Chapter Ten: A Family Touch
There was something definitely distinctly different about the Rose he was staying with and the Rose he remembered. Still as bossy and grown-up as ever, she now had a scatty, forgetful part to her that resulted in him coming out of the bathroom to see her crawling on her hands and knees looking for something else that she’d managed to lose.
“If you put things away, you know you wouldn’t have this issue?” James said as he glanced around for his wand to dry his hair off with. Picking it up off the top of the coffee table, he glanced at the magazine underneath. “Never knew you read this trash,” he said, flapping the copy of Witch Weekly in her direction. She glanced around.
“Not mine,” she said. “Ella’s.”
Last he’d heard, his cousin was definitely straight and definitely didn’t keep things her friends left cluttering up her paperwork. She might have become a little untidy, but she was very strict on all the mess in question being hers. He’d been allowed a small bit of floor space near the bookcase to pile his few possessions but anything that crept towards her organised chaos was threatened with fire.
“Yeah,” she replied, looking over her shoulder as she felt under the chair. “Elle?” There was a second scuffling noise and from the other side of the settee and a blonde head popped up. “Meet James. James, Ella.” The girl smiled and stood up properly. She was small by comparison to him and she stumbled around the sofa to hold her hand out to shake.
“Nice to meet you,” she said. He nodded with a smile.
“I’ve lost a report.” She didn’t sound especially concerned. Her voice was lilting, Scottish. He’d always found the accent fairly annoying but hers was softer, less abrasive. “I think I might have left it here last week.”
“Let me help,” he said, pulling out his wand. He tried every variation on a Summoning spell he could think of but nothing brought the right piece of paper. James sucked on his lip from the paper cut he’d had from his first – completely moronic, to quote Rose – attempt with Accio Paper
. She’d said he deserved it. He’d given her the finger when Ella wasn’t looking.
“Are you sure
you didn’t take it to work?” he asked, getting to his feet and running his hand back through his dusty, dirty hair. She stood up too, wiping her forehead and looking around hopelessly as Rose flattened herself to the floor and swept her hand under the bookcase.
“Yes,” she said. “Fairly.” Rose turned and narrowed her eyes. “This was the last place I remember having it.”
“Why did you let her have it anyway?” James asked, ignoring Rose’s huffing and turning to Ella who had seated herself on the arm of the sofa and was chewing on one of her nails. She looked startled to see him talking to her.
“Rose checks it all through for me before I hand it to my editor,” she said and the presence of the magazine made sense to him then. She was a journalist. “Makes sure I’m not being too academic for the readership.” He laughed lightly.
“She should be working for the bloody Prophet,” Rose grumbled, sitting up and tapping her fingers on her knees. “Not writing about why seeing a Manticore at one o’clock will bring death knocking upon your family’s door.”
“Not true, by the way,” Ella added, “but anything to keep them happy.” James gave a small laugh but the blonde had already looked away. “Don’t worry. It’ll turn up. We’ve got another day yet.” She stood up and grabbed her magazine and a small stack of purple parchment from underneath it that James hadn’t noticed earlier. “I’ll see you later,” she said. “Bye James.”
He echoed a goodbye and watched Ella disappear out of the door. Rose tutted and started putting all her furniture back together, siphoning off any dislodged dust with her wand.
“Is she okay getting home?” James asked, still watching the door. Rose laughed and kicked his pile of stuff further into the shadow of the bookcase.
“Eyes back in your head,” she said. “She only lives downstairs.”
She collapsed on the sofa and he smirked. Rose was less uptight these days too. There was a time when she would be the one seated primly on the edge of her chair whilst the others sprawled and fought and sat three to a seat in their grandparents’ home. She had been his best friend, once. He couldn’t remember what had happened. Time, natural separation, the personality clash, all of it had probably contributed to the replacement of a thousand childhood memories by the more vivid, more recent, more adventurous years at Hogwarts with Dominique and those that had seemed so much more exciting.
The three days had passed a little awkwardly, in all truth. He had been relegated to the sofa and every day, they had to hide his blankets under her bed in case someone arrived unexpectedly. He had loitered around the flat during the time Rose was in work and when she got home, he sat quietly in the sitting room whilst she cooked or worked or read. Now it was Saturday morning and he was starting to get bored of clothes that were hanging off his frame and not getting so much as a gasp of fresh air. Ella had been the first human being he’d seen that wasn’t Rose since the wedding, and the first he wasn’t related to for an age. It had been refreshing.
