(who else but the brilliant milominderbinder at TDA?)
Dear ASBO Five,
It has come to our attention that certain students have misused and abused the freedom Headmistress McGonagall and the Ministry have provided us to conduct this Muggle Studies project. As a result of this egregious behaviour, Professor Fig and I expect the remaining members of your group to convene at the Fire Pit at 10 o'clock sharp.
We will see you shortly.
Head of the Muggle Studies Department
Professor Miranda Newton
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
I handed James the letter and he took it wordlessly. He read it, expressionless, then tossed it at the closed door of Number Seven, White House Row. It fluttered to the ground.
I looked out lazily at the yard. It was so intensely warm and lovely I thought I might actually miss this place when we were gone. I thought maybe I would've liked it here.
Too bad this was genuinely one of the worst experiences of my life!
Our duffle bags were already packed and we thought it would be a good idea to pack Dom, Luke and Freddie's bags too, but we found that they were gone along with all of their things.
Conclusion … things royally fucked up last night.
Newton and Fig found out about the party and—since I hadn't spoken to Flora after she fled my bedroom last night, running straight into Newton on the way out—I didn't know whether it was because she had told them (leading to the obvious and worst case scenario that neither Freddie nor I had informed her of the changed plan) or just because we were being drunk and rowdy.
Which I knew had an infinitesimal chance of being true.
Newton had been a frazzled, flustered mess—more so than usual anyway—when she burst into our house. And I would have probably been more perturbed by her cat pyjamas if the situation hadn't been so seriously alarming.
After a chaotic five minutes spent convincing her that James and I had been at home the whole night, Newton demanded that we absolutely stay put—waving the threat of expulsion if we were caught sneaking out in our faces—and escorted Flora back to her house, fuming and helpless as to what was happening.
Strictly prohibited from scoping the situation out, James and I had momentarily put our differences aside, donned the Cloak and snuck out.
What we found was not good.
All twelve of our Muggle Studies classmates including Freddie, Luke and Dom, who was last in a single-file line, head hung so low her hair hid her face, were being lead off into an undisclosed location. Drunk and exhausted, I had tugged James, who'd insisted we find out where they were being taken, back to the house, reminding him we'd find out tomorrow anyway.
Well, it was tomorrow and we had a pretty good guess what had happened to them.
'Back to Hogwarts then,' James said, arm resting languidly on one knee, other leg stretched out on the step below the one I was sat on. 'Can't say I saw this coming.'
'Really?' I muttered. 'Seemed pretty inevitable.'
'Because we're all stupid,' I said, smiling with mock cheer, but even my venom was half-hearted. 'How many detentions do you think they got?'
'About as many as you can get. Probably banned from Hogsmeade too.'
'Probably goes without saying.' I buried my head in my arms, guilt churning acidly, drawing my knees to my chest. 'I can't believe this happened.'
'I can't believe Flora told them.' James shook his head. 'She was at the party.'
I bit my bottom lip so hard I nearly pierced the skin.
'Yeah … But maybe she didn't? Maybe they just heard it? We all did drink Dom's Doom. We could've been worse than we realised …'
'First of all, who allowed Dom to make Dom's Doom?' he demanded, annoyance flickering across his features. 'It's banned.'
'I may have … unbanned it for the night … urgh! Don't give me that look! It was obviously a huge mistake!'
'Understatement of the century.'
'Oh shut up,' I said lamely. 'This is miserable. I'm miserable. They're probably all already back at Hogwarts.'
'Yeah, the train was only an hour coming up … or down? I wonder what everyone's saying about it …'
'Probably that I'm a stupid bitch for ruining the one good thing to come out of Muggle Studies since … well … ever.'
'Don't be too hard on yourself, Clarke.' With a huff, James got to his feet and extended a hand out to me, eyes sparking with an old amusement. 'You probably hate yourself more than they hate you. Which, knowing our peers, is … a lot.'
I knocked his hand aside and stood up with a sneer. 'You always did know exactly how to make me feel better.'
'Sorry I won't take part in your pity party … you are a bit shit at throwing them—'
I hauled my duffle bag and hit him with it.
'Ow! Jesus, Clarke!' But James was grinning as I hoisted my duffle over my shoulder.
As we stepped off the porch, he tried to throw his arm over my shoulders but I ducked away, shooting him a glare.
'What, we not boyfriend and girlfriend yet?' he asked dryly. 'Am I still being punished? Can't we just skip to the good part?'
'Don't joke about this,' I snapped. 'Everything is not all right with us.'
'So that wasn't make up sex last night?'
'Don't you think we actually had to do it to call it that? And just because I wanted to have sex with you doesn't mean I want to get back together! It doesn't even mean that I like you, you stupid prick.'
'You like me,' he muttered, trying not to show how disgruntled he really was. He shot me a sideways look. 'So, what? I'm just so fit you can't stay away from me? I don't like to be used, Clarke. I'm not a piece of meat.'
A riotous red blush pooled into my cheeks. 'I'm not in the mood to be funny with you.'
'I'm not trying to be funny,' he said, all at once serious. We stopped just a few feet away from the Fire Pit, green locked with espresso. 'We have to talk about us. Or at least what you're going to do about Dom.'
Why did he honestly think that was going to solve all our problems?
'Is the weight of knowing I sent everyone in our class into a perpetual detention purgatory not enough suffering for me to handle today?' I hissed. 'How about we don't talk about us for one second? How about we get back to Hogwarts in pure silence and then maybe I'll feel like humouring you? How about that?'
James narrowed his eyes, a marble mask slipping over his features. 'Sure Jenelle. Whatever you say.' With that, he turned and headed towards the Fire Pit.
Fuming, I trudged after him.
'Hey,' James and I chorused to Flora at the same time. We shot each other a look; me, annoyed, him, amused.
'Both of you shut the fuck up and never speak to me again.'
James raised his eyebrows and palms in surrender, spun 180 degrees on his heel and walked away.
She rounded on me, expression blazing with livid fury. 'What part of don't speak to me don't you understand? This is all your fault. Because of you and your shitty fucking plan everyone knows I'm the one who told Newton and Fig about the party and they all fucking hate me! Because of you! You and Fred Weasley! You are horrible people. For all I know this was your plan to begin with. And don't think for a second I'm not telling everyone that this was your idea—bitch.'
