Chapter 14: Chasing Reality
James rolled onto his side, away from his wife. He couldn’t sleep. Again. He sighed and glanced at the wireless clock on the bedside table. That couldn’t be right. Only two-twelve? James scrubbed his hands over his face. He was tired; he just couldn’t force himself into a restless sleep as he had been doing for the better part of two months: ever since the International Quidditch Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.
He was a goner from the beginning. It wasn’t even his fault, really. Some of his teammates – his male teammates, that is – invited him along to a bar. James happily obliged. He was the newbie, after all, and eager to fit in and become part of the team.
He hadn’t known then that it was a strip club, but it was kind of hard to miss by the neon sign, ‘Wicked Witches,’ over the brick square of a building. He’d noticed her right off. She was serving drinks in tiny shorts and a little vest that enhanced her cleavage. He followed his teammates to the table lining the catwalk that ran down the centre of the room.
She served them a round of drinks and winked at him. He read ‘Jennifer’ on her name tag and thought of what a pretty name that was. Then she disappeared. He laughed with his new mates and got another drink from another equally gorgeous cocktail waitress.
Jennifer reappeared twenty minutes later. This time, she was doing a sexy routine on the catwalk in front of him. Looking back on it, he was ashamed to admit the amount of money he slipped into her g-string that night. In fact, he had to make two separate trips to the banker to exchange galleons for the little slips of paper the customers used to tip the girls, who would exchange them back for galleons at the end of the night. Those coins would’ve been hard to keep intact with only a tiny string to hold them in place.
James was transfixed with the girl. So much so that the next night, after playing in a match against the Canadians, he returned to ‘Wicked Witches’ to watch her performance. He dropped another three-hundred galleons that night. And without his mates, he sat alone, downing watered down firewhiskey and flirting with Jennifer until close, where he walked her back to her flat – apartment, she said.
James shook himself out of his flashback and sat up in bed, scrubbing his hand over his face. He was still tired and yet farther away from falling asleep. He stood, careful not to shake the bed too much and wake Jennifer – because that would be a nightmare, to wake her from her beauty rest – and slid his feet into house shoes, tugged on a worn dressing gown, and left the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.
He moved down the dark corridor, padded down the stairs and into the kitchen. He was reaching for a glass for water when someone cleared their throat behind him. He jumped and turned, clutching the glass to his chest.
Harry sat at the kitchen table, a flask in front of him. He was in his pyjamas, his hair a fright – even more so than usual – his glasses perched on the end of his nose. He looked old to James. And his father never looked old. He was as young and vibrant as anyone could be after the childhood and teenage years he’d had.
“’Morning, son,” Harry said, but did not look up from where he was hunched over the flask. James narrowed his eyes.
“Are you drunk?”
Harry lifted his tired eyes to James’ and gave a half smile. “Heavens no, your mum would kill me. Just getting a little…remedy.” His gaze drifted back down to the flask.
James shuffled across the room, filled his cup from the tap, and sat next to his father. “A remedy for what?”
The concern in his voice caused Harry to look up for a moment. “Nothing serious, son, just a touch of heart burn. I’m trying to decide whether this is the fast acting or long lasting potion but the damn bottle doesn’t say.”
James grinned, took out his wand from his pyjama bottoms, and whispered ‘Lumos’. “The ole’ eyes just aren’t what they used to be, eh, dad?”
Harry smiled softly. “Does that mean I’m getting old?” He moved James’s hand closer to the flask of potion, and decided it was fast acting potion. He unscrewed the top and took two drinks of the pink, bitter tasting potion. He winced as the thickness slid down his dry throat, and then breathed a sigh of relief as the burning in his chest slowly ebbed away.
“So now that I’m all fixed up, tell me why you can’t sleep?”
James sighed, putting his unlit wand back in his pyjama bottoms – dark blue and green plaid, well worn and fading slightly – and sat back in the chair.
“Her appointment’s tomorrow,” he said simply.
“Ah,” Harry nodded. “Nervous?”
