Chapter 3 : Simply Corking
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"Can I have a word?" asks Potter, blinking down at me.
"She's quite busy being fitted, thank you," declares the squat, slightly frazzled-looking witch who is currently flitting about my form, sending a frown in Potter's direction as she flicks her wand irritably. The enchanted needle taking in my robes at the bodice becomes a bit too excited, inadvertently poking me in the ribs.
"Actually," I pipe up, grimacing as the needle pricks me again enthusiastically, "I feel like a short break." Jerking away from the hovering needle, I gather the hem of my shimmery, golden circus tent and hop down off the stool, much to the witch's displeasure. "Could you give us a moment, please?"
The witch huffs crossly, Summoning a racy-looking novel entitled Enchanted Encounters: Hogwarts, A Mystery. "Fine. I haven't all day, though. Make it quick." With that, she disappears into a back room, leaving Potter, Dom, and me alone.
"Oh, would you listen to that?" says Dom mischievously, poking her head from beneath her Hagrid-sized robes. "I think I hear Maman calling. I'll just, er, leave you to it, then...."
Captain's Log: June 16th, 2022. All is awkward on the western front, and I, Aurora Abigail Pond, have been cast out to sea, clinging soddenly to a floating preserver shared with life aquatic as charming and attractive as a sea slug ― also known as James Sirius Potter (or more widely hailed as Pratisaurus Rex). As it is apparently too late to send an SOS, I depart this earth with the final wish that my mother is informed that she is a brilliant but meddlesome harpy ―
"Well, this isn't awkward," comments Potter brightly.
I turn to him, folding my arms across my chest, partly in exasperation and partly due to my innate pleasure at denying him any ogling rights.
Serves him right.
We stand there for a moment, rather uncomfortably, and I'm just beginning to think that I'd rather kick puppies than suffer through this strange situation, when Potter suddenly blurts out, "I'm not here to ask you out."
I merely raise an eyebrow in response.
"I'm not," Potter prattles on, quite nervously for someone who frequently suggests we should start knitting Weasley family sweaters of our own. "If that's what you think."
What exactly do I think? Well, one, I'd rather be caught dead in my Sherlock knickers than bear this prat's sprog, and two, he's got me sussed out faster than the women at Fenwick, who take my chest measurements without even lifting a finger.
And I don't even have a chest.
But, unfortunately ― three ― I'm also thinking that James is here to ask me out.
Which means, James Potter is accurately predicting my thoughts.
Oh, Benedict Cumberbatch knickers, wherefore art thou? I'm ready to die now.
With some effort, I smile sweetly. "Wouldn't you like to know if that's what I think?"
"Oh, would I," mutters Potter, running a hand through his hair.
"Sorry, didn't catch that."
He blushes, his hand flying through his hair now as though it's on a hidden conveyor belt. "Er, nothing."
I sigh long-sufferingly, placing a hand on my hip. "Look, Potter, is there a point to this? Not that it truly matters, but I've got to get these robes tailored or Fleur'll be on me ― "
Potter inhales sharply, something I'm beginning to notice he does quite a bit when he speaks. "I meant, do you want to go to the wedding with me? Aurora?" he adds, in that public school accent of his, with only a hint of the West Country lilt. Mind, he always pronounces my name in a way that makes me want to vomit from all the rainbows, unicorns, and pygmy puffs it inspires.
I hate him for it. I'd rather him sound like he's having trouble swallowing Hob Nobs than saying my name with such a loving caress.
It's a bit creepy, but in a slightly gratifying way.
By slightly gratifying, I really mean absurdly creepy and not at all nice.
Nice would be like describing a sweater set or tennis match, or even Margaret Thatcher's kneecap. Somehow, I just don't identify Potter with the same circle.
"Potter," I say patiently, "if you weren't already aware by the tasteful yet revealing robes I'm currently sporting ― "
"Believe me, I'm aware," he replies huskily, his gaze glued to my chest.
