James Potter and the Falcon Flyer

Oneshot following my story Blood of the Birds from Chapter 5


1. ~ James Potter and The Falcon Flyer

James Sirius Potter had never believed in perfection. He believed in talent. He believed that everybody could be great at something, but nobody could be great at everything. He also believed that no matter how hard one worked, they would never succeed at something without first having the talent for it.

This was why James had focused nearly all of his energy over the years on the one thing that he was talented at: Quidditch. Yes, he had a father who was as famous in the wizarding world as the tyrant he defeated, and a mother who had at one point been a professional Quidditch player herself, but James had never cared. Unlike his younger brother, Albus, he never wanted to be as famous as his father, especially if it meant being as brave as Harry had been. Unlike his younger sister, Lily, he never wanted to be as strong as his mother either, especially if it meant following in the footsteps of Ginny's impressive family. James didn't mind basking in the eternal glory of his own family name though, because he knew that there was no reason to feel that he had to live up to it. After all, if he weren't talented enough to become an Auror, then he wouldn't become an Auror. He was, however, talented at being a Seeker, and so this was the only role he felt obligated to fill.

James had tried out for the Gryffindor Quidditch team in his very first year at Hogwarts. He had settled in at the school quickly, and was treated like a celebrity by most of his colleagues, which he used to his advantage. He made friends easily, learned that he could get away with about as much trouble as was possible to get into, and became the most confident eleven year-old anybody had ever seen. This made him the perfect candidate for Teddy Lupin's old Quidditch position as Seeker. He was able to beat out boys from many years above him at tryouts, and had a great time doing it.

Once on the team, James devoted himself completely to the game. Whenever he wasn't exploring the castle with the Marauder's Map or snooping around corners under his Invisibilty Cloak, he would be flying high above the pitch, not wasting any time to catch the smallest ball in the game that happened to count for the most points. James caught the snitch at every one of his matches with hardly any trouble, and he never questioned it. He worked hard and he practiced, but he never over-practiced. He was just talented, and everybody knew it.

James was thinking about all of this as he sat with his team in the Gryffindor common room. Fred Weasley, James's younger cousin and the new team Beater, had convinced his best friend, Lila Jordan, to try-out as the announcer for Quidditch matches. She had agreed, and now Fred had assembled nearly the entire team to listen to her practice for the upcoming match against Slytherin. James thought that the whole thing was slightly ridiculous, but he had to support his team, so he continued to sit and listen.

Lila had been commentating for a while by the time Rose Weasley came through the portrait hole. Relieved to have some decent company, James made room for her on the couch he was sharing with Lily, who was the new Chaser this year.

"Hey," James said. "Glad you could make it." James had known Rose since she was born, so she was like another sister to him. She could be irritating, with all of her books and logic, but James didn't spend enough time with her for that to really get under his skin. Instead, they were close friends, and Rose was somebody whom James always felt comfortable with.

"Was I supposed to be here?" Rose asked, looking confused. She had been going through a rough time lately, following the events of Filch's murder, plus James knew that she was upset about Lysander. The Scamander twins were two of his best friends, so he had heard about how Lysander had kissed Rose, along with her reaction to it. Ever since then, James had seen her running from Lysander every time she came near him, probably going to hide out in the library. James assumed this was where she had been just now.

"Not technically," he answered with a laugh. "But this seems to have turned into an informal team meeting," he added, before explaining about Lila.

"Oh, right," Rose said. "Well there is a big game coming up. You think you're ready, Captain?"

James laughed again before boasting back to Rose. She was his sub-captain on the team, so she seemed to think it her duty to pump him up before every match. He didn't mind, though. One thing James had always loved about Rose was her inner competitive spirit, both in the classroom as well as on the Quidditch pitch. This quality, along with her fast thinking, made her the perfect Keeper.

"How are you so sure of yourself all the time?" Rose asked then. "You know just as well as I do that Scorpius is the only Hogwarts Seeker who could ever give you a run for your money, and he's been practicing wicked hard lately."

Scorpius Malfoy was the Slytherin Seeker, and also happened to be like a brother to James. He was the best friend of his real brother, Al, and for whatever reason had a terrible home life. Needing some place to stay, Scorpius had spent many a summer with James and the rest of the Potters, and was at this point like family. The pale, blonde boy was quiet and clearly troubled, though James had never bothered to ask why. He was also infatuated with Rose, but was too stubborn to admit it, making Rose pine over him year after year. It was almost sickening to watch, standing by while he and Rose stood up for each other time and time again, and then pretended that nothing had ever happened. James had encouraged Rose to date Lysander so that she wouldn't continue to feel hurt by Scorpius, but it hadn't worked. Even Lysander could see that. In fact, the only people who didn't know that Scorpius loved Rose were Scorpius and Rose.