Appalled, I tried to say something but Flora roughly shouldered past me, taking a seat as far away from James as possible. So, at the complete opposite end of the Pit.
What could I even say?
She was absolutely right.
It was my and Freddie's fault—or maybe just my fault—that Flora had never been told not to tell Newton and Fig. My fault for even being so manic and erratic that I'd demanded a way out Freddie Weasley style.
Honestly, all the Weasleys ought to come with a disclaimer: 'Approach with SEVERE caution. All are more likely than not to lie, manipulate, fuck shit up and come up with soul destroying plans they think are actually good. All stupider than they sound.'
Feeling even more awful than before—something I didn't think possible—I took my seat beside James.
'That didn't look like it went well,' he commented, rolling the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows, exposing his tan arms.
I looked away quickly.
'It didn't. Now shut up and don't talk to me.'
I couldn't sit still. I fidgeted and jumped around every half-second that passed by, thinking I spotted someone, hoping the knot in my chest would eventually ease up, hoping that Dom would come bouncing in, flanked by Freddie and Luke.
I knew for a fact that this wouldn't happen; knew with certainty they were back at Hogwarts, being punished to the severest degree, but I couldn't help that my stomach sank anyway as time ticked on by and no one else appeared.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see James looking at me.
'What?' I said exasperatedly. 'Spit it out.'
'I did talk to you, Jenny.' His tone was sincere, expression unguarded and honest. 'I'm not lying about it. I did come to you.'
My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. 'I thought I said I didn't want to talk about it.'
'I need to explain myself to you. Can I least do that?'
Before I could say any more, Newton and Fig walked out onto the stage wordlessly. The three of us—Flora, James and I—fell silent immediately as scary, dreadful hush fell over the Fire Pit. I thought back to just a week ago, when all fifteen of us were huddled around the roaring fire, eating and talking and having fun. James had still been with Flora, packing on the PDA, making me nauseous, but I'd been able to forget it for a moment … because I had Dom.
Newton pointed her wand at her neck and addressed us.
'Er, hi you three … so, I'm just going to get right to it. Some pretty awful stuff happened last night. For those of you who don't know, there was a, um, gathering that was thrown in one of the houses that wasn't authorised for Hogwarts students to use. As a result, we're being … well, we're being evicted really. We are no longer welcome here.
'Not only did the students caught—er, found at the scene of the misconduct, break the rules of the conditions in which we were allowed to stay here, but they also broke Hogwarts' rules of an unauthorised … ball … and distribution of alcohol to underage wizards.'
Newton drew in a huge breath, drawn, pale, tired and upset.
Great, just add her to my never ending list of people I have to feel guilty about.
'The students at the scene of misconduct have been appropriately punished and have returned back at Hogwarts. I am sorry to say that your peers have cut this trip short for rule-abiding students like yourselves—' I wanted to die '—and that we will be returning to Hogwarts promptly. Please gather your things and follow Professor Fig and I back to our cottage.'
James and I shared a look. He looked as grim as I felt.
A minute later and we were all stood around a hairbrush that I strongly suspected belonged to Fig—because nothing but razor sharp bristles could guarantee not a single hair was out of place in her severe bun.
It glowed blue.
I put my finger on the Portkey, felt that nauseating fish hook tug at my navel—and we were gone.
'At least now we know they've really gone back.'
James took my duffle out of my hands and put it in the rack above our seats. I examined him—well, his back really and stared at his muscles stretch and tauten underneath his shirt.
I couldn't believe what alcohol could make me brave enough to almost do.
When he turned back around, I looked away quickly and took my seat, clearing my throat.
'Yeah.' James plonked himself down opposite me and gazed out the window at the now empty platform.
Despite feeling like shit, it was actually kind of a relief to be going back to Hogwarts. I couldn't wait to get back in my warm soft bed, eat delicious food we didn't cook, see familiar faces, and Merlin did I want to get on a broom again. The urge to fly had been itching at my fingertips for ages now. Just thinking about it flooded me with anticipation.
'Why do you think we didn't just Portkey back to Hogwarts? Or Hogsmeade at least,' I continued, just to fill the silence. More talking meant less staring. And trust me, it was hard not to stare. Coming dangerously close to sex was having a … not good effect on me. Where James was concerned at least. 'And what about sending Freddie and them back in the middle of the night? Where's the logic in that? They've only got detention.'
Questions. Questions were good.
'Who knows? I reckon McGonagall's going to want a word with them …' James trailed off. 'And I have no idea why we didn't just Portkey back. Seems like a lot of trouble for nothing.'
'Maybe something's going on at Hogwarts? Or the village?'
James raised his eyebrows. 'Like what?'
'Er … a concert?'
'Er ... maybe?'
'Nothing ever happens at Hogwarts.'
'Lots of things happen at Hogwarts,' I defended. 'The Quidditch Accords—'
'The Quidditch Accords?' he echoed with disbelief. 'That only exists because we're all bored stiff with nothing else to do. No war to fight. No Dark Lords trying to kill us every year. We're starved for anything else.'
I was truly affronted by this. I happened to love the Quidditch Accords. They added even more drama and competition to already simmering and heated House rivalries.
What was more fun than the build up to a huge match?
Quidditch players ducking and diving out of corridors, barely missing prohibited hexes and jinxes as they flew by, highly sought after thieves breaking and entering into dormitories to steal playbooks or essential gear in an effort to weaken their opponents, elaborate pranks orchestrated in last ditch cracks at postponing matches … okay, so maybe the Accords had made us a little crazier than normal, but who cared? It was fun.
'Watson was almost decapitated after my brother's thief hexed him wrong. What more of a war zone do you need?'
James snorted. 'I'm just saying—nothing's happening at Hogwarts.'
'Maybe it's the Riots,' I goaded, feeling strangely reckless and combative. I knew I just wanted to argue with him. And I knew full well he knew I knew barely anything about the Riots, being woefully behind on reading the news and involving myself with current affairs.
