chapter image by me
Bright lights. Pain. More light. More pain. Why the bloody fuck is it so bright in here? It’s December- it’s supposed to be rainy and cold. And since when did Priyanka’s curtains get so thin? I reach my arm out from under the covers without opening my eyes to grab the water bottle I keep by the sofa bed. But it’s not there.
I sit up, realise I’m not in the sofa bed in Priyanka’s room, and-
Oh shitting bollocks. I- I- I came to James’s, didn’t I? I flooed to James’s house in the middle of the night drunk and crying. And then- oh I fucking couldn’t have- and then I cried again when he wouldn’t sleep with me.
Bloody hell. I’m a liability. I should be locked up and never allowed contact with the outside world again.
I flop back down on James’s bed and pull the covers over my head. I am never, never drinking ever again. I’m not sure how long I lie there, my head pounding and my cheeks flushing at the mere thought of what happened last night.
I decide my best course of action is probably to just sneak out, write a note to James apologising, and then never ever speak to him again. I throw the covers off again and wince at the light.
My jeans are wedged in the bedroom door so I tiptoe across the room, kneel down and try to yank them out. “Come bloody on,” I hiss as the fabric gets caught under the crack between the door and the floor. | open the door just a crack to try to prise them out and immediately I hear footsteps hurrying out from the living room.
“Ah, so you’re awake,” James says, smirking as he stands over me. He’s already wearing a white shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and his hair is as well combed down as I’ve ever seen it. Which, granted, isn’t very much. “How are you feeling this morning?” I can’t tell whether he’s being sarcastic or not.
I grab the jeans out and stand up, pulling them on as quickly as possible. James keeps his eyes firmly on my face the whole time, but he’s still smirking at me. “Fine, thank you,” I tell him as I pull the zipper up. “I’m really sorry. About last night, you know. I was totally out of order.” I begin to walk past him into the living room, pushing my limp hair behind my ears.
James doesn’t follow me for a second. “You don’t need to be sorry, Issy,” he calls after me.
I spin around. “I really think I do.” I pat myself down and look round the room. “Seen my wand anywhere?”
“In the kitchen,” he says, pointing to a room connected by an archway to the living room. “Had to hide it in case you tried to apparate home.”
My cheeks flush again as I head into the airy kitchen and spot my wand lying on top of the white, marble counters. James’s apartment is easily double the size of Alice and Priyanka’s. The kitchen extends round in an L-shape with a large wooden dining table and chairs at one end and the swanky appliances and counters at the other.
“Thanks,” I mutter as I shove my wand into my jeans pocket.
James follows me into the kitchen and leans up against the frame of the archway nonchalantly. “Coffee?”
I have no idea why he’s not just kicking me out straight away. I certainly would if some deranged girl had rocked up to my house in the middle of the night. But my throat is so dry I can barely swallow so I nod gratefully and James flicks his wand at the silver coffee machine in the corner.
“You can sit down, if you want,” he says, gesturing to the bar stools by the island counters. We’ve been standing in silence while the coffee machine whirs away. I sit and begin to rub my temples, which are still throbbing. A frankly uncalled for reminder of last night. “Headache? I’ve got some potion- hang on.”
Before I can protest, James has disappeared through the archway. He comes back a few seconds later brandishing a vial of bright green potion and a spoon. I smile appreciatively and take two spoonfuls. It helps with the headache, but not so much with the overwhelming desire to flee the country.
James places a mug off coffee in front of me and I sip it greedily. He hitches himself up onto the counter opposite me and watches me drink for a few minutes.
“The thing is, Issy,” he starts at the same time as I say, “Look, James.” He laughs. “You go first.”
I wish that I could just hear what he was going to say. “Right well, look, James, I just need you to know that I am really super sorry. That’s not the type of person I am, honestly. So I’ll just get going and then we can pretend like none of this ever happened?” I think a part of me is hoping that he’ll immediately tell me that we’re doing nothing of the sort, that we’ll put this behind us.
“I mean, it’s not exactly what I’d envisioned,” he says and my stomach twists. I am such an idiot.
“Right, well. Me neither.” It’s true- I never imagined I’d stoop to this level.
James sighs and nods. “And I’d pictured it so many times in my head.” He’s smirking slightly now- and… is he blushing?
Had he really sat there thinking that I would get so desperate to talk to him that I would practically break into his house? Is that why he didn’t talk to me? He wanted this?
Clearly some of this has registered on my face because he suddenly looks slightly concerned. “I’m guessing that wasn’t the right thing to say?”
