Chapter 3 : Third
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Sunday. The one day of the week you had hoped wouldn't come around. Normally you’d look forward to Sundays, particularly Weasley family lunch Sundays, but you’re not really looking forward to this one.
It’s been over two weeks since you argued with your parents, and you still haven’t spoken to them or your siblings. You got an owl from Lily the Thursday evening after the argument, saying that she hoped that you weren’t angry with her for not taking your side, although she wouldn’t blame you if you were, and that she thinks you should just talk to your parents about it and sort something out because letting arguments fester never helps anyone. Neither of your parents or Albus has said anything. You imagine that your dad won’t have contacted you because he’ll want you to calm down, and your mum will be too stubborn to crack first. Albus… well, he’ll have been busy, you rationalise it to yourself. He’s a professional Quidditch player, after all.
Nevertheless, you can’t help but feel a certain amount of apprehension as you get dressed, fishing a clean pair of jeans out of the pile of clothes on the chair (you eventually caved in and took your washing to the laundrette when you realised that you only had a t-shirt and one pair of trousers left that didn’t have jam or something on them), your hands moving mechanically as they force the button through the hole and pull the zip up.
You’ve never yet been to a family lunch while not on speaking terms with your parents. It feels odd, almost wrong, and you wonder what the rest of the family will think. Sure, others have had arguments with their parents and siblings before - Molly once refused to attend because she was arguing with Aunt Audrey - but you think you’ve broken all previous records by not talking to them for two weeks. It’s a long time, you now realise, longer than you thought it was.
“I’m a Gryffindor,” you mutter to yourself, scanning your reflection to make sure the shirt you’re wearing isn’t the one that had the ketchup stain on it (you’re not sure how good muggle washing machines are at getting stains out, and you’re terrible at cleaning charms so you wouldn’t even bother to try). “I’m a Gryffindor. I’m a Gryffindor.”
A quick glance at the clock tells you that it’s twenty-five to twelve. While Nana never sets a time for people to be round at the Burrow - assuming that everyone will be there for lunch at about one o’clock - most people turn up at about eleven, to chat and catch up on what’s happened in the last month. You can’t delay going much longer or Nana Molly will be swirling through the Floo to come and fetch you.
Shuffling through into the lounge, you take a handful of Floo powder, tossing it in the lit fire.
“The Burrow!” you call, stepping quickly into the emerald flames.
Less than a minute later, you’re stumbling out of the fireplace into the kitchen of the Burrow, grabbing onto the wooden table right in front of you for support.
“James!” Nana Molly exclaims, pulling you into a tight hug, completely missing your lack of balance as always. “It’s so good to see you, dear!”
Beaming, she releases you, holding your upper arms as she’s not quite tall enough to reach your shoulders, and looks you up and down with a critical eye.
“You should eat more,” she tuts at you, an admonishment so familiar that you can’t help but smile. “You’re looking very thin. You’re always welcome to come around for dinner, you know, dear.”
“I know,” you assure her. “I might take you up on that offer soon.”
“Running out of food in your flat?” Nana Molly gives you a look that’s torn between amusement and exasperation, but you know that she doesn’t really mind. If she did, you’d be getting an earful - and when it comes to her cooking Nana Molly is fiercely competitive. She wants to feed you, wants to feel needed and hates being refused any opportunity to cook, no matter what the occasion or the food needed.
You just offer a sheepish grin in response. It’s not entirely true: while you do have enough food in your flat, nothing can beat Nana Molly’s cooking - not even the house-elves’ at Hogwarts. Any invitation is always accepted without the slightest hesitation. Not to mention that, as a relatively poor young man, offers of free food generally get pounced on as soon as the words have left the mouth of the person offering.
Nana Molly chuckles lightly, a fond smile gracing her face and she shoos you through to the garden, a stray lock of greying hair darting across her face with the wind. Aunt Audrey passes you in the hallway, giving you a quick, harassed smile, followed by Aunt Fleur, chattering away easily.
“Out you go, dear,” Nana Molly tells you, indicating the large marquee that’s been part of the Weasley garden since the year you turned eleven. “Everyone else is here - well, everyone who’s coming, anyway.”
