'Kit … class is going to start any minute.'
'I'm awake,' I mumbled into my arms. I was slumped over my desk, cheek pressed against the cool wood. 'My eyes are open.'
'Your eyes are fully closed.'
I ignored Olive.
'Kit,' Eve murmured again. 'Kit.'
'Oh my god. I'm awake!'
'That's always good to hear!' Professor Flitwick bustled into the classroom and I shot up at once, blinking rapidly. A few people sniggered but Flitwick smiled to let me know that I wasn't in any trouble. I still blushed furiously. 'Now would you please turn your attention to the blackboard … Today we are continuing our progress with the Knitting Charm … which I know each and every one of you find ever so useful in your own personal lives … however, it is an incredibly difficult Charm to cast and one that will earn you very high marks in your practical examinations!'
'Oh this is absolutely perfect,' Olive muttered darkly. 'I'll be spending the rest of my life a spinster anyway.'
I was dead inside.
I had never felt so awful in my entire life. Had I been hungover before? Sure. Had I pulled all nighters and still made it to class? Yes. But had I ever been hungover andsleep deprived at the same time? No.
No I had not.
All I wanted to do was sleep for about twenty more hours … but I caught Jane's eye from across the room.
I hadn't even seen her come in—because, alright, I wasasleep. She was sitting with the rest of the Ravenclaws, almost directly opposite me. I noticed, for the first time surprisingly, that we all with our houses. The Charms classroom was laid out almost like a school gymnasium. There were "bleachers"—wooden bleachers with desks—pushed against either wall with Professor Flitwick's desk, blackboard and office at the "head" on my right. The Ravenclaws and Slytherins sat on one side—to the left of the door—and the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs sat on the right.
I leaned over my desk and craned my neck to find Rose.
She was scribbling notes furiously, eyes darting manically from the blackboard to her parchment, attention focussed on the class.
The three of us had only left Cecily very late last night. Neither of us said much but I knew we all felt the same. The idea of leaving Cecily by herself was nerve wracking. Not only did she have a penchant for disappearing without a word, but she also happened to be an Obscurial.
None of us knew quite how to leave.
Cecily had little to say as Rose and Jane (mostly Rose) filled the silence by discussing our next moves. If I was still exhausted by what happened Saturday night, it was probably only a fraction of how drained Cecily must be. But to Rose and Jane the most pressing matter was that Cecily was wandless. We (Rose) decided that Cecily had to quarantine in her room at the Hog's Head Inn for the week, then we would all go to Diagon Alley over the weekend together—strength in numbers and all that.
We had also all agreed that we couldn't tell anyone that Cecily was in Hogsmeade. I had a sneaking suspicion that Rose and Jane had specific reasons for this but they didn't divulge them and I didn't ask. I knew that if they wanted to let me in on their secrets they already would have. Besides, it felt like the right thing to do, even though it was killing me not to tell Charlie.
When Rose, Jane and I finally parted ways, I had given Jane the Cloak to give it to Albus so that I could avoid James. Rose had seemed suspicious but how could I tell her that my fake boyfriend hated me for some unknown reason?
It was the last time we had all spoken to each other.
'Kit,' Eve said. 'Flitwick just gave us partners. We have to practice with them.'
'What?' Alarmed, I watched her pack her things and get up. 'Who am I paired up with?! I wasn't listening!'
'Albus,' Olive smirked. 'Have fun.'
'Who are you partnered up with then!' I demanded, rounding on her.
'Peter!' she answered happily.
Peter leaned over his desk—he was in the row above us, behind me—grinning from ear to ear as he high fived Olive.
'Don't feel too bad,' Eve said sympathetically. Her eyes flicked up, full of foreboding. 'I'm with Rose.'
'Oh that would've been so much better! Ugh!'
Eve gave me a strange look and walked off, shaking her head.
I looked across the room and found Albus scowling.
'Kit,' Albus greeted curtly.
Ever the gentleman, he made me come to him.
I plonked down on the empty seat beside him—the one Scorpius had vacated. God how I wished I'd been paired with him instead. Unfortunately, he was with Poppy Chapman.
'Good morning Albus,' I replied crisply. I needed the rest of class to go by smoothly and I didn't need to put Albus on edge before we even got started. If you hadn't already guessed it, we had been paired up before and things hadn't ended well. To say that he was wary of me would be a severe understatement. 'Hope all is well with you.'
'I'm fine,' he muttered. Then, remembering to polite, 'You?'
I appraised him.
'Very good, thank you. I see your eyebrow is black again.'
'And back above my eye, where it belongs.'
I pressed my lips together.
Fair enough—I'd set myself up for that one.
'It was a mistake. I rectified it at once. My wand slipped—'
'Excuses, excuses …'
Albus grinned lazily as I reeled with indignation.
'Settle down, settle down!' piped Flitwick. 'If you're all finished with your notes …' I looked around wildly as there was a mad scramble to put away quills and parchment; Albus calmly slid his things into his backpack. Had everyone been writing notes?! Oh God. 'The incantation for the Knitting Charm is very simple as you know—Nodo Vinctum!It must be said with determination and sheer will! Otherwise the knitting needles will not listen to you! If everyone would come up and get a pair of needles and a ball of yarn … just one per group—ah, Mr Fraser, please don't run—just line up everyone … there you go … one each students … one each …'
Albus returned to his seat with two pairs of knitting needles and a ball of green yarn. I immediately grabbed my needles from him and examined them with a critical eye, trying to communicate to them that I meant no harm, that I would treat them very fairly as I made them do my bidding.
'What's on your mind?' Albus asked casually.
'When it comes to Charming inanimate objects, I like them to know that I'm not evil.' I suppressed an eye roll; I knew he'd think I was being ridiculous and I hadn't really wanted to explain myself, but maybe he'd learn a thing or two. 'I'm trying to tell them that it's going to be alright.'
'I don't think they're going to get the message.'
I sat up straight and looked at him, the obvious question perched on my lips, when Albus suddenly lunged forward and wrenched my wand out of my hand. I was utterly scandalised—until I realised—with total mortification—that I had nearly set Camilla Lane's hair on fire. She was blubbering, clutching her perfect, straight honey-blonde hair, traumatised. I had completely forgotten about the wand in my hand. The tip was still smoking.
'Merlin Kit!' Camilla cried. 'Control your magic!'
'I'm sorry!' I cried back. 'I'm so sorry Camilla—'
Camilla got up and marched over to Flitwick, gesticulating wildly at me and her hair. I watched in horror as he led her to his office to calm her down.
'Oh my god.'
