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Chapter 24 : Just An Ordinary Boy *
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Just An Ordinary Boy
Ordinary Day – Vanessa Carlton
‘The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.’
‘Nast? Nast, are you awake?’
The soft knocking on the door penetrated the silent room.
Anastacia stirred, slowly reaching wakefulness. Vaguely, she registered that someone was calling for her and that she had to get up.
When she eventually forced her eyes to open, she was somewhat surprised to find herself in the Heads’ common room. Dawn was evident in the faint glow under the drawn curtains, and last night’s fire was smouldering low in the grate. She was half-lying, half-sitting on one of the sofas, propped up on a cushion of some sort, with a blanket and what felt like another cushion draped over her middle.
Still bemused, she moved restlessly, trying to sit up. To her utter shock, the warm weight that she had thought to be a cushion moved, pulling her in closer, refusing to let her go, and she realised that it was, in fact, an arm.
In the split second that the events of the previous night came rushing back and she remembered precisely where she was, warm lips brushed the back of her neck and a low voice whispered sleepily against her ear,
And that was that. Sufficiently distracted, Stac turned her mind to more important things than whoever was at the door.
Scorpius could wait a few more minutes.
More than a few minutes later, Anastacia opened the door, blushing rosily and with a soft smile. Rather than let her friend in straight away, she stepped outside and closed the door behind her.
Scorpius’ face was carefully blank, but his eyes were dancing. Anastacia looked up to meet those eyes and immediately looked away, blushing even harder.
Now Scorpius smiled.
‘So I’m assuming he stayed, then?’
‘We had a lot to talk about,’ Anastacia replied in a small voice.
Scorpius’ grin widened, but it was Rose, coming up the corridor behind them, who commented.
‘Knowing James, I’m sure there were plenty of things you did besides talking.’
She and Scorpius laughed together, eyes gleaming and faces alight. But Anastacia’s smile faltered a little, and she didn’t join in the laughter.
‘You’d be surprised…’ she mused quietly. Then, taking a deep breath, like one about to dive in to a deep pool head first, she turned to Scorpius.
‘I told him everything – absolutely everything,’ she said in a rush.
Scorpius’ expression went from amused to blank in a fraction of a second.
‘I doubt it,’ he answered in an even tone, sounding as if he were merely commenting on the weather, ‘because there was something you forgot.’
Anastacia started to protest – how could she have forgotten something? – but was silenced when he held out his hand.
‘Sorry to be the bearer of bad news,’ he continued in that same, maddeningly even tone.
Rose looked between them in confusion and saw that Scorpius was holding a plain, silver bracelet, unremarkable except for a small blue stone set in the centre of one side.
But Stac was looking at the piece of jewellery with an expression of pure horror.
‘You’d better come inside.’
And she opened the door to usher them both into the common room.
James turned at the sound of the opening door, only to be confronted by the sight of his cousin and Scorpius Malfoy walking into the room behind his…what? Best friend? Girlfriend? The thought stumped him for a moment, but the look on Stac’s face soon drove it from his mind.
She crossed the room so that she was standing between him and the other two, but she didn’t come to his side. With a sinking feeling, he realised that he recognised the signs – Stac was shutting down, shutting him out…just like she had whenever she was being watched.
Well, things were different now, he thought defiantly, and he went to stand next to her. Looping an arm around her waist, he drew her to his side.
She didn’t resist, but she didn’t lean against him or soften her rigid stance at all.
Rose was looking at them both with a bemused expression, one that meant she was trying to decide whether to show laughter or genuine happiness. Scorpius…was just as blank as Stac.
This was not good.
‘I know this is not a good time, and I hate to…rain on your parade, but there’s something that Anastacia forgot to tell you.’
‘What, no congratulations?’ Rose asked quizzically, turning to face Scorpius, her expression rapidly changing to confusion, ‘What’s this about, Scorpius?’
‘As…happy…as I am that you two have worked things out,’ Scorpius continued on as if he hadn’t heard. The wry twist of his mouth suggested to James that he wasn’t particularly happy at all, not right now.
‘There’s something that makes this situation very dangerous for both of you at the moment.’
‘What, besides the crazy guards and a pure-blood-obsessed court?’ James asked with quiet scorn.
