Chapter 7 : Fights and Flowers
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The sun was beginning to rise, light filtering through the barn windows as I peered down at my sketchpad. Epona's sleeping form was half done, so I must have nodded off at some point. Rubbing my eyes, I tried to straighten my stiff back and limbs. It became clear that falling asleep on the wooden bench had not been a good idea.
"I'm telling you he's not down here," Fred Weasley sang.
"Oh shut up, Fred." I listened closely to identify the other male voice. "He's been down here practically every other day."
Ryan and Freddy were talking about James, that much I gathered after listening for a few more minutes.
"I just don't get it," Ryan grumbled. "It's just a Hippogriff. And now he's so sullen all the time. It's practically a bloody bird."
"I don't think it's about the Hippogriff, mate." Freddy replied, his voice sounded much closer.
"Of course, he spoke with you about it. I'm always out of the bloody loop." I sensed the scowl on his face as Ryan said it.
"Simmer down, mate. We're cousins, and you're acting like we're shagging." I heard Fred laugh stomp off towards the castle.
Ryan hadn't responded and it was quiet, so I thought he'd left, too. With a sigh, I packed up my things and made to walking out of the barn.
"Oh hello," Ryan said, causing me to jump and drop my bag. He smiled sweetly. "Are you the Hippogriff?"
I raised an eyebrow at him, remaining silent. Ryan walked up closer to me, eyeing my body up and down lazily. I squirmed under his piercing blue gaze, clearly demonstrating my discomfort. Something just wasn't right about his presence, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
Ryan leaned into the doorway, blocking my way out with two strong arms. "James around?" His eyes roamed the inside of the room, like I'd stowed James away somewhere amongst the hay bales. Ryan inched his body further into the doorway, forcing me to take a step backwards. "Ainsly, right?" I nodded, staying silent as I carefully studied him. "James mentioned as much. Quiet and...pretty."
I swallowed audibly. "He talked about me?"
Ryan smirked. "Ya, a few times. Still hung up on Isabelle, though, that one. So I'd be careful if I were you." He must have noticed my face change because he frowned. "No sense getting hurt, right?"
I squinted at him. "There wasn't anything to be hurt about," I forced out.
"Right," Ryan said. "Good. See you around?" I hummed an acknowledgement and avoided eye contact as I excused myself, almost grazing Ryan's body on my way out of the doorway. Boy was wigging me out. I walked quickly up the hill to the castle, feeling like I was being watched with each step I took.
Throughout the day, I continued to avoid James, but it seemed that it was unnecessary because he seemed to be doing the same. It was almost dinner time when I was rereading Admirer's latest letter in the library, sitting around procrastinating my homework.
Dear Girl with the Sweet Tooth,
Did you try the chocolate wands I sent you? It's a new kind that just came out with orange in it. I hope you like it. Your latest letter made me so happy, so much so I'm afraid I appeared a grinning fool at practice today. Also, I read the newest book by Newt Scamander like you suggested, and it was brilliant. Are you going to go into Magizoology when we graduate Hogwarts? I bet you'd be fantastic. I'm uncertain what I want to do... Hope to hear from you soon.
I'd come to like Admirer so much now... His letters were always so kind and thoughtful, it made me almost want to cry.
"Fred Weasley!" I heard Delilah before I saw her. She stormed into the library with a head full of magenta hair. Wide eyed, I turned to Savannah, who looked unimpressed with the events as she tried to finish her Ancient Runes essay. I nudged her body slightly and poked her with the feather side of a quill, but she still remained unresponsive. So I just rolled my eyes and glanced over to where Delilah was, hoping she didn't get in trouble. I felt something nudge my foot, and Savannah gestured for me to go handle Delilah before all hell broke loose. I meant to protest, but Savannah became absorbed in her essay once again.
"Fine," I sighed. "But if I die it's on you."
"Mhmm," she murmured unhelpfully.
I walked over to where Delilah had Freddy cornered, she appeared to be ready to blow a gasket. "You bumbling thunder twat!" Well, that was certainly a good start.
Simon, James, Isabelle, and a bunch of Isabelle's friends were seated with Freddy. This was definitely looking worse by the minute.
