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Chapter 22 : Pictures, Stalkers, And All That Jazz
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Needless to say, it does not move.
I hate these stupid trunks. They’re so big and heavy and... stupid. How do they expect us to be able to carry these things, anyway? Totally impractical if you ask me. But then again, since when has Hogwarts ever been logical?
“Oh, Aria,” Aiden sighs, stepping up next to me. “Still can’t carry your trunk, can you?”
“Right, give it here,” he mutters. I grin in gratitude and allow him to take my trunk, then follow the freakishly muscular boy to the train.
“So,” I comment conversationally, “how are things with Sophie?”
Aiden’s face immediately goes bright red, and I have to bite down on my lip to stop myself from laughing. Normally I wouldn’t bother hiding my amusement, but I don’t want to risk having my trunk carrier disappear. It’s the one thing that I actually need him around for.
“Things are good,” he squeaks, swinging my trunk onto the train.
“Where is she, then?”
“Er, she’s staying at school over the Easter holiday. Her parents are vacationing in Aruba, apparently. No point in going home. What about you? Got any plans over break?”
“Eh.” I shrug and point to an empty compartment, directing Aiden to put my stuff in it. “Not really. I’ll probably just come up with more evil torture plans to make you boys actually exercise.”
Aiden scowls and shoves my stuff up onto the overhead rack. “Lord have mercy on us all.”
“Ha ha,” I say dryly. “Very funny. Thanks for helping with my trunk, though.”
“No problem. Have a nice break!”
I sigh and sink onto the plush seats of the train as the door slides shut behind him, dropping my head into my hands and closing my eyes. All I want to do is curl up in my own bed and sleep and eat. It’s been a long time since Christmas break.
The sound of the compartment door opening snaps my head back up, and my eyes immediately search frantically for the perpetrator. The person in question lifts an eyebrow, steps in cockily, shoves his trunk up on the overhead rack, and slinks down onto a seat. Apparently death glares are not an obvious enough sign of how much he is not welcome in this compartment.
“Get out,” I hiss, but Alex ignores me and stretches out his legs comfortably.
“I don’t think I will. Everywhere else is either full or inhabited by annoying idiots.”
“I hate you.”
“Whatever.” Alex yawns and lolls his head back against the seat cushion, shutting his eyes. “I’m going to sleep now.”
I’m pretty sure he’s passed out within two minutes, but I continue to watch him with suspicion for the next half hour. I wouldn’t put it past him to pretend to be asleep just so I let my guard down.
Eventually I’m convinced that he is, in fact, sleeping, so I turn my gaze to the window, where rain is pouring down over the countryside. Not much to see, just a gloomy sky and endless fields of grass getting drenched in water. The rhythm of the train and the monotonous landscape quickly lulls me into a drowsy state of mind, and soon my eyelids start drooping shut, growing heavy with sleep.
I like sleep. Sleep is good.
The next thing I know, I’m nearly being thrown out of my seat by the train screeching to a halt at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, and the shrill blare of the whistle scratches at my head. Yawning, I stretch out my arms and kick Alex in the shin, waking him up.
“We’re here,” I mutter. “Get up.”
He glares at me and pulls his trunk down, then stalks out of the compartment door, leaving me to deal with the trunk situation on my own. Really. This is absurd.
I’m seventeen now. Which means I can use magic.
Wow. I feel so stupid. Why didn’t I think of that before? Stupid, stupid, stupid -
I pause mid-wand stroke and turn to the compartment door, where Jett stands with a confused look on his face. Grinning sheepishly, I shove my wand back into my bag and fiddle nervously with its straps.
“I can’t get... the trunk...” I say faintly, and he shakes his head with a look of amusement.
Jett pulls my trunk down easily and I follow him off the train to the hustle and bustle of the platform. “You are allowed to sit with the rest of us, you know,” he says quietly. “Even if things are a bit weird right now. You don’t need to keep to yourself.”
“I have to go,” he says, running a hand nervously through his hair. “My parents are waiting. But, um, tomorrow. Two o’clock. Florean Fortescue’s. Meet me please?”