'Please,' Albus half begged, handing me my wand back, and I could see it really pained him to beg anyone for anything but the will to live had pushed him to extremes. 'Please pay attention.'
'I—I didn't realise—'
'We're Charming needles, Murphy—needles—'
'I know, I know!'
Flustered, I pushed my hair out of my face.
To my left, I caught Jane's eye.
She was laughing.
'So,' Peter said an hour later as we filed out of the classroom. 'Are you going to tell us why exactly you weren't in your bed Saturday night?'
Eve shot me an apologetic grimace, stopping once she realised I had stopped walking.
'You can tell us you know,' Olive said, clearly not sorry at all. 'You were gone all night and practically all day. The Valentine's Day party must've been a real rager—thanks for inviting us by the way!'
Guilt coursed through me at once, momentarily overwhelming my rising panic.
'Ugh, I'm sorry okay? James didn't even tell me about it until the very last minute and I thought he had invited you guys—I don't know why he didn't—'
'It's okay, Kit,' Eve said firmly. 'Poppy was at the party and she didn't invite me—'
'This isn't about Poppy!' Olive cried. She shot Eve a furiously upset look. 'Don't pretend like it didn't bother you too!' I looked between Eve and Olive, dismayed. They had been talking about me? Olive rounded on me. 'Ever since you started dating James you've found new friends and a new life! You don't care that we've been your friend for six years! Not when James Potter and Vivian Trout are all over you now!'
'Olive,' Eve said, scandalised. She looked at me, eyes wide with remorse. 'Kit—I only said that it made sense you were hanging out with James' friends—'
Olive let out a shriek of hysterical laughter.
'Oh that's right! Change your tune!' She shook her head, as if she couldn't believe what she was hearing. 'Honestly, I don't even care that we weren't invited to that stupid party. We had an amazing time at Madame Puddifoots! Didn't we Peter?!'
'Yeah,' Peter said, folding his arms over his chest and appraising me coolly. 'We did.'
'If you think it's okay to just drop your friends because you're dating James Potter then—'
'I haven't,' I protested weakly. 'I don't—'
'You don't even want to tell us that you lost your virginity,' Olive said incredulously. 'You used to tell us everything, Kit. Everything.'
My jaw dropped.
They weren't angry that I hadn't come back last night because they were worried for my safety … they were angry because I had lost my virginity and didn't tell them straightaway! Which didn't even happen!
I looked at Eve, wanting to share in my disbelief, but she was looking down, a small frown twisting her lips.
'Guys,' I said, searching for the words, the right apology to make this all better. 'Guys.'
'Merlin! You can't even admit it. We already know Kit. Practically the whole school is talking about it!'
The whole school was what?!
'What?' I said, aghast.
Peter, Olive and Eve were all looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to tell them the truth.
The truth was that I had left Hogwarts to go save Cecily Waters from the Obscurus inside of her that was a hair's breadth away from being triggered at all times—but I couldn't tell them the truth—of course you can't, don't be stupid Kit—but if I lied then what would James say?! Spreading a rumour like that was surely unforgivable! And was the whole school actually talking about it?! Why! WHY!
'Yep!' I cried, completely losing my head. 'I lost my virginity! I'm no longer a virgin! I have had sex! With a boy! Who was naked! Mind you, I was naked too. Like completely. Everything was out there, right in the open. I saw everything. I saw a … penis.'
Peter's eyes widened, totally enthralled.
'Oh my God,' Olive blurted. 'Oh my God—I didn't actually think it was true!'
'What?' I said with a slight edge of hysteria. 'You just said the whole school—'
'I mean, did I hear Winifred Catchpole say something about it in the toilets? Yeah but …' Olive shook her head, eyes huge. 'I thought maybe you slept over, maybe gave him a blow job—'
'Olive,' Eve cut across. She smiled at me encouragingly, which only horrified me more. 'I knew you weren't trying to keep secrets from us. I tried telling Olive that.'
Olive threw her arm over my shoulders, suddenly friends again.
'Kit Murphy lost her fucking virginity!'
'Shut up!' I hissed, eyes darting around the corridor frantically.
'You have to tell us everything, Kit,' she went on, voice hushed and fervent. 'I need to know every last graphicdetail …'
'Oh Olive, leave her alone …'
I approached Roxy and Jane as they exited the Charms classroom. I'd seen Kit practically drag herself out with her friends, eyes hooded, features expressionless. Poor girl was probably still hungover and exhausted—even though she'd been the last to get of bed yesterday at the Hog's Head Inn.
'Rose,' Roxy said, surprised. 'Hey.'
I was blocking their way, smiling pleasantly.
Jane was irritated.
'Hey,' I said. Roxy and I got along well enough, even if we weren't terribly close. Everyone assumed—being the same age and all—that we would be best friends but we weren't. We didn't actually have any problems with each other but … well, we never really clicked that way. We never seemed to find it as interesting or as awkward as other people did. 'Mind if I walk with you guys?'
Roxy's gaze slid up to Jane, who said nothing.
'Erm … sure. We're headed to lunch.'
'Great! I'm st—'
Jane turned to Roxy abruptly. 'Can I meet you in the Great Hall?'
Roxy frowned. 'What are you going to do?'
'I just realised I need to ask Flitwick about our essay.'
Roxy didn't seem convinced by the pretty lame excuse but she shrugged. I assumed she was used to Jane lying to her. The thought made me kind of sad for Rox. Jane couldn't have been an easy friend to have had all these years. She looked at me.
'Aren't you coming?'
'Oh! Actually I need to ask Flitwick the same question Jane has about the essay.'
Roxy stared at us—then she threw her hands up and stormed off, looking furious.
Jane rounded on me as soon as she was out of earshot.
'What's wrong with you!' she demanded angrily. 'Do I really need to give her any more reasons to think I don't trust her?'
'If you trust her then you should tell her the truth,' I said easily.
'Easy for you to fucking say,' she snarled. 'You don't know how to keep your mouth shut.'
I narrowed my eyes.
'Besides,' she went on. 'It isn't my secret to tell. But, again, that sort of thing doesn't really occur to you does it?'
I would not be baited—still, was she really the same person who had held me in her arms, screaming for me to wake up, sobbing hysterically, only two days ago?
'Listen,' I said. 'I'm sorry if I made things weird for you and Roxy. That really wasn't my intention. I just wanted to discuss what we were going to do about Cecily.' I was aware of the formal tone my voice had taken, the way the both of us held ourselves around each other, as though we hadn't gone through something traumatic together. 'We should speak to Professor McGonagall today.'
Jane looked away, jaw locking.
'I need more time.'
'I don't know what I'm going tell Roxy,' she said, forcing the words out through gritted teeth.