What made matters worse was when Rose supported Scorpius as Seeker more than she supported her own team. It was one thing to care about somebody, but it was another to trade loyalties around. Plus, James never liked to be threatened, and the fact that the potential threat was poor, tortured Scorpius, only annoyed James even more.

When Lila announced that Albus had just scored for Slytherin, James spat out, "He doesn't have a bloody chance."

Rose yelled at Lila for saying that Al could have gotten past her, to which Lily responded with a snarky comment to Rose. Lily too had a huge crush on Scorpius, and James was beginning to wonder what everybody saw in him. It was true that he had come closer than any other Seeker to catching the snitch before James, but he still hadn't actually accomplished it. Why would Saturday's game be any different?

As Rose sat back in the couch and turned her attention to James yet again, she said, "I wouldn't underestimate him. He's got some impressive determination."

James sighed and shook his head in exasperation. He of all people knew how determined Scorpius was. After all, he was the one who competed directly against him. "Don't worry, Rose, I'm sure I can handle it," he said.

James then stood up from the couch and patted Rose on the back. He knew that she had just been trying to prepare him for the worst possible outcome, and so he wanted to let her know that he understood, and that he wasn't mad… at least not with her.

Then, he made his way over to Caitlin Finnigan, who was sitting on the opposite couch next to her older sister, Cassidy. He motioned his head toward the stairs, and she followed by standing and walking behind him up the spiral staircase to his dormitory. Just as he was opening the door for her, he could hear Lila announcing that he had caught the snitch. James smiled, as she hadn't even bothered to mention Scorpius.

Closing the door behind him, James looked around the empty room to find only Caitlin, already sitting on his bed and waiting for him. He walked quickly toward her, then leaned down and kissed her heavily, lowering her deeper into his bed.

"James," Caitlin muttered between breaths. "Not tonight."

James then pulled away slightly, looked into her mouse brown eyes, and sighed. He and Caitlin, a fellow sixth year, had been dating since August, when James had approached her in Diagon Alley. He had already dated plenty of girls at Hogwarts, and Caitlin didn't seem much different from any of the others.

She was cute and relatively quiet, but wasn't anything special either. She didn't have the same fire that somebody like Rose had, and wasn't as charismatic as her older sister, Cassidy. Still, she and James had a lot in common. They were taking many of the same N.E.W.T. classes, and Caitlin was one of the Chasers on the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

As James sat up and leaned against his headboard, Caitlin sat next to him and let him put his arm around her. Caitlin hadn't yet let James get very far with her, much to his dismay. Instead, they would talk, James usually half-asleep while he pretended to listen.

"You okay?" she asked him then.

James closed his eyes for a moment before answering with, "I'm fine." He didn't want to pressure her, but if he had wanted to talk, he would have stayed downstairs and continued his conversation with Rose. Of course, Caitlin didn't understand this.

"You seem a little on edge, that's all," she pressed on.

James turned back to her, kissed her rather violently, then quickly pulled away and said, "I'm not – on edge."

The following afternoon, James could be found at the top of the Astronomy Tower, leaning against a railing and looking down on the grounds below. He knew every staircase, hallway, and secret passageway hidden within the Hogwarts castle, but there wasn't one place he liked more than the very top of this tower. It was cold and windy most of the time, but that made it all the more freeing. Plus, like the windows from the Gryffindor common room, James had a perfect view of the Quidditch pitch from here.

The Slytherin team had just finished practice, and like always, James had watched their every move. He knew their players, their skills, their strategies, everything. Their Keeper was an amateur. Goyle, one of the Beaters, was only a bully, but not a real threat. The other Beater was some fifth year girl who seemed strong, but didn't have the greatest aim. Albus was the best Chaser they had by far, but Rose knew all of his tricks, so he'd have a tough time getting past her. Scorpius was ten times as fast as anybody else on his team, but James knew that he was ten times faster. Or at least, that's what he kept telling himself. James felt like, for some reason, something was different this time, as he watched Scorpius stay behind to continue practicing on his own.

"Hey," a voice said from behind James. He didn't need to turn around; he knew it was Lysander. His best friend liked this part of the castle just as much as he did, particularly because Lysander was actually interested in Astronomy. "No practice?" he asked.