James nodded with a slight movement of his head. “I just,” he leaned forward and put his head in his hands, “I need to know. I have to know. I’m going crazy. And she won’t take a home test, which pisses me off! It’s like she’s trying to hide something! It’s like she knows that the moment I find out she’s not carrying my child that I’ll kick her to the curb.”
“James,” Harry sighed. “You can’t mean that.”
“Well, I won’t do it right away, of course. And I’ll help her get settled so she doesn’t have to dance anymore. But I’m not signing those papers. I’m not signing my life away to someone I don’t love. I can’t, dad. It’s just not right.”
Harry seemed to contemplate this for a moment, summoning a cup and filling it with water for himself, downing the liquid in two gulps, and then fiddling with the rim of the cup before he made a comment.
“That’s true, Jay. You’ve got a point,” Harry looked up into his son’s eyes. “But, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing if she is pregnant. I know you. You’ll resign yourself to an unhappy marriage out of obligation. And I applaud you for it, I do. It’s the right thing to do. But…gosh, son…I just wish this weren’t the situation at all.”
“Me too, dad. Me too.”
Nat woke early on Wednesday morning. She wasn’t used to being up so early, but after having gone to sleep at seven the previous night, it wasn’t as if she could sleep forever. She tiptoed around the room, showering and dressing in her magically expanded uniform. Rose’d had to help her with that, because her magic had gone all wonky since the pregnancy.
The first two days back to class had been okay for her. She was slowly getting used to people staring at her. How they found out, she didn’t know. Maybe Arnie let it slip to his big mouthed sister. Or Professor Longbottom even. And Emileigh did sort of have a big mouth.
However it happened, it seemed more and more people became aware of the situation and treated her like a circus act. But it didn’t really bother her all that much. Surprisingly. Because Albus was there for her and supported her and loved her and that was all that mattered.
She tugged on a grey jumper over her crisp, white shirt and magically pressed tie and grabbed her black school robes from her desk chair. She lifted her school bag – which was magically lightened with a ‘featherweight’ spell, ala Albus – and left the silent dormitory as quietly as she could.
She entered the Common Room, dark but for the dying embers of the fire. It was only six in the morning, according to the watch – a pink face surrounded by sterling silver and a black dragon hide band she’d gotten from Rose and Scorpius for Christmas – on her wrist. But, surprisingly the room wasn’t unoccupied.
Kate was sleeping soundly on the couch in front of the fire, her hand tucked up under her face, her lips slightly parted. She still had on yesterday’s uniform, her prefect’s badge gleaming in the dying firelight. Nat wondered why she was down there and not up in her bed in the dorm.
Then she remembered that Kate’d had prefect rounds with the seventh year Hufflepuff boy the night before. Nat smiled knowingly, and took out her Potions textbook.
It was a miracle she was even in Potions. If it hadn’t been for her copying from Albus or Rose during classes and sheer dumb luck on her OWL, she wouldn’t even had made it into NEWT level Potions. But most employment opportunities required Potions, and so she really had to have it unless she wanted to be a shop keep.
She glanced down at her stomach. Well, with the way she was going that would probably be the best job she’d be liable to get. And Albus wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an Auror, which took three years of schooling past Hogwarts. How were they supposed to raise two babies together while trying to jumpstart their careers?
The answer was easy to Nat. Her career would have to take a back burner until they could afford for her to attend schooling for whatever she decided she wanted to do. For the most part, she felt okay with that because she wasn’t really positive what she wanted to do.
Just that she wanted to be with Albus.
She worked on her Potions homework for forty-five minutes before Kate stirred. And then the frizzy-haired brunette sat straight up, as if suddenly startled. Nat jumped at the start, and then laughed to herself.
“Are you alright, Kate?”
“Nat!” Kate said, surprised at finding her friend in the Common Room, sitting across from her and a now-roaring fire. “What are you doing down here at this time of night?”
Nat narrowed her eyes. Kate seemed kind of jittery. Nervous even. Her brown eyes strayed towards the portrait hole for a split second and then came back to rest on Nat.
