Chapter 1 : First
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Your hand flies across the page, words streaming down onto the parchment. Your handwriting is atrocious - barely legible even to you; your hand is starting to seize up, becoming stiff and sore, muscles complaining from overuse; you’re squinting at the cream sheet, focusing harder than you remember focusing on anything in a long time - focusing so intently your temples are starting to throb.
You don’t care. You can’t care. It doesn’t matter now - not now, not this close to the finish line, not when you’re within touching distance of the gold medal. It can’t matter. It just can’t. There’s too much at stake.
Your reputation. Your pride. Your confidence. Your relationship… Merlin, what would you say - what could you say? - if you arrived too late to save his father, too late to stop his life from being ruined by something which may not be true, by a conviction for a crime neither father or son might ever have committed? How could you expect to say ‘I’m sorry’ and be forgiven? How could you expect that he wouldn’t, in some small way, blame you for failing?
Because you would have.
You’re the only one who can prove that they can’t charge him, that they can’t convict him. Your theory, your idea - if you’re right (and you know you are. You’ve known it for years) - will make that impossible. They’ll have to go back, have to look at the scene again, look at the evidence again, re-evaluate everything. It’ll be expensive for the Ministry, more months in the spotlight for both father and son - but, in the end, it’ll be better. So much better.
Your mum told you that you got this from your dad - this innate need to help people, to save them, the unstoppable, unshakable belief that you are the only one who can do anything. It’s probably true - even though your dad had protested - but you don’t see what’s wrong with it. At least, not in this instance. Stopping a miscarriage of justice with a quill, ink and your mind is not quite the same as racing off on some death-defying adventure fighting Voldemort.
To you it feels just as important, although more concentrated, focused in on this one thing, this one moment that won’t effect that many people. You suppose people could say it’s selfish of you, to be using his suffering, his pain and embarrassment and grief to push yourself to do this, to finish this theory, to perfect and complete it.
It’s not about you, any more. Not really. If it was only your reputation, your pride and your confidence on the line, you’re not sure you’d be pushing yourself this hard, staying up until two in the morning with a mug of steaming coffee your only companion, mind working overtime just to finish this. Logically speaking, the fact that you wouldn’t have a deadline if that were the case should be the main factor, but it wouldn’t. As soon as it clicked in your head - as soon as you heard the details of the case, as soon as you came home and looked at your thesis and put two and two together - you felt more inspired to keep going, to pick up your quill and think and work and rewrite the known universe.
Part of you can’t believe it, can’t believe you’re being this soppy and pathetic - like a thirteen year old girl with her first boyfriend - but it just feels right to say, to think that you’re doing it for him.
Realising that you’d stopped, you blink, glancing down at the parchment in front of you. Turning that one over, exposing a fresh sheet underneath, you continue writing, starting slowly, building up.
The tendons in your wrist complain, the side of your hand is red. You ignore it - all of it.
You’ve got ten hours and fifty-six minutes and eight seconds to change the shape of the universe, and time waits for no man.
You have had enough. Ignoring the shouts of your mother, the calls of your father, the silent stares from your brother and sister; ignoring the voice in your mind which tells you you’re being rash, that you should stop and calm down, that you should stop and just stop everything and stop and stay still and think and breathe and stop. Ignoring everything, emotion dulling, clouding every shred of judgement, every rational thought you ever had, you turn on your heel and walk away.
When the front door slams shut, the sound reverberates, jolting through you, making your eardrums jump, your heart skip a beat, but it doesn’t satisfy you. Shoving your hands in your pockets, you stride down the drive and out onto the road. Checking once each way, barely remembering to do so in your fury, you turn on your heel and disapparate.
Landing on the ground, it mollifies you slightly to see that you managed a perfect apparition even though you were hardly concentrating, even though you were distracted - which certainly isn’t one of the three D’s. Your knees buckle slightly under pressure, the force of your arrival perhaps a little too much, but you straighten up quickly.