"No," James answered, still not bothering to turn around. He was too focused on Scorpius to look away for even a second. "Slytherin got the field today."

"Right," Lysander said as he sat down on some steps behind James. He was sighing loudly, and Lysander was normally pretty outgoing, so James knew right away that something was up.

"Did Rose break it off with you yet?" James asked, still looking forward.

"Yeah, whatever," Lysander shrugged it off, though James was snickering behind his back. "The girl's a pain in the ass anyway."

"Mmm," James nodded, resisting the urge to defend Rose. "I'm sure you're much better off without her," he mumbled, with a tone that insinuated absolutely no interest in the topic.

"Exactly," Lysander said. A few moments later, James heard him stand up and start pacing before he added frantically, "You know what, no. She may be a pain in the ass, but she's my pain in the ass!"

Then James heard him stop walking around and sigh again, before he said quietly with a muffled voice that sounded as if he had covered his mouth with his hands, "Or at least she's supposed to be."

At that, James finally turned around to face his friend, for Lysander hardly ever got so distraught over a girl. Plus, Scorpius wasn't going anywhere; he'd still be practicing even after supper ended.

"Since when do you even like her?" James asked. "I mean I thought we had a deal."

Lysander, who had in fact covered his entire face with his hands, lowered them and looked to James. "You think I planned for this?" he asked.

James shook his head and started pacing like Lysander had been doing before. Once he had gotten some air, he stood a little in front of him and explained, "No, Lysander, but did. I thought I made it clear: as soon as she wants out, you let her go. There's nothing personal about any of it."

"Nothing personal?" Lysander asked, looking frustrated. "You know James, this may come as a surprise to you, but some things are personal. You don't plan to care about someone… it just happens."

"So you're telling me that you actually care about Rose, and that you're not just trying to get a good shag out of her?" James asked. "For real?"

He had asked Lysander to date Rose and the end of that summer, assuming that he would provide a good distraction for her. Scorpius had been slowly hurting her, since his lack of courage made Rose think that he didn't feel anything more than friendship for her. James knew that he actually did, but he couldn't convince Rose of that; just like Scorpius, she was too stubborn. Instead, he would kill two birds with one stone. Not only would Lysander keep Rose from focusing on Scorpius, but it might also make Scorpius jealous enough to take a stand.

Of course, both of these possible outcomes had backfired. Being with Lysander only made Rose realize her feelings for Scorpius even more, and Scorpius hadn't become jealous; he'd just become scared. To top it all off, Lysander had apparently fallen for Rose in the process, an outcome that James could never have seen coming. It seemed as if James wasn't meant to be a matchmaker after all.

Lysander still hadn't answered, and was looking down at the floor. James pressed on further, saying, "Because you've never cared about anything, neither of us have. So tell me, please, when did that change?"

"I don't know, James," Lysander said quietly, slowly lifting his head to James's eye level. "All I know is that while you were out fooling around with that Finnigan girl, I wasn't getting any. Not even a good snogging. And for some reason, that didn't really bother me. I mean, Rose and me, we talked, for hours sometimes. We'd sit out on the pitch just there and talk, so much that there were a few moments where, yeah, I forgot it was all fake. I guess I don't expect you to understand."

James didn't talk back. He may not have understood Lysander, but he did know how good of a listener Rose could be. "Well I'm sorry, mate," he said, patting Lysander on the shoulder. They never held grudges against each other; that would be too dramatic.

"I never thought it would happen, I really didn't," Lysander said as if he were talking to himself. He and James were both sitting on the steps now, and Lysander seemed to be pondering everything that had happened over the past few months, and what had made it all change.

"I guess Lorcan's new attitude really rubbed off on me," Lysander laughed. Lorcan, Lysander's twin brother, had started dating Lucy Weasley that summer, and ever since they had been inseparable. James had barely seen him this year; he was always with Lucy.

"That and the murder," Lysander stated matter-of-factly, and with a much more serious tone than before. "Rose's first instinct was to believe that Creevey kid who was there; she really thought that he was innocent. I remember being that naïve; I remember when I used to see the good in people… in everything."

