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Chapter 20 : Chapter twenty - A Warm Welcome
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Chapter twenty – A warm welcome
“Dammit! Where is it?” I cursed out loud and threw yet another black shirt on my bedroom floor.
Seriously, where on earth had I hidden that damn shirt? And how long had that sock been there?
I didn’t even own that many pieces of clothing; this really shouldn’t be so hard!
Actually, I think that was the exact reason why this was so hard. I didn’t own anything else I could think of that would be appropriate when meeting your boyfriend’s sister for the first time, and that’s why I had to find that shirt. I really should let Vic take me on that shopping trip she keeps talking about. That way I would at least have something nice in my closet and this wouldn’t be so bloody stressful every single time.
I was going to be so late.
Luckily, Joshua should be used to it already. I just hoped it wouldn’t give his sister a bad impression of me. Besides, it was Joshua’s fault that I was this late – sort of. He kept me from getting enough sleep last night, which resulted in me falling asleep on my couch and waking up only fifteen minutes ago.
Yes, definitely his fault.
I couldn’t even describe the leap I made from the couch when I woke up and realised what time it was, nor the tumble to the floor that followed as my leg still didn’t cope well with sudden, rash movements. But no one needed to hear about that.
I had spent most of my remaining time trying to find the missing shirt, but I was running out of places where I could’ve possibly hidden it. So as I rummaged through my closet again, I was also trying to find something to replace it.
The dark blue shirt I tried on next was kind of nice, at least a lot better than all the others I had tried on. But I was uncomfortable about the fact that it showed my boobs a bit too much for my liking. I glanced at the alarm clock on my night stand for the millionth time, seeing that I still had about six minutes left. I would need a minute to get downstairs and two to fix my hair. That meant I still had a little time to search for another one.
I dived back into the closet.
Crap. Crap. Horrible. Horrible. Definitely not that one!
“Hi,” a voice suddenly commented from behind me.
It startled me, making me pull my head quickly out of the closet, bumping it on the top shelf on the way – something that loosened my verbal skills quite effectively.
Cursing always was the perfect way to release sudden pain.
Rubbing the sore spot on the back of my head and backing away from the closet at a slower pace, I finally turned to look at the familiar figure leaning against my bedroom doorframe. An amused grin was plastered all over my best friend’s face as he stared at me, trying hard not to snigger. “Did I scare you?” he asked.
“No.” The frown on my face made him laugh out loud.
He was practically begging for that punch I had in store for him.
I narrowed my eyes and glared at James. I knew exactly what his game was. He was thinking that laughter was the best icebreaker, that I would just join in and forget all about his week long absence. Well, he could laugh all he wanted – I wasn’t going to give in that easily. If he was expecting a warm welcome, he sure as hell wasn’t getting it. No way did he deserve it and no way was I going to make it easy for him. Not even when I wanted nothing more than to hold him now that he was here again.
I gritted my teeth together and forced myself to stay strong.
James stared back, the traces of his amusement still visible on his lips. “Oh come on. Don’t I get a hug?” he questioned, his left hand running through his messy, dark hair.
Merlin, I had missed that sight.
“I don’t know,” I replied stubbornly, shaking the thoughts out of my head and crossing my arms to keep myself firm. “It depends. Are you going to leave me again for a freaking week and not even bother to send one ruddy owl?”
“Never,” he promised, his grin turning into a genuine smile that woke up the butterflies in the bottom of my stomach.
I bit the insides of my cheeks and tried to ignore it. But when James opened his arms and raised his brow in a questioning way, I lost all my will to pretend to be mad. I closed the distance between us, wrapping my arms around his neck and hugging him as tightly as possible.
Seriously Gwen, do you have any self-control when it comes to him?
“I hate you,” I muttered against his shoulder.
“I missed you too,” he whispered back, his arms squeezing me closer.
I inhaled deeply, filling my nostrils with the scent of his aftershave. He smelled so good, divine even, just like he always did. I tried not to let it affect me too much.
“You’re a bloody arsehole, did you know that?” I added after a moment of silence.
“Yeah, I did – I do. And I’m sorry about that, will you forgive me?”
“No,” I said childishly, closing my eyes and tightening my grip around his neck. I didn’t plan on ever letting go.
He let out a small hem and squeezed me back, bringing his other hand to brush the back of my head softly.
We just stood there, in a comfortable silence, for who knows how long. A minute. An hour. Maybe a day. I didn’t know or care. My head was dizzy from all the feelings that his sudden arrival had caused and I never wanted to move. He was back and that was all that mattered.
“So what have you been up to?” he asked eventually, still not showing any intention of releasing me from his embrace.
“Not much,” I murmured, my voice muffled against his shoulder. “I cleaned your flat,” I added with a small, mischievous smile making its way onto my lips.
James laughed. “I knew you would. What did you do with all the stuff? Burn it? Throw it out the window?”
I chuckled as a response; he knew me so well. And I knew him. It didn’t go unnoticed how he deliberately didn’t mention Kat’s name. He was avoiding the subject and I wanted to point that out to him, but at the same time I didn’t want to ruin the moment.
“What else?” he questioned before I could decide what to do.
“Tell me. I want to know every little detail. I haven’t seen you in a week, I can’t even remember the last time we were apart for that long.”
“Well you didn’t miss anything. I’ve been here, getting bored, but that’s about it.”
“Good. My week was boring too. I don’t know what I was thinking. I shouldn’t have gone.”