There’s a slight frown, a crease between her eyes as she says it and you wonder who didn’t come - and why. What excuse could possibly be good enough to miss Nana Molly’s Sunday lunch?
You had barely stepped out into the garden, carefully avoiding the little muggle gnome sitting by the back door in his red hat that Granddad Arthur is so fond of, before you hear someone shout your name.
Looking up, you spot Fred grinning at you, waving from his spot beside Ariadne and Hugo, his pink shirt blindingly obvious even in the weak sunlight.
“Hey guys,” you smile back, giving Ariadne a quick wink, which she returns. “How are you all?”
“We’re great,” Fred tells you, shooting a lopsided smile in his girlfriend’s direction. “Aren’t we?”
Rolling her eyes, she nevertheless assures you that they both are great, tucking a strand of red-tipped hair behind one ear, and adding that she doesn’t need anyone to talk on her behalf, thank you very much, as she’s perfectly capable of speaking for herself.
Hugo beckons you away from the bickering couple, and the two of you move a little way away, closer to the marquee.
“So,” he says, his voice low, watching you closely. “When are you going to talk to them?”
“To who?” you query, confused as to what he’s talking about.
“Your parents, James,” he reminds you patiently. “You’ve got to talk to them at some point - and it might as well be today. You know how Uncle Harry hates making a scene, as he calls it. You’re pretty much safe here.”
“I don’t know,” you shrug. “I’ll see.”
In truth, you don’t really want to talk to your parents. You’re not really sure if you even want to see them. You do, though, want things to be back the way they were, without any effort from you - just want to ignore the argument you had and act like it never happened. It’s not the best way to do things, you know, but it’s the easiest way and the easiest way is looking very attractive at the moment when your parents are sitting at the table under the marquee, talking quietly to one another and occasionally shooting you the odd look.
You don’t need to guess what they’re talking about - it’s obvious they’re talking about you, probably trying to decide which one of them is going to be lumped with the task of talking to you, of trying to solve the problem. You just wish they’d be a bit more subtle about it; everyone must know by now that you had an argument, even if they - by some miracle - hadn’t known before. Thankfully, though, no one else even looks twice at you, far too used to people arguing with one another to pay your parents’ obvious actions any mind.
“You really should talk to them,” Hugo persists. “Uncle Harry at least. You know he’ll underst -”
“Lunch is ready!” Nana Molly shouts, appearing in the doorway, the little yellow apron around her waist rumpled, her hands smoothing it down absently.
You chance another glance at your parents. Seeing them both still sitting at the table, still talking, you make a split-second decision.
“Save me a seat,” you instruct Hugo, walking off before he can say another word about how imperative it is that you talk to your parents.
As soon as you step back inside the Burrow, you can feel yourself relax, safely out of the sight of your parents, safe from any unwanted conversations, safe from Hugo’s persistent advice about what you should, when and how you should do it.
Inside the small kitchen, Nana Molly is standing to one side, directing those around her with the air of an army sergeant, keeping a careful eye on everything that’s going on. Somehow she's managing to check that not a drop of beef stew is getting spilt or a single pea is left behind and that Uncle Percy is being careful enough (in her eyes) as he slices baked jacket potatoes, at the same time as explaining to Aunt Hermione how to knit the underarms of jumpers.
“James,” Nana Molly smiles at you. “Do you mind seeing to the drinks? I think Arthur put them in the sitting room - there’s not enough space in here for everything, you see. I’ll send someone else through to help you in a minute.”
With a nod, you turn back and slip into the sitting room, pausing a moment to let Victoire pass you, levitating a pair of casseroles filled with vegetables.
Sure enough, on the low table in the centre of the room are a collection of drinks, ranging from wine to pumpkin juice and water, ice bobbing in the top of the large, glass jugs. Your eyes scan the table quickly, counting them in seconds. Eleven - far too many for you to levitate on your own. Even with two of you, you imagine it’ll take both of you a couple of trips each to levitate them all out. Levitating liquids, you know from experience, is more difficult than levitating solid objects. You have to be careful not to leave any bit of it behind, to make sure none of it spills over the sides or that you don’t end up just holding the liquid and not the bottle.
Somehow, you don’t think Uncle Bill would be amused if you poured pumpkin juice all over his lap for a second time.
