'How certain are you?'
Rose looked away, chewing the insides of her cheek. She folded her arms over her chest and leaned against the corridor wall. It was relatively early on a Saturday morning after a party so there weren't a lot of people around. And I wasn't entirely sure we'd run into each other by accident on the way to the Great Hall either.
'Well, it wasn't in the Prophet if that's what you're asking,' she said. 'McGonagall might be keeping it quiet because of, you know, the whole he was attacked by Dark Magic thing.' Her eyes flicked up to mine and I frowned. There was something … off with her. She seemed distant. Even her sarcasm fell flat. 'They'll be looking for her, Jane. It's not on the news and no one's talking about it but …'
'I know.' I didn't know what to do. If it was true that Creevey left St. Mungo's last night then where was he? It didn't feel right that he'd apparently left without being discharged. Slughorn was possibly becoming senile in his old age but … his gossip was rarely ever rumour. 'Rose, this means we were right.'
Her brow furrowed. 'About what?'
'About Creevey. Why did he leave the hospital without being discharged? Don't you think that's suspicious? And why isn't he back?'
A light flickered out in her eyes. 'Maybe … maybe he thinks he'll be in trouble. Or maybe he doesn't want to tell anyone about Cecily … he could be protecting her …'
It wasn't impossible.
The tattoo still gnawed at me. But a tattoo wasn't proof of anything. And, as Rose had said earlier, his behaviour leading up to the orphanage was dodgy but not malicious. At least, not intentionally. We still hadn't said anything to Cecily but why worry her when she was busy trying to control her Obscurus? Besides, she seemed certain that Creevey was helping her.
'Yeah,' I said, squeezing Lulu's Galleon in my robe's pocket. 'He could be.'
'You really think so?'
'I honestly don't know.' I sighed. 'But the sooner Cecily learns to control her Obscurus the better. We can't do anything about Creevey anyway.' I looked at her. 'Do you know how it's going with Kit?'
Rose shrugged, looking at her watch. 'No clue. I suppose she'll let us know if she can.' She pushed herself off the wall and smiled at me faintly. 'I'll see you around then.'
A small flame of concern flickered in my heart as I watched her leave. There was something wrong … but I couldn't figure out what.
'Rose,' I began.
But she was gone.
I spent my Saturday with Scorpius.
I'd done what I needed to do—telling Jane about Creevey—and now there was nothing left to do but wait. Wait for what, I didn't know. Creevey to make an appearance maybe. Cecily to let us know what was going on. For time to hurry up. Because waiting was hard. Having nothing to do was hard. There was too much time to think.
There was a knot in my heart, prickled with thorns. I was afraid to go near it, afraid to bleed. I so badly didn't want to look at it but the temptation burned with every passing hour. And I wanted to hack it out, tear it from root and stem, before I submitted to that temptation. But I had a terrible, hollow feeling that it would only grow back stronger, digging its roots deeper until I couldn't ignore it any longer.
It was easy enough for Jane to say that I should tell Cecily how I felt but … but what was it that I felt?
'You want to play Wizard's Chess?'
I blinked and looked up at Scor.
'I'm not very good.'
He grinned. 'Don't worry, neither am I.'
For now, I could ignore it. With plenty of distractions.
I peeled myself out of my bed, casting a blank look at Olive and Eve, both still sprawled on their beds, passed out cold.
My entire body felt like death. A fierce, pounding headache was splitting my head. My heart was racing much too fast and my stomach was swimming with nausea. Suddenly, I felt my gut jolt—and I ran to the bathroom, making it just in time to the toilet before I was sick.
'Oh God,' I groaned over the toilet bowl.
I vomited again, vomited loudly and a lot. I considered, for a moment, if it was too dramatic to end my life right then and there. Then I retched again, emptying my stomach of everything I had drunk or eaten the day before. When I was done, my headache had stopped cleaving my brain in half. It was more of a dull throb now.
I was never drinking ever again.
After a moment, after I'd regained my breath, I crawled over to the cabinet where Peach Garden (the fifth girl in our dorm) kept her Muggle medication. Somehow, I managed to swallow two painkillers. I sat on the bathroom floor, then lied down on it, almost whimpering at the relief the cold tiled floor brought me. It was also possible that I passed out again for some time because when I blinked awake, drool had dried on my face.
With great effort, I pushed myself to my feet—and stared at my reflection.
My hair was an unkempt mess, frizzy and knotted, hastily pulled back in the sorriest looking half-bun, half-pony tail you'd ever seen. Usually, I would've said my hair was my best feature. On good days, it was curly and glossy. My natural colour was chestnut brown but I'd died it last summer so it was more golden. When Mallory had told me it looked like a lion's mane, I'd beamed with joy. She didn't mean it as a compliment, I knew, but it was to me.
Then there was my black eye—purple and grey—and my skin, ashen and green. I honestly looked ill. Like a sick patient dying of some unheard of disease. And my body was … well, I couldn't help my body. I'd been skinny as a toothpick my entire life. I was like stretched out taffy. You could make out hints of a shape—slight hips, unfortunately small boobs.
Mum always said I was elfin, like a wraith. A creature from a fairytale. She said my limbs lent itself to grace.
I dragged my hands down my face.
