Chapter 5 : Disbelief
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James and I worked together with Epona almost daily now, which admittedly was more effective. James took a turn being one-on-one with Epona, so I decided to take out my sketchbook to capture the scene. James was so careful yet respectful with her, it was lovely to see. I only needed to stare at the two of them a couple times, then I was able to memorize the outline. The broad stroke of James' shoulders, reaching out his arms to touch Epona's feathers. The messiness of his dark hair to his rolled up sleeves and loosened Gryffindor tie. Epona stood tall and strong next to him, stretching out her wings to revel in the slight breeze in the air. And then there was the faded background, I glanced up to take it in and found James' eyes instead.
"You looked so involved," he commented with that easy grin. I expected him to analyze my drawing, or critique it in some way, but his eyes never left mine.
"It's not finished," I murmured, clearing my throat and gesturing to the drawing.
"I haven't looked at it yet. I wasn't sure if you wanted me to." An appreciative smile spread across my face. The light breeze shifted his hair in the sunlight and I noticed that it was slightly auburn. I must have been staring at it for a bit because James' hand shot up to his hair. "What? Is it as spastic as usual?"
I smiled, shaking my head. I tried to explain what I'd been thinking.
"Oh yeah, that'd be the Weasley gene from my mum. Bypassed Al, but Lily and I got the redness." He ran a hand through his messy hair. "Though apparently the mop of disarray is a Potter male thing. What about you?"
"Oh," even my tone sounded uneasy. "Well, I have my mum's frame, I suppose. And her eyes."
"And you're lovely brown locks?"
I laughed. "You mean this disaster?" I shook my wavy hair, the long ends of it hitting James in the face. He bellowed a dramatic cry, "I've been wounded," and fell to the ground. He rolled back in forth in mock agony.
I rolled my eyes. "Potter, you're being a tad overdramatic, don't you think?"
James held his arm over his face, yelling out "go on without me, darling."
I shook my head, but that didn't stop the smile from appearing on my face. "You're being ridiculous."
"I fear I won't last long," James moaned pitifully. He coughed with added effect.
"Someone is going to hear you, you know." My eyes took in the curious looks of our peers from far away.
"Let them hear the bittersweet cry of my woes." He rolled around on the ground, then grasped at my hand tightly. "Say you'll remember me."
I choked back a laugh, tears puddling in the corners of my eyes. It was too funny. I was failing to keep a straight face. "You're absurd."
He pulled on my hand, a strong tug that surprised me enough to fall forwards. I landed on top of him, the weight and effect was instant. We both stopped laughing. James stared at me and I stared at him. Silence filled the air as our breaths mingled. If I moved an inch forward my lips would be on his. Merlin, I needed to stop. Right this second.
"James," I whispered, feeling warm despite the light breeze in the air.
James gazed up at me, touching my hair softly, letting his hand brush my cheek before withdrawing it. I felt like I could swallow my heart. "Ainsly, there is something I need to tell you."
"Yeah?" I managed to pull myself away from him, preserving some dignity. At least my body was no longer touching his. However, my attention was still stolen by him.
"Aww, how sweet of you James. You're helping the needy," Isabelle's voice interrupted. James jumped about a foot away from me, sending Isabelle a look. She coiled herself around him, her arms wrapping themselves around his waist.
I got to my feet, dusting off any traces of dirt or grass. "I was just-"
"Leaving?" Her lips curled into a smile. "Please do."
"Isabelle," James warned, sending me a strained look.
"Yes, I'm going to go. Epona needs...something." I walked backwards, away from them as I talked. I focused on their feet as I spoke, then turned my back and forced myself not to run to the grounds nearby where Epona was. I stopped behind a tree, lightly hitting the back of my head on the tree. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
"Let her go, James." Isabelle sounded peeved, letting out a frustrated noise. "What is with you? Do you care about that freak or something?"
My heart beat so hard in my chest waiting for his answer that I thought it would explode from my chest.
"Of course not, Isabelle. She means nothing to me. I barely even know her." James' confident, arrogant tone was staggering. It was like seeing or hearing two different people.
"Then why are you spending so much time with her," Isabelle argued. "She's a loser, James."
"We are working on a project together, okay?" He explained it calmly to Isabelle, but I was through listening. He didn't object or attempt to defend the fact that Isabelle had called me a loser, let alone her saying I was a freak. James was exactly the boy I thought he was, selfish and inconsiderate. He looked me in the eyes and talked to me, all the while formulating such an opinion of who I was as a person. How could he do that? Making my way over to where Epona was trotting around and spreading her wings, I opened my sketchbook to the drawing of James and Epona. My fingers lingered over James' shoulders, blinking back tears. And then I ripped the drawing in half, crumpling up the part with James on it and shoved it into my bag. I was such an idiot.
