Chapter 3 : Awkwardness
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Hogwarts Year 6
The day following the no show incident, I sat at breakfast extra early with a cup of tea warming my hands. My eyes were so immersed in the international disputes going on between Europe and America magic folk, as stated in the Daily Prophet, that I didn't notice the silent approach of a person. I didn't notice them until they pointedly coughed, causing me to jump and spill some my tea on my skirt. One minute you're reading about America trying to calm their crazed Muggle president's ideas, the next you're having a heart attack. Okay, my Ravenclaw brain annoyingly corrected, that was a tad overdramatic. Instead, I tried to silently slow my heart rate as I stared begrudgingly at a frowning James Potter. Grabbing a napkin, I dabbed at the small wet spot that had made its home on my skirt. I'd probably smell like jasmine and honey the rest of the day.
"Look," he started off, pausing to bite his lip before he chose his next words carefully. Oh boy, here we go...
I held up my hand, stopping him from continuing. "Save it," I said quietly, and then stared into my cup of tea. I went back to reading the section of the Daily Prophet, thinking he'd just walk away. Instead, I felt someone sit to my right and clatter a plate and silverware towards themselves. I squinted at James, wondering what he was playing at but remained silent. I coughed awkwardly and squirmed in discomfort as he piled up eggs, toast, and blood sausages onto his plate. "Gross," I muttered at his last choice of food for breakfast.
My comment seemed to amuse him, causing him to grin widely at me and wave a piece of the sausage in my face. I slide back, away from the mocking fork in front of me. There was no smile on my face as I watched him, clearly unamused by his antics. He seemed to sense my appreciation and popped the sausage in his mouth. "Have you ever even tried it?" I shook my head, a look of aversion on my face. "Then how do you know you don't like it?" My only response was to take a bite of the toast in front of me, ignoring his attempt at taunting me.
"You don't talk much, do you?" His eyes were lit with humor. I shrugged in response, which made him laugh again.
"Are you lost?" Delilah's voice asked, as she sat down in front of me. It would have been quite rude if it were directed at me, or if she hadn't dragged the predicament out of me last night after I returned from the Great Hall. Delilah was always fiercely protective of Savannah and I, who tended to bury our feelings rather than deal with them head on. James just stared at her, his mouth agape. Delilah arched her eyebrows, waiting for James to talk or scurry away. "Well?"
"I-um," James gulped. He got up from his spot next to me, sending me a pleading look. "I'll see you tonight? I'll come see our hippogriff after Quidditch practice, so it'll be at about 6pm." I shrugged, non-committing. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, and all that jazz.
"I'm going this afternoon," I said into my cup of tea, swirling my words into the steam with a spoon. "You can always just work with Isabelle. I told you before that I'd prefer independent work anyways." I shrugged in explanation.
"I hope you show up," James said quietly and rapped his knuckles on the table twice. He looked at Delilah and Savannah with a small smile. "Ladies, always a pleasure." And then he walked away, leaving me feeling ridiculously confused. Savannah scoffed softly at his words and retreating back. Meanwhile, Delilah just muttered, "bloody prat" under her breath.
When I was certain he was gone, I let my head thud softly into the wooden table. I felt Savannah pat my head softly, which was a sympathetic gesture on her part. I smiled gratefully at her and then let my forehead rest on the table once again.
"So what'd he want?" Delilah never was one to beat around the bush. I glared at her, as if she didn't know the answer. Seriously.
I grunted, unhelpfully, breathing into the wood that smelled like a mixture of cleaner and pancakes. Strange, I didn't remember having pancakes recently. I felt a nudge at my arm, and turned my face to peer at Delilah. "You look strange upside down," I commented. She rolled her eyes at me, still waiting for my answer to her question. "Fine," I sighed. "It sounded like he was going to apologize before you both showed up. That and he might have been educating me on blood sausage," I reasoned. "I'm not entirely certain which was more important to him, honestly."
"And you told him to shove it?" Delilah narrowed her eyes at me, knowing fully well that I did no such thing.
