Since “Potter’s Got It Bad” and “You’re Not Sorry”, I had been so keen to get back to James. Finally, I’ve written a sequel of sorts! I’ve based this chapter around a song by The Coronas called “Listen, Dear”, though “Won’t Leave You Alone” by the same band was also a huge influence! The flashback is set around the time of “Aurora, Enchanted”, and is part of my partially drafted novella about Albus’ fifth year. I hope you enjoy the chapter, and tell me what you think!
Edited 8th January 2012.
The best of me is seen by your side
The best of you, I just can't decide
James Potter was a stratagician. Albus told him that wasn’t a word, but James knew better. He could beat everyone, even Rose and Hugo, at Wizard Chess; he devised Quidditch plays that had Dominique wild with envy. He had gotten away with more pranks than was really right; the teachers knew it was him but couldn’t quite prove it.
He had two months left, he told himself, sketching wildly on a piece of parchment. Two months to win Charlotte back. Granted, some of that would be taken up by exams, but he had already made a study timetable that would allow him time for this. Unfortunately, halfway through the Quidditch season he’d had to hand over Gryffindor captaincy to Al to even give him time to think about exams. But then, that had always been the deal, he and Al got a year and a half each, then Lily would get captaincy for two years, once James’ strategies were firmly in place.
He heard rustling as his guests entered the owlery. He looked up, watching them all blink in confusion.
“James?” Rose asked.
“Yes?” he answered. He spoke calmly to assure them they were in the right place - as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be sitting under where the owls all fed, amongst the feathers and droppings. It was natural, when you preferred secrecy about such things like he did.
“Not to ask the obvious, but why are we here?”
James waved them in. “Come into my office, and lock the door behind you, would you? Any fancy-pants enchantments you deem necessary.”
Lily bounded over, clearing some space with her wand before sitting beside him, looking up at him expectantly. James nodded at her approvingly. He had trained her well.
Al and Eva Florick, Albus’ girlfriend, were grinning smugly at one another. They obviously knew what this was about. With Rose, they joined James and Lily.
“Your office? This is an owlery! If this is a prank, why isn’t Fred here?” Rose asked, suspiciously. “And why am I here? Surely you know I won’t take part.”
James ignored her. That was the only way to deal with Rose, sometimes. He began explaining himself to the others instead.
“Thank you for coming here. I am devising,” he waved his parchment at them before continuing. “I am devising a plan. One that will ensure Charlotte takes me back, on or before the last day of term.”
He waited for their reactions. Al and Eva took the parchment, as a team. They liked to act as a team, but thankfully weren’t mushy as a couple. Not like he and Char had been, he reminded himself. They studied it carefully.
Rose narrowed her eyes at him. “For Merlin’s sake, James, leave it be. You’re finally growing up now that you’re not with her anymore.”
“Stop, Rose.” Lily chimed in. She said it softly, but firmly. Their dad talked like that sometimes. “Leave Charlotte alone. I thought you liked her now, anyway?”
Rose shrugged. She had been forced to admit that Charlotte wasn’t as bad as she had initially thought. James privately thought that in ways the two were very similar. He didn’t dare say this out loud, though.
“And James has grown up because of her, remember?” Lily reminded her.
James had to agree to this. When they had gone out before, in sixth year, he’d been really full of it, which was why he lost her. A year on, he had changed, though he didn’t know if she really believed this.
“Eva,” James called, interrupting her whispers with Al. “You’re here for a reason. Go.”
This caused a joint bark of laughter from Eva and Al.
“I’m your spy, am I James?” she said dryly.
Eva and Charlotte had become firm friends this year, after Eva had reportedly helped Charlotte through the breakup. Eva and James had become friends too – she was like Al, only she didn’t cause trouble, and was less irritating to James than her boyfriend. In addition, she sometimes let him in on embarrassing secrets about Albus, which James always more than gratefully reciprocated.
Al looked at her, and nodded slightly. James started to grow impatient.
Eva spoke slowly. “Your plan is excellent, James, really well thought out. I see you have already engaged in “Step One: Befriend Charlotte, Again.” How’s “Step Two: Establish her Trust, Again” going?”
