As it turned out, it was not as simple as levitating oneself up the stairs.
Levitating oneself up the stairs without advance notice of levitation tended to send ripples of panic amongst young witches, leading to mass lampooning–both verbal and magical–of said levitator as he levitated up the stairs to said witches’ bedrooms.
“You would think,” James exhaled hoarsely, “that magical people can recognise a levitating man when they see one.”
Cillian and Waverly did not seem at all that sympathetic. The former was sitting at the foot of James’ bed and the latter on the floor next to them. James, with a bandage on his head and the shrill remonstrance of Madam Barnhart ringing in his ears, was snuggled into the blankets (Cillian’s work, not Waverly’s) and feeling a bit more intensely about this particular incident than he had about anything in months. Perhaps years.
“It’s the shock factor, I guess,” Cillian said sagely, leaning against the wall and chewing pensively on some Drooble’s Best he’d found underneath his own bed. “No one really expects it to happen, do they?”
“Did you hear the way they were shrieking?” Waverly snorted, clearly not allying herself with her roommates. “A boy is floating up the stairs! The horror! The horror!”
“Mistah Potter, he dead.”
She glanced at James, who shrugged as best he could with his sore arm. “It’s a reference.”
“Never mind that,” Cillian cut in, a loud pop of his bubblegum indicating how little he cared for this particular tangent. “The real question is, what’s the next step?”
“If there’s another step to be taken at all,” Waverly added. “Obviously there’s a lot of… pent-up animosity? Sexual tension? Insecurity? Immaturity? When it comes to girls and their space, I mean. Getting in there doesn’t look like harmless fun to them.” Tossing her head and twisting her hair into a bun, though she had nothing to tie it together, she went on, “It’s literally a life-or-death situation to them. You stay out, they live. You come in, they die.”
The boys stared at her together, equal amounts bewildered and dismissive.
Waverly, of course, didn’t seem to care very much about their confusion. Drawing her knees up to her chin, she exhaled. “Huh.”
Cillian leaned forward and poked her with his foot. It was a rather forward motion considering that the whole triumvirate thing was in its earliest stages and could possibly be on the verge of disintegrating, but no one seemed to mind. Except for James, for whom such a thing was unthinkable. Mostly because moving in any direction would only cause a lot of unpleasant groaning to resound throughout Gryffindor Tower, but also because he wasn’t a really physical person. What he deemed himself was an intellectual, and Waverly seemed to be on the same… wavelength. (He rolled his eyes at himself for the awful, awful pun.)
“Just–just think about it,” she said, methodically picking her words. “It’s like, I’m here in your room because the assumption had always been that girls are more trustworthy than boys. But how true is that really? It’s like… I dunno, it’s like the stair transfiguration is…”
“An outdated symbol of chauvinism? Absolutely.” James found himself pleased that he could extrapolate this way. More interestingly, he found himself pleased that Waverly seemed pleased with his extrapolation.
Cillian, however, had never been one for abstractions. It was what made him such a god-awful chess player. James recognised his distaste for the tangent, and resolved to wrap it up so they could return to the actual question of the hour. But when he spoke, it did nothing of the sort. “It’s as if this pet project, pet prank, whatever it can be called, it’s like it’s a grand social experiment, isn’t it? Gender roles in magical society, conformity… and, you know, I always thought there was an interesting attitude to witches at Hogwarts and I guess even amongst witches at Hogwarts. The dichotomy between–oi.” Someone punched him.
Judging by the blank look on his face, it wasn’t Cillian.
The real culprit rolled her eyes (the shock of pain going up his leg didn’t distract him from the fact that her eyes resembled those of a giraffe) and started playing with her hair again. “You lost me at dichotomy.”
“Then you’ve been lost for all of fifteen seconds,” he pointed out peaceably.
“It seemed like you were going off on a boring tangent. And being lost within a boring tangent is like being lost in a labyrinth, you know? Can’t get out. Stuck there forever.”
“You could get out if you had a thread to follow.”
“But I didn’t have one, because you were boring me.”
