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“Hi,” I said, feeling the word choke out into the silence rather than meaning to say it. James’ expression softened slightly and his grip on the material of the invisibility cloak seem to slacken.

“Hi,” James said in return.

Of course, that’s when all inspiration for conversation or movement seemed to leave me all at once. There was only so much a girl could deal with in the one day before it started to have an adverse effect on their ability to function; despite recent events, I really wasn’t much of a runner, and the run up to the Gryffindor Dorms had worn me out. And it was futile, and confusing, and my head was stuck not knowing which issue I was supposed to be dealing with right now.

How was I supposed to know what was the right thing to do?

“Did you forget to leave an explanation with the cloak, or something?”

“That… that was a mistake,” I said, my throat tightening, “I… I wanted to fix it. I was locked in a cupboard. I didn’t… stupid,” I finished, finally, glancing at the floor, “I was stupid.”

“Roxy and Freddie only just went to let you out.” James said. He looked back down at the invisibility cloak and twisted his fingers through it. It was dumb that the whole thing had started with an invisibility cloak and I’d thought, even for a minute, that it might be possible to dump that on his bed and move on from the whole thing.

“Ran.” I muttered.

“Regular RomCom,” James commented, only slightly sarcastically, “do you want them back then? If it was such a mistake?”

“No,” I said, “I don’t… It just seemed…” I stopped and took a breath. “It wasn’t fair. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay,” James said, not looking at me, “everyone messes up, after all.”

“James, I am sorry,” I said, “this is all wrong. I’ve been having a bit of a crisis. This isn’t me.”

“Okay,” James said, “so, if we pretend this cloak didn’t appear on my bed, how should this have gone?”

I took another step into his dormitory and let the door shut properly behind me. James’s dormitory was a mess and, if his slightly wet hair was anything to go by, he’d definitely just gotten out of the shower. It was hard to convince myself that some stupid act that I’d done could be the cause of the slightly resolute expression fixed across his features. It was all wrong.

“Tomorrow morning I’d have come and talk to you after breakfast, we’d have met in the kitchens for lunch and had a proper conversation.”

“That sounds good,” James said, “why didn’t we do that?”

“I thought you were on my side,” I blurted out, loud enough for James to drag his gaze away from the invisibility cloak and actually look at me, “I thought you were on my side, then suddenly you weren’t and I panicked.”

“Autumn, I messed up,” James said, “it was just a slip of the tongue.”

“I know, James, I do know that. But I thought maybe I’d just made up the version of you that was on my side, and was sweet and funny and nice. It wasn’t very Ravenclaw of me…” I admitted, stepping further into his dormitory and sitting down on Freddie’s bed – facing him – “but I don’t… I don’t really date much. This is…this is mostly new.”

“Right.”

“And then… because for years Dom’s been telling me you’re a heartbreaker and I just… I had a lot to deal with all at once and I was freaking out and I didn’t think I could trust anyone because you’ve all been lying to me, and it just… I’m sorry about leaving the cloak on your bed, James.”

“That’s rubbish,” James said, looking at me again, “the heartbreaker crap.”

“I know Dom’s biased,” I said, fairly, “and possessive and not your biggest fan, but you can’t… you can’t really claim to not have dated quite… quite a few people?”

James’ eyes narrowed.

“I guess we never talked about that.”

“I,” I stopped, and took a breath, “I didn’t realise I was even insecure about it, but apparently I’m insecure about just about everything.” My eyes were welling up with tears again. I hated the fact that I was apparently unable to maintain a degree of composure for more than ten minutes at a time.

“You’re not writing me off?”

“I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head and blinking. I didn’t know. Because on the one hand, I was refuting the idea of putting up with emotional blackmail like the ultimatum and on the other hand I knew it was just a simple mistake, and half of me wanted to say I’m worth more than that, half of me wanted to say I’m not worth anything. There were parts of me that thought James would only hurt me and other that thought he could make me happy, and amongst it all was the underlying fact that I hated the idea of having boy troubles because I wasn’t one of those boyfriend obsessed idealistic girls who walked into getting their heart broken. “I’m trying to do the right thing.”

“For who?”

“Me, hopefully,” I said, brushing a not-quite-fallen tear off my face feeling frustrated, “I just don’t know what to do with all of this.”

“Double sucker punch?”

“Triple,” I said, “quadruple. My sister’s got a fiancé and my Mother hopes to see me soon.

“Autumn,” James said, leaning forwards so we were closer together, “I’m sorry.”

“I really didn’t expect everything to get so complicated.”

