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Chapter 3 : Draught of War and Peace
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"D'you know," Rose says tranquilly, as we emerge from the dungeons to go to lunch, "I actually don't think I'd mind another practice tonight."
I give her a vague smile. "I think we've been too hard on James; after all, he only wants us to win, you know?"
"Yeah, I know," repeats Rose, grinning dopily. "He's such a prat sometimes, though."
"You both are mad," says Martha happily, linking arms with us. "But I agree."
As we reach the Great Hall, I find myself feeling quite superb thanks to the Draught of Peace I just brewed in Double Potions, and by the looks of it, it seems that Rose and Martha are experiencing the same.†
By the time we sit down at the table, we've already christened James "O Captain, My Captain" and are waxing eloquent about his divinely inspired Quidditch skills. As long as this potion is active, there might even be hope for him making it out of Hogwarts alive if he keeps up his crazy captain act.
"I hope he runs practice until midnight!" Rose says with a slight giggle, twirling a forkful of steak and kidney pie. "Again!"
"Later than that, even," adds Martha peacefully, stirring her mashed potatoes.
I attempt to frown perplexedly, but only manage to achieve a relaxed grin. "Martha, you don't even play Quidditch."
"Personally, I won't mind if James runs practice until this potion wears off," says Albus cheerfully, joining us and ladling pie onto his plate.
"I'm going to marry him someday," I announce serenely, raising my goblet of pumpkin juice.
"That's the spirit," says a burly sixth year a couple of seats down, offering a conspiratorial nod. At least someone understands me.
"Sorry, what did you say?" asks Rose obliviously, much more calmly than she would have in the absence of the Draught of Peace.†
"Er ― " Unruffled, I sip my juice. "Nothing." Blimmin' potion.
"Who do I need to beat up?" asks Perseus casually, dropping himself onto the bench across from me.†
"No one," I say smoothly. "So, how was Double Charms?"
Perseus chews a bit of steak and kidney. "Nothing spectacular. Although James did this awesome thing with his wand ― " He breaks off suddenly, glowering at something behind me.
"Perse, what in Homer's walking stick are you ― "
"Salut, Astrea," a lilting voice says from behind me, and I turn to greet the handsome visage of Etienne Durand, Sixth Year Captain and extraordinarily fit Seeker of Ravenclaw.†
Buggering Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades put together.
Draught of Peace or not, if I had my way, my dream would have been about†this†bloke. I've fancied him since third year, and I had an excellent dream about him once, in which we were on a date.
It hasn't happened yet, but I'm still holding out. I mean, these dreams are bound to come true sooner or later, right?
I'm such a hypocrite. I used to have dignity.†
But he's so yummy-looking, like warm baguette dipped in hot cocoa.†Is it legal, to look that good? I'll have to have a chat with him about that.
All I have to do now is convince him to marry me.†I've already planned the names of our adorable, Quidditch-playing, French-Greek children ― Virgile, Isabelle, and Andromeda.†
One Greek name is more than enough of a mouthful.†
"Hi, Etienne," I say pathetically, my cheeks reddening as the effects of the Draught of Peace begin to wear off. "How are you?"
Albus hastily stifles his snigger into a pumpkin juice-induced cough when I turn my sharp gaze on him.
Etienne flashes me a warm smile, his dark, windswept hair spilling into his vivid, blue eyes. "I am wonderful, 'ow are you?"
"Simply corking," Perseus interrupts coolly, "now if you don't mind, she'll be eating in peace."
"Perseus!" I gape at him, and turn back remorsefully to Etienne, whose brows are furrowed in puzzlement. "Sorry about that, he's just a bit of an overprotective prat...."
The lines on Etienne's forehead smooth, and he laughs. Rose and Martha attempt to repress their smitten sighs, but fail miserably. Albus scowls openly. "Eet eez alright. I would be the same way if I 'ad a seester as well."
