Chapter 2 : It's Better Than Having Big Hair
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"Son of a Snitch," I mutter angrily to myself, twisting my Tutshill Tornadoes quilt in my fists.
Have I no say in this? Why him, of all people? Why marry the one git who delights in peeving me off, and whose head is twice the size and every bit as empty as a Quaffle?
Obviously, I'm going to be suffering major brain damage, a Confundus charm, or something equally ghastly in the near future if I'm to become James Potter's wife. Shouldn't my future be something much more than snagging a husband?
"Urgh!" I shriek, pommeling my pillow.
"It's too early to be practicing your singing, 'Strea," my best mate, Rose Weasley, grumbles from her four-poster bed a few feet away. "Go back to bed. You sound like a sodding banshee."
"Sorry, Rose, I'll keep the warbling to a minimum," I say sarcastically, throwing my covers off of my bare legs and padding across the cold floor to rummage through my trunk. "Why don't you go back to sleep?"
"I think I shall, but where are you going?" she asks groggily from her blanket cocoon. "Class doesn't start for over two hours and arrrghhhrhrhrh," she yawns cavernously.
She sounds a bit like a troll, really.
I pause midway through the process of lacing up my trainers. "I think I'm going to go have a bit of a fly."
"Mmmggfff. But whyyy?"
"Clear my head," I say in a falsely cheery voice, shrugging on Perseus's borrowed Kenmare Kestrels jumper over my vest and shorts. "You know, take in the crisp morning air and all that."
"You have quite the way with words, Rose," I point out.
In response, she proffers a rude hand gesture that would compel old Fleur Delacour to faint right in her bouillabaisse.
"Gods, you're such a troll," I mutter.
"I'm not a troll, I'm a little girl," Rose mumbles sleepily, burrowing further into her blanket hive.
"Right, then," I say uncertainly, grabbing my rucksack and Nimbus 2017. I try to recall whatever proverb it was my Yaya once said about unconditionally loving our friends, even when they speak in Troll. However, my memory fails me. "See you."
The Troll-speaking creature that is Rose lets out a light snore in response.
As soon as I tentatively shut the door to the fifth year girls' dorm, I rush down the stairs, taking them two at a time and nearly spraining my ankle in my haste. Still fuming silently, I storm out of the Gryffindor portrait hole, ignoring the nosy call of the Fat Lady, and head first to the Owlery. As I enter, the drowsy hoots of its feathered inhabitants permeate the straw-scented air, and the early morning sunlight streams dustily through the open windows. Delicately picking my way across the dropping-strewn floor, I find my tawny owl perched on a beam a few feet above me, her head nestled under her wing.
"Echo!" I call softly, clicking my tongue. "Echo, would you wake up, please?"
She blearily opens a beady eye and turns her head away from me, ruffling her feathers and then hopping down onto my outstretched arm with a flutter of her tan wings.
"Good morning," I murmur, stroking her feathers with my hand that wasn't gripping the Nimbus. "How are you?"
She hoots happily, albeit sleepily, in reply.
"D'you think you'd be up to delivering a letter to Yaya for me? It's urgent."
Echo hoots in what I take to be assent, and I grin. "You're the best! Hang on just one moment, let me write it really quickly ― "
Scurrying over to a nearby bench, I prop my Nimbus against it, rifle through my rucksack, and procure from it a scrap of parchment, a quill, and some owl treats, which I scatter on the bench for a grateful Echo. Once I finish penning the letter, I examine it quickly for any grammatical errors.
I hope you're well! We're nearing O.W.L.s and our final Quidditch match against Ravenclaw, and I'm anxious to get them over with so I can bask in this gorgeous weather. I thought of you the other day, when Perseus disappeared to the kitchens with James and returned with a plate of loukoumades. They weren't nearly as delicious as yours, but those house elves could give you a run for your Galleons.
Speaking of James, I had another dream last night. It was rather disconcerting. In the dream, I was at a reception in the Weasleys' backyard, and it was announced that it was time for the official first dance for the newlyweds. Once the music began playing, I stood up to dance with James ― weird, right? It gets weirder ― and listen to this: at one point, I made a joke about why I married him. While I was wearing a wedding dress. And I was actually being serious!