I was crying again. I half hid my face in my hands as I tried to dredge up some basic self-respect from my reserves.

“The girlfriend thing,” James said, “that really is a non-issue, Autumn. I’m not… well, the thing is that I usually avoid complicated.”

“And this isn’t complicated?”

“Well, that’s my point. It’s just like… go on a couple of a dates and that’s fine, but then as soon as things get more serious then I just tend to back out, let people down and get left alone. I’d never date Dom’s best friend in theory – not really – because that’s like major complications and yet here we are.”

“Mostly, I think my family is messy enough without pulling in extras,” James continued, shoulders shrugging, “I’m not going to throw you some epic sob story, I just think – unless someone’s really special – then I’d rather not deal with the drama. We’re teenagers. It’s not like… it’s not like I’m bothered by being alone.”

“And this is supposed to make me feel better?” I questioned, grasping for my knees and squeezing my eyes shut.

“Yes, you Ravenclaw. I suppose it doesn’t make much difference if you’re giving me the boot… but, I like you a lot Autumn.”

I swallowed. There was a sharp feeling at the back of my throat that I didn’t want to think about it. See Autumn, James can be sweet and lovely. James isn’t about to rip you to shreds.

“I like you too,” I said, lip trembling as I looked up at him, “I just don’t…”

“I like that you’re a total Claw stereotype getting upset about an A and half living in a library. And I like that you like animals and are friends with Hagrid and unassuming and barely even realise that you’re hilarious. I’m not going… I’m not going to say that I love you, Autumn, because it really hasn’t been very long… but I think that I love all those thing about you and I think that I could. Love you, I mean. And I’d be pretty gutted if I had fucked this up beyond recovery.”

“I just,” I glanced up at him, “I just don’t know if it’s going to work. I’m… I’m really busy all the time and I’ve been a rubbish girlfriend and I… I really just don’t know…what the right thing to do is.”

“What do you want, Autumn?” James asked, leaning forwards even further.

“I want to be with you and have Dom as my best friend, and for Mum to try and make things better and for April to be open and honest with me and for Oliver to talk to more during term time and for all of us to go to bloody church together and to take the dog and then go to the pub and just sit and talk, and not to be worried that whatever I do is going to upset someone or not going to be good for me, but just for everything not to be a battle of tensions for once, James. And I don’t want to have to struggle with school anymore, I just want to drop a subject and spend more time reading fiction and… and, I don’t know. But I know that’s all impossible and idealistic.

“Permission to kiss you?” James asked, eyebrows quirked up and expression serious.

“Granted,” I said, closing the distance between us myself.

This was new. I had a vague memory of kissing James whilst we were both sat on his bed before, but Freddie had been stuck to a toilet and Roxy had been in the room so it barely counted. James’s dorm mates, it seemed, had all abandoned ship shortly after James had found the invisibility cloak. And James had been sat on the bed when I leaned forwards to kiss him, which meant the only way this whole thing was ever going to go was more onto his bed which was sort of scary and made my head spin even more than it had been doing. It was nice, though, and I’d missed that breathless fluttery feeling that came with James kissing me.

“Mhgm,” I muttered, pulling away, “this…um. Are we…?”

“I’m sure,” James said, smiling properly, “you remember that I am merely a Gryffindor, so can’t actually read your mind.”

“Back together?” I asked, feeling my face flushing slightly. “Is that… erm.  Is that the conclusion to this conversation?”

“I’m not making that decision,” James said, grinning, “You’re making that decision.”

“James,” I said, “this isn’t like putting a time limit on being a secret, this is… we need to talk about that.”

“It’s actually a lot like the time limit thing,” James said, grinning. “Are we back together Autumn?”

“What do you want?” I asked, frustration pulling the corners of my lips downward.

“Autumn…”

“No,” I said, frowning, “I’m serious. What do you want from me?”

“Whatever I can get.”

“I’m asserting my position here,” I said, frowning, “and I want to know what you want so I can work out if that’s something I can do. I’m not… I’m messy, James and…well. I think, maybe, that we sort of were surprised by liking each other as much as we did so made it… made it messy. Because it probably didn’t need to be this messy. And if I’m going to be in a relationship with you, James, then I want it to be a sensible morally good decision that I can live with.”

“You weren’t expecting it to work out before?” James asked shrewdly.

“It was doomed.”

“Are we no longer doomed? Has Dom had a personality transplant?”

“She’s dating Benson,” I said, frowning, “she can’t really talk.”

“And yet she does.”

“Incessantly.”

