Disclaimer: I own nothing, including the phrase 'Never Grow Up', I suppose, though I should mention this story has absolutely nothing to do with Peter Pan or Taylor Swift.
A/N: Written for the February 12th prompts, 'dance', 'Irish', 'silk', 'ivory', and 'innocent' on the Prompts, oh, Prompts Thread at the NextGen Fanatics Forum. (Yes, I've been working on this for awhile.) Credit to Becca (Aebbe) and Ver (bookwormofmassiveproportions) for the phrases, "drunk as a duck in a distillery" and "as a weasel in a winery."
Dedicated to Mad (chasingafterstarlight), for too many reasons to list here - but mostly because she's amazing and it's her fanfiction anniversary and she's practically the queen of 10Ks, which is the only reason this is all a oneshot.
Never Grow Up
It starts off bad and it just gets worse.
"Look, James," his girlfriend Lauren said, in the back room of one of Timmy Callahan's parties. "I think we need to break up. I mean, it's been fun and all, but it's all beginning to seem like all the same. We go to parties and talk and laugh and dance, but it's just kind of..." she trailed off, as if searching for a word. "Meaningless. And I just think I need that, you know? I really think I deserve some meaning in my life." She glanced up at him, waiting for his reaction.
"Of course," he said, quite seriously. He'd sort of known this was coming, but was kind of pissed by her patronizing, dismissive tone, and even more so that she was intending to dump him before he got a chance to dump her. "No, I totally get that. Of course you deserve some meaning." Before she could do anything other than look surprised, he dumped his firewhiskey over her head. "There. That can mean you're a bitch."
She yelped, spluttering, as the cold drink smeared her heavy make-up and spilled down her white blouse, causing a dark stain. "James Potter!" He could have left, then, but really, he wanted to stay and watch the show. "You are the most immature idiot I've ever met. I was trying to handle this like an adult, but I guess that was too much for you to handle -"
"Nah," he said, hiding a grin. This was always the fun part. "I'm doing fine, actually. You're the one that looks like you've got a little too much to han -"
She ignored this. "You think that just because you were the big Quidditch star, the class clown at Hogwarts, that makes you king of the bloody world -"
"- just King of England," he corrected. "To be king of the world, you have to capture a unicorn."
"Grow up!" she spat. Her make-up really was terribly smeared now; she looked like a hag. He had to stifle a giggle, but evidently, he hadn't stifled it quite enough, since she snapped, "What are you laughing at?"
"You," he said honestly.
She shot him a withering look.
"I've got a bunch of very scary girl cousins," James said, laughing. "That isn't going to work on me..."
"Just because you're bloody Harry Potter's son doesn't mean you're any better than the rest of us," she said, continuing her rant as though it had never been interrupted.
"No, you're right." He gave her best winning smile, and tousled his hair. "Just better than you."
Lauren rolled her eyes, her tone growing more and more pinched as she went on. "Daddy isn't going to do everything for you, James. Sooner or later, people are going to wise up to the fact that he's the one that conquered Voldemort, and all you've done with your life is pull stupid pranks and lie on your useless arse and go to parties."
He laughed, but it didn't sound quite as real as before. "Haven't you heard? I'm the one that really conquered Voldemort, but if you haven't heard... It's a really complicated story, involving lots of time-travel. It'd probably be too... too complicated for you." He shook his head at her, mentally kicking himself for such a weak rebuttal, and hoping she hadn't noticed she'd sort of got to him, hit him in his one weak spot.
Evidently, though, she hadn't realized - Lauren never had been particularly perceptive - and she seemed to be done with her ranting, for she merely threw him one more disgusted look before flouncing out of the room.
He was wondering if he should run after her and warn her about how her make-up looked when she stuck her head back into the doorway. "And," she said, rather dramatically, having obviously just remembered one more thing she hated about him, "that stupid way you mess with your hair all the time was never cute, you know!"
"Which means it was," he said rather automatically, as she slammed the door, deciding she could deal with her grimy face all on her own.
He spent the rest of the night laughing it all off, and retelling the story of how he'd dumped Lauren. Since she'd left the party without saying much to anyone, no one seemed to doubt this, and nearly all of his mates found his version of the break-up completely hilarious. Altogether, it would have been a fine night, except for the fact that he couldn't rid himself of what she had said.
Lauren was a bitch, he kept telling himself as he downed yet another glass of firewhiskey. He shouldn't have ever wasted his time with her, much less care what she thought of him...
Except that none of that made her words any less biting, any less true.
If there was one thing he hated more than spiteful ex-girlfriends, it was getting woken up early, especially by his annoying younger sister, especially when he hadn't gotten home until four in the morning the night before expressly because of said ex-girlfriends.
Because really, it didn't matter if he was twenty-five, now, and she was twenty. Some things just never changed.
"Get up," she called, turning on every light in his room and shaking him. "I've got some news!"
"Lily?" he moaned. "It's too early!"
"I've got something I was to tell you all," she said, hitting him on the head, which was an act highly reminiscent of their teenage years.
"Haven't we moved past this, Lils?"
"I'm not trying to annoy you," she said, though, hearing the slight quiver of laughter in her voice, he rather doubted it. "I really do have some good news... James, please."
"Can't you tell me later?" he whined, as he sat up, blinking blearily at her.
"I have to leave in..." She looked at his rather dusty alarm clock. "... about an hour. And anyway, I want to tell the whole family together."
"What, are they hauling you off to jail, or something, and they're only giving you an hour to say goodbye?" he grumbled as they set off downstairs.
She giggled. "I don't think they exactly give you an hour to say goodbye... I think they just take you."
"Yeah, well, maybe the Dementors were feeling generous," he said.
"The Dementors don't even guard Azkaban anymore," she said, giving a fake sigh as she bounced down the steps and he trudged along behind her. "Really, James... you're off your game."
"That's because it's eight in the bloody morning."
They reached the kitchen at last, where his mum, dad, and brother were all sitting around the breakfast table. "Morning, sunshine," Ginny said. He pretended not to hear the note of sarcasm in her voice. They hadn't been getting on particularly well lately - she kept telling him to stop fooling around and parties and get a real job. He maintained that he was currently employed by a successful business. This would have sounded far more impressive if they didn't both know that all it really meant was that he worked a few hours a week at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, and probably would have long been fired even from that if the owner hadn't been her brother. "I offered to go wake you, but Lily insisted."
James scowled at his younger sister, who gave him a cheeky smile, then turned to his brother, the only sibling who did not live at home. "Al, when did you get here?"
"Couple of minutes ago." Albus took a swig of orange juice. "Lily went and got me."
"She woke you up too?" James said, tutting sympathetically, on Albus's side for the moment, if only because it meant being opposite of Lily's. Then he noticed Albus's damp hair, and neat, ironed clothing. "You got ready fast..."
"Oh, I've been up for a few hours," Albus said, in a tone that rather reminded James of Uncle Percy's. "I had to read some memos and things for work."
James looked disgustedly at his younger brother. "You're a waste of the name Potter, you know that?"
"Cut it out, you two," Harry said wearily. "Merlin, it's like having little kids in the house again."
"Can I please tell my news now?" said Lily impatiently, who was by this point nearly skipping around the kitchen in excitement.
"Let's hear it." Ginny smiled.
Lily suddenly stopped skipping, her eyes locking with her mum's. "Oh, Godric. You know, don't you?"
Ginny seemed to deliberate this point for a minute. "Erm - "
"Mum!" her daughter wailed.
"I'm in the newspaper business, honey! I couldn't help but hear the rumors!" She enveloped Lily in a hug. "I'm so proud of you -"
Lily wriggled out of her mum's grip. "It was supposed to be a surprise."
"Well, it was." Ginny grinned. "Just a few hours before it was supposed to be."
Sighing, Lily looked away, seeming rather disappointed at having her thunder at least partially stolen.
"You can still surprise us," her dad told her, "but I'd make it soon, because I doubt your mum will be able to hold it in for much longer."
A slow smile spread of Lily's face again. "Okay. Well," she paused, grinning widely now. "I was just chosen to play Beater for England in the World Cup. The World Cup!"
"Following right in your mum's footsteps," their dad teased, and Lily made a face. She'd always hated being compared to her parents.
"Not at all." Their mum shook her head. "I never played in the World Cup."
Albus gave his sister a hug. "Congratulations!"
"Lily!" James exclaimed. "That's bloody fantastic."
"I can't wait to see the game." Ginny sighed. "I suppose they'll give us free tickets?"
Lily jiggled her feet, almost jumping up and down, and nodded. "Yeah. I still can't believe it – it's like a dream…"
"So what does Lysander think of this?" James asked her innocently.
"Shut up, you," she said, smacking him on the shoulder (he actually he had to make an effort not to wince in pain), but he saw her lips twitch.
