Chapter 6 : Surprises
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Dear Girl with the Flowered Dress,
I hope your morning has been the bees knees. Did that make you smile? I'm a wealth of cheesiness sometimes. I saw you in the Great Hall this morning and you were immersed in reading the Sunday Prophet. There was an article on the newfound breed of a creature in Asia. What did you think of the discovery? I was also wondering how you are today? You appeared subdued this morning, more than just caught up in thoughts. Please remember that I'm here to listen if something is ever troubling you.
It's a lovely day outside, I'm planning to practice a bit of Quidditch later. Or go down for a walk near the Black Lake. However, some of those clouds have been lingering, so I hope the rain holds off until the evening. Enjoy the sun.
Godric, you're beautiful.
I folded away the letter with a small smile on my face. Well, at least that was something that cheered me up from my efforts to avoid James Potter. The last bit especially caused butterflies to flutter around in my stomach. Someone thought I was beautiful. From where I sat, I heard the familiar whistling of a tune and immediately busied myself.
"Hey," James said to me, standing in the doorway of the barn. He sounded cheerful. I ignored him, keeping my eyes on the rope I was untangling. "Um, hello?" I pretended I didn't hear him and walked out of the room without comment. It had began to rain slightly, which in Ireland we would have called it a soft rain. It seemed like Admirer wouldn't be taking a walk around the lake anytime soon. Pity.
My steps walked with purpose as I made it out the doorway of the barn. However, the rope seemed to have different plans when it snagged on a protruding nail, yanking me sideways. I landed in a painful angle on my right hip, mud streaked the whole way up my leg. My dress was muddy beyond belief. I just sat there, too pathetic for movement. "Blood hell, Ainsly. Are you alright?"
Like you care, I thought bitterly. It was expected that a loser, or freak, like myself would make a fool out of herself. I knocked away his outstretched hand and hauled myself up, only to slide on another muddy spot. In a rare fit of unbridled frustration, I lifted my hands and struck the ground with a thick sounding squish. Mud flew all over, including my face and James Potter's shoes. They looked new. I hoped they would stain, which was probably a petty thing to hope for.
"What is wrong?"
"Nothing," I whispered in a huff.
"Oi, James," a male voice called. "Are we still having Quidditch practice in this downpour?" Ryan stood at the top of the hill, peering down at us through the rain.
James ignored him for a moment, reaching down to lift me up before I had the chance to protest. He cast a quick warming charm on me, filling me with sweet heat to protect me from the frigidity.
"Forgive me," he mumbled, confusing me further, and ran up to Ryan. My eyes were focused on James' back, on his broad stature and casual gestures, that I didn't notice the pinning gaze of Ryan's blue eyes on me. After a moment James took off running down towards the Quidditch pitch. But Ryan just stood there, staring, and then he gave me a slow wave. I turned quickly, rushing to get Epona out of the rain.
Later in the evening, I went to the owlery to send a letter to Admirer. I could sense something up ahead of me, like someone was watching me from far above. A flash of a dark robe in the moonlight entered my view, causing the hairs on the back of my neck to rise. It looked as if someone had silently ran down from the balcony.
I tripped over something on the floor, falling to the ground for the second time that day right on my butt. Simultaneously, I let out a shriek, loud and ringing out of my mouth, and caused a nearby flock of owls to become startled. The owls fluttered around the owlery, disappearing into the darkness of the rafters high above me. "Oh Merlin," I exclaimed, placing a hand to my chest to calm my pounding heart. "You scared the piss out of me."
"Godric," James responded, tucking a old piece of parchment in his pocket. "You really can scream, huh?"
"Is this how you get your kicks?" I gestured angrily to him, hands flailing to cease my trembling. "You just lurk around in the dark, attempting to wig people out."
"Wig people out?" James' mouth curled up in amusement. "Is that an American term?"
"To scare them," I clarified hotly.
"I wasn't lurking." He read my yeah-right look. "Truly, I wasn't. I actually called your name about seven times. You just didn't hear me."
"Well, I bet you're happy you messed with me. Going to gloat?" I knew I was basically throwing an unjustified tantrum, but I was so angry at him. And so disappointed in myself for letting him get to me. Again.
"No," he said slowly, as if he were trying to calm a cornered creature. He held up his hands in surrender, eyes wide and unsmiling. "I'm not, Ainsly."
