I grunt in an extremely attractive fashion as I attempt to lug my things off of the Hogsmeade platform and onto the Hogwarts Express.
“Oh, would you hurry up, Ary?” Dom asks impatiently.
“Well, Dominique,” I spit out, “this would be going a lot faster if Connor would help me.”
“But he can’t! He’s carrying my things!”
“Fine, then I guess you’ll just have to wait until I can lug this stupid thing up there!”
I struggle with my trunk in vain as I finish my sentence, glaring at Connor the entire time. He rolls his eyes and yanks his head at Dom behind her back.
“Merlin, Aria. You’re pathetic,” Aiden says, appearing behind me. He grabs my trunk with one hand and climbs easily up onto the train.
“Unfair!” I exclaim. “Look at you!”
He shrugs and sends me a cheeky grin. “What can I say? I’m built like my dad.”
“Men,” I mutter under my breath.
“Hey, guys!” Sophie says, bouncing up to us happily. “Mind if I sit with you?”
“Hi, Sarah!” Aiden blurts out, his face turning a lovely shade of red.
“Aren’t you sitting with James?” I ask as I peer around her for the tell-tale sight of his messy black hair.
“Nope. We just broke up,” she informs us cheerily.
Aiden drops my trunk with a loud bang and his mouth gapes open in surprise. “Come again?”
“We just broke up. On the platform,” Sophie repeats, waving her hand towards the bustle of Hogsmeade.
“Um... are you okay?” Dom asks slowly.
“Oh, yes. I’m perfectly fine. It was a mutual decision.”
This time my mouth falls open in shock. “Woah. Hold up a second. You were practically in love with James two weeks ago. What happened?”
“I dunno. I guess I was more in love with the idea of James than with James himself. I mean, just look at him. He’s James Potter, who wouldn’t want someone like that? And in truth, I still want someone like that. Just not James. The more I thought about it, the more it just felt... wrong. Besides, I could see how unhappy he was. Nothing’s really going to change, though. We’re still going to be mates - we’re pretty much best mates now - we just aren’t going to snog anymore. I’m not going to lie, I’ll miss that...”
I blink blankly a few times, trying to register this new information. Wow. Sophie has finally come to her senses. She’s back to her old, rational self.
Oh my Wizard God, something’s finally going right! The Aiden and Sophie thing is back on! Huzzah! Thank you, Wizard God, thank you!
“Er - let’s go find a compartment, shall we?” Connor suggests, breaking the awkwardness. “Will you be joining us, Aiden?”
“Uh...” His eyes dart back and forth between Sophie and a large group of his friends that have just made their way to an open compartment. “Actually, I think I just saw Tanner and Asher sit in there... But you all are welcome to come and sit with us if you’d like.”
“Doesn’t look like there’s enough space,” I comment as I gaze into the compartment. “Only room for two more.”
“Er - I guess you lot should find your own, then,” he says with a sad glance in Sophie’s direction.
“You know what? I’ll sit with you, Aiden. I figure you could use some Prefect supervision,” Sophie says brightly, grabbing his hand and pulling him towards the compartment.
I think Aiden nearly fainted on the spot.
His eyes widen as he stares at her hand in his, blushing profusely by this point. “Okay,” he manages to choke out.
As they disappear inside the compartment, I throw my hands up in exasperation. “Great. Now who’s going to carry my stuff?”
“I’ve only got two hands, woman!” Connor exclaims as I turn to look pointedly at him.
“Fine,” I spit out as I begin to lug my trunk down the hall. “Here’s an empty compartment.”
Once our luggage is stored securely in the overhead racks (Connor’s good for something, at least), we settle into our seats, preparing for the long trip ahead of us. Connor and Dom sit together on one side of the compartment while I sit awkwardly on the other side, all by my lonesome.
It’s really a very uncomfortable situation. Dom and Connor are off in Couple Land, gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes, blushing, looking down at their linked hands, and then repeating the process. I, of course, can only watch them. Which is weird. And awkward. And... Merlin, I should have brought my text books.
The door to our compartment slides open and I snap my head towards it, grateful for something else to look at. James gives me a light smile and and sits down to my right. Jett follows him into the compartment, and for a moment my heart beats wildly with hope. But as soon as his eyes lock on me, he whips around, slams the compartment door shut, and stalks off down the hallway.
I exhale noisily and tilt my head back to look up at the ceiling. “Merlin, what did I do?” I whisper.