" ― I will, of course, be attending the wedding, just like you," I finish calmly, snapping my fingers at him. "Up here, sweetheart. So, while I appreciate the invitation, I hardly find it necessary ― "
"Fleur says we have to bring dates," states Potter suddenly, crossing his arms with a definite ring of triumph in his voice.
"Sorry?" A slightly shaky, hollow laugh escapes my lips. "Surely I've misunderstood ― "
"Aunt Fleur says we have to bring dates," repeats Potter, the ghost of a smirk dancing across his striking features.
"You're joking," I finally manage to choke out, staring at him incredulously.
Potter smiles enigmatically. "Wouldn't you like to think so?"
"Well," I reply matter-of-factly, straightening as I regain my composure, "I'll just have to find a date, won't I?"
Instantaneously, the grin slides off of Potter's face. "It's obvious, isn't it?"
"What's obvious, Potter?" I say resignedly, impatiently brushing a strand of auburn hair away from my face.
He frowns, as though he's just seen Professor Flitwick amble by in a sequined frock and high heels. I surreptitiously glance over my shoulder, though, just to make sure.
The coast is clear, and Professor Flitwick is still a bloke.
For now. You never really can tell with him. He's far too keen on Charms for me not to be a concerned party.
"Just go with me," mumbles Potter, averting his eyes to the carpet.
"I thought you weren't here to ask me out, James." I pause, pretending to ruminate over this as I pensively tap my chin with my pointer finger. "Or were my initial thoughts correct?"
He simply stares woodenly at me, his face ashen and hazel eyes wide.
"Potter, are you alright?" I ask uncertainly. "You seem a bit peaky ― "
"James," he croaks, swallowing with difficulty.
"Congratulations!" I say sardonically, clapping him on the shoulder. "You know your name! Would you like an award, eh, champ?"
He shakes his head vigorously, exhaling impatiently. "No, you called me James."
"Look," I say archly, "I know you're a bit of a prat, but I'm hardly rude enough to pretend I haven't known you for seven years, so give me some credit ― "
"You called me by my first name," Potter says slowly, his glimmering eyes never leaving mine. "You haven't called me by my first name since I kissed you in third year."
How kind of you to remind me, Potter. If you hadn't awkwardly brought this up, I wouldn't be feeling particularly gutted in the least.
"And so I haven't." I tilt my head curiously to the side. "Would you like it in writing?"
He takes an unforeseen step toward me, swiftly closing the gap between us, and the only thing separating our bodies is the wad of circus-tent-slash-robes I'm clutching anxiously as a barrier. "Just go with me," he murmurs, his face centimetres from mine, so close that I could count the freckles on his tanned nose if I so wished.
Sarcasm ― the breakfast of champions.
Instead, I lean forward ever so slightly, pressing my free hand to his shoulder, and whisper, my lips all but brushing against his ear, "Well, let me think about it...."
"Yes?" I hear him say breathlessly.
I step back abruptly, crossing my arms smugly. "No."
Potter groans, passing a hand through his untidy hair. "Give me one good reason why not."
"Give me one good reason why I should," I retort, surveying him with quirked eyebrows.
"Because it's me?" he offers hopefully.
"Make that ten good reasons."
He frowns at me. "You're serious?"
"Actually," I reply with a wicked grin, circling him slowly while stroking my chin thoughtfully, "I am. If you really fancy me as your date, make me a list of ten good reasons why I should go with you ― "
"Are you mad?" exclaims Potter. "You are, aren't you? Merlin, tell me you're ― "
"I am not taking the mickey, Potter." I stop pacing, glaring forcefully at him. "You either want me to go with you or you don't, so which is it? Because I can ask anyone I darn well please, I don't need your permission ― "
Potter throws up his hands submissively. "I never said you needed my permission, because you obviously don't ― "
"You bet your sweet ascot I don't!" I continue heatedly. "If you think I'm going to be your date to the wedding just because it's you, you're so much thicker than I give you credit for!"