“Excellent,” James said, grinning proudly. “We studied together recently, and she confessed she was worried about – “
He cut himself off. Surely telling them about her exam concerns wouldn’t help things. “I can’t tell you that, she confided in me.”
Eva applauded him, jokingly, but he was sure she was saying he’d done the right thing.
“She tells me other stuff, about the future and her family stuff, more than she did when we were dating.”
“Step Three: Show her you’re not interested in girls anymore.” Al smirked. “You’re gay now?”
James scowled. “You know what I mean.”
Flirting had been the last straw – he didn’t even know he was doing it half the time and couldn’t help but enjoy the attention. Charlotte had broken up with him after she caught him entertaining some Hufflepuff girls who wanted to catch his eye. He didn’t hang around with girls much anymore – just his family, and Eva really. Recently, he had made sure she had overheard him politely declining a “walk” with a girl. Ho ho, he knew what a “walk” was, had he not invented the phrase?
“What’s next?” Lily asked.
“I’m glad you asked that, Lily.” He said. “Because I haven’t a clue. All I know is that she’s going to tell me that she still loves me on or before the last day of term.”
He could see Rose rolling her eyes.
“It worked for Granddad Potter though, the first James, didn’t it?” James challenged her.
He waited for someone to say “Yeah, but she actually loved him.” To his immense relief, no one did.
He turned to Al and Eva. “Well, suggestions?”
Al shook his head. “Just… just do what you told me, ok? Get over it.”
Everyone else looked puzzled for a moment, but James knew what he was talking about. He gave silent thanks to his brother, who nodded back gruffly.
“And talk to her; just tell her how you feel. That’s all you can do.” Al added, and Lily agreed, perhaps, as always, knowing more than she let on.
Rose nodded reluctantly. “You just have to talk it out with her. I know your plans are great, but you’re dealing with feelings here. You made her fancy you, but you can’t make her love you.”
He bit his lip in concentration, staring at the parchment. They all took it as a sign they could go now. He jotted down some notes, as he ran a hand through his hair, deep in thought.
“And don’t bloody mention the war!” Lily called, as she left. James kept his head down, not wanting her to see his grin.
Eva cleared her throat, stopping him from scribbling on the parchment. She was still sitting there after the others had left, her dark hair hanging heavily down, contrasting with the surroundings. She kind of looked like Char; she had pretty hair, they were both pale and about the same height, but that was where the similarity ended.
She wasn’t Charlotte – she didn’t have the pale green eyes, or the eyebrow that always arched as if she was questioning something. She didn’t put a red colour in her hair or paint her lips a dark red that annoyed McGonagall. She didn’t speak like her, or laugh like her. No one did.
“She loves you.” Eva said, smiling.
James froze. “What?” he whispered, though he wasn’t sure why he didn’t just speak normally.
She nodded. “Yeah, remember when you told her, at the start of the year? She did, even then. As much as people our age can, I suppose. She just wanted to make sure you really had changed.”
“Why didn’t you or Al tell me?” James barked. Merlin, he had just been feeling close to his idiot brother.
“It has nothing to do with me, or Al,” Eva said patiently.
James looked at her blankly. This is why he didn’t hang around with Ravenclaw types.
Eva reached forward, and touched his hand. “You told Al something last year that stopped him feeling so horrible. I think you need to take your own advice whatever it was, and tell Charlotte how you feel. About everything. Maybe even the war.”
She stood up, and gathered her things. “Thanks for asking for my help, James. I had hoped I’d get to come to one of your famous meetings before you left school, I was quite curious.”
James laughed at her as she left. Typical Ravenclaw.
They had been useful, though. He nodded to himself. He had a lot to think about.
He leaned back, narrowly missing owl droppings. Zazzles Potter, James’ cat stalked in. The owls were well used to the Potter cats, who roamed the school freely. They were all Lily’s cats really, James and Albus just pretended to own some, to make her look less weird. The last time he asked, she had eight cats on the grounds, with more at home. Filch let her away with anything, something unheard of in Hogwarts history. They had some crazy cat-person bond.
James patted Zazzles as he mused over what Al had said. He and Eva had been talking about what had happened when he was in sixth year and Al in fifth. Al had had a hard year, really struggling with being who he was. It had all come to a head just before Eva’s accident, and Al was unbearable to be around. He just sulked all the time, not speaking to anyone.
