Chapter 3 : The Actress
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"I know it hurts to see me and it's always getting worse." — Austin Gibbs "The Actress"
"James, could I have a word?" Professor Longbottom asked for the second time in a row. James nearly groaned out loud as he paused behind the small class of seventh years. Some looked back at him curiously and he raised an eyebrow at them. Once they had gone and the door to the greenhouse had shut, he backtracked toward Neville and leaned his hip against a tray of dragon fertilizer.
"Over the years I've noticed that you have a lot of time to yourself," Professor Longbottom began. James crossed his arms tightly across his chest and hoped this wasn't another one of Neville's "I'm concerned for you" speeches. He'd heard many over the years mainly for the same things.
I'm concerned about you, James. Your pranks are getting out of hand and frankly a little dangerous. If you don't smarten up, I'll have to owl your mum.
I'm concerned about you, James. Your grades aren't where they should be. I know you're better than this. If your grades don't come up, I'll have to owl your mum.
I'm concerned about you, James. You spend an awful lot of time with Fred/Al/Lily/Rose/Hugo/Dominique/Victoire but I never see you with anyone from your dorm. Don't you have friends? Should I owl your mum?
James didn't have friends. Maybe he was unjustly jaded and cynical, but he had trust issues. Everyone he met at school, who wasn't muggleborn, was irritatingly interested in his parents which often provoked him to verbally lash out at them. They were interested in his mum because she used to be a professional quidditch player and they were interested in his dad because... well because he saved the wizarding world. And the muggle world (and muggles, with the exception of his dad's cousin, had no idea).
He was wary of the boys he shared a dorm with on the first night, which eventually developed into weeklong suspicion and then lifelong paranoia. No matter what Victoire and Teddy told him ("They're just curious, James.") he could not bring himself to befriend the boys he shared a dorm with. Or anyone else for the matter. He had friendly acquaintances and an obvious fan following. People found reasons to talk to him to which he responded flippantly or with sarcasm. This seemed to only make people like him more.
The only boy in his dorm that James considered a friend and trusted explicitly was his cousin, Fred. James considered all of his cousins to be his friends but Fred was James' best friend. They were quite popular in their first five years at Hogwarts. People admired them for their practical jokes and biting sense of humour. They were fancied, admired and often envied. James had thought the two would be partners in crime forever. And then Fred discovered girls and snogging. The two best friends drifted apart as boys who do not know how to balance their time between friends and (demanding/crazy/clingy) girlfriends do. They were still mates but they saw a lot less of each other in fifth and most of sixth year (Fred's failed relationships: seven).
It was Fred's abandonment and James' reluctance to make any new friends that left his evenings and weekends empty. In fifth year he filled that time with studying for OWLs (he managed to get Outstanding in every subject except for History of Magic). In sixth year he was made captain of the house team and so he filled his spare time with quidditch tactics. This year he would likely use his free time for both studies and tactics.
"James, you are one of the best Herbology students I've had the pleasure of teaching." Neville began. This was not what James had been expecting. "I have a student that needs help with some practical work. I thought that, if you were interested, you could assist them. It would look good on job applications, should you decide not to pursue professional quidditch, and you'll get to spend more time in the greenhouses. Unsupervised."
Neville's idea appealed to James. Not the part about job applications, but the idea of being in the greenhouses unsupervised. James nibbled in the inside of his lower lip in thought--the alternative to biting his nails he picked up in fourth year. The idea sounded great... except for the part about helping a student. It would mean time spent in the greenhouses unsupervised with another person. Probably someone who wanted his mum's autograph and to meet his dad.
"Okay, I didn't want it to come to this," Neville began, taking a deep breath, "but please do this as a favour to me, James. This student has been through so much and they deserve a chance." James stared into the round face of the kind and brave man that he had known his entire life. Neville had always been a champion for students at Hogwarts, especially those in his own house. His kind eyes were soft and hopeful, his voice earnest. There was no way for James to deny this man such a small request.
"Alright, I'll do it. When do I start? And what material will I need to cover?" Neville's face broke out into a grin and he clapped a hand on James' shoulder. James returned the smile as Neville continue to stare at him with pride.
"Brilliant, James, I knew I could count on you! Could you meet with them as soon as tomorrow night? This student really needs all the help they can get. You'll be meeting in greenhouse two. I'll owl you at breakfast with a syllabus to work with. I think meeting them twice during the week will do just fine. I should warn you that they are going to be sitting the OWL for Herbology at the end of the year." James swallowed nervously. This was beginning to sound like an awful lot of extra work and James didn't like the possibility that he could disappoint Neville. If the portly man noticed James' nerves, he didn't say anything. He cheerfully dismissed James to clean up for dinner and joyfully levitated the tray of dragon fertilizer to a high shelf.
