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September 20th, 2021

Great Hall

 

James grinned contentedly at the popping and flashing sparks that burst overhead, filling the Great Hall with a cacophony of bangs and colors as the unsuspecting students breakfasted that morning. Ducking to avoid a glittering gold rocket that just narrowly whizzed past his head, he poured himself another glass of pumpkin juice to congratulate himself on a job well done. 

 

“No better way to start a Monday than with pyrotechnics, I always say,” Fred said, dropping down on the seat across from him. He brought with him the distinctive sulphuric smell of explosives as he pocketed his wand with a discreet glance at the professors’ table. 

 

There were only two professors present at breakfast that morning - Professor Everard, who was looking up at the spectacular display with the boyish mirth of a five-year old, and Professor Selwyn, who was looking much less humorous as she pointedly eyed the pair of Gryffindors. 

 

“James - you sure Selwyn didn’t see me sneak off to the antechamber?” Freddie asked, but he didn’t look particularly concerned. He had begun vigorously piling his plate with french toast and sausages, emptying nearly half a jug of syrup over the heap. 

 

“Nah, she’s just walked in a minute ago,” James replied with a grin, buttering his toast, “Everard might’ve spotted you, but you know how he is - a bit of a finger wag here, a tsk there, ‘But I must admit, that was an excellent piece of charm work there, Weasley. Simply superb colors.’”

 

Fred looked smug. It was no secret that his cousin was a favorite of the Charms professor. 

 

“I’ll give you credit for the idea to adapt those leftover Wheezes fireworks though, mate,” he said, shaking a sausage at James before shoving it in his mouth, “Cut our work down by half.”

 

James crinkled his nose, moving his plate away to avoid the small bits of food that flew out of his cousin’s mouth as he talked. 

 

“Alright, but if Selwyn asks, leave me right out of it. Repeat after me, ‘James Potter is innocent.’”

 

“Well, that’s a confession if I’ve ever heard one,” came a weary voice from behind him.

 

James turned around, beaming widely.

 

“Archie! And how is our radiant Head Boy this morning? Come, we’ve saved you a seat,” he said, patting the bench beside him. Archie obliged, but it was with an exasperated sigh that he sat down with them at the table.

 

“James,” Archie started in his Prefect Voice, eyeing the boy in question warily, “Do you mind telling me why two of my prefects never completed their rounds past the Gryffindor corridor last night?”

 

James pulled a puzzled face, innocently sipping his pumpkin juice, “Haven’t got a clue, Arch. Why’s that?”

 

Holding back a grin, Freddie was a little bolder.

 

“Shouldn’t that be the kind of thing you’re supposed to keep track of, HB?”

 

Archie’s expression darkened, “And that’s exactly why I’m asking. Last night’s entry in the prefect logbook reads, ‘Emergency trip to the hospital wing. Partner inexplicably attacked by bats.’”

 

James snorted out his pumpkin juice. Fred choked on a sausage. 

 

Archie plowed forward, “Now reading that this morning, I thought, now why does that sound so familiar..? Who’s favorite hex involves bats again…?”

 

James tried to give the best look of innocence he could muster while nearly hacking out a lung. The Head Boy’s eyes flitted unamusedly between his two friends before landing squarely on a piece of a sparkler that had landed in a nearby bowl of fruit. Reaching over, he picked out the scorched wrapper and held it out to the pair incriminatingly.

 

“But I’m sure this has nothing at all to do with those fireworks you’ve been sneaking out to test in that abandoned classroom, does it?”

 

James and Freddie fell silent and exchanged guilty looks from across the table, as Archie regarded them expectantly. After a few moments of silence, he sighed. 

 

“Listen… I’ll admit, 90%% of the time, the stuff you pull is harmless and funny. But McGonagall’s already called me in last week to talk to me about reigning you two in a bit more, after Freddie’s stunt with that fake Sorting Hat… I still dunno how you got the Sword of Gryffindor to come out of it that way...”

 

He paused looking worn-out and tired as he surveyed them. Two 17-year-olds, on the cusp of their young adulthood (made even more evident given how Freddie had neglected to shave that morning), looking as guilty as a pair of toddlers with their hands stuck in a cookie jar. 

 

“I’m still trying to figure out this Head Boy thing, you know. And I’m trying my best to get a handle on things, but you lot don’t exactly make it easy…”

 

Archie leveled his wide, honey brown eyes on the pair of them, and James and Freddie shifted uncomfortably under his heartbreakingly earnest gaze. 

 

Most people incorrectly presumed that by being mates with the Head Boy, Hogwarts’ two most notorious troublemakers would have it made for them, pulling off daring acts unencumbered and unscathed every time. But the truth of the matter was… Archie Longbottom was a master of subtle emotional warfare. 

 

As had been increasingly evident since their friend had been made a prefect their fifth year, Archie was quite possibly the greatest obstacle that two teenage pranksters would face in their young lives. The boy had a moral compass as pure and golden as the hairs on his head, and more dangerously, he knew exactly how to tug on each and every one of James and Freddie’s heartstrings. 

 

“...Could you please cut me a bit of a break? You’re… well, you’re my best mates, after all.”

 

James sometimes thought that if given a Time Turner and about 20 minutes, Archie might have convinced Voldemort himself to renounce the dark arts and walk himself into a cell in Azkaban. 