“Rose?” he asked as she flicked idly through the pages of whichever book was lying on the coffee table. She glanced up and nodded for him to continue. “I think I might go into town.” She stopped turning the pages and looked up properly. He raised his eyebrows. “If that’s okay?”
“I’m not your guard dog,” she said. “With what money, out of interest?”
“I’m not going to nick your purse out of your knicker drawer while you’re not looking, don’t worry,” he said, his voice tight and defensive. She rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“I wasn’t implying that,” she said before adding, “though I’d rather you nicked it off me than nicked something from a shop.”
He stood up, hoisting his trousers and running his hand back through his hair, realising with a jolt he smelled like a bookshop and that his newly washed hair had turned a dusky brown rather than its normal heavy black. He didn’t say anything to Rose’s comment, just walked past and locked himself in the bathroom again.
Under the spray of the shower, he found it easier to think. Rose had turned up at that pub, where he was so off his face he couldn’t even remember name, and dragged him back to hers. It made no sense. He had barely spoken a word to her since they were thirteen and suddenly, she had become his knight in shining armour. He shuddered. Bad choice of words; he wasn’t anyone’s damsel in distress.
Sometimes, he thought he was a bad person. Not in that way that most people think of themselves from time to time, after they’ve dumped someone or fallen out with a friend, but a properly, deep down inside rotten man. Man. He scoffed. He definitely wasn’t that.
In two and a half years, he’d forgotten why he’d left in the first place. Even coming back hadn’t triggered it to start but now he recognised the guilt from the wedding was settling in and so were the memories. He hadn’t meant to do hurt anyone. He hadn’t meant to hurt himself and yet that was exactly what he’d done. He had changed himself, moulded himself to fit different people’s expectations and it had torn him apart. What was wrong became okay and what was erring on the wrong side of caution became an invitation, and he had drank and smoked and woken up in more beds than he cared to count in more countries than he could remember.
But the money had to run out eventually. He’d come back for lack of anywhere else to go. His friends had gone forgotten. His past girlfriends had moved on. He only had family and to face them was to face the reason he was how he was. He hadn’t expected it to hit so hard.
“James?” The rap on the door was sharp and he jumped, realising he’d been standing under the water for ten minutes and not so much as picked up the soap. He turned it off and called back. “Someone here to see you.”
“Give me ten,” he said, his voice crackling and before Rose could reply, he turned the shower back on. Nobody knew where he was. Nobody could know. Rose had said it herself; she was putting herself in a precarious position by letting him lodge there. He had said it made him sound like a fugitive. She hadn’t laughed. He didn’t blame her. It wasn’t funny, no matter how many times he tried to lighten the mood.
Unless, of course, the journalist downstairs had in fact been after more than just that report. He felt a sudden surge of anger. Of course. She’d have heard the new voice drifting through ceiling and come to investigate. Report; he’d bet good money she’d known where it was all along. Even if Rose hadn’t mentioned his surname, his Christian name and the physical similarity to his father would have given it away. She could have sent word straight round to whichever member of his family she thought most in need of telling, ready to hit the front page with an exclusive: Potter’s Prodigal Son Returns: Fireworks and Fisticuffs.
Regardless, he got dressed quickly into his own clothes from the wedding, the shirt white and the trousers neatly pressed. He ran a towel through his hair and checked the mirror. He looked fairly presentable, ready to take a punch at any rate. If Rose could get all those food stains out of it, the blood would be easy as anything.
James opened the door and started. His grandmother was patting Rose’s hand gently in the middle of the room and at the sound of the door opening, both had turned. Molly looked older than he remembered; her hair practically all white, her wrinkles deeper, her teeth yellower as she smiled at him. She started to move towards him, her arms outstretched but her pace was slow and he crossed the room quickly to hug her.
It all became obvious. His grandmother had told Rose to sort everything out. If there was one person amongst the dozens in his family that would never turn her back on him, it was her. She softly rubbed his back and every time he went to let go, she held on tighter, with surprising strength for a woman her age, he noted silently. He promised himself the third time she clung tighter that he was twenty-two and wouldn’t cry but then she let go and he could feel his eyes stinging. Rose had disappeared; he hadn’t seen where but he assumed she’d left the flat from the fact that her book was still on the sofa.