“Hey,” James says softly, reaching for my hand. “It’ll get better. Just breathe, remember?”
I nod and blink away the tears threatening to spill from my eyes. I lay my head on his shoulder as the last of the drops fall away, finding comfort in the warmth of his hand and the beat of his heart.
“When did you two become a couple?” Connor asks curiously as Dom peers on strangely. Oh, look. They’ve finally noticed something besides each other.
“We’re not a couple,” I say, violently jerking away from James. “Jett and I haven’t even broken up.”
“Really? Because you looked pretty couple-y to me,” Dom practically sings.
And this whole situation has just become immensely more awkward.
James clears his throat loudly and turns to stare out the window, a flush crawling across his face. The train lurches into motion and a silence falls over our compartment.
“Connor,” Dom says suddenly, “I’m hungry.”
“We just ate, Dom,” he replies in a bored tone.
“I’m hungry. Let’s go,” she says, yanking him out of the compartment.
...which leaves James and I alone.
Congratulations, Dom. You have just managed to make this even more awkward. I hope you’re proud of yourself.
The only break in the silence is the clacking of the train against the tracks. I bite at my lip nervously and peek over at James out of the corner of my eye. He has turned away from the window in favor of staring straight ahead and seems determined not to look at me.
“So,” I say, wincing at the sound of my voice echoing around the silence of our compartment. “You and Sophie, huh?”
He nods slightly, still staring straight ahead. “Yup.”
“That was short lived.”
“But you’re still friends.”
Another silence lapses over the compartment.
“So,” James says slowly. “You and Jett are still fighting.”
“And you’re not speaking.”
“I’m sure you’re just thrilled about that.”
His face twitches slightly and he turns to face me. “Excuse me?”
“You know, that he and I are fighting.”
“Why would I be happy about that?”
“Because, you know, you fancy me and -”
“What kind of a person do you think I am?” he asks angrily. “Do you think I like seeing you this way? Do you think I enjoy seeing you cry?”
“I just -”
“It kills me - it absolutely kills me - every time I see how unhappy you are. You don’t know anything about me, so stop acting like you do,” he says, voice rising with every word.
My voice is cut off by the slamming of the compartment door as he exits without another word.
Wow. I just have to screw everything up, don’t I?
My gaze slowly finds the window as the minutes trickle by. I watch the green of the countryside swirl outside of the train without a single thought in my head. The beat of the train and the consistency of the scenery lull me into a sort of numbness, an almost meditative state of mind.
I’m interrupted by the sliding of the compartment door and the loud laughter that signals the return of Connor and Dominique.
“Where’d James go?” Connor asks.
I shrug. “Don’t know.”
“What happened?” Dom inquires with concern.
Dom tosses me something called a Chocolate Frog as she and Connor settle back into their seats. “Eat it. It’ll make you feel better, or at least that’s what Teddy Lupin always tells me.”
I grin and tear open the package, biting anxiously into the frog.
“Who’d you get?” Connor asks as I pull out a card from the package.
I stare down at the picture on the card and my heart almost stops in shock. On it is the image of someone who could very nearly be James and Albus’s double. “Harry Potter,” I read off the bottom of the card.
“Oh! You got Uncle Harry? I’ve got seven of him...” Dom begins to ramble on but I tune her out as I flip over the card to read the back of it.
The first and only known wizard to survive the Killing Curse, “The Boy Who Lived,” is considered to be one of the foremost figures in Wizarding history. Potter’s extensive list of accomplishments includes becoming the youngest Quidditch player in the last century for Gryffindor House, finding Salazar Slytherin’s Chamber of Secrets, becoming the youngest competitor and winner of the Triwizard Tournament, and becoming the last Master of Death for having gained true possession of all three Deathly Hallows. He is most widely known, however, for his defeat of the most dangerous Dark Wizard of all time, Lord Voldemort, in 1998, and for his continued work in the Ministry of Magic.
“Wow,” I breathe softly, interrupting Dom’s rant about how more of her Aunt Hermione’s cards need to be printed.
“What?” Dom asks in confusion.
“I - I didn’t know any of that.”
Connor gives me a strange look. “You didn’t know who Harry Potter is?”
I shake my head lightly as my eyes skim over the card again. “No. Just - wow.”