The street all around you is quiet, the lamps on the walls flickering in the slight breeze - Edgar was always so very amused that the wizarding world still uses oil and gas lamps (albeit with a permanent Refilling Charm attached to them so they don’t go out) - and it soothes you slightly. Your temper isn’t receding yet, it’s too early for that, but your thoughts are slowing down and your face has relaxed, your jaw loosened. You didn’t think to grab a jacket before you stormed out, so the wind prickles at your skin, light and chilled. Cold never has bothered you that much.
Breathing out, you spot what you’re looking for: a painting of a man wearing a large-brimmed hat with a large staff in one hand. Peeling gold letters underneath it declare the pub beside it to be the Traveller’s Rest. You’re not a traveller, you muse, but you certainly could do with some rest.
You don’t need to think as you approach it - you’ve been here enough times that your feet know the walk up to the gate, up the path and then inside the building without you really needing to guide them. Whenever you get angry, or upset, or worried or lonely or you just need a break or want a drink, you come here. Here they know you well enough to just let you do what you want and keep supplying you with drinks until you run out of cash. Here they don’t care that you’re Harry Potter’s son, that you’re crap at Quidditch or that you can’t cast a Patronus Charm. Here you’re just James, and that suits you perfectly.
The strangely orange light hits you first and you blink, your eyes adjusting quickly to the change, then the smell of alcohol and cigarettes and Mrs Skower’s Magical Mess Remover slams into your nose.
Inside, you grin. You’re home. It’s like you never left.
As soon as you reach the bar, passing a couple of patrons you recognise and exchange nods with - one of them well on his way to being drunk already as he waves his half-full pint of beer towards you with a movement that was certainly supposed to be elegant - you order, in a low voice, a Firewhisky. Although the patrons of the pub are a muggle-born wizard and his wife, they serve both muggle and magical customers so it’s best not to shout too loudly about things like Firewhisky and Butterbeer. There’s always one sober man for every five drunks, after all, and it would be just your luck for the sober man to be the one to hear you.
“Coming right up, Mr Potter,” the wizard winks at you, pulling a glass from under the bar and bringing over a bottle made of thick, musty glass. The liquid inside glitters, a cascade of yellows and reds and oranges, like a bottled firework. “Six sickles, please.”
Reaching inside your pocket, you pull out a fistful of coins - a couple of galleons and a few knuts being slipped back inside quickly - and you count out the six meticulously, sliding them across the bar.
Your hand closes around the glass and you move along the bar, down to the far end, where there are no glasses or bottles, just stools in a shadowed corner. It offers an excellent view of the rest of the bar, although the only reason you sit there is that it’s become a habit and breaking habits has never been something you’re good at.
Lifting the glass to your lips, swirling the liquid around once, you take a sip, feeling it work its way down your throat, warm and quick and strong, the taste lingering in your mouth. It’s not the nicest thing you’ve ever had, hardly the best tasting liquor you’ve ever drunk, but it gets the job done - and it’s relatively cheap, which, on your somewhat slender budget, makes the decision for you.
The door creaks, swinging open, admitting yet another customer into the pub. It’s another young man - about your age, maybe Albus’ - and, like you, he heads straight up to the bar. Unlike you, he looks around before he does. He’s not a regular - you’ve never seen him before and you’ve been here enough times on each night to recognise them.
You find yourself watching him intently, curiously. There’s something about him that interests you - you just can’t place what it is. It’s not his clothes - they’re perfectly normal muggle attire, even if they do look like they’ve come straight out of a Dior l’homme collection. It’s not the way he walks - normally, confidently, with just a hint of a strut. It’s just… something.
He exchanges a few short words with the barkeep, and you wish you were closer so you could hear what he was ordering, but you’re far too far away to listen in and the lighting is too low for you to attempt to lip-read. As the barkeep nods and lifts down a wine glass from the racks above his head, you observe the newcomer. His fingers are tapping idly on the bar, restless, his eyes running over the posters behind the bar.
The glass of white wine is poured far too quickly for your liking and the newcomer retreats, scanning the pub briefly - he doesn’t see you, tucked away in your corner - before he selects a table and sits down, placing his glass on the table in front of him. He hasn’t taken a single sip of it yet.