James had had enough, and resolved to sort it all out one day just before the exams.
James entered the hospital wing. He knew the place far too well, after so many botched prank attempts and Quidditch practices.
Al was sitting by the bed in the far corner. He hadn’t moved from there apart from classes. Al thought no one had noticed, but James had. He knew Al was taking his meals here, and seemed to have slept here some nights too. Merlin knew how he had gotten around the teachers. But then, he was a Potter. Things were different for them.
That was the problem. They had been normal before they all went to Hogwarts, everyone had. He had seen it happen to Teddy and Victoire especially, but the others too. Once he had started school himself, he’d stopped noticing. He was too worried about himself, but this year, with Albus, he saw it was happening to the others.
People treated them differently, because their parents had fought in the war. It was worse for James, Albus and Lily, their dad was their dad, and their mum was famous for being in the war and for being properly famous. But then, maybe James just thought his lot was worse because he had grown a big head about people caring about him, or whatever.
He sat down on an empty bed beside Eva’s making sure there was no one listening before he said his brother’s name.
Albus looked awful. He barely looked around at him, but James could see the pale face and sunken eyes. Good thing Eva couldn’t see him now; he’d been worrying constantly about his messy hair and stuff for weeks, since he finally decided he fancied her.
“Any change?” James asked, awkwardly. He barely knew Eva. He even believed Al thought she was annoying. Char told him he was being dense.
“I thought her hand twitched yesterday but… Madame Pomfrey thinks I’m hallucinating.”
“I didn’t even know you liked her.”
Al shook his head, looking pained. “I did, but… I don’t know. By the time I got it together I thought she was seeing someone. It was just a mess. I didn’t realise how important she was to me.”
Eva had been injured in a Quidditch game some weeks before. James didn’t notice her falling until Madame Hooch did something to break her fall. Al had though. He had hurtled towards her, but didn’t get there in time. She hadn’t woken up since.
“You’ve been acting weird all year.”
Al looked at him properly now, shocked that James had observed anything like that, obviously. He nodded, speechless.
“It’s not just because of Eva, is it? It’s because of who we are.”
“I hate it,” Al said, hollowly. “Having Dad’s eyes, looking like him. Having to live up to him, to Mum, to Ron and Hermione. To Dumbledore and Snape.”
“Your name is crap,” James nodded.
“Does everyone think that? I think Rose does, but the others…”
“Hide it well, I think. And I don’t just mean about the name.”
They looked at each other, and actually understood the other for once.
They sat there for hours, sitting in silence for a while, and then talking. They talked about everything; normal stuff like Quidditch and their family, and weird stuff. Like, how they actually liked Eva and Charlotte. How they wanted to spend time with them, not just kiss them and stuff. They talked about how they all had to be into Quidditch, good at school, and proud of their parents all the time.
He knew this was the conversation Eva was talking about, though she didn’t know the details. He had the feeling though, that Al was talking about something in particular that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
He picked up his things and cleaned up his temporary office. He would have to move again for next time; Filch was starting to narrow down the spots he could be planning in.
He stepped outside the office, and smelled air that was not polluted by owl droppings. He peered at Zazzles Potter, who seemed to be asleep. No matter, he’d carry him back to the common room. You never knew when Charlotte could be lurking around a corner, especially when he didn’t have his map to help him. Oh Jim! He thought, in an exaggerated version of her voice. You’re so caring!
He nodded to himself again, happily. He had this one in the bag.
James took the grounds at a run, outrunning Fred in a race to the lake. They had just finished their last exam, and he couldn’t wait to flop down on that warm, springy grass and –
Charlotte was there already, she had obviously finished before him. He had been about to stop dead, but inspiration struck and he kept moving right towards her, almost knocking her over.
“Charlotte!” he roared in her ear, pulling her into a bear hug before she could react. He half lifted her off the ground, burrowing his head into her lovely hair. “We did it! School’s finished!”
He heard the giggles of two of the seventh year girls she had been talking to; and relished in the feeling of a laugh starting in her chest as she hugged him back tightly.
He pulled away first, taking her in. He smiled before waving to her friends, not quite letting her go. He snaked his arm around her shoulder, and turned to Fred who had just caught up. He noted Fred’s bewildered expression at his proximity to Charlotte, and Charlottes arm taking its place hesitantly around his waist.
