Chapter 4 : Simply All Aflutter
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"Good heavens, dear, you're looking rather peaky." Nana Weasley swoops in on me, patting my cheek appraisingly. "Are you sure you wouldn't like something to eat? A cheese and bacon butty, perhaps?"
I hide my grimace, my stomach all but protesting with pitchforks at the mere suggestion of food. "No thanks, Nana. Maybe later." Maybe when my nerves stop acting like an angry medieval mob.
She eyes me beadily, planting a hand authoritatively on her hip. "You're sure, are you? No cornish pasties? Maybe a bit of cold roast chicken with sweet onion and ― "
"What Rory means to say, Nana," Dom cuts across swiftly, pinpointing me with a meaningful look that says, We'll be having a nice little chin wag later, "is that she's a bit off colour for food right now."†
I nod weakly, gingerly patting my chiffon-swathed abdomen. "Nothing against your cooking, Nana, honest ― "
"Oh, you poor dear!" With surprising agility and strength that belies her old age, Nana sweeps me into a crushing hug against her ample bosom and says fondly, "Of course your stomach's upset ― I'm sure it's simply all aflutter with nerves! Why, I remember my first time as a bridesmaid...mind you, I was quite the fit little thing, and Arthur and I went for a very long walk that night ― "
"Actually, on second thought," interrupts Dom loudly, causing Nana Weasley to release me momentarily from my chest cocoon, "maybe a packet of biscuits will do the trick. It's just a bit of nerves, isn't it, Rory?"
"Mmmmf," I mumble in assent, smothered by Nana Weasley's glittering dress robes. "Mmm fffnk ssoh."
Relinquishing her hold on me, Nana Weasley smiles benevolently at our prompt submission. "Well, I'll just go find you some food, then!" After turning to Dom and surveying her lithe form with mild indignation, Nana Weasley sniffs, "I'll be whipping up something for you as well, Dominique. Fleur clearly isn't feeding you properly, honestly...." With one last self-righteous harrumph, she bustles out of the room.†
Just as I issue a sigh of relief, Dom sinks onto Ginny Potter's old four-poster beside me, her hands tucked under her thighs as she swings her legs childishly back and forth against the bed frame. We arrived at the Burrow in the wee hours of the morning and have been tidying up the place and primping Victoire in equal parts ever since.†
Not that she even needs the primping. If we're being honest, it's all of us non-Veela who need it, but if we run out of time for ourselves, I'm sure tossing paper bags over our faces will do.
Can't afford to ruin the atmosphere, you know.
Since the actual wedding is scheduled to take place in just a couple of hours, during the sunset, Dom and I have spent our precious time squeezing into our dresses and avoiding Nana Weasley's attempts to fatten us up.†
To evade Dom's sharp, questioning gaze, I cast my eyes around the room, allowing them to finally alight on an old poster of Gwenog Jones, former captain of the Holyhead Harpies, who flexes her absurdly sculpted muscles and winks saucily at me.†
Perhaps it would've been wiser to look at Dom.†
Scratch that. I'm probably going to die soon. How, exactly, do I know?†
For one thing, when Dom is about to murder someone, she abstains from blinking for an unnaturally long period of time while maintaining eye contact. I know she's supposedly part Veela, but it's during moments like this when I wonder if the French simply confused the words for "Veela" and "raging hippogriff".†
In case you're curious, they both have sharp talons and prefer their meat raw.
Secondly, I may or may not have mentioned what happened between James and me a fortnight ago, and by that, I mean with all intents and purposes that I haven't even told my cat Marius about that day in the dress shop.†
Not that he'd listen anyway. He's too busy poaching the mice in our backyard and pretending he's Spartapuss.†
"So, are you going to tell me what's going on?"
"Why the Buckbeak not?" demands Dom, adopting the same hand-on-hip pose previously utilised by Nana Weasley.†
Did I actually say that out loud?
Dom snorts. "Yes, you did."†
"Language," responds Dom primly, which I find ironic, since she and Victoire tend to use the choicest French swear words when they get bent out of shape.