“It’s seven in the morning, Kate,” Nat said curiously.
“Have I been down here all night?” Kate wondered aloud, glancing down at herself, towards the boys’ staircase, the portrait hole again and then back at Nat.
“Kate, you’re acting really weird. What’s going on?”
“N-nothing!” She answered a little too quickly for Nat’s liking.
But the girl was up the stairs to the dormitory before Nat could formulate a response. Instead, she rolled her eyes at the craziness of her friends and went back to her essay, not giving it another thought.
James was floored when Jennifer was up and dressed and at breakfast before him. His mother was at the stove, cooking bacon with her wand eyeing Jennifer sceptically, and his father was at the kitchen table reading the Daily Prophet with a cup of tea in front of him.
James dropped into a chair next to Jennifer and his mother placed a plate of bacon and eggs in front of him, pressing a kiss to his crown, just as she did when he was a kid. She seemed to have caught herself, because she straightened suddenly and went back to the stove to prepare the next batch.
Jennifer was pale, white as a ghost really, with an untouched cup of tea in front of her. Her hair looked limp, pulled away from her face in a loose pony tail, and her makeup wasn’t immaculate as usual.
“Are you feeling okay, Jennifer?” Ginny asked, sliding the last piece of bacon onto a plate for her husband. She placed the plate in front of him, stealing a kiss to his forehead before he could begin eating, and then looked up expectantly at her daughter-in-law.
“I’m fine. Just a bit queasy this morning.”
“Hmm,” she looked contemplative for a moment. “Maybe you two had better postpone your house hunting for a few days. Besides,” she said turning away from them to set the pan into the sudsy water for washing, “don’t you want a house a little closer to Montrose, James?”
“We’re just looking, mum. I have a flat in Montrose. We were thinking about getting a place sort of between here and there to be closer to home.” He knew he was saying that to butter her up in case of the devastating news of another unplanned pregnancy in the family, and the smile that graced her face made his stomach twist with guilt.
“In fact,” James started when he couldn’t bare the silence anymore. He stood and reached out for Jennifer’s hand. “We’d better get going. We’ve got to meet the realtor in twenty minutes.”
“But you haven’t even finished your breakfast,” Ginny slid into the seat next to her husband with her cup of coffee and looked up at her son, who was shrugging into a tan cloak. He helped Jennifer into her own winter cloak and then picked up the last piece of bacon off his plate.
“We’ll see you guys later,” he kissed his mother’s cheek and waved at his dad – who acknowledged him with a nod of his head – and took Jennifer hand, leading her out the back door to apparate.
“Well that was weird,” Ginny muttered into her coffee. She looked at her watch and sighed. “I’d better get to work.”
“Gin?” Harry looked up from his paper, and for the first time Ginny noticed the pain etched on his face.
“What is it, Love?”
“Can you get me the heartburn potion from the cupboard, please?”
Rose looked up from the Prefect Patrol Request Form that had just been given to her by Professor Kingston, the Head of the Prefects. She glanced down the table and then back at the form. That couldn’t be right. It just couldn’t.
She looked towards the ceiling as the morning post was carried in by owls. She waited and waited for a brown tawny owl to soar her way. It didn’t. Again. This was the third day since she’d sent the letter to James and she had yet to hear from him.
She was getting a little bit anxious. But she didn’t want to talk to him. Not yet.
She glanced back down at the parchment in front of her and then across the hall to Scorpius, at the Slytherin table. He was looking at her with a curious look. She looked back down at the request form and sighed.
She couldn’t not fill the request. She couldn’t. She was head girl and that just wouldn’t look right. She might be accused of favouritism.
Sometimes Rose wished she didn’t care so much what people thought. She signed the form, nearly illegibly, and made a mental note to give it back to Professor Kingston in Potions. She glanced back down the table and shook her head.
Guilt knotted in her stomach. She shouldn’t have done that.
Sometimes being Head Girl was a bitch.