 

But since the only atrocity James and Fred had ever committed towards wizardkind was once vanishing Professor Trelawney’s wig clear off her head, it only took about five seconds for the pair of them to crack, blurting out simultaneous apologies. 

 

“I’m sorry, Archie-”

 

“You’re totally right-”

 

“I’m responsible for the bats-”

 

“-And we confess to the fireworks too-”

 

“-We willingly subject ourselves to whatever punishment you see fit for us-”

 

“Seriously, fire away on the detentions- “

 

“-You could give us double if you want-”

 

“-Triple even-”

 

“-Whatever you think is right, Archie-”

 

“-Sir.”

 

It was small wonder that James and Freddie’s already hefty detention records had grown exponentially massive as of late. James could safely guess that about half of those slips had been written by none other the Head Boy himself. 

 

But, James supposed, that was probably for the best anyway. Though he was often teased for being the killjoy of their rowdy gang, Archie was kind, and at least he had a sense of humor, which was more than he could say about some other prefects in the school (ahem, ahem, looking at you, Cousin Molly).

 

Archie had been maintaining a well-composed face, even as Fred went on full genuflect on the floor next to him, still muttering his apologies like a prayer. 

 

“Alright, alright…” Archie said with a small shake of his head, “The most serious matter is about the prefect. I don’t know what got into you two, but you know better than to fire magic at other students. You’re lucky Madame Pomfrey has seen more than her fare share of Bat Bogey Hexes… though she said she hadn’t seen one that nasty since Mrs. Potter attended school…”

 

James fought to keep the proud smirk off his face, though the urge quickly evaporated at Archie’s next words.

 

“I have to give you five Friday night detentions in a row.”

 

James and Freddie gulped, but held their tongues. Admittedly, it was a bit harsher than they were expecting, but they had invited Archie to punish them as he saw fit, after all. 

 

“And as for the fireworks…” 

 

James braced himself as Archie continued, but his friends eyes softened as they looked up at the flashing colors above.

 

“...Don’t worry about them. They’re a pretty... energetic start to the week,” he finished with a small amused smile. 

 

Just then, impeccably timed, another firecracker whizzed into a jug of milk thoroughly soaking a group of third year girls and sending surprised shrieks echoing through the hall. 

 

James nearly choked sucking in the laugh that bubbled up in his chest. But to his surprise, a snort of laughter came from Archie as he caught the chaos unfolding down the table. Archie caught himself, quickly slapping a hand over his mouth, but it was too late. His unexpected response had already set Freddie off, and soon enough, the three were sniggering loudly over their toasts like proper teenage school boys. 

 

When they had settled down, Archie looked at his friends seriously, his eyebrows slightly furrowed. 

 

“...I know I gave you a lot of detention… Was that too harsh?” he said after a beat, unsurely. As was often the case, Archie’s confident Head Boy persona vanished as quickly as it came. 

 

But sensing his friend’s apprehension, James quickly shook his head.

 

“Not at all!”

 

“Perfect amount of harshness, Head Boy! We love a good disciplinarian!!” Freddie added enthusiastically.

 

Archie flushed gratefully, “Oh. Well in that case, I’ll add on an extra detention for the fireworks.”

 

Archie laughed a full chortle as James and Freddie sputtered at their teas. It seemed the Head Boy had been learning more from the two of them than they’d thought. 

 

“Only joking…!” he said with a beam, “It’s a bit of a pants time, but I checked on James’s calendar that Fridays from 7-10 won’t interfere with quidditch… and I’ll ask Hagrid if he can take you two?”

 

Despite himself, James cracked a smile. What other prefect would mind his quidditch practice schedule?

 

“Archibald Longbottom, do you know I’m in love with you? You’re the most brilliant and gracious Head Boy that’s ever walked these halls,” Freddie said ebulantly, taking the blonde boy’s hands in his. 

 

Archie only shook his head with a smile, retracted his hands carefully, and poured a glass of orange juice for himself. As he munched on a piece of toast, he looked up at the two of them thoughtfully.

 

“By the way, you guys are coming this afternoon right?”

 

He threw them an expectant look, and James stopped pouring his coffee, racking his brain for whatever he may or may not have agreed to do. Across the table, Freddie had an identical deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. 

 

Archie deflated a bit, “You forgot.”

 

James frantically shook his head, “No, no, of course not! ...But we might... need... a small reminder…” 

 

Archie blinked at them.

 

“...The Herbology Club? The one that I’m trying to revive this year? I mentioned it on the train ride.”

 

Now that he thought about it, James did remember Archie buzzing excitedly about the club over lunch in their train compartment a few weeks back. Neville Longbottom had been president of the Hogwarts Hebological Society during his school years, and as his dad’s biggest fan, Archie had been positively beaming as he relayed his plans. 

 

It’s… very difficult to say no to Archie when he’s worked up like that. Besides, the conversation quickly turned into the results of the British and Irish Quidditch League Cup soon after, and the half-hearted agreements had all been too easy to sweep away. Until now. 

 

“Oh… yeah… right...”

 

That Herbology Club…”

 

Archie looked between James and Freddie’s reluctant expressions and cast his eyes down, sighing into his plate. 

 

“I mean, you don’t have to join…” he said softly, “But I’ve done all the paperwork and fliers already… and Dad was really excited to hear about it.”

