“You’re welcome to stay for as long as you like James, the whole holidays if you need,” Hayley’s father insisted, as James sat on the end of Hayley’s bed, smiling. After the fallout of his expulsion, Albus hadn’t left his bedroom, appearing only to scream at his parents. Lily was taking it in her stride, but his dad was working as much as possible and his mother was far too hot-headed to take her son’s actions on the chin. As a result, the atmosphere in the Potter household was volatile to say the least. James wanted out and Hayley had kindly offered for him to stay at hers.
“I’ll make up the spare bedroom,” Hayley’s mother smiled. James had noticed that both her parents were a lot nicer to him since he had intervened with the Darren disaster.
“It’s fine mum,” Hayley butted in, tearing herself away from her magazine long enough to engage her parents in conversation. “He can sleep on my floor. I’ve got space and it’ll make things a lot easier for everyone.”
“No no, it’s fine, I’ll make up the spare room,” her mother replied, waving her wand.
“Amy,” her dad turned to his wife. “Let the kids stay in here, it’s no big deal. I trust James, he’s a good lad.”
James’ smile grew as Hayley snorted with laughter. Her parents left them alone and James made himself at home, lounging backwards on Hayley’s bed. He knew that her dad liked him more than her mother, and was a lot more comfortable around James. He found himself covering more than half the bed and Hayley shoved him gently, so he rolled off the side and hit the floor. Hayley snorted again and went back to flicking through her magazine, ignoring James as he stumbled to his feet and glared at her.
“My bedroom, my rules Potter!” Hayley said without looking up. James slipped his wand out his back pocket and turned the magazine to ash, as the figures in the pictures screamed for a split second. Hayley shot him an irritated look and sat up, crossing her bare legs and looking at him as if she was expecting something.
Hayley’s room was quite big and circular, shaped like an igloo with one wardrobe arching over about a third of the wall. The other side had a sofa and TV, with rugs covering the carpeted floor. It was messy, with gear strewn everywhere, some of it James’, some of it her own. Magical gadgets filled up some of the shelves; others were filled with girly items. It was painted a light pink, with huge curtains and banners of red and gold, to signify where she belonged. Pictures of friends and family littered the walls, accompanied by various posters, both magical and muggle. There was a giant photo of James on one side, but that was because he had used a permanent sticking charm that she was yet to figure out how to undo. On her bedside table was a picture of James and her from when they were just first years. It always made James smile to see just how much and how little they’d changed.
“Do you make a habit of being an insufferable arse?” Hayley asked politely, her taunting blue eyes matching her top and the black of her ruffled hair matching her short skirt as she stared down her best friend.
“Hayley, Hayley, Hayley,” James put on a patronising smile and sat beside her, putting his arm around her. “You’ve known me for over five years; of course I make a habit of it. Hell if you didn’t insult me once a week I’d know I hadn’t been trying hard enough!”
Hayley smiled despite herself and let her body slip into James’, the pair lying comfortably alongside each other. Hayley glanced up into James’ face and their eyes met briefly. James smiled his smile and Hayley felt warm inside. She closed her eyes and let her head reach his lap. James shifted into a more comfortable position, then flipped open a deck of exploding snap cards and started dealing onto her head. One of the cards popped and Hayley yelped in pain.
“What are you doing?” she yelled, reaching for the spot on her head where some of her hair was singed. “Why do you always have to ruin a nice, peaceful moment by being an arse?”
“I’m James Potter!” James pointed out as if this was the be all and end all of the conversation. Hayley shoved him off her bed again. There was another thud as he hit the floor, followed by a volley of muttered curses as he picked himself up again.
“I was serious when I said you were sleeping on the floor by the way.”
“James, I know I arranged to meet you but I want to get one thing clear,” Teddy said as they sat down. “If we’re going to talk, you can’t just run off and shag the barmaid.”
“Sorry Ted,” James smiled wickedly. “No promises. That 8/10 brunette has been giving me the eyes since the minute I walked in. But enough about my thriving love life. You rang?”
“Well first off, I wanted to check that everything was okay with you on the home front,” Teddy grimaced. “After what happened with Albus, I know how hard things are for your parents. Your dad has been plunging himself into his work, but you know how papers get hold of things, it’s become almost impossible for him to avoid the situation now. But I also know how hard this can be for you as well. Don’t pretend you don’t blame yourself for this.”
“What are you talking about Teddy?” James laughed nervously, his eyes failing to meet his god-brothers. He sighed as Teddy glared and wilted into admission. “What Albus did was stupid, beyond stupid, but I pushed him to it. I over-reacted massively when it came to him and Scorpius, I was a shit brother, an all-round arse and I know that if I hadn’t acted the way I had, he’d never have done what he did.”
