Chapter 4 : Late Nights and Filch Frights
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My Little Asteri,
As always, it is wonderful to hear from you. Papou and I cannot wait for your summer holidays to arrive, along with you and Perseus. I found something the other day in the market. The vendor called it "soy meat." He said it was made by the Muggles. It is used in dishes in the stead of real meat and tastes just as good, he said. So, when you come back, I will use it to make you vegetarian kibbeh. Hopefully, it will make the family dinner a little more special. Anything for kopela mou.
Without realising, I elicit an "mmmm" of longing from my pressed lips, my stomach growling hungrily at the thought of vegetarian kibbeh.
Since I'd become a vegetarian, after one of my first dreams detailed the death of my beloved pet rabbit, Vesta ― unfortunately, she was mauled by a stray dog, and you don't just skip off whistling showtunes after trauma like that ― I had made some changes to my diet and subsequently missed out on some of Yaya's finest cooking. Kibbeh, in fact, was a dish typically cooked with ground lamb, pine nuts, bulgur wheat, and spices, and I lamented the fact that I'd never again eat it.
Don't get me wrong, I'll never regret my choice of becoming vegetarian; I have my reasons and I'm sticking to them, but all the same, though I could never return to eating meat, Yaya's cooking is markedly difficult to ignore.
But now that she had found Muggle soy meat, our homecoming dinner ― and kibbeh ― would really be that much more special.
Honestly, my yaya can cook for England, and probably Greece as well.
Even our cousin Rahid ― the Lebanese side of our family doesn't really do fabulous mythological names, much to their detriment ― would set aside his sfeeha just to devour Yaya's cooking, though probably not without yelling, "Lebs rule!" first.
Where are the Lebs in Quidditch, huh, Rashid?
Oh, yeah. Still in Lebanon.
And still World Cup-less.
On the subject of your dream, I have much that I would like to say, but some of it must wait until you return home. Until then, do not let this dream bother you. Whether or not it comes true is uncertain, and right now, with your studies, it is unimportant. I know you don't want to marry James, but try to be his friend. Who knows? By this time next year, you may even like him! Do not fret, asteraki mou.
Good luck on your O.W.L.s and Quidditch finals. I am certain you will do well. Keep an eye on your brother. Tell him if he puts one toe out of line, I will take away his kotopoulo pilafi this year. Papou sends you one of his great bear hugs.
All my love,
P.S. I have also sent Hermes with some of my loukoumades. Gods know how deprived you must be of good food, house elves or not.
"Can Daisy offer anything else to Miss Astrea?"
"Hmm?" I look up from the letter, shaken from my thoughts. "Oh, no, this is just perfect," I gush to the house elf before me, smiling and gesturing to my bowl of forest soup and hunk of warm bread. "Thanks, though, Daisy. You're a star."
Daisy's luminous eyes widen as she blushes and drops me a curtsy. "Miss Astrea is very generous, referring to Daisy as a star."
I will say, one thing I'll never understand about house elves is why they continue to speak in third person.
You'd think that, over the course of the thousands of years they've been alive, they would have come across a master who's been decent enough to give them some new pronouns.
Daisy fingers the hem of her skirt delicately, bouncing on her toes. "Miss is sure there is nothing she needs? Some spanakopita, perhaps?"
I laugh, twirling around on my spindly stool at one of the kitchen counters. "No, thank you. Although I suppose I wouldn't say no to some baklava if you have any...."
Daisy nods eagerly, her thin ears flapping violently. "Daisy will have some right out, miss!" With another quick curtsy, Daisy trots off merrily.
Oh, if Rose's mum could see me now.
I can't lie, though ― before the house elves met me, they couldn't even make decent dolmades, and now...well, their lemon-herb sauce is so superb, even my Yaya would be a bit gutted.
I spin around so quickly that I fly off the stool and onto the floor with a muffled squeak. What good, I ask, are Quidditch reflexes when they only land you on the ground?
"Alright?" asks James, suppressing a laugh as he offers his hand, which I accept gratefully as he pulls me up.