"Wotcher, Ollivander. Might I say you're looking lovely this afternoon." Fred Weasley smiled innocently, and casually gestured in Delilah's direction. "Did you do something different with your hair?"
Delilah pulled out her wand, ready to hex him into oblivion with a pretty scowl on her face. I quickly placed a hand on her arm, attempting to persuade her not to do it. "Not worth it, Delilah." Her back stiffened, arm still outstretched and jaw clenched. "Prefect," I reminded her, gentle and calm.
She sighed, nodding her head slowly when she met my eyes. Then she turned back to Freddy, "Detention, Weasley."
"But tomorrow's our game against the Puffs," Freddy objected. James glared at him, laying into him about this not being an excuse to miss practice tonight. James acted like I wasn't even there, avoiding the space that my body filled.
"J," Isabelle cooed. "How about you just delay practice until Freddy gets out of detention? We could spend some time together." Spend some time together, I mentally rolled my eyes at the innuendo for snogging each other's faces off. Or shagging. He had more brains than to accept-
"Sure," James smirked at Isabelle and practically hauled her into his lap. What a fool I'd been to think he'd react otherwise.
"Ew, creepy freak alert." I awoke out of my pensive state, blinking stupidly at the table. Delilah stared at me with a troubled look on her face. She must have found a way to vanish the pink hair because it was back to her normal red locks. "Seriously, you need to leave before we catch loser."
"What did you say?" Delilah spat the words at Isabelle, venom on her tongue. "You don't talk to her like that, you bint."
"Why I'm just stating the obvious-"
"Shut it, Isabelle." Surprisingly it was Simon who spoke up in defense of me. But I kept my expression neutral, forcing myself to examine James' reaction. His eyes met mine for a fraction of a second, a flash of regret in his gaze before it vanished. I don't know why I felt so disappointed. Turning away, I decided to go to dinner early and then go to the Forbidden Forest before it became dark.
You can always tell when the forest becomes unwelcome because an eery feeling settles into the trees, like a red flag of caution. So when that time came around, it was time to leave. My feet carried me slowly from the Forbidden Forest, my sketchpad thumping lightly against my side as I walked. The sun was fading, a caste of colors against the darkening sky that made me pause. So beautiful and fleeting. Feeling inspired, I dropped to the ground and just stared for a while to think. Not long afterwards, I had my arm tucked under my head and spread out on the grass. There were crickets chirping in the background, deafening any minuscule sound in the distance. When I turned my eyes to the sky again, it made me feel small and delicate amongst the mass of glittering stars.
For some reason I felt in the mood to hum the tune to Star of the County Down. I kicked off my shoes and shed my socks, relishing in my peaceful mood with my eyes closed. My bare feet kissed the coolness of the grass and I smiled, whilst I continued humming.
"She looked so sweet in her two bare feet," a voice interrupted, singing softly. My eyes found James' broad form in the moonlight, his face turned towards the stars. His hair gleamed as if it had been recently washed. He tucked an old piece of parchment in his pocket, which felt like a familiar action.
"It's from," I corrected him with my eyes lingering on the sky, as well. "She looked so sweet from her two bare feet..."
"Huh," he smiled, ruffling the back of his hair. James flopped down on the grass next to me after another minute, heaving out a sigh. "That's Sirius, you know." He pointed upwards, gesturing in the right direction.
I just stared at him, silent in my disbelief.
"I like to think he's watching over me sometimes. I don't know why I tell you these things.... You're still mad at me, huh?" And something clicked in my brain. I was only good enough to speak to when there was no one else around. A few minutes of silence passed and James rose from his spot on the ground. "Want me to walk you back?"
Getting up myself, I shook my head. A silly part of me fantasized that James was actually Admirer, but their differences were becoming apparent. We had begun walking up the hill when I had the thought. No, he couldn't be Admirer... But then I grabbed the back of his jumper, stopping him from walking forward. James raised an eyebrow at me. "Something wrong?"
I let the jumper go, realizing he truly didn't think anything was amiss. The way that he was looking at me, it was the forced politeness of a stranger. Not someone who I had thought was becoming my friend, despite my fight with him. And it definitely didn't have the affectionate tone of Admirer.
"No," I sighed, shaking my head. "Nothing." I repeated the statement to myself, attempting to be more convinced. But...if that were so, why did I feel like my heart hurt?