 

The wide-eyed look that Mr. Boy-Next-Door The-Goodest-Human-To-Walk-The-Earth Archie Longbottom gave them next was well-timed, nearly immaculately so. Suddenly, James could think of nothing but mental images of kicked puppies. And he couldn’t bear to disappoint Archie twice in one sitting. 

 

“Of course we’ll join,” he blurted, kicking Fred beneath the table, “Right, Freddie?”

 

“Sure thing,” Freddie said, eyes watering.

 

“Where are we meeting again?”

 

-----

 

September 20th, 2021

Greenhouse 3

 

James watched with mild concern as Archie, with a great heave, moved the last of the large earthen planters off of the workbench and under the table. 

 

“There! All finished,” he said with a satisfactory nod, despite his heavy breaths. 

 

As he leaned on the wooden table, James noted with a smile that his friend could nearly pass as Professor Longbottom nowadays. Golden haired and broad shouldered, Archie was looking a little more casual than usual, with his rolled up shirtsleeves and dirt-speckled work apron a dead ringer for the Gryffindors’ chronically disheveled Head of House. Archie looked nearly as confident in the greenhouse, too. Afterall, he’d grown up alongside the greenery that now surrounded them. 

 

“Shall we get started?” he asked brightly, looking around at the assembled club members. 

 

James supposed, as he sunk down to sit on the bench, that might have been putting it a bit more formally than necessary. The attendance for the meeting was… meager to say the least.

 

“I thought you said Lewis was coming to this, too?” Freddie hissed from beside him. 

 

James gave a small shake of his head, “He said he had a study group Monday afternoons. And that unlike us, ‘he doesn’t owe Archie about two dozen favors.’”

 

Freddie scoffed quietly, “...Prick.”

 

Aside from him and Fred, the only other person who had shown up to the meeting was a mousy boy with freckled cheeks and a wide buck-toothed grin. 

 

“Harry Creevey,” the boy said with a frantic wave of his hand, “First year Gryffindor.” 

 

Archie smiled at him, “Nice to meet you Harry. I’m Archie, that’s Freddie, and next to him is James.”

 

Harry nodded enthusiastically.

 

“I know!” he said, turning to James with wide eyes, “I’m named after your dad. My family regards him most highly.”

 

James flushed slightly, nevertheless returning Harry’s smile; over the years, he’d gotten quite used to declarations like these. 

 

“Thanks, Harry,” he offered, “My dad regards your family very highly as well.”

 

The tiny boy froze looking as though he might faint, and after a few moments, Freddie kindly reached over, waving a hand over his face to make sure he was still responsive. 

 

“T-thank you very much!” Harry finally sputtered out with an endearing nod, “I’ll write my dad to tell him straight after this!”

 

“Oh- ah, don’t worry about it...” James said, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.

 

A beat of silence passed between the group, making the scant attendance of the meeting more pronounced. Despite this though, Archie cleared his throat and began the meeting cheerfully enough. 

 

“Uhm, so first of all, I just wanted to thank all of you for coming today! I know that it’s our inaugural meeting, so our numbers may be a bit small, but I’m sure given a few weeks and a little bit of elbow grease, we’ll be able to get the word out about our new organization!” 

 

He looked around at them with a warm smile, and Freddie stomped his feet with a loud whoop. 

 

“Herbology Club, ra, ra, ra!” 

 

James supplemented the cheer with a couple loud thumps against the wooden table, and Harry joined in with eager applause. 

 

Archie beamed and nodded bracingly, “Thanks guys. I’m very glad to be surrounded by people who share my enthusiasm for Herbology.”

 

“Yeah, we love Herbology,” the club members recited back to him, offering nervous chuckles and uneasy smiles.

 

...Twenty minutes into the meeting, it had become quite evident that Archie had, in fact, assembled the least herbologically-inclined students in the castle for his club. After some preliminary discussions that were both awkward and painful, they had summarized that: 

 

1) Harry had had a grand total of two Herbology classes thus far and had only come after eavesdropping on their conversation in the Great Hall this morning.

 

2) Freddie, who hadn’t taken Herbology since 5th year, could only really remember their last unit on magical vines - a lesson that James vividly recalled resulted in Fred nearly strangling Lewis with a Venomous Tentacula.

 

3) James, despite sharing a bench with Archie, had been paying very little attention to the past few NEWT Herbology lessons on carnivorous trees (And although he didn’t voice it out loud, the truth was that he’d been actively avoiding looking to the front of the room during lectures because Piper’s seat was directly in front of the chalkboard). 

 

Archie’s initially bright and hopeful disposition gradually dropped with each passing moment. Now, he was looking a bit dumbfounded at the motley crew in front of him, slowly coming to terms with the fact that he was the only person in the room who could tell a puffapod from a shrivelfig. 

 

“We’ve, uh, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, huh?” Archie said scratching his head with a good-natured laugh that ended up sounding a little more hollow and desperate than James was sure he intended. 

 

“-Professor? I’ve finished with… oh. Hi, Archie.”

 

The four members swiveled around to peer at the newcomer. Standing at the doorway of the greenhouse, looking half puzzled and fully misplaced, was Margot Beauregard.

