Chapter 4 : The Midnight Special - Part I
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I looked into the inscrutable eyes of Luke Ashwood then back at my deck of cards, fingers trembling slightly.
They were still stinging from the last explosion and being this close to the cards again was triggering.
Next to me, Freddie cried and jumped back. There were two rapid bang!s as James exclaimed in victory.
'Come on, Jenny,' Luke murmured. I turned back to my cards. There were only two left. If these weren't a pair then Luke had won. 'Come on …'
I sucked in breath through my mouth and flipped the first card. A Common Welsh Green dragon stared back at me. Come on you fucking dragon, I thought. Fucking be a pair …
I flipped the second card.
I covered my face and dove into Freddie, whose arms went around me with a laugh. I straightened myself out, only a little put out that I'd lost so fantastically.
Luke grinned. He opened the box the cards went in. 'Go on then. Put yourselves back in.' Dutifully, the singed bits of exploded cards knit themselves back together and flew neatly into a pile in the box.
To my left, Freddie was pumping James' hand vigorously, even as the latter fought to get his hand back. 'Good game. Good game. Good game. Good game—' dodging a kick from James, Freddie jumped to Luke and grabbed his unsuspecting hand, pumping it up and down with manic fevor. 'Good game. Good game. Good g—ARGH!'
I lunged at Freddie, wrapping my arms around his neck. Caught off guard by the force and weight of my body, Freddie squawked as we both went down. I landed on my side with a thump, Freddie in a headlock. 'Ow Jenelle!' He sounded so like my little brother just then, I laughed. His hands prised at my arm and I gave him a little breathing room.
'This is assault,' Freddie gasped. 'Merlin, you're strong!'
'You were being annoying,' I told him calmly.
'Let me go!
I squeezed and he patted my arm frantically. 'Promise you'll stop?'
'I will not negotiate under duress.' I tightened again. 'Fucking—yes! Merlin, yes!' I let him go and he shot up, massaging his throat more dramatically than he needed to. His eyes were icy. 'I pity the man who marries you. Clearly you'll just resort to violence to sort out your issues.'
Involuntarily, my eyes flashed up to James. He looked away quickly, colour flooding his cheeks, as if he'd been caught staring. He fought to keep his face emotionless—but he wasn't as good at wearing a mask as he thought. I sat up and pulled my tank top down.
I tried not to let the idea go to my head. That James had been staring, that is. But it did anyway, with a rush of blood, as I got up and joined Dom in the kitchen. She was making herself a cup of tea, looking out the window at Ella's group as they lounged on lawn chairs they bought at the furniture store. They were sipping their precious lemonade.
'Look at Flora Morgan,' Dom murmured, acknowledging my presence.
I followed Dom's gaze. Flora was crouched, a little aways from her group, snapping pictures. They were polaroids, I realised, as she tore them off the camera and waved them before setting them down on the porch.
'It pains me to see her as a three-dimensional human being,' Dom said, squinting. She took a sip of her tea.
'I wonder if she realises how fucking stupid she looks,' I muttered, leaking some of my mental acid into my words. I usually kept my bitchy thoughts to myself, but it was almost too easy to slip into this person when I was with Dom. She made it so comfortable for me to speak exactly what was on mind. There was no judgement with her. And sometimes, you just needed to call someone a bitch.
Dom humphed in agreement. 'They both look stupid.'
'As if everyone doesn't know.'
Dom whipped her head around at me, setting her mug down carelessly. Hot tea sloshed out of it, burning her hand. 'Ack! Ugh—it's fine! What do you mean, as if everyone doesn't know? Know what?'
I looked furtively over at the boys. They were lounging on the floor, James with his back to us. Freddie was chatting animatedly, laying on his side, head propped up by his hand. They weren't paying any attention to us.
'What do you mean what do I mean?' I said, lowering my voice. 'Do I really know something Dominique Weasley doesn't?' Her expression turned from one of concern to exasperation. 'Sorry, I'm going to savour this moment a bit longer.'
She hit my shoulder. 'Jenny! Come on!'
'First of all,' I said, rubbing my shoulder. 'Ow. Second of all, isn't it obvious?'
'Not really, no. That's why I'm asking babe.'
I tried to speak in a very casual way, and I thought I almost nailed it, because I'd been thinking about this for a long time now. It had absorbed every single one of my thoughts since we came here. Since he started seeing her really. Before she even started calling herself his girlfriend.
'He was cheating on me. With Flora.'
Dom's eyes widened, sincerely taken aback. Her mouth popped open. 'No …'
I shrugged and looked back out the window. 'I still feel like James isn't that kind of guy. I'd have never dated him if I thought he was, you know? Or else I'd've kicked his shit straight. But then again, who really knows who's a cheater and who's not. And what else explains how fast he moved on? I know girls fancy James but, come on, how many does he fancy back?'
Dom seemed incapable of forming words.
