Chapter 27 : Sticks and Stones
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Sticks and Stones
February Song – Josh Groban
‘Love is saying 'I feel differently' instead of 'You're wrong'.’
‘So we’re leaving from Neville’s office tomorrow at 4, and then we’ll get back Sunday night. And he’s already said that we have to be in class on Monday. I know. I argued against it, but he wasn’t listening. I tried my best.’
They were sitting on the sofa in the Head’s Common Room, ostentatiously studying, although James hadn’t read a single word in about an hour. Instead, he was transfiguring various objects around the room into cakes. Every now and then, Stac would roll her eyes and transfigure them all back in one fell swoop. He still couldn’t figure out how she was doing it.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll take notes for you. You can sleep up the back. Oh, wait, that’s all you ever do on a Monday anyway.’
For that she received a well-placed elbow in the ribs.
‘Well, you’re going to be exhausted too. Trust me. Maybe we should get someone else to take notes, and then you can sleep with me.’
As soon as the words had left his mouth, James froze, but it was too late to take them back.
Sleep with me? Had he really just said that? Not that it wasn’t what he meant to say, but…not like that!
He opened his mouth to try and explain himself, but Stac didn’t look shocked or outraged. She looked confused.
‘Why will I be exhausted?’
‘Uh…well,’ James stammered, hoping that this meant she hadn’t noticed his gaff, ‘the party’s going to run all Saturday night, and then mum’s going to make us help clean up the next day. And if I have to clean, you have to clean. None of this sitting around while I do all the work.’
But instead of laughing or telling him to sod off, Stac’s face fell a little.
‘James…you know I’m…not going, don’t you?’
The words took a moment to sink in.
He was still smiling, but it was starting to fade.
‘James, I told you this. We talked about it.’
‘Yeah, ages ago! Before we were even going out. I thought things were different now.’
‘I…I’m sorry. It’s just too much of a risk.’
James sat up straighter and looked at her incredulously.
‘A risk? Stac, we went to Australia for your birthday.’
‘Yes, but that was…sudden! It was only for a few hours, and no one else knew about it. Everyone knows you guys are going home for the wedding. Half of Gryffindor’s going. What is it going to look like if I disappear at the same time?’
‘Can’t Scorpius and Celeste cover for you?’
‘Not for a whole weekend!’
Scowling slightly, James sank back into the cushions of the sofa.
‘I wanted…to introduce you to everyone, you know? To my parents and that.’
‘I know,’ Stac sighed as she curled up beside him, ‘I’m sorry.’
Propping her chin on her knees, she tried to make her voice light.
‘But there’ll be other times, I promise. Don’t worry about it.’
James shrugged noncommittally.
Pulling away from him, Stac sat up.
‘James, this isn’t my fault. I don’t want things to be like this, they just are. Okay?’
‘Well, you didn’t have to just dismiss it all straight away like that.’
‘Coming to the wedding.’
‘James, that was never an option to begin with!’
‘Of course it was an option! There’s always options, you always have options!’
‘Not this time! What has gotten into you?’
‘Oh, so now it’s my fault? Excuse me for wanting to take my girlfriend home and introduce her to my family. Of course, what was I thinking? What a stupid idea.’
‘Oh my goodness. I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation. Seriously, James, grow up.’
‘And now I’m immature as well. Thanks.’
‘Are you even listening to yourself? This is ridiculous.’
‘No, what’s ridiculous is you being too afraid,’ he made the word mocking, ‘to come home with me. My dad’s the head of the frickin’ Auror’s office, Stac. The whole place is going to be swarming with Ministry people. What the hell do you think is going to happen?’
‘The whole reason for keeping secrets like this is to stop anything happening before it starts, you idiot!’
Stac’s control on her English was starting to slip a little, a sure sign that she was legitimately furious.
‘It’s not them being able to stop whatever things that I’m worried about, it’s all the damage that could be done before they stop it!’
‘Seriously. You seriously think your dad would send someone to bust up my cousin’s wedding just because I brought you along? Stac, when was the last time your dad did anything? You’re all petrified of him, and he makes all these threats but he never actually does anything. Why the hell are you scared of him anyway? Maybe you’re the one who needs to grow up.’
