. For a start, there were so many duties assigned to the Heads, things he’d never even thought about before. He’d known that they were in charge of the Prefects and their duties, but he hadn’t known that that included a weekly meeting with said Prefects. Or, which was worse, that he was actually supposed to contribute to the meeting.
Their first such conference had been held two days ago, and it had been an unmitigated disaster. He’d been late, because he’d forgotten and then couldn’t find the room, Stac had snubbed him from the start, and then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, she’d told him off in front of everyone for being rude to one of the Slytherin Prefects.
After the meeting had concluded, they’d exchanged some rather tense words on the proper etiquette at such an event, but had stopped the exchange before it progressed into a fully-fledged fight.
By mutual, unspoken, agreement, they were both spending the absolute minimum amount of time in each other’s company. When they were forced together, usually on the Headmaster’s direct orders, they maintained a generally polite, if cold, relationship. But it wouldn’t last long. James could feel it.
And tonight was quite possibly the use-by date for their civility. The Gryffindor New Year’s party was going to be a massive event, and Anastacia was reportedly going to attend. It would be the first time they’d be attending a social event together in their new capacities, and James really didn’t know how it was going to go.
The rest of the school, on the whole, thought that they had a normal, easy relationship. Maybe not friendship, exactly, there were too many rumours flying around for that.
But no one suspected how they really felt about each other. Every time they were in the same room, sparks flew. They couldn’t have a conversation without arguing, couldn’t hold a discussion without butting heads, couldn’t even say a few passing words without making jibes at the other person.
Anastacia had closed down completely. The only time she became even slightly animated was when they argued. And something about her impassivity fuelled James’ anger. Every time they had an encounter, he would leave it fuming, snapping at anyone in his way.
Sam and Josh had become really good at quickly summoning James’ broom, handing it to him, and pushing him out the door.
Owen had become even better at giving James slightly mournful, slightly disappointed stares from across the room.
Terry was completely wrapped up in his relationship with Margie, and James wasn’t sure he even knew what was going on.
Which was fine. The less people that knew the better.
So far, those that did know about the true nature of the relations between the Heads were his close friends, his family, and Scorpius Malfoy, the latter only because he’d inadvertently walked in on one of their…discussions.
These days, James couldn’t even think about Malfoy without getting mad.
Currently, he was in the Gryffindor seventh year boy’s dorm, getting ready for the party. He’d decided to move into his new rooms the next day, so tonight was both a New Year’s celebration and a goodbye party of sorts for him. His mates had been in awe of his new room and common room, and had already tested the charm that kicked groups of people out of the common room if they stayed after a certain time. It had produced amusing results.
Barely glancing at himself in the mirror, James headed down the stairs, to where the party was starting to get into its stride. As soon as he stepped into the common room, he was immediately flanked by a group of giggling girls, all doing their best to stand the closest to him.
His star had certainly risen with his new post, and James found himself being sought out by more girls than ever. Sylvia Blackthorn had tried to stake her claim, at first, but she no longer held any interest for James. He’d told her so, almost point blank, but that hadn’t stopped her from pressing, again and again, interrupting moments with his friends and family to try her suit.
That had stopped a few days ago. He didn’t exactly know why, but he thought the militant gleam in Lily’s eye when she’d come down to dinner one night might have had something to do with it.
Tonight, however, he didn’t want to think about Head’s business, or psychotic stalkers, or lectures, or anything like that.
Tonight he wanted to forget about it all and have a good time.
And by Merlin’s ragged blue undies, he was bloody well going to!
She was wrong.
Five days hadn’t been enough time to prepare herself.
She doubted five hundred years would have been enough.
It was times like these that Anastacia was glad that the Head students had separate rooms from their respective houses. She was going to pieces in front of the mirror and she was supremely grateful that there was no one else around to witness it.