Watching him play idly with the glass on the table, fingers turning it round and round and round, the liquid inside swirling and sloshing from side to side with each short, jerky movement, you wonder why he’s here - why he’s here alone. Has he, like you, argued with his parents? Is it a relationship problem? Is it a work-related problem? Has something tragic happened in his family - a death, perhaps, or an accident or an illness of some kind? You find yourself morbidly curious - perhaps too curious.
The idea of his troubles slams yours back to the forefront of your mind and you take another gulp of Firewhisky.
You don’t understand it - why do they want you to move back in with them? You’re doing perfectly fine on your own. Alright, you haven’t done your washing in three weeks and your room is starting to smell, the dishes are piling up on the sideboard next to the sink and the fridge could do with a good clean-out, but it’s hardly dangerous or inhabitable as your mum likes to claim whenever she pops over for a visit (which, as you pointed out to her, is basically never and she doesn’t even have to go round, she just does anyway).
Your dad had gone further, saying it was nothing to do with the cleanliness of your apartment - apparently they’d all expected this kind of mess from you - but more serious issues. Like the location (too seedy and down-town, on a street with a strip-club and three bars), the neighbours (too surly and if-you’re-rude-to-me-I’ll-curse-your-hair-off for your parents’ liking) and the rent.
You’d told them you could afford it - of course you could, otherwise you wouldn’t have moved in, would you? - but they hadn’t listened. They’d said it was much too high for you to afford and insisted that they help support you: take you back home, give you money - a monthly allowance - just until you had enough to look after yourself. They hadn’t taken it well when you’d refused, saying you were perfectly capable of managing your own finances.
Besides, you’d argued, the place you have at the moment is close to where you work part-time (Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, of course, under the watchful eye of Uncle George), cheap enough that you could afford it on your salary and still had money left over to buy food and, well, it’s yours. Your first flat. Your first home - other than Hogwarts and the house in Godric’s Hollow, of course. Yours. Entirely your own. That means something - it’s important to you, symbolic of your adulthood and burgeoning maturity. To move into a different flat would be like admitting defeat - and the battle had barely begun.
Perhaps it was stupid, perhaps you should have backed down - but why should you? Why should you always have to be the one to back down? Before, when you were a child, maybe it was your responsibility to back down, maybe they did have a point with some of the things they refused to let you do, but now you’re an adult. You’re of age, you’re no longer at school. You don’t have to always do what they think is best.
Clutching the glass tightly, you pour the rest of the Firewhisky down your throat in one go. It burns, running down, trickling down teasingly, the sensation lingering. You give a single cough; it’s been a while since you forced it down like that. It’s been a while since you felt you needed to.
No, you think resolutely, you’re not going to focus on your troubles this evening. You’re not going to think about your flat, your family, your rent, your job or anything like that - you’re just going to focus on getting good and properly smashed.
Pushing yourself off the stool, you make your way along the bar, leaving the empty glass by your seat, and order another one. Behind you, the drunk is part-way through a particularly rude joke about a blonde woman, her husband and a postman. He’s having trouble getting the words out, though, and you wonder if his companion is more amused by the joke or the slur in his friend’s voice, the swaying of his body as he gestures to emphasise his words.
As you take your drink back to your seat, the drunk and his friend explode into laughter, the latter jumping up from his table, grinning, and brushing past you on his way to the bar, already calling for two more pints. When he jigs your arm, making your drink wobble, a slight trickle of Firewhisky running down the side of the glass, a thin tongue of flame, warming your finger when it reaches your hand, he smiles at you, apologises and claps you on the back. He insists on buying you another drink to make up for it. You don’t object.
Moving past him, careful not to spill another drop of your drink (the barkeep said he’d slide the second glass over to you once he’d finished pouring the pints), you glance around the pub, wondering who had seen the little altercation.
Your eyes linger on the spot where the stranger is sitting, his glass of wine half-empty now. He’s looking at you, dark eyes meeting yours for a second, before he glances down, lifting up his glass. Retreating back to your seat, you think nothing of it and your thoughts turn back to your own problems.
The barkeep comes over to you, the Firewhisky the other man promised you held in one hand. You wonder how he charged the man for it, considering the drunk and his friend are definitely muggles, but it’s not important. There’s a conversion rate, you know, so he probably used that. You don’t care enough to bother finding out.