For a moment, she physically could not speak. Her throat closed over the words she was about to throw in his face and she struggled to inhale past the blockage in her chest. When she did manage to talk again, her voice was dangerously soft.
‘You think I’m a child for being afraid of my father. And you think there’s no reason that I should be.’
Her grip on her temper was perilously close to snapping completely. Taking in a deep breath, she stood and took a step back, away from him, closer to the door.
‘Maybe this weekend is exactly what we need. Some time apart.’
The words sent a chill feeling down James’ back, but he ignored it and looked her square in the eye as he nodded.
‘Yeah. Time to think. Away from each other. A break.’
The moment stretched as they stared across the space, neither one breaking eye contact. Last time they’d fought like this, it had ended in a kiss and a much-needed explanation.
History didn’t look likely to repeat itself today.
Finally, shaking her head, Stac turned to go.
‘You are an utter fool, James Potter.’
James rolled his eyes and scowled at her.
‘Look, you’ve made yourself pretty clear, okay? So why don’t you just leave it?’
And she stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
James waited only until the sound of her footsteps had faded away down the corridor before he too stormed from the room, heading for Gryffindor Tower. With any luck, she’d go straight up to the girls’ dormitory and they wouldn’t have to meet in the common room.
Unless she’d gone to Slytherin. She could have gone to Scorpius…James growled and pushed the thought to the back of his mind. What did he care if she went off with Scorpius? They were on a break, weren’t they?
Fortunately for both parties, Stac wasn’t in the Gryffindor common room. Sam and Josh were, but not for long. Catching sight of James’ face, the quickly hustled him up the stairs to his old room.
‘What the hell happened to you?’ Sam asked curiously when the door was closed behind them.
James grunted something that almost sounded like ‘Stac’.
‘Oh, dear,’ Owen commented mildly. He was sitting on his bed, reading a Quidditch magazine, ‘Trouble in paradise?’
‘Shut up, Owen,’ James grunted again, slightly more clearly this time. He flopped down on what used to be his bed. Only it wasn’t a very easy flop, as the boys had started using the empty bed as a sort of general storage space and it was pile pretty high with stuff.
‘Wait,’ Josh clarified, sitting on his own bed, ‘did you two have a fight?’
‘Yeah, is this your first fight?’ Sam carried on, ‘I can’t believe I missed it! Would you consider a do-over? You know, just so I could be there this time?’
‘Who said I wanted to help?’
‘What was it about?’ Josh enquired curiously, sitting on his own bed.
James scowled up at the hangings above his head.
‘She’s not coming to the wedding. I know, right?’ he continued when Sam made a sound of disbelief, ‘That’s what I said. But, apparently, it’s too dangerous. Or something. I don’t even know anymore. We were having a perfectly normal conversation, and then, boom! This happened. And I don’t even know what this is!’
‘So…how did you leave things?’ Sam asked slowly.
There was a pause before James replied.
‘We’re on a break.’
No one really knew what to say in response to that.
‘For how long?’ Owen asked eventually.
‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘Mate, that’s messed up,’ Sam protested, ‘after everything you two have been through, you’re breaking up over this?’
‘We’re not breaking up,’ James protested, sitting up, ‘we’re just on a break.’
‘Oh, yeah, sorry, cause that’s completely different.’
‘Look, I don’t know, okay? I don’t know what’s going on! She just…she went off all...pissed, and I don’t know, that made me pissed. So we’re on a break.’
‘Doesn’t sound too serious, then,’ Owen observed, putting down the magazine, ‘just go and apologise to her.’
‘I’m not apologising to her!’
‘Fine. Get used to a life alone.’
‘Come on, Owen, lighten up,’ Josh objected lightly, ‘it’s not a matter of life and death.’
‘What, we’re only supposed to apologise in matters of life and death?’
‘All of you, leave me alone, ‘kay?’
There was another moment of silence, punctuated by Sam and Josh rolling their eyes at each other from across the room.
‘Besides, it might be…more serious than all that,’ James said softly when he spoke again.
‘Why?’ Sam inquired in a dubious voice.
‘I said some stuff–’
‘Great, of course you did.’
‘Shut up. It was stuff I didn’t mean, but it was about her dad.’
Now Owen just sounded angry.
‘Are you actually that much of an idiot? You brought her dad up in a row? No wonder she’s sore at you!’