For the next half hour, they all took turns hugging Lily, exclaiming in delight, and eating the breakfast that his dad had made (his mum had not inherited her mum's penchant for cooking). James, despite being tired, was just as happy for Lily as the rest of them, as he sat there and gobbled down bacon and eggs. At last, however, Lily had to Apparate off to meet with the rest of the chosen team, accompanied by Ginny, and Albus and his dad said they needed to get to work in any case.
James waved them off, his mouth too full of breakfast to say anything, looking forward to when he could go back to bed. Yet when the door had slammed, and the house was quiet, he suddenly didn't feel like he sleeping.
The thought struck him that he was the only one in his family right now who didn't have anywhere to go, who didn't have any huge accomplishments in front of him, just waiting to be achieved, unless you counted having to go to the shop around four. For the first time the morning, he felt rather jealous of Lily - they had both played on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, but she had always been better than he was, really, even though she was four years younger...
Pushing these thoughts away - mostly because he was James Potter, and he hated being deep - he contented himself with eating another plate of bacon.
"You've been so quiet today, James," Roxanne remarked, as they restocked the shelves of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes later that night, a few minutes after it had closed.
"What?" he said distractedly.
"What happened with Lauren last night?"
"Erm..." He had to think for a minute what story he'd told everyone about that. "Oh. I dumped her, is all. She was getting pretty tiring..."
Roxanne grinned. "That's what Fred told me - I think he heard it from Dom, or someone? But I know that's a load of dung."
"How'd you know that?" he cried, dropping the boxes he'd been holding with a clatter, the contents - some Decoy Detonators began to light up and spin. Had Lauren spread the real story that quickly?
She smirked at him. "Lucky guess."
He stooped to pick up the boxes, shooting spells at the Decoy Detonators so they reverted to their original states once again. "Damn it, Roxy!" She had always known him too well.
Scowling, but otherwise ignoring his use of her hated nickname, she said, "So... come on. Spill. I can tell you're upset about it."
"It's not really about that," he said, sighing, and wondering what he was upset about, really. More to say something than actually thinking about what he was asking, he seized on one of the things Lauren had said, and asked, "Rox? Do you reckon I'm immature?"
She blinked at him for half a second before exploding into laughter, knocking some of the boxes she'd already shelved. "I'm - Godric! - I'm s-sorry, James," she said when she had at last recovered. "But well - yes."
He rolled his eyes. "Whatever."
"Come on, James," she said, now looking a little guilty. "So am I. We work at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, don't we? It's never bothered you before."
"I know," he said. "I guess immature isn't really what I meant... That was just what Lauren said. I guess what I really meant was, do you reckon I'm useless?"
"'Course not," she said. "Is that what she called you?"
He shrugged. "In so many words."
She grinned at him. "And I supposed you just sat there like the docile, innocent young gentleman you are and took it?"
"Well." He laughed. "Of course. All I did was dump a glass of firewhiskey over her head." Her eyes widened, and they burst out laughing. "But really," he went on, realizing Roxanne was the only one he'd ever dare to mention this to. "I kind of think... that she might have a point. Especially after this morning, when Lily woke me up to tell me she'd been picked to play in the World Cup…"
"No," Roxanne gasped. "Oh, Merlin, James, I'm sorry, but - that's fantastic. I can't believe you didn't tell me before."
"Yeah, sorry," he said. "And I know it's fantastic and all. Trust me. I really am happy for her, even if she is annoying as hell sometimes." He smiled. "But I've never done anything like that, you know? Not since our pranks at Hogwarts..." He trailed off, recalling his old glory days.
"You can't deny those were pretty awesome though."
"True," he allowed, grinning. "But now I'm just this washed-out idiot who still lives with his parents at twenty-five and doesn't have a steady girlfriend and works in a joke shop."
Roxanne laughed. "Hey! I'm nearly as old, and I still work in this bloody joke shop too, remember?"
"But you're better at it than me. You and Uncle George are brilliant at inventing stuff. I'm just..." He trailed off again, beginning to feel rather whiny. "Just a name."
She snorted. "You sound like one of those old geezers having a mid-life crisis. Buck up, James. You're a good salesman, seriously. Even if you have had your share of disasters." She grinned at him. "Come on, now..."
"Yeah," he said, hardly knowing what he was agreeing to. "Whatever. When's your dad getting back from Ireland?"
"Tomorrow, I think," she said. "He's still got to find someone to head the new branch."
"How's the new prototype going?" he asked, mostly just to say something.
"Alright," she said. "I've worked out most of the kinks, except for it still blows up if anyone squeezes it too hard. But you know, that's pretty minor..."
They finished at the shop around nine thirty, at which time he went out over the Finnigans', who were hosting another house party. He invited Roxanne, but was not surprised when she turned it down. She hadn't done that sort of thing in years.
Anyway, it was fun, if the fact that that he drank ten firewhiskies was enough to qualify an evening as fun, which, in his mind, it was. He didn't get home until five the next morning, and slept for fourteen hours, before waking up with a massive headache.
"Shit," he groaned, squinting at his clock, which read 7:32. He contemplated sleeping for another fourteen hours, until the next morning, but his stomach growled, and he realized he was starving. When he stumbled into the kitchen, he found both his parents and sister having dinner.
"James." His mother pursed her lips, and he knew she was mad that once again, he had slept the day away.
"What's for dinner?" he asked, pretending his didn't notice her disapproval as he surveyed the table. Spaghetti. Excellent.
"Never mind that," his dad cut in. "We have to talk to you."
"Ooh," Lily grinned at him. "Someone's in trouble..."
He stuck out his tongue at her.
"Oh, grow up, both of you," his mum snapped. "Lily - go."
Lily looked disappointed. "Come on, Mum..."
"No, I'm serious - go over to the Scamanders for a little while or something."
Making one more face at him like the mature twenty-year-old she was, she Disapparated.
His mum turned back to him. "Sit down."
He didn't move. "Can't I please make a plate first?"
"James." Harry sighed. "Just listen, for a minute, please? This partying thing is getting out of hand."
"What partying thing?" he snapped.
"Don't look at me like that," his mum said. "You got home at five this morning, drunk as a duck in a distillery - and don't even tell me you were sober, because after you woke me up, I went out into the hallway and watched you bump repeatedly into walls singing, "Odo the Hero..."
James winced. "Oh... yeah, well, I was sort of wondering where I got this bruise..."
"Honestly, James - you're twenty-five years old, and most days, I still feel like I've got a bloody hormonal teenager running around the place -"
He groaned at the words 'hormonal teenager'. "Mum!"
"Oh, grow up!" she snapped for the second time that night, and shaking her finger at him. "That - that is precisely what I mean. I'm sick of it, James, all right? Sick of the stupid cracks, sick of the immaturity. We've let you live at home, eat our food -"
"Oh," he said angrily, glaring at the spaghetti, "so it's your food now?"
"We're the ones that pay for it!" she said, her voice getting louder by the second.
"Gin," his dad cut in. "Calm down." He turned back to James. "Look. We've thought a lot about this, and we've come to the decision that - now don't take this badly, it's for your own good - we're cutting you off."
His jaw dropped. Whatever he had expected; it hadn't been this. His head swam with an odd feeling of déjà vu. "C-cutting me off?"
"Yes," his dad said, sighing. "Not - not permanently, of course, or even perhaps the way you're thinking. All we mean is that you have until the end of the month to find your own place, at which time we will cease to pay your bills. You're an adult now, James - and if you chose to continue to spend nearly every night getting as drunk as a weasel in a winery, have at it. But your mum and I - we're not going to pay for it anymore."
"So... so..." His head was aching, and he was having trouble processing all this. "You can't be serious!" He stopped. "And don't you dare say, 'No, you are,' because you know that isn't funny..."
"James," his mum said flatly. "I assure you, we are serious. With an 'e'." She paused, thinking. "And an 'o'..."
"Are you cutting Lily off too?" he said, outraged, ignoring her. "She lives at home too! Just because she's a bloody Quidditch star -"
"It's got nothing to do with that!" his mum said. "She's four years younger, and she's working very hard with training right now -"
"You always hated me the most! Just because I wasn't like perfect little Ministry worker Albus or cute wittle Quidditch star Lily - I was never good enough for you!"
Harry rolled his eyes. "You know that's not true."
"You can still come around for dinner a couple times a week -" his mum started.
"But what am I going to do all the other nights of the week?" James protested. "You're not going to pay for - for anything?"
"But - Mum, Dad - I'll starve!" He was actually panicking now. "Honest, I'll starve! I can't pay for all of that!"
"Oh, James." Ginny sighed. "You'll survive."
He moaned, realizing from the serious look in her eyes that she wasn't going to change her mind. "What am I going to do?"
"That, dear," his mum said, a tiny note of satisfaction in her voice, "is something that, for the first time, you'll have to figure out yourself."
