by the ridiculously talented milominderbinder @ TDA x.
I woke up early—as had become my routine over the past week—to avoid Dom.
Her bed was right next to mine and she never drew the hangings shut so everyday I was greeted by the sight of her sprawled over, mouth open, soundly sleeping as if nothing in the world bothered her at all.
I got dressed quickly and shot down the Great Hall, racing so fast through the common room I barely registered that James and Luke were coming through the other end. I shovelled in breakfast and when I was done—and I was done in about five minutes—I shot off again—only to find myself running straight into Pixie.
'Jenny,' she said, surprised but pleased.
'Pixie,' I greeted, just as surprised but wary.
She tucked her short dark gold curls behind her ears. Last year she'd donated about seven inches of hair to charity and was now sporting a pixie cut.
Very fitting, I know.
'Nice to see you back!'
Her hazel-olive green eyes flickered all over me, inspecting every inch of my body like a robot programmed to detect a flaw. She pushed her tortoise shell glasses up her button nose. Everyone always said we looked alike—but I just couldn't see it. About the only thing we had in common was that people frequently assumed we were about 4 years younger than we were.
Which was about too much for anyone to have in common with … anyone.
'Catching up easily? I would absolutely die if I missed two weeks, let alone a whole month!' She laughed. 'I'd be knee deep in homework for all my seven classes! Strange, don't you think, that you're still taking Muggle Studies? I thought you'd lose interest after you and James broke up … It's not exactly a respectable class, is it? Then again you're taking Care of Magical Creatures with Hagrid—'
My temper flared, already worn thin at her unexpected appearance and annoying voice.
'Shut up about Hagrid! Care of Magical Creatures is my favourite class—' an egregious lie, but what she didn't know wouldn't kill her '—Why are you even talking to me if all you're going to do is insult me!'
I hadn't even planned on seeing her until we broke off for the Summer but it was just my luck wasn't it!
Pixie actually had the audacity to appear hurt. 'Oh Merlin. I'm sorry. I didn't meant to insult you. Sorry. Really. I really am glad you're back. Blaze won't speak to me because he says the Accords have banned all Slytherin-Ravenclaw relations until their match with Hufflepuff. It doesn't make any sense but then the Accords never do …'
Blaze knew that Pixie didn't keep up with the Accords and she didn't know they couldn't've banned such a thing even if they tried.
Sneaky little bastard.
'Really,' I said dryly. 'How unfortunate.'
'I know! I was even going to start the agendas with him but the Accords …'
I shook my head, half impressed, half amused by Blaze's cunningness.
'Anyway … Double Defence next. I should get going. The early bird gets the worm and all.'
Pixie's expression brightened. 'Right you are! See you later Jenny! Good luck in your practise tonight!'
I rolled my eyes.
Only she would wish me luck for a practise.
Katie Silverleaf's ecstatic face swam into focus in front of me, grinning from ear to ear.
'Why are you just standing here?! Don't you have a break? Are you waiting for Professor Parry?!'
My brow furrowed. How did she know my schedule? Was she stalking me?
'You told me you wanted to go to the Library to study? You still wanted help with your Defence essay, right?'
I immediately felt guilty though I wasn't sure why exactly.
'Oh,' I said, shaking my head. 'Right. Yes. Let's go.'
We entered the river of students and I kept my eyes peeled. I was slightly on edge, which Katie seemed not to notice. She jumped almost instantly into a continuous blabber whilst I hugged my Potions book tight to my chest. I kept repeating over in my head what my reaction would be and what I would say if James happened to materialise in front of me.
Pleasant surprise—oh hi! I've been meaning to catch you—a look of sheepishness followed by a sorry, I've been a bit busy.
'… so then Flora told Celeste that she heard from Margaret that Harry told her that Holly knew that Ollie fancied her! Can you believe that?!'
It had been a week since my conversation with James.
I was avoiding him and he knew it.
'Did you hear me Jenny? Ollie fancies Flora! That's so cute!'
'What? Oh, er, yeah. Very cute.'
If cute meant the whole school was turning homicidal because of it. Homicidal specifically towards me. And Luke, I guess. I mean, everyone was practically frothing at the mouth at delicious gossip the Muggle Studies trip was giving them. Ollie going public with his love for Flora was turning people into lunatics, only at a faster rate.
It made things easier for them you see.
Luke and I were the villains, Ollie and Flora the heroes and James was the innocent bystander who got caught up in our silly mess.
It made my mouth fill with acid just thinking about the fucking injustice of it all.
For once—JUST FOR ONCE—I would like people not to think they're entitled to my life just because I dated James flipping Potter.
Anyways, the news had made speculation and rumour run rampant. The school had guessed, and correctly (for the life of me I still couldn't figure out how they did), that Luke had been the reason why me and James broke up. After all, why else would James end things so abruptly and nurse his wounded feelings with Flora? Why else would he end things with Flora if only because he knew that Ollie fancied her? James was just trying to mend his broken heart, bless him! It's all Jenelle's fault of course! Jenelle and Luke and their twisted affair that had started this all!
UGH! UGH! UGH!
So it looked like my fifteen minutes fame for throwing the Muggle Studies party that kicked us out had officially fizzled out.
I was just, at this point, waiting for my entire year to turn on me.
Because somehow—miraculously—Flora had yet to follow through with her threat to tell everyone that Freddie and I were the reason why twelve of them were banned from Hogsmeade. So for now it was only the younger years who were particularly hateful.
Still, it was always good to stay nice and paranoid.
And through all this nonsense I tended to mostly spend my time with Freddie.
The sexual tension between us seemed to range at an acceptable nonexistent to laughable according to general Hogwartian consensus, so it looked like we were allowed to hang out with each other without getting letters filled with Bubotuber pus or pixie dust.
You haven't heard wrong—actual pixie dust.
As in the illegal, Class Merlin drug.
Sprinkling like icing sugar over my morning tea and toast.
Except pixie dust would give you a high that would last all week.
McGonagall, angry at most of it, was particularly furious about that and instated a mandatory screening of all incoming mail. It was rather embarrassing but I hardly had the time to think about how I was the sole cause of an invasive school wide policy that further pissed my fellow classmates off.
Poor Luke had taken the worst hit of the pixie dust.