“Here’s your drink, Mr Potter,” he tells you, putting it down and wiping away the faint ring of Firewhisky left on the wood from the glass in your hand. You give him a nod in return, murmuring a faint ‘thank you’.
In the light, the Firewhisky smiles at you, all gold and yellow and glittering.
You imagine your mum’s face is she saw you here, her eldest son, knocking back Firewhisky in the sight of muggles.
You throw the second glass back and reach for the third.
As always, you regret it in the morning.
You wake up to find yourself lying in bed, fully dressed, reeking of alcohol (the smell’s even sunk into your sheets and pillowcase) with a pounding headache. Opening your eyes blearily, you peer at the clock on your bedside table, managing to pick out the positions of the hands after a couple of blinks: it’s eight ten, or just about that.
Rolling over onto your back with a groan, you run a hand over your face, covering a yawn. You have to get up - you really, really don’t want to, but you know that you have to - since Uncle George expects you at the shop at nine o’clock on the dot and, being your uncle, will not hesitate to send you a Howler or something if you’re late.
One time, when you overslept, he sent you fireworks. Your shower didn’t work properly for weeks.
Pushing your duvet away, you drag yourself out of bed and towards the shower, shedding clothes as you go. Your first duty of the morning is to scrub away the smell of alcohol from the night before and find clean clothes from somewhere in your room (or, at least, semi-clean ones). While Uncle George is a pretty lenient boss and inclined to be more amused than annoyed when you turn up late after ‘a night on the town’, as he refers to your evenings out, even he wouldn’t be entertained if you smelled like an alehouse.
The water is cold and clean and strong, pouring down you, getting rid of the traces of the night before - although it does nothing to ease your headache - and you spend perhaps a little too long there, closing your eyes and enjoying the simplicity of having a shower. It’s such a simple task, something so everyday and menial, that you often end up viewing it as a chore. Not today - today you relish it.
Reluctantly, you step out of the shower less than ten minutes after you entered it, grabbing a towel and wrapping it around your waist, padding through to your room to try and find some clothes amongst the carpet of books and quills and parchment and knick-knacks and shirts and socks.
You take one long, hard look at the mess and pick up your wand from your bedside table.
“Accio clean clothes!” you chant, catching the trousers and shirt that get flung at you, a pair of boxers hitting you in the face and three pairs of socks cascading over your head, one landing on your shoulder. You really should do your washing at some point, you reflect as you pull your clothes on, your fingers stumbling over the small buttons on the shirt.
By the time you’ve waded out of your room, grabbed a banana and thrown the skin in the bin, gulping down a glass of pumpkin juice immediately after and just leaving the glass at the back of the queue by the sink, the clock reads twenty to nine. Since you’ve got time to kill, you check in the little cupboard in your bathroom for a Hangover Potion - there isn’t one and you didn’t expect there to be since you haven’t been to the Apothecary in at least two months - and clean your teeth and tackle your hair, attempting to make it look as though it’s been brushed in the last month.
Once you’ve done that, there’s not anything else to do - apart from actually clean or something - so you decide to head to work early, grabbing your magenta robes from the peg by the door. Stepping out of your flat, you lock it, slipping the key into your pocket, give a nod to Mr Stillington from the flat opposite yours, and begin the walk to work. Of course, technically you could apparate, but you haven’t got your license back yet - it’ll be another month and a half before that happens -so until then you’re stuck with walking.
You don’t mind the walk, though. It’s a relatively short one - only about five minutes - and the back streets around Diagon Alley are never busy at this time in the morning. Everyone’s still sleeping off the alcohol and whatever else they took the night before. A cool September breeze gushes down through the street, and you shiver. You hadn’t thought to wear a cloak (not that either of the two you own are clean anyway) and the wind seeps through the thin robes.
When you reach the shop, it’s not open; the WonderWitch in the display winks and blows a kiss at you. Ignoring it, you knock lightly on the door - three times, two fast and then one slow - to let Uncle George know you’re there.