'What have you done,' I asked the girl in the mirror. 'You fucked up so badly last night.'
I only turned away when my reflection began to fog up from the steam. In the shower, I pressed my forehead against the wall and held back a sob of dismay.
Had I really shouted at Dean Beasley? Had I really thrown a drink in his face?
I groaned out loud, pounding a fist against the tile.
I had screamed to the whole party that Dean had slept with Pauline. I'd told them he was trying to use me to make James angry. I said he was pathetic. Everyone knew who Pauline had cheated on James with. He was going to hate me forever now.
I'd called Dean a fucking troglodyte.
I was so fucked.
I turned my head to look at the girl in the mirror. There was no going back to the Kit I was before this party, was there? That Kit died somewhere in between calling Dean a creep and telling him he was a shit kisser. There wasn't single person at this school who wouldn't be talking about me. They'd probably branded me as the girl who couldn't handle her alcohol, who was a crazy, loose cannon, an embarrassment …
James probably hated me.
There was simply no going back. The sooner I made peace with that, the quicker I could move on with my life. I would have to wear my shame with pride. I would stitch myself a scarlet A and pin it to my chest—metaphorically—for the world to see. I would embrace my demons and let them take over.
But how did one accomplish that? How does someone pretend or actually accept that they'd embarrassed themselves so thoroughly in front of all their classmates? Every time I remembered something I'd said, or the look on Dean's face when he'd called me crazy, I was so mortified with shame that all I wanted to do was crawl back into my bed and pretend like I didn't exist.
But I couldn't do that. I wouldn't do that. I had to stick by my guns. If I really thought about it ... I didn't regret calling Dean out for his shitty behaviour. Sure, I regretted the way I'd gone about it—shouting and swearing—but did I really hate myself for doing it?
The short answer was no.
I was—I was proud of it.
I grabbed Olive's expensive bottle of shampoo. I'd seen the brand in fancy Muggle shops and I'd always marvelled that her mum had allowed her to buy it. Mum would smack me for even thinking about it. Lathering the shampoo in my hair, I was immediately struck by the flowery, clean scent. It smelled like spring. I immediately followed that with the same branded conditioner. I then opted for my usual body wash—almond and vanilla.
Once I was done, I stepped out the shower and wrapped myself in my fluffy white towel. Behind me, the heavenly scents I'd just bathed myself in followed me out. Dreamy. I dried my hair with my wand and took care, applying a glossing spell—courtesy of Witch Weekly—letting it bind to the natural spring and bounce of my curls. I thought about putting it up, but kind of loved the way it fanned around me, reaching past my shoulder blades, truly resembling a lion's mane.
Emboldened by my new determination to take care of myself, I pulled the expensive set of skincare Charlie got for my birthday last year and applied the moisturiser. I reached for the next bottle of whatever when something caught my eye. I looked up at the mirror—and my jaw dropped. My black eye was vanishing! I looked at the bottle of moisturiser, wondering what kind of sorcery was in it. Why hadn't I bothered to use this before?!
Feeling like a brand new human being, I then applied a serum that promised to "brighten and tighten". To my surprise, it really did brighten my skin, making my cheeks rosy pink and glowing gold as it caught the light.
I looked alive again!
I went to the Great Hall alone, head held high, fresh and clean. I ignored the stares and the whispers that went up as I entered. Instead, I flipped my hair over my shoulder and sat down at the Hufflepuff table. It was lunch time, so I was subjected to more looks than usual. But I bore them with great dignity. I supposed that it was a small mercy people weren't crazy enough to tell me to my face how insane I was.
I looked up and was so surprised to see Jack Day sit opposite me that I nearly dropped the teapot I was holding. His hand shot out to steady mine just in time. He grinned and took it from me, setting it down with exaggerated care.
'Hi,' I said breathlessly.
'Your black eye is gone,' he blurted, as if this wasn't what he'd been planning on saying. 'You look ...'
'Oh! Yes! This moisturiser that Charlie got me for my birthday got rid of it! It's like he always knew I'd need something to get a rid of a black eye ... like he knew it was possible someone would give me a black eye ...' I frowned. 'I really hope I'm not the kind of person people want to punch.'
'I think you're the kind of person who's more likely to fall down a flight of stairs.'
Jack smiled, like he was giving me a compliment, and I was confused until I remembered this was one of the rumours I'd spread about myself to explain my black eye.
'Oh right,' I said. 'Yeah. I guess.'
'So ... How are you?' He seemed a little sheepish, as though he knew how facetious the question was. 'I heard about last night …'
'Oh. That.' I raised my chin haughtily and grabbed the small jug of milk, pouring it into my tea. 'Yes, well. I've decided I don't really care if people think I'm crazy or a freak. I don't care what Dean's problem with James is—that's their business. But Dean's a—a bellend and I don't regret throwing that drink in his face.'
Jack let out a laugh, like I'd surprised it out of him.
I pressed my lips together, looking at him long enough to feel suddenly unsure.
'Was it—' I involuntarily scanned the table. A few people met my eye and looked away quickly. I lowered my voice. 'Was it bad? I know it was dramatic and like … so over the top. I'm actually really embarrassed about it. Should I apologise to him?'