He moaned again, hardly believing that he had just been dumped for the second time in three days.
"Roxanne -" he burst into the shop, scanned it wildly, before bolting over to the spot where his cousin was talking with a customer.
"- it's a really good product, actually, way better guarantee than you'll find at any other joke shop."
"I don't know," the man said idly, looking at the box in his hands. "Three galleons seems awfully expensive."
"I'll pay it for you, then," James said, shoving a handful of coins from his pocket into the man's hands and shoving him away. "Just go... no, wait." He grabbed the money back, having only just remembered that he'd just been cut off, and what was in his pockets was pretty much the extent of his savings.
"What the -" the customer started.
"Just go!" James told him again, before grabbing Roxanne's arm and pulling her backwards.
"What the hell, prat, you totally just blew my sale -"
"Roxanne," he said, his voice throaty and desperate. "I'm... I'm in trouble."
"With the law?" She seemed unfazed, still trying to work her way out of his grip. "Don't worry, I'll come visit you in Az -"
"No, not with the law!" he protested. "How is that - Merlin, that was just awful on so many levels…"
"Are you sick, then? I always thought Lauren seemed a little shady..."
"No - Merlin, shut up, Roxanne, that's disgusting..."
"Are you -?"
She laughed. "Fine. What?"
"I've been... my parents just..." He swallowed, hard. "...cut me off."
"Cut you off?" She looked a little disappointed, but faintly sympathetic. "And?"
"And what? They bloody cut me off, Roxanne! Which means no money. No money!" He stopped, for emphasis. "Unless I make it myself, from this job, but I can't support myself on that! They said I have to buy my own flat, or rent somewhere... But I don't even know how to cook, let alone do my laundry, let alone prepare food, let alone -"
"James," Roxanne said, "I take it back."
"Take what back?" he shouted, walking around in circles down and holding his head in his hands.
"You are useless." She made to walk away.
"Roxanne..." He was pleading now. "Please... Look, I know you might still be mad about how I made Jeremy break up with you when I accidentally told him you liked Ryan better, but-"
"... Never mind."
"That's why -" she began, looking angry, and he wasn't stupid enough to forget that when Roxanne got pissed - which wasn't often - she could yell as loud as Lucy.
"'Course not," he said, hurriedly. "Erm, so, d'ya think I could stay here for... awhile...?"
Her brown eyes flashed, but she let the matter drop, though she still looked angry. "James, I work hard for my money, okay? Dad actually had me pay him to buy that flat over the shop -"
"I'm not just letting you stay here with me so you can do nothing and go out partying. Your mum's right. It's getting seriously old -"
"Well, that's not my fault. It is my name -"
"With an 'e', idiot!"
"Roxanne," he said, his face turning white. "You're - you're negligent, that's what you are. Thoughtless... homicidal. Turning a homeless beggar away... I'm honestly going to die. There's no way -"
"You'll be fine," she said impatiently, as annoyingly practical as always. "I've got to go get back to my customers now - because I, unlike you, work real hours - and stop the drama queen act, you prat. You're worse than Dominique... You're not going to die. I'm not going to let you stay with me, but if you come around to the shop tomorrow, around four, after Dad gets home, I'll see what I can do..."
"You want me to head the new shop in Ireland?" James asked his uncle incredulously the next afternoon. "Are you serious?"
"Do I look serious?" Uncle George said as he fiddled with the latest prototype lying on his desk, which promptly exploded in his face.
"Not particularly," James said.
"Damn it," he said. "Roxanne thought she finally might have fixed that... Ah, well." He turned back to his nephew. "So, do you want the job? There's a flat above the shop, and it's yours, if you accept… though, of course, it is close enough to Apparate back and forth, so you could take the job and just commute every day, if that suits your fancy."
James shrugged, weighing actually having to do some real work for once against the benefits of having his own flat, ready-made, free of charge. "Well, seeing as how I just got cut off by the shrewd heartless Harpy otherwise known as my mum -"
"Whoa, there! That is my sister you're talking about, after all..."
"You're welcome, then. Anyway, it's not as if I've got a lot of options. So, yes, I'll take it, and the flat too. What'll my pay be?"
His uncle told him. It wasn't quite as high as James had expected, and perhaps it showed it his face, because he continued, "Well, you are getting a flat in this deal too, after all."
"And James?" he went on. "It'll be a lot of hours, a lot of work - it is serious stuff, after all, running a joke shop."
"Well," James said. "Sirius is my middle name."
Uncle George grinned. "The whole world of Sirius-related humor open in front of you and you go with, 'Sirius is my middle name'?" He laughed hard at his own joke; his nephew rather felt he was missing something.
"Oh, never mind. I'm glad you want the job. You'll leave tomorrow, late afternoon, then? Come here first."
"So," Roxanne said, smirking, once he'd emerged from the 'office' (a term they all used rather loosely because of the sheer amount of joke products in it), "what do you have to say to your favorite cousin?"
"Nothing in particular," he said. "As Fred isn't here..."
"You're so freaking funny," Roxanne rolled her eyes. "Like you and Fred ever bonded over the accomplishment of having set off twenty fireworks in the Great Hall simultaneously - due almost entirely to my own genius planning, if I do say so myself - in the dungeons in a four-hour detention."
"Well, maybe you were my favorite cousin back then." He put an emphasis on the words. "But I'm pretty sure anyone who truly qualified for the much-sought-after title of my favorite cousin would have let me stay in their flat instead of actually requiring me to do work."
Roxanne just stared at him. "You know what, James?"
"Right now, words cannot really express my feelings towards you - the only thing that really encompasses it all is a certain hand gesture... look here, now."
He flashed it back at her, grinning.
"And do me a favor," she shouted at his retreating back as he turned to leave the shop, "and stay in bloody Ireland for a while!"
She was trying to sound angry, but he didn't miss the tremor of laughter in her voice.
Roxanne's congratulations was possibly the most heartfelt (besides Al's, who told him that he was 'proud' and wished him good luck, but then, James had never really counted Al), which probably didn't reflect very well on him. His parents were happy that he'd gotten a job, but they - particularly his mum - seemed very doubtful that he would be able to keep it.
Lucy didn't even bother to offer congratulations, although she did Floo him to say that she hoped he'd repay the ten galleons he'd borrowed from her last week before he went to Ireland and he better not even think about trying to wait until after so he could fool her with Leprechaun -
(He was pretty sure she'd meant to say gold, but he couldn't be exactly sure, as at that point, he'd thrown a bunch of ashes at her head, and she'd withdrawn.)
The rest of his extended family seemed not to know or care. But it was his sister's 'congratulations' which were the worst, probably because they were all but nonexistent.
"Hello, James." She came into his room, looking muddy and exhausted, but her cheeks flushed, her face proud. Obviously, she had just returned from a training session, and somehow, the knowledge that she wasn't cut off, but was rather on track to be the heroine of the World Cup, pissed him off. He had been happy enough for her a few days before, but now, he hardly wanted to look at her.
"Hello, Lily," he answered, with mocking reverence. "Oh, blessed Quidditch prodigy."
"Shut up!" his parrot, Hogwash, who was sitting in the cage in the corner of his room, echoed.
"I hate that stupid bird," she said, conversationally. "And I still don't know why you called him 'Hogwash'."
"I've told you a thousand times," he said. "It's because, if anyone ever says, 'Oi, James, is that a parrot?' or 'Did that bird just tell me that I'm uglier than a cheese cauldron?' – which haven't actually taught him how to say yet, I can say, 'That's Hogwash!' and it'll be hilarious."
"Whatever you say. You've had that thing for seven years now, though, and that hasn't happened yet."
"Well, I guess we can't all be as brilliant as you, Lily –"
"Merlin, cut out the stupid little comments. Can't you just be happy for me? I mean, jealous much?"
"No, I just think it's completely unfair that you get to go la-di-da on a broomstick, while I get disowned. But you were always a spoiled little brat –"
Her face went red, as their conversation veered from annoyed teasing into an actual argument. They glared at each other. "Well, maybe if you'd ever actually worked hard at anything or done stupid actually productive in your life –"
"Go away, Lily!"
"—other than sleeping all day or partying or pretending you're a grown-up when the only job you have involves being lazy and childish in a joke shop-"
"Get out!" he screamed at her.
"And do what?" she said, purely to agitate him, sitting down on his bed.
"Go over to the Scamanders or back to Quidditch or – or hang out with a bloody trash can for all I care. Just –"
"Nah," she said, conversationally. "I think I like it in here…"
"Get out, you stupid –" He did not finish the sentence, instead pulling her arm roughly and shoving her out his door.
"I hate you!" she shouted back, before stomping off down the hallway.
"Yeah, who's the child now?" he muttered.
"I hate you!" Hogwash screeched suddenly, and James looked up and grinned.