Whilst I was dizzy and hallucinated for an hour, he had to be sedated over night whilst Pomfrey flushed the minimal amount of drugs that'd entered his system. And I'd warned him not to open it, the stupid plum, but he said we might as well get a good laugh out of the hate mail.
And I suppose he got what he wanted ... He was laughing maniacally as he tried to strip his clothes off with the grand idea of running through the Great Hall naked …
He was all right now. People even began to like him again.
Then I saw her.
'Flora,' I called out impulsively.
She glanced over her shoulder.
'Jenny,' I heard Katie say. 'What are you doing—'
Flora's eyes widened when she spotted me half-jogging towards her. She hiked her bag over her shoulder and darted into a crowd of students filtering out of a class, disappearing before I could catch up.
I swore under my breath, scanning around.
I barely glanced back at Katie as I dismissed her. 'Er—I'll see you later Katie—I've got something to do—'
'OI! Hold up you fast freak!'
I whipped my head around and stopped when I saw Luke and Freddie running to catch up with me. James was no where in sight so I relaxed as they flanked me. Luke threw his arm over my shoulder, all our awkwardness forgotten.
God I really hated him when he thought he wanted to date me.
People, of course, stared in disgust. And I was just about to tell him to get off lest he wanted us both to get hexed when he spoke.
'A little birdie told me you have something to tell me.'
I gave up searching for Flora as I looked at Freddie sharply with a scowl.
'Does this little birdie have a big fucking mouth and a chronic inability to keep it shut?'
Freddie grinned back happily.
'Well.' I racked my brain quickly for a lie, too annoyed to think straight. 'I don't know what to tell you. Apart from get your arm off me unless you want to die.'
Side effect of being told you were Confunded by your best friend: you couldn't lie.
'Jenny,' Freddie said exasperatedly. 'Tell him now or I'll scream it down the corridor.'
I shot him an acid look.
Fine. No wanted to see me happy? Just fine.
'He has to know,' Freddie went on. 'He's involved too.'
I SAID FINE!
'Dom Confunded me, okay?' That's right. Tell him the way you told him how Gillian Andrews' pregnancy scare was blown out of proportion. Like you were reading a Potions book. Honestly though, I hadn't seen anyone break up with someone faster than Shiloh McLaggen did—and James Potter was my boyfriend once.
'That's why James believed her.'
Luke stopped walking so abruptly he nearly choked me. I met his blue-gold eyes, wide with astonishment, whilst massaging my throat.
'You are fucking joking.'
'I wish I was that funny.'
Luke swivelled his round-eyed gaze to Freddie, whose expression was grim. Luke looked back at me, mouth hanging open.
'Listen,' I said, glancing furtively down the steadily filling corridor. 'I don't really want to discuss it out in the open, but yeah. She told me the reason she lied to you and James was because she wanted James to fight you but instead you decided maybe I did fancy you and James thought, hey, maybe I'm a fucking idiot and that's true and wanted to fight me and then she Confunded me so I'd … I don't know … admit to being with you or whatever for Merlin knows what reason. And I obviously don't remember that happening so—' I threw my hands up to gesticulate the mess we were in now.
'Holy fucking shit.'
'No—holy fucking shit.'
'No, trust me, I know.'
'Remind me never to get in a stressful situation with Dom!'
'And your relationship with her was just a stroll in the park, was it?' Freddie muttered under his breath. 'Three sleepless months wasted in constant terror …'
'What did you say to her when she told you?' Luke wanted to know.
'I think I told her to shut up? I just left to be honest. I literally can't even look at her right now so who knows if I'll ever not feel hostile enough to not punch her throat.'
'I would be so fucking pissed.' Luke ran a hand through his straight, dark gold hair, shaking his head in incredulity.
'I am pissed,' I said, starting towards the Entrance Hall. 'She's a fucking idiot who has no idea how to process emotions the way normal people do. She should've just made a Burn Book or called me a slag or something. Anyways, I have a free period after the break. Should we visit Hagrid? We haven't seen him since we left.'
Luke grimaced apologetically, successfully distracted by the mention of Hagrid. 'Oh—I can't. Sorry. I'm meeting Jess for our Herbology project. We have to meet Longbottom in like …' He consulted his fancy new watch that his parents owl'ed him for his seventeenth. 'Fuck. Now. Shit.'
I grumbled. 'Fine.'
'Sorry, Jen,' Luke said. He waved us both off. 'But I'll see you guys in Charms!' With that, he took off, half jogging, half running down to the Green Houses.
'So what are you going to do?' I demanded Freddie.
'I think you're forgetting some of us actually have school,' he replied mildly. 'I don't have a free period. Arithmancy, remember?'
'Ah fuck. You're right. Fine. I'm going to see Hagrid by myself then.'
'I'm gonna catch up with James,' he informed me. 'Technically, Luke and I were here on official business to ask you why you were so obviously avoiding him. Thank god for me though, right? Spinning the conversation in another direction entirely to no detriment to you whatsoever. Not to worry—I'll tell him you're not thinking about him at all and that's why you're going to see Hagrid!'
'I'm not thinking about him!' I shouted after him as he spun around on his heel back to Defence. 'AND DON'T TELL HIM I'M GOING TO HAGRID'S!'
An hour later I trudged back up to the castle, stomach sloshing full of outrageously sweet tea. I honestly thought I might throw up. Which would be a great excuse to avoid Potions … Hmm, maybe I should time being sick just as Slughorn got in … That would really upset his delicate constitution and send me packing straight to the Wing …
I was walking down the steps to the dungeon classrooms, musing on this thought, when I heard voices.
My blood froze when I recognised them.
'I'm not asking you to force her! Just ask!'
'What the actual fuck are you talking about Dom? Are you trying to make a joke, hun? 'Cause you're not funny and it's not working—'
'Oh fuck this—'
'No fuck you! What the fuck is wrong with you! Why did you even do it!' Freddie's voice lowered into a sharp hiss. 'Why did you Confund her?'
My heart stopped.
What was Freddie doing.
I felt panicked. What should I do? Interrupt them? Walk away? Run away? Scream?
Dom made a sound like she was trying not to cry and had forgotten how to breathe in the same breath. 'Please Freddie. Please just tell her I need to talk to her—'
'I'm not telling her anything you lunatic! She has no reason to talk to to you and she hates you Dom! In fact, I'm having trouble understanding why I like you. Honestly, if we weren't family—we wouldn't be friends.'
There was silence.