Jack was shaking his head, still smiling, eyes glittering with humour.
'Kit, I think nearly every girl at Hogwarts wishes they had the balls to do what you did. I wouldn't be surprised if his ex wants to shake your hand. Or give you gold.'
'He treats girls like shit,' Jack said dryly. 'Trust me, you have nothing to be embarrassed about. Beasley had it coming.'
'But—but …' I bit my lip, picking at my fingernails. 'I said things I shouldn't have. I'm worried that … I'm worried that I hurt someone just because I was being … ballsy.'
Jack's expression softened. 'You mean James?'
My cheeks flushed with heat. 'Does everyone know?'
'It wasn't much of a secret, Kit.' I met Jack's eyes and my heart didn't falter, didn't skip a beat; it continued to beat steadily and strong. His eyes were so kind. How did I ever forget how kind his eyes were? 'More people know now, sure, but … James will forgive you for it.'
'Then we're probably not talking about the same James.'
'It wasn't your fault.'
'I just felt so angry for him,' I said desperately. 'It just—it broke my heart that Dean thought he could hurt James by—by inviting me to his party or—or kissing me. It's just ridiculous! And James doesn't deserve that! Dean's the one who slept with Pauline! He already broke him!'
'True,' Jack said. 'But Dean was talking to Pauline before she and James ever got together. I'm not excusing what he did but … I don't think Dean quite sees it that way.'
'Well his way can get fucked. I don't care what happened. Pauline chose James.'
And James chose Pauline.
My gaze slid to the Gryffindor table, searching for a familiar dark haired boy—
'It's Hogsmeade today,' Jack said quietly.
My gaze snapped back to him.
'Is it? I … completely forgot.'
He scratched the wooden table, unable to meet my eye. I could see that he was blushing.
Oh my God.
'I know you probably don't want to go, considering you're hungover and …' he waved a hand vaguely, possibly meant to indicate my relationship with James. 'But you know, if you're keen … I'm going and … and I don't really want to go alone but …'
'Are you asking me out?' I blurted, unable to help myself. Was it okay to go on a date with someone four days after you'd broken up with your fake boyfriend? What were the rules for this?! Wait—shut up Kit. Make sure he's actually asking you out first! 'Like … a date?'
'Well—you—well—' Jack stammered, looking up at me wildly. His hand shot to his hair, trying to smoothen down what was already tamed. 'I know you and James just broke up so it doesn't have to be a date—'
'It can be a date,' I said, blinking. 'It can—I mean, if you want—it can be a—a date—'
'Really? Are you sure? You'd … you'd want that?'
I didn't give myself any time to think about it.
'Yeah, actually. I think I do.'
He laughed breathlessly. 'Okay—cool. It's a date.' He looked the clothes I was wearing. 'It's still cold outside. You'll need a jacket.'
I looked down at myself. 'Oh! You're right.' I beamed up at him. 'Should we go back to the common room and get our coats?'
'Yeah, let's go—I think Weasley's Wizarding Wheeze's unveiled some of their new products yesterday—'
'Oh my God! We have to hurry! I heard they had new Patented Daydream Charms! I need to know if it's true!'
Laughing, Jack ran after me as I raced back to the Hufflepuff common room.
I knocked on the Slytherin boys dormitory door.
It was Albus who answered, which felt a lot like fate.
'Cecily,' he said, surprised. I took in his appearance—a shirt hastily thrown on, a strip of pale stomach peeking through, green boxers riding low on his hips, black curls rumpled and slept on. Jane had been in here with him. I tried not to smirk. 'What's up?'
'You're done with Kit?'
I looked down at my hands, remembering the black sand that had danced and woven over them yesterday, the odd … attachment I felt with it, like it was an extension of my own body, my … my soul. I had felt no control over it. It had just appeared, out of nowhere, and my fear had almost overwhelmed me. I could feel it slipping away from me, taking pieces of myself—the thing that made me me—with it. The absolute terror when I could feel myself withering away ...
I didn't want to be afraid anymore.
Albus considered me, expression unreadable.
'What do you need me to do?'
I hadn't known before coming here impulsively. I'd followed a gut instinct, a subconscious feeling in my heart, as it led me to Albus' room. I didn't know what I'd achieve by coming to him—why not Jane? Or James? Or Charlie or Rose?—but I knew, with sudden and total certainty, exactly what I'd have to ask him to do.
'I need you to look in my mind.'
'Kit, it sounds like you're addicted to these Daydream Charms—'
'No, no, no—you've got it all wrong. I mean, there was a moment where I thought I was addicted too but it's just like watching a movie or reading a book! Something to do in your spare time but you're the main character—'
'It sounds like addiction. It sounds like—'
'Oh my God! I'm not addicted!' I laughed, shoving Jack away playfully as we entered the Hufflepuff common room. He grinned at me. 'You've just got to try one with me. Then you'll understand.'
'Brilliant,' he said. 'Already coming up with ideas for our second date.'
My face burned and I was almost reluctant to leave—but I had to get my coat. Slightly awkwardly, both still grinning, we both went up to our respective rooms. Downstairs, I wasn't surprised to see both Olive and Eve's hangings drawn shut to block out the sunlight. I guess they'd have to wait to find out I was going on a bloody date with Jack! And it was actually real!
