Chapter 17 : Seventeen
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Just as they were boarding the train, however, James gestured for Fred and Toby to go on ahead and secure a compartment for the ride back to London. He weaved through the people remaining on the platform to the girl waving a multicoloured mittened hand to her friends on the train.
Grace Belby and Rachel Carter were pulling grotesque faces on the other side of the glass, writing rude words in the condensation.
“You’re staying here for Christmas?”
Kelly turned, stuffed her hands into the pockets of her black duffel coat and nodded, “Yeah. Rhys is in Malawi and can’t get an International Portkey home for another fortnight. Dad’s Merlin-knows-where… And I can’t seem to get hold of Aunt Hestia, so…”
“Well, when I was eight, Dad’s parents retired to a quiet beach in the Bahamas, and they have a strict ‘Do Not Disturb Unless Someone Is Dying’ policy.”
James laughed, “And your mum’s parents?”
“They’re muggles. With absolutely no idea that their daughter married a wizard. I don’t think I can deal with them without Rhys or Dad, and well, it’s hard enough explaining to wizards why my two surviving guardians are rarely in the country… plus they’re dead nosy and I’m not that good a liar to fool Gran.”
“Maybe I should give you lessons sometime.”
“Maybe.” Kelly smiled. James didn’t know if she was blushing or if it was just the bite of the icy breeze turning her cheeks pink. “Have a good Christmas, James.”
“You too, Kel. Don’t drink all our profits while we’re gone.” Then he turned, jogging down the platform to climb on the train that had just started to chug out of the station.
James slept in until noon the first day of the holidays, completely oblivious to the noises of his siblings and his parents completing their usual breakfast routine, sleeping straight through his alarm, he woke listening to the WWN’s lunchtime news broadcast. He dressed, and then he left the house with their black Irish wolfhound, Padfoot, and a coat. Ginny gave him a strange look on his way out the back door, but he didn’t look back, and he didn’t return until after dark.
He took the trail out to the forest on the edge of the village of Ottery St. Catchpole, where he and his cousins had played Capture-The-Flag with dung-bomb launchers and stink-pellet grenades in the summers. When he reached the tree line, he put a locator spell and a shield charm on Padfoot’s collar, unclipped his leash, and ran. He ran until his lungs were rattling with the icy air, until his toes were numb inside his waterproof trainers from the snow, until he reached the boundary to the part of the forest Teddy used to spend a lot of his adolescence in.
When they had been younger, Teddy had set up a sort of assault course in the dense trees, and he had used it for quidditch agility and later Auror training. He only ever let himself rest when he completed it in under six-minutes-forty-two. That was the time for the fitness qualification in the Auror Academy, and it wasn’t as hard as this. It was ropes, it was mud, it was running full pelt and all the agility he had in him. His best time was six-forty-seven, and he couldn’t seem to shave off those five extra seconds for the life of him. Still, he ran.
The other thing Teddy had set up for his Auror training, was the curse-course. Silhouette cut-outs with targets that would only fold down when hit with the appropriate curses. Some were on the ground, some were in the trees, some moved, some were static, some swung between the branches above.
He was one of the best in his class at Defence, but he wasn’t as talented at non-verbal spells as Nick, and he wasn’t as quick as Kelly. Lucy knew more spells than he did, but she wasn’t as well practiced. Toby was well practiced, but with a narrower arsenal. Fred wasn’t a fighter, but he had an impressive talent of performing his jinxes on the sly.
But James was the best on the move. He didn’t have a duelling stance, he liked to dart around his opponent, or in the case of being surrounded, attack from all angles. He was the one everyone picked for their team in quidditch and Capture-The-Flag, because he was the one who could operate best under fire, against opposition, he was the man you dropped behind enemy lines and expected to make it out alive.
He beat Teddy’s time on the curse-course on the third attempt. He was running on enough of an adrenaline high that Padfoot’s barking was the only thing that made him notice the dark blanket of stars that had replaced the sky. He’d been working by the light of his wand for a while now. It was six o’clock. He was covered in mud and soaked in sweat.