“James,” Teddy sighed. “You’ve been under a lot of stress and you took a lot of that out on Albus, but that’s no excuse. He knew exactly what he was doing and knew he could end up in deep shit for it. Al’s had to put up with you for years, you two are brothers. Don’t, for one second, think that anyone blames you for this mess. And neither should you.”
“Thanks for the pep-talk Ted,” James smiled. “But I screwed up, and Albus, as stupid as he was, isn’t entirely to blame. Now let’s be honest, you didn’t come here to talk about my idiot brother, you came to talk about Victoire.”
“James,” Teddy leaned into him seriously. “I came here because you’re one of my best friends and I was worried about you. But seeing as you mentioned it, I feel like I’m ready for another shot at proposing to Vic. It’s been a couple of months and since then, I’ve made so much progress with her. It feels like we’re all stable at last and she’s finally opening up towards me.”
“That’s great Ted,” James smiled, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “Any thoughts on when or where or indeed how?”
“Well,” Teddy muttered. “I was kind of hoping you could help me with that.”
“Okay,” James moved in closer to Teddy, thinking hard. “Well let’s start with the easy one: how. You’ve blown the element of surprise, which means there’s no point beating around the bush this time, you just have to go for it, all out, flat out ask her, no hiding the ring or all that bullshit. But don’t get me wrong, it still has to be romantic and feel like she’s being gifted. Which leads us to the other two, which are linked. Where. If you want to get her to say yes, at this stage, she has to feel as though she can’t say no. To that end, it’s got to be public. And of course, tomorrow is the 22nd, which means the annual Potter/Weasley pre-not-quite-Christmas dinner, ever since we decided to spend Christmas individually, thank fuck.”
“You want me to propose at dinner tomorrow?” Teddy’s eyes widened but he nodded resolutely when he saw the look on James’ face. “I’ll work on the speech overnight.”
“Good lad,” James grinned. “Now if you’ll excuse me, the looks that barmaid has been shooting me couldn’t get any more flirtatious if she was naked and smeared in chocolate. I’ll be back.”
And before Teddy could protest, James had stood up and headed over to the bar. After about a minute chatting with the girl stood behind it, she giggled and followed him off, grabbing a set of keys and strolling up the stairs. Teddy shook his head and stood, determined not to see this through to its end.
Hayley took a deep sighing breath. She was lying in the steaming hot bath, letting the water gently ripple over her skin, little pinpricks of heat flickering on her legs and arms. She felt herself being absorbed by the water, the heat feeling less violent and more relaxing as her body adjusted to the temperature. Her hair was floating around her, strands drifting aimlessly in the pink water. Hayley took a deep breath and submerged her head, her face feeling the raw heat of the clear water. Small bubbles of air slipped out of her mouth, colliding and combining with the foamy bubbles that made their home on the surface. Hayley found the urge to breathe overwhelming and returned to the surface, breathing heavily as her head broke the water and she gasped, bubbles sticking to her exposed skin. She was about to go back under, when the doorbell downstairs rang loudly.
Hayley swore under her breath and grabbed her wand, which she’d left on the side. With a quick wave, she’d made all the water in the bath disappear. She jumped to her feet and summoned a couple of towels, which she allowed to levitate around her, rubbing her dry as she headed into her room to find clothes. She pulled on some jeans whilst another towel wrapped itself around her tresses, smoothing them out and drying them. Hayley stumbled downstairs, pulling on a top, and sent all the towels zooming back upstairs with another flick of her wand before pulling open the door.
“Hey Hayls,” Nicky said, smiling and fiddling nervously with her wand as she stood on the doorstep. “Sorry to show up out of the blue but my parents were out of town for the weekend and I wondered if you were free?”
“Sure, of course,” Hayley replied cheerily but breathlessly. “I was just taking a bath. I’ve also got the house to myself, for now at least. The parents have taken Jake out Christmas shopping and James is seeing Teddy. Feel free to come in.”
“Thanks,” Nicky stepped into Hayley’s house and followed her up to the explosion of red and pink that was her room. “I almost forgot that James was staying with you since what happened with Albus.”
“Yeah, and he’s sleeping in here, so be careful where you stand,” Hayley laughed. “You know how disgusting he can be.”
“Ah good, I’ll avoid sitting on the bed then,” Nicky winked and Hayley went pink.
“I’m offended!” Hayley protested. “Why would you automatically jump to the assumption that he’s sleeping in my bed!”