James had heard the story about Rolf Scamander, the twins' father, before, from both Lysander and Lorcan, as well as James's own father. A few years back, Mr. Scamander had gone a little crazy searching for proof of nargles, creatures he believed to be mischievous thieves that infested mistletoe, to the point where he didn't see anything wrong with breaking into people's homes and using the Cruciatus Curse on them to find these things that nobody else believed existed. Lysander was the only one in the family who believed the Ministry when they said Rolf was insane. He had stood by his side for a long time beforehand, but eventually Lysander turned his own father in, and watched a group of Aurors take him away to Azkaban while his mother stood crying in the background. It was at that moment that Lysander had realized that his parents had been filling him and his brother with lies, even though they believed it all to be true. James knew that he admired them for that though, especially his depressed mother, Luna. After all, it was a lot harder to see the good than the bad. Lysander had learned that the hard way.

"She still sees the good in people," Lysander said again. "She could even see it in me somehow. That's pretty rare these days."

James didn't say anything. He felt bad for his friend, so he continued to sit by his side until Lysander was ready to leave. Still, James didn't agree with the way Lysander had handled things with Rose. He was too sudden, and too unpredictable for a stable girl like her. She deserved better. James didn't know if Scorpius would be able to fill that role either, but he did know that Lysander would get over Rose within a week or two and be back to his normal self. He had always known how to float, and never wasted too much time on the pier before he sailed off again. Meanwhile, even though Scorpius had a similar fragility as Lysander, he had never had friends other than Al and Rose, and he had never even looked at any other girl. Scorpius knew what he wanted. As James watched him fly after a practice snitch above the field, he knew that Scorpius would find a way to catch Rose. He wasn't spontaneous, sudden, or even unpredictable. He moved slowly to get what he wanted, because he first needed to practice.

The next morning was the beginning of the big day. James had barely slept, trying to go over all the plays he had arranged for the match, each of which was the perfect counter-action to what the Slytherin team would do. He was confident about that, but for some reason he still felt worried. He could picture his team flying beautifully like they always did, but every time he tried to envision himself, Scorpius would fly in front and completely cut him off. James wasn't finding it so easy to do the same back.

His worry increased when he headed down to the common room to find Cassidy Finnigan, Caitlin's older sister and another Gryffindor Chaser, in the middle of a yelling match with her long-term boyfriend, Sam Thomas. Sam was the other team Beater, along with Fred, and to see two team members arguing before the game wasn't a very good sign.

"I told you I just need a little space, that's all!" Cassidy cried as James came closer to them and the rest of the students listening in. The two seventh years had been together since their third or fourth year, so James could understand why Cassidy might need some time off for a while.

"And I just want to know why!" Sam yelled back. Fred, who had been training with Sam all season, was at his side, showing support.

Across from the boys were Cassidy and Caitlin, who was at her sister's side. Cassidy didn't respond to Sam's request, and it looked as if she didn't have an answer to begin with.

"Look, if you don't want to be with me, just tell me," Sam said, sounding hurt. There were people all around him, but it was as if he couldn't see anyone but Cassidy.

"No, that's not it!" Cassidy said. "I do want to be with you. I was just hoping to spend the holidays alone with my family, that's all."

James started walking closer to them, and was soon near enough to Fred to ask quietly, "When did this start?"

Fred looked at Sam to make sure that he didn't hear before he answered James. "A few hours ago. I was only up because Lila couldn't sleep, but she's left now and I've been here ever since."

"Great," James sighed. He was good friends with both Sam and Cassidy, but at this point it didn't matter. Something had to be done before James lost his two most well seasoned players.

Right after Sam yelled at Cassidy again, James yelled louder, "SHUT IT!" Everybody turned toward him then, paying full attention to their designated leader. He looked straight to Sam and Cassidy when he said, "Look, we've got a game to win today, and the last thing I need is tension on the team, so just give it a rest."

When he noticed Cassidy crossing her arms in defiance and Sam opening his mouth to say something, James added, "That's an order."

Nobody crossed him after that, and they all went back to their morning routines. The early birds, including Rose's younger brother, Hugo, and one of his ginger friends who was wearing a giant lion hat on his head, were already headed off for breakfast. Others, including James himself, were still getting ready for the day, putting on all of his Quidditch gear while a couple of seventh year girls painted the faces of the younger kids in red and gold, with lions that roared right on their cheeks.

Rose, a late riser, came downstairs just as James was about to leave for the Great Hall. As she was heading out of the portrait hole, James reminded her of the morning schedule they had decided upon by calling out, "Rose, meet you on the field in twenty minutes!" She of all people wouldn't need the reminder, but James wanted to feel in control.

After a few more minutes, James too left the familiar walls of the Gryffindor common room and headed down the hallway full of moving staircases. The entire time James was walking, he didn't see any other student, which was very rare in such a large school. It made him feel uneasy, and this feeling only escalated when he walked into the hall to find everybody gathered around the table where Rose normally sat with Albus and Scorpius.