I was lightheaded by the thought.
I felt like I was in a daydream right now, as I breezed to my wardrobe. I looked down at what I was wearing—nothing special, just a pair of black jeans I'd found on top of my trunk and a cosy, knitted jumper. I almost didn't change because I didn't want Jack to think I was too keen—but then I thought fuck that! It was ridiculous at this point if I had to hide it. This was what I had wanted from the very beginning.
So I slipped on my faded blue flared jeans, a white, long-sleeved t-shirt that was slightly off the shoulder, and my cream-coloured woollen wrap coat. I quickly applied some lipstick—a baby pink, natural colour—and dusted some blush on my cheeks. I appraised myself, satisfied. I grabbed my bag and went back upstairs.
'Sorry I took so long,' I said, double checking that my money pouch was still in my bag. 'I didn't think my hangover outfit was suitable for—'
I looked up—and my face fell.
James rose to his feet, wiping his palms on his jeans. His eyes flicked down and up my body before meeting my gaze. I was completely shocked to see him here. We'd been diligently avoiding each other since we agreed to help Cecily. It had been frighteningly easy for him to disappear from my life, like he'd never been a part of it at all. And now he was back just as abruptly as he was gone. Why, I thought desperately, why was four days of pretending like I didn't care undone by just one second of looking at him?
'James.' My eyes raked all over him; the jumper he was wearing, the dark jeans, his messy hair and tired eyes. 'What—what's wrong?'
'I heard about last night,' he said. 'I just … wanted to see if you were okay.'
I opened my mouth, then closed it.
He ran his fingers through his hair, looking away. 'I should've told you it was Dean.' He walked over to the book case by the hearth, tracing his fingers across the spines of the books lined there. 'I should've told you about him after the Valentine's Day party. I just didn't think that he'd—'
I took a lurching step forward. 'James, please, it's not your fault—I'm so sorry—'
He turned in astonishment. 'Sorry? For what? Murph, you didn't do anything wrong—'
'I was so drunk, James,' I said, shaking my head desperately. 'I was just shouting and shouting and now everyone knows that Pauline cheated on you with Dean—'
'Merlin.' James walked up to me but stopped short of coming too close. 'I couldn't care less who knows.' He seemed frustrated. 'He knew exactly what he was doing when he invited you to that party—'
'And I knew exactly what I was doing when I said yes.' I searched James' face, unable to read anything in his expression. 'I'm not entirely clueless, James. I know what people say about Dean.'
'Then why? Why did you go?'
I shrugged helplessly. 'Because I wanted to. I—I wanted to go to a party that I was invited to and have fun. And I don't regret throwing a drink in Dean's face or calling him a troglodyte. He deserved it.'
James looked as though he didn't know whether to groan or laugh.
'You're my hero, Murph. Have I ever told you that?'
I blushed furiously.
'But why did you do it? I mean, I'm glad you did it—he absolutely deserved but … why? He definitely wanted to …' he trailed off, insinuation hanging heavy in the air. I realised, with a slight start, that he'd been moving closer and closer with every word. He cleared his throat. 'I just mean … it wouldn't have affected you in any way if you'd … stayed.'
'I know,' I said quietly. 'But he wanted to hurt you. And I didn't like that.'
He took another step closer, eyes becoming hooded and intense. 'Why?'
My heart stuttered at his nearness.
'Why didn't you want to hurt me,' he murmured. 'I'd have deserved it.'
'For what?' I couldn't think with him being so close. It wasn't right. It—it—
'For lying to you about the Wave. For thinking you wouldn't notice …' His eyes trailed from my lips, up my jaw and to my hair. He lifted a hand brush back a curl, letting his hand brush my cheek. My eyes fluttered shut and I think I actually stopped breathing. 'And for Pauline.'
I opened my eyes; our gazes locked.
'What about Pauline?' I whispered.
'I told you I couldn't say away from her. But that wasn't true.' My heart clenched. 'I was angry with her. Angry at myself, too. She kept telling me she loved me, that … Dean was a mistake and I wanted to believe her. I let myself believe her. But you were right, Murph.' His eyes flickered all over my face, as though he was discovering something that hadn't been there before. 'I didn't want her to know how much she'd hurt me. I didn't even … I didn't even realise that I'd cared until she'd …'
'It's okay,' I said dazedly. 'It's okay if you care.'
'I know,' he said, voice rough and strained. 'That's not what I'm … I should have never asked you to pretend. It was wrong of me.'
A stone sank slowly in my heart.
'I ... I wanted to do it.'
'I shouldn't have asked,' he said firmly. 'I shouldn't have done that to you.'
I looked up at him, an emptiness swelling in my chest. He knew didn't he? He knew how I felt about him. I couldn't bear it—I couldn't bear it if he apologised to me for one of the best months of my life. This was his way of letting me know. That he was sorry that he'd led me on when he still cared for Pauline.
'I should have—'
'I'm going on a date with Jack,' I blurted out desperately.
James' mouth snapped shut. A whole flurry of emotions rippled across his features, of which I could only name a few. Disbelief, surprise, but most hurtful was the incredulity.
'Are you sure?' he asked, voice strangled. Then he shook his head. 'I mean—that's fantastic. Great.'
