Chapter 3: Tea?

France couldn't have been more wonderful in her imagination. Her only regret is her lack of savings money that she brought since there had been so many things Cressida had to pass up on buying. Of course, there was always the money that she found in her trunk that is now carefully stashed away in the top draw of her bedside table in the Potter's manor, but she couldn't bring herself to touch it without first understanding why she has it.

They've been back for less than a day, though this time Cressida is already unpacking her belongings into her temporary bedroom which she will reside in for the rest of the Summer holidays besides a few days here and there to go back home.

She trails her finger along the smooth collar of the red dress that Euphemia gifted her as it lays out neatly on her bed. It couldn't be folded and chucked in the dresser where all her other belongings are, yet the hanging part of the wardrobe remains skeletal, and it would be wrong to only have one item hanging.

The indecisiveness rules over and Cressida ends up leaving it on the bed, moving towards her desk instead. Sourcing a piece of clean parchment and ink and quill, she begins writing a letter to Peter. They haven't talked much yet through these holidays and Cressida can't help but miss his presence, however quiet it may be.

She assumes, that like Remus and Sirius he would eventually come to the Potters for a while as well, but she has also observed that he doesn't stay as long and often goes home and returns periodically.

Despite his oddness and a clear distinction from the other characters of their group, he still belongs as one of them and she'd hate to lose him because of neglect.

Cressida's hand works smoothly all the way down the parchment, filling it with both ramblings and important matters but she doesn't quite get to finish when her door opens without a knock.

"Could've been changing," she mutters without losing focus on the inky-words.

The door closes again with a soft click, followed by a few footsteps that head in the direction of her bed. "Why would you be changing in the middle of the day?" Her mattress squeaks slightly as James flops onto it.

Realising that Peter wouldn't know if she stopped writing, Cressida places the quill away, swivelling in her seat. James, as she imagined, is laying on his back, sprawled over her bed with his arms stretched behind his head. "You're bored," she notes.

James hums affirmatively, eyes closing over as though he is trying to fall asleep. As long as he doesn't wrinkle her dress, she thinks to herself, turning back around to focus on her nearly finished letter. James doesn't say anything, nor make any attempt to entertain himself in her room other than taking a nap so she doesn't bother to disturb it.

After ten or so minutes of comfortable silence, her bed shifts again and suddenly James is sauntering out of her room. Cressida's mouth peels open slightly, watching her door softly drift ajar, wondering if he had been wanting proper company but had been too hesitant to ask for it.

Like most men she has met, he has the tendency to not directly ask for something that they need when it comes to their emotions. And for the most part, Cressida has come to learn the smaller signals they give off, even if they don't realise it themselves. Sirius would stand closer than usual if he wants personal attention. James becomes quieter or the complete opposite and much louder when there's something bothering him. Remus has this awkward smile that he uses whenever he's not engaging in a conversation but he doesn't want to seem like he isn't. And Peter's has this habit of breathing longer and slower whenever he's down.

Cressida is hesitant to follow after him but does so, leaving her letter unfinished. The halls of the Potter manor are silent. Euphemia and Fleamont are in their private studies, and there is no sign of James on the second floor.

Venturing down the stairs, she hears the soft clink of metal coming from the kitchen so that is where her sock-clad feet guide her.

James is near the stove, bracing his arms on either side of it. "Hey," she calls gently as to not frighten him with her quiet entry. James peeks over his shoulder, which softens and drops as his hands retreat back to his sides. "You alright?"

"Yeah," he breathes with a calm smile. "Just had the urge to make some tea."

Cressida' smile widens, gliding around the island bench towards the stove. "You always did like your tea," she muses. There is a kettle on the burner, but no sound of bubbling yet. "Can I have one too?"

James reaches out to the side, his fingers wrapping around two mugs on the bench and lifts them in show and gives her a smug look. "You can go back up and finish whatever you were doing. I can bring it up."

Cressida shrugs, leaning her stomach against the counter next to the stove. "It was just a letter to Pete. I can't even send it till Kirk's back anyway." Her eyes trail down his left arm which is covered in a light, long sleeve shirt. "Did you end up buying a watch?"

In answer, James tugs his sleeve up, revealing the new item that dons his wrist. Cressida grasps his forearm to pull it closer to her eyes and admires the soft, brown leather that is perfectly polished. In all honesty, Cressida now has a glimmer of understanding about the Potter males' fascination with watches as it truly is a gorgeous piece. The face is white with gold accents that elongate the face slightly into the leather. Quite similar to Sirius', though his is black and silver and has a slightly thinner framing.

As her thumb-pad traces over the soft leather, Cressida speaks her thoughts. "It's gorgeous." She wishes she could spend money like that. She wouldn't go out of her way to spend it, but the luxury of seeing something nice and not having to calculate when she would next be able to buy something would be a nice change.

