The problem with avoiding the two people I wanted to avoid was that we lived in the same castle. Admittedly, you couldn’t accuse Hogwarts of being small by any means, but the spaces that I was supposed to inhabit often overlapped with those that they were supposed to inhabit, and short of spending my whole life wearing an invisibility cloak there wasn’t much I could do to avoid them forever.
Besides, the more I thought about it the more I decided that isn’t what I wanted. I wanted Dom and James to see that I was just fine and I didn’t need them trying to interfere in my life: I was bigger than ultimatums and rumour spreading and near psychopathic controlling behaviour, and I was strong enough to deal with the teenage drama without hiding.
So, after exiting Professor Vector’s office I left the invisibility cloak in my bag and stalked back up to the Ravenclaw Tower. The chances were that Dom would be in class, anyway, and given she seemed to be heading back in the direction of the Sytherin Common room last night I doubted she’d noticed I wasn’t in my bed last night.
Or so I thought until I pushed open the door and ended up practically face to face with Dom Weasley.
She was crying.
Not in the usual diva way that Dom cried, but in the ugly puffy eyes, mascara running, genuine upset tears. My throat constricted slightly.
“Autumn,” Dom said, my name coming out tight and relieved, “I didn’t… I didn’t know where you were.”
Oh. Oh. She was scared because I hadn’t come back to the dorm. She’d flounced back to the Ravenclaw Tower this morning ( I wasn’t dumb, I knew where she was heading last night which wasn’t the Ravenclaw Tower) expecting to get out her talons and turn them on me before breakfast, only to discover that my bed was unslept in and no one had seen me. Maybe that was ungenerous, but I wasn’t feeling particularly generous to anyone this morning. Mostly, I was tired.
“I’m fine.” I said, crossing the dormitory to pull out my school books. I bent low over my trunk and silently stowed the invisibility cloak at the bottom. I’d have to get it back to James at some point, but he’d have to live without it for a few days. The whole thing should be blamed on the bloody thing anyway and I didn’t fancy carrying the extra weight around when it reminded me so acutely of the whole thing. “Don’t worry.”
I was trying my best not to run over to Dom’s side of the dormitory and give her a hug, but that was mixed in with the desire to break something of hers and yell it her. It was probably best that I did nothing.
My acting on impulse had a tendency to leave me suffering from the whiplash for several days afterwards, and that was discounting the spiralling into mania that had come with it all.
“I wasn’t.” Dom spat out, her eyes flashing as she looked at me.
“Okay,” I muttered, “right. Fine.”
And here was the terrifying psycho Dom being reborn out of her tears like some spine chilling phoenix. Except maybe James was right – what the hell could she actually do? The reason I was scared of her was because she knew me and she knew me well enough to really hurt me, and to take away her friendship which I depended on. I was scared of her because she was unpredictable and emotional and messed up.
I shouldn’t be scared of my best friend. Not to the level of which I had become scared of Dom, which meant that James must be right about the state of our friendship to a higher degree than I wanted to think about. He’d said it was fucked up.
Dom, with her usual grace, had stood up and crossed the dormitory.
I swallowed. Something a little like fear but a bit more diluted was stirring up in my stomach. From where I was crouching over my trunk, I had a view of her stupidly impractical heals. She only wore them so our height was comparable, but there was something about the patent black of her stiletto that genuinely scared me.
You’re not supposed to be scared of the people you love.
I looked up at her.
“I hope he was worth it.” Dom spat, hand on hip, looking absurd and a lot less intimidating with her tears still dried on her face.
“No,” I said, fishing out the book I wanted and standing up. I was still taller than her. I was always going to be taller than her. “As it turned out,” I said, my lip wobbling despite my resolve, “neither of you were.”
Dom stood on the edge of my cloak so I couldn’t leave.
“Go on then,” I said, folding my arms, “threaten me with something. Only I’m not sure you can actually do anything, Dom. Because you are my only friend, you can’t exactly steal my boyfriend and, apparently, you already ruined my reputation.”
“He’s gotten to you,” Dom said, stepping backwards and retreating to her bed, “fine.”
“What the hell do you mean?”
“I’m not a villain, Autumn,” Dom said, folding her arms and staring straight at me, “you used to know that.”
“I used to believe that,” I said, “I think I probably still do, but given current evidence I have I’m waiting to pass judgement.”
“I’m not explaining myself to you,” Dom spat, not sitting down. Her back was rigid, her expression terse, her eyes still watery. It was hard to know what to feel: I was still somewhat guilty about the blatant friendship betrayal involved in dating James behind her back, still livid about these alleged rumours and the total lack of respect and still horribly worried about her.