"Look, just because my stomach's feeling a bit poorly," I say haughtily, tossing my hair over my shoulder, "does not mean that there's anything going ― "
"Oh, stop dithering about and tell me already," Dom says idly, throwing herself backward onto the bed and peering up at me expectantly.
"It's nothing," I mumble, smoothing the skirt of my dress and striving to keep my nostrils from flaring.†
Quick as a flash, Dom sits bolt upright, squinting at me suspiciously. "It's about James, isn't it?"
"James who?" I ask innocently, wiping my face clean of all emotion, but not rapidly enough.
Dom smirks knowingly. "You rate my cousin, don't you?"
"Which one? You have quite a few attractive cousins," I point out vaguely, but Dom is like a lioness; once she senses fear, she pounces.†
"Oh my Godric," breathes Dom momentously. "You've started fancying James ― "
"I've done nothing of the sort!" I reply hotly.†
I'd just as soon fancy Michael Flatley. He's getting on in years, sports leather pants, and still seems to misplace his shirt for every Celtic Tiger performance. Sadly, all of the other male stepdancers never seem to misplace their shirts.†
Not that I would mind if they did.†
Rolling her eyes, Dom says conversationally, "Look, I think it's brillopads if you want to have his children. I'm honestly not opposed, and I can assure you he or your mum won't be eithemmmph ― "
"For what I feel will probably not be the last time," I say slowly, removing my hand from her mouth, "I do not fancy Potter."†
Dom narrows her eyes. "Then why are you acting so strangely? And I swear I'll bite you next time you do that."
"Let me finish, will you?" I raise my eyebrows warningly, adding, "Otherwise, I'll shut you up myself again."†
Rather contritely, Dom snaps her gob shut and clasps her hands obediently in her lap. Maybe I should threaten to do this more often. She's loads more pleasant this way.
I sigh. "Well, I don't fancy Potter ― don't give me that look, I don't ― but something may have happened a couple of weeks ago ― "
"Rory." Dom places her hand on mine patronisingly, fixing me with her cautious I'm-practising-to-be-a-Healer-someday stare, as though not to frighten me away. How anyone could make someone as violent as Dom a Healer, though, is beyond me. "We all knew that when James swore he wouldn't ask you out for the rest of the summer, he wouldn't be able to hold up, but ― "
"Wait, what?" I blink rapidly, nonplussed. "Potter didn't ask me out."†
Dom jerks her head to the side, her pale blue eyes widening as she snatches her hand away. "He didn't?"†
I shake my head. "Well, not exactly. He just ― hang on, did you say he swore he wouldn't ask me out?"
Dom snorts with laughter, nodding. "He swore on Uncle Harry's sacred Snitch a couple of weeks ago. Every Wotter with ears knows about it." She pauses thoughtfully. "Actually, come to think of it, even Uncle George knows."
Well, this explains why I've seen neither hide nor hair of him for the past two weeks. At this point, I'd sheepishly expected him to pelt me with owls me about my decision, but my owltbox has remained decidedly empty.†
For someone who isn't even sure she likes Potter as a person, I've felt oddly...disappointed in his lack of pestering. However, I like to think of that disappointment as misplaced relief.
Very misplaced relief.
"So, are you going to keep me in the dark?" asks Dom flippantly, leaping off the bed and crossing to the mirror, her strawberry blonde hair fanning behind her. "What's got your knickers in such a twist, if he didn't pop the question?"†
"He ― " All of the sudden, my mouth feels drier than Galway in the midst of a summer drought, and try as I might, I inexplicably can't bring myself to tell Dom. Something invisible seems to latch my tongue to the roof of my mouth, and I bizarrely no longer feel like spilling everything to her.†
For whatever reason, I think this is something I want to keep to myself. This is between Potter and me.
"Well?" Dom turns to her side, impassively examining her slender body in the full-length mirror.
"Tuck that tag in and you're perfect, dear," chirps the mirror, startling both of us.†
Dom, however, immediately obliges, appearing quite mollified, and her strapless, pale gold sheath dress cascades prettily to the floor, ruffling slightly at the neckline and drawing in at her waist. "Thanks!"