I snort. “No! When would that ever be the right thing to say? You wanted it to happen?”
He looks practically bewildered by now. “Well, yeah- that’s usually what I want to happen when I meet someone I like.”
What a conniving, sadistic little-
I slam my coffee mug down on the table and begin to storm out of the kitchen. I can’t believe I actually thought that he could be a good person. I’m out the kitchen, with James chasing after me, asking me where I’m going, when I turn to face him. “You’re sick- you know that?”
“Oh come on, Fletcher! It’s really not sick to imagine having sex with the girl you like!”
My heart skips a beat. “What?”
“I mean-,” he looks embarrassed now, “- not a lot but just, you know, I wanted the first time to be special, I guess.”
“James what the hell are you talking about?”
“Wait- what are you talking about?”
“Me turning up pissed on your doorstep!” I snap, trying to ignore the familiar feeling of my cheeks flushing. James’s eyes widen. “Why? What were you talking about?”
“Oh.” It’s his turn to blush. He heads back into the kitchen and pours himself a cup of coffee, avoiding my eye.
“James Potter, what were you talking about?” He still doesn’t look at me so I follow him across the room. “James?”
“I was… you know… the…” he trails off.
“The- you know- sex.” He practically whispers the last word.
“Um, James- we didn’t have sex.” And I thought I was the one with the fuzzy memories of last night.
He grimaces at me. “Yeah, I know that.”
He runs his hand through his hair, desperately trying to regain some of his cool. It doesn’t work. “But, yeah, it’s just not what I’d imagined- I just wanted you to know that.”
I smirk. “And have you spent a lot of time imagining it?”
He scowls. “Shut up, Fletcher.”
“Lots of alone time?” He sticks his middle finger up at me. “Lots of special James time?”
“So,” I pant, lying back, breathless, on James’s bed two weeks later, “was that everything you’d imagined it’d be?”
He rolls over to face me. “Above and beyond.”
“Why, thank you very much.”
“I was referring to my own performance.” I grab James’s shirt, discarded on top of his bedsheets, and hit him round the face with it. “Um, ouch?”
I smirk as I wrap the shirt around myself, hop off the bed, and walk to his ensuite, my bare feet pattering on the wooden floorboards. I sit down on the toilet, swinging my legs and unable to keep the smile off my face. I feel like a schoolgirl who’s just come out from behind a tapestry with her crush.
“Well then,” James calls from the bedroom, “what are you going to rate me out of ten?”
I stop washing my hands and poke my head round the doorframe to look at him. He’s reclining on his side on the bed, still stark naked, and smirking up at me. I swallow and turn my attention back to the sink.
“Do you do this to all your victims?” I ask. I examine myself in the mirror, pulling my hair behind my ears and wiping off the sweaty traces of this morning’s makeup from underneath my eyes. I walk back into the bedroom with my arms folded and smirk right back down at James.
“Nah- not all of them. Just the pretty ones.” He winks and I roll my eyes again. Although the smile still stuck on my face probably isn’t conveying annoyance as effectively as I’d like.
James gasps in mock horror and slaps a hand to his chest. I try not to look at the way that the muscles in his chest ripple when he does this. Instead, I start to get dressed, pulling on my work uniform that’s currently discarded around James’s bedroom.
With my new job, the internship at The Quibbler, trying to avoid the press who have caught wind of Albus Potter’s supposed fiancé, and James’s top secret job in the Department of Mysteries, this is the first time in two weeks we’ve found a moment for me to go to his house again. And this time I even had an invitation.
James still hasn’t moved from the bed, and is watching me dart about the room with a bemused smile on his face. “So, Isadora, you’re a writer, hm? Does this mean you’re going to write a poem about me now?”
“Only if you’re very lucky.”
“Are you sure you have to go?” he whines. “We could just stay here?” As he speaks, he stretches his arm and pats the space on the bed next to him so that the V-muscle at the bottom of his stomach jumps out at me. My stomach is doing somersaults and my heart is beating at a rate that I’m sure can’t be good for my blood pressure but I do my best to look unbothered.
“Yeah, James, pretty sure I have to go.”
He pouts as I head into his living room, pulling on my shoes and grabbing my handbag.
“Where are you going?” he calls in the same whiney voice. He really is like an annoying small child- I don’t know why I’m still grinning over him.
“To write about you in my journal.”
“I bet you say that to all the boys you sleep with.”