I knew Dom. I knew that, after Benson had informed her that we were dating, and she’d stood witness to my ultimatum, and after she’d stalked away from James outside the Gryffindor Common Room she had headed down the stairs and in the direction of the Slytherin dorms.
And because Dom felt crap and unwanted and betrayed she’d gone to the singular person left. When she had boyfriend troubles, I was the one who had to watch her stuff her face with chocolate and tell her that she was actually a good person…. And with me crossed off her list, she’d gone to the person who I fully blamed in the first place. Benson.
I wanted to help her, but I didn’t think I was quite ready to forgive her.
“Well,” I said, shaking, “I don’t think I can talk to you until you do.”
“Pearce,” Flint said, his shoulder colliding with mine as I tried to walk through the corridor. I very much doubted that he’d intended to jostle me, but my previously unheard of temper was on a short lease and I was already irritated at him.
“Please don’t touch me,” I muttered, pulling away from his side of the corridor.
“What?” Flint asked, raising his eyebrows. Clearly, he was asking me if I was honestly holding him responsible for everything that had happened.
“No.” I said, before realising I was reading too much into his expression and answering questions he hadn’t actually asked.
“As much as transference suits you, I’m not the person you should be blaming.” He was back to being creepy and the very personification of a Slytherin. My faith was all about not hating people, but there were a select few that really made it difficult.
I stopped suddenly in the corridor to face him.
“You took advantage of my best friend.” I said, glaring straight at him. The worst thing about it, was that Benson Flint wasn’t even that attractive; he wasn’t unattractive, but Dom normally cherry picked the best of what was admittedly a bad bunch, and yet he was the one who’d managed to get under her skin by being in the right place at the right time, and generally being a sly bastard – no redeeming qualities, almost no charm and he wasn’t even nice to look at. He’d seized the moment and picked that I be the one with the crisis, not him, driving Dom straight into his bloody bed. And leaving me with another thing to blame myself for and another thing I couldn’t really have prevented.
“I’m just an innocent catalyst here.” Benson said. He wasn’t smiling, but he might as well have been.
“It’s not about innocence,” I said irritably, “it’s about intent. Dom… James, neither of them had bad intentions whereas you are just a horrible person.”
“Look, Flint,” I said, narrowing my eyes at him, hands on hip, “Dominique Weasley was damaged goods long before you got your slimy hands on her. She is messed up and hurting. James has a winning complex and didn’t mean to upset me. You have no excuse but for the fact that you’re mean. I could forgive every damaged, broken person in the world and there’d still be tossers like you making Christianity difficult. So no, it’s not your fault, nor is it my fault but I’m holding you accountable for being shit and selfish and only caring about yourself.”
“Easy, Pearce,” Flint said, holding up a hand – unaffected – “don’t stress yourself out about this.”
“You bastard.” I said, pulling myself up to my full height – a little taller than him – and doing my best impression of Dom’s murder glare. Then I wrapped my robes around me, pushed past him and set off down the corridor.
James was stood a couple of feet away waiting outside a classroom. For a brief second our gaze met. He smiled slightly and lifted up his right hand into a thumbs up. I flushed slightly as I walked past, the message of it ringing round in my head – you did good Autumn, you did good.
“It started in third year.” Dom said abruptly, seconds after Felicity and Danielle had left the dormitory and we were alone there together. I’d been spending more time with them and they’d almost adopted me into their little group, but it felt wrong to be sat at the other end of the Ravenclaw table whilst Dom ate with Flint on the Slytherin table.
“The rumours?” I asked, stepping backwards and biting my lip.
“Freddie started it,” Dom said, “he spread a rumour around that we were lesbians. Rumours were the weapons of choice when we were thirteen and I’d snapped at Roxanne. It was revenge. You just got wrapped up in it.”
“Okay,” I said, folding my arms and watching her struggle with the conversation. “What next?”
“I thought if you found out about the rumour you wouldn’t want to be my friend,” Dom said, taking another deep breath, “so I made sure you didn’t find out about the rumour, and I made up this story about you… about you having a boyfriend who’d already graduated to squash the lesbian rumour.”
“Already graduated?” I asked, my throat tightening slightly as I did the maths. I’d been thirteen with an imaginary eighteen year old boyfriend.
“I did the maths wrong,” Dom said, “I panicked when someone asked me whether he went to Hogwarts. I didn’t think about the implications at the time, Autumn. I didn’t mean to make everyone think you were some young slut. I just wanted them to stop saying you were a lesbian.”
“It was an accident,” Dom said, “but then it stopped people from trying to be nice and friendly to you. I thought you were going to never talk to me again because I’d been such a bitch. I needed to stop you finding out, so then I needed everyone to continue being mean to you, because otherwise someone might ask you and you’d realise.”
“So you made more shit up?”