"Well, love?" prompts the mirror. "You were saying?"
My mouth twitches open at the mirror addressing me so casually. It's not as though you've just eavesdropped or anything, mirror. Hmph. "Erm ― nothing. Potter and I just, er ― we just rowed about the Head Boy and Girl situation. You know," I add swiftly, locking eyes with Dom and giving them a good roll as my tone takes a turn for the sarcastic, "the usual."
Please believe me and don't press the matter....
Dom chuckles, apparently satisfied as she begins to apply some mascara. "I wouldn't expect anything different from you two. Can you imagine?"
"Yeah," I agree with a shaky laugh, adjusting my identical bridesmaid dress.
"Now." Dom locks eyes with my reflection in the mirror, her tone filled with seriousness of the utmost importance. "Before Nana comes back, I've got to ask you something, and I need you to answer as honestly as possible."
I freeze, caught like a deer in wandlight. Maybe I'm not as convincing of a liar as I thought. "Yeah?"
"Which lippy makes me look like less of a tart?"†
Or maybe I am.
I take in a deep breath, gathering the chiffon skirt of my dress robes as I navigate the edge of the reception-area-turned-dance-floor. Couples swirl gracefully around me and relatives chat amiably with drinks in hand as I carefully pick my way through the hordes of glamourous Wotters. The wedding ceremony had been beautiful, the blissful couple rosy-cheeked, turquoise-haired (in Teddy's case), and grinning with unbridled happiness.†
The simple meter of the waltz currently being played by the Mineral String Quartet, which is comprised of actual musicians ― Victoire and Teddy felt that the wizarding tradition of employing enchanted instruments was rather creepy ― is what drives the subdivision of my pounding heartbeats, and for the first time in my life, I find myself desperately hoping I'm claustrophobic instead of being on the verge of a breakdown.
To calm my nerves, I keep telling myself that I've rehearsed this in my head loads of times, that I'm just curious to see how it turns out, that I'm just hoping to repair a friendship, that I just want world peace for everyone ― that none of this means anything at all. Why should it even matter?†
I suppose there's really no going back now. I made my decision days ago, and when my mind's made up, there's no point trying to change it.†
He'll be there. He has to be.†
Once I finally escape the eddying current of wedding-goers, I continue to skirt the fringe of the dance floor until I spy a small gazebo, lit by fluttering fairy lights and partially hidden by rose bushes. I stifle a laugh at how absurdly trite and romantic this must seem, but I know Potter, and the modest pavilion and subdued lighting suit how he does things.
And I have a notion that, if I look for him, this is where I'll find him. †
My heart beating its wings furiously in my chest like a caged bird with each step I take ― Churchill's trousers, am I actually nervous about this? ― I finally reach the gazebo and, upon noticing how utterly empty it is, my heart folds its wings and plummets.†
He was supposed to be here.
I feel like such a fool. I can't believe how willing I've been to give Potter a chance, to possibly become mates again ― and he didn't even show. Suddenly, I'm back in third year, just after Potter kissed me in front of everyone and the entire Great Hall dissolved into cheers, catcalls, and laughter. I'm steeped in that similar feeling of mortification and crippling self-consciousness that ensued when I finally realised that our friendship would never be the same as before.
Stupidly enough, I was so sure he'd be here; I was so certain he meant what he said when he sent me that list.†
That idiotic list.†
Slightly incensed and more than a little ashamed, I enter the gazebo and perch on the edge of its circular bench, propping my chin in my hand. I can't believe I've been so stupid. Part of me hoped he would show, and the other part of me was terrified of what would transpire if he did.†
Admittedly, I've been content to row with him throughout the years and refuse to give him any chances to prove himself ― but keeping this up has become so exhausting that I wonder if I don't stubbornly maintain my grudge because it's easier this way, and because I secretly miss our friendship.
Ugh, listen to me. I sound like one of those horribly angsty, scantily clad cows in a Fifi LaFolle novel, banging on about my trust complex and why I have so many ripped bodices.†
Not bloody likely, that.
