Chapter 4 : Chapter Three
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The class is slowly filing in for a new day of Life Studies. “Why didn’t you ask me at lunch?” I question, eyes narrowed. “I sat with you all – you had plenty of opportunities.”
“I didn’t want to ask you in front of Clark because I already know his tale of the date,” James answers smoothly. He grins slyly. “He really liked your outfit, by the way. Thinks red is your ‘color’.”
“You didn’t tell him you chose it, did you?” Merlin, what would Clark think if he knew James saw me in my underwear? Of course, there’s no reason that he should be angry, but still…
“Nope. Figured I’d give you all the credit. You should thank me.”
I roll my eyes and begin setting my class materials out. “I’ll get right on that.”
“Oi! You didn’t tell me how it went!” James exclaims, scooting forward to shoo my hands away from my quill and parchment.
“It went…well,” I say, sighing. It went really well, actually – but I don’t want to be open about it just yet. Not until I talk to about it Di first.
“That’s all? Just ‘well’?” he deadpans.
“Fine, it went really well!” I snap defensively. Why does it matter to him anyway?
I glare at him. “It was exciting. And nice. And…it went well.”
James rolls his eyes. “Clearly.” He sighs. “Since it’s obvious that you aren’t going to get to the heart of things, I am: do you fancy Clark?”
I sputter, my eyes wide. What did he just ask? Do I fancy Clark? Merlin. That is the very question I’ve been asking myself since our date – and it’s another reason why I need to speak to Di. She might not be experienced when it comes to dating, but at least she gives great advice. James Potter, however, is the last person I expected to talk about my date to.
“I-I don’t know,” I grumble, my cheeks hot. “Why?”
I hear his chair scooting towards mine. His hazel eyes peer at me curiously. “Are you blushing? Blood hell, you do fancy him!” He sounds shocked.
“So what if I do?” I glare at him.
He shrugs. “Clark wanted me to ask you.”
“You better not tell him anything.”
“Whoa, whoa. Calm down, Shannon. I won’t say a word. Promise.”
He sounds sincere, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling paranoid. Why didn’t Clark just ask me himself? He’s certainly been straightforward up until this point. It doesn’t make sense. I’m certain Clark would just ask me himself if he wanted to know. I decide to let that matter go.
Behind me, a chair scoots and someone sits in it. Di - that’s her and Clark’s table. She doesn’t bother talking to me. Why? Her sudden offstandish behavior certainly doesn’t make sense. I want to know what’s bugging her and I want to talk to her about my date. Merlin, I just want to talk about my date. Glancing to the boy beside me, I realize I just had an opportunity to talk about it and I threw it away. Go, Shannon.
Biting my lip, I inch closer to James. He notices this and glances my way, raising an eyebrow in question. “We kissed,” I blurt in a whisper.
He bursts out laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I snap, not at all liking the looks we’re suddenly getting looks from the few other students in the room. Even Di looks at us for a moment before turning away.
His laughter subsided, James looks down at me, grinning. “You looked so innocent. It was like…kissing is a sacred thing.”
His look is knowing – clearly he’s thinking about my first kiss, which was with him and was result of a game – and I blush. “Well, I-he’s the second person I’ve ever kissed and I really…liked it.”
His eyebrows knit together. “That’s good, Shannon. Kisses are meant to be liked.”
“I know that. It’s just…I felt different. Is that…normal?”
I can’t believe I’m talking to James about this. Weeks ago, we never spoke a word to each other. Now he’s my “boyfriend” for a class and I’m suddenly confiding in him. I’m not sure what it is, but I feel like I can trust him. To an extent, at least.
“Like…I felt warm and…tingly. And…yeah.” I break off, blushing. Thinking and talking about the kiss brings the warmth back, though it’s not as strong, and the butterflies in my stomach resurface.
James looks thoughtful for a moment. “That’s normal if you fancy someone, Shannon. Since you fancy Clark, I’d say that it is, indeed, normal.”
I nod and lean back to a position which doesn’t involve invading James’ personal space. I can’t believe I just asked James for advice, let alone relationship advice. And he didn’t patronize me. Huh.