"Hogwash." Somehow, it didn't seem all that funny.
And then, he was off, first to the shop to get some last-minute all but nonsensical directions from Uncle George ("Don't flip over the box of Knugglewhittlers"), who had apparently been up all night working on the new product and a very long list of instructions from Roxanne.
"Merlin's pants, Rox!" he said, eyeing the long piece of parchment she was holding out for him. "That's longer than some of my old History of Magic essays!"
"My signature is longer than some of your old History of Magic essays." She considered. "And probably some of mine too, for that matter..."
"Well, Al's History of Magic essays, then! Come on… why do you have to be so ridiculously organized?"
"Why do you have to be so ridiculously disorganized?"
He shrugged, taking the stupid list and shoving it into his pocket, promising himself that he would never use it.
"Ta-ta, then," he said, laughing uproariously at his own fake uppity accent, before Disapparating.
Grafton Street, one of the main shopping streets in Dublin, was bustling and crowded, even though it was a chilly, gray March day. Still, it didn't take him all that long to find the small, dingy, seemingly unnoticed pub that mirrored the Leaky Cauldron in every way except for the name above it, which read, in flickering, ugly green letters, The Leprechaun Inn. Well, that wasn't quite true – it didn't take him long once he'd gone back on his promise to never read Roxanne's stupid list, on which the instructions for getting into the shop constituted the first page. Before that, he'd wandered the street for quite some time, and even getting into a bit of an argument with the cashier of the Muggle candy shop. (He still wasn't sure why it would be so crazy for them to have chocolate frogs, if they had chocolate, even if the Muggle version didn't come with cards.)
"Hello," he said, to the old, rather wide man behind the counter, when he'd entered the inn, interrupting his conversation with another man, who held an enormous tub of mead in his lap, looking sorrowful. "How do I get to Eere Alley?"
The man snorted. "Back there, through those doors, go left, tap on the middle brick. Now, Bartie..."
When he stepped into the alleyway, he felt a sudden, unexpected rush of homesickness - for the busy street before him, full of wizards and witches in long cloaks, could have easily been Diagon Alley. One of his earliest memories was of Diagon Alley, of the shiny new brooms in the window of the Quidditch supply shop, of rushing to and fro throughout Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes with Fred and Roxanne, back of course, before his uncle's business went worldwide...
But the shops, though he saw a few similar names, were all different, in different places, and the shouts and laughter and calls of the people all seemed distant somehow, a little harder to understand, the accent just perhaps a smidge different than the one he was used to.
It was all very strange, because of course he could just snap his fingers and he'd be back – in his parent's house, or with Roxanne in the shop, or over to Timmy Callahan's, where he was planning to head tomorrow night. Yet all that suddenly felt very distant, even wrong, like he had crossed some threshold, somewhere, and could no longer return…
"Oi," a voice said from behind him, "are you going to move? You're blocking the street."
"Sorry," James said, with a wide, confident grin, and strode over to the new, currently closed building which read, in the same purple letters he had seen all his life, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
It was hard to get used to, at first, to coming down and actually have things to do, which, even if he took an hour-long break, he couldn't simply come back to and find Roxanne had already grudgingly done for him. Also, he had to clean up after himself, including the bursting box of Knugglewhittlers, which, though he would never admit to anyone, he had flipped over the second he walked into his new office, having failed to read the label. And he didn't have a lot of furniture, save for the already-installed kitchen appliances, due to his lack of funds.
He did have some help though, in the form of Evan McInty, who was twenty-two but looked younger, with a tall, skinny form, thin nose, and perpetually lost expression of his face.
James wasn't particularly good at setting things up, and he always had to have Evan man the register, because he was awful at making change, but what he was good at was presentation, and customer service, though it would have been dishonest to say that he didn't lose a few customers over his outright disgust over what Quidditch team they supported.
Mostly, though, it was okay. Dinner was probably the hardest part - so far, he had only managed to make toast twice without burning it - but he'd become rather accustomed now to eating blackened things. He'd had some experience, anyway, whenever his dad went out of town – the Molly Weasley cooking gene seemed to have skipped his mum.
But he hadn't even had to cook for himself all that much – he was forever Apparating back to his parents' house, where, true to her word, his mum let him have dinner with them. Lily wasn't even around all that often, which was rather lucky, as they hadn't spoken, save for a few insults, since he'd started work. Often, too, he went to the Callahans' or the Finnigans' or the Jonstons', where he could at least count of having some firewhiskey and chips. In fact, the only places he ever went in Ireland was the shop, the flat above it, or sometimes, a slow amble down Eere Alley, though this was more frustrating than it was fun, since he no longer had the means to buy nearly any of the products being sold.
"You're missing out on the Irish experience, mate," Evan told him, a couple of weeks after they'd started, when they were closing up for the night. "At least say you'll hang around here for St. Patrick's Day… it's awesome. They get Leprauchans to parade up the streets and throw gold and make a bunch of shapes and then they serve green butterbeer…" He trailed off, almost dreamily. "That's what they do out there, anyway, the wizarding version – the Muggle parades aren't actually too bad either. I always go to a couple of those."
"The Muggle version?" James snorted. "Aren't you bored out of your mind?"
"Well, for some stuff, yeah, because parts of it are just these old men strutting around in kilts and bagpipes – though, to be fair, there's actually a fair few old wizards who do that too – but see, the thing that the Muggle parades have and the wizarding ones don't are…" He lowered his voice to a whisper, as if imparting a great secret. "… Irish dancers."
For the first time since he'd known the kid, James paid him his full attention. "You mean… girls?"
Evan nodded solemnly, as though he could see it all now it his mind's eye. "Girls like you've never seen them before."
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it took almost no convincing on Evan's part to get James to go to the Muggle St. Patrick's Day parade with him.
He was only just closing up shop – Evan had left a few minutes before, apparently to go, "prepare" for the parade – when there was a sudden crack, and Roxanne appeared before him, making him jump in surprise.
"Shit, Roxanne – can I have a little warning, next time?"
"Oh, sure," she deadpanned, grinning. "I'll Apparate over here real quick a few minutes before I actually Apparate over here to let you know I'm coming…" Her brow furrowed, suddenly, as she looked at him. "Are you closing already?"
"Oh, yeah," he said. "Since it's St. Patrick's Day and all, and I have plans… it's not like I've got many employees to run the place, in my absence. But why are you here, anyway? Want to come to the Muggle parade with me?"
Her smile faded. "No, actually… James, look – I'm not trying to sound all patronizing, but the shop's not doing well – your branch, anyway, and it doesn't seem… it seems like you're just not working very hard at it. Sales haven't been great at all – and I dunno if it's the marketing or just the hours you're putting in."
"Roxanne," he said, annoyance creeping into his voice. "It's St. Patrick's Day, and I've got plans. Can we talk about this later?"
"I just get the feeling – and Dad does too – that you're not taking this very seriously…"
He snorted, beginning to walk away. "That's rich, coming from Uncle George."
"Look, you told me just last week you keep going 'round to Timmy's and all the rest of your friends' houses… and anyway, it's important to us, James!" She sounded a little angry now. "Maybe you've never really loved something enough—"
"Merlin, shut up!" He turned on his heels to face her, suddenly angry. "Just stop it, would you? You and Lily and Mum and everyone. Stop telling me how to live me bloody life – I'll do what I want."
"I'm sorry," she called after him as he stormed upstairs. "Just – I've got a few other things, wait! You have to make sure that you really take good inventory of all your stock, okay? Because the list you sent last time was a bit disorganized, and it had peanut butter all over it. And you have to renew the anti-theft charms on the premises…"
"Yeah, whatever," he shouted. "Got it. Sure."
"You're no fun anymore, Roxanne."
"Life isn't all fun and games –"
"I'm leaving," he yelled, drowning her out, before slamming the shop door and running down to The Leprechaun Inn, where he'd promised to meet Evan.
"You're not even wearing a smidge of green!" Evan, who was decked out from head-to-toe in Irish wear, said by way of greeting, looking disappointed.
"Yeah, well," James told him. "I'm British. And a wizard. Also, I dunno if you've noticed already, but I actually only packed two shirts, so I didn't even have many options."
"Plus, I'm pretty sure you're countrymen have all the Irish spirit covered," James went on, as they left the pub and entered Muggle Dublin. He nodded to the young couple standing a few feet away, who were decked head to toe in green, including Leprachaun hats, beards, and shamrock necklaces.
"You're not allowed to cheat off other people's spirit, James!"
"Says who?" he said, offhandedly, but that seemed to stump Evan, who fell, frowning, silent.
"This is boring," James complained, half an hour later, after what seemed like an endless scene of unspectacular Muggle floats and bands had gone by. "Are you sure –"
"Look! Look!" Evan was more excited then James had ever seen him, and he would've poked fun at him if he hadn't been so distracted with the Irish dancers.