With a scowl, I brush myself off and stand, preparing to return to the wedding reception, when I see it.†
A small sheaf of parchment levitating in the middle of the gazebo.
Curious, I tentatively reach forward and gently pluck the paper, still floating, from the air. It's surface remains oddly blank, and just as I'm about to turn it over to check the other side, small handwriting ― handwriting I've seen before ― materialises in black ink.†
My heart catching in my throat, I whirl around and immediately come face to face with an equally out of breath Potter, dressed smartly in fitted black dress robes, his hair tousled ― slightly damp and messier than usual, as though he's just dashed out of the bath ― and features angular in the soft light. Our eyes meet in an instant, glimmering green and burning hazel, and he wordlessly holds out a scrap of parchment that looks as though it's been torn from a letter.
My eyes never leaving his, I accept the parchment and eventually tear my gaze away to further inspect it. Despite myself, a small smile stretches across my face as I read his steady script.†
011. I won't ever stop trying to make things right between us.
As my eyes flutter closed, there's a moment of complete silence, in which I can nearly discern the faint sound of our hearts beating and minds whirring.†
The eleventh reason.†
He knew I would be here. He tore it from the letter and withheld it, fully knowing I would be intrigued enough to come here. He knew all along. I'm rather predictable, aren't I?
If my mum were here, she'd be sipping tea with one hand and fanning herself with a romance novel in the other.
Rather sadly, I find myself wishing I could travel back to the days when being a boy and a girl was so much less complicated, and neither of us had greater expectations than those of the very best kind of friendship.
Unexpectedly, a warm hand cups my chin, gently tilting it upward, and I'm so taken aback by this gesture that my eyes automatically fly open to meet Potter's. Silence ― broken only by the quiet sound of someone's shallow breathing, possibly mine ― ensues as we search each other's eyes for signs of something, anything.
Friend or insufferable foe?
It is Potter who finally speaks first, his voice barely audible over the keening strains of the string quartet. "So. You showed."
I swallow with some difficulty, slipping back into my half-hearted suit of sarcasm. "So. I did. Well spotted."
He seems to ignore my jibe as he steps back, his hand dropping to his side so quickly, it was almost as though it had never left. "Why, though?" His face, lit only by the glow of the fairy lights, remains an unreadable mask, and I can't help but realise I don't have a single snide remark to make. However, before I can begin to formulate an answer, he shakes his head, smiling slightly. "Couldn't have been the list, could it? I imagine that was partly it, but more than anything, you were curious, weren't you?"
A statement, not a question. Not for the last time, he's dead on about me. I remain silent.
"I reckon you wanted to know about the eleventh reason as well?" he continues quietly, his lips still curved upward at the corners.†
For some reason, I find heat suffusing my cheeks; perhaps it's due to the fact that I'm hacked off at him for sussing me out so effortlessly. Still, I say nothing. I'm not ready to give in just yet.†
"About that..." Potter averts his gaze to his polished brogues, shoving his hands into the pockets of his trousers. "I hoped it would change things between us."
"And did it work?" I hear myself ask, with something in my voice that I'm not accustomed to hearing. Hang on ― is that shyness?
Something in his eyes sparks, and he cautiously takes a step forward. "You tell me."
I eye him playfully. "I showed up, didn't I?"
"To my utter surprise," remarks Potter wonderingly.
I frown. "I don't believe that." Potter raises a questioning eyebrow, and I elaborate, "You knew I'd be here."
He bows his head coyly. "I hoped you would ― I hoped my list of reasons would convince you ― but I honestly didn't know for certain." He glances up and offers me a lopsided grin. "Sometimes you're full of surprises."
"Well, I reckon your list worked," I admit grudgingly.†
"Then let's make another go of things," presses Potter earnestly, stepping closer still, and as he moves toward me, instinct ― and panic ― set in.†
Funny that, how I've mentally prepared myself for this over the past fortnight, and yet I'm suddenly not ready to raise my white flag and surrender to his friendship. What is wrong with me?