 

“Uhm…” she said, glancing back at the greenhouse number above the door, as if checking if she’d gotten her location right. Disregarding this, Archie had gotten a hopeful glimmer in his eyes at her appearance.

 

“Hi Margot! Are you here for the Herbology Club meeting?” Archie asked, although she very clearly was not. 

 

“Oh... No, I was looking for Professor Longbottom. I was hoping to return some books,” she said indicating the fat stack of research volumes she carried in her arms. They all looked massive and dense and made James exhausted just glancing at them. 

 

“...Oh. He’s not in that office today...” Archie replied, maintaining his welcoming smile. 

 

“Ah, well…-” Margot said, shifting on the balls of her feet, “D’you know where I can find him?”

 

“Gryffindor Head’s office, second floor,” Archie said almost immediately in that compulsively helpful way of his. 

 

“Oh! Thank you. I’ll head there now. See you around!” Margot gave him a grateful smile, and giving the group one last cursory nod, she quickly turned to leave.

 

Archie widened his eyes, realizing his mistake of being a bit too nice a beat too late.

 

”Oh. Damn, wait, hang on- Margot!” he called a bit desperately after her. 

 

Already halfway out of the door, she nonetheless turned back at him, “...Yeah?”

 

“Uhm… Don’t you wanna know what we’re doing?”

 

Margot blinked at him. 

 

“Well, you just said - Herbology Club meeting right?”

 

Archie nodded eagerly, “It’s our first meeting ever.”

 

“Oh, congrats!”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“...Well, have a good meeting then!”

 

Archie sputtered at the terse girl, before circling around the workbench and half-following after her. Meanwhile, James was desperately trying to stifle his laughter at his friend. He didn’t know whether he should have been offended that Archie was so desperate to recruit any other members that were not him, Freddie, and Harry, but that was all overshadowed by the amusement of this poor girl’s obvious aversion to the idea.  

 

“Wait- You’re- you’re the Herbology student assistant right? You’re helping my dad with his research?”

 

Margot nodded slowly as she lingered by the door, clearly knowing where this was headed. 

 

“I know you kind of happened on us on accident but… Do you maybe have any interest in joining us? We meet in this greenhouse on Mondays at 4.”

 

She shifted a bit, adjusting the books in her arms awkwardly. Slowly, her eyes wandered away from Archie, surveying the strange and sad crew assembled around the table, growing more and more hesitant with each passing member. As she briefly met his eyes, James could see that at that moment, there was nothing the girl would have liked less than joining the Herbology Club. And he absolutely couldn’t blame her. 

 

“Erm-”

 

“-I just thought, since you’re obviously rather good at the subject... I mean, we’ve just started out, and I’d really really love to have some more experienced students in the club.”

 

James could only see the back of his head, but he could tell from the tone of his voice that he was offering her one of his endearing wide-eyed half-smile, half-grimaces. Unfortunately for Archie, Margot appeared to be more resistant to this emotional barrage than James and Freddie were this morning.

 

“That’s really flattering, thank you, but I’m gonna have to say no,” she said firmly, shaking her head, “My schedules a bit packed at the moment, and I don’t think I have time for any more commitments. I’m just starting my NEWTs, you see...”

 

“Ah, of course... I completely understand,” Archie said, sounding slightly crestfallen but empathetic, “My sister’s a 6th year, too...”

 

“I’ll spread the word around my Herbology class though, if you’d like.”

 

“Oh, okay. That would be nice of you. Thanks, Margot...”

 

“Sure. Uhm, these books are getting a bit heavy, so I’m gonna head back to the castle,” Margot said, once again already scooting out of the door, “Good luck!”

 

“We’ll be here if you change your mind!” Archie called after her, but she was already gone.

 

Archie returned to the workbench with slumped shoulders. 

 

“...That was a bit pushy wasn’t it?” he sighed, after a moment.

 

Freddie let out a chortle he’d been keeping in along with James, “Yeah, well you nearly vaulted over the table after her, Arch... You fancy her or something?”

 

Archie raised his eyebrows in surprise, “Margot? Nah, she’s not really my type… She’s brilliant at Herbology though. Dad would have been elated if she joined…”

 

“Yeah, alright, mate…” Freddie said, tossing him a wink, but before Archie could protest, he reached out clapping him on the back heavily, “Anyway, who says we need her? You’re the only Herbology nerd in my heart, buddy.”

 

Archie regarded him with furrowed brows for a moment, before sighing, “Thanks, Fred… Anyway, I was thinking that maybe in the next week, we could each look up one herbology related topic we’d like to know more about…? It’ll help with figuring out activities and projects I think…”

 

And so the club meeting resumed without much more incident or interruption. Despite this, James found his eyes wandering through the translucent greenhouse wall. Outside, he could see the uphill path leading towards the castle that Margot had disappeared up on not long ago, and he became pensive, thinking about last night’s incident in the Gryffindor corridor.

 

Later, when the group was heading back to the Great Hall for dinner, James pulled Archie aside, waving Fred and Harry ahead of them. 

 

“Do you mind if I have a word? I’ve been meaning to mention something about that prefect in the hospital wing…”

 

------

 

September 25th, 2021

Gryffindor Common Room

 

“Morning, Captain.”

