A few hours later, just as the sun was streaming into the boys’ dormitory, James kicked Cillian awake. (The Irishman had a habit of sleeping until just past the latest he could possibly sleep, especially when he’d gone through such an ordeal as the hounding about his nonexistent relationship with Waverly).
“Wha’ the–” Cillian peered through half-lidded eyes at his friend hovering over him like a nervous grandmother. “Jim, it’s–” he checked the clock “–half seven.”
“Get up,” James said with a last friendly shove. “Today’s a big day.”
“Yeah?” Cillian roused himself, now rubbing his eyes. “Why’s that?”
“Get ready and then I’ll tell you.”
Cillian didn’t have the heart or the presence of mind to argue about this obviously crap deal, but he shuffled off to the loo at James’ command. And it wasn’t until he was standing in front of the mirror, halfheartedly brushing his teeth, that it occurred to him that James Potter never had a big day.
“The hell’re you planning to do, Potter?”
James raised his head to look his friend, toothbrush in hand and minty foam in mouth, in the eye. “Dunno yet.”
About an hour later, once everyone else had gone to breakfast, Cillian and James were left alone in the dormitory. James didn’t look any different, but when did he ever? Cillian was almost disappointed at how normal he looked, as if his unchanging appearance belied the alleged importance of the day.
“You know she’s probably at breakfast,” he said, leaning against a bed frame and watching James tie his shoes. “So if you’re okay doing whatever it is you want to do in front of everyone–”
Cillian rolled his eyes.
“No, she’ll be in the common room,” he said.
“Oh yeah? And you know this for a fact?”
“While you were in the bathroom I had my sister tell Waverly to meet us downstairs.”
Cillian had to admit that he was impressed. Whenever James decided that he wanted to go for a romantic gesture, he usually executed it pretty well. But not since Ruth had he undertaken such a challenge; Cillian couldn’t help but think it had to do with how every girl in Gryffindor woke up hating him after their break-up. And now, here was one girl in Gryffindor who didn’t feel that way.
“Meet us?” Cillian continued. He wasn’t by any means determined to poke holes in whatever James’ plan was, and he was sure that on a logistical level there were none, but he didn’t want things to be shot to hell, either. “You intend to, what, declare your undying love for her with me there?”
“You know, I never really liked that phrase, undying love.” James shuddered good-naturedly, standing back up and smoothing his trouser leg. “Reminds me of an Inferius or something.”
“Eternal love, then.”
“Wizards don’t love for eternity. They die.”
The Irishman, exasperated by now, held up his hands in surrender. “Fine, fine,” he muttered mutinously, “you go say whatever you want to say and do whatever you want to do. Just tell me if you need me to stay up here while you do it or if I’m allowed to ruin your moment.”
James was already out the door.
So Cillian, with a sigh and a growling stomach, followed. There was no way he was sticking around to watch his best friend… he had no predicate for this sentence yet, but he wasn’t going to watch. That would be weird, and Cillian was anything but weird.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, James was still ambling over to where Waverly was sitting on a plush chair. There were two chocolate croissants in his hands, which Cillian was sure had not been there before he got off the steps. The inside man called to the guinea pig, but he inclined his head, said some nonsense like you two go ahead without me, and raced out the portrait door before he could hear her response.
“But there’re croissants!”
James sat down and handed one of the pastries to Waverly. “He didn’t do the Astronomy homework. Think he’s going to go beg at Isla’s feet to see her charts.”
Waverly chuckled and conjured a napkin, which fell on her lap. She put the croissant down on it and said, “There’s definitely a dirty joke in there about planet sightings, but it’s too early to go there, don’t you think?”
“Way too early,” he agreed.
“I was quite impressed at the mode of invitation, by the way.”
“If I can’t get up there myself yet, I thought I might as well send my kid sister.” James smiled at the memory. He had been planning to ask any girl who wasn’t Ruth to nip back upstairs and deliver a message for him. It was a stroke of luck that had led him to Lily, who had been waiting for her boyfriend. “She said she knows you pretty well.”
“I think I helped her edit a Defense essay last year,” she said, taking a bite of croissant. “Not sure how that constitutes pretty well, but yeah, she’s a nice kid. So James,” she added. She wiped her fingers on her napkin and looked at him in a completely unassuming, friendly way. “What’s your big idea? And please don’t say I’ve got to publicly invite you to come to my personal inner sanctum, I don’t think I could–”
“Don’t worry, it isn’t that.” James set aside his croissant on the armrest of his chair and leaned forward. Waverly also scooted forward to balance on the edge of her seat, and the casual curiosity in her eyes and her posture made him smile again, this time not because of a memory but because of the present. “Frankly, my idea was sparked by our talk yesterday.”
“Oh?” She seemed less excited now, but he half-expected that. Ruth had said she had a weakness for him, not that she fancied him outright.
