Chapter 8 : Invitations
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It was raining again. I watched as rain drops raced down the window of the barn.
"A faint clap of thunder...clouded skies...perhaps rain comes?" I quoted as I heard someone walk through the doorway.
"What's that from?" James cast a drying spell to get rid of the wetness that clung to his jumper. If you looked closer, you'd notice the etchings of an official Holy Head Harpies jersey. It fit him quite nicely.
"It's a tanka," I murmured distractedly. My hand arched as I captured the shape of the raindrop in my sketchbook. I was working on details to divert my attentions, not wanting to think so much today.
James gave me a strange look. "What's a tanka?"
"Oh. It's from Muggle Japanese, like a short poem." I continued to sketch as I talked. I didn't want to get into the added fact that I was a huge Muggle anime nerd, as well, so I left that out.
"Ahh," James grunted, plopping down into onto the bench next to me. He loosened his tie and untucked his uniform shirt, running a careless hand through his dark hair. The untamed locks spewed raindrops everywhere, including the page of my sketchbook. He cringed at the blot on my attempted art. "Sorry about that."
I shrugged, directing a drying spell without batting an eyelash. "It's fine." It really wasn't, but he didn't need to know how long I'd been working on the sketch anyways. He probably didn't care.
"Is that rain?" I nodded, which caused him to heave a big sigh. "Not going to talk to me, huh?"
I turned my body away from him, feeling my shoulder skim the cold glass of the window. James boldly grasped my feet, dragging them into his lap, much to my obvious disbelief. He smiled at me, a small but genuine smile that softened the features of his handsome face. "I think we got off on the wrong foot," he muttered. I would have laughed at the cheesiness of the joke, but I didn't see the point if I wasn't going to exist to him in the next breath.
I pulled my feet out of his lap and kept my face neutral. "Careful. You don't want catch anything," I said stiffly. Like loser, my bitterness added in my head. James cringed.
"About that," he started and paused, struggling how to put whatever he was thinking into words.
I held up my hand, peering out the window once again. "Save it."
"I know that I seem like a-" He broke off, avoiding looking at me as his eyes searched the rain outside.
"An egotistical prat," I supplied, folding my arms across my chest.
James deflated at my words. "Yes, I suppose that's so." I gave him a hard look, and remained silent. In frustration, he ruffled his already messy hair again. I felt a smoldering heat rush through me as my eyes took him in, while another part wanted to scream at him. I was hurt, but unsurprised. I was torn at the beauty and complexity of James Potter, but also firm in my decision to chuck him out of my life.
"Do me a favor, James." I spoke softly, standing up and placing my sketchbook in my bag. I had his full, undivided attention now, as he waited for me to continue. "Forget me." And then I walked out of the barn, missing the pained expression that spread across James' face as he stared after me.
I became soaked from walking up to the castle in the downpour. Somehow I ended up in a corridor that was located on the basement level of the castle. I stopped near the painting of a bowl of fruit, which entranced my thoughts for some reason. The pear appeared to be painted oddly, which was something that always struck me as odd. I inspected it a bit closer, frowning up at it as the sound of my clothes dripping echoed from the floor.
"You have to tickle it," a voice informed me, and I jumped at the intrusion. Ryan smirked at me and wiggled his eyebrows. "I meant the pear, love."
"Right," I replied blushing, and glanced at the painting again.
Ryan must have read into my skepticism because he reached forward and tickled the pear. I stared at him, stunned and let out a gasp when the pear laughed. In a blink of an eye, the pear morphed into a door knob. He opened the door, gesturing for me to go through with a gentleman's bow. "After you, my lady."
I rolled my eyes and ignored the uncomfortable feeling in the out of my stomach, curiosity peaking my interest as I stepped through the door. The path lead me to an enormous room, which had high ceilings and a great brick fireplace roaring at the other end of the room.
"It's pretty neat, eh?" Ryan spoke closer to my ear than necessary. I shivered, which caused his smirk to become more prominent. The shiver was different than when I was around James... I wanted to shake myself for even comparing the two. They were both egotistical prats.
"Want something to drink?" Ryan asked, wrapping a casual arm around me. I declined the offer, shrugging him off of me easily. As I was examining the mass of brass pots on the shelves, I didn't notice that Ryan disappeared for a moment. He returned holding two mugs in his hands, smiling down at me. "I got us some hot apple cider." Without thinking, I took a sip after he pressed the warm mug into my hands. I tasted sweet warmth and then the sharp bitterness of alcohol on my tongue. I spat it out back into the drink, cringing at the awful taste. He sent me an apologetic look. "Sorry, I didn't mention it was spiked, huh?" I threw him a dirty look. He laughed and took a long swallow from his mug. "You need to learn to relax, Ainsly. You're so tense all the time."