“Oh, Harry,” you hear Nana Molly exclaim and you freeze, waiting with a feeling of inevitability to hear what she’ll give him to do. “Can you help James with the drinks, please? He’s in the sitting room.”
“Of course, mum,” your dad’s voice responds easily.
Footsteps sound in the hall. Although your dad’s an inch shorter than you and built like a twig, each step he takes towards you seems unusually loud and heavy to your ears. Hurriedly, you glance down at the drinks, pulling your wand out of your pocket and trying your best to look busy - as though you’re part way through doing something. Maybe that way he won’t talk to you - he’ll leave it for another time.
“Right, so we need to take these all through,” you begin, the words tumbling out of your mouth quickly, almost tripping over one another to get out in as little time as possible, to leave him no time to say anything at all. “If you start with the reds, I’ll take the -”
“James,” he interrupts you, his tone firm and quiet, one you’re familiar with. “We need to talk.”
“Oh,” you find yourself at a loss of what to say. I know? Yes? Lying in this kind of situation is pointless - you both know you need to talk, you both know exactly what you need to talk about. There’s nothing to fabricate or find a way around.
“Your mum and I were talking -” Harry begins slowly, moving further into the room and closing the door behind himself, pushing it shut with one hand flat against the wood before continuing. “Your mum and I were talking and we came to the conclusion that, well, we were perhaps being a bit unreasonable.”
You don’t know what to say. Unable to think of any response which you feel would be appropriate for this situation, one you never saw coming, you simply nod once and wait for him to say anything more. There’s always a ‘but’, after all.
“But,” yes, there it was. You just hoped it wasn’t that they still wanted you to move or something like that - because there was no way you were going to, definitely not since they’d effectively admitted that their demands had been ridiculous. “We just wanted you to know that we were only concerned for you - it wasn’t because we want to take away your independence or anything like that. Your mum and I just feel that perhaps you’d be safer in a different neighbourhood, that’s all.”
“I know,” your voice reappears again to allow to you speak. “I just… I don’t want to move. I like the area, even if it is a bit… well, seedy. It’s close to work and shops and things.”
Breaking off, you give a shrug and look away again. You can’t really explain why you like the area. It is seedy, it’s not the nicest or most attractive part of town and you don’t really like your flat that much either. On the other hand, it’s your flat, it’s your home and it’s your first shot at living on your own. Staying there for just over two years doesn’t feel enough.
Harry nods, giving you a small smile.
“I understand - I loved my first house too. Moving out of it was one of the hardest things I ever did,” he tells you and you give him a curious look - not just because of the faintly wistful tone of his voice (which you haven’t heard often) but also because you’ve never heard him speak about the house he’d had before he and your mum moved into the house they now have. “We trust you, James, and agreed that if there were a problem, or anything going on, you’d tell us immediately. We just worry, that’s all, and the reports I’ve heard about that area… well, I’m sure you have some idea of what I hear. Just stay safe, okay?”
“I will,” you promise easily. “I spend most of my time round Hugo’s at the moment and there’s nowhere safer. I’m more likely to be killed by the amount of polish in the air than some drunk wizard on the street.”
He chuckles, green eyes flashing with humour. Hugo’s cleaning habits are well known throughout the family.
“We should probably get these outside before Molly wonders where we’ve got to,” he tells you, looking at the bottles with a mildly sheepish air. “She’ll probably send Ginny in after us, and I’d rather avoid that.”
“Nah, she’d send Uncle Percy,” you correct him thoughtfully. “You know he’s like regarding punctuality.”
“Let’s just get going,” Harry says hastily, drawing his wand and pointing it at the three bottles of white wine sitting pretty on the table. “Wingardium Leviosa!”
As you follow suit, the red bottles of wine lining up neatly to march out of the room ahead of you, the hand holding your wand steady, you realise that you feel lighter somehow, as though just talking to your dad had lifted a load of your shoulders.
The worst thing is that along with that boost comes the realisation that, unfortunately, Hugo was right. You immediately decide not to tell him - he’d never let you live it down if he found out.