I reckon I'm just another of the world's greatest mysteries, much like my mum and her bizarre infatuation with Peter O'Toole.
"Look, Potter," I backtrack hastily, my feet stumbling backward of their own accord, "we can't ― " I curl my fingers into air quotations ― "'make another go of things' if we never had anything in the first place, and if you think you can lure me here under false pretenses and ask me out ― "
Potter begins laughing unexpectedly, a laugh so happy-go-lucky and brimming over with such mirth that I find myself feeling the slightest twinge of jealousy. "Honestly, Rory. Sometimes you can be so daft." He chuckles again. "I didn't 'lure' you here ― " Did he seriously use my air quotations against me just now? " ― to ask you out."
Given our history together, I struggle to keep from snorting derisively. "Right, I forgot." I attempt to compose myself, but can't keep the scepticism from trickling into my voice. "And I suppose we're here to keep each other company?"
Figures. The moment Potter proves me wrong and I make an idiot of myself, I resort to stroppy remarks to conceal my utter embarrassment.
My Insufferable Pride and Me: Or How I Managed to Pen a Best-Seller in Between Belittling James Potter, Being an All-Around Cow, and Having Tea with the Queen. Yes, my future memoir is sure to fly off the racks one day.
The smile disappears from his face and is replaced with clear annoyance now. "You and I know full well that's not what this is about. Try again."†
My temper flares. "So, if those ten reasons why I should be your date ― "
"Eleven," interjects Potter calmly.†
"Alright, eleven reasons," I amend irritably, "why I should be your date had nothing to do with being your date at all ― "
"Oh, they had everything to do with being my date," Potter interrupts crisply.†
"Then what are we doing here?" I ask frustratedly.†What is it about this boy that infuriates me so easily?
Slowly advancing toward me so that I have nowhere to go but the railing of the gazebo, Potter fastens his inscrutable gaze on me. "You read the list of reasons I sent you, did you not?"
"Clearly," I deadpan, backing up to find I no longer have room to move.
"And you read the eleventh reason as well, right?" Potter is closer now, too close.†
"Right," I agree faintly, my eyes trained on his clouded ones.†
"Then why do you keep pushing me away?" he says evenly, and in that one second that his carefully constructed mask slips, I glimpse how frustrated and hurt he feels. But the moment I blink, it's gone, and I can't be sure I didn't imagine it. "Why do you refuse to see anything differently?"
I open my mouth to retort, but he swiftly cuts in. "Why else would you have shown up tonight if you didn't want to give things a chance? I've changed, you and everyone else know I have ― "
"It's only been two weeks," I accidentally let slip, instantly clapping a hand over my mouth. Bugger.
Potter stiffens. "Dom told you, didn't she?" At my reaffirming silence, he shakes his head with a small smile and concedes, "It's only been two weeks, but I'm serious about this. I'm not asking you out anymore." His expression falters briefly, like a flickering candle, but returns, determined and confident, more for himself than for me. "No, I won't ask you out anymore; so why can't we be friends? Why won't you just give it a chance, Rory? Why can't you just ― "
"I don't know!" I cry exasperatedly, so loudly that I think I startle a gnome out of a nearby tree. "I just don't know, alright? I've been spending the past two weeks trying to figure that one out myself, thanks!"
Before he can fling out an arm to stop me, I slip past him and cross to the other side of the gazebo in the longest strides my dress will allow. "I'm tired of fighting you" is what I long to say, but all that ends up coming out in a whisper is, "I'm tired of fighting with you."†
We used to be friends.
I hear Potter exhale sharply, and then the rustling of fabric, coupled with the soft tapping of his brogues, as he gravitates to my side of the gazebo. When I look up through my eyelashes, he's leaning against the railing and gazing out at the reception, the corners of his lips twitching. Following his line of sight, I glimpse Teddy twirling Victoire around the dance floor, the pair of them laughing and beaming at each other with the kind of love that makes my heart ache.
It's probably also the kind of love my mum reads about, so I politely tell my heart to go jump off a bridge.