Something clicks in Dom’s brain as she continues to stare at me. “It all makes sense now. Why James and Al have taken such a liking to you, I mean. You didn’t know about their dad - I guess I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that you didn’t know, I just never connected the dots.”
“That made absolutely no sense to me,” I inform her as I tuck the card away in my trunk.
“Eh - ask the boys about it sometime.”
The rest of the train ride passes by surprisingly quickly. It’s just Dom/Connor (Donnor?) and I, but it’s no longer awkward. They actually make an effort to talk to me, rather than just staring at each other. Connor’s really a sweet guy - he’s easy to talk to and he obviously cares a lot about Dom. It’s so evident in the way he looks at her, the way his face lights up when she laughs.
In short, I approve.
The train pulls slowly into Platform 9¾ and my eyes anxiously search through the window for my parents. It’s extremely crowded on the platform, with relatives of all kinds jostling around as the train grinds to a stop.
Connor pulls our trunks down and we struggle out into the corridor as it flushes with people eager to stretch their legs. I wave at Sophie, who’s standing a few compartments down. She grins and shoots me a wave back, then disappears into her compartment. She reemerges a few seconds later and walks towards me, dragging Aiden behind her.
“Hey! How was your train ride?” I inquire, struggling not to laugh at Aiden’s dazed expression.
“Brilliant. I crushed him in Exploding Snap,” Sophie says, smiling up at Aiden. “Well, I had fun at least. Can’t speak for him. Anyway, I’ve got to go, my parents are pretty impatient. Have a good holiday! Happy Christmas!”
Sophie wanders away from us, off of the train, and onto the platform where she blends into the crowd instantaneously.
“Did you enjoy your train ride, Aiden?” I ask deviously.
He looks at me and blinks a few times, apparently still trying to get his brain to function properly. “I think I’m in love,” he says in a dreamy voice.
“Erm - okay. That’s... great, Aiden. I’m really happy for you.”
He gives a contented sigh and lifts up my trunk for me. “She’s perfect, Aria. Absolutely perfect.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
Aiden hops off of the train with my trunk and waves me down. “Right. See you after break?”
“See you after break,” I affirm, watching him stroll off to greet his parents.
I huff and search around in exasperation for my parents again. This platform is too freaking crowded.
All of a sudden, a pair of strong arms wrap themselves around me. “I’m sorry,” Jett whispers at my ear. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know how bad things were for you. James found me on the train and told me how upset you were - I should’ve - I was a horrible boyfriend,” he finishes lamely.
I twist around so that I can see him and feel my heart skip a beat as his grey eyes stare down at me. He opens his mouth to say something but I cover it with my hand.
“Let me talk. It wasn’t all your fault. I was in the wrong, too. I shouldn’t have yelled at you - I overreacted, and for that, I am sorry.” I lift my hand from his mouth. “Now you may speak.”
“No, you were right. I should have known that something was wrong. I should have paid more attention. Forgive me?”
“Of course I forgive you,” I murmur softly as he pulls me closer to him. “How can I not? You’re so adorable.”
He scowls at me and rolls his eyes. “I’m not adorable.”
“You need to learn how to accept the truth, Jett Tiberius. Just face it - you’re adorable.”
He scowls again. “I can’t believe my parents named me Jett Tiberius. Well, I suppose it’s better than Scorpius Hyp-”
“Wait,” I say, cutting him off. “Did you say that James found you on the train?”
“Yeah. He found me ten minutes after I stormed out of your compartment, told me to apologize. Really had to knock some sense into me. Why?”
“Just - never mind.” I poke my head around his arm and skim my eyes along the platform, searching for James. At last I find him standing with Al, Lily, his parents, and -
He’s standing with my parents.
What the hell is going on here?
“Hey, guess what? It’s time to meet my parents,” I inform Jett, wriggling out of his arms and grabbing his hand.
“Mom! Dad!” I yell, waving at them with my free hand and dragging Jett along with the other.
“Aria, don’t make me -”
“Mom, Dad, this is Jett,” I say as soon as we reach them, ignoring his protests.
Jett clears his throat and sticks his hand out to greet my parents. “Mrs. Fields, Mr. Fields.”
“Call me, Hayden, son,” my dad says, ignoring Jett’s hand and clapping him on the back.
“Er - okay.” He looks distinctly uncomfortable.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” my mom says warmly, giving him a hug. “Are your parents around somewhere? I’d love to meet them.”
