Chapter Eleven: Baby Steps
Dominique lowered her wand as the last of the photo frames slipped itself neatly onto the wall in front of her. Their house was small and now almost every wall surface was covered in photos and paintings, every table with vases and ornaments, three carriage clocks lined up on the mantle. They’d decided only to keep them up for a month, until the hype around their marriage had worn off. She didn’t like clutter.
When Louis had finally woken up, midway through the day after the night they all wished to forget, she had squeezed him in a hug tighter than he’d ever had before and only reluctantly let go when he’d started physically pushing her away. He’d popped over every day since, though, armed with a new series of insults for James and several offers of murder.
“It’s fine,” Dominique said on Sunday afternoon as they congregated in their parents’ house for Sunday lunch. Fleur was fussing about in the kitchen, muttering under her breath in French that Dominique was fairly sure was just a list of insulting words about the English and their tasteless, heavy food. Teddy and Victoire were getting some alone time in the garden and had left their two young children under the semi-watchful eye of Dominique and Louis. “I don’t want you getting yourself banged up for that twat.”
“Language,” her father called from the hallway. He shut the front door and poked his head around into the living room. “You’re a bad influence on those kids.”
,” she protested, bouncing the baby gently on her lap and pressing a soft kiss onto the child’s head. She glanced around. “And Rémy’s not listening to us anyway.” She gestured to behind an armchair where a small pair of feet were sticking out, clad in stripy blue socks complete with a hole in the heel. Bill lifted his granddaughter off Dominique’s lap and raised his eyebrows.
“Beside the point,” he said as he grabbed Rémy’s attention and offered him a piggyback around the front garden. The three-year-old’s giggle was high and soft and he ran to find his shoes obediently. “I don’t think Victoire would forgive you if her daughter’s first word was twat.”
“So you can say it,” Louis said, raising his eyebrows, “but we can’t?”
“Yeah,” Bill said as though it was the simplest thing in the world. “Something like that.” He grinned and left before either of his children could protest further. Louis scowled.
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” Dominique said, nudging him with her elbow. His face didn’t change. “James, still?”
“I just don’t get it. I knew he was always spiteful but –” Louis trailed off, hunching over and rubbing his eyes.
His sister sighed softly. Louis was the same age now as James had been when he’d left but they were so different. She knew as he sat beside her, trying to comprehend what he’d thought as a mid-teen to be a bit of a flounce and nothing more, he was putting himself in James’s position. Nobody really knew what had triggered it. He’d turned from the charming, cocky clown that Dominique had been proud to call her best friend into something that she didn’t even want to acknowledge she was related to. She was no longer upset about the wedding. It was, after all, just the reception and Louis had paid her back twenty times over with his work on the presents. She was angry that she’d forgotten what James was like. She was annoyed that he would still resort to the lowest point before admitting he was wrong. He had to surpass the unthinkable before adjusting his viewpoint.
“He’s James,” Dominique said after the silence swelled even greater, suffocating them both tightly. It was as if it explained it all and in a way, it did. Louis exhaled and pushed himself to his feet.
“I’m going to see if Maman needs any help.”
He drifted out of the door with grace that Dominique had always envied. Her own gait was sturdy, unfeminine, Weasley all over. If she could change one thing about herself, she’d always said it would be her walk.
That, and the fact that in spite of everything he’d done, she still loved James Potter.
“I’m really sorry,” Rose said, pulling on her jacket and looking around for her other shoe. James kicked it towards her and he dug his hands deep into his pockets. He shook his head dismissively. It wasn’t her fault. There was very little she could do. Sundays in their youth had been the day of the week they spent with their individual families. The Potters didn’t contact Rose’s family all day, Dominique’s family wouldn’t so much as poke their heads into the Floo to check on Percy’s troupe and even if anyone tried to check on George, Angelina, Fred and Roxanne, they’d have found the place empty. With two adults incapable of cooking, they spent most Sundays at The Leaky Cauldron, dining on Mrs Abbott’s finest Yorkshire puds and the best gravy in London (according to Uncle George, at any rate).
“I’m sure I can get by,” he said. “I’ll go for a walk or something.”
“If you’re sure,” she said. “Be safe.”
“And you,” he said, rolling his eyes at her maternal side coming out. She screwed up her nose and stuck her tongue out. He grinned as she stepped into the green flames awaiting her in the grate and he watched her disappear before his eyes.
He collapsed heavily onto the sofa. His head was killing him. He was too grateful for Rose putting him up to even think about complaining but he wished she’d picked something a little longer and a lot softer. The arms were worn and the padding flattened; it was like sleeping on a wooden box. Every time he turned over, he had to grab hold of the chest masquerading as a coffee table to keep himself from falling onto the floor and if he moved too quickly, the sheets would tangle between his legs and he’d have to spend a bleary-eyed five minutes trying to sort it out.