I realised what she meant.
'You mean you don't know what you're going to tell Albus.' I pursed my lips as she shot me a disdainful look. 'I was actually thinking about that. The whole "I'm going to come clean and get what I deserve" thing was really noble and admirable the other night and I'm sure Cecily really appreciated it but … I think I know a way we can get Cecily back and have you stay.'
Jane didn't say anything.
'I'm being serious.'
'I can see that,' she said sarcastically. 'I'm waiting for you to tell me what your genius plan is.'
'Well, we'll need to get Kit on board but I don't really see her having any problems with what I have in my mind. It's simple, really. We need to tell Professor McGonagall the whole truth. The three of us. We need to explain what happened to Cecily in the Forest—what happened to all of us—and when we get to the part about the duel … well, I think we can come up with a story that explains why things got so out of control.'
Jane stared at me.
'That is,' she said. 'The stupidest fucking idea I've ever heard.'
'Why?' I demanded angrily. 'I'm sure if all just sat down and thought about it—we can explain it all away!'
'Cecily wasn't just expelled for almost killing Kit!' Jane snapped. 'She was expelled for using a banned curse! A curse that we'd have to tell McGonagall that I actually used if we tell her the truth! Your plan is stupid. It won't fix anything.'
She walked away, shouldering me roughly.
'You don't get it,' I said breathlessly, catching up to her. 'Kit never told Madame Pomfrey how she got hurt!'
'It doesn't matter,' Jane said shortly. 'Cecily did.'
'How do you know what she said?'
Jane opened her mouth to retort—then stopped walking, forcing me to double back.
Her gaze was icy when it locked with mine.
'You realise Kit was practically slashed to pieces, right? And it takes any idiot with a wand to figure out what Curse was used on her? You think McGonagall is stupid enough to swallow some bullshit without checking all of our wands to see who preformed the Curse?'
'If you're talking about the Reverse Spell, you do remember it only shows the echo of the last spell your wand performed—not every spell? Besides, there's the Eradication Spell. We'll all use it before we see Professor McGonagall. What's your next point?'
'My next point is my first point! Anyone can deduce what spell was used on Kit!'
'Great! If that's the only problem left then we're sorted!' Furious, Jane opened her mouth to protest but I didn't let her. 'We should meet at the Hog's Head tonight—the three of us. Let's say … eight o'clock? I'll let Kit know what's going on.’ I smiled. ‘Start thinking, Ravenclaw. I'm sure if you put your mind to it, you can come up with a few never-heard-of-before not banned curses with effects similar or identical to Sectumsempra.'
Jane's violet-blue eyes flickered, for the first time, with something other than contempt.
I tried not to feel too smug as I left her in her labyrinthine thoughts.
When I was eleven, I had read Filch's one thousand, two hundred and forty eight page student handbook documenting every rule, every forbidden part of the castle, every form of punishment at his disposal, and every illegal or banned curse.
It had been an hour long detention and I was bored.
I knew there was no curse that produced similar or identical effects to Sectumsempra … which definitely fell into Filch's illegal or banned category.
But magic was an alive thing; its roots grew deep into the earth, stretching tens of thousands of miles, twisting and gnarling, breathing life into new and unheard of living things. It was constantly evolving, forever changing, never static, never the same.
Maybe Rose was a lot smarter than I thought.
'So are you going to tell me what that was all about?' Roxy said dryly. 'Or am I supposed to pretend like you weren't having a private chat with my cousin who you don't like?'
The Great Hall was busy with activity, students coming in and out to grab some lunch or chat with friends before darting off to class. Roxy and I were sat near the entrance, by ourselves. She hadn't said anything up until now and I hadn't really held my breath waiting for her not to bring it up.
'She wants me to tell Professor McGonagall,' I muttered, only half lying. 'About what happened two weeks ago.'
Roxy blinked, clearly not expecting that.
'Oh.' I could feel her gaze on me, heavy, cautious, worried. 'Honestly … I'm surprised she hasn't said something already. It's not like Rose to miss an opportunity to feel better than everyone else.'
And it wasn't like Rose to casually announce that she didn't think I deserved expulsion either, but here we were.
I sat back, fidgeting with my water bottle.
'What do you want to do?' she asked gently. 'Whatever you decide, you know I'll support you.'
I looked at her.
I didn't understand her at all sometimes. I didn't know why she still wanted to be my friend when I rarely showed the same level of compassion or friendship that she did. After I'd told her that I had cursed Kit, and after we'd found out that Cecily was expelled for it, Roxy hadn't brought it up once. I didn't know if she was waiting for me to say something—which I never did—or if she felt that the bridge we'd made back to each other after lying about Albus and my involvement in the Forest fire was still too fragile.
If I'd learnt anything from Saturday night, it was that I had to be a better friend.
I had to be the friend Roxy deserved.
'I want to tell the truth.'
I was tired of lying, tired of pretending I was an island and that I didn't need someone to talk to. Wasn't that why I had become Roxy's friend? Hadn't some part of me always wanted to … to make a family for myself? One that wasn't dysfunctional or broken. Roxy gave me all of that and more and I was still too fucking damaged to accept it.
Roxy's eyes flickered away. 'That will mean …'
'That I might get expelled, yes.'
It was a real possibility.
There was no reason to think that my idea would work—and I wasn't built on optimism and silver linings.
'I just wish …' Roxy screwed her eyes shut, pressing the heels of her palms against them. 'I just wish I could understand why … what even happened? I know you duelled Rose—but I just don't get it. What were all of you doing in there?'
If you trust her then you should tell her the truth.
It annoyed me more than anything that Rose had gotten in my head.
'I told you I was with Albus and that we planned the Forest fire—'
'Which you haven't really explained either—'
'Please don't ask me to,' I said, suddenly desperate. 'I can't tell you and—and I don't want to lie so please don't ask me about that.'
Roxy stared at me. Then—
'Okay fine. Albus is off limits. So what happened in the Forest?'
'I saw Cecily running into the Forest and I—I followed her. I don't know why—I just—I didn't understand what she was doing. I followed her and I asked her what she was doing and suddenly Rose and Kit were there. I have no idea why they were together or how they'd found us—and I … I … I lost it, okay? I saw red. I hadn't taken my potion for a few days and I just—my brain went haywire. That's the only way I can explain it.'
I tried to ignore the pit in my stomach, the voice in my head that snarled: you FUCKING liar.
