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Conventional Wisdom by SnitchSnatcher

Format: Novel
Chapters: 22
Word Count: 112,253
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: General, Humor, Romance
Characters: James (II), OC
Pairings: James/OC

First Published: 02/06/2009
Last Chapter: 06/21/2010
Last Updated: 09/09/2011

Summary:
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request-unconventialwisdomcopy.png picture by chasing_starlight

My best friend is getting married. I should be happy, but there's just one small problem: He's not marrying me. And I'm the mother of his child. What worse is that his fiancee asked me to be her maid of honor. Merlin, I should've stayed in bloody Panama.


Chapter 15: A First Time For Everything

Chapter Fourteen
A First Time For Everything


It was official.

In the three years I was gone in Panama, my best friend had changed completely. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure this was my best friend. For all I knew, aliens had abducted him the moment I left. Why else would he come to Panama, willingly, albeit drunkenly, have sex with me, leave, and then get engaged to some godforsaken American?

Because if I knew James as well as I believed I did (which, obviously, wasn’t all that much as I was contemplating the possibility of this being an impostor), he would have started ranting the moment he registered the impact of my mother’s words. He would have ranted and raged and paced about the room, throwing contemptuous looks in my direction as if this entire thing was my fault (it was) all the while cursing under his breath in Gaelic because, apparently, while I was away, he learned how to speak the language.

And you know what? I expected him to rant. I expected him to rage. And pace. And do all that other weirdo shit he did whenever he was angry. Because if he started doing those things, at least I would know how he was feeling. I wouldn’t have to rely on my intuition - or lack thereof - to “figure him out”. James prided himself on being uncomplicated, but right now, he was the most puzzling human being in existence, all because of that stupidly blank face of his. It was devoid of any and all emotions. The only way I knew a Full Body Binding Curse hadn’t struck him was because his jaw was falling gradually closer to the ground. And, if I wasn’t mistaken, there was a tiny rivulet of drool slowly edging out of the corner of his mouth.

Since his face was blank, I hadn’t the slightest inclination what he was thinking, what he was feeling, and most importantly, if these were my last moments on Earth. If so, I would like to see my son one last time and perhaps give my father a hug. Oh, and let Teddy know that it was me who told his grandmother about his indiscretions at Molly and Arthur’s wedding anniversary; in my defence, I was nine and it was an accident.

But I digress.

You see, when James got angry, he had…well, to put it layman’s terms, he had homicidal tendencies. If anyone should know about them, it was me - I had to restrain him physically from killing many an opponent in Quidditch matches during our time at Hogwarts. For some reason, I was the only one who could talk sense into him. Me, the least sensible person in England.

Go figure.

However, the irony was lost upon me as I stared at James. His lack of reaction was starting to twist my stomach into a complicated knot of concern. It was already a tangled mess of worry, fretting, and indigestion because of my son’s condition (and the horribly cafeteria food. Honestly, what did they season their chips with, dragon dung?). Why wasn’t he saying anything? Why wasn’t he doing anything, like wringing my neck with his bare hands, except staring off into space like some catatonic schizophrenic?

Apparently, I wasn’t the one concerned being in the room. The healer, some flighty bird by the name of Julia Benson, who was trying to convince me to tell her the name of the father so they could access his medical records before James barged into the room and Mum opened her big fat trap, cleared her throat and asked, in a very raspy voice, “Are you feeling okay, sir?”

James didn’t budge. He didn’t flinch. In fact, I’m not even sure that he had blinked in the five minutes or so that had passed since the Revelation.

When he didn’t respond to the healer, Mum attempted to stir a reaction in him. Her voice was far gentler and much warmer than I had ever heard it and, for some strange reason I could explain, a jab of jealousy shot through me.

“James, sweetheart,” she began, throwing in the pet name to sweeten the pot, “are you all right? Do you need me to get your mother? She’s right down the hall if you really need her.”