There was a whole hoard of them, some much younger than he was, teenagers, but a few, at the head of the pack, older, in their twenties, perhaps, with long curly locks and green silk dresses, performing a jig in perfect synchronization.
He supposed they were very good dancers – but he wasn't really watching any of them right now except the girl in the middle of the front row, with coal black hair and gray-blue eyes and a proud, hard glimmer to her smile… It was easy to see, from the way that she moved, so smoothly and confidently, that she was best of them all…
And Merlin, she was the prettiest girl he'd ever seen.
(Though, if he was honest, it wasn't exactly the first time he'd ever thought that.)
He could hardly breathe for the rest of the parade, the vision of her stuck in his head like a song he couldn't – he didn't want to – get out of his head.
He supposed there must be a lot of Muggle men in the crowd searching for her after the parade, but he was a wizard, so of course it was he who had found her first. This struck him as slightly unfair, but hey, all was fair in love and war, wasn't it? Convinced of this, he also felt justified in ditching Evan.
"Hello," he said, walking right up to her amidst her crowd of dancers (they looked like little ducklings tucked beneath her wing, falling silent at the first word he spoke), his left hand messing up his hair. "I couldn't help but notice you dancing."
She looked straight at him, and it was only with difficultly that he stopped himself from flinching away from her stormy, electric gaze. "I'm Aoife."
"Ee-fah." The foreign, unfamiliar name tasted hard and cold on his tongue, like steel. "James Sirius Potter." The words rolled off his tongue easily, proudly – he'd said them too many times before, and he almost forgot that for her, they would be all but meaningless, void of recognition.
She raised her eyebrows anyway, like something about him impressed her, and she moved away from the crowd of girls, all of whom had their eyes glued on the scene, taking hold of his arm, her sharp nails slightly pinching his skin. "Would you like to… take a walk? Get to know each other?" A smile played around her lips, her eyes hinting darkly at something more.
"Sure," he gasped, and wondered what was it about her that made him feel like all the air had been sucked out of his lungs.
"Aoife," a timid, slightly tinny voice cut through then, "We've got a show in another hour –"
"I'll be there, Caitlin," Aoife said, shooting a smile at the girl. "Cover for me, will you?" Not waiting for an answer, returning her gaze to James, she pulled him away from the other dancers and through two alleyways, before ducking behind a small shack. She smiled at him again, like a cat. "I don't believe in getting to know people through talking," she said, casually. "Words can be so…useless."
He smirked. "I agree."
She was very close; he could smell her minty breath, as they looked at each other. It felt a little like a staring contest.
"My friend Sarah's having a party tonight," she whispered at last, pulling away from him like starlight at dawn. "And it'll be fun. I'll be there 'round ten – soon as I finish with this Irish dance show…"
"Is that an invitation?" he asked, playing with his hair again.
"I rather think so," she told him, before telling him the address and slipping away.
He stayed there for a minute, watching her long black curls bob up and down as she walked, the joyful shouts and laughter from the celebrating Muggles permeated the night air.
"Hello," he said, a couple hours later, when a slightly-harassed looking blonde girl opened the door. "James Sirius Potter. Aoife invited me."
"Oh" the girl said, looking past him, at the red car that had just driven up. "Oi, Max, Brandon, it's about time you two showed up!" She looked back at James. "Yeah, whatever, hey. I think Aoife's in the back, somewhere." She gestured vaguely, before slipping to greet the two boys.
James entered the house, which was nearly shaking from the blast of music, full of people laughing, talking, and clinking glasses.
"Hey," he asked a curly-haired boy who was standing by the door. "D'ya know where Aoife is?"
"Aoife?" the boy answered, correcting his pronunciation. "Aoife Mallory?"
"Yeah, whatever," James said, distractedly. "Black hair, blue eyes, dancer…"
"She in the TV room," he said, almost grudgingly. "Back there…"
Following the direction he'd been pointed in, towards another swell of music, he entered, scanning the room once more, when he saw her. She had changed out of her green dress, now, into a loose ivory-colored top and skinny jeans, her dark hair falling poker-straight instead of curly…
But she already had a boy – a man – spinning her around the room, leaning up close…
"Oi," he said, pushing through the crowd, at last reaching the two of them. "Oi – sorry, dude, but I've already reserved a spot. Hello, Aoife…"
"Who the hell are you?" the man who had been dancing with her spat. "And what the hell do you mean saying hello like that to my girlfriend?"
"What do you mean your girlfriend?" James said angrily. "She just invited me here not a couple of hours ago—" He turned to Aoife. "Come on, tell him!"
"Steve, I-" she started, her blue eyes unreadable, as most of the couple around them stop what they were doing to watch the scene. "I've never seen you before in my life."
"Fight, fight, fight," one boy began to chant, grinning widely as he pumped his fist.
"You'd better-" the man – Steve – started, looking at James and rolling up his sleeves.
"Oh, don't be ridiculous," another voice said, as a hand grabbed James's arm, and he recognized the redheaded girl who'd reminded Aoife of their show. "He's here for me, of course – you how it is, Steven, when all of us are in our Irish dance dresses and curly wigs. We all look the same."
"No," James began hotly. "I definitely wasn't—" But the redhead was already tugging him away.
"Come on," she hissed. "Do you really want to die?"
"I could take him," he protested, but with one last look at Steven and Aoife, who had her hands on her hips, he let himself be led out of the crowd and onto a back porch, which, compared to the din in the back room, was oddly still and quiet.
The girl grinned at him – she had an open, happy face, with a multitude of freckles. "Sure you could've. He's got about a hundred pounds on you."
"Well, whatever," James said, annoyed. "What the hell was that? You saw – I came up to talk to her, and then she pulled me away and told me I should come here."
"I don't doubt it. But that was probably before Steven showed up." She hooked a thumb back towards the house. "It's ridiculous, trust me – they've been on-again-off-again since they were both seventeen, and neither one of them is good for the other, but they will insist." She sighed. "She'll basically ditch anyone for him."
"Why? He's not so –"
"Because she's Aoife," the girl said, a little sadly. "I've known her forever, but I've never said I understand her."
"What a bitch," James said, sliding down the wall to sit on the porch.
The girl's gaze tightened. "I should warn you, she is my best friend."
"Well, she kind of just screwed me over, in case you hadn't noticed."
"I know, but –" she shrugged and then relented. "I don't know."
"Whatever," he said. "I suppose this is just another example of how much my life bloody sucks."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, in the space of about, oh, one month, I've been dumped, disowned, made broke, and now – this. All, might I say, while my baby sister is off having the time of her life."
"Are you serious? You got disowned?"
"Baby," he cracked. "'Sirius' is my middle name."
She rolled her eyes. "So I've heard."
"When?" he asked, wondering, suddenly, if she knew who he was, if she wasn't a Muggle at all.
"You told us – Aoife and I – before, didn't you? James Sirius Potter." She said the words without inflection or the awe, without a single flash of recognition or enamor for a celebrity.
"Oh," he said. "Yeah. What's your name, by the way?"
"Caitlin Doherty," she said, her face suddenly paled by the moonlight.
The whole encounter suddenly struck him as very different from any other he'd ever had with a girl, even a Muggle. Though he wouldn't be here at all if it weren't for Aoife, would never have picked her out of the crowd, she did have rather a nice smile.
"Do you want something to eat?" she asked, suddenly. "I'm starving."
"Me too," he said, and made to head back into the house, but she laughed. "What?"
"You won't find anything in there. All they've got is beer."
"So where are we going to go?" he asked.
"Over a street," she said. "I work at a sandwich shop over there, and we can get some stuff for free… if you want to come, of course."
"For free food?" he asked. "Are you serious?"
"Well," she said, a little shyly, smiling, her red curls bobbing as she led him out of the yard, the beat of the music growing slowly softer. "As it happens, 'Serious' is my middle name too…"
"Oh, shut up," he said, but he laughed as they made their way down the dark street.
They walked in silence for a moment, before she broke it. "You know," she told him. "I really hate parties. Or at least, ones like that, anyway."
"I don't," he said, bluntly. "But why were you there, then?"
"Aoife," she said, simply. "She wanted me to come with her to wait, in case she didn't have anyone to hang out with… I sort of got ditched for Steven too. It's up here, by the way. On the right."
"Is it closed?"
"Yeah, but I've got a key. So, where are you from?"
She laughed, as she pushed the door open and flicked the light on. "I know that from your accent. What part?"
"Oh… around London."
"Why are you here, then?" Opening a big white box, she pulled out a few pieces of bread, meat, and cheese and started to make sandwiches.
"My uncle gave me a job in his business, and it's got a store here, and so -" He opened his arms wide, sarcastic "- here I am. Loving it, of course."
"What's wrong with Ireland?" she asked, looking slightly affronted, handing him a sandwich, which he bit into hungrily.
