Chapter 8 : it's cold outside
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“So what do you think?” asked James, grinning slightly- I loved his grin, I decided that night- as we sat down on a slightly damp bench. Three young children next to me turned around and started chatting excitedly.
“Sorry,” said a woman, who looked to be their mother. “They probably recognised your Hogwarts robes, Harry starts next year…” the eldest of the trio, a boy with sandy blonde hair and scattered freckles, beamed.
I laughed. “It’s fine.”
“So your name’s Harry?” said James, leaning over me and grinning at the child.
“After Harry Potter,” boasted the boy. “I’m going to Gryffindor, like him.”
“You can aim better than that,” I cooed. “Work towards Ravenclaw.”
The mum rolled her eyes, and grinned sheepishly at us. “I’m a Muggle, but my husband Justin went to school with Harry Potter. Fought with him in the war, doesn’t shut up about it.”
“My parents are Muggles too,” said James, smoothly. “But I learnt about Harry Potter in History of Magic. He’s a very honourable figure to be named after, I’d say.”
“Why thank you- Richard Finch-Fletchley! Take that out of your mouth right now- Richard, what have I told you about swallowing shiny objects! Oh God- where is your father… Come on, let’s go to the toilets…” I watched the dark-haired woman, with rounded glasses and a merry, if not slightly weathered face, goad the three children down the seat aisle. Harry, the blonde boy, looked back at us wistfully for a second, before running off behind his siblings.
I turned to James, and he grinned at me, spreading his arm down the back of the bench, his fingertips curling around my shoulder.
“Honourable figure? I didn’t realise you were such a fan.”
“It’s my guilty pleasure. I have all the action figures, all the Witch Weekly profiles…”
“So do I,” I said, smirking. “My favourite is the one of his son.”
“The unbelievably handsome, talented, funny one?”
“No, the older one.”
“How witty,” he said drily, and I turned to smile lazily at him. His defined cheekbones, his jutting jaw, the way his face slightly sinks in between his thick eyebrows and his big brown eyes and the way his messy hair, dark and a nutty brown shade, glinted gold in the lights emitting from behind him; all these I memorised. I took his face and I stored it within me as I sat there, looking at him, the size of the smirk on his mouth decreasing with every second.
“Look,” he said quietly, his eyebrows creasing ever so slightly. “About Dahlia.”
“Oh yeah,” I said, tearing my eyes away from him, and concentrating on the seats below us, as they filled up with more and more people. It was the first night of the Cirque de la Vie’s Christmas tour of Britain, and being the only Wizarding circus in Europe, people had been battling for tickets since the show was announced in October. But I wasn’t surprised that James had tickets, not at all.
The band was playing Jingle Bells, and a few people below us were dancing along in their aisles. Mistletoe was beginning to weave its way through the thick branches of ivy, hanging from the canvas above us, but I tried to ignore that.
“We’re not dating,” he said.
I turned my head sharply from the ceiling to him. “What do you mean?”
“You know she’s been seeing Glenn Yearlings?” I nodded, thinking of the Slytherin Quidditch Captain. “She heard he snogged a girl in your year when he was at some family party the past weekend- that Nott girl-”
“Classic Ophelia,” I said, snorting. “But they didn’t. I mean, I don’t think so- Ophelia would have told us.”
“When did you become friend with Ophelia Nott?”
“When did you become so interested in my social life?”
He rolled his eyes, but didn’t retort back. “Anyway, she spread that we were back together to maintain her reputation. And the first person she told was Oscar Green, obviously.”
“Well, at least she’s resourceful.” Everyone knew that if they wanted something to spread, Oscar was the one to go to. He ran the underground gossip rings, and could source out a false rumour within a New York minute. But he’d still spread it anyway. He was worse than the ghosts.
“And Oscar told Albus that morning,” said James. “I didn’t even hear about my own relationship until lunch.” He grinned at me, and edged his head in closer to me, his mouth by my ear, and his breath tickled, sending immoral shudders down my spine. “This is my favourite song, Effy.”
They were playing an old Christmas song, an old one, the one that my grandparents dance too during Christmas night, holding each other to their bodies like they were young and madly in love. An old man took the microphone and spoke into it, his words tumbling out in a velvety, husky tone.
“A nice, slow one before we start the show, ladies and gentlemen,” he purred. “Christmas time unites friends with fiends, lovers and fighters, Wizards and Muggles…”
“Well,” I said, smiling, as the dark-skinned man began singing softly. “It would be a shame not to dance then, wouldn’t it?”
He stood up, and held out his hand. I rose and took it, as he wove his hands behind my back, and I fastened my arms around his neck. The corners of his mouth turned up and his eyes glinted when they caught the light behind me, as we swayed softly to the beat of the melodic piano, the soft saxophone. Couples swayed around us, and I imagined generations of couples before us dancing along to the same song.
He sings a love song, whilst we stroll along,
Walking in a winter wonderland…
And suddenly my hands were against his chest, and his left hand cupped my face, his other holding my back. And we were kissing, under the mistletoe that blossomed from the low canvas ceiling, hanging just above the two of us.
We had to break apart, though. And when we did, we were laughing.
“Does that make this a first date, then?” I asked, as the lights dimmed and we sat down.