In any other circumstance, James would have assured her that he was perfectly okay, that he was more than capable of handling himself. There would have been a twinge of anger and a dash of indignation in his voice at such a preposterous suggestion. But there was nothing. Not so much as a shift in his expression. Though his lips did look a little whiter than usual.

Mum sighed and cast me a look that clearly said, Why aren’t you doing anything to improve his condition?

I dunno. Maybe it was because I was terrified his eyes would turn into laser beams and he would blow me up with a single glance.

She lifted a brow and I caved, unable to withstand the pressure of her gaze.

I expelled a breath, though it didn’t loosen my chest. If anything, it tightened the muscles in my shoulders and chest, making it harder to breath. A nagging voice in the back of my mind was telling me to stand down, to just walk away and leave James in his vegetative state in the middle of the tea room at St. Mungo’s. There were plenty of beds available on the fourth floor.

“Mara,” Mum hissed when I didn’t immediately spring into action and convince James to not let his brain turn into a carrot.

Rolling my eyes as discreetly as possible, I turned my gaze back to the tall, hazel-eyed man in front of me, trying to ignore the way his hands were clenched at his sides, his skin pulled tight over the crests of his knuckles. I gulped. This was going to be harder than I thought.

Licking my lips, I took a tentative step towards him and said, with the tenacity of a newborn kitten, “Er - James? Are you -”

“I need to sit down,” he interrupted hollowly, not even bothering to look at me.

I rushed forwards to help him sit down, but the moment my palm touched his arm, he recoiled, his hazel eyes snapping over to me. We locked gazes for a fraction of a second before I released his arm, retreating. I glanced over my shoulder at Mum, who looked just as confused as I did.

James lowered himself into the nearest chair in the same manner an old man would, his shoulders hunched and movements incredibly stiff and slow. He leaned his weight on his elbows and pushed his hands through his mess of dark brown hair. I shrugged my shoulders at Mum and she made a fluttering motion with her hands, as if suggesting that I should make another attempt at talking to him.

Thanks for sending me into the lion’s den, lady. I appreciate it.

Clearing my throat, I poised the words on the tip of my tongue. Before I could so much as open my mouth, James muttered in a low voice, “Back off, Mara.”

I blinked in confusion. “W-what?”

He didn’t pick up his head as he spoke, but I had the distinct feeling that he was glaring at the floor, imagining my face in place of the impeccably clean tiles. “I said, back off.” His voice cracked and he drew in a deep breath, his shoulders trembling.

I froze, my eyes widening. Wait a minute. Was he…no, he couldn’t be. James wasn’t crying…was he?

“I-I don’t understand.” And I didn’t. What was he on about?

James scoffed loudly. “What don’t you bloody understand about ‘back off’?”

The temptation to roll my eyes was intense. Irresistible, almost. Even when in a state of emotion distress, James grated on my nerves worse than anyone else I knew. True, we may have been best friends, but he was one of the most annoying gits in history, especially when he was ticked. “Of course I understand what it means. What I don’t understand is why you want me to back off. I mean, don’t you want to -”

“Just give me some fucking air, Mara, all right?!” James shouted.

I jumped in surprise, my heart leaping into my throat and lodging itself there, though a part of me felt relieved. This is what I had been expecting. This is what I wanted to see. The concern loosened in its tight grasp on my innards, making it a little easier to breathe, but only slightly. The likelihood of James striking out and delivering a powerful right hook to my jaw was still very high. Not that I could blame him. I would want to punch my lights out, too.

“James, I -”

“I can’t do this,” James continued, his fingers twining around his hair and pulling hard. He rocked in his chair, his knuckles turning white from the strain. I backed away slowly. “I can’t talk to you right now. I can’t even look at you, for fuck’s sake! You make me sick.”