'The timeline is fucked if he actually met Flora, romanced her and made her his girlfriend, like, three days after breaking it off with me. Plus, he was distant with me for, like, a month before he actually ended things.' I studied my nail beds as I spoke. Part of me was very impressed with myself. I wasn't crying. My voice wasn't shaking. My throat wasn't burning and closing up over the words that kept spilling over my mouth, hot and bitter. 'He must've been seeing Flora. I don't know if he actually, physically cheated or anything. Maybe it was just emotional. Either way, they're both fucks for being public so soon after. James looks like a prick and Flora doesn't look like an angel either.'
I looked back up at Dom, uneasy now that she hadn't said anything in a while. She cleared her throat and picked up her tea.
'You don't think he cheated on me with her?' I asked, uncertain. My stomach coiled with tension.
'No,' Dom said quickly. 'Well, I don't know. I don't know. I mean, what you say makes sense. A lot of sense. The timeline is fucked otherwise … I just …'
'Just what?' I tried to stamp out the edge of hopefulness in my tone.
'Don't want to believe it,' she said lamely. 'That would make this entire situation worse. Infinitely worse than I could've ever imagined. James cheating on you … there's just no coming back from that, is there? Like even if he broke it off with Flora?'
I laughed lightly, a breathless sound. 'Is that what you're worried about?' I shrugged. 'If he physically cheated on me, no. If it was emotional then he probably doesn't even want to get back together with me. No matter what I feel.'
'And what do you feel?' Dom asked quietly, eyes intense.
I met her gaze.
It was difficult for me to vocalise, to verbalise, how I felt. On my best day I struggled with explaining my thoughts, articulating them exactly how I felt them in my head, whether it was in front of a Professor in class or to the team on the pitch, in my element. I battled furiously now, just to tell my best friend what she should already know.
'I'm unhappy,' I said truthfully, glancing at James and back. 'I'm unhappy that he may have cheated on me, emotionally, physically, whatever. I'm unhappy that I don't know what I did wrong—if I did anything wrong at all, and if I didn't, why he doesn't—like me anymore. I'm unhappy that I have to pretend like I'm not unhappy. I'm unhappy because I don't think I can ever be friends with him again and that, somehow, hurts me the most.' I let out another breathless laugh because I could feel the back of my throat begin to burn and tears prick the corners of my eyes. 'It's like I'm homesick, constantly.'
Except I've never been homesick. The sickness inside me was heartache. This was a dull and ceaseless pain that bled every second of every day.
Dom looked upset. She hugged me wordlessly and my arms went automatically around her. She felt like home to me, and for a moment, that heartache eased. She smelt lovely: sea salt and sage.
'What's the hot goss over there?' Freddie shouted.
Dom and I let go of each other. She raised a single eyebrow at Freddie. 'We were just comforting each other because we know there's going to be hell to pay tomorrow after a week of sitting on our assess.'
'Oh shit,' Freddie said seriously. 'That is some serious shit.'
'What do you think it's going to be this time?' Luke asked. 'Maybe all the trials are based on that questionnaire?'
'We wrote down our fears,' James said, ticking them off with his fingers. 'One thing we liked about each of our house mates. One thing we disliked. Three words to describe ourselves. What our career goals were. And then a paragraph about where we saw ourselves in five years.'
'What kind of mental game can you play with the one thing we liked about our house mates?' I wondered aloud, more to myself than anything.
'Maybe it'll be about the one thing we disliked,' Dom said significantly.
An awkward silence stretched out between the five us. No one quite met each other's eye—except Freddie who winked at me—and yet we were all burning to know what everyone said they hated about each other. In particular, and I didn't know why, I wondered what Dom didn't like about me.
'Seems unlikely,' Luke said finally, clearing his throat. 'It'll probably be about how we described ourselves. Maybe we'll be faced with a truthful portrait, like in The Picture of Dorian Grey. To show us that we don't see ourselves clearly or something … what?'
'Are you secretly writing these vindictive and traumatising trials for Newton?' Dom asked suspiciously. 'Because if you are, fuck you.'
Luke grinned. 'And there's the thing I said I liked about you.'
'What? You like that I put you down?'
'No, I like how insane you are …'
I shook my head and drank Dom's tea.
It had been a solid week since we'd arrived. It had dragged on with long, simmering days and zero visits from Newton and Fig (which I thought was rather negligent—we were, after all, still underage), and it was starting to feel like a cheap, shitty holiday more than anything else.
Was it weird that I was kind of looking forward to the next trial?
I was getting so bored.
We beleaguered each other's houses—well, mostly, we beleaguered the Hufflepuff house (dragging Ella Sommers, the only Gryffindor staying with the Ravenclaws, with us) because we were actually friends with them. James was with us most of the time, which was strange considering his girlfriend was in the Ravenclaw house with Oliver Gamble. And Flora had yet to make an appearance.
Anyway, there was only so much we do without alcohol, Quidditch and—I hated to admit—homework.
We spent all day in the sun, tanning, reading, talking and once I even tried to play the boys' footie game (they called it Foot-Ditch), not understanding why I'd lost just because I'd picked up a Quaffle with my hands like you're supposed to. We rarely spent time in our house except to sleep and use the bathroom because it was getting dirtier and dirtier with each passing day, slowly gathering dust and cobwebs, without brooms or hoovers to account for it.
The one time we'd asked Luke to just use magic to siphon off the dirt and general ick, he'd drawn a blank.
