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Stuck in the Middle by TheHeirOfSlytherin
Chapter 7 : Stronger
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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Trigger warning: self harm is implied. It's one of the reasons for the sensitive topic/issue/theme that is in the warnings. It only plays a small role in this story, it's in the past, but I'm warning you anyway. It does not glorify the issue and does not happen in this, but if you're uncomfortable, it's okay if you don't want to read. It's only alluded to in the beginning.




The scars were always visible, pale white lines crisscrossing over his tanned skin. During the year, when the tan had faded, they were harder to see, but right now, after spending most of his summer at home in Florida, they stuck out like sore thumbs. His glamor charms kept them hidden from others, kept people from asking questions when he wore t-shirts. It had worn off just before lunch, while in Transfiguration; he'd felt the magic wear off, causing him to shiver. It had felt like icy hands were crawling up and down his skin, but it was necessary. He'd been so thankful that he had kept his shirt sleeves rolled down.

In the safety of his dorm, free to sit and hide alone, Oliver had rolled up his sleeves, fully intending to glamor his arms and cover the scars again. But he found himself staring at them instead, sometimes tracing them with his fingers without actually touching them. He remembered the reason for receiving each and every one of his scars, not just the ones on his arms but up and down his body, and he hated them all. And he understood them all.

He wished he could get rid of them, but he had grown to accept that he couldn't and instead saw them as a reminder; he was so much stronger than he had once been. He'd never put himself through that hell again.

The door opened and Oliver yanked his sleeves down, covering the skin just as James walked in; they may have made him stronger, but it was still another secret he didn't want people to know about. He hasn't even told Sarah.

He was both grateful and annoyed that his distraction had come in the form of James Potter; he was better able to forget his scars now that his crush was in the same room as him, but his crush was in the same room as him and they were alone and that couldn't be the best thing in the world.

Oliver watched curiously as James cursed all the way across the room to his bed, where he pulled off his cloak and jumper, then he moved to undo his trousers.

"Whoa," he blurted out, hiding his eyes as though he was five and finding it the most appropriate thing to do. James jumped and snapped his head up to frown at him. "Someone else in the room, dude."

"Yeah, I can see you," he laughed. "I just need to check my leg."

"Why?" Oliver asked, hesitantly lowering his hand. James dropped his trousers, but only to his knees, and his underwear was mostly covered by his shirt. Oliver tried not to show his relief; he saw less than that when they got up in the mornings. It was fine.

"Peeves found me on my way here and I hit the corner of the staircase trying to get away from him," James moaned, gently pressing against his skin. Oliver forced himself to keep his eyes on the spot the man was poking and saw a bruise begin to form. He must have hit the corner hard; it would probably be bigger and darker soon. "My leg hurts like hell and there's a huge rip in my trousers. See?"

James put the hand not holding his trousers up inside and was able to put three fingers through the hole with room to spare. Then he pulled his hand out to lift his shirt up a little. Oliver could see a large, tangled web of string coming from the hem of his boxers.

"Pulled my underwear, too," he muttered sadly. "I don't deserve this. These are my good ones."

"Surely they're not you're only good ones?" Oliver grinned, though looking skeptical.

"Well, no," James amended. "But they're my favorite pair. Compared to my cartoon ones, these make me feel like a grown up and I like that."

James stepped in front of him properly, practically daring him to look, and Oliver had to wonder exactly what the guy was thinking, if he considered this an innocent gesture. He probably did; James didn't hide as much as he did and even Tucker complained that he knew too much sometimes. James could easily mistake this for an innocent gesture, not comprehending what it was doing to Oliver's state of mind.

Why would he? You're a coward, who won't tell him the truth.

Oliver brushed the thought to the back of his mind swiftly and glanced at James, only for a moment longer than he should have; the underwear definitely suited him, all black and molded to fit his body perfectly. James didn't notice.

"Sure."

"You don't believe I can be grown up?" James asked with a wink. He looked down to pull at the tangled string; he didn't see Oliver blush.

He waited for his face to cool and cleared his throat. "I agreed with you, didn't I? Come here."

"Why?" James asked, sounding confused and, if Oliver guessed correctly, a little nervous now.

