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Chapter 8 : Ready or Not
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The chill nipped at my face in a way most people would find uncomfortable, but I just felt refreshed. My eyes were closed and I tilted my chin slightly upwards, to the sky, and let the cold air cover me, like a blanket.
I meant everything I said to James—about life and autumn—about how I’m in this constant state of disbelief with the world. How am I automatically supposed to accept that there are muscles attached to my bones, surrounding my organs that work almost seamlessly to keep me alive? How am I to understand the way oxygen rushes into my lungs, blood pumps through my heart, sparks go off in my brain, and magic flows through my body?
It’s these incomprehensible things, these inexplicable facts that keep me cautious, keep me weary, keep me anxious, and keep me awake. Sometimes I can’t tell if this is all real, but then I feel an unmistakable touch: a harsh wind on my cheek, soft fur beneath my palm, a warm hand on my shoulder and for a passing moment, I live in it. I set my heart on its existence and accept it.
“Am I a nutter?” I open my eyes and watch my breath travel up towards the moon, in a cloud of white, slowly dissipating into thin air; impermanent.
It reminded me of when I was fourteen and Greer began his ‘self-discovery’ and took up Buddhism for a brief time.
There was one concept, or teaching, he told me about one night—in the Great Hall, his eyes and gestures wild—that always seemed to reassure me: The Three Marks of Existence. Anicca, Dukkha, and, Anatta.
Anicca, ‘inconstancy’, was the fact that nothing is permanent, we’re all in a flux; changing, bending, bound to break. Dukkha was that nothing in this life, world, or existence can keep someone consistently happy; suffering is unavoidable. Lastly, there is Anatta, or ‘non-Self’; that there is no term that can properly define a person. There is no ‘me’ or ‘you’ because we are all in Anicca, mutability; we’re always changing.
This second, right now, you have varied slightly from what you were a moment before, and in the next minute, you will alter slightly again. Perhaps a few hairs will fall out, some calories may be burned, or an opinion might change, but no matter what it is, what has changed, you are not the same person you were yesterday and I am not the same person I was in April. I refuse to be.
I turned my head slightly to get a look at James; he was watching me with a calculating expression, sizing me up, like he really had to consider the question before answering. In the dim moonlight I could see laughter in his hazel eyes.
“Nah, you do have your barmy moments, of course, but most of the time you’re relatively sane,” he smiled. I think I swooned. It was those dimples, I tell you. He bit his upper lip for a moment, looking conflicted before he blurted, “I’m sorry.”
He was sorry? What was he sorry for? He must have recognized my confused face. I wore it often.
“About how I acted in Muggle Studies on Friday, I know I can be a right prat sometimes,” he sighed heavily, running his hand through his hair, knocking his wool hat off in the process before hurriedly placing it back on his head tightly, “It’s just that rumor, about you and Professor Criss, it just sets me on edge.”
Oh, right, the Rumor, I thought.
The Rumor had been going around the school for quite some time now, ever since a few snooty Slytherins overheard a conversation between me and Dom discussing how I stayed at Greer’s flat over the summer holiday. The fact that a certain Muggle Studies professor of mine (recovering from a break-up) was also there may have sparked some suspicion, but Adam was just there to be doted on. Greer was good at doting on people. He used to sing me to sleep whenever I had nightmares as a kid and our parents were too busy in a far away country to calm me. But he’d kill me if I told anyone. So, of course, everyone knew.
I was virtually over the whole drama of the Rumor. It wasn't as if people we were saying that I was having an affair with a professor, just that our relationship was weird. I had already gone through all of the stages: Confusion, Denial, Depression, Anger, and Acceptance. Yes, I still complained about it now and then (i.e. profusely to Calix), but could you really blame me? It was irritating and caused attention to be put on me, but anyone with half a brain cell could tell it was a load of rubbish. I bet James knew it was, too. But that doesn’t explain why he’s acting so strange about it.
“Honestly James,” I began, “you have nothing to be sorry for.”
“But I do!” he sat up abruptly, taking his hat off again and running his hands through his hair hastily, “Why do you always forgive me? I just—I feel so inferior to you. I feel like every day is just a new day for me to fall apart; to fuck up. But you always forgive me. Why? I—I’m such a shitty person, really. I’m not nice like Frank, fun like Freddie, or funny like Dom. I’m just spoiled and I can’t think of one positive quality I have…except maybe my hair…”
Of course, Vulnerable James still had a bit of vanity in him.