“Nah- not all of them,” I say, going back into the bedroom to give him a kiss on the forehead. “Just the pretty ones.”
In the two weeks since I got the job at the bar, the temperature has plummeted, and my breath swirls up in icy clouds as I hurry along the busy London street to the bus stop. There’s no point in even trying to find somewhere to apparate from- the city has officially descended into pre-Christmas madness, and shoppers are hurrying about everywhere, clinging on to plastic bags filled with shopping.
I finally reach the stop at the end of James’s street and pull my phone out of my pocket, quickly scrolling through the notifications. Priyanka has texted me several times demanding to know whether I’m at James’s. I left before she was awake this morning- not something I’d usually do (bros before hoes et cetera, et cetera), but James and I have barely had an hour to see each other, and so I wanted to make the most of it. I’ve been run off my feet at the Quibbler, proof-reading articles, and even doing a couple more of my own. It’s not that I don’t love the work, it’s just between being there four days a week, I’m also working at the bar five nights including weekends, which, of course, is the only time James gets time off from the ministry. So when I didn’t have to be in Knockturn Alley until three, and he didn’t have plans for the morning, we took the opportunity to finally hang out.
Just as I’m composing a reply to Priyanka, my phone starts to vibrate.
“Oh- so you are alive?” Priyanka’s voice fills my ear so loudly that I jerk the phone away from the side of my head.
“Yep, although I think I might now be deaf.” I can almost feel her rolling her eyes through the screen. “What’s up?”
“What’s up is that I woke up and you’re nowhere to be found and then Alice here thinks she remembers you saying something about a certain James Potter having this morning off.”
“Oh, is Al there? Tell her I say hi.”
“Stop trying to change the subject,” Priyanka says, and I can hear Alice laughing in the background. The bus pulls up and I fumble with trying to get the muggle money out of my purse while still holding the phone in one hand and clambering on board. “Is? You still there?”
“One sec,” I snap. The driver behind the glass screen scowls at me. “Oh- not you.” I manage to extract a pound coin and slide it towards her with an apologetic smile. She huffs and prints my ticket. I take a seat on the top layer of the bus and direct my attention back to Priyanka who has started loudly speculating about my visit to James’s with Alice.
“Sooooo?” she drawls, not even bothering to hide the excitement from her voice. “What happened?”
“Uh, I went to James’s.”
“Yep got that bit.” She pauses for a second before gasping excitedly. “Ohmygod! You totally did it, didn’t you?”
“Did what?” I ask innocently, shifting closer towards the window to move away from the middle-aged man who’s plonked himself down next to me. I want to point out that there are plenty of completely empty double seats on this level of the bus, but I just scowl at him instead and face pointedly towards the window.
“Don’t even give me that! You and James did it!” She raises her voice. “Al they a hundred per cent did it!”
“Shh,” I hiss, uncomfortably aware that the man next to me can probably hear everything she’s saying. He shoots me an uneasy smile and wipes his nose with the sleeve of his khaki fleece.
“So you did?” Priyanka demands and her voice echoes slightly- she’s definitely put me on speaker-phone with Alice.
“Maybe,” I say, and I feel myself blushing and the corners of my lips creep upwards again.
They both shriek and start asking a hundred questions all at once.
“Was he good?”
“How many times?”
“Did you- you know?”
“You’re both worse than him,” I sigh, but I’m still grinning. Now I really feel like we’re back at Hogwarts and Priyanka’s just come back into the dormitory after spending the night with Scorpius Malfoy, ready to divulge all the juicy details. Speaking of which…
“Priy, what about you and Mr Mystery Man?” Turns out that she’s spent most of the past few weeks at the house of just one guy- pretty unusual for Priyanka. She won’t tell me and Alice who he is, though. Al thinks it’s because she’s going to wait and do a big reveal where she invites him over for dinner. I think it’s because he’s probably married. Anyway, it just feels a bit rich of her to be interrogating me over my relationship when I don’t even know the name of her new beau.
“Hm,” Priyanka says, and I can tell she’s smirking. Sometimes I’m surprised that Priyanka wasn’t in Slytherin; she loves having the upper-hand in literally any conversation. “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.”
By the time I get to work, a few of the other employees are already there and clocking in in the back room. We’re never usually in this early- we don’t open until the evenings, even on weekends- but today Jeffrey’s got us all in to decorate for Christmas. He presents us with two cardboard boxes filled with brightly coloured tinsel and sparkly gold baubles. In short, the decorations are so tacky that I think my mother would probably immediately drop down dead if I brought them anywhere near the house.