"Just come here," he answered, rolling his eyes. James shuffled over so not to trip over his trousers and stopped in front of Oliver, suddenly feeling awkward, and he refused to look him in the eye.

Oliver kept his hand at the hem of his underwear, trying not to touch his skin, but he had to to keep his grip firm. He tried to focus on his breathing rather than how warm and strong James felt, ignoring the man stiffen. Quickly, he wrapped the string around his free hand and pulled it off, then he grabbed his wand and sewed the hole in his trousers back together. He let go, leaving the bruise in case he accidentally made it worse, and James pulled his trousers up.

"Thanks," he murmured, moving away again. "That was a lot better than going to Lily, she'd just gloat about her being better at those sorts of charms than I am, and I can't find my other pairs."

"No problem."

James pushed his cloak and jumper to the end of his bed and jumped on top, moving to get comfortable. He let himself fall into his pillows and was his old self again by the time he looked back to Oliver, who had copied his actions and was already watching him.

"So, why are you up here all alone?"

Oliver shrugged, scratching his head and then his arm involuntarily; he still needed to hide his scars. He shook his head at James and did what he did best; he lied.

"No reason."

***

Potions was the last lesson of the day and Oliver both dreaded and looked forward to it. He looked forward to it because Sarah, or whatever partner their teacher gave him of she chose to pick them, was more likely to help him when it was the last lesson, because they knew he sucked and they didn't want to stay longer than they had to. He dreaded it because they made him start and he knew he was going to screw up whatever they were to make, which wouldn't help his grade.

He couldn't exactly remember what had possessed him to take Potions to NEWT level, he'd barely scraped the E students needed to continue. He vaguely remembered Sarah trying to persuade him to take the subject with her and he was sure that he had said no, even when she went into detail about how good a Potions NEWT would look on his résumé, then James had come in after Quidditch training, only wearing a pair of shorts because it had been too hot to wear his uniform. They'd hung low, just below his hips, and held Oliver's interest for the rest of the day.

It was the clearest image in his head. He mind went blank when it came to anything else from that day, including saying yes to a subject he hated.

I don't even need Potions. I'm never going to use it for work.

He jumped when a bag was dropped onto the table, frowning when he saw James take the seat on his left. Normally, he'd be secretly pleased to have the man by his side, especially when they were around others in a classroom where he couldn't embarrass himself, but that was Sarah's seat and she wasn't going to be happy.

"Why are you here?"

"Tucker told me to sit next to you, so that he has the last seat and gets to sit with Sarah," James answered, shrugging. He didn't seem to mind being moved. "His actual words were 'move or die', but I don't think he was serious."

Oliver laughed nervously. "You don't think?"

"Does he look like the type?"

James pointed to the table right across from them, which his friend was currently occupying alone; Tucker looked completely out of sorts, something Oliver couldn't recall ever seeing. He usually hid any insecurities very well, sometimes acting overly confident in his effort to get what he wanted. Now he was fidgeting constantly, bouncing his legs up and down and drumming his fingers against the desk while glancing toward the door.

Then it clicked; he was nervous about sitting with Sarah. Tucker was his overly confident self when they were in the Great Hall or outside, with a bit of distance between them and no way for Sarah to hurt him when she rejected him. She was going to be annoyed once she saw that the only empty space was by Tucker, then mad once she knew that James wasn't going to swap. She wouldn't be able to argue because the professor would start the class. She'd probably hurt him afterwards, because they both knew he'd try to ask her out again.

"The world is safe," James chuckled quietly.

"From Tucker maybe, Sarah is scarier," Oliver added with a whisper.

Sarah came in, saw the seat and the look she gave Oliver was a promise; he was in so much trouble.

And I didn't do a thing.

Tucker moved over just a little, opened his mouth a couple of times and went back to his textbook. Unable to keep a straight face, Oliver was happy to watch them while the professor started the lesson. James left him alone during the professor's explanation of how to successfully brew the love potion, Amortentia. He listened to every word the teacher said, from the different ways people feel around it to the risks of brewing it wrong and side-effects that have happened. Oliver stopped watching his friend and Janes' once he knew nothing bad or embarrassing was going to happen while the professor spoke, focusing on her just as she got to the dangers that can come with someone drinking a love potion so powerful.