“Stop judging me,” Dom said, standing up with a fierce expression in her eyes, “you think you’re so high and mighty, Autumn, with your precious boyfriend and your bloody morals. I hated myself for it but I was scared and I didn’t know what to do. I always knew I’d push you too far because I’m a horrid person,” Dom’s voice was thick and tense and heart breaking, “and I was right, too, because the minute I stopped Felicity and Danielle and James and Freddie and Roxy suddenly care so much about you, regardless of the fact that they believed every word. James is no saint.”
“I know that.” I interjected, staring.
“And I was right,” Dom said, tersely, “because now you don’t want anything to do with me either.”
“Not true,” I said.
“I just didn’t expect you to betray me to boot.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, without really meaning for the words to come out of my mouth, “I didn’t mean to lie to you. I didn’t plan it and it just happened, but that’s nothing compared to… Dom,” my lip was quivering, “people hated me for no reason and you… you never told me that it wasn’t my fault. My Mum. And then April ran away. And you… you let me think I was a repulsive person.”
“Only,” Dom said, standing up and kicking her trunk shut in true diva style, “because I am a repulsive person.”
“You’re not,” I said, “just desperate.”
“Sorry.” Dom said, before she stalked towards the door and disappeared before I had a chance to realise that she’d actually apologise, or that I’d apologised first, or to really process the implications of what had just been said.
The flat was four doors down from April’s flat was up for rent. And it was cheap.
It was smaller than April’s, but April had published a book and had two incomes (and a dog), whereas I had a blank cheque and a few years of saving Christmas and birthday money (which was minimal, as Mum had once or twice forgotten my birthday entirely – or at least, hadn’t made any effort to commemorate it) and that was it. There was a chance of getting a job in the summer, and I was sure April would support me, but it was going to be difficult.
“It’s nice,” Oliver said. He stepped into the bit of the bathroom you could actually step into, which wasn’t much, before taking another step back and glancing around the kitchen area.
It looked empty without any furniture or any memorabilia on the wall, but with a few posters and a few photographs then it might not be too bad. It would be okay. I could survive here.
“Minimalistic.” I said, biting my lip. I’d have my own kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. The table might be able to fit three if I conjured up another chair. Realistically, I didn’t really want to live in Hogsmeade or this near April, but I didn’t think the Professors would have allowed me out of the grounds further than Hogsmeade to look round flats.
“Imagine you’re drinking a cup of tea,” Oliver said, nodding towards the seat. I smiled at him, sat down and tried to envision myself living here. One summer. That was all it would be until I’d be earning and could move out and live somewhere else.
“I don’t have to do this,” I said abruptly. Impulse. “Oliver,” I said, glancing turning towards him – looking up – “I don’t want to leave you to live with them on your own.”
“I don’t mind.”
“I do,” I said, staring at the wood of the desk. I knew how it had felt when April had left, and it was horrific. Circumstances were slightly different, but I still couldn’t leave Oliver like April had left us. I wasn’t ready to start worrying about washing up and cooking and cleaning and paying the rent all by myself. I wanted a little bit more time at working out who I was before I shook my life up again. I didn’t want to have to tell people, in ten years time, that I moved out when I was seventeen years old. I wanted to complete my education properly. “Oliver,” I said, shaking slightly as I looked straight at him, “I won’t be driven out of my childhood early. She’s done enough.”
“So?” Oliver asked, and I suddenly realised that he’d grown. He seemed to have lengthened and expanded upwards since the last time I saw him, which probably meant that he was going to keep growing until he overtook me. My little baby brother would be at least a few inches taller, and he was going to be good looking and a perfectly suitable candidate for an equally tall girlfriend.
“We’re going home for Christmas.” I said, still shaking.
She’d said she hoped to see me soon. Maybe, on the brink of losing me forever she’d upturned some levels of affection. But if I moved out that was something neither of us would be able to forgive or forget; I’d have the weight of the figure written on the blank cheque pressing on me, Mum would hold me responsible when Oliver followed my lead and that would be the end of everything. There was no chance after that.
I wasn’t April. I wasn’t ready to run away from my problems.
“Sure?” Oliver asked, “Because that is a great bathroom. You’d be able to shower and throw up into the toilet at the same time.”
“Handy,” I said, smiling slightly, “but… no. I mean, maybe. We’ll see. If it’s bad at Christmas, I guess I’ll have to rethink but… I have to see, Oliver. I don’t know whether she’s trying to push me out or get me to stay but… I have to see.”
“Okay,” Oliver said, smiling, “back to Hogwarts then?”
“Definitely.” I said. The estate agent had waited outside, deeming we’d get a better ‘feel’ of the place alone, and he seemed slightly surprised when I walked out and happily declared that we weren’t interested.
“So, James was asking after you,” Oliver said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“Have you grown Oliver?” I interjected.