'Okay,' Dom's voice rang, clear and emotionless. 'Whatever. I'm going in—'
'James is going to find out you know. Luke already knows.'
'He—?' Her voice cut off abruptly, strangled. 'Fine, Freddie.'
'Dom—why did you have to go that far? Like, fine, I get that you're a jealous vengeful insane bitch. Aren't we all when there's a guy involved but … Jesus fucking Christ. Confunding? How did you even do it?'
'I didn't do it to make James think she cheated on him!' Dom snapped suddenly, furiously and I could almost see her face it was so vivid in my mind. Cheeks flushed a glowing, rosy pink, eyes bright and flashing, stunningly blue-green. 'I told you—I was trying to fix it! I knew he was going to ask her about Luke—he all but told me he was going to break up with her but he just had to hear her say it and I realised how fucking badly I'd fucked up—'
'Oh you did, did you?'
'Shut up Freddie! I was going to tell her what I did but I saw James on the Map and I—' Dom faltered. 'Oh god, Freddie, I just panicked. I thought if I Confunded her she'd tell him he was being ridiculous but they wouldn't fight about it and they'd forget the whole thing and—'
'And you wouldn't get caught on your bullshit.'
'I didn't know how it worked. I didn't even know how to do it. The only thing I could think about was how angry Jenny would've been if he accused of her cheating on him with Luke.' Her voice was flat, dead in the memory. 'Could you imagine? They'd just had the fight about Watson …'
'Right,' Freddie said abruptly, unconvinced. 'But the thing is Dom—you also did it so you wouldn't get fucking caught. Like you have that much awareness don't you? You don't think I actually believe that you Confunded Jenny—who has never done or said a single fucking malicious thing to you in her life—because you wanted to spare James and her the bad feelings and the fight? Like shut up. You're annoying. And I'm actually going in—conversation over. Please chill and stay away from Jenny for as long as possible because—'
I left abruptly.
Back up the stairs, fingers numb, head ringing.
Dom was trying to get to me … trying to talk to me … what could she possibly have to say to me—
I jumped, heart flying to my throat, and whirled around, coming face to face with Weird Milo.
'Oh my god Milo,' I gasped. 'You scared the shit out of me.'
Weird Milo furrowed his brow, eyes darting down. 'Okay. You haven't actually defecated but … okay.' Then he walked away.
After a few minutes of lingering by the staircases like a weirdo, acknowledging classmates as they walked by and registered me in disinterested confusion, I finally made my way to the dungeon classroom, thinking enough time had passed now. I was even toeing the line of being late—but I was kind of hoping Slughorn would get irritated enough to send me away ... It also hadn't escaped my notice that I hadn't seen James walk in. Which meant he was already in the dungeon long before Freddie and Dom started hissing and spitting.
Suddenly, someone shouldered me and sent me stumbling forward, foot catching on my robes. I just managed to regain my balance as anger erupted inside of me like a lit flame. I righted myself and turned, ready to snarl—
Oh you had to be kidding me.
Finnegan Moss raised his eyebrows, slightly out of breath, eyes darting to the dungeon doors and back. Dry, he looked different. His eyes were still the same stormy, ocean blue, but his hair was curly, like Blaze's, dark gold and longer than I'd initially thought.
A little cherubic angel who was also a massive dickhead that liked to jam arrows up people's arses.
'What are you staring at? Please don't tell me you're going to ask me out again. Surely you can't handle getting rejected twice.'
I gaped at him, unable to believe that he was saying words at all.
'Well your—' I struggled (and I really struggled, cheeks puffed in anger) to say anything insulting at all. 'Your—face—it's so ugly—it's rejecting your soul!'
I shouldered past Moss, anger bubbling in my blood, and banged into the dungeon classroom.
'Miss Clarke!' Slughorn said, tching disapprovingly. 'Late! That will have to be five points off Gryffindor, my dear … please, take a seat quickly now …'
'Sorry I'm late Professor Slughorn,' I heard Moss say from behind me, voice deep, velvet aand apologetic. 'I got caught up with Professor Vector—we had some nasty work with imaginary variables—I ran all the way—'
'Not to worry Mr Moss, not to worry … Take a seat now … in the back, both of you, quickly now … We will be working in pairs today, so partner up with your bench mate and turn your attention to the front, if you please …'
I stared in disbelief as Moss took a seat, flashing me a devilish grin. Pure, unfiltered outrage rose like a searing hot tide inside me.
And people said Slughorn didn't give Slytherins special treatment!
I scanned around the classroom, unable to believe there wasn't a single other empty seat. But the class was packed. Ella (who mouthed sorry) was with Ze Devonshire; Dom (not that I considered sitting with her) with Marisa Rahimi; Katie Silverleaf with Chloe Lovell and all the way near the front, Freddie was with Luke on the other side of James, who met my gaze, betraying nothing.
I glared murderously at the back of Chris O'Conner's head, the git who'd taken my seat next to James.
Not that I'd consider sitting there either.
I bit back a noise of indignation.
Furiously, like a demented, lumbering troll, I plonked down beside Moss at the table we shared with Piers Lemmon and Weird Milo (as opposed to Milo Bennett, who was weird only because he liked to see how many doxy eggs he could stuff in his mouth without throwing up). I slammed my textbook on the table and, mouth pressed in a white line of rage, stared resolutely at the front.
I felt rather than saw Moss lean in to whisper, 'Merlin, woman. Unclench.'
'If I unclench, my nails will jam directly into your eyes and you will bleed to death in this cold dungeon and I will dance on your bones after I've dug them out of your grave and pulverised them into ash in front of your weeping mother!'
Moss whistled, impressed, positively radiating mirth.
I glared around the dungeons, trying not to hate everyone.
It was JUST my luck this would happen.
Because it wasn't enough that my best Confunded me and started a chain reaction of terrible decisions and unnecessary emotional trauma, I just had to be stuck with the boy who insulted and rejected me after I humiliatingly asked him to Hogsmeade (I was still trying to convince myself that I was on drugs at the time and I couldn't rule out that 99% of my hostility probably stemmed from deep-rooted embarrassement and a desire to overcompensate and pretend I'd never asked him out at all).
'All right!' Slughorn boomed, taking a seat in his chair, which groaned in effort to support his weight. 'Instructions are on the board! Get started! I want your vials before the bell rings.'