From the corner came Cillian’s pointed cough, mangled a bit by the gum that threatened to wedge itself in his throat. When it was freed, he cleared his throat and said. “I’m going to go ahead and assume that we’re still going to do this, yeah?”
James’ answer was unequivocal, as most of his answers were. But there was a solidness backing this one that Cillian hadn’t heard in a long time. “Oh, definitely. I’ve been done bodily harm just for doing the simplest thing. It’d be bloody unfair to let all that blood go to waste.”
“It was a cut,” Cillian said.
“On my head.”
“Oh, I’m in,” said Waverly brightly, without giving any further reason. Then she pushed herself off the floor and, upon regaining standing balance, patted James’ head.
It was a gesture that he hadn’t exactly expected; in his experience, warmth was a reciprocal thing, and he didn’t make it a point to give it and didn’t expect to receive it except from the rather foolish. But he found himself grinning anyway, and asked, “You’re leaving?”
“Yeah, I still have that essay, and I just wasted two hours with you.”
“Well, thanks for levitating me into the tigers’ den.”
“Thanks for distracting me from numbers and stuff.” She smiled, and then added to Cillian, “How old is that gum, exactly?”
He shrugged and wished her luck on her homework. He even hopped off James’ bed to walk her to the door, making a point to shut it when she had crossed the threshold. Then he scampered back to his original position, this time shifting himself to face the boy under the covers.
“So.” He raised a quizzical eyebrow. “What was all that about?”
James didn’t even have to feign nonchalance at this point. “What was what all about?”
The Irishman pointed at the door. “All that. The Muggle lit references. The mythology allusions. The grinning and the punching and the patting and the touché of it all. What was that?”
“We were talking, Cillian. That’s what happens in intelligent conversation. Ideas are exchanged. Sometimes it’s through the conduit of culture, high or low, or–”
“That’s not what happens in your intelligent conversations. I know, I’m usually around for those. That was… I haven’t seen you like this since… can’t even remember. She’s bringing it out in you, isn’t she?”
“And what d’you think she’s bringing out in me?” he countered. It could have sounded exasperated to an eavesdropper, but this was James, and he was for the most part unflappable.
“I dunno.” Cillian leaned against the bedpost to think about it. Abstractions, after all, were not his strong suit. But there was nothing abstract about the interaction he’d just seen. It had been concrete, it had been real. There was an element of James’ characteristic cool-friendliness, and Waverly’s generic cuteness, but there was something else there, too. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he could tell it was there. “But I do know that you wanted her for a reason.”
“I did. Can you think of anyone else who’d spontaneously try to levitate me up to her room?”
Cillian rolled his eyes.
“For not sex- or revenge-related reasons,” James clarified.
“Beyond that,” Cillian asserted. Then, as James tried to settle himself more comfortably in bed (which in itself was a big to-do, considering the ridiculous soreness of his extremities and the delicate wound on his forehead), he said, “If you fancied her, you should’ve just told me. Could’ve gone about this a less painful way.”
James was now staring at the bunk above his own, not at his friend. And he was definitely not thinking about Waverly. In that way. Whatever way that was. As a friend, a collaborator, as an inside man. Not particularly as a girl.
“If I said I fancied her, would you admit that you’re only doing this to get into Isla Quigley’s sock drawer?”
“If you said you fancied her, I would as a matter of fact go through Isla’s sock drawer. And other drawers besides.”
And as amusing a thought as that was for him, it didn’t even occur to him to tell such a blatant, glaring, possibly truthful lie.
Disclaimer Once again, there are references to the aforementioned Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness in this chapter, this time with James' line "Mistah Potter, he dead" (an obvious callback to the infamous "Mistah Kurtz, he dead"). Also, James' reference to Ariadne comes (similarly obviously, I should hope) from the Greek myth involving Theseus and a minotaur and a labyrinth and stuff.
Also, all of the argyle socks in the world to ahoythere at tda for the chapter image!
Author's Note So... quick updates are pretty much off the table now, considering my schedule, but I'll do what I can when I can. Thanks for the lovely response to the first chapter, and I do hope you guys continue to enjoy!
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