In fact, we all had.
'None of us know any general household cleaning spells?' Dom had demanded, rounding on all of our grimaces. 'This is embarrassing.'
Tomorrow that was all going to change.
The boys were joking loudly in their room as I left the bathroom. I'd just showered and brushed my teeth and I felt so snug and warm in my pyjamas and robe. The bed was calling out to me, sleep just behind the dark veil. Dom was already in bed, still engrossed Hermione's book.
'Why isn't there a title?' I asked, haphazardly applying lotion to my legs.
Dom peered over her reading glasses. 'Hm?'
'Your aunt Hermione's book. There's no title.'
'Oh.' Dom glanced at the cover blankly. 'Rose said that she wanted to call it The Golden Trio: A Story of Light in Darkness, but apparently uncle Ron had laughed so hard that she's refused to call it anything until he comes up with something better.' Dom paused thoughtfully. 'Rose said he'd suggested The Time When We Had No Plan and Almost Died but I think she was joking. Or he was.'
I laughed. 'I love Ron.'
Dom gave me weird look. 'Okay creep. I know exactly how much you love Ron. He's only about eight hundred years older than you.'
I was affronted by the insinuation. 'Eww! I don't fancy your uncle!'
'Shut up. I know you do.'
I did shut up because actually, I did. It was just a slight crush though. Nothing weird. No need to call me creep. I mean—come on! He was so funny! And handsome, no one could deny it! I knew I could barely pull myself together whenever I was at the Burrow or at James' and he was there, but he just had that silver fox thing going on you know? And he just said the funniest things.
I wondered, suddenly struck, if I'd ever see Ron Weasley ever again. Or any of the Wotters for that matter. Or worse—the Burrow!
Then I remembered that in addition to once being James Potter's girlfriend, I was always going to be Dom Weasley's best friend.
Stupid. Of course I was going to see the Burrow again.
I got into bed and checked my watch. It was almost midnight. I pulled my eye mask over my head and snuggled into bed.
Within minutes, I was fast asleep.
I was awake but I kept my eyes resolutely shut as I stretched, making an inhuman noise as I yawned—and hit what was very much a face with the back of my hand.
I retracted my hand quickly and looked, worried that I'd woken Dom up. But she just grunted and yanked the sheets over her head.
It was still dark in the room as the sun hadn't risen. It must've been four in the morning or something. Too awake to go back to sleep, I swung my legs off the bed. After a moment, I forced myself to my feet. I grabbed my robe and towel, stepping into my slippers, and hobbled over to the bathroom.
Sat on the edge of the tub, I ran a bath. For the first time, I noticed a row of gorgeous and expensive looking pots and bottles. Upon closer inspection, I realised to my delight, they were different kinds of bath honeys, milks, salts, bubbles and oils. Were these Dom's? Unable to believe my luck, I grabbed various pots and bottles and dumped generous amounts into the bath as it ran. I was sure Dom wouldn't mind. Within seconds it foamed and fizzed and popped. The bath and the bubbles that arose were a lush rosy pink colour.
I quickly stripped and shucked my slippers, gingerly stepping into the steaming bath. My muscles sighed along with me as I sank into the water, letting the heat envelop me, lapping up at my shoulders.
I inhaled the delicious scents, rose and honey, eyes flickering shut …
Suddenly, I gasped and sat up so abruptly I upset the bath, sloshing water over the edges, hands gripping the sides, knuckles white. Fluffs of bubbles stuck to my hair and chin as my eyes, gigantic as they already were, grew wider.
The white house did not have a bath.
Slowly, trembling, I got to my feet.
The water ran in rivulets down my naked body as I stood in the middle of the porcelain tub, breathing heavily. I looked around the bathroom, absorbing, for the first time, my surroundings. Clean white tiles lined the walls, offsetting the clean white tiles on the floor. And what wasn't covered in tile was painted a soft, cloud grey. All the faucets gleamed silver. There was a mirror to my left, almost as big as the wall, framed by lightbulbs that glowed a warm amber.
I was most certainly not in my white house.
How wasn't this the first thing I noticed when I woke up!?
Heart thumping erratically in my chest, I stepped out and grabbed my robe. As I tied it around my waist, I realised that this wasn't even my robe! It was midnight blue and fluffy beyond reason!
My eyes darted up, lancing past my reflection in the gigantic mirror, and back down at the robe.
Then I froze.
I looked up again.
My expression was one of pure horror.
I touched my face, just to make sure it really was me. My reflection touched her face too, with the same look of mingled nausea, horror and disbelief. The girl in the mirror ran her fingers over her lips and pulled them, hard. Ow, I thought. Her hand dropped and her face became bigger as I stepped cautiously towards her.
She had the same eyes as me, huge and earth green, with familiar flecks of hazel and grey. She had the same face, round and soft, despite years of hard training. She looked younger than she was, the way people always told me I did. At sixteen, I looked about fourteen. But the girl in the mirror didn't look fourteen. She didn't even look sixteen. Something had aged her. There were dark purplish blue shadows beneath her eyes, a tightness around her mouth. She was paler than I'd ever been. This girl looked weary.
