Chapter 1 : Limbo
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“JAMES SIRIUS POTTER YOU GET DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW OR I’M – ”
“I’M COMING GOD DAMN IT!”
Angry, loud thumps that were James Potter II’s footsteps down the stairs filled the Potter household. The boy – nay, man – slammed the book he was reading (an old copy of Quidditch through the ages that had been dog-eared numerous times) onto the table where his father was seated, and stomped into the kitchen.
“What?” he snapped at the woman whose long, red hair was sitting on a heap at the top of her head. Her eyes blazed and she brandished a spatula that was previously swimming in stew before his face.
“I told you to be ready in ten minutes half an hour ago! Rose is going to be here any minute now! You better put some decent clothes on or I swear I will throw this pot of stew over your head!” Ginny said angrily, the colour rushing to her face. Between the red robe she was wearing, her hair, and the now reddened shade of her face, she looked like a walking, talking Norwegian dragon. James Potter snorted at her and ran a hand through his hair, climbing back up the stairs. He pulled off his tattered jumper and changed into a pair of faded jeans and a shirt that smelt of Grandma Molly’s pie. Once back downstairs, he seated himself with his father and began leafing through the book again.
“Feeling alright, James?” Harry Potter asked, looking at his son curiously. Of his three children, James was probably the one he understood least, and he blamed it on his son’s lack of communication.
“Fine,” came the reply, followed by the noise of several pages being flipped in a hurry. James then stopped and looked up at his father, who was looking increasingly worried. “I just don’t get why she has to stay with us. I mean, I know it’s a big house, but if she’s Rosie’s best friend, she can stay with her, yeah?”
“You were there when Ron said they were having accommodation problems,” Harry reasoned, scratching his neck. “And plus, she’s here for Lily’s wedding, not anything else. It’ll just be a few months of adjusting. There’ll be so much to do before the wedding that you probably won’t notice.”
“Fine. But I don’t get why I have to be here. I can just help out from my apartment – ”
“Your apartment that you haven’t paid the rent for in two months?” came a snarky response from the kitchen.
“It’s not my fault I can’t find a bloody job!” James said, infuriated, slamming his hands on the table.
“Everybody’s having a hard time finding a job, James,” Harry said, taking a deep breath, thinking he would sprout another ten grey hairs by the time the conversation was finished. “But look at this way – with the wedding round the corner, you really don’t want to have a job in the way as well.”
“Right. You just keep making excuses and think it’ll make me feel better,” he mumbled and stared absentmindedly at the open book before him.
At that moment, the door swung open and a beyond excited Lily Potter entered the house. “I’m home!”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” James muttered and she swooped in and threw her arms around him.
“I’m so glad you’re staying with us. We never get to hear enough of your snark and sarcasm when you’re at that ugly apartment,” she gave him a kiss on the forehead and he cringed internally.
“SO!” she announced, pulling out another chair next to her father. “I just had brunch with Jean-Pierre and his parents – ”
“We know. Please don’t bother telling us how it was.” James said, standing up and proceeding to go back up to his bedroom.
“Shut up, James,” said Ginny, emerging from the kitchen. “How was it, Lily?”
As Lily began to prattle, he climbed back up the stairs and collapsed face down onto his old bed. The room was decked with posters of the Chuddley Cannons and the infamous Wizarding band Splutter. The duvet probably hadn’t been changed since he left to his apartment in Surrey a year and a half back, and there were remains of his snacks bought on his last trip on the Hogwarts express lying under a pair of muddy boots.
James had never felt this lost or dazed ever before. He had cruised through his years at Hogwarts with top marks and as Quidditch captain for three years straight, he was much loved by everybody. He had a good bunch of friends and was respected by everybody. And then he was thrown out into the real world and his face slammed right into a pole.
James had no intention of becoming an Auror like both his parents. Being the first son of the fabulous Harry Potter puts you under a lot of scrutiny from the general public. There was a two page article on poor James in the Daily Prophet when they heard he was going to do proper Quidditch training instead of Auror training. And when they found out he didn’t get selected for the Leagues – oh my, it was a shameful day for the Potter family indeed. Two years after graduating from Hogwarts he managed to land a job as a columnist for Blab, a little community paper. The job was in Manchester, and so he moved there. He lasted about two years, till he realized writing about Muggle oil leaks were not his forte. Over the next few years he shuffled between teaching home-schooled wizards and witches how to play Quidditch and writing Quidditch related articles for a newspaper nobody had heard of. Then Lily decided to get married and Ginny forced him to come back (“I’ll take you under my wing and you’ll shine once again, my darling boy” she had said, in one of her more emotional conversations over the phone).
So there he was. Lying face down on his old bunk, wondering what the bugger to do with his life.
“JAMES? YOU BETTER NOT BE SLEEPING! GET DOWN HERE AT ONCE – THEY’RE HERE!”
This time he swore and dragged himself out of bed, nearly falling down the stairs because of his lack of enthusiasm. He could hear excited female voices and the occasional comment from his father. Reluctantly, he stepped out of the shadows and into the bright living room.
“Ruby look, James is here!” Rose Weasley cried, as if James was a rare specimen one would find at a zoological park. He gave his cousin a wide, fake smile (one she was too accustomed to) and turned his attention to the girl who was unwrapping herself from his mother’s embrace. The second their eyes met, her face froze, somewhere between bloody-hell and the wide smile she had been giving everybody else.
“Hi,” she said, looking bewildered but smiling nevertheless. James Potter couldn’t believe what he was looking at, but he managed to remain calm and composed. She took a few steps in front and gave him a small, awkward hug.
“You look different,” he noted, cocking his head to the side and examining her.