I think I'm going to end up marrying him. I was wondering if you knew of any sort of magic to rectify this? Can I possibly change what happened in the dream somehow? I really don't want to marry him.
Please write back. I'm going mental just thinking about it.
Give Papou my love! I'll see you soon.
Satisfied, I roll up the parchment and tie it securely to Echo's outstretched leg. "I owe you. You're brilliant, did you know?"
Echo nips my finger affectionately, shaking her wings once and then taking off through the open window of the Owlery. I watch her for a moment, forgetting my anger with James, and sigh. However, once the memory of the dream catches up to me, I scowl and push off from the bench, seizing my Nimbus and hurrying out of the Owlery. The corridors are empty as I tear out of the castle and toward the Quidditch pitch.
Luckily, the air is just brisk enough that my jumper feels comfortable, and the sun's warmth quickly heats my cold legs and hands as I mount my broom and take to the air. The flying conditions are excellent as I circle several laps around the pitch, and I gradually find my frustration at the dream dissipating along with the morning dew glistening on the goal posts.
After a few minutes, I've nearly forgotten James Potter exists as I pull a battered Quaffle from home and an inflatable dummy from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes from my rucksack. Using an idea I acquired from my owled subscription to Quidditch Quarterly, I charm the dummy to guard the goalposts on one end and prevent me from scoring. While I wait for the dummy to inflate and hover squeakily toward the other end of the pitch, I stretch my arms languidly, letting out a massive yawn, and look around excitedly.
Chasing is one of the best parts of my day.
I square my shoulders as I tuck the Quaffle under my arm and zoom at the goalposts, leaning forward intently on my broom. The wind whistles past my ears as I weave toward the hoop on the left and draw back my arm, feigning to aim with the Quaffle, but I dodge the dummy at the last minute and toss the Quaffle at the far right hoop at the last second. The dummy's chubby, air-filled hands swipe at the Quaffle but miss it by inches at it sails cleanly into the hoop.
Yeah, I'm aware that I'm practicing against an enchanted dummy.
Yes, I probably look like a bit of a tosser as well.
But I can't help but whoop with excitement as I make my first goal of the day. It's a good feeling to be in control of something.
I continue this routine for a while, missing a goal only once, when the Quaffle is blocked by the dummy's rounded belly and bounces violently off its stomach, smacking me squarely in the chest.
I may not have much there, if we're being honest, but it still hurts, almost as much as when Yaya calls them my "mosquito bites."
Such tact, that woman.
Still tenderly massaging my wounded chest, I finally remove the charm from the dummy ― which is now doubled over with squeaky laughter ― and shove the Quaffle into my rucksack, slowly drifting down to the field. Once I dismount and begin to trot toward the castle, I realise that I'm perspiring slightly and remove Perseus's jumper before it reeks of girl.
Students are beginning to trickle into the Great Hall as I enter the castle and make my way back to the common room. Luckily, I run into no one as I prance through the corridors, feeling quite chuffed at my goals this morning, and I'm just starting to think that the day might actually turn out nicely.
Humming to myself, I say vaguely to the Fat Lady, "Mimblewimble," once I've reached the Gryffindor common room.
I'm so ensnared in my analytical thoughts that I hardly pay attention to the Fat Lady's intrusive cry of "Where were you this morning, young lady?" as I clamber through the open portrait hole. I'm almost to the dormitory staircase when a tall, lean figure comes flying down the steps and bowls me over with a hasty "Sorry!"
"It's alright," I say amiably, and look up to find a large hand stretched out toward me. "Thanks." I accept the hand and am pulled swiftly to my feet.
"No problem," responds an unmistakable voice, quaking with mirth, and my eyes trail from our clasped hands to the smirk on James Potter's face.
Holy Hera, isn't this just dandy?
Immediately, I feel my cheeks flame at the memory of my dream, and I drop his hand as though I've been stung.
"Alright, little 'Strea?" James asks with a wicked grin, taking in my flustered state.
"I'm not little anymore, James," I say testily, regaining my composure as I dust off my clothes and clutch my Nimbus. "And I'll thank you to keep that in mind."
"Well, I'm taller than you and you're still the smallest person on the Quidditch team," says James breezily, "so, yes, I'd say you're definitely little."