And she had short hair!
My long brown waves had been rudely sheared off and hung at least an inch or two above my shoulders!
I yanked my short hair with a quiet wail of despair.
I loved my long hair!
Trying not to hyperventilate, I wrung my wrists and began pacing in the bathroom, which, by the way, was unnecessarily massive and very tasteful, thinking, what the hell is going on.
With dawning sense of unreality, eyes sky-rocketing around the bathroom, I noticed something I hadn't seen before. Right there, hanging on a hook beside the heated silver towel rack. I recognised it immediately for what it was. I'd seen hundreds before. Owned probably twice as many.
I walked towards it like I was in a dream. Hands numb, I reached for them, the soft material like silk beneath my fingers. They were ink black and snow white … It couldn't be … I pulled a fold to the side.
I took a step back, doubling over as if someone had punched me in the stomach.
I put a hand over my mouth, unable to believe it. To believe anything. I had to be dreaming. None of this was real. None of this was sane! I didn't just magically Time-Turn myself five years into the future! This wasn't real. This wasn't real.
Except it felt real.
I gently sank to my knees, covering my face with my hands. I felt utterly untethered to the known universe. I didn't know where I was. I didn't know when I was. None of this made sense. Why was I in a stranger's bathroom with expensive bath products? Why did I have short hair? Why were there robes of black and white with CLARKE cresting a gorgeous, beautiful, magical magpie?
'This isn't real,' I whispered into my palms, breath hot, urgent and very real. 'This isn't real. You're in a dream. You're dreaming.'
Then the door behind me cracked open and several things happened at once:
I whipped around and screamed bloody murder. A fat ginger cat skittered beneath the legs of the person standing at the door. He tripped over the cat and stumbled back with a garbled cry. The cat meowed softly.
'Jesus, I've never seen you faint before. Not that I actually saw you. Still, you were very limp when I got to you.'
The voice was familiar … but also strangely alien. My eyelids flickered open; for a moment I was totally disoriented. I blinked rapidly, clearing my vision.
James smiled down at me, my favourite crooked smile.
I gasped and shot up. James, alarmed, grabbed me, grip gentle but firm, and helped me into a seated position. I was going to protest—I didn't need his help—but I couldn't manage it. My mind was spinning and I was fairly certain I would throw up if I opened my eyes again.
'Jenny, take it easy. Don't move around so fast.'
I lifted a hand gingerly to my forehead. 'I feel weak.'
'Here. Drink this.'
I cracked open an eye cautiously. A glass of clear and sparkling golden liquid was handed to me. Looking up at James suspiciously, I took it. My first thought was that he looked different. Older. How could I trust this James I recognised but didn't? Then I took a sip and instantly felt like someone had injected energy directly into my bloodstream.
I finished the golden drink in four gulps and slammed it on the table beside me. My veins buzzed, sang and popped. I felt strong, like I could punch through a brick wall. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and stared up at James, drinking him in. Same sloping nose, same stubborn mouth and full lips. Same dark espresso eyes.
'What was that?'
'Doesn't have a name yet,' James said mildly. 'I just invented it. Fainter's Fortitude maybe?'
'You invented it? When have you ever invented anything?'
James cocked his head to the side, amused. 'Just now, for starters. I knew what your symptoms would be when you woke up. We had a few things lying around I thought might work … are you okay? You look dazed.'
We. For the first time since entering this dream-nightmare-hell-heaven-scape, I really examined James. His hair was neatly swept to the side, combed to perfection. His face was the same—except totally different. In the same way my reflection had been me but with deliberate mistakes. This James was cleanly shaven and as exhausted as I looked, faint purple shadows beneath his eyes. He was bigger, broader. He'd grown into himself. And he wore stark white robes with a familiar insignia on the upper left corner. A bone and wand, crossed.
'You're a Healer?' I asked, voice small.
'Hey, honey, don't stress, it's okay to forget a few things after fainting,' James said softly.
He was sitting on the edge of the couch, my waist touching his back like it was a perfectly sane thing that our bodies were this close to each other. Focus. He'd called me honey. Before I could even process that, he brushed my hair aside. There was so much tenderness in the gesture I was breathless.
'It'll all come back to you,' James assured me. 'And I'm not a Healer yet, remember? Still in residency. White robes, not green. Even with all your memories intact you still forget that.'
Yeah I really did.
Wait, did I?
'Do I play for the Montrose Magpies?'
'How hard did you hit your head,' I heard him mutter so quietly I knew he didn't intend for me to hear. James had gotten up to put the glass in the kitchen sink. But when turned around, his mouth was quirked in amusement.
'What … what position?'
James eyebrows shot up. 'The only position you've ever played.'
My body sagged in relief. It was so easy these days in the League to be forced into a position you weren't made for. That was why the Kestrals lost so stunningly last year. Peterson was obviously a Beater with his build and yet they had him Chasing. He kept grabbing the bat out of Blomqvist's hand, forgetting about the Quaffle entirely. They really dug their own graves with that one.
Anyway, I digressed.
'I'm not on reserve am I?' I demanded suddenly.