The entire contents of her wardrobe had been flung unceremoniously on her bed, which was quite literally groaning under the weight of so many shoes and dresses and jackets and shirts and trousers and other assorted paraphernalia only found in the far reaches of a teenage girl’s closet.
The only non-rumpled item of clothing was a dress hanging neatly on the outside of her wardrobe door. Taking her old Headmistress’ advice, Anastacia had indeed gone out and bought a new dress. It had looked fine in the shop, but now…
Stop it, she told herself fiercely. It looks exactly the same now as it did in the shop. The only difference is that you weren’t a mental case when you bought it.
The dress was beautiful. It was made of some silky material, it was a lovely shade of blue that matched her eyes well, and she’d loved it when she’d bought it.
Now she hated it.
Sighing, she pulled the dress on over her head and looked at the effect critically in the mirror. How on earth could she look perfectly normal all through the day and look so hideous now? Telling herself she was being ridiculous, she brushed out her hair and slipped on a pair of blue earrings. She also got out the makeup kit Rose had given her for Christmas and put some mascara on, feeling a little devilish.
Yeah, a little mascara and I’m the school bad girl. Grow up, Anastacia.
She grabbed a pair of shoes and a black cardigan. The common rooms, with their roaring fires, were lovely and warm, but the corridors were still freezing. She should really take a proper jacket, even if she was only going to Gryffindor Tower, but she didn’t want to have to remember it later.
Denying herself a final look in the mirror, she strode out the door and past the Heads’ common room. James had yet to move in to Marcus’ old room, so he wasn’t here to walk over with her.
She tried not to be too grateful for that. Everything was spiralling out of control, and the less time they spent together, the better.
With a loud sigh and a mental rebuke to stop being such a coward, she set off for Gryffindor Tower.
She didn’t encounter anyone on the way. No doubt they were all at celebrations of their own. The trip took less time than usual because she walked fast to keep herself warm in the draughty passageways.
The idea to hold a big New Year’s celebration had seemed like a good idea at the time, way back in October, but now Anastacia was cursing her consent to the decision. All it meant was that there were more people around expecting her to be normal and less places for her to hide if everything became too much.
When she reached the tower, she paused outside the portrait hole. With hands that only trembled slightly, she smoothed her hair and skirt. She took a deep breath and looked up at the Fat Lady apprehensively.
‘How do I look?’ she whispered nervously.
The Fat Lady smiled at her maternally.
‘Beautiful, dear, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’
‘Thank you,’ Anastacia whispered gratefully, ‘Nouvelle année.’
The portrait swung forward and she hesitantly climbed through, steeling herself to be normal, or as normal as was possible in light of recent events. What she saw upon her entrance, however, was enough to stop her cold.
The room had been decorated lavishly with streamers and enchanted lights. Photos of the past year lined the walls, smiling, waving, and pulling faces at the people below them. The room was packed, and not only with Gryffindors; some Ravenclaws and a good number of Hufflepuffs had evidently been invited to join in the fun. Scorpius, who stood in a corner talking to Rose and Albus, was clearly the token Slytherin.
But that wasn’t what had caught her attention.
James stood in the centre of the room, surrounded by a large, predominantly female, group, most of whom were ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ over his shiny new badge. He was lapping it up, his face split by a huge grin, obviously enjoying the attention. As Anastacia watched, Claudia Higgins, a Ravenclaw fifth year wearing a top cut so low that she threatened to spill out of it at any moment, reached out to lay her hand on his arm, giggling at something he’d said. James smiled down at her and at the rest of the group.
Anastacia felt sick. Suddenly she couldn’t bear to be in the same room. Turning quickly on her heel, she climbed back through the portrait hole and beat a hasty retreat.
James caught a flash of blue out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head just in time to see a long mane of brown hair disappear through the portrait hole. Rolling his eyes at the theatrics, he turned back to the surrounding girls, but was stopped midsentence by sudden feeling of being watched.