"Nuh-uh," Savannah murmured, blowing a strand of blonde hair out of her face. Though, if I'm being honest, it probably would have been more effective if it wasn't at the effort level of rousing a lazy butterfly. That strand of blonde hair had to have been the ban of her existence since we met in first year, and still it was going nowhere. I got her clippers for Christmas one year, but I think she intentionally lost them. They were green with floating glitter, which reminded me of grass. Greengrass. I let out a soft chuckle at the memory.
"If he wasn't such a prat he'd be so bloody fit," Delilah pointed out. "Even at American standards." She grinned teasingly at me.
"I take offense to that," I replied, not looking up from reading the Daily Prophet again. Mom and I had escaped to Ireland from America just before I started Hogwarts, which was quite taxing because my mother was a Muggle and had no idea of the magic world. My dad was a Muggle, too, and still is but he walked out on our small family a long time ago. I refused to be too sad about it anymore, though.
Later in the day, I walked the hippogriff, who I named Epona (because I'm a dork), out into the clearing. Much to my surprise, James showed up during the early afternoon. He was sweaty from running down and wiped his forehead with the bottom of his t-shirt. A clear view of his stomach was shown for a long moment, as if my brain started processing things in slow motion. I felt like I wanted to fall headfirst into the mud below me, but I settled for averting my gaze from his toned body. It was like an artist had painted his abs on, they were so bloody perfect. It felt like my heart wanted to burst into a thousand tiny pieces.
He coughed, directing my attention to his eyes and flashed me a smirk. "See something you like?" He had noticed my staring... Well, that was a wake up call of you ever needed one. Bloody prat.
I pointedly ignored him. He began whistling after about five minutes, while I shuffled through the some old ropes and equipment. There was a sketchy hook in there that made my arms break out in goosebumps. What was this even used for?
"So are you just not going to talk to me," James stated quietly, making me jump. Wrapped up in my head and own little world, I'd forgotten he was even there. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."
"It's alright," I tried but my voice came out raspy from disuse. I cleared my throat before continuing. "I'm alright, thanks." A pregnant silence filled the air, again.
"Sooo," James began saying and I realized that he was uncomfortable with silence. It was an interesting concept when my day was so filled with it. He coughed, awkwardly, and squirmed. "Come on."
I stared at him, the corners for my mouth turning up. "You're uncomfortable with silence, aren't you?" I grabbed one of the ropes and walked out intending to work some more with Epona. From behind me, I heard James quickly follow.
"Silence doesn't bother me so much," James defended. I snorted, unladylike but I couldn't help it. "What? It doesn't. I'm being serious. And you know, my middle nam-"
I held up my hand to stop him from continuing and rolled my eyes. "I know. It's your middle name."
"Stalking me, are you?" His tone was teasing. And arrogant. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, again, and just sighed. I didn't have to check behind me to see the grin on his handsome face, I could practically feel it. Or would that be sense it? Huh. "You have to think about it?"
I stopped suddenly, causing him to knock into my back. "Huh?" I was jolted forward, nearly loosing my balance if it hadn't been for James' quick reflexes grabbing around my waist. Otherwise, I'd probably have ended up in the mud on my butt.
James cocked is head to the side, eyes sparkling with humor and mischief. "Careful there," he said softly, and I felt his hands settle on my hips. I stared blankly back at him, noticing that in the light he had some green in his hazel eyes. We blinked at each other for a good minute or so, until I coughed and moved away from him. His hands thumped softly against his uniform. "You okay?"
For some reason his words made me pause longer than usual, making me linger on the deeper meaning. Sometimes I wished my Ravenclaw brain would shut up. "What's my name, James?" I narrowed my eyes, slightly perturbed.
"Um..." His voice trailed, searching for an excuse or a joke, or anything really, but the damage was done. How many classes had we been in together? How many times had Hagrid said my name just days previous? I backed away from him. "Come on...don't be like that."