“Oh cheer up, Issy! It’s almost Christmas!” the blonde boy next to me says as he crouches down and begins rummaging in the boxes. “Aha!” He’s pulled out a hairband that has two large felt Christmas trees attached to it. He holds it out to me but I shake my head in disgust so he shrugs and shoves it on his own head.
“Looking good, Lou,” I laugh as he strikes a dramatic pose, nodding my head and silently remembering to sneak a photo of him later.
Walking into work on my first day and spotting Louis Weasley behind the bar was definitely a surprise, but also definitely a welcome one. He apparates up from the spa in Penzance to work here in the evenings and always has a good story about some of the old hags (literally) who he’s served that day. It’s also nice because he’s one of the few people who isn’t constantly barraging me with questions about any of the Potter boys.
There have been some articles going round in the gossip rags which promise to deliver the full story of “Albus Potter’s Chosen One”. It was fine, in fact Al and I used to send them to each other to laugh at, until one of them managed to snag the picture that Louis took of us all at the spa. Since then, there’s been a mass hunt to identify the girl in the picture (me). Luckily, I’m one of a few potential suspects and so I’ve avoided being completely hounded by the press. And since my mother wouldn’t be caught dead reading something “so awfully common, Isadora”, I’m safe from her too.
Louis, however, says that he doesn’t want to hear anything about his cousin’s love life, and that Al has apparently sworn him to secrecy anyway. I’m pretty sure he must know that something’s up, but he’s ignoring it for now which is highly appreciated.
He’s taken a few pieces of tinsel from out of the box and is using his wand to string them round the dusty beams of the bar’s ceiling while singing, “Christmaaaaaas- the snow’s coming dooo-oown, Christmaaaaas- I’m watching it fall.”
I roll my eyes as I take some of the less gaudy baubles and start hanging them around the fireplace. “You do know it’s only the seventh of December, right?”
Louis completely ignores me. “Lots of people around, Baby please come hoooo-ooome!” On this last line, he uses his wand to make one of the pieces of tinsel wrap itself around me. “Much more festive,” he grins.
Louis works his way through a staggering repertoire of muggle Christmas songs while we decorate. He even has me doing the backing vocals by the time he gets to ‘Feliz Navidad’. When we’ve finished, the bar looks as though it’s been dragged through a mistletoe hedge backwards, but Louis looks pleased with his efforts so I keep my sarky comments to myself. Yes, I’m capable of doing that, thank you very much. Jeffrey also looks pleased. Perhaps he’s hoping that our beautiful festive display will help liven up the rather demure clientele that usually frequent ‘The Centaur’s Pet Nargle’. To be fair, it is getting busier as we approach the holiday season and, as Louis keeps reminding me, the tips are also getting larger.
“Always tell them to have a Merry Christmas as you give them their drink, especially if they’re old, they lap it up,” he informs me firmly as we’re getting behind the bar ready for opening. “Unless they look like they might be Jewish, in which case you should probably say ‘Happy Hanukkah’, unless you’re not sure and then maybe just stick to ‘Happy Holidays’.”
“Right, I’ll bear all that in mind, Lou, thanks,” I tell him.
He shoots me a nod and a wink as he walks forwards to serve the first two customers of the evening, two middle aged witches both carrying several large shopping bags. “I didn’t know Hogwarts had broken up for the holidays already, girls?” he says, fully turning on his Veela charm. They both gush over him and I roll my eyes. Louis would flirt with a mountain troll if it meant they put a few sickles in the tip jar when they leave.
We have a steady stream of customers throughout most of the night, so Louis and I don’t have much opportunity to stand around chatting but he keeps me updated on how much his conquests- I mean customers- have left as tips. I don’t get the same thrill out of flirting the change out of the customer’s pockets as Louis does. This is especially true tonight; the people I’m currently serving at the bar are all men over the age of forty who I presume still live in their mother’s basements and cream their pants when I accidentally brush their hands with mine when giving them their change.
“Those guys are seriously giving me the creeps,” I whisper to Louis as I lean over him to grab a bottle of firewhiskey out of the cooler. He wrinkles his brow in confusion so I jerk my head towards the men sitting at the very end of the dusty wooden bar. While they’re probably only in their mid-thirties or so, the array of greasy, grey sideburns and dark under-eyes make them look much older. Two in particular have been staring at me all night, even when they’re not trying to order another drink. Just staring at me, and giving me a creepy half-smile every time they catch my eye. It’s not that unusual to get customers like that, even less so when they’ve got a few drinks down them, but there’s something about these ones that’s making my stomach turn whenever I look in their direction. Louis nods, and the next time one of them leans forward to order a drink, he hurries to that end of the bar, giving my arm a comforting squeeze on the way past.