Looking up, he found Rose and Albus staring at him from across the room. Rose’s face bore the infamous Weasley glare, while Albus was coolly impassive. As he met their eyes, Rose jerked her head in the direction of the portrait hole.
Sighing inwardly, James reluctantly strode off to follow, not even bothering to say goodbye to his fan club.
She ran along the corridor, coming to a stop only when she could no longer hear the noise from the party. Leaning against the stone wall, Anastacia raised her cold hands to her forehead, trying to dull the throbbing pain that was starting up behind her eyes. For a moment, she concentrated on her breathing, attempting to slow the gasping sobs threatening to overwhelm her.
What was the matter with her? Why did she care who James was talking to? It was a free country, last time she’d checked. They’d made a truce, but that didn’t mean anything. He could speak to whoever he liked about whatever he liked.
Then why did she feel as though she’d just been punched in the stomach, again?
That wasn’t it, she told herself stubbornly. It was just shocking to see him enjoying himself like that. She’d thought that the past few days of feigning civility had been as hard for him as they had been for her.
She sighed brokenly. Why did the party have to be tonight? Stupid question, she thought wryly. This had basically been all her idea, after all.
Of course, back then she hadn’t thought she’d be at this much of a loss. She hadn’t known what would happen.
But she really needed to talk to Rose and Scorpius, and she couldn’t. For the second time this year, she really had no idea what to do.
Her head whipped around in shock and horror. Of all the– why did he have to choose this one night to be observant?
James finally spotted a dark figure in the shadows against the outer wall of the castle. He trotted down the corridor, peering into the darkness.
‘Sangraal? You right?’
Anastacia turned her face back to the wall and could have groaned aloud.
‘Go back to your party, Potter.’
‘Fine. I will. I only came out because Rose and Albus made me.’
He turned angrily and took a few steps in the direction he’d come, before pausing and throwing back over his shoulder, almost as an afterthought,
‘I didn’t ask for this, you know. Being Head Boy and all. I was trying to refuse it when you came barging in.’
She sniffed disbelievingly.
The sound stung him, and he swung back around to face her, his eyes narrowed.
‘You don’t believe me?’
‘Do you think I’m stupid? Being Head Boy gives you power and position. Only a fool would turn that down.’
‘Well, I guess I’m a fool then.’
She turned away so that he could no longer see her face.
‘I guess you are. Now, shouldn’t you be getting back? I’m sure there’s at least one girl in that room who hasn’t thrown herself at you yet.’
That was too far. He knew girls like Sylvia and Claudia Higgans were only after him because of who he was – he’d always known, because it had always been that way. But for her to say it–! As if that was what he cared about!
That was crossing a line.
James covered the small distance between them, game face on, ready for war. She wasn’t the only one who knew how to hurt someone else.
‘You think you’re so perfect,’ he told her sneeringly, ‘you think you’ve got it all together. And yet you can’t even hold yourself together, can you? What are you, jealous? Because people never like you as much as they like me?’
She didn’t reply, so he went on.
‘Is that why you had to take Malfoy? ‘Cause no one else would take you? ‘Though a little birdie told me he dumped you. Guess he didn’t like you either.’
That got a response. She whirled around on the spot to glare at him.
‘Shut up, Potter.’
He couldn’t remember ever having called her by her last name before tonight. There was a brief, split second of hurt that flashed through her eyes before she had a chance to control it, but he saw it before she did, and it felt good. It felt good to think that she was being made to feel as rotten as he already did.
‘Do you think you’re above us, do you? Is that it? Is that what’s made you so upset about me replacing Marcus, the fact that now you can’t pretend that you’re better than me?’
She’d flinched at the name, but stood her ground, meeting him glare for glare, refusing to answer for her actions.
‘You go on all about me and girls, but what about that harem of blokes you drag around, hmm?’
The glance she sent him was murderous.
‘Don’t talk about things you don’t understand.’
He smiled at the small victory of getting her to answer back, but it was a cold smile with a cruel edge.