“Oh, Wilderson,” said James. “I don’t fancy you in that way.”
“Are you thick? I thought you were meant to be a Ravenclaw. Yeah, of course, you idiot.”
“You idiot,” I mimicked in a very low voice that didn’t sound like him at all.
“Your banter, Wilderson,” he said, putting his arm around me as the show began, "is too much for me."
“So it’s dead silent, like totally silent, you could have heard a Nargle drop, and suddenly Regina Dwyer, the idiot she is, starts shrieking. We all look up, and she is literally covered in that orange goo-ey shit, and then Professor Vermont comes over- like it’s a Mock NEWT, he doesn’t know what to say- and Grace Goyle knocks over the cauldron, and it’s all over him, and he literally bursts into tears.”
“He didn’t,” said Alfie, grinning, his face awed. “Amazing.”
Fred snorted. “He just bursts into tears and makes some comment about how, oh, I wish I had never left Salem- I wish he hadn’t either, I started laughing and he put me in detention for about a week…”
“Vermont’s a lad,” said James, lazily. “Alfie and I nek nominated him to drink our cauldron. We told him it was plain H2O-”
“-it was a love potion,” concluded Alfie, grinning. “For Longbottom.”
“Yeah, and now the whole Herbology department is on strike,” I said, grinning at the most recent protest.
“I heard your year bribed them too,” said Fred, leaning in. “So you could miss out on their Sixth Year Mock NEWTS.”
“We don’t look at it as bribing,” I said lazily, leaning further into James, his scent intoxicating me. “We look at is as inspiring a generation.” This was half true; Louis Weasley and Ruddy Walcott got everyone in the class to contribute a galleon towards a deluxe box of Honeydukes’ finest chocolates to sway Longbottom’s substitute Professor. It didn’t work, the pair were put in detention for a week, and Louis received a Howler the next morning, berating him in a very heavy French accent.
James laughed, his fingers lazily playing with the hair by my temples, as a girl in the year above approached Freddie, lying luxuriously across the armchair by the warm fireplace in the Gryffindor common room. James was stretched against a beaten old red sofa, and I was lying between his legs, absent-mindedly drawing circles around his thigh. It was a fortnight since he took me to the circus, and we had been seeing each other since then. Were we dating? Was he my boyfriend? Was it exclusive? Was I- and I had heard the rumours circulate, Fifth Year girls have a talent for loudness- not more than a rebound? I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to ask. Christmas was in the air, and the upcoming holidays brought feelings of euphoria amongst the student body.
Maybe that was why James and I had gone from awkward and angry towards each other to where we were now. Patrolling the corridors of the school after hours, often running or hiding from bitchy prefects or Filch and his cat, discussing everything and sometimes (often) kissing. Oscar and Aspen demanded that I further it, but I was totally content with where we were now. Did I love him? No, but I liked him. More than I think I’d admit.
“Hey,” said the girl, smiling in that alluring way that girls like Aspen and Jasmine always manage to pull off, but whenever I try it, I look like I need to pee.
“Hey Annie,” said Freddie, his left eyebrow raised. “You alright?”
“Well, no,” she said, playing with the ends of her sleek black hair. “Regina Dwyer got that disgusting orange shit all over my notes.”
“Bloody Regina,” said Freddie, in a mock-sympathetic tone. “Steal hers.”
“Are you suggesting I’m a sinner, Frederick Weasley?”
Fred grinned, his tongue locked behind his teeth. Fred’s skin, a golden brown, looking almost alive in the golden glow from the fireplace, and his eyes were a dark, majestic green. Jasmine’s fancied him since fifth year, and he’s been awful to her- leading her on, dancing her about and then dumping her. I tried to dislike him on behalf of her, but it was difficult. Fred, like James, had this charismatic aura about him, that made weak and strong people alike flock to him, like moths to a light.
Freddie and James, to their credit, weren’t popular due to their families, although that didn’t hurt. They had spent their lower years charming professors and upper year students alike, with their boyish wits and extravagant pranks; Aspen and Oscar adored them, thinking they were the coolest things to happen to us. (I personally disagreed, having grown up with two brothers and finding all boys of a certain age as annoying as the next.) And as they grew older, pranks turned into wild parties and victims into girls; Alfie Ronson was always their friend, but he only came onto the scene when boys grew into teenagers- he was easily the best looking out of all three of them, but girls always went for Freddie and James.
I looked up at James, and watched him talk animatedly to Alfie, the two of them pointing at Freddie and the dark-haired girl walking out of the common room.
“Classic Annie Delta,” said Alfie, whilst James grinned.
“Potions isn’t the only thing she’s getting a D in,” James quipped, and Alfie threw his head back in laughter.
“Have you seen Annie?” said Eve Chang, a pretty Asian girl in their year. I remembered her being nice to me last Sunday, and smiled at her.
“Hey, you!” she said, grinning at me. “You’re looking comfortable.”
“Snuggled in with ickle wickle Jimmy,” crowed Alfie, and James snorted. “Annie literally just left with Freddie. Said she wanted help with a Potions essay.”
“Freddie is barely scraping an A in Potions,” said Eve. “Classic Annie Delta.”
“Oh Annie,” I sighed, and James sniggered.
“Alright, calm down Miss Sixth Year.”