“Why did you then?” I asked carefully, keeping my tone casual as I had a feeling I wouldn’t like his answer.
“You know,” he said and sighed before finally releasing me. I watched him turn away from me and scratch the back of his head awkwardly, then start to pace around the room. “Because I’m always depending on you so much, especially lately. I feel like I’m always overburdening you with all my problems and I wanted to try and solve things on my own.”
“And how did that work out for you?” I questioned matter-of-factly.
He glanced over his shoulder, giving me a glare that told me how stupid my question had been. “Oh you know perfectly well it did not work out.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “And you should know that I don’t mind that you’re ‘over-burdening’ me. If I did, I would smack you in the head and tell you to solve it yourself.”
Laughter erupted from my best friend’s lips. “That you would. What on earth was I thinking?”
“Clearly you weren’t thinking at all,” I replied with an amused smile. “No surprise there.”
“Oi,” he protested and picked up a pillow from my bed, tossing it in my direction fast.
I caught it easily. “My skills aren’t that rusty yet.”
“Good to know.” He laughed, but it quickly turned into a yawn. “Hey, you want to grab something to eat?” he asked, stretching his arms over his head. “I’m starving.”
I stared at him, not even bothering to respond. Not mentioning Kat’s name was one thing, but now this? Was he seriously going to ignore the whole subject? Pretend like nothing had happened?
“What?” he questioned after seeing the look on my face, his tone bulging with innocence.
Apparently he was.
“Oh come on, you’re not going to tell me anything you did during the week, or anything about – you know?”
“Well…” he started, turning his gaze away from me. “That wasn’t the most important thing on my list.”
“I just don’t know what to say.”
I let out a helpless sigh and sat down on the edge of my bed. “Okay then, let’s start with the easy stuff. Where were you?” I asked, tapping the spot next to me. “At some Muggle hotel?”
His eyes travelled to the place on the bed where my hand still lay, but he didn’t approach it. I could see his cheeks turning slightly red. “Yeah, about that… don’t get mad, okay?”
I rolled my eyes at him. “Have I ever?”
It was his turn to ask stupid questions. It’s not like I had ever judged him or gotten mad about something he did, not even when I might have wanted to grab him by the ears and slap some sense into him.
But did that mean I wouldn’t like his answer at all? My mind immediately raced to several different possibilities. How he probably had slept with a different girl every day – no, scratch that – with multiple girls every day to keep his mind occupied.
Maybe I didn’t want to know after all.
“I stayed at Freddy’s,” James said, giving me a cautious glance.
I think my jaw hit the floor on its way down. He was at Freddy’s? I would’ve never in a million years…
I turned my eyes quickly in James’s direction, narrowing them ominously. “You stayed at Freddy’s?”
“That stupid moron!” I snapped, spicing it up with few other well-chosen curses. “He’s been loitering here almost every day, seeing how bloody upset and worried I was and he never said a word? I’m going to kill him!”
“Take it easy on him, he didn’t tell you because I asked him not to.”
Hah, like that was going to happen! Fred Weasley was not going to get away easy for this.
“Why were you there then?” I questioned, turning the discussion away from Freddy but continuing to silently think of a good punishment for my other so-called ‘best friend’. “I thought you wanted to solve things on your own.”
“Oh, I did. I didn’t really see him that much. He was always at work, or at Jenny’s, or here keeping you company.”
“Did you send him to spy on me?”
The question was actually meant as a joke, but the look on his face told me I had guessed exactly right.
“Hah!” I added. “I knew there was something odd about that. He doesn’t spend that much time with me normally!”
And here I was, thinking that everyone knew how pathetic I was without James. I should’ve realised something fishy was going on.
“I just didn’t want you to be all bored and alone here,” he replied with a remorseful expression.
“Well, I hope you felt bad knowing that I was worrying.”
“I did,” he said, pouting his lips in an apologetic way as he finally sat down next to me.
I rolled my eyes and looked away from him, but didn’t say anything else about it.
“What did you do then, if you were there all alone and didn’t get any thinking done either?”
“I had figured that one out already.” I shook my head at James who chuckled. “What else? You were gone for a week.”
“That’s about it. I owe Freddy quite a few bottles of Firewhiskey.”
I stared at him for a moment, expecting him to add something to it, but he didn’t. “Really?” I asked eventually. “You just got drunk and stayed at Freddy’s flat? That’s it?”
He nodded and lay down on my bed, closing his eyes and placing his hands behind his neck. “Are you shocked?”
“Quite frankly… yes!” I admitted.
He smirked in satisfaction.
I studied James for a moment, just lying there, looking quite as relaxed and easy-going as he always did. But it was just an act. I knew he must be hurting after all that happened, but why would he pretend otherwise to me? I couldn’t even start to guess.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked eventually, after a long silence.
“About what?” he questioned, not even opening his eyes.
“Are you deliberately playing stupid? About Kat, the baby, the whole situation.”
“Oh,” he said. “Not really.”
“I know,” he agreed, clearing his throat a bit. “I just – I try not to think about it too much.”
I waited patiently for him to continue. He was still keeping his eyes closed, refusing to look at me, but I could tell he was going to say something else. I knew he really wanted to talk about it.
And I was right.
“If you really want to know, I’m actually feeling quite ecstatic about it,” James added after a long while.
“Oh?” I noted. “Because drinking Fred’s whole stash of Firewhiskey doesn’t sound like ecstatic to me.”