“Yeah, sure,” I mumble, and he nods before walking off.
The mass of people whirling around the platform feels never-ending. I don’t know how they expect you to reasonably be able to find your family; honestly, this is probably the most inefficient setup I’ve ever seen.
Sigh. Again with the illogicalness. Hogwarts needs to get its stuff together.
Then again, it’s usually not that difficult to locate my father. He’s always the one who’s smiling and taking pictures with people. Kind of a side effect of the job, you know? Speaking of, I’m still slightly disturbed by the proportion of picture takers who are female. I’m pretty sure the ratio of Quidditch fans is skewed heavily in the male direction, yet the majority of his fans are not. Ew.
Okay. Right. Large clump of mostly females.
I squeal as a hand grabs my arm, but before I have time to make sense of what’s going on, my mom is hugging me tightly, kissing my head and rattling off exclamations of greeting. “Oh, honey,” she whispers. “I don’t like this whole idea of boarding school. Just stay at home and don’t leave anymore.”
Rolling my eyes, I wiggle out of her arms. “Okay. Sounds like a fantastic plan.”
“Don’t be sarcastic with me, Aria,” she scolds lightly. “Now lets go and see if we can find your father. I left him to fend for himself somewhere close to the entrance to the platform.”
“Like... there?” I ask, pointing to what could nearly pass as a photography shoot.
“Ah, yes. There he is. Come along, we should probably go and collect him...”
“Trunk,” I whine, and she sighs, takes her wand out of her purse, and silently flicks it at the evil object in question.
“There you go. Light as a feather.”
I grumble but grip the handle on my trunk and lift it easily, then run after my mother, who’s made a beeline straight for the crowd surrounding my dad. I really don’t know how she does it sometimes. Putting up with his job, that is. All those women constantly squealing over him - it’s a wonder she doesn’t get jealous or have a mental breakdown or something. But no, cool as a cucumber about it. Always.
“Excuse me, ladies,” my dad says loudly, “but I have to go say hello to my lovely daughter. Isn’t she just the cutest little thing you’ve ever seen?”
The crowd gives a collective awww as he pulls me into a hug and plants a sloppy kiss on my forehead, and I force a smile onto my face. Like, seriously, what is so fascinating about us? Yeah, I get that he’s a Quidditch player, but really. All he’s doing is picking me up from the train. It’s not a big deal.
Ah, well. Some things you just have to get used to.
The sound of Dom’s high-pitched squeal carries across the platform as she hurtles towards me, towing poor Connor along behind her as he hangs onto her hand for dear life. Actually, no. I don’t feel bad for him. Fat lot of good he is; for the life of me, I cannot get him to assist me with my trunk.
“Ary, why didn’t you sit with us on the train? Wait, no, never mind. It’s not important. I just wanted to say goodbye - Victoire’s picking us up and she’s rather impatient - but anyway, have a nice break! I’ll see you, yeah? Well, we’ll figure it out. You should come to my house - ooh, wouldn’t that be fun? I can -”
“Dom!” Louis barks from a few feet away where he’s chatting with a girl whom I can only assume to be their sister, Victoire. Same blonde hair, same blue eyes, same pale skin - it has to be her.
“Yeah, I’m coming. Bye, Ary,” Dom breathes happily, dropping two kisses on my cheeks. “Come along, Connor.”
“Right. Are you ready to go, or would you like to say goodbye to the entire school first?” my father asks distractedly as he scribbles an autograph.
“I’m good. Let’s go.”
“Fantastic. It was nice to meet you, ladies,” my dad calls over his shoulder with a cheerful grin, and I’m pretty sure I hear the sound of swooning behind me.
Is that even possible? Can you hear someone swoon? Would it sound like a swoosh? And why are married women, who are picking up their children from school, swooning over my father, anyway? Curse his Quid-
“Aria! Aria, wait up!”
I stop midstride and turn in the direction of the voice shouting my name, and as I do so my eyes nearly pop out of their sockets. James is hurtling across the platform, running into people, knocking over trunks and just generally wreaking havoc, all the while yelling at me to stop when clearly I already have. Idiot.