'Okay.' Roxy blew the air out her cheeks, processing what little information I'd given her. 'But it was an accident. You didn't mean—'
'Rox, there's no excuse. I did mean to hurt someone. I meant to hurt Rose and it was only because Kit got in the way that I even realised how badly I'd fucked up. And look, I don't know what I would've done if Cecily hadn't gotten herself expelled. I can't sit here and say that I felt the same way then that I do now. Because how I feel now is … I'm worth more than the mistakes I've made.' I let out a bitter laugh. 'And I've made a lot. But I can't pretend anymore like I didn't make them.'
After a moment, Roxy nodded.
'I'll be fine,' I said, trying to be light. 'My dad won't be surprised.'
Roxy let out an involuntary laugh, but when her eyes locked with mine, I saw how truly miserable she felt.
'Hogwarts needed you more than you needed it anyway.'
I held up my homemade Valentine's Day card for Olive, Eve and Peter to assess.
'Is this good? I feel like it's not very good.'
'Well, it's very basic,' Peter said. He caught the look Eve shot him. 'What? I'm just being honest. She cut a heart out of some pink construction paper. My three year old sister could do that in her sleep. If I can't tell the truth, then just kill me Eve because all the reproachful looks in the world won't stop me from fighting for my right to exist exactly the way I was born. Marsha P. Johnson did not throw the first brick at Stonewall for you to silence me with your heteronormativity.'
'Oh for Merlin's sake, Peter.'
'Put some glitter on it,' Olive suggested, pushing her entire box of stationary and appliqués towards me.
Olive loved arts and crafts. When she had asked me what I'd gotten James for Valentine's Day and I had said nothing, she had actually screamed. No words, just a plain scream. It had been her idea to make a card, though she had made it very clear to me what a terrible gift that was for a couple who had just had sex for the first time. I had to listen to her lecture me for over an hour about how I needed to be better prepared.
'And put the little pearls around the edges. And some of these tiny plastic daisies on the cover. And make your message really thoughtful—'
'Okay, okay!' I was starting to feel overwhelmed. 'What am I even supposed to say in this?!'
'Just tell him how you feel,' Eve said.
'Tell him he owns your body and he can do whatever he wants with it—OW!'
Eve had thwacked Peter across the shoulder with her Charms textbook.
'This is the weirdest thing I've ever done. This is actually the weirdest, strangest, stupidest thing capitalism has ever conspired to cripple people under the stress of trying to perform to unrealistic social standards! I'm not part of the workforce yet! I don't make money! Why is capitalism trying to cripple me!'
'Capitalism didn't invent love, Kit,' Olive said. 'Valentine's Day is about love. It's about Hagrid's heart shaped turnips in the Entrance Hall and Flitwick bewitching the Great Hall's ceiling to rain red hearts! It's about Cupid's Singers—Hogwarts' most elite a-cappella singing group—visiting every classroom from the dungeons to to the Astronomy tower to serenade lovers!'
'And more realistically,' Peter interjected before Olive could wax-poetic any further. 'It's about sex.'
'No,' Eve said, snapping her book shut. 'It's not.' She looked at me seriously. 'Keep it simple, Kit. You don't need to pour your heart out. The gesture is sweet enough on its own.'
I looked at my card, thinking Peter had been a little too generous in saying his three year old sister could do the same. I was extremely sure that she could do a lot better than this; the edges weren't smooth, the glue had dried on the pearls and glitter and plastic flowers, leaving white stains; the silver glitter didn't match the green glitter (I don't know what my thought process behind that was). It was utterly hideous.
'But I don't know how I feel.'
'How does he make you feel?'
Olive seemed curious and interested in way she hadn't been since I'd started fake dating James. It calmed me down, actually, to know that she wasn't mad at me anymore for getting a boyfriend without her.
Cue the guilt over the fact that it was all a stupid, stupid lie.
'He's a really good friend,' I said honestly, mostly to stop thinking in my head. 'And I feel sad when he doesn't call me Murph. He makes me feel happy when he laughs at something I said—even though most of the time I don't know what I've said that's so funny. I just like his laugh and his … face.'
'And his abs,' Peter said.
'He doesn't have abs …' At least, he didn't the last time I saw him shirtless, which was … three years ago. 'I've never written a Valentine's Day card before you guys.'
'You've written letters.'
I looked up at Olive sharply.
She blinked at my intensity.
'I just mean … it's kind of the same thing, isn't it? It's not supposed to be a letter but … it's a kind of love note, you know?'
A love note.
I had always been so good at writing down my feelings—it was a natural extension of myself. I felt the most comfortable, the most honest and true and myself when I wrote my love letters. Like I was finally admitting to the universe that I was weird and had strong and inexplicable emotions. Untying the tight knot in my heart and seeing what each thread led to.
So why was I having so much trouble with it now?
I made my way to the Gryffindor common room, nervous butterflies erupting in my stomach, heart beating at an unhealthy rate (should I start working out? Maybe I needed to start running). The last time I had seen James, he had been dismissive and distant and had basically told me to get lost so he could rekindle his relationship with Pauline. It felt psychotic to give him a Valentine's Day card as if everything was completely fine.
But I'd already had about twelve different people ask me what James had gotten me for Valentine's Day. Every time Cupid's Singers burst into class today, all eyes had swivelled to me, but none of the musical telegrams had been for me. James was notorious for his public displays of affection when he was dating Pauline. Everyone was expecting a grand exhibition of his adoration for me and they seemed to be more disappointed than me that it hadn't happened yet.
Our ruse was slipping.
People were beginning to notice the cracks.
So it wasn't weird for me to give James a card—it was actually the least I could—and maybe it would give him a reason to talk to me.
I approached the portrait of the Fat Lady and said 'Dumbledore' before she could even open her mouth.
She smiled sweetly.
'The password changes every week darling.'
'What?' I glared at her. Why couldn't the Gryffindors just have a barrel to tap and pour vinegar on intruders like a normal common room entrance! Passwords were so stupid! 'Is it Harry Potter this time? No—don't tell me. It's Godric. Godric Gryffindor.'
'No it's not,' said the Fat Lady, dropping all pretence of being pleasant. 'Now go away.'
This could not be happening to me again.
'Look, it's Valentine's Day today. Surely you can find it in your heart to let me in? I'm just here to—'
'No, no,' she interrupted dryly. 'Let me guess. You're just here to see your boyfriend.'
I bristled. 'Yes. Yes I am.'
'No password, no entrance.'
'Oh come on!' I lost my patience. 'Why can't we just let bygones be bygones! Water under the bridge! We've both apologised for our terrible behaviour—'
'Apologised?' The Fat Lady was scandalised. 'You haven't apologised! And I have nothing to apologise for! You've never said sorry for anything you little—you little wench—'
'Wench?! You're the wench! You're a rude, large wench! I'm a small and petite witch!'
