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Chapter 15 : Chapter 15: Stage Two
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It took James two weeks after he started work again to begin with complaints. For the most part, Rose ignored them. Graham Boot was a decent bloke and he definitely didn’t deserve James’s insults. She thought he was bloody lucky to have a job at all let alone have the cheek to complain about it. Regardless, she let him go on. It was best he aired his worries to her rather than to his boss’s face. The last thing she needed was him getting sacked.
She sat down on the sofa and stared despairingly at the coffee table. Putting her biscuit plate down on the cushion beside her, she piled up all the sheets of paper James had strewn across it and pulled them onto her lap. Housing ads, Muggle and not, from all over the country. He had been searching for two days and already had amassed a shortlist stretching beyond the realms of what she thought possible. Each ad had a list of pros and cons next to it: kitchen small, no fireplace, creepy old lady next door. She had to give him credit where it was due, he was at least taking it somewhat seriously.
She took a sip of her coffee and turned each page slowly. He’d pinned a gold star to the top of his very favourites and set them to glow, she presumed out of boredom or experimentation. Her eye was caught by a flat in Manchester. It was big. It was airy. It was already connected to the Floo network and there was something about it that screamed James. She smiled. He’d put a number one through the star. He was actually doing it. He was actually moving towards significant change.
He fell out of the fireplace not two minutes later, looking as though he’d had his soul consumed by the pile of parchment in his hand. He dumped them unceremoniously on the floor and tripped into the armchair pathetically. Rose gave an amused smile. “Good day?”
He turned his head, his cheek pressed firmly against the seat and his mouth lolling open. He didn’t need to say the words; ‘fuck you’ was written all over his face. She tidied up the paper in her grip and put them inside the coffee chest. She offered him a biscuit which made him sit a little straighter and he shoved it into his mouth with all the politeness of a hungry Crup.
“There’s a letter for you,” she said, pointing over her shoulder to the dining table. He pulled his wand out of his pocket and Summoned it lazily. She could hear her mother’s voice in her head as she watched him Magic will make you lazy, Rose. She didn’t say anything. It was amongst her very worst nightmares to end up like her mum. He tore it open slowly and lethargically; Rose almost felt sorry for him but the way he discarded the envelope on the floor as though the carpet was a rubbish tip made her change her mind quickly. His eyes skimmed the letter and he sat up straighter. He read it a second time, nodding as his grin grew wider and he flapped the paper at her.
“I got the flat,” he said and she frowned, grabbing the note from him and skimming it herself. He wasn’t wrong. The flat in Manchester was his, providing he could give in the deposit before Tuesday morning. He leapt to his feet and paced to the kitchen. She turned, hauling her feet up to the seat and he gave a low laugh, that chuckle that people made when reality and relief hit them full force. She thought for a moment that he was going to dance but he refrained, slowly clapping his hands together under his chin in what she took as him trying to make a decision and then watched him dig them into his pockets. He turned, swinging his body from the door to the kitchen and then repeating the move. He said nothing before diving out of the front door and hurtling down the steps.
Rose smiled. She wondered how long it’d take.
Ella thought James Potter was a very strange man, by her standards at least. It was funny how she knew so much of him and yet she was sure he couldn’t tell her what her surname was. It didn’t matter though. Being around him, she knew so much more than the facts on paper and yet sometimes, she felt she knew nothing at all. He had carefully avoided telling her anything about his Thailand trip. He’d always managed to skirt the answer to the question she most desired to pose because now, after three attempts at broaching the subject, she thought there was something deeper.
The thing was, she trusted him. She had no reason to but she did, yet her line of work didn’t often lend itself to reciprocation of that trust, of the loyalty she felt towards him for no reason other than the fact he seemed to have very little else. The ceiling was thin, the house old. She heard him there, all the time that he wasn’t working, and when he wasn’t upstairs, he was with her. They spoke. As he accustomed himself to life back in Britain – everyone knew he’d been away, after all – he learned more about what had happened in his absence. She thought it strange that he’d not kept up to date with the goings on. The Prophet sold internationally every day, with weekly recaps in the Saturday edition. She had subscribed to it herself when she was sent to Egypt to do an article on what the sand of the Northern Sahara could do for your skin – the answer was nothing but the article had listed seventeen different positives. It was amazing what a bit of imagination could do to get a decent salary.
Regardless, he was well aware now of every single big story of the past three years. She gave him her used copies of the Prophet to peruse when he so wished and he would return with opinions on the new centaur habitation laws and the disadvantages to the new security team at Azkaban. He read her articles through now, not Rose. He sparked debate. He made her think in ways that his cousin always had before but there was something different when he did it. He spoke more passionately. He spoke from his heart not his mind. It was Rose’s flaw. She was logic. James was soul.
Perhaps that was why she felt a wave of disappointment as he stood on her threshold and said with a grin wider than the Thames, “I got the flat.” She had hugged him, of course. She had pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek before saying how happy she was but she felt a thudding in her chest. There was going to be no more weekend coffee or evening debates or running down the stairs just so he could tell her the stupidest thing. She was reading too much into it, she knew that. It was just what she was like. She imagined things in places that they weren’t and ignored those that did in fact exist.
“Are you coming in?” she offered, holding the door back and gesturing inside. Deadline day had just passed and the place was once again immaculate. He cast a glance upstairs and then shrugged.
