Vole-demort decided to break the tension by jumping out of my arms and diving head first into James Potter’s trunk, remerging several seconds later and depositing his diary into my hands, with a pair of James’s boxers on top of his head like some strange crown.

“I’ve got to ask,” I said, “are all your boxers this effeminate?”

“I’ve got to ask, did you train that vole to retrieve the most embarrassing things in my trunk?” James countered, plucking the pink boxers off the vole’s head and throwing them in the direction of the trunk. He kicked it shut and sat down next to me; both of us sat on the floor with our backs against the edge of James’s bed.

“You’d have to ask Hagrid,” I shrugged, absently opening James’s diary and flicking through to find my entry, “nothing to do with me, this time.”

“Right,” James said, grinning as he flicked the diary over to the correct page (scarily, there were quite a few entries added after my own - dear Merlin, James’s diary was a legitimate functioning article), “I’d almost forgotten about you breaking into my dorm.”

“Where do you want me to start?” I asked wearily. It was difficult: communications were not entirely my forte - hence my attempt at an apology resulting in blowing up by now-boyfriends bed (and that wasn’t even a euphemism).

“The middle.” James said.

“That would probably be April leaving. So, April was eighteen and, well, she’s pretty into history - one of her NEWT history essays was so well acclaimed that they asked her to write a book. You’ve met April - reading letters from my sister makes me tired, she seems so vivid even through ink and parchment. So they offered to fund her research into this book and, well, she decided she wanted to do some research in Egypt. And then, course, Egypt suited her and when she came back, four months after she’d left, it was a short home visit before she went back again. So, that’s where the estranged bit came from, I suppose, none of us a very good at communicating.”

“April was my defender,” I sighed, frowning slightly, “every time she comes back I half resent her for leaving and half just want to absorb her presence: siblings are like that though, aren’t they? You spend half the time resenting them and half the time loving them more than anyone else.”

“So, she’s off to Australia?” James asked, stroking Vole-die distractedly.

“Yeah,” I said, “and normally I’d have gladly turned up to see her off but, well, I was being a bit… childish. She went to visit my parents, see and it just… took me by surprise.”

“You live with your parents?”

“In the summer, we don’t go home during the other holidays. It’s… that’s the difficult bit. The opening. It’s not a big deal, James. It’s just the way things are.” I sighed; I hadn’t talked about this for a long time. It had come up once or twice in discussions after church, when people talked about how they found their way to God or what my parents were like, but other than that the last time it had been discussed I had been twelve and crying it out to Dom - ever since then it was eluded to, rather than mentioned outright and that was fine. It was a tact started by April that we’d all conformed to. This was breaking the rules. This was turning the whole system inside out.

“My Mum had postnatal depression after she had me and I think that’s when it started. It was pretty bad, she… well, she left me alone at the house once and didn’t come back for hours. This is what April has told me, anyway… and then Mum, well, there was an incident with a car; she got run over and the juries out about whether or not it was an accident. I don’t know how much you know about postnatal depression, James, but usually the mother has a sort of click moment when they start to love their baby.”

“And yours… didn’t?” James suggested.

“I don’t think she did,” I said, quietly, “April thinks that’s rubbish and that I just remind her of the worst part of her life but, either way, it’s like… it’s like she resents me on some level. She treats me different: she’d say I could have a friend over then change her mind at the last minute, make me look stupid, yell at me for silly accidents just… nothing major. Little things,” I sighed and took another deep breath, picking up Vole-die in my arms and looking into his wide, excited eyes. “So, I started Hogwarts as awkward, a bit nervous, no self-confidence - obviously - but then I made friends with Dom and without my Mum there I started to relax a bit more… that’s when April started to notice. She thought I was just growing up, except when we go back home I was back to falling over doormats and scurrying around the house hardly saying anything. April, well, she thought she could fix everything: went barrelling into things like a niffler in a jewellery shop, accused Mum of ruining my life and trying to demand that we talked through our issues.

