(big love to milominderbinder)
'Okay,' James began heatedly. 'That's fair. I know I haven't been the best to you—'
'If that's not an understatement then Hagrid's really a unicorn.'
'Fine! I've been shit to you! I've been a fucking prick, but you can't stand there and say I didn't have a good reason—'
'You had no reason you stupid git!' I cried. 'URGH! I hate you! You made me miserable! You made me think you despised me! You made me feel like shit—'
'JENNY!' James yelled. 'I am sorry! But you have to understand that I thought you cheated on me!'
'And that gives you the right to treat someone like rubbish?!'
'Yes if that person made you feel like rubbish right back!'
'BUT I NEVER DID ANYTHING! I have been nothing but a fucking angel to you!'
'Well that's just you isn't it? Saint Clarke the perfect fucking human being! I humbly apologise that we can't all be like you—'
'Ugh fuck off! Just leave it! I'm done talking about this!'
'Just leave it?' James demanded incredulously, starting after me as I marched back to the house, fists clenched by my sides. 'Jenny, we just figured out that you didn't cheat on me—'
'We?' I hissed, glaring at him viciously. 'You, you fucking idiot, were stupid enough to believe it. And look where we are now!'
'But I'm saying it can be fixed—'
'We aren't a broomstick, James!' I shouted, rounding on him. 'You can't just—put us in a shop and mend everything!'
'I'm not saying that! I'm saying we can figure this out, we can be together—'
At the cold look I gave him, he stopped. I hadn't seen James act so much like himself in weeks. Every nerve and atom in his body seemed to be bouncing off each other, buzzing with alacrity. His eyes were almost amber, glinting with chips of gold, and they were wide, exhilarated, his cheeks flushed with colour. Even my anger didn't put a dent to his thrill. He was a boy, reborn.
'Be together?' I echoed quietly. 'You think I want anything to do with you right now?'
He shoved both his hands into his hair, casting his eyes skywards in pure incredulity. He let out a breathless laugh, childlike in its relief.
'I get it. I do, Jenny. But this is all just twisted and warped. We'll clear everything up. You'll see.'
'Okay lunatic,' I said, eyes narrowed into slits. I stood in front of the door to our house and looked directly at him. James smiled back disarmingly. 'As soon as we step inside this house, we do not speak of this. We do not hint at this. And you do not, under any circumstances, look at me like you are doing right now.'
'I can't help it.' He grabbed my hands and I nearly jumped from the shock, a bolt of electricity zapping through me. 'Merlin, I can't believe it's not true. I can't believe I thought you wanted Luke …'
I snatched my hands back, body trembling. 'It was a lie. You believed what you wanted to. How can you not see that? I can't—I can't stand the sight of you right now!'
'I didn't just believe what I wanted to,' James repeated back, mocking my voice, a spark of his old anger coming back. 'It wasn't like I just made it all up—Dom came up to me—'
'—and it wasn't like I didn't bother to ask you about it! I came to you! I asked you! You told me you couldn't remember if you'd kissed Luke or not, you said maybe. What was I supposed to think?! Pretend like it didn't happen like you're doing right now?'
'Pretending like it—' I shook my head, as if to shake the stupidity from it. 'How many times do I have to tell you that I'm not pretending anything? What you said never happened!'
'This is ridiculous!' He spun away, frustrated.
It was rather a relief, if I was being honest, to see him irritated with me again.
'I want to take veritaserum.'
I gaped at James; he stared determinedly back.
'Who gave you the line of pixie dust you so clearly snorted?'
'I want to prove it to you. I want to show you that I'm telling the truth. Dom—'
'James! Shh! She's inside!'
'—Dom made it sound like I should be watching you and Luke, okay? So I did. And then I did come to you Jenny. I did.'
'Then what, James?' I hissed. 'Amnesia? Obliviate? Did you obliviate me, is that what you're trying to tell me?'
'Yeah Jenny, I obliviated you. And, while I'm on a roll telling the truth, I'm also Lord Voldemort resurrected in the flesh! Gave dad a right old fright when he found out!'
'Oh perfect! I'd rather date Voldemort than you right now anyway!'
James made a noise, halfway between a groan and laugh.
'Listen to me—no, listen. I'm going to talk to Dom, okay? I'm going to speak with her and I'm going to sort this out.' James opened his mouth to argue but I silenced him with an acid look. 'I don't know if I believe you yet. The way you've been acting these past few weeks … I was really starting to hate you, James.'
'But you don't,' he muttered, stepping towards me.
I took a step back, dizzy with his sudden closeness. He invaded all my senses; his scent, his eyes, his body.
'That isn't the point. It isn't the point at all. Just … give me some space. I need to think—'
James took another step closer, our bodies barely inches apart. I had to raise my chin to meet his dark, liquid gaze, trembling.
'I'm done thinking. I don't want to think again for the rest of my life.'