“What’s the verdict, everyone?” he boomed, trying to keep his tone friendly.
“Failed, definitely,” Fred said ruefully. The two girls nodded in agreement. Charlotte shook her head.
“I just can’t believe we’re finished here.”
James cocked his head. “It’s a good thing,” he said, gently, squeezing her arm a bit. “Don’t worry.”
She grinned up at him, and at that moment, he didn’t even care. He didn’t even care if Charlotte didn’t want to be with him, his plan had succeeded. He saw in her smile that she did love him, even if it wasn’t the same way he loved her. She saw beyond the strut, and everything else. She understood.
James packed the last of his things away. Organised as he was at times, he had postponed this last moment so he could have a quick final game of Quidditch with the team. Charlotte was right, he would miss this. All of this - the dormitory, eating in the Great Hall, even detention. It was like what Victoire had said – she only realised how much she loved the place as she was leaving.
She had been unbearable for years, thinking she owned Hogwarts. She had owned it – everyone wanted to be friends with her, or even be her. Hogwarts had done this to her. She had been normal once, and went back to normal again – once she got together with Teddy.
James stopped short. Something had clicked in his head, just there. Something about Victoire and Teddy. And strutting, possibly.
He shook it off as someone entered the dormitory.
“Charlotte,” he said, startled when he saw her.
They blinked at each other, stupidly.
“This is the boy’s dorms, Char.” He said slowly.
She laughed. “I know. I just – wanted to spend a minute with you before we left, you know?”
He nodded, sitting on his bed. She sat opposite on Fred’s. They were silent, for a moment.
“That was my Uncle Ron’s bed,” he said, pointing at Fred’s bed. “Apparently. This was my Dads. Nearly Headless Nick told me once.”
She smiled politely.
“On my first day,” he said nervously, pushing himself, “Nick told me I had a lot to live up to. Would you believe I didn’t know that at the time?”
Charlotte raised her eyebrows.
“Yeah,” he said, smiling. “I knew my parents had done a lot, or whatever, but I didn’t count on everyone remembering. I just wanted to make Mum and Dad proud, not Harry and Ginny Potter.”
“All my cousins went weird, Char, I’m only really getting this now. They were all normal, and then they went to Hogwarts and went weird. Teddy was the worst, and Victoire, but it’s happened to the rest of us too.”
He was fidgeting, playing with a chess piece in his hand
“I think that’s why I was so full of it. All of a sudden, I was famous. And everyone always reminds me, even the teachers. And when they don’t I want them to. Now I actually want them to tell me I’m special, as if I’ve done something myself.”
Charlotte was looking at him, open mouthed.
“Sorry,” he said, internally groaning. He hadn’t wanted it to end up like this. “I’m turning into Al now.
“It’s just – I don’t know. I suppose I knew it, but only you ever called me on it. When we were together, that is. And the hardest part of watching you go, then, was that. I’m not making sense. It was knowing you weren’t going to call me a git. It was, like, knowing I was going to turn into a little git because you weren’t there to tell me off.
I like myself a lot better when you’re there, Char.” He finished lamely, as it all clicked into place.
She stood up, and walked over. “Stand up, James,” she said, quietly, brushing her thick hair out of her eyes.
“What?” he asked, not really grasping what she meant, his mind was so full.
“If I kiss you on your Dad’s bed I’ll never be able to look at either of your parents again.”
“Freak,” he mumbled, as jumped to his feet, and kissed her.
Finally, he smiled to himself as he enclosed her in his arms, things were right again.
He wished he could tell them, as Charlotte pulled away, saying she needed to finish packing. She drifted away, telling him to meet her on the train, pausing at the door to say three words he had needed to hear, telling him she loved him, before disappearing away.
He leaned against the bed post, wishing he could tell the rest of them, the ones who hadn’t figured it out yet. Fred and the rest. But then, he thought, turning towards his trunk, stratagician or not he had been dense enough only to get it now. They’d all figure it out eventually, the thing that Victoire and Teddy had figured out, what got them over themselves.
He locked his trunk, and made his way back to the girl he loved.
Love is all you need.