'As if you'd ever let that happen,' James muttered. 'You know, if you're actually struggling to remember this stuff maybe you hit your head harder than I thought. I might have to see you at Mungo's—'
'Oh! No!' I despised hospitals. There was no way I was going in there just because I didn't know whose life I was living and needed to establish some basic details. 'No, I'm good. I'm just making sure. Still all feels like a dream you know …'
He rolled his eyes and grabbed a mug from the countertop. He drank from it, watching me. Suddenly self-conscious, I got off the couch and, after a moment of reestablishing my equilibrium, walked to the opposite end of the flat. The entire wall was made of floor to ceiling windows and looked down upon the Thames and over the sprawling city, pale and grey and beautiful in the early pink morning light.
Merlin, did I really live here?
'This is actually kind of nice.'
A blush crept up my body, pooling in my cheeks, at the way James was looking at me. 'What?'
'You wake up early,' he said. 'But never as early as me. I like seeing you in the morning.'
The words buzzed off my ears; they were surreal, unbelievable. They couldn't possibly be coming out of James' mouth. He didn't say things like that. He wasn't that confident, that smooth. I focused my attention, instead, on the other thing.
I supposed I did wake up early. For practise probably. Practise, I realised all of sudden, that happened where the Montrose Magpies were based. In Scotland.
'Oh Merlin,' I said suddenly, looking around for a clock. 'I think I need to get ready—'
'Shit,' James said, setting his mug down with a clack. 'Fuck—don't be mad. I forgot to get the Floo Powder yesterday—'
I waved his jabbering off with a hand. 'Whatever. I'll just Apparate.'
I knew how to Apparate. Sort of. I'd taken lessons with everyone else at the start of the term and succeeded fairly well. But Apparating across the country? That was not easy. It wasn't even difficult. It was damn near impossible to do unless you were an Auror or Harry Potter or something. But this was a dream, so I felt fairly certain I could manage it.
James' jaw hung open, mid-sentence.
'So you're not … mad?'
'No. Should I be? Did you, like, promise to get it a thousand times and forget a thousand times?'
'Er … no.'
I rolled my eyes—then to my poor, unsteady heart's grief, he walked towards me. I balked. I panicked. A million questions flashed in my mind at once: What were we? Why had he been in my apartment this morning? Why had he come into the bathroom? Were we dating? Was he the one in my bed? How old even was I?
Oh my god.
Were we MARRIED?
I looked down furtively at my hands and—mercifully—no ring.
James wrapped his arms around my hips, picking me up slightly, catching me by surprise. I looked up at him and, before I could process it, he kissed me. It was meant to be chaste, I could tell. It was supposed to a goodbye kiss.
But my response was psychotic.
I kissed him back fiercely, sliding my mouth over his, burying my hands into his perfectly gelled hair so hard I heard him make a noise of surprise. I threw him off balance with my aggressiveness. His arm tightened around my back, one hand pressing the small of my back, forcing my spine into a curve. I couldn't get enough of him; his soft lips, the taste of his mouth, coffee and—cigarettes?
I was so shocked I pulled away.
James was thoroughly stunned, eyes glazed like he'd been hit with a Bludger to the back of his head.
'What the hell was that,' he said breathlessly.
James wasn't listening to me. He checked his watch then flicked his gaze determinedly back to mine. 'I can spare five minutes.'
I stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, irritated that he changed the subject, before it dawned on me what he was actually saying. I looked down at myself. Somehow, in the throes of passion, my bare leg had curved around his waist. His warm fingers dug into my thigh. My hands were a necklace around his collar bones. Two things became clear to me at once: First, I could feel him. Second, I was completely naked under this robe.
Abruptly, I pushed James away. He stumbled back, his expression a delicate balance between bafflement and disappointment.
'No,' I said, equally breathless now. 'No—we can't. I'll be late. You'll be late. We can't. I mean—' I really should've shut up then but my mouth didn't seem to want to. 'Not that I don't want to. Because I do. Badly. I want to very, very badly. I have dreams about it, like, every night—'
'Oh my god, Jenny,' James groaned, dragging a hand over his face. 'You are killing me.'
I'm pretty sure I was killing myself, but fine.
He rubbed an eye with the heel of his palm and left it there for a moment. 'What are we doing? What is this? I can't keep coming round to yours and crashing and not knowing what we're doing and then you—you kiss me like that—'
It occurred to me, then, that I had seriously miscalculated something.
A pit of mortification blossomed at the bottom of my stomach. For the first time, my head was totally clear and all my cognitive processes were functioning up to speed.
He was going to hug me.
And I had kissed him.
I felt a hysterical laugh bubbling in my chest. This was totally and utterly insane. I was certain none of this real and yet here I was, living a fake life with fake-real consequences. While I never bothered much with Muggle technology except for when it was more convenient than maj-tech, my little brother, Blaze, dawdled with video games and the like from time to time. It was the only analogy I could use to describe this situation.
I was an avatar of myself in the video game of my life.
'I—I'm sorry,' I said, raking a hand through my hair, avoiding his blazing eyes. 'I'm not thinking straight. I was just in—in a forest in Scotland a minute ago, going to bed, and the next I'm here? It's just so bizarre—'
'Scottish forest?' James said quizzically. 'Like that Muggle Studies trip we took?'