The room was silent as James approached, with only the soft sound of rustling paper, until he heard his younger brother laugh and say, "You've got to be kidding me".

Everybody around the trio starting gaping then, turning to each other with their own shocked comments and blocking out the main conversation from James. Pushing his way through them, as soon as he got close behind Rose and Scorpius, Albus was asking the latter if he would be using 'it' today.

James still couldn't see what 'it' was, but by the piles of newspaper crumpled atop the table, it looked as if a fairly large package had been unwrapped, and it sounded as if it was given to Scorpius. Already, James didn't like what he was thinking.

Sure enough, Scorpius stood up shortly after answering Al's question and James saw the shiny, new broomstick held tightly in Scorpius's right hand. James tensed immediately, knowing perfectly well that Scorpius had just received what was known as the Falcon Flyer, the fastest broom in the wizarding world, flown on by only the best of professional Quidditch players. If James hadn't been worried before, this was more than enough reason to be so now.

"Is that really a Falcon Flyer?" he asked, just to make sure of things, though James rarely asked a question he didn't already know the answer to.

This was no exception, as Scorpius nodded his head smugly in reply. "Yeah, it really is," he said, before pushing past James and on through the crowd. He looked more confident than James had ever seen him before, and everybody was making room for him as he walked like he was some sort of royalty.

Just as Scorpius was about to leave the hall, he turned around, looked straight to James and said, "Oh and good luck today," leaving his fans to look over to James with expressions lacking the usual admiration, and instead full of pity.

Paranoia and anger rising in him, James shot around and took all he was feeling out on Rose, who was now sitting alone, since Al had run after Scorpius with the same amount of excitement as a Weird Sisters fan girl. "And what are you doing here?" he spat.

"James, relax, I was just having breakfast," Rose said.

Not being able to control himself, James yelled without thinking, "You're fraternizing with the enemy!" Everybody had once again gathered around, though for a different reason this time. Still, James barely noticed, as his heart was beginning to race with a type of anxiety he didn't recognize. He had never felt like anybody else had a chance of catching the snitch over him, but now it seemed more than possible.

"The enemy?" Rose asked, looking upset. "James, Slytherin is our opponent, but they're not the enemy."

James could hardly hear Rose speaking now, and everything was becoming a complete blur, to the point where he couldn't feel Caitlin's hand suddenly on his shoulder, nor the whispers of his teammates walking behind him out of the hall; not even the slew of cheering fans as he walked onto the pitch for the game to begin.

The only things that were clear to him were both the loud, unsteady, and abnormally rapid beating of his heart, and the similarly quick, sporadic movements of that golden ball he knew so well. He refused to see anything else once it was released, and most of all didn't dare look to Scorpius to be reminded of his unexpected present.

Everything around James was silent, something he was used to while on the Quidditch pitch. Each time he sat upon his Firebolt, whether he was flying at ridiculous speeds or just floating in the sky, he was always completely alone. Nothing else in the world mattered, and he kept telling himself that today was no different. And so, like with any other match, James waited for the whistle to blow, and when it did he flew off to a spot high above the field where he could search for his tiny snitch.

Oblivious to the goings-on below him, James had no idea how his team was doing at the start of the match. He could imagine Cassidy, Caitlin, and Lily all trading turns with the quaffle, Rose having barely anything to do with the ball never coming near her, Fred and Sam protecting the girls from Goyle, and Lila announcing everything as it happened. He couldimagine it, but he didn't. Instead, for the first ten or fifteen minutes in, James just floated on his broom, scanning the skies for a sign of the snitch.

All the way on the other side, sitting high above the Slytherin Keeper, was Scorpius. James tried not to look his way, but couldn't help but steal a glance or two every now and then. He too was unmoving upon his broom, giving James no idea of how well he'd be able to fly on it. This was probably Scorpius's strategy, trying to surprise James when he had the chance.

Unfortunately for Scorpius, he was the one who would be in for a surprise, since just then the snitch zoomed in front of James and shot down below him, right toward Rose and the goal posts. James leaned forward instinctively and accelerated after the ball. He would have a large lead on Scorpius, though he would be right on his tail before long.

James was trailing the snitch, about a meter behind it, when he flew straight past Rose and cut off a Slytherin Chaser mid-flight, knocking him into a side tower along the way. A hit like that could make for a serious injury, but James didn't have time to dwell on it. In fact, he had no time at all, since Scorpius had just about caught up to him now.

