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Chapter 2 : II. Love Story for the Ages
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Oh, right, the story.
We open on a cloudy, altogether unpleasant October afternoon. It is our seventh year of school and revision season is a distant speck on the horizon. James counts himself among the ones who doesn’t like even remembering that N.E.W.T.s exist, and occupies himself by writing in his songwriting journal as we lounge by the Gryffindor common room fire.
If it were up to me, I’d hold a ceremonial bonfire on the last day of term and burn the bloody journal, but it is not up to me. It’s already been stolen at least four separate times over the past two years by girls trying to gather a Meaningful Insight into the Mental Workings, Desires, and Anguishes of the Real James Potter. Each of those instances ended in: detention for the thieves; support groups petitioning the detentions, as the thefts were “just friendly counts of robbery between friends” (which is not that outlandish a claim, because again, everyone is James’ friend); and, once they recovered enough from their Terrible Ordeal to be able to speak of it, stories about how Deep and Spiritual the man himself Really Is.
That last bit is code for his handwriting is chickenscratch and what is legible does not conform to laws of grammar or the evolution of human thought as popularly understood! Only an exceptional genius or an exceptional idiot could produce such nonsense!
In any case, James writes. He is quite a productive kind of person, even if what he tends to produce is absolutely frivolous and usually of mediocre quality.
I, on the other hand, am daydreaming. It is my absolute favorite activity because it doesn’t require physical energy. And with this vaguely-golden-decay-y weather, I don’t need to waste what little energy I’ve stored from raids on the kitchens back when I cared about making raids on the kitchen.
“Hey. Hey, Augusta.”
I know, I know, boo hoo, curse you, Great-Great Aunt Millicent Augusta for having a stroke mere weeks before your great-niece-in-law popped out a chipmunk-cheeked child, but it could be worse.
“Take a look at this line.”
I lean over in my chair to stare at whatever nonsense James has come up with this afternoon. It takes a few moments for my eyes to focus on the string of words that seems the most purposefully scratched out.
“This is good, but it could be better.”
“What do you think?”
“What’s there to think?”
“Is it a good line?”
“It could be better.”
He doesn’t seem pleased with the wordplay, which is not a surprise; he loves wordplay, but not mine. What does come as a surprise: James thinks I’m the lame one. It’s not a total untruth, and it would feel like an insult if it were coming from anyone else. As it is, it’s like being told by one’s grandfather that one needs to Get With the Times. Totally harmless. Even a little endearing.
“Then you do better,” he grumbled. “Right here, right now, give me a better line.”
“Let me think… oh, got it. This is great, and it will get worse.”
“You’re a bloody ray of sunshine, aren’t you?” He doesn’t wait for a response. “You know, it’s very difficult to write lyrics.” He folds his arms and puts away the journal, clearly miffed. “The words have to come from the heart. From the soul. And they have to be work along with the music, too, to create a story for the listener to be able to f–”
“Yes, James. You’ve got the tortured soul of a true artiste.” I roll my eyes, but in a friendly, congenial way, because I am nothing if not friendly and/or congenial. “Don’t force the music, let it come to you.”
“What did I say?”
“I’m not writing the music yet. If you haven’t noticed, I don’t even have my guitar with me. How am I going to mess around with chords and melodic progressions without my guitar?”
Here’s the thing about befriending James Potter. It is not difficult to do. It’s not even difficult to maintain a friendship with him; if you can maintain a cactus, you can maintain James Potter. And maintaining a friendship with James Potter is probably less ultimately rewarding than maintaining a cactus. The other thing is: maintaining either a cactus or James Potter is really boring most of the time. Unless you scratch yourself on its little barbs while giving it water whenever you remember that yes, occasionally your cactus requires something to nourish it.
If you’re not an idiot, those moments are few and far between.
Considering this metaphor, plus the conversations like the above one I put up with on a nearly daily basis, you can imagine my confusion plus exasperation plus tendencies toward morbid voyeurism when others outside of our immediate social circle try to intrude upon it.
This afternoon, it’s Ivy Fawcett’s turn to take a shot. A Feisty, Spirited Adventurer of a sixth-year, and the Only Witch who will Ever Be Able to Love James Potter the way he Deserves To Be Loved. I shrink in my seat and bury my face in my hands and pretend to not be able to hear her arrival and oh-so-casual, sporting greeting to James. And, er, me.