An hour later and we were fucked.
I probably should've warned Moss Potions actively tried to reject me.
No, really, I had a theory the dungeons had magically sprouted a sensor to detect my presence down here and fought viciously (via Peeves, random floodings and Death Day parties, just to name of few) to expel me.
So far, no dice.
I was still here.
'Oi, Clarke—oi. Are you going to help me with this or what? I don't really know how to pour the vial of wolfsbane and vervain essence and add the crushed beetle eyes without sprouting four more arms!'
My elbow underneath me gave way and I blinked blearily up at Moss. He was glaring at me, annoyed.
'That is the second time you've done that,' he said, irritation sparking in his eyes. 'I do all the bloody work and you just zone out—'
'Urgh,' I said, rubbing my temples.
'Do I have you to take you to the Hospital Wing?' he demanded, sounding like he'd rather Avada me instead.
'Oh shut up.'
'You drooled on my valerian sprigs! Our valerian sprigs, I should say, since I've had the misfortune to be partnered with your incompetence. But you do seem to genuinely enjoy doing the barest minimum—'
'All right!' I snapped, eyes lancing in a white-hot look up to meet his. 'What do you want from me?'
Potions was a right pain. Don't get me wrong, the theory of it was easy enough—I was actually surprisingly good at that—but it was the actual doing that messed me up.
It seemed so easy on paper, putting drops of this, measures of that, stirring clockwise, etcetera, etcetera … but honestly, try actually doing it. I guarantee your first attempt at making herbicide will end up with a blown up cauldron (and consequent shrapnel) and the dungeons having to be cordoned off for a week because the unidentifiable goop that splattered on the ceiling had turned into a sentient being hungry for human flesh.
I had barely passed the practical and it was a miracle I was even allowed to take this as a NEWT class.
I honestly asked Longbottom if Slughorn had suffered a stroke when he passed me. Longbottom had been so confused I almost asked if he was having a stroke.
'Your help would be brilliant start.'
'Just do it yourself,' I ground out through gritted teeth, irritation seeping into my bones, electrifying every nerve. 'If I help, we'll get a T.'
'Who the hell gets Ts?'
Moss studied me with a look of disbelief at my lack of response.
'I have never even seen a T before in my life.'
'Let's try to continue that incredible stroke of luck then!'
Moss scowled and wordlessly shoved the bowl of crushed beetles towards me.
'Fine,' I spat. 'But if this blows up in our faces don't say I didn't warn you.'
'If you're going to come with warnings, write a list won't you? Add the beetles only after I add the wolfsbane. Okay?'
'If you want to duel Moss, then fucking tell me because we can finish this a lot quicker—'
'Clarke, if we don't do this now, it will blow up in our faces.'
Trembling with rage, I grabbed a fistful of the finely powdered white mass and raised my hand above the bubbling cauldron, prepared to do some serious damage—in the good way hopefully. I discretely knocked on wood because, knowing me, just thinking a joke like that would end up backfiring on us. I looked at Moss, watched him bite his lower lip in concentration. The fumes and heat left a sheen of sweat on his forehead. His dark blonde curls matted around his ears, his ocean eyes clear and focused.
'If you keep staring, Clarke, I'm seriously going to get the wrong idea.'
I tore my eyes away, trying to suppress, and failing, my hatred. I impatiently waited for him to add the wolfsbane.
'Get ready …'
Moss tipped the vial into the concoction. I took a look at our potion. The thick, pitch black liquid turned into a delicate pea green colour, its consistency thinning. It looked rather delicious. Like soup. My eyes flicked over the instructions on the board and my heart leapt with disbelief when I saw it was exactly the colour it was supposed to be.
I released the crushed beetles the exact same time Moss tipped another vial in.
Shit! Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!
'No!' I wailed, watching in horror as the wolfsbane—what I thought was the vervain essence—swirled in with the crushed beetle eyes.
Suddenly, it started to bubble.
Moss swore loudly. He rounded on me with a furious look. 'I thought I told you to add the beetles after the wolfsbane you idiot!'
'I thought that's what I did!'
The potion became red—a bright, pulsing red and it began to curdle like old milk, shrivelling to half its previous size in the cauldron. There was a sharp hiss—making me jump, and even Moss took an involuntary step back—as a plume of smoke bloomed from the contents. (I wanted to note, with as much dignity as I could, that Piers Lemmon and Weird Milo had turned their potion into a black brick.)
We both stared at what was once our perfect potion in horror.
'We're definitely getting a T now.'
Moss' lips curled in a snarl, a delicate pink flush rising to his cheeks. 'If you had been paying attention this would've never happened!'
'This would've happened whether or not I'd been paying attention!'
'I can't do everything by myself!'
'Yeah, well, look where that kind of pessimism got us!'
'Why the fuck are you my partner again?'
'Because Slughorn is an arsehole,' I said, flaring up at once, blood pulsing like the red, curdled potion. 'And you are too!'
'You think I'm an arsehole?' Moss said, astonished. It took me an embarrassing second realise he was being sarcastic. 'Merlin's beard, how on earth can I live with myself now! Guess I'll just have to eat this potion and die!'
'Shut up,' I hissed just at the bell rang. Dismay and panic flooded me at once, drowning out my anger momentarily. There was no time to salvage our work. Not for the first time, I hopelessly wished that James had been my partner instead. He usually took over if we had to be partnered up (he even helped me with individual work) and he knew not to let me touch anything precisely because this would happen!
'Fuck's sake Clarke—'
'I said shut up! This is all your fault you stupid prick!'
'Fucking forgive me for trying to be a good partner—'
'A good partner?! A good partner?! Any decent, intelligent, fully function human would've known to tell me what vial they were adding first you—'
'You know what?' Moss said loudly over me, jaw locked in fury. 'You're right. I should've known you were stupid enough not to know the difference between vervain essence and wolfsbane! You daft—'
James materialised out of nowhere.
'You all right?' he asked, interrupting Moss mid rant as he made a detour on the way to Slughorn's desk. With a sinking feeling, I saw his vial contained a perfectly delicate pea green potion. His eyes flashed up to Moss, whose expression shifted subtly. With the slightest curve of his mouth, he went from pissed off school boy to pissed off noble aristocrat. 'Hey mate.'
Unfailingly polite, as usual.
Except I could see right through him and he definitely heard Moss call me stupid.