His words found a mark. Scorpius coloured slightly, and James felt a flash of triumph. Maybe the boy hadn’t thought that Stac would tell him everything, maybe he’d thought that she wouldn’t trust him enough, but she had and she did. And it felt good to finally be able to rub his nose in it.
‘Yes;’ Scorpius continued after a moment, ‘this.’
And he held out the bracelet.
James looked at it dubiously.
‘What is it?’
‘Would you like to tell him or shall I?’ Scorpius asked Stac.
In reply, she turned and buried her face in James’ shoulder, refusing to meet his eyes. James tightened his hold on her, his expression daring the other two to comment.
Scorpius nodded grimly and explained.
‘It’s a tracking bracelet. It’s designed to allow Anastacia’s guards to keep an eye on her. They can use it to check her position at any time.’
‘What?’ James breathed in surprise, ‘That’s crazy.’
‘It can also be used as a summoning device;’ Scorpius continued talking as if he hadn’t heard the exclamation, ‘pressing the blue stone sends out what is essentially a distress signal and alerts all the guards to her whereabouts.’
‘So that’s what you pressed,’ James mused, ‘after Marcus spoke to her.’
Now Stac lifted her head from his shoulder in surprise.
‘What? How did you…?’
‘I was there, down the other end of the alley. I saw him,’ and he jerked his head in the Slytherin’s direction, ‘touch something on your wrist and a moment later, all the flunkeys turned up. But if you can use it as a distress signal, why didn’t you call for help when Marcus attacked?’
‘It was being renewed,’ Stac told him in a low voice, ‘it has to be renewed every few years. I wear a fake one when I don’t wear it,’ and she held out her hand.
Sure enough, around her slim wrist was a bracelet seemingly identical to the one Scorpius held.
‘Why does it have to be renewed?’ Rose asked curiously, ‘surely whatever enchantment makes it work wouldn’t wear off in a few years.’
Stac was silent, and it fell to Scorpius to answer the question, which he did in the quiet, bland voice that he only used when matters were deadly serious.
‘It’s blood magic.’
Rose sucked in a surprised breath, and James’ stomach gave a sudden twist. Even he, who never paid attention in class and couldn’t do Potions to save himself, even he knew about blood magic. Big, difficult, mostly-unbreakable things that took many Wizards and Witches to work. Spells and potions that included the blood of those that worked on them and in this case, he was willing to bet, the blood of the person they were intended for.
‘Once the bracelet is in place, it can’t be removed, except by the creators. Believe me; we’ve tried, many times.’
In the back of his grey eyes, there was something…unusual. With a shock, James realised that Scorpius cared about Stac, really cared. Not in a romantic way, but in a way that suddenly made sense of a lot of the things that he’d done. And this led to another revelation.
Scorpius may not like him, but as long as he made Stac happy, as long as he kept her safe and was the best thing for her, Scorpius would support and help him.
The tricky thing was going to be keeping himself in a position where he remained the best thing for her.
‘So why is it a problem?’ Rose asked, still confused, ‘If she’s already been wearing it for years, why should it change anything now?’
‘It has a…memory,’ Stac told her slowly, ‘it keeps track of everyone that touches me in anyway while I’m wearing it. And…well, how…’
She blushed and looked away, but she didn’t need to complete the sentence for the rest of them to understand.
So. The bracelet would keep a record of whoever touched her – and how they touched her. Suddenly Scorpius’ concern didn’t seem misplaced.
‘I’m sure you see how this is going to affect anything you might have planned on,’ the blonde boy was saying, ‘I wish I could provide a solution, but as far as I can see, there is none.’
James’ head was still reeling from the knowledge that his best friend had been effectively wearing a leash her whole life. That knowledge, coupled with the sudden dashing of so much of his new hope, was starting to boil away inside him.
‘So, basically, what you’re saying is that just when they’ve finally grown up and admitted how much they need each other, they can’t be together, is that it? And you just can’t see a solution?’
To James’ surprise, Rose sounded just as angry as he felt. A quick glance at her face confirmed it – the tips of her ears were starting to turn red, something that only happened when she was really furious.
Scorpius seemed surprised as well.
‘Wha-, no, I mean – that’s right. I can’t see a solution.’