“Well I am. I’m ecstatic that I don’t have to spend the rest of my life with a girl like her,” he started, opening his eyes, but keeping his gaze fixed on the ceiling. “It still doesn’t mean that I’m not angry. I hate to think about how she fooled me, and I don’t even want to say her name out loud because it makes me absolutely furious.
“I mean what the hell was wrong with her? Did she get some sick pleasure out of it? And how on earth did she think she could get away with it?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. She fooled us all.”
“Urgh, I’m just glad to get rid of her. That girl has some serious issues. I should’ve stayed away from her in the first place.”
“Why did you date her then?”
This time he did glance at me, his expression revealing more than a hundred words ever could. “Do you really want to know?”
“Maybe not,” I muttered, looking away.
Never in a million years would’ve been more accurate.
James laughed. “You’re such a prude, love.”
No, not a prude. Just not comfortable talking about your sex life – because it doesn’t involve me.
Argh, go away, stupid thought!
I frowned at the sentiment and James grinned, thinking I was making a face at him.
Silence fell upon us for a moment. James closed his eyes again and I fiddled the hem of my shirt, trying to think of what to say next. There were so many things I wanted to ask him, but I also wanted to give him time, to clear everything that was on his mind. Because even though he said he was feeling ecstatic and angry, to me he seemed more like sad. I guess that’s why he was pretending, not only to me, but to himself too. He didn’t want to admit how much this whole thing was troubling him.
“Well, I’m just glad that you’re alright,” I commented eventually, not wanting to pressure him. “I was quite worried.”
“And I’m really sorry about that,” he admitted.
“I know. But you could’ve at least sent me a letter, you know?” I pointed out.
James nodded, finally sitting up again. “Yeah. And I wanted to. I even started writing a few. But I always binned them. I didn’t know what to say to you.”
“A simple ‘I’m fine’ would’ve been enough.”
“Maybe to you, but I could never leave it at that. And then I realised I didn’t want to say all those things in a letter.”
“For example how thankful I am for everything you did that day.”
“You really should thank Molly. She was the sneaky little spy who broke into St. Mungo’s archives and found nothing.”
“Remind me to get her a present. But whose idea was the whole potion scheme?” he asked with a knowing grin.
I just chuckled, glancing down at my hands and letting the silence in again. But when I turned to look at him a moment later, I caught him staring at me, a smile on his lips.
“What?” I questioned with interest.
“Nothing. I just really missed you, that’s all,” he said, his smile deepening when I rolled my eyes at him.
“Oh, I’m sure you had a lot of time to think about me between sipping Firewhiskey and passing out.”
He grinned. “You’d be surprised,” he said and before I got to comment on that, his stomach made a loud protest, making us both snigger.
“I guess you weren’t kidding about starving. Come on, I’ll fix you something to eat,” I said and was about to get up from the bed before he grabbed my hand to stop me.
“Wait, there’s something else,” he told me. “Something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh?” I questioned as he pulled me back down. “What?”
He didn’t answer immediately and my curiosity started to grow every moment he remained silent. His eyes were fixed on mine, but I could feel his anxiety through his fingers from the way he kept fiddling with my hand. I watched him open and close his mouth before he let out a small, nervous hem and glanced down.
I furrowed. What was that? James, my best friend for almost fifteen years, was never – and I repeat never – edgy like that.
He lifted his gaze back up and opened his mouth to say whatever it was he wanted to tell me. But he didn’t get the chance to say anything but ‘I’. A sudden knocking on my front door interrupted him.
“Shit,” he cursed, looking annoyed by the disturbance, but I barely registered that.
I grabbed his hand, twisting it towards me so I could take a look at his watch. “Dammit!” it was my turn to curse.
“You’re expecting someone?” James questioned after me as I rushed out of the bedroom and towards the door.
But I wasn’t listening. All I could think of was what a lousy girlfriend I was.
“I’m so, so, so sorry,” I said with an apologetic frown as I swung the door open for Joshua.
“Did you forget?” he asked with a small, understanding smile.
Why was he being so sweet? I deserved a good shouting.
“I didn’t! I was getting ready, but then…” I glanced behind me towards James, who had followed me into the living room.
“Joshua,” he said, acknowledging my boyfriend.
“Aah. I guess you had a good reason then,” Joshua commented calmly, nodding his greetings to James. “Another time then?”
“No, no – I –” I glanced helplessly between the two men.
What should I do? I needed to make a decision. How did I make that decision?
“Go,” James offered, his tone revealing that he didn’t really mean it. “We can catch up later.”
I turned to look at him, my helpless expression turning into a troubled grimace. I didn’t want to leave him now when he was finally back, but I didn’t want to disappoint Joshua either.
Thankfully the latter came to my rescue. “You’re welcome to join us,” the blonde man said.
James shook his head. “Thanks, but I don’t want to intrude.”
“Oh no, we’re just having dinner with my sister. There’s enough food for you too, so it’s not a problem.”
James glanced at me for reassurance and I nodded. He seemed to ponder it for a moment but eventually gave in. “Well, sure. Thanks.”
“Great. Come whenever you’re ready, okay?” Joshua turned to look at me and smiled before leaning closer to give me a kiss on the cheek. “Take your time.”
“Yeah,” I breathed.
Joshua smiled once more before retreating through the doorway and back towards the staircase. I closed the door after him, pleased that everything had turned out well. As I spun around to face my best friend again, I found him examining me with a puzzled look.
“What?” I questioned.
He snapped out of it. “Nothing. Do you still need to fix yourself, or something?”