I ignored him, staring out at the night sky. The stars had come out, creating their chains and links for constellations. "I didn't see you."
I felt the weight of James' stare and folded my arms across my chest, hugging myself tightly. "I know," he said softly.
"You startled me," I whispered, both to him and myself.
"I'm sorry," James said, reaching out a hand to help me up, but I ignored it. "Ainsly, come on. Let me help you up."
"Why?" I kept my eyes on the ground, refusing to become captured by those eyes.
"Because I don't want to see you on the cold ground," he said it like a question, rather than a statement.
"No," I shook my head. "Why do you care?"
"Wait," James replied, squinting at me carefully. "Are you really mad at me?"
"Why do you care?" My voice was losing its bite, fading in strength. "Just leave."
"Did I do something?" He sounded confused, which was laughable. So I laughed.
I stared at him, flashing him a knowing look. "We are basically finished with our project."
That appeared to puzzle him further, his brow furrowing in concentration. "So what? I'm not allowed to talk to you afterwards, or now?"
I sighed, running a hand over my hair to detangle it. It was best to just stay silent.
"Sly?" The use of my nickname bristled me.
"Only my friends call me that," I said coldly.
He laughed sarcastically, a look of pure frustration on his face. James ran a hand through his hair, creating a beautiful disarray that would be worthy of a painting. "Right, right. It all makes perfect sense."
"I'm nothing to you, after all."
Realization seemed to click into his eyes, a look of anguish fixed on his face. "You heard us," James murmured. "Ainsly-"
"Just go, James." All I could think of was the words loser and freak, uttered over and over again, like tormenting beat of a drum.
"How very direct," James commented with a sardonic amusement. "But I suppose that's just like an American, eh?" He practically spat American like a filthy word. It almost felt worse than being called a Mudblood. It suggested that I didn't belong in his world. I remained silent, staring at him through new eyes.
"Ainsly, there are things that you cannot even hope to understand." His voice was stiff, arrogant even, and that other person switched in. "Think what you like then. It's not like you know anything about me anyways."
James hitched himself to the doorway, his mouth pressed in a firm line, and then he sauntered out of the room. James paused again, just beyond the doorway, but I just focused on the balcony and the night sky. Eventually he left, a dead look in his eyes as silence took over. It was when I heard his footsteps fade that I allowed the tears to fall.
Present (One Year Post-Hogwarts)
Dear Girl that I Ache for,
I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul...(Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities). Often I wonder what I did to stop receiving your letters, yet I press on and continue to send them to you. Perhaps I am merely hopeful. I miss your words, the happy look in your eyes, the dream of us meeting. I'm worried about you. Hope to hear from you. I will not give up hope.
It had been a while since I'd read that final letter. It still made my heart clench painfully. However, it had been necessary for me to stop writing. It had all been a trick, a joke to poke fun at the loser. Still...he'd had such kind words. It seemed it had been another writing them, not Ryan. Whomever it was...they had a way with words, a cruel weapon that struck the heart deeply. Admirer may not have given up on hope, but I certainly had.
"Sly!" Delilah called. She was reading from a book of poetry when I walked in the kitchen. James was sat on one of our chairs, while Delilah leaned against the counter "Is love a fancy or a feeling? No." She said it determinedly, with a whole lot of drama.
"Um," I hesitated. But Delilah just held up her hand muttering a quick, "sshhhhh." James raised his eyebrows, biting his lower lip to keep from laughing.
Delilah straighten her frame, placing her hands on the counter as she read. She read the entirety of Sonnet VII by Hartley Coleridge.
"Wow," James commented as silence filled the air.
"Thank you, Delilah. That was... lovely," I said softly. Then I turned to James, giving him a questioning glance. "Not to be rude, but why are you here?"
James didn't appear to be the least bit offended. He stood up with a wide grin on his handsome face. "I thought I might surprise you?"
Delilah let out a groan. We both turned towards her, and she was sending James a pointed look. "She hates surprises," she whispered to him, as if I couldn't hear them.
James turned towards me, curious. "You do?"
I nodded my head solemnly.
"Well," said James, as his eyes searched the ceiling for answers. "I was going to take you flying, and then I also I brought a picnic."
"How do you know I don't have to work today?" There was a cough and I saw Delilah fidgeting with a guilty look on her face. "Oh."