‘Oh, I understand. I understand that you can’t do anything without their approval, can’t go anywhere without them, you can’t even talk to someone if they don’t want you to. Tell me, did they chaperone your dates with Malfoy? Or did he get special privilege ‘cause he’s one of them?’
Scoffing, he looked away briefly, then refocused on her face.
‘You know, my sister used to look up to you so much. End of first year, she told mum she wanted to be like you when she grew up. Now? Well, I guess you’re not really a role model any more, are you?’
Stac’s eyes were dull. Her face, when she turned it up for him to see, was pale and tense with checked emotion.
‘Are you enjoying this?’ she demanded balefully, ‘Does it make you feel good, hurting someone like this?’
James took a small, involuntary step away, driven back by the level of emotion in her voice, but recovered himself and shot an angry reply back at her.
‘I’m not the one who meant to hurt people.’
‘No? And what do you call this, then? A friendly discussion?’
‘I’d call this your temper running away with you. Your fault, not mine.’
She gaped at him, speechless, and all of a sudden the victory didn’t feel quite so good anymore. He tried to hang onto the anger, but it was starting to slip away, slowly being replaced by a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
‘Don’t you dare judge me. Bastard.’
Stac’s voice was hoarse, thick with accent and emotion. James had been looking away, trying to stop the guilt and regret from rising. Both of those emotions vanished at her words, and he raised his eyes to her face once more, wearing a cynical smile.
‘Right back at you, sweetheart.’
‘I tried to make everything right with you! I did everything I could.’
‘Yeah, ‘cause a frickin’ letter’s just going to erase the past and make it all better. Grow up. You put us through hell for months and months, and now you just expect everything to be okay? I know you went up there to try and force me out of this position. If it wasn’t for that, I might actually have quit. Now I’m going to do it just to spite you. Neville might be forcing us to work together, but do me a favour? Don’t pretend that there’s anything more than mutual dislike between us anymore.’
She sneered aristocratically at him.
‘Don’t flatter yourself that you know anything about what goes on in my mind.’
‘I know that it must be a pretty twisted place for you to think Malfoy’s a good idea.’
‘Well, he’s certainly better than Sylvia Blackthorn. And at least I don’t shag the first person who lets me drag them into a broom-closet. Or anything that moves, for that matter.’
‘Maybe that’s your problem. Maybe you’re so sexually frustrated that all you need is a good shag to sort you out. Maybe M–’
But he bit off the sentence before he finished. Even now, even in the midst of their biggest fight, he wasn’t about to bring that night up.
Some things really were taboo.
But, it seemed, not for her.
‘What, James?’ she demanded furiously, ‘Maybe Marcus had it right? Maybe you should have let him go ahead? Is that what you’re saying?’
‘No!’ he ground out vehemently. And it was the truth. No matter how much he hated her, he’d never regret his actions that night. How could he?
‘I was your best friend for years,’ she continued, ‘all I needed you to do was trust me. And you couldn’t even do that.’
‘Trust you? When you pushed me so far away I may as well have been in Antarctica? Where the hell do you find trust in a situation like that?’
‘I needed you to find it! I don’t care where or how! You have no idea what I’ve been through–’
‘What you’ve been through! What about me? One moment you’re coming to Quidditch games and refusing to sleep unless I’m there,–’
‘–can’t believe I suffered through all of that for someone who didn’t even want me–’
‘–the next you’re shunning me completely and swanning around with that git!’
‘–let alone wasn’t worth it!’
They glared at each other from across the space, breathing hard. Stac was fighting tears and losing. The first crystal drops had already started to hang, prism-like, from her lashes.
And something in James, some wall, just…shattered.
‘You…stupid…’ he began brokenly, but Stac interrupted and took up the attack anew.
‘Stupid? I’m stupid? I’m not the one who can’t see past an ancient grudge that isn’t even mine t –’
But she got no further.