Present (One Year Post-Hogwarts)
"Hey," James stood outside the Beastologist office with the falling leaves in the background. "I brought you some hot chocolate."
"Oh," I stared at him holding two cups in his large hands. "Wow."
He grinned at me, but then it faltered when I didn't take the cup outstretched towards me. "What? You don't like hot chocolate? I'm sorry, I should have asked."
"No," I shook my head. He frowned, an awkward look morphing on his face. "I mean yes. No and yes." I bit my lip because this wasn't coming out right. I ran a hand over my face and through my hair. "I like hot chocolate."
"Right!" He beamed and pushed the cup into my hand. He blushed lightly when some of the liquid splashed down the back of my hand, dripping softly onto the sidewalk like the first sign of rain. "I'm sorry. Godric...forgive me. Did that burn you?" He set the cups down beside him on a nearby bench and ran a hand over his face. When had he gotten as awkward as me? It was bizarre to see.
I shook my head, smiling softly at him. "I'm okay, James." At my words, he peered at me through his long lashes. "You just surprised me."
He nodded his head, avoiding my eyes again and took a drink of his hot chocolate. I examined my own cup and traced the lettering of my name, which had the letter y turned into an blooming flower. "That's so neat," I observed and with a flick of his wand, James charmed the flower to open and close over and over again. I laughed, showing teeth as I grinned at him. The action caused him to gape at me, his eyes glued to my face. I coughed, suddenly self-conscious and shy.
"You never show your teeth when you smile," James observed and I just shrugged. "It's nothing bad, I just realized that you never do. It's really stunning." Warmth radiated through me.
"Oh...um, thank you." James awarded me with another wide grin in response. I took a sip from my cup and then cleared my throat. "Were you in the area?"
"Um, sort of..." He glanced around, eyes pinned on something in the distance. "Oh a market! I think they have plants. We should get one."
"Yeah," James said cheerfully. "Aren't these great?" He pointed to the Bleeding Hearts, beautiful and delicate in their pinks and whites.
"Yeah," I replied, softly, a little confused. "Have you ever heard the story behind them?"
"No," he shook his head. "What is it?"
"My grandmother once told me a story about a prince who pursued a maiden. However, the maiden took no notice of him, despite his efforts to get her attention. The prince gave her gifts, but she didn't respond to the two pink bunnies he'd presented. He presented her with another gift, yet, she merely sighed so he came back the next day. The prince was hopeful when he presented her with a pair of enchanted earrings. He held the two long white petals up to her ears, but the maiden still failed to notice." James leaned forward, listening intently. "Now the prince was heartbroken... and he felt that he could no longer try to win the heart of the maiden. So he rose up, unsheathed his dagger, and stabbed himself in the heart."
"What about the maiden?" He sounded sad.
"When the prince stabbed himself in the heart, she realized that she loved him, too. Too late, though. She was heartbroken, as well. It's said that the bleeding heart is hers' continuing to bleed endlessly." I felt like that was the longest amount of time that I'd spent talking with James, whilst he only listened.
"That is one of the most depressing things I've ever heard," James said, and feigned outrage. "How could you? How could your grandmother. That's bloody tragic."
I shrugged, unhelpfully, and laughed.
"Okay..." James glanced at the flowers, lightly stroking a petal. "So not these ones?" Uncertainty was laced in his tone. "Too depressing."
"These are actually one of my favorites," I considered. "There is so much unspoken history with flowers."
"But doesn't it's meaning make you sad?"
"Not at all," I smiled, inhaling the flowers scent. "You can't let the premonition of losing something hang over you. It would keep you from enjoying its beauty."
"Very insightful," he grinned and grasped my hand loosely. In his other hand, James discretely charmed the bud of a Bleeding Heart to open and close carefully. "But I get it, there is mystery about plants, creatures, and books. A hidden story that makes each beautiful in its own way."
"Now look who's being insightful," I pointed out with a laugh. "You know, I think maybe we could have been friends at Hogwarts, James."
James paused. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," I smiled. "We had our good days, and you're not as much of a prat as I thought you were."
"Was that..." he trailed off and added a wide grin. "Was that almost a compliment, Sly?" He frowned, thinking after he said my nickname. He avoided eye contact, as if he expected something bad to happen.