“You should… talk to him.” Oliver said, looking slightly awkward, but I was stuck by the fact that at least he’d spoken. We did not talk about things. We avoided issues and we pretended there wasn’t a whole host of issues swimming in the subtext of conversation. When talking we referred to our parents as a slightly emphasised them.
It was bloody annoying though. I didn’t need Oliver nagging me about doing the right thing when the voice at the back of my head was doing a sufficient job all by itself.
“One step at a time, Oliver. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but my life got a bit dramatic lately.”
“So,” James said, falling into the seat next to me in Herbology and turning to face me, “you’re not talking to me.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Eh!” James declared. “You just spoke!” I swallowed. “Okay,” James continued, “that was lame and stupid, actually… I’m lame and stupid and a prat and I’m really sorry.”
I stared at my notes and tried very hard not to look at him. I wasn’t all that experienced at relationships and particularly not having to be around the person after it had all gone wrong, but I knew full well that I wasn’t ready to deal with this when there were so many other things going on that I had to think about. Fixing things with James was not my current priority.
“Autumn,” James said, his voice a low whisper, “Autumn, you know I don’t care if your friends with Dom or not. I can’t say I like the fact that she’s your friend, but that’s only because… because I know that she’s not exactly been a good friend to you and I just think that you deserve so much better than what you get. I know that fucking up like that probably wasn’t the best way to show that in action but I am a relationship fucker-upper particularly when I really like someone and – ”
James stopped abruptly as our names were called on the register.
“- and,” James continued, “I heard you say to Flint that you know I didn’t mean… didn’t mean to upset you, I just… I just messed up, okay?”
“James,” I said, turning to face him and trying very hard not to blink, “I need to take notes.”
“Okay,” James said, seeming to lean away slightly, “and is that just you being a Ravenclaw, or is that also a rebuff?”
“Not now.” I said, letting my hair fall between us, pulling out my pen and resolutely deciding not to think about when.
“Winter,” Freddie said, grabbing hold of my elbow as I was back down the stairs from visiting the Gryffindor Common Room (having given my brother the cloak and the map and strict instructions to place them on James’s bed – better to not do it myself this time, given what happened last time) , “haven’t seen you around much for about eight days, not that anyone’s been counting.”
“It’s Autumn,” Roxy said, appearing on my other side, “it doesn’t change vis a vis the season. Please excuse my brother, Autumn, I think he lost a large number of his brain cells after being stuck to the toilet.”
“That would only make sense if my brain cells were in my arse.”
“You said it,” Roxy said, “look, I hate to subject you to another intervention, but –“
“- if this is about James,” I said, blinking fast, “then I…”
“Regrettably,” Roxy said, “it’s not. The other one.”
“Dom?” I asked, feeling my legs begin to shake slightly.
“Although it has to be said that James is being an arse to live with,” Freddie said, “I know you were a real hazard, Autumn, but it’s almost a shame not to have the fear of being stuck to the loo if it meant he wasn’t being so mopey.”
“Mopey?” I think at some point between James offering me an ultimatum and the present I’d reverted back to my old way of thinking that James was only ever going to rip me to pieces and butcher my heart with a pair of oversized and blunt scissors, replacing the somewhat sweet version of James in my memory to someone manipulative and cruel. It hadn’t been intentional, but… Benson had said, weeks ago, that no one should have to deal with a double betrayal at the same time… seeing Dom so regularly meant I couldn’t turn her into the hateable villain that my brain wanted me to, but it was much easier with James who I knew less about and had known for a shorted period of time.
I’d almost forgotten about the lovely James who’d been so nice on our date and didn’t mind that I’d blown up his bed and was, as Freddie said, a hazard.
And so I’d done the meanest most cowardly think to date, by having a highly impressed Oliver leave the cloak and the map on his bed without note, or word, or any indication that I had any intention of ever talking to him again.
“Yes, yes,” Roxy said, “the problem is, mopey James is all too concerned about Dom being alone but for her psycho boyfriend, and has thus brought to the whole families attention that we’ve made Dom unhappy.”
“So now,” Freddie said, grinning, “she’s locked in a broom cupboard!”
“I don’t see how that’s going to help.” I said, glancing up at them.
“Well, you were never going to understand the plan just yet,” Roxy said, with one of her winning smiles, “but I’d estimate understanding in about thirty seconds time.”
“What -?” I began, but by the time I’d finished my sentence the two had unhooked their elbows through my own, twisted me round in the corridor and pushed me… into a broom cupboard.
Probably should have seen that coming.
I promise you this was not supposed to be another cliff hanger. Also, this story keeps growing when I'm not looking. I PROMISE you we are very near the end, but I give up putting a number to it. Two or three chapters to go, I should think. Love you guys!
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