'Petite?' The Fat Lady screeched with derision. 'You're taller than Hagrid and he's half giant!'
'Oh just let me in!' I cried, going so far as to stomp my foot. It was all I could do not to kick her. 'Let me in!'
'I can't! It would be a security risk!'
'It's not like you haven't flirted with a pink slip before! And who do you think I am?! I'm not Sirius Black brandishing a knife at you!'
The Fat Lady gasped and clutched her bosom, the colour draining from her usually rosy cheeks.
'You can't seriously still be hung up on that! That was like—' I did some quick mental maths '—almost thirty years ago!'
'Trauma doesn't work like that you silly little girl!'
'I'll show you trauma—'
I whirled around and was relieved to see Charlie. He was in his Quidditch gear, wet with snow, and was clearly coming back from a practice.
I turned to the Fat Lady triumphantly.
'See! That's my brother! Charlie Murphy, Gryffindor Quidditch Captain who was almost, very nearly, Head Boy!'
'Agatha,' Charlie said, smiling winningly up at the Fat Lady. He ran his fingers through his raven black hair, combing the snow away. 'Was my sister bothering you?' Before she could reply (she'd gone all giggly and soft when he addressed her), he went on, 'I'll get her out of your way. Fortuna.' As the portrait swung open, Charlie looked at me. 'Why are you picking a fight with her again? I thought I told you to stop.'
'I wasn't picking a fight! She called me a wench!'
Charlie grinned. 'What are you doing here?'
We both looked at the ridiculous pink, heart shaped card in my hands at the same time.
He rolled his eyes.
'He's not in the common room.'
'He's not? Do you know where he is?'
'If he isn't with you I don't know where he is.' It looked like it pained him only a little to admit that. 'Aren't you going to go in?'
'Well, if he's not inside I don't really see what the point is …'
'Have you tried the Great Hall? He's probably still at dinner with the boys.'
I looked at my feet with a sinking feeling in my stomach.
'I don't think he's with the boys.' I turned the card over in my hands, feeling miserable. 'I think he's with Pauline.'
There was a beat of silence.
I sighed deeply. 'He hung out with her the whole day yesterday.'
'What the fuck?' I met Charlie's furious gaze and realised the mistake I'd made almost instantly. 'I'm going to fucking kill him—'
'No, no! That came out wrong! You've got it all wrong! He told me he was hanging out with her! They were just catching up! He wasn't—it wasn't—it's not what you think—'
'You don't know what he's like with Pauline!' Charlie shouted dementedly. 'You don't know what Pauline's like with him!'
'It wasn't like that! It really wasn't! Charlie! You don't—you don't understand! This is a—a hilarious misunderstanding—'
I broke off, panic rising inside me as Charlie's eyebrows traveled further and further up his forehead. And it hit me, right then and there, the terrible mistake James and I had made deciding to fake date each other. We weren't just messing with our own emotions—we were out here making people we cared about believe that what we had was real. Who knew relationships didn't happen in isolation! I certainly didn't!
I knew, in that moment, that if James ever broke up with me that Charlie would never forgive him and their friendship would be ruined.
'It's actually me,' I blurted. 'I cheated on him.'
I didn't allow myself the time to process the hell that was my mind and my mouth.
'I—I—I flirted wth someone at the party on Saturday. And he's mad at me so—' I waved the card lamely in his face '—I know I messed up. I just … ugh, sorry Charlie, I promised you I wouldn't get you involved and now I'm telling you things you don't want to hear—'
'Kit,' he interrupted. His anger was gone, replaced with disbelief and disappointment. 'Forget about that. Why did you do that? Does he know?'
'Oh don't act like a saint!' I cursed myself at once for being defensive when I wasn't in any position to be yelling at him. 'It was only heavy flirtation! I didn't have sex with someone for a prolonged period of time!' God Katherine just shut up! 'It's not like you haven't done worse!'
'I know I have!' he cried. 'That's how I know even heavy flirtation is bad! I thought you were better than me, Kit!'
'Well I'm not! I'm just as bad as you!'
Charlie looked at me, mouth twisting. Then—
'Oh come here.'
He yanked me into his arms and gave me a big brother hug.
I squished my cheek against his chest, feeling sorry for myself.
I had to do it. I had to make it my fault. I could feel the contract crumbling around me. He wanted to be with Pauline and I wasn't making any headway with any other boy. I was in his way and the finish line was approaching. In order to save Charlie and James' friendship, I had to be the one that broke his heart and not the other way around.
'I wish you hadn't done it.'
'I don't think he's going to be that cut up about it,' I said, pulling away.
Charlie shot me a dubious look.
'Trust me. He'll get over it. We've only been dating for a month.'
'If you say so.' Charlie shook his head again. 'Poor guy had to go through some stuff to date you in the first place and now this …'
I arched an eyebrow.
'I know about the Whomping Willow.'
'Of course he told you.'
'Your friends really shouldn't have to do suicidal things just to date me!' I said hotly. 'Stop trying to control my life!'
He looked at me, astonished. 'Control your life? I'm not—'
'When you tell people not to date me that's a form of control, Charlie. You know Jack Day wanted to ask me out before James did? The only reason he didn't was because you made it clear to him that it would be a bad idea if he did! I'm sick of it! Stop doing stuff like that!'
'Okay, Merlin, fine!' Charlie's eyes widened. 'Sorry if I don't want fucking creeps going after my little sister.'
'Jack Day isn't a creep and besides, I'm seventeen! You need to mind your own business.'
'What the hell has gotten into you?'
'Nothing's gotten into me! I'm annoyed and upset and this is how I feel! I'm telling you how I feel!' I glared at him. 'And—actually—while I'm on the subject, I want nothing to do with any more of your pranks going forward! I'm not a pawn for you to use whenever you feel like! I also know where the Room of Requirement is now so you best believe I'm going to tell all your "enemies"—' I made air quotes to ensure he understood the depth of derision '—about it!'
'That's all, Charlie!' I said loudly, talking over him. 'That's all!'
'Okay, Jesus I'm sorry! You're being so weird!'
'I'm not weird!' I shouted, walking away. 'I was never the weird one here! I've never blindfolded anyone or asked you to dance in front of Filch to distract him while you jailbroke Louis and Henry out of detention!'
'I never asked you to dance in front of Filch! You did that all on your own!'
'I'm leaving, Charlie! This is me walking away both literally and figuratively! I'm walking away from this conversation so you can think about what you've done!
'Shit, Kit! I'm sorry, okay! Kit!’
I had a few hours before I needed to be at the Hog's Head Inn.