This wasn’t how he wanted to show up at home. His dad would know where he’d been, even if his mother didn’t twig. He didn’t need that conversation this early in the holidays. He knew he could make it into the Auror Academy, he was well aware he possessed what it took to undergo the training, he just had to want it. He just had to concentrate, and push himself, and he had to go from one of the best to the best, otherwise he was wasting his time and everyone else’s.
At least now he didn’t have to sneak up the trellis into his own bedroom to avoid his parents’ questions on his dishevelled appearance like he had done in sixth year. Oh, how he loved being of age. A couple of cleaning charms later, and he was good as new, the cold and hunger setting in now he was standing still.
“Come on, Padfoot.” He called, before starting the trek back home.
His mother trapped him in his bedroom as he was drying his hair after his shower.
“Where have you been all day?”
“You missed the dog that much? A six hour walk is a bit much for a old hound like him.”
“We had rest breaks.” He rubbed his hair with the towel so it stuck up at all angles, there was no use in styling it any other way. “I wanted to get out of the house. You would have only said I was getting under your feet otherwise.”
“Ah, yes, the troubles of working from home during the school holidays!” Ginny rolled her eyes. “Dinner should be ready in fifteen minutes, you didn’t eat anything earlier, you had better be at that table, mister.”
By Day Two of the holidays, a Sunday, Lucy couldn’t handle being in the same house as both her parents at the same time. Therefore she rocked up on the Potter’s doorstep with her topical mind-maps and her revision flashcards for Transfiguration, and pushed past James into the hallway before he could shut the door in her face. She was talking at a mile-a-minute.
“I should have owled you, I know,”—she held her free hand up in apology—“but, if I had owled you, you would have said no, and then I would have been trapped in that house for another ‘family breakfast’,”—she dumped her folders on the table in the kitchen and started throwing open cupboard doors in search of a mug and tea bags—“which is something Dad likes to do now — apparently — despite the fact the man makes a poached egg that looks like a testicle with a ghost, and his tea smells like cat piss, and don’t even get me started on the way he cooks bacon!”—she put the kettle on the stove—“And I’m supposed to talk to him? About my life? About how I’m feeling? Where did that come from? Has he been doing diplomacy exclusively with the Americans since September? This is my dad we’re talking about — the stuffiest, stodgiest fellow to ever walk the earth — it’s like he’s had a bloody soul transplant,”—she poured her tea (lemon and ginger like Lily made it) and stirred in a spoonful of honey—“I couldn’t handle it, so, I came here, with an excuse to stay, if you’ll have me?”
Grinning, he gestured to the table with his coffee mug, “Have a seat.”
James was actually happy to see her, as his revision scheme held very little structure for someone with such high career goals. He had been running in the woods again that morning, early, so the rest of the house was still asleep as they took command of the kitchen table and brought out boxes of Pixie Puffs and Cheeri Owls to snack on.
They made a list of each of their weak points in the subject after reading through the specification page at the back of James’s copy of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration (James’s list was significantly longer than Lucy’s). By the time Ginny and Harry shuffled downstairs in their dressing gowns at half-past-nine, the had moved onto factual recall and had gotten through three-quarters of Lucy’s flashcards.
“Morning, Mum, Dad.” James nodded, taking another sip of coffee.
“Hi, Aunt Ginny, Uncle Harry.” Lucy mimicked her cousin’s gesture and drank her tea.
“Morning, Lucy, James.” Harry replied warily. He didn’t trust these particular teenagers in this particular setting at this particular hour. They were suspiciously well mannered and conscientious. They couldn’t possibly be related to him, not even by marriage.
“Am I still dreaming? Or is James studying before breakfast on a Sunday?” Ginny whispered to her husband as they collected the equipment and ingredients required for a full english.
“I could pinch you if you’d like.” Harry replied cheekily, earning a smack from a tea towel.
Lucy pulled a flashcard from the deck on the table between herself and James. “Conjuring-Winged-Vertebrae: spell, and wand movement. Go.”
“Avis. And: draw an M.”