I was about to object when a small cough came from below my elbow. A house elf stared up at me with an eager expression. "Can Tinkie get you anything?"
I blinked down at her and smiled. "Do you have hot chocolate?"
"Yes!" Tinkie cried happily. I followed her as she shuffled along, watching her carefully. I stood beside her and mimicked her movements, placing a mug on the counter as the water boiled. Tinkie sent me a curious look, but didn't say anything.
"Would you mind joining me?" I asked Tinkie, which caused her to beam brightly. She allowed me to mix her hot chocolate and carry it over to the table near the fireplace. She hesitated when her eyes focused on Ryan, who leaned casually against the wall next to the fireplace. He had a confused expression fixed on his face as he watched us. "Please sit," I offered Tinkie, setting down the mugs of hot chocolate and sat.
"Tinkie...probably shouldn't," the house elf was obviously nervous.
"Whatever you want," I said kindly and drank a long gulp from my mug.
Tinkie rewarded me with a small smile, and took mug that I made for her. "Perhaps Tinkie will sit for a little while. Thank you, Miss..."
"Ainsly, but you can call me Sly if you want." Ryan scoffed from the side, and I narrowed my eyes at him briefly before turning back to Tinkie.
"Thank you, Miss Sly," Tinkie said with a timid smile. We sat in comfortable silence, drinking hot chocolate with the fire crackling in the background. Tinkie and I chatted a little about her job in the Hogwarts Kitchen. It turned out that Tinkie had a fancy for dessert decorating. The smile that Tinkie had in her face as she talked about it lit up her entire face. I made a mental note to ask her another time if I could sketch her while she worked.
When we walked out of the Kitchens, Ryan was noticeably swaying and rambunctious. Therefore, he was pretty pissed from many a spiked cider. I didn't know how he'd make it up to the Gryffindor tower, and to be honest I was only was a little concerned. It was the guts own fault. And yet, here I was, hauling him up the stairs as he drunkenly flirted with me.
"So you allow a house elf to call you by a nickname, but not JP, eh?" I stiffened, but kept my face neutral at his words. I kept up my pace, practically dragging Ryan down the corridor. "You know, there is a broom closet no one checks over there..." The idiot's big head fell onto my shoulder as he blubbered about snogging. The portrait of Fat Lady should be coming up soon, I encouraged myself to continue and ignored him.
"So is that a no?" He breathed on me, attempting to lift his head to give me a smoldering look. Frankly, I thought he just looked constipated.
I rolled my eyes as I peered down the pathway. "That's a hell no."
Ryan tut-tutted me. "That's fine, love. You're kind of feisty, eh?"
I ignored him, heaving a sigh of relief when I saw the Fat Lady. The portrait hole opened, and with a stroke of luck I saw Simon.
"Simon!" I called out and pushed Ryan towards him, steering Ryan's wobbling body at his shoulders. I huffed out a breath as Simon caught him easily in his arms.
"Ainsly? What on earth happened?" Simon stared down at Ryan, who was shooting me a goofy grin.
"Oi," Ryan interrupted me from responding to Simon's question. "Go to Hogsmeade with me, ya?" I just stared at him, refraining from answering the smug smirk on his face.
I shook my head in disbelief, turning away from him to look at Simon. "Don't know how much he's had..."
"But he's pissed," Simon finished, glancing down at his friend. Ryan wiggled his eyebrows at me suggestively. "Clearly. Thanks for bringing him up." There was a question in Simon's eyes, as if he wanted to add something, but he remained quiet.
"No worries," I shrugged, taking steps backward to get myself away from this situation.
"Oi," Ryan called out once my back was turned, and Simon tried to shush him. "Don't shush me, Moony."
"Don't call me that," Simon growled back, pushing Ryan towards the portrait hole.
"Oi, Ainsly. Did you go to the owlery today?" I heard his feet stumble, but I froze.
Turning towards him, I raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"I was at the owlery today," he hinted. "Had to send a letter." I blinked at him, confused. However, it was Simon's reaction that really threw me because he smacked Ryan upside the head.
"Stop it, Ryan. Now," Simon hissed. And then he rolled his eyes in my direction, "Git is full of it."