Oh, did I forget to mention that this tremendous plank is also my Quidditch Captain and fellow Chaser?
"Five foot eight is not little!" I protest hotly. "I'll have you know, I'm the tallest girl in my dorm and nearly half as tall as Hagrid! I'm even taller than Rose!"
By a centimetre, but I think my Greek nose gives me an extra edge.
James laughs. "I'm still taller than you, though. Give or take a few centimetres."
I roll my eyes. "Well, I'm your quickest Chaser ― it's my job to be smaller than the rest of you lot so I can fly faster and score all the goals."
"You'd do well to remember that on Saturday," he warns, adjusting his scarlet and gold tie against his collar.
"It's not as if you'd let me forget after last night's practice," I say sceptically.
I try not to think about it. I'm actually considering Obliviating myself of the memory. If we're being honest, I'm pretty sure even Zeus would attempt to smite himself with a lightning bolt after last night.
"I'm just saying," James informs me carefully, "I don't want you dropping the Quaffle because you're too busy trying to prove yourself one of the boys."
"I don't have to prove anything," I say, bristling, "least of all to you."
"Of course you don't, little 'Strea," replies James calmly, the corners of his mouth twitching.
My brown eyes widen, then narrow at him. "I'll show you little, here in a moment if you don't stuff it."
"Oh, really?" says James, his smirk growing, if possible, obnoxiously wider as he takes a step forward. "Try me."
"Watch it, Potter, or I will try you," I growl, and I attempt to stalk past him, but he efficiently blocks me. "Get out of my way, James."
"'Get out of my way, James,' what?"
"Or else," I reply simply, my fingers twitching toward my wand. This seems to be the wrong response, for he only receives it as an invitation to advance a step toward me.
"Or else what?" he retorts, his hazel eyes sparkling playfully.
"Or else I'll hex you, you dolt," I reply, nettled.
He crosses his lean arms, eyeing me suspiciously. "You haven't got a wand on you."
My lips curve into a devilish grin as I lift up one of the legs of my cotton shorts to reveal my wand, which I always safely strap to my thigh whenever I fly in shorts. "Haven't I, though?"
James's eyes nearly bug out of their sockets (which is exactly what happened to Perseus when he first found out where I hid my wand, the overprotective sod), but he briskly recovers by smoothly cutting across, "Well, well, little 'Strea, you're smarter than I give you credit for ― "
"Cheers," I say acerbically.
" ― you know," he continues casually, "for a ― "
"Don't you dare," I say angrily, rounding on him. "You were going to say, 'for a girl,' weren't you?"
"No! No, that's not what I meant ― "
I glare at him, folding my arms across my chest, and wince slightly at the soreness inflicted earlier by that wretched inflatable dummy. "I don't need you patronizing me. Either say what you mean or get out of my way so I can go shower."
"Merlin, Astrea, can't a bloke just talk to his best mate's sister?" James runs a hand through his messy hair.
"Really, James?" I scoff, making to move past him again. "Is that what you've been trying to do? Because I'm not in the mood to have a go at you this morning."
"You're right," he says, grinning remorsefully as he places both hands on my shoulders to subdue me from taking the stairs. "I'm sorry. I'm only having a laugh. I didn't mean it."
I freeze, my eyes snapping to his hands firmly on my shoulders, and I feel a cold wave of nervousness, and perhaps the beginnings of nausea, break over me. "Yeah. It's fine. Just let me go, will you?"
Interpreting my anxiety as anger, James releases me and steps back, clearing the path to the dorms. "What's gotten into you, little 'Strea?" His tone is flippant, but at the moment, all I can think of is the dream, and it's just the cold slap of reality I need.
I'll marry him when Rita Skeeter admits to wearing false teeth. No one's smile looks that good at her age.
"Nothing's gotten into me," I say coolly, sweeping past him to the bottom steps of the staircase. "I know it may come as a bit of a shock that I'm a girl, but maybe if you'd start treating me with the same respect you treat all the other blokes on the team, I wouldn't detest you so much."
James gapes at me, his mouth hanging open less attractively than I'm sure he would have liked.
Then again, I'm sure the future "me" doesn't really mind. Dirty, rotten traitor.