 

James looked up briefly from his notes to find Lewis’s watching him from the foot of the boy’s dorm stairwell. He was in his shorts and trainers, presumably on his way for his usual weekend run before he’d run into James, who was camped out in front of the Common Room fire. 

 

“Hey, Lewis,” James said distractedly, reaching for his second alternate playbook. He knew he had scribbled down that modified Hawkshead formation somewhere after he’d gotten home from that Harpies game with his mum last month… But it wasn’t in his main or first alternate book… 

 

As he searched, he heard Lewis stroll across the room towards him, stopping just in front of the coffee table which was now piled with James’s entire collection of quidditch strategy materials. 

 

“I see you’ve been busy this morning,” Lewis said, picking up a roll of formation diagrams that had fallen to the floor and replacing it on the table. 

 

James remained fully immersed in his notes, flipping through his playbook fixedly.

 

“...Mate, have you gotten any sleep at all?” Lewis asked with mild concern.

 

“...Yeah, ‘course I have.”

 

It was true, technically, James thought.

 

But… in reality, he had gotten just the barest minimum of sleep last night. He and Fred had gotten in later than expected from detention. After cleaning out the thestral enclosures, Hagrid had insisted they come in for tea and post-holiday catch-up time, and so it was well past curfew by the time they’d finally waddled back to the dorms.

 

Then, James had lain awake in bed for several hours more with a belly full of rock cakes and a creeping kind of anxiety. He’d only gotten a few hours of sleep before his nerves woke him up again that morning far before dawn. Unable to settle his mind, he had been left with nothing to do but to pad downstairs to the Common Room, find a chair in front of the fire, and immerse himself in his playbooks. 

 

Lewis studied James for a moment, noting his tired eyes, red-tinged and ringed with dark circles, and shook his head with a sigh. 

 

“What’s gotten into your head?” he said, perching himself on an arm of a couch, “You don’t even get this nervous before normal quidditch games. And today’s a scrimmage match.”

 

“It’s nothing,” James said rubbing his eyes and throwing him an evasive smile, “I just thought I’d map out a couple new plays for you to try out… In case you lot were feeling cheeky... I mean, when better to experiment than a scrimmage match? Since today doesn’t matter much anyway? And who says I’m nervous? You know sometimes I just like to be prepared..-” 

 

“James,” Lewis said, interrupting him with a hard stare. James abruptly quieted under his friend’s penetrating expression. 

 

“You know you get exceptionally chatty when you’re anxious?” Lewis muttered, resolutely taking the playbook out of his hands and setting it on the table, “Merlin knows it’s already difficult to get you to shut up normally… Now what’s this all about?”

 

James blinked at Lewis and then slowly looked down at the playbook before flinging himself back in his chair with a muffled sigh. 

 

“...Everything,” he said, looking up at the tapestry-lined ceiling. 

 

“Ah, there’s our dramatic Jamsie.” 

 

James raised his head, inclining it slightly at the chaser. Lewis was leaned back against the couch with his arms crossed, regarding him cooly with just the ghost of an amused smile. 

 

“Don’t you feel kind of… different this year? It’s our last season. I feel like everything needs to go perfectly this year. And not just for the Cup either...”

 

“Mmm. You’re saying that because of recruiters?”

 

James heaved a sigh, rubbing his temples, “Kind of. I dunno if it’s just me psyching myself out cuz of that, but I feel off. It’s officially the start of quidditch, and I should be happy, but I feel like I’m going to throw up. That can’t be a good sign, can it?”

 

Lewis looked thoughtful for a moment, trailing his eyes across the coffee table - the plays, the schedules, the diagrams, the game summaries accumulated over who knows how many years, all painstakingly annotated with James’s small untidy scrawl. 

 

“I dunno what your nerves are trying to tell you, James, but you’ve played a solid four seasons on the pitch up until now,” he said decidedly, “From hard work - not signs or luck or anything. So you should listen to that instead.”

 

James blinked at the bracing advice, before offering a small smile, “...Thanks, Lewis.”

 

“And as for the recruiters… they’re a few extra people in the stands for a couple games. Don’t let it affect you more than it should.”

 

At this, James rolled his eyes half-amused, “You know, I’ve been trying to tell myself the same thing for ages now, but somehow it never sounds as convincing and easy as when you say it...” 

 

Lewis was one of the most level-headed people James had ever met in his entire life. Never once in all the years they’ve played together had he seen the boy anything but cool as a cucumber on the field. For that, he was thankful. Lewis’s calm demeanor was often a steadying presence for the team. 

 

“Dunno how you do that by the way... I mean, you must be thinking about recruitment this season too?” James mused. 

 

With his family background and skill level, Lewis Wood was like fodder for the professional League. And truth be told, James was secretly glad he didn’t play the same position as him. His friend was the best chaser in the school by a long shot.

 

Lewis only hummed, looking into the fire crackling in the Common Room’s large hearth. 

 

“It’s just quidditch,” he shrugged.

 

James let out a bark of laughter, “Don’t let your dad hear you say that.”

 

Lewis only rolled his eyes dismissively, pushing himself up from the couch to loom over James once more.

 

“Anyway, our game today is against Ravenclaw, James. They just started their practices last week - quit worrying so much.”

 

“Yeah, I know…” James muttered, looking down. When Lewis put it that way, he was starting to feel a bit silly about the the whole thing. But at least he was a little less anxious now.  