James, moving like a man possessed, crossed the small distance between them, took her face in both hands, and firmly pressed his lips to hers.
A shock like lightening lanced through Anastacia at that first contact. Her eyes flew wide and her hands, half-raised instinctively in front of her, fisted in the front of his shirt. Weakly, mind not sure where to focus or what to do, she tried to push him away.
But the body before her was heavy and muscled, and her movements had no effect. None, except that James reached between them, not breaking the contact, and took both of her wrists in his hands, effectively cutting off her leverage.
Fear leapt to life inside of her. Then he leaned into her, and panic roared.
Through the kiss, James dimly realised that she was struggling, fighting him.
That she was trying, not simply to resist, but to escape.
And that she was becoming increasingly frantic.
Breaking the contact between them, he watched, bemused, as she desperately twisted her hands from his grip and pushed him away with all the strength she possessed. Staggering, she took a few steps away and leant against the wall. Her breath sawed in and out raggedly, and James realised with a start that she was one step away from hysterical panic.
Then his world suddenly came crashing down as he realised why.
‘Stac…god, Stac, I’m so sorry…I never should’ve–’
‘Get away from me!’
Her strangled cry held an element of terror, and James winced at the thought of the memories his rash actions must have called forth.
But other than self-loathing, and the concern for her well-being, he was empty of any other feelings. All the anger, and the distrust, and every other emotion that he’d been stocking up for days and weeks and months had gone. Disappeared, as if it had never been there at all.
‘Stac?’ he tried again, taking a step towards her. She shrank back, but he held his ground.
‘Stac, look at me. I’m not Marcus. It’s me. It’s James.’
She did look at him, then, her eyes as wild and as frightened as they had been on the fateful night he’d found her. Maintaining that eye-contact, he took another, smaller, step in her direction.
‘It’s James. Listen to me – I will never, ever hurt you.’
Stac’s lungs were tight and her heart pounding with fear, but as he spoke, his words came crashing through.
Not Marcus… whispered some part of her brain, and all of a sudden, the fear started to subside. With a great sigh, she tumbled forward into James’ outstretched arms.
James held her as tightly as he dared, thanking whatever benevolent saint was passing that he had stopped in time, before the black memories had swallowed her whole.
‘It’s alright, it’s alright,’ he murmured against her hair.
A strange case of déjà vu went winging through him.
Pressed against his chest, anchored by the steady sound of his heartbeat, Anastacia tried to bludgeon her rioting wits into action.
‘You have to go.’
But she couldn’t bring herself to let him go long enough for that to happen. Nor did he seem particularly willing to let his arms loosen their iron grip.
‘Stac…what I said, about not hurting you? I meant it.’
That brought her back to their current situation with a start. Letting go of his shirt, she moved to step back.
For a moment, his arms stayed in place. Then, with obvious effort, he released her from his hold.
‘You hurt me before. With what you said,’ she replied in an even voice, eyeing him warily.
James ran his hand through his hair in frustration.
‘Forget what I said. I just wanted to get you back for how I was feeling.’
Eyes locking on hers again, he made to move forwards, but stopped at the warning in her eyes.
‘Stac…’ he swallowed, the effort that this speech cost him evident in his stiff posture.
‘I’m…sorry, this isn’t easy for me,’ he explained slowly, ‘it’s not something I’ve really had much experience at…’
Anastacia’s face was a mask of confusion.
‘I…I’m mad about you, Stac. I figured it out the day you started dating Malfoy, but I reckon it’s been going on much longer than that.’
Heart thumping wildly in his chest, James stared at Stac, who was avoiding his eyes. Glancing briefly at his face, she slanted her gaze away again, looking at the floor.
‘I’m not taking the mick, Stac, I mean it. I’m serious.’
‘No. Stop it…you can’t.’
Her voice was firm, controlled even, but the look in her eyes as she raised them to his was anguished. He was reminded again of their fight during the Christmas Ball, when she’d turned that same expression on him as he’d reached out to touch her.