"You still don't have to," James explained, but there was hope in his eyes. "But I thought you'd enjoy it." His eyes went to the window, gazing at the beautiful day outside. "Come on, Ainsly. Don't you ever allow yourself a day off?" And then his eyes locked on our television. "Or we could just stay in? I could bring the picnic up and we could watch the tele," he offered, rambling on. I don't think I'd seen him so...out of his element.
"Fine," I said, and rolled my eyes as Delilah gave me thumbs ups. "Just let me grab my jacket, ya?"
"Of course," he shined another easy smile at me. "Take your time."
"Not the one that makes you look like a runaway," Delilah called and I folded the faux leather jacket over my arm just to spite her. She rolled her eyes when she saw me, but smiled brightly. "Fine, look like a teenage runaway from a Lifetime movie. See if I care." I looked down at my outfit, which was a red dress that reached just above the knee. It was hardly the case of a fashion disaster so I just shrugged, unbothered by her comment.
"I think you look nice," James commented, clearing his throat. He glanced at the morning glory tucked into my hair. "Very pretty."
"Ah Potter," Delilah began, ceasing her progress in the poetry book she had open on her lap. James nodded for her to continue, eyes attentive. "She comes back the way she left. If she's harmed in any way, or we have to send a search party, then your balls are going to be on the chopping block." Her words were serious, the warning setting me on edge from a previous experience that caused her and Savannah to find me in the Forbidden Forest. The warning disturbing because it had happened before.
James swallowed. However, he seemed more troubled at the details of the warning. "Of course. I'd never harm her. I hope you know that."
Delilah considered him for a long moment, nodded at me, and then returned to reading her book. "Have fun," she chirped.
When we made it outside, James cleared his throat again. He seemed a bit nervous. It was strange to see when he'd been so confident, and even egotistical, when we were at Hogwarts together. "That was oddly cryptic of Delilah," he said. "Does that happen often?"
"Don't know," I shrugged. I didn't go out with very many men. Not that I'd label this as a date, or going out either. You know what they say about assumptions. But technically, I reasoned, we were going outside somewhere. Going outdoors, going out...Merlin, my brain needed to shut off sometimes.
"I never had that intense of a threat when taking a girl out before," he said with a smile. Butterflies erupted in my stomach at his implication. Was this a date of sorts? "Even when I was with Isabelle, and Oliver Wood can be a frightening man. Not just when it comes to Quidditch." And goodbye nice feeling. Isabelle. He must have registered my silence and winced.
"Sorry," James apologized, rubbing the back of his neck. "Isabelle wasn't always...difficult."
I snorted. "Difficult is one way of putting it."
"Believe it or not she used to be a tomboy, loved Quidditch as much as her dad."
"Is this the part where you tell me she's changed now?" I frowned, concentrating on the sidewalk in front of me. "Because you're barking up the wrong tree."
"Well, no...." he hestitated. "But people do change. They can, anyways." Something in his tone was off, so I turned to stare at him.
"You mean like you have?" That got his attention. James looked at me for a very long time, like he wanted to tell me something.
"Yes," he swallowed. "I have changed. I'm trying not to be the conceited, obnoxious prat I played up to be at Hogwarts."
"I never called you obnoxious," I pointed out. He laughed.
"No, you didn't. But you had a way of looking straight through people, while only saying very few words." He looked into my eyes, intently searching. "You still do."
"Hmm," I hummed. "People talk too much sometimes." James considered my words, but I added on. "Perhaps that's why I like creatures."
"Ya?" He pressed, curious.
"They are just honest," I clarified. "I draw their picture and there is no political bullcrap wrapped up in who they are."
"The messed up hierarchy of Hogwarts spoiled many chances for people to become friends." James glanced over at me intentionally. I knew what he meant.
"Yes," I said carefully. "Just look at Savannah and Simon."
"Or you and me," James replied sullenly, and then with a flicker it was gone. Banished by a smile. "We are here, by the way."
Glancing around me, I noticed that we were in an abandoned parking lot. I raised my eyebrows at the graffitied buildings that lined this side of the street. This was a bad sign, which should definitely have my creep-o-meter flying off the charts. However, there was no bad feeling in my gut...perhaps I should speak to my therapist about it being broken? James must have sensed my apprehension, but just took my hand and led me up the stairs of one of the ruined houses. It seemed abandoned. My heart began to pound. "Potter," I warned, and took deep breaths to remain calm. The inside of the house was worse.