‘And don’t you think that last night or a few days or even weeks ago would have been a more appropriate time to mention this? If not to them, then at least to me? Anyway, forget about that,’ she continued, suddenly changing tack, ‘what’s with this whole, sorry, I’m just giving up now, kind of attitude, anyway? Aren’t you one of the head Guards or something? Can’t you pull some strings or something?’
‘Pull some…you have no idea what you’re talking about!’
‘Well, obviously not, since you apparently don’t tell me anything anymore? When did this whole secretive side of you develop, hmm? I thought we were in this together!’
Both their voices had risen to shouts. Scorpius had taken a few steps back in surprise when Rose had started talking and they were now squared off across from each other.
‘I’m not being secretive! I forgot about the bracelet until it came back, that’s all. And don’t tell me to pull some strings with the Guard – you have no concept of what that entails.’
‘Oh? Don’t I? Then tell me, Scorpius; explain to me what the point is of you hanging out with them if you can’t do anything to help!’
‘Fine!’ came the furious reply. Scorpius was even paler than usual – not with anger, but with hurt, Anastacia suspected – and his hands were clenched into fists at his sides. He glared at Rose as he spoke.
‘The world Nast and I live in is not and has never been a good one. It is cruel and ruthless and will utterly destroy you the moment you set a foot wrong. It operates in ways you can’t even imagine. Nast’s father rules the majority of Europe by fear alone, and anyone who opposes him or displeases him or crosses him in any way is dealt with immediately and without mercy.’
Rose showed no sign of softening, her arms still crossed and her eyes still narrowed, and so he ploughed on.
‘You remember when you asked me why I could see Thestrals? And I told you it was because I’d seen some guy have a heart attack in the street? It wasn’t. It happened at Court when I was younger. We were playing a game of hide and seek, and Camsin Alecto and I were hiding in a cupboard in this little room. Nast’s father came in with Creeten’s dad and this other guy. I don’t remember what the other guy had done, something stupid, probably, but he wouldn’t apologise for it. The Captain was ordering him to apologise for his actions, and he was just standing there, silently.’
His shoulders drooped imperceptibly, the only outward sign of how much this memory affected him.
‘So His Grace nodded to the Captain, and the Captain pulled out his wand and killed the man. Simple as that. One moment he was alive, the next he was dead. And that day, unbeknownst to them, two little boys lost their innocence forever.’
Rose was silent, the flush fading gradually from her cheeks. James looked at Stac, but she was looking at Scorpius, understanding clear in her blue eyes. And yet another thing became clear to James – Scorpius was right.
He and Rose could never understand what they had been through. Their parents could, maybe, or their grandparents, but not them. Their world was safe and sanitized – their parents had worked hard to make it that way. This was why Scorpius and Stac needed each other; because there were things about them that no one else would understand.
‘I-I’m sorry,’ Rose offered softly, but Scorpius made a sharp gesture with his hand, as if to brush it off, and turned away from her. Rose started to colour again and opened her mouth, about to let out a harsh reply.
‘Could we have a moment?’ Stac asked in a quiet voice, breaking the moment and the spell of anger that seemed hold sway over the two younger students.
Rose nodded tersely and made for the door. Scorpius hesitated for a moment, then held out the bracelet once more. When Stac made no move to take it, he sighed and laid it down on the table by the far sofa. Then he followed Rose out of the room, closing the door behind him.
‘Stac, hear me out,’ James begged as soon as the door was closed, ‘just…listen, for once, okay?’
She had crossed her arms defensively over her chest, but she didn’t try to interrupt. He took it as a good sign.
‘What Scorpius said, about your dad? About him being so powerful and all? I want to be able to give you some kind of a solution, but I just can’t. I can’t say that I get it or that I understand what it’s like, because I don’t. But there is one thing I understand…’
He paused, checking that she was still listening. She was.
‘It’s the fear. I understand the fear. Not because I’ve been through it, but because I just get it. And maybe it’s just me thinking that I understand after hearing my parents talk about it for years, but I understand the things that fear does to you.’
‘Your parents talk about fear?’
Her voice was small and thin. James ploughed on.
‘All the time. Mum says that when Voldemort was in power, there wasn’t a day that she didn’t wake up terrified and stay that way ‘till she went to sleep. And not just mum and dad – my grandparents talk about it too. I mean, they had to live through it twice.’
He took a step closer.