I looked up at him, astonished. 'You remember? I mean—that really happened?'
James rolled his eyes. 'Yes it really happened. Jenny, stop changing the topic—'
'No, I'm not changing the—no wait! I don't think this is real ... This isn't real, James—It can't be—I must be in a—in a dream or something—'
'Oh for god's sake, no you're not. At some point you're going to have to get this problem sorted out, Jenny—'
'Problem?' I said in a strangled voice. 'What problem? It just doesn't make sense. I know I fell asleep in Scotland and I woke up here—'
'If you really think that then I will have to take you to Mungo's, Jen—'
'Oh my god!' I cried out, just to shut up him up. 'I can't believe this. I can't believe you don't believe me—but of course you don't believe me because this is a fucking dream—'
James grabbed my shoulders and looked directly into my manic eyes, effectively cutting me short. 'I don't believe you because you're just trying your damn hardest to make sure we don't talk about this. About us. You have that bloody Muggle Studies dream every night and then every morning you wake up like it's still happening. It's a fucking nightmare, Jenny. At some point, you'll have to either call Healer Kumar or let it go. Jesus, it wasn't even that traumatic.'
I gaped at him, speechless. Healer Kumar? Nightmare? Traumatic?
No … no no no.
I knew this wasn't real … was it?
I took a step back, thoughts spinning wildly and utterly out of control. A headache began to pulse behind my eyelids. This just did not make sense.
James was in my apartment—no, in this apartment. He was a Healer. Or a Healer in training, whatever. I was a Chaser for the Montrose Magpies. This all felt very, very real. Had I really just forgotten? Was the Muggle Studies trip all a nightmare that I had because I'd been traumatised in some way? What in the actual, literal, GENUINE fuck did it all mean?
'Okay,' I said steadily, inhaling sharply through my nose. 'Okay.'
'Okay,' James said, shaking his head incredulously.
I flicked my gaze up at him.
Baby steps first.
'Why were you in my bed?'
James looked at me, still aggravated. 'You know why.'
'No,' I said coldly. 'I actually don't.'
'Fuck—' He raked a hand through his perfectly straight hair. 'Okay—fuck. I was waiting for the right time to tell you this but—fuck's sake—Flora still has the key to my apartment,' James said. My eyebrows flew up. 'I told her it was over but she keeps coming over at odd hours, trying guess what my schedule's like, and I can't be there any time she knows I'll—'
'So why haven't you sat down with her to explain?' I demanded, feeling my anger and impatience rising. I wasn't even sure if my emotions were real or who they belonged to. 'I'm sick of this.'
'You don't think I've already tried the sane route?' James said, exasperated. 'It's not getting through her head that we're over!'
My brow furrowed. 'So you want to be with me, is that it?'
James gaped at me. Perhaps I'd never asked him that before so bluntly. Jesus, how many times had I let him sleep over here without questioning it? At least it didn't seem like I let him try anything.
God, why couldn't I remember anything?!
James deflated suddenly. 'I've always wanted to be with you. Even when I wasn't with you, I wanted to be with you. I can't stay away from you even if I tried. I'm in love with you. I'm completely in love with you, Clarke.'
Well, that was refreshingly straightforward.
But that was how I knew.
Whatever doubts I'd held as barrier of caution to prevent me from slipping too easily into certainty, vanished. You see, only in my dreams did James ever say things like that. Only in my dreams did he ever tell me he loved me.
Just for the hell of it, because there were only fake-real consequences in this dream-nightmare-hell-heaven-scape, I did something I knew I'd regret in real life.
I closed the gap between us. James watched me, eyes inscrutable, as I reached my arms around his neck, going slightly on my tiptoes.
'You're with Flora Morgan, still, even after all this time ...' I whispered, ignoring the ignition of exasperation in James' eyes. I tilted my head to the side. 'And I still want you … something things really don't change, do they?'
I leaned in and kissed him. Deeply, slowly, like we had all the time in the world to kiss like that. His lips were soft, his tongue expert. I sank into him; he buried his hands in my hair, gripping hard enough that it was pleasure. We lit up in a pillar of blue fire.
And I felt nothing.
James and I pulled away, foreheads pressed against each other's.
'I love you,' James whispered, smiling my favourite smile. 'I love you, Clarke.'
'I love you too,' I whispered back, the words dull and dead on my lips.
It was torrentially raining, which came as no surprise, seeing as it was September and good weather liked to fuck Scotland off a fair amount.
Apparating so far—from London to Montrose, Scotland—had been very tricky business. I spent almost half an hour pilfering through my bedroom, tearing it apart to find a picture of the pitch because, in truth, I'd never been to the Magpies' training grounds before. After wasting a lot of time, I raged myself for another half hour for not noticing the perfectly framed photo of me and my teammates, in what looked like the locker room, above my desk.
Twenty minutes later I was in said locker room, staring at my name.
My fingers lightly traced the peeling white letters.