"Catching flies, are we?" I say sardonically. "This should hardly come as a surprise to you. I've been using separate changing rooms for nearly four years now."
"Look, I'm sorry," interrupts James hurriedly. "I know you're a girl ― "
"Noticed, have you?" I say acidly.
" ― you're Perseus's sister, for Merlin's sake ― "
"You might've been a Ravenclaw."
" ― and it's time I realise that you deserve the same respect I reserve for the other players ― "
"Oh, well spotted!"
" ― and I'm sorry," James says again, a bit ruefully.
"Auntie Hermione probably helped you rehearse that, didn't she?" I say snidely.
Suddenly, James is blinking down at me with a strange, owlish intensity I know I've never seen before, yet can't help but feel like I have. "Do you really detest me?"
"Don't be silly, James," I say dismissively, waving my free hand. "I only just detest you."
"No, really," he presses urgently. "Do you detest me?"
"On occasion, yes."
"Come on, now," he says jovially, verging on exasperated, a note of nervousness in his voice as he runs a hand through his raven hair.
I sigh impatiently. "No, I don't detest you." I frown slightly, trying to place that odd look he's giving me. "I don't particularly like you sometimes, but you're alright for a git."
His face breaks into its normal, amiable grin. "Think so?"
"I suppose," I respond with a shrug.
"You're not so awful, either," he comments.
"So I'm told."
"There might be hope after all," he says cheerfully, clapping me on the shoulder.
"I wouldn't push your luck just yet."
"Right," James amends, hastily removing his hand. "Mates again?"
"Mates," I agree, my grin returning and then faltering slightly. "Er, until our next row, at least."
"Right, then," James says hesitantly. An unexpectedly odd look flits across his face, as if he's suddenly perceiving my exposed legs and form-fitting camisole, and then he clears his throat awkwardly. "I'm, erm, off to breakfast. See you." Without waiting for a response, he turns on his heel and strides out of the common room.
Shaking my head in befuddlement, I glance down at my watch and notice that it's already half past seven. I rush up to the dorm to find nearly all of the other girls still sound asleep, save for Martha Thomas.
"G'morning," she says placidly from her bed, offering me a smile as she undoes her long, ebony plait.
"Morning," I say with an answering smile, pushing all thoughts of James from my mind as I tug off my trainers. "Sleep well?"
"Quite," Martha responds, now pulling on socks emblazoned with miniature logos of her favourite Muggle football team, West Ham. How she finds football interesting in comparison to Quidditch truly boggles the mind. "Although, I think I heard Rose speaking in Troll again."
"I heard that," a voice mutters across the room.
"Doesn't make it any less true," Martha says lightly, and she ducks as, almost instantaneously, a pillow zooms directly at her head at lightning speed.
"You should've been a Chaser," I remark admiringly to the still half-asleep Rose.
"Hardly," I hear her say from under her comforter. "I'd like to think I have good taste."
Martha rolls her dark, almond-shaped eyes, tossing the rogue pillow back in Rose's general direction. "Anyway, how did you sleep last night, Astrea?"
"Not badly," I admit, although whether I've just told a half-lie is yet to be determined, since I may have enjoyed that dream just a little. I tidily stow away my Nimbus and retrieve my toiletries from my trunk. "I awoke early, though, and decided to go for a fly."
Martha nods in understanding. "Well, you'd better hop in the shower before the rest of this lot" ― she jerks her thumb at the rest of the snoozing fifth year girls ― "wake up." Then she spryly rises from her bed, adjusting her pleated skirt, and grabs her book bag, her straight teeth blindingly white against her dusky skin as she smiles. "See you at breakfast!"
"See you," I call at her retreating back, and bundle up the rest of my things as I pad along softly toward the lavatory. Once I peel off my clothing and remove my hair from its braid, I step into the shower, fiddling with the taps until the water is just right.
Oddly enough, once I'm standing under the lukewarm rivulets of water, lavender-scented bubbles drifting to the ceiling, one word floats clearly across my mind.
Vaguely, I wonder if it's too late to be checked into St. Mungo's for life.
As I swiftly lather pomegranate shampoo into my hair, I recall my odd encounter with him only minutes ago and compare it to my dream. Yes, things are weirder than usual between us, but I don't feel any differently. I mean, I'm not in love with him.