"Did you know," Potter says softly, "when they were at school, Vic couldn't stand Ted?" I shake my head, still nettled, and he chuckles to himself. "Actually, she loathed him, couldn't bear to be in the same room as him." Somehow, a chortle escapes my throat, as I can relate to Victoire all too well. "Believe it or not, they used to be best mates when they were smaller, until they got to Hogwarts."
A timid smile dances its way across my lips. "What happened?"
Potter's smile mirrors mine as he faces me and says quietly, "Ted started fancying her."
A startling blush infuses my cheeks as I hear myself asking, "What'd she do about it?"
"Hexed him," replies Potter simply.
I knew I liked her.
Neither of us speak for a couple of minutes, with only the sounds of music and tinkling laughter permeating our hushed bubble, and I attempt to process what Potter's just shared with me.
I mean, if Teddy could overcome his teenage hormones and renew his friendship with Victoire, why can't Potter and I do the same?
Of course, Victoire ended up having to confront her hormones in the end ― don't think so? Try sitting through the "wedding night tactics" tea Dom and I had to endure this afternoon; if practically nonexistent lacy knickers don't scream "hormones," I don't know what does ― but that does not mean Potter and I have to go the same way.
Being friends with him, though?†
I think, for the first time in a long while, that sounds like something I can do.†
So why can't I just discard my four years of hurt feelings, rein in my temper, and grow up? I'm used to fight or flight with him, and quite frankly, I've tired of both.
I think it's time to try and kick my old habits.
"Aurora?" Potter's quiet voice jolts me out of my reverie.
"D'you think..." His voice is hesitant, barely masking his hope. "D'you reckon we could just...drop all this and start over?"
"Yes," I find myself answering almost immediately, to my shock. His face lights up, even in the newly fallen twilight, and for once, I don't feel the urge to slap that smile off of his face. But I won't let him win so easily. "I have two conditions, though."
The grin falters ever so slightly. "They are?"
I allow myself a tiny smirk. "One ― stop calling me 'Aurora'. No one calls me that, not even my gran. It's Rory. And don't call me 'Pond', either," I add warningly as he opens his mouth to retort.
Potter folds his arms across his chest. "I'm sorry, Aurora, but I just can't do that."
"I can see this is going swimmingly," I say wryly.
"Fine, then, I'll call you 'Rory,'" says Potter mulishly. "But only if you stop calling me 'Potter' and start using my first name."
"Alright," I reply reluctantly.†
I can practically feel the glee in his voice. Keep your smarm to yourself, Potter.
"Alright, James," I say through gritted teeth. How is it he takes my small victories and uses them against me?
That triumphant grin returning to his face, he asks lightly, "Condition number two?"
"No more asking me out," I respond just as airily.
"You won't have to worry about that one anymore, as I've already sworn I wouldn't," Pott ― James points out dryly.†
I hold up my hands defensively. "I'm just saying! Excuse me for going off of four years of experience with you popping the question!"†
"No need to be tetchy," says James good-humouredly, placing his hand over mine as I huff crossly. "I know I've gotten a bit...carried away at times."
I snort, briefly forgetting my annoyance with him. "Pur-lease. A bit carried away? James, if you got anymore carried away, you'd be halfway to Wales in a hot air balloon ― "
Clearing his throat pointedly, James says loudly, "And what if the time comes when you want me to ask you out?"
"You can't be serious," I manage to choke out in between laughs. "Really? I mean..." I trail off awkwardly as the heat rises to his cheeks and he looks away, as though stung. I was under the impression he'd been joking, but now I realize he's simply braver with his feelings than I will ever be.
Well done, Rory. You're well on your way to becoming a class-A tosser.
"You laugh now," he says coolly, still avoiding my gaze, "but I'll bet you change your tune one of these days, and you'll be wishing I would ask you out."
Me? Wishing that James Potter would ask me out? Confundus charm, table for one, please.