He skids to a stop next to me, breathing heavy and face flushed with the exertion of nearly ramming over half of the platform. “I -”
But what he was going to say I’ll never actually know, seeing as at that moment his eyes go wide and his voice cuts out altogether. And here’s the kicker - he’s not even looking at me. No. He’s looking at my dad.
“You're - you’re -”
“Aria’s father?” my dad suggests in amusement, trying not to laugh at James’s nervous stammering.
“You’re - you’re - you’re -”
“A wonderful husband?”
“Oh, stop teasing the poor boy, Hayden,” my mom says, smacking him on the arm lightly.
“Yeah, Dad,” I chime in, although I am rather enjoying the sight of James Sirius Potter going completely speechless. I’m pretty sure this has never happened before in the history of ever.
“You’re Hayden Fields,” James squeaks.
“Yes, I am.”
“Oh my God - I’m such a huge fan - this is so cool - can I have your autograph?”
My dad chuckles slightly and nods while James goes searching frantically through his pockets for a piece of paper. “Actually, I don’t have anything for you to sign with,” he says, and I can’t help but roll my eyes at the sound of disappointment in his voice.
“Honestly, James, he’s my dad. Just come round my house sometime and you can get all the autographs you want.”
“Oh. Right,” he says lamely. “I forgot. Wait, does this mean you’re inviting me over?”
“No,” my parents interrupt simultaneously.
“No boys at the house, Aria. You know the rules,” my mom says sternly, shooting me her patented ‘Don’t You Dare Mess With Me and My Rules, Aria Renee’ looks.
“Absolutely right, Addy,” my dad adds. “Aria, no boys in the house until you’re married. Or forty. Whichever comes first. Preferably the latter.”
“What? That doesn’t even make sense,” I protest, but the sight of him winking at me quiets my fuss quickly.
“Okay - er - anyway,” James says slowly, somehow managing to tear his eyes away from my dad, “I just wanted to, uh, say goodbye. And, um, I’ll see you over break? Maybe? Sometime?”
I laugh softly at the anxious look on James’s face and give him a light shove to the shoulder. “Yeah. I’ll see you.”
“Okay - yeah - great - bye,” he chokes out before practically sprinting away, face verging on the color of his little sister’s hair.
I shake my head in amusement at his receding figure, and with that the three of us head out of the station, finally bound for home. In theory, the drive should be fairly quick, seeing as we live right in the city, but with all the traffic it just seems to drag on and on. All I want is to be home. I’m so not into this whole boarding school idea; I like living in my own house with my own family much better.
Eventually we do make, though, and I stagger inside with my trunk before flopping facedown on the couch in exhaustion. “I love being home,” I murmur into the cushions, and my dad chuckles as he pats me on the head.
“Aria, could you keep me company while I cook?” my mom asks, so I roll off the couch and wander into the kitchen.
I’ve barely walked onto the tiled kitchen floor before an owl that looks suspiciously like one I’ve seen in the Hogwarts owlery appears at the window and pecks determinedly at the glass. My mom opens the window and grabs the letter from its beak, checks the front of the envelope, and tosses it over to me.
Curiously, I rip into the parchment and immediately groan as I realize what the letter is. It’s from Aiden, who’s apparently been working with the players at Puddlemere United to develop new Quidditch plays in the hour since he’s been home. I don't bother reading it, opting instead to just shove it away and push it out of my mind. I’m sure Aiden will just correct anything I glean out of it when we get back to school, anyway.
Quidditch has been so much work this year. It used to be fun; it used to be something I could do just to relax. We didn’t have to draw up elaborate plans and practice every day and do conditioning - we just played. And I’m not so certain I really want to do it anymore.
My mom bustles around the kitchen preparing some type of stew for dinner as I stare out into space, simply absorbing the feeling of being home. It’s so peaceful and quiet here, and that’s something you can’t really get at Hogwarts. That’s what I love most about being home: the privacy.
“Mom, why can’t I have boys in the house?” I ask absentmindedly as my fingers fiddle with the corner of Aiden’s letter.