It was probably the only thing that I thought James truly found irritating about me. He, along with the rest of his family, was constantly up to date with politics and debated heatedly with anyone who had the misfortune to find themselves in their crosshairs. He thought it was stupid that I didn't have an opinion on anything.
But I did.
He just didn't like many of them.
'You know it's not the Riots,' James said flatly. 'Why would they protest at Hogwarts?'
I bit the inside of my cheek before I could say 'Because of your family?'
I wanted to rile James up, but I wasn't that suicidal.
'You're right. Never mind. Newton's probably lost her head a bit.'
James suddenly grinned crookedly. 'No one's going to hate you, if that's what you're worried about. How many parties have been broken up before? How many students of dear old Hogwarts have suffered through detention because they got caught at one? No one's going to blame you.'
'Maybe,' I said grudgingly. I folded my arms over my chest and settled in as the train sounded off and began to move away from the platform. 'But they're all going to blame Flora.'
James rolled his eyes. 'She was an idiot for even going to Newton and Fig in the first place.'
Despair struck me once again.
God, how did not even one of us tell her? I thought I told Freddie to do it!
I wished I could speak to him to find out what the hell had happened.
'How can you not even care about how she feels?' I demanded instead. He looked at me, surprised by the sudden venom in my tone. 'I think it's sick that it's just a fact now how you used her—' James' eyes darkened '—but don't you feel even an ounce of guilt?'
'Of course I do!' he snapped.
'Don't you know how immature that is—'
'You know what?' he said abruptly, flicking his gaze out the window again, jaw locked and muscles taut with tension. 'You were right. Let's not talk.'
Both furious and fuming, we sat in silence, stewing in our inability to get past what annoyed us about each other the most, studiously pretending to be engrossed in watching the scenery whizz by.
Whatever physical attraction I had for James would always clash with my disdain for the immature, impulsive boy that hurt Flora, hurt me, all in an effort to cushion his own precious feelings.
And yeah, maybe he thought about me every now and then but only when it suited him and, yeah, maybe he cared about me too but to what end? Friends cared about friends, there was nothing special about that. He had taken a good and happy thing and turned it into a hellish inferno of lies and jealousy and pain. Surely there was a better way to have handled the whole thing?
And I wasn't forgetting Dom either.
I had to ask her. As soon as I saw her. For real this time.
'Want to play Exploding Snap?' James asked suddenly, tearing me out of my reverie. 'No talk.'
'Huh? Oh, yeah. Why not.'
Maybe he'd get his eyebrows blown off.
James got out his pack of Exploding Snap cards and sank cross-legged onto the floor. I sat opposite him and watched as he dealt out the cards. He looked the same as ever—but we were a little different. Or maybe I just realised we were different. We'd both seen sides to each other that we never thought existed. And that had to count for something …
I'd spent so long beating myself up over what I'd done wrong after he'd broken up with me, wallowing in self-pity and all the regular motions of teen angst and now that I knew that Dom's lies had been the cause of it all … that he'd broken up with me over nothing …
It just sucked.
Because there was nothing we could do about it now except think about how meaningless the past two weeks had been. James thought I cheated on him and I thought he cheated on me—all because of one stupid lie that he chose to believe.
'Oi! Before they explode out of impatience, Clarke!'
Friends, I thought firmly. Just like the good old days.
I was his friend … and I had a massive crush on him.
I kicked the door to my dormitory open and almost cried when I saw my four poster bed, neatly made, burgundy curtains knotted aside with gold rope. As I drew closer, I spotted a single daffodil laid out on the edge beside a card that read: Dear Missus Clarke, Twinkle is welcoming Miss Clarke back! He cannot wait for you to come visiting him in the Kitchens! Love, Twinkle xxxxx.
I did actually tear up a bit at that.
God I loved house-elves and their weird little ears.
No one was here. Not even Ze Devonshire or Katie Silverleaf, though I supposed they were probably out enjoying the weather. I tossed my duffle unceremoniously on top of my trunk and nearly jumped out of my skin as the bathroom door flew open with a bang. Dom ran out, skidding to a stop, toothbrush still in her mouth, eyes wide and astonished.
I stared at her, blood turning to ice.
'Jenny!' she cried, except it sounded more like 'Henny!'
I stumbled back as she half tackled me in a hug. I patted her shoulder, waiting until she dislodged herself from me to smile at her.
The sight of her made my heart twist painfully.
'Henny,' she said again, then held out a finger. 'He righ hack—' she darted back into the bathroom and I heard the familiar sounds of spitting and gargling.
I took this moment to flop back on my bed, almost moaning in pleasure at the feel of the cosy mattress and my comfy duvet.
Hogwarts truly was home.
Dom reappeared after a moment, beaming.
'You're back! I thought for a hot second maybe they were crazy enough to make you guys finish the rest of the project without us but that's insane because what's even the point you know?' Dom drew in a deep breath and jumped on my bed. 'It was fucking mental. We were just all dancing and having a good time when Freddie bangs into the bedroom—you and James had gone by this point I think and don't think you aren't telling me every torrid detail about that, by the way—but anyway, he's like, where the fuck is Flora guys, did anyone see her leave? And we're like, what? No? And he just books it. Obviously now we know he was running to get that stupid twat—but it was too late, she'd told Newton—but Freddie hadn't bothered to warn us what she was going to do when he went after and—well, none of us have weekends. Or weekdays. Or lives. Until the end of the term at least.'
I gaped at Dom wordlessly.
So Freddie hadn't told Flora.
She hadn't just left the party, put her robe on and burst into my room because she wanted to have a 1 A.M. chat … Not that I really thought that was what happened.
But a girl could hope.
'Jesus fucking Christ. Does everyone hate Flora then?'
Dom's blue-green eyes narrowed into slits. 'Of course they do. Knobhead. She fucked up everything for us and Merlin knows why. But you, by the way, are a legend—' What the hell? '—Throwing the party that got us kicked off the Muggle Studies trip that's been going on for ten years without a hitch? Truly iconic. They're calling it the best party ever thrown. Even better than Teddy's historic and revolutionary party that got Hogwarts shut down for the weekend. I heard Newton's reconsidering the whole thing now. But, you know, most of the people I've talked to are kind of glad they don't have to go through another trial again and me too, to be fair …'
'They were getting pretty rough …'
Dom stared at me. 'I still can't believe you and James weren't caught. You guys have such good timing.'