Well, you're on brilliant start with that single brain cell floating pleasantly up there.
He leaned in, golden brown hair curling endearingly into his eyes … my breath hitched, my heart thumped erratically … and the door swung open behind me. James stepped aside, hands firmly clasped behind his back. He raised his eyebrows and pressed his lips together.
'I can give you space … If that's what you need.'
How could I not remember James asking me about Luke? Why was Luke involved in this at all? Why was Dom?
What was even going on?
I closed my eyes, face smushed against my pillow, sighing heavily.
I had to talk to Dom first. As soon as she came back from Marisa's. James had to be confused about her saying anything about Luke and me … It was just stupid … why would she sabotage herself like that? It made no sense … what would that even achieve … besides what it did achieve, if it were true … James and I breaking up … my total unhappiness … and not that anyone cared, particularly me, but James' unhappiness …
I pushed myself up, hugging my knees.
That was what troubled me the most, truth be told. James had looked as though he'd been simultaneously slammed by a Beater's bat and doused in an icy cold bucket of relief. A switch had been flipped. Weeks of despising me for supposedly cheating on him with Luke had vanished in one second. In that one second he'd been the impossible and horrible person he was slowly transforming into … and the next he was James again. It made me uneasy, to think how easily he could change his mind.
And, really, if I was being honest with myself, it wasn't even that.
It was the way he'd treated Flora. And the way he'd treated me, once.
Because he never thought about anyone else but himself.
Whatever the truth was, I couldn't trust him.
That night, after half the day being wasted discussing the quote and how we'd reflect it in our house and the other half avoiding Dom, side-stepping and stammering excuses not to hang out with her and Marisa and Ella, and James and his heavy gazes entirely, I rolled over on the bed and faced Dom now. She looked at me, eyebrows raised expectantly.
'Hey,' I whispered. 'You would tell me if you knew why James broke up with me, right?'
'What?' Dom faced me properly now, head propped up on one arm. Her eyes were wide, worried. 'Of course I would! What kind of question is that?'
'I don't—I don't know. Never mind,' I said, waving it off abruptly. 'I know you would. Sorry. Flora just … got in my head.'
'God she is such a stupid bitch.' Dom flopped back down, staring up at the ceiling. 'No one needs to be that tall, you know? It speaks to her spidery … stupid … long legged … bitchiness.'
'I don't think she's that bad …'
'She cornered you! At my own birthday party! And what about the whole cheating thing?!'
'Oh right …' I'd forgotten about the cornering. 'Yeah. Right. You're right.'
'Jenny. What's wrong?' Dom asked with real concern now. 'Did James say something to you? I know you said you got angry at him and that's why you left this morning … but you two seemed all right after he went to hang out with Flora …'
'Yeah—no,' I said, thinking how far away and long ago that seemed. 'He didn't say anything more annoying than usual. Cryptic bullshit and lies … Anyways, what do you think of his idea for the quote?'
'Oh god,' Dom said, rolling her eyes, successfully distracted. 'I don't think he realises Dumbledore couldn't perform that kind of magic, let alone us …'
I could hardly look at her anymore.
All night I'd mulled it over in my head, trying to work out what it could all mean. It had settled, somewhere between 3 or 4 in the morning, that I probably believed James was telling the truth. I thought he'd cheated on me—thought he'd wanted Flora instead of me—but it turned out instead he'd broken up with over some lie? A lie that Dom told?
That was where it stopped making sense.
Why would Dom do that? To make up a lie about me fancying someone else was one thing, but to have that person be Luke of all people? The one person she apparently liked?
Merlin, this was doing my head in.
'You look like you're having deep thought … oh no, I can see it fading away as I speak.'
I looked at Luke, pulling myself out of my reverie. The five of us were discussing our quote again and I couldn't concentrate at all. I kept watching Dom, trying to find a hint or a clue in the way she was acting so this would all miraculously fall into place. I stared, waiting for my brain to cry eureka! But she looked perfectly normal; flirting with an oblivious or humouring Luke, because he was too kind to hurt Dom's obvious feelings, entirely unbothered by our conversation last night, despite the fact that we both knew it'd been weird.
'I was just thinking,' I said. James' gaze was unusually focused on me, and the usual disdain was gone for good I supposed. 'That we're going about this all wrong.'
'What d'you mean?' Dom asked. 'Too literal? Physical stars on the ceiling, I mean.'
'Yeah.' I wrapped my arms around my knees. 'I dunno. With Oliver's quote, I guess they'd made a literal path diverging but, I feel like it meant something too. Their quote—the Frost one—with the portraits, and all the photos, it was like they were emphasising how different they all were. How individual. No two people would follow the same path in life you know? You could see it but it wasn't spelled out for us.'