‘Hang on, it wasn’t all my fault! I just said when was the last time her dad actually did anything, you know, bad? It’s not we’ve seen it. And I know she keeps saying he’s really dangerous and all, but he’s never done anything here, not that we’ve seen.’
‘Yeah, not that we’ve seen being the operative words. Don’t you wonder why that is? Maybe, just maybe, Stac knows what the hell she’s doing, did you think of that?’
‘Okay, break it up, you two,’ Sam interjected, moving to stand between them, ‘it’s not worth us arguing over, okay? James’ll just apologise to her, when he’s ready,’ he added when James glared at him, ‘and it’ll all be sweet again, alright?’
It wasn’t all sweet again. James didn’t apologise. He didn’t really have a chance. Stac avoided him like the plague all the next day. He couldn’t get close to her at mealtimes, she sat right up the front in class, and she ignored him and hurried away when he tried to talk to her in the corridors.
And then it was time to go to the Headmaster’s office, time to leave, and he still hadn’t spoken to her. His friends took one look at his crossed arms and sullen expression and thought better of asking how it had all gone.
James went into the fireplace after Albus, and stepped out into his Aunt and Uncle’s living room. Everyone, the entire extended family and friends, were all staying at Ron and Hermione’s house for the weekend. Out the window, he could just see a small tent city set up in the backyard.
Turning back to the room, James saw his mum, standing to one side with Albus and Lily. Ginny Potter had celebrated her fortieth birthday a few years ago, but she didn’t look a day over thirty. She was still slim and smiling, and her red hair still shone brightly. James took a deep breath, fixed what he hoped was a passable smile on his face, and went to join his family.
Ginny hugged her eldest child tightly, then immediately pulled back and began to brush soot and dust off his clothes.
‘Look at the state of you! I keep telling Ron he needs to clean out that chimney, but do you think he listens to me?’
‘Where is Uncle Ron?’ Albus asked curiously, looking around the room.
James looked too. There was his Aunt Hermione, bustling around, efficiently greeting students and showing them where to leave their bags. Rose was right behind her, offering food and drinks, the perfect little hostess.
James turned back to see his mother smile tightly.
‘Your uncle and your father are still at the office. But they’ll be along, later. They’re a little snowed under with…paperwork.’
Paperwork. That was mum and Aunt Hermione code for ‘I don’t want to talk about what they’re really doing’. So James just hugged his mum again, and went to find his mates.
The male cousins and their friends were all in the one tent together, and there were a lot of them. The tent was magically enhanced on the inside, of course. Even so, it was a bit of a squeeze. James was amused to see that the boy’s tent was on the other side of the garden from the one the girls were staying in. Separating them were tents for all of James’ aunts and uncles and Teddy and Victoire’s adult friends. It seemed Aunt Hermione was ready to have all the students come to stay, but not exactly ready to trust them all.
Owen, Sam, Josh, Terry and James quickly claimed a room in the tent, then headed back outside to see what was happening.
It was easy to see why Teddy and Victoire had decided to have their wedding at Ron and Hermione’s house. Not only did it have the largest garden, but it was also in some of the most beautiful country in England, nestled on the shore of a lake in the Cotswolds.
The Victoire’s French grandparents were also staying onsite, but in the house with Ron and Hermione and James’ grandparents. There were, however, several very attractive French cousins wandering around the place, giggling and chattering and tossing their long hair. A disproportionate number of them seemed to be female. James caught quite a few of Teddy’s friends looking around themselves in disbelief, and Josh had to be virtually dragged away from his ogling position near their tent.
A quick trip into the kitchen provided them with plenty of provisions to cover the long wait until tea-time. James submitted himself to the requisite kissing, hugging and fussing from his grandmother, and emerged at the other end with an armful of cakes, which he considered a good trade for momentary embarrassment.
James had intended to suggest that they head down to the lake, away from the madness that was the backyard, but the first thing that he saw when they finally exited the kitchen was the seventh year Gryffindor girls.
They were glaring at him.
It wasn’t a good sign.
Margie jerked her head in the direction of the girl’s tent and stalked off, not even bothering to check that they were following.
For a split second, James considered not obeying her unspoken order. What would happen if he just took his cakes and ran? What was the worst that they could do?
‘I wouldn’t,’ Jaya advised, her eyes narrowing as she read his intentions, ‘I really wouldn’t.’