I nodded. “Does my hair look like ready to you?” I pointed towards the tangled mess. “And I need to change my shirt, if I can find something else to wear.”
“What’s wrong with that one?”
“It just doesn’t seem proper…”
“Now you’re being ridiculous. I think it’s perfect. You don’t need to change.”
“You don’t think it’s too – revealing?” I questioned.
“Well, it does give a nice view,” he started, a smirk plastered on his lips. “But no, trust me, it’s not too revealing.”
“Arse,” I muttered, nudging my shirt up a bit and punching his shoulder before escaping to the bathroom to fix my hair. And hide my blush. I could hear James still chuckling in the other room. Rolling my eyes I grabbed my brush from the shelf and started to untangle my hair.
He appeared in the doorway a few moments later. “So,” he started. “Things getting serious with the Healer since you’re meeting his family members?”
“Just his sister,” I pointed out. “But I guess things are going pretty well.”
“Hmm,” he commented. “You do seem to like him more than the others.”
“I do,” I admitted, keeping my concentration on my hair. I knew where this was going and I didn’t like it.
“He treating you well?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?” I questioned, wanting to stop his inquiry.
“Just curious,” he replied.
I didn’t think that was the real reason. My guess was that he didn’t really care for Joshua and he was trying to find reasons to dislike him more. That’s what he always did. It made the bottom of my stomach lurch uncomfortably.
But I wasn’t going to let him do it this time, so I changed the subject. “What were you going to say before Joshua interrupted?”
“Oh, nothing important,” he responded.
I glanced at him through the mirror, to show him that I didn’t believe him, but he was too busy cracking his knuckles to look at me.
“James,” I started, forcing him to look up.
“Seriously,” he objected. “It was nothing, nothing important at least.”
“Then you can easily just tell me.”
“Because you’re already late.”
I let out a sigh. “Fine. But you’ll tell me later?”
“Sure,” he promised, but I wasn’t sure I believed him.
I gave up on trying to fix my hair and just quickly pulled it up in a ponytail. I kept the shirt after James once again reassured me it was fine. We exited my flat and hurried down the staircase to the floor below.
“He has the whole floor?” James questioned after seeing there was only one door.
“I know Healer’s make a tidy sum, but I didn’t realise he was this loaded.”
“Yeah, his grandparents left him a big part of their estate when they died. His grandmother was some kind of researcher and his granddad owned the Caerphilly Catapults.”
“Cool,” he replied.
I lifted my hand to knock on the door, but paused as a thought occurred to me. I turned to look at James. “Melissa Llewellyn, Ravenclaw, year above us at Hogwarts,” I said to him.
“Huh?” he commented, furrowing his brows.
“That’s the name of Joshua’s sister, ring any bell?”
He shook his head. “No, should it?”
“I don’t know. I saw her picture yesterday and she looked vaguely familiar. I just thought that might be because of you.”
James frowned. “You see a familiar looking girl and you automatically assume she’s one of my exes? Thanks a lot, Gwen.”
“Well that’s the case most of the time,” I replied with a grin, turning my attention back to the door and knocking before he could come up with a witty retort.
“Hi,” Joshua beamed after opening the door a few moments later, stepping aside so he could let us in. “You were quick.”
“Yeah. I wasn't that far from ready.”
“I just thought you might want to finish your discussion first. I’m sure you have a lot to talk about.”
“We'll do that after dinner,” James answered before I got the chance.
Joshua nodded as a response, smiling a little. I tried to determinate if it was a real smile, or just a polite one, but I couldn't be sure. I knew he had wanted me to stay the night since he would be working extra-long shifts for the next few weeks and we’d barely have any time to spend together. It wouldn’t surprise me if he felt disappointed. But he seemed to also be the most understanding person in the whole universe. That’s why I couldn’t really tell what was going through his head at that moment.
"Anyway, here is my little sister, Melissa," Joshua started, turning his attention towards the smiling brunette near him. "Melissa, this is Gwen and her best friend James."
"Hi, it's so nice to finally meet you," the petite young woman said, holding out her hand to me. "Josh has told me so much about you. I had to come and make sure he wasn't just making you up."
"Nice to meet you too,” I replied a bit awkwardly.
"And James," she continued as she released my hand. "Nice to see you again."
“Melissa,” James greeted with a nod.
“You can both call me Mel, that’s what everyone does. My family members are the only ones who refuse to acknowledge my nickname.” She rolled her eyes at her brother.
“You didn’t tell me you knew James,” Joshua said to her.
"Oh please, everyone knew him at Hogwarts."
James chuckled in response, but didn’t say anything to that. I tried to examine his expression, to see if I could pick up any traces of him remembering her as well. It wouldn’t be the first time he had failed to recall a girl’s name, but I don’t think he ever forgot a face.
If he did remember her, he wasn’t showing it.
"He dated my best friend,” Melissa continued. “And another friend too, I think."
Thank you, Merlin!
"Tara Corner. And then Shannon McGregor, but that was quite briefly, if I’m not wrong."
From the blank look on James’s face I could tell the names Melissa had mentioned didn’t mean anything to him. Fortunately for him, I did remember Tara.
“Tara, wasn’t that the Ravenclaw you dated during sixth year?” I asked, trying to give him some clue.
“And dumped in the middle of the Great Hall on Valentine’s Day,” Melissa added with a nod.
I turned to look at her. I had not remembered that – did I even know that? I knew they had some kind of disagreement because Tara didn’t like me at all, but I don’t think I had heard that part of the story.