“Excited for your NEWTS? What is it, five months?”
“Oh, don’t,” said Eve, sitting down on the oak table in front of us. “My dad’s expecting all O’s. She was a Ravenclaw, you know,” and she delivered this line towards me, like she was accusing me on behalf of Ravenclaw house.
“Oh shut up, Chang,” said Alfie leisurely. “You’ll get all O’s.”
She snorted. “As if.”
“Our year are all idiots. Didn’t Vivienne Dartmouth just make the connection between honey coming from bees last Monday?” yawned James. “She started crying, she thought honey was bee shit.”
Everyone laughed, and I began to drawing figments along his inner leg. James, Alfie and Eve returned to discussing how difficult life was for seventh years, and I had to bite my tongue to not make some sarcastic comment about dying children in Africa.
I turned around, and sat up to grin at Jasmine Azalea, who sat down at the end of the sofa and flung her arms around me. “Effy!” she cried. “Why are you here?”
“It’s me,” said Freddie, returning to his armchair by the fire. James had told me how the seats we were occupying were sought after in the common room, and yet the armchair remained empty in his absence. “Elizabeth here just can’t get enough.”
“Where’s Annie?” asked Eve, as Jasmine blushed at Freddie. “She’s got my DA essay, bloody git.”
Freddie shrugged, smoothing out his shirt. “It’s a Thursday evening. She’s probably with the rest of our year in the library.”
“Annie. In the library.”
Freddie shrugged again, and returned to conversation with James and Alfie. Eve rose- probably in pursuit of Annie Delta- and Jasmine turned to me, her eyes glinting.
“I love you and James together,” she said, excitedly, and I half-heartedly glared at her for playing it so uncool. For whilst- at least, I tried my hardest- I was acting cool, nonchalant, normal, inside my heart beat was going at a hundred pulses a second.
“No it isn’t,” called James, and I blushed slightly at him overhearing Jasmine’s statement. “She got our reserve Chaser in detention when we needed him most this term.”
“Are you still not over it? We won!”
“Narrowly,” said James, crossing his arms.
“Mate, Effy’s the Seeker for Ravenclaw,” sniggered Freddie.
James shrugged. “I’m sure Effy will realise that my position as captain is more important than her position as Seeker.”
“What?” I said, suddenly. But James had already returned back to the conversation with Freddie and Alfie; Jasmine instead turned to me, rolling her eyes.
“So basically,” said Jasmine, snapping her jaws together in that slightly enduring, slightly annoying manner that loads of the girls in my year do, and I couldn't work out if it was kind of cool or kind of ridiculous, “you, Ophelia and Aspen are coming to me to get ready for Al’s.”
“Oh yeah!” I marvelled. “I forgot about Al’s.” Al’s party was the talk of the year. It was the Monday we finished school, and everyone was going. James told me that their parents made a big deal out of seventeenth birthdays, and I had already spent countless hours in the evening with Aspen, sprawled across her bed and flicking through catalogues to find a dress.
“I live in London, which is near Al,” she said happily. “And we’ll take loads of pictures I can put on my wall, and you can meet my parents and it’ll be really, really fun. Yeah?”
I smiled. “I’m looking forward to it.”
She smiled back, and I spent the rest of that Thursday evening like that. Wrapped up in James beside a warm fireside, chatting about idle, girly matters with Jasmine and occasionally singing along to the Christmas music emitting from the radio. I had to leave after a while, of course. And then by the time I got back to my own tower, I was too tired to do any work. Some sacrifices are worth making, I concluded sleepily.
Some teachers got more into the festive spirit than others. Professor Augustine, our bitchy middle-aged Arithmancy teacher sat by his desk and napped, whilst the rest of us chatted excitedly about the upcoming holidays; others, such as Professor Flitwick, worked us to the bone.
“Your most important exams are coming up!” he squealed. “This year will fly by, and soon it’ll be too late! You mark my words! Just ask the year aboves!”
And so I did, on one of my nightly walks with James. We walked through the top floors, as they were less patrolled for they were furthest away from the kitchens and the library. Sometimes he’d put his arm around my shoulders, and I liked that. Or sometimes during the height of our teasing he’d pull me into a kiss against a marble pillar, and I loved that. His fingers would entwine in my hair, and it was the heat of the snog and the excitement of being caught that thrilled me to the very core.
But the talks were the best. His perspective on life was something entirely different from my own, and it intrigued me endlessly.
“Everybody wants me to be this Quidditch star,” he stated, his hands in his pockets. “And if not that, then an Auror like my dad. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s something else, you know?”
“Muggles have this endless capacity of future careers,” I replied. “Whereas we just work for the ministry. It’s like bees in a hive, isn’t it? I mean, we have celebrities and newspapers, but the majority work for the Minister. It’s not a variety.”
“Exactly,” he said, looking at me. “Al’s going to be a Healer, Lily’s not particularly clever- but she’s brave, zesty- so she’ll probably train to be an Auror.”
“I thought you wanted to be a Quidditch player? You’re always going on about scouts,” I said.
He shrugged. “I don’t dream of it, like little boys and girls do. It doesn’t thrill me, like it does with Alton. It’s just a hobby I’m good at.”