Four pairs of bewildered eyes looked back at me. Dom and Freddie exchanged a look; James was impassive, ducking his head down to hide it; Luke was the only one looking at me with genuine thoughtfulness.
'I've been trying to figure out what our quote might mean for us,' Luke said finally. 'I know it comes from a play. One of Wilde's earliest—Lady Windermere's Fan. Mum took me to a performance once on Shaftesbury Avenue … One the of the main characters said it after his love had been rejected—'
Involuntarily, James and I looked at each other quickly then away.
'—and, in that context, he was in the gutter, and she was the star.'
I met Luke's gaze. A slight flush coloured his sharp cheekbones. It was a strange habit of mine, but I always found myself comparing James and Luke subconsciously in my head. Well, it wasn't that strange, if I really thought about it—I mean, I did see them a fair amount.
Apart from their looks, they were twins; impossibly rich, spoilt with love, arrogant but not to their detriment; individually and uniquely good looking; universally wanted and adored and charming …
But where James was a roughly drawn sketch, all light strokes and dark colours, chocolate hair and sun-browned skin, Luke was light and gold, sharp angles and cheekbones, bronzed in Grecian gold. Even his blue eyes had a strange golden glint to them.
'I like to read,' Luke said somewhat defensively, at our silence.
Dom was staring at him, lips slightly parted as if she wanted to say something, but didn't know quite what.
'Should we paint a guy and his girl then?' Freddie suggested. 'On separate walls maybe? You know, separated by the distance?'
'No,' Dom said, shaking her head, as if to rid herself of a daze. 'No I like James' idea. Of the stars on the ceiling.'
'I like it too,' I agreed. 'But we already are in the gutter. All of us. This house. This stupid project. I don't think any of us really want to be here … I think that's symbolic enough. No need to complicate this with love.'
Luke was staring at me with an inscrutable, molten expression. 'It's important to the meaning. That she was unreachable and untouchable to him. She would never want him, because he wasn't good enough. She lives in a different world, separate to his. Always in her head, thinking about other things. His love for her wasn't realistic …'
'How is that important?' I demanded, suddenly hot all over. Out the corner of my eye, I could see James frown at Luke. My body burned with a tumultuous flurry of hot and cold; doused in self-conscious irritation. My gaze flicked over to Dom, then Freddie. This was ridiculous! 'It doesn't need to be what the quote means for us.'
After a blistering, pregnant moment, Luke cast his eyes skyward.
'Fine. So that's our plan then? Paint stars on the ceiling?'
'Actually,' Freddie said slowly. 'I have a better idea.'
Freddie put Dom and Luke—the only ones of age—to work straight away. He'd taken James' simple suggestion and transformed it into an incredible idea, one that would not only display Freddie's talent at Charms, but his ingenious imagination. He truly was remarkable with seeing the miracle in the smallest of ideas.
'You're not even holding your wand right!'
'This is literally how I just hold my wand.'
'Well no wonder you're so shit at magic—'
'Oi! I'm not shit at magic, you little—'
'Hey, fuckers, shut up and let's do this yeah? I'm missing valuable tanning time for this—'
'I know you look the part, Dominique, but you don't have to be an airhead—'
'Freddie! Please teach us how to do this before I lose my patience!'
James walked up silently beside me. 'Can we talk?'
I nodded wordlessly and we stepped outside, leaving Freddie, Dom and Luke to sort out the Charm. The sun was bright and clear today, its rays split as though through a glass prism. A cloudless blue sky rippled above. We stood there in silence for a moment, just looking around, then at each other. A windless breeze fluttered through his hair, sending a sharp pang through my chest. How badly I wanted to brush it out his eyes, soften that stubborn mouth …
'So, did you ask her?'
'No,' I said, frowning. 'I haven't found the … right moment.'
'You're not telling her you're pregnant, Jenny! You're asking her if she broke us up! There isn't exactly a perfect moment for that.'
'She didn't break us up,' I hissed. I jabbed a finger into his chest. 'You did that!'
'Because of what she told me!' James hissed back. His eyes sparked with frustration. 'Do something, Jenelle—or I will.'
I gaped at him as he spun around and stormed back into the house.
Where did he get off! That arrogant git! How could he think of no one but himself! All he wanted was for me to know that he was right, to ask Dom and—and—urgh!
He wasn't even thinking of me! Of what this would mean for me if it were true!
If Dom really did tell him that I fancied Luke—or implied that we had kissed behind his back—then what was I doing here?! What would have been the point of all of this? Of ache inside my heart that has burrowed its way so deep in my soul, I've felt it crack a thousand times, split with a million splinters, tearing me apart.
My breath was coming in short gasps now.
I spun away from the white house, racing down the porch steps, when suddenly, I stopped.
What was I going to do?
I felt frantic—panicked. My heart sputtered in my chest as I looked up at the house; the number 7 sign rusted with age and slightly askew; the recently painted wood, white but already dirty with grass stained footsteps and cigarette ash; the brown shingled roof that sloped down; the buttery, honey gold door.