“Just made everything more strained, as it were, because then everything was out in the open. Dad remained convinced that this was just a figment of our imagination, Oliver didn’t know what to think as neither of them had seen us at Hogwarts… well, anyway, I just gave up.”

“On your mother?”

“Yeah,” I said, shrugging my shoulders slightly, “it wasn’t awful. Don’t get me wrong James, she wasn’t exactly cruel. It’s just parents are supposed to build up their children’s confidence and she did the opposite. We’re polite to each other. I avoid going home in the holidays and she dutifully avoids writing me letters, for the most part. I don’t want to hear from her so she doesn’t try to talk to me. It’s not wonderful but… it’s just the way it is.”

“And what about Oliver?”

“We don’t talk about it,” I admitted, thinking of the warmth in my stomach at the mention of my brother’s name, “he stays here with me in the holidays; we never organise it, he just does. He’s my best friend in the holidays. He doesn’t talk to Mum much either - I try and encourage him too, because she’ll only resent me more if I’m the reason she’s lost all her children but… Oliver is sweet. He’d do anything for me.”

“And April?”

“She moved to Egypt and cut ties with our parents for years. And us, nearly… but now she’s back and she’s been visiting them. I… I don’t mind if she wants to visit them, I just want to know why now. It was stupid of me not to go today and… I’m sorry you had to find out she was leaving from Lily.”

“That’s okay,” James shrugged, nudging me with his shoulder, “some things are difficult to talk about.”

“Hmm.” I agreed, leaning on his shoulder slightly. “Mum wrote to me on my birthday; I haven’t opened the letter yet.”

“I think you should.” James said seriously and I turned to look at him for a few seconds: James was sweet, but it seemed my assessment of how he’d take this was just as I’d expected - James, with his life without blemishes - would think that I was some brave sufferer who’d conquered something difficult and incredible. But that wasn’t true in the slightest: it wasn’t like my convention that I wasn’t funny or interesting either, because everyone had something to deal with in life and everyone had things that they were hiding. It had moulded me in some ways but only as much as living life moulds anyone and it seemed it wouldn’t matter what I’d tell James, he’d still think everything had been much worse than it was. I closed my eyes slightly.

“That’s why you’re a Gryffindor. You’re brave, James. I’m a Ravenclaw. I just think too much.”

“What do you think about me?” James asked.

“I think you’re really quite nice,” I returned, “and that you should get a better girlfriend. I ditched you to hand in my essay, then was planning to ditch you for Hagrid before actually ditching you to visit my sister. After, of course, you find out that I’ve been keeping stuff from you.”

“Whatever,” James shrugged, “with the amount of homework you’ve got, I don’t know how you’re alive: let alone factoring in family drama. You’re superwoman, Autumn.”

“No,” I countered, “I’m just really tried.”

James grinned, pushed a lock of hair away from my eyes and smiled at me.

“You don’t look that tired.”

“Don’t lie,” I countered, “I’m as hungover as I look, but don’t tell Dom - hangovers are beneath us.”

“Dom can’t deal with alcohol at all.”

“No,” I agreed, “she spends most of the morning after vomiting spectacularly loudly much close to my ear drums, that’s just her standard line when anyone asks how her head is.”

“I often ask about Dom’s head,” James said, “it’s hardly ever in conjunction with the consumption of alcohol. How’s the prank war going?”

“Benson is distracting her,” Autumn shrugged, “hopefully she’ll have forgotten all about it.”

“Doubt it,” James said cheerily, “can’t wait for it to really kick up a gear.”

“This really isn’t going to help when Dom finds out.” I said pointedly, rolling my eyes and watching as Vole-die closed his eyes and looked to be contently sleeping against my stomach.

“Should we set a date for that.”

That was a scary thought in itself.

“Suppose,” I shrugged, feeling a great deal more unenthusiastic: I wasn’t quite sure why my two different lives - one as Dom’s best friend and the other as James’s girlfriend, couldn’t exist in entirely different spheres which never met in the middle. Dom could hate the James from a parallel world and, likewise, James could engage in prank battles with a Dom that I’d never met. Unrealistic, maybe, but it seemed like the only two they were ever going to get along. “It’s up to you.”