“I say sparked because it set in motion something I’d been thinking about for awhile.”
She too set aside her croissant. There was still a bit of chocolate smudged on the corner of her mouth, but she didn’t move to wipe it away.
“Waverly,” he said, as earnest as he could be, “I told you that I do care about people and that I don’t think I’ll break your heart. Both of which are true statements. But they aren’t the whole truth, and it wouldn’t be fair to you if I kept that from you. You see, I don’t care just about people: I care about you. I don’t want to break your heart. I don’t want to be presumptuous, you know, and ask for it, but I’d like to maybe be a part of it. I like you, Waverly, and–” he noticed now the flush on her cheeks and felt a bit of pride and joy in his chest “–I don’t know what you want to do about that, if you want to do anything about that, but I wanted you to know.”
He reached out his hand and without a moment’s hesitation took hers in his. She didn’t resist, but stared at where their bodies met so casually but so gently above the table with its sticky circles and the scraps of parchment and her chocolate croissant.
He stared, too, but not at their hands.
Waverly’s reddened face. Her lovely giraffe eyes, with the thick, long eyelashes. Her dark blonde hair and how it seemed fuller than usual this morning, which only served to bring attention back to the pretty face that James had only hours before decided was the most appealing in all of the castle.
He was holding her hand, and for a brief wild moment, he couldn’t believe he’d ever thought otherwise.
“Please tell me you aren’t joking,” she whispered.
He gripped her hand tighter and replied, “I’m not.”
She took a second to process that answer, and her mouth opened, forming a gentle ‘O’. But James didn’t move in to kiss her. Not yet.
“It’s really funny that you say… all that… now.” Her eyes flicked to his now, and he felt her squirm in his grasp. “Because Ruth told me literally fifteen minutes ago that I shouldn’t let myself believe anything you say, and that even though you have a way with words and you can be unbelievably charming, I shouldn’t let myself fall for you.”
James closed his eyes. He should have known. Ruth might have been defeated earlier, but she had never surrendered. It was almost as if she never would.
“Did you really start going out with her knowing full well you were going to hurt her?” Waverly asked. Her eyes weren’t shining with tears, as they might have been if this were any other girl.
Of course, that was what he liked about her. “I told you maybe ten hours ago that I never wanted to hurt her. I told Ruth that this morning.”
“I know what you said, James. And I don’t think I’d ever be as melodramatic as she is about you, but at the same time… I don’t know.” She took her free left hand and pried his off of her right one. It didn’t escape him that she held his hand for more than a fraction longer than she should have. “I like you and everything, I do, but I don’t think I can trust you. Entirely. Not yet.”
Only now did she tear a scrap off her napkin and wipe her mouth. He watched her do so, mesmerised, though he knew shouldn’t be, by the contour of her lips and the glitter of her fingertips.
He understood, though. He bowed his head to her and took his own croissant in his hands. He needed to occupy them somehow. “I can’t blame you,” he said, a bit louder than before. “I wish I could, but I can’t.”
She didn’t seem melodramatic at all, but the way she tossed the scrap of chocolate-stained napkin on the floor indicated that she at least felt mournful. “You get that I’m not entirely discounting the possibility of us having a relationship, right?”
“Yeah, definitely. I…” He hadn’t imagined saying the words that popped into his head at that moment, but they fell off his tongue before he could question himself. “I’d be willing to wait for you.”
She smiled then, a lovely one, sans chocolate or grief or emotional trauma. “But if you don’t want me to be the inside man, that’s fine. I’d love to be friends with you, though, even if it isn’t in that context.”
He exhaled a short, staccato breath and recognised that at least he didn’t have an Elizabeth Bennett on his hands. She hadn’t completely dismissed him and wasn’t going to kick him out of her life. “If you think you can survive the awkwardness, I don’t see why we can’t keep working together.”
“Me? What about you?” She giggled, but he knew it was an unnatural sound from her.
And with a completely natural, characteristic smirk, he said, “I’ll live.”
Disclaimer La la la, you guys know the drill by now (I should hope). We've got the standard Heart of Darkness stuff, where the title of this little fic comes from, and today, we get to add that perennial favorite, Pride and Prejudice to our list of ~great references~. In case your memory of that particular Jane Austen classic is a bit hazy, James is here referring to the moment when Darcy first confronts Elizabeth about how he feels, and she rejects him immediately. He isn't referring to how Darcy and Elizabeth are basically the most romantic and among the most beloved fictional couples ever.
Author's Note Look! Plot! A wrench thrown in the gears of the budding (perhaps no longer budding) relationship between James and Waverly! If I sound more gleeful/excited than usual, it's because I love this chapter. Perhaps it's the sadism in any author that rears its head now, because what author doesn't like ruining anything for their characters? In any case, I'd like to thank you all for the wonderful reviews and the support, and I only hope that you continue to enjoy.