His grandmother took his hand and eased them both down next to each other on the settee. She didn’t let go of her grip on him and when he looked at her properly, spied the tears in her eyes too.
“You were never a bad boy,” she said softly, squeezing his hand. “Not really.” He nodded. There weren’t currently any words. He could try but every time, he came up with nothing but another urge to cry. He wasn’t going to. He hadn’t cried since he was nineteen. “They’ll come round. They will.”
“Dominique,” Molly said sternly, “is like her mother. She’s stubborn and protective and she can hold a grudge. But she loves you.” James went to protest, looking away and shaking his head in disbelief, but a pull on his hand made him turn back. “She does. She might hate you at the minute and I would too, but deep down, she cares.”
“I know,” she said. “I know all of you, and your mum, your dad, Albus, Lily, they’ll come round.” She paused and looked around. “You’ve already got Rose on side, and we all know how difficult she can be.” He laughed lightly. It was true. If you got Rose on your side, you were normally set to win, regardless of the subject at hand. This, though, this didn’t concern Rose. This concerned his parents and siblings and even if he had Rose and his Nanna on his side, it wasn’t enough. He had to convince them alone. He had to explain himself as best he could and be sure of what he was saying. He had to do more than just that. He had to change.
Rose knocked on her parents’ door lightly before letting herself in. Saturdays were usually spent at the Potters’ and she wouldn’t be at all surprised if that wasn’t where her mum and dad had spent the majority of the last week. The house smelled of fresh linen, the air circulating lightly through the rooms comfortably, a welcome break from the sticky outside.
“Hello?” she called, but her voice died on her ears. She was alone.
It was obvious whose room her mum had put James in as soon as she saw it. There were dirt marks across the skirting board, footprints on the floor and some of the drawers weren’t properly shut. Her heels clicked on the floor sharply and she winced as she opened the drawers. Empty. Every single one, empty. There wasn’t the slightest sign of his trunk, his bag, not even his blasted owl. She was sure he said he’d stayed there.
She sat down on the bed that she had grown up with. Her parents had tried countless times to change it but there had been something magical about it, her first bed, that she had always protested and now, it was kept to maintain the same ambiance as the days when this was home. She smiled. She’d changed. They all had. There was no way she could keep anything in her flat looking quite so white and elegant. She’d grown accustomed to disorganisation over the past two years. Her ex had thrived on mess, on a chaotic order to his life and she had learned from that that it was not necessary for her to worry about every last crumb and that a little bit of paper sticking out from a book wasn’t the end of the world.
Maybe she’d taken it a bit too far now, she thought, thinking back to that missing report, but she liked it.
The mattress underneath her was soft. She had always slept soundly at home, never a sleepless night. Perhaps that was because her youth had been relatively trouble free or maybe it was just a good bed, she wasn’t sure. She lay back, settling into the neat position she had found most comfortable and closed her eyes.
The last few days, she’d not slept more than a few hours. Every slight movement she thought was James leaving and the thought of having to explain to her grandmother that she’d failed her made her feel ill. He wasn’t that bad. She hadn’t seen him so much as glimpse at a bottle of wine or show any interest in leaving since he’d sobered up. He didn’t have problems. He was merely accustomed to it. He’d been helpful, quiet, sombre, even. There was an air of dejection in his walk. He seemed lost. Maybe that’s what he was.
The eternal boy faced with manhood and the throbbing realisation that after all that time, after striving for so long to avoid reality, he’d accidentally trapped himself in a dead end with only two escapes: back the way he came, through the stolen kisses in Croatia and the beer in Brazil, or up and out, soaring over everything until he landed back home. He was confused, torn, lost.
She opened her eyes.
It was up to her to get him out.
A/N: So my excuse for introducing Ella is that I found it nigh-on impossible to write Rose and James together without their dialogue turning really weird and bordering on flirty at times which is obviously hugely weird and gross and wrong, not to mention anti-TOS. I needed an outlet for certain scenarios and bam, Ella. The main point of the story should still be James and his family. If it ever becomes more about her, please let me know. This was never intended to be a James/OC!
Big massive huge squishy thank you to Molly (SnitchSnatcher) for reading this through and being so supportive of this story ♥