What was it Moss had said again? Your boyfriend is a fucking psychopath?
I stood up a little straighter.
'Potter,' Moss said in a clipped tone, scooping up the red mass into a vial.
I snatched it out of his hand before he could do anything else and yanked James away from the table.
He cast a glance over his shoulder, lip curling; then I felt his eyes turn to me.
'How much longer are you going to keep avoiding me?'
'I'm not avoiding you.'
'You told me you'd think about it—'
'Merlin James, just give me some space.'
We stopped at Slughorn's desk and he rounded on me, irritated. 'I am! I don't know what else—'
He, thankfully, was interrupted by a roar from Professor Slughorn, who was going on last minute rounds to all the tables. Our heads whipped around, both annoyed, when panic suddenly flared in me at the sight of Slughorn at our table, staring down our cauldron in blank horror.
'Finn!' Slughorn exclaimed. 'This is … what is this?!'
'Don't—don't touch it you fool!'
'Sorry! Sorry, sir!'
Slughorn flourished his wand swiftly and Moss' face fell. I assumed he cleared out our cauldron.
Which meant an automatic fail.
I looked at the vial in my hand mournfully.
'Don't suppose he does that when he's particularly impressed, does he?'
Slughorn's distinct yelling echoed through the dungeons. Everyone turned their heads to watch gleefully as he berated a slowly reddening Moss.
'This work is atrocious! I understand you were partnered with Miss Clarke but—but this is outrageous! I have never seen you produce something so appalling! Indeed, when students who excel at Potions are partnered with those less—talented—I expect the talent to take control! Truly astonishing Finn—'
I turned away, mood fouler than ever. 'No point to this then is there?' I tossed the vial into the dustbin next to Slughorn's desk.
James' brushed my hand, not exactly holding it, to recapture my attention.
His eyes were earnest as they searched mine. 'It's been a week, Jenny. We haven't spoken in a week. You won't even look at me in the eye. Or talk to me at practise and it's driving me mad. Can you please just tell me what you're thinking?'
My heart fluttered. I looked him in the eye now, at a loss for words.
'I'm—I'm sorry about practise and—and everything—but I just need to think a bit more—'
Abruptly, he turned exasperated, trying not let his irritation break through the fragile surface of his hard fought mask.
'What more is there to think about? I've apologised to Flora. I've left you alone. This is getting ridiculous! You're just trying to piss me off now! And I get it,' he added in a hiss. 'I get that you want punish me but enough's enough, Jenelle.'
My eyes narrowed into slits.
'I am not punishing you,' I said coldly. 'There's a lot you don't know and I'm still deciding how I feel about it and I don't know whether or not to tell you.'
I whirled around and stormed back to my bench. Moss was angrily packing his things away, only half the lumbering, furious monster I was two hours ago. His searing gaze shot up to mine, scowl etched deep. I scowled back.
Everyone's got shit.
'How were you single-handedly responsible for the first fail I've ever gotten in this class?' he snarled, voice simmering with rage.
'People have said I'm exceptional.'
I grabbed my bag and packed my things away, ignoring his looming presence.
If he was waiting for an apology, he could pitch a tent and die for all I cared.
Moss slung his bag over one shoulder, expression acidic.
'You'd never know it with that face like an owl's—' I looked up, taken aback and affronted '—but you are insane. I don't even blame you for asking me out. You can barely function in this classroom let alone as a normal girl.'
I gaped at Moss for the second time that day, mind wiped completely blank.
Then I came to my senses.
'That's a bit rich isn't it?' I said viciously, so angry I could barely think. 'Say, tell me Finnegan, are you really a boy? What, with your weirdly long fingers—that fat baby angel hair—and your ears—'
Moss frowned, either puzzled that I'd responded or by the nature of my response itself.
'What's wrong with my ears?' he said defensively.
'They're elfin. All pointy and girly—'
'I do not have elfin, girly ears—'
'You do have rather elfin ears.'
We whipped our heads around.
Weird Milo stared resolutely back as if he had no idea why we were being so melodramatic. Piers Lemmon tried to melt into the dungeon wall, eyes fluttering shut in resignation.
'You probably have a house-elf ancestor. A great-great-great grandfather or mother perhaps?'
I had physically stuff my fist in my mouth not to laugh as Moss' jaw dropped in outrage and horror.
'Are you insinuating one of my ancestors mated with a house-elf?'
Weird Milo shrugged. 'I'm not insinuating anything. It's entirely possible. People have fetishes.'
I had to turn away, turning a snort of laughter into a hacking cough, tears of mirth pricking the corners of my eyes.
'FETISHES? IT'S POSSIBLE? HOW DARE YOU—'
'MR MOSS!' Slughorn bellowed, aghast. He struggled for a moment to squeeze out of his chair. 'Is there another problem back there? If your potion has not exploded a second time, I don't see why you must raise your voice! I am entirely appalled by your behaviour today! Quite unlike you m'boy, quite unlike you! Ten points off Slytherin!'
Outraged and positively fuming, Moss lanced a simmering look of hatred my way.
'Jesus fucking Christ, Clarke.'
Freddie—who had come up from behind me—raised his eyebrows as Moss stormed out of the dungeon classroom.
'Was that our resident brooding Slytherin yelling so succinctly at you? I could hear you guys shouting at each other all way in the front. The sexual tension was off the charts.'
'No it wasn't,' I said, rounding on him incredulously. 'What the hell are you talking about.'
'Your cauldron's cracked in half,' James snapped suddenly to me, appearing out of nowhere and billowing out the classroom with Luke by his side. He left before I could even open my mouth.
Freddie swivelled his wide-eyed gaze to me.
'Scratch everything I've said since birth—because that was sexual tension.'
I was aghast.
'Do you ever think before you speak?'
'Do I ever what before I what now?'
'URGH! Come on, Freddie—' I grabbed his arm and dragged him out of the classroom, rippling with frustration.
'I can't believe you didn't come out with me last weekend and I know what you're going to say about Quidditch so just shut up, but Merlin Jenny, I don't know how these boys in London got so fucking fit—'
I hadn't realised before how much Freddie was holding back before coming out to me. All he talked about now was his various sexual escapades with various "lucky to be alive" boys.
And all in graphic, graphic detail.