"Aurora, I ― "
"Honestly," I fume, pacing again, "you're going to have to do a lot more than stick your wand in an electrical socket and ruffle your hair to make me reconsider!"
"What's an eclectical sogget?" asks James perplexedly.
"I don't care what my mum says ― "
"Seriously, Rory ― "
" ― I'd rather give birth to a litter of Blast-Ended Skrewts than have children with you, you pompous, insensitive ― "
"Alright, Aurora, you win!" yells Potter, tugging angrily at his hair.
I halt in the middle of my tirade, mouth agape like a petrified goldfish. "Sorry?"
"I ― what?"
"I'll give you your stupid list, alright?" Potter sighs defeatedly, embedding his hand in his raven tufts of hair. "Are you happy now?"
I blink at him stupidly, my full steam having mysteriously disappeared, leaving only confusion in its wake. "Er, you will?"
"Yes." Hesitantly, he takes a diminutive step forward, his hands dropping limply to his sides. "Yes. Of course I will."
"Alright, then," I say warily. "A list."
Blimey, I was only joking. Wasn't I?
"With five good reasons," he supplies helpfully, smiling as he takes another step toward me.
I hold up a finger warningly. "Ten good reasons," I correct him.
"Ten good reasons," he concedes reluctantly. "You're sure?"
I nod, smirking slightly. "I'll be needing ten, not five. But I can see how the 't' would confuse you."
After a moment's deliberation and an exchange of narrowed eyes between the two of us, he says quietly, "You'll have two weeks to decide. Until the wedding, that is."
This time, I must work to refrain from snorting derisively. As if two weeks could persuade me to be this git's date. "Sure you don't want to throw in a Confundus charm?"
"I wouldn't need one," begins Potter hotly, "if you weren't too stubborn to realise ― "
"Realise what, Potter?" I say flatly. "That I'm somehow magically, hopelessly infatuated with you? Is that what I'm too stubborn to realise? Is that what you think?"
He juts his chin forward defiantly. "Yeah. That's exactly what I think."
I laugh at the ridiculousness of such a notion. "I've heard of many things, but never of fancying a person so much that you don't even realise it! How silly of me not to have noticed! I suppose I should pay better attention!"
"You laugh," says Potter coolly, his eyes flashing, "but you've never even given me a chance ― "
"Oh, I've given you plenty of chances!" I snap, throwing my hands in the air. "I've given you countless chances to be friends ―"
"What if I don't want to be just friends?" he asks in a low, unsteady voice, swiftly closing the distance between us once more. "What if I want more than that?"
"And I suppose the best way to go about that is by asking me out ten times a day and making fun of me in front of the whole school?" I say acidly, my hands curling into fists. "Well done, it's really working, don't you think?"
He looks stung, as though I've slapped him in the face. "You think I'm making fun of you? You think I ask you out so often because I'm making fun of you?"
"Well, you don't just throw away three years of friendship because you really rate someone, do you?" I retort, heat suffusing my cheeks. I honestly can't believe we're talking about this with half his blimmin' family in the next room.
Potter shakes his head with a bitter laugh. "I can't believe this. How daft are you, Aurora? You actually think that I don't genuinely ― "
"WILL YOU TWO PLEASE JUST SNOG ALREADY AND GET IT OVER WITH?" shouts the squat witch who is supposed to be fitting me, emerging from the back of the shop in a right state with her smutty novel and wand in tow, a bobbing line of needles and thread spools levitating behind her. "Bloody Baron, this is getting absolutely ridiculous!"
"James, dear?" Nana Weasley suddenly appears, craning her neck around the corner of the fitting rooms. "You haven't asked out Rory again, now, have you, dear?"
"No, Nana," answers Potter through gritted teeth, "I haven't ― "
"James?" Ginny pokes her brilliant head into the vicinity. "What's all this? Have you gone and asked out Rory again? How many times have I told you, 'no' from a redhead means 'hell no' ― "
"Ginny!" cries Nana Weasley, scandalized.