She glances up at me from the carrot she’s slicing and blows a stray strand of blonde hair out of her eyes, then simply goes back to cutting the vegetable. “Because, sweetie, I want you to be responsible and make smart choices.”
“Mom, I -”
“I know, Aria. It’s the boys I don’t trust, not you.”
“I don’t care if everyone else your age is doing it. I don’t want you making a stupid decision that could very well change your whole life.”
“Mom. I’m seventeen now -”
“Aria,” she huffs, “Enough. This is not a negotiation. Who do you want to have over, anyway? The boy from the train station?”
“No,” I mutter, but I’m sure the flaming red color of my cheeks is a clear enough tell of what I’m really thinking.
“Honey, I get it. You’re young, you’re pretty, and you like getting attention from boys. However, that’s not the right way to go about it. You don’t need to have sex to -”
“Mom!” I screech, covering my face in embarrassment. Oh my God. This cannot be happening. We’re so not talking about this. Oh my God. Just - just - no. Eugh.
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Aria. It’s perfectly normal to want -”
“Oh my God, stop it,” I moan. “We’re not having the sex talk right now. Please don’t make me suffer through that again. It was bad enough the first time!”
“Always the drama queen.”
“If you must know, James - the boy from the train station - is a friend. And I only said he could come around to be nice. You know, because Dad is his favorite Chaser -”
“Aria.” She sets down the knife and steps towards me, then takes my face in her hands and tilts it up to look at her. “Look me in the eyes and tell me he’s just a friend.”
“I - um - he - I -”
“That’s what I thought,” she says with a smug little grin. I stick my tongue out at her as she turns back to the carrots and scoops them up into one hand. “But what happened to that other boy? The one with the strange name? I liked him. He was nice.”
She drops the carrots into the pot and stirs contentedly while I continue to flounder with my words. I don’t know how she does it, but there’s absolutely no way to keep any secrets from my mom. It’s like she can read my mind sometimes, just like I swear my dad can. Although, come to think of it, she usually does better than him when it comes to the dating department. Daddy dearest tends to avoid that little subject altogether if possible.
“Honey, listen to me. I know you’re not a little girl anymore, and I know you’re off at school now where I can’t keep my eye on you, but I just want you to stay safe. Don’t do anything you’re going to regret. One stupid decision could change your life forever.”
“Are you saying you regret having me?” I ask quietly, staring down at my hands.
“Of course not,” my mom says immediately, dropping her spoon and promptly coming to my side. “Of course I don’t. All I’m saying is that a lot of girls don’t wind up as lucky as I did.”
“I love you, Mommy,” I say softly, snuggling into her arms as she hugs me tightly.
“I love you, too, sweetie. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Always remember that.”
“Hey! What about me?” my dad asks as he strolls into the room, munching on a celery stick. “I’m hurt, Adrienne.”
“Oh, hush up, you,” my mom scolds. I wiggle out of her arms and take a seat at one of the barstools next to our island counter, then proceed to snack on some of the left over carrot bits. “You’ve been nothing but trouble since day one.”
“Since day one. Day one. Do you hear this, Aria?”
“Yeah, Dad,” I say, rolling my eyes. And my mom thinks I’m overdramatic. Where does she think I got it from?
“We’re just trying to look out for you, Aria,” my mom continues, returning to the pot simmering on the stove. “As much as I love you and your dad, I don’t want you to go through the same thing I did. Please understand that.”
“I do,” I say quietly, and I catch my dad nodding in understanding from the corner of my eye.
“Ah,” he breathes. “I know what we’re talking about now.”
“It’s for your own good. I don’t know what I would have done if your father hadn’t turned out to be -”
“Spectacularly handsome? Incredible? Everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more?” my dad offers, waggling his eyebrows up and down.
My mom laughs quietly and stirs the stew, then glances up at us again. “Well, yes. The last one. If he hadn’t been so good to me, and if he hadn’t turned out to be the one - well, things would be very different right now. I got extremely lucky.”
“It wasn’t luck, Addy,” my dad murmurs, sliding his hands around her waist. “I knew you were the one the moment I laid eyes on you.”