And she turned to follow the other girl into the tent.
With a sigh, James and the boys did the same.
Luckily, the tent seemed to be empty. All the same, no one said a word until they were safely inside Jaya and Margie’s section and the connecting door had been closed.
‘Okay, spill,’ Jaya demanded as soon as they were alone, ‘what the hell is going on with you and Stac? Did you have a fight or something?’
‘Why are you asking?’ James countered somewhat sullenly. All he wanted to do was eat his cakes and forget about everything. He wasn’t really in a mood to discuss matters, certainly not with Stac’s friends.
‘Because the two of you didn’t even speak to each other all of Friday,’ Margie replied flatly, ‘she sat with us at mealtimes and didn’t look your way once, and it was pretty damn clear she’d been crying. So what happened?’
‘Yeah, we had a fight,’ James told them grudgingly, hoping they’d leave it at that.
Rose chose that moment to come walking through the door, Dom and Molly close behind her.
‘This is you and Stac, is it?’ she asked, looking at James shrewdly.
James’ frown deepened. Did everyone in the world have to know about the vagaries of his love life, including his baby cousins?
‘What’s it to you?’ he asked crossly, ‘What Stac and I do or don’t fight about is none of your business.’
‘Well, it had to be pretty bad,’ Rose mused aloud. To James’ horror, she settled down on one of the beds, clearly intending to stay for a while.
‘Stac looked completely cut up about it, so it must have been bad. What did you say?’
‘Like I said, none of your business.’
‘Mate!’ Sam exclaimed softly, ‘do you want to get back together with her or not? Because if you do, this would be a pretty good time to ask for advice.’
James couldn’t argue with that.
‘Fine. It was stupid, just about why she wouldn’t come to the wedding. She said she didn’t have a choice, and I said you always have choices, and then she started to worry about what might happen if she did come. So I asked her why she was so scared, I mean, it’s not like anything was actually going to happen. Like I told her, half the Ministry’s here – who’s going to try something at the moment?’
‘Is that all?’ Margie asked, eyebrows raised.
‘Not quite. When she said something might happen, I asked her why she was so scared of her dad. I mean, it’s not like he’s ever done anything to us before. Why would it be different now?’
He hadn’t expected the girls to react well to this piece of news, and, true to form, their response was less than pleased. Margie let out a frustrated groan and looked heavenward for support, Jaya frowned at him like he was the lowest form of life, and even his cousins sent a scowl his way.
‘What the hell, James?’
Owen was sitting back, arms folded, a disgusted look on his normally calm face.
‘Exactly what I said,’ he told Jaya, nodding in agreement with her latest outburst, ‘honestly,’ he went on, now directing his words at James, ‘you probably couldn’t have hurt her more if you’d tried. Well done.’
‘Hey, now, hang on, it’s not like I meant it!’
The expressions around him didn’t change.
‘People say stuff they don’t mean all the time, it happens. Especially in the middle of a fight. And I’m not completely unjustified – when have we ever seen any proof of what her dad’s done, hey? All we’ve ever had is her word about it. I’m not saying she’s lying, I’m just saying maybe she’s more scared than she needs to be. Maybe someone from the outside looking in, someone who hasn’t grown up with this bloke around all the time, maybe then he wouldn’t seem so bad.’
James grabbed the side of his face and ducked as Rose tried to slap him again.
‘Bloody hell, Rose!’
He looked around for support, but no one was trying to wrestle her away like usual. After a few seconds of ducking and weaving, she finally gave up of her own accord.
‘How can you even say that? You have no idea what that girl has been through for you!’
‘Yeah, everyone keeps saying that, and no one’s telling me anything, so how the bloody hell am I supposed to know!’
‘Her dad sent Trelain Zarlow to kill you!’
James was sure he must have heard incorrectly, but Rose’s face, while grim, was deadly serious.
‘Her dad decided she was getting too close to all of us, you in particular. He was negotiating a marriage for her with some other family and he didn’t want them to hear any bad reports about her. So he sent Trelain Zarlow back to the school with orders to stop you from getting near her. He had express orders to kill you if you kept it up.’
It seemed James wasn’t the only person hearing this news for the first time. Around the room, his friends wore similarly shocked expressions. Margie and Jaya looked particularly shaken.