“Thanks for…listening,” I say, turning to give said boy a small smile. “And for the advice,” I add hastily.
If James is surprised, he doesn’t show it; he merely shrugs and grins. “No problem.”
The class is full now and Professor Higgins stands up from her desk, assuming an air of confidence and authority. She strides forward, demanding our attention. “Students, students! I have a surprise for you.” Beside me, James groans. “Thursday, you will begin your journey with your ‘partner’. If you’re one of the few single students, you will mingle with the other single stude – “
“What do you mean by ‘journey’?” Di asks sharply from behind me. I glance back to see her glowering at Professor Higgins. Beside her, Clark looks equally displeased.
Professor Higgins glares at Di, not at all liking being interrupted. “What I mean is that you will start the hands-on portion of this class, Miss Collins.”
“By ‘hands-on’, do you mean…” Clark asks, his tone suggestive and amused.
“I mean that you will not be working in your booklets as much, Mister Audley!” Professor Higgins snaps. “Now stop interrupting me, before I give you both detention.”
Di snorts behind me and Clark chuckles under his breath. Professor Higgins continues. “If you will open your booklets, you will see that a new assignment has been given to you. Most of you will go on a makeshift ‘date’, while others will work together completing a task. It all depends on your compatibility levels, which only I can see.
“Also, I highly suggest that you get to know your partner better. There might be a test coming up, testing you on your partner. That is your in-class assignment for today: get to know your partner better. If you’re partner-less, open your booklet and get started on the assignment it presents you.” And with that, Profess Higgins turns and walks to her desk, not leaving room for questions.
“She is such a-a bitch,” Di seethes from behind me, gaining my attention.
“Di, can I talk to you after class?” I ask, turning around.
Suddenly, she looks nervous, her blue eyes wide. Her bottom lip is caught between her teeth roughly. “Uh, sure, Shan. But I don’t have a lot of time, okay? I got some duties to do and…yeah.”
Is she avoiding me? Why would she avoid me? Is she uncomfortable because I went on a date with her fake boyfriend? That wouldn’t make sense, considering she detests Clark, but I can’t think of any other reason why she’d be angry with me. “Uh, okay. It’ll only take a sec.”
Her head moves mechanically in a nod and she grows quiet. I look at Clark and he winks at me, grinning wolfishly. “When can I have a second with you, Shan?”
“Uh, after Di?” I answer feebly, blushing.
“Sounds good to me.”
Turning around, I let my head drop, trying in vain to hide my blush from James’ keen eyes. I can practically feel him grinning at me right now. Ugh. Why does he find my being uncomfortable amusing? “Stop that,” I mumble, trying to keep my voice low from Clark’s ears.
“Stop what?” he asks innocently.
Looking up, I see his grin widen. “Looking at me like that.”
“Like…like you’re secretly amused by all of this.”
“I’m not secretly amused, Shannon; I am openly amused.”
I groan and roll my eyes. James leans closer to me, so that when he whispers on he and I can hear him: “He’s gonna ask you out again, by the way. It’s why he wants to talk to you after class.”
I nod. “I figured as much.”
Strangely, the idea of Clark asking me out again doesn’t scare me. It makes me nervous, yes, but I already know my answer and…I feel okay about it. I’m still a bit wary, but not as much as I was. I try not to overanalyze Clark and our budding ‘relationship’ too much as James and I talk, getting to know each other, as Professor Higgins had suggested.
Talking helps, considering we talk until it’s time for our next class. James leaves, but I stay behind, walking up to Di. “Hey, are you…okay?” I ask gently.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well…it’s just…you missed my date Saturday and we’ve hardly talked for the past few days…”
She sighs deeply. “I know, I know. It’s just…being Head Girl is taking its toll on me, you know? I suddenly have shitloads of duties and…yeah, it’s stressful.”
Her eyes dart back and forth as she talks; she doesn’t quite meet my gaze head-on, like she normally does. She’s hiding something, but I can’t imagine what it would be. She doesn’t seem concerned about telling me whatever it is, though, so I don’t press it. “I understand,” I answer softly, smiling. “Don’t let the duties stress you out too much, okay? And if you ever need help, just come to me. You don’t have to carry everything on your shoulders, y’know…”
“Yeah, I know.” Slinging her bag across her back, she smiles. “Thanks, Shan. I’ll see you at dinner.”