"There was another one in silver, but I think this one suits me better. The man said something about skin tone." Cressida's lips tug upwards, recalling the muggle magazines she used to read about beauty and there were three entire pages dedicated to gold vs silver and skin tones in one of the issues. "What?" James drawls.

"Nothing," she assures, still holding his arm in her hands. And as though it is the most natural thing in the world, the side of her head falls to the side, resting against his shoulder. "You just reminded me that rich boys are very similar to us girls." In a mocking tone, she adds, "Oh I can't wear that colour, it clashes with my eyes!"

"I've never said that."

"Not to me, but you've probably thought it." Peeking up, she lapses into soft giggles at his perturbed features – likely wondering if he had in fact ever thought that. "Don't worry, it'll never beat the day Sirius had a fashion identity crisis."

James follows her chuckles. "Merlin that was a day. Couldn't even decide if he wanted to cuff his sleeves or not."

The water inside the kettle begins to boil, the metal vibrating slightly against the stovetop. Cressida finally lets go of his arm, bending forward before he can and picks the kettle up off the stove.

"Hey – I'm making the tea," James complains, reaching out for the kettle.

With a sly smile, she retorts, "Yet I've got the kettle." Slipping away from the stove, she places it on a stone board then turns around to find the tea but James is already on his way to the large cupboard near the spice and herb rack. "James, I can make tea." He doesn't respond, only sliding past her so she jumps in front to get ahead of him.

Cressida almost makes it to the cupboard when suddenly her feet are lifted off the ground by the force of two arms around her stomach. "Let me," he demands as her feet touch the ground once more. Immediately Cressida tries to go forward again but one of his arms stays in place, locking her back to his side. "I make great tea."

"So do I." She laughs at the ridiculousness of the situation as she walks awkwardly sideways as he tugs her along to the cupboard. He manages to grab two small leaf-filled bags before she can and pulls her back towards the stone block and the mugs. Plopping them in, he realises he has no other choice but to continue dragging her along to the other side of the kitchen where the sugar jar is.

For the sake of having high spirits, Cressida lurches forward again to reach for the sugar first but the second arm returns, knocking her arm away. She wrestles back, grinning from ear to ear at the sound of his struggle which comes in amused huffs.

He manages to spin them both around so she'd have to reach around him to even blindly search for the sugar, but she can't even do that as one arm crosses her stomach, and the second crosses her chest, keeping her arms in place. They both breathe hard, his panting chest pressing against her back.

"The tea will be colder the longer you do this," he says airily, his breath touching the back of her ear. Cressida swallows, completely and entirely embraced by his being. She can feel his fingers making indents just above the skin of her hips, the way his forearm pushes her chest upwards slightly.

"Then let me finish the tea," she counters in the same tone. Her eyes are pointed up and over her right shoulder where his head leans over partially, taking in her expression just as much as she is his.

James shakes his head. "No."

Cressida's brows furrow, though her smile doesn't leave. He said it so…meaningfully. Like making this tea is something important to him. "Is this about something else?" she can't help but wonder aloud. "Surely tea isn't that important to you." She can't even begin to fathom what else it might be. "Did I make a really bad batch last time?"

"No," he repeats, this time with a light, melodic laugh. "Just let me do it."

Cressida immediately submits to his plea, but doesn't voice it for a few moments, soaking in the comfort of his arms that are sure to retreat with her submission. "Fine."

Before his arms drop, they tighten her against his chest as he leans forward even more so. "Thank you." He presses a kiss to her temple that makes her heart flutter and her muscles giddy.

Then it all disappears. James, the softness, the warmth. As soon as he turns around to continue the tea – which seems rather pointless to her head now – all she is left with is the feeling of cold loneliness. A long, icy hand clawing around her throat and squeezing tightly. The room spins under her feet and her head feels both too light and too heavy.

Cressida imagines her hand reaching back to grab him and pull him back around her but it never moves. Instead, they hang limply by her thighs.

There is a wide, open window over the middle kitchen bench that looks out towards the sparse woodland plain. What was only moments ago, a bright, yellow light streaming in from it, is now hued blue. Dark clouds devour the sky, grey and thunderous. Instead of a soft wind that lets the warm air dust their skins, the window welcomes a more vigorous gust that chills her to the bone.

She can't help but wonder if James had imagined someone else in her position. Sometimes she does that. Cressida imagines that instead of empty space, instead of Elias or sometimes even Sirius that it is him.

"Here." James appears in front of her, one teacup held close to his chest, the other extended towards her. His lips are tilted upwards in a kind and gentle gesture that follows through to his eyes.

Cressida smiles back, taking the warm mug. "Thank you." With a sudden desire to be anywhere but in her room alone, she asks, "Do you want to play some chess?"

His smile widens and with a sure nod, he says, "I'd love to." She feels his fingers dance around her forearm before threading through hers. "Come on, the board is in my room."

The world feels a little bit more warmer.