“Nope,” James said determinedly, stretching out his legs on the bedroom floor, “you, Autumn Pearce, are a push over. I have no intentions of pushing you over.”

“Good,” I said, “because that could be considered mildly abusive.”

“That was meant metaphorically.”

“And what I said was meant sarcastically.”

James grinned, shaking his head slightly, “I’m not making this decision,” James said finally, “because then you’d just agree. I’m encouraging you to be proactive. You put a date on it.”

“Well, if it’s up to me then I say we see how things go.”

“No,” James shook his head, “that’s girl talk for never. Actually, not even girl talk: Ravenclaw talk.”

“I’m a girl and a Ravenclaw and I don’t mean never. I mean, we don’t know what’s going to be happening next week.”

“I do,” James said, “we’re going to go on another date.”

“You’re being specific; James, I mean if this doesn’t work out then what would be the point of making my best friend hate me and you?” I asked uncomfortably, shrugging my shoulders slightly, “I mean, no offence James, but considering I’m already being crap and barely managing to fit you in between essays and family drama… well, I just don’t think it’s worth it.”

“Well, okay,” James said, “you pick a date for when we reassess the situation and work it out.”

“I don’t want to pick a date!”

“You don’t want to be assertive.” James countered.

“You do realise you’re pushing me to pick a date, so it doesn’t even make any different.”

“Nope, logic too complicated for a stupid Gryffindor like me,” James said happily. “This will be much easier for you to just pick a date.”

I sighed deliberately and pursed my lips slightly: if James was thinking about a really long period of time like four months and I was thinking of next Saturday, or worse - if James was thinking next Saturday and I was thinking in four months time (or, you know, never)  then I was going to look like a right idiot. Frankly, I looked like an idiot enough of the time for James pushing me towards decisions like this was unnecessary to add to the collection: although, as of late, James related things had been clogging up the collection to quite extreme levels.

“A clue?” I suggested hopefully.

“No.” James grinned.

“Please?” I asked, pouting at him slightly: one of Dom’s tricks I very much doubted had the same effect without tiny traces of veela blood, but it didn’t seem to have fallen too short of the target.

“Unlike you, I am capable of standing up for myself.”

“It’s like a mind trick! You’re testing me.”

“You’ve spent far too much time with my least favourite cousin.”

“You shouldn’t call her that,” I said, frowning, “you do realise little things like that are -”

“Autumn,” James said, his voice dropping slightly, “don’t change the subject. I’m not psychoanalysing you through your response. Although I’m not promising that when I tell Lily all about this, she won’t analyse it for me.”

I frowned. It seemed like, twenty minutes earlier, naming a length of time wouldn’t have been such a big issue but now all the words generally associated with times had turned to a dusty mess of silence.

“A month.” I said, eventually, after what felt like a month silence had passed by.

“Wasn’t so hard now, was it?”

“Don’t patronise me,” I said pointedly, “but I suppose not. Is that… okay with you.”

“Whatever you want,” James grinned, “it’s been determined: in this relationship , you wear the trousers. Where would you like to go for our date next Saturday?”

“Hogsmeade, I suppose.” I suggested dryly.

“Nice Autumn, witty and funny as always.” I shut my lips tight to stop myself from dismissing the comment: James probably found my continual contradicting of his compliments irritating. “I suppose that will do for Autumn being assertive today,” James grinned, reaching forwards and kissing me briefly, “tell me if I’m being annoying.”

“Will do.” I agreed, closing the gap between our lips again but before I could kiss him properly, James drew back ever so slightly.

“No you won’t.”

Then he kissed me again and I wrapped an arm around his neck and it was nice and lovely.

And he was probably right.