Yet, a diminutive portion of my brain says rather nastily.
Oh, shut it, I snarl mentally.
Make me! sings my brain.
Talking to myself ― first sign of madness, I note with a sigh.
Craziness aside, my feelings about James definitely haven't been altered in any tangible way.
I meant what I said earlier, when I told him he was a decent chap, but that doesn't mean I can stand him for longer than five minutes. That's a positive, right? At least I'm indifferent ― well, no, neutral is probably more appropriate. As long as I remain that way, I can still potentially change my future, right?
Nothing I (and a tin of biscuits) can't sort out.
After all, this could be a simple issue of mind over matter. It's a very slight probability, yes ― but the chance is still there, slim as it may be.
And yet ― as I rinse my hair and begin to apply my orange blossom conditioner ― I find myself wondering if marrying James Potter would really be so bad.
Yes, we argue. We're almost as bad as Rose's mum and dad, minus the frying pans and Jelly-legs Jinx threats.
But when we're not having a go at each other...well, we actually get on fairly well. It doesn't happen too frequently, since he's usually with Perseus and they're a year above me, but we haven't killed each other yet, have we?
Although, after that dream, I wouldn't rule it out.
I suppose I'd be lying if I denied being attracted to him. James is dishy ― not just to me, but to the female populace of Hogwarts and readers of Witch Weekly, as well. And as far as his personality goes, he seems to be a decent, only mildly annoying bloke.
Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad.
Or ― and I find this to be the most plausible explanation ― I suffer severe head trauma in the future, which causes irreparable damage to my judgement, thus provoking me to fall helplessly in love with James Potter and somehow consent to be his wife in front of public witnesses.
Without the aid of an Imperius Curse.
"Urrgghhh," I groan in irritation, stepping out of the shower and toweling myself dry in the small alcove of the lavatory. After running the towel through my hair, I toss it aside and pass a hand through the coffee-colored waves. I catch a couple of strands and weave them into a small braid, doing the same to the other side of my hair, and connect them with a miniature, Quaffle-shaped hair clip.
I'm not obsessed with Quidditch, I swear. Really.
Still starkers, I snatch my wand from its built-in pocket on my towel ― "A witch should never go wandless, even in the bath!" the tag had flashed jauntily when I purchased it at Gladrags ― and chuck the towel in the hamper by the shower.
I'm just pulling on my grey jumper over my white buttoned blouse and red and gold tie when the door to the lavatory creaks open, exposing a rather disgruntled-looking Rose.
"Good morning, sunshine," I say cheekily, eyeing her bushy auburn hair and rosy cheeks as I give my knee-highs one last, good tug and slip on my black and white oxfords.
"Tell that to my prat of a cousin," Rose shoots back, shuffling to the sink.
I assume she's referring to last night's brutal Quidditch practice, called only hours before by James, a manic glint in his eye.
You see, Rose is usually quite chipper in the morning ― something else I think she inherited from her mother, Hermione Weasley, besides her abundant brains, beauty, and bushy hair texture ― but after the ending of the previous night's practice around midnight, things went in the shape of the pear.
After a disastrous four hours of Quidditch ― during which many Bludgers were taken to various body parts, numerous swear words were uttered, and a myriad of mutinous glares were thrown at James ― the whole Gryffindor Quidditch team was caught out of bed after curfew by Professor McGonagall.
Luckily, she understands as well as we do the severity of Quidditch finals (and James's obsession), so she merely let us all go with a detention each, a curt nod, and a tart "Go, Gryffindor."
But the fact remains that most of us would like to feed James to the Giant Squid after Quidditch finals on Saturday.
"Come on, Rose," I say soothingly, straightening my fringe with my wand, "it's not that bad ― "
"Not that bad?" she cries shrilly, disappearing into the shower alcove. "I woke up sore all over, barely even have time to take a bath, and to top it all off, I can't even move my ― ooh, would you mind turning this thing on for me?" She pokes her head out of the alcove, her voice considerably smaller. "My arms won't move."
"Of course," I sigh, obliging as I make my way to the shower and turn the knobs.