Funnily enough, I'm beginning to feel a bit of déjà vu here. "Thanks," I mutter, hastily brushing off my teal shirt and pink cotton shorts. "What are you doing down here?"
James hops onto the stool next to mine, albeit much more smoothly in his a-shirt and pyjama pants. "Came down for a snack. You?"
"Dinner," I reply simply, tearing off a small, airy piece of bread and dunking it into my soup. Every now and then, I tire of stuffing myself with cooked vegetables from the Great Hall, delicious as they are, and the house elves are always kind enough to whip up some vegetarian dishes for me. "By the way, my arms send you their thanks for giving them the night off."
James laughs. "I figured the team would loathe me a little less if I canceled practice the night before Quidditch finals."
"You think?" I say derisively, tossing a bit of soupy bread into my mouth and swallowing. Mmm. "Four practices in a row is more than mental."
James sighs, resting his chin on his hand. "I know. No, I really do know," he insists, in response to the sceptical look I throw him. "I can't imagine you lot like me very much right now." I suppress a snort. "It's just..." He exhales slowly, fixing me with his tired, yet determined gaze, the faint purple shadows under his eyes revealing just how little he's slept. "I just really want us to win."
This time, I snort involuntarily, hastily turning it into a cough at James's narrowed eyes. "Sorry, it's just that I think we've sort of gotten the point, yeah?"
James allows himself a sheepish grin, having the decency to appear slightly abashed. "And I do feel bad ― I may have been rather hard on you lot ― "
I raise an eyebrow. "Four practices in a row."
"Okay, so maybe I've gone overboard with the whole 'manic captain' bit ― "
"Alright, I've been a complete and total arse," admits James.
I fold my arms across my chest smugly. "You think?"
"Maybe making you run laps for talking to a Ravenclaw was a bit out of order ― "
"Clearly, your mother's brains went to Albus and Lily," I state flatly.
" ― but I was just looking out for your best interest, you know?" James's eyes plead with mine as he swivels on his stool to face me. "I need you focused for tomorrow, and besides," he adds for good measure, clapping me on the back in a mate-ly fashion, in the excellent, manly kind of way that only mates can do, "you're my best mate's sister." He waggles a finger at me reproachfully. "No boys until you're thirty-five, alright, mucker?"
I groan, burying my head in my arms. "Is it wholly necessary to bring that up? You and Perse are just alike. Get on with your bromance already and let me alone, will you?"
"Miss Astrea, Daisy has your baklava!" I raise my head to see Daisy bearing a small plate with the delicious, honeyed dessert, a wide, beatific grin in place on her features.
"Thank you so much! This looks wonderful."
Oh, gods. So flaky and sweet. Is that chocolate drizzled on top?
Bloody Baron, this is divine. It's nearly as delicious as Yaya's.
"Hey, mind if I try a bite of ― "
"Sod off and get your own, Potter."
I may or may not be a little hostile when it comes to baklava.
"Come on, just one ― "
"I said, get your own."
If we're getting married in the future, he's got to learn sooner or later.
"Just an eensy little ― "
I primly set my fork down and turn to stare at James with solemn, wide eyes. "Look, maybe I'll share my baklava with you someday, but unfortunately for you, today is just not that day."
"Fine," laughs James, leisurely resting his elbows on the counter. "I'll get my own, then."
"Master James, can Daisy get you something to eat?" Right on cue, she turns to James after handing me the plate, enthusiastically bouncing on her toes.
He proffers one of his trademark, charming smiles ― hang on, did Daisy just sway on her feet? ― and points to my baklava. "Actually, Daisy, I'll have what she's having, thanks."
"Of course, sir!" squeaks Daisy, flushing and smiling prettily as she drops a graceful curtsy. "Coming right up!"
"How did you do that?" I ask abruptly, the moment Daisy skips off.
Literally, she skipped off. I think I even saw her twirl once.
James surveys me curiously, his chin propped up by his hand. "How did I do what?"
"You just made Daisy blush."