I couldn't stand it any longer.
I had to get out.
I found the four of them sat in a semi circle, deeply engrossed in watching Freddie as he scribbled furiously in his journal. Luke looked up as I came in, taken aback at my appearance. I had a feeling what I looked like; crazed eyes, huffing as if I've just run a marathon, scanning for something and clenching my fists.
'See, it has a teeny bit of Leviosa in it, but coupled with the Atmospheric Charm—'
'We aren't producing real stars are we?' Dom said, baffled.
'No of course not! I don't want to blow up the entire planet, funnily enough. I genuinely enjoy being alive—'
'All right, all right, I'm only asking!'
'Honestly woman, have you ever learnt anything in school?'
'Yeah I know how to punch someone who annoys me—'
'Jenny,' Luke said loudly, above them. 'What's wrong?'
'Nothing,' I said immediately, ignoring everyone's looks. 'Actually—I need to speak with Freddie.'
Freddie looked up, crestfallen. 'What—right now? I'm kind of in the middle of something.'
'It can wait,' I insisted. 'Just for a second, please?'
'What about me?' Dom pouted.
My heart skipped a beat. 'Um. It's about … it's about Freddie. Sorry, it's private—we'll be quick—come on Freddie—'
I grabbed him by the elbow and rather unceremoniously shoved him into my bedroom, making sure to shut the door. I rounded on him, thoughts speeding at a mile a minute. I wasn't entirely sure why I'd chosen Freddie to talk to—only that out of the four of them, he hadn't told me a dramatic, shocking revelation of betrayal that upended the entire axis upon which my being rotated.
I trusted him. In general and with my secrets. Which was with everything.
'You know,' Freddie began mildly. 'I was really in my zone there. Preliminary thoughts include Bluebell Flames but we need to pop into the—'
'Freddie I have to get out of here.'
'Like … here as in specifically this room we just came into or here as in metaphysically? Because I can't help with the latter—'
'Neither,' I said urgently. 'I need to get back to Hogwarts. I can't do this anymore. James just told me that Dom told him that I fancied Luke—or that Luke fancied me—or that we kissed—and then apparently James asked me about but Freddie the thing is I don't remember any of that happening and I'm freaking out and it's freaking me out!'
Freddie gaped at me, eyes, wide as saucers, ping-ponging back and forth between mine. His mouth became a comical O.
'Okay so you're saying that … what?!'
I took in a deep, steadying breath, heart hammering rapidly in my chest.
'James thought I cheated on him,' I explained, watching Freddie go blank with shock. 'That's why he broke up with me. And all this time I thought he cheated on me … We all did … Freddie, this is a right old mess. James says that Dom told him that Luke and I kissed or something—'
'Jenny,' Freddie began, and there was a sharp, cautionary edge to his voice that I'd never heard before. 'That makes no sense. Dom is obsessed with Luke. She's desperate for him. Manic. Frantic. Why the hell would she say that unless it was true?'
I was breathless. 'It's not true. Luke doesn't feel that way about me. He can't.'
'Does he know that?'
Freddie arched a brow at my ringing silence. Then he sighed and sat on the bed. I sat beside him, imploring him mentally to believe me.
'I don't feel that way about Luke,' I said instead. 'I never have. I've never even once thought it.'
Freddie grunted. 'He's a good looking lad. Has it really never crossed your mind? Have you never let it slip to Dom?'
'No! Well—not in years at least. We all fancied the pants off him in fourth and fifth year. But it was the entire year! Even the year above! Gemma Arkwright and Louisa Kissinger—they were in love with him! But I've never liked him like that Freddie. Not once, not ever. I may have used my eyes every now and then and noticed how hot he is but that's it, I swear—'
'All right, all right!' Freddie said, raising his voice above mine. 'I believe you! So why didn't James?'
I buried my hands in my hair, pushing it all back; it knotted in my fingers and I tore them away.
'He says he asked me about Luke. He says when he asked if we'd kissed, I said I didn't remember. I said maybe.'
Freddie groaned and flopped back, covering his face with his hands. He dragged them down and glared at me.
'Why the fuck would you say that Jenny?'
'Freddie—I didn't. That's the problem! I don't remember that ever happening! James promises that he came to me the day I had detention with Hagrid for—'
'Collecting hippogriff dung to light up in the Slytherin dormitory! Ah, yes, I remember,' Freddie said wistfully, momentarily distracted.
'Yes but the thing is I remember that day perfectly and—'
'We would've gotten away with it too—if it weren't for Hagrid and his beloved bloody chicken—'
'Freddie, listen to me! I remember that day perfectly and I remember going straight from Hagrid's up to practise. I didn't see James at all until then.'
Freddie stared at me wordlessly.