'Oh yes. We sure do,' I said with a nervous laugh.
'Poor Freddie though … He ran into Figgy.'
'Jenny, the dare. He came onto her so aggressively—mind you, he was belligerently drunk—and she slapped! She thought he was being hysterical or something. He's in the Hospital Wing right now still being monitored—'
'What?' I squawked, flabbergasted.
I had completely forgotten about those dares!
'Yeah, everyone has detention for the next two months, but Freddie and I are basically on house-arrest till the end of the year.' Dom's expression suddenly turned haughty. 'Because, you know, I flashed Newton. I almost gave the woman a heart attack. But at least she reacted. My tits were completely out and no one even cared. Honestly.'
I snorted, then covered my mouth with my hand. 'Sorry—it's not funny.'
Dom grinned. 'Freddie and I were going to get those detentions when we saw them anyway. It was inevitable. I'm just glad we were off our faces when it did …'
I supposed knowing that their students were heavily under the influence made it easier for Newton and Fig to swallow Freddie and Dom.
With hindsight and distance, the whole thing was kind of funny.
Until it wasn't.
'I need a shower,' I said suddenly, sliding off my bed, abruptly unable to look at her.
Dom blinked. 'Oh right. Yeah …'
'Wait for me to go down for lunch?'
'Oh—yeah! We can go visit Freddie.'
'Right. Freddie. Great,' I said, shutting the bathroom door behind me and expelling a breath I didn't realise I'd been holding in.
How could Dom act so friendly if she broke me and James up? How could she sit there and not die every time she looked at my face, knowing what she'd done to me? That wasn't normal behaviour for someone who'd done something horrible to their best friend, right? Maybe she really was a sociopath. Maybe it wasn't true. Sometimes, if things didn't make sense, they didn't mean to.
As I peeled my Muggle Studies clothes off and stepped into a hot, cleansing shower, it dawned on me how paranoid I was beginning to sound.
Dom chattered away, telling me how she'd been so exhausted when she came back she'd fallen asleep immediately and woken up just a few minutes before I'd arrived. She demanded that I tell her what happened between me and James. And since I wasn't feeling particularly keen on sharing intimate details of my life, lest she use them to, you know, ruin it again, I gave her a heavily edited version.
'That's it?' Dom said, dismayed. She looked away, shaking her head. 'You guys didn't even kiss? What the hell? I was imagining you had crazy hot sex or something. Mind you, I have to forcibly black out the fact that he's my cousin. God—now that I think about it was that a weird thing to say? Probably … But, anyway, of course you guys just fought … that's all you seem to do these days …'
I shot her a sharp look, which she didn't notice.
Was she being serious?
'Freddie first, then lunch?'
'You're right, food is more imp—'
I turned around.
'You!' I said, eyes widening. I took an involuntary step back as Blaze, my fifteen year old brother, hurtled towards me, beaming. 'Don't come any closer! Dom told me you haven't taken a shower in three days for some stupid bet and I don't want you to—BLAZE NO—URGH—'
I stumbled back as threw himself on me. I fought ferociously to push him off without touching him—no mean feat, might I add. The stench of him was overwhelming from a foot away and with his hair right up my nostrils, I knew for a fact that he'd burnt all of my remaining brain cells.
You've served me poorly brain cells, very poorly indeed.
For a fifteen year old, Blaze was annoyingly strong and wiry so I went still as statue and prayed for it be over. When he finally let go, I resisted the urge to retch all over the place. I glared venomously at him, though the effect was somewhat marred by the fact that my eyes were stinging from the foul odor of his body. He didn't even look sheepish or bothered that he stunk like a dustbin. He just looked stupid and idiotic, beaming at me like I was a mound of galleons.
'I'm going to murder you,' I told him very calmly.
'Not yet,' he said, still grinning, showing off the gap between his teeth. His dark brown hair was a curly mop of a mess on his head and his green eyes, lighter than mine, were bright. And he had his Quidditch gear on, I realised with a start. My eyebrows furrowed, automatically suspicious.
It hadn't even been one hour and already it had started.
'I come bearing a message.'
'What?' I asked waspishly, eyeing the only clean thing on him—his Captain's badge.
Blaze was the glory of the Clarke household thanks to his Captainship. Papa still wouldn't stop sending letters and boasting to anyone who would listen about his precious little son, the youngest Captain at thirteen of the Slytherin Quidditch Team in half a century. And it had been two years. But I knew he was only, pitifully, trying to compensate for Blaze's utter failure in every other department of life.
It wasn't Papa's fault for not understanding that Slytherins were the vilest creatures to come crawling out of Hogwarts—he went to Beauxbatons.
'I, as Captain, have come to tell you that we have booked the pitch tomorrow evening,' he said, dimples dimpling. 'I know Potter had some interesting delusion that it was his, but, alas.'
'Okay, I'm genuinely going to kill you—'
'I, as Captain, have a letter from Slughorn detailing the exact nature of our authority in this matter.'
'Well I, as person who doesn't give a fuck, can detail an excellent place to shove that letter—'
'All right, all right,' Blaze interrupted, looking, for the first time, a little miffed. Then, the elastic band he was, he snapped back into his regular, cheery self. 'You do realise we're playing the next match, right? Not you?'
'Yeah,' I said, grinning suddenly. I could almost feel Dom rolling her eyes behind me. She always said I got a little too predatory where Quidditch was concerned. I walked up to Blaze so we were almost nose and nose. It bothered me that he was actually taller than me. How was he growing so fast?
'But we're in the lead.'
'And we'll win,' he fired back without missing a beat.
Honestly, I wondered if he wasn't Lucifer reincarnated. He had all the insolence—just without the wings.
I scowled. 'Bye, Blaze.'
'I really missed you Jenny Penny!' he shouted suddenly. Then hugged me again and kissed me sloppily on the cheek. I made a noise of pure disgust and used all my strength to push him off me. 'Seriously, I missed you. Pix is the worst. She cornered me four times in the past two weeks to help me sort out my future with me. She said there were finally no obstacles. She called you an obstacle. And then she brought out the agendas, Jen. The agendas.'