My mouth snapped shut and I stared at him in wonder. In all the years I have known him, James has never acted so callously towards me. Sure there were times when we were so incredibly frustrated with one another that we avoided speaking for days, but never had he said something so…well, hurtful. He may have made fun of my glasses in first year and laughed uncontrollably when I accidentally singed off my eyebrows in Potions in third year, but nothing compared to the raw, aching feeling in my chest; it felt like my heart had just been ripped out and kicked about mercilessly.

“I-I’m sorry, James,” I whispered.

“Go away, Longbottom, before you make me say something I’ll regret.” His voice was rough, possessing a harden edge that could cut through the toughest of stones, and here I was, a pathetic piece of malleable graphite. However, it lacked the anger, the pure spitefulness that should have carried it to a higher degree. Instead, he sounded resigned and in that moment, I knew.

I had just lost my best friend.

And there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

* * *


When we returned to the room, Jack was sleeping, though he looked no better. His skin was still covered in angry red hives and, by the looks of things, he was still having difficulty breathing. My heart breaking, I bent over the bed to kiss him on the forehead, smoothing down the soft tuffs of dark brown hair.

“Is everything all right?” I heard Dad whisper to Mum.

“No,” she answered lowly. I could feel her stare on my back as I tucked the blanket around Jack’s small, sleeping form. “He knows.”

“Who does?”

Mum scoffed. “Who do you think, Neville? James - he knows.”

I didn’t have to look at my father to know that all colour had left his face. At least he understood the weight of the situation. “Bollocks,” he muttered, and I turned to around to see him passing a hand over his tired face.

My parents looked horrible. Dad’s normally tame hair was sticking up in all different directions and there were dark circles underneath his kind eyes. Mum didn’t look much better. Her hair hung limp around her shoulders, which were hunched from sitting by Jack’s bedside for hours on end. Her eyes were bloodshot, the crow’s feet at the corner of her eyes visible.

I frowned. My parents shouldn’t have to suffer. They were getting on in their years - they deserved to go home and rest. I told them so.

“We would never leave you, Mara,” Dad said, striding forward to take my hand within his grasp. “Not when you need us the most.” He might not have said it outright, but I knew he was talking about James. A part of my heart swelled and burst with the joy of knowing that my father, my Daddy, would always be there for me. But the other part became heavy with guilt. If it wasn’t for my stupid decision, none of us would be in this mess and my parents would probably be in bed, reading the morning paper.

Releasing a small breath, I shook my head and dropped his hand. “As much as I appreciate the gesture, Dad, you should go home and get some rest. Both of you,” I added when I saw Mum open her mouth in protest. “This is my problem to deal with, not yours.”

“But we want to help you,” Mum insisted earnestly, drawing up to Dad’s side and looping her arm through the crook of his elbow. “We’re your parents, darling. We’ll always be here for you.” Her smile was drawn, but sentimental.

It was hard to keep the hot tears at bay. “I know you want to help me, but I’ve made my bed and now I’ve got to lie in it.”

Mum and Dad shared a glance before sighing in unison.

“Are you sure this is what you want?” Dad questioned, examining me minutely with his soft brown eyes.

I nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure,” I assured him.

He didn’t look convinced, but bobbed his head in resignation. I turned my eyes to Mum. Her lips were pursed and she was looking at me as though I had three heads. Perhaps she wasn’t used to seeing me step up to the plate and assume responsibility. Not saying that I wasn’t responsible; I was, but I had been denying this moment for so long that I think she assumed she was going to have to hold my hand and walk me through it. But now that I had made the decision to face the consequences of my own actions by myself with my head held high, well, I think that made her proud of me for the first time in a long time.

Dad gave me a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek before shuffling over to the bedside to say his goodbyes to his grandson, making a promise to visit in the morning.

While he was busy doing that, Mum placed a hand on my shoulder and gave it a tight squeeze. I smiled a watery smile and she pulled me into her arms, rubbing soothing circles into my spine. “I think you made the right choice, dear,” she whispered as she stepped back, wiping her eyes. “Just don’t muck things up further.”