Seriously, on Valentine’s Day? Why was I in love with this guy? He was such an arsehole toward women.
“Oh, right, her,” James replied, finally connecting the pieces. “She threw a fit when I told her I was going to Hogsmeade with you. She put on this huge show right there during breakfast, making me choose between you and her,” he said to me. “I don’t think I even blinked when I told her I would never pick anyone over you, and that’s when the crazy bint – sorry – slapped me.”
And there it was – the reason.
I just rolled my eyes at James, not letting his words affect me too much.
But Melissa was curious. “You remember his girlfriends better than he does?” she asked.
“Oh – no,” I shook my head. “I just happen to remember this particular case. It started the mass effect of girls kissing my arse so James would like them better.”
A huge lie. I did remember them so much better than he did.
Melissa laughed. “I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of that.”
After that Joshua excused himself to go check on the food and directed us towards the dining room. We sat around the big, mahogany table and James started to interrogate Melissa about her life. At that moment I realised what a big relief it was that he had come along. I frowned at the thought of me sitting there alone with Melissa, trying and most definitely failing to hold up a conversation. James was so much better at that.
“So what have you been up to since Hogwarts?” he asked the brunette.
“Travelling,” she replied. “I work for the Department of International Magical Cooperation, so I’m always off to different places around the world – or at least I was. Now they’re considering a promotion for me, so that might result into a more stable desk job here at the Ministry.”
“Sounds interesting,” James commented. “Any exciting places you’ve been to?”
“I just got back from Colombia actually, that was quite exciting. The wizarding community there is very different from ours,” she said, then going into a more detailed explanation about her trip to South America and other places around the world.
I smiled, examining the woman while she told us about her experiences and then questioned me and James about our lives. She herself seemed to be very lovely and bright, reminding me a lot of Rosie with her bubbly and talkative nature. Very different from Joshua, who was much more reserved and calm than his little sister. I could see little resemblances in their appearance, but all in all they looked quite different. They both did have an identical smile, though.
Joshua joined us a few moments later, bringing in the starters. Our discussion turned to other topics – and to my horror – politics for a moment before James directed it back to more common subjects, noticing how I was way out of my comfort zone.
I was very, very thankful he was there.
“Speaking of kids, I believe congratulations are in order. I heard you were becoming a father,” Melissa said to James when we were halfway through our dinner and he had just finished a story about how we had originally met as kids.
My fork froze on its way to my mouth as I wondered how James would take this sudden change of subject. Apparently Joshua hadn’t mentioned anything to his sister about my best friend’s situation. But as always, James was in perfect control of the situation.
“No need,” he told her, sounding just as unperturbed as he always did. “That’s just a rumour, started by a crazed fan.”
“Really?” she sounded surprised. “Someone would do that?”
“Wow, that’s just sick. I don’t usually believe in the rumours the magazines are spreading, but since this has been such big news lately and you hadn’t corrected it, I just assumed…”
“Well, obviously I had to make sure first. It could’ve been true. But turns out it was just a mental ex who didn’t deal well with the fact that I dumped her,” he explained. “I’m releasing the official statement sometime next week.”
This newfound information seemed to spark something in Melissa. Her behaviour took a drastic turn after that. During the rest of the meal I watched her smile more, flaunt her shiny, long hair every now and then, and somehow manage to move her chair a lot closer to James’s than it had originally been.
She was flirting with him. Big time.
I could feel the knot tighten in the bottom of my stomach as I watched it. I actually somewhat liked this girl, and if she hit it off with James – I didn’t know what I would do. That was a disturbing possibility and it made me think.
Who would I want James dating then? Definitely not a girl that I disliked, but here I was, scowling at the thought of him dating a nice girl too. I would never get over him if I continued to think like that. So I braced myself, trying to concentrate on positive things this kind of relationship would bring.
But if that was ever going to happen, it wasn’t this time. Melissa laughed, batted her eyelashes and told funny stories, being charming in every way, but James – James remained quite passive for the whole evening. Sure, he was as talkative as ever, joking and laughing like he always did, but something was off. He seemed to be avoiding all her attempts, changing the subject very subtly when the atmosphere got even a little too flirty.
I realised that maybe it shouldn’t be such a big surprise. After all, he was quite messed up because of Kat and all the drama that had come with her. But it was still an odd thing to watch. I had never seen him behave like that, not even when a girl he didn’t find attractive was coming on to him. He always flirted – always, even if he didn’t mean anything by it. Hell, he even flirted to me! Flirting was his thing.
“What?” James mouthed to me at one point when he caught me staring in a curious way, but I just shook my head to him. I would question him about it later.
After dinner we moved to the living room and Joshua poured us some drinks. I snuggled against him on the couch while James and Melissa occupied the armchairs. The whole evening was turning out to be a success. I was feeling very happy about the fact that my boyfriend and best friend were getting along quite well.
Melissa was luckily a huge Quidditch fan too, so our conversation rotated almost completely around our favourite sport for the rest of the evening. She had even played for a few years while she was at Hogwarts, Joshua told us, and I finally remembered why she looked familiar. She had been the Ravenclaw seeker.
“You didn’t want to continue flying after Hogwarts then?” I asked after he had made the revelation.
Melissa shrugged. “I did, but I was never that good.”
“She’s lying,” Joshua said. “She even tried out and got a spot in a reserve team, but she turned it down.”
“Really?” James and I both asked in unison.