"Ewwwyfinng," he said, through a mouthful of food.
He swallowed. "I haven't eaten real food all day – which is reason one, by the way. I can't cook to save my life, and my mum suddenly expects me to cook nearly all my own meals…"
"Cooking?" she teased, blushing a little and ducking down on the pretense of grabbing a napkin. "It doesn't really take cooking to make a sandwich."
"Food preparation, then."
Caitlin bit into her own sandwich. "I'm starving too, though – I've been dancing for hours. St. Patrick's Day is always crazy busy. Aoife and I have six shows tomorrow just by itself, starting at eight in the morning. And once it all ends, I'll be working overtime here, just to make up all the hours."
"That's awful," he said, trying to fathom how much work that would all be.
"Oh, no, it isn't – I really love it, actually." Her eyes took on a dream-like quality. "I've been dancing since I was four, and it's never… it's never gotten old, somehow."
He nodded, taking out last big bite.
"You want a brownie?"
"You've got brownies?"
"I'm magic, aren't I?" He froze for a second at her words, before he realized she was joking – it was odd, though, how easy it was, to talk to a Muggle. She pulled out a box from underneath the counter, opened the lid, and handed him two.
"Any good?" she asked, as she began to put the food away and took out a few Muggle bills to put in the register.
"Mmrph," he said, through a mouthful of brownie.
"I'll take that as a 'yes'," she said.
They left the tiny shop once more, and he had to blink for a minute before his eyes adjusted to the darkness. She paused for a second on the front step. "I am sorry, about Aoife, by the way."
"What?" he said – it seemed like all that had happened a very long time ago. "Oh – yeah. Yeah, whatever. I'll live."
She smiled at him, almost sympathetically, and maybe it was the way the moonlight fell across her freckled face, her long nose, her brown eyes – she really wasn't anything compared to Aoife, he thought, and yet somehow, perhaps dazed by coming into the darkness from the bright light of the shop.
In any case, seemingly without really planning it, he was taking two steps toward her and grabbing her hands in his and said, "You know what? I'm glad that Aoife was already there with Steven."
"Yeah?" she said, blushing crimson, but smiling all the same.
"Yeah," he said. "Maybe… maybe, do you reckon we could see each other again?"
Her eyes were large and round at his words. "I'd – I'd like that. Do you want me to give you my phone number?"
"Oh – I don't really have one of those," he said, vaguely. "Can we meet – here? Sometime?"
She smiled, her hair in front of her face. "Yeah. I'll be here the Friday at eleven until five, and every day after that, really."
"Maybe we could meet then? On Friday, at six, after you get off work?"
"Yeah. See you." She smiled, once more, and then her hands slid out of his grasp and he watched her go, down the street. She didn't walk quietly, like Aoife, he realized. Her feet skipped, with some sort of energy he'd never really seen before.
He was surprised at how much he looked forward to Friday, that week, surprised at how anxious he felt, wondering if she'd show up, even though he was almost a complete stranger, at how relieved he felt when the date came at last and he turned to corner to see her standing there, in jeans and an green sweater, a silver cross hanging delicately around her neck
"You came," he said, and nearly kicked himself – since when had he made himself sound so vulnerable?
"Yeah, well," she smiled, nervously. "I guess I just thought, if you wanted to kill me, you would've done so after I'd given you access to all that free food."
He stopped in his tracks, looking at her in mock horror. "Why didn't I think of that?"
She giggled again, and he reached out for her hand, which was as clammy as his own.
"So," he said. "What do you want to do?"
"Oh, I don't know – I was thinking maybe we could just walk around the city a bit? I could show you some of the landmarks, and things…" she looked at him apologetically. "Probably sounds very boring."
"No, that's good." He'd already known she didn't like parties – he was ditching one, back home in England, for this, and it was weird, how okay with that he was.
"All right. I guess we can head towards the palace for now, then." They walked in a silence, for a minute.
"Is that your real hair?" he blurted.
"What do you mean?" she said, smiling. "Think I'm bald?"
"No, I mean… Aoife's…" he winced slightly at the name, "… hair was all curly too, at first, but then later, it was straight, and you were all talking about wigs…"
"Oh, yeah, well, I do wear a wig for Irish dance, just because it's what you do." She shrugged. "But this is my real hair, red as yours, and curly – I wasn't blessed with the hair Aoife got." She laughed, and he had to listen hard to catch the bitter edge. "I wasn't blessed with anything Aoife's got, I guess."
"Is she really your best friend?"
"Yeah. She's my next-door neighbor, and we've been friends since – I don't even know when, really. Forever. We went to the same school, and we did dance together – and I love her, but…"
"She's so much better than me," Caitlin said, and almost laughed. "At everything. She got better marks than me in school, and she's always been the better dancer. When we did competitions, she was forever winning and I hardly ever did, and now that we're past that, she's always the leader… But I think I'd be able to take it all better if she even really liked dancing. I still do it, now, because I really – I really do love it. And part of me thinks she only has ever done it because she's good at it. Because she likes being the center of attention. Oh, never mind, I'm sure I sound like a terrible whiner."
"No," he said, and was surprised to realized that he meant it; he normally hated hearing girl bitch about other girls. "I guess I'm the last person that's going to complain about someone complaining about Aoife anyway."
Caitlin's lips twitched as she shrugged. "Never mind. Let's talk about something else… tell me… about your family."
"My family?" he said, making a face. "Why the hell would you want to know about them?"
"I don't know. Why wouldn't I?"
"They're the most boring people in the world."
"Yes – well, not really. My brother, Albus, maybe. My sister, Lily, is just annoying. And so is my mum. My dad's all right, I guess. They've disowned me. That's about it…"
"You never told me the whole story about why you were disowned!" she said, almost excitedly.
"What does that mean?" he spluttered, grinning at her. "Do you reckon it's like some adventure story, really interesting stuff I'll just recount with a laugh – it might be a very painful, touchy subject, for all you know."
"I know," she said, arms swinging at her sides as she walked next to him. "It's not. So tell me – why?"
"Because I told one too many Sirius/serious jokes," he said, working hard too keep his face straight. "No, seriously…"
"You're not funny," she said, fixing him with a determined stare, a glint of amusement in her brown eyes.
"I don't even know," he said, and moaned. "They think I'm a lazy arse, I guess. And that I liked partying and fire—beer, too much. I suppose it's not so much 'disowned' as you know, kicked me out…"
"That's not so bad."
"Who's side are you on?" he asked, in mock outrage.
She giggled again. "Undecided. You do tell an awful lot of Sirius/serious jokes…"
"Yeah, well, I had to derive some amusement out of that stupid name…" he said, just as they came upon a busier section of the street and she began to point out to him landmarks – some famous, some simply from her childhood, telling him the stories of the city. Her cheeks were flushed red in the cool air to match the bright color of her hair – and it was all so simple, so boring, but he couldn't remember feeling so unfettered, so happy in a very long time…
The next few weeks were like that – easy, uncomplicated, like being thrown into the deep section of the lake for the first time, and yet finding, somehow, that you did know how to swim.
Because it didn't particularly make a lot of sense, sometimes, why he was actually having fun with her, because all they ever did was walk around the city or go out to eat (he was rather relieved that she always insisted, with rather a stubborn look on her face, on paying her half) or going out to the theater, something he had still not quite gotten used to. They even spent some night simply at her parents, for dinner, and one memorable occasion playing Muggle board games – which he was surprised to find were not half as boring as he imagined, though he was still thought it was stupid that the cards didn't explode – with her family.
And they were taking things painfully slow too, and she was always at dance, and… But he was surprised to find that he didn't really mind, because she was… she was Caitlin, and she was easy to talk to and laugh with, even for a Muggle, and he couldn't really explain it any better than that.
Perhaps that only issue between them was that he was so very hard to contact – he could tell she found it hard to believe that he didn't have a cell phone or a regular phone or an email or a Facebook, though he'd told her a couple times that he was too broke to afford any of that. (And honestly, he was still finding it hard to believe there was something called Facebook, not that he'd mentioned that to her.)
But he was James Sirius Potter, and somehow, he kept expecting things to go all wrong again – and perhaps it was just inevitable or maybe it was just self-fulfilling prophecy, but in the end, they did, one night, only a month after they'd started dating.
"Hey, Caitlin!" Aoife called, coming out of her house on night when she and James were sitting on the Dohertys' front porch.
"Yeah?" Caitlin had called back, and Aoife, in answer, leaped over the fence in one fluid motion of her long dancer legs, popping up in front of them like some sort of impish apparition.
"Sean's having a party tonight – it isn't going to be too crazy either – and he said you two can come… if you want?"
"Nah…" Caitlin started.
"Please," Aoife interjected. "Steven sort of ditched me, and I'll feel like an idiot going by myself. Come on… James wants to go, don't you, James?"