"Thanks," she says sheepishly, allowing herself a grin.
"Any time, Rosie," I reply laughingly, plucking my carton of toiletries from the sink.
"Oh, 'Strea?" calls Rose from the shower. "Sorry, but would you mind throwing me my towel? I can't move my ― "
"Yes, yes, you can't move your arms," I joke, grabbing her linen towel and catching it on the hook outside of the shower.
"You're an absolute star," I hear her say gratefully. "Now ― "
"Just so you know," I announce, clearing my throat, "I draw the line at helping you shower. I know you're in pain, but that's a line I refuse to cross, even for you, Rose."
"Oh, shut up," she says peevishly, her voice echoing in the bath. "I was only going to tell you to bugger off so I can take a shower!"
I laugh. "Thank Merlin. I'll just be going, then!"
"And do keep your hair down," she yells as I exit. "It's much nicer that way!"
Grimacing as I make my way across the dormitory, I decide that Rose is right ― as usual ― and flick my hair over my shoulder so that it's at least out of my way.
Considerably calmer, I sling my bag over my shoulder as I head down to breakfast. It's only a quarter past eight, but the Great Hall is milling with students as they scarf down quick breakfasts.
"Morning, Perse!" I trill, plonking myself down on the bench next to my dark-haired brother at the Gryffindor table. "James," I add curtly, nodding to him as I help myself to some toast and marmalade.
"Morning, sis," Perseus responds happily, ruffling my hair before returning to his nearly empty plate.
A passing third year, Katie Summerby, swoons and falls backwards into the Ravenclaw table.
"We meet again, Astrea," says James with a sort of roguish wink, raising his goblet of orange juice to me from across the table.
Katie, who is just regaining her feet and picking porridge out of her hair, swoons again and goes careening into the kippers.
I guess it's fair to say that my brother and James are two of the school's more attractive students.
James, naturally, is the firstborn of one-third of the Golden Trio, while Perseus looks like one of those typical, dishy blokes you'd see rustling sheep on a glossy tourist pamphlet of Greece.
You know, like the ones with dark, floppy hair and tawny skin, but decidedly less libertine and without the thick Mediterranean accent.
Or the sheep.
Perseus drains his own goblet, turning to eye me warily. "Did you do something this morning? You look...different."
"I look the same as ever," I say innocently, spearing a bit of melon. "Why?"
"Dunno," Perseus replies with a shrug, helping himself to more bacon. "You just look different, is all. Can't place my finger on it."
"Hmm," I say evasively, sipping my orange juice.
"You're not wearing face paint, are you?" demands Perseus, his dark eyes squinting worriedly at my face from about a centimetre away.
"For heaven's sake, Perseus," I snap. "I'm only fifteen."
"Good," says Perseus, relieved. "You don't need it anyway. You should be proud of your face."
"And my Greek nose as well, shouldn't I?" I add under my breath.
Perseus shoots me a look. "I heard that."
"You were meant to!" I say in a sing-song voice, tossing a grape into my mouth.
"At least you don't have big hair like Auntie Kybele," Perseus says darkly.
Unfortunately for Auntie, the name Kybele, traditionally rendered in Greek myth, means "she of the hair."
It's quite fitting for her, but all the same, I can't imagine walking around with that kind of title.
I down my orange juice solemnly. "There is that."
"I've got it," says James suddenly, snapping his fingers. "You're wearing your hair down, aren't you?"
"Morning, lads!" Colin Bradley, the golden-haired seventh year who completes our trifecta of Chasers, arrives, seating himself next to James and immediately shoveling food onto his plate to a chorus of cloying sighs from the Ravenclaw table. "And lady." He gives me a wink.
"Morning!" Perseus, James, and I chorus.
Colin digs into a bowl of cornflakes and elbows James. "Some practice last night, eh, Captain?"
"Could we please not bring that up at breakfast?" groans Albus Potter, sliding next to me on the bench, his inky black hair sticking up in gravity-defying tufts. The tremulous sighs return from the Ravenclaws, rising dangerously in pitch. "I'm still recovering."
James flicks a cinnamon roll at him. "Oh, come off it. All you had to do was look for the Snitch!"