‘But the thing I understand about it, the thing that dad always explained to us, from the earliest days, is that fear is power. I mean, Voldemort, now, he was exactly what those idiots following him were trying to stamp out. If he hadn’t scared the piss out of them from the very beginning, they’d have turned on him sooner or later. But he did scare them, and they fought for him till the end. It’s the same with your dad, no, listen,’ and he reached out and took her gently by the arms as she tried to turn away.
‘As long as you’re afraid of him, he’s got power over you, and he’ll use that to control you. The only way you’re ever going to get rid of him is if you lose the fear.’
‘That’s easier said than done.’
‘But could you try? Could you just…try?’
Still holding on, he peered down into her face, trying to read the thoughts behind her eyes. Stac looked back with an intense expression.
‘Do you want me to try…for…you?’
James smiled as he let out a surprised breath that he hadn’t even realised he’d held.
‘Well, I guess…no. Not really.’
Letting go of her arms, he straightened, still looking down into her upturned face.
‘Not for me. For you. For yourself.’
Stac stepped away now, and he let her. Her gaze was on the floor, and she seemed to be mulling over his words in her mind.
The silence stretched for a long moment. James was steeling himself for a polite but distant refusal when she eventually spoke.
‘There are books on blood magic in the Restricted Section.’
Not the answer that he’d been expecting. Finally, bright blue eyes met hazel, and James found, to his surprise, that the blue eyes were beginning to burn with determination.
‘I saw some books last time I was there, ones that might be useful. And Scorpius and Rose are insanely intelligent, and maybe Jaya might help, and Owen…maybe…maybe we can do something.’
‘Stac, that’s…that’s great! Really?’
‘You’re right,’ she said with a funny half-smile, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this for you, even though I am, sort of. But I’m doing it for me too…sort of? Does that make any sense?’
‘None at all…but I know exactly what you mean.’
Still smiling faintly, she turned and walked over to the window, almost in a daze.
‘I think…I think I forgot about hope. I forgot how to hope. Or maybe…I never really knew how, not really.’
James crossed the room to stand behind her, close, but not touching; supporting, but not overwhelming.
‘Maybe it’s time to learn.’
The smile that she gave him was dazzling. James blinked a few times, feeling like he had to clear his vision. Watching him, Stac’s smile only grew larger, and then she stepped closer, against his chest, into the circle of his arms.
When she turned her face up to his, James closed the space between them and set his lips to hers. The kiss was slow and sweet, the kiss of two people who had all of time.
When they eventually drew apart, James rested his forehead against Stac’s brow.
‘What are you thinking?’ he whispered, his breath fluttering the hair around her face.
Her answering smile was both beatific and mischievous.
‘Well…they know I have the bracelet now…they’re going to expect me to put it on…’
The good feeling that James had been experiencing a moment ago began to die away, but Stac pressed herself closer.
‘But they won’t really expect me to put it on right away…they won’t look for it until the afternoon…and it’s only just morning…’
Catching her drift, James began to grin once more.
‘Afternoon…that’s ages away, isn’t it?’
Nodding vigorously, Stac stretched her arms up and around his neck.
‘Hours and hours…’
Hours and hours, indeed. Just like Scorpius, the Guard could wait.
After all the events of the past few months, telling the Potters and Weasleys and their close friends of her true origins was almost anticlimactic. There were no angry outbursts, no accusations of lying or protestations of disbelief. If anything, the news was met with fascination and a degree of excitement, especially from the boys.
Originally, Stac had only wanted to tell the older members of the group, not wanting to place the pressure of such a secret on the young ones, but James and, more surprisingly, Rose were adamant that it had to be everyone.
‘Splitting us up into people who know and people who don’t is only going to make things worse,’ James pointed out reasonably, ‘we’re not going to be able to discuss it around the others, we’d have to pretend around our own family, and we’d have to lie. Lots. Which is fine, but not, you know…around us. To us.’
So, in the end, it was all the Potters, Weasleys and associates who gathered in the Heads’ common room the next night, with the exception of Lucy Weasley. When Stac had pointed out that she didn’t even know Lucy well, and that the young Ravenclaw truly had no need to know the secret, even James and Rose had been forced to agree.
James locked the door and turned to see his sister and brother emerge from under the invisibility cloak.