He just squeezed my hand, "hold on. Just wait." Those words couldn't have been worse to say to me. I bolted as soon as our feet passed the threshold, running until I shut myself into a closet. As I'd ran up a staircase, I heard James call out to me. He sounded panicked. I heard footsteps approaching the closet and began rocking back and forth, attempting to drown out those words.
"Shhh," someone had whispered to me before, leading me down a darken path. "Hold on. Just wait a second. You're gonna love this..." the voice had reassured me. "It's a surprise, love." My vision had been blurred then, just as it was beginning to blur now. I needed to focus.
"Ainsly?" I heard James' voice and covered my ears, rocking harder. "I'm coming in." He opened the door slowly, a look of pain appeared on his face. "I'm going to sit next to you," he stated. "Would that be okay?" I choked, nodding my head quickly, but kept my eyes shut. He slowly sat down next to me, and I felt his tentativeness. I became acutely aware of how small the space was, but for some reason I didn't feel as anxious. It was passing. "Ainsly?"
"Yeah," I whispered faintly, opening my eyes. I identified items in the closet and articles of clothing on me to help me relax.
"Why are we sitting in a closet?"
"I never liked 'why' questions," I stated blandly. "They suggest judgment."
"Ainsly?" He said after a beat of silence. "You say the strangest things sometimes."
"I know," I replied, and suddenly I was becoming very embarrassed.
"Ainsly," he spoke my name again. I turned to look at him and nodded my head slowly. "Can I hold your hand?" I stared at him in the dark, bewildered.
"Sure," I offered my hand and realized that it was trembling again. I hoped that he wouldn't notice.
James hand was gentle as his fingers laced through mine. "You really hate surprises, huh?"
I nodded my head, slow and careful. "Yes." He wasn't going to make me tell him what was going on? I realized, in overwhelming relief, that he was just being there for me. I focused on him, instead. James leaned back against the closet and remained silent. I could hear the faint sound of his breathing, as his thumb stroked the back of my hand. I could smell the soapy scent of his skin to a sweeter smell from his hair.
"Can I tell you about where I was going to take you?"
I nodded my head. "You're not going to kill me and bury my body are you?" I joked with him, trying to lighten the situation.
"Of course not," he replied, shaking his head. He squeezed my hand comfortingly. "Let me describe outside for you... there is a big Quidditch Pitch, a garden off to the side, there are a few picnic tables, and trees..." he trailed off, recalling.
"How?" I asked a bit skeptical.
"Magic," he smiled. "Dad allowed us to have another base to practice out of the way of reporters. Muggles can't see it either."
I nodded, silent as ever. He probably wanted to take me home to get rid of me now.
"Can I show you it when you feel ready?" He asked it so tentatively. I frowned, confused.
"You don't want me to leave?" Now it was his turn to stare at me in silence, apparently.
"Why would I want that?" His brow furrowed, the outline of his face in the dark frowning.
I shrugged, avoiding his eyes in my embarrassment. James tilted my chin up to meet his eyes, his fingertips resting lightly against my skin. "Come with me?" He smiled kindly, and in the dark his white teeth were visible. "Please."
"Alright," I nodded and it caused his fingertips to slip, grazing softly against my cheek. My heart leaped into my throat, pounding loudly in my ears. James' other hand was still laced with my own. James offered me his other hand and lightly kicked open the closet door. He pulled me to my feet as I stood up with him. James held my hand as we walked down the stairs, telling me where we were going as we went. Finally, when we were outside, I felt completely at ease.
Of course James had been serious when he'd said there was a Quidditch pitch... I just hadn't expected it to be so...massive. Uppers, my mind muttered with a mental eye roll.
The field was cover in wildflowers and sheltered by thick trees. And a quilted blanket was folded up on picnic table, seated next to a basket. Two brooms were leaning against the table next to it. I turned to James, "You really planned this, huh?" James presented me with a sheepish smile.
"Want to try flying?" He glanced towards the pitch, a juvenile smile sliding on his face. He gabbed his broomstick, spinning it around deftly. I hesitated, unsure how to tell him that I hadn't tried flying since first year. James glanced at me, concerned. "Oh, I forgot to ask. Are you afraid of heights?" This was my out if I wanted it, but James just seemed so eager yet concerned. Instead, I tried to explain what was going on in my head.