“Well yes,” the woman admitted, blushing. “But I was also offered the spot in the Ministry and I had to decide. And like I said, I was never that good. It would’ve been a rough career path, if I had taken it. I’m not a natural talent like some.” She smiled to us.
“But I do still enjoy flying. Luckily we have a place for that,” she continued.
“In France,” Joshua pointed out.
“Well, I’m always on the move anyway,” Melissa said. “But that place is marvellous. Oh, you really should take Gwen there sometime, Josh. She’d love it, it’s optimal for you Quidditch players. It was originally our great-great-granddad’s and he made sure of that. It has all the Muggle-Repelling charms and a Fidelius Charm placed around it, making it perfect if you want some peace and quiet.”
“Maybe one day,” Joshua mused.
The use of his nickname caught my attention once again. I’d never heard anyone use it before, not that I had met many people he knew, but I wondered if others called him that too.
“Josh, eh?” I whispered to him when Melissa started to describe the French estate in detail. “Should I start calling you that too?”
“Please don’t,” he replied in a hushed tone. “I’ve never liked it and Melissa knows that. She just doesn’t care.”
Apparently she seemed to hear him. “Oh come on, brother, don’t be such a killjoy. I just can’t understand your dislike for nicknames.” She laughed, turning to look at us. “In fact, I’m quite surprised he calls you Gwen! I mean, your given name is Gwendolyn, right?”
Hearing it after so many years felt like someone had just stabbed me and I did my best not to let it show. There was only one person left in this world who called me that, never wanting to use the shortened version. He was the reason why I disliked it so much and made sure that everyone always called me Gwen.
James knew that perfectly well, so he rushed to my rescue. “Shh, don’t call her that if you don’t want her to hex you. Trust me, my mother has taught her some nasty ones. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of those!”
“Really?” Melissa questioned with interest. “What kind of spells?”
James distracted her by going into a very detailed explanation about Ginny Weasley’s favourite hexes and jinxes. But Joshua wasn’t fooled that easily.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you that,” he said when James and Melissa were preoccupied. “Why doesn’t anyone call you Gwendolyn? It’s a beautiful name.”
“Because I hate it,” I replied matter-of-factly, like it explained everything.
He smiled. “So you would really hex me if I called you that?”
“Aww, too bad.”
Fortunately, he accepted it without further enquiry. We listened to James and Melissa for a few moments in silence before he turned to look at me again. “So, I gather you’re not spending the night?” he asked.
“I really want to. But I think I need to be there for James tonight,” I said in an apologetic tone.
“Oh, I understand that, I really do. He’s been through a lot.” He nodded, planting a small kiss on my forehead, making me smile. “I’ll just miss you.”
“I could drop by after we’re done, but it’ll probably be really late then, you’d be sleeping.”
“I won’t mind. The door will open for you, I’ve already tweaked the spell on it. All you have to do is sneak in and slip next to me when you’re ready,” he said, brushing a stray lock behind my ear.
“Oh, really?” I questioned, feeling quite astounded by this sudden piece of information.
None of my previous boyfriends had ever done that for me, granting me the access to their flats. It was kind of like having a key to his place; I could come and go as I pleased, even when he wasn’t home. It was one of those things you did only when your relationship had reached a certain level. That made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and I could feel my cheeks burning. Luckily it didn’t show.
But Joshua chuckled, watching me in amusement. “You’re cute when you blush.”
“I do not blush!” I protested.
“Yes you do,” he said.
Our conversation seemed to have gained James’s attention too. “I have to say I’m with Gwenny on this one, mate. She really doesn’t blush.”
“Actually, she does,” Joshua corrected him. “It’s really faint, only a touch of pink on the highest point of her cheeks, but it’s there if you look carefully enough,” he said, tracing the area with his finger.
“I’ve known her for almost fifteen years and I’ve never seen it,” James said, sounding very cynical and examining my face from distance, trying to see it.
What on earth made me tie my hair up today? I couldn’t hide behind it now!
I brought my hands to cover my cheeks. “I do not blush,” I stated again, trying to think other things to make it disappear.
“It doesn’t happen that often,” Joshua continued his explanation. “I think this is the second or third time I’ve seen it, although I’m pretty sure she was blushing on the day I met her too. She’s just quite good at hiding it. But like I said, it’s really subtle, one can easily be oblivious to it.”
“I need to see this,” James said, jumping up from his armchair and coming to us. I glared at him, still keeping my hands firmly on my cheeks. “Hands off,” he said.
“No,” I protested.
“Please. I need proof, I’m sure I would’ve noticed if you blushed. I mean come on, it’s me. I’ve even made Freddy blush with my stories!”
I let out a groan, but slowly removed my hands, hoping for the best. James grabbed my chin, twisting and turning my head from side to side as he examined my cheeks.
“I can’t see it,” he said eventually.
“It’s gone now,” Joshua admitted, evaluating the colour of my skin.
“It was never there,” I muttered embarrassedly. “Can I have my face back?” I asked James, who was still holding my chin.
He chuckled, letting go of me and messing my hair before he returned back to his seat.
“Git,” I muttered, but was secretly glad as it gave me an excuse to open my ponytail.
Let them try and stare at my blush now!
Melissa giggled. “You sound like me. I’m always calling Josh all kinds of names, git being the most common one.”
“Now that I can’t believe!” I said to her and she started to tell me a story from their childhood.
We sat there for a few more hours, chatting, laughing and sipping our drinks. At ten o’clock Melissa glanced at her watch and stated that she really should head home because she needed to get up early the next morning.
