Chapter Seventeen: Trying Again
“I really think you should come with me first,” Rose said to James as he flicked through a pile of paperwork on his desk. She had ventured into his office on her way back from a meeting to continue the argument they’d been having for the past three days.
He had been adamant that his next move would be to work on Molly but Rose was sceptical. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Molly, though she did find her insufferably high and mighty at times, but that by comparison, she was irrelevant. She was a relative he barely saw. Rose's parents, on the other hand, had been there almost constantly in his youth. They had influence. Her father could be irrational at times but her mother was the opposite. She could see things in people, changes. It was her, after all, that had given Scorpius Malfoy’s dad a promotion when everyone else on the committee had turned their noses up. She would see the shift in James’s disposition. It was the only sensible way to do things.
“Will it shut you up?” he said, not lifting his eyes and bending down behind his desk to open a drawer. She smiled. She knew her persistence would annoy him enough eventually to make him give in. They were both stubborn but his patience was thinner; it was normally a good recipe for winning an argument.
“Yes,” she replied. “Come to mine tonight, five to seven, and we can go together.”
“Dinner?” he said, the time striking him, and she nodded. “You didn’t say we were going to go for dinner.”
“I thought you’d want to get it over with quickly,” she said. “Get it done today and tomorrow you can go to Molly and do your begging there, and the only time Mum and Dad are going to be free to talk tonight is at dinner.”
He took a moment to digest her logic but then he dropped his quill, slumped in his chair and sighed. “Fine,” he said, though sounded quite the opposite. “Fine, I’ll be there.”
She flashed him a large grin, grabbed one of the sweets off the dish on his desk and left. Now all she had to do was find a way to stop her dad and brother from ripping James’s head off when he landed in their living room uninvited.
“You look fine,
,” Ella insisted as James stood in front of the mirror in his bedroom, yanking at his collar. On the bed was a pile of clothes that he’d discarded: robes were too formal, a t-shirt too casual, the blue top didn’t go with the trousers and the orange shirt had a hole in it. He made a mental note to stop giving Beryl owl treats for the next week in return.
“I don’t feel it,” he replied, turning around and whipping his wand so violently that the clothes didn’t fold themselves but leapt up in the air and landed on the floor with a gentle thud. “Rose has it in for me. She wants me to die.”
“Stop being so bloody melodramatic,” Ella warned, picking up her own wand and sending the clothes neatly back inside the wardrobe. She shut the doors softly and tucked her wand into her pocket. “It’s going to be fine.”
“Not if Uncle Ron tries to throw me back in the fire,” he said and she whacked him on the arm.
“Don’t be so rude and act your age,” she said. At that, he straightened up, looking down at her and twisting his lips into an unimpressed pout. She knew the right words to say to get him to man up. In a way, he quite regretted telling her everything. “From the sounds of things, they were more tolerant than your parents.”
He couldn’t deny that either. Ron and Hermione had, at least, taken him in when he’d arrived. Hugo had reacted like the overprotective prat that he’d always been and so had his father but Aunt Hermione was sensible. He knew, somewhere in the back of his mind in a voice that sounded like Rose, that she would see him for what he had become and would come to be, not what was once.
“Okay, fine,” he said eventually, his voice mock-huffy and he wrapped his hand around his neck awkwardly. “Will I do, then?”
“I wouldn’t be ashamed of you,” she said, teetering up on her heels and pecking him on the lips. “You’re going to be late if you don’t get going.” He glanced to his watch and exhaled deeply. “Good luck.”
She gave him a gentle push towards the door and he turned, feeling perhaps a little bit pathetic, to say, “Will you be here when I get back?” She nodded and he felt a little bit better. “Sure you don’t want to come too?”
She didn’t say anything but her look said ‘just go’ and with a grin that was far happier than he felt about the entire thing, he disappeared out of the door. He only hesitated for a moment before throwing the Floo powder in the grate, stepping in and calling out Rose’s home. He landed and almost instantly, she was dragging him out of the door. “Hi,” he said as she flipped the lights off and slammed the door. She practically threw him down the stairs and she grabbed hold of his wrist when they reached their Apparition point.