We said a quick goodnight and the portrait hole closed, ending all further discussion. Simon was right, Ryan was drunk and not making sense... but then, why were my feet lingering on Ryan's words.
Could he be...? Was he Admirer?
Present (One Year Post-Hogwarts)
"I'm having dinner with my parents and siblings tonight, actually." James bit his bottom lip, staring down at the tea I'd placed in his hands. I noticed that his eyes sparked more green today from wearing a forest green collared shirt. I had only become aware because he was peering up at me through those long lashes. Surely that was the only reason, right?
I placed a chocolate biscuit on his plate. "That's fun. How is Albus?"
"He's been well, finishing up his last year already. Al said Epona has been doing well. Hagrid let him fly with her recently." I smiled at the mention of Epona. I found myself missing her more and more as time passed.
I grabbed my muffin from this morning, planning on finishing it for a snack. Well, that's what I'd planned until James immediately started laughing at me. "What?"
He examined my half-eaten muffin. "Did you seriously just eat the top off the muffin?"
I looked back down at the muffin, which only had the stump left. "So?" I picked it up and took a bite. James just shook his head at me in disappointment.
"You know what you are? You're like... a muffin destroyer. The top is the best part."
I rolled my eyes, chewed slowly, and swallowed. "What are you? A muffin Nazi," I commented. "It's the best part so I eat it first."
"But then you're just disappointed with the rest of it," James got fired up about the topic. "You just eat it all at once so you have a gratifying experience."
"I never knew you felt so strongly about baked goods," I deadpanned.
"This is serious, Sly!" He earned another eye roll, but I laughed. He turned to Savannah, who was speaking quietly with Simon across the room. "Hey, Greengrass. Has she always been a muffin destroyer?"
Savannah stared at him, slowly directed her attention to me, then to my muffin, and back to James. "Mhmmm," she nodded. "Always."
James eyes examined me gravely. "My Nan would be so displeased with you." I was willing to bet his family would be displeased with me for many reasons, but I didn't want to think about that.
"Noted," I responded, taking another bite of my muffin.
"Perhaps there is only one way to rectify this situation," he grinned at me before replacing it with a forced solemn look.
"I fear I'm a lost cause," I commented with light, playful sarcasm.
"Never fear, my lady." James grasped my hand lightly, causing my heart to stutter. He must have processed my heated cheeks because his confidence faltered for a moment. James glanced away, catching his bottom lip between his teeth. I'd like see what biting it felt like... wait, what? Bad, stupid thought. We were just friends.
When I met James' eyes again, he seemed nervous and expectant. He kept staring at me, and then I realized he must have asked me a question. "Uh, sorry, what was that again?"
"I said you'll just have to come to dinner with me tonight," James informed me. "To make sure you're not a lost cause and all of that." He smiled at me, hopeful.
"Yes, Ainsly. Where we sit down and eat in the evening." James was so cheeky sometimes, but when I glanced up from the table he was apprehensive.
"With your family?" I sounded stunned, and I gave him another out. I pointed my finger at my chest. "And me?"
"I'd be there, as well. Along with our pet Erumpent, Pork Chop, but he's more of an outside diner." He began to ramble, incessantly. James provided me with detailed description of Pork Chop's feeding schedule.
"You have a Erumpent?" I asked, slowly. "That you named Pork Chop." Half of me was shocked that he had a Erumpent, while the other half wanted to laugh because he named a fierce beast after butchered meat.
"Yes, well, it was dad's fault really. Dad asked me to name him when I was four and mom had made pork chops that night." James' face reddened. "I wasn't very creative apparently at that age." He fidgeted in his seat, moving his weight back and forth so that the chair creaked a little.
"Sure," I said. And then laughed at James' dramatic horrified face. "Oh stop. I was accepting your dinner invitation, James."
He beamed at me. "Oh right," he said. "Fantastic. I mean good. Great." He paused to take a deep breath and slowly let it out. "I'll let mum know."
"Troll in the garden!" Freddy screeched and burst into the doorway. He was dripping from being sprayed repeatedly with the water hose, which Delilah had been threatening him with. He clapped a soaking wet hand on James' shoulder. "Mate, we need to go before she waterboards me."
James rose from his seat and called to Simon. James turned to me before they left. "I'll come get you to side-along at around seven, ya?" I started to get nervous about the plans, but I nodded.
What was I thinking? I weeded through my closet twice, but remained unsuccessful in my search for wearing something appropriate to dinner with the Potter family. What were they going to think of me? How would James introduce me to his family? And more importantly, why was James introducing me at all?