 

“I’m gonna go on a run, but you should get some rest. We’ve still got four hours until the match.” 

 

James grimaced, turning to look at the old grandfather clock at the far corner of the room. It was just about 6:30am but he realized he’d been up for a few hours already. 

 

“Go back to bed and take a nap. I’ll see you at breakfast later.”

 

“Yeah, alright. See you, mate.”

 

------

 

September 25th, 2021

Grand Staircase

 

James hopped down the stairs two at time, hurriedly adjusting his jersey, which had awkwardly scrunched up beneath his arm guard, as he went. 

 

James had taken Lewis’s advice and clambered back into bed for an extra hour of sleep before the match, but that hour had accidentally stretched to three, his body undoubtedly protesting against his fitful rest last night. While he did feel much more refreshed, he was now running very very late.

 

He hurriedly checked his watch and groaned. He had barely enough time to snag a piece of toast in the Great Hall before absolutely booking it to the locker rooms. Today may have only been a scrimmage match, but it was the start of the season, and thus, the team was still completely obligated to listen to one of his famous pre-game pep talks. 

 

On the second floor landing, he finally decided to forgo the steps all together, swinging his long legs over the bannister and sliding down, much to the amusement (and ire) of passers by. After speeding past a group of awestruck first years, quickly reciprocating a high five from his cousin Lucy, and nearly toppling over a bust of Barnaby the Elder, James was happy to report that he stuck the landing.

 

Standing now in the Entrance Hall, he took a quick moment to collect his breath (and also to bask in the cool trick he just pulled). He’d just made a mental note to regale Freddie after the game, when from behind him, a soft voice called his name. 

 

“James?” 

 

James tensed, his easy mood evaporating as quickly as it had come. Stiffly, he turned around to see Piper St Claire blinking at him curiously as she descended the stairs. 

 

James’s first thought was that he was glad he stuck the landing. But his second thought was that he should go. Right now. 

 

“Hey, Piper,” he said, clearing his throat, “Did I pass you on the way down the stairs? Sorry if I startled you…”

 

She wrinkled her brow in confusion, and James felt a flush creeping up his neck and into his ears. 

 

“Uhm, anyway, I’m actually on my way to the pitch right now,” he said hastily, gesturing to his quidditch uniform, “So I gotta run… But it was nice seeing you!”

 

Quickly, he turned to leave, but before he could make his escape, Piper quickly reached out and snatched his wrist. His motor control shut down temporarily, anchoring him to the ground.

 

“James,” she said, keeping a gentle hold on him, “I was actually  hoping to get a word with you.”

 

“Erhm,” James said, looking down at her hand and feeling the heat spread to his cheeks, mentally cursing his Weasley genes. 

 

“... Please? It’ll be quick.”

 

Piper looked up at him earnestly with her wide blue eyes. From a window on the second floor canopy, rays of late morning light began to stream in, illuminating the pretty highlights in her dark auburn hair. 

 

“O-okay,” he found himself saying, despite the time. 

 

“Thank you.”

 

She granted him with a grateful smile, slipping her hand down from his wrist to clasp his hand. 

 

“I’ve really wanted to say something since that day in Herbology… I’m sorry I haven’t been able to tell you until now…” she began in that melodic voice of hers. 

 

James only looked at her blankly, his mind stuck on processing his feelings about the current hand-holding situation. Piper didn’t seem to notice much though as she continued, soft, whispery and song-like, and James found himself inexplicably transfixed.

 

“...It’s funny, actually, we’ve got three classes together this year, but I feel like I haven’t seen you ages…”

 

A summery breeze blew in from the entryway, swirling Piper’s perfume in a diffuse cloud around them. Distinctive and flowery, it brought a wave of nostalgia washing over James. 

 

“...and we didn’t talk at all for most of the summer…”

 

Piper’s hands clasped tighter, cool and dry in his clammy palms. She gently pulled him towards her. 

 

“...Anyway, what I’m trying to say is… I miss you, James.” 

 

James’s mind was whizzing away. Hand-holding. Lilac. Pretty hair. I miss you.

 

Piper quirked her head at him expectantly, “...James? Uhm… I… wanna get back together. What do you say?”

 

Ding

 

The clock tower on the seventh floor began signaling the hour, and James’s senses came whooshing back into him all at once. Quidditch. The scrimmage. He had a scant thirty minutes to the coin toss, and he was in the Entrance Hall. 

 

Holding his ex’s hand. 

 

Like a toy crane, he unceremoniously dropped Piper’s hand, taking a step away from her. She flashed him a confused, hurt expression, and he felt a small pang, his heart willing him to take it back. Nevertheless, he shook his head with a small sad smile.

 

“Piper… I don’t think that’s a good idea. We’ve uhm, we’ve broken up like five times already. I said over the summer that it was time to put it to rest… and I still think that’s probably for the best.”

 

Piper said nothing, looking at him for a moment with watering eyes before ducking her head down, her long hair falling like a shut curtain in front of her face. James thought he heard a tiny sniffle. 

 

“... Piper?” he said, hesitantly. 

 

Silence. His palms got sweatier.

 

“Are you uhm- are you alright?”

 

No answer. 

 

“Erm- I could… walk you to the Great Hall… or to the Common Room..?” he said, against his better judgement.