Sure I had a locker at Hogwarts, one that was indisputably mine with a lock and everything, but it didn't have my name on it. The locker in front of me, which read CLARKE, filled me with the fiercest, most indescribable desire I thought I would break apart from the force of it.
First the Magpies, I promised myself, right then and there. Then England.
My gaze drifted across my teammates' names. Blake. Mata. Leslie. Murphy. Dragan. Hellström.
The strange thing was, despite the fact this was a dream, the names were real. These people really did play for the Magpies. Mata, Blake and Hellström had been reserves recently promoted but … but if this was in the future then I guess it had been years for them. How bizarre.
'For fuck's sake Clarke! What the fuck are ye doing?!'
I whirled around, startled.
George Leslie's bright blue eyes were furiously narrowed on me.
My body seized up.
George Leslie was the Magpies Beater and, as such, he was gigantic. Broad shoulders, rippling biceps, a torso that tapered off into a narrow waist. Unapologetically Scottish with curling red hair that fell past his ears, eyes bluer than an English sky in summer, a straight, knife edged nose, impossibly high cheekbones that made him look like he was carved from marble, and lips that looked so soft you could just … A dark blush pooled in my cheeks.
Okay, I had a crush on him. A huge, raging, unrivalled crush that bordered on obsessive.
When I was fifteen, I finally mustered the self-respect to take my poster of him off my bedroom wall. And I will admit with what little dignity I have left that I have practised kissing on that poster many times.
He also happened to be the Captain of the Magpies.
'George Leslie,' I said stupidly. 'Hi.'
'Clarke,' he growled. He was dripping wet, soaked utterly to the bones, his normally bright red hair dark, almost black. 'Nice of ye to finally join us. What the fuck is wrong with ye? Practise began two hours ago! Were we not enough to wake ye up this mornin'? WAS THE IMPENDING EUROPEAN CUP GAME NOT ENOUGH TO PIQUE YER INTEREST?'
'I—I—' I stammered, petrified.
George Leslie regarded me with such contempt I wanted to disappear into ash.
'Shut up. Get yer robes on. If I don't see ye out there in two minutes, I'm sacking ye.'
With that, George Leslie, Captain of the Montrose Magpies, left.
The rain was brutal. Every drop felt like a bullet pelleting into my body with no respite. Visibility was god awful, I could hardly see, hardly move—it was absolutely pathetic. I flew around erratically for about three minutes before Leslie blew his whistle, flew up and screamed at me in the pouring rain for five straight minutes, half of which I did not catch a word of except for go home.
So here I was, back in the locker room, crying.
I wasn't even sobbing. I just let tears fall down my face, uninhibited by dead arms. There was no real emotion behind them. I think the tears were a natural response to the stress I was under. The exhaustion this Dream body kept at bay by some brute force I didn't know existed was slowly creeping up on the exhaustion my sixteen year old self usually let overwhelm me.
It had occurred to me, however, in the brief seconds I'd flown in the downpour, straining to see and hear my teammates whizzing past me like jets of magic, that this was probably the second trial.
Already I had no idea how much time I'd wasted in this dream. It could've been hours or days. And unlike the last time, where I had Dom, Luke, Freddie and James to figure it out with each other's help, I was all alone and utterly clueless.
What was I supposed to fix here?
It seemed like I was just going through the motions of this supremely shitty, poor little rich girl life that older me had.
I looked down at myself mournfully. I was wearing Montrose Magpies Quidditch robes with my name on it and I couldn't even fly in a bit of rain. I was so miserable that I didn't even hear the door slam shut.
I turned my head to the side.
Agnys Murphy sauntered up to me, tossing her drenched hair (which still managed to retain its unusual copper tone) over her shoulder with one fluid flick. With hooded eyes the color of emeralds and bright blood-red lips, she was the epitome of glamour and sex.
'What the fuck was that, Clarke?' Murphy purred without preamble. Her accent dipped and rose with a musical lilt that indicated her Nordic roots. She was the other Beater—and she terrified me. 'We play Estonia in two weeks.'
I closed my eyes in defeat. 'Don't worry. I won't be here that long.'
'Clarke.' Murphy sounded very close to me, her voice a sultry murmur. 'Don't make me hit you.'
Despite myself, I snorted. 'I don't know what I'm doing here, Murph.'
Huh. Murph. The nickname came out naturally.
Her eyes were very intensely green. 'No one knows what they're doing here. It is a fantastic existential question philosopher's have struggled to answer. But you are here to play for the Magpies. And we play in any condition. Any condition the weather is in. Any condition that we are in.'
I nodded as if I'd heard these words many times before, at pre-game speeches and during brutal training.
'Being so young can be a lot of pressure,' Murphy went on. 'But you're better than being young. Get fucking angry.' She held out a fist, biceps flexing.
'None of this seems real,' I said, shaking my head. 'This broom, these robes … I don't feel like myself. I don't know how I got here.'
'You worked hard. You proved yourself. That's how you got here.'
I curled over slowly, burying my face in my hands. 'I'm so unhappy, Murph. I don't know when or how I started feeling this way but … I'm losing it.'
'Ah, so you have lost your friður,' Murphy said seriously. Her voice was so rich and musical I found myself nodding in agreement. 'You know what brings back your friður? Fury. Rage. Saying fuck you.'