“No, actually. They’re in Romania right now, covering a piece for the Daily Prophet. Both writers, you see.”
“I didn’t know that,” I mutter under my breath to him.
“Surely you aren’t staying home alone for Christmas?” my mom asks in horror.
“Oh, no,” Jett says with a laugh. “Don’t worry, they’ll be home for Christmas. They get back in two days. I’m just staying with the Potters until then.”
“Yeah he is.” James grins and gives Jett a high five. Mr. and Mrs. Potter pale visibly at the thought.
“Wait a second,” Al protests. “If James gets to have Jett over, why can’t I have Rowan over?”
“Because, Albus, Rowan’s parents aren’t in Romania,” Mrs. Potter says through gritted teeth.
“And those two are more than enough chaos for one household,” Mr. Potter adds, glancing warily at James and Jett, who are whispering mischievously back and forth.
“Unfair! This is unfair, I tell you!” Al exclaims, stomping his foot and looking thoroughly like a small child throwing a temper tantrum.
“Well, Hayden, it’s been a pleasure,” Mr. Potter says, ignoring Al and turning to shake my dad’s hand. “I’ve heard so much about you from your wife at work.”
Ah-ha! Work! That’s why they’re standing with each other! Mr. Potter is my mom’s boss! I forgot about that...
My dad gives Mr. Potter’s hand a thorough shake. “Likewise, Harry. Although your taste in Quidditch teams could be better,” he adds as an afterthought.
“It was wonderful to meet you, Adrienne, and to see you again, Hayden,” Mrs. Potter says.
“Ah, yes, Ginny. Indeed it was. But I still hold a grudge against you for that match in ‘02,” my dad retorts with an impudent grin on his face.
“The Harpies won fair and square and you know it!” she exclaims cheerfully. “Now, Potters! Let’s move out! We’ve got to go and find Uncle Percy, he has the car...”
A series of groans issues from the Potter children.
“I guess it’s time to say goodbye,” Jett says to me.
“I guess it is indeed,” I confirm, staring pointedly at my parents.
“Fine, we won’t look,” my dad says dramatically, slapping his hand on top of his eyes.
“Goodbye,” Jett whispers, leaning in to kiss me.
Right before his lips reach mine, I catch sight of James and jerk my head away. Jett’s lips only catch me on the cheek, but it doesn’t matter. The damage has been done. James looks away, his expression unreadable, but for a second - just one second - the look of heartbreak is undeniable.
“Aria, are you ready yet?”
“Yes, Mum,” I shoot back in exasperation as I climb down the stairs carefully. “But why do I have to go to this again?”
“Because it’ll be fun!” she exclaims, bouncing up and down lightly. “And because the Potters invited all of us, so it’s only proper that you come, too. Besides, all of your friends will be there.”
“I doubt that. It’s an Auror Christmas party. How many Aurors do you know that have children, Mom? I can think of three. And you’re one of them.”
“Stop being so pessimistic, Aria. I’ve heard that the party is very enjoyable from the others at work.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it’s fun for all of the old people.”
“Aria Renee Fields, I am not old!” my mom scolds, pointing a finger at me.
“Why hello there, Daughter,” my dad says as he makes his entrance. “All ready for the party?”
“Why yes, Father. I am quite ready,” I respond as he tousles my hair.
“Splendid. And stop calling your mother old.” My mom smiles with approval. “She’s not old... she’s mature.”
I burst into laughter as my dad grins goofily and gives my mom a sloppy kiss on the cheek.
“Hayden,” she warns as she tries to stop her mouth from twitching up at the corners.
“What, darling? I think you look marvelous for your age.”
“Relax, Addie. You know that you’re the youngest, prettiest thing that I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
“And I don’t know how I could live a day without you.”
“And I will love you until the end of time.”
“Mmhm. Keep going.”
“I don’t have anything else.”
“It was a good run, Dad,” I say, patting him on the arm.
He grins hopefully at my mom. “Am I off the hook?”
“I suppose,” she says in mock exasperation.
“Oh, joyous day!” he exclaims, clasping his hands together in thanks.
“You are so weird,” I inform him solemnly.
“Aria, my dear, a very wise man once wrote that all the world’s a stage. To get by, you have to accept that. Here it is, straight from me to you. The whole world... it’s all just show business.”
Merlin, he should have been an actor. It’s really quite a wonder that I turned out so normally.
“Can we just get going now?”