'—and Ian decides this is good a moment to just whip it out and Jesus the boy's got a knocker—'
'Enough!' I cried out, lunging across our bags to shut his mouth with my hand. I searched his dark brown eyes manically and could tell by the way they widened, he was a little afraid. 'I know too much! Please stop telling me about Ian's knob. I am begging you.'
'Sorry,' he said, not looking sorry at all. 'Especially about Ian's knob.'
'It's okay … just don't ever mention it again.'
'Have you actually got a bloke that you fancy?' I asked warily. 'Besides all the … exploring?'
Freddie looked at me like I'd sprouted four heads. 'No. Absolutely not. Hogwarts is small. The guys I meet out don't count and Ian is the only other gay boy I know. And, trust me, the lack of mystery is stunning.'
'Well. Only one more year and we're out and into fresh waters.'
Freddie raised his eyebrows. 'It's been almost a week since you "officially"—' he actually did air quotes '—told James you might reconsider getting back together. Are you telling me you're still—'
'Furious? Upset? Pissed off? Fuming? Incandescent?'
'I was going to say thinking,' he said, frowning. 'But sure.'
I glared at him. 'Yes I'm still thinking.'
He sighed. 'So ... Dom keeps pestering me about you. Asking me if you're okay and you want to talk.'
I went cold.
'Listen, I'm mad at her too—'
'Good,' I snarled.
'Maybe it wouldn't hurt to talk—'
'Why!' I burst, looking at him with incredulity. 'Why on earth should I do that? She Confunded me!'
Freddie turned his thoughtful gaze over the grounds. 'You can't forgive her.'
'Glad we're on the same page.'
Freddie looked at me, and I was troubled by his serious expression. He was never serious. Not if he could help it. And it didn't bode well at all. I tore my eyes away from his wordlessly and began rereading the sentence I'd spent the last 45 minutes reading. Finally, I felt the weight of Freddie's gaze leave me and I relaxed—somewhat. We spent the next ten minutes sitting in silence in the Transfiguration courtyard, leafing through notes and generally doing school work.
Then Freddie got up suddenly, shouldering his bag and giving me the I'm going to go kill myself eyes.
'At the violet hour, the evening hour.'
I got up as well, seeing no point in staying here surrounded by other students and their chatting groups of friends while I was all alone.
'I'll walk with you.'
'Actually,' he grimaced. 'I have to go to Hagrid's again.' He paused. 'I think he's trying to find a way kill me.'
'Oh,' I said, surprised. 'That shouldn't be too bad! You'll have fun.'
'Yeah, we'll see about that when I'm at the fiery end of a Blast-Ended Skrewt, nursing my third-degree burns.'
I grinned and wished him luck which he accepted with an exaggerated eye roll. I headed back to the Gryffindor common room at my own leisurely pace. Then I impulsively decided to go down to the pitch early. About the only thing I genuinely enjoyed these days were the Quidditch practises gearing up for the final match between us and Ravenclaw.
The hours of grueling physical exertion and mind-numbing adrenaline were the only things that stopped my daily thoughts about James, Dom, the state of the ever expanding universe, Dom, how Owls send letters without an address, Dom …
Sharing the time with James wasn't as bad as I'd imagined either. It appeared asking for space and time to think was all he needed to become the megalomaniacal Quidditch Captain he was always born to be. Though, partly I knew it was also because tensions were rising with both the Slytherin and Hufflepuff teams as they fought for pitch slots in the coming weeks, preparing for their match. Not to mention Eddie Parry was getting increasingly more hostile with almost everyone on the team—particularly Rose, whose icy, unflappable exterior was enough to drive even the best of us to madness.
I had a funny feeling Parry was so on edge because it was his last year at Hogwarts and he wanted desperately to go out in a blaze of glory.
I, personally, didn't see what he was so worried about. Ever since I'd joined the team in fourth year we'd done nothing but win the Cup.
But I digressed.
Seeing as James was being an effective Captain for once, he left all the personal stuff miles away from the pitch. It was actually rather amazing the way he completely ignored whatever he might want to say to me, to persuade me to date him again, focusing purely on Quidditch.
I'd never seen anyone (apart from me) so dedicated to anything in their lives.
Especially considering the strength of his efforts directly influenced winning an award or consistent sex.
I spun around, surprised to see Ella racing towards me. A cold feeling spread to the tips of my fingers as she approached, however. Her face was determinedly set, usual kindness absent.
'Ella? What's wrong—'
'Please tell me you didn't plan the fucking party on the trip to go wrong,' she sliced across. 'Please, please, please tell me you did not kiss James when he was dating Flora and then manipulate her into ratting us out to Newton and Fig. Please, for the love of God, tell me Marisa was lying to me.'
I gaped at her, horror-struck.
The noose had dropped.
'Ella,' I began, every possible, rational explanation withering away in my head. Oh my god. I didn't know what to do! I was panicked! My mind completely scattered, all defensive protocols malfunctioning and brain cells screaming mayhem as they ran manically to find the self-destruct button. 'Ella, okay, hear me out. Marisa was lying to you. But I fucked up. I planned the party but I didn't manipulate Flora at all. I mean, I did tell her to tell Newton and Fig but—'
'What the fuck, Jenny!' Ella's green eyes went round with disbelief. 'What the actual fuck! What the hell is wrong with you?!'
'Ella!' I cried. 'I called it off! I told her—I tried to tell her not to do it! I didn't mean for it to happen! I knew it was a bad idea and I tried to stop it—'
'But you still planned it?! And Flora obviously never got the memo because she told Newton anyway! Merlin—Merlin! You are such a fucking hypocrite! Why Jenny?! Were you that mad at Flora? You and James have been done for weeks! And yeah it was shitty for James to date like a day after you guys broke up but that was not Flora's fault! And you know what, fuck the fact that you've given us all detention and gotten us banned from Hogsmeade till the end of term, you go around moaning to everyone that James cheated on you and yet here you are! Kissing her boyfriend!'
'Ella, I can explain—'
'No!' she snapped furiously. 'You literally complain to everyone all the time that Dom is the crazy one but you are. Maybe Ollie was right. You and James are so fucked up about each other you literally ruin everyone's lives because you can't sort out your own! God, Jenny, just get over it already!'
I didn't even know what to say; I was blank with shock, I couldn't even rise up to my own defence.
'To think I actually felt bad for you,' Ella said icily. 'Don't sit next to me Defence next time. I can hardly look at you right now.'