"That's it," I declared, throwing all my clothes into my closet. "I'm not going." I shut the closet door and sat down on my pile of clothes. Back when I was a child, I had hidden in my closet every time my parents would fight. It became my shut away place. A whole other world that I could create, and imagine, and think in the darkness. I could stay there for hours just thinking.
"Sly?" Delilah walked into my room. I could picture her pinched face searching for me and then her eyes landing on the closet. She sighed. "James will be here soon, love."
I stayed silent, blinking into the darkness as I tilted my head back.
"You cannot keep locking yourself away in your head," she stated firmly. "Come out of that closet now." It was a demand, not a request. Delilah yanked open the door, pulled me out, and thrust a dress in my lap. It was a green lacy, off the shoulder number that was beautiful but unfamiliar. I shrugged it on after shedding my clothes.
"It's a new one that I'd been working on," Delilah informed me and gestured for me to do a turn in it. I did, smiling down at the silky fabric underneath the lace. "Not too formal, but not too casual. We did good, kid."
I rolled my eyes. She was a few months older than me and never let me forget it. "It's beautiful, Delilah. Thank you."
She smiled at my comment, squeezing my arm lightly. "I know you're afraid, Sly. But James isn't Ryan." I nodded quietly. "How have your therapy sessions been going?"
"Helping," I said, meeting her blue eyes. "I'm doing a narrative about what happened. I started to tell her about the letters and...and about meeting him in the owlery." I forced the statement out. It was supposed to be easier the more I tried to talk about it, but it didn't feel that was right now. "Delilah?"
"Yeah?" She was tugging at my hair, braiding and clipping the locks in a half-up style.
I chewed on my lip, uncertain if I truly wanted an answer. "Do you think James knows?" My heart pounded at the though. He couldn't know what Ryan did... In every interaction James appeared appalled by the suggestion of causing me harm. Sure, he'd been a prat at Hogwarts, but he never caused me bodily harm. That fearful thought remained, though.
"I don't think so," she sighed. "But if he does and this is some game... There will be more than a slap on the wrist for consequences, I'll make sure of that."
I nodded again, hoping in my heart that she was right. There was a distant knock on the door and the clock I read said ten to seven. Huh, I never would have pegged James Potter for punctual.
The home of Harry Potter was just like any Upper's, except it had a more homey feel to it. It was certainly an interesting mix.
James squeezed my hand gently. "I'm going to find mum," he pointed up the spiral staircase that I thought only existed in movies, or fairytales. "I'll be right back. Make yourself at home." He ran up the stairs and disappeared.
"Right," I murmured, and walked over to a cream colored couch. Mom had always scoffed at the idea of light colored furniture because the stains didn't come out easily. However, in a magic using family that probably wasn't a problem. After a few minutes of fidgeting, I got up and studied some of the moving pictures on the wall. There was a picture of Harry Potter with his arms around James and Al, ruffling their messy hair and laughing as Ginny and Lily shook their heads. The picture of them all made me smile, it was what a family was supposed to be.
There was a loud pop behind me, which made me jump and spin around. My eyes found Harry Potter standing in the hallway in official Auror garb. He must have heard me because he stiffened and then turned his bright green eyes to me.
"Hello," Harry greeted with a smile. He seem to visibly relax, deciding I wasn't a threat to his household. "Did you get abandoned?" I glanced at the staircase that James disappeared up, nervously eyeing all the breakables along the way.
I smiled at Harry's efforts to make me comfortable in this huge house. "Afraid so," I replied. "James went to get his mom, I think."
"Ahh," Harry observed, studying me. "Well, I'm Harry Potter. I don't believe we've met before?"
Everyone knew who Harry Potter was and any Weasley, as well. Their history was wrapped up in our textbooks, so it was really no wonder that James had been famously popular at Hogwarts.
I was so out of my league here, my brain informed me with a sigh.
"Ainsly, sir," I introduced myself and exchanged a firm handshake. My eyes skimmed around the room. "You have a beautiful home."
"Thank you," Harry said, but then frowned at me. "What's your surname, Ainsly?"
I hesitated, uncertain of his interest in my name but rationalizing that he probably just wanted to know. "Murphy."
He peered at me strangely. "But wasn't your mother a Barebone?"
I stiffened. "How do you know that?"
"Ainsly, it's my job to know these things." He sent me a stern look. "Especially if you're involved with my son."
