There was no ostensible reason for it to happen. He liked her. She liked him. And they’d been friends before the plot to invade the well-guarded girls’ dormitory was hatched. They were certainly friends after the plot was disbanded, but James felt that there was a change in his and Waverly’s dynamic. A nearly imperceptible change, to be sure, which started with less references both aloud and private and evolved to exchanged glances instead of hellos and eventually reached a point where James considered it a stroke of luck whenever he got the chance to talk to her at all.
He wasn’t sure whether or not Waverly trusted him now any more than she had in the middle of March. She wasn’t growing colder to him, at any rate, nor he to her: when they did talk, those rare bright moments in a stretch of rain and revision, they were affectionate, friendly, even. He managed to sneak in a few references here and there–Victor Frankenstein (the doctor, not the monster), Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mrs. Danvers. Her lovely eyes would widen in confusion, and even after he’d try to explain it she’d not care.
He could say he was stuck in the “friend zone,” but that was too pedestrian and inaccurate a term for what was happening to them. In reality he didn’t occupy any one zone. He knew she still thought about him. He hoped she missed him. She seemed content in the status quo, although they both knew–she had to know–it was changing. It was worsening.
James didn’t dwell on all this, though. He didn’t see the point in it, because it wasn’t in him to push for something he only thought he wanted. It didn’t make sense to him to force Waverly to come to a decision–she wouldn’t like that, and he didn’t want to be the one to force her hand. (Or, in more melodramatic terms, her heart.)
But then, the rain and the revision culminated in a conversation.
Waverly started it, sitting without invitation on a hallway window seat James had usurped for revising purposes. “Are you busy?”
He was almost unnerved by her appearance, but as usual brushed it off. “I can spare a little time. What’s going on?”
“Just–I’ve been thinking.” She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear; her nails were no longer pink and glittery, and were scrubbed very clean. As if she couldn’t afford the distraction of colour when there were N.E.W.T.s to prepare for. “It’s been so long since we had a real conversation.”
Several weeks. He hadn’t been counting, but it felt like that. “What constitutes a real conversation, do you think?”
“Hopefully this,” she said. In the cloud-light (he’d always liked it, as it was grey and misty and mysterious–not so predatory as night and not so blinding as day) her skin looked starker than usual, and her eyes clearer. “You said that you’d be willing to wait for me to come around to… the idea of us being together.”
He blinked, and in the moment when he couldn’t see her, he steeled himself.
“I don’t think you should wait, if you are.” James saw that her hand twitched in her lap, as if she was restraining it from reaching out to him for what could well be the last time. “It’s not that I could never like you, James, because I think I do, but I don’t think I want to be with you right now. And I don’t know what sort of timeline you were imagining, but the fact is we’ll be graduating soon and then it’s the Wizengamot internship for you and publishing for me, and then what?”
He’d always found it amusing that she wanted to get into book publishing. She was a good reader, he knew, but she’d never read for him. Maybe if he’d asked her, she would have.
“I’m sorry, James.”
He believed her. “You don’t have to be.”
The corner of her mouth turned upward for a moment, a quirk of a smile he always saw on her before. Perhaps before he’d thought he sparked them the way she sparked esoteric, elitist remarks in him. But she leaned over and hugged him, and having her in his arms for the first time he could remember reminded him that a spark did not always light kindling on fire.
“I know we’ll both be busy for awhile,” Waverly said as they broke apart. “That’s why I wanted to tell you this now. I don’t want to wait for when it’s too late.”
“I’m not complaining about it,” he said. “And just so you know, that was probably the realest conversation I’ve had in a long time.”
She didn’t believe him, but patted his knee as she stood up.
When she was gone, he went back to work.
It was as if nothing had changed.
“So now you’re going to give up.”
Cillian was not impressed with James’ mode of dealing with anything. But only now was he making a stand to persuade him to change that mode.
“You told me to quit the dorm thing,” James reminded him without any remorse, any mournful feeling. How could he mourn that which wasn’t alive?
“That was different. I wanted you to give up on that particular endeavour so you could pursue this one. Her.”
“I did pursue her,” he said. “I told her how I feel. She said she didn’t trust me, and I didn’t argue with her. I let her choose what she wanted to do. And now she’s made her choice.”
Of course, Cillian knew where he was going with this. James had always prided himself on figuring things out quickly, but the Irishman was no lesser a thinker. In many ways, really, he was better at this sort of thing than James. Cillian had no set of behaviours on which he forced himself to base further action. He could get to the core of any matter in less biased a fashion than others, and if ever James needed an unbiased voice of consciousness, it was now.
“Do you think you’re chivalrous, Potter? Gentlemanly? Letting her make the choice?” He shook his shaggy head and pushed the fringe back from his eyes. “You said yourself that very first day that the transfiguration of the steps was a remnant of outmoded chivalry. You thought getting up those steps would serve as a wake-up call about gender roles in Hogwarts.”
James, blinded by self-delusion, didn’t get it.
“You’re so determined to change things that you refuse to be active. You pursue girls only so long as they need pursuing. Once they’re in reach, you’re fine, all is well, everything’s grand. Don’t think you did Waverly a favour by letting her make a choice about you. What did you give her to go off, anyway? You call her Rosaline and you think you’re charming her? You think there’s no point persuading her that you’re not a heartless bastard when doing that could mean that you’d get with your dream girl? You’re an idiot, James. I’m not afraid to admit that. I know you aren’t, either, but… what you did, it isn’t right.”
James sighed heavily. He’d heard speeches like this before, from his father, from Teddy, from his Uncle Charlie, from Ruth. They’d all said more or less the same thing–the longer you pretend cheerful indifference, the more convinced everyone will be of it. The likelier it is that you’ll lose something.
He thought it was Charlie who had said that he could lose someone.
He’d thought himself that he could lose Waverly if he didn’t do it right, but it never occurred to him that his approach had been wrong from the start. And yet, as Cillian’s almost angry remonstrance sank in, he remembered something he’d seen after Waverly had left him at the window.
“Considering she’s with Eric Gallagher, I’d reckon my chances are pretty low.”
The funny thing about young like was that it didn’t provide a logical reaction to a missed opportunity. It was a good thing, then, that fate and circumstance and precedence gave James just the thing to counter the fact that Waverly was moving on.
How could that faze him, really, when he hadn’t truly been fazed in years? How could one girl holding hands with one boy break through a persona that he’d unintentionally cultivated for years?
If Waverly was his dream girl, why didn’t he see her face etched on his eyelids at night?
Why hadn’t she broken his heart?
He had his answer.
Perhaps he never had a heart after all.
Disclaimer So, there's a lot in this chapter that I have to tell you that I do not own. Therefore, a list is in order!
1. Do not even sort of want to own Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. 2. Only kind of would like to be Ralph Waldo Emerson, the real person and American poet. 3. Am way too freaked out to want to have any rights to the nightmarish figure of Mrs. Danvers in Daphne DeMaurier's Rebecca. 4. If I owned Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I would make sure every person ever stopped referring to the monster by that name. 5. And let's not kid ourselves: I have nothing to do with anything Shakespeare ever dreamt of, especially the jilted Rosaline from Romeo and Juliet.
Author's Note I kind of sort of really like this chapter. Heartless James rears his head again, Awesome Cillian shows himself. But hey, that's just me. Another thing: I honestly do not know why I picked the references I did for this chapter (except for Rosaline) but if you guys have any ideas or parallels you can think of, I'd love to hear them.
One chapter and an epilogue left, everyone. I hope you enjoy it.
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