Later, when the bar has mainly emptied out, and Louis and I are washing glasses while completing last orders, we finally have a chance to chat.
“Found a flat yet?” Louis asks. I’ve been keeping him well updated on my search to get a new place. I love living with Priy and Alice, but their flat is nowhere near big enough for three people, especially three people all working on completely different schedules. Besides, I’m hoping that once I’m finally out on my own, I can fully move on with my life, and out of this weird temporary phase I’ve been in for the past month.
That, and it means that I can invite James over anytime I want. Which, after this morning, I’m more excited for than ever.
“Trying to- I’ve got a viewing tomorrow. Everywhere is just so bloody expensive.”
Louis nods in agreement. “What do you think I’m working two jobs for?”
I laugh and grab a sponge from the sink behind the bar, heading forwards to wipe down the countertops.
“That’s what you want to get a man for,” a gruff voice says. A chill runs down my spine as I look up and come face-to-face with one of the creeps from the end of the bar, who has now moved further up into the vacated seats.
“Sorry?” I say, trying to keep my voice steady. I glance over my shoulder for Louis, but he’s taking leftover drinks into the back storage room.
“What you want to do is find a nice, rich man to buy a house for you.”
“Do I?” It’s getting harder to keep my tone casual. I can’t help but notice how yellow his teeth are, or how he keeps licking his lips hungrily. And the fact that he appears to have stepped right out of the 1920s.
“Unless you’re already moving with a boy? Then you want to find one who doesn’t make a pretty thing like you worry about money.” He looks at me expectantly, as if I’m suddenly going to reveal my life-story to some weird perv.
“Can I get you another drink, sir?” Louis’s emerged from the storage room and come to my side, standing so close that are shoulders are touching. His tone is cool but firm.
The man looks suddenly perturbed and shakes his head. He downs the pint of lager still in front of him and gets shakily to his feet. “Well, sweetheart, I hope you find yourself a place.” He pauses and then smiles, baring all of his putrid teeth. “And if not, I’m sure I can help you out.”
And with that, he stumbles out of the bar, leaving the stench of alcohol and sweat behind him.
The next morning, I’m standing outside the staff entrance to the Ministry, rubbing my hands together to keep warm, checking my watch angrily every few seconds and sighing loudly. James sent a letter last night volunteering to come and look at flats with me after what went down with the man in the bar. I suppose that’s what I’ll miss about living with other people, the security of knowing you’re not completely alone in the middle of the night.
But I guess that’s what you trade in to escape the constant drone of Priyanka’s snoring.
He’s ten minutes late already, and my fingers are starting to go numb. Just as I’m about to give up, and walk to the flat by myself, the door of the public toilets opens and I spin around.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” James says before the door has even swung shut behind him. I narrow my eyes at him and he matches them with a puppy-dog expression. “I brought you breakfast!” He holds out a paper bag and the smell of pastry makes my mouth water.
“You’re semi-forgiven.” I take the bag from him and use the heat of the croissant to warm my hands.
“You’re beautiful,” he says, pulling me into a hug and planting a kiss on my lips. I pretend to gag but I suddenly feel completely warm inside.
Oh god, James Potter is turning me into a sap. He’s broken me.
He takes my hand as we begin to walk down the street to the block where the flat I’m viewing is. He’s wearing a thick, black coat that I’ve never seen him in before and I snuggle into it as we walk. I’m barely listening as he tells me all about how someone had put more paperwork on his desk overnight and that’s the reason he was late. Instead, I’m trying to remember the last time Mark held me like this when we were just walking somewhere, and I can’t.
Is it bad to be thinking about your ex when you’re with someone new? Even if the ‘someone new’ is coming out a lot better in the comparison?
“Issy?” James’s voice suddenly cuts across my thoughts. He’s looking down at me inquisitively, his hazel eyes glinting in the morning sunlight.
“Sorry? What were you saying?”
“I said do you mind if I light a cig?”
“Oh.” I frown. “I didn’t know you smoked.”
“Only sometimes,” he says quickly, “I don’t have to now if you don’t want me to.”
I shrug. “No, it’s fine.”
“Are you sure?” He’s cute when he looks so concerned and that bloody smile creeps up on my lips again.