"I'm not," I said simply, shrugging away any frustration that welled up inside me. That's when I decided to walk away though, after placing Epona's rope in James Potter's hands. I wasn't being any certain way, it was just the way that I was. Invisible. I'd always been just me. "I'll take tomorrow's shift while your at practice," I spoke quietly. "You can finish up with her today." Then I walked away from the clearing, far from the prying and forgetting eyes of James Potter. When I finally made it back to the castle, I walked into the first empty broom closet that I could find and sat in the dark for a long while.
Present day (one year post-Hogwarts)
I woke up mid-scream, again, with tears in my eyes and a stomach full of nausea. Savannah was a light sleeper so she was always there beside me.
"Shush," she hushed breathlessly. She ran her hands down my arms, which had made a fortress around my head to ward off my nightmare.
"No here, Sly. Safe." Her words were soothing, even though she'd said the same thing after waking me up after each time. Afterwards, she walked out of the room and then pressed a cup of tea in my hands, like always. It seemed to become our nightly routine. She'd mixed it with a Dreamless Drought to soothe me back to safe sleep, a comforting numbness settling in my limbs.
My eyes dropped as I watched Savannah pause in the doorway. "Tomorrow," she sighed with a forced purpose. "Schedule."
"I'll schedule," I resigned to the help that I obviously needed. I'd schedule an appointment to see a therapist within the next few weeks. My thoughts began to fragment as the drought overtook me, allowing me those hours of blissful, dreamless sleep.
As usual, we worked our brunch shift that morning and then packed up to go home. I actually had forgotten about it until an owl can crashing into out open windows, scaring Savannah half to death. She'd been making biscuits, or cookies, when the bird made its introduction. I don't think I've ever heard Savannah shriek in that manner before, though we rarely got our owl post sent here because we live in a predominantly Muggle neighborhood. Anyways, there were biscuits everywhere, to which Delilah demanded the five second rule apply. I, for one, am quite partial to biscuits so I wholeheartedly agreed with Delilah. Though, I suppose I changed my tune with her after she noticed who the owl was from.
"James Bloody Potter." I cringed at the tone of her voice. It was so icy. I really didn't want to be in the middle of it. After much preparation and attempts to calm down an irate Delilah, we decided to go to James' party. "What does he want?"
I shrugged and then paused, finding the question itself quite puzzling. What did he want? I was still wondering about that when we walked up the stairs to the location of the party. We walked into the flat, which truthfully had a kitchen bigger than our whole apartment. It really just got more awkward from there on.
Simon took one look at Savannah and his eyes bugged out, which I suppose was a good sigh. I'd tied her blonde hair in a braided crown around her head, which Delilah swore it made her appear regal yet chic. I just thought she was beautiful. I hoped that Simon would be good to her, and with a squeeze of her shoulder I excused myself from the two of them. They seemed to be having a private conversation with their eyes anyways.
Finding the kitchen, a guy in Falmouth Falcon's attire filled me a glass of wine. It was still odd to be surrounded by two different teams that had fought so brutally against each other, but I suppose it helped build a sense of community in the Quidditch world. I certainly never imagined the Puddlemere United and Falmouth Falcons could be in the same room together without blood being shed or words being thrown around. Yet, here we are.
My lips had been savoring a sip of red wine, in an effort to do something with my hands, when I walked out onto the balcony. I set my wine glass down, prepared to just stare out at the horizon for the rest of the night. Hopefully, avoiding a certain someone. That's when my eyes found the distant form of James Potter, leaning casually against the balcony wall talking to Fred Weasley.
Attempting to get away from James' line of sight, I backpedal quickly and spun around only to run straight into the sliding glass door. In my hurry I hadn't noticed that it closed so I ran into it head first. Everyone was silent for one awkward moment before Fred Weasley broke it.
"Well, that's quite an entrance. I don't know how I never thought of that." Freddy Weasley's voice had never been non-teasing, not in my presence at least. And I wanted no part of it. Overall, this was a terrible start and not one of my proudest moments. Not in the slightest.