"I suppose it was a compliment," I replied. "And only my friends call me, Sly. Are we...friends, James?" It was my turn to be nervous, picking up my cup of hot chocolate to busy my hands. I felt his eyes on me, and then his hand at the small of my back.
"I thought so," James explained tentatively. "Am I right?"
Relief eased into my body, a smile spreading on my face. I'd been smiling so much lately that my face was starting to hurt. "Yes, I meant what I said about us being able to be friends at Hogwarts."
"I like that we are friends now, Sly." James thought carefully before continuing, biting his lip nervously. "I don't think we could have been friends at Hogwarts, though." My smile faltered, as my stomach dropped.
"Oh," I commented. "Right."
James looked at me a long time, like he wanted to tell me something. Instead he swallowed, shaking his head so that his hair fell in his eyes. I resisted the urge to push the lock off of his forehead. "Ainsly, I like you. But I was a prat at Hogwarts. I turned into the obnoxious, conceited git that everyone expected me to be."
"But that's not you," I stated firmly, taking a drink of my hot chocolate, only to find it empty.
James smiled sadly at me. "I told you that I'm trying not to be that guy anymore."
"Then that's what counts," I sighed, then smiled up at him. "And I like you, too, James." We both just stood there, grinning at each other like a pair of fools. Then my watch alarm beeped noisily, interrupting the moment.
James cleared his throat. "Are you busy?"
"Um," I paused, glancing down at my watch. I had about fifteen minutes until the therapy session I'd scheduled. "I actually have an appointment, like now. We're working on a garden later at our place later, though, if you were at all interested?"
"Sure," he said happily. "I'd love to."
I didn't think he'd show up, but I had prepared Delilah and Savannah anyways in case he brought Freddy and Simon. We were working on the garden, as in hands deep in soil and sweaty from the sun kind of gardening. This is the state that James, Freddy and Simon decided to drop in on us in.
"Hey Delilah," Freddy called out loudly. "I want to grow tomatoes, any suggestions?" His tone was teasing. I sent a warning look to Delilah, pleading with her to be nice.
"Choke on them," she gritted out, pounding away with her shovel at the dirt.
"Oi, fine, no salsa for you then." Freddy pouted at her lack of attention, then he turned to me. "I always knew we'd find you in a meadow sometime, Ainsly." I laughed, trying to get some of the dirt off of my cheek, but it was a lost cause. James jumped our small fence and walked over to me, staring at my face.
"I probably look like a gnome, huh?" I said to him, grimly. He tucked a flyaway lock of hair behind my ear.
"You'd make a cute garden gnome," James commented. "I must ask if you bite, though?"
I shook my head, grinning like a fool. "No history of biting here."
"Phew," James said, dramatically swiping the back of his hand across his forehead.
"You bleeding imbecile!" Delilah lunged at Freddy, ready to jump the fence to get to him.
"A bleeding imbecile? Why does it have to be a bleeding imbecile, eh?" Freddy pointed at Delilah accusingly. "Always with the damn extended adjectives."
"What?" Delilah was flustered by the comment. "I've barely spoken to you in years, Weasley."
"A bloke never forgets a bird calling him a thunder twat," Freddy commented. Delilah just released a sound of frustration.
"Bumbling," I added, earning some questioning stares. "She called you a bumbling, thunder twat."
"Right well," Simon offered up to the silence that followed. I was a little surprised that he hadn't ventured to the kitchen to find Savannah.
"She right, actually." Fred smiled as he recalled. "Delilah did call me that. Like I said, fancies adjectives. Bumbling...hey, doesn't that mean clumsy?" He frowned at Delilah, who rolled her eyes up to the ceiling without reply. "I am not clumsy."
"It also means incompetent," I stated, trying to be helpful. James seemed to be a few seconds away from putting his fist in his mouth to keep from laughing.
The two barely acknowledged my comment and began to argue. "Want some tea?" I asked James and Simon. "I think Savannah made some biscuits, as well." They nodded, casting one last concerned look at Freddy, who was running away from Delilah because she was turning the watering hose on him.
"You crazy bird!"
I don't own Harry Potter, or the song Star of the County Down. Thanks everyone for all your support! Review please!
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