Which made him remember something else, too.
‘You feel something for me,’ he said, in what was not quite a statement, but not quite a question, ‘I know you do. You couldn’t hide then, and you can’t now.’
‘Stop it,’ she demanded.
Now her lower lip was starting to tremble, while her hands clasped and unclasped restlessly in front of her. Her gaze had returned to the floor, and it seemed force of will was the only thing keeping her upright.
James took a small step forward, then, when she made no sign of protest, another, and another.
Which brought him right up to her, so close they were almost touching. He reached down and stilled her hands. Stac froze, still refusing to meet his eyes.
‘Look me in the eyes,’ he begged, voice very low, ‘tell me you feel nothing for me, and I’ll believe you.’
Anastacia looked down at her hands, now twined in his, and then up into his face, closer than she could ever remember it being before.
‘Don’t ask that of me, Potter.’
James shook his head.
‘No, no more Potter. Just…James.’
‘I…can’t,’ she pressed, shaking her head, but his face was drawing ever nearer and she was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on what she was saying. ‘Potter – James – there’s something…about me you don’t…know–’
She gasped in surprise as his lips, soft and mobile and oh-so warm, lowered onto hers, gently, barely making contact.
‘I don’t care,’ he breathed against her mouth. His warm hands slid around her waist, supporting her full weight as he drew her closer to him. Anastacia found her hands making their way along his arms of their own accord, all fear forgotten. This was different, this was good…
No! This was not good! She tried to make herself pull back, but couldn’t.
‘I don’t care,’ James whispered again, his lips now laying soft kisses at the corners of her mouth, ‘I don’t know anything about your family or your past, and I don’t care. I know you, and that’s all that matters.’
It was so hard, so hard, not to give in. Not to lean close and let her lips touch his again. That one, small touch had sent shudders racing down her spine. The temptation to let him try again, to try it herself, was so strong…
James lifted his head from hers a fraction, looking into her blue eyes, trying to read whatever secrets were hidden in their depths.
His arms tightened around her, pulling her even closer, until she was pressed against his chest. His eyes bored into hers, leaving her with nothing to hide behind. She bit her lower lip nervously and his eyes darkened, hazel shot with old gold.
‘Jem–’, she protested in a strangled whisper, ‘we…we can’t. What if someone sees?’
‘Let them,’ he growled in his throat. Anastacia shivered, her eyelids starting to fall closed against her will.
‘Jem…’ she murmured again, but this time it was more plea than protest and James, needing no further invitation, set his lips gently to hers.
Again, she gasped, shocked by the strange feelings lacing through her body, unlike anything she had ever experienced. Her hands clutched at his hair, trying desperately to find something to steady herself as his lips moved on hers, soft and beguiling. She didn’t have time to think, couldn’t find it in herself to move away. Every fear she had at the thought of their discovery, every dark moment of residual memory, they were all swept aside by the aching sweetness of his kiss, a sweetness that stole her breath and made her toes curl.
Much too soon for her liking, James raised his head.
‘Well,’ he faltered, his voice cracking slightly, ‘that didn’t seem to go all that badly. I mean, we didn’t get struck by lightning or anything. The castle’s still standing.’
Anastacia was astonished to realise that he was nervous. Scared, even. James Sirius Potter, the biggest egomaniac to grace Hogwarts since his grandfather, was scared! Of her! Or, at least, of the power of her opinion. She smiled at him shyly, feeling much younger and smaller than her years.
‘We could always try again,’ she theorized quietly, ‘perhaps it only works through repeated use.’
James nodded shortly and brought his head back down to hers. Anastacia stretched up on her tip-toes, sliding her arms around his neck, her fingers into his dark hair. One of his hands came to cradle her face; the other still held her waist tightly. It was a good thing too – without it, there was a strong chance she’d have fallen, as her knees had gone completely weak. Anastacia shuddered as a searing heat brushed her lips and then opened her mouth on a sigh.