“Try to be more technical: double hump curve.”
“That’s more technical?” James smirked. “My turn.” He plucked a card from the deck. “Name The Effect: Twirling wand movement, orange light, mustela permuto.”
“Human to ferret transfiguration.”
“Luce, if someone transfigured you into an animal,”—James gestured with the flashcard—“but that animal just happened to be your animagus form, can you transform yourself back of your own volition? Or is it a different branch of human transfiguration?”
“Well, the opportunity for that sort of evidence to be observed is extremely rare… and it would have to be your exact animagus form — size, markings, features — same everything for that hypothesis to be valid… plus there’s a spell that can force animagus transformation back to human form, which is a different spell to the one we use for human-to-animal untransfiguration, so I don’t see the point of their being two spells if the magic already overlaps — like why would we have Calming Draught and the Draught of Peace if they achieve the same result? It’s different magic. It must be.”
“Yeah, but that’s the difference between powdered amethyst and powdered moonstone as base ingredients, they affect different parts of the brain and the body in turn. And they made the Calming Draught because the Draught of Peace contains powdered unicorn horn which lights up an illegal-drug test like a christmas tree.”
“That was a lovely bit of Potions revision right there, Jamie — inspired — truly — Slughorn would shed many a tear — but my point still stands. There is different magic involved.”
James shook his head, laughing. “Fair enough.”
Sidling up behind her son, Ginny pressed her palm against James’s forehead, then the back of her hand. “Hmm. No temperature. Strange.”
James rolled his eyes up to his mother, fighting a smile. “Are you finished?”
Ginny tried in vain to smooth her son’s hair before moving over to the counter to collect the toast that had just popped from the toaster.
Lucy was laughing into her tea, this was already so much better than her house at breakfast time.
“You’ve been quiet these holidays.” Ginny Potter commented as she and her eldest son stood at the kitchen counter, making mince pies. Well, Ginny was making the pretty, petal edged pastry cases, James was unevenly dolloping the preprepared mincemeat into them, his mind clearly on other things. “Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine.” James replied evenly. “I’ve had a lot of homework.”
Ginny snuck a sideways glance at him. “And all the letters you’ve been sending, they aren’t to anyone special?”
“They’re to Fred, Toby and Lucy, so it really just depends on how you define special.”
Ginny smiled, “So they’re not to a girl?”
“Lucy is female, last I checked, Mum.”
Ginny gently cuffed his arm with a floury hand. “A girlfriend.”
“I don’t have one at the moment.”
“What about this ‘Kelly’ you’ve mentioned in some of your letters?”
James frowned. “I don’t recall that I mentioned Kelly in any of my letters.”
“Oh, alright. Lily’s mentioned her.” Ginny admitted. “You’re not together?”
“No. Kel and I are not together.” He filled another pastry case, “What’s Lily said about her?”
“Not much, just that you seem to have taken to her… she’s a Hufflepuff… blonde… Lily doesn’t seem to know all that much about her. Which I suppose is comforting considering how much she has had to say about the other girls you’ve been into.”
“I’m not that bad.” James rolled his eyes. “And I’m not into Kelly.”
“Yes, you are.” Lily said, walking through the kitchen in her winter coat and boots, wrapping a scarf around her neck. James wasn’t quite sure which of his statements she was objecting to — both, probably. “I’m going round to Hugo’s. He and Rose are building an army of snowmen.”
“Are you back for dinner?”
“Are you kidding? It’s Sunday — I’m not missing one of Uncle Ron’s roasts.”
And with a swirl of cold air and snowflakes, she was gone.
“You are a very good liar, James. You got that from me. But don’t waste your shot with this girl for the sake of your friendship or your pride — because that is something you got from your father — and I really don’t want to have to watch history repeat itself.”
“So, by not going out with Kelly, I’m going to prompt the third wizarding war?”
“You know exactly what I mean.”
“Yes. We’ve all heard the stories — not that Albus and I were ever really bothered about the details of your teenage romance — you still bloody well told us.” James frowned at his mother’s expression, “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Nothing.” Ginny shook her head, smiling slightly. “It’s just… You must really like her if you want to keep her a secret from us.”
