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In Theory by Aphoride
Chapter 5 : Fifth
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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Fifth

It’s still dark when you wake up, your room bathed in shadows, the occasional flicker of light from the oil-lamps outside darting into your room under the curtains. You shiver, your duvet wrapped firmly around your body, enclosing you in a crimson cotton cocoon. Why you are awake now, at some horrible hour of the morning, is a question your mind isn’t yet ready to even contemplate. At the moment, you’re barely awake, mind conscious but still dreaming, your imagination still firing on all cylinders.

A small smile is sitting on your mouth, breaking once only to allow a long, drawn-out yawn to escape. Even though you don’t want to be awake now - you’d really much rather be asleep, dead to the world, your mind waiting to hear the shrill tone of your alarm clock before reviving you - and you’re not particularly happy about being awake now, the smile doesn’t vanish.

As you lay there, eyes closed, listening to the sound of the rain pouring down outside, you begin to think back over the previous evening. Or rather, the events of only a few hours ago (and Merlin, you hate that it was only a few hours ago. There really should have been at least six hours between the incident and you reaching this stage in the morning).

You remember everything. Two pints of Strongbow have done nothing to dull your memory, every image in your head clear and strong, the colours diluted only by the weather at the time, the night time landscape looking a bit like a Turner watercolour painting: bland, washed-out and covered over with a thin, grey film. Every sound has been recorded by your ears, your senses endeavoured to capture every possible little thing, from the lightest touch to the faintest taste.

He had looked at you - a fleeting glance, dark eyes dropping to your mouth, which lasted barely long enough for you register it. Confidence flaring, you’d taken the chance, grabbed the bull by it’s horns and kissed him, hoping that it wouldn’t backfire, that you hadn’t guessed incorrectly. You replay the scene in your mind, the few moments it took, surprised at your own daring. Perhaps, you muse, your thoughts growing steadily quicker and more fluid, you should wonder why he looked at you the way he did - did he want you to kiss him? Had he guessed about you? - but right now it really doesn’t matter much to you at all. There’ll be time in the future for you and him to deal with that, should it turn out that there is, in fact, anything to deal with in the first place.

Now you feel faintly stupid. In the future? You and him? You’re making it sound, even in your thoughts, like you’re actually going to be together, like there’s going to be something between you, more ‘you-and-him’ rather than ‘you and him’. It’s soppy - the kind of behaviour you and Albus tease Lily about. So far the only positive aspect you can find is that you haven’t yet started planning your wedding.

On the other hand, the idea of dating him, of being you-and-him rather than just friends, is a nice one. You feel content, almost a little smug at the thought. It’s a pleasing thought and you smile, eyes finally cracking open, up at the plain, dark ceiling. You can imagine walking along Diagon Alley with him, hand in hand, going to the park, to parties, standing in the back garden of the Burrow, bringing him back here... home...

Releasing a sigh, you turn over onto your side, pulling the duvet tight around your shoulders, careful not to let a single finger of cold air sneak underneath. Well, you’ve successfully killed any chance of you going back to sleep now. Completely distracted, you stare over at the curtains, listening to the rain outside, mind wandering from place to place. No matter where your mind goes, though, you inevitably come back to the idea of you-and-him. James-and-Cesare. We. Us. The question most often repeating in your mind is ‘what are we now? Where are we now?’. It’s a pertinent question, a fairly important one - at least, you think it is - and one you have no idea what the answer is. Does kissing someone make them your boyfriend? Do you have to ask him? Does he even want to be your boyfriend? What if he says no? He could, he might - it’s a possibility, a certain possibility.

You know that the only way to solve this problem, the only way to get your question answered, is to ask Cesare directly. Face-to-face would be best, you think, since by owl would just be impersonal and you can’t guarantee a result any other way. Even if you possessed a pair of two-way mirrors like your dad and Uncle Ron and you’d given one of them to him, you’d still need to talk to him personally.

Well, you suppose that now you know how you’re going to do it the only questions left are when and where. These are so far proving to be far trickier questions than simply ‘how’, since you need to know a little more to do anything whatsoever.

Day begins to arrive, dawn’s weak first breath filtering through the curtains in your room, slowly illuminating the items lying closest to the window, throwing shadows onto your desk from bottles of ink, quills and the odd Chocolate Frog wrapper. You can hear the rain slowly retreating, beaten back by the fresh day, before coming to a complete halt. The temperature in your room doesn’t seem to change, though - it’s still cold and you remain huddled under the duvet.

Temporarily stumped for answers to the questions of where and when to ask Cesare to be your boyfriend (something which releases a small pair of butterflies in your stomach each time you think about it), you close your eyes lightly, deciding to try and get some kind of rest before you have to go to work.