'So. What?' he blurted. 'Is this a case of repressed memories? Because that is too angsty, even for us.'
'No. I am trying to tell you that I remember everything perfectly.'
Freddie's eyes suddenly widened and he recoiled as if my words had electrocuted him. His dark brown eyes flicked down and up my body. I could practically see the cogs and wheels whirring and clicking into comprehension in his brain. And I needed him. I needed him to figure this out for me.
'Too perfect,' Freddie breathed in wonder. He bored holes into my forehead, as if trying to x-ray it and discover its secrets. 'Magic, Jenny. That's the only explanation.' Then abruptly, he added, 'You know, ironically, James is probably the only one who can figure this out.'
I drew back, bewildered. 'What do you mean by that?'
'You know he's obsessed with Healing? Stays up all bloody night reading them books? Well he once told me about how easy it was to detect damage done to the mind. To memory. Elementary, he said. Then he called me Merlock or something.'
'Damage?' I squeaked.
'We should get him to check your brain out,' Freddie said with alarming sincerity.
'Um!' I said with a slightly hysterical edge. 'Hell fucking no!'
Freddie rolled his eyes. 'Jen, when will you get over this irrational fear of Healers.'
'Never! It's not irrational! They're insane!' I had gotten up and inched slowly towards the door with every word. I twisted the knob behind me, smiling appreciatively at Freddie. 'Thanks mate. For everything. For all the help. You're a good friend—'
'Sit back down. We're not done.' He arched a perfect eyebrow, daring me to protest. 'Didn't you say you wanted to get out of here?'
A flood of warmth and incredulity rushed through me.
'You'll still help me? Really? You were so into this star thing—'
'Oh! I'm still doing that Jen my lovely hen! Might be my best work to date, so, unfortunately you'll have to wait until I'm done to actually leave. But, lucky for you, I constantly have more than seven ingenious ideas whizzing in my head for times just like these. And, as it so happens, I have a plan that could work in both of our favours.'
I slowly moved away from the door, eyes wide, waiting with bated breath.
'For the sake of being thorough—you're sure you don't want James to check your head?' At the look on my face he pressed his lips together. 'Understood. We'll just have to wait for Madam Pomfrey—or for you to ask Dom what really happened.'
'What would Dom know about it?' I demanded, suspicious at once.
Freddie's expression suddenly turned dark. 'She knows a lot of secrets. That's why her hair is so big—it's full of them.'
'Ha ha Freddie, we all know you love Mean Girls, but seriously.'
'Seriously,' he said adamantly. 'I just know that if anyone knows anything about anyone it's Dom.'
My brow furrowed. 'Okay …'
'Okay,' Freddie said, clapping his hands. 'The plan!'
'Yes,' I said, shaking my head like a wet dog trying to get dry. 'Lay it on me Freddie.'
'All right, so this is what we're going to do …'
Three minutes later, Freddie was grinning from ear to ear, obviously pleased with himself, and, even I had to admit, I admired him his uncomplicated thought process. Freddie's plan was straightforward, if uninspired. There was no way it wouldn't go off without a hitch. Simple, fool proof and absolutely sure to get me out of this particular circle of hell Dante so poetically neglected to mention.
There was only one problem.
'I couldn't do that to everyone!' I cried, aghast. 'They'll all hate me! We'll ruin their entire year! There's no way only the two of us can get out without landing every single detention from here to Jupiter and not look like we ratted everyone out! And what about Dom? Luke? We can't do this to them! Besides, there's no way James can have detention on the day of the match!'
Freddie glared at me. 'Fine, then you be in charge of making sure James isn't there to get caught!'
'That still doesn't solve the problem of everyone else!'
'Jenny,' Freddie hissed. 'There's no other way to get off this island unless we physically give Newton and Fig no other option. People have to be sacrificed—even our friends. But! If you just want to stay here instead …'
I internally groaned. My conscience was waging war with itself. Not only would this plan earn me the never-ending hatred of all my Muggle Studies peers and my best friends for years to come—for life probably—it would also ruin the rest of their year. Because there was no way everyone caught wouldn't get detention till the end of term.
But if I didn't do it? Two more full weeks of spending every second of every day with both James and Dom? With me second guessing and doubting everything Dom says and does to me from now on out and James' unrelenting, obsessive desire to get the truth out?
I would have a mental breakdown.
'I don't care either way,' Freddie went on easily. 'I'm quite enjoying myself here. Then again, I'm not the one who has an ex-boyfriend, who accused me falsely of cheating, therefore being a not only physical but vocal piece of garbage to me in undeserved retribution, sleeping in the room next door. And I'm certainly not the one who has a best friend whose lie she told made my ex-boyfriend think I was cheating in the first place—'
'Okay, SHUT UP!' I heaved, eyes narrowed into slits. I got to my feet, fists clenched. 'Fine. Let's do it.'