I nod. James pulls a cardboard packet out of his coat pocket and extracts a cigarette with one hand, still holding mine with the other. He rests it between his lips and lights it with the tip of his wand. The familiar smell of tobacco fills my nostrils and I inhale deeply. It smells of Mark.
I’m sorry, I know I just said I wasn’t going to do the comparison thing.
“You okay?” James asks, taking a quick drag.
“Fine,” I say, shaking my head to get rid of the thoughts of Mark. I squeeze his hand to reassure him and he bends down to kiss the top of my head. I feel my face reddening slightly at the touch of his lips and I inwardly cringe at what an emotional twat I’ve become.
We walk in silence for a few minutes, James finishing his cigarette and using his other thumb to trace patterns on the back of my hand, and me devouring my croissant. Alice and Priyanka never have enough groceries in.
“Wait!” he cries suddenly, and stops dead on the pavement.
“Are you okay?”
“I almost forgot.” He drops my hand for a second, and it tingles with the lingering warmth of his grasp. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out something small. “Look what I got! It’s a phone!” He holds it out to me like a little boy excitedly showing someone his favourite toy and I smile encouragingly. “It can do calls and texts and everything!”
“Wow,” I say, trying to suppress a laugh. This is actually really good, though. So far, we’ve had to rely on sending letters via owls which isn’t always the most convenient, or most mess-free way of doing things. He sticks his tongue out at my smirk.
“All I said was, ‘Wow’.”
“Your eyes said it all, Fletcher,” he says, putting the phone back into his pocket and slinging an arm around my shoulders, pulling me into him. He smells like tobacco and coffee and I nuzzle my face into the softness of his coat. He begins to whistle an old Celestina Warbeck song as we round the corner into the road of my building.
“You’re in a good mood this morning.”
“Lovely, isn’t it?”
“I was going to say disconcerting, but sure, lovely works too.”
He grins at me. “Why wouldn’t I be in a good mood, Fletcher? The sun is shining, my paperwork is done and my girl is getting a place of her own.” My heart skips a beat at this last bit and I bite my lip to stop myself smiling too hard.
“Might be,” I correct. “Your- I might be getting a place of my own. This one is way too near the limit of my price range to be definite.”
“Optimism, Fletcher,” he says, squeezing my shoulder. “It would do you the world of good.”
The ‘flat’ can barely be called that. It’s basically one room- a ‘kitchen’ I guess you could call it, with a couple of green, mildew-stained counters, a mini-fridge and a plastic oven, and a bed shoved into the corner, right next to the singular window. The estate agent promises me that there’s a bathroom through the peeling door squeezed in next to the bed, but I’m too scared to go and check.
There’s a funny smell, too. I’m pretty sure someone died in here- maybe they’re still in the bathroom.
“So, I suppose that’s about it!” titters the estate agent, I think her name is Julia. Her eyes keep darting about the place as if even she can’t believe that anyone could ever live here. “I’ll let you two discuss it for a few minutes.” This is when she would probably leave the couple alone in the kitchen while she makes herself busy in the living room. In this case, however, she can’t stay in the flat without being about four feet away from us, so she backs out the front door. She has to kick it to make it shut properly.
I turn to James. His face looks as disgusted as I feel. “I know it’s not brilliant, but I think I’m going to have to take it.” No, I can’t quite believe I’m saying that either.
And apparently neither can James as his face contorts even further. “What?”
“I know but-,”
“It’s a hovel, Issy,” he interrupts, gesturing around as if I couldn’t have possibly seen the place properly and still want to live there.
“It’s not that bad!” A lie.
“Issy, come on!”
“It’s not a hovel, okay? Sure, it's not brilliant but frankly it's all I can afford.” I feel my face flushing slightly as I say this, but I inhale sharply to stop it. I can’t let myself be embarrassed about not having any money. “I’m not about to run to my mother for money to buy a swanky flat.” Although I’m sure my mother would probably require intensive therapy if she knew her daughter was considering renting this place.
“I said that I’m not going to go running to mummy just because it’s not a palace!”
James is now shooting that disgusted look at me. “I have never run to my parents for money!”
“What? When did I say that?”
“You implied it.”
I run my fingers through my hair exasperatedly. “I didn’t!” He turns away from me coolly. “For God’s sake, James, not everything is about you! My life doesn’t revolve around you!”
I regret saying it instantly. James looks back at me, but this time, he doesn’t look angry, or disgusted, he just looks hurt.