'So bring back my … fridder thing?'
Restore my friður. Sounded simple enough.
Only Murphy never explained to me what the hell a friður was. Was it a creature? A spell? An organ? The Icelandic ghoul that haunted her childhood bedroom? A goblet?
I bit my nails (a nasty habit I thought I'd broken years ago) and paced in my fancy, stupidly big living room, thinking.
How was I meant to use anger to find it? I couldn't even—
I shrieked and whirled around. Astonished, I stared as James flung his briefcase onto my couch and snapped his gaze up to me. He mouth fell open.
'Jenny?' he said, surprised. 'What the hell are you doing here?'
'What am I—what are you doing here?' I demanded. 'This is still my place isn't it? And it's the middle of the day, shouldn't you be at work?'
'I could ask you the same question,' James said, then catching the look on my face, hastily added. 'I could mind you … I won't, however, because yes. This is still your place but you always let me come over when I have a break …'
'Well!' I snapped. 'I've had enough! We're not together. You're still dating Flora, technically—'
'But that's exactly what it is!' James argued. 'A technicality! I don't want to be with her—'
'That changes nothing,' I hissed. 'You still are, you dick.'
James raked a hand through his perfectly combed hair, casting his gaze skywards. 'So, what, I'm not allowed around anymore until I break things off with her?'
'Thats right,' I said acidly. 'Now get out.'
James turned his blazing eyes on me, mouth twisting in disbelief. 'Where is this even coming from? What about this morning? What about I love you?'
Liquid, molten rage bubbled up inside me, sparking and splattering along the walls of my body. I had never felt so angry, so furious, so enraged in my entire life. His entitlement, the fact he thought of only his feelings, like there was no bloody one else in the whole fucking universe! It made me apoplectic.
'I was lying,' I spat.
There was no build up. No slow burn. All of sudden it was just there, as though it had always been lying dormant, waiting with anticipation for me to release it. My mouth tasted of metal. My hands shook. My vision swam fiery red and I could feel the thin sheet that had held this fury at bay beginning to burn, fray and melt.
James drew back, an almost comical flicker of emotions passing across his features: hurt, confusion, anger.
Ah, anger. Anger I could understand. I welcomed anger. It was shiny, blistering and mind numbingly welcome. Heartache, love, care—these were harder to swallow. They clawed their way down your throat and nestled in the pit of your heart, a pestilence, a disease, a parasite. But anger was sultry and inviting.
'I don't love you,' I snarled, each word shimmering with barely suppressed hatred. 'I barely like you—you fucking cheater. Even you don't love me. I was convenient. I was just there. Why did you even bother dating me James? When so many girls want you? Why me? Huh? Was it just so easy? Why not Jenny—she's only a mate! No hard feelings there if it ever ends badly!'
James aghast. 'Jenny, no—'
'Shut up! Shut up you fucking prick! Look at you! Instead of ending things with Flora, you're avoiding her and hoping you can find some escape with me! I'm not your answer to everything James Potter! I'm a human being too! How dare you—you could've chosen anyone—anyone—and you—how dare you do this to me!'
My chest heaved. I felt manic, I wanted to scream, to throw things, to hit him and it almost scared me. I had never felt anger like this before in my life. It pulsated and throbbed in my temples. Coursed through my veins like molten lava. Part of it, I knew, was my frustration that I'd been kicked off the pitch by George fucking Leslie because I was shit at Quidditch. But almost all of it was James Potter.
'You bastard,' I said, throat burning. My vision swam with tears this time but I blinked them away. I swallowed hard, fighting the tightening in my throat. 'You ruined me—you ruined me!'
A dry sob ripped through my chest. I would not cry, I would not cry, I would not cry. I struggled to breathe evenly.
James was stricken but his pain was nothing compared to mine.
'You are a coward,' I said, voice trembling with rage. My body felt black and blue with it. 'You are a fucking coward who couldn't end it before you lost interest!'
'No shut up!' I screamed. Just like that, the glass dam shattered. Tears, warm and salty, fell. I sobbed and felt my soul crack in half. 'What did I ever do to you? I let you in completely. And still—and still it wasn't enough, was it?' I let out a noise I didn't think I was capable of making, a broken-hearted, terrible grief that I'd been holding in for far too long. 'You said get out. I don't want to see your face right now. You make me sick.' I repeated his own words back to him, my vision so blurred with tears I couldn't make out his face.
'You are the worst thing that has ever happened to me, James Potter.'
One of these days James and Jenny are going to make out and it's not going to be in a dream, I promise lol.
I hope you guys enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it! I was actually kind of surprised how emotional I got writing Jenny breaking down over James, like I teared up a little??? I'm too attached to these characters honestly ...
Also friður, in Agnys Murphy's native Icelandic means peace and The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel by Oscar Wilde.
Anyways, thank you all for the wonderful reviews I've recieved so far!! Every single one of them have been so encouraging and I absolutely love responding to them. Let me know what you think of this chapter and Jenny's dream! Will she ever not feel heartbroken?? Will she finally think about some other than James??
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