I chose to ignore his first, insulting reaction.
'He's going to be here any minute, actually.' I looked at the boy's dormitory door to puncture my point. 'So … I mean, if you want to, you know, avoid that awkwardness … you should go.'
'Right,' he said, dumbfounded. 'Right.' He looked at the common room exit, as if startled to find it exactly where he'd left it. 'Well, I guess that explains it then.'
'Explains what?' I demanded, alarmed. 'I just need to go because I'm in a hurry—in a rush, as they say—'
James ignored my blabbering, gaze slowly sliding down the length of me, lingering on my exposed collarbones and my shirt.
'It explains how pretty you look,' he murmured.
I found that I'd lost my voice.
When his eyes met mine, they were burning. 'Didn't you read my notes?'
The door of the boy's dormitory opened and Jack stepped into the common room, grinning widely—until he realised who was standing so close to me. James took a large step back, shoving his hands into his pockets, immediately adopting an easy, charming expression, as if he hadn't just looked at me with so much desperation and vulnerability just mere seconds ago.
'Jack—mate,' James said, smiling. 'I was just leaving. I'll leave you two to it.'
He raised both his hands and sauntered out the common room. I watched him go, heart beating wildly in my chest. What did he mean, about the notes? Why had he looked at me like that? If he would just look back—just once—
'What did he want?' Jack asked.
I tore my gaze away from the entrance and looked at Jack; I could tell from his still damp hair that he'd taken a shower. He'd changed his clothes and he'd taken a shower … He wanted to look good; he didn't care about looking too keen. He wanted to go on a date with me. For real.
'Nothing,' I said, smiling. 'You were right. He forgave me.'
'Is it weird?' Scor asked. I spun the postcard display, letting the colours and shapes blur together prettily. 'That we're hanging out, I mean.'
I looked at him. 'No.' Then paused. 'Do you think it's weird?'
He raised a hand to rub the back of his neck. 'Well … it's nice. It's been a while since we've been able to hang out like this.' His sleet grey eyes flicked up to mine. 'And you seem different. Like there's a lot going on in your head.'
I arched an eyebrow. 'Are you telling me that usually there's nothing going on in my head?'
Scorpius grinned crookedly. 'No. Not even slightly.' He cocked his head to the side, considering me. 'You're different, Rose.' He seemed a little sad as he said this and suddenly I knew exactly what he was going to say next. 'We haven't talked about—'
I turned away from him. 'I'd rather not.'
He caught up to me as I left the store, marching up the high street, head bowed down against the gusts of wind.
'Rose.' He grabbed my elbow but I shook him off. 'Rose.'
'I said I didn't want to talk about it!'
'Then what do you need! Come on, Rose—' This time, when Scorpius took my arm, I let him turn me around to face him. He searched my face desperately. 'Just tell me what you need. I want to be there for you. Whatever's going on, I want to help and—and we don't have to be together if that's not what you want—'
'Is that what you want?' I asked miserably.
'No, Rose,' he said. 'Not if that's not what you want. All I've ever wanted is for both of us to happy. And we had our good moments but—we could never seem to get past the bad ones.' He brought his hand up to brush away a tendril of red hair. The caress was so gentle, so warm and full of love that I almost cried. It had been a while since someone had touched me like that. 'We can be friends. If that's what you need.'
I was nodding before he'd even finished and before I knew it, I was in his arms, burying my face in his chest as I fought the tears in my eyes, the burning tightness in my throat.
'It'll be all right, Rosie,' he murmured, gripping the back of my neck tightly, crushing me against him. 'Let's go get a drink.'
'Do it,' I said through gritted teeth, clutching my wand tightly. 'Just do it again.'
Albus watched me wearily, breathing laboured, as though somehow looking into my mind had cost him, too. But he shook his head, tossing his wand aside, letting it clatter to the floor. He crouched down and when he looked up at me, I could see that he was done.
'We've been at this for hours,' he panted. 'How the hell is this helping?
'It just is. Please, Albus. You're the only one who can do this.'
'Why?' he demanded. 'I'm not doing this until you tell me why—or how.'
'I can't and you—'
'Fuck that! I don't give a fuck what the Grey Lady said about you not telling anyone anything. If I'm going to be looking in your head—if I'm supposed to—to—' He broke off, frustrated. I'd never seen him so unsettled. 'You're forcing me to make you look at the worst moments in your life. Why would you make me do that. I need to know why.'
I stared at him, desperately wishing I knew what the right thing to do was. I didn't want to give up how far I'd come and if I'd somehow be risking all of my progress by telling Albus the truth … but on the other hand, if he refused to fulfil his role, where would I go without him?
'Anger is paramount,' I said quietly. 'It is the bleeding heart of the Obscurus. Know your rage and why it exists.'
Albus' gaze flicked up to mine.
'What the fuck?'
I walked over to his wand and picked it up. 'That's what she said to me. The Grey Lady. She said that someone would be my … rage.' I handed him his wand; he looked at it. 'She gave each of us a title. Our part in the play. You're my rage, Albus.'
He didn't say anything for a long time; he just looked at me, expression like marble, jaw locked. When, finally, he did, his words were flat and cold.
'What is that supposed to mean.'