“I’m not having you wander off,” she said by way of explanation when he tried to tug himself away. He didn’t argue and when they landed, he pulled his arm away.
“I’m not going to leg it,” he assured her when she looked at him sceptically. “Promise.” She took that slightly more convincingly and she hurried off first, down towards her childhood home. “Remind me why we didn’t Floo?”
He wasn’t keen on Apparition when making surprise visits. He had a fear of a door being slammed in his face from the many times Victoire had done it to him in the past and if the wrong person opened it, he could feel the prospect of a broken nose in his bones. Rose didn’t turn around but called her reply out for all the world to hear.
“Mum’s more likely to answer the door,” she said, stopping when she reached the gate. James upped his pace and joined her, staring up at the house which now felt huge, overpowering. “Unless you want the big argument in the living room, that is?”
“No,” James said as she pushed open the gate and stepped through. He followed cautiously. He’d not paid a great deal of attention to the house last time. They’d painted it a soft cream over the brilliant white of his youth. The flowerbeds were starting to weep now and the grass was in need of a mow. Rose knocked on the door, blue now rather than red, and he exhaled heavily, standing just out of view.
His cousin was right. The door opened and his aunt’s voice wafted out. “Why on earth didn’t you Floo?” She leant forward to hug her daughter and caught sight of him, stepping into her eye line. “Oh.” Her gaze didn’t linger on him long but she turned to Rose and shook her head. “Do you think this is a good idea?
“I don’t think it’s a bad one,” Rose replied. The lack of real surprise gave away to James the fact that Rose had probably already confided in her mother that she was in contact with him. “Just one meal.”
“You told us you were bringing a friend,” Hermione said, looking every few seconds to her nephew who had dug his hands into his pockets and was staring sheepishly at the floor. Rose didn’t say anything but he took the prolonged silence to mean they were exchanging some kinds of meaningful looks to save making him feel any more awkward. “Okay. Your brother’s not here.”
It was meant to be a confidence boost for him, James thought, but now he felt a pull of dread in his stomach. He could just run. The adults were always going to be harder to convince. He could work on the cousins and wait for the message to pass through to their parents. Rose stepped over the threshold and looked at him in a way that said he had no choice. If her father didn’t rip him to shreds for going in, she most definitely would if he left.
He stepped over the threshold and his aunt shut the door. He shrugged his jacket off and slipped his shoes into the rack by the door. Hermione disappeared into the kitchen and Rose poked her head around the sitting room door. James could hear Ron standing up and making his way towards his daughter as she crossed the room to him and he waited for a cue but nothing came. Feeling out of place, he glanced to the front door but that voice in his head came back, niggling and annoying and as much as he wanted to deny it, it was right: he was a Gryffindor. He was brave. He stepped into the living room and waited for the tirade.
It never came.
It took Ron a moment or two to even register who was in his sitting room. He looked from Rose to James and then sat down. When he spoke, his voice was calm. “This is a surprise.”
“Well,” James began but his throat was dry and the words seemed petty and bland in his head. He stopped and looked to Rose but she kept her mouth shut for what he thought might have been the first time in a long while. He cursed her inwardly. Ron didn’t look up from his newspaper and nor did he say another word. James caught Rose’s eye and she shrugged. Without saying anything else, he left the room.
The food was cooking away without any aid from his aunt, who was leaning against the worktop and staring out across the back garden. At the sound of footsteps, she looked around and smiled. “Rose is a good girl,” she said, “but she’s not a miracle worker.”
The words were slow and measured, her tone solemn. She eyed him up and down. His skin was pale again, his freckles fading now he was back under the eye of an English summer not the burning heat of South Africa. He felt like he was being examined but if there was anyone who knew a book couldn’t be judged solely by its cover, it was her.
“Do you think I needed a miracle?” he asked, walking slowly towards her and glancing across the garden too. He didn’t look down to her but he felt the turn of her head towards him.