"We'll see," I hedge, to placate him more than anything else. His hazel eyes flicker toward mine, and I carry on in spite of myself, mostly in an attempt to ease the hurt that flashes in those eyes. For some reason, I suddenly can't bear to be the cause of that pain anymore. "Who knows, maybe you'll be right one of these days and I'll be doing the asking out."
Just because I don't fully mean it, doesn't mean I can't say it. We're only five minutes into our rekindled friendship and I'm already botching things up as usual. Still, I want to make it up to him, and I think he senses it, because he proffers me a tiny smile.
"Is that all, then?"†
"One more condition," I say nonchalantly, fluttering my mascara-coated eyelashes.
James leans in a bit closer, his shining face mere centimetres away from mine. "What is it?"
"Kindly remove your hand from mine," I reply sweetly, "lest I remove it for you."
Hastily complying, James peels his hand off of mine and runs it through his hair anxiously, only serving to muss it up even more. Maybe I should inform him that hair like a hippogriff's backside isn't too attractive.†
That's the sort of thing a friend would do, right?
Just as I open my mouth to deliver the orderly blow of justice to his law-breaking hairstyle, I catch the faint sounds of the string quartet bowing a lovely arrangement of "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out".
Clearly, Teddy put together the set list.
As the first verse drifts toward us, allegro ma non troppo, James locks eyes with me and we simultaneously blurt out, "This is my favourite Smiths song."
Astonishingly, it's good to know that some things haven't changed since the hiatus in our friendship.
"Er, we should probably get back," James reminds me, grinning sheepishly as he turns to leave. "You know, before Dom goes bonkers."
"Yeah," I echo absentmindedly, still lost in thought as I follow him out of the gazebo. When did it actually become easy to have a civilised conversation with James Potter without feeling like aiming a kick at a puppy?
We've almost reached the reception when I hear James cough nervously. "Rory?"
I arch an eyebrow. "James?"
He blinks and averts his gaze, immersing his hands in his pockets. "So, does this, er, does this mean we're friends again?"
I stare blankly at him for a moment, before breaking into a wide grin, and I hear him breathe a sigh of relief. "Of course, you numpty." I look past him, unable to meet his eyes for once. "You were right, I, erm, wouldn't have bothered showing up if I didn't want to be friends again."
His answering smile is borderline goofy as we reach the edge of the dance floor. "Really?"†
I sigh impatiently, my grin still in place as I cross my arms. "Yes, really."
What a dork. But he's sort of growing on me.
"Well, as a friend..." James's smile takes on a bashful quality now. "Would you like to dance? You know, since we're friends and all," he adds in a rush, his eyes widening worriedly, "and this is our favourite Smiths song, and ― "
"Shut up." I roll my eyes, holding out my hand. The lengths I go to for friendship. Honestly. "Yes, I would love to dance."
Eagerly taking my hand and lacing it with his, James places his other hand gently at my waist, whilst I loop my free hand around his neck and resist the urge to roll my eyes again. We receive many strange, amazed, and downright elated looks as he spins us out into the sea of dancing couples (who knew Pott ― oh, sod it, James ― could dance like this?), and a gorgeous Ginny Potter even shoots me a sly smirk as she's being twirled deftly by a very dishy Harry. All we need now is for Dom to walk by and ―†
"What the hellebore is this?"
James and I break apart instantly ― well, I jump away from him while he refuses to detach his hand from mine ― as Dom halts mid-spin with Lorcan Scamander, her jaw practically unhinged and brow knitted in confusion.
"Er, well, you see," I stutter unhelpfully. "Um..."
"Cheers, Lorc," James supplies lamely, giving a half-hearted wave to the blonde boy, who grins back.
"James and I ― " I attempt again, but suddenly, Dom squeals.
"Oh my Godric, you just called him James!"
"Well spotted, Dommy!" I cry sardonically, but she fails to catch my tone.
"Did you two finally snog?" asks Dom excitedly.