I grimaced in genuine sympathy. Pixie was the worst. She had a penchant for extreme organising and an addiction to colour coding that she took as seriously as the possible second coming of Voldemort. She would do anything—like chain herself to Hagrid's hut to protest the use of Thestrals—to combat what she like to call "a lack of direction". I'd once seen her make an entire flow chart on the benefits of asking some bloke she fancied to the Yule Ball.
The truth was, she was just a crazy controlling lunatic who couldn't stop meddling in other people's lives and being annoyingly superior about it.
'Run,' I advised him sincerely.
'I can't wait for her to graduate,' Blaze said fervently. 'The day she's gone is the day I can walk Hogwarts a free man.'
'Until then,' I said, turning away. 'Gird your loins.'
'For what?' he called after me, confused. Then, abruptly, his tone changed. 'And hello Dominique Weasley! Don't think I didn't notice you ogling me! Hogwarts has missed your bum dearly!'
'Bye, Blaze,' Dom said, rolling her eyes and linking her arm with mine. I looked at her and was disturbed to find her smirking.
'I have a nice bum,' she said defensively, catching my look of revulsion. 'It's nice to have your assets appreciated every now and then.'
'Even if it's my brother?'
'Especially if it's your brother.'
I shoved Dom away. 'Disgusting!'
She laughed a loud, carefree cackle and I tried to enjoy it, waited for the involuntary, reactionary tug of my lips, but all it did was make my stomach roll.
Uneasy and heartsick.
'Oh there he is! Stupid clown can't even be in the Hospital Wing when he's expected to.'
'Eating with Rose, James and Luke and—oh my god—is that Scorpius Malfoy?'
'What?' I craned my neck, unable to believe my own ears.
'God it's good to be back. Don't know how I survived a single day without my daily IV of drama.'
I looked at her in disbelief.
Was ruining my life not enough drama for her then?
Before we left, Rose and Scorpius were a very will-they-won't-they couple. Lots of roundabout conversations, lots of visits to the Gryffindor common room, lots of heated arguments in the Great Hall, and even more make-up snogging sessions in the locker room (I had, unfortunately, been with James on one of these occasions and it had not been fun, let me tell you).
They'd teased the entire school for months about their relationship and it looked like in the two weeks that we were gone, they were dating for real this time.
I made a mental note in my head to confirm with Blaze about it later.
Sure enough, as I scanned the Great Hall, I spotted a shock of platinum blonde hair looking terrifically uncomfortable at the Gryffindor table. Rose was sat beside him, reddish brown hair wild and big, brown-green eyes glittering with mischief, seemingly enjoying Scorpius' palpable discomfort. Even from here I could tell that James was giving it his best effort to purposely make him feel awkward.
Rose and James were like a molotov cocktail when they were together. Oxygen and fire. Dumbledore and Grindlewald. A metal fork and an electrical outlet.
'We should probably rescue Malfoy,' Dom said, reading my mind.
'Probably not the first time in history that's ever been said.'
'Hello Scorpius. Nice to see your stunning face at the Gryffindor table,' Dom greeted as we walked up to them, flashing her teeth in a dazzling smile, rose gold curls spilling over her shoulder.
Luke and Freddie greeted us with a nod whilst James just gave me an unreadable look I was sure was meant to have me weak in the knees and begging him to get back together.
I made a face in response.
Scorpius smiled wryly. 'Hey Dom. Good to see you back. You too, Jenny.'
'Thanks, it's good to be back,' I said, sliding in next to James, ignoring his slightly pleased expression.
Dom sat next to Freddie, opposite Luke, quickly filling her plate with food.
'Things haven't changed much I see,' she said, looking pointedly at Rose and Scorpius.
Rose raised her eyebrows ever so slightly and ignored Dom completely. Her inquisitive and overly perceptive eyes darted between me and James. I tried to warn her with my eyes not to ask but I don't think she got it. That or she chose to ignore me too.
Most likely it was the latter.
Then, like the evil pot stirrer that she was, she grabbed Scorpius' hand, lacing their fingers together in a vice-like grip and slammed it on the table, making the cutlery clatter, for everyone to see. With their entwined hands very visible, she cocked her head to the side, the corner of her mouth quirking up.
Freddie raised his eyebrows, very impressed by this power move.
'Heard you threw a party that got you all kicked out,' she said, choosing to ignore Scorpius' pink face as he struggled to retrieve their hands off the table. 'Is it true?'
I swiped an apple and bit into it, wiping the dribble of juice than ran down my chin. I met Rose's gaze defiantly.
'Yeah. I did.'
Rose exchanged a look with Scorpius, feigning amazement; Scorpius grimaced back, eyes darting furtively to James, who was watching them coolly, no doubt revelling in his masculine duty to intimidate his cousin's boyfriend. He hadn't had very many opportunities to showcase this brilliant display of idiocy with Lily yet, so I was sure he was milking it.
God smite Hogwarts the day that girl started dating.
'Wow, Jenny. That is really cool—'
'—so are you fucking my cousin again?'
Freddie spat out his pumpkin juice, spraying it all over Scorpius.
'Gah!' He shot to his feet, rubbing a white uniformed sleeve all over his face, thoroughly disgruntled. 'I'm wet!'
I saw Luke disdainfully flick a drop of pumpkin juice off his cheek. I tried to hide my smile as he shook his head, grumbling, and continued eating.
'Very observant, my boyfriend!' Rose said, grinning at the way he glared at her. 'Stop being a baby—here—' she waved her wand, drying his shirt and siphoning off the juice. Scorpius muttered a thanks and sat back down, probably upset he didn't have a reason to run away anymore.
'Sorry mate,' Freddie said sarcastically. 'Rose just has such a way with words, you know? Basically Shakespeare reborn.'
'Yeah, I know,' Scorpius muttered.
Rose arched a perfect eyebrow at him, then turned back to me, expression cool and icy.
I mentally groaned.
'Oh come on, Rose,' I began. 'You know it wasn't my fault.'
Her nostrils flared. 'I blame you entirely. James is an idiot. You were meant to make the decision. Not him.'