'I don't know,' I said honestly. 'I only know that you're the only one who can make me remember what I made myself forget. You're the only Legilimens I know and so it has to be you. I need to know my rage. I need to know why this happened to me.'
'You know why this happened to you,' he said angrily, snatching his wand back and rising to his feet. 'I've seen it. What your parents did—' he gritted his teeth at the memory. 'What they did to you is unforgivable. I can't … I can't do it, Cecily. I can't keep looking.'
'Please, Albus,' I whispered. 'You have to.'
'For how long?' he asked desperately, searching my face. 'For how much longer, Cecily?'
I had no answer to that, so I turned away from him and took my position a few feet away.
Over the next week, every time I tried to catch Roxy and speak to her, she wasn't there. It was like she'd developed a sixth sense to my presence. It seemed to be ridiculously easy for her to avoid me. And if I was being honest with myself, I wasn't exactly sure what I was planning on saying to her if, eventually, I did catch up to her.
Don't speak to me ever again if your first instinct is to lie.
The Wave was over. The oath I took had no magical bond to me anymore. Nothing was stopping me from telling her the whole truth except … How could I tell her what was going on, why I'd kept her in the dark, if I couldn't tell her about Cecily?
Roxy had always been a good friend to me and it was no secret in our relationship that I'd rarely ever reciprocated her kindness.
So I made a promise to myself—I wouldn't speak to her unless I could tell her the whole truth, unabridged and unadulterated.
But I found myself at a loss of what to do with myself. Kit was with Jack—Cecily and Albus were likely together today—and Rose—the last I'd seen—had been walking out of the castle with Scorpius to Hogsmeade. Everyone was with someone but me.
I got up, set my book aside, and decided I'd just go to Hogsmeade myself. There were a few things I was I needed to buy anywa. I was in the Entrance Hall when I saw Charlie run up to me, slightly out of breath.
'Jane,' he said. 'Hey.'
'Do you know where Cecily is? She was gone when I woke up but—I don't know—it's been hours—' He seemed to be quite distressed, like he thought Cecily might've disappeared again. 'I went to her common room but she wasn't there either and no one's seen her—'
'She's with Albus,' I interrupted.
Charlie deflated, blowing the air out his cheeks in relief. 'Oh. But … then why aren't they on the Map?'
I met his gaze, puzzled. 'What Map?'
'What do you mean what Map?' He dug into his pocket and pulled out an unassuming piece of parchment. 'I asked James to borrow it and look—' I watched blankly as he tapped the parchment and said, 'I solemnly swear I am up to no good.' I mastered my shock as ink began unravelling, revealing an intricately detailed map of Hogwarts and … and … 'Look, Cecily and Albus aren't anywhere on the Map. The Room of Requirement is Unplottable so that was the first place I checked and they're not in there.'
I reached for the Map, fascinated, and he let me take it wordlessly. So this was how the Potters owned the castle … Albus was a Legilimens, James had a cloak of pure invisibility and this Map … I marvelled at it, the complex enchantments and spells it must have taken to create it. Who had even thought to make something like this? It was spectacular.
'If they didn't want to be found in the Room of Requirement,' I murmured, tracing a finger over the little dot with my name on it, standing exactly where I stood. 'Then that's why you couldn't find them.'
'Well,' Charlie said, shifting uncomfortably. I looked at him. 'That's not strictly true.'
'What're you talking about?'
'James discovered this loophole—a kind of—master key—'
I laughed incredulously. 'How is that possible?'
'He's the smartest person I know.'
'I see.' I looked down at the Map, watching hundreds of dots moving about, and handed it back to Charlie. Very smart indeed. I wondered if … hmm. What was the likelihood that James shared Albus' mind reading ability? 'You don't have to worry. Cecily hasn't bailed. Wherever she is, she's coming back.'
'Right,' Charlie said, looking awkward. 'Right, but—'
I patted his arm. 'You need to relax. Cecily knows what she's doing.'
'Right,' he said again. He looked down at his feet, features twisted in a grimace.
Okay. There was clearly something he wanted to tell me. Charlie and I knew each other in a limited way—that is, well enough to chat at parties or work together in class, but certainly not well enough to reveal our doubts and inner most feelings. And—objectively—I could see why people had expected us to hook up at some point. In a strange way, because our colouring was the same—black hair, violet-blue eyes—we looked like a perfect match. But I had never met anyone less like me. Apart from Kit.
'What is it?' I asked, sighing internally.
'It's just ... how much has Cecily actually told you about ... about this whole thing?' Charlie seemed troubled, like he had about a million doubts running through his head constantly. Doubts that had led him to irrationally believe that Cecily had disappeared, like before. 'It feels like there's so much she's keeping from me. And I was there when the Grey Lady told us that there was a way for Cecily to control her Obscurus. I was the one who convinced her to do it and now—now ...'
I waited patiently for him to continue.
He looked at me, a sudden resolve hardening in his eyes. 'I want to know what you think about all of this. Would you have told her to listen to the Grey Lady?'
It was the truth but ... what had Cecily told him about Creevey? How much should I reveal?
Charlie looked at me, frowning, and I made up my mind.
'I would have told Cecily to listen to the Grey Lady,' I said firmly. 'But ... there's something you should know.'