“You try being locked in a broom cupboard with her.”

“Hmm.”

“Thank you,” I said, “for that. It’s… proof that you’re on my side. Thank you for doing that for Dom.”

I reached forwards and kissed him again. I’d missed James. Admittedly, none of this was actually helping anything given I still wasn’t sure what I wanted in real terms (in imaginary idealistic terms, I could have everything with no effort and at little cost, but that wasn’t going to happen), but… but well, I was only a teenager, I thought I had the right to be a bit of an idiot once in a while.

“I’d like to have a none secret version of this relationship,” James said, “I’d like you to come visit me over the Christmas holidays and introduce you to my mum and I… I’d like to see more of you and go on more dates that aren’t… aren’t all study dates. And I’d like you to be honest with me about things, like with your sister, although I understand if you’re not ready to talk about things.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding, “that’s… that’s doable. I want you to be nice to Dom. Not… not like nice nice, but amiable in a way that she knows you care about her. I’d rather not have the two of you arguing all the time. Can you do that?”

“I’ve been trying,” James said, “to do that anyway. Will Dom be civil to me?”

“I’m not sure,” I admitted, closing my eyes, “I still need to talk to her about that… but I’m going to be pissed at her if she makes thing difficult.”

“I spent half my life thinking Dominique is French for difficult.”

“It’s not,” I said, smiling slightly, “it’s very much not.”

“Are you sure I can trust you to rein Dom in?” James asked, smiling slightly. “You are scared of her after all.”

“You’re scared of birds,” I said, pointedly, “birds.”

“You’re about a foot taller than Dom –”

“- cute little chirping chicks – ”

“– when Dom was five, she asked teddy to marry her.

“And I bet she didn’t take well to rejection, either,” I said, pointedly, “look, Dom’s an exploding Strawberry cream – she might not appear dangerous to you, James, but she’s one push away from blowing up.”

“You’re the strawberry cream,” James said, grinning, “come across as all normal and cute, then you steal my belongings, blow up my bed, ensnare me in a secret relationship then have an exploding life crisis.”

“Why do you like me again?” I asked weakly. “Are you sure you even want to… forgive me and stuff?”

“Pretty sure,” James said, “you’re a hazard, Autumn Pearce.”

“Only when I try and act impulsively.”

“Continue to do so,” James said, grinning, “Freddie loves the drama.”

“Oh shit,” I said, standing up suddenly and blinking, “oh shit, I think Dom’s murdered your best friend. Oh my god, we need to go to the hospital wing.”

“Sorry?”

“After Roxy let us out of the broom cupboard, Dom pulled her wand out on them!”  I said frantically. “Who knows what’s happened to them!”

“We can probably take a guess,” James said, rolling his eyes slightly, “a bat bogey hex, Roxy’s nose jinxed to look like a turnip and Freddie not quite recovered from a hysterical giggling spell – probably one he gave himself after feeling left out of the duelling process. No one is going to be hurt, Autumn.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I don’t know that Gryffindor is going to win the Quidditch cup this year, but chances are… it’s going to happen.”

“Will you just…”

“Yes,” James said, pulling out the map and unlocking it with his wand, “right, as I thought. Roxy and Freddie are heading towards the Gryffindor tower and Dom is… oh, coming too. Well this is going to be enjoyable for all involved.”

“Dom’s coming here?”

“So it seems,” James said, “but that’s fine, isn’t it Autumn? Because you’re not scared of Dom and he’s grudgingly accepted that you can date whomever you please?”

“Not scared,” I said, wringing my hands, “still a little weary though.”

“And whys that then?”

“Because,” I said, taking a breath, “if you keep fighting then obviously I can’t have either of you. That’s my answer to your previous ultimatum, James; if you can’t… if you both can’t support what I need and want then… then I need to start advertising a few vacancies in my life to the wider public. I won’t… I won’t be forced to choose.”

“I have no intention of forcing you,” James said, “I never did before.”

“I know,” I said, forehead creasing, “God, when did everything get so complicated?”

“We should go down and see Dom,” James said, “just… are we sorted?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted, shoving my hands in my pockets and looking at the floor, “I need to think still. I’m… I’m sorry.”

“And are you sorted with Dom?” James asked. It was that slightly edge of competition that made me worry slightly: they were never going to get on, not ever, and… they were both at fault and I didn’t think I could dish out the line of blame like I had this time. It was all or nothing and I wasn’t entirely sure I could have all.

“No,” I said, “we’re working on it.”

“And we’re working on it?”