'Albus?' I murmured as I came in. I shut the door the abandoned dungeon classroom behind me. 'Albus?'
I felt myself smile, despite everything. Every time I was near him, every time I became conscious of the fact that he was allowing me to be close to him, a warmth spread through my body. A feeling of wholeness and belonging.
I found Potter sitting behind all the desks that were pushed haphazardly to one side. I sat down beside him and pulled my robes tighter around me.
'Why here?' I asked, looking around before meeting Potter's eyes. The room was filled with twilight and cobwebs. I drank him in, subconsciously searching for changes, as if he was metamorphosing every second I was away. But he hadn't changed, he hadn't moved on elsewhere without me. Desperation clawed through my veins. I had never wanted to leave him less because I knew in my heart of hearts that we would never, ever return to this again. We had started to let each other in, to let the light in, and I was going to draw the curtains shut.
Potter shrugged. 'Never seen anyone use it.'
I nodded and leaned into him slightly as I sat down, our arms touching lightly.
'Why do we have to see each other like this?' I asked, trying to avoid the inevitable end of this moment, possibly our last moment. I turned my head to study him. 'Are you embarrassed of me?'
'Then was is it? I know I said no one would have to know, and I don't have a problem with it, but I want to know why you need the secrecy.'
Potter's gaze flicked down to meet mine, eyes molten and intense, flickering with the slightest mischief. 'So I can do this …' He held my chin lightly as he brushed his lips against mine. My stomach coiled with electricity and anticipation. This was my new drug. I was shamelessly addicted to him; to his skin, pale and smooth, freckled and tattooed; his lips, bowstringed and soft, but hard and fierce when he kissed me; his scent, clean and fresh and silver.
I turned my head away as he tried to kiss me again, slightly out of breath.
'What?' he murmured, voice rough.
'I wish we could be different,' I whispered, hand fisting around his robes. I could feel his steady heartbeat on my fingertips. 'I wish we weren't trapped.'
Potter prised my hand away and moved just enough for me to feel the absence of his heat, but not enough for it to be significant, not enough for it make my heart ache the way it did.
'What are you talking about?'
'I want to call a meeting,' I said, locking my gaze with his. 'I want the Wave to organise again.'
'You never gave me a good reason for why we stopped.’
He looked away, jaw locking, and I realised what an idiot I was.
He wasn’t the slightest bit ashamed by the accusation.
'You weren't in any condition to participate.'
'James already kicked me out,' I pointed out, suppressing my anger. Logically, I knew why he lied—but it didn’t make me feel any less resentful. 'I know he doesn't—I know that nobody wants me to be a part of the Wave. I'm a liability. I get it.' Potter's gaze flicked to meet mine, unreadable. 'I want another chance to prove myself. I didn't join the Wave just because of you. I still have a cause. And I need your help. I need the Wave.'
'Jane … I'm not the one you have to convince, okay? Everyone voted you out.' Including me, his tone implied. 'I can talk to the guys but …'
'Tell me who's next.'
'James was first and it was climate change, so who's next?'
'Lulu,' he said, watching me carefully. 'Why?'
'What does she want to do?'
‘I can’t tell you that and you know it.’
‘Oh fuck off,’ I snapped. ‘Don’t give me that bullshit. I got the fucking tattoo. I swore the same stupid fucking oath as you. Do you trust me or what?’
Potter hesitated, clearly conflicted and at the same time exasperated, as though he knew he was fighting a losing battle.
At this point, I had no intention of telling him that I was going to turn myself in to McGonagall with only the slightest chance in hell that I wasn’t going to get expelled.
If he wanted to keep secrets then so could I.
‘Let me help, Albus,’ I said. ‘If you trust me then you’ll let me help—’
‘I trust you okay?’ He pushed his hair back in frustration, winding his fingers through his raven curls. ‘Fuck it—she has a problem with Hogwarts' selectivity.'
I looked away, thinking.
Hogwarts as an institution hadn’t progressed past the dark ages. Almost everyone here looked like me and we had a bloody hat tell us what our most valuable qualities were at the age of eleven. There were only so many places at the school which forced hundreds of witches and wizards to be homeschooled or find other places to learn magic. And there was nothing wrong with that, only ...
'Hogwarts tends to favour families with important names,’ I said aloud.
'It's not about money.'
'It's about systemic sanguinism …’
In other words, blood. Whether Hogwarts knew it or not, it offered more places to half-bloods and purebloods because it liked the convenience of inheritance. Had this school, its board, our beloved Headmistress ever taken a look at themselves? At the privilege you had to be born with to be educated here?
My gaze flicked up to meet his.
'What's her plan?'
Potter shifted uncomfortably. 'Um …'
'Tell me,' I demanded.
He sighed, resigned.
'She wants to destroy the Sorting Hat.'
I was still thinking about shit Kit all the way to the Great Hall—why did it irritate me so much that it rhymed?—that I nearly ran into Fred as he walked out.
'Hey—Kit.' He glanced over his shoulder, looking rather electrified, eyes wide and overly bright. 'You're here.'
'Hey Fred,' I said. 'Where's—'
Louis, Emma, Poppy, Vivian and James burst out of the Great Hall, chatting and laughing, and stopped abruptly when they saw me. Everyone's eyes widened, not so subtly darting from me to James.
I held up my card lamely.
Everyone chorused 'hey' back just as lamely. James ran his fingers through his hair, giving Louis a look as if to say, well, here we go. I couldn't help the way my heart stuttered as I drank him in. He looked exactly the same as always—uniform in slight disarray, scarlet and gold tie loosened, dark brown hair messy. But it was his precise boyishness that made feel so flustered. He was so … so real.
'Well,' Emma said bracingly. 'We'd better go.' She grabbed Fred and forced him forward, shooting me a smile. 'See you later Kit.'
I mumbled 'later' as the rest of them followed, all acting super awkward and strange.
Then it was just me and James.
'They know about Pauline don't they.'
It wasn't a question, but he answered anyway.
'Yeah, well … they saw us in the common room.'
I lanced my eyes up at him, a hot, kindling fire burning in my chest.
'Did you want them to see you?'
'What does it matter?' James said, suddenly annoyed. 'This was the point of this whole thing, wasn't it?'
'Yeah,' I forced out. 'Yeah it was. I just don't like looking stupid, James. I thought I told you that.'
He looked away, jaw locking.
'I thought you said you wouldn't hurt me.'
'Oh for Merlin's sake Kit—'
I shoved the card at him.
'This is for you. Happy Valentine's Day, James.'
I turned and walked away, telling myself I would not cry. I would never cry about James Potter ever again. I couldn't believe how stupid I was for trusting him. He hadn't changed. He wasn't my friend. He didn't care.