Freshly showered, and donning his blue Weasley sweater with a yellow J embroidered on the front, James entered the great hall for dinner. His eyes swept the length of the Gryffindor table until he spotted his family sitting near the middle. They were easily spotted by the cluster of red hair in varying shades. Sometimes it reminded James of a sunset.
He dropped down heavily next to Fred, clapping his back in greeting, and across from Lily and Hugo. Rose sat on Hugo's other side and beside her sat Roxy. Dominique sat across from her, joining the family and taking leave from her Ravenclaw friends for dinner for the first time this year. James peered around Fred but the seat between himself and Dominique was empty. No Louis (Gryffindor, like Victoire had been), Lucy (Hufflepuff like her older sister Molly had been) or Al, the person James wanted to see most.
"Where's Al?" He asked the table at large. Roxy and Dom leaned forward and twisted their heads around trying to see James past Rose. Hugo, Rose and Fred turned to look at him as well, but Lily continued to butter her dinner roll as if he hadn't spoken at all.
"Still avoiding Lorelei Wright," Lily deadpanned, as was their new routine. James huffed and shook his head angrily.
At first Al's cowardly avoidance of his ex-girlfriend had been mildly amusing to the family (with the exception of Lily) and even understandable. When Al didn't say hello at breakfast, James shrugged it off. He and Fred made a few jokes at Al's expense and life went on. James didn't even see Al during lunch (he assumed his brother had taken refuge with the house elves in the kitchen). He did, however, see Lorelei Wright enter the great hall with Rose. It had occurred to him then, that Al was forced to see Lorelei during lessons.
He felt sorry for his brother. That sympathy was enough for James to put up with Al's cowardly behaviour, but his frustration was mounting. James wasn't even sure what he was frustrated with. Al's cowardice? Lorelei's reappearance? Being unable to do anything to stop his brother hurting? Al could deny it all he liked. James knew that seeing Lorelei hurt him. He could see it in the thin set of his mouth, the crease between his eyebrows and his deliberate coolness.
But now James was sick of it. He hadn't seen nor spoken to his brother in two days. It was unacceptable, especially for seventh year. The number of Hogwarts meals they would have together was dwindling rapidly. Soon James would graduate, get a job and move out. Al would have another year at Hogwarts and they'd hardly see each other.
At least that's what James tried to tell himself. The truth forced its way to the forefront of his mind. James wanted Al to talk to him about it. He wanted to actually do something for his brother. Even if it entailed discussing their emotions. Even if it meant just sitting in silence together. He just bloody missed his brother.
"Bloody unbelievable. She isn't even sitting with us right now." James complained. Fred brought the tips of his fingers together and raised an eyebrow at James.
"Ah, but in young Albus' mind, she could arrive at any moment and he may have to sit at the same table as her. Perhaps he may hear her voice, smell her perfume, have to stare at what he has lost or gasp speak to her." Fred dramatized, collapsing against James, with his hand thrown over his eyes. James didn't even crack a smile as Fred began to sob loudly. People in the general vicinity smiled at Fred's theatrics, some even laughed (Hugo, loudest of all).
"Where is he? Is he at the Slytherin table?" James demanded. He stood from the bench and squinted his eyes at the Slytherin table. He spotted his brother easily, sitting next to platinum blonde Scorpius Malfoy and across from Malfoy's younger sister. "Right. I'm going over there and putting a stop to this."
If his sister or his cousin tried to stop him, James didn't hear it. They couldn't have stopped him. When James got a certain kind of idea stuck in his head he could become very determined and single-minded. This was one of those thoughts that got stuck. He strode purposefully toward the Slytherin table and didn't stop until he stood next to his brother. By this point his scowling stomp across the hall had caught the attention of a few interested parasites--er, students.
"Al, this is just sad." He announced loudly, his voice carrying over the din of the great hall. The proclamation garnered even more attention, something that went straight to James' head. Adrenaline began to seep through his body and his fingers began to curl into a fist and then relax.
Al jumped, his face a frozen mask of shock. His head whipped to the left and he stared up at James in surprise before he carefully arranged his face to look indifferent. Al surveyed his older brother coolly and James could tell by the twitch of Al's lips that his little brother knew why he was there, standing over his shoulder at the Slyherin table. James also knew, by the slight tilt of Al's head, that his little brother was going to fight him on it.