“Great idea. Shall we?” My mom holds out her hands for us to grab. Apparently, we’ll be Apparating.
There’s a pop, darkness, much twisting of the stomach, a squeezing sensation, and then light again.
I hate Apparating. We should just abolish it.
My dad knocks on the door to the Potters’ house and it swings open almost immediately. “Oh, good! You’re here,” Mrs. Potter says cheerily, ushering us inside. “Make yourself at home. Oh, and Aria, the children are lurking around here somewhere.”
“Um, thanks,” I mumble politely as I glance around the house.
The whole place is completely decked out for Christmas. There’s music, a crackling fire, garland, mistletoe... just everything. It’s like one of the houses you would see in a Hallmark movie special.
But what’s even more surprising is that it’s so... homey. After reading that Chocolate Frog card I was expecting some huge mansion with butlers and maids. Certainly not this. It’s just a regular family house. Pictures line the walls, James’s Gryffindor Quidditch team jacket hangs off the back of the couch, homemade ornaments dot the Christmas tree.
“Aria!” Albus calls from the stairs. “You’re finally here, thank Merlin. Come on, I’m bored to tears.”
“Where are we going?” I ask in bewilderment as he drags me through the living room.
We come to a stop in a small alcove off of the living room, a ‘nook’ if you will. Sprawled out across the floor are Lily, Hugo, Rose, and James, all peering over some book.
“Look who’s here!” Albus exclaims, dropping onto the floor to join them.
“Hi, Aria,” Rose says brightly.
Rose just spoke to me.
In a non-nasty manner.
What is going on?
I thought she hated me. No, she didn’t just hate me. She despised me with every fiber of her being.
“Come and join us,” she says, patting the floor beside her.
“Er - okay,” I say slowly, taking a seat between Rose and James. He stiffens slightly as I settle in next to him and refuses to look at me. “What’s this?”
“Family photo album,” she explains cheerfully.
This is so weird. She’s being nice to me. I don’t get it. Maybe she’s just trying to set me up for something.
“Is this it for the kids?” I ask, glancing around our circle of six.
“Yeah, pretty much,” she says. “Lindsey Stanmore comes too, which I’m sure Al is extremely happy about.” She sends him a sly grin.
“Shut it,” he mutters, turning red.
“And Teddy Lupin will probably stop by. He’s technically not invited since he’s not an Auror, but no one really cares,” Rose continues on matter-of-factly.
“Wait, who exactly is Teddy Lupin?” I ask.
“Who’s Teddy Lupin? Who’s Teddy Lupin?” Al repeats incredulously. “He’s only the coolest guy ever.”
“Rose?” I turn to look at her.
“Yeah, he’s pretty much the coolest guy ever.” She shrugs like it’s no big deal. “He’s Uncle Harry’s godson, James’s idol, and our cousin Victoire’s fiancé.”
James flips to the next page in the photo album. He still hasn’t said anything.
“There. That’s Teddy.” Rose points to a picture of a young man with blue hair changing his nose into a pig’s snout.
“He’s a Metamorphamagus,” I say in wonderment. “That’s so cool.”
“Like I said - coolest guy ever,” Al comments.
“Oh, look! It’s Uncle Charlie!” Hugo exclaims, pointing to a picture of an undeniable Weasley man.
“What’s with all the burns?” I ask.
“He works with dragons in Romania,” Rose explains, jabbing her finger at a burst of fire in the background.
“Romania... That’s where Jett’s parents were,” I comment absent-mindedly.
James gets up and stalks out without a word.
“What’s with him?” Lily asks as we all stare after him.
“Who knows,” Albus says with a roll of his eyes. “Next page.”
“I’ll go talk to him,” I say quietly.
“Your funeral,” Al mutters as he turns the page of the photo album.
I head out of the alcove and back into the living room, but James is nowhere to be found. All I can see are a lot of adults standing around and laughing much too loudly. I amble through the house - Mrs. Potter did say to make myself at home - to no avail. After searching through the living room, dining room, kitchen, and den, I finally spot a figure in the backyard, sitting in front of a small pond.
“James?” I call tentatively as I step out into the frigid air. James doesn’t turn around, he simply picks up another pebble and tosses it across the ice that covers the pond.
I take a seat beside him on the freezing ground, shivering all over. He seems intent on ignoring me at all costs.
“Are you all right?” I ask timidly, watching my words hang as white clouds in the air.