Ginny grins sheepishly. "Sorry, Mum." She rounds on Potter. "Well?"
"You can't seriously think I'd ask her out after you embarrassed me earlier, can you?" demands Potter, his cheeks blazing.
Ginny considers this briefly, nodding. "Touché."
Right on cue, Dom floats in the room, draped in her robes and surveying the commotion. "Nice one, James," she snorts. "Absolutely brilliant."
Potter glowers at us. "Why does everyone automatically assume I've asked Rory out?"
"Well, sweetheart," says Ginny eventually, patting him on the shoulder, "it's usually because you have...."
Potter scowls, swatting his mother's hand away. "Could you lot just give us a minute, please? We were kind of in the middle of something ― "
"Actually," I chime in, rather mortified at my behaviour, "I think we're done here, so if I could get these robes fitted... "
Dom grins easily at me and turns to her nutter family, shooing them out. "Alright, let's leave Rory here to finish up her fitting, come on...."
As she leaves, Nana Weasley casts a dubious look at the witch fitting me, whispering loudly, "Ginny, dear, I think perhaps we'd better have a word with Fleur. The service here is a tad unprofessional, don't you think?"
"Come on, James," says Ginny bracingly, attempting to lead him away as the rest of the crowd trickles slowly out of the fitting rooms. "Hey, maybe if you're lucky, one day she'll say yes, eh?"
"Cheers, Mum," replies Potter sarcastically, following her out, but not before shooting me a heated glance.
Why do I have the feeling this isn't over yet?
" 'S almost like watching Skins or something, innit?" observes the squat witch gleefully, her novel lying forgotten on the floor.
I can't believe this. "You're just like my mother," I mutter.
"Still, if I had 'alf the chemistry you two have ― "
I make a choking, disbelieving noise like an angry cat. "Excuse me?"
"Oh, please. You can't row like that without feeling something!"
"I feel something, alright," I say under my breath.
The witch nods knowingly. "Desire, perhaps?"
"Yes," I agree caustically. "A particularly strong desire to shove a broomstick up Potter's ― "
"I mean, really," the witch waffles on, "you two have more chemistry than Albus Dumbledore and Nicholas Flamel at a Potions convention ― "
"We do not!" I protest loudly, wrenching myself out of her grasp in horror.
"Watch it!" cries the witch, tugging the robes back in her possession. "Do you want these robes fitted or not?"
Reluctantly, I mumble, "I suppose...."
It all depends on how Victoire feels about my going starkers to the wedding.
"Got to hurry up and get you finished," continues the witch amiably, taking in the fabric at my waist.
"Why, so you can rib me some more about Potter?" I say darkly.
The witch merely shakes her head, tutting as she shortens my hem. "The sooner I finish your robes ― " She nearly impales my ankle with a particularly vicious stitch. "Ah, there we are! ― the sooner I can finish my novel. That Fifi LaFolle really knows how to write a good bodice-ripper ― "
" ― and I'd reckon she could give you a few pointers, eh? With sexual tension like that?" The witch nudges me with her elbow and winks.
"How simply corking," I say winningly, and this time she purposely pricks me in the calf.
"Rory, darling?" Mum calls from the kitchen. "I believe you have a visitor!"
"Who is it?" I wonder aloud, treading lightly into the kitchen. "I swear, if it's Potter, I'll ― Avery!"
Well, well ― if it isn't Potter, it's his barn owl. Admittedly, Avery is a sight nicer than his owner, not to mention his manners are considerably better. And he doesn't talk.
Life is nice sometimes.
"Isn't that James Potter's owl?" says Mum slyly, sipping her tea as she leans against the marble counter.
I roll my eyes. "Don't act like you've never seen him before, Mum. He's been here enough times."
"But what could James possibly want at such an hour?" gasps Mum from behind her tea mug, although it's obvious she's quivering with excitement.