"Then I'm sure you'll understand when I ask you to not even so much as glance at my sister until she's thirty-five," jokes Perseus, and both boys laugh until Perseus stops suddenly and says soberly, "But seriously, mate, don't even think about it."
"I cannot zink what you mean by zat," replies Etienne, utterly mystified.
"I can clarify that." We all turn to see James, his eyes narrowed. "She's off limits."
"I believe I can speak for myself, thanks," I rejoin crossly, scowling at both him and Perseus. "Please ignore them, Etienne ― "
"Or you could just leave," suggests Perseus.
"And we could settle this on the pitch Saturday," James adds in a steely voice, folding his arms across his chest.
"We have a strict policy on inter-House mingling," Albus chimes in. "No offence, mate."
"Off limits," repeats James stoically, his hand twitching toward his wand. "Unless you fancy a good hex into next week."
"I see." Etienne's now detached gaze flits guardedly from Perseus to James. "Well, Astrea," he says ruefully to me, inclining his head, "it seems I am unwanted at zis table ― "
"Got that right," Perseus, James, and Albus mutter in unison.
"No, of course not!" Rose, Martha, and I object simultaneously.
" ― and I suppose I will just 'ave to speak with you anuzzer time." He smiles politely at me and heads to the opposite end of the Ravenclaw table behind us.
"Au revoir!"†Albus calls brightly.
"What,"†I growl, rounding on my brother,†"was that?"
Perseus promptly becomes interested in his fingernails. "What was what, dearest sister?"
Seething, I whirl toward James.†"Your turn."
He becomes stricken with a half-dazed, half-frightened look. "You know, I've, erm, just remembered that I left this, er, thing ― yeah, this†thing†in the library, and I'll just go get it, then...." His voice trails off awkwardly.
"Me, too!" says Perseus quickly, hopping up. "I've misplaced my, erm...Kneazle."
"Bye!" The pair scurries out of the Great Hall, throwing furtive glances over their shoulders every few seconds at us until they disappear behind the archway.
"Well, blow me down," Martha comments, stunned.
"Rotten luck," tuts Rose empathetically, laying her hand over mine.
"Gits," adds Albus helpfully.
The three of them peer at me anxiously, as though I'm a game of Exploding Snap wired to hit the fan at any second.
"'Au revoir?'" I finally manage to say. "Really, Albus?"
"It's not my fault that's the only bit of French I've ever learned," says Albus defencively. "It was honestly either that or the swear words I've heard Victoire use."
"Overprotective brothers, don't you just love them?" Martha remarks wryly, she, Rose, and Albus following me out of the Great Hall as we traipse off to Care of Magical Creatures.
"James isn't my brother!" I cry, disgruntled, nearly tripping over a small rock.
"He's as good as," Rose points out, but at my sullen glare, rapidly changes the subject. "So, what do you think Etienne wanted?"
I shrug half-heartedly. "Dunno. Guess I never will now."
"Oooh!" gasps Martha. "D'you reckon he was trying to ask you out on that date you dreamed about?"
Of all my Hogwarts mates, I've only ever told these three about my dreams ― they're the most trustworthy and accepting people I know; besides, they stay tuned to any news I bear like it's the season finale of The Centaur Diaries or†Desperate Housewitches.†
Martha, on one hand, thinks my dreams are romantic†― who wouldn't want to find out her brother's pratty best mate ends up being her future husband, of course? I just want to make it past my O.W.L.s, to be honest†―†while Rose attempts to find a logical explanation for the dreams in her revised edition of†Hogwarts, A History, and Albus thinks I'm cooler than the Chudley Cannons.
Granted, it doesn't take much to be cooler than them.
Lost in thought, I wonder what the three of them would say, though, if they knew about last night's dream. For a moment, the temptation to spill everything and lift this horrible weight from my chest is quite strong.†Rose and Martha would probably squeal excitedly, and Al would mostly likely forbid me from attending all future Wotter family events.
There goes that outlet.