With both Seekers going after the snitch, the larger James tried to get closer to Scorpius to push him away, but Scorpius merely swerved around him every time. He seemed to be flying well, and his broom was more than just seriously fast; it was highly accurate.

The snitch was leading them on an exciting chase all across the field, making them both swerve through the other players in order to keep track of it. At one point, James accidentally blocked a pass of the quaffle between Caitlin and Cassidy, only to provide one of the Slytherin beaters, Madison Bulstrode, with the opportunity to hit the quaffle with her bludger, a very strong and long throw that would be sure to give Rose plenty of trouble. Only a few moments later, James and Scorpius rounded the Slytherin goal posts just in time to spot the Keeper, Lindsay Doyle, fall to the ground after getting hit with another bludger. Quidditch was a chaotic and dangerous sport, and today seemed to be no exception.

To make matters worse, just as James and Scorpius continued to slowly gain ground on the snitch, rain started pouring from above, pelting all the players and providing a thick fog that blocked any conceivable view of such a small object. It didn't take long for both James and Scorpius to lose sight of the snitch, making them head back to their scouting spots and wait for it to show itself a second time.

This wait was longer than the last, and the two Seekers had to start flying slowly around the pitch just to keep themselves warm beneath their soaked robes. They did so throughout the rainstorm, which lasted at least two hours. Down below, James did manage to overhear all the screams of joy that could have only been in response to a goal. He assumed that most were for Gryffindor, since Slytherin would be having a hard time defending without their Keeper, and the crowds were cheering louder than they would have for the serpent house. This made James more confident, but he still had no idea how far ahead they were, which meant that they could easily lose if he didn't do his job right.

In the midst of a shiver from James, his time came, as he noticed Scorpius take a dive straight for the ground. Normally this would seem like a fake-out, intended to tire out the opponent, but it was a dangerous move to play during such terrible weather without real reason. This was why James immediately knew that Scorpius had seen the snitch, and was quickly on his way after him.

Scorpius went desperately close to the ground before he pulled back and lost his acceleration. Only the best brooms could perform something so precarious, and James took notice. By the time he had caught up to Scorpius, both were less than a meter from the rain-soaked grass, and the snitch yet again led them in a race of level changes and sharp turns.

They had circled the pitch over three times now, and this was the usual point where James would surge ahead, just after getting comfortable in his position. Unfortunately, James was going as fast as he could, only he wasn't leaving Scorpius to bite the dust. The two were next to each other, just as they had been before, each of them freezing through the wind and rain and squinting through their misty goggles.

The snitch was not so affected by the elements. Right when it had led them into the center of the field, it made an extremely sudden move and turned perpendicularly, headed straight for the sky. James being used to the unexpected, turned just in time to follow it up. To his dismay, Scorpius's reflexes were just as quick, and he managed to make the move at the same time James had.

Sure enough, the snitch was headed straight into a raincloud, but this wasn't the thing that shocked James then. With the exact same strength and vigor James had found so many times before, Scorpius started gaining momentum, leaning forward and flying right past James, getting frighteningly close to his goal.

James looked forward to see both the snitch and his adversary enter the dark grey abyss that was shooting bullets back at him. He tried to lean forward to accelerate like Scorpius had, but was unable to. Flying blind now, James followed him into the cloud in hopes of coming out on the right side.

Inside the wet mass, James entered a world few had ever seen before. His entire body was captured by the extreme humidity, and he was unable to see anything at all. The heaviness and lack of air around hit him with giant force, slowing down his Firebolt and making James lose balance atop of it. It was an odd sensation, like drowning on dry land, all of James's senses having suddenly disappeared. He was so tired, and Scorpius had surely meant for that. He barely managed to push through, having to hold his breath while doing so, and by the time he felt lighter air again, James knew it was too late.

Able to hear once more, James exited the cloud to the screams and roars of students far below him, the kind of noise that was only ever made when a match had ended. Though James didn't want to see Scorpius with the snitch, or have to endure the disappointment of his teammates, he slowly headed back to the pitch.

"And that makes a total of one hundred and ninety points for Slytherin, and two hundred for Gryffindor. GRYFFINDOR WINS!" Lila announced as James came closer. His immediate reaction to the news was that of relief, for somehow his team had managed to win despite his mistakes… despite him. They had won without him. They didn't need him. This then became the only thought in James's head as he made the walk of shame into the locker room below, trying to ignore the slew of people who, instead of coming up to James, had run over to Scorpius to send their congratulations.