I sat up beside him and took his hand from his hair and placed both of mine around it; placing our hands on my knee, I forced him to look at me.
“James, you always redeem yourself—”
“How?” he asked, his eyes frantic. How much sugar has he had? “By giving you a chocolate bar? A muffin? It shouldn’t be enough, it isn’t enough. Yet you forgive me. Every—”
I placed my hand over his mouth, successfully ending his manic rant. His eyes widened at the action. I had to admit that it was a pretty out-there move for me, but something about James at that moment, his hair sticking up all over the place from raking his fingers through it, his eyes filled with a helpless look… ugh you’re going to make me say it… it… warmed my heart a bit. I dropped my hand back onto my lap where his still rested.
“James,” I took hold of his cold, bare hand in my gloved one, “You may not realize it, but you are nice, and fun, and funny. Stop thinking you’re not good enough for me, or for anyone, because you are, if not better. You’re the sweetest bloke I know. You always care about how everyone else feels—from when you left me with Joe to Frank and Dom’s emotional rollercoaster of a relationship—you’re an amazing friend and cousin and brother. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you.”
James wasn't looking at me but his hand squeezed mine softly.
“And I always forgive you, because I just can’t not forgive you, James.” I admitted, thanking Merlin that couldn’t see how red my face had become, “I can never stay mad at you, at least not for long.”
He turned his gaze onto me and smiled in thanks, looking exhausted like he had used up all the emotions left in him.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” he said, his voice strained, as he ran a hand over his face, “I don’t normally freak out like that. I think the five chocolate frogs got to me.”
He grinned sheepishly and turned his body to face me fully. There was an expectant energy in the air and I forcibly slowed down my breathing for fear that even my soft breath could break the fragile atmosphere around us.
“Have you started The Catcher in the Rye yet?” He whispered unexpectedly.
“Of course,” I answered, now the flustered one, “I—um—I love reading and yeah.”
Merlin, Avada Kedavra me.
“How do you feel about what Mr. Spencer said, in chapter two: ‘Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules’ ?”
“I don’t believe life is a game,” I replied without thinking, but when I did think about it, I realized that I truly believed what I said.
“Why not?” he asked, generally curious; his eyebrows knitted together.
“When you say ‘game’ it implies that there are winners and losers,” I explained, “But everyone is a winner and a loser. You win by getting to live, but you lose when you inevitably die. It isn’t a game and there aren’t any rules, besides the moral ones, of course. You just live, if that makes any sense.”
“Good,” I glanced up to see him smiling at me like he finally found the missing piece to a puzzle.
“Good?” I repeated, his gaze causing a fluttery feeling in my stomach and this time I didn’t push it away.
“I agree with you,” he smiled, squeezing my hand gently.
“Well—uh—alright,” Merlin, I’m serious. Send that green flash my way.
I felt my heart speed up as my rib cage quickly moved up and down with every breath and blood rushed to my face, tinting the skin there pink. I felt alive and I swore I could sense everything going on in my body: from the sparks in my brain, the magical blood running through my veins, to the stretching of the small muscles in my fingers as they gripped onto his. What I didn’t feel was doubt; doubt that this wasn’t real, because it was.
I was never in love with James Potter, but at that moment I could’ve been.
Life isn’t a game. Life isn’t a game. There are no rules. Life isn’t a game.
I repeated this in my head like a mantra as I watched Allie shift slightly in the grass. I felt relieved. Life was not a game and I wasn’t going to try and play it safe anymore. I’m a sixteen year old wizard, for Merlin’s sake; a very manly and perfectly-able-to-grow-a-beard-(no one asked for your opinion, Freddie)-wizard. I should be rebellious, I should be living, I thought.
“Can I try something?” I asked, slowly moving closer. Life isn’t a game, I repeated in my head.
Allison nodded, her eyes wide. I lifted my hand from hers and placed it on the side of her cold face, brushed my thumb across her cheek bone, and felt the heat slowly seep into her skin. Life isn’t a game.