Freddie got up with a devilish, skull-like grin. 'Perfect. We need to go to the hardware store immediately and get the stuff we need for the quote.'
'Okay, I'll go with you—'
'No, I need to stay here and help Weasel-bee and Ashwood because they're useless clowns—'
Horrified, my eyes widened. 'Freddie, I can't go to the hardware store with James. I just can't do it! I can't be around him in there!'
'I see I've triggered you … Fine … I can spare Luke. But it's not going to make sense why you're going with him so if James puts up a fight—'
'You'll fight back!' I said hotly.
'I'll see what I can do!' He fired back.
We both glared at each other furiously, stewing in each other's vexation.
Then Freddie deflated, grinning goofily again. 'I should probably reveal a deep dark secret to you now.'
I recoiled, confused. 'What? Why?'
'Because Jezebella! You brought me here in the first place to talk about something private? Gonna look stupid when Dom asks you what happened and you have to lie? Because you're a very bad liar babe!'
'All right!' I snapped. 'What's your secret? If it's about that growth on your arse I swear I'll—'
'—kick you right in your balls, Freddie, don't think I won't—'
'Jenny, I'm gay.'
'—I've honestly had enough of it—at breakfast—lunch—banging on the toilet door—'
'JENNY!' Freddie roared.
I jumped. 'Jesus! What?'
'Oh nothing—I'm just gay. Thought you should know.'
My cheeks flood with heat.
Good Godric, I was an idiot.
Freddie arched an eyebrow, lips pursed. I gaped at him, like a fish. Then I sighed. I didn't know how to tell him without sounding like a complete arse, so I just told him, without preamble, assuming I'd just answer any questions he had as they came up.
'Right. Well. I kind of ... I kind of … already knew …?'
Freddie blinked, taken aback. 'Really?'
'Yeah, I mean, apart from you disparagingly saying heteros and damn the straights every now and again, I've had my suspicions since fourth year.'
I smiled sheepishly as Freddie's eyebrows shot up into his hairline.
'How?' he demanded.
'Quidditch practise confirmed it. You and I were both drooling over a shirtless Gwyddien McLaggen.'
'A straight man can appreciate another man's perfectly sculpted body that Zeus breathed life into himself!
'Yeah, with envy—not lust.'
'What did you at fourteen know about lust?'
'About as much as you did I reckon,' I retorted coolly.
At this, Freddie blushed a dark pink under his brown skin.
'Fair play, Jenny.'
'Always do, Freddie.' After a moment, a thought struck me. 'So who else have you told?'
'Apart from my entire family when I came out when I was fifteen and whoever they've blabbed to and feel terribly guilty about blabbing to … You. And all of the gays at Hogwarts of course. Which is just one other person. That I know of anyway. Broom closets are no joke Jenny.'
'So Luke doesn't know?'
Freddie shrugged, just a bit too much artifice in it for it to be casual. 'It hasn't come up.'
I raised my eyebrows. 'Right … you do know he won't care right? You can't think he would have a … a problem with it.' Even just saying it out loud sounded ridiculous.
'Luke isn't like that.'
'I don't know what Luke's like,' he muttered. 'Anyway, he already knows. So it's more about acknowledging to each other that we both know the other knows except we both don't want to be the first ones to do it. There has been a significant period of time since the important thing has been known to now and it's just awkward. I'm not just going to blurt out that I'm gay. Or maybe I should …'
I was just about to open my mouth to tell him that was completely fucking stupid and that he should just tell Luke he knows Luke knows he's gay, when I suddenly realised how eerily familiar that conundrum sounded. Kind of like me and James, before we were driven to our complete wit's end and screamed at each other.
'Was that your fear then?' I demanded instead.
'If you must know, you nosy little shit, my fear was that you'd get angry about me not telling you sooner.'
'Well that's just stupid—'
'Claustrophobia in a house is stupid!'
'No it isn't! People can feel trapped and feel claustrophobic anywhere! Being afraid that I'd be mad at you for not telling me something that you should feel able to tell me when you're ready is very annoying!'
'Your raised voice indicates that my fear was very valid!'
We glared at each other.
I huffed. 'Okay then.'
'Okay then,' Freddie said cheerily. 'To the hardware store!'
James, of course, got his way and now we were both in FURNITURE & HARDWARE again.
At the scene of the crime.
I sulked sullenly behind him, happy enough just to follow as he zig-zagged around the store trying to find Freddie's very specific request for spherical glass ornaments.
'Christmas?' James muttered aloud. 'You think there's a Christmas section in here?'
'It's only the middle of March and a perpetual summer so I'm certain they do.'
'I'm going to ask the cashier …'
'Idiot,' I muttered under my breath as he stalked off. Then, louder, 'I was being sarcastic!'