Despite the gravity of the situation, I laughed, swiping my thumb underneath my eyes. “I don’t think that’s possible.”

“For once,” Mum began, her tone much lighter, “I think I agree with you.”

Maybe they were right: there was a first time for everything. With that bit in mind, I felt hopeful that maybe, just maybe I hadn’t screwed this up beyond repair.

* * *


I was sitting alone with Jack, holding his tiny fist within my palm and admiring all five fingers, when there was a soft knock at the door. I didn’t know how much time had passed since my parents left to get a bit of rest at home, but I knew it had to be a substantial amount because the blinds had shut themselves and the overhead lights came on.

“Come on,” I called out gently, not daring to raise my voice in case Jack woke up. The poor kid needed his sleep.

The door creaked open and for a moment, I forgot how to breathe. My entire body tensed as my mind considered the possibility of whom was entering the room. Faces flashed before my eyes, the most reoccurring one being that of my father’s son. As in most situations, I fretted over nothing. Standing at the foot of my son’s bed were Lily and Albus Potter. I released the breath I wasn’t aware I had been holding and smiled weakly at them.

“Hi,” Lily greeted weakly in an attempt to clear away the awkwardness. “How are you holding up?”

I shrugged and readied my response when Albus blurted, “James told us what happened.”

My shoulders sagged forward. “Oh, he did?”

“Yeah,” Lily continued for her brother, shooting him a glare. “He pulled Mum and Dad to the side and told them in private. Mum was the one who told us, though, because James ‘went for a walk’, whatever that means.”

“Straight off the end of a bridge, if you ask me.”

“Albus!” his sister exclaimed, scandalised.

“What? I was only kidding!” he protested, holding his hands up in an attempt to block Lily’s attack. “Honestly, what is it with everyone around here? I make one little joke in hopes of lightening the mood and instead of laughs, I get slaps!”

“Because you make inappropriate jokes, you eejit,” Lily answered, punching him in the arm once more.

“Ouch! What was that for?” Albus demanded, rubbing his arm.

“For being a stupid and inconsiderate dolt.”


Watching the siblings argue was humorous and despite myself, I laughed. The abrupt sound caused both to stop bickering and turn their attention to me. Lily regarded me curiously, her head tilted ever-so-slightly.

“We weren’t very surprised to learn the truth, you know,” Albus said as he sat down in the chair placed on the opposite side of the bed. He looked at his sleeping nephew closely, the corners of his mouth rising.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Lily chimed in, folding her arms over her chest. I noticed the diamond glittering on her hand and smiled inwardly; it looked like things between her and Henry had been patched up. “Mum said she noticed the resemblance the moment she saw Jack at your great-grandmother’s funeral, but didn’t say anything because, you know, Augusta had just died.”

Before I could say anything, Albus scoffed and rolled his eyes. “I’m sure that’s true,” he said sarcastically.

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“While I don’t doubt that Mum figured it out eventually, I highly doubt that she realised the truth the moment she saw him. I mean, I’ll admit - James and Jack have the same colouring and all, but brown hair and hazel eyes aren’t exactly uncommon, if you know what I mean,” Albus explained, his eyes still fixed on my son. “Would you mind?” He nodded towards my hand, which was still clasping gently around Jack’s.

I grinned, shaking my head. “No, not at all.”

Albus returned the smile and reached forwards timidly, running his fingertip over the smooth ridges of Jack’s knuckles. “He’s so little,” he commented.

“You should have seen him when he was born,” I responded fondly, recalling the first time I held my son in my arms. “He was the tiniest thing, but easily the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.”

Lily sighed. “I wish I could have been there.”

“We wish we all could have been there,” Albus agreed, his attention focussed on Jack.

It was odd, seeing Al being so gentle. Growing up, he was always the rowdy one. The funny one who always had a prank to play and a joke to deliver. He was the happiest little boy alive, never taking a moment for granted. He was loud and occasionally obnoxious, so watching him handle Jack as though he would break was…well, it was precious.