James caught up to me, getting in my way and forcing me to stop.
'Just go away, James. It's over.'
'Kit, just hold on a fucking second—'
'Why?! You said that we shouldn't stand in the way of each other and we are! You want to be with Pauline so I'm breaking up with you. This is over. We're done. This was such stupid idea to begin with!'
'So I'm in your way then?' he demanded, ignoring everything else I'd said. 'With who? Dean Beasley?'
'I thought you said you weren't into seventh years anymore.'
'I say a lot of things I don't mean!'
'What about this?!' James flapped the card in my face. 'Did you mean this?'
My eyes flickered to the card, heart skipping a beat.
'Yes. I do.'
James let out a derisive, breathless laugh, flicking his gaze away as if he couldn't stand the sight of me anymore.
'I've never really liked Valentine's Day but I've got to say—getting dumped through a card really takes the fucking cake.'
I didn't understand.
Wasn't this what he wanted? I was giving him what he wanted and he was still angry with me.
'I don't want you to be mad at me,' I said. 'I don't know how this got so strange and awkward but I never wanted this ruin our friendship! And it has! You're being weird with me or you're mad at me and I don't know why! I don't know what I did wrong and I'm upset about it!'
'I'm not mad at you, Kit.'
I looked at him in disbelief.
'Yes you are! Maybe you're not mad but I did something to upset you—'
'Upset me?' He laughed incredulously. 'Trust me, you haven't.'
'Are you deliberately trying to contradict me?' I searched his face for anything, any clue to what was going on in his head. 'I'm telling you how I feel and you—'
'How have I upset you!' he shouted suddenly, startling me. 'What the hell are you upset about! I haven't done anything to you!'
'You made me look stupid, James! All your friends know you snuck behind my back to talk to Pauline! How does that make me look? How do you think that makes me feel? This fake relationship means nothing if you do things like that!'
'This fake relationship is for that!' he shot right back. 'The whole point is so you can prove that you can get a boyfriend and so I can get Pauline back!'
'Well clearly we both got what we wanted then!' I shouted, trying not to show how stung I was by his words. ‘There’s no point anymore—you didn’t even invite my friends to the party, James! Why didn’t you invite them?! I feel like that was so unlike you—or maybe that is you and I’m just blind! Am I blind, James?! Am—’
'Can I ask you something?' he said abruptly, narrowing his eyes.
'Fire away! Questions are good! Questions have answers that clarify.'
'That's what I'm hoping for—what do you remember about the party on Saturday night?'
'Well—' I cast my mind back, thinking hard. If I was being honest, I remembered only brief flashes of things. James looking unbelievably sexy, sitting on a headstone, taking a more shots than I should have, people dancing, Dean Beasley talking to me (I couldn't remember what we talked about though) and Rose in her pyjamas showing up with Cecily's letters. 'Honestly? Not too much. Did Fred crowd surf at one point?'
'You were drunk.’ James said it like this was completely new information. 'You were completely fucking wasted!'
'Well,' I said sheepishly. 'I'd be lying if I said it wasn't kind of a blur …'
'Jesus fucking Christ.' He looked at the card in his hand like it was a disgusting Flobberworm. 'You told me you were sober, Murphy! I let you go find Cecily—I let you Floo! What the fuck is wrong with you?!'
'You infuriate me! This card infuriates me!'
'I worked on it all evening,' I said nervously. 'If you don't like it—'
'I don't like it!' he shouted. 'But I'm keeping it!'
'Okay, Jesus, fine! Keep it! It's yours! I made it for you!'
'You don't remember anything we talked about then?' he demanded furiously.
'Was there conversation? We were gently swaying, I remember that …' I trailed off as his eyes widened in disbelief. 'The answer to your question is no, not really … Oh! Winifred Catchpole was trying to get your shirt off!'
'Actually, you tried to take my shirt off.' I frowned. 'Bloody hell.'
I bit my lip.
Something had happened at the party. Something that I couldn't remember. Something that had pissed James off.
'James. What did I say?'
'What did I say? Was it … was it something weird?' Oh God, what if I told him something insane like I fancied him and he rejected me and I forgot and that was why he was acting so strange around me?! Oh GOD! 'James, if I said anythingthat—that was out of character—or even in character—let's cover all the bases here—then you have to know I was so drunk and my brain and mouth rarely cooperate on the best of days—'
'Murph,' he interrupted, pinching the bridge of his nose. 'Please stop talking.'
I clamped my mouth shut.
He inhaled deeply through his nose and exhaled through his mouth. When he finally met my gaze, he wasn't angry or exasperated or frustrated anymore. Well, that was good.
'I spoke to Pauline,' he said. 'We had a lot to talk about and … yeah, we talked about the way we felt about each other. She told me that she'd made the biggest mistake of her life and she apologised. She told me she still loves me. That if I could find a way to forgive her, she would never take me for granted again.'
My heart shrank into a small pit.
'But I didn't want to get back together with her.'
My heart expanded with tiny hope.
'One thing I've realised fake dating you,' he said slowly. 'Is that I don't think I like Pauline like that anymore.'
'Yeah. I think I deserve someone who wouldn't cheat on me in the first place. Someone who likes me for exactly who I am and doesn't try to change me or … or fix me. Someone who actually sees me.'
My heart jumped violently.
It's not you it's not you it's not you IT'S NOT YOU.
'Don't oho me like Slughorn.' James laughed and I blushed. Then he became serious. 'I'm sorry I hurt you, Murph ... I don’t know what I was thinking. It was wrong of me to talk to Pauline so publicly and I promise you it won’t happen again. You have every right to be upset with me and to want to break up—but I can fix this. My friends don't actually know anything. They saw us together and made up their own minds about it but I never told them that I wanted to get back together with her or anything like that.'
That was a nice apology and the idea of not breaking up was also nice.
But why was that nice?
What was wrong with me? It was mental illness—the thing we were doing. Like James had bluntly put it, I had proven that I could get a boyfriend and Pauline had come running back to him. We were just stuck at an impasse now because I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and he didn’t even want Pauline anymore.
'Thanks,' I forced out. 'But ... why?'
‘Why are we still pretending?’
He raised his eyebrows and blinked, as if he hadn't heard right.
'You mean …' He looked around the corridor, like he couldn't believe it. 'I mean—you want to—you know—' He gestured at me with his hand, clearing his throat gruffly, trying to look serious '—I mean, do you feel the same? The—the same way? You like—? You want? Do you—do you want? Want to? You want it? Too?'
I stared at him uncomprehendingly.
He was completely flustered.
'You're being weird,' I said suspiciously.