James sucked his teeth and ground out. “For the fifteenth time today, Mum: I do not like Kelly.”
“Well,” Harry Potter considered, entering the room with an empty coffee mug. “For someone you don’t like, you sure have snogged her a fair few times.”
“What?! James!” Ginny smacked him with a floury hand once more. “What aren’t you telling me?”
The humour wasn’t lost on James as to how many answers he had to that particular question at that particular moment. He silently thanked his lucky stars that neither of his parents were particularly gifted in the field of legilimency… but then… how had his dad known about him kissing Kelly?
He narrowed his eyes at his father as Harry set the kettle boiling. “How do you even know that? Just because you’re Head of the Auror Office, doesn’t mean you’re allowed to use those resources to spy on me.”
“So it’s true then?” Ginny smirked, “You have been snogging Kelly?”
“Neville and George both seem to think so.” Harry replied slyly.
Neville! He should have known, James thought, but then—“How does Uncle George know?”
“You two were stood outside his shop window. He saw everything.” Harry laughed at his son’s expression, “I don’t see what the big deal is, Jamie. You’ve had girlfriends before.”
“Kelly’s not my girlfriend.” James protested, sounding far more childish and stroppy than he liked.
Harry folded his arms, leaning against the stove. “Then what happened in Hogsmeade?”
James sighed, subconsciously mirroring his father’s posture. “I’m going to take a shot in the dark and guess that you know about the letter Rose wrote to Aunt Hermione?”
“Yes. We do. But it would be highly hypocritical of us to tell you off for what it discussed.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t think Aunt Hermione would share that philosophy, and when I saw her coming down the high street, I panicked and well, Kelly’s good at going unnoticed so I asked her to hide me and she… she kissed me.”
“George didn’t see you objecting.” Harry smirked.
“So you do like her then?” Ginny jumped in.
“Enjoying kissing someone and liking them are two very different things.”
“So you were enjoying it?”
“She can kiss and she smells nice — need I go on?”
Harry shook his head, smiling to himself as he poured himself another coffee.
James frowned slightly, as he recalled his dad repeating this gesture all too frequently over the last few days. Harry hadn’t been there at Platform 9 ¾ to collect James and his siblings, and Ginny had just told them that their father, as Head of the Auror Office, had to go into the Ministry for something that he hadn’t divulged to her, so she couldn’t divulge it to them, even if she’d wanted to. Harry Potter looked too tired for a man only approaching his mid-forties.
Ginny, picking up on this as well, put her hand on his forearm as he made to retreat to his office, where he had been spending most of his time since James, Albus and Lily had come home from Hogwarts. Their eyes met and James knew that his parents were having one of their telepathic conversations so not to whisper in front of him. James, feeling overly intrusive, glanced away.
“James?” Harry asked.
“Hmm?” He looked up again.
“Stop ruining your mother’s mince pies and come have a game of chess with your dad.”
James smirked and followed Harry down the hall to the living room, where a christmas tree stood tall in the corner covered in decorations that didn’t coordinate, christmas cards lined the mantlepiece, a fire was crackling away in the grate below, and Padfoot was stretched out in front of it, sleeping.
As they began ordering the chess pieces on the board, Harry asked in a low voice, “Kelly’s last name wouldn’t happen to be Jones, would it?”
“Yeah,” James replied. “No relation to Gwenog, though. But she is from around Holyhead.”
“She doesn’t happen to be a metamorphmagus, does she?”
“Yeah,” James repeated himself warily. “Why?”
“One of my colleagues has a daughter named Kelly, who’s a metamorphmagus — the Ministry keeps tabs on those kind of things — and I was wondering if they were one and the same.”
“She did say her dad was an auror — but she doesn’t really talk about it much.” James felt uncomfortable discussing this with his Dad, especially since Kelly had only volunteered the information to him when he’d found the photograph she had of them. “White moves first.”
“Right. Pawn to B3.”
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