Naturally, you’ve only had your eyes closed for perhaps a couple of minutes - although it might be longer, you’re not quite so good at measuring time - when a bird starts singing outside your window. It’s a sweet, piercing melody that would, in almost any other situation, be considered quite pretty, but you’re not particularly in the mood to listen to nature’s opera this morning.

Several other birds join in on the dawn chorus shortly after, each one adding his own tune to the growing symphony, and the sound clashes, jarring every now and then as two notes disagree, knocking the whole thing off balance. It’s loud and annoying and growing harder and harder for you to ignore the sentiment that perhaps you should just get up - it’s morning anyway and you’re not going to get back to sleep, so why not make use of the extra time?

In the end, it’s twenty past six when you slip out of bed, padding through into the kitchen area to find something to eat. It’s a mark, you feel, of just how early it is (and how no one in the world is awake at this time) that there’s absolutely nothing on the WWN apart from some kind of smooth jazz, no matter how many channels you flick through. You take your time with breakfast, and then your shower, glad of the extra time since your mind seems to be only half-functioning this morning, every task taking twice as long as normal.

You end up leaving early - probably the earliest you’ve ever left, you imagine - locking the door of your flat behind you just as the clock on your mantelpiece ticks over to show half past eight. Normally, at this time you’d be searching for a carton of juice in your fridge and a part of you misses the morning rush to be ready on time.

So far, as you stroll out onto Diagon Alley, your robes hovering barely an inch above the pools of water still on the ground from the previous night’s rain, you haven’t seen any evidence that getting up early in the morning is a good idea. There’s no one around at this hour: only the occasional person walking down the alley, usually dressed in block-coloured robes, an insignia of the company they work for stitched into the breast pocket. Half the shops are shut (including the ice-cream parlour), and even the day itself is gloomy, clouds filling the sky overhead.

As you approach Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, you spot a figure leaning against the wall by the shop. You recognise him immediately: the indigo dragon-skin jacket is one you remember well, your eyes having soaked up the colour often enough last night that it’s practically embedded in your memory. Your hands by your sides flex slightly, remembering the feel of the scales underneath your palms.

You feel your stomach twist uncomfortably, eying him as you get closer. Why is he here, of all places? Why this early in the morning? As you get closer to him, you see his head turn to look in your direction, sunglasses glinting gently in the sunlight. You know he’s seen you, you know he’s spotted you - there’s no chance of you walking straight past him, trying to pretend that you hadn’t seen him, if that had been your plan in the first place. Quite honestly, you’re not sure what to do now, not sure why he’s here or what he wants. Talking to him, you think, seems like the best idea - but what in Merlin’s name would you say? Hi? How are you? How did you sleep? Your mind is blank; you can’t think beyond the next fifteen seconds.

You reach him far quicker than you expected, the journey seeming to have taken less than half the usual time, even with you carefully stepping around the deeper puddles on the street. Foolishly, since you know it’s untrue, you conclude that not only does time go faster when you’re having fun but also when you’re faced with something you don’t want to do.

Cesare hasn’t moved since he looked at you. He hasn’t twitched, shifted position, flexed his hands, adjusted his sunglasses on his nose. Nothing. He’s just stood there and watched you, silent and faintly foreboding, waiting for you to reach him, waiting for the inevitable confrontation. Now you can see his expression: it’s blank, masked, as though there’s a thin veil between him and you, stopping you from seeing his expression. You wonder if this is a good sign or a bad sign - this kind of indifferent, emotionless look - but, either way, it’s not making you feel any more confident.

Just before you stop in front of him, he pushes himself off the wall, taking a small step towards you.

“Hey,” he says quietly, that one single word somehow doubling the tension between you. It’s now or nothing. Make or break.

“Hi,” you reply, thankful that at least your voice sounds vaguely confident. “Er... are you - do you, I mean…” taking a deep breath, you start again. “Are you going anywhere right now?”

“Not right now, no,” he assures you, head turning slightly towards the street. You imagine someone’s walking down, glancing at the two of you standing outside Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Sure enough, a moment later a wizard wearing the dark green robes of Slug and Jigger’s Apothecary hurries past, not once looking your way.

When he says nothing more, you take the initiative and gesture vaguely towards the shop to your right.

“Do you want to come inside?” you ask him. “Just for a little bit. The store doesn’t open until nine so no one will be around, other than my aunt and uncle and they’ll be busy sorting out the shop.”

He nods and you step forward, closer to him, raising a hand to knock on the door as usual, looking through the glass for Angelina approaching, impatient this time. You’re ready for this conversation - the one you hope you’ll be having - you’re primed and armed, as prepared as you think you'll ever be. You don’t see Angelina coming, though, and try to suppress the urge to move, to knock again, to run a hand through your hair.