“It was so nice to meet you, Gwen. We should do this again sometime,” she beamed to me once more as we were all standing in the foyer.
“Definitely,” I agreed, actually meaning it too.
“I’ll walk you to the elevator,” James offered, earning a big smile from the brown-haired woman.
“Thanks,” she said and the two of them slipped through the open door, leaving me alone with Joshua.
“Did you have fun?” he asked me.
I nodded. “I did! Thank you for inviting me.”
“Anytime,” he chuckled, planting a small kiss on my lips. “I’ll see you later?”
“Yes,” I said. “But you don’t have to wait up.”
“We’ll see,” he replied, kissing me once more before I too stepped through the doorway.
James was waiting for me by the stairs, Melissa having already disappeared into the elevator. I caught up with him and together we walked up the stairs to the floor above and into his flat.
“That was actually a lot more fun than I expected,” James admitted after closing his door.
That made me smile. “See, I knew you would like him.”
“Hmm, well he sure can cook, that’s for sure! I haven’t eaten that well in a week!”
“That’s true,” I admitted. “Melissa seemed nice too,” I added after a moment, trying to lead the conversation to the brunette so I could find out the reason for James’s curious behaviour.
But he just nodded, not taking the bait.
“I guess I remembered her because of Quidditch then and not because of you,” I continued.
“Probably,” James started, letting out an amused hem. “But that doesn’t still mean you were wrong.”
I furrowed. “What?”
“I might have had a little fling with her, right after we won the cup from them that year. I guess she didn’t want her big brother to know that.”
“Oh lord,” I muttered, rolling my eyes at him. “And here I was thinking there was at least one pretty girl you didn’t hook up during our school years.”
He made a face to me.
“I guess it was a short fling then, since I don’t remember her from that?”
“Yeah, and a secret one too. Tara was still quite mad about our breakup and she didn’t want her friends associating with me.”
“I bet you didn’t mind that one bit,” I pointed out and he chuckled as a response.
“You’re right, I didn’t.”
“I also bet she was trying to rekindle that little flame tonight,” I hinted.
This time he took the bait. “Pointless,” he said with a shrug before throwing himself on the couch.
“And why is that? Because you never date the same girl twice?”
He smirked. “True, I don’t, if you don’t count the last bitch. I mean, there usually is a reason why the relationship didn’t work out the first time, the second try isn’t going to change that. But that’s not why I didn’t ‘make any moves on her’, if that’s what you’re getting at with this inquiry?”
“Oh?” I lifted my brows in a questioning way as I leaned against the back of the armchair. “Why didn’t you then?”
“I was actually thinking about – you know – calming down a bit.”
He said it in such a casual way, like it was no big deal. My brows shot even higher, unable to believe what I was hearing. Was I really talking to the James Potter I knew? The same James Potter who probably held the world record with the number of women he had slept with?
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“Really?” I repeated, making sure he understood how sceptical I was.
“Yes!” He laughed. “Is it really that hard to believe?”
“Truthfully,” I said, still staring at him in disbelief. “I thought wizards would discard the Statute of Secrecy before that happened!”
“Oi! I’m not that bad!” he protested.
“Erm, yes you are.”
“Hmph, well maybe,” he admitted. “But I don’t really need any of those girls. I already have you,” he said with a smile and tapped the spot next to him. “Come here.”
I shook my head.
“Please,” he begged with his most pathetic expression. “I need hugs. I’ve been missing them all week.”
“You’re such a baby,” I commented with an eye-roll, but eventually did as he asked. “Didn’t your mum hug you enough when you were a kid since you’re so needy now?” I questioned after sitting down next to him on the couch.
“On the contrary, I think she hugged me too much and now I can’t survive without them,” he replied, making more room so I could lie down.
“Well does it always have to be me then? You should buy yourself a stuffed animal or something,” I muttered, taking my place.
“It’s not my fault you fit perfectly right there,” he replied, wrapping his arm around my waist and pulling me closer.
I forced myself to ignore his comment and just smile. He didn’t mean it the way I wanted him to. But his hand around my waist didn’t make it any easier to believe that.
I distracted myself by concentrating on the things we should be talking about. “Do you want to talk about it?”
He sighed. “Not really.”
“Well, do you want to know what I think then?” I asked and even though I couldn’t see, I had a feeling he nodded. “I think… and I know you said you are feeling ecstatic and angry about it all, but I think you’re also feeling sad.”
“Because of the baby,” I added when he didn’t respond. “Am I right?”
A silence fell between us for a few moments and still no answer. But then: “It’s just so weird,” he started and I took a better position on the couch so I could look at him. “I have all these memories… I can recall it so well, seeing the baby on the reflection, the spark of excitement…”
He let out a frustrated groan and closed his eyes, removing his hand from my waist to rub his temples. I remained silent, waiting for him to continue.
“I just – I had already accepted the idea of becoming a dad and was starting to find positive things about it. I was actually a little bit thrilled about it. So now it feels like I’ve actually lost something,” he said. “And all these false memories are only making it worse.”
“There’s more than one?”
“I don’t know. I’m second-guessing every single one of the neutral and ‘happy’ moments I had with her and everything that has to do with the baby.”
“Maybe you should talk to your dad about it, see if he could help break all those…”
“No,” James interrupted me. “I think I’ll just deal with them in my own way.”
“Oh, sure. Just a thought.”
“I just – I don’t want dad picking in my brain, trying to locate such memories. I wasn’t always that – er – polite to Kat, you know that. I don’t need him judging me right now.”