 

More sniffles. 

 

“...Or I could go find Sam…?”

 

No answer. The clock ticked. 

 

“...Er- uhm. I’m really sorry, Piper...” he said after a few moments, truly meaning it, “But I really have to go... I’ve got uh... a scrimmage…”

 

He felt dumb saying it like that and even dumber about leaving a girl just crying in the entryway. But really not being able to think of much else to do about it, James turned, biting his lip as he shuffled towards the doors. 

 

“M-my parents split up this summer.”

 

He stopped in his tracks and slowly turned around. Piper was looking at him now, nose red, tear tracks down both cheeks, and still looking pretty despite it all.

 

“Sorry?”

 

“My parents,” she said a bit more clearly now, wiping her cheek, “They divorced. Two weeks after we broke up.”

 

James blinked at her with wide eyes. If he felt horrible before, well, he felt like a total monster now.

 

“...Oh, Piper, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know,” he said. 

 

He hesitated for a moment before crossing the short distance back to her. Feeling a bit helpless, he reached out an enveloped her in a hug. He held her like that for a moment, the drumming of the blood through his ears resonating with the ticking of the clock above them.

 

The redhead sniffled into his chest, “I wanted to talk to you really badly after. I was so used to telling you everything, and you always listened to me so patiently. But then I couldn’t anymore, and the entire time we’ve been back at school you’ve been avoiding me, and it all made me miss you so much more.”

 

James released her, shuffling his feet awkwardly. It was true that he had been avoiding her a bit - in his last letter, Teddy had advised him that breakups necessitated distance for a while, if you wanted them to stick but… . 

 

“…You can still talk to me,” he said haltingly, not quite sure if his head was agreeing with his mouth, “...if you need an ear.”

 

Piper looked up at him with her watery blues, a miniscule hopeful smile raising the corner of her mouth.

 

“Really?”

 

“Sure... I mean, we might be broken up,” he quickly clarified, “...But we’re still friends, right? Friends can talk to each other.”

 

“Oh. Yeah. Right,” she dropped her eyes down to the ground again. 

 

“Uhm, hang on, here…” 

 

James fished out his wand from the back pocket of his uniform trousers and with a small wave, he conjured a handkerchief and handed it to her. 

 

“Listen, I really really need to go. My match starts in 20 minutes, and I haven’t even retrieved my broom yet. But, uhm, find me in the Common Room later tonight. We’ll talk, okay?”

 

Clutching the handkerchief, Piper gave him an infinitesimal nod, “Yeah, okay.”

 

“Alright, I’ll talk to you later then,” James said, his gaze lingering on her apprehensively before his feet began shuffling restlessly again. Tick tick tick the clock thrummed high on the seventh floor tower.  

 

“Thanks… James.”

 

“...Yeah, no worries.”

 

--------

 

September 25th, 2021

Quidditch Pitch

 

The scrimmage... was not going as well as expected.

 

It was an exceptionally windy day, with lukewarm gusts blowing down from the mountains, sending ripples over the Great Lake, and unwittingly pushing the players this way and that across the quidditch pitch. Quaffles and bludgers careened wildly out of target, and the Snitch hadn’t been spotted since the beginning of the game, leading everyone to wonder if it hadn’t just been completely blown away with the wind. 

 

And James… James wasn’t feeling great. He was windswept to his bones. He had to keep banking his broom to the right to even stay in front of his hoops. But more than that though, he wasn’t in his usual game headspace. 

 

Although he had left Piper back in the castle over an hour ago, James’s mind kept wandering back to their conversation in the Entrance Hall. 

 

Had he been too harsh? She’d been crying... Had he not been harsh enough? He’d basically necessitated that they’d see each other again... Most importantly, had he made the right decision?

 

As a result, he’d been a great deal more absent-minded during the match than usual. Luckily, the combination of the wind and Ravenclaw’s two rookie chasers meant that he hadn’t had too much heavy traffic to defend against. Gryffindor was actually up by quite a large margin, thanks to Lewis’s calculating technique and Freddie’s brute strength throwing arm. But that hadn’t prevented his teammates from picking up on James’s less than stellar performance. 

 

“What’s with you?” Lewis called, sidling up to him after a fumbled play, “The wind’s pretty pants, but you just dropped that last quaffle without even trying to pass it to anyone, mate.”

 

“Yeah, sorry about that…” James said, wincing apologetically.

 

“Did you not go back to sleep after I explicitly told you to get some rest?” 

 

“No, no, I did. That’s why I was late to the locker rooms, actually…”

 

Lewis narrowed his eyes at him scrutinizingly, “Then what in Merlin is wrong?”

 

James didn’t respond, instead sweeping his eyes around the pitch evasively.

 

“How’s Isla doing with the Snitch?” he asked.

 

Lewis studied him silently, before jerking his head upward, “...She’s working on it.”

 

James peered up, squinting his eyes against the wind and sun. Far above them, he could see their new seeker bobbing slowly over the pitch, having been driven upward to escape the brutal gusts and to find a clearer vantage point of the field. 

 

“Hell yeah, Wilkinson!” Freddie’s voice rang, carried to them with a blast of wind.

 

Down the pitch, Kian had just intercepted an itinerant pass that had been meant for James’s younger cousin, Louis (one of the new Ravenclaw chasers) but had flown about 20 feet from target. 