Uncle George steps into the shop, casting an appraising eye around the room. As his eyes pass over the doorway, he spots you and grins, giving you a cheerful wave. He picks his way through the shop, carefully avoiding what looks to you like a box of quick-start fireworks lying on the floor, vanishing briefly behind a large stand advertising the new fireworks package, golden stars flying out of the top of it every four and a half seconds. Stopping in front of the door, he opens it with a flourish, beaming down at you, magenta robes clashing with his hair, his fake ear missing, exposing the hole in the side of his head.

“Morning, Jamie!” he says brightly, his gaze passing over you and Cesare, taking both of you in, shifting to one side to allow both of you to step inside. “And Jamie’s friend. Come in, come in.”

You return his smile, although perhaps not as easily as you would normally have done, and move into the shop, glancing over your shoulder to see Cesare following you, looking a bit out of place in the brightly coloured shop, even with his indigo jacket. His sunglasses are now in his hand, fingers running lightly over the sides, the gold ‘DG’ glittering as the multi-coloured lights always on in the shop hit it. Every now and then his gaze turns to the wound on your uncle’s head, examining it with a detached sort of curiosity.

“So, how are you this morning?” George asks, rubbing his hands together, a gleam in his eye that you recognise well. It’s the one he always gets when he has a new idea, a new invention in mind, a new prank to play at the next family get-together. “We’ve got a lot to do today, so I hope you’re well rested. I was thinking of -”

“Sorry,” you interrupt him quickly, throwing a quick look at Cesare, who’s thankfully stopped staring at Uncle George’s ear and is now looking round the shop, too busy to notice, taking everything in, from the magical hangman tramping up the steps to the gallows to the miniature Auror and Dark wizard figures currently engaged in a huge group duel that’s turning nastier by the second. “But can we,” you indicate yourself and Cesare with a hand. “Borrow the back room for a minute? We won’t be long.”

“Sure - go straight through,” George agrees readily, not questioning why you want to borrow the room. “Just watch out for the Decoy Detonators. I left a box of them on the floor and if you set them off, you’ll be the one with the job of finding them all.”

“Great, thanks,” you nod, making a mental note to avoid the box of Decoy Detonators at all costs. They’re fast little buggers, designed to make you run around for at least five minutes after them, scrabbling under sofas and behind bookcases to try and catch them. You do not want to have to pick them up: it would take you the best part of the day to get them all.

Tilting your head in direction of the back room, you move over to it, easily finding a path through the maze-like store, Cesare catching up to you quickly, walking almost beside you. In the corner of your eye you can see his fingers running over his sunglasses repeatedly. Behind you, Uncle George hums softly to himself as he potters around the shop. Briefly, you wonder what he thinks about this whole scenario, before the thought escapes your mind - you can always ask him later, after all. He’d probably be more than glad to let you know exactly what was on his mind, if anything at all.

Slipping inside the room, you close the door behind the two of you and pause for a moment before turning around, taking advantage of the extra time to try and get your thoughts in some semblance of order.

Cesare watches you carefully, his eyes studying you intently and you wish that you could understand what he’s thinking now - it would be helpful. Invaluable, you could even say.

“Last night,” he starts softly, his expression falling from blank to serious, a faint shimmer of worry visible in his eyes. It’s the only place you can see any kind of emotion in him and you’re surprised by how composed he is. You’re sure you don’t look anywhere near as calm. “I -”

“Will you go out with me?”

The words have left your mouth before you even realised what you were saying. That small window of confidence, that small burst of courage, had been all you had and now… now, having said all you wanted to say (other than ‘I enjoyed snogging you, even if it was cold and wet and windy’) you can’t do anything other than stare at him, almost shocked by your own behaviour, waiting for his response.

For his part, he looks just as surprised as you feel. His mask has shattered completely, blown away by your outburst. As he stares back at you, he doesn’t move, doesn’t blink. He’s like a statue, standing there, and you imagine you’ve stunned him, taken him by surprise, caught him off guard. He seems frozen in place, mind slowly digesting what you said, wheels turning inside his head to piece the sentence together, untangle the jumbled mess your mouth must have produced by saying the words so quickly.

The longer he takes to respond, though, the lower your confidence sinks. You eye him nervously, licking your lips briefly, your mouth feeling dry. Perhaps you shouldn’t have said anything, perhaps he was about to say ‘it was nice, but I don’t want to do it again’, or worse ‘I’m not gay’. Perhaps he thinks it’s too soon for that, for anything along those lines. You’re nervous, worried, anxious, desperate to hear some kind of answer - that way, you reason to yourself, you’ll at least be able to move on with the day instead of not being able to focus on anything else, this scenario playing on repeat in your head.