“Excuse me,” you mutter, trying your best to slip through the crowd of late-night shoppers surging sedately down Diagon Alley. You’re late - it’s quarter past five and you agreed to meet at five o’clock sharp - and you’re beginning to feel a slight touch of panic. If you’re too late, after all, he could just leave. He’s not under any obligation to stay, it’s just a casual meeting, just a couple of drinks and the odd basket of chips. Nothing important, nothing he couldn’t miss for fear of retribution.
An elderly man in a pair of dusty blue robes gives you a sharp glare as you shove past him, muttering something that sounds like ‘really, young people these days’, but you don’t stop to say anything, simply murmuring a soft apology and carrying on.
The journey down the alley takes far longer than you’d anticipated and, once again, you berate yourself silently for not having left sooner. ‘I didn’t notice the time’ seems like such a feeble excuse, no matter how true it is, and you wish you had something more solid. Something like ‘my uncle was sick and I was the only one around to look after him’, perhaps.
Opening the door to the Leaky Cauldron, the metal handle cool under your hand in the evening air, you shut it behind you as you enter. Your eyes are already scanning the room, looking for him, trying to pick him out from the tables and tables of other patrons also present.
It doesn’t take you long to spot him: he’s sitting alone at a small, rickety table in one corner of the room, two glasses of Butterbeer already on the table (that makes you feel even worse - he’s ordered you a drink and you’re late). In the pub, he looks so very out-of-place, even more so than he did the first time you came here. He’s too well-dressed, too clean and polished and poised.
At the bar, Hannah Longbottom spots you and shoots you a smile and a friendly wink as she wipes down the surface with a wet towel.
Weaving your way easily through the tables, brushing past a waitress - a girl you vaguely recognise from being in the year above you at Hogwarts, although you were sure her hair was longer then, and not quite so violently blonde - carrying an empty tray in one hand, you reach him eventually, claiming the seat opposite with a slight smile, unzipping your jacket and tossing it to one side.
“Hey,” you begin, your breathing beginning to even out from your dash through the alley. “Were you waiting long?”
“Only about five minutes,” he admits, his sunglasses laid out to one side, the golden entwined ‘DG’ glimmering softly in the low lighting. “Work overran, so I was a bit later than expected.”
“Oh, that’s annoying,” you nod, privately thinking that while it might be annoying for him, it’s relieving for you. If he was ten minutes late, you being just over fifteen minutes tardy doesn’t seem quite so bad. “Do you often work on Sundays?”
“Sometimes,” he shrugs once, delicately, his blazer - a deep navy blue this time - rising and falling with the movement of his shoulders. “It depends on what days they can book.”
It’s only when he says that - working on Sundays and that it involves booking days - that you realise you don’t actually know what he does for a living. You’re certain he’s not an Auror or a Healer, since you would probably have heard of him before now considering you have cousins who work in both those professions. Besides, you muse, neither of them have ever said anything about booking days. What job he does is hardly important as such, but it’s something that’s piqued your curiosity now, something you’d like to find out if only for the sake of knowing.
Reaching down, you pick up your glass of Butterbeer, trying to think of a smooth, casual way to ask him, without bluntly demanding outright. The taste of the salty, bubbly liquid on your tongue reminds you of something that slipped your mind since you entered the pub and first spotted him.
“Thanks for this,” you say with an easy smile. “You didn’t need to get anything.”
The corners of his mouth tilt upwards, eyes warming as he smiles back.
“It wasn’t a problem,” he assures you quietly. “Although you’re getting the next round.”
“Sure,” you agree instantly, your smile morphing into a grin. “So, what do you do that means you have to work on Sundays? Are you a Healer or something?”
You can’t keep the curiosity out of your voice - you really do want to know. You’re interested and it’s not just because you find him an interesting person but also because there’s absolutely no clue in anything he’s said or anything he wears to indicate what he does. It’s a mystery, and you love solving mysteries, although you think you might need a little bit of help with this one.
“No,” for the first time since you’ve met him he seems a little uncomfortable. Not embarrassed as such, but uncomfortable, as though he’s unsure of himself. That, if anything, makes you even more curious. “I’m… I’m a model.”
“A model?” you glance over him appraisingly, without thinking. Well, that certainly explains why he’s always perfectly dressed, you think. For a moment you wonder why you didn’t guess that sooner - he’s definitely handsome enough to be a model, chiselled and elegant at the same time. “Which label do you work for?”