‘Wait, hang on, I’ll deal with the whole…killing thing in a moment,’ Margie asked, shaking her head, ‘but…she’s getting married? They’re, like, arranging a marriage for her?’
‘She was,’ Rose clarified, ‘it’s not on anymore. But while it was, they were watching her like hawks.’
She turned back to James.
‘That’s why we had to do the whole thing with Scorpius. It was my idea, and I’ll admit it wasn’t the best one out there, but we didn’t have much time. We had to do something that would make you want to back off completely. It was one of the only things I could think of. She didn’t want to tell you, then; she thought it would put you in danger.’
James couldn’t reply. He was having trouble thinking, let alone forming words.
‘She didn’t want to do any of it, but she did it for you,’ Rose continued. Her voice and eyes were accusing as she stared at her cousin.
‘Even after Marcus attacked her and she had to go home and see her father, she still used that as something to protect you with. Celeste saw what happened between them, her and her dad. He just about killed her, and yet she still managed to pin everything on Trelain and make her dad completely forget about you.’
Nothing Rose said was going in. Nothing was making sense anymore. It hadn’t for some time, not since she’d dropped the bombshell that Stac had, quite literally, saved his life.
‘That’s what she meant,’ he muttered, mostly to himself.
‘What?’ Rose asked contemptuously.
‘When we fought, she said I was a fool. An utter fool. That must have been what she meant.’
Suddenly, he stood to his feet and made for the door.
‘I have to go.’
‘James,’ Josh called out, but Sam and Owen hushed him.
‘Let him go.’
Blindly, somehow, James made it back to his tent. Stumbling into his section, locking the door with a wave of his wand, he sat on the floor in the middle of the room. What the hell was wrong with him? Regardless of the fact that Stac had stopped one of her dad’s minions from writing him off, putting that completely aside, what the hell had he been thinking? So she wasn’t coming to the wedding. So what? What right did that give him to call her out? He’d waited so damn long, first to figure out how he actually felt, and then to be with her, and he’d risked it all on something as stupid as this?
He had to do something. He couldn’t get back to school right now, but he had to do something, had to talk to her…a letter! He’d write her a letter!
First he had to find some paper and a quill. Of course, none of the boys had brought anything even remotely related to school work with them, not even the usually reliable Owen. Eventually, James just tried a summoning spell and hoped for the best. He ended up with a few pieces of mismatched parchment and a bright pink quill, but it would do the trick.
Then he had to try and figure out what to write. He had planned to try and work everything out before he started, but once he put quill to parchment the words just seemed to pour out and he’d filled up all available space before he knew what was happening. So then there was nothing to do but put the letter in an envelope, address it and find an owl.
Sam found him later, sitting down by the lake.
‘Here, I saved you one,’ and he tossed a cake to James, who caught it despite himself.
‘Thanks,’ James replied, but he wasn’t really hungry anymore. He picked at the icing half-heartedly as Sam joined him on the ground.
‘So, what you’d decided to do?’ Sam asked.
‘I sent her a letter. Can’t even remember what I said. Pretty sure it was the most pathetic thing anyone’s ever written. But it was true, all of it.’
‘Well, that’s something, at least. Now you’ve just got to wait until she reads it. How long do you think that’ll take?’
‘Couple of hours to get there. Then couple of hours to get back. Just after tea? That’s if she replies.’
‘She wasn’t exactly happy last time we spoke.’
‘Can you blame her? She’ll reply.’
‘Hope you’re right.’
They were interrupted by a loud gong-like sound. Rolling his stiff neck, James stood to his feet. With Sam following behind, they headed back off towards the house for dinner.
Long tables had been set up to one side of the house, and they were now covered with every kind of food imaginable. It seemed not even the Hogwarts house elves could out-cook Grandma Weasley and Grandma Delacour when they combined forces. All around, people were sitting down and piling up plates. Teddy and Victoire were sitting very close together, ignoring their friends and family, completely lost in their own little world. They looked so happy that it made James’ chest ache, and he quickly looked away and searched for something to distract himself with.
James heard his Uncle Ron long before he saw him, and he automatically looked around for his father. If Ron was home, chances were Harry was too.
Sure enough, there was his father’s dark hair and glasses, over by his mum. They both saw James at the same time that he saw them, and so there was no chance of escape. Accepting, he made his way over to his parents.