James's mouth falls open, and out tumbles a startled laugh. "I did not!"
"You definitely did," I protest, chortling. "House elves don't just bat their eyelashes ― "
"She did not just bat her eyelashes ― "
"Whatever," I say in a sing-song voice. "You know she did."
Quick as a flash, James reaches over and takes a bite of my baklava.
"You have your own coming, you prat!" I cry. "Rowena's lacy knickers, was that really necessary?"
James grins cheekily at me. "I know, but I couldn't wait."
I roll my eyes. "Fine. But just so you know, that entitles me to a bite of yours. And Daisy definitely batted her eyelashes at you."
"Go ahead," says James graciously, leaning against the counter languidly. "Unlike some people, I don't mind sharing. And she was not."
James shrugs, breaking into a grin. "She's just fond of me, is all. Besides, who can blame her? I'm quite fit."
I stare at him blankly, nonplussed. "Hardly. And did you seriously just call yourself 'fit'? Have you been hanging around Albus?'"
"What, is it a crime to tell the truth now?" says James indignantly, running a hand through his unkempt hair. "I may be botching my Quidditch captain duties ― "
"Oh, let's not kid ourselves, James, there is no 'may be' about it."
" ― but I'm still an honest bloke, and a rather dishy one at that." James allows himself a triumphant smirk, crossing his arms in a manner that is probably meant to appear self-satisfied and suave. Instead, the effect is quite the opposite, and he only succeeds in making himself look like a bit of a ponce.
I do hope I won't spend most of our marriage deflating that big head of his.
"Two things," I say brusquely. "One, I think Quidditch has finally turned you into a girl ―"
" ― not that you weren't one already, but I stand by what I said."
"Your confidence in me is truly heartening, Astrea," deadpans James, pressing a hand to his chest, "it really is."
"I'm sorry, but no self-respecting Quidditch captain calls himself fit," I inform him frankly. Nor do I think house elves have the capacity to understand the concept of being fit, let alone James Potter, both of which are entirely different things. "And two, I bet you five Galleons Daisy fawns over you because of your ― er, would you call it charm?"
James scowls. "Alright, let's just say she batted her eyelashes at me ― "
"I know what I saw," I state loftily, inspecting my fingernails.
"Fine," James says shortly. "I bet five Galleons she's only fawning over me because I look like my dad."
"You're on," I say, grinning as we spit into our palms and shake hands firmly.
Just for the record, I may or may not actually have five Galleons.
"Daisy has returned with your baklava, Master James!"
I shoot James a pointed smirk as she holds his baklava aloft, as though bearing a precious gift of incense and myrrh. I swear, I'm not even making this up.
"Thanks, Daisy," replies James kindly, ignoring my sniggers as he accepts the plate of baklava, drizzled ornately with chocolate and ― hang on, are those extra pistachios on top?
Apparently, not even I am charming enough for an extra pistachio garnish. Rubbish.
"Master James," begins Daisy, rather nervously, as she gazes up at him with eyes wide as saucers, "may Daisy ask a question?"
Here we are, the moment of truth. Those five Galleons are mine.
"Of course," responds James, intrigued as he throws me a sidelong glance. "What's up?"
You know, I've been thinking. I'd really like to purchase a flying carpet with my shiny new five Galleons. I think I'd look kind of suave on a nice illegal Axminster with seat warmers.
And tassels. There will be tassels.
At James's comment, the size of Daisy's round eyes, framed by her long, house-elven eyelashes, broaden even more, if at all possible. Somehow, I have the sneaking suspicion that being asked "what's up" isn't a typical occurrence for her. "Well, sir, please forgive Daisy for being impertinent, but is it true you are the son of the great Harry Potter?"
There goes my flying carpet. I reckon I'd better find five Galleons.
"Why, yes," says James innocently, though I could feel the victorious smirk practically emanating from his lips a kilometre away. "Yes, I am."