He had been staring out at the street; though it had happened many times before, being in a conversation with Aoife always seemed vaguely awkward, though neither of them had ever mentioned what had transpired between them or had even been alone since it had. This was, however, perhaps the first time she had appealed directly to him.
"Erm…" he said, unsure of what to say. He did kind of want to go. He didn't really mind spending nights doing nothing but spending time with Caitlin. In any case, he had still been going back to England to hang out with his friends on the nights he didn't see her (Roxanne's visit had failed to inspire him into putting any more effort into the shop, which, if he was honest, was rather in shambles), but at the same time, some music, a little dancing, some beer… it did all seem kind of nice. "Maybe we could go for a little while, Caitlin?"
"Told you," Aoife said triumphantly. "Come on, Caitie…Don't bore the boy."
His girlfriend sighed, resignedly. "Fine…"
"I'm going to the bathroom," Caitlin announced, a couple of hours later, standing up from the sagging couch.
"Okay," he said, dully, in reply, not looking at her as he took another sip of beer.
He was beginning to regret coming, unable, anymore, to see why exactly it had seemed like such a good idea… He could tell Caitlin was having a shit time, and he didn't know anyone else except Aoife – which meant that he was having a shit time. Pretty much all they'd done so far was sit on the stupid brown couch and – in his case – drink a bit, because she'd said she, "didn't feel like dancing."
The minutes stretched on and on, and she didn't come back, and he grew more and more bored… and maybe it was the boredom, the annoyance he felt, that made him do it, or maybe it was the beer, though he hadn't had that much… or maybe it was just him, James Potter, Class A Jackass.
But for whatever reason, when Aoife came over and asked him if he'd like to dance with her, he said, "Sure."
(To be honest, he didn't even think much of it.)
If Caitlin had just gotten back a few minutes after that, it probably wouldn't have mattered – because all it was, then, was just him and his girlfriend's friend, joking around, dancing a little… and then the next song sped way up, and the one after that was much, much slower, and somehow, they seemed to get a little to into it all, a little too caught up in the music. He'd never know what her intentions had been, if she'd meant to set him up, but somehow, in the course of all those notes, high and soft, loud and fast, she'd become, once again, the woman he'd once flirted with, so very beautiful… more beautiful than Caitlin.
Their bodies bent back and forth, their breathing somehow in sync, loud and fast and hard, rhythmical, their faces close, their forms intertwined… bending closer, closer, as the song ended and the music swayed, slowed to a stop. He'd like to say, like to think, that nothing would've ever happened – but he couldn't, because he honestly wasn't sure what would have, if he hadn't looked up just then.
Her face was there, in the doorway – and for a second, that was all he saw, just her face, framed by her red curls, disconnected even from a body. He wanted, at that second, to wrench himself away from Aoife, wanted to tell Caitlin that it was nothing, nothing… except that he knew he couldn't do that, because it contradicted everything that he read on her face, falling and sagging in something that he couldn't bear to see was disbelief and hurt and shame… her brown eyes widening with tears, before she closed up and turned away, striding back out the doorway. And he had never realized until that moment, with his heart beating, his legs feeling like jelly, how much she –
"Caitlin!" he called, but then he heard the engine of her old, blue car, saw it speeding down the road, away from him… and he guessed he could've ran after it, could've chased after her… but it just seemed inevitable, then, on that dark, musty street, like it had in the back room of that party with Lauren, in that other party, with Aoife, on St. Patrick's Day, in all those places, with all those other girls…
(Love – or relationships or whatever – didn't last forever.)
Somehow, that thought, though it wasn't new, had never been new, hurt more, this time.
So he gave up – gave up, accepting what had to be accepted and went home, to sleep, preferably forever… and he probably would've gotten a solid twelve hours in, if it hadn't been for Roxanne.
"James," she said, shaking him awake. "James."
"Why," he moaned, "do you all get so much enjoyment out of waking me up?"
"James," she said, ignoring this, "did you update those Anti-Thievery Spells a few days ago, like I told you to?"
"Erm," he said, blearily. "Oh… shit."
"Shit," Roxanne repeated. "Shit. That's all you bloody have to say?"
"What the hell, Roxanne? I'm sorry, okay? I was going to do it last week, and then I forgot, and then I was going to do it tonight, but then I had a terrible night, and—well, whatever, I'll do it tomorrow."
"Dad's already redone them," she said, her teeth set, her tone terse. "Merlin alive – you are awful."
"Roxanne," he said, realizing only for the first time that something must have happened for her to be here. "What's going –"
"We were robbed," she said, flatly. "Robbed."
"Robbed?" he said, flabbergasted.
"James – you know how important this shop is to me and my dad, and people are always looking for ways to get in and see some of the plans, all our prototypes…"
"But I don't have any of that stuff –"
"Well, they didn't know that, did they?" she said, impatiently. "Anyway, they've already caught the idiots who broke it. It just the guy who lives over the store next door saw them leaving—"
"Oh," he said, sagging back onto his pillows. "So why'd you wake me up for?"
"Because it never should have happened in the first place!" she exclaimed. "Because it could have been much worse. Because – James, I'm sorry, but this whole place is a mess in so many ways, and… and you're being terminated as manager."
"I can't be, though – I've have no place to –"
"You should've worked harder," she said, shaking her head, not even really looking at him. "I just wish – Merlin, why can't you grow up?"
His mum and dad were furious – well, mostly his mum was – and the next morning, they came themselves to Ireland to help him pack all of his stuff up, for as his mum said, "Since he couldn't keep the flat or the job – he was moving back to England. Immediately."
At first, that hadn't seemed so bad – Uncle George, who had come to talk to him after Roxanne last night, looking very disappointed, had said that he could have his old job in Diagon Alley Back. But then Ginny went on to say, backed by his dad, that if he was forced to move back under he roof, he was also going to have to live under her rules – there was not going to be any more parties for him for awhile, and he was also going to be expected to help around the house…"
"Mum!" he said, in outrage. "I'm twenty-five! You can't make me –"
"I didn't," she said. "And look what happened."
In the end, he submitted – because he was sick of Ireland, in so many ways, sick of trying and always failing, and though part of him told himself he could just go and see if he could crash on someone's sofa for a while, the desire to have his own room back, to sleep in his own bed again, after all that had happened, was too great.
He wondered, that whole day, as he was packing up his stuff and helping Uncle George and Roxanne straighten up the shop, if he should go try and talk to Caitlin… except that he knew that it was hopeless, pointless, worthless. Even if he could have salvaged their relationship, after last night, after her expression, once, now it could only end in goodbyes, farewells, and didn't want to add another failure to his long list of them.
"You're miserable, James."
"Thanks, Lily," he said, sarcastically, without looking up, stuffing the one picture he'd had of Caitlin and himself under his knee, completely unwilling to let her see it, and mad at himself for taking it out at all. "I suppose we can't all live the charmed lives of the Quidditch prodigies…"
"Will you lay off about that?" she said. It had been a little over a week since he had moved back home, and they had constantly gotten into fights, just the same as the one they had had night before she'd left. "Why do you care so much? You were happy for me at first…"
She sounded, he realized, as she came into his room and plopped herself on the unmade bed, a little sad. "I've told you. I just don't think it's fair that you get to be a Quidditch player and I'm stuck here, either thrown out and in terrible trouble –"
"Mum just doesn't want you to waste your life on stupid things, James."
"Ooh, of course," he said, still without looking at her. "Because trying to his moving rock-like balls with a stick on a broomstick doesn't sound stupid at all."
To his surprise, she laughed. "Maybe. But I love it so much and I do work hard at it – and that makes it worth it, I think, even if that's not really a rational reason… But you played Quidditch too, back in school."
"I know," he said, bitterly, "but still, you're the one that gets to play professional…"
There was a silence. Then Lily said, "You never worked as hard as me at Quidditch, James. You never really worked as hard at anything."
"You don't know that," he snapped, meeting his gaze furiously for the first time. "Maybe I did – at everything. At Quidditch and the shop and – partying. Maybe that's my thing, that's what I love… even if it's not rational." His imitation of her voice came off whiny and squeaky – but strangely, it still sounded more like himself than his sister.
"You don't love partying," Lily scoffed. "Not really – not anymore."
"What do you mean?" he argued. "For all you know –"
"Accio photograph!" Lily shouted, suddenly, and before he could even pull out his wand to stop it, the photograph had shot out from under his leg and into her hand.
"She's pretty," his sister said, looking at it. "And she looks nice – smiling, laughing… and not half-starved, like a lot of your girlfriends. I can't wait to meet her."
"Can you just leave me alone, Lil?" he snapped, and his voice broke a little, and it surprised him a little. But he wished she would stop.
Lily looked up in surprise. "Oh – James, I'm not trying to bother you, honestly. I was serious."