"Step off, James. You don't know what you're bloody talking about." Al warned, his tone clipped and cold. James recognized the threat. Cold dread spread down his neck, between his shoulder blades and dropped abruptly to his stomach. It wasn't often that he and Al fought.
Al wasn't a fighter. Like his battle of wits with Lily over breakfast, Al picked his confrontations with James. Their mum could count on one hand how many times her sons came to blows. When it did, it wasn't pretty. James always felt awful afterwards. If Al didn't back down, James usually did. He couldn't stomach the fallout, the memory of their last altercation always kept him in check. But something inside of James wouldn't let him step down this time.
"Like hell I don't. Anyone can see that you're being a bloody coward. Letting this girl decide how you live your life. It's pathetic, Al. I expect you to be sitting with us at breakfast tomorrow. We're you're bloody family and that means a hell of a lot more than some girl you dated in fourth year." Al glared at James. It twisted his features, made him look ugly and dangerous. He stood and faced James, tension rolling off of him in waves. His green eyes, usually sparkling like emeralds in the sun, burned with unspoken rage. James suspected that everything Al avoided and bottled up could be unleashed upon him at any moment. James stared, unflinching, back at him.
Al swelled to his full height in an attempt to get James to back down. He had grown quite a bit over the summer, but James still had a few inches on him. When the two were compared side by side, James knew that Al looked more intimidating than he did. James was wiry and had long limbs (a long arm makes for a better seeker's reach) that bordered on gangly, but Al was stocky and looked muscular. If it came down to a muggle brawl, Al looked like he would knock James down with one good hit. However, when put to the test the brothers were evenly matched in strength. If it came to a physical fight it was anyone's game. That's what made their physical altercations so frightening to those who witnessed them.
The two brothers stared each other down silently, challenging one another, while the great hall watched on with baited breath. It was Al who looked away first. When it came down to it, Al avoided trouble when he could.
"Piss off, James." Al knocked his shoulder into James roughly as he walked by him. James grit his teeth and counted slowly to ten before he turned and followed his brother out of the great hall. This argument was not over until James said it was over. He stomped his way into the entrance hall, his progress monitored by an audience of gossip hungry students, and froze just outside the door.
It seemed that he was not the only one intending to follow Al this evening. Lorelei Wright stepped out from behind a suit of armor, probably oblivious to the almost fight in the hall, as Al began to descend to the dungeons. Curiosity piqued and frustration forgotten, James disillusioned himself (a specialty of his, as Al had inherited the invisibility cloak) and followed her as she followed his brother. He moved slowly and kept to the shadows, skimming his shoulder against the wall, so as to not draw too much attention to himself.
Lorelei caught up to Al when he was just a few feet away from the Slytherin common room.
"Al," she called, her voice soft and cracking with anxiety. She stood under the warm glow of torchlight and James positioned himself so that he leaned against the wall across from her, hidden in the shadow, observing. Al froze at the sound of her voice. He stood just on the edge of the torchlight partially shrouded in darkness. His body tensed and then slowly relaxed, turning to face Lorelei, but not moving closer to the warm glow that illuminated the cold stone corridor. James wondered if maybe Al was relieved that it was Lorelei who had followed him from the hall and not James.
"Is there something you wanted?" He asked. It sounded polite enough, but his voice was flat and uncaring. James could see curiosity in Al's eyes, and something else that he couldn't place. Al did his best impression of a statue.
"I just wanted to apologize." Lorelei's voice was small and her gaze landed somewhere on the floor between herself and Al. Her fingers curled tightly around the excess fabric of her sleeves, bunching it up in her fist and then she released it. She repeated the process her sleeves growing more creased each time. Al continued to watch her in silence, the corners of his mouth pulled down and his eyes darkening.
"For all the rumours about us," she clarified, speaking quickly. "I knew that people were going to talk when I came back. I never meant for you to get dragged into it."
Al's lips pressed into a thin line. His cold mask of indifferent slipped and James could see the disbelief, the disappointment and the hurt written all over his brother's face. It was in the set of his jaw, the crease between his eyebrows and in his shaking hands. James was sure that Lorelei noticed the change by the way she wound and unwound the fabric of her sleeve nervously around her wrists.
"That is what you want to apologize for?" He asked her incredulously. His face took on an expression of anguish that reminded James too much of the night Al received Lorelei's owl. For the first time since Lorelei Wright had returned to Hogwarts, Al looked her in the eyes. He maintained that eye contact as he continued on, stepping toward her, his voice growing louder with each word.