*

Running around meeting my sister in Hogsmeade had taken a large proportion out of my day, as had the long talk with James, then I’d ended up being drawn into Dom’s hilarious re-enactment of Benson Flint telling Dom that he loved her (Dom had declared this absolute tosh, but had said it with her cheeks glowing slightly and didn’t look as much like she could whirl around and pull out all your hair at a moment’s notice if you pissed her off)  which meant that when Dom was going to bed at around eleven I’d gotten through about a quarter of my homework.

Admittedly, it wasn’t all in for tomorrow… but when you factored in the fact that tomorrow I’d get more homework, the fact that I’d had an extension on several pieces and Professor Vectors warning about not accepting any more substandard work, I felt like I didn’t have much choice but to sit there and continue. Sitting with my back against the headboard of my four poster, books staked almost as high as me (and it wasn’t like I was remotely short), using my legs to prop up my books, my lit wand sandwiched under my arm so I could continue my essay. And considering I hadn’t gotten back to Hogwarts till about three and it was getting closer to three with every minute I was beginning to debate whether it was actually worth it when Dom scared me half to death by jerking back my curtain and looming towards me.

“How the hell have you got so much homework?” Dom demanded very loudly. “I swear you’ve been disappearing all week to go do it.”

“Dom,” I hissed, “you’ll wake everyone up.”

“I’m just asking you a question, Autumn, no need to get defensive,” Dom said loudly, pulling back my curtains even further and stumbling her way onto my bed, “you’re not secretly writing a novel or something?” She continued, taking my Potions essay and squinting at it. “Evidentially not.”

“For God’s sake, Dom! We share this bloody dormitory. Go back to bed and be quiet.”

“Don’t say the Lord’s name in vein,” Dom said lightly, finally lowering her voice, “commandment number three.”

“I wish you’d stopped picking that stuff up.” I complained, redipping my quill in my ink and squinting at the page.

“I read one of your bibles,” Dom said, “I was bored and your other books were boring. I thought you said you were going to do this essay on Wednesday?”

“I did my Arithmancy instead.”

“You don’t have some sort of secret boyfriend, do you?” Dom asked, her voice returning to its usually loud and abrasive tone. Somewhere in the dormitory, someone made a strange noise – as if stuffing a fist in their mouth to stop them from laughing. Dom looked up sharply. “If someone’s been fucking eavesdropping then I swear –“

“Hardy eavesdropping,” I countered, “considering we share a dormitory and you just decided to start yelling in the middle of the night.”

“Who was it?” Dom asked, standing up and giving me the alarming impression of some, graceful bird of prey about to pounce on someone and rip them to pieces through her steely break.

I panicked, purposefully knocked over my ink well and then swore because I really hadn’t thought it through and now there was ink all over my Potions essay and...

Would it be too Ravenclaw to cry over an ink-covered essay?

“Dom,” I complained, staring at my ink sodden essay and resisting the urge to cry, “Dom, fix it please look you can’t… you can’t even read it!”

“Just, Autumn, don’t panic,” Dom said, “considering how exhausted you are it was probably crap  anyway but…” she plucked my lit wand from where it was still propped up underneath my arm and mutter a quick cleaning spell, “now,” Dom said pointedly, “just go to bed.”

“I’m not done.”

“Yeah,” Dom said pointedly, pushing the stack of books off my bed very loudly onto a crumpled heap. I whimpered slightly at the thought of all my text books getting crumpled and lent over the side of the bed to stop the covers getting bent, “you are.”

I sighed, collapsed back onto my pillows and let myself fall asleep.

*

Benson Flint found me propped up on one elbow, fast asleep in the library during break time on Monday Morning. After a gruelling lesson of Arithmancy in which I’d handed in yet another essay, on time this time (honestly, how many essays did she believe I was capable of doing? It seemed that soon she was going to run out of numbers for me to write about the magical properties of soon), and a rather mundane potions lessons I’d crept away from the library, more to avoid Dom’s almost brutal cheerfulness this morning – which I expected was done purposefully because I was so damn tired. Or, as a fairer judgement, she thought April’s departure had been hard on me and was trying very hard to keep me cheerful. Or she’d somehow yet to get over Benson’s ludicrous declaration of love.