I touched my lips against her forehead, once, then pulled back to gauge her reaction. She closed her eyes, the corner of her mouth twitching upwards. There are no rules.
I gathered every ounce of Gryffindor courage that I possessed and lowered my head, my lips stopping just short of hers; our breath intermingling. Life isn’t a game
It happened in an instant. One second there was the wall of air between us, the one that always seemed so permanent, and then, in the next, it cracked and my mouth was pressing against hers and my other hand made its way to cup the back of her neck while both of hers grabbed on to the front of my jacket.
The air that once constructed out barriers now escaped my lungs and I felt a tingling sensation in my hands, pressed against her skin, and a heavy weight in my stomach that seemed to tremble, like there was a herd of stampeding centaurs within me.
I had snogged many girls before, more than I would care to admit, but nothing could compare to my first kiss with Allison, and nothing ever would.
. . . . . . . .
November 1, 2021; 12:00 AM
I don’t know exactly how long we stayed out there, on the pitch, constantly talking and touching in some way: our knees, hands, shoulders, or lips brushing.
It felt like that part in a story, the part you knew was coming, and you tore through the pages and pages of events and dialogue, waiting and waiting for it, and when you finally get to that scene, the one where the person who lent you the book (in my case, Aunt Hermione) hinted at, and it’s not like you expected.
And you read and re-read it until your eyes are sore and your head is just so filled with the thoughts and actions of that chapter and every chapter that came before it. All of them playing out in your imagination for so long that sleep evades you until the early morning sunlight begins to creep in through the window, causing you to realize that you should probably lay back and close your eyes.
That’s what it was.
I knew that it probably wasn’t masculine of me to feel like that, but I had just pined for Allison for so long that at that moment I couldn’t care less. But I’d totally deny it later to Freddie, although Frank may understand.
We had somehow ambled our way back to Gryffindor tower, hiding behind every nook and cranny whenever we “hear someone coming” to revert back to kissing. My head felt light, a dramatic change from Saturday morning when it weighed me down. It was almost as if my skull was half-full of water and it was sloshing from one side to the other, giving me a dizzy feeling, but a good dizzy feeling.
I stopped Allison right in front of the Fat Lady who had a drained bottle of wine that was now lying on her bosom while her friend Violet was passed out beside her, both of them snoring quite loudly, empty glasses in their hands.
“What—what is this?” I asked, waving a hand between us. She bit her already swollen lip and I repressed a groan. Bloody hell.
“I don’t really know,” she almost whispered. I felt a kick in the gut. She doesn’t know?
“What do you mean?” I asked, attempting to sound indifferent.
“I mean, I really like you James,” she confessed, her face flushing red and I experienced the watery-mind syndrome again, a grin spreading across my face. It took a lot of restraint on my part to not break out into a happy dance right then, “but I… I don’t know how to explain it.”
She fiddled with the front of my coat; her gloves now off, she ran her thumb over one of the shiny black buttons, and stared at it, like it could somehow enlighten her.
“Try,” I said softly, striving not to sound too demanding or frustrated.
“I don’t feel entirely comfortable with, well, a relationship,” she said slowly, as if explaining this to herself, not just me.
“It’s nothing against you.” she amended, looking back up at me, “I just don’t think I can handle one right now.”
I nodded my head slowly, processing this information, and turned to the Fat Lady, keeping my face set in an emotionless mask.
“Oi! Two students trying to get in here!” She started, her wine bottle falling to the ground and shattering, waking up Violet in the process with a loud snort. The Fat Lady shot me dirty look.
“Just as much tact as your Uncle Ronald, I see,” she huffed, “and it’s past curfew so I was under the impression that I could go to sleep.”
“You didn’t choose to go to sleep, you passed out,” Allison pointed out, surprising both me and the portrait.
“Miss Wood, such comments I expect from a Weasley or Potter,” she mumbled before righting herself and grouping together whatever dignity she had left, “Password.” She stated in a somber, almost-posh, tone.
I rolled my eyes.
“Treacle Tart,” I recited. The portrait nodded sagely, keeping up with the act, and swung open. I let Allison climb in first, the common room greeting us with a blaring, upbeat pop song, and a vomiting seventh year who I recognized as a fellow chaser on the Quidditch team, Pepin Travers.