"Funny," says Albus sarcastically, nimbly catching the roll before it hits his glasses, "I remember running all twenty-five laps 'round the pitch with the rest of the team ― "
"Running builds character, you don't want to go getting a big head," says James distractedly, examining his reflection in his spoon.
"I had to use the Sloth Grip Roll at least twice per minute just to dodge the Bludger you charmed to follow me!" Albus exclaims.
James shrugs. "I don't see why you're all hacked off about it."
"What kind of captain tampers with the Bludgers during his own team's practice?" asks Albus, horrified.
"The kind who wants his team to be prepared for anything," says James evenly, snatching the roll I chuck at him out of thin air without flinching and taking a bite out of it.
"Or the kind who wants to win," Colin inserts knowingly, grinning lopsidedly at me from beneath his tousled blond fringe.
"You duplicated both Bludgers," accuses Albus, his emerald eyes flashing at James. "How am I supposed to avoid two of them charmed to do me in, let alone four?"
"Look, Professor Flitwick told me to work on my Geminio charm!" responds James hotly.
"Come om, mate," Perseus wheedles in James's direction, in between bites of toast, "I fink you're taking 'at a bit ow o' conteksh."
"I'm just saying, Al," states James reasonably, "if you can't take the heat, get off the pitch."
"You're mental," declares Albus, stabbing an egg with his fork. "Don't think I won't be writing Mum about this."
James raises an eyebrow. "Well, you'll have to forgive me sooner or later. You all will," he adds, looking around the table.
"James Potter, I will never forgive you for last night," Rose greets him frostily, glaring at him as she joins us at the table.
"It's alright, Rose," remarks Colin in a stage whisper, "I'm sure he hears that often."
His cheeks turning pink, James drains his goblet and glares at us. "Do any of you lot have anything else to say about my practices?"
"Alright, team?" says Hugo Weasley cheerfully as he bounces into his seat. The darling creature is one of our Beaters (along with Perseus) and Rose's third year brother. "Hey, look, I think I've gone and developed muscles after beating all four of those Bludgers last night!"
"Merlin, look at those biceps," I say with a whistle, by way of a diversion, and everyone else hastily jumps in to comment on the new additions to the skinny poles Hugo calls his arms, the Potter brothers' argument forgotten.
Once the warning bell rings, we all snatch up our last few bites of breakfast, shoulder our bags, and make to clear out.
"Hey, 'Strea!" calls James, climbing over the bench and catching up to me as I begin to leave the Great Hall with Rose, hoping to avoid him for most of the day.
Clearly, I got on the wrong side of the broom this morning.
"Yeah?" I say, a bit peeved, and I can hear Rose tapping her foot impatiently.
"Erm..." James runs a hand through his hair, looking quite baffled, as though uncertain as to why he's standing here. "I just, er, wanted to tell you...your, erm, hair, well, it looks...it looks nice today, is what I meant to say earlier."
Well, this is a sight nicer than this morning's episode.
"Like twenty erms and ers ago, you mean?" I ask, grinning.
"Precisely," James deadpans, rolling his eyes. "No, it was what I meant to say at the table earlier."
Rose snorts, crossing her arms. "Merlin, James, you absolutely slay me with your eloquence. Go woo some other poor girl with your devastating wit."
"James, you coming, mate?" calls Perseus, lingering near the marble staircase. "We're gonna be late to Defence!"
"Yeah, be right there!" James gives me an apologetic grin, pinches Rose's cheek, and leaves us with a "See you at practice, ladies!"
"Ugh," Rose and I groan in unison, trudging toward the staircase.
"Honestly, you'd think James would've learned how to give an actual compliment by now," Rose exhales. "After living with the Weasley women, and all."
I laugh absently, my mind still on the dream and this new, weird James.
Mind you, James has always been weird. Not burning-ants-with-a-magnifying-glass weird or anything like that. Just normal weird. Today, however, he just seems a bit weirder than usual, which is saying something.
"I mean," continues Rose exasperatedly, watching her cousin's back retreating up the staircase, "my dad even got him a copy of Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches last year for Christmas. How hard can it be?"
"I dunno," I say truthfully. "Perseus is obviously no better. 'At least you don't have big hair like Auntie Kybele!' Papa would have a fit, but then, Mama never liked Auntie Kybele or her big hair...."