Knowing that I had denied not only James the right to his son, but Lily and Albus their nephew and Harry and Ginny their first grandchild made me feel like the world’s worst person. I was the villain in this situation and I deserved everything that karma was giving me. No, that wasn’t true. I deserved more than anything karma could ever dish out for depraving them of Jack.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, looking from Albus to Lily and then back again.

“For what?” they asked in unison, wrinkling their brow in the same manner as James did.

“For everything. I should have realised that James wouldn’t be the only one affected by the truth. When I made the decision not to tell him, I was being selfish. I was too scared that I would lose his friendship or - or force him into a situation that he didn’t want to be in by telling him what happened. Not once did I consider that I was denying you all of -”

“Mara?”

My breath hitched in my throat at the sound of his voice. I hadn’t been expecting him to come to me. I thought I would have to hunt him down and be the one to initiate our first conversation post-reveal.

He was standing in the doorway, holding onto the doorknob so tightly, his knuckles were white. His voice wasn’t angry, but it didn’t possess the kind smoothness that I knew and loved. When his hazel eyes found mine, I couldn’t not notice the resemblance between him and Jack. Maybe Albus was wrong. Maybe Ginny had known the entire time, but didn’t say anything because, like my mum, she wanted me to take responsibility.

“Yes?” My voice cracked and I blushed.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Eyes wide, I glanced at Albus, who shrugged, before flicking my gaze to Lily.

“Go. We’ll stay with Jack,” the redhead assured me, patting me on the shoulder.

Swallowing the goose-egg sized lump in my throat, I nodded faintly, slowly rising to my feet. I felt numb, like I was marching to my death. For all I knew, I might as well have been. I didn’t know what James was going to say, but Merlin, I hoped against all hope that he wouldn’t abandon Jack. He could throw our friendship out the window and not want anything to do with me, but as long as he wanted to be a part of Jack’s life, I was more than happy to sacrifice what we had. Jack was my world and I wasn’t going to put anything ahead of him ever again.

I exited the room and shut the door behind us just in time to hear Albus and Lily commence to whisper feverishly. Inwardly, I rolled my eyes. They were such gossip hounds. I looked to James, but he ignored my questioning look. Instead, he gestured towards another door a little ways down the hall. I nodded and he started walking without waiting for me.

Once we were in the unoccupied room, he started pacing. A piece of me was glad to see his frantic movement as it meant that James was coming back to himself. I took a seat on the edge of the exam table and watched as he paced the length of the room, rubbing the back of his neck as he did so.

Then, quite suddenly, he started to speak. “Did you mean it?”

“Mean what?”

“What you said back in Jack’s room. Did you mean it?”

I blinked stupidly, trying to recall my own words. “Y-yes,” I stammered nervously. “I meant them.”

He paused mid-step to look at me. “You’re a bigger idiot than I thought you were.”

“Wait just a minute now, I don’t think it’s fair to -”

“You don’t think it’s fair to what, Mara?” James exploded, startling me. So much for the calm façade. Time for the infamous Potter temper to emerge. “To not tell me that I have a son? To keep a secret from me for - what - thirteen months! Do you think that’s fair? Because I sure as hell don’t think it is!”

Feeling attacked, I leapt to my feet. “I didn’t want to force you into something you didn’t want to do!” I shouted back. “I didn’t want to burden you with a baby.”

“Burden me…burden me? Mara, are you listening to yourself? Do you realise how ridiculous you sound? What makes you think that I would consider a baby - that I would ever consider Jack a burden!?”

His eyes drilled into mine and I felt a surge of heat in my stomach. It boiled the blood in my veins, my anger impossible to contain. I knew I had no right to be angry, but I couldn’t help it. My intelligence was not the only thing being insulted - it was the strength of our friendship he was questioning.