After what seems to you like an age, he nods slowly, a smile spreading across his mouth.

“Yes,” he murmurs quietly. “I’d like that.”

You grin, relief spreading through you like the flu: fast, unstoppable and absolutely incurable.

“Great,” you breathe, stepping forwards, reaching out an arm to pull him to you, just to be closer to him - to your boyfriend.

Your boyfriend. Merlin, it’s nice to think that about him, you reflect, as he looks at you, meeting your eyes easily. He’s your boyfriend now and you feel a strange, almost childish want to go and tell everyone you know that Cesare Zabini is, as of a minute ago, your boyfriend. You don’t, though, because he’s far too distracting (not that you mind in the slightest) and he’s pressing a swift kiss to your mouth once, twice, and somewhere in the back of your mind you remember that Aunt Angelina or Uncle George could walk in at any moment.

He shifts closer to you, though, slipping an around your neck and your mind turns blank, wiped of all coherent thought. There’s just him and you and the room around you both, and even the room seems strangely removed from the situation.

“George, I was - oh!”

Aunt Angelina is standing in the doorway, a surprised, faintly bemused expression on her face as she looks at you and Cesare. You can feel yourself blushing, stealing a glance at Cesare (who, you’re slightly envious to note, is not blushing at all) and wondering what on earth to do in this situation.

“What’s up, Angie?” Uncle George appears behind her shoulder and you resist the urge to groan and bury your head like a child.

On the back of your neck, Cesare’s fingers idly run over your skin and you fight back a shiver. A part of you wonders what he’s playing at, acting like this in front of your aunt and uncle, but the more reasonable part of you guesses that it’s just a transposition of his habit of turning things around and around in his fingers. His fingertips are drawing tiny circles over and over again on your skin.

Uncle George spots you and he grins, a devilish glint entering his eyes.

“Well, well, well,” he begins and you immediately know you’re in trouble. Not trouble as in the ‘being punished’ kind, but trouble as in the ‘I’m going to blackmail you into doing the really boring, horrible jobs’ kind. “I didn’t know you had a boyfriend, Jamie.”

You don’t really know what to say. All you can do is stare at your them, completely stumped, trying to think of something to say. Something to take the attention of you, some way of diffusing the situation.

“I… I have to go now,” Cesare tells you softly and you turn immediately to look at him.

You’re disappointed – not to mention wary of being left with Uncle George and Aunt Angelina on your own - but you accept it and nod.

“All right,” you murmur in reply, well aware that your aunt and uncle are still standing in the doorway, no doubt straining their ears to catch every word the two of you say to each other. “I’ll owl you.”

Cesare gives a nod, a faint smile lingering on his lips. Kissing you one last time - softly, chastely - he slips from the room, Uncle George moving to one side to allow him past, watching him go.

“Do Ginny and Harry know you’ve got a boyfriend?” George enquires politely. A little too politely for your liking.

“We only got together this morning,” you shrug in response, face still flaming, ruffling your hair with one hand, wishing that this wasn’t quite as awkward as it’s turned out to be. “So, no, they don’t know. You won’t say anything to them, will you?”

“He won’t say anything,” Angelina assures you with a smile, shooting a quick, stern look at Uncle George.

For a moment, Uncle George looks like he’s going to disagree, tease both her and you by insinuating that he might… just might let something slip accidentally, but then he nods, his expression the most serious you’ve seen him all morning. It doesn’t say much, but it’s enough to calm your worry.

“I won’t say anything,” he assures you. “Just make sure you tell you Harry and Ginny soon - and bring him along one Sunday. I want to meet this bloke properly if you’re going to insist on snogging him in the back room of my shop.”

You grin sheepishly, feeling a strange mixture of happiness and embarrassment, knowing that your face is turning red again, if, of course, it ever stopped being red. Aunt Angelina shakes her head with a fond smile, giving you a quick wink, and Uncle George returns your grin enthusiastically.

“Now, Jamie,” he begins, clapping his hands together once, the sound loud in the room. “I was thinking last night that…”

He launches off into a long explanation of his plans to decorate the shop for Halloween - which, although it isn’t exactly close yet, is a little closer than comfort, being only a month away - and you listen. Perhaps you’re not listening quite as closely as you should be, a little preoccupied with nothing at all as your mind is still experiencing the almost blissful sensation of floating on air, but you manage to follow the idea and nod your head dutifully in all the correct places.

A few minutes later, as he ushers you out onto the shop floor, instructing you to go to the till and await the first few customers who will burst through the door in the next five minutes, you wonder if you’d really been paying as much attention as you thought you had been. You think - but you’re certain you must have heard him wrongly - that he wants you to dress up as an Acromantula for Halloween.


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