Gathering my things, I walk behind her and into the corridor. Leaning against the wall is Clark, his emerald eyes on me as I walk toward him. “So, you wanted to talk?” I ask.
“Let’s walk and talk, shall we?” He slides his arm across my shoulders; his arm is warm and I snuggle into him after a moment. “I had an amazing time at Hogsmeade,” he starts, his fingers absently rubbing circles on my shoulder. “And I was thinking…we should do that again. Go on a date. Have another amazing time. What do you think?”
“That sounds like a good idea to me,” I answer, smiling.
“Brilliant! What do you say…picnic at the Lake? Or is that too cliché?”
I laugh. “It’s not too cliché.”
His hand cups my shoulder and squeezes. His lips brush my forehead in a fleeting kiss. “I’ll let you decide when it’ll be this time, love. Just tell me when and I’ll be ready. Until then, I have a class to get to.” Removing his arm from my shoulders, he walks away. I find myself missing the contact, the warmth, as I watch him go. My forehead tingles where his lips kissed it. Smiling, I walk to the common room, thinking of the perfect day for a picnic at the Lake.
Wrapping my blanket around myself, I snuggle deeper into the sofa, a yawn escaping my lips. It’s late – James and I have been questioning each other for at least two hours now. The common room is empty, with the exception of us. James is in the sofa across from mine, looking equally as tired as I feel.
“I’m so tired,” I sigh, yawning once more.
“Me too. Fred and Clark should’ve been here by now.”
“Why do they want us to wait up for them anyway?” I grumble. I barely know Fred, so I don’t see the point in waiting until midnight for him to enter the common room. I do, however, need to speak with Clark, which is why I’m waiting on him.
“Hell if I know,” James answers, shrugging. “Let’s go over some questions to keep us awake, shall we?” I nod, my hand cupping my head as I lean onto my elbow. “Okay, uh, so your favorite color is orange, right?”
“Right. It changes every so often, but for now it’s orange. And yours is red.”
“Yep. Your least favorite class is Potions.”
“Accurate. And yours is History of Magic.”
“Aye, aye. You have two siblings: a ten year-old brother and a one year-old sister.”
“Yeah. You also have two: Albus, a fifth year, and Lily, a third year.”
“Yeahhh. Speaking of family, I should probably write my parents. I haven’t written them since starting school.”
“Really? Why not?” James is close with all of his family, which much I know from merely observing him and his interactions with his various cousins over the years.
He shrugs. “It slipped my mind, I guess. I’ve been busy organizing things for Quidditch and working on school work.”
“Ohhh. I see.” I yawn again, just as the common room door opens and Fred and Clark step inside. Fred is wearing an idiotic grin while Clark smiles as he walks toward me.
“Nice pajamas, Shan,” he snickers, his eyes roaming from my leg hanging lazily off the couch – therefore, out of the warm protection of my blanket – to my top. I’m wearing crimson and gold flannel bottoms and a red t-shirt with a lion on it.
“Thanks,” I mutter as he sits beside me.
“What’s so important that you couldn’t have told us tomorrow, at a reasonable time?” James asks, yawning.
“I have a girlfriend,” Fred exclaims, sitting beside Clark. “Camille Connor, sixth year Hufflepuff. Has blonde hair and is really short and cute.”
“…And you had to inform us now?”
“I wanted you to be the first to hear the great news. Plus, she’s going to be hanging with us for a while, considering she hardly has friends and all. Didn’t want to spring a random girl on you and all.”
“Bloody hell.” Nevertheless, James grins. “That’s brilliant, though. I look forward to meeting this lovely young lady.” He stands and stretches, causing his shirt to rise, revealing a trail of hair under his navel. If he’s shocked at Fred’s sudden relationship status, he doesn’t show it. “However, my arse is going to bed. I have a date with Life Studies tomorrow.” With a wave, he walks upstairs.