She laughed but it came out as a snort. “So do you. I see you lost the glasses.”
He just nodded and Ginny cleared her throat. “THERE’S CAKE IN THE KITCHEN EVERYBODY!”
Lily made a yelp and made a dash for the kitchen, grabbing Ruby and Rose along, leaving James once again with his father.
“That wasn’t so bad, right? Why don’t you show her to room after?” Harry asked and all he got was a shrug. James was too interiorly stunned by Ruby’s appearance. She had changed so much over the last ten years. He expected to see her with her long, brown curls and there she was, two bloody inches taller than she was in Hogwarts, her hair dyed black and cut short. She still had sharp, intelligent features and those skinny, gangly limbs. But there was something so drastically different about her.
“She’s different,” James whispered, as he and his father moved back to the sitting room while the girls crooned over Ginny’s cake.
“It’s been ten years, hasn’t it? And maybe it’s just her appearance.”
“No, she seems different. I mean, not that I knew her much in Hogwarts,” he mumbled and Harry chuckled. James looked up at his father, his eyebrow raised. Harry just shrugged.
Dinner was uncomfortable to say the least, till the Weasleys landed up. After everybody had said hello and had seated themselves at the large dinner table, everybody turned their attention to Ruby.
“What is it you do, Ruby?” Hermione asked eagerly. “I do love the green shawl you were wearing, by the way. The one on the door is yours, isn’t it?”
“Oh yes, it is!” Ruby said, smiling politely. “I work for a magazine in New York. They’re one of the best fashion catalogues in the world.”
“But what do you do, exactly?” interjected Ginny and Ruby’s head snapped to the other end of the table.
“I work in PR. It’s a crazy job but you get to go to all the shows and the pay is very good – ”
“Oh, maybe you can find James a job! He writes about Quidditch,” Ginny said and her guest swallowed.
“Well, it’s a Muggle magazine,” she said laughing. “They obviously don’t know much about Quidditch. Is it hard finding a job here?”
“Don’t get any of us started on it,” Ron said, his head finally surfacing from his plate laden with food. “Hugo’s scrambling all over the place trying to get one, and he’s an Auror. And I’ve read James’ articles, they’re bloody hilarious. If he can’t get a job, then no one will.”
There were many things James didn’t like, one of which was being the topic of discussion. He loved it when he was at Hogwarts, but ever since he moved away from his family and friends, he just found it plain awkward.
“Anyway, we’re starting prep for Lily’s wedding next week,” Ginny announced and everybody cheered.
“Let’s toast to our sanities, shall we?” Ron said and everybody laughed. “Isn’t that little French fart you’re marrying coming by the way?”
Lily gasped, but started to laugh anyway and Hermione smacked his arm.
“Jean-Pierre,” she emphasized. “Had to go to Newcastle for some urgent work. That’s why we decided to have brunch today.”
“Oh, by the way I was meaning to ask!” Ruby said suddenly, sitting up straight in her chair. “Have you got a dress? And have you done a make-up trial? What about shoes?”
“No, that’s first on our list. Hermione and I made up a sort of agenda for everybody. We’ll get to it after dinner,” Ginny said pleasantly, serving everybody more pie.
The agenda was mental, of course. The girls – Lily, Ruby, Rose, Ginny and Hermione – were going to start with things such as ordering the cake, flowers, venue decorations and of course, figure out what to do about the dress, tiara, shoes and make up. The blokes who were present – which was only really Ron, Harry and James – would start with cleaning up the gardens and pruning the lawns.
“We’ll get Albus, Hugo and Teddy to chip in later, whenever they get here,” Hermione said, going over her notes. “Is this alright with everybody?”
“I brought the catalogues like you asked me, Lil,” Ruby said, sitting opposite James and farthest away from the fireplace. “We could go through some of the dress designs from there and either mash them up or duplicate one of them entirely.”
“I can’t wait!” cried Lily, who looked so happy James almost hoped she would explode.
Rose showed Ruby to her room – Lily’s old one, before she moved to Cardiff with JP – and left with her parents. By the time everyone had settled in and retired to their beds, it was nearing midnight. James lay wide awake in bed, wondering how much longer he was supposed to endure this for. All this incessant talk about confetti and shoes and cake. Did it even matter? And if it wasn’t bad enough having his parents breathe down his neck constantly, Ruby being there was no added bonus.
He tossed and turned for a couple of hours, going through his mother’s old strategy journals from her days in the Harpies, before he got out of bed and went down the stairs, wand light. He stopped in his tracks when he almost bumped into the skinny figure in front of him.
“Bollocks! I’m so sorry! I just got out of the shower and it’s freezing inside the – ”
“It’s alright,” James managed, and walked past Ruby.
He stopped again and turned to find Ruby looking at him with a confused expression on her face. Her hair was wet and her bangs lay flat on her forehead. In the dim light from James’ wand, her cheekbones looked high and perfectly chiselled. She looked powerful and sure. Except for her expression.
“Yes?” he asked and she realized she had been staring at him.
“I just – ” she shrugged. “It’s been a while.”
“Ten years,” James said simply, shrugging his shoulders.
“How are you?”
“We went through this downstairs,” he said, once again in a bored monotone, and Ruby looked surprised. She nodded.
“Well then, I’m going to ... good night,” she gave him a tight lipped smile and turned around, and James rolled his eyes, swearing.
“Wait,” he said, trying not to sound bored. She turned around and looked at him, a knowing expression on her face.
“It’s okay. Don’t bother.”
She gave him a small smile and went back into her room, shutting the door behind him, leaving him bewildered and slightly surprised.
Maybe she was the same after all.
And that’s when James Potter knew he was doomed.
chapter image by Bear&Fox at TDA