“Having trouble juggling your best friend and your secret boyfriend?” Benson suggested, eyebrows raised as he sat opposite me.

Call me prejudiced, but there was something about him that gave me the creeps. Dom was fractionally (very fractionally) veela – if Flint was the best she could do then what did that say for the rest of us?

“It would be more difficult without the surprising help of the best friend’s boyfriend,” I returned, closing the Transfiguration book I’d tried to use as a pillow for a little while before deciding to use my elbow instead, “why?”

He cracked a nasty smile, “doing a good deed.”

“Right,” I said, frowning, “look, Flint, I’m all for good deeds – but I don’t buy it.”

“Okay,” Benson said, fairly, “wouldn’t you say it’s in my best interest to have Dom in a good mood?”

“For what?” I asked, eyebrows raised to the max.

“Didn’t realise you had the ability to be crude, Autumn; no, for my sanity. Dom is, as you may have realised… high maintenance.” 

“Yes I have noticed that,” I said pointedly, frowning at him and wondering what the hell I should say next, “having been around for a bit longer than you.”

“Precisely,” Benson said, “I’d rather put off dealing with one of Dom’s catastrophe’s for as long as possible.”

“So you’re hoping James and I break up before we have a chance to tell her?” I asked primly, looking up and trying to access what the hell he was thinking: it was difficult and I wasn’t used to this sort of thing. Having known Dom for such a long time I could read her like a book, but widening my social relationships to include all these other people all of a sudden meant it was difficult to assess exactly what they were thinking. Particularly someone like Benson Flint as, to me, his actions made no sense at all: morally, he shouldn’t keep a secret from Dom.

Morally, neither should I.

“Isn’t that what you’re hoping?” Benson suggested, “Dom sent me to find you, by the way,” He added as an afterthought, “a letter arrived from your sister.”

“What about?” I asked, reaching forwards to take it from his hand.

“I didn’t actually read it.” Benson said, sounding a little too amused, before he handed me the envelope and left me to the company of my textbooks.

“Flint!” I called after him. “We’re telling her in a month.”

“Well,” Benson Flint said with another of his strangely unnerving smiles, “I’ll get my bomb shelter ready.”

I half smiled at that (who knew Benson Flint was funny. Was I the only person in the world born without a sense of humour?) before turning to my letter.  No doubt this was the letter from April saying she’d changed her mind, was dreadfully sorry, but wouldn’t’ be able to come back home for another decade. Except, logically, she’d have to have sent the letter at some point in her travels before Australia – owls were not that fast.

Autumn,

Hi, I’m your sister. Remember me? I left the country about four hours ago and I’m currently in transit somewhere in France waiting for my next transfer. Anyway, Autumn, I wanted to apologise properly for my leaving act – I’m not sure if I’ve ever given you a full apology in paper before, but knowing you if I have you’ll have got it filed away somewhere. But, well, it wasn’t exactly fair of me to go away for such a long period of time and I promise you I’ve had some very good reasons which I should have shared with you before this point – all will come clear soon though!

Actually, lots of things will be positively crystal soon. It’s just a matter of cleaning up some final details and then I’ll be home again (I promise) with news and with every intention of staying in England for at least sixth months. I won’t promise anything about after those sixth months because I don’t want to let you down, but there it is. Frame this apology and keep it under your bed. Treasure it forever because you know it will probably take until it’s long overdue before I issue you another one. It was really lovely visiting you for your birthday, Autumn, and I can’t believe I stayed away for so long – time just goes so fast.

See you soon,

April (the superior sister)

Well, I decided, folding the letter and placing it in my pocket: although I wasn’t holding out any hope for a speedy return, at least she’d provided all the necessary material to make her feel bad when the time came.




I can't even say sorry enough for how long this update took. Seriously, I had such trouble with this chapter but I finally managed to write it (yaayayay). So, thanks to Deceptiveserende and Cirque du freak for emotional support and mangagirl for forcing me to write this chapter. If anyones still reading, sorry and I hope this chapter was okay.

Thanks for reading :)

 

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