Fred rolls his eyes. “I guess it’s my bedtime, too…” He stands and gives Clark and me a suggestive look. “Remember: everything that happens in the common room must be PG-13 or under. Can’t have a first year walking in on a rated-R situation, got it?”
Clark laughs and my eyes widen. I open my mouth to scold Fred, but he’s already walking away. “He…he’s crazy,” I mutter.
“That he is,” Clark agrees. He snakes his hand into mine. “Have you thought about our date?”
“As a matter of fact, I have.”
“Mmhmm. Pick a day yet?”
“Yep. Friday evening sound good?”
He squeezes my hand. “Sounds brilliant, love.”
We both stand, our hands intertwined while I hold my blanket in the other. “Red looks good on you, Shan. You should wear it more often,” he says softly, bending to kiss my cheek. Strangely, I’m reminded of James’ so-called ‘fashion’ advice from the other day.
“I’ll remember that,” I answer, smiling before I turn and make my way upstairs.
The next day
When I enter the Life Studies classroom, it doesn’t look like the classroom I normally walk into on Mondays and Thursdays. It’s completely changed. On one side of the room are round tables with candles floating above them. A soft melody is playing throughout the room. On the other side of the room is a long table, which I’m assuming is for the singles in our class. On the far side of the room is a buffet.
“Sodding hell, were we supposed to dress formally?” asks a voice from beside me. James comes to a stop and gazes at the room with wide eyes.
“Uh, I hope not,” I answer. “Professor Higgins would’ve warned us beforehand if she had wanted us to, I think.”
We move forward, toward the rounded tables, trying to find our ‘reservation’ card on one of them. James finds it on a table with three extra chairs. “Looks like this’ll be a double date with a third wheel,” he says, sounding relieved. I can’t say I blame him.
I sit beside him. Despite the ease with which we have interacted for the past week or so, this feels awkward. It feels awkward and wrong. It’s supposed to be a date, yet I’m in the process of thinking through my feelings for one of his best mates. James breaks through the silence. “I wonder who our, uh, guests or whatever will be…”
“I dunno. Is there another reservation card?”
We glance around the table and, sure enough, on the inside of our card are the names of our ‘guests’. I sigh in relief. Thank Merlin. Di, Clark, and Fred are our guests. At least this won’t go by painfully now. James waves someone toward us. The chair beside me scoots and Di sits down, looking relieved. “Thank Merlin I won’t be alone with Clark,” she sighs.
Clark sits beside James. “What kind of date is this?” he asks. “Not that I’m complaining, but we’re the only ones getting the special treatment…”
“I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough,” James answers.
Next comes Fred. Clark calls him over to us and he sits with ease between Di and Clark, looking pleased with himself. “Looks like I’m the only Single mingling with couples,” he remarks. “I do believe this means trouble in paradise, my young lovers.”
“Yeah, don’t hurt yourself thinking too much, Weasely,” Di snorts.
“Never knew you cared about my well-being, Collins.”
We lapse into an uncomfortable silence, none of us quite sure what to expect. If what Fred says is true and he is meant to cause ‘trouble in paradise’, then that means the interactive part of this class is really starting, which makes me uneasy. Is he meant to cause trouble for James and me or Di and Clark? What kind of trouble? What kind of date is this?
“I see all of you are here.” Professor Higgins enters from her backroom, her hair down in a cascade of blonde waves. With the exception of her hair, she looks as strict and rigid and beautiful as usual. “I know some of you must be confused about your predicament right now, but I’m at no liberty to explain to you why.” She seems pleased. “You will find out soon, believe me. However, I am here merely to oversee the evening.
“Menus will be passed around now.” With a flick of her wand, menus are floating about the room, making their way to each table. “Simply touch whatever meal you would like and the rest will be done by house-elves in the backroom. Or, if you’d rather eat buffet, it is here for you also.” Her lips curve into a smirk. “Enjoy yourselves.”
Menus fall into our hands and I survey mine with a frown. Nothing on it is healthy or follows my diet. I sigh and allow my menu to float away. “I guess it’s a good thing I ate lunch,” I say.