"No!" James and I assure her in unison, a look of horror on my face and disappointment on his.†
Dom, however, prattles on animatedly, "I was wondering where you'd gotten off to, Lorc and I were just about to call a search party, weren't we, Lorc?" Lorcan nods helplessly and Dom forges on. "But no worries, here you both are. Oh, can't you just feel the love tonight? I knew you'd come to your senses ― "
" ― oh, what's your mum going to say, Rory? I'd better write her and let her know she's getting grandchildren ― "
"DOM!" I practically roar, and she freezes. I hear James laugh quietly beside me. "Look, James and I are friends again. Just friends."
She blinks, looking at me as though I've just dumped a basket of pygmy puffs on the side of the road. "So ― so, you didn't snog?"
I shake my head, quivering with laughter. "No."
"And...and you're not dating?" asks Dom perplexedly, frowning.
"Sadly," responds James, and I elbow him in the stomach. "...I mean...no."
"So, this means I won't be getting grandkids?" says Ginny bluntly as she and Harry whirl past us, smirks in place.
"Don't take that tone with me, James Sirius!" Ginny calls as she glides away, while Harry says apologetically, "She's had a bit to drink tonight...."
This is turning out to be quite an evening.
"Well," Dom says eventually, smiling sincerely. "I'm thrilled you two are friends again." She turns to Lorcan, who is gaping rather incredulously at her. "God, Lorcan, quit harassing them, can't you see they want to be left alone? You're such a spaz. Honestly." She rolls her eyes at him, seizing his hand and planting it around her waist. "We'll just be off now. Carry on, then!"
The silence between us stretches as Dom tows a baffled Lorcan back into the fray and the quartet strikes up the Marino waltz.
I wrinkle my nose. "That was..."
"Yeah." James rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably. "I know."
I gesture to the other dancing pairs. "Shall we...?"
He nods, grinning as he intertwines his hand with mine and begins leading me fluently across the dance floor, his feet stepping lightly. It feels as though we're floating, and I find no shame in admitting that I'm highly impressed at his dancing skills. In all honesty, this is actually quite nice. I could get used to this.
"You know, in all the commotion tonight, I can't believe I forgot to tell you how absolutely beautiful you look," James comments offhandedly, his eyes snapping to mine. Something about the unabashed stare with which he fixes me and the way he tells me this causes my stomach to lurch uneasily, and somewhere in my mind, I finally realise he genuinely means it.
And for once, it's my turn to blush and stammer. "Er, thank you. You clean up quite well, too...? I mean, you look...very...dashing."
James laughs, correctly interpreting my verbal train wreck as a compliment. "Thank you. And just for the record..." His expression softens as his grip tightens around my waist. "I was never once making fun of you all those years. I always meant what I said. I still do."
Well. What in blazes am I supposed to say to that?†
Evidently nothing, since my voice refuses to form any words as we continue to eye each other thoughtfully. I bite my lip pensively, looking down at our expertly moving feet, and as my gaze flits back to his, I notice he's much closer now. Our foreheads are nearly touching, my hand that isn't clutching his is resting against the nape of his neck, and he's leaning in ―
"Hand away from my bum, Potter," I snap suddenly, glaring at him. "Pronto."
"It's James now," he retorts cheerfully, but his hand immediately flies back up to my waist. Darn right.
I narrow my eyes. "That still doesn't give you licence to place your hand anywhere that isn't my waist."†
"Sorry, old habits die hard, I suppose," he replies cheekily.
I all but growl at him. "Try that again and I'll hex your hand off, Restriction of Underage Sorcery be dam ― "
Author's Note: So, I have the best readers in the world. Seriously. I feel awful that it's taken me this long to get this chapter up, but I've been busy with school and had a wicked case of writer's block. Thank you†so much for your patience, support, and incredibly kind reviews. I don't know if you realize, but they absolutely make my week and inspire me to write chapter after chapter (even when I'm feeling too lost to write anymore). So, THANK YOU, lovelies. :DDD
In other news, what a long chapter! But I hope you enjoyed it. Bear with Rory. I know she's being awful at times, but she's really just confused and is trying to put all that James business behind her so they can start afresh. I think she's finally growing up! Anyway, I'd seriously love to know what you thought! Tell me in a review if you have the time. Thanks so much for reading and following this!
- emma (:
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