My heart quicken at the thought of James speaking about me to his parents. My face burned. "My grandma's name was Barebone. Mum took the name Murphy later."
I looked at Harry, tentatively. "It's not really my place to be telling you these things, Mr. Potter." My tone sounded clipped. Harry's eyes narrowed considerably.
"I would have to disagree," Harry said with a controlled voice. It was a little scary. "Where is your mother residing now? Our reports have come up empty handed."
I stared at him, bewildered. Why would he be interested in a Muggle family like mine? "Are we in some sort of trouble, sir?"
"No," Harry shook his head. "Just getting to know you better."
"My mother is a Muggle, sir." I didn't understand his interest in her, or her former last name. "And she lives in Galway."
"And your father?"
I glared up at the ceiling, swallowed hard, and made direct eye contact with Harry. "My father isn't a part of my life, Mr. Potter."
"My apologies," he murmured, glancing away from my eyes. "Forgive me, but was that before or after you and your mother moved to Ireland?"
So the famous Harry Potter must have really dug into my family history. Too bad there really wasn't anything to dig up, though. I wondered what he found in his search. Old passports and tickets of my mother and I traveling from America to Ireland. The shack we lived in before we had enough money for a flat. Late utility bills, or even the notices of our hot water being shut off? What about the electric?
I stared at the ceiling, feeling quite uncomfortable. "Before. We lived in the States until I was about seven. Dad left around then, as well."
"Do you know where your father went?" Harry studied me carefully, checking my every feature and body language.
"No sir," I gritted my teeth, forcing the memories away. All I remembered of that day was that my parents had fought after finding me playing outside. I had been alone, playing with a forest fox when my mother called out to me. The fox had been delighted that I could make the tree branches and flowers float. My father stormed out of the house, refusing to look at me, and mom packed our things. We left that night before my father had the chance to return. I shook my head, repressing the memories. "I haven't seen or heard from my father since I was seven."
"He hasn't tried to contact you?" Harry appeared skeptical when I shook my head.
"No sir," I stated, confused. "But Mr. Potter..."
"Yes?" Harry asked with a hopeful look in his eyes.
"My father is a Muggle," I replied simply. "He doesn't even know about Magic folk, like my mother didn't know until I received my letter." So why would you be interested in him? I added in my head.
"I see," he sounded disappointed and guarded. "Will you let me know if anything changes?"
"Changes?" I asked, hesitant and confused.
"If your father were to contact you," Harry stated in that authoritative tone.
"Fine," I replied. As if that were ever going to happen. There was tension lingering between us when James returned with his mother.
James frowned, worried at the forced expression on my face. He looked between Harry and I, and realized something must have transpired in his absence. "Dad. You said you wouldn't," he gritted out, James' hands clenching tightly. "Mum! He said he promised he wouldn't interrogate, or use legilimency on her."
"He didn't," I said, and glanced over at Harry. "At least I don't think he did legilimency on me." I would have felt him prying into my memory, right?
Harry shook his head at my questioning eyes. "I didn't. I was just getting to know her a bit better, James."
James looked unconvinced, but seemed to let it go. Ginny, on the other hand, was full on glaring in disapproval at Harry. "Harry Potter, leave the poor girl alone. Goodness knows I had my fair share of brothers and family prying at their age." Harry appeared downtrodden at the comment, but nodded his head and kissed his wife's temple. Ginny's eyes then fixed on me. "It's nice to finally meet you, dear. James has talked a lot about you."
"Mum," James groaned with a light blush at his cheeks. I smiled at the exchange.
"James doesn't bring girls around very often," Ginny continued, a spark of humor in her eyes. "Anyways, it's a pleasure to meet you, Ainsly. I'm just going to check on dinner real quick. Would you like something to drink?" She asked halfway out the room already.
"No thank you," I said in a clear voice, but she couldn't hear me so I followed her to the kitchen. The house was enormous! I declined the offer again, this time within her hearing range. "Um...can I help with anything?"
Ginny started at the question. "Oh dear, I don't want to trouble you being a guest." I felt better helping out, instead of waiting around and feeling useless. I mentioned as much to Ginny, which caused her to laugh and put me to work. And that's how I found myself peeling potatoes in Harry Potter's kitchen.
It made me wonder what my mother was doing...
I don't own Harry Potter! Or the part of the Tanka that's from The Garden of Words by Makoto Shinkai.
What do you think about Admirer? Ryan? Sly's parents? And then, of course, there Ian James.
Let me know what you think! Review please!
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