But she was gone.
I shoved my hands in my jacket pockets and hunched over from the cold, unseasonal wind.
So Flora had told everyone. Or Marisa, at least. Who told Ella. About the party. The kiss.
I did say it was good to stay paranoid, right?
Honestly, I was surprised I'd even lasted a week before this happened.
I would just have to add this to the list of things that had ruined my life, right between Finnegan Moss and Dom Weasley.
And Dom … I still couldn't wrap my head around it—I just couldn't, no matter how hard I tried to see it from her perspective. I didn't feel like I'd ever understand why she did it—jealous or not. And the lengths she went to to make sure it was believable … Honestly, I wondered how many people she'd been confusing and manipulating to keep up the lie as long as she did.
Everything fell into place perfectly—she couldn't've planned for a better mess of people to fuck up.
James was so angry he refused to speak or acknowledge me for the longest time before we'd actually gone on the stupid Muggle Studies trip, and even then we'd talked in circles around why we broke up, as if he'd catch the Bubonic plague otherwise. It was almost too good how terrible we were to each other.
And then Luke—Dom couldn't've conjured a better person than him to be bewildered by something like me fancying him and skirt around the topic forever. Then, finally, Dom herself. She was the only person she could actually control. But she was the most erratic of them all.
I should've known. I should've guessed.
I wiped my tears away angrily.
I needed her out of my life until I figured out how I felt about all of this.
When I stepped onto the the pitch, I saw a blurry silhouette zooming across the setting sun.
Immediately, I recognised—not his broomstick, not his Quidditch robes with POTTER emblazoned on the back in dark gold letters—but his movements. I knew them instinctually. All players had their own distinct way of flying, almost like a signature or their handwriting.
James had enchanted a Quaffle to fly around like a docile Bludger so that whenever he scored it flew straight back to him. It was clever, but it also made it harder for me to get his attention, even if I did shout. He was too far up.
I resigned myself to waiting and climbed up the stands. I took a seat and I watched him play.
He was good even if he didn't think so.
I mulled over the fact that this was how we became friends—through Quidditch. I didn't think eleven year old James Potter ever prepared to find someone who knew as much about Quidditch as he did. Although, perhaps he was more surprised that I hated the Holyhead Harpies than anything else. I'd known Ginny Weasley had played for the Harpies until Albus was born, but I couldn't sugarcoat my dislike for the team on principle. The Clarkes were a Puddlemere United family. Well, Jasper was at least and I hero-worshipped everything he did and liked until I was fourteen.
It was strange to remember that I was friends with him, Freddie and Luke before I was friends with Dom.
I'd been suspicious of her sudden niceness to me at the beginning of our fourth year. Wary of the girl who had once told Teddy Lupin that she was in love with him and then in the same week proceeded to set his slushie blue hair on fire.
In fact, almost everything Dom had done in the lead up to our friendship had terrified me one way or another.
Asking out the Gwyddien McLaggen when she was thirteen and he was in his seventh year with his girlfriend sat right next to him? Hexing Sam White to only speak in an incomprehensible Mermish for two months (even Professor Corner was baffled as to how to undo it) because he told her he thought France was shit? Slapping Jessica Lovelace in our fifth year because Jess wouldn't tell her that all the girls in our year were planning her surprise birthday party?
Dom had gained a reputation for herself. Fiery, quick to anger, yet still absurdly loveable. She was a magnet to all the girls in our year, who gravitated towards like she was their sun. She was coveted by all the boys in our school the second she stepped into our fifth year with big boobs and pouty lips.
Thing was, I'd known girls like Dom at ballet school. I'd learnt to be wary of them. To approach their friendship with caution.
So when Dom had sat down next to me in Divination in fourth year, effectively stopping Luke in his tracks, I'd immediately known it was about him.
He'd just sprouted four more inches and his baby face had whittled away, revealing sharp cheekbones and startlingly gold-blue eyes.
Of course Dom Weasley wanted him.
I shook my head as if to shake away the thoughts, because everything just went in a circle didn't it?
Everything went back to Dom fancying Luke.
Maybe I should've let the world revolve around that, maybe if I'd made everything all about them, Dom would've never felt insecure and I could've been with James and … and cue the bitterness.
The more I thought about Dom, the more faults I found; all the little things that made her her were now reasons why I should've never let her be my friend in the first place. Her negativity; her voice dominating all our conversations; her insulting compliments; her thinly veiled judgements about teenage romances.
But that was the wrong way to think about it and I knew that, yet I couldn't help myself. I just wish I hadn't …
I kicked the rail of the stand in frustration.
It was no use thinking like that.
What was done was done. Luke knew the truth and … and I hoped he didn't resent Dom, but he probably did. She fucked with his feelings as much as she did with mine and James'. And when I told James … I had to convince him not to hate her more than I already did. As much as I thought she deserved it, as much as I wanted her to be hurt the way I was … I couldn't do it.
She wouldn't have many friends by the end of this—she didn't have to lose her family too.
God this was a mess.
I half jumped out of my own skin at the sound of my name.
I looked up and saw James flying towards me. He stopped in front of me and pulled out his headphones, surprised but pleased; I drank him in, searching every inch of his face for something—anything to change my mind. But all there was was a sheen of sweat on his forehead and a dark red flush from playing.
I got to my feet and leaned against the rail.
James was barely two feet away from me in the air, grinning crookedly.
'Hi,' he said happily. 'What are you doing here?'
'Your moves are looking pretty weak,' I said lightly, ignoring his question, putting off the inevitable.
James laughed, an airy, surprised sound, like I'd tugged it out of him, still slightly out of breath.
'Must've been all the Muggle alcohol.'
'Enough to make even Hagrid drunk.'
'Or maybe I'm just bad at Quidditch.'
'Don't think that's it …'
James studied me curiously. 'What are you doing here? Practise doesn't start for another half hour.'
'I wanted to talk to you.'
'Do you want to meet me in the locker room then?'
'Yeah. I'll see you down there?'
'Or,' James said, his grin turning cheeky. 'You could hitch a ride on the back of my broom?'
It was insane how much I missed his lightness. He could be so different when he was angry with me.
'Shut up, I'll meet you down there in a minute, all right?'
'All right.' James winked at me and flew down to the locker rooms while I made my way down the stands. I half ran, half speed-walked just to get out of the cold.