Time slipped by without me noticing it and, somehow, I was surprised to discover one day that we were in the middle of March. The days were cold and wet, each less discernible than the other, the sky more overcast than not, and we rarely ever saw sunlight. For all intents and purposes it should've been miserable. But it wasn't. Not at all.
In fact, I had never been more happy or content in my entire life.
'Wait, what did you say the needle charm thingie does again? What are its properties?'
Eve looked up from her novel blankly. 'Needle charm thingie?'
'The—' Peter pilfered through his giant mass of notes. Then he found the right one floating right in front of his face. 'The Transmutation Charm. The General Transmutation Charm?'
'Friends,' Olive interrupted, dangling her 18 carat gold plated quill loosely in her hand. She was sitting in front of the fire place, back to the flames, silhouetted in warm amber light. 'Should I get chased by a Centaur through a labyrinth made of walls of water that are about to collapse at any moment or have a sexy detention with Professor Lupin?'
My head perked up at the mention of the young, fit Professor Lupin. Since Creevey had effectively disappeared off the face of the planet, he had taken the position of DADA Professor permanently. He had a shock of blue hair and a devastating smile. Almost every girl I knew pined after Lupin but he was oblivious to all of it. He did seem to harbour a soft spot, however, for Eve—which was at once both baffling and impressive. Eve, flabbergasted but pleased, was hated by every other girl at Hogwarts.
'Lupin?' I demanded almost aggressively. I was in the middle of translating some particularly nasty runes and his name had been the hand that saved me from drowning. Then grimly I answered, 'Lupin.'
Olive considered for a moment. 'I don't trust your horny mind.'
I was affronted. 'You're a horny mind!'
'Yes but I don't trust me either! It's why I'm asking the question Kit—do keep up.'
Eve and Peter tore their gazes away from our exchange and looked at each other.
'Anyway,' Eve said, rolling her eyes.
'The General Transmutation Charm,' Peter prompted.
Eve grimaced apologetically. 'We handed that essay in last week. I can't really remember but … I think one of its properties was that it can't change something dissimilar in shape and size.'
Peter hastily wrote this down. 'Brilliant.'
'You're probably going to have to go to the Library …'
'Ahead of you darling.' He was already on his feet, stuffing his strewn and floating papers into his messenger bag. He strode toward the Portrait Hole before any of us even had the time to wish him luck.
I looked back my Ancient Runes translation, mind whirling with syntax structure and past participles when I randomly remembered that my Divination dream diary was lying up in my room completely blank. My brain throbbed. I almost considered going down to get them but I decided that I should probably get the runes that were due tomorrow done before I started on the homework that was due yesterday.
I wondered if I should ask Jack for help, but then thought better of it. He would kill me if I interrupted his studying.
'Hey,' Jack said, sitting opposite me in the Transfiguration Courtyard. 'Sorry, my study group took ages.
I looked up from my homework and smiled brilliantly. He leaned over and kissed me and I kissed him back just a touch too enthusiastically. I liked kissing Jack. It was very nice and he was a very pleasant kisser. We hadn't gone much further than that. There had been some ... touching of some ... areas ... but I always had a little moment of panic when things got too hot and heavy. I mean, I truly had no idea what I was doing and I wasn't sure if Jack did either. And I still wanted to lose my virginity but I so desperately wished the whole thing wasn't so awkward and unromantic.
Like last night, for example.
That had been most decidedly awkward and unromantic. We'd been making out and he'd been touching my boobs—which, after the first two attempts, I'd finally become comfortable with—and then he'd put his hand up my skirt. The only way to describe my reaction was that I'd had something of an epileptic fit. What I remembered most about the whole horrifying, mortifying experience was apologising profusely and loudly after I'd hit him in the sternum so hard he spent the next five minutes coughing and gasping for air.
'Hi,' I said, forcing myself to stopping thinking about sex.
'What're you doing?'
'My Divination dream diary,' I sighed. Then, abruptly, I shut my book and shoved it in my bag, turning to Jack with rapt attention.
He raised his eyebrows, mouth quirking up into a smile. 'What?'
'I was thinking ... this is good, right?' Jack cocked his head to the side, puzzled. 'I mean—us. Dating. Being together. It's good, right?'
He grinned, relaxing. 'Yeah, Kit. It's really good. Why are you asking?'
'Well, it's been a few weeks and—and—' Merlin, stop stalling Kit. 'Well—what are we?'
Jack froze but he didn't look ... uncomfortable? He seemed surprised, but not terrified. That was a good sign, wasn't it?
God, now I was nervous.
'Shouldn't we just call it like it is?' I said pathetically. 'It's just that—that I don't do well with uncertainty. I like certainty. The knowing as opposed to the not knowing. The light as opposed to the dark—that sort of thing. And I don't want you to feel like I'm pressuring you into giving me an answer or something but, you know, if you agree that it's going well—that it's been a good three-ish weeks then—well, what do you think?'
'I think,' Jack said after a moment, holding my gaze. 'That we should call it like it is.'
'And that is ...?'
Laughing, he closed the gap between us, pressing his lips against mine. At once, I sank into the kiss, loving the way he smelled like warm pastry and other warm things. He held the back of my neck with his hand, sliding his mouth insistently over mine—and then I pulled away.