“Hang on,” I said, stopping suddenly.
“What?” he said, impatiently.
“Two nights ago,” I said, slowly. “You basically told me I was to give up Quidditch to sustain this relationship. Or whatever this is, but that’s beside the point. And I was considering it, because I thought I knew how much Quidditch meant to you.”
“Ravenclaw can easily find another Seeker,” said James coolly. “But I’m their only Captain.”
“You don’t even like Quidditch!” I cried.
“Keep your voice down,” snapped James. “Do you want to get a detention, Wilderson?”
“Don’t tell me what to do!” I snapped back. “Don’t tell me to keep my voice down, don’t tell me to quit Quidditch! Especially when you’re not as dependent on scouts as I thought you were!”
“You’ve got a whole other year of Quidditch to go!” he shouted. “This isn’t about you!”
“No, James, it’s about you not even wanting to be a Quidditch player when you’re older and yet still expecting me to quit- you’re using me to sabotage Ravenclaw!” I said, suddenly. “Oh my God! Not only are you potentially denying Danny Alton of his dream, but you’re denying the whole of my team that, too!”
“Stop being so drastic,” he hissed. “This isn’t about you.”
“I think it is-”
“-maybe,” he said, drawing up to me, his eyes cold and unforgiving, sending shivers down my spine- “-maybe, Elizabeth, Quidditch is more than a job. Maybe it’s the only thing I have that gives me lineage with my dad and my granddad. My fucking namesake.”
James stepped back, crossing his arms. “My dad took Gryffindor to victory. My grandfather took Gryffindor to victory. And I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t sustain that.”
“Do you know what it’s like?” he shouted. “Being named after a man who will always, always be better than you? A man who died for his wife and child, when I could never do that? A man who’s name still echoes the halls of this school? A man whose teachers still teach me, and compare me to him?”
“James,” I said, softly, reaching for his arm.
“My brother doesn’t play Quidditch. Neither does Lily. Neither did Albus, and neither did Lily. I’m the only one in the family, don’t you fucking get it?” He looked at me, and scoffed. “You’re just a fucking sixth year.”
I raised my eyebrow. “Well,” I said. “Then I suppose I have nothing to do here.”
"Wait- no, hang on- Wilderson! Effy!"
He bellowed my name down the empty hall, his voice bouncing off the walls, but I refused to look back. James Sirius Potter was nothing but a silly, proud prick who, to be honest, I was better off without anyway.
Oscar didn’t take the news well.
“Oh my god,” he bemoaned in the common room, with Aspen and me either side of him. “How am I meant to go on? My muse, my first, my inspiration…”
“He’s just flying off to Bali,” I said, rubbing his back.
“And he’ll come back a total hippy!” Oscar wailed. “He’ll be pushing vegan leather- Oh my god, what if he doesn’t stock leather at all?!”
“I’m sure he will-”
“Oh my god. Oh my god. What if he goes boho chic? That wasn’t acceptable in 2014, and it is not acceptable now! Next thing you know, he’ll be riding goats during Glastonbury festival and sipping organic cocktails with the lead singer of Coldplay!”
“I’m sure that won’t happen,” Aspen soothed, as he embarked on another wave of tears.
“Who is this again?” I mouthed over Oscar’s back.
Aspen shrugged. “Some designer,” she motioned.
“There, there,” I said, patting his back, as Aspen conjured a new box of tissues.
The common room door opened, and I looked up, as it was during a free period and the common room was more or less empty. The record player still played the same classical music it’s been playing since my first night of Hogwarts, but instead of the usual soothing Bach, it was the Nutcracker. Christmas fever was everywhere.
“Al!” I said, surprised, rising to greet him.
He hugged me, and then pulled me aside. “Um- Oscar? What’s wrong?”
“Some designer he likes is going to Bali,” I said, rolling my eyes, and Al grinned.
Mikey had been acting really rude to me recently, and it was such a relief to see Al. Al was calm, Al was level-headed, Al wasn’t annoying nor judgemental, and Al was also really good about the whole James thing.
“Why are you here?” I asked, smiling at him in a manner I hope looked radiant.
“Why are you smiling like that?” asked Al, curiously. “Do you need to fart, or something?”
I scowled, and he laughed.
“Anyway,” he said, striding over to Aspen and Oscar. A small huddle of year aboves were sitting by the bookshelves, Ravenclaw’s own personal little library, and looked horrified at Al’s casual interruption of the common room. “Oscar, mate, calm down.”
“What if he collaborates with Target?” wailed Oscar. “Or Marks and Sparks?”
“Muggleborn,” chorused Aspen and I, boredly. It wasn't the first time someone had approached us and asked what was wrong with Oscar. He, of course, loved it- loved the concern, loved the attention, loved the dramatics of this Wednesday afternoon meltdown.
“Oh. Anyway, Effy, I actually came here to see you,” said Al, sitting down on the sofa and wrapping his arm around Oscar, which would normally send him over the edge with excitement but Oscar didn’t even notice; was he that upset?
“At least I still have Alexander,” he mumbled, clutching a decadent scarf to his heart. “Oh McQueen, McQueen…”
“What’s up, Al?” I asked, sitting on the arm of the armchair Aspen was slouched over, trying not to glare at Oscar who's attention-seeking facade was suddenly, surprisingly, starting to grate on me.
Al began to open his mouth, but then closed it again, looking perplexed. “Do they always play classical music in here?” he asked.
“How often do you come into the Ravenclaw common room?”
“Well it’s not like it’s difficult, is it? All you need is basic logic-”
“That’s not fair,” huffed Aspen. “I’ve been sorted into Ravenclaw and I still can’t get past half these riddles.”
Albus smiled at Aspen, but then turned to me. “I owe you an apology,” he said. “For telling you that Dahlia and James were dating when they weren’t.”
I blinked. “What?”
“Remember? I told you James and Dahlia were dating last week, when they weren’t.”
I smiled, and rolled my eyes. “Al, I’m over that. He cleared it up when he took me to the circus.”
“And you two aren’t talking now.”
“Because James was being impossible!” cried Aspen, and I turned to smile at her for jumping to my defence. “Quidditch means so much to Effy, and he expected her to give it up.”
“Yeah, he told me,” Al nodded thoughtfully. “Well, anyway, that’s so annoying. I think he liked you- for James’ standards, anyway.”
“Yeah, and she really liked him,” nodded Aspen earnestly.
“Az!” I hissed. Oh my God, she was turning into my mum.
Al grinned. “So what are you doing over Christmas, Aspen?”
“Going to California,” she said happily. “My dad just bought a house in San Francisco with his girlfriend-”
“Oh yeah!” I cried. “Owl me immediately about it, that’s so cool.”
“Right? Who knew?” said Aspen, snorting. “What about you, Al?”
“Spending a week in France with family,” he groaned.
“Oh shut up,” I said. “It won’t be that bad.”
“Are you joking? My family are insane,” he said. “You know what they’ve like.”
“Yeah, they want me to give up Quidditch,” I muttered, crossing my arms, and Al patted my back sympathetically.
“There are children dying.”
“Speaking of dying,” said Oscar suddenly, “I just remembered major seventh year gossip! So you know Glenn Yearling, the Slytherin Captain? The one Dahlia Moss thought cheated on her?”
We nodded. “Well, Gloria Hastings, one of the Hufflepuff Chasers, totally caught him in the Hufflepuff Captain’s room, trying to find something! And then- oh my God, this is huge- Yearling called her a- a- a-”
“Spit it out, Oscar.”
“Shut up, Effy. He called her a-” he squeezed his eyes with excitement- “a mudblood!”
Aspen gasped, and I could feel my eyes widen. On my right, Albus looked slightly ill. “He didn’t,” murmured Albus, and Oscar nodded.
“And Annie Delta had sex with Freddie Weasley,” he commented off-handedly.
That night in the Great Hall, the ceiling above us was a cloudless inky black, and if you squinted your eyes a certain way, you could make out certain constellations in the stars. Christmas trees lined the walls, and a thick seasonal scent of pinewood, cinnamon and musky warmth hung in the air. Excitable chatter filled the halls; the winter exams were over for the term, and there was only a week to go until the holidays.
“I’ve decided I’m over it,” announced Oscar. Aspen was cuddled up with Scorpius, spoon-feeding him pie, and Albus and I were trying not to laugh at the couple in front of us.
“I’m proud of you,” I said, patting him on the arm.
“If Christian Tallentallegra wants to ruin his life, then whatever. Fine by me."
We began discussing the potential goblin strike on Gringotts, when the plates cleared and gradually, people started filling out of the hall.
“I’m so full,” moaned Scorpius.
“I’m not, I hate shepherd’s pie,” I muttered, as we walked out of the Hall. There was a big crowd forming in front of us, and I could see two girls pointing excitedly.
“Peeves probably playing up again,” said Scorpius.
“Peeves wouldn’t do it straight after a meal, he’s scared shitless of Professor Augustine,” muttered Albus. I followed him further into the crowd, pushing our way to the front, ignoring pissed off remarks aimed at us.
There stood James and Freddie, their wands raised in perfect symmetry, grinning at the body of Glenn Yearling, the Slytherin Quidditch captain, who was dangling upside down, by his left ankle. His usually pale skin was lined with dark brown veins, standing out and looking like some weird bodily disorder.
“Glenn Yearling, everyone,” called James, the corner of his mouth twitching, the back of his hair the messiest I’ve ever seen it, “has two Pureblood parents, and yet his blood is quite literally mud. What does that make him, Freddie?”
“Oh, I don’t know, James,” Fred Weasley retorted, pretending to look quizzical. “A mudblood?”
“Quite right, Freddie.” And then his skin went from his usual pale to yellower and yellower-
“He looks like a leopard!” called a girl in the year below.
“Almost there,” grinned James. “Not quite a leopard, but a cheetah. Again, in the literal meaning.”
“Having fun there, Yearling?” asked Freddie, innocently. “You see, my good friend James and I know that your patronus is a hawk.”
“But hawks don’t go around the place, practising unfair Quidditch tactics.”
“Oh no they do not, James. Hawks don’t cheat, but cheetahs do. Am I right, mate?”
Suddenly, Yearling’s body dropped on the floor, and the chatter ceased. James crouched over his body, and said something in a tone only those closest could hear.
“Don’t you ever differentiate between wizarding heritage like that again. Gloria Hastings may be a Muggleborn, Yearling, but she’s a hundred times the person you are, let alone the wizard.”
I was angrily pushed aside by Professor Longbottom, who barked at us all to go to bed. And in that moment, my eyes met with James’- his familiar brown eyes, who had previously filled me with feelings of such euphoria and anger, like my physical bipolar disorder- and I looked away, crossing my arms.
“That was so brave,” cooed a girl in the year above, with long, slender legs and beautiful cascading blonde hair. She held onto James’ arm, and he didn’t push her away. Dahlia Moss doesn’t even look at me when she kisses James on the cheek, and the two laughed together. Longbottom and Slughorn accompany Yearling to the Hospital Wing, and James and Dahlia walked off together, whilst Freddie basks in the compliments that the crowd of students are all too happy to saturate him in.
“Let’s go to bed,” said Aspen, pushing me away from the scene.
The following morning, December the fifteenth, saw snow, really thick, fluffy snow that set five inches deep overnight. The antics of the night before were ignored over the excitement of snow, because whilst it had been on and off snowing all month, nothing had really settled.
“Oi, Wilderson!” yelled Indigo Coates, running up to me in the corridor. “Lunch time. Massive snowball fight between the Ravenclaw team and the Hufflepuff team.”
“Just because your voice has finally broken, doesn’t mean you can call me Wilderson-”
“Going to be a mad one, I can tell-”
“What are you, twelve?”
“Yeah, on a scale of one to ten.” Al, who had been walking beside me on our way to Defence, burst into laughter, and I glared at the two of them.
“Thanks, but no thanks, I hate snowball fights. The snow always ends up down my top and I always end up with mascara streaks down my face.”
Indigo gave me a dirty look, and flounced off, muttering something about betrayal and sacrifices. Al raised an eyebrow at me, and I shook my head.
“I took part in the Hufflepuff versus Ravenclaw Quidditch fight last year, and Joshua Wood ended up in the Hospital Wing for the night.”
“Fair enough,” shrugged Al. “Did you do the Defence essay? I did, but it’s not quite fifteen inches-”
“Oh fuck!” I cried. “I left it in the library!”
“Are you going to go get it?”
“Yeah, can you cover for me?”
“Sure.” I hugged him and ran off, pushing my way through the throng of students in the busy Transfiguration corridor, muttering apologies here and there.
The library was at the other end of the school, and classes started in five minutes. I would have to go outside, and I physically winced at the thought. Hagrid hadn’t gotten around to clearing the grounds of snow- or at least forming some kind of pathway- and I didn’t like the idea of getting my shoes and the end of my cloak wet.
I walked outside, and the quietness of the courtyard was serene. The stark whiteness of the snow, untouched and pure lay ahead of me, under an unseasonal cornflower blue sky.
The ends of my hair flew in the sudden wind, and I shivered as I removed my cloak, tucking it under my arm. I began walking, listening to every single crunch under my foot and the faint sound of the wind around me.
I turned around.
“James,” I said, softly.
“Why am I always finding you like this?” he said, grinning slightly. “As a prefect, I should really be putting you in detention. It’s class time.”
I smiled at him. “Go on, then. And maybe I’ll charm your face to turn golden, and your ears into wings, for being a literal snitch?”
I shrugged, and turned around, to walk on, but he grabbed me with his hand.
“What?” I snap, turning around. The icy wind makes my teeth chatter, and I cross my arms together- not out of defiance, but in need of warmth.
“We need to talk,” he said.
“About what?” I snapped. “You? Your need to fulfil every action your grandfather performed, to the extent of asking me to leave the team? Because I don’t remember hearing that the original James Potter strung girls along.”
He stood there, his eyebrows raised and his eyes cold once more. “Are you quite done with yourself, Wilderson?”
“Yeah, I am, actually. Next time you find me walking around by myself, don’t stop to say hi.”
“Oh trust me,” he said coolly. “I won’t. You have a huge hole in the back of your tights, Wilderson. That’s all I was going to say.”
I lifted my leg in the air to inspect it, and he was right. But before I could politely thank him, he was gone, and I was alone in the cold, December air. Once inside, cherubs sitting in the hanging holly wreathes sing happy Christmas carols, but I could barely hear them.
You never write anymore! Well, not to the extent you used to! What’s new? How are your NEWTS? How’s Aspen and Oscar? I bumped into Carlotta Spinelli the other day, actually- we were both in Selfridges, that Muggle store Holly RAVES about, it’s actually very nice! Anyway, we sat down for lunch- lovely woman, helped me with my Muggle money and everything!
Your father’s been very busy. Apparently Quidditch season starts in January, and he’s been at the office every night, securing interviews and organising events of the sort. Lee Jordan’s been so good with your dad, he’s been helping him out an awful lot. It’s also fab for ME, because now I can stop pretending I like that daft sport hehe LOL!
Oliver’s bringing his new girlfriend down over Christmas, and I think Jack’s flying in from the States but I’m not too sure, and is it bad that I can’t bring myself to care… less cooking for me!! LOL.
Do you have a boyfriend yet???? Do hurry up, dear, Angela Harley’s daughter Tilly has a boyfriend and I want pictures I can compare with Angela. He’s very good looking, Tilly’s boy is- I knew we should have sent you to Beauxbatons with Tilly. Maybe then you’d have a boyfriend. I had LOADS of boyfriends when I was your age. Pauline tells me Aspen’s still with Scorpius- what a catch!!! I do love Aspen, she knows how to do it. Wait- are you a lesbian?????????? I read an article on them in Witch Weekly the other day- or was it feminists? LOL. I can’t remember. If you are, just make sure she doesn’t have coloured hair- the woman in the article had coloured hair, it’s so tacky!
Hug and kisses Mummy XXXXXXXXXXX
Ps- dad congratulates you on some Ravenclaw win against some house, wasn’t paying attention LOL!
“I love Felicity Vane!” exclaimed Aspen. She had giggled all through the letter, occasionally stopping to make comments such as classic Fels or what a babe!
My mother was not a babe. If anything, she was a woman still possessed by very Bridget Jones-esque morals of the 1990s, forever trying to find me a boyfriend. I’m glad I didn’t write to her about James, because the explanation of why it went wrong would have catalysed a potential divorce; my mother would have insisted I walk up to him immediately to inform him of my retirement from Quidditch, and my father would have been outraged, citing that he’d rather me have no boyfriends whatsoever than give up Quidditch and besides, what’s wrong with Lee Jordan’s son, Orion?
“Throwback Thursday,” interrupts Oscar, skim-reading the fashion pages of the Prophet- not that they could ever live up to the brilliance of Victoire Delacour writing for Witch Weekly, he often adds. “Who remembers that one time we all thought James Potter knocked up Dahlia Moss?”
“Good thing he didn’t!” cried Aspen earnestly. “We have enough of that Satan blood running around the school!”
“Satan blood? What is that, some pastel grunge Tumblr URL?” said Oscar, raising his left eyebrow. I snorted, and Aspen threw a torn off piece of bread towards his general direction, blushing when it hit a good looking year above instead. “And who remembers that time James Potter almost got kidnapped when he was a baby from neo-Death Eaters?”
“We weren’t alive, you idiot,” I snorted.
“It was still a funny occasion,” shot Oscar. “Well, not for Harry and Ginny Potter.”
“Or anybody else, really.”
“He’s not even that good-looking,” said Aspen, beaming through the lie. “Scorpius is way hotter.”
“What about me, babe?”
“Well, and you too, Oscar.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at Oscar and Aspen’s attempts at bad-mouthing James. I had told them, in hushed voices during History of Magic, about my encounter with him and they were outraged.
“I hate him! How dare he?” fumed Aspen, whilst Oscar clapped with glee.
“You two so want each other!”
“We don’t,” I snapped, and Aspen stifled a laugh at Oscar’s bemused face.
“But I was going to make tee-shirts,” he said, crest-fallen. But Aspen and I laughed, and I hastily changed the subject.
“How are you and Scorpius, anyway?” I asked her at the breakfast table that morning.
She smiled. “We’re good. Thanks.”
“I never see you two around anymore-”
“Well, we’re all very busy, aren’t we?” she almost snapped. But Aspen never snapped, and as her head was turned Oscar and I exchanged confused shrugs. Period, Oscar mouthed at me.
Don't be so sexist, I mouthed back.
It's not sexist, it's an educated biological guess, he retorted, and I was about to open my mouth and reply very silently and very angrily when Aspen piped up again.
“Anyway, who needs boyfriends when I have the two best friends in the world?” she said, brightly.
“Oh, darling!” cried Oscar earnestly. “I couldn’t agree more.”
I was about to say something when Albus came running up to us, totally frantic.
“What’s wrong?” I said, rising from the table. A few other people were looking interested around us, and Albus spoke in a hushed whisper.
“Let’s go outside, Effy.” Aspen and Oscar, below me, shot me what the fuck’s going on glances but I ignored them, following Al out of the Hall doors and into a small doorway.
“It’s James. He’s in the Hospital Wing- Glenn Yearling tried to hex Alfie Ronson this morning, but James got in the way-”
“What? Oh my God, is he alright?”
“He should be,” said Albus, shakily. “Anyway- Lily’s on a Muggle Studies trip, and I can’t find Rose-”
“Oh my god,” I said, engulfing him in the warmest hug I could muster. He smelt like James, but without the tobacco, and slightly fruitier. But they both shared that underlining scent of fresh laundry, a summer’s day, old books, and something else quite undistinguishable.
“He’ll be okay,” I said, rubbing circles on Al’s back. “Don’t you worry about it.”
We stood there for a moment, until I spoke again. “So what exactly happened, Al?”
“I wasn’t there- Alfie told me,” Al began, slowly, and his voice sounded calmer, no longer on the verge of tears. “James- he and Alfie were walking, and Alfie was congratulating James on some Transfiguration essay, something like that, I think, what Alfie said- anyway- Yearling comes round the corner with some Slytherin cronies, and call Alfie a mudblood- James threatens to hex Yearling again if he doesn’t apologise, and Yearling says mudbloods don’t deserve to be in the school- he moves to hex Alfie, but James jumped in front, and Yearling and his friends run off before a professor arrives.”
My hand is clamped over my mouth and I can feel my eyes widen.