“Issy?” he croaks, his black eyebrows frowning so deeply that his eyes are crinkling.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-.” I run out of words so I reach out and grasp his hand instead. “I don’t know why I said that.”
James doesn’t say anything so I just keep talking. “Look, I know this place is a shit hole. Obviously it is.” He cracks a small smile at that as we both take in the horror scene around us again. “But right now, it’s all I can afford. I can fix it up a bit, you know with spells and stuff. It won’t even be that bad once I’m done with it. And I can’t keep relying on other people, I just can’t. I’ve done that once before and look where it’s got me. I need to do this by myself, can’t you see that?”
He looks at his feet and shakes his head. “Issy- move in with me.”
I choke on nothing. “What?” What the hell is it with these Potter boys trying to get me into their houses?
“Come and stay with me. I’ve got plenty of space, I own it so you don’t need to worry about rent. It’s perfect!”
“James, I…” I trail off because I don’t know how to string the right words in the english language together to say, ‘I’m flattered and all but we’ve only known each other for a month and I’m worried that maybe you just want to harvest my organs.’
“Come on, Is! It’ll be great!” He looks so excited again and I just don’t know what to do.
“I can’t,” I say firmly. “I’m sorry, and thank-you, seriously, but I can’t.” He opens his mouth to protest but I cut across him. “We haven’t even been on a real date, James. We can’t move in together!”
“Fine, I’ll cook you dinner while you’re moving your stuff in. A proper date.”
“James, no.” Nice one, Is. Let them down gently.
“I’m a great cook- I promise!”
“James.” His face falls and my stomach squirms. “I think I really like you James but-.”
“Not enough to move into somewhere that doesn’t smell like rotting flesh? Right, got it,” he says sarcastically. He begins to stride towards the door, reaching into his pocket to pull out another cigarette. “Let me know when the housewarming party is, I’ll be sure to have something on that night.”
“James?” I call after him, but he’s already pushed past Julia and down the hall.
“So?” she says, looking confusedly between me and James. “I’ll take that as a ‘no’?”
I heave a sigh. “Actually, it’s a ‘yes’. Where do I sign?”
“Wait- he actually asked you to move in with him? As in you two, together, in one house?.” Alice shakes her head in disbelief as she starts organising my t-shirts into colour coded piles. “Weird.”
We’re in Priyanka’s room, who, of course, is nowhere to be found, packing up my stuff ready to move it into my new place. I signed the lease then and there, partly because I knew that I probably wouldn’t find anything better, and partly out of spite.
“Haven’t you known him for, like, a month?”
“That’s what I thought! He’s not even my boyfriend. Well he’s not not my boyfriend. But we’re not even official, you know?”
“But the place was awful?”
“I wouldn’t say awful.” I hesitate. “I believe James’s choice of words was a ‘hovel’.”
Alice shrugs thoughtfully and uses her wand to make my clothes fly in neat piles into a suitcase. I lie back on the sofa bed, feeling bad that I’m not helping but also knowing that she’s much better at spells like that than me. Her mum does run an inn after all.
Besides, my mind is still running over the conversation with James in too much depth for me to actually think about anything else.
“Are you going to talk to him about it?”
I sigh. “I don’t know.” James seemed so angry when he stormed out of the flat. I haven’t seen him like that since we were back in Penzance. “I wouldn’t even know what to say.”
“Just tell him that nothing needs to change.” I frown slightly at her words so she exhales deeply and continues. “I mean, he’s probably a bit embarrassed now, you know? Like he put himself out there and you-”
“What would you have done-?”
“I’m not saying you’re necessarily in the wrong. I’m just saying that he isn’t either- everything he did sounds like it came from a good place. Just let him know that you know that.” She tucks her hair behind her ears. It’s a move she used to do after answering a question right at school.
“You’re so clever, Al.” Imagine what it would be like to be able to think rationally about something before just jumping to conclusions and ruining my life. Wow. Maybe I could get a pocket-sized version of Alice, and I could just carry her around with me and whip her out whenever I get myself into an awkward situation.
May as well just keep her out all the time.
Alice blushes. “No I’m not. I just get people, you know?”
“Nope, can’t relate.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed. Ow, Issy!” I smirk as she throws down the pillow I’ve just lobbed at her head.
I lie back down on the bed, thinking over everything Alice has said while she finishes packing my underwear.
Then a ringing sound fills the apartment and we both sit up, looking at each other in confusion.
Alice cocks her head. “I think that might be the… the doorbell?”