Biting back the urge to say, "To immaculately conceive our children," I accept the letter from Avery's beak and open the window for him, through which he clambers and gracefully takes off in the balmy night. "Oh, I think I have an idea...."
Slowly and carefully ― for Mum's benefit, not mine ― I manoeuvre the envelope open and extract the letter, unfolding it gradually with my eyes locked on my mother's the entire time. Serves her right, planting ideas of grandchildren in Potter's head.
"Oh, stop being an arse and open it already," she says tetchily, stirring her tea.
Once I've glanced down at the parchment, lined patiently with Potter's full, steady handwriting in ink the colour of his hair, I burst out laughing before I can stop myself.
Mum's at my side in an instant, her tea mug clattering noisily on the counter. "What's it say? Rory?"
I've only skimmed over the first couple of lines, but suppress (most of) my chuckles long enough to read the whole letter, with Mum standing on tiptoe and perusing the letter fervently over my shoulder.
10 Reasons Why You, Aurora Pond, Should Be My, James Potter's, Date to Teddy and Victoire's Wedding
001. You're the most radiant, beautiful girl I've ever seen.
002. But at the same time, where will you find a date with hair as good as mine?
003. You balance me out so that I'm less of a big-headed, arrogant, insensitive prat, and I balance you out so you're less of a redhead.
"But it's auburn," whispers Mum indignantly, patting my hair self-consciously. "It's been in the family for ages ― "
"Mum, just shut it and read."
004. We haven't hung out ― just the pair of us ― since third year.
005. That being said, I'd like to make all those years up to you. If you want a list detailing all the ways I've botched up our friendship, I can make you one of those as well.
006. Really, though, you'd have the time of your life as my date.
007. But more than that, I'd have the time of my life if I were lucky enough to have you as my date.
008. I may or may not be an excellent dancer. The only way for you to find out is to be my date. Curious now? I bet you are.
009. If you say yes, I promise you won't regret it. No Confundus charm required.
010. I know that the choice is entirely yours, but if there is anything in the world I can do to change your mind, I will do it.
And, because I wanted to go above and beyond what you requested of me, I have one more reason, and here it is:
"Well, what is it?" cries Mum eagerly, wresting the letter from my hands and holding it up to the light, as though inspecting it for forgery. "What's the eleventh reason?"
I stare blankly at the counter, brows furrowed. "I dunno. It's not there, I've already checked."
"But that can't be!" Mum seizes the envelope and shakes it frantically, as if expecting the eleventh reason to rattle around inside it.
Because whether or not Potter did it on purpose ― and I'm almost positive he did, the tosser ― it looks as though the bottom edge of the letter, right where his eleventh reason should've been, has been torn off and discarded, as if he wrote it out, decided better of it, then ripped off that bit of parchment and crumpled it up.
"Unngghhh!" Mum flings the letter to the counter in exasperation. "Why in blazes would he do something like that? It makes no sense!"
"Search me," I mutter, utterly baffled as I gaze calculatingly at the letter.
"What's all this?" My father's lanky frame appears in the doorway, smiling bemusedly at us in his fluffy bathrobe. "Ladies, what could possibly be so thrilling, you feel compelled to shriek ― "
"We weren't shrieking!" Mum and I chorus huffily.
"Alright, then," responds Dad good-naturedly, padding into the kitchen. "What's causing all this racket? I do hate to break up the party, but I've got to work in the morning, and I'd like to know what's got my girls all aflutter."
Mum snatches the letter from the counter and waves it around. "Rory's gotten another letter from James Potter, he stopped by earlier today ― "
"Mum! Is that really necessary?"
" ― you remember him, the Potter boy, from King's Cross? He's been in love with Rory for yonks," she finishes breathlessly, dangling the letter in front of Dad's politely bewildered face. "Go on, read it!"
"He's not in love with me, it's only a joke," I growl, snatching the letter from Mum. "And I'll have that back, thank you."