A problem: I can hear. Everything.
Ivy repeats her breathy, nonchalant, “Hello, hello, hello!” when James also tries to pretend he hasn’t heard anything. It doesn’t work for him nearly as well as it does for me because, frankly, she does not give a shit whether I’m ignoring her.
When I was in fifth year, some Ravenclaws somehow got it in their heads that I represented a Threat To James Potter’s Best Interests because I was one of perhaps four females that James could ever talk to as a human being, and there was No Way I was not Using Him or Corrupting Him or something for my own Dastardly Purposes. I was not, but that didn’t stop them from believing it and trying on several separate occasions to sabotage my apparent sabotaging of James. Most notably, they put itching powder in my pudding. And while James was angry that they’d dared to commit a crime against me, what sent him over the edge was the crime against the sanctity of the pudding.
No one poisoned James Potter’s favourite type of pudding and got away with it.
I use this digression to try to distract myself from the assault on my ears that is Ivy’s brassy, self-confident giggles as James amiably engages her in the conversation she’s been dying for. It would be so much easier if I could just write her off as another of Hogwarts’ inexhaustible supply of idiots, but Ivy, I begrudgingly admit, has her good parts. And I do not just mean her Quidditch-toned body. (It’s always the blokes you hear having bodies somehow made more attractive by sitting on a narrow enchanted tree branch, but it goes for witches too.)
What those good parts are… well, I don’t know. There’s not very much to say about her, in all actuality. I’m sure there’s more to her, because there’s always much more to people than you ever would like to think there is, but there’s not much I care to find out. She’s got sun-streaked brown hair and wears a smidge too much foundation to suit her otherwise nicely olive-y complexion, her eyes are always looking around for Opportunities for Mischief and Various Other Forms of Hooliganry. One Of The Boys, as they say.
“You’re helping him, Augusta?”
I blink out of my reverie, because Ivy and James are both peering kindly at me.
“With my song,” James prompts.
I can’t stop myself from snorting. “Oh, yeah. His songwriting. I’m a co-librettist, yes.”
Ivy gives me a cutely quizzical look. “That’s for opera and, like, musicals, isn’t it?”
“Is that not what we’re writing? No?” I frown, utterly forlorn, at James. “Oh, come on! You know Professor Lupin’s been looking forward to staging Please Direct Your Attention to the Stage! since forever, basically. You can’t disappoint him! The story of a Muggle stage magician and his Hogwarts-dropout witch-magician rival!”
“Love story for the ages,” says James drily. It is not always that he too pulls out the sarcasm–he is generally too earnest for that–but now that he has, I’m hushed again.
Ivy, relieved that she no longer has to acknowledge me, turns back to James with her hyperactive puppy eyes bright with… something. I can’t quite see, as she’s looking raptly at him. Well, at least her posture indicates rapt attention. “I think you’re pretty great at what you do, with or without a… librettist. I mean, if you enter the talent competition again, you’d totally clean up.”
Last year his greatest competition was Summer Day. (I did say it could be worse). She played the banjo her great-great-uncle Marion bought for her thinking it was a guitar just like those swell lads from Knight to E4 used in their rock-n-roll shows. Her song was about kelpies drowning newlyweds on their honeymoon.
Third place was Claudia Schubert playing a cello that spat out highly unstable bootleg fireworks out of its neck. She should have won. Could have used the fifteen Galleon prize to put a down payment on a nice wig.
“I’d have to actually finish something before I had a prayer of doing that.” James is good-natured and mildly-but-not-frighteningly self-deprecating. He walks that line so very well in company. “And Augusta can tell you that happens once in a blue moon.”
A blue moon occurs approximately once every two to three years, so yes, the metaphor is pretty accurate. There is a reason why he performed the song that was secretly about his dead puppy in fifth year even though he wrote it in third year.
Ivy’s face falls a little when she realises there is no chance of getting James to write her a cute ditty on the spot. “Well, I spent last holiday with my uncle at the WWN, so I have decent experience with writing, like, adverts and stuff. I’d love to lend a hand sometime, in the writing. Or if it’s inspiration you still need…” She leaves her sentence suggestively unfinished.