Mama calls Auntie Kybele a tart when she thinks we're not listening.
She also likes to hint at how Auntie frequently lets her hair down with loads of men, but I don't think it actually has anything to do with her hair.
"Besides," says Rose, pausing outside our History of Magic classroom to raise her eyebrows dubiously at me, "what's he playing at, trying to compliment you?"
"What do you mean?" I ask edgily. The dream can't be affecting James and me already...can it?
No. Absolutely not. He still looks like a git to me.
"I'm just saying," Rose explains patiently, as though I'm five years old, "haven't you noticed that he's acting a bit odd today?"
"Odd?" I echo, sweeping past her and into the classroom. Odder than usual, you mean?
"Yes, odd," Rose says doggedly, trailing after me. "He's never had trouble talking to you like that, and you've practically been family since first year."
"Yeah, I suppose you're right," I agree, collapsing into the open desk next to Albus and in front of Martha.
"It's almost as if he's realised you're not related to him," Rose muses, slipping into the desk next to me.
I shake my head, pulling out my notes and quill. "I reckon he's just stressed about Saturday's game. Last night's practice should be a good indicator for you ― "
"Shut up," says Rose loudly, plugging her ears with her fingers, "I don't want to talk about it."
I grin, pleased to have thrown her off the subject, and I wonder for a moment if maybe James really has noticed that I'm a girl who is, in fact, not his cousin or his sister.
And then I realise, why in the name of Plato's enchanted toga do I care?
"Ungnnghghghhhh," I groan, slumping against my desk, unable to come up with a definitive answer.
"Alright, 'Strea?" Albus asks sympathetically, laying a hand on my arm.
I sigh, prepared to blurt out, "If you must know, I got smacked in my nonexistent chest this morning by a Quaffle, I can't stand to hear another story about the goblin rebellions, and, oh, by the way, I'm getting shackled to your brother for the rest of my life in just a few years."
And then something so simple ― something so incontrovertible ― smacks me in the face like a branch on the Whomping Willow.
And, no ― thanks for asking ― it wasn't the Whomping Willow. Good guess, though.
It was a thought. A really good one.
And I realise, Wait just a sodding moment. I'm having a good ― nay, an excellent hair day.
Why should I let some stupid dream about some stupid boy ruin my day when, for once in my life, my hair doesn't resemble the backside of a pygmy puff?
Inspired, I sit up a little straighter, a goofy grin plastered across my face and a deeply concerned one etched on Albus's. "I'm brilliant, actually. Thanks."
"Oh, er, good, then," says Albus faintly, sitting back in his chair.
"You sure you're quite alright?" Martha whispers in my ear, leaning forward, and I nod, smiling widely.
"Settle down, settle down," drones Professor Binns, gliding through the blackboard and hovering in front of the class expectantly, as though we all might burst into the conga at any moment.
"You, Pelicansnopolopoulos," he addresses me in his dry, reedy voice. "Your enthusiasm for learning is quite appreciated."
The grin slides off my face like Stinksap as Rose snickers beside me. "Er, anytime, Professor." Then, I whisper huffily to her, "My last name isn't that hard to pronounce."
"You're right," she whispers back, mock-seriously, "it's loads better than Sarcophagoesophagus."
"Stuff it," I hiss, dipping my quill in ink, but there's no real need for lowering my voice, as Professor Binns has already floated back to the blackboard and is now waffling on about the goblin rebellions.
Today just might be alright after all.
Suddenly, without warning, my notes blow up with an explosive bang, torn bits of flaming parchment singing my eyebrows and incendiary ink blots spattering my shocked face.
It would seem I grabbed my Exploding Ink this morning without checking the label.
Evidently, I spoke too soon.
Author's Note: Poor Astrea. Will Professor Binns ever get her last name right? And it seems James is having a slightly awkward change of heart already; maybe he's finally noticed Astrea isn't a bloke, eh?
I find it ironic that I was snacking on hummus and pita chips while writing this.
So, thoughts, anyone? Thank you for all of the lovely, kind feedback you've given me. It's been especially nice to hear from all you Greek/of-Greek-descent readers like me, so thank you for reading! Your reviews really make my day.
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