I tried to get up but my head felt dizzy, the effect causing me to sway and drop down to my knees. Hopefully, I wasn't concussed. My fingers ran over my face, praying for a lack of bump development and I breathed a sigh of relief. No bump yet.
"Hey there," a familiar voice said into my ear. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were trying to avoid me." My blurry vision finally focused, greeting me with a grinning James Potter. He helped me up, gently steering me to the side of the balcony. "Either that or you fancied our sliding glass door." He appeared to be holding back a laugh, which was not very nice if you asked me. Though it wasn't like James Potter had ever been awarded kindness king during our time at Hogwarts. I shook him off, forcing myself to walk on my own and instantly regretted it when I became dizzy. I used the wall of the balcony to balance myself, as I sat down in a chair.
Furrowing his brow in concern, James leaned forward, crouching down low in front of me, and pushed my hair away from my face. It caused my heart to do summersaults. This was stupid. I couldn't form a crush on this guy, it would be the epitome of pathetic. So I did the only thing I could think of: I thrusted his jacket towards him eagerly, which was perhaps too eagerly because I awkwardly throat punched him with my clenched fists. Not on purpose, of course. I'm not an animal.
And that marked the day that I accidentally made James Potter go into a choking fit. After a moment of stunned silence, with me just blinking at him mortified, he started laughing. "Godric, its like that time in sixth year when I found you locked in the supply closet. I helped let you out because you didn't have your wand and you elbowed me in the face," James recalled, groaning as he massaged his throat.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled, embarrassed. I remembered the memory he mentioned, too, and my face reddened. I had a habit of sitting in closets whenever I was having a rough day, it helped me think. However, what was unhelpful was closets that locked as soon as you shut them, as well as not carrying your wand with you. No joke. "And that was an accident."
"And this wasn't?" He was continuing to tease me, but it wasn't in a cruel way.
I rubbed the side of my head, sensing a tiny headache rooting its way behind my right eye. "They both were accidents," I mumbled, avoiding his prying eyes.
"I know, Ainsly." When he said my name, I wondered how long it would take him to forget me again. Distracted by my growing headache again, I rubbed at my temple. The action caused James to frown, ask me if my head hurt, and then he disappeared through the sliding glass door. I must have become pretty uninteresting for him just to walk away without comment. Oh well. I'd just risen to my feet to find Delilah or check up on Savannah when James returned with a potion in his hands. He was walking carefully in a slow shuffle with his eyes fixed on the vial, as if he was trying hard not to spill it. It was really endearing to watch.
When he reached me, I looked at the potion skeptically. "What?" Then space between his eyebrows was creased in confusion. I immediately squished the urge I had to rub it away. "I know potions can taste pretty disgusting, but I was hoping this would help your head."
I continued to stare at him, incredulous at his words. "Okay," I said uneasily, taking the vial from him. I peered into it and expressed relief that it was just a Pepperup Potion. Heaving a sigh, I gulped it down and handed it back to him. "Thank you."
He didn't answer right away, instead he appeared to be deep in thought. "Did you think I was going to drug or poison you just now?" I shrugged again, which made him appear upset. He ran his hand through his dark hair, ruffling it in frustration. "I would never drug you, and don't even get me started on poisoning. Do you really have that little of faith in me?" He was clearly offended by me questioning his intentions.
"I took the potion," I pointed out.
"After analyzing it pretty intensely," he retorted bitterly.
"And you don't understand," I argued, calmly. I never took vials of potion without looking at them, that's how mistakes happen. "I don't take potions just willy-nilly. That's how messed up things happen."
"What?" His eyes looked at me, concerned and shocked. "Did someone...?" His eyes flashed angrily. I glanced away, refusing to hash out that conversation with him. Though, I thought he would have known already. It was his friend after all...
"Can we talk about something else," I demanded more than asked. "Please." I beg of you, I added silently in my head.
"Of course," he said, still uneasy and cleared his throat. "I'm glad you ended up coming. Even though the Falcons can be a rowdy bunch of sods."