Daisy squeaks delightedly, clapping her hands together. "Well, you see, sir, Daisy's late father, Dobby the free house elf, spoke highly of the great Harry Potter before his death, sir." Lowering her eyes diffidently to the tiled floor, her voice becomes hushed with awe. "And, well, Daisy was wondering, Master James, if you could pass along the gratitude of Dobby to Harry Potter, sir?"
So, house elves can procreate. Who knew?
James's eyebrows nearly disappear into his disheveled hair with shock. "Of course. I'd be honoured to deliver the message ― "
Without so much as a warning, Daisy flings herself ecstatically at James, wrapping her tiny arms around his lean waist and hugging him with all the reverence and fervour of my Yaya at the Parthenon. "Oh, thank you, Master James, thank you! Daisy cannot thank you enough! Daisy's father would surely be smiling and singing the praises of the great Harry Potter and his son if he were here."
Rather awkwardly, James pats Daisy on the back, a smile tugging upward at the corner of his lips. "It's really no problem, Daisy. I'll be glad to."
What a touching moment, truly. But I still don't have five Galleons. If moments like this were money, however, I'd scrape enough Galleons together to pay James and purchase a flying carpet.
With seat warmers and tassels.
And maybe one of those bobbling flamingos for the dashboard. I'm really not asking for much.
Daisy simply beams up at James, releasing him from the hug and curtsying as she backed away. "Thank you, Master James! Your greatness will surely not be forgotten."
I sigh, shaking my head as Daisy hurries back into the gleaming heart of the kitchen. "That was quite possibly the cutest thing I've ever witnessed."
"Let's just head back to the common room and get some sleep, yeah?" is James's gruff reply. "I'm knackered."
"Alright," I say, grinning widely and pirouetting off of my stool. "No need to be such a bloke, James. It's alright to be cute every now and then."
"Do me a favor and shut it, will you?" But the goofy smile splitting his handsome face says otherwise.
After James wraps his baklava in parchment paper and deftly pockets it, we exit the kitchens and make our way through the castle, lightened by the buoyancy of the previous moment, and I inexplicably find myself thinking that this isn't so bad ― maybe I could marry this new compassionate, sensitive, house elf-loving bloke after all.
"By the way," remarks James thoughtfully, "you owe me five Galleons."
"Well," I retort, "you still owe me a bite of your baklava."
James lingers by the third floor staircase, giving me a long, appraising look. "You're relentless when it comes to that stuff, did you know that?"
I roll my eyes and continue walking. "That's because baklava isn't just 'that stuff.' Honestly, you talk about it as though it doesn't even have feelings ― "
"Did you hear that?" asks James abruptly, pausing again and glancing around apprehensively.
Rather keenly, we both strain our ears for a moment, attempting to discern the slight snuffling noise that's traveling nightmarishly down the hallway, and then comes the horrifying sound that compels us to fear for our lives:
"Mrs. Norris," we breathe in unison, aghast.
"D'you know, is it true what they say, does she really eat small children for breakfast?" I ask, somewhat conversationally despite my immediate onset of fear.
"I'd rather not stick around to find out." James seizes my hand and begins tugging me along, breaking into a mild trot. "Quick, follow me!"
"What's that, my sweet?" Mr. Filch's wheezy, delighted voice floats down the corridor as we continue running. "Students out of bed after curfew?"
I screech to an unsteady halt, glancing worriedly down at my watch. "After curfew? But it's only two minutes after nine ― "
"Astrea, move," hisses James, grasping my hand and dragging me away.
"Don't worry, my pet," rasps Filch, his croaky voice and hurried footsteps drawing ever nearer. I can just hear his jowls quivering with glee at the prospect of catching us out of bed and smuggling baklava. "We're catching up to them, we'll have them in a moment ― "
"Come on," breathes James, pulling me unceremoniously behind a suspended tapestry of Dolores Umbridge being chased by centaurs.
"But James ― "
"Not a word," he whispers, snugly crushing himself against me as though shielding me from Filch, his heaving chest pressed to mine, our gazes locked.
Well, this is slightly awkward.