I gloomily folded my arms across my chest and waited by the front, refusing to humour his belief that there was a Christmas aisle, glaring daggers at the floor, wondering how everything could've gone so absolutely wrong. At least James hadn't asked me about Dom once when we walked here. I would've actually resorted to physical violence I think.
I looked up as the automatic doors of the store slid open, only slightly surprised to see none other than Flora Morgan and Oliver Gamble stroll in. I straightened up immediately, a tomato red blush rising to my cheeks at the sight of them both.
'Jenny …' Ollie said, nonplussed. He looked furtively at Flora and back at me.
'Ollie,' I said, as a way of greeting. My gaze slid to Flora. 'Hey …'
'Clarke,' she said curtly, avoiding my eye. 'Ollie, I'm going to get the mould spray.'
But she was gone. I started after her, a dreadful welt of guilt puncturing my stomach, but Ollie stepped in front of me. His hazel eyes were hard.
'Jenny,' he said again.
'Just popping in for the essentials?' I asked conversationally, trying not to betray how uncomfortable I felt. I tried to appear normal but I was painfully aware of how crazy I looked. Agitated and on edge, knowing that Flora and James could likely bump into each other, scanning the area like the crazy vengeful ex-girlfriend bitch that I was. Would they talk to each other, I wondered?
'Yeah … what are you doing here?'
'Waiting.' We stared at each other. Me, daring him to make me say with James, him, debating whether or not to ask.
Ollie decided not to. 'She told me what you did. That wasn't cool.'
I sighed, all my energy draining out of me. 'Listen, Ollie, I know we kissed at the party—'
Annoyance flickered across his features. 'This isn't about that. I couldn't care less about that—'
His tone was so matter of fact, I hardly had the time to feel injured (what? I was still a teenage girl who liked to know that the bloke she kissed at a party wasn't completely disgusted by her).
'—I mean how you made Flora feel. You and James are so toxic—'
I recoiled, truly affronted. 'I don't think you really have to right to say anything about—'
'Flora is my friend,' Ollie hissed, stepping toward me, expression blazing. 'You're not the enemy to her but you should be. She's too good to treat you and him like you deserve to be. Just stay away from her, all right? She doesn't need this bullshit anymore than you do.'
He said it with such sincerity I didn't know whether to respond rationally or blow things completely out of proportion.
'What the fuck?' I asked, skin prickling with a slow anger. 'You don't know me enough to say anything about me, so I'd appreciate it if you kindly said fuck all about it. But you know what? You're right about one thing—I don't need this. From James. From Flora. Least of all from you. James and I may be toxic—but at least I told Flora the truth—'
'The truth?' Ollie sneered. 'You two play your games and everyone around you is either ammo or a victim. But thanks for being honest just once in your life and royally fucking everything up from here to Buckingham—'
'What the fuck do you want?' I snapped quietly. 'If you're here just to berate me then save your breath and fuck off—'
Ollie scoffed, a disbelieving, airy sound. 'All you Gryffindors are exactly alike. You think the world revolves around you, don't you? You think nothing else matters but Jenny and James. Golden fucking couple of Hogwarts and the Wizarding world! Congratulations, really, I hope you guys are ecstatic making everyone else miserable—'
'Shut up! You hypocrite! We all know how miserable you are and guess what! I had nothing to do with it!'
'Yeah?' Ollie said heatedly. 'And how's that supposed to insult me then? It was clear to everyone but Flora that she was James' rebound in your little fucked up teenage drama—
'I don't know what to tell you,' I said coldly. 'I had no part in that.'
'It's just kind of a shitty thing to do, you know?' Ollie's eyes met mine and we both knew we'd entered a hostile zone of accusations. Hidden land mines of insults we toed in the sand. 'He's used her till he was done. Just like he used you—'
I slid my wand out of my back pocket, cool in my firm grasp.
His gaze lit up in amusement as it flicked down to it and back up.
'You gonna use that thing on me? I've seen you do magic. You don't want to end up with boils coming out of that pretty little face.'
A pure, molten rage rose up inside me. It flared through my veins, seared down my bones, made me see clearly for the first time. It was strange, how fury could either make you a foolhardy mess or a logical, cold-blooded, incendiary angel of wrath.
'Get out of my face,' I said calmly. 'Before I start thinking expulsion is a better alternative to looking at yours.'
Ollie snorted in cold amusement.
'Since, you know,' I went on, in the same light, airy tone. 'I'm such a huge bitch who'll kiss anyone's boyfriend and fuck everyone's lives up and all … I could just let a few more things spill. Like how you wish you were the one fucking her—'
Ollie flinched like I'd actually used my wand.