“I don’t understand why you’re so embarrassed by me,” Jennifer hissed as they made their way to the receptions desk on the sixth floor of St. Mungos.
“I’m not embarrassed, Jen,” James whispered back, pulling his cap lower on his head. “I’m just trying not to be noticed.”
Jennifer smiled at the older lady behind the counter and received the forms she had to fill out. They walked side by side to the waiting area across from the counter and sat. “I think the dark sunglasses are a dead giveaway, Jamesie.”
James slumped in the hard plastic seat and waited while Jennifer filled out her forms. “Do I sign this ‘Potter’ or ‘Smith’, Love?” She said rather loudly, even though the area was less than half full. James’s eyes darted around, finding only a few people looking their way, and hissed back, “Smith.”
“No need to be rude,” she told him in a hurt voice, “I was just curious.”
She turned in the forms and, ten minutes later, was called back. “Are you coming?”
“No thank you,” he muttered. The nurse, a familiar looking woman with black hair and a friendly smile, was waiting for her patiently at the edge of the area.
“I’m not going in there without you, James.”
James sighed and stood, following his wife to the woman, who held the clipboard with all of Jennifer’s information out in front of her as she led them down a semi-crowded hall.
“Mrs. Smith, is it?” The woman asked, and James had the feeling he knew the girl. He recognized her voice, and she couldn’t have been more than twenty. Much too young to be a healer.
“It’s Potter, actually. My husband’s famous and he’s –”
“Trying to be incognito?” the girl smiled, dazzling white teeth sparkled in the harsh lighting of the hospital. “Hello, James.”
James nearly halted in his tracks. He’d known that he knew the girl. He just couldn’t place her.
“How do you two know each other?” Jennifer asked the question for him as they turned a corner.
“We went to Hogwarts together. Same year; only I was a Hufflepuff and James was the Quidditch Captain of Gryffindor. They beat us for the cup our final year.”
“Kylie Richt!” James said suddenly, and the girl turned and smiled at him.
“You were dating Connor Stevens seventh year and he was Keeper for Hufflepuff.”
“You scored ninety points on him in that game alone. He’s probably still nursing his bruised ego, the poor sod.” She held her arm out, directing them into the small examination room.
“Are you still dating him?” James couldn’t help but ask as he sat in the chair opposite the exam table.
“Heavens no! We broke up before end of school. I could not stand to see him moping anymore! But look at this! You got married!”
“That’s right,” Jennifer said, inserting herself back into the conversation. “And pregnant, too.”
“Lucky lady,” Kylie smiled and then turned back to her clipboard. James couldn’t help but wonder what that comment was all about. He hardly knew Kylie except for during fourth year when they were paired up in Potions for a term. It was odd how leaving school forced people to grow up. Here Kylie was a…
“Are you a Healer?” James wondered aloud.
“An intern, actually,” Kylie smiled as she rummaged through cupboards and pulled out a paper gown for Jennifer to wear. “I took some summer classes. Usually it would take twelve months to get to this point, but I did it in seven and have been interning here for a since just before Christmas. After another a year I’ll take my licensing test and, hopefully, become a resident, and then I can pick a specialty.”
“Any idea on what you want to do?” James was aware that he was completely ignoring Jennifer, but it was good to have a conversation with a woman and actually be interested in what she had to say.
“I’m thinking about obstetrics, but I’m not quite positive.”
Just then the door opened and a tall woman walked in, her dark hair in a fierce bun at the nape of her neck, her robes a glaring neon pink.
“I thought Healers wore green robes,” James muttered offhanded, earning himself a dirty look from the Healer, whose nametag read ‘Mia Jacobson’.
“Healers with a specialty wear robes the colour of their specialty,” Kylie whispered out of the corner of her mouth. “Gynaecology is pink – for obvious reason.”
James snorted with laughter, earning himself another glare from the healer.
“Hello, Mrs. –” she looked at the clipboard for a moment – “Smith. My name is Mia Jacobson and I’ll be taking care of you today. Can you tell me what the problem is?”