“No,” she said. “I think you needed someone to knock some sense into you.” He gave a low laugh and felt her moving away, a spoon stirring one of the pans. He’d always had a soft spot for Aunt Hermione, above all the others. There was an understanding in her that he thought might come from the brain that everyone admired her for having; an ability to look past the emotional for the rational and turn it on its head as well. “Rose said you’ve changed.”
“Not my place to say,” he said. If there was one thing he’d learned, it was that. People judged by themselves. They wouldn’t take his thoughts on himself as anything near gospel. He could tell as many people as he liked that he had changed and yet he knew that none of them would believe it until they themselves had seen it. Evidently his aunt agreed. She gave a slow nod and turned off the heat on one of the pans. “Will Uncle Ron come round?”
“Why are you asking about him?” she asked slowly. ‘Why not me?’ It was clear in her words, no matter how lightly she said them. He took a moment to formulate the words properly. He didn’t need to take ten steps back.
“Because I think you trust your daughter more than you distrust me,” he said. She smiled, crossing her arms over her chest and giving a small nod to encourage him to go on. He still spoke hesitantly, watching every movement she made with the utmost scrutiny. It would give away the tiniest of details into her point of view. “And Uncle Ron, he –” There was an arrogance in his next words as they played out in his head. It was unavoidable and so he spoke heavily, slowly, laying his words down with severity rather than the light asides he’d always found so comfortable in doing. “I think he holds a grudge too long.”
He hadn’t expected it but Hermione gave a small laugh and turned around from the sink where she was draining off the vegetables.
“You’re probably right,” she said, putting the pan down and crossing her arms over her chest. “I think it’ll take time to get back to how things where,” she said, “but you probably all know that.” He nodded hurriedly. He wasn’t a fool. He wasn’t expecting open arms and kisses. He was only after acceptance that he knew would lead a slow, steady growth of belief in him over time. “Go on, go and sit down.” She put her hand gently on his and jerked her head towards the door to the dining room. He nodded, with a small smile, and did as he was told.
The conversation over the meal got gradually easier. James would have sworn he even saw his uncle smile on one or two occasions but he didn’t take it too personally. It could merely have been a trick of the light. He refused to lift his hopes in the places they were only just being born. They Flooed back at ten o’clock, each to their own homes. Ella was reading on his bed when James got back and she put it down expectantly. He lingered by the door for a moment before smiling and nodding.
“I think I’ve got them.”
Ron crept silently as he could into his bedroom. His wife had not long gone to bed but she had finished her nightly reading already, buried underneath the covers. Sliding in next to her, he stared up at the ceiling. He felt betrayal coursing through him. His best friend and his sister; he owed them more than he could quite believe and he had been sure of his disdain for their son stretching onwards.
But he understood. There were nights, after he and Hermione had argued or Harry had sent him off on a job that he’d not wanted to do, when he still thought on the way he had abandoned them at the time they needed him most. Jealousy. Anger. Fear. He had had his reasons and James must have had his. He had never complained, not even once, about being Harry Potter’s son. His own children sometimes mentioned how they received attention they didn’t want. Lily had made a point of it countless times over dinner, Al agreeing mutedly. James, though, had always kept his silence. Perhaps because he was oldest, he thought he had to pretend it didn’t matter. Maybe he’d loved it and come to feel the opposite, trapped in expectations he thought were above him. He was, after all, still only young. He was still making mistakes.
“You want to forgive him.” Hermione’s mumble was weary and quiet, muffled by the duvet, but he still heard it in the silence of their home. She rolled over and looked up through bleary eyes. Ron glanced down and shrugged. “You saw it.”
“Saw what?” he asked as she shuffled towards him and nudged his arm with her head. He slipped it around her and she placed one hand gently on his chest. He asked but he knew the answer. James had changed. He was sorry. He wanted to move forward. “Reckon he’ll get Harry and Ginny on side?”
“Yes.” His wife’s reply was without hesitation. “I don’t doubt that at all.”
Ron nodded, pressing a kiss against her forehead and closing his eyes. If he was being perfectly honest, nor did he.