“Why’s that?” James asks, touching a meal on the menu and watching as his menu floats away. Fred and Di are in line at the buffet, while Clark is peering at his menu with keen interest.
“Nothing on the menu follows my diet,” I answer.
“Ahhh. Maybe the buffet has something you can eat?” he suggests helpfully.
I shrug. “I’ll see when Di and Fred are back. Di knows what I like.”
“C’mon, Shan, there has to be something on here you’ll eat,” Clark says from across me.
I fidget uncomfortably. “Actually, there isn’t.”
“Well, you can disregard your diet once, can’t you?” he presses.
Di and Fred arrive back, each with a plate full of food. “Was there anything at the buffet I can eat?” I ask Di, hoping to get Clark off my back.
She shakes her head. “Nope. Sorry, Shan.”
Clark groans. “Come on, Shan. It won’t hurt you to get something a little unhealthy.”
“If she doesn’t want to eat, she doesn’t have to,” James’ voice cuts through, surprising us all into a moment of silence. Fred and Di peer between James and Clark and I can’t help but wonder if Clark will retaliate.
As expected, he opens his mouth, but Di interrupts him, her mouth full with mashed potatoes. “Mindferownfuckin,” she swallows, “business, Clark.”
He glares at her and she meets his glare with equal hostility. “You mind yours, Diana.”
“She’s my best friend, so fuck you.”
“Yeah, well, she’s my girlfriend, so fuck you.”
“Calm gown, guys,” Fred cuts in, amused. “Let’s not start a war over Shannon’s eating diet.”
He’s the only one to find this amusing, however. The tension surrounding the table is thick, with Di and Clark glaring at each other and me glaring at them both and James’ jaw set in a hard line. I thought Fred was supposed to cause trouble – not me. “Both of you, stop it,” I hiss in a whisper, not wanting to draw attention to our table.
Clark turns his glare onto me. It’s like a slap in the face. “I’m not stopping anything until you eat.”
“She ate at lunch, for Merlin’s sake. Let. It. Go.”
Emerald eyes turn to James’ hazel eyes. “Mind your ow – “
“Clark.” My voice is hard. “Stop being so forceful. I already ate. I’m not hungry. Stop trying to tell me what to do.”
“Yeah, let it the fuck go,” Di growls.
We grow quiet. Fred and Di’s eating are the only sounds being made at our table. James’ food has arrived, but he doesn’t touch it. I sip on my water to occupy myself, wishing this class was over. Finally, Clark speaks. “I’m sorry,” he says.
“It’s okay,” I answer immediately. The tension between us withers like that and I give him a small smile. He turns to James next. “Sorry, mate.”
“’S all right,” James says easily.
Clark turns to Di next, opens his mouth, and then closes it.
Di smirks. “Yeah, I’m not sorry either.”
I shake my head at the two, smiling despite myself. How will they survive this year? I can’t help but wonder. Fred is watching James with uncharacteristically concerned eyes. “Eat, mate,” he says, nodding in the direction of James’ food.
James shakes his head. “I think I’m gonna take it to the common room with me.” Fred looks ready to press it, but his cousin shakes his head once, which stops him short. James must still be upset about his small spat with Clark, I realize. Fred notices it.
We continue the rest of the class in silence. When it’s over, Professor Higgins tells us to get on with the rest of our day; we’ll know the ‘results’ of our dates soon enough. Di and Clark have another class, so they head off to it, leaving James, Fred, and I behind. I want to talk to James, but he says he has to be somewhere, leaving with his boxed-food in hand.
“Is he…all right?” I ask Fred hesitantly, watching his retreating form.
Fred watches him go, his eyebrows knitted together. “I think so.” He bumps his elbow with mine. “I think it frustrated him a bit to see Clark trying to make you do something you didn’t want to do.”
A groan leaves my lips. “Great. I don’t them to be angry with each other because of me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Fred says simply, like it’s the easiest thing in the world to forget one’s worries. “James has a hard time getting over his anger, unlike Clark.”
“I noticed that.”
Fred laughs. “Seriously, Shan, don’t worry about it. James’ll be okay.”
I nod and smile. Fred probably knows James better than anybody, so why shouldn’t I listen to him?
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