James went straight to the corner, far enough away from his team so that he wouldn't bother them, and leaned against the wall. They were all going over the game, as they always did, and it sounded as if Fred had gotten hurt at some point, but that both Rose and Lily had played amazingly well. James was happy for them, but he couldn't help but tear himself down. After all, the Quidditch House Cup was given to the house with the most points, not the most wins. Scorpius hat just earned his team 150 extra, and James could have gotten Gryffindor an early lead if he had done so himself.

He continued to go over this in his head until the rest of the group started leaving. They had all tried to approach him, particularly Caitlin, but he hadn't talked to any of them. He didn't want to bring them down after winning something they clearly deserved, and he also knew that somebody like Caitlin would never understand, because she didn't see things the way James did. She didn't see that he only had one talent, and that he had just wasted it.

At some point, James had made his way to the bench in the middle of the small room, and was now sitting on it with his head in his hands. Though he couldn't see her, he felt Rose sit down next to him after everybody had gone. His first instinct was to tell her to go away, but he couldn't bring himself to do so. She had never been anything but kind to him, and she might even be able to understand where he was coming from, at least better than the others would. After all, she had been there every step of the way, whether she was cheering in the stands or flying by his side. She had been at every game and had seen his every move. She knew him.

Upon realizing that Rose was waiting for him to say something, James sat up in his seat, sighed, and said slowly, "I uh, I was going as fast as I could. The whole time, I was going as fast as I could, and he was just trying to tire me out. Then he just flew past me, like it was nothing. He did exactly what I always do, so how could I have not seen that coming?"

Rose didn't respond right away. As she was thinking of how to answer, James looked toward her with expectance. She had the same freckles she had always had, ever since she was a little girl, when James would tease her about them. Now, they made her look unique, and were the perfect compliment to her wildly curly, fire red hair.

Finally she took a deep breath and answered, "Sometimes we get so focused on the ultimate goal, or the idea of this thing that we want so badly, we get paranoid. We start strategizing, making a game plan, thinking of all the ways we could possibly get to that thing. We focus on all the details, without realizing that the answer is right in front of us, and it's so simple. It's so simple, but at the same time it doesn't make sense, because it scares us.

"You focused on yourself. You didn't think about Scorpius or his plans, or his feelings, even when they were right in front of you. You ignored them, because they scared you."

What Rose said was true about James, but he knew that even though she hadn't meant to, she was also talking about herself. "So did you," he said back to her, smiling now.

Rose had never had any feelings for Lysander, James could tell. She had always loved Scorpius, but she had been too scared to let the rest of the world see it, including him. James had thought that he had given Rose the perfect out, but instead she had found her own way in. Granted, it had been a more complicated route, with plenty of sharp turns that led her into a blind world, but she could still find her way.

"He's a good guy," James explained. "I know I suggested that you go along with Lysander, but I knew better. Scorpius is the better guy, Rose. I know I don't treat him very well, but it's only because I envy him sometimes. You told me that he was determined, and well, I already knew that. I've spent a lot of time over the years playing this role as an older brother to him, and I've never seen somebody so determined to succeed. I mean, with Quidditch, with his Transfiguration spells… with you."

"With me?" Rose asked, confused. Scorpius was the same as Rose; he would never acknowledge his feelings for her, even though they were written all over his face. Unfortunately, Rose was blocking her own vision.

In order to prove his point, James used a recent example of Scorpius's. Laughing in remembrance, he asked rhetorically, "Do you have any idea how long it took for him to write that letter to you this summer?"

"You knew about the letter?" Rose asked in response.

"It wasn't that hard to notice," James said. Scorpius had spent the summer with James and the rest of his family, and he had started writing letters to Rose as soon as he had settled in at Godric's Hollow. He never sent any of them, and most ended up crumpled on the floor of his and Al's bedroom. Eventually, though, Scorpius finished the letter, and James knew about it only because Scorpius had asked to use his owl to send it. (Apparently Al would have given him grief if he had asked.) James had acted like he didn't care, but he couldn't help but take notice. He had never spent a month trying to write the perfect letter for any girl. Still, he knew that it hadn't been an act. Just because James had never felt it himself didn't mean that love was impossible to come by.

Adding more for Rose, James said, "I mean, here I am, fooling around with a girl who I barely care about, barely even know. But Scorpius? He took nearly an entire month to write this unbelievably short letter to you. He was so scared, just to send you this piece of paper, but he did it."