He was, at least, now sure of what he had to do. His grandmother’s words had sunk heavily into him and if he’d been civil and polite to Rose before, he was now broaching on being friendly and gentle.
When they were little, James had asked Aunt Hermione if she would swap Rose for Lily because she was more fun. Lily was small and couldn’t do anything except cry and smile. Rose was funny. Rose made him laugh and when Rose cried, he felt sad not angry. Aunt Hermione had smiled nicely and told him things didn’t work like that. He’d walked away sniffling and had to find a way to break the bad news to Rose. She was four months (and thirteen days) younger than him but she had laughed and said, “It doesn’t work like that, silly. Your mummy is your mummy and my mummy is mine. We can’t just swap them.” He had thought about it all that evening. His dad had remarked that he was quiet. James had merely swung his legs and shrugged. He’d told Rose he’d understood even though he hadn’t. Lily was crying again. It didn’t make sense. Rose wouldn’t cry. Rose never cried. Well, only when she got dirty but it wasn’t very often. Lily cried all the time.
It wasn’t until he went to bed that night that he thought he’d understood. Albus was his brother, he wasn’t his friend. Lily was his sister but she wasn’t his friend either. Rose was his friend because they didn’t have the same mummy and daddy. James had rolled over triumphantly and fallen straight asleep, all troubles gone away.
He hadn’t graced the Rose of the here and now with his plan yet. He had to change and since she was one of the very few people in England that were willing to talk to him, he would have to ask for help. He knew it would take a long time before he gained everyone’s trust back. He knew he still had to fix the reason he’d gone in the first place. He had a hundred apologies to make and he didn’t even know where to begin.
If he was being frank, he thought he’d changed a lot already. He’d not given in to a single craving for beer, late at night doing nothing in the living room and he’d cut down his cigarette consumption by at least half. There was a lethargy to him now instead. Getting up and going to the shop was a hassle, going outside for a fag involved getting seen wearing those ridiculous clothes, and he had enough problems with the women in his family, let alone bringing one who was unrelated into the mix.
Yet, his mind flickered to the noise of furniture scraping downstairs. Did Ella really count as another woman? He glanced down to the coffee table where one of Rose’s books was lying and he perused the blurb before slamming it shut. It was way out of his league. He stood up. He wasn’t sure whether it was rude to just knock on an almost complete stranger’s door without invite but he stood up, grabbed the house keys and wandered downstairs anyway. He had nothing to lose. The worst that could happen was that she told him her boyfriend was in and turned him away. Or turned him away without mention of her boyfriend, even; that was an option too.
He stood in front of the door for two minutes before knocking and he was tempted to just leg it back upstairs as soon as he had. Ella was clever. If Rose could appreciate that, it was undeniable. She’d probably hear the thundering footsteps and think him some kind of child. He wanted to at least try and get off to a good start with her.
When she opened the door, he found every word he ever knew melted into one line of complete nonsense in his mind. “James,” she said and he smiled. “What can I do for you?” She had barely opened the door. It definitely didn’t look like she wanted a visitor. His sense came surging back at her quizzical stare and he shook his head.
“I was just – well, Rose is out and I’m bored stupid. I was just wondering if you fancied a chat.”
It sounded really rather together, for someone who was unaccustomed to having to make real conversation with a girl. Usually a flash of his teeth, an offer of a drink and a snog against the bar tended to do it for him. This girl wasn’t out looking for a bit of totty to go home with. This was a home visit. It was completely different. Ella looked at him for a moment, as though she was trying to figure him out and then opened the door.
“Come in,” she said, pulling the door wide and gesturing for him to come in. He went to take his shoes off but noticed he’d not even bothered putting any on. His socks looked ridiculous on his feet, woolly and thick and like something he’d seen his grandpa wear. He hoped she wouldn’t notice. “Tea?”
“Love some,” he said, before something in the back of his mind twigged and reminded him with a thud that he didn’t even like tea. Feeling too stupid to correct his mistake, he dug his hands in his pockets. Her flat was bigger than Rose’s. There was an extra bedroom, by the look of things, and the kitchen had twice as much floor space as the one upstairs. He glanced around. If he’d thought Rose’s flat a mess, it was nothing compared to this. He had to wonder how many mugs she owned. Every surface he looked at seemed to have one – buried under parchment, used as a quill pot, balanced precariously on top of the sofa – and he could barely even see for paper.