He throws a pebble across the pond again. It goes skidding all the way to the other side and jumps back onto the grass.
“I’m bloody fantastic,” he replies flatly.
“You keep saying that!” he says angrily, chucking another rock at the pond. “Why do you keep saying that? You have nothing to be sorry for!”
“I’m sorry about Je-”
“You’re sorry because you fancy someone? You can’t help the way you feel, Aria. Trust me, I’m an expert on that one.”
“I don’t care. I’m still sorry.”
“You are so stubborn.”
“You should have been in Gryffindor.”
“The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Gryffindor.”
“Really?” His eyes dart over to my face for the first time all evening.
“Yup. It told me that I’m extremely stubborn and that I would fit just fine in Gryffindor.”
James laughs softly. In the stillness of the night it carries musically across the yard, mingling with the muffled sounds of the party inside.
“What’s so funny?” I ask quietly, not wanting to break the spell of the moment.
“The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Ravenclaw.”
I smile lightly as I study his face in the moonlight, forgetting momentarily about the cold.
“I can’t picture myself in any other house besides Gryffindor,” he continues after a pause. “It just wouldn’t feel right. Everything about it feels like home. Everybody in it feels like family.”
“That’s probably because half of it is your family,” I joke.
He laughs again, contemplating my comment. “It’s weird how that turned out. When my dad was at school, every single Weasley was in Gryffindor. And there were a lot of them back then, too. But in our generation, we’ve kind of dispersed. We have a member in every house.”
“Well, I think that’s neat. It shows your... diversity.”
“We should head back inside,” he says, noting my shivering. “The food is probably out by now.”
“I knew that would get your attention.”
“It’s not a crime to like food, you know,” I say as we stand up and head back towards the house.
James slides open the door and I rush inside, grateful for the heat. “The food should be spread out in the kitchen,” he comments, leading me back through the house.
My mouth gapes and my eyes bulge at the sight of the spectacular feast laid out in the Potter kitchen. “So. Much. Food.”
He rolls his eyes and hands me a plate. “Merlin, Bel. You have a problem.”
The rest of our generation joins us in the kitchen for dinner, bringing with them a rosy faced, just arrived Lindsey Stanmore. It should be noted that Albus does not leave her side for the entire meal. Poor kid’s got it bad.
Of course, I really shouldn’t be saying anything, seeing as James doesn’t leave my side, either.
I’m chatting quietly with Hugo and Lily when Rose approaches me with a determined look on her face. Oh, Merlin. Here it comes.
“Aria, can we talk?”
“Sure, Rose,” I say, trying my hardest not to grimace.
“I bet you’re wondering why I’m not attempting to rip your face off right now.”
“Er - well - yes,” I confess.
“I actually... I actually want to thank you.”
“Thank me?” I feel my eyebrows fly up involuntarily in shock.
“Er - okay. You’re welcome?”
She laughs softly at my confused expression. “See, when I was snogging the life out of Scorpius in my futile attempts to make Jett jealous, I realized that I actually kind of - how do I put this - like him?”
“Like him? As in like him like him?”
“Rose, I’m so happy for you!” I cry flinging my arms around her in a hug.
She laughs again as she pulls away. “He’s really sweet to me. And... I dunno. It’s the first time I’ve ever really talked to him... He’s... nice,” she finishes lamely.
“Rose has a crush,” I tease. “You know he likes you back, right?”
Her eyes widen at my statement. “Really?”
“Uh-huh. Why else would he put up with you constantly attacking his face?”
“I dunno... I never really thought about it...”
“For someone who’s so smart, you really are quite stupid.”
Rose and I chat happily for the rest of dinner, after which the seven of us troop back into the living room.
“What do we do now?” I inquire, taking a seat on the couch.
“Don’t know,” Albus says, plopping down next to Lindsey on the floor.
“Er - snowball fight?” James suggests as he sits uncomfortably close to me on the couch.
“There’s no snow, James,” Rose huffs impatiently.
“Spin the bottle?” Al says, glancing hopefully at Lindsey.
“Al, you do realize that five of the seven of us here are related, don’t you?” Lily replies slowly.
“Right,” he says. “That’s out.”
“Honestly, you two are both morons,” Rose comments dully, glancing between Albus and James.
“Why don’t we just look at some more pictures?” Hugo suggests, pulling another photo album off of the coffee table.