“Laurent Saignier,” he tells you, relaxing back into his chair again, once more looking perfectly at ease. “The contract doesn’t allow me to do anything for anyone else.”
That explains it. The feeling that you’ve seen him before somewhere - the idea that you knew his face, recognised him, is absolutely and utterly correct because you have seen him before somewhere. Although you don’t make a habit of wandering down the more upper-class end of Diagon Alley, you’ve been forced to pop in every now and then to get dress robes for Ministry parties and other formal occasions and that would be where you’ve seen him. Advertising the Saignier range outside their glass-fronted store, watching you from a poster, the wind blowing past him, making the clothes sway gently around him.
Another thought, another realisation hits you like a Bludger thumping into your head. Hugo. Hugo works at Laurent Saignier. Hugo does photoshoots for Laurent Saignier. They must, you know, have met. They must know each other. Suddenly, the world feels a lot smaller than it did a second ago.
“Do you know Hugo Weasley?” you ask curiously, taking another sip of your Butterbeer.
Opposite you, he nods and swallows a mouthful of drink, placing the glass on the table before speaking.
“Yes, I know him. Tall, blue-eyed, right? He’s one of the photographers,” he replies. “I haven’t worked with him much yet, but a couple of the others have and they say he’s really good.”
You grin - both at the praise for your favourite cousin, which you don’t usually hear people saying, and at the satisfying knowledge that your guess was correct.
“He’s my cousin,” you inform him. “My favourite cousin, to be honest.”
He gives you an amused smile which lingers a little longer than the others he’s shot in your direction. It feels less measured, less careful, more natural.
“I know that. He’s a Weasley and you’re a Potter: it’s obvious,” he points out.
“No, it’s not - neither of us are ginger,” you retort, trying not to smile yourself. It’s hard and you can feel it escaping slightly at the corners, leaking out from behind the mask you’re attempting to put on.
“You don’t need to be ginger,” he counters swiftly, giving a soft laugh. “Your surnames do all the work for you. Being ginger would just prove that you’re both more Weasley than anything else.”
“And that we have no souls,” you add, mostly to yourself. Lily had come across that joke when you were much younger and had been saying it repeatedly ever since, ignoring the fact that she herself has a full head of auburn hair.
He just gives you a confused look, fingertips tapping idly on the side of his glass. Evidently he’s never heard such a joke before and has no idea how it makes sense - it doesn’t, so that’s not particularly odd - or what to do or say in response. For all he knows, you could be serious, believing that people with red hair have no souls or something weird like that.
A moment later, you catch yourself wondering what his blood status is. It doesn’t matter, of course, but if he doesn’t know muggle references like that, it’s likely that he’s a pureblood.
You don’t ask, though - you couldn’t ask. What would you say? ‘Are you a pureblood?’ It would seem judgemental, accusatory, as though you can’t be friends with purebloods, as though you don’t like purebloods, think they’re lesser people or something like that. You would give him completely the wrong impression, probably offend him whether he is a pureblood or not, and end up losing your fledgling friendship. You keep your mouth firmly shut, pushing that thought away, muffling your curiosity.
“Why don’t people with red hair have souls?” he asks you, mystified.
“It’s just a joke my sister told me years ago,” you explain hastily. “A muggle thing, I think. I can’t really explain it - it doesn’t make sense, but Uncle George finds it hilarious.”
He’d found it almost too hilarious the first time the line had popped out of Lily’s mouth one winter afternoon. While your dad and Uncle Ron looked on, both of them wearing faintly bemused expression, Uncle George had gripped the table for support, clutching his stomach, his fake ear wobbling with the force of his laughter. Tears had flowed and he’s only comment had been to later lament that it was a pity he couldn’t think of a way to work that into a gag for his joke shop.
“Oh, right,” the man opposite you nods, as though that explains everything. It doesn’t, but you can’t really give a better explanation than that and it allows the conversation to move to perhaps safer ground. “Does your sister often tell jokes?”