James had already taken off half his gear when I closed the door behind me.
'Hey,' I said, rubbing my hands together to warm them up. He struggled with his elbow pad, unable to reach the clasp, so, with a sigh, I went over and swatted his flailing hand away. I felt his eyes, heavy and flickering, on me as I sat down beside him, un-tightening and unbuckling the pad. He was so warm, despite the cold, radiating heat in rolling waves.
'Thanks,' he said, wiping his cold nose with his shoulder. He waved his fingers at me. 'They're numb.'
'Mmm.' I took his other arm. He moved closer so I could see it properly. My gaze flicked up to meet his; our faces inches apart, I could see every fading freckle, the small, almost flesh coloured scar he got after a particular nasty fight with one of Hagrid's creatures in third year. 'You tighten these too much, you know.'
'Do I?' James murmured vaguely, eyes searching mine.
'Yes. That's why your movements are so stiff. It's why you struggle with the extension when you throw the Quaffle—'
'Clarke,' he interrupted, smiling faintly.
I successfully took off his other elbow pad and moved away. An emptiness washed over my skin, a prickling cold left by the absence of James' body heat. I angled my body away from his, fidgeting with the elbow pad. My fingers traced over the flaking gold and red paint.
'I can't be with you.'
There was a beat.
'No, listen. I'm not saying that because of you. I need more time—'
James scoffed disbelievingly, betraying a flicker of hurt. 'What? So it's not you, it's me? Is that what—'
'No, no—' I leaned back and hit my head against the wall behind me, closing my eyes in frustration. I gripped onto the elbow pad, twisting it my hands, over and over. 'This just needs more time. Let's just give it a week, okay?'
'Jesus Christ, it's already been a week. What will another accomplish? If you want to break up for good then just say it for fuck's sake.'
I bolted upright and faced him angrily. 'Why do you want it to happen so suddenly? Why can't you just wait a little longer?' I continued without an answer. 'It's not that I don't want to be with you but you just—you get jealous. And if it's not me, it's someone else you're with and—and there are other things.'
'What other things.' His tone was clipped, simmering with anger under a thin icy exterior.
'Dom Confunded me,' I told him bluntly. It sounded even more bizarre saying it to his face. 'When you asked me about Luke, she Confunded me so I'd not answer or—or be confused or whatever. I never fancied Luke and I never cheated on you with him and if you want absolute proof just talk to Dom about it.'
'What?!' James' lips were parted, shocked, dark eyes wide. 'She—she Confunded you?'
'Why did she do that?' he asked stupidly. His gaze swivelled to the door, eyes far away, lost in his own head. 'Why would she? Dom …'
'She said she was jealous that Luke liked me, but honestly …' I shook my head, unable to find the words. 'I don't know.'
'I broke up with you for nothing,' James said loudly, gobsmacked by it all. 'I believed her but she—she Confunded you and I broke up with you. Jesus fucking Christ.' He bent over and shoved his hands his hair, knotting his fingers in it. 'That is so fucking messed up.'
'You believed her,' I said quietly. It was a knife in my heart to hear him say I broke up with you for nothing, because it was so laughably true. Have you heard anything so ridiculous in your life? 'You were jealous and angry, you saw what you wanted to see. You didn't trust me—'
James looked up at me, astonished and, for some reason, relieved. 'Is that why you—oh Jenny, come on. Dom made it so convincing! She Confunded you!'
'Yeah,' I said, raising my voice above his. I got up so I didn't have to sit next to him and feel his leg knocking into mine. 'She Confunded me, not you! You didn't have to believe her! You didn't have to break up with me and offer me to Luke like I'm some prize trophy you were done with having!'
The blood drained from his face. He stood up slowly, jaw locked.
'I was angry when I said those things. Angry at him and at you.'
I avoided his eye. 'It's not an excuse James. You know it isn't.'
'I can't help what I've said! Why can you never see things from my perspective! I was hurt and I'm sorry!'
'It doesn't matter! I know I would've have ever said those things! I would've never treated you like you weren't important! Like you were nothing! I know I would've been hurt! I would've been angry, I would've hated you—and I forgive you all those things! But the way you went about it all—'
'HOW MANY TIMES CAN I APOLOGISE FOR THAT!'
'I don't want your apologies!' I shrieked back. 'I don't want to hear it! You're not right for doing any of it—'
'That's fucking ridiculous!' James shouted, eyes sparking with mad incredulity. 'You've never been able to empathise Jenelle! You're so fucking stubborn and it's stopping you from letting go—'
'That's your problem right there! You think I have to let go! That I should just forget it all ever happened!'
'Well why the fuck not?! Dom was responsible for all of this—'
'No she wasn't! No she fucking wasn't! You were! And you can't even acknowledge it! You think nothing's your fault and I hate it James! I hate it!'
I drew in a deep, steadying breath, eyes never leaving his.
'This needs time. I need time. From you, and from Dom. It isn't going to work any other way. I'll only resent this if we get back together now.'
'Jenny,' James began again. 'We can work this out. We can try something else—'
'This is something else,' I snapped, my voice cracking like a whip. 'This is giving me time. I'm not saying I don't like you or that I don't want to be with you. I need time.'
James stared at me, hair sticking up every which way, eyes dazed. Bewildered.
'Fine,' he said finally, throwing his hands up in the air in defeat. 'Fine, Jenelle. Fine. I'll see you at practise.'
I hesitated at his abrupt dismissal, but I knew it was time to leave.
'See you then.'
He barely glanced back at me as I left the changing room and headed back up to the common room alone. I knew he wasn't going take my decision well, but I didn't know he'd accept it that easily. Not that I wanted him to put up a fight either. It made me doubt … no, I thought firmly. Don't do that to yourself.
I did the right thing.
I needed to figure out if he was really what I wanted or what I wanted because I couldn't have him.
God, I was really going to miss the way he called me Clarke.
First of all, a MASSIVE thank you to my internet angel TheTenthWeasley who helped me see sense in this chapter (honestly guys, it was a mess before and she saved it). This actually wouldn't be up without her lol. So thank you so much darling!
Quickly: I don't own the idea of a Burn Book—thank the film Mean Girls and the overlords who made it—and what Freddie says "at the violet hour, the evening hour" is paraphrased from a line of T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land.
Thank you so much for reading! Can't wait to read your feedback/thoughts!
Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Love you all xxxx P
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