“Okay then. Well, let me know if there’s something I can do to help.”
“You’ve already done so much,” he said, wrapping his arm around me again and holding me close.
“Yeah, like beat her up so your dad had to let her go without any consequences.”
“Oh please, you think I care about something like that?”
I pondered it for a moment. “No, not really,” was my conclusion.
“Well I don’t. I only hope we don’t ever have to see her again.”
“If she has any sense in that blonde head of hers, she’ll stay away from you.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about.”
“I can handle myself.”
“I know you can. I saw your punches.”
I chuckled, then remembering the other thing I wanted to ask him. “What were you going to say earlier?”
“Oh, that…” he said, turning his gaze away from me. “It was nothing.”
“Seriously,” he continued. “Just wanted to tell you I was planning to – you know – stop being such a manwhore as you kindly put it earlier.”
“Oi, I did not say it like that!”
He grinned. “But you were thinking about it.”
I made a face at him, but at the same time tried to examine his expression. I had a feeling that he was lying, but I couldn’t really tell. That was new. I thought I was good at picking up when he lied, but maybe I wasn’t. Or maybe he was telling the truth. I couldn’t be sure of that either. But he had seemed nervous before, and a moment ago, when he mentioned calming down, he was nothing but relaxed. The whole thing was odd, but I decided to let it go. He would tell me if it was something I needed to know.
We continued our discussion, talking some more about Kat, the baby and the whole situation. James opened up some more and my heart ached for him, for all the pain he was going through. I would’ve done anything to take it away from him, so he didn’t have to suffer anymore. I settled for hugging him for the longest moment, knowing that it would make him feel just a little bit better.
My own feelings were more than conflicted once again and I tried hard to think only friendly thoughts about James, and keep an image of a smiling Joshua in my mind. And it did work, most of the time.
But then there were moments when he would brush his hand through my hair or his fingers would dance on my stomach or arm as he was trying to figure what to say next. It made me feel like my heart was about to explode in my chest and it was really hard to concentrate on anything else.
This was one of those moments. I could feel his fingers drawing slow circles on top of my shirt as he pondered something. There had been a long silence lingering around us, both of us feeling tired from the long conversation and not finding anything to say at the moment.
I closed my eyes, trying to clear my head.
“Are you tired?” James questioned after a while and I opened my eyes again.
“No, not really,” I replied, trying to supress the yawn that was escaping my lips.
“It’s fine. I’m exhausted too. Long day and I’m still quite hung over from last night’s drinking.”
I rolled my eyes at him, but chuckled. He was still staring at me, a warm smile on his lips. I had caught him doing that many times today, just watching me and smiling. But I guess I had been doing that too. I had missed him so much when he was gone and it was nice to have him here again.
I forced myself to break the eye contact. “I should get going,” I said, pushing myself up to a sitting position.
“What? Why?” James questioned as he followed my example, frowning.
“I promised Joshua I would drop by once we’re done,” I told him.
“Oh, okay. I just thought… never mind.”
You thought what? That I’d stay like I always do when you’re feeling bad? I didn’t think that would be a good idea.
But I couldn’t say that out loud.
“Did you still want to talk about something?” I asked, leaning my head against his shoulder so I could avoid looking at him and his pathetic expression that could so easily make me break.
He shook his head, planting a small kiss on top of mine. “No, no, I – it’s fine. See you tomorrow?”
“Yeah. I’ll drop by once Joshua leaves to work?”
“Sure.” He nodded as he watched me stand up, but I could tell he was a bit bummed out by my decision. He didn’t want me to go. And as much as my heart beat in excitement, I forced myself to ignore it.
“Don’t worry, it’ll all ease up soon,” I said, ruffling his hair. “You’ll forget about it and move on, you’re good at that.”
He nodded. “Yeah, you’re right,” he said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
I got the feeling that some things seemed to be different tonight, but it was probably just my subconscious refusing to let go of him, once again searching for reasons why I should just dump my current boyfriend and be there for James. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“I’ll go now. Oh, remind me to owl my Healer tomorrow. I’m hoping to get a permission to go to the Range again.”
That did seem to lighten his spirits. “Oh, that would be amazing! I’m in a serious need of a good duel!”
“Keep your fingers crossed then.”
“I will,” he promised and I caught one last sight of his smile before I stepped out of his flat.
I closed the door, feeling quite proud of myself. It wasn’t easy, but I was getting there. Picturing the happy look on Joshua’s face when he would see me, I started towards the staircase and the floor below.
I tiptoed across the hall to his door and touched the handle. It opened without any effort, granting me access into the murky apartment. I navigated through the dark room without any light to his bedroom.
Joshua was already sleeping, looking as adorable as he always did. Why did some people look good even in their sleep? I tried to move as silently as possible so I wouldn’t wake him, but when I slipped under the sheets after undressing myself, I felt him stir a bit.
“Gwen?” he muttered in a sleepy tone.
“That’s right,” I said. “Go back to sleep.”
“What time is it?”
“Almost three in the morning.”
“Okay,” he mumbled, turning to face me in his sleepy state and wrapping his arm around my waist.
I kissed his forehead and whispered goodnight before snuggling closer to him and falling asleep almost instantly, wondering how it could be possible to have such strong feelings for two different men.
What do you guys think? Was James lying to Gwen, was that really the thing he wanted to tell her, or was he going to confess something else d: I wonder what that could be...
P.S. Once again huge thanks to Dan for being my super awesome beta!
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