“Long story short, I don’t want you to get pregnant before you graduate,” my mom says, blushing as my dad drops a kiss onto her neck.
“And definitely don’t have sex on the third date.”
“What? Ow! Stop hitting me, woman!”
“Don’t - tell - our - daughter - that!” my mom shrieks, punctuating each word with a light slap to my father’s arm.
“It’s good advice!”
“I - don’t - care!”
I roll my eyes and make a slight gagging noise, then slide off the stool and head out of the kitchen, leaving the pair of them to their bickering. Honestly. They’re like children, the both of them.
“Morning,” I yawn as I stumble into the kitchen. My dad’s lounging at the table, sipping a cup of coffee and reading Quidditch Weekly, while my mom bustles about, packing her lunch for work.
“Morning, honey,” Mom says, laying a kiss on my forehead as she scurries past me to get to the pantry.
“Ah, there’s that daughter of mine.” Dad sets down his paper and glances up at me, blonde hair sloppily falling into his eyes. “The monster has awakened.”
“Shut up,” I mutter, but he just chuckles and pats his knees, gesturing for me to take a seat.
Yes, as silly as it seems, I still sit on my daddy’s lap. I might be a legal adult, but I’ll always be his baby girl.
“Hey, look, there’s an article about me,” he says nonchalantly as I take a seat. “What a shock.”
I shove the copy of Quidditch Weekly away from us and twist around a little bit so I can see his face. “Dad,” I say seriously, and the grin falls slightly from his face. “Dad, I think... I think I want to quit Quidditch.”
“Okay?” I ask incredulously. “That’s it? You’re okay with it?”
“Of course, Daughter. If that’s what you want to do, then do it.”
“But - but -”
“Just because I love it doesn’t mean you have to. Although I always thought that you did for some reason.”
“I did - I do - but not the way they play it here. It’s too much work. I don’t know - it’s so competitive and every cares so much and it’s just... It’s too stressful. All I wanted to do was play for fun, and I can’t do that anymore.”
“Then quit.” He shrugs and takes another sip of his coffee, pulling the magazine back towards him. “If you’re unhappy, you shouldn’t be doing it.”
“Okay. I will,” I say quietly, hugging him tightly around the middle. “After this year. Thanks, Daddy.”
“Mmhm. Now get off my lap. You’re too heavy to do this for long anymore.”
I pout, but slide off obligingly and into the chair beside him, then grab a plate and pile it high with scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast from a platter in the middle of the table. “Can I have some money?” I ask.
“As long as you’re not buying drugs.” He fishes a few coins out of his pocket and slides them across the table to me. “You’re not buying drugs, are you?”
“No, Father. I’m going to get ice cream with a friend today.”
“Good. Unless ice cream is code for drugs. I can’t keep up with all the new-fangled terminology these days.”
“Oh, stop it, Hayden,” my mom scolds, whacking him on the back of the head with a spoon. “Don’t tease your daughter.”
“Yeah, Dad,” I say sarcastically, rolling up the copy of his magazine and hitting him as well.
“I’m just trying to be a good father!”
“Uh-huh,” I deadpan, biting my lip to keep from laughing. Stretching up from my chair, I grab a glass of orange juice and wander out into the living room with my breakfast. “I’m going to watch tv or do drugs or something.”
My dad chuckles, then yelps as he apparently gets smacked with another kitchen utensil. It’s really nice to be home.
I snuggle into the couch, grab my laptop off the coffee table, quickly pull up the Internet, and navigate to Wizbook, my favorite social networking site. Nowadays everyone has like five different sites they use, but I just stick with the one. It’s pretty useful, actually, seeing as Wizbook also connects to its Muggle companion website. It has an automatic censor, though, so if anything about magic or the Wizarding world gets posted, it won’t show up on the Muggle version of the site.
Suddenly a thought flickers through my head, so I move the cursor to the search engine feature on Wizbook and key in “James Potter.” A ton of results come up, as apparently it’s a popular name, but it’s pretty easy to find the right one after I spend a few minutes scrolling through results.