It was a few minutes more before either of them raised their heads, Anastacia with her eyes still closed. As she tried to remember how to open them, she heard James give his throaty chuckle, the one that made her feel as if she’d just been hit with the Jelly-Legs curse.
‘Castle still standing?’ she asked with a soft laugh, eyes still shut.
‘Yep,’ came the reply. She finally managed to make her muscles obey and found herself staring once more into a pair of sparkling hazel eyes. He looked happier and more at peace than she’d seen him for months. More like the old James. He laughed again.
‘Third time’s the charm.’
The third time definitely did seem to do the trick. The dynamic of the kiss had now somehow changed. James held her against him fiercely, and she found herself clutching him just as tight. They were now pressed against the wall, Anastacia using it as leverage to stand taller, bringing her face closer to James’.
Once, fear started to rise in her mind and made her tense. But James gentled his approach as soon as she stiffened, soothing her, gently reminding her of his promise, and in short order the dark wave of emotion subsided. It didn’t rise again.
One of her hands had returned to the back of his neck, but the other was trapped between them, spread on his chest. She tried to move it to join the other, but there wasn’t enough room.
However, as she moved it, or attempted to move it, sideways, James groaned softly. Anastacia, fascinated, moved her hand again, drawing it slowly across the broad planes of his chest, even more surprised to find the muscles tensing under her hand.
Suddenly, James was pulled away with a jerk. Anastacia opened her eyes confusedly and saw a tall blonde boy throw James against the opposite wall of the corridor. His arm swung back, and then his fist connected with James’ face with an audible and sickening crack. James slid to the ground dazedly, blood pouring from his nose.
Anastacia’s jaw dropped. She ran forward.
‘Creeten! Arrête! Arrête maintenant!’
Forgetting herself completely, she tried to tug him away, but the boy threw her off with a shake of his arm. She landed on the floor, somewhat stunned and winded.
James was on his feet instantly, his vision a haze of red.
‘You bloody bastard!’ he roared, ‘Don’t you touch her!’
He strode forward, intent on finishing off the boy in the most horrific way possible, but before he had the chance, there was a cry of ‘Stupefy!’ and the boy crumpled to the ground.
Anastacia groaned and leaned back against the wall. James hurried to her side.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked concernedly.
She nodded vaguely, then noticed James’ face.
‘You’re hurt!’ she cried, raising her wand again.
‘Episkey! Tergeo!’ James’ nose grated dully, flaring hot and cold and eventually returning to normal. When he looked down, his clothes were clean, showing no traces of blood or dirt.
He looked at Anastacia again, anxiously, but she was staring at the prostrate figure on the floor.
‘Merlin’s beard, I’m so dead,’ she breathed worriedly.
James laughed cautiously.
‘Why? Stunning a member of your fan club who happened to see us together is hardly cause for someone to murder you.’
‘No, James, you don’t understand.’
Her voice had taken on a panicked quality that made James more than a little worried. He tried to take her in his arms, to pull her closer, but she wriggled away, pointing at the stunned boy.
‘That’s Creeten Zarlow.’
‘So?’ he asked, not seeing the point, ‘One of your Slytherin suitors is pretty much like the rest.’
‘James, he’s not my suitor.’
The panic had spread to her eyes, which were even wider than usual in her white face. Her breathing was shaky, and it occurred to James that she might be going into shock. He reached for her again, taking her hand in his. This time, she allowed him the contact.
‘Stac, what is it? What’s wrong?’
She took a deep, albeit unsteady, breath.
‘Creeten Zarlow isn’t my suitor, James. He’s my guard.’
Wow, cliff-hanger much? Sorry, guys, I promise that all will be revealed shortly. And when I say all, I do mean all; questions will be answered and theories held up for testing. Stay tuned! Ta!
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