'What?' James cried. 'I am not an idiot!'
Rose silenced him with an incensed look. 'You are banned from speaking directly to me.'
'Aw, come on Rosie!' James made a great spectacle of himself, pretending to be hurt. 'We had to go! We would've failed the class otherwise! It was part of our coursework and you know that—'
'I don't know anything.' She whipped her head around at once to Freddie, who had his mouth open. 'Don't say it!'
Freddie was crestfallen. 'Are you a Legilimens?'
'Who needs to read your mind when you might as well have a thought bubble growing out of your head at all times?'
'At the risk of adding more fuel to this fire—can I ask a question?' Dom raised her fork, waving it dangerously close Freddie's eye. Everyone turned to look at her. 'Why the fuck are you making me watch Scorpius experience these micro-aggressions?'
'Please leave me out of this—'
'Shut up Scorpius, and this is none of your business Dominique—'
'James put Watson in charge while we—'
'I did what I thought was best for my team!'
'Your team? If you cared about this team the way I thought Jenny did—'
'Rose! I told him to pick you—'
'SHUT UP!' roared Luke.
Six pairs of eyes swivelled to him. He glared acidly back.
'What does a man have to DO to simply ENJOY a spot of LUNCH in PEACE.' Luke got up in one swift motion, snatched a buttered bread roll off a sliver platter and stormed out of the Great Hall.
Almost all the girls at our table craned their necks to watch him leave.
'Is it just me,' Rose said mildly. 'Or did he get much fitter over two weeks?'
Scorpius banged his forehead against the table.
'Just me then?'
I was officially driving myself mad.
It was the evening and the five of us were lounging in the common room, waving hellos and making small chat with everyone who dropped by. Most of the team had stopped to thank Merlin himself that we were back—apart from Eddie Parry, our Beater, who was no doubt holed up in the Library, stressing over his NEWTs—and it was slightly alarming to hear the overall consensus that things were falling to shit without us.
Other than that, Dom's easygoing, relaxed attitude had been slowly grating away at my nerves. I was getting inexplicably irritated with everything that she said and did and I knew if I didn't ask her soon, I'd teeter off the deep end completely. Everything about her made me angry and upset.
Unfortunately, or fortunately rather, I kept getting barraged with distractions.
Ella had been completely miserable when she plonked down with us, filling us in on how she had spent the entire day with Longbottom repotting various different plants with varying degrees of desires for human flesh; her blonde hair was matted with dirt, freckled face a bright pink, streaked with soil and other unidentifiable substances.
She looked at Freddie and Dom forlornly now. 'But I haven't got it as bad as you two, I suppose.'
Freddie puffed out his chest. 'Dom and I have been banned from Hogsmeade before. We'll survive.'
Dom nodded sagely. 'And we haven't learnt from our mistakes.'
Ella sighed deeply, then shot a furtive look up at the boy's dormitory. Her pale green eyes turned to me, and they were brimming with disappointment.
'Patrick's seen me twice today and hasn't said a word,' she confided. 'Makes me feel like shit.'
My heart went out to her. 'Babe, you're Ella Sommers. He's punching and he knows it. He's probably nervous as hell and has no idea what to say to you. Maybe you should go up to him and talk to him first, though, if you really want to.'
Her eyes widened. 'What? Like go up to his room right now?'
I shot a sideways glance at Luke and James, the former engrossed in a book by the fire and the latter engrossed in conversation with Knox Whisp, a golden haired boy in the year below. He was a great-great-great-grandson or nephew of the famed Kennilworthy Whisp, author of Quidditch Through The Ages, and strutted around the school with his identical twin brother pretending they were royalty.
'He's up there with Weird Milo right now,' Freddie informed Ella.
She groaned and pouted. 'I need a bath. A long, boiling bath. I think may have Ebola.'
'Er …' Luke said warily, tearing himself away from his book. 'At the risk of starting a debate, you can't catch those from plants can you?'
Ella shot him a deeply unhappy look. 'They were very … handsy.'
We all grimaced, not wanting to think about what that meant but unable to help it either.
'Anyways,' she said with another sigh. 'I'll see you guys up there. Night boys.'
'Night!' we all chorused as she lumbered off to the girl's dormitory.
'She can do so much better than Patrick Raj,' Dom said as soon as she was gone, eyes flashing to Freddie then me. 'He isn't even that cute.'
'Not everyone can have your standards, Dom.'
'What? Models and Quidditch players? Yes they can.' She raised her chin haughtily. 'They're just not likely to meet them anytime soon. Unlike me.'
'Can I drink your blood?' Freddie asked seriously. 'I want to harness your confidence.'
Thankfully, Harper Rogers, our Seeker, flounced in at that exact moment, face brightening as she spotted me and James, saving us all from hearing Dom's reply.
'James! Jenny!' She hugged James, who seemed pleased, then me. 'I'm so glad you guys are back! The past two weeks have been an absolute mess! Eddie and Rose do not get on by the way—they got into it at every practise—arguing about plays—Rose said they were horrible—'
'Those were mine,' James muttered.
Harper shot him an apologetic look. 'Oh—well—right. Anyways, I'm so glad you two are back. We were falling apart and Slytherin's thieves have tried looting Eddie's room and Hufflepuff have been absolutely hogging the pitch—'
'They must think I left Parry in charge,' James said, frowning. 'And I thought I'd sorted pitch slots with Hooch—'
'Vince Holliday called an emergency parlay with the Pitch Committee—kicked us off eight times—he's threatening to take the matter to the Accords—says they're playing Slytherin next and we're being ridiculous—'
'Ridiculous?!' I cried, looking around for support. Dom merely raised her eyebrows; Freddie rolled his eyes; Luke wasn't paying attention. 'Is he insane? Someone, please tell he's been admitted. Our match is what—a week away?!'
'Five weeks,' Harper corrected. 'He thinks we're being overzealous. Rose got detention for sending him the Bat-Bogey Hex.'
'Of course she did,' James grumbled. 'Never mind this now, Harper. Thanks for telling me though. We'll figure it out.'