A minute later, Aunt Angelina emerges from the back room. Spotting you, she smiles and comes over, drawing her wand from her pocket.
“James! You’re early!” she exclaims as she steps aside to let you in, shutting the door quickly behind you before any over-eager shoppers could get any ideas about following you. “Come on through - George’s just finishing getting everything ready and then he’ll need help setting up.”
Wordlessly, you nod and follow her through into the back room. Large brown boxes line the walls, each of them labelled in black ink with the name of a different WWW product. In the midst of it all, Uncle George, a steaming thermos flash by his side, is sitting on the floor, reading a long list on a scroll of parchment.
“Hey, Uncle George,” you smile as he jumps up, beaming at you.
“Jamie!” he moves over, clapping you on the back. “You’re early. If you carry on like this, you might make employee of the month.”
You manage not to grimace or roll your eyes - both of which you dearly want to do. Aunt Angelina turns away, giving a polite cough that was almost certainly hiding a laugh, and you just nod and smile at Uncle George.
‘Employee of the month’ was Uncle George’s little, personal joke. It was a way for him to humiliate his staff by putting their picture up on the head of a wooden hangman figurine, who did a rather violent version of the samba every time a customer walked through the door, letting loose a shrill ‘aloha’. All of his staff tolerated it, simply because he paid well and was the best boss you could possibly find on Diagon Alley.
“Anyway,” he continues, somewhat briskly. “We need to restock before the morning wave. I’ve made a list of the things which need filling up, so you don’t have to lug the boxes around. If you start with the pyrotechnics, I’ll have Andrew start with the WonderWitch line when he gets here and you’ll meet in the middle.”
With a grin, you accept a copy of the list he hands you, the duplicated parchment stone cold, and get to work. The Deflagration Deluxes are sold out, so they need to be completely restocked…
Luckily, Andrew turns up less than five minutes after you, giving you a cheerful ‘hello’ before passing you by and going to get his orders. You can’t help but give a grin when you hear his annoyed groan from the back room when he’s told where he’s starting work. As heavy as the boxes of fireworks are after you’ve lugged fifty-odd of them all the way across the store, anything’s better than the lurid pink of the WonderWitch section.
As you stack Skiving Snackboxes on the shelves, your thoughts turn back to last night. Dinner. The argument. The bar. The stranger. Avoiding thinking about the argument - you still feel irritated when you recall it - you wonder about the newcomer. There was something odd about him, you remember, something not quite normal, something out of the ordinary that caught your attention.
You remember the way he’d looked at you, his face distorted by the dim lighting, his dark eyes unblinking, before he’d raised his glass to his lips, his long fingers curving around the stem of his glass. You remember how his eyelids had lowered as the glass drew closer to him, how his lips parted, head tilting back - and then nothing more. The man had walked in between you, breaking the look, the stare, and forcing you to move on. What you can’t remember, though, is what he’d been drinking. Wine of some kind, since he’d been holding a wine glass, but you don’t know if it was white or red or rosé.
You feel someone poke you hard in the shoulder, their finger jabbing into the bone underneath and you turn around, one hand darting up to rub the sore spot.
“Mr Weasley wants you on the till,” Andrew tells you, looking faintly sheepish for having actually hurt you, as you’re pretending he has. “The shop’s going to open up in a minute - he’ll be joining you in a few, he’s just sorting out a couple of bits and pieces in the back.”
“Thanks, Andy,” you reply, leaving your shoulder alone (truthfully, the poke didn’t hurt that much at all, and you’re really quite glad he did it, since you don’t think you’d have woken yourself up until the first shrieking kids bounded into the shop) and making your way round the stalls and posters and pillars, ducking when a model of your dad wearing Gryffindor Quidditch robes on his famous Firebolt zooms close to your head, to get to the till.
It’s not until a while later, when you’re handing a bag full of Dungbombs over to a small girl in exchange for one galleon and three sickles, that you remember.
White. It was white wine.
Just a quick note: new story. Third Next Gen. Second in second person. First ever slash. Me = terrified.
Oh, and Dior l'homme is, I think, an actual fashion range which I do not, sadly, own. At all. Not even a sock.