Present (One year Post-Hogwarts)
"Oh bloody hell, this one makes me real nervous." I had to agree with Delilah on that one. This place screamed Upper. It was all cream colors, tasteful yet elegant decor, and abstract art galore. Not to mention the delicate antiques. It was a bloody nightmare cloaked as a seemingly harmless engagement party. Did I mention that it was for Teddy Lupin and Victoire Weasley? Yeah, it was bad.
"So Vannah is on a strict no wine glass, only solids policy tonight. Agreed?" Delilah's eyes moved across our team, landing last on Savannah and I. We nodded, grabbed our platters, and walked out.
"Crab cake," I suggested to group gathered in the corner of the room. Unfortunately, the group is a lot of grabby yet proper Upper's, so they give you a whole song and dance saying "why don't those look decadent." And then you needed to veer away because they will clean your plate. I managed to make it out of there with all my limbs, breathing a sigh of relief as I crossed the room. Honestly, the only people that I'd ever encountered uttering decadent were Uppers.
"Well well well, don't you look decadent," a voice observed and my blood ran cold. My entire body froze. It took all of me not to run out of the room after glancing at him. Ryan.
"Crab cake," I offered in a forced voice. Just do my job and walk away. I will not hurl this tray at him. Just do my job. And walk away.
"I noticed how you've grown," he emphasized grown with his blue eyes lingering on my chest. My stomach folds into itself, queasy. I forced myself to keep breathing slowly.
"Excuse me," I said calmly, attempting to walk away from him. But then he grabbed my arm, swinging me back around to him. Images of hands touching me flashed behind my eyes, as if they'd been burned there. I yanked myself away from him, loosing some crab cakes along the way. Thump. Thump. Some of the guests nearby seemed to be seriously considering if the five second rule could apply in this circumstance. Frankly, I just wanted to get away. "Don't touch me," I spat, my temper and anxiety fraying.
"Babe, you forget that you've been a tease to me before." He smiled that dazzling smile that charmed many a female. It sickened me. "Shall we skip the song and dance, love?"
"You're incorrigible," I replied through clenched teeth. I heard him call my name as I scurried away.
"Ainsly." Bloody hell. Why could I not just do my job in peace?
I turned with a smile on my face, feigning calm. "Crab cake?" James frowned at me, his forehead creased in concern.
"Ainsly, are you alright?"
I avoided his prying eyes, my breathing hitched. "Yes," my voice croaked, breaking slightly.
"Hey hey," he whispered, trying to coax me to meet his eyes. "Come with me." He grabbed my arm, set down my tray of crab cakes, and led me through the crowd. We made it outside, where we were completely alone, and I never felt more like screaming. I didn't though. Scream, I mean.
"Ainsly," James said, biting his lip nervously. "There is something I need to tell you." I received a serious case of deja vu at his words.
"I-well you see," James stumbled and ruffled his hair. "Perhaps I'll tell you later, eh? I wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Oh," I muttered, glancing down at my hands. "I'm fantastic."
"Ainsly, your hands are shaking." He grabbed my hands, rubbing them lightly in a way that was oddly soothing. "You're not fantastic."
"Wow James, that is not very nice," I commented jokingly. But it definitely wasn't the rudest or meanest comment he has ever said about me.
"No, that came out wrong. You are fantastic. You're just...not right now?" He appeared to be deeply concerned that he had offended me somehow.
I let out a sigh. This wasn't about him today, James hadn't harmed me in body or mind like Ryan had. "Relax, James. It's okay. I'll be okay."
"Are you sure?" His frown deepened. I nodded, forcing myself to be okay. I could always cry later when I'm alone. The therapist had said that I should allow myself to feel sad and angry over what happened, but I definitely wouldn't let it control my life. "Hey, there is someone I'd like you to meet. Do you think you'd feel up to meeting him?" A confused look must have crossed my face because he smiled softly, wrapping an arm around me. I felt instantly warm and, most of all, I felt strangely safe. I didn't get that sense in my gut, the one that told me that something was wrong. It was like the night I had James' jacket around me, causing the anxiety to fade away. I felt protected.
"It's my Uncle Charlie," James explained with an easy smile.
"I should get back to work," I reasoned.
"It will only be for a bit." James grabbed my hands, pleading with his eyes. However, I really was being serious about needing to get back to work. We were already short staffed tonight.
"I really can't right now," I stated. He appeared dejected for a moment, but then that smile came back.
"How about after you get done? There is an after party," he asked me tentatively. James had a hopeful look in his eyes, like an adorable puppy.