Dad laughs, and I see the waspish retort Mum has prepared for me fall away instantly, her eyes softening at the sight of my father chuckling.
"Ease up on her, love," murmurs Dad, pulling Mum to him and wrapping his arm around her waist. "So she's gotten a letter from a boy ― no need to live vicariously through Rory's post, is there?"
Mum's mouth drops open as she shoves his chest lightly. "I am not living vicariously ― "
"Yes, you are," Dad and I say simultaneously, planting our hands on our hips.
Mum looks extremely put out for someone her age. "Fine," she sniffs, crossing her arms. "Maybe I am, just a bit, but look at her! The girl's got romance knocking at her front door ― "
"More like at the kitchen window," I point out reasonably.
" ― and I've the prospect of grandchildren right on that doormat ― "
My eyes narrow. "Gross, Mum. I'd at least like to have my kids in a hospital or something, not on the doormat, where the neighbours can see."
"Rory..." Dad raises an eyebrow at my sarcasm.
"I just want you to live a full life," implores Mum, her hazel eyes pleading with me. "A full life that may or may not include grandchildren for me as a bit of a bonus...." She says this part rather quickly, as though if she's fast enough, I might not process it. "Is that so much to ask?"
I glance between her and Dad, my eyes lingering first on her shining, hopeful face, and then on the distinctly amused expression in his twinkling green eyes, so like mine. "Fine. What do you want me to do?" At her joyous squeal, I hastily amend, "That doesn't involve me marrying Potter and bearing his children, I mean."
"Give him a chance, maybe go with him to this wedding," suggests Mum impishly. "And I really wouldn't worry, dear, there will be plenty of time for all of that later, if you catch my drift ― "
"Rory," Dad cuts in earnestly, "could you just consider what your mother's suggesting? Please?"
"Alright," I say at length, relenting. "I'll consider it."
And I'm positive I'll regret it.
Mum positively beams. "I knew I gave you life for a reason."
Dad laughs at the pair of us, pulling my mum and me into a huge hug, and kisses us both on the forehead. "Now, if you two don't mind, I'm going back to bed before either of you can talk about having children."
"Oh, shut up," Mum and I say in unison, grinning.
Only twenty minutes later, before I climb into bed, curiosity gnaws at me persistently. After procuring a spare bit of parchment, I write on it in my tiny, slanted script, You're not going to tell me what the eleventh reason is, are you? Once the ink has set, I roll it up, slide it into a small cylinder, and tie it around my owl Marigold's leg, whispering, "This goes to Potter."
She hoots dolefully at me, turning her great amber eyes on me as if to say, "There are hundreds of Potters out there, and although I know exactly who this is going to, I'm just doing this to make life difficult for you. It won't kill you to say his name."
I swallow. "James Potter, I mean."
Marigold nips my finger affectionately, ruffles her wings in a sort of self-satisfied manner, and takes off through my open window.
Even my owl is judging me. I wonder if she's pushing for grandchildren as well.
The next morning, I awaken to find Marigold has already returned ― she must've been flying all night to make that long of a journey ― with the cylinder completely empty, no scroll of parchment in place to show for her arduous flight.
Who knew Potter had backbone?
His little gesture is quite full of nerve, sending my own blooming owl back without a response, and if that's how he wants to play, then I might as well join the game.
Because, unbeknownst to him, I've already made my decision.
Author's Note: I hope you're as excited about this chapter as I am. Writing it was a feverish, crazy blast. Since I start fall term in a few days, updates will be scarce, but your feedback will be what prompts me to update faster (when I should be practicing my musical repertoire). Have any favorite quotes? Any characters you'd like to see more of?
Thank you so much for even looking at this fic, for reading it, for making it all the way to the bottom of the page to this stupid A/N, and for leaving all your lovely reviews. I seriously can't tell you how fuzzy and happy they make my day. They're honestly better than Robert Downey, Jr. in a dress. Okay, I'm done. This was too long. :DDD
- emma (:
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