“Because you left!” I screamed, heat rising to my face as I strode towards him. “The morning after we slept together, you left. Gone without a bloody trace. No note, no nothing! You were like a ghost - there one minute and gone the next. I come back from my morning conference to a deserted flat and an empty mug of coffee! How the hell do you think that made me feel?” I asked, giving him a rough shove. I wanted him to push me back, but he just stood there with a stupid look on his face. “I thought you regretted shagging me. So excuse me for thinking that you would also regret the outcome of that night!”

Instead of flaring up like I thought he would and vehemently denying my claims, James took several steps back, the force of my words hitting him hard. He reached behind himself blindly, searching for something to grab on to. Eventually he backed into a chair and collapsed into it, burying his hands in his hair.

He didn’t say anything for a long time.

Since he wasn’t talking, I didn’t feel the need to make conversation either. What else could I say? I had laid everything out on the table, let him know the reasoning behind the biggest mistake of my life - not telling him, of course; Jack was the biggest blessing I could have asked for - and now, I felt like I was naked. Folding my arms over my chest as a means of covering myself, I leaned against the exam table and waited.

Minutes ticked by; the silence was deafening.

Finally, James picked up his head and said, “I’m sorry.”

It was enough to extinguish my anger in a second. “No, James, don’t be sorry. It’s not your fault. It’s - it’s mine. Like you said, I hid Jack from you for thirteen months. It’s not fair. Not fair to you, not fair to your parents, not fair to your siblings. Not fair to your entire family.” I sighed, pushing a hand through my unkempt hair. “I’m such an arse.”

He didn’t laugh and I didn’t expect him to. I stopped expecting anything from anyone.

“Look, Mara,” James began, rising from his seat and coming to join me by the exam table. He may have been standing a few feet away from me, but I could feel the heat emanating from his body and I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around him and beg for forgiveness. But I knew that wasn’t possible. He might have understood, even accepted my reasoning, but there wasn’t a chance in hell that he would forgive me any time soon. If the tables were turned, I knew I wouldn’t be so quick to forgive.

“I want to let you know that -” he paused to lick his lips and run a hand over his face “- that I’m going to be there for him. Despite your judgment, I want to be a part of his life. How you could think that I would leave my son - or you, for that matter - high and dry…” He shook his head to himself and continued, “Anyway, the point is that Jack is my son and I’m not about to abandon him, not when I’ve just found out that he’s mine. Not when I’ve already missed so much. I just wish I could have - never mind.”

My heart clenched and I chewed on my bottom lip to prevent from interrupting him because I knew this was a one-time only thing.

“That’s not the point. The point is that I’m here, and I have no intentions of ever leaving you behind.” He furrowed his brow and added, “Either of you.”

I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t find the right words. So, instead of commenting on how lovely his speech was or how much it meant to me that he said those words, delivered the reassurances, I asked a stupid question. “What about us?”

James stared at me for several moments before shrugging. “I-I just don’t know. You lied to me, Mara. You lied to my face for months and though you told me why, I’m still trying to understand why. All I know is that we’ve already mucked up any chances of -” He cut himself off, the tips of his ears going red. “Well, I’ve got Sophie now and the wedding is next Friday and the guests have already started sending gifts…Mara, I -”

I held up my hand, effectively silencing him. “I get it, James,” I said with a sad smile. “You don’t have to say anything else because I get it. I know I screwed up and I’m willing to pay the p-price. Now,” I persisted before he could say anything else contrary, “how would you like to meet your son for the first time?”

If I didn’t know it was the middle of summer, I would have thought it was Christmas, the way James’ face lit up like a Christmas tree. Beaming ear to ear, his eyes sparkling with life, not anger, he said, “I’d love that.”

* * *


A/N: Ack! Sorry for the lack of updates! This chapter was very difficult to write, and I hope you can see the reasons why. That being said, please tell me what you think of it! Was it too dramatic? Not believable enough? Did you love it? Let me know in a review! Thanks so much for reading!


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