There’s a murmur of assent amongst our group and Hugo flips open the album. Not long after we’ve begun, however, the adults finish their meals and come wandering back into the living room.
“Maybe we should go back into the alcove,” Lindsey says as the adults consistently crowd their way into the room.
“That’s a great idea, Lindsey!” Al exclaims, jumping to his feet immediately.
I stifle a laugh and elbow James in the ribs as he tries - and fails - to contain his amusement.
Our group begins to make its way slowly through the crowd, James and I falling into step beside each other at the back. We eventually make it to the alcove, but instead of sitting with the everyone else on the floor, I lean casually against the archway and watch the party.
James joins me in the archway, leans over, and whispers, “This is the best part of the party. Everyone gets drunk and starts doing stupid things that they’ll regret tomorrow.”
I snicker at his comment and continue to observe. Indeed, it is true. The very tough, very menacing Aurors are attempting to club dance to Christmas music.
It’s highly entertaining.
“Hey, Aria,” James says slowly.
I lift my head slowly, gazing up at the top of the arch.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I say, dropping my eyes back down to James. “Mistletoe?”
“You know what the tradition is,” he says, taking a step closer.
“Um, no. That’s not happening.”
“You have to. It’s tradition.”
“I’m not kissing you, James.”
“It’s bad luck if you don’t.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works.”
By now, James is barely inches away from me. I scooch away frantically, only to find my back hitting the side of the archway.
“Come on, Bel,” he says, a grin sliding across his face as he moves ever so slightly closer. “It’s just one little kiss. For tradition’s sake.”
Merlin, he’s so close. My heart begins to pound faster as he slides ever closer. He’s so close that I can feel the heat radiating from his body, see the green flecks in his eyes.
“No,” I say decisively, pushing against his chest with my hands.
If my heart beats any faster I think it will quite literally leap out of my chest. It’s like... It’s like every time I come in close proximity with James, there’s that electricity. That stupid, consuming electricity that pushes my heart to the maximum and makes my head spin. Everything swirls, everything except for James lies forgotten on the outskirts of my vision.
“Please,” James whispers, his lips very nearly brushing against mine.
Too close - electricity - pounding - heat - head spinning - ACK.
“I - uh - er - no?”
“You know you want to.”
And then his lips are on mine.
It feels like time has stopped.
Just for me.
Me and James.
And it’s just...
The way his lips move against mine, the feel of his body, his hands on my waist.
It’s searing. It’s intense.
And I don’t want it to stop.
“What the Fawkes?” Al’s voice cuts through to my brain.
But that’s enough. Enough to pull me out of it, enough to push him away from me.
James steps back and we both turn to look in the alcove, where Albus is gaping open-mouthed at us.
James shrugs and points upwards. “Mistletoe.”
At this reminder, I step quickly out from under the archway, away from the mistletoe, and away from James.
But he apparently has different plans.
“Whoops.” James smirks as he pulls me back to him. “Looks like we’re under the mistletoe again.”
His lips go back to mine, but this time it’s different. This time he crushes them to me, attacking them hungrily.
His hands run up my back, all the way to my hair, pulling at the roots - Merlin - and his mouth is rough and hot and the world is spinning and I can’t breathe and my hands are around his neck and everything is perfect -
“James,” I choke out, pushing him away from me. “St-”
His mouth is on mine and that electricity - Merlin, that electricity -
I shove him away again, I know that everyone is watching, but Merlin -
“James, you have to stop,” I mumble.
He tries to go towards me again, but I duck and push him back. As soon as he’s moved far enough away, I straighten up, heart pumping, mind still swirling.
“Everyone’s staring,” I whisper.
“I - don’t - care,” he murmurs between pressing kisses on my jaw.
He sighs and takes a big step backward, glancing over at Al. “Mistletoe.”
Albus nods slowly as if he understands, whispers, “Move,” grabs Lindsey by the arm and pulls her under the arch.
And, well, I think you can guess what happens next.
I allow myself one look at James as Al leans forward to kiss Lindsey, but Merlin, it’s more than enough. Our eyes meet and, for a moment, I’m afraid of what I’ll do. I want him. I want him so badly.
I have absolutely no control over my mind. I just... I want him. And I know I shouldn’t. This isn’t right. I can’t be wanting this. I can’t. But I want him.
So I do the only thing that I can.
I close my eyes and walk away.
A/N: They kissed.
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