"It was surprising to see you guys all chummy after yesterday's game."
"Bloody fantastic, if you ask me. Especially since we won." He took a drink from his glass, which looked like butterbeer. I nodded politely, humming in praise and took a sip of wine. It was a miracle that I had not spilled it previously. Come to think of it, should I be drinking at all since I drank a potion. I tried to recall if the effects were similar to Muggle prescriptions.
"I think I lost you again," James explained with a small chuckle. "I'd forgotten how...pensive you are."
"Just thinking," I muttered distractingly.
James let out a bark of laughter. "Clearly." It wasn't said in a rude or mean way but with a slight undertone of affection, which was equally puzzling. My mind tumbled back to pondering the effects of alcohol with Muggle medication vs Magical medicine. I mentioned as much to James, who listened attentively to my reasoning.
"Yeah but I'd think that magic folk bypass all of that," James commented.
"Yeah, but we also have the same blood-brain barrier as Muggles so the effects of alcohol interacting with drugs or potions would be similar, right?"
"Isn't there alcohol in potions?" James asked, frowning down at the vial he'd set down on the table next to us.
I nodded my head, agreeing with him. "Alcohol is used medicinally in potions as part of the Pepperup Potion."
"Merlin, I feel like I'm back at Hogwarts. This is what I get for talking with a Ravenclaw," he teased, taking another drink of his butterbeer. I shrugged my shoulders and looked away, a blush heating up my cheeks. Suddenly, I felt fingertips under my chin urging my eyes upwards and saw James smiling down at me. "It's definitely not a bad thing, though. I like to think about more than just Quidditch sometimes." He stared at my face for a bit, biting his lip slightly as his gaze snagged on my lips.
Later in the night, Freddy came to join us with another team member, who I learned was named Caleb. He was one of Puddlemere United's beaters. James kept making eye contact with me, trying to keep me looped in the conversation. It was actually really...sweet and unexpected. James and I started discussing the Niffler problem that occurred at the Quidditch Pitch recently. Apparently one tried to nick the golden snitch before the game.
"Nifflers are tricky," I commented. I was working at becoming a Beastologist, and we'd had to try and get the Niffler situation under control. I explained as much to James about it.
"You always did have a knack for creatures," James recalled with a smile. "I'm glad to hear you're still working with them."
Freddy silently watched me, listening to our conversation while drinking firewhiskey straight from the bottle. "So Ainsly, you look different from Hogwarts." He speculated with a small smile, then took another extra long drink.
"Yep. I grew breasts," I said flatly. "Such an accomplishment." Freddy choked on his drink, coughing and laughing at the same time. I didn't think that was possible, but leave it to Fred Weasley to keep me guessing. James casually placed his arm over the back of my chair as he leaned in to laugh at Freddy's sad attempts at cleaning up the firewhiskey that had spilled around him. I ignored the behavior, until his fingertips began to play with meshy material of my top.
Oh, calm down, it was only at the shoulder and no where of "scandalous interest," as Delilah would put it. Anyways, I raised an eyebrow at him and he just returned my look with a sweet smile.
"You know, we have a Dragonologist in the family. My uncle Charlie," he explained with that easy smile. "He'd probably love to meet you. You could pick his brain for a bit, if you wanted. Though you don't have to, of course... I just thought that you might. Yeah?" I stared at him as he babbled, like I was trying to solve a Rubik's cube.
"Um, okay." It would be a neat experience, though I'm still pretty skeptical. I'd be an idiot if I wasn't.
"Really?" Yeah, I couldn't believe what I was agreeing to either, buddy. James smiled, a magnetic kind of smile that made the corners of your lips perk upwards. That smile transformed his whole face, and caused my stomach to flip. "Great, um, let's do this!" He laughed, raising a hand to give me a high five. My goodness, it just dawned on me that I not only made a deal with a jock, but also an Upper jock.
Hopefully I won't regret this.
So what does everyone think so far?
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