'We should go to Holliday now!' I said hotly, rounding on him. 'Tell him he has no business taking this to the Accords! He had no right to call a parlay—'
'Oh for fuck's sake,' Dom said loudly, interrupting me mid-tirade. 'It's been less than twenty-four hours and already it's been blah blah blah Accords blah blah blah parlay blah blah blah let's go pummel some Beaters—like can we get real for a second? McLaggen most definitely knocked up his girlfriend? Why has no one been discussing this?'
'People have been discussing it,' I snapped.
Harper stared at Dom, no doubt only now becoming aware that her audience included her, Freddie and Luke. She went slightly pink as her wide hazel eyes landed on Luke, who hadn't looked up from his book since Ella had left.
'Er … sorry …' Harper turned a deeper shade of pink. 'I didn't mean to ramble on about Quidditch. I should go anyway. I need to get some revision in.'
'Good luck on your mocks OWLs!' I called out to her as she bounded up the dormitory stairs. I faced Dom with a scowl. 'We had to talk about Quidditch.'
'Yeah, yeah, I know, you're playing Ravenclaw. More blah blah blah—'
My scowl deepened as I looked away, turning even fouler as I caught James' questioning glance. He was looking at me like he knew what I was thinking.
That was it.
This was going to end.
'Dom?' I said, tearing my eyes away from James.
She looked up from filing her nails (she'd been meticulously sanding them for the past twenty minutes).
'Can we go upstairs? I need to talk to you.'
Her eyes visibly widened—shooting furtively to James and back.
'Yeah, of course …'
I got up and felt Freddie grab my wrist. I looked at him, expression impassive.
'Even if it's true,' he whispered. 'You have to remember it's Dom.'
'That means nothing to me,' I said coldly.
I pulled away and went after her.
Freddie's words rang in my mind, losing their meaning as they drifted in and out.
Did I really still believe that there was some rational explanation for all of this?
Maybe she had a brain tumour. Maybe she was possessed by a demon. Demonic possession was a thing, wasn't it? Don't tell me vampires were real and demons were not.
Dom sat on her bed, expression expectant and eager.
I could hear the shower in the bathroom running and our other roommates were probably still at dinner.
'What's up?' she asked. 'Is this about James? I knew you were lying when you told me you two just argued.'
I drew in a huge breath and looked at her, dread welling up inside me. I was the least confrontational person I knew next to possibly James and now I remembered why. Anxiety expanded in every nerve of my body. My heart thumped loudly and I could hear it in my ears. Blood rushed to my cheeks. Part of me wanted to forget it and flee.
But then—was I really a Gryffindor for nothing?
Why was I so afraid?
'Dom,' I said, sucking in another deep, steadying breath. Merlin, my hands were trembling. 'First of all—I know this is weird.' I let out a nervous laugh as Dom's brow met quizzically. 'This is very weird. And I don't want you to think I'm angry or starting a fight or anything but … I just want … just wanted to know something?'
God, this was pathetic.
Worry flickered across her features. 'Are you okay? Am I okay? What's going on?'
Okay. If I didn't do it now, I never would.
'Did—did you tell Luke and James that I wanted to be with Luke?'
Dom went suddenly still. Her expression froze in that mask of mild concern. She was a marble statue.
And it was confession enough.
A shadow fell across my heart.
But I wanted to hear her say it.
'I won't get mad if you did.'
Dom, however, didn't move. Her face was parchment white, eyes glittering.
I felt like crying.
My best friend, I trusted her, loved her. It still didn't make any sense. I didn't want it too. Make it a lie. Make it not true.
'Dom.' My heart was beating wildly now. 'You're kind of scaring me.'
She blinked. Then looked away, expression blank as ever. Then—
'I knew something was different ... So they … told you?'
Something exploded at the bottom of my stomach, like someone had punched it. Fiery, racing hot pain spread through my veins, straight to my heart. My hands fisted by sides. A headache began to pulse behind my eyes.
'Does it matter? Is it true?'
Dom turned her gaze away, dazed and distant. Her lips were drained of blood, pale. She licked them now.
'I—I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I-I don't know what to say, Jenny—I was—I was going to tell you, honestly, I was—I was. But I wanted … to fix things … I was waiting for the right time to tell you—I—' Dom covered her mouth with a hand abruptly, her voice edging towards hysteria. I saw her eyes fill with tears. But they wouldn't meet mine. 'I'm so—I'm so sorry.'
It was strange, but I found that as she spoke I became surprisingly calm. Maybe I knew deep down, all along, that this wasn't going to end any other way. The truth had fought so viciously against my own denial. But it couldn't be denied any longer. For some unknown, abstract, never to be comprehended reason, Dom had told my boyfriend and one of my best friends a lie she couldn't come back from.
'Why?' It was hard to say anything at all. My throat was tight, a hot stone lodged there. 'Why Dom?'
'Because I thought Luke fancied you,' she said, voice barely above a whisper. 'And I … I felt rejected and unwanted and … and angry and it's not an excuse. I was so stupid. I was wrong … I made a mistake, Jenny! I didn't want anything to happen to you. I thought Luke wanted to be with you, I thought if I told James he'd want to talk to Luke, not you … And there's no excuse—I wanted to hurt Luke, not you—' tears fell down her face fast now and she buried her head in a hand, fingers knotting in her copper curls '—then James wanted to ask you, he got angry with you and—and—and I've been … I've been trying to fix it … b-but I didn't know how without f-fucking everything up and r-ruining our friendship—'
'You've already fucked everything up.'
My mind spun dizzily, headache throbbing.
I buried my face in my hands and tried to compartmentalise.
What did I do now? What was my next move? Where did I go from here? Ask her and then what? I had never thought about what I was going to do if it was acutally true … Did I tell James and Luke? Did I keep it secret? Did I forgive her? How could I? How could I forgive her?
'Please, Jenny … say something …'
'I don't really know what to say right now. I don't understand any of it. I get that you fancy Luke, I get that. But I spoke to him and he doesn't like me like that. If you'd just taken a minute and asked him that yourself—'
'Shut up, Dom,' I snarled viciously. 'If you'd asked him, you'd've found out the same. I understand you felt unwanted and rejected. But the fact is you lied. You straight up fucking lied about me. You ruined my relationship with James. We didn't just break up, we're fucking ruined. And the fact that you would go up to both James and Luke and tell them that I didn't like James anymore—it seriously fucking baffles me. Seriously. You're supposed to have my back and I—I don't even know what to say. What the hell were you even trying to accomplish? Who were you specifically trying to fuck over? Because you fucked us all, in case you were keeping score.'