Harry pulled him in for a quick, tight hug.
‘Alright, mate?’ he asked quietly, looking at his eldest intently, ‘your mum said you were a bit down earlier.’
‘Yeah, fine,’ James lied quickly, avoiding his father’s eyes, ‘I’m starving, you must be too. Let’s eat, yeah?’
James watched the sky all through dinner, and then through dessert. But there was no sign of an owl. He kept watching out the window while helping with the washing up. He was so preoccupied that he didn’t even complain or try to get out of it. Grandmas Weasley was moved to ask if he was sick, and she was only half joking.
There was still no owl later that night when people were starting to turn in. Terry, in an uncharacteristic bout of perceptiveness, towed James all the way down to the lake, where the men in the family had gathered around a bonfire.
‘You can’t just sit in the tent and mope all night,’ he explained, deaf to James’ feeble protests, ‘you’re going to be a groomsman tomorrow. You need to at least spend a little bit of time with the groom. And the night before is the most important!’
James couldn’t really argue with that. He’d barely seen Teddy all day. As far as being a groomsman went, he was pretty crap. And maybe doing groomsman stuff, whatever that was, would take his mind off his equally crap personal life.
So he grabbed a folding chair from the pile on the sand and followed his friends to the clump around the fire.
‘This is the life,’ Uncle Ron commented happily, leaning back in his chair and taking a sip from his beer, ‘nothing better than coming home to this after a long day at work.’
Teddy and his friends shuffled their chairs around so that the younger boys could fit theirs in. James was going to take a beer from the bucket on the sand, but saw his father watching him closely and thought better of it.
‘You know, your Aunt Hermione fought me and fought me when I wanted to buy this place. She said, there are too many Muggles. It’s in the middle of the biggest Muggle tourist spot in all of England. She said it was the worst possible place for wizards to live. Especially wizards who were bringing up children. But I stuck to my guns.’
‘More like you’d already bought the place without asking and you were trying to work up the courage to tell her,’ James’ dad commented dryly.
‘Yeah, that too. But, you have to admit, it was worth it.
It certainly did seem to be worth it. Sitting out by the lake, with the fire crackling away cheerily in front of them and a bright half-moon in the sky, James was hard-pressed to think of a more beautiful setting.
‘So…is this supposed to be the point where we all threaten you about Victoire and then try to give you advice on marriage?’ James’ Uncle George asked Teddy blandly.
The other uncles and friends sitting around the fire laughed, and then laughed even harder as Teddy coloured and ducked his head.
‘Like we’re in any position to offer advice,’ James’ dad protested, but Uncle Ron cut him off.’
‘Oh, I have good advice! Want to hear my three rules of marriage?’
‘Oh, here we go,’ said Harry.
‘Rule number one; walk away from the fight.’
‘What, actually walk away?’
‘Yep. Unless you can walk away in your head and not be angry anymore, but if you can’t, just walk away.’
‘What if she follows?’
‘Keep walking. She’s got to get tired eventually.’
James felt his stomach twist in what felt like the beginnings of guilt. That’s what he should have done at the start, walked away. Then he wouldn’t have said what he did, and they wouldn’t be in the position they were.
‘Rule number two; always be the first one to apologise.’
‘Even if I’m right?’
‘Especially then. See, they know when you’re right, but in the middle of a row, they’re never going to admit it. If you apologise first, even if you have to do it while they’re still rowing, then you’ve got the upper hand. When they cool down, they’ll feel all guilty and come and apologise to you for real. And then you can be all, what’s that word? Magnanimous, and then you’re in the good for a while. It’s totally worth it.’
‘Yeah, he’s right, you know, I learnt about it when I did that medicine course at the Muggle university,’ Alex Fielder, the best man, spoke up from his spot on Teddy’s other side. Alex’s Muggle father was a doctor, and as a result Alex had studied both magical and Muggle medicine. He and Teddy worked together at St Mungo’s, where they were both climbing rapidly through the ranks of Healers specialising in spell damage, Alex especially.
‘It’s all to do with biology,’ he further explained, ‘there’s this hormone that gets spread around the body when you get angry. Cortisol. As long as it’s there, present, in your body, you’ll still be mad. Well, in guys, it only takes about an hour for it to go down completely. Just gone.’