‘So, that’s it, then?’
Albus nodded assent and took a seat. They had all sneaked in separately under the invisibility cloak. Scorpius was, to all intents and purposes, Stac’s guard for the night, but there was no sense in taking the chance of some other Slytherin seeing the rest of them out and about and heading in the direction of the Heads’ corridor.
The pale blonde boy himself was seated next to Rose, facing Stac, who stood by the fire, steeling herself. The rest of the group were perched on chairs and couches around the room. Everyone was attentive, aware that something big was going on. Tiny little Louis’ eyes were wide as he sat wedged tightly between his sister and Molly. Albus had requested that Daisy be included in the group, and Rose had seconded the motion. Jaya, Sam, Margie, Owen, Terry, Josh, they were all there, all eager for the long-awaited information.
Stac’s explanation was brief, with little of the background that she had delved into when telling James, but it was enough. Enough to bring worry to the faces of her girlfriends, to elicit grunts and gasps of surprise from the group as a whole.
When she had finished, James came to join her, standing in front of the group.
‘The reason we’re telling you this, the reason it’s all come out is because Stac and I are together.’
‘Finally!’ Margie cried, and there were a few whoops and laughs as what little tension was left in the air dissipated completely. James grinned and looked over at his girlfriend. She was blushing, it had to be said, but she was smiling too, so that was something.
‘We know it’s probably dangerous, well,’ he amended when Stac flicked him a look, ‘it is dangerous, but we’re willing to take the risk and try. It’s worth it. But it’s not going to be easy, and we might need your help at times. We just wanted to know if we could count on it?’
‘What kind of a stupid question is that?’ Sam asked. From around him came sounds of agreement.
‘Anything you need us to do, we will,’ Jaya added.
‘For now, nothing,’ Scorpius answered to the room at large, standing to his feet. James bristled slightly, and was amused to see Sam, Terry and Josh do the same. The Gryffindor boys were having a hard time believing that this Slytherin was, in fact, their ally, and James was sure that it was only for his and Stac’s sake that they were putting up with him at all. Owen, as usual, seemed to take it all in his stride.
‘But just be wary,’ Scorpius continued, ‘the rest of Guard can not know. They can not even suspect. If they do, there is nothing any of us could do to help, in any way.’
He looked at James, eyed him steadily.
‘As they said, the danger is very real.’
James inclined his head slightly to acknowledge the other boy’s warning.
‘He’s right. This is bigger than all of us. We wouldn’t have told you all if we didn’t trust you so much already. But it means no gossiping, no talking about it in places that people might overhear, not even hinting at it to your friends,’ he said, looking particularly at Louis.
His cousin nodded, face very serious. Dominique put her arm around her brother and hugged him close.
‘He knows what’s at stake. We all do.’
‘Thank you for trusting us,’ Molly added softly, looking at Stac.
Surprisingly, the older girl’s face broke into a smile.
‘You have no idea how…strange this is,’ she said hesitantly, ‘I’ve kept so many secrets for so long…telling people feels…completely wrong. But…I’m glad I did.’
Sensing that the serious part of the meeting was over, the girls got up to embrace their friend, reassure her and ask questions, while James’ year mates drifted over to his side.
They didn’t speak – they didn’t need to. James knew they were happy for him, and happy to finally know what was going on. He knew that they would help him in any and every way they could, and that was enough. telling his mates had taken a huge weight off his shoulders – he could only imagine how Stac was feeling, after having to carry her burden basically alone for so many years.
‘So…Malfoy? He’s legit, then?’ Terry asked suspiciously.
‘Wish I could say otherwise, but he is. He doesn’t buy into any of that Court stuff Stac was talking about. He’s not thrilled about us being together, but I think that’s more from worry than anything else. He’s not kidding about the danger. None of us are.’
‘Too right,’ Josh agreed, ‘I heard about what they did to Marcus.’
‘I saw what they did to Marcus,’ Owen added mildly, ‘and if they’re just a junior version of the guards at that court place, then we all need to be careful. You especially,’ he cautioned James.
‘Look, mate, you don’t need to tell me. I know all about it.’
‘Now you’ve got us, at least,’ Sam added easily, ‘we can watch your back, help keep them off the trail.’
‘Well, this is all a bit heavy – time for a change of scene,’ Terry interjected.