As soon as James had finished speaking, Rose began to cry. She was usually so strong, but everything she had been keeping inside tended to boil over when she felt comfortable enough to release it all. James was proud of the fact that he was somebody she trusted enough to be honest with.

She was shaking her head slowly, looking straight forward, when she whispered, "But it's too late now."

"No it's not," James said, without even taking the time to think it over. Rose needed to hear, right here and right now, that not all had been lost. She needed to believe that she deserved a second chance, and James was determined to make her see that.

"You just need to stop being so scared and focus on what's in front of you. Just lean forward and fly, even if that takes you into a cloud where you can't see anything at all," he said.

After a moment of silence, Rose chuckled quietly and said, "This conversation was supposed to be about you." She was smiling, and James knew this was her way of thanking him.

Laughing back, James put his arm around her and pulled her closer to him, saying, "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. I've been flying pretty fast for a while now, so it's about time I slow down."

Once James lowered his arm back down, Rose took a few deep breaths before standing up and heading out of the room. At one point, she turned around and asked James if he was coming, but he told her to leave without him. She needed to find Scorpius herself, and he needed to learn to let her go. He wanted to protect her, for just as Lysander had said, she had a goodness that was incredibly rare. Still, it was about time she shared some of it.

James decided to stay in the locker room a little longer. The Gryffindor common room would still be alive with celebration, and he didn't deserve to be a part of it this time. He didn't have many other places to go, since the Great Hall would be crowded, he couldn't go to the Ravenclaw common room with Lysander, and Moaning Myrtle would be too much of a nuisance if he went to the Prefect's Bathroom. He considered trying to slip through everybody to get his Invisibility Cloak from his dormitory, which would allow him to hide away wherever he pleased, but it wasn't worth it. Instead, he waited, sitting alone in the one place where he didn't expect anybody to show up and disturb him.

As fate would have it, somebody did show up. It was over an hour after Rose had left, and James was now lying on his back on the bench. He had the Marauder's Map with him, since like his wand, he brought it with him everywhere he went, and was pleased to see that Rose and Scorpius were walking the halls together. Holding the map above his face and looking at their two sets of footprints, James failed to notice those of Cassidy Finnigan headed in his direction.

When he heard a noise over by the door, James sat up and waited to see who it was. "James!" The red-haired Finnigan girl yelped, surprised to see him there.

"Hey," James said, not bothering to apologize for scaring her. "What are you doing back here?" he asked.

Cassidy was about to answer, but then paused and shook her head. Afterward, she explained, "Technically, I came to get my sweater." She then picked up a Gryffindor sweatshirt off of the bench across from James's and held it up for him to see. "But honestly," she added. "I think I just needed to step out for a while."

James nodded, as this was something he could understand. "Everybody's still up?" he asked, referring to the rest of Gryffindor, but in particular, Sam. By the way Cassidy was acting, it seemed like the two were still on the outs.

Cassidy took a seat next to James then, the same place Rose had been sitting before. "If I were you, I wouldn't beat myself up too much about it," she said, changing the topic of conversation from herself to James.

He was about to roll his eyes at Cassidy's attempt at providing words of wisdom, until she added, "But I'm not you, so I suppose I'll just shut up now."

James laughed, because it was exactly what he needed to hear, but the opposite of what he expected. "Yeah, I bet you're pretty glad you're not me right now," James joked, though it was slightly sincere.

"Oh believe me, I really am," Cassidy said. James looked to her in surprise, and she was biting her lip to keep from laughing. She was much livelier than her younger sister, and James felt oddly thankful for that.

"But to be honest," Cassidy continued. "I don't exactly feel much like being myself right now either."

James thought about her words for a minute before he looked to her with sincerity and said, "Then don't be."

She turned slowly toward him and gave him a look of curiosity, with slight hesitation around her squinted eyes. "Then who am I?"

"You're just a girl," he answered.

"And who are you?" she asked.

"I'm just a boy," James said, leaning closer to Cassidy. He knew he would regret it first thing in the morning, but right now she made him feel better, and that's all he really wanted.

In one last attempt to gain her compliance, James chuckled and said, "And a right nice looking one at that."

Cassidy laughed back at this, allowing James the perfect opportunity to move even closer to her and lean in for a full embrace. Unlike Caitlin, Cassidy didn't fight him, and so they stayed there together, united by their mutual loss.

James never meant for it to happen, but he had never meant for a lot of things. After all, he had never believed in perfection. He believed in talent. But talent could only get you so far.

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