‘And birds?’ Sam asked somewhat hesitantly, as if he didn’t really want to know the answer.
Alex paused for effect before replying.
‘Twelve hours. Twelve whole friggin’ hours.’
James’ uncles, at least, didn’t look particularly shocked by the pronouncement.
‘Huh,’ his Uncle Charlie mused thoughtfully, ‘and suddenly so many things make much more sense.’
‘Yeah, and that’s just what you have to cope with when you’re in the right,’ Ron added bleakly, ‘when you’re wrong, you’d better apologise fast. Let me tell you that thing about happy wife, happy life? Never was a truer word spoken.’
There it was again. That little twists of guilt. Why hadn’t he taken the time to apologise? Why hadn’t he tried harder to seek her out before he’d left? Now she was going to be sitting there, all weekend, just stewing about what he’d said. And to top it all off, now he had to hope that no one else made her angry in the last twelve hours before he got back, as well!
‘Okay, what’s the third rule?’ Teddy asked in an amused tone of voice.
James sat up a little straighter and listened closely. He was hoping very much that Ron’s third rule was going to carry on from where his last two left off and tell him how to fix this mess he’d created.
‘My third rule is this; keep a bag of presents somewhere secret. Whenever you see something that you think she might like, just buy it and put it in the bag. Then, when you forget her birthday or an anniversary or something, and you will, just go to the bag and it looks like you’ve remembered.
Yeah, no such luck.
James’ other uncles were laughing at Ron, although Uncle Bill admitted that the third rule was a pretty good idea.
‘I always forget something, without fail.’
He mocked glared across the fire at Teddy.
‘But if I hear of you forgetting my baby’s birthday, you’re going to need more than some presents, boy.’
After the laughter and good-natured ribbing that followed this remark, there was a lull in the conversation. Into that, James screwed up his courage and spoke.
‘So, umm…hypothetically…if you were to get rules one and two, sort of…wrong…how would you fix it?’
‘Wrong, how?’ asked Uncle George interestedly.
‘You know, not really…do them. Not walk away when you should have, not apologise when you should have. Hypothetically, of course.’
‘In this situation,’ James’ dad asked calmly, ignoring George, ‘would the person be hypothetically mad enough not to talk to you anymore or reply to your owls?’
‘And would it hypothetically be your fault?’
‘Sort of, I guess.’
‘Right, that’s an easy one,’ Uncle Ron answered, ‘do something big. They love something big. Embarrass yourself; go all out for a gift, that kind of thing. Works every time.’
‘He’s right, you know,’ Uncle Bill agreed, ‘it really does. Especially the embarrassing bit. It’s like how much they’re willing to forgive increases in direct relation to how embarrassed you get. Just make sure you’re making a fool of yourself and not them.’
‘Big. Right. Got it,’ James repeated, filing that away for future reference, ‘so…like what?’
‘Like what?’ Ron asked exasperatedly, ‘Come on, James! Do I have to do everything myself? How about you think of something for a change? And seriously, you’re what, thirteen? How bad could your situation be?’
‘Seventeen,’ James’ dad corrected quietly, ‘and if I remember correctly, when you were seventeen you had already made Hermione so mad that she attacked you with a flock of birds, refused to talk to you for nearly a year, and then tried to pull your limbs off when you came back to us in the forest when we were hunting Horcruxes. So, yeah, it has the potential to be pretty big.’
Amidst all the laughter, Uncle Bill turned to James.
‘So there you go. He did all that, and she still married him. Don’t worry. There’s hope for you yet.’
Hope, yes. But hope wasn’t going to get him an owl from Stac. And as he turned in to bed later that night, James thought that he’d much rather trade one for the other.
Hello!!! I'm back, again!! Can't believe this stupid chapter took so long to do...well, that and I had crazy amounts of uni work, so...yeah...sorry. But here it is! Funny story, I thought I'd lost it a moment ago, when I was trying to put it all in, because the file that I'd saved it in wouldn't open. Umm, can you spell p-a-n-i-c? It was awful. Really bad.
In other news, I have almost finished one of the later chapters of this and can I just say now? I wept. Buckets and buckets. It was so traumatic to write and I don't even want to think about editing. But you don't have to worry about that for a while yet.
As always, I love reviews, they really make my day. Thanks so much for reading!
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