"Where did they go, Mrs. Norris?" pants Filch heavily, skidding to a frenzied stop just outside of our tapestry. Her crimson, lamp-like eyes burning holes in my imagination, I hear Mrs. Norris offer an accusing mewl in reply and Filch pacing around irately. "I know they're around here somewhere...."
I freeze almost completely, my eyes still fastened to James's and my heart thrumming rapidly in my ribcage, though whether it's from Filch's or James's proximity, I can't quite perceive. The space between us is so frighteningly scarce that I find myself impulsively counting the sparse freckles that are scattered lightly across his tanned nose, which I suppose I neglected to notice until the threat of detention was looming over us like a dementor. As my brown eyes slowly trail up to meet his, I observe, for the first time, the flecks of emerald dancing among the glinting ring of hazel in his irises. Holyhead Harpies, it's been a while since I've seen eyes this nice ―
This cannot be happening. What was it I was saying earlier about James being a certifiable git?
"I know you're here," Filch suddenly announces exultantly. "I can smell you."
Alright, that's a bit weird, but I'll let it go.
"And when I find you, I'm going to give you an old-fashioned detention and hang you by your ankles from the dungeon ceiling, I will."
Now, I'm typically not one to criticise, but his voice sounds far too excited for him not to be a paedophile.
My eyes widen in alarm, and James silently places his hand against my mouth. "Not a word," he murmurs almost inaudibly, his warm, honey-scented breath tickling my ear. Involuntarily, I feel a shiver run up my spine, but my eyes never leave his.
"If we catch you," warns Filch in a growl, his footsteps beginning to patter away down the corridor, "Mrs. Norris will have you for breakfast. Filthy, errant students, wandering around the castle at night, we'll catch them, we will, yes, my sweet...."
Mrs. Norris seems to meow in concurrence, and I hear her paws pad softly after Filch.
We stand stock-still for a few moments, neither of us daring to breathe, until, at long last, James sighs. "Thank Merlin."
Again, I shudder reflexively as his breath fans across my face, and he eyes me with concern. "Are you alright? Are you cold?"
I shake my head fervently, averting my gaze as I rub my arms. "Let's just get out of here, yeah?"
"Yeah," agrees James, grinning as he takes my hand and pulls me from behind the tapestry. After ascertaining that the corridor is Filch-free, James nods at me, and we briskly set off for the common room once more.
It isn't until a moment later that I realise we're strolling along hand in hand, and I surreptitiously glance at our entwined fingers, coughing subtly. Instantaneously, James drops my hand as though struck by one of Zeus's lightning bolts, and we both avoid eye contact for the next few minutes.
Is this an appropriate time to gag? I think I just held hands with my brother's best mate.
Even worse, I may have enjoyed it just the tiniest bit. I bet there's a special circle in Hades reserved for people just like me. Someone please Obliviate me now, before I go mental and start to actually fancy James.
Just as I marvel at this new, somewhat unwarranted variation in our friendship, James turns to me, urgency scrawled across his features. "'Strea ― "
"Yes?" I ask breathlessly. Wait, since when did I have trouble breathing?
I must be allergic to cats. Yes, in fact, I think I feel a vague tickling sensation in the back of my nose, and maybe even a slight tingling in my palms, although that could just be the urge to smack myself back into reality.
"Look, I ― "
James bites his lip, rumpling his dark hair with his hand. "I think ― "
Admittedly, this is becoming rather odd, but he must be feeling this strange, new development in our relationship as well. I'm just sure of it.
"I think," says James at length, "Mrs. Norris probably does eat small children for breakfast."
A/N: For anyone who cares to know, the term asteri means "star," which is Yaya's playoff of Astrea's name; also mentioned by Yaya was asteraki mou, which generally translates to "my little star," and kopela mou means "my girl." If you don't already know what baklava is, my heart goes out to you, and you seriously need to get out into the real world and try some. It'll change your life, that stuff will.
Anyway, thoughts? Did anyone else enjoy that slight bit of James/Astrea reluctant fluff? Tell me in a review. (: