Chapter 7 : Pancakes
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While he slept, he had a small, easy smile curling through his lips. He looked younger, softer. His hair was fluffy and he had his arm crossed over himself to rest his head on his hand. I’d woken up leaning on what was left of his shoulder, but had quickly moved away.
I pulled the sheets around my bare shoulders to cover myself and then sat and watched James sleep, unsure what to do with myself.
Eventually, when the sun was high enough in the sky to blare through the thin scarlet curtains, James rolled over.
He opened one eye and looked at me.
I waited for him to get angry with me for still being there. The previous night had been a rush of kissing and warmth and collapsing into each other without taking the time to talk about what we were doing, and by the time we curled together and closed our eyes we were too exhausted to think about what it all meant. Now, I was sure he would be furious.
I bit my lip.
He opened both eyes and yawned: a sleepy, content sound that didn’t exactly fit in with the idea I had of him being full of rage and regret.
“Hi,” I murmured.
“Hi,” he grinned sleepily.
I tentatively reached out and stroked a finger through his hair. He didn’t flinch. I rested my hand on his cheek.
“My head hurts,” he told me.
He lifted his hand and held onto my wrist before linking his fingers through mine. His skin was warm.
“What will make you happy?” I leaned a little closer.
He looked thoughtful, pressing short, fluttery kisses onto my knuckles while he pondered my words.
“Pancakes,” he decided.
“Yes. We should go out for breakfast.”
I smiled at him. The idea of getting up and going out together to eat was hugely appealing. But he showed no sign of being ready to move.
“I’ll make you pancakes,” I said, squeezing his hand. “Breakfast in bed?”
“Even better,” he agreed, releasing my hand and closing his eyes again.
I kissed his temple and smoothed his hair back before dropping the sheet from my shoulders and standing up.
My party clothes were strewn across the floor where I’d flung them the previous night. I didn’t really want to put a sequinned dress back on, so I picked up James’s discarded shirt and boxers instead, tucking my wand into his shirt sleeve. The clothes smelt like him, smoky and sharp, and the weight of the fabric was comforting and familiar.
I opened the bedroom door and found my way to the kitchen downstairs.
It took me a while to find everything I needed. It was a large, modern kitchen, all shiny granite surfaces and invisible cupboards. James was surprisingly well equipped with food and baking equipment, but it was all hidden away and I had to conduct a pretty thorough search to find everything.
I felt strangely domestic, dressed in James’s clothes and rummaging around his kitchen. I would have thought it would make me uncomfortable, but I was actually kind of enjoying it.
Once I was prepared and had started to crack eggs into a bowl, I was joined by Jason. I suppressed a groan. I had managed, once again, to completely forget that James didn’t live alone. And his roommate didn’t look particularly pleased to discover me half naked in his kitchen.
Jason’s eyes were bloodshot and watery and he looked like he hadn’t slept. He didn’t speak to me as he took a large red mug out of a cupboard I hadn’t even seen and shoved it under the coffee machine.
“Are you okay?” I frowned at him.
He shrugged and took a large gulp of coffee, wincing at the heat. I watched him finish the whole cup and then refill it, taking this second cup over to the table with him. He put it down on the smooth wood and then rested his head in his hands, groaning.
“Can I get you anything?” I tried to keep my voice chirpy, channeling Albus-Potter-level friendliness and enthusiasm, but it didn’t seem to work.
“I’m just hungover,” Jason muttered.
I frowned. He didn’t look like he was just hungover. He looked devastated. And he hadn’t even seemed like he was drunk when I’d run into him last night. But I didn’t think I’d be the person he’d choose to talk to if something was really wrong, so I turned back to the pancakes, expecting him to disappear off in a minute.
He didn’t leave. I kept my back to him, horribly aware that he was sitting and probably glaring at my back. Every so often I heard his breath catch. He sounded like he might even be crying. I resisted all temptation to peer round at him and ask what was really going on. I was trying to be a better person, and that included leaving Jason Wood alone unless he chose to speak to me.
“James know you’re still here?” Jason asked after a long silence, voice snide and sharp.
I nodded. “Mmhmm.”
“And he’s okay with that?”
I turned back to look at him. He looked incredulous and angry. I didn’t like him at all. It didn’t feel fair that he could judge me so freely without really knowing me. And James had seemed happy to wake up with me beside him.
“Mmhmm,” I said again.
“He’s an idiot,” Jason muttered, lifting his coffee cup again.
I scowled at him. Everyone else had at least tried to get along with me once it became obvious I was sticking around for the wedding. Jason seemed not to have got the memo.
I sighed and started to decant pancake mixture into the pan. Ollie was always a big believer in bribing people to be happy with food. Maybe the same would work for me.
I heard the door click open but didn’t really stop to consider it. I guess I thought James was awake, or maybe that the sound was coming from next door. I didn’t realise we had company until Jason stood up.
“You’re back earlier than I thought.” His voice was immediately cheerful again, completely different from the spiteful, bitter tone he’d used with me. He was suddenly full of affection and care.