 

“Just give her some time - she can sort it out herself,” Lewis said, tossing James one more look before speeding off to assist the play, “But get your head in the game until then, will you?”

 

It took James a confusing second to realize Lewis had been talking about their seeker and not the ‘her’ that had been plaguing James’s mind the entire game. 

 

But they could still be friends. And friends should be there to support each other. 

 

Groaning, he shook his head in a feeble attempt to clear his thoughts. Lewis was right. He really needed to get a grip. He steered his broom yet again to recenter his position and tried to focus on the gameplay. 

 

With Gryffindor on the offensive, mostly everyone was on the far side of the pitch, and James had to squint to see the action. During normal matches, his cousin Lucy typically worked as the game commentator, her cheery voice booming over the pitch and providing him with constant updates as he patrolled his hoops. But as this was only a scrimmage, there was no commentary and really, barely any spectators in the stands. 

 

James recognized a few faces lingering in a nearby set of bleachers - Kai Yamasaki, a Slytherin chaser who seemed to constantly lurk around their practices; Lily and a couple of her third year friends; and to James’s amusement but not at all surprise, a very bouncy-looking Harry Creevey, decked out in a massive Gryffindor scarf that was much too warm for the weather. 

 

Seeing James look over in his direction, Harry bounded up excitedly, waving both arms over his head, his scarf fluttering wildly around him. James cracked a smile and gave a small wave back. At least Harry still probably thought he was cool, even if he made questionable relationship decisions. 

 

Freddie punched in an easy goal, sailing clear past the Ravenclaw keeper, Natalia Bell, while she’d been momentarily distracted when her ponytail blew straight into her eyes. After picking up the quaffle, Ravenclaw began their offensive, now making their way quickly back down his end of the field.

 

James took a deep breath, his eyes attentively tracking the movement of the quaffle. Cooper to Weasley to Scamander, back to Weasley again, as Lorcan swerved to avoid a bludger that James’s beater, Naomi King had expertly lobbed through their formation. As Louis flew into the scoring zone, James quickly racked his mind to remember the Weasley cousin scrimmages they’d played in Grandmum Molly’s back garden this summer. Louis tended to pitch right...

 

Quickly, James moved towards the far right hoop as Louis released the ball, clearly aiming for that same direction. But just then, another strong gust blew across the stadium, and the quaffle warbled off course. It was now tumbling toward the center hoop…

 

Acting on reflex, James quickly jerked his broom back, throwing out his arm sideways… and just barely catching the throw. But he had grabbed the ball awkwardly, and his wrist throbbed with pain as he threw the ball back to a waiting Kian. 

 

James wrinkled his forehead in annoyance. He was certain that he’d sprained it, which was a pretty quick fix, but he made a mental note to walk up to the Hospital Wing to get it seen to by Madam Pomfrey immediately after the game. He needed to be in his absolute best shape, especially since they had another scrimmage scheduled against Hufflepuff next weekend. 

 

The chasers continued whizzing back and forth across the field, their heads ducked down against the wind as they tried in vain to battle against not just the opposing team, but also against the unforgiving elements. James was also hunkering down in his post, with his throbbing arm tucked against his stomach, growing gloomier by the second. 

 

He was frustrated with himself. It hadn’t been smart to throw his arm awkwardly like that. If he were in a better headspace, he could have just as easily kicked the quaffle or batted it away with his broom… As his mum always drilled into his head,”The best quidditch players are the ones who protect themselves from injury.” It might have been a bit of a mum-ism, but Ginny Potter had seven years of professional quidditch experience on him, and James knew better than disregard her advice. 

 

Suddenly, James caught a fast movement directly above him and looked up. Isla was now speeding down to the pitch in a steep angle, her face scrunched up in concentration as her hair and robes fluttered ferociously behind her. Following her line of sight, James spotted the unmistakable golden flash of the Snitch hovering just above the base of his left goalpost. James’s eyes trailed Isla excitedly - the Ravenclaw seeker, Nora Davies, had caught on and was now speeding after her, but she was a good 30 meters behind. Finally, they could finish this hellish scrimmage and go back to the castle. 

 

Then, somewhere off to his right, James heard the distinctive heavy thunk of a beater’s bat. He immediately tensed, hoping Isla was still on her guard for bludgers despite now being in a full spiral towards the Snitch. Apprehensively, he turned, his eyes searching, ready to call out a warning to his seeker... Only to find the bludger careening towards him instead. 

 

For the second time that day, James’s motor control shut down for a moment. The bludger was too close, too fast to throw himself out of the way, and he hastily tensed his body, trying to anticipate the blow… 

 

But it hit him dead-on in the gut, knocking all the air out of him and throwing him backwards. His arms windmilled desperately, but the wind made it nearly impossible to regain his balance, and before he knew it, he was tumbling off his broom. As a last ditch effort, James shot out his injured arm to clutch at the handle, but as the full weight of his body bore down on his wrist, he cried out in pain, instinctively letting go. He plummeted toward the ground.

 

Merlin, his mum was so going to kill him.

 

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Great news everyone- I've found a lovely cafe near my new apartment where I can sit with the intention of working on this story, which on rare occasions, actually does get fulfilled. This is my favorite chapter so far I think  :O) - thanks for reading!

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