“And it turns out, Glenn Yearling is actually Glenn Yaxley- they changed the family name after the war, and he’s secretly hated James for years.” Al shook his head, and there was another tremor to his voice. “I hope he’s alright, I-”
“Of course he’ll be alright. Yearling- Yaxley- got what, a D in his Charms OWL? Anyway, he aimed it at Alfie, not at James. He wouldn’t have wanted to kill Alfie- just embarrass him for the day, something juvenile.”
“Do you think?”
I nodded, and hugged him again, smelling that same clean scent even James had lingering underneath the cigarettes and strawberries. And, despite the rising anxiety in my chest, I wondered if Lily Potter smelt the same way.
We stood there in silence, and I thought about what I last said to James. I said he was nothing like his father, his grandfather; if anything, he was, he was twice the men they were. I could picture James jumping in front of a hex for Alfie, like James hexed Yearling in the first place for calling that girl a mudblood. James Sirius Potter was arrogant, hot-headed and impatient, but he was also brave, noble, chivalrous and daring. He had morals and such a defined sense of right and wrong, good and bad that I knew he would never set out to hurt me- to hurt anyone-
Perhaps he was loud, and he was a flirt, and maybe he used his charms and charisma to get himself out of all kinds of trouble that nobody else could. But he was a good person, right to the core, and I bitterly, bitterly regretted ever thinking otherwise.
“We need to go to classes,” said Albus.
“Yeah- I left my books in my room, I’m going to go get them.” Albus nodded, and I smiled weakly at him. “He’ll be fine, Al.”
He grinned at me, like he always did. “Thanks, Effy.”
I ran to the Hospital Wing, ignoring the judgemental looks of passing professors and annoyed glances of students, and I ran inside, almost bumping into Madame Pomfrey.
“Elizabeth Wilderson, isn’t it?” she said, sharply. “You were in here in October, weren’t you? Five broken ribs, swollen joints, twisted wrist, broken arm?”
“That’s me,” I said, smiling slightly. “Can I see James Potter?”
“No visitors during class hours, I’m afraid.”
“I have a free period, anyway.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Wilderson,” pressed Madame Pomfrey, her eyebrows raised. “But rules are rules. Weasley and Ronson already tried.”
I walked outside, and waited for a moment, before slightly opening the door, so I could see a slither of the room ahead. I watched Madame Pomfrey for three minutes, counting every single second, until I was sure she had retired to her study. And then, making sure I didn’t make any noise, I walked in.
There was one lower year student sleeping, but apart from that, the room was empty. At the back there was a bed with drawn, white curtains, and I approached it, my heart thumping and my head pounding.
Is this what it’s like to be daring, I wondered, and if so, I do not like it.
Like I did with the door, I peered through a slip of the curtain, and it was James. I could only see his messy, wild black hair, but I knew it was him.
“We have got to stop bumping into each other like this,” I said, walking into his cubicle.
I looked at him properly, as I sat myself down on the end of his bed. There were no bodily disorders- he looked just as he always did, except he was wearing a pair of glasses, and clutching the morning’s Prophet. I had once seen him wear glasses in the library a few years ago, but it wasn’t a common habit of his. Yet it oddly suited him; as if his face wasn’t quite complete without them.
The winter’s sun shone through the window panes behind him, making his skin almost glow. Shadows hung under his sharp cheekbones and his defined jaw, and his messy dark brown hair stood all over the place. But underneath the uncharacteristic glasses- except somehow, I felt as if James had been wearing them the whole time- were his big, brown eyes, the two pathways into his soul from an otherwise total poker face.
“James,” I said. And we looked at each other. I stroked his cheekbone, feeling the roughness of the underlying stubble, and he stroked my hair, his fingers grazing my left temple.
“Effy,” he muttered.
And suddenly, we were kissing. First it was gentle; I was still very much aware of Madame Pomfrey’s presence hovering beyond the curtains, and even more aware of how fragile he looked, lying there in the ward’s white sheets; and then his fingers got even more entwined in my hair, and I can still feel the coarseness of his jawline, his neck under my fingers. I think I’ll be able to remember how he felt for ages to come.
“Wilderson,” he repeated, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear, his voice laced with laughter. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a girl as ridiculous as you.”
“I’ve been told that’s part of my charm.”
“And I stink of these potions I’ve been force fed.”
“You think? But I thought the taste of lemon and garlic infusion was a universal aesthetic?”
He laughed, and brought his lips back on mine again.
Honestly, what can I say? Reading all these AMAZING reviews is just so unbelievably motivational and honestly makes my day. Isn't it funny how just a few lines can cheer me up sooo much, especially as I'm bang in the middle of exams? I'm so sorry about bad updating, but exams finish at the end of the month and I hope to made maaassive progress with FA. Again, thank you all so much for reading and for putting up with me and my shoddy updates! You guys are da baes. In fact, I've actually kinda combined 2 chapters into one- hopefully it doesn't read TOO weird hahah
I don't own anything you realise, as per usual- the lyrics to Winter Wonderland (Felix Bernard), Tumblr (David Karp), all the various designer brands Oscar refers to, Target, Bridget Jones (Helen Fielding), or Kissing by the Mistletoe (Aretha Franklin). Lots and lots of love xx
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by Maximum Dusk