'—and not James.' I had no way of knowing if that was true or not and, apart from saying it just to piss him off, I couldn't even fathom it. 'Or how you obviously used me to make her jealous. Oh! I see you didn't know that I knew! That's terribly interesting …'
'You say one fucking word, Clarke—'
I closed the gap between us, expression hard. A cool mask of marble curiosity. He was suddenly agitated, eyes flickering up—no doubt to check whether Flora was coming back—hands balled up into fists. Every muscle in his body was taut; every line in his face contorted with barely suppressed disdain.
'Step,' I said. 'Back.'
Ollie's eyes burned a fiery hazel as they bored into my green ones.
There was a beat.
He shot me one last simmering look of disgust and stormed off.
I watched him until he was out of my line of vision before I let out the breath I'd been holding in; the muscles in my legs trembled; my heart raced; my blood burned.
I turned, an involuntary relief washing through me as I spotted James walking towards me with a massive bag. His dark eyes turned abruptly concerned, shooting over his shoulder and back, as he spotted my tightly wound stance and the wand in my hand.
'Why do you have that out?' His eyes were wide, almost angry as they scanned around searching for a threat. 'What happened?'
I met his probing gaze blankly. Then I raked a hand through my loose hair and pocketed my wand.
'Nothing,' I said evenly, convincing no one. 'I just ran into Flora and Gamble.'
'Gamble? I didn't see—'
'Probably for the best,' I said mildly. 'You have everything?'
'Jenny—if something happened—'
'Then I handled it,' I said coolly, raising my eyebrows, daring him to challenge me.
James searched my face, agog. After a pregnant pause—
'I know you did. But if he does anything to you again—let me watch you fuck him up?'
For the first time, when I smirked at him, I meant it.
I couldn't wait to see Oliver Gamble burn in the inferno I was going to ignite.
'Shall we go then?' James said, studying me closely.
I was just about to reply when I saw a flash of chestnut hair. A sudden thought occurred to me and I knew I wouldn't be able to let it go without giving it a try. It was something, funnily enough, that Gamble had said. Maybe I could even tell him he'd given me the idea as he walked to his hundredth detention. I wondered how he would take it.
The prospect filled me with a vibrantly delicious pleasure.
I looked up at James, grinning. 'One second—I'll be right back—'
Before he could stop me, I raced after that familiar blur.
Flora was in the aisle alone, reading the label of a spray bottle. She was so willowy, so tall and feather like, I hesitated for a moment. Doubt crept in that maybe this would be a very bad idea, that everything would go to shit because of this singular spark of impulsivity, that maybe I would fuck everything up for myself for a moment of remorse.
But was it remorse?
If I searched myself, I knew I didn't feel guilty, not really, for telling her that James and I kissed and hammering the last nail into their relationship's coffin. What I really felt was indignation on her behalf, as well as mine. And annoyed that I had been driven to such a state that I had been the one to tell her what James should have. Flora had deserved the truth—much like I did. And she didn't need to be here anymore than I did.
It was a mutual torture.
And I could offer her an end.
She looked up, startled, eyes widening.
'I know I'm the last person you want to see or talk to right now—and I'm not here to apologise—'
She made a disparaging noise, shaking her head in disbelief.
'—because even though I'm the reason you feel like shit right now, we're forgetting the person who really fucked it all up. From the start. We were just unwilling pawns in game we weren't even players in. Because it's never about us, is it?'
'If you have something to say,' Flora said, voice trembling. 'Then just spit it out. I don't feel like hearing your megalomaniacal speech right now.'
I drew in a deep, steadying breath. I looked her directly in her soul examining grey-green eyes.
'Do you want to be here? Because, I want to go back to Hogwarts. Get the hell out of here. Get away from him. From everyone in this suffocating, poisonous environment. I want out—bad. I'm sick of this place. Sick of everyone here. And I'm just saying, if you feel the same … There may be a way out. If you're looking for one.'
Flora stared at me unflinchingly, unresponsively.
Then, she arched a bushy eyebrow.
I trusted her, Ravenclaw to her bones, to understand the implication behind my words.
And I wasn't disappointed.
'Leave the white houses?' Flora said cautiously. 'Not see James. Not force myself to to be civil to Marisa, Ella, Dom, you? Go back to Hogwarts?'
'You get out. I get out. We do it together—then we never see or talk to each other ever again.'
Flora's sharply angled face tilted to the side in consideration.
A beat. Then—
'What do I have to do?'
Oooo things are rolling now ... Jenny's sprung into action, but not the repairing kind, more of the destructive kind and, as pretty much usual, she is only thinking about herself and her own hurt feelings ...
As usual for me, I don't own a few things mentioned in this chapter: Mean Girls, Lady Windemere's Fan (a play by Oscar Wilde) and of course the quote "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" (also by Oscar Wilde).
Let me know what you guys think of this chapter! Freddie finally comes out to Jenny, which she admits she already kind of knew; WHAT could this secret plan be?! Why is Flora involved? Why did she even agree?! Can't wait to hear your thoughts!
Thanks for reading guys! Love always, P xx
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