He snatched the invisibility cloak from where it was draped over the arm of a chair and, turning to face the rest of the room, raised his voice.
‘Who’s for a kitchen raid?’
Surely it must be wrong to be this happy, Stac thought to herself as she walked into the Great Hall for breakfast a week later.
She couldn’t remember a time when she’d been so at peace, so happy just to be. Not even back at the beginning of the year, or in years past, because there had always been the secret hanging over her.
Now…she was free. Not really – she was still watched almost constantly, but she found that she no longer cared.
After getting Creeten back to the Slytherin dorm, Scorpius had related the story about him falling down the stairs. Mortified and desperate that the tale shouldn’t get out to the rest of the Guard, Creeten had sworn the younger boy to secrecy. As a result, Scorpius now had a rather effective hold over his co-Captain. The subtle threat of exposure was enough for Creeten to allow Scorpius freer rein within the Guard, allowing more freedom for Anastacia herself.
Stac made her way to the Gryffindor table, sliding into place beside Jaya. As soon as she sat down, a paper airplane landed on the plate in front of her. Smiling, she opened it and read the contents.
Morning. Want to come sit by me? I want to hug someone. I tried with Sam, but he got shifty-eyed and threatened to hex me. Do you think he’s coming down with something?
Suppressing a giggle, Stac took out her wand and tapped the paper. The words disappeared, and she crumpled the paper and put it in the pocket of her robe. Then, looking up briefly, she found James’ face some way down the table and gave him a quick smile.
Being with James was unlike anything she’d ever imagined. Partially because she hadn’t ever even tried to imagine it, hadn’t hoped for something as wonderful as that. But she didn’t think she would have been able to imagine it if she’d tried. Never before had someone gone so far out of their way to prove to her, no, not even prove – just to show her how much they cared.
In public, their relationship was no different to before – to all appearances, they only just tolerated each other. They were civil, but that was the extent of their ‘friendship’.
In private, though, it was a whole different matter.
Stac would wake to notes on her bedside table, scrawled letters in James’ nearly illegible writing. Every time they passed in the corridor, he glared balefully at her, and only she could see how his eyes crinkled at the corners. How hard he had to fight to keep the glare from turning into a grin.
He’d even begun pulling his weight in regards to Heads’ duties. For the first time, Stac found herself not having to do anything in a prefect meeting as James smoothly conducted the order of business and dealt with complaints. And when one of the Slytherin prefects made a snide remark, instead of hexing him to kingdom come, James just raised his eyebrows and threatened a detention.
But best of all were the glances that he gifted her with when no one else was looking. The few stolen words – ‘You’re beautiful’ breathed softly as they passed, ‘I love you’ in an empty corridor.
The day that he whispered ‘Mon seulement amour’ – my only love – in her ear in the crush of the Great Hall, her heart nearly stopped. It certainly skipped a beat. Dom, who had done the translating, had been watching them closely and broke into gleeful giggles that wouldn’t go away.
And while her days were spent in a state of peaceful bliss, Stac’s nights were spent in thorough and painstaking research. Jaya, Owen, Albus, Rose and Scorpius assisted her, and most nights they could be found in the library, pouring over any text that could be counted as even slightly significant. James was also researching, although not with her group so as to avoid suspicion. If the others noticed that Stac’s research became increasingly frenetic as the days passed, they didn’t comment. Scorpius did grumble when her nights started to stretch longer and longer, but not too much. He joked with Rose and Albus about being on ‘suicide watch’ and spent the early hours of most mornings trying to bully his friend into bed.
Personally, Stac was beginning to get desperate about the situation with the bracelet. At first, she’d thought that she’d be fine being in a relationship with James that didn’t contain any tactile elements. But to discover what it was like to…well, to kiss him, and then to have that taken away? It seemed too cruel.
For the first few days, James hadn’t had any physical contact with her at all. not a single hug, or a squeeze of her arm, or even the brush of his hand in the hallway. Eventually, Stac had stomped up to him in a frazzled temper one night.
‘You can touch me, you know?’ she’d demanded, ‘You always did before, so they’re not going to suspect anything now. As long as…you know…nothing…else. For pity’s sake, I don’t have the plague!’