His profile picture is ridiculous, of course, but I wouldn’t expect anything less. It’s a photo of James flailing like an idiot in mid-air as someone who looks suspiciously like Jett shoves him off a dock. Quite a good picture, actually, seeing as it must have taken some pretty perfect timing to snap a shot of him falling like that.
I click on the picture to enlarge it, and yep, that’s Jett pushing him into the water. No surprises there. Apparently it’s quite a popular photo, too, seeing as it’s gotten one hundred and seven likes. My eyes flicker over to the comments and I scroll through them absentmindedly, fully aware of how creepy I'm being right now. Most are from his guy friends making some remark that’s probably supposed to be clever, but every so often a girl’s name pops up. Including one that I really don’t want to see on his page ever.
Grace Clarke So graceful, James :P Miss you!
I close out of the picture with a huff and return to stalking his page, but I can’t forget about the little tongue face Grace commented with. I know it’s stupid and I know I shouldn’t be getting jealous and worked up about it, but I can’t help it. Even though that comment was made last summer before we’d even met, I still don’t like the idea of her being anywhere near him.
Taking a bite of my toast, I navigate out of James’s page and back to the main home screen for Wizbook. I’ve missed approximately three months of status updates, notifications, and friend requests, but to be honest, I don’t really care. I don’t even like half the people I’m “friends” with on the stupid thing. Speaking of, I just noticed that I never bothered changing my profile picture or relationship status after I dumped Ryan for about the fifth time. He’s still in the upper left hand corner of my page with his arm slung around my shoulder and designer sunglasses gracing his face.
I remember that day. I think it was July, so it was super hot in the city, but we’d decided to spend the day out doing things. We took a walk along the historical sites like tourists, went out on his parents’ boat in the harbor, and then capped it all off with a Red Sox baseball game. His dad was the manager for the team, so they had free season tickets and basically the best seats available.
Ryan went searching for his dad after the game, which usually took a while seeing as Mr. King had to speak with the team and the press and whatnot. By the time we finally found him, the whole stadium was empty, so he'd let the pair of us walk around the field. Then he took the picture of Ryan and I standing on home plate with the Green Monster in the background, and that was that.
I’m jerked out of my memories by a little red notification that jumps up on my screen, so I click on it, and immediately a goofy grin slides across my face.
I hesitate for a few seconds and click confirm, then bite down on my lip to keep myself from smiling too much. It would appear that I’m not the only one doing a little Wizbook stalking today. Before I allow myself to indulge in creeping on his now totally unlocked profile, however, I navigate over to the picture of Ryan and hit the button to change my picture, then search through my computer for a solid five minutes to find a photo I actually like. I eventually settle on one of me sitting on the beach and beaming up at the camera like an idiot, but I figure as long as Ryan’s not in it, it’s probably better than what I had before.
For the next couple of minutes, I search Wizbook for the few people I talk to at school - Jett, Sophie, Aiden, Connor, various Weasleys - and make sure to send them all friend requests (really, how was I not friends with Jett before?). After I’ve finished with that, another notification pops up on my screen, so I click it and immediately feel that ridiculous smile start to slide across my face again.
James Potter likes your profile picture.
I know I’m being childish and silly, but... I don’t know. I feel like I’m fourteen again and freaking out because my crush liked a status I posted or something. I mean, I guess it’s basically the same thing, but I thought I’d be over the validation that this stupid website gives me by now.
With a sigh, I slam the screen of my laptop shut and flick on the television. Just as I manage to find a decent channel, however, the doorbell rings and a knock bangs against the front door. Because apparently just one of them wasn’t enough.
“Aria, can you get the door?” my mom yells from the kitchen.
I groan and roll off of the couch with a thud, then pad over to the door and yank it open. Whoever it is, I intend to give them a lesson on proper visitor etiquette. But as my eyes land on the guy standing in the doorway, all those thoughts go flying out of my head. The air catches in my throat, and I blink once, resting one hand against the doorframe to try and steady myself.
A/N: This chapter is pretty much filler, but meh. Hope you liked it anyway... I just needed a chappie to set up the cliffhanger, so yep. Next chapter will be more plot-y and less filler-y, promise. Byyeeeee.
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