“Because he is,” Nicky replied as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, settling on the sofa and taking off her shoes. “Don’t tell me I’m wrong?”
Hayley opened her mouth to complain further but just shut up, glaring furiously at Nicky whilst getting pinker by the minute. Nicky was finding it difficult to keep a straight face and the two girls ended up staring at each other until Hayley found her voice, which was very flustered when it finally arrived.
“So have you seen the others in the last few days?” she asked desperately.
“Not since we broke up,” Nicky replied. “What about you?”
“Saw Toni for a bit the other day, she seems cheery. I’ll probably see Fred tomorrow at the great gathering thing. No sign of He Who Must Not Be Named though.”
“Must we talk about him?” Nicky said in a clipped tone. “He’s an arse and if I never speak to him again, it will make me very happy.”
“Look Nicky,” Hayley said gently, sitting beside her friend and putting an arm around her. “I know he screwed up, really screwed up. We all want to punch him very hard for it, trust me. But he’s really sorry about it and you two get on so well together, you really need to give him another chance. Even if it’s after this whole boy/girl issue you have has finished.”
“My parents think I’m mad you know,” Nicky sniffed. “Shearing all my hair off, dumping the only guy I ever truly cared about. They don’t know the truth obviously, but they try to understand. They can’t though. They just think I’m stupid and young. There’s yet another reason to hate this whole mess.”
“Look Nicky, I keep trying to tell you!” Hayley sighed. “This mess is only as bad as you make it out to be. You know that. If you keep only looking at the negatives, then it’ll always appear worse than it truly is. Look at the positives!”
“Like what?” Nicky snapped. “I look like a freak, act like someone I’m not almost all the time and I’ve alienated the only guy I really care about, not to mention the fact that I could die at any moment, which would probably get my best friend locked in Azkaban or expelled. That would be you by the way genius!”
Whatever response Hayley had been about to say was silenced as James kicked open the bedroom door, triumphantly swinging his arms through the air. Hayley glared at him but he was in a world of his own.
“I’d just like to point out, that’s a grand tally of 11,” he grinned, punching the sky. “6 of whom are barmaids, 4 of them are students at Hogwarts and that girl we met in Tenerife. And only a couple of them have had the James Potter on more than one occasion, Suzie was lucky enough to score at least a dozen times with this machine.”
“James, whenever you’re done boasting about your sexual history,” Hayley shouted exasperatedly as James spotted Nicky.
“Oh hi Nickster!” James greeted cheerfully, throwing himself down next to her and throwing his left arm around her. “How’s things?”
“How do you think?” Nicky sulked. James softened and used his arm to pull her into a gentle hug, as Hayley looked on infuriatedly.
“Look Nicky,” James said gently. “The important thing to remember when things are tough is that you have lots of friends and family who will always support you. Focus on that and suddenly; something daunting doesn’t seem so hard anymore. Besides, we’ve made it through til Christmas all in one piece; things can only get better from here, right?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Nicky replied, brightening up. “Thanks James, Hayley. I’d better get back, leave you two alone.”
Hayley opened her mouth in protest again but Nicky was already heading out the door, waving cheerily as she strolled off. Hayley turned on James, opening and shutting her mouth several times as James lounged on the sofa, stretching to accommodate himself.
“Something the matter Undies?”
“How did you somehow manage to waltz in, bragging about having sex with yet another slutty barmaid, and then suddenly convince Nicky of everything I’ve spent weeks, hell months even trying to tell her, without even breaking sweat? You can be so infuriating!”
“Babe, it’s what I do!” James grinned and winked. “I’m James Potter.”
“I am not your babe!” Hayley groaned, flicking her wand and toppling over the sofa as James yelped.
The next day, the Black-Hunt family were up nice and early, heading to the Burrow, still an age old house but also the venue for the annual Weasley family and friends Christmas gathering, as it was more commonly known. Along with all the Potter/Weasley family, there was Teddy, obviously, Lorcan and Lysander Scamander, the Black-Hunts, Hayley’s Aunt Lucy and her family, her grand-parents, Jake and Hayley Hunt, and of course Teddy. James was in a good mood when he arrived, but seeing his mother crying and both Lily and his dad looking grave as he approached worried him and he exchanged a worried look with Hayley. Molly was the first to reach him however, a look of pure evil emboldened on her face. She grabbed James and took him to one side, James’ sneer of plain annoyance clear on his face.
“I may have got the wrong Potter expelled, but believe me James, I’m not finished yet,” she snarled. “Mark my words…”
“Yeah, yeah,” James snapped. “As much as I love our little chats, right now my mother is crying, and that’s higher on my list of priorities, so we’ll have to wrap this up. Better luck next time, etc.”