“All right, Travers?” I questioned while Allison scourgified the mess he made, and started to rub small circles on his hunched back.
“Ish your bloody cousin!” He exclaimed, stumbling over his words.
“Which one?” I asked, although I had a pretty good idea.
“Molly,” he practically whimpered. Sweet Circe, what has Molly reduced my Chaser to?
“What happened?” Allison asked in a soothing tone, wiping some of the sweat off of his brow with the end of her scarf.
“She’sh over there,” he slurred, pointing across the common room where I could see my cousin chatting with some burly looking Hufflepuff who was slowly leaning closer and closer to her. She didn’t seem to notice though, as she continued gesturing wildly and probably ranting on about some boring and inconsequential matter that was preoccupying her thoughts.
“I see,” I looked back over at my friend; his brown eyes were glazed over, his skin slightly tinged green.
“I just don’t get it,” he whined, looking into Allie’s eyes obviously sensing the sympathy from her.
“What don’t you get?” I asked, scratching the back of my head and just wanting to continue the conversation with Allison somewhere else.
“Why I’m not good enough for her,” he clarified, putting emphasis on every other word, “Why is that guy acceptable when I’m not.”
“Aren’t you two dating?” Allison asked, looking at him confusedly.
“Yes…” he replied as if it wasn’t relevant. Both Allie and I turned back over at Molly who was now looking over at us and Pepin with a curious gaze, the burly Hufflepuff now gone.
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about mate,” I told him, pulling off my coat as my cousin began to make her way across the room. Travers was always a bit emotional.
“Are you okay, Pep?” Molly asked, concerned. She nodded to Wood and me in greeting, but her attention remained focused on her boyfriend who was still hunched over on the floor.
“Just brilliant,” he slurred sarcastically. Molly crouched down next to him like he was a child.
“Pepin Legrand Travers,” she said sternly, a lot like Aunt Audrey, “tell me the truth.”
“I’m sad,” he moaned, pouting a bit.
“Why are you sad?” she asked. I looked towards Allie who seemed as though she was holding back a laugh like I was.
“Because you were talking to Macmillan,” Pepin elucidated causing Molly to roll her blue eyes.
“C’mon, get your arse up,” she replied, pulling him up by his hands. He towered over her by at least a foot, but she reached behind his neck and pulled him down for a quick, closed-mouth (thank Merlin) peck on the lips and began to lead him back into the throng; he smiled, following her like an overgrown, freakishly tall, puppy.
“Well,” Allison started, “we seemed to have stumbled upon yet another event to make fun of Pepin about.”
“Don’t we always?” I asked, smiling, before I remembered our earlier conversation and the grin vanished, “Look—”
“Gwen? Are you okay?” Allison was looking over my shoulder now and I whipped around at the mention of my best mate to come face-to-face with her glassy blue eyes, now brimming with tears.
“Gwen,” I reached out to her, pushing some of her crazy hair out of her face, as she sniffed, “What’s wrong? Do I need to hex someone? Because I won't hesitate to and you know it.”
“You wouldn’t hex your cousin,” she muttered, looking down at her feet.
“Are you talking about Freddie? Because I have and I will.” Allison came up to my side and grabbed hold of one of Gwen’s hands. What is up with us and comforting people? I thought in passing. Gwen laughed shakily.
“What did Freddie do now?” Allison asked.
“Nothing that I should realistically be mad about.” Gwen told us and I felt a pang in my chest. Gwen was never emotional or vulnerable and I hated her seeing so defeated, “He’s snogging some Hufflepuff.”
“What is up with these Hufflepuffs?” I asked, exasperated, “First Finch-Fletchley, next some random bint who sexually harasses me earlier, then Macmillan, and now Fred is snoggin’ one of ‘em. I swear, I thought Slytherin was supposed to be our rival.”
Gwen gave me a weak smile and Allison shot me a look.
“Where’s Roxanne?” Allie asked, “Did you two come together?”
“I’m right here,” Roxy finally moseyed her way over, her dark brown curls bouncing as she walked, looking a bit smug. I groaned, knowing that look.
“What did you do?” I asked her.
“I claim no responsibility for the red handprint now emblazoned on Freddie’s right cheek,” she stated; I snorted, “Gwen, want to go back to the tower?”