“Well,” Jennifer gulped slightly and James rolled his eyes. She never had trouble speaking and then should be no different. “I think I’m pregnant.”
“And did you have a positive home pregnancy test?” Healer Jacobson’s eyes met Jennifer’s and the latter looked away, as if she were a scolded child.
“No, ma’am. I don’t think those are very accurate.”
“Actually, Mrs. Smith, magical home pregnancy tests, when used correctly, are nearly one hundred percent accurate. For future reference. Now, Mr. Smith, if you could step outside, this should only take a moment. Kylie, if you will…”
Kylie led James into the corridor amidst Jennifer’s insistence that he should stay. He couldn’t wait to be out of there, and burst out laughing as soon as the door was closed. “Is that lady for real?” He burst.
“Afraid so,” Kylie laughed herself. “So, the great James Potter is married, eh? How’d she manage to snag you?” She was laughing, and curious, but she didn’t particularly seem happy. She was beautiful, that was for sure, and James couldn’t believe he’d missed her at school. He had been focused on Quidditch, though, and not failing his NEWTs.
“It was a mistake,” he was quick to assure her. “A stupid, drunken night in Vegas.”
“Ah, American. I knew I recognized the accent.” She nodded knowingly, looking away. “You know, James, I always had a crush on you.”
“You did?” He couldn’t believe it.
She bit her lip shyly, and he could tell that she hadn’t meant to share that little piece of information with him. “I did.” She looked away for a moment. “That was a long time ago, though.”
“Of course,” James hastily agreed.
“And you’re married now,” whether she realized it or not, she took a step closer to him.
“Right.” His gaze slid from her eyes to her lips.
“With a baby on the way.” That was like a jolt of lightning to both of them, and they each took a step back just as the door to the room opened. The clipboard was thrust into Kylie’s hands, and Healer Jacobson took off down the hall and rounded a corner.
“Rude,” James muttered under his breath and followed Kylie into the room. Jennifer sat on the edge of the table in her clothes, her head in her hands.
Kylie, who stood off to one side, gasped and nearly dropped the clipboard. James turned to her, and then to Jennifer, who’d looked up at the noise. Her eyes were filled with tears, and tear tracks ran down her face from where she’d already been crying.
“What’s going on?” He asked no one in particular. No one said anything. There was not a sound in the room but for breathing and the occasional shaky breath from Jennifer. Kylie stood staring open-mouthed at James’s wife. He suddenly got worried. “Jen?” he tried again, putting his hand on her shoulder.
“Oh, Jamesie,” she cried launching herself at him. He caught her body and held her close as her sobs shook her. She sat, crying against his chest, for what seemed like forever, before he pushed her away slightly, and brushed tears off her cheeks with the pads of his thumbs.
“Talk to me, Jen. What happened?” His heart lurched when he looked over and saw the anguished expression on Kylie’s face.
“I-I’m not p-pregnant.”
Breathing a sigh of relief probably would’ve been the wrong thing to do at the moment. Okay, so she was upset that he wasn’t in her clutches anymore. He was just about to suggest they head back to the house and discuss the plan to return her to America and get their marriage annulled when Healer Jacobson walked back in, pink cheeked and out of breath as if she’d run across the whole hospital.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Smith. Jennifer. I just spoke with Oncology. The earliest I could get you an appointment is tomorrow morning at eight a.m. They promised me if there was a cancellation they would floo you first.”
“Oncology?” James’s eyebrows knotted in confusion.
“Am I going to die?” Jennifer asked fearfully.
Healer Jacobson did not answer.
A/N: A huge thank you goes to a few reviewers for name suggestions that I loved but couldn’t use for the twins, so I used them in this chapter. Thanks to Sheena for the names ‘Connor’ and ‘Mia’, and thanks to Dani for the name ‘Kylie’. Also, Graylady, it’s not mentioned, but I pictured the witch at reception named ‘Giselle’.
Chapter title courtesy of Firenze Fan from the forums! Thanks!
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