“I’m really sorry about the mess. It’s always like this on deadline day,” she said, sounding apologetic. He didn’t get time to brush it off. “Sit down if you can find somewhere.” There was the sound of china meeting china and then the pop of a tin. She hurried into the living room, setting a tray with a teapot and a plate of biscuits on it down on the floor, the only place that it was even possible to lay it. “Would you believe this was impeccably clean not forty-eight hours ago?” she said, her voice light and airy.
“Am I disturbing you?” he said, suddenly aware that deadline day must have meant now. She shook her head and poured his tea for him, handing him the cup and saucer delicately.
“No, deadline passed about an hour ago. I was just going to tidy and then shower.”
“I can help, if you like?” he offered and then blushed as she gave a low chuckle, dirtier than he’d have thought. When, he thought to himself, had he become a bumbling idiot? He sounded like Hugo, for God's sake. “I’m a whizz with domestic spells.” It wasn’t a lie. It was perhaps a mild exaggeration but he was a damn sight better than either of his siblings at them. She contemplated it for a moment and then smiled.
“It’d make me enjoy this a lot more,” she said, gesturing between them. “I can’t concentrate with mess.”
He gave a small laugh and pulled out his wand. Together, they made their way across the room, their conversation forming over the top of their spell work. It was only when they’d stopped the cleaning and settled back down that they realised their tea was stone cold. She offered to make them a second brew but he shook his head.
“I’m probably best getting off. Rose’ll be back soon and I don’t want her thinking I’ve been kidnapped.” Ella opened her mouth to say something, to pose a question, he thought, but no words came out and she shut it quickly. “I’ll let myself out.” He stood up. “Thanks for the tea.”
“Any time,” she said, standing up and following him to the door. “Honestly, come down whenever you like.” He smiled a thank you, trailed his hand down the door frame and turned his back on her, taking the stairs two at a time and only looking back when he heard the door shutting.
As soon as he opened the door, Rose flew towards him, looking him up and down and even coming within an inch of him to sniff him. “Hi to you, too,” he said, stepping away and looking at her oddly. “Good meal?”
“Too much talk about you and the food wasn’t great but what’s new?” she said breezily, stepping back and sitting down in the armchair. James nodded. At least Uncle George and Aunt Angelina knew not to even try. Rose’s parents refused to give in, yet in thirty or more years of living on their own, they’d still failed to make any impression on anybody’s taste buds. “Good time with Ella?” He didn’t have time to ask how she’d known. “Her perfume on you.”
“Oh right,” he said, looking down at his shirt as though he expected the scent to have left a mark. “Yeah, we –” he paused but Rose nodded as if to press on. He thought it best. God only knew what she’d have taken silence to mean. “We tidied.” His cousin said nothing for a second as though she was digesting the information then nodded slowly.
“Have you seen her place on deadline day? It looked like a bomb had hit in the wake of a tornado.” Rose laughed and conceded. “It was just a chat. She’s nice.”
“She is,” she said with a nod. She picked up her book off the coffee table and began to flick through it idly. “Oh, I meant to ask yesterday, where’s all your stuff?”
“My stuff?” he asked and she nodded, not taking her eyes off the pages of her book. “At Mum and Dad’s.”
“Owl included?” James’s face paled.
“You don’t think they’ve been starving her, do you?”
“I doubt it,” she said. “Do you want me to go and rescue her tomorrow?”
“I could go,” he said, though he knew it was one of his stupider suggestions. This was the moment, though. This was when he had to bite the bullet and just ask for the help he thought he might need. Rose went to reply but he cut her off, “I know I’m the last person they want to see but I want to change.” She leant forwards in her seat, eyebrows rising as a signal for him to carry on. “I don’t want them to hate me anymore.”
“And since you and Nanna are the only people talking to me,” he said slowly, hoping she’d catch on, “I could probably do with your help.”
She looked at him for a moment and he felt like she was looking straight through him. Rose had always been good at the whole people thing. Even if her group of friends was small and select, she knew each of them inside-out and back to front, much based off judgements she’d made during their first few days together. She got people. That was her thing
; Lily liked plants, Hugo was a whizz on a broom, Little Molly was the maternal one and Rose, Rose was the people person.
She gave a small laugh and shake of her head. He tilted his head questioningly and she relaxed back in her seat. “I was wondering how long it was going to take you to ask.”
She didn’t quite finish the sentence. He’d thrown his pillow at her before she had the chance. She smiled; it was a start.
A/N: I’m anticipating that for the next few chapters, 12-15, probably, we’re not going to see much else except Rose and James trying to fix things, plus Ella. I hope his change hasn’t come about too quickly. I realise it’s a bit sudden but I think the fact his family don’t want to see him has actually sunk in now and I think he’s realised what a prat he’s been.
Thank you all for your support so far - 8 more chapters to go ^_^