I am not sure if her intent has flown utterly over James’ head or whether he hears it and is trying his best to willfully ignore it, but he turns so that the fire in the grate lends to his eyes a special spark. He also puts on a taut, crooked little grin that shows the tiny chip in one of his teeth from the time a sixth-year trying out for an open Beater position struck a Bludger into his face. Battle scars, Noel Graham calls them. The ladies love a good battle scar, and the Gryffindor Captain has trained his friend well in Quidditch and flirtation strategies.
(The assailant, by the way, was banned from all Quidditch games, not just the ones Gryffindor played, for the entire school year. Not by the faculty or Professor Longbottom, our Head of House, but rather, by the Gryffindor Captain at the time, Odessa March. She even delayed the start of the Quidditch Cup Championship game–Slytherin versus Gryffindor–by a full fifty-six minutes because she just had to Incarcerate that poor bloke, whatever his name was, because his mere presence at the Pitch would Pose A Threat to James Potter’s Bodily Safety, and she could not–would not!–stand for that.)
Anyway. James has just now given Ivy that crooked little grin that has melted many a heart with him barely aware of it doing so, and now he shakes his head ruefully at her. “Oh, I have the idea, Ivy, it’s just the execution that’s hard for me. It’s like, this bloke is in lo–”
Oh, God, he’s about to say the words this bloke is in love with this girl.
Ivy Fawcett is not capable of handling that. Hogwarts is not capable of hearing a sentence–an incomplete clause as it stands, really–that might indicate that James Potter possibly fancies someone.
This is a dire moment. This requires action. And I’m a Gryffindor myself, just as active and imaginative as Ivy Fawcett is.
“Oh, let me explain, James, it’s such a great concept!”
He’s utterly thrown off, but that doesn’t matter.
“Right, so this bloke, he’s in the middle of a lobotomy. It’s the climax of Please Direct, you know. The Muggle stage magician is having a lobotomy because he saw his Hogwarts dropout witch rival do actual magic and no one believes him when he says she’s really a witch, so they think he’s insane and they’re removing crucial parts of his brain, when the witch barges into the, er… facility? Anyway she rescues him from vegetable-dom and they run to New York City to become the most famous, innovative magician duo working off-off-Broadway magic shows. Then we break into the happy reprise of the main theme. And–curtain.” I beam at James. “He’s so creative.”
It is the greatest improvised save-James-from-Certain-Doom monologue I’ve ever done.
It is also wasted on Ivy Fawcett.
James has no response to this. So Ivy grins, utterly self-satisfied, at the both of us.
“Well then, good luck, James! Uh, you too, Augusta.”
The second she clears the stairs to her dorm, I round on James. “What was that about?”
“Oh, no. First you tell me what that was about. Lobotomies, Augusta, really.” He buries his head in his hands, then emerges. He runs his right hand through the mass of jet-black hair that more third-years than I even know of have tried to obtain by bribing James’ roommates into chopping locks of off while he slept. “I know you don’t like Ivy, but–”
“But nothing! You saw the look on her face. She thinks you were flirting with her.”
“I wasn’t,” he says, mildly affronted but also very confused as to how he could ever have given that impression. “She asked about my song about a fictional bloke in love with a fictional mermaid.”
“And now,” he continues, “she’ll think I meant he’s in love with a normal girl and then I’ll have even more expectations to beat when it’s released! Like a wizard in love with a mermaid isn’t a hard enough sell already.”
I should bury my hands. I don’t, because I’ve done that at least four times today, once in the past ten minutes, and there ought to be a ceiling for that kind of thing, but I would like to. “You’re more worried about the critical reception of the song you’re not going to finish than about the rumour mill that’s literally right now telling everyone that you’re in love with some witch in Hogwarts?”
“You’re the one who should be worried.”
James leans back in his chair. He smirks, half-amused and half-pitying. “Who d’you think the rumour mill thinks would know about who at Hogwarts I’m supposedly in love with?
Oh, no no no.
Author's Note Well, would you look at that! Plot! An update in semi-timely manner! I don't know whether I can guarantee quick turnaround for this story going forward, but I'm very happy to have received such wonderful feedback on the opening chapter. If you'd like to put a few seconds into typing stuff in that little box below, I'd love to hear more from you all regarding your thoughts on the story/characters/plot/style and whatever tangentially related things you'd care to ramble about. I love rambling, clearly. Thank you all for reading and favoriting and reviewing, and I hope you continue to enjoy.
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