James shoved aside Molly and headed over to his family. He embraced his mum as soon as she acknowledged him. James shot Lily an inquisitive look and she just shook her head. James looked at his father, and when his mum finally let him go, he followed his dad off to one side, away from everyone else. Although they were alone, with everyone else doing the various rounds of hellos, James knew Hayley was watching.
“James,” his father spoke in a calm but reserved tone, he was holding back. “Albus left during the night. He left us a note. He said he was going to travel the world with Scorpius Malfoy and he had no idea when he would return. As he is still underage, I’ve been pulling all kinds of strings at the Ministry to try and find them, but wherever they are, they’re being careful and they’re moving fast. We can’t find where he is.”
“He’s what?” James hissed as loudly as he could afford. “He can’t just fucking up and leave!”
“Well he has,” Harry sighed, a flicker of pain in his voice. “Your mother is obviously devastated. I’m sorry James, I know you blame yourself for this, but please don’t. The boy has gone off the rails, none of us could’ve done anything about it.”
“You go on believing that dad!” James said in a tone much harsher than he intended. “But we both know that any idiot could see Al was acting strange and we should’ve done something. I shouldn’t have pushed him. You can pretend it was unavoidable all you want, but there’s no way in hell I will.”
Harry opened his mouth to retort but James was already gone, weaving amongst the crowds of people shouting his name in greeting, even barely acknowledging Fred and Dom as they called after him. James reached the entrance to the Burrow and stormed inside; thoroughly aware of the footsteps behind him and who they belonged to. He ignored the calls of his Aunts Hermione and Fleur and headed upstairs, to the room he would often share with his brother and Fred.
“I’m not going to tell you it wasn’t your fault you know.”
James turned, tears once again threatening him but this time he swept them aside, his eyes blazing as he faced the only person who he knew could talk to him and expect a response of any kind.
“Well at least you’re honest about it then aren’t you?” he replied, holding his tone steady. “People lie; tell me they don’t blame me. But I can see it in their eyes. Teddy, my dad, McGonagall, they all know that Al wouldn’t have been expelled if not for me. And now he’s vanished. Just gone. Fuck knows where with Scorpius Malfoy.”
“Come here you idiot,” Hayley said softly, pulling James into a soft but meaningful hug, as he sat there, absorbed by her. “It’s funny how everyone suddenly starts turning on Albus, calling him a prat or saying he was stupid, but nobody turns on you. And you know why?”
“If you say because it wasn’t my fault, I’ll tie you up and hurl you in the third year boys dorm,” James threatened.
“No,” Hayley smiled. “Because they can see how hard you’re taking it, they can see how much you’re beating yourself up. Even if part of them does blame you, they can’t bring themselves to punish you, because you’re doing a good enough job on your own.”
“What now Hayls?” James sighed. “I can’t bring Albus back, it’s too late to change anything.”
“Exactly, so beating yourself up solves nothing,” Hayley pointed out. “And, for the record, I don’t think this was your fault. I know you hate me for saying that but honestly, as your best friend, I think you’re suffering from a form of survivor’s guilt, in a weird way.”
James shot her a glare which quickly softened and he relaxed, putting his head on her shoulder. They sat there for a couple of minutes before they were finally interrupted by footsteps and his Aunt Angelina entered.
“I’m sorry to ruin this special moment,” she smiled empathetically. “But Grandma Weasley is calling everyone down for food.”
James nodded his acknowledgement and followed Hayley downstairs, as they took their places at the gargantuan table filling the garden. Across from him, Teddy shot James a wink and James suddenly realised what was about to happen. So clearly, did Hayley, as her grip on his arm tightened slightly.
“Um, before we begin eating,” Teddy said somewhat loudly as he stood, silencing everyone. “I’d just like to make a quick announcement. Now as all of you know, I’ve been seeing Victoire Weasley for a very long time now. And I love her. Beyond anything I thought I could or would. And now, I’d like to do the honour, of asking her to be my bride.”
There was a moment of stunned silence, as everyone turned to look at Victoire. She remained sat and looked as shocked and horrified as everyone else, more so even. She stood and her face struggled to keep back her emotion.
“I’m sorry Teddy,” she whispered. “I can’t.”
And with that, she turned on her heels and fled from the table.
A/N: Wow we're really wracking through the chapters eh? :) We're starting to get to the good stuff, so stick around, things are going to kick off soon enough ;) As for this chapter, seems things have gone from bad to worse for Ted and Vic. As for James and Hayley, I think it's time I stopped writing nice cutesy chapters, but I'm not going to ;) HP
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