“Not doing much else.” He wiped his shoes on the mat and then slipped them off, leaving them in the hallway. It was only the three of them in the building; they were unlikely to get nicked. He sat down without invitation and she set the water to boil. As she put the tea in the mugs and fetched the milk, she glanced back across her shoulder. He was flicking through the paper. He seemed relaxed, calm, and he was alone. This was more than a perfect moment. She was going to find out what had happened.
“When do you move?” she asked, setting down their mugs and sitting next to him on the settee. He took his cup gratefully and took a sip, wincing as he burnt his lip. Every time.
“I don’t know,” he said. “They want the deposit quickly. It’s a popular location and all that so as soon as that’s in, I reckon I can pick a date and go.”
She nodded slowly, stirring her tea and sipping carefully. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see his leg jiggling. “Won’t you miss London?”
“Nah,” he said and he didn’t even hesitate. She winced behind her mug. “Never liked the place much.” He took another big gulp of the drink and wiped his hand back across his mouth. “I’ll probably get dragged back loads though,” he said quickly. “Rose’ll want to keep an eye on me.”
There it was. The key was in the lock and all she had to do now was turn it slowly, teasing it until the information seeped through, click by click. She’d dug enough dirt on the so-called celebrities before. She could do it now, with someone who trusted her.
“I never understood why you live with her,” she said, leaning back and twisting her body towards him. He leant his head back and shook his head dismissively. “I don’t mean that in a bad way,” she added. “I like Rose. It’s just small, you know? It doesn’t make much sense.”
He cast a look across at her, eyes narrowing a little. He sipped at his drink again and let it rest against the back of the sofa, his free hand tucked behind his head. He’d pushed the sleeves of his robes up and she followed the line of his arm swiftly before meeting his eyes.
“Don’t you trust me?”
At that, he straightened up and his eyes widened. It was a question that she’d found always got the attention of anyone. He twisted back so he was looking at her properly, pulling his legs further onto the sofa and he sighed.
“Rose’ll kill me,” he said but she tilted her head and he took a soft breath.
The story could have gone on for hours but he managed to make it into a short summary. It spun nobody in a bad light, she’d noticed that. There was no partiality. He didn’t blame himself but nor did he blame his family. Somewhere within her, there was an itch. There was a story unfolding before her eyes, something that could make her. Her career at the magazine was founded on lies but here was something that she could exaggerate into a hit.
But then he said four words and any fleeting thought dissipated in a heartbeat.
“I’ve got to change.”
He made eye contact with her for the first time and she sighed, putting down her mug and moving closer to him, running a hand softly down his arm. He smiled but it was weak. The strength came in his eyes, bold and defiant. He went to say something else but looked away instead, over to the kitchen, the door, the floor, anywhere but her.
“I thought you already had?” He nodded slowly in agreement.
“But I need to convince them of that.” He leant away and put his mug down on the floor too. She barely noticed her hand was still on his arm but he didn’t shrug it off and she had little wish to move it. “A job, a flat, something stable.” The words that came next she knew were hard for him to say from the way he teased his lips around them, unfamiliar and new. “I need to grow up.”
“Can you do that on your own?” It sounded condescending and patronising but he didn’t seem to take offence. He glanced down to her hand and moved his arm so that it fell limply against his thigh. As she went to withdraw it, blushing, he caught it in his and wound his fingers through hers gently.
“I don’t know,” he said, twisting their joined hands in all sorts of ways, a nervous habit, perhaps. She caught his eye again and this time he didn’t look away. He shifted in his position, leaning closer and it was only when his lips were millimetres from hers that she reacted.
Her first thought on contact was that it was awkward. His weight was unbalanced and she felt like she was going to fall off the seat. With one hand indisposed, she steadied herself with the other which made the entire thing feel amateurish and like two inexperienced teenagers forced together, impersonal and bland.
She drew back and he winced. The feeling, it seemed, was mutual. Releasing his hand, Ella sat upright again, glancing awkwardly to him. He was running his hands down his thighs – she’d tried to ignore the fact that the one she’d held had been a little sticky – and looking off to the side of the room. She laughed.
“What?” he asked as she found herself unable to stop. He wiped his hand back across his mouth in case there was lipstick on them, she supposed, and shook his head so that his hair fell in a different mess. “What is it?” She laughed louder and shrugged with a grin. She couldn’t form words, waving a hand dismissively between the two of them. She didn’t know whether he was laughing at her or with her but he soon started too and it was only as they calmed down a little that they could find words.
“Come here,” she said, moving so she was next to him this time and gently kissed him.
It was better. It was so much better than the tentative half-lunging first attempt had been. One of her hands cupped his cheek, one of his slid around her waist and at some point, she found her legs on his lap but neither remembered when or how it had happened. There was no urgency to it. She thought perhaps it was the respect. He’d spoken of other girls. He’d refused to give a number, though she assumed it was a lot, but this was different. She didn’t feel seduced. She didn’t feel this was leading to nothing.
He pulled away first this time and she exhaled deeply, her hair falling across her eyes and his arms tightening around her waist. For a moment, he said nothing but then the question she had posed earlier must have been playing on his mind because before he pulled her closer for another kiss, he whispered, “I don’t want to do it alone,” and even if she’d wanted to escape him, after that, she knew she never would.
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by Arya Williams