He sat back, a little wide-eyed, when he heard about a number of the cases the Ministry had to deal with over the years.

"Whoa," James muttered once she had given them their assignment. He mirrored Oliver's own thoughts.

"The last one, the woman who was given it when she thought it was juice," Oliver murmured, torn between frowning because he didn't believe it and staring in disbelief because he couldn't believe it. The odd look on his face would have made the class laugh if they didn't seem to agree. "Who does that?"

"People who are given to much," James replied. "The guy who gave it to her would probably be in jail if he weren't, you know, dead."

"Sucks to be him," Oliver said sympathetically. "So, what are we doing?"

"You really weren't listening, were you?" James asked with a laugh.

"I zoned in when she got to the dangers, but I zoned out again when she got to the crazy lady at the end," Oliver admitted with a shrug. "It was way too freaky."

"Right," the man nodded and Oliver didn't know if James was agreeing with him or just being sarcastic. He continued speaking before Oliver had the chance to ask him. "The potion is our assignment; we need to make the potion and write about it, find a case to talk about or the effects in general. She had to go through the dangers of making it wrong to prepare us for making it, but we could even go into more detail on that. We have two weeks to make it and write it up. There's not enough time to make it in this lesson; I figure that we can either start planning our essay or we can pretend to do that while we wait for Sarah to explode."

"I like the second option."

James winked. "I thought you might."

Oliver pulled out some paper and a pen to make notes on, preferring the Muggle way because he made less of a mess than with quill and ink, while James turned his textbook to the page on Amortentia. It was mostly just the ingredients they needed and the steps it took to brew it, with a description of the potion, but he knew that he could easily lie about making sure he could get everything if the professor asked why they weren't working. When they next turned to their friends, Tucker was obviously trying to focus her attention on them rather than the work. Sarah was stubborn, though; they couldn't hear everything they were saying, but it was clear when Sarah shoved the book in front of him that she didn't want to talk about anything else.

"I'm gonna pay for this later," Oliver whispered to James.

"It's not your fault; Tuck planned it and I wouldn't move," he said back.

"Yeah, but I didn't stop it and I'm easier to get to."

"You have my pity," James chuckled. "Do you think she'll crack?"

Oliver smirked, raising an eye-brow. Will sarah crack? Ha!

"No."

"I don't know, Tuck can be pretty persuasive," James said innocently. "He can also drive people mental until they say yes, but that's beside the point."

They shut up when their friends glanced their way and focused on the textbook for a few minutes before looking back up; half the class were reading and the rest were messing about, but everyone was talking. It made watching Tucker and Sarah easier, but talking to each other a little harder when the noise rose the closer it got to the last bell.

"Personally, I think that Tucker should just give up," Oliver told him honestly. "She just doesn't seem to be that interested."

"I don't know, they might surprise you," James replied with a knowing smile. Oliver caught what he was referring to just in time; Tucker had said something that caused Sarah to turn away from him, so he missed the small smile she couldn't keep hidden.

James leaned in closer, his lips pressed to Oliver's ear; the shiver that ran down his back was uncontrollable and he knew that James noticed, but he couldn't bring himself to care about that. This was different and it was both dangerous and exciting.

"Not all surprises are bad," he said softly, his breath tickling Oliver's ear.

It was only after Oliver had moved closer that they both realized the room had gone weirdly quiet. Someone cleared their throat and they found Sarah giving them a smug look, a small amount of worry just concealed and only for him. Oliver dropped his head in his arms, hiding the fact that he'd gone unnaturally red.

He almost kicked James when he spoke.

"What?" he asked, still entirely too innocent.



A/N: Hey, guys. So, I hope this update was quicker than the last and that it continues to be. I want it to be, but despite my new list making updating easier, I still have a few WIPs to update, so updating each one may still take a while.

I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter and the James/Ollie (now named Jollie - how adorable :P) moments. I'm also free to give hugs because of the beginning of this chapter. *hugs*

Please let me know what you think.

Sam.


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