Dom was still crying, silently and without a fuss. 'I can't explain it. There are no excuses, Jenny. None. I don't even know why …' Her voice turned watery and thin. 'I was just so angry with Luke and I just told James and—and I—I couldn't stop it … I acted impulsively—stupidly—I was jealous. A jealous fucking bitch. I completely understand if you don't want to even look at me right now. I just … I wish …'
'James says he asked me about it,' I heard myself say; my voice sounded distant, far away and thin. Her words were ash in my mind. None of them were real. None of them meant anything or mattered. 'That he did confront me. But I don't remember that ever happening. He's sure it did. I'm sure it didn't. How is it that he asked me if I liked Luke and I don't remember it?'
Whatever blood was left drained from her face.
'Jenny I … I'm so sorry …' Her voice caught in her throat, in a gasp.
It was her tone that rattled me the most.
I wiped my eyes furiously with burning palms and looked up at her, expression hard, flat.
Quel est le fruit que les poisson détest le plus?
'I … I …' Tears stained her face, making her glow. She'd always been a pretty crier. 'Please Jenny. I panicked—I didn't think—It was so wrong of me. Please—'
'What did you do?' I sounded terrified, even to my own ears.
'I Confunded you,' she whispered. Her delicate features crumpled and she buried her face in her hands, so the words were muffled as she went on. 'I was scared—I didn't know what to do—I didn't even do it right, I've never done it before but—He was going to ask you—I-I didn't think—And then you—' She looked up at me, breathing hysterically. 'I didn't know what to do! He would've hated me! You would've—I was going to tell you—I didn't know how I—I ruined everything so b-badly—' She dissolved into quiet sobs. 'I'm so, so s-sorry.'
'You—you Confunded me?' I said, horrified.
Nothing else had processed past that. I got up at once, not sure what I was going to do next. For a second, I didn't believe her. She couldn't've Confunded me. That was just … that was crazy. That was what a crazy person would do.
Quel est le fruit que les poisson détest le plus? Quel est le fruit que les poisson détest le plus. Quel est le fruit que les poisson détest le plus.
My eyes pulsed, my neck itched.
In a way, I was actually kind of impressed at the lengths she went to to keep this lie up.
'Please tell me you're joking. Please tell me this is one big joke. Please, Dom.'
'I-I'm sorry,' she said, getting up and wiping her eyes with her sleeve. 'Jenny, I will never be sorry enough. I was going to tell you. I fucked up, I made a mistake and I know—I know I hurt you—I was trying to figure out how—I'm—I am so, so, so sorry—'
'Stop apologising—just shut up!'
Dom flinched. She looked back at me with huge watery eyes and I didn't recognise her. She was a stranger, an imposter for someone I thought I knew. Someone who acted on impulse, who had no sympathy for others, who didn't care about anyone but herself. She fucked me over to spare her own jealousy and insecurity and she had the audacity to feel sorry?
'Fuck you, Dom,' I spat.
I grabbed my robes and left, blazing past Freddie who got to his feet the instant he caught the look on my face, but I ignored him and got the hell out of there, away from her. I felt possessed—with rage, with heartbreak of a different kind, with a wound so deep and raw, I thought I might be sick. I walked aimlessly through the corridors. I didn't know where to go—my mind rattled with thoughts swaying rapidly. My world tilted out of axis.
I walked and walked and somehow ended up in the Owlery. The furthest, most isolated place in the castle I could think of in my dizzy, swimming fury. The weather was mild and nicer than usual for Scotland in April and everything was so beautifully at peace. The Forbidden Forest, green and lush, and the mountains that peaked far beyond them were snowy and ancient. I felt a million years old.
I sat down at the threshold of the balustrade and drew my knees up to my chest.
Looking out at the grounds, I began to cry. Quietly, without a sound, into the sleeves of my uniform robes.
So ... finally. Jenny finally, after a day and a half-ish of putting it off, she finally confronted Dom. And I know it's still not crystal clear why Dom did it—but if she explained it any clearer she'd be more Evil Villain Explaining Her Diabolical Plan and less Scared She Got Caught Trying Not To Hyperventilate best friend.
It would probably also make sense to give credit to James Blake's song Retrograde for helping me write the last chunk of this chapter because it really encapsulated Jenny's whole emotional range and her thoughts during her conversation with Dom. Seriously, if you can, listen to it and read it.
But for more clarity, if anyone wants it, I think we can assume she was being a horrible, selfish, self-centred, egotistical bitch out for vengence and wanted James to get angry with Luke, her ultimate goal being hurting Luke, so she told Luke Jenny might like him. When James hadn't gotten angry and aliented him from the group, she told James there was something going on between them and that made things infinitely worse. Because James wanted to talk to Jenny, he didn't care about Luke. And then Dom Confunded her.
Also, the reason I wanted to put this chapter up as quickly as possible is because I'm starting my masters on Monday! Ahh! So I'm going to be rather busy and won't have time to come back to this as often as I'd like (but don't worry, I'd never abandon this story!). But I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter! Let me know your thoughts!
And just quickly—before I truly begin writing an essay over here—can I just say I think I have the best reviewers in the entire world? Every single one of you guys leave me the most in-depth, thoughtful, incredibly insightful reviews that make me feel so warm and happy—it's honestly indescribable! I know I'm being a sop but just, it's crazy you guys would take the time to write about this story and these characters with so much thought!!! It genuinely makes me reconsider what's already been written and the future chapters to come because you guys make such valid and interesting points. So thank you for basically helping me write this story!! I LOVE YOU GUYS <3.
Also—Quel est le fruit que les poisson détest le plus? is French for what fruit do fish hate the most.
(And sorry for this disgustingly long A/N. Congrats if you got through it haha).
Love always, P. See you guys in the next chapter!! xxxx
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