"Yeah?" he snarled, rolling his eyes. "See that parrot in the cage in the corner, sleeping… That's Hogwash."
She grinned widely at him; he was struck, somehow, then, with how much she resembled their mother. "Terrible delivery. And it's not Hogwash, anyway, because…"
"Just get out."
"No – Merlin, alive, do I have to spell it out for you?"
He made a noncommittal grunt.
"Well, I was trying to be subtle, since it's honestly making be a bit sick to give you this obvious of love advice – but if you love her, go talk to her, you idiot."
With that, she bounced off the bed and almost skipped out of the room, dropping the photo back next to him again, on the hardwood floor. He stared at it for a long time, at the curl of her hair and the curl of her smile… and his face next to hers. It was a very close shot; she had simply held the camera in front of them, one day night in the city.
And he didn't know what Caitlin would say to him, now – he had probably only made it all worse, by leaving… but the truth was, that Lily was right, as much as it killed him. He couldn't sit here any longer and be miserable.
When he knocked at the door, it was her sister who answered.
"Oh – hello, James." He could tell she wasn't sure whether to be happy or curse him. He was sure Caitlin would've told her what had happened; they were very close.
"Hey, M.C.," he said, trying to be casual. "Can you get your older sister?"
"She's not here," the girl said.
"Come on, M.C… I've got to talk to her!"
"No, really. She's at dance."
"Fine. I'll wait here then."
"Whatever suits your fancy," M.C. said, and made to close the door, before James stuck his foot out. "No – wait, actually, I'll go to see her dance. I've never watched her before, since the parade. Can you give me directions?"
Reluctantly, uncertainly, she did so. "It's a show – not practice. I dunno if they'll let you in."
He grinned. "That's okay. Thanks! See you later, then?"
"Maybe," M.C. muttered.
He could hear the Irish music nearly as soon as he turned the corner on the street M.C. had told him to go – he didn't want to Apparate, not in broad daylight – well, dusk – like this, and anyway, it had only been a few blocks. He had no trouble slipping in, through the open doors towards the back of the little auditorium, and standing up against the wall to watch.
Caitlin was there, and Aoife, in the front as always, and both of them were wearing their green Irish dance dresses, kicking their legs, arms at their sides… Aofie was in the lead again – from what Caitlin said, she probably always was – but his eyes weren't drawn to her now, as they had been before… And he wondered, he couldn't even fathom, why he had once thought Aoife so much more beautiful.
Given another chance, he would not make the same mistake again.
"Caitlin, wait!" He ran to catch up with her, as she was leaving, after the show had ended, out the back door of the building, changed into a T-shirt and sweats, now, a pink bag in one hand, her black Irish dance shoes in the other. She was alone.
She turned and saw him, her eyes wide, her mouth not sure what to do with itself – and then turned around and kept walking.
"Caitlin!" He caught up to her at the corner, grabbing her arm and turning her around to face him.
She looked at him, defeated and angry at the same moment, hurt and embarrassed, and it sort of broke his heart.
"What?" she breathed, exasperated, unsure.
"I – I came…" There were so many things that he wanted to tell her.
"Where've you been, James?"
"E-England," he stuttered. "I – after that night, the shop I work at – it got robbed, and it was sort of my fault, so my parents got really mad and they made me move back… back home."
She eyed him. "Are bloody joking me? This is your excuse?"
"It's true, though," he protested. "I swear!"
"I don't care!" she said, her voice rising suddenly. "Not that your word is particularly good, to be honest – but even if it is, you couldn't have called? Or texted? Or wrote? Or came to see me – you know where I live. Or emailed?" Her lips curved ironically, ugly. "But no. You don't have any of those things, do you? Like I'm supposed to believe that.
"I suppose you think I'm just a stupid little girl." She was still trying to sound angry, but had started to tremble. "Dreaming about dancing and all of that, when she… when she never will..." She seemed to look above him, out at the sky, at the setting sun. "I'm useless," she whispered, and it struck a chord in his memory, of the time before he had left, when his own girlfriend and then Roxanne had described him with the exact same word. He'd kind of believed them then; now, he didn't know what to believe.
"I guess if I was Aoife," she said, angry tears welling up her eyes; she brushed them away. "If I was beautiful… If I wasn't such a bloody dreamer…"
"Caitlin," he reached out to grab her arm, wanting to tell her wasn't true, that she didn't know what the hell she was talking about, that Aoife had nothing on her, but not having the words.
"Don't touch me!" she shouted, wrenching away from him. "God. Don't you dare touch me!" And then she started to cry, right there in the middle of the street; right in the view of everyone, even some of her friends from dance. "Do you know how much… how m-much you hurt me, James Sirius Potter? That night – that night, with Aoife?"
"Cait—" he began again, but in vain.
"Listen to me!" she said loudly, reaching out a finger and poking him in the chest. "You don't know, do you?"
People were starting to stare, now. A few of her friends were making they're way over, calling her name.
"I'm fine," she called to them, as though trying to convince herself. "Fine. Come on, James." And she pulled him back into the building where she had just performed. He was still and silent, struck dumb, somehow, by that long, pale finger, by that single poke.
"No," she said, bitterly, and strangely, he knew that she was answering her own question. "You don't know. Maybe you're not capable of it. But I – I was sick. I went into the bathroom at that stupid party and I threw up into the toilet." She closed her eyes, swaying slightly, tears still running down her cheeks. "And by the time I managed to come back, you weren't on that old sofa where I'd left you… you were dancing, with Aoife. You'd already moved on. I guess it was stupid to expect that you wouldn't; that I was so special… It was for her we even met at all. And I suppose there have been a lot of girls for you, over the years, haven't there?"
He was still immobile, chained down by her words, which were too true, too true.
"I stood there for one full song before you noticed me," she whispered. "But it's all right. She's always been the better – dancer." And then she turned to go, and he knew, then, that it was all over, that the pattern had only repeated itself once more, an endless cycle, and he was stuck in it, forced to repeat, repeat, repeat, live them same story over and over with a different girl.
But she wasn't like the others.
"Caitlin," he said, finishing her name, this time. It echoed around the hall, bouncing off the polished floor. "I –" And he searched for the words that he had never bothered to even consider until now, struggling to find the right ones. "I – was wrong. I'm – I'm so sorry. I wish… I wish I could take it back. But you have to… please, just listen, okay? I've screwed up so many damn things in my life, been a spoiled, lazy little brat, messed up so much… And – and that night was probably the worst one at all. But this night could be worse. If I let you go, w-without telling you. If I hadn't come here at all.
She paused, without looking back, in the doorway, waiting.
"You're a better dancer than she is, Caitlin," he said, softly, and he tore his gaze off her long red curls, her back to glance up at the stage, where he could still see the memory, the ghosts of her performance, could still she the way her eyes had shone, the way her feet had danced. "I watched you, up on that stage, tonight. She's smoother, maybe, and more athletic, or whatever, but she's bored shitless up there, just waiting for the next party or boyfriend, and you – you love it. I can tell, from your eyes, from the way that you smile. You're beautiful."
Tears fell from his eyes, and he was shocked to see that he was crying. Still, she waited, and he went on. "I used to be like Aoife, I think, just doing whatever and that was why… but that's all different now. I – I guess I don't know you that well. But I feel like I do and I think… there have been a lot of girls, I guess. But never one like… never one like…" He could not go on; he was crap at being emotional. He did not have the courage to tell her.
"Never one like me," she said, and he could hear the sarcasm boiling on her tongue, though she still did not look at him.
And at last, he found the words. "I don't really… I don't know why, I guess. But I think… I might… I think I could love you." And there it was, all last, and he choked a little as they escaped his mouth.
"What a cliché," she snapped, but he could hear the tremor in her voice, could see the way she was shaking, as she turned once more. They had always understood each all too well, had always known, somehow, from the moment she pulled him out of that party…
"I've got so much to tell you," he said, and he was crying shamelessly now, and he might have thought that it made him more a little immature kid than ever, except that for the first time he felt truly like an adult. "Will you please give me another chance?" It was the same words, he thought, he might use later, when he asked Uncle George for his job in Ireland back – and if that didn't pan out, he would find another, even if it was a Muggle one. He was done with being lazy – he would grow up. For her.
She smiled, softly, silently, her eyes still pained, tears still on her cheeks, stretching out her hand towards his own. Half an inch away, she drew slightly back. "What made you come back?"
The air hung heavy between them.
"You," he said, hoarsely, honestly. "And well – my little sister basically told me I needed to grow a pair and come talk to you."
She laughed, and it was perhaps the most beautiful sound he'd ever heard. They left the building together, in a silence as perfect as any he'd ever heard, the golden sky stretched far out in front of them as they walked down the street, fingertips just touching.
(A/N: If you read all the way through this, you deserve a prize! Thank you!)