"I don't think he was," I say finally, my tone slightly bitter as I†push all else from my mind with each step we draw nearer to Hagrid's hut. "Even if Perseus and James hadn't run him off, I doubt he would've been trying to chat me up."
Albus's eyes roll. "Look, I know you think he's Crookshanks' pyjamas and all ― "
"Fit as a brick,"†Martha inserts, clearly enunciating each syllable.
" ― but honestly," Albus continues, ignoring her, "I don't see why you're mooning over him ― "
"I'm not†mooning†over him!" I say indignantly.†
I just kind of want to have his children, that's all.†
"He's just some Ravenclaw with a French accent," dismisses Albus. "Big deal."
"Jealous much, Al?" I tease, patting his cheek.
Al looks positively horrified. "No!" He sighs long-sufferingly. "I just think you can do†way†better than that git."
Martha bursts out laughing. "You're joking! Etienne is one of the best-looking guys in school, and better than that, he's smart†and†nice." Her eyes search Albus's face and then widen in merriment as she finds her stride. "And he's a decent Seeker to have beaten you ― "
"That was only once!" Al replies heatedly, referring to our unfortunate finals of last year. "I was hit by a Bludger!"
Yes, well, so was your father back in his second year, but did that stop him from catching the Snitch and defeating a Basilisk?†
No.†But I digress.
Martha's eyes twinkle with glee. "I know you were! Honestly, hold onto your hippogriffs, Al, I'm only joking."†
"Remind me why I spend my precious time with you lot again?" mutters Albus, aiming a surly kick at a pebble. "Girls, honestly...."
"His mother went to Beauxbatons, apparently," Rose says with a slightly dreamy quality in her voice, though whether it's from the last few dregs of the Draught of Peace or Etienne, I can't tell. "I've read all about their school, you know, in†Hogwarts, A Revised History, and I can't imagine why she moved here."
"Rumour has it, he's part Veela," sighs Martha, as we reach the paddock outside Hagrid's cabin.
"You know what they say about the French, don't you?" I add with a wink, simply for good measure.
"Aaaaaaand†this†is the part where I go reclaim my manhood," Albus mumbles, breaking away from us to go join the fifth year boys.
"Oi, 'Strea!" James beckons me over to him. Currently, we're in the middle of executing our Reverse Porskoff Ploy for the seventeenth time, two and a half hours into practice, and I frown and fly over to him on my Nimbus. How does he expect us to achieve perfection if he insists on halting practice in the midst of our plays?
Oh, and all that previous talk of "O Captain, My Captain"?
Right now, it's more like "O Captain, Not My Captain."†I ache in places I didn't even know existed.
"Yes, James?" I ask wearily.
In response, James opens his mouth, closes it, indecisively opens it again, and then seems to think better of it. He's a man of many words, James is.
"James," I remind him through slightly gritted teeth, "we're in the middle of a play, in case you forgot. This should probably be important†―†"
"Make the return pivots in your Sloth Grip Roll sharper," he says simply.
I raise an eyebrow. "Any sharper and I'll be pulling a Starfish Without Stick."
"Astrea," says James slowly, the hint of a smirk tugging at his lips, "just make the turns sharper."
"James, I literally cannot make them any sharper," I reply frankly. Right now, my pivots are crisper than a granny smith apple; what is he playing at?
"I'm sure that if you get back out there," James counters waspishly, as though I should very well know what he's on about,†"you'll find that you can make them sharper."
"Are you taking the mickey?" I ask blankly. "I've the feeling I'm missing something here."
"Come on, mate, Avery Hawksworth couldn't do it better himself," says Colin bracingly, literally swooping in to my rescue. "Ease up on her."
"Clear off, Colin," James says squarely. "We're going to run it again."
Colin swears under his breath and swerves back into his position. I make to follow his lead, but James catches my wrist.†
There is a lengthy beat of silence. No one on the pitch dares to make a sound as James gives me a long, calculating stare and I retaliate with a hard, blazing look. If this is how the captain wants to play, so be it. I'm not too worried, since I've been beating Perseus for years in staring contests.