I nodded my head with a small smile. "Alright."
I worked the rest of the night, staying on high alert of Ryan. However, I barely registered his presence in the way that James kept gazing at me from across the room. Then there was when he'd make subtle appearances to get an appetizer. His hand would linger on mine when I handed him a shrimp or crab cake. Apparently, he is pretty partial to shrimp.
And then came the after party, which James had extended the invitation to Delilah and Savannah as well. A lively Irish song was playing, which Freddy and Teddy were battling it out in a river dance routine. Simon stood nearby laughing when Freddy misstepped and tumbled into Teddy. Everywhere we turned it was chaos, to the far right two older red headed men were setting off fireworks. And to the nearby left some people were playing Exploding Snap with a levitating scoreboard in the background.
In high drama fashion, Scorpius Malfoy was currently holding hands with Rose Weasley. Upon our entrance, a look of pure discomfort morphed on Scorpius' chiseled face. In all honesty, it had to do with Savannah, who is Scorpius' cousin. Savannah looked blankly back at Scorpius', which was her way of making him sweat. "Oh cousin," she sighed in a laborious breath. Rose stood up, taking on a defensive stance. Savannah just raised an eyebrow at her. She was a cheeky little thing. Obviously, Savannah didn't give a damn about the Greengrass, pureblood legacy rules. I'm her Muggleborn best friend for Melin sakes.
"Delphine. I don't give a bloody hell what Aunt Daphne says," he challenged. Savannah is her middle name, which she identifies as rather than her first name. Delphine. It's quite the mouthful for someone who finds it an effort to talk often. Also, it's dreadful.
"Good," Savannah responded.
"Delphine- wait, what?" Scorpius was so surprised, it deserved an eye roll how oblivious he had been.
"It's Savannah," she corrected in her monotone voice. Scorpius rolled his eyes and mumbled of course. "And met Sly?" She pushed me forward, presenting me like a prize winning pig. I glared at her. She wanted me to do the explaining. Girl really needed to practice using her words.
"I'm Muggleborn," I announced with a shrug. "We've been friends since first year. We live together in a predominantly Muggle neighborhood. Can I stop talking now?" I asked the question to Savannah who nodded, giving me a rare bright, expressive smile. Then I turned back to the Wotters and Scorpius. "So she obviously thinks her mother's and the Greengrass family values are rubbish."
"I think I like her already, James." A man commented, stepping forward. He was a red head with a tanned, freckled good-natured face. A wide grin was spread across his face. He also had a scar on his cheek, and a large shiny burn on his arm as he extended it to me. "Charlie," he introduced himself. He glanced at James. "Jamie's favorite uncle." James didn't even try to hide his scowl.
"Ainsly," I responded, shaking his hand firmly. His fingers felt calloused and blistered from years of working outdoors with dragons. He grinned at me and holding out his large hand after withdrawing it from mine.
"I heard you were involved in the Niffler roundup before Jamie's last Quidditch game." James cringed at the nickname again, but listened politely. "Tricky little buggers Nifflers. We actually had a similar issue that involved some Doxies."
"Oh gosh. Doxies. Did you get bitten?"
"Too many times to keep count," he waved like it wasn't a huge deal. "They infested so many draperies that we've got the Doxycide recipe memorized. Though we try to dispatch them with the Knockback Jinx as much as possible but that doesn't help sometimes."
"Exactly," he smiled, nodding his head. "Those Queens can be vicious. Have you had experience with Doxies?"
"Yes, a bit. I've made the Doxycide for our department but dragon livers are hard to come by here. I don't believe I could ever be a collector of creatures internal organs. Not to mention how vile smelling the potion really is."
"I can agree with you completely," Charlie replied. "Our tents almost always smell awful when we are out on the field. And cutting open or harming creatures was never an interest of mine."
"The history of Zygmunt Budge's development of the Doxycide has always fascinated me, though." I clapped my hands together, probably appearing like a overexcited dog. I blushed, turning to meet James' eyes because I just remembered his presence.
James smiled at me, encouraging me to continue my conversation with his uncle. I turned back to Charlie, but jumped when I felt someone touch my wrist. James leaned forward, his lips hovering at the shell of my ear. "Is this okay?" It was a casual touch, yet so gentle that it made me warm and tingly. I nodded, quietly, as my heart pounded. It felt okay at the moment, at least. James' smile was breathtaking, it reached his eyes and caused his cheeks to dimple. His thumb stroked a line across the inside of my wrist, causing a shiver to run up my spine.
"Aw yes," Charlie said, giving me a small knowing smile before continuing. "You're referring to when the Doxies inhabited Hermetray, correct?"
"Yes, um, his first attempt being not what he expected."