"So you haven't tried flying since first year," he sounded dumbfounded. I suppose for a professional Quidditch player it sounded unheard of. "But they had spare brooms even if you didn't have the-" James stopped himself, biting his lip.
"Money?" I supplied, and gave a small smile. "It's alright to say it, James. I grew up pretty poor."
"I know," he muttered and then winced slightly.
I raised my eyebrows at him. "You do?"
James appeared slightly guilty, ruffling the back of his hair nervously. "Well ya, you kinda shouted it at me during your...more vocal times. That others didn't have such wealth to live off of." A flash of sadness shined in his eyes for a moment. "In your defense, I was being a prat at the time."
"Aye," I recalled the memory with a sigh. "Perhaps both of us had some issues." And still do, I reminded myself bitterly.
"Maybe," he reasoned with a sad smile. "How about I take you flying? I could teach you, as well." I glanced skeptically down at James' broom, which he'd placed between his legs to prepare for kickoff.
I nodded my head, quietly consenting. And then I find myself seated in front of James Potter, his arms shielding me in from falling. My back was pressed against his strong chest, as his voice spoke into my ear sending shivers down my arms and neck. I felt faint and shaky, and...alive. I laughed, holding up an arm to cut through the air. Is this how Hippogriffs feel? I must have asked it out loud because a rumbling laugh came from behind me. James placed his lips at the shell of my ear, "I've wondered the same. I think Epona would want to go higher, though."
At some point I decided I was slowing James down, or that I had enough flying practice for that day. My feet touched the ground with James carefully helping me off the broomstick. And then I watched him loop and spin, flying up higher, and then diving down. He glided through the air, a carefree look on his face, like he truly belonged there. I swung myself up into a tree, losing my shoes so that my feet dangled over a branch. Propping my arms up on an overhead branch, I just sat and my watched him.
I lost sight of him as he dipped up into the clouds above and sighed. What have I been thinking? He's a Quidditch star, not to mention entitled to the Potter fame and fortune. Sure, he seemed to have changed, but that didn't mean that my situation had. Even if James Potter was truly interested in me, it didn't mean we would work out. He would be slumming with me, when he so clearly had the pick of any Upper (or not) woman.
A gentle tap on on my arm interrupted the grim thoughts. "Would you fancy some lunch?" James had stood, and was looking up at me expectantly from the base of the Willow tree, tapping my arm with the butt of his broom.
I smiled down at him, casting away the old thoughts. "Only if you're making it."
James nodded, smirking deviously. "You say that now." He wagged his finger at me. "I could be a terrible cook."
"I think I'll take my chances," I laughed. It was better just to enjoy this moment while it lasted, I reasoned. Delilah was always telling me to live in the moment.
Seated on the ground, with the blanket spread out, we picked at a fruit salad, sandwiches, and a treacle tart. James poured some Pumpkin Juice for each of us and stacked a Cauldron Cake on my plate. I flashed James a look of surprise, they were my favorite. He grinned coyly. "Delilah?" I asked, but he shook his head.
"You always got them at Honeydukes," he blushed slightly and shrugged.
"What do you fancy?" His eyes lingered on my face, and I could have imagined it but they seemed to focus longer than necessary on my lips.
"Canary creams?" His eyes sparkled with laughter. "Ever tried them?"
I sent him a playful glare, pushing on his shoulder lightly. "You know very well that I did. Your stupid prank in Sixth Year saw to that."
He sent me an apologetic look, reclining back and folded his arm behind his head. "I really was a prat," he sighed.
"But that doesn't seem to be you now," I reasoned softly.
His eyes searched mine, "I'm trying not to be that guy anymore." I didn't know how to respond to that, it sounded like the thought was so raw for him. James smiled, ruefully. "I like chocolate frogs, in all seriousness."
"If you make a cliché comment about your name I will throw this Cauldron Cake at you." I warned with my hand on the treat.
He smiled deviously, "As you know, my name is Siri-" James' words were silenced by me shoving my half-eaten Cauldron Cake in his mouth. He laughed through the mouthful and tried to tackle me, but I took off running down the field. With chocolate on my hands and a smile on my face, I screeched as James caught up to me. He picked me up at the waist and I laughter harder. All those negative thoughts from earlier passed by like clouds in the sky.
I don't own Harry Potter, Charles Dickens, or Sonnet VII
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