“Yeah,” she nodded, “Thanks Allison, thanks James.”
And then they were gone. I now began to realize why Allison didn’t want to spend more than an hour at Gryffindor parties.
And that’s when it hit me.
“Hey,” I turned towards Wood, “what time is it?”
She glanced down at the watch on her wrist, her brown hair falling into her face again and I itched to tuck it behind her ear.
“It is 12:15,” she replied and when she saw my triumphant smile she looked unnerved, “What?”
“When did you first come down to the common room for the party?”
“At eight; Fred needed help with decorations,” she explained gesturing around the room.
“Then we left at around nine,” I said; she looked confused,” and we came back at twelve…and now its twelve-fifteen.”
“I don’t understand the significance of the fifteen.”
“You spent one hour and fifteen minutes at this party,” I said smugly, her eyes widened twice their size before she forced on a blank look.
“I don’t see your point.”
We were slowly making out way to the stairs leading to the girls’ dorms. It was a bit early to tuck in, but we were both so exhausted from everything that had happened in the past three hours that I couldn’t bring myself to care about what most people would think about me leaving a party three hours earlier than normal.
But, through the exhaustion, I grinned broadly because I had successfully and unintentionally helped Allie break one of the rules on that blooming list of hers. That, plus her admitting that she liked me, made up for a good day. Allison Wood fancies me, I said in my head, getting giddy with the thought.
Allison Wood fancies me.
. . . . . . . .
I told James I fancied him and he didn’t say it back.
Was it just a snog to him? Maybe it wasn’t, unless I imagined the hurt that flashed through his eyes when I said that I felt uncomfortable with the prospect of a relationship. It couldn’t be just a snog. Just-A-Snogs were never as amazing and cracking as the one (or several) we shared.
Now we stood at the base of the stares. James staring at me with the same awing expression he wore during that Charms class when he touched my hair.
“Well, goodnight,” I said turning on my heel, but I felt a warm hand grab hold of my elbow and I turned around.
“Do you think we can, you know, talk tomorrow?” James asked, trying to convey a message in his eyes that clearly said about our kiss.
“Yeah,” I said, feeling dread begin to pool in my stomach. He nodded once, grinning a little more widely before leaning incredibly close to me, his mouth touching my ear slightly.
“By the way, I like you, too,” he whispered before pulling back, leaving me standing there, mouth open, “’Night Wood. Sweet Dreams.”
I walked up the stairs to the dorm, leaving James and the mass of people behind me, a bit in a daze. I had stayed my required time.
Over my required time, I reminded myself as I put on my pajamas, but then I stilled, realizing that it was James who pointed that out to me. James who shouldn’t find any significance in this fact, yet he did. The only conclusion that I could come up with was that James knew about the list.
And that seemed like an entirely dangerous concept to me.
A/N: This chapter took so long and for some reason it was really difficult. From when they first arrive at the tower to the end was written at 4 in the morning so it's really rough. Sorry I introduced three characters in the span of five minutes (I just really like Pepin :P). Please review!
(Vulnerable!James is a one time thing, heh)
p.s. chapter title is a song by The Submarines
p.p.s. I started a Louis/OC fic (set two years after TYSD and Louis is in his seventh year. Also, it will probably be a stereotypical best mates falling in love story, but whateva whateva I do what I want ;D); here's a bit of it:
“At least I don’t look like a six foot tall twelve year old.” she retorted, pouting her lip childishly, thus making her accusation a smidgen ironic.
“I resent that,” I replied, flicking her noise gently, “I might be a little thin—”
“—and in a perpetual awkward stage,” Medwin interjected, eyes half closed. I elbowed him in the side causing a gust of air to escape his lungs. He rubbed his ribs and eyed me disdainfully.
“As I was saying… I may be a little thin, but I am incredibly charming—” I tried again, turning back towards Eilley.
“More like incredibly mad,” she interrupted.
“—and simply misunderstood, underrated, and unappreciated; especially by you two,” I gave them both pointed looks, “but it doesn’t matter because I know plenty of people who enjoy my sparkling wit and boyish good looks, so, in the end, your opinion means nothing to me.”
“Uh huh, sure.” Eilley rolled her eyes.
“Of course, mate.” Medwin pat me on the shoulder.
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