“Sometimes,” you consider the question thoughtfully. “Lily likes telling people things - anything, really. If she gets the chance she’ll tell you all about a muggle festival in Nottingham, the current weather in Thailand and how she discovered a new type of plug the other day. Jokes get the same treatment. When she hears one she thinks is funny, she won’t stop telling it every time you see her until she finds something new to talk about or you all get sick of it.”
“That sounds annoying,” he comments, his tone faintly sympathetic, dark eyes glancing to one side of you briefly.
“It’s not as annoying as it sounds,” you shrug, accidentally putting your hand down on a particularly sticky part of the table and moving it away immediately, loath to touch the skin in case you end up not being able to pull your fingers away again. “She generally finds new things to talk about very quickly. What about you? Do you have any annoying younger sisters?”
“No,” he shakes his head lightly. “I’m an only child. I’ve never had the chance to be annoyed by a younger sister.”
“I could lend you one of my cousins, if you like?” you offer teasingly. “I’m sure my family wouldn’t mind too much.”
“I think I’ll pass on that one,” he smiles slightly.
His hand curls around his glass and he lifts it up, tilting it until the edge meets his lips. Letting his head fall backwards slowly, smoothly, he pours the last of the Butterbeer down his throat, eyes closing briefly. It’s over soon, though, as he puts the glass back down on the table.
You try to think of something to say, but your mind is surprisingly blank. The weather is the only idea you have at the moment and, well, that’s just ridiculous. Besides, the weather is normal for London at this time of the year, so the conversation would be even duller than otherwise.
What else could you talk about? Music? Books? Quidditch? Surely there must be something, you think, racking your brain for something clever - or at least something that isn’t stupid.
At that moment, you spot Hannah slipping through the maze of tables over towards you, a tray balancing on the fingertips of one hand. She dodges past a man tipping his chair back onto the two hind legs, and a woman stretching her arms behind her head, a small glass on the table in front of her. The two mugs of Butterbeer wobble slightly on the metal tray, one of them coughing a drop of liquid over the edge, running all the way down to the base, slipping into the join between tray and glass.
“Hello, James,” she smiles at you, the skin around her blue eyes crinkling. “These are on the house. Enjoy, boys.”
You manage to give her a quick, fleeting smile in return, although it disappears as soon as she turns away, the drinks left on the table in front of the two of you. This is the part that you always hate: how people treat you like you’re special because of who your dad is. They give you free drinks when you don’t even ask for them, they open doors for you and refuse to let you pay for things, insisting on giving you extra little treats and frills just because your surname is Potter. Even though Hannah’s a family friend and you know she’s not doing it because she’s in awe of your dad or anything like that (she’s probably one of the nicest people you’ve ever met and giving people things is just in her nature), it still irks you.
Opposite you, he frowns, picking up on the shift in your mood, having seen the whole exchange between you and Hannah.
“Are you all right?” he asks you softly, hesitantly, eyes flickering over the people nearest to you as though thinking they might overhear, might be listening in.
“I’m fine,” you mutter, an irritable sigh escaping your lips before you can stop it. “It’s just… annoying when people insist on treating me like this because of my dad. I know it probably makes no sense, but…” trailing off, you give a helpless shrug. Perhaps it is stupid, but it’s just the way you look at it. You can’t help it - it’s just the way you are.
“No, no, it makes sense,” he assures you quickly, before pausing, thinking something over, his eyes rising to a spot just above your head. “If you want, next time we can go somewhere else. There’s a pub I go to - people there won’t recognise you.”
“Are you sure?” you ask dubiously. It’s rare that people don’t recognise you. Usually for that to happen you have to go somewhere out of the wizarding world or borrow one of Uncle George’s disguising potions, invented for Halloween pranks.
He smiles - a full, genuine smile - and you can’t help but think that he really is very handsome. Even more so when he smiles. Particularly when he smiles like that.
“Absolutely,” he confirms. “Just bring cash - next time you’re paying.”
Sitting there, for the first time in over two weeks, as you laugh and tell him that you will, you feel relaxed. Calm. Happy. Surprisingly stress-free. Everything in the world feels like it’s heading in the right direction for once: you’re talking to your parents again, all your worries are gone, and you’ve made a friend out of the blue… you choose to ignore the fact that your theory still isn’t working.
Logically speaking, it must be the next piece to fall into place. There’s not much left now.
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