I turned around, knowing who I was going to see but still hoping I might be wrong.
Ginny Weasley stood in the doorway, frozen with her hand still holding the open door. She looked sleek and composed, in dark jeans and a floaty kimono jacket, but her face was pale and worried. She reached out one arm to rest a hand on the shoulder of the child beside her.
I stared at the girl. She didn’t look the way I’d pictured her. She had my wide blue eyes but no golden curls. Her hair was short and black and tufty. She had freckles grazing her cheekbones, and the kind of angular, childish bambi legs that I’d had until I started Hogwarts. She was wearing a Puddlemere United jumper over a pink tutu and knitted yellow tights.
I wanted to look away from her but I couldn’t make myself turn and instead stood still, drinking her in. James had sent me the odd photograph over the years but I’d always thrown them away without taking them out of the envelope, wanting to distance myself as much as possible from the life I’d left behind.
I suddenly felt like it had all been a terrible mistake. Cadence looked at me with wide, thoughtful eyes, and I was filled with a complete certainty that my daughter was an astonishing child.
It felt like I’d been staring at her for ages, but it can only have been a few seconds because Jason stood up as if nothing was unusual. He beamed at Cadence and lifted his arms.
Cadence squealed and leapt up into Jason’s arms, laughing as he spun her round in the air. Glitter shook off her tutu and coated his forearms, but he didn’t seem to mind. He dropped her back to the floor by his side and ruffled her hair.
“Alright, kid?” His expression was pure love.
I didn’t like seeing the way Jason was with Cadence. It was odd to think how much closer she was to him than to me. She’d lived with him since she was a year old, and they looked relaxed beside each other, like they were family.
In contrast, I edged closer to the kitchen counter and rested one hand on the cool granite, pressing my fingertips into the stone in an attempt to ground myself.
“Granny let me make cookies,” Cadence told Jason.
“Did you save me any?” He pantomimed searching around her, looking for snacks.
Cadence giggled. “We ate them all before we even put them in the oven.”
“You didn’t!” Jason pressed one hand to his heart and gave a mock sob.
Cadence giggled harder. “We did! Granny said we had to eat them all before you and James came near them.”
It was funny to hear Ginny referred to as ‘Granny’. She was still young and beautiful and vibrant. But she was obviously used to the name.
Ginny nodded solemnly. “I’ve learnt from my mistakes of the past. Cadence and I worked too hard to let you boys consume our efforts.”
Cadence laughed again and then peered around Jason, wrapping an arm around his stomach while she looked at me, as if using him for extra security.
“Jason?” She asked in a stage whisper.
Cadence reached up, waiting for Jason to lift her again so she could talk into her ear. She presumably thought that her words should be told in secret, but her whispers were so loud that I couldn’t help but here them.
“Who’s the pretty lady in Daddy’s shirt?”
I could feel my face warm up. I pulled down the ends of James’s shirt, trying to cover my legs, feeling horribly exposed.
Ginny turned her gaze to me. I knew she’d seen me when she’d first entered the room, but she must have been too preoccupied listening to Jason and Cadence to really care about my presence. Now, I was confronted with the full force of her icy frown.
Jason looked uncomfortable and put Cadence back down, keeping a hand on her shoulder.
I chewed on my lip, wondering whether I should say something.
To make matters worse, James appeared at the kitchen door, still rumpled and sleepy. None of the others seemed to see him there, and he didn’t say anything to alert them to his presence. He watched me, waiting to see what I’d say. It felt like a test I didn’t have the answers to.
“I’m, um, I’m just an old friend of your dad’s,” I eventually said. “We knew each other a bit at school.”
I let my eyes flicker over to James. He looked like I’d hexed him.
“I was just leaving,” I said quietly.
I put down the spatula I was holding and lifted my head high as I walked across the kitchen.
Jason looked like he might be disappointed in me. His grip tightened on Cadence’s arm as I passed them, and he didn’t make eye contact with me. Cadence still looked curious.
Ginny moved to one side to let me through the door, face completely expressionless.
I didn’t let myself look back at James again.
I walked out into the rain, ignoring the fact that it was freezing and wet and I was completely inappropriately dressed in James’s shirt and underwear. I wasn’t sure where to go. It was midday on a Friday. Albus and Ollie would be wanting to spend time together, and everyone else I knew would presumably be at work by now.
I slid my wand out of shirtsleeve, holding it in shaking fingers, and disapparated.
I nearly fell over when I reappeared in South London. I landed in a huge puddle and shivered at the icy water on my bare skin. The building behind me was tall and grey. I hoped I had the right address. I’d never been there before.
I looked at the buzzer and pressed the silver button next to the name ‘Weasley’.
Louis looked mildly amused when he came to the door, dressed in tartan tracksuit bottoms and a grey wifebeater, a line of hickeys down his throat.
“Weasley,” I said. “Fancy getting drunk?”
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