She was beginning to wish she hadn’t said anything. James had obviously taken her at her word, and Stac was beginning to find just how intimate he could make a seemingly normal bit of contact.
It was never anything much, never anything that would make her Guard suspicious. Just small things.
The burning pressure of his hand on the small of her back as he led her into a room. The brush of his knee against hers when they sat next to each other. The warm caress of his breath on her cheek when he whispered in her ear.
Stac threw herself into her work. Class was the only time that their forced separation seemed like a good idea – it was hard enough to concentrate when he was in the same room and she could feel his gaze. She was certain she’d never get anything done if he’d been any closer.
His unique form of psychological seduction was having a crazy effect on her senses, and yet, to her chagrin, he didn’t seem to be affected at all. Or so she thought.
And then one Saturday night she took a brief reprieve from research and joined him in the Heads’ common room. James was reading some text by the fireplace. Locking the door, as had become their custom, Stac leant against the wall and studied him.
The firelight gilded his profile, glinting off his hair and making him seem older, more mature than his seventeen years. Sensing her stillness, he looked up and smiled a slow, thrilling smile that made warmth flood from her head to her feet. She was sure that she had to be blushing.
Time seemed suspended as they looked across the room at each other. Finally, Stac tore her gaze away and set it on the thin band of silver around her wrist.
‘Stupid thing,’ she grumbled distractedly, ‘ruining everything.’
She glanced up and blushed again to see him still staring.
‘You have no idea how much I want to kiss you, and I can’t.’
There was a sudden rush of movement. In what seemed like only a second, James had crossed the room and was standing in front of her, his hands braced on the wall either side of her head. Their bodies were scant inches apart. Stac took in a quick, shocked breath, the warmth from his body washing over her.
The firelight behind James rendered him little more than a silhouette, but Stac could just make out his narrowed eyes, his intent expression. His gaze seemed to be fixed on her lips.
The moment stretched longer, tension filling the air between them. Neither one seemed to be able to breathe properly. Then James lowered his head until their lips were a hair’s-breadth apart.
‘I have a fair idea what it’s like.’
For one insane moment, Stac thought he was actually going to kiss her, and, oh! she wanted him to.
But instead, he took in a deep breath and stepped backwards. It was clearly a struggle, but he did it.
‘That’s why I’m going to get back to researching. So that I can finally do exactly what I want to do.’
And he sat back down and picked up the book. Stac marvelled at his will power. Merlin knew she wouldn’t have resisted if he had kissed her.
‘James, this isn’t fair to you, all this pressure and problems and making you wai–’
‘I don’t want to hear it.’
His voice was rough and low.
‘Stac, even if you were just my friend, I’d be helping. No one deserves to be leashed like that. As it is…’
And he looked up at her one final time.
‘I don’t care how long this takes; months, a year, several years. I’ll be right there with you, waiting.’
The tension was beginning to build in the room again – Stac felt it was time to retreat to the safety of the library. She turned to go, and James’ voice fell softly in the room.
I love you.
That same warm feeling flooded her body. Some instinct was telling her to run, but she didn’t. I’m brave, she told herself. So, with her back still to him, she smiled, then finally, haltingly, answered.
‘Je t’aime, Jem.’
So, come on - who's happy now? I know I am. Finally, I get to write happy stuff! And you all thought I was going through a depressive phase - told you I was leading up to good stuff!
Anyone feeling just a little love? Anyone want James as a boyfriend? Anyone love that song? I know I do. Funny thing is, I was trying to write this chapter to another song and it just wasn't working. This stupid freaking chapter has been stagnating for months because I simply couldn't make it work. And then I heard that Vanessa Carlton song again...and I sat down at my computer...and I wrote most of the chapter in about two hours. I guess you've just got to find your muse.
Speaking of muses, time for a shameless plug - if you haven't already, go over and read Operation Happy Ending by frenchy19. Yes, I will admit, I do have a vested interest in the story, yes, the writer is my darling beta, but I promise you will like it. And if you don't...you need more chocolate in your life. Because clearly the only thing that would impede your judgement to that degree is a deficit of chocolate. But seriously, it is flippin' funny - I have no gift for comedy and frenchy19 is a star for it. Just read it, kay? Cool.
Other than that, have a lovely day, dearies, please review (reviews are mother's milk to authors, etc, etc) and see you again soon!
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