“Yes,” I said, “one great big work in progress.”

“As long as you don’t blow anything else up,” James said, smiling slightly, “then I guess we should go make sure that they are all alive and kicking downstairs.”

“Okay,” I said, smiling, “okay.”

*

Autumn,

I feel like all I’m ever doing is apologising to you these days. Whilst I’m your sister and that should give me a bit of room to screw up in, for years I’ve felt like I should be doing more for you (given certain people have let you down so thoroughly). So, yet again, I want to say sorry for being useless and sorry for not being there and sorry for not telling you about Ethan.

I don’t think we’re going to get married soon. I think we’re going to try and set down some ties here (which I know is where I need to be) before we rush into anything further. That sounds stupid, because we’re engaged, but I guess that’s just a label to make sure I knew that things were serious (instead of running off and leaving Ethan in Egypt, which you know as well as anyone I would have done).

I solemnly swear that through this process I intend to get to know you and Oliver again. It was stupid and naive of me to think that I could disappear for years with the occasional letter and still know you like the back of my hand. You’re more beautiful and grown up (and tall) than you were when I left and I’m really proud of you, Autumn, for growing in confidence and backbone and forcing me to face up to some of our issues. You’ve been so good to Oliver (who is growing at an alarming rate – why did you two get all the tall genes? Where did they come from?) and anyone in the world can see that you guys are really close.

Basically, I’m sorry again. I never told you to look at the dedication in my book before (don’t worry; I’m not mad at you for not reading it yet. You’ve had a LOT to deal with and are definitely doing too many NEWTS to still be classified as sane!), but I’d like you to read that.

It’s a shame that we’re so useless at communication that it comes down to this, but thank you for demanding that we did.

Lots of love,

The superior sister.



“You’re dropping a subject?” April asked, looking up from my letter and tilting her head at me.

We were sitting in Hagrid’s hut, clutching great flagons of tea and pretending to eat some of his questionable baking. Hagrid himself had, somewhat unsubtly, excused himself to allow us to chat. We’d swapped our letters and read in silence, occasionally taking awkward sips of tea and glancing at each other.

“I don’t have enough time,” I said, shrugging my shoulders slightly, “and… it’s not worth it.”

April used both hands to pick up the great flagon of tea and take a sip, placing it back down on the huge table with a clunk and glancing back up at me.

“I never thought that you liked visiting Hagrid because it made you feel small,” April said, glancing back down at my letter, “I never knew your height bothered me so much.”

“Not… small,” I said, shrugging slightly as I glanced around the Hagrid’s hut, “just not… too tall. Like I could sit up straight without dwarfing everyone. It’s nice to feel minuscule sometimes. It’s comforting.”

“I feel like that most of the time,” April grinned, “especially sitting across from you in a giant’s hut. This makes me feel very small.” I smiled at her, taking another sip of tea with difficulty, and reaching for another of Hagrid’s biscuits. “You’re going home for Christmas?”

“I’ve got to see how it works out,” I said, “one last chance.”

“Appropriately forgiving,” April said, “do you think they’d be room for me for a few nights?”

“You?”

“And Ethan,” April said, slowly, “if you can go back, then I can too. I should never have left you to deal with it by yourself – ”

“- I didn’t want you to put your life on hold, April, I’m glad you went.”

“But I should have communicated. Look at us, Autumn, a pair of sisters who only know how to tell each other how they feel via letter.”

“We’re talking now.” I said, smiling slightly.

“Yes,” April said, wrapping her fingers around the flagon of tea as she caught my eye, “I suppose we are.”

Nothing was perfect.

Everything was still messy and complicated and far too much for me to deal with all at once. I still had too many essays to do and I still didn’t know whether Dom and James would be capable of getting on for my sake, or whether I’d only pushed back the choice for a little longer (I wasn’t sure whether I genuinely believed that I’d pick neither of them, if it came to it… I didn’t trust myself to do that and leave myself alone).

There was no use worrying about it all at once. There was fuel enough there to worry for at least another few years without cramming it all into a few days. It was the small victories that counted.

Neb, under Hagrid’s table, pressed his nose against my leg. April smiled. Dom and James were locked in the middle of a conversation (which was sure to be more like a negotiation than anything else). I was going home for Christmas. Life was happening all around me and I was involved. I was making things happen. I was a participant. I was doing thing I’d never thought I’d do

Maybe I could believe that I was funny, too.




No more cliff hangers! One more chapter! And then, the end is nigh. Thank you to all of you who’ve reviewed lately. I’m amazed by the lot of you :)

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