“We have a doorbell?”
“Quite possibly,” Alice says quietly, brow furrowed, as she gets up and heads towards the kitchen and the front door. I follow her, leaning on the kitchen counter as she opens the door.
There’s a tall man with jet black hair standing in the doorframe. For a second, I think it’s James and my stomach begins doing somersaults. Then I realise he’s too thin to be James, and he’s holding a briefcase anxiously in both hands. I doubt James even knows what a briefcase is.
“Albus?” I walk forward to the door and pull him into a tight hug. His arms hang limply at his sides so I let go quickly. “This is a… surprise. What’s up?”
“Can I come in?” Al asks quietly. “I need to ask you something.”
The somersaults start again and I feel the palms of my hands go sweaty. James has told him- he has to have done. And now Al wants to ask me why I’ve felt the need to fuck the both of them over.
“Sure,” I say breathlessly, and step aside so that he can walk in.
“I’ll just… be in my room,” Alice calls as she darts back across the room. I scowl at her and she shoots me back an I’m sorry grimace as she shuts her bedroom door behind her. She still doesn’t approve of my friendship with Albus, I’m sorry, Is- it all just seems so incestuous, you know?, but I’m pretty sure her current aversion is because of how nervous he looks. I wish I could just run away into my room.
Al sits down on the black sofa and begins to wring his hands. I’m not sure where to sit, next to him feels wrong, so I perch on the armchair instead. I cough slightly, indicating that he can start to talk now, but he just looks ahead.
“What was with the doorbell?” I don’t really register saying it until I have. At least it fills the silence.
“What? Oh- I’ve been standing outside for the past half an hour deliberating on whether to come in.”
I snort. “Well that’s not creepy at all.”
Al barely cracks a smile. In fact, he barely looks up at me and the butterflies fill my stomach again.
“So,” I start, trying to keep my voice level, “you wanted to ask me something?”
Al looks up as if he’s surprised to see me. “Right, yes. I need to ask you for a favour.”
“A favour?” I repeat slowly over the sound of my heart slamming in my ribcage.
“Yes.” He sighs, scratching the space in between his dark eyebrows thoughtfully. “Every Christmas the Ministry holds a ball, and all of the more senior employees are invited, you know?”
It’s the first I’ve heard of this ball, but I nod anyway.
“Right, so I have to go. And my parents are also going obviously.” He swallows hard, the Adam’s apple in his throat protruding.
“Obviously,” I repeat.
“So naturally they, and anyone who they’ve spoken to, will be expecting me to take… well, they’ll be expecting me to take you.”
My mouth goes dry. I was so stupid to think that the ridiculousness of this situation was behind us.
“So?” he asks, his wide green eyes meeting mine.
“So?” I know what he’s getting at, but maybe if I play dumb he’ll give up on me.
“Will you be my date to the ball? I know it’s a lot to ask, with James and everything. But it would really be a massive help to me if you did this.”
I sigh, flicking my gaze to the loose thread on the arm of the chair and picking at it absentmindedly. There’s absolutely nothing good I can do right now.. If I don’t go to the ball with Al, I’ve let him down, the one time he’s asked me for something. If I do go to the ball with Al, I’m the worst not-not-girlfriend ever. But Al’s my friend. And James is not not my boyfriend. Who just stormed out on me.
This is when I need my miniature Alice to tell me what to do. But instead I’m left to my own, shitty devices. So I take a deep breath and say,
“Sure, I’ll go to the ball with you.”
When Al’s left after many hugs and thanks and promises that he’ll tell his parents to keep the ‘engagement’ on the down-low, I head back into Priyanka’s room and change into my pyjamas. I’m tucked under the covers trying to get an early night when my phone vibrates. Instinctively, I grab it from the bedside table and hit the home button.
Blinking hard against the bright light, I see that I have a text from an unknown number. I swipe to read it.
I’m sorry- such an idiot. Put it down to too much early morning paperwork. I can’t wait to visit you in your new hov- I mean home. -J
The corners of my mouth flick up involuntarily. I send back a single red heart, lock my phone and roll over in my bed.
A/N- Happy new year, everyone! I hope you all had a great holiday season!
Woo so I feel like even though this chapter was pretty long, not a lot happened which I'm sorry about. But I promise it was necessary!
Anyways, I would love to hear what you thought of it and also any opinions on the new banner! Not sure how I feel about it! Also how do people feel about a James POV in the next couple of chapters?
edit- fixed some grammar errors etc.
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