'No I'm not!' His cheeks were bright red. 'I asked you a question!'
'No … you really didn't.'
'I'm just saying! Just saying that—that if you want—you want to—to do that—the not pretending—'
‘Well,’ I said. He seemed relieved to have a reason to shut his mouth. It was hugely entertaining to see him stammer and stutter like this—his brain and mouth were out of synch just like mine. 'I don't know why we're pretending at all anymore. Like you said, Pauline and Jack were what this whole thing was about and you've gotten over Pauline and I've decided Jack is not the one for me so …'
'Oh,' he blurted. 'Oh.'
His hand shot up to his hair, trying wildly to flatten it. He blew the air out of his cheeks, eyes overly bright.
'You still want to break up.'
I was confused by his confusion.
'Yeah, but—' He broke off, eyes darting around the corridor. 'But the … the contract. We said until the 14th of March.'
'But,' I stressed. 'What's the point?'
James opened his mouth, then closed it. Then—
'Murph—we can't break up on Valentine's Day.' He said this as if what I’d really suggested was pole dancing in the Great Hall during dinner. 'It's Valentine's Day. What would people think?'
Honestly, would anyone even care? Who were we doing this for?
'Besides,' James went on, as if sensing he was losing me. 'Besides you haven't learnt how to properly be in a relationship yet! Like, yeah, sure, we could end it right now but we could also end it in another month precisely because Pauline and Jack aren't our problems anymore! One might argue the futility of doing this for another month but is there an argument for the futility of ending it now? One might argue that this argument exists!'
He wasn't making any sense.
'Charlie would be pissed if the Whomping Willow nearly killed me just so I could date his sister for a month.'
I rolled my eyes—then froze.
What had I done?!
'I need to tell you something,' I blurted, looking at him wildly.
'Okay, don't be mad but—' James raised his eyebrows '—I, um, I may have told Charlie that I cheated on you—'
'Hear me out!' I cried. 'Just wait! I realised that it can't be your fault when we eventually do break up! Charlie can't think you've broken my heart or he'll never forgive you and you won't be friends anymore! It has to be my fault!'
'So you thought you'd tell him you cheated on me?!' James spluttered. 'Why do you never think before you speak!'
'I try to but sometimes it doesn't work! I'm sorry!'
'Damage control,' he said furiously, pointing my card at me. 'You have to do damage control.'
'Tell him you wanted to break up with me because things were getting too serious too fast so you lied and said you cheated because you wanted a reason to break up with me!'
I pursed my lips.
'You came up with that rather quickly.'
'It was what I told Charlie to tell Imogen when he cheated on her with Cecily.'
'That's not the point here!' He combed his fingers through his hair in frustration. 'Just tell him you didn't cheat on me, okay?'
'Okay,' he huffed.
'Do you want me to walk you back to your common room?' James demanded.
I opened my mouth to say no, then closed it.
'Who did you even cheat on me with then?' he muttered darkly as we began to walk. 'If it was Dean Beasley, Kit, I swear to God—'
'I didn't say I cheated on you exactly … just that I flirted with someone else, which from what I remember is sort of the truth?'
'You're not going anywhere near Dean Beasley ever again.'
'And you get to do whatever you want with Pauline?!'
'I wasn't doing whatever I want with Pauline! I was telling her it was over in no uncertain circumstances!'
'That sounds like an excuse—like you're still hung up on the person who supposedly doesn't deserve you anymore.'
'That isn't what I said at all …'
We made our way to the Hufflepuff Common Room, bickering all the way.
I waited in my room at the Hog's Head Inn, wondering if he would come.
It wasn't true what I'd said to Kit. It wasn't true that I hadn't thought about him.
I watched the door, heart drumming in my chest, stomach tight with nerves. He was over an hour late. A part of me knew it meant he wasn't coming, that he read my only letter to him and discarded it in disdain and rightly felt anger. How many letters had he sent me? How many had I ignored or burned? Why couldn't I have been kinder to him?
I got up and walked to the door, hand twisting the doorknob, but I stopped myself before I pulled.
Havoc and destruction simmered inside of me. Uncontrollable rage that I couldn't feel, a thin, fragile barrier that held it all back, a warning system that didn't exist. I had a bomb inside of me with someone else in control of the trigger.
I couldn't leave this room.
I turned, back flush against the door and sank to the floor, burying my head in my hands.
'I'm sorry Charlie,' I whispered into my palms. 'I'm sorry I left. I should've said goodbye. I'm sorry I wasn't better to you. I'm sorry for thinking you only wanted me if I could be your secret, a detour in your perfect life. That wasn't fair of me and it isn't true … I see that now. Truth is, I didn't want your love. I didn't want the world to see me any differently than how I saw myself. And I hate myself, Charlie. I despise who I am.'
I drew my knees close my chest, wrapping my arms around them.
'I tell myself over and over again that if you knew the real me, if you knew me the way you wanted to, you wouldn't want to love me. Because loving me would be hard. And I know that at sixteen. But you … you've had a full life, full of family and love and … and you don't understand what it means to be hard to love. Everyone loves you. You and Kit are so alike in that way. You love people and they love you back.'
Tears filled my eyes and I tried not to cry, but these things couldn't be helped.
'I think about what you said constantly. The night before I left. And you were right … I'm ashamed of myself, Charlie. I hate that I'm here. I hate that I'm living. I don't want my life. I don't want to live it anymore. And I can't see the way out.' I began crying in earnest now, tears falling steadily, hot and salty. 'I don't know how to get this darkness out of me and it's weighing me down, Charlie, it's pulling me down …'
I wiped my eyes with the sleeves of my jumper, filled with a terrible sadness that twisted my heart that I could never tell him this. That the only person who I was sure would listen to my pain would only ever hear it in my imagination.
'I'm ready for you to love me now, Charlie.' I closed my eyes. 'I'm sorry I wasn't ready before—'
There was a creak outside the door.
I shot up to my feet at once, heart hammering loudly in my chest, white noise rushing to my ears.
'Charlie?' I whispered, hardly daring to breathe.
'No!' I yanked the door open and saw robes flutter as they disappeared down the stairs. 'Charlie! Wait!'
But he was gone.
Was it even him? Had I imagined it?
My heart was beating wildly in my chest, my cheeks flushed with heat; if he was here, he’d heard more than I would’ve ever told him had I known.
I had to go after him.
I had to explain.
The girls would understand—I had no other choice—I had to—
I looked down at the threshold I couldn't cross.
Hiiiii I’m back!!!! I’m so sorry this update took so long! This was just such a hard chapter to write jesus lol but I hope you guys like it! Let me know what you think x
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