Finally, he releases me and says quietly, "Put away your broom and start running laps."
"Are you serious?" I all but laugh. "That's completely uncalled for. I haven't done anything wrong, have I?"
He must be joking; after all, staring contests don't typically result in running laps.†
"Talking back to your captain," James lists smoothly, ticking off the offences on his fingers, "questioning his authority, and fraternising with the enemy."
I gape at him. "Are you seriously making me run laps for talking to Etienne during lunch? You've never done this before, James, why start now?"
"You have no business hanging around Ravenclaws just days before our final match against them," says James coolly.†
"In case you forgot," I point out, irked, "you were there as well."
James blinks, the ghost of a smile flickering across his features for a split second, before becoming a smooth, unreadable mask once more. "That may be, but I wasn't the one talking to him."
You're right, I long to say, you were the one threatening him, you ponce.
"You're barking," I comment instead, shaking my head. "This is absolutely ridiculous. You're not my brother, James."
"You're right," responds James, his eyes locking with mine, "I'm not. I'm your captain. Now start running."
"You can't run this play without me," I say stupidly, but I'm already correctly predicting his next words.
"I can and I will," says James firmly. "And don't stop running until I tell you to."
In a mixture of shock and outrage, I speed off the field in high dudgeon and land with an angry jolt. Once I've stored my Nimbus in the locker room, I take off jogging toward the pitch and begin my punishment.
The grass is surprisingly soft as my feet pound along the path, contrasting starkly with the harsh edge on my thoughts, some of which are about James, some of which are about how inexplicably unfair he's being, and all of which are particularly mutinous. My own brother hasn't accosted me about the lunchtime incident since it transpired, so why the Fawkes is James punishing me for something†― yet another thing, it seems†―†over which I had no control? Sure, I know finals are Saturday and he must be feeling tremendously tense, and I†get the whole "overprotective prat" bit†― Perseus pulls this kind of rubbish on a daily basis, the stupid sod†― but even a fool can see that James is taking this too far.
It's another forty-five minutes before James calls the team together for the end of practice huddle. As I continue to run resolutely around the pitch, I notice that everyone appears to be exhausted and is sustaining a minor injury of some sort. Somewhat heartened, I put on an extra spurt in my stride and decide to finish out however many laps I have left with strength and dignity for my team.
At this point, the only thing that impels my legs forward is the smoldering ember of knowledge that I'm in the right and James is in the wrong, but as long as I'm running laps, I refuse to show any expression on my face other than determination.
Slowly, as the rest of the players disperse and trickle one by one into the changing rooms, each of them throwing me sympathetic looks, James strides toward me ― or rather, my path seems to become closer and closer to coinciding with his.
He waits until I run a couple of metres past him, and then calls, "You can stop now."
Stubbornly, I raise my chin and continue running until I finish the lap. Grabbing a fistful of my tank top, I wipe my sweat-glistening face with it and work to regulate my breathing again.
"I told you to stop." James's voice is quiet as he appears at my side.
I eye him for a moment, then walk away, allowing him to catch up. "No," I correct him, "you told me I†could†stop. There's a difference."†
He holds the locker room door open and follows me in. "All the others have already headed back." James's expression is inscrutable in the dim lighting, and just like this morning, I'm struggling to figure out where I've seen this look from him before. "Will you be alright?"
I nod stiffly, retrieving my broom. "Goodnight, James."
"Oh, and by the way," James mentions casually, as I pause in the doorframe, "if I see you fraternising with Durand ― or any other House enemies, for that matter ― I'll have you running laps again, faster than you can say 'Krum.'"
It isn't until I'm halfway back to the castle, fuming and strolling in the dark, when I finally place that look, and I realize that it's the same intense stare James gave me in my dream last night.
Author's Note: Ooh, don't you just love confused, pratty big-brother overprotectiveness? It seems James has got that down pat. Anyone want to take a stab at why you think he's being such a git? Let me know in a review. Thank you for reading!
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