"For the rumours? Not for, I don't know, breaking up with me over owl without giving me a reason? For not warning me that you were bloody dropping out of school? No, of course not but you'll apologize for things out of your fucking control because that makes perfect sense!" Al turned abruptly, breaking eye contact with Lorelei, and punched the wall hard. Lorelei recoiled when Al's fist whistled past her nose. She and James both flinched at the resounding crack of bones breaking.
Al howled with pain, cradling his broken hand to his chest protectively. With a dirty look toward Lorelei, and tears of pain in his eyes, he strode past her and James, presumably headed to the hospital wing. James wondered if Al punched the wall so he'd have a physical ache to distract from emotional pain.
Lorelei stood frozen in the dungeon corridors. She stared unseeingly at the place where Al had been. James was the first to snap out of the shock of witnessing someone punch a stone wall. His earlier anger returned to him tenfold, only this time it was not aimed toward Al, but at the girl who caused his brother so much pain. James had never had the chance to say anything to her after she broke up with Al through a letter. She had never returned to school. She had never given Al the chance to appeal to her, to press for a reason why.
And James had comforted Al by assuring him that when school started again he could confront Lorelei about her owl. In a moment of stupidity (naivety), James told Al that he could convinced Lorelei to change her mind. That they could get back together. Seeing that hope overpower the rejection and heartbreak in his brother's eyes had made James feel good. The hopelessness that followed after Christmas break... well James tried to forget. Otherwise he was overwhelmed by guilt. Lorelei broke Al's heart and James squeezed the shards to dust.
James removed the charm with a sharp rap to his head that he didn't quite feel. He stalked toward Lorelei, gripping her by the arm and wrenching her around to face him. She stared at him with wide fearful eyes, her mouth open in surprise. She might have gasped, but he couldn't hear it over the sound of blood rushing in his head. He put both his hands on her forearms and squeezed tightly, shaking her once for good measure.
"The nerve of you," he seethed, shaking her once more. "The nerve of you. Do you even know what you've done? DO YOU?" James' voice rose to a roar. He knew he should stop, he was scaring her. But he couldn't reign in his temper. His fingers tightened on her arms and brought his face so close to hers that he could have kissed her.
"Are you so self-centred that you don't know what you've done to him? Well, let me be the one to inform you. You broke my little brother's heart," James hissed. "He was actually brought to tears in front of me. He was so upset that he threw up. He didn't eat for days except for an apple. He had an apple in four days but only because our mum forced him. You destroyed him and worst of all you did it through a bloody letter." James released her arms, roughly shoving her away from him. She stumbled on the edge of her robe but managed to stay upright. Her frightened gaze never wavered from his. James stood up slowly, bringing his hands together behind his back.
"I've never met such a cowardly Gryffindor." He told her quietly. "Don't even think about trying out for the team."
James turned on his heel and followed in his brother's footsteps. He couldn't resist looking back at her, driven by curiosity. She had leaned against the wall and slid down so that she was leaning heavily on her heels in a crouch. Her fingers pressed hard into her cheeks, indenting the flesh. When she caught his eye and removed her hands from her face, he could see crescent moon markings in her skin.
"I know that I hurt him." She said softly, and James wasn't sure if she had meant him to hear her at all. "I know that even now it hurts him to look at me and remember. I know. It hurts me, too." She turned away from James and stared blankly at the wall in front of her.
James left her sitting alone. He had thought he'd feel something. Maybe relief or satisfaction, but he only felt numb. She deserved it, he told himself. She deserved to know that what she did had consequences. She needed to know just how badly she had hurt his brother. A broken hand was nothing compared to the emotional and mental pain Al had experienced because of Lorelei's actions. She could say she knew all she liked, but she hadn't been there. She hadn't seen.
She couldn't possibly know how much it hurt.
Author Note/Disclaimer (as of Dec. 2, 2012):
Thank you to those who have reviewed: TimeSeer, FOREVERwithYOU, AccioTeddyLupin, SydneyBlack and hiddenbyhair. And if you have reviewed after I submitted this, THANK YOU.
I apologize for any errors. I've not been sleeping well lately. Feel free to point any out in a review and I'll fix them.
The Actress belongs to Austin Gibbs. It's one of my favourite songs to listen to during travels. J.K. Rowling created this really awesome world of witches and wizards and these characters. She owns them. I just own Lorelei Wright (and some other characters you haven't met yet).
Thanks for reading. Please review.
xoxo The Tired Magician
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