Charlie laughed. "Oh yes, making them fire-prone little beasts was definitely not his intention."
"Right!" I exclaimed and then forced myself to calm down. "Right. Having his house burn down was probably not in the plans. As well as the Doxies setting fire to the island."
"Nor the fact that he had to spend the night in the sea, breathing air through a hollow stick. Never had something like that happen personally, but there was this one time I came close with a Chinese Fireball. I got away from her nest, but walked into a Runespoor."
"A Runespoor? Those aren't native to Romania," I muttered with conviction.
"A bright witch and a lover of animals. Girl after my own heart." He glanced at James slyly, and added, "Sorry Jamie." James groaned.
"James hates it when I call him that." He winked at me with another bought of laughter. "So I stood, staring at three heads of the Runespoor. I didn't know what to do."
"What'd the right head do?"
Charlie had been taking a drink of Butterbeer, but his eyes lit up at my words. He pointed at me, gulping quickly. "Excellent question, Ainsly. It was hissing at the left and middle head."
"You didn't get bit, did you?"
"No, thankfully. I bolted as a newbie." Charlie smiled at me. We flew into another detailed discussion about the three separate heads of the Runespoor. James stood next to me, looking a bit lost at the conversation. He shot up an eyebrow in amusement when he saw me look at him. "You should visit in Romania. I'll set you up with some contacts."
"Really?" I stared at Charlie, stunned. "That would be amazing." I glanced at James and he smiled fondly down at me. His thumb traced a circle into my wrist.
Suddenly, Freddy called James from across the room, holding onto Teddy and Simon cheerfully. "Oi, Jamesy!" Or at least he tried to, but his words slurred, making it come out like Yamsie.
"Excuse me for a moment," James left after giving my wrist a gentle squeeze.
Charlie waited until James was out of ear shot before he turned to me with a devious smile. "So, how'd you meet our James?"
"Oh, we went to Hogwarts together." I shrugged my shoulders, truthful in my explanation.
I laughed. "Merlin, no. James didn't even know my name," I admitted. "But we had some classes together. Worked together on a project for Advanced Care for Magical Creatures and then nothing."
"He snubbed you?" Charlie appeared disappointed and even a little upset at my words.
"Not so much as snubbed," I reasoned, picking up a nearby drink and traced the edges of the glass as I thought. I'd never hated James at Hogwarts, we just lived in entirely different worlds. He was rich, popular, charismatic, athletic, and intelligent. Meanwhile, I was me. I meant nothing and was only remembered by my close friends and by professors. I was poor with a single mother raising me. After our first year flying lessons, I couldn't afford a broomstick to learn more on flying. So I rationalized that I would be afraid of heights anyways. Even if he had been interested, which was impossible, James and I would have never worked out. "We just ran in different circles."
Charlie seemed uneasy, his brow furrowed. "Isabelle Wood?" I gave him a look, and then glanced at the ceiling for the right words.
"Isabelle Wood was..." How did I put this nicely to someone who knew the Wood's well. Bloody hell, Isabelle's family (with the infamous Oliver Wood as her father) probably vacationed with the Potter/Weasley clan.
"She's awful," he supplied and I about choked. "You can admit it. The girl once talked to me for two hours straight about her authentic Antipodean Opaleye scaled purse."
I cringed. "But those are endangered, right?"
"Exactly," Charlie said with a sad smile. "There are only a few left now due to poaching."
"They are one of the most beautiful dragons and not particularly aggressive," I recalled. Charlie nodded solemnly. "That's terrible."
"Yes it is," he said. "I like to see that James' taste in women has improved, though."
"Oh we're not together," I argued. "He just...was really partial to the shrimp I was serving tonight?" It was about the lamest reason ever, but I was sticking to it.
Charlie seemed to find it hilarious, so much so that he couldn't stop laughing. "Sorry," he panted and held out his hand out. "It's just funny."
"Obviously," I remarked with sarcasm lanced in my tone.
"No. You don't understand, Ainsly." Charlie grinned widely, as if he were getting ready to deliver the punchline to a joke. "James hates shrimp."
I continued to just stare at him, skeptical. "But-"
"It's true," he stated.
"This is ridiculous," I responded, tentatively. Of course, James chose that moment to reunite with our conversation. The one that currently involved my eyes widened and fixed on Charlie Weasley, disbelief clearly written on my face.
"Okay, sorry about that. What'd I miss?" He glanced in between Charlie and I, a puzzled look taking over his face. James glared at his uncle, folding his arms across his chest. "Okay, what is this rubbish about?"
Charlie just shrugged his shoulders and laughed.
I don't own Harry Potter or anything identified from Fantastic Beasts.
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