'You're trying to distract me,' I said, mock suspiciously. 'Aren't you?'
'I'm sorry it didn't work ...' He grinned when I narrowed my eyes. 'I really like you, Kit. I like you a lot.'
'I like you a lot, too.' We both knew that he still hadn't answered my question and we were both pretending like we didn't know it. He was smiling and so was I and I knew that if I pushed it, something would inevitably break. So I forced out, 'Like, a lot. Like so much. You don't even have a clue how much I like you. It's, like, so much.'
'Alright, keep it in your pants!' He held out his hand and grinned. 'Come on, you have class in ten.'
I let him walk me to class, hand in hand.
I didn't even feel it when Albus slipped into my mind. After weeks of plundering through my memories, my thoughts, his presence had become as familiar in my mind as his voice. It didn't feel like a foreign intruder—a cancerous cell that my body viciously attacked because it didn't recognise it. Albus' presence in my head was like … a brilliant blue flame. A light in the dark.
The memory was the old one. The day I had killed my parents. It was always the same—frozen and distorted, like I'd tampered with it, skewed and dismembered it in order to never revisit it again. We had tried together for weeks to unravel it but to no avail. It was like a frozen sheet of impenetrable ice. It refused to let us in every time.
Push harder, I snarled.
In response, Albus slammed the wall of ice with a rage of blazing blue fire.
Charlie looked up at me as I sat down opposite him at the Gryffindor table, burying my head in my hands.
'You look like … it didn't go well.'
'I don't even know what I'm doing anymore.'
'We could speak to the Grey Lady …' Charlie suggested lamely. I looked up at him wearily. He sighed. 'No one said it was going to take a couple of days and then you'd be in complete control. Of course it's going to be difficult. It's going to take a hard work and time.'
'It's almost been two weeks. I feel like I'm running out.'
'Of time?' Charlie seemed exasperated. 'Well, you're not. We have plenty of it.'
'Why isn't Creevey back?' I whispered, staring at the table unseeingly. We'd barely spoken about it. Jane had mentioned it a while back, conversationally and without urgency, that Creevey had left St. Mungo's. And I was relieved that he was alive and well but … why hadn't he come back? It made me uneasy. Could he be protecting me by disappearing, like Jane had said?
'I don't know.'
I looked up at Charlie, biting my lip. 'There's something I didn't tell you.'
Charlie went utterly still, expression betraying nothing.
'I … I overheard Jane and Rose, the day we got back from the orphanage … they … they suspected Creevey, just like you did. I didn't want to believe it because … because I really do think he was trying to help me but … but Rose didn't understand why he'd come alone or why he'd brought me to the orphanage at all. And sometimes I wonder why too … and there's this thing about a tattoo, which I don't really understand …'
'He was trying to make you reveal your Obscurus.'
'Or,' I said desperately. 'Or he didn't know either what would happen. Maybe he really thought the orphanage would help me—'
'How did the Grey Lady know about you?' Charlie asked abruptly.
'How did the Grey Lady know about you? How could she possibly know that you're an—that you—'
I stared at him.
'What are you trying to say?' My voice was low, quiet. I was distinctly aware of how busy the Great Hall was and how many people could be listening in.
'I'm saying this all reeks, Cecily,' he hissed, lowering his voice to match mine. 'I allowed myself to ignore every doubt, every suspicion, that I had because you convinced me that Creevey was doing the right thing! But how the hell did he know that the reason you killed your parents was because you were an Obscurial? How did the Grey Lady know to find you?'
'You think Creevey told her,' I blurted. 'You think he told her and maybe—maybe this whole thing is his idea!'
'What if it is? What if this was—all of this was Creevey's idea?'
'Then it's a good one,' I hissed back. 'I'm learning to control it, Charlie! If he couldn't destroy it—and he said he couldn't—he said there was another way—maybe this is it—'
'Or maybe it's a trap,' he said flatly. 'Maybe he's manipulating you. Maybe he's feeding you exactly what you need to hear—maybe the Grey Lady is working with him—'
'That's insane,' I snapped. 'How could he possibly be communicating with the Grey Lady? Why on earth would she be working with him? What the hell does she have to gain by it? What do either of them have to gain by it?'
'I don't know Cecily but—'
'No. I don't want to hear it.' I got to my feet abruptly, startling Charlie. 'I'll see you later. I need to just … I need to think.'
I left before he could finish.
'Well, just think about it. There isn't enough creativity being explored at this school! Where are all the artistes! The great thinkers and creators of tomorrow! Our souls are being stifled.'
'I hope there's a point in there somewhere,' Albus muttered dryly. 'I really hate it when you start thinking.'
Scorpius shot him a glare. 'I would like, just for once, not to be mocked or ridiculed for my big ideas.'
'Scor, you wouldn't be mocked or ridiculed if they were ever actually worth anything,' I said, rolling my eyes.
'Merlin, I hate you guys! You have such narrow minds! If we just spoke to Professor McGonagall, I think she'd quite like the idea of plays at Hogwarts again. What d'you think?'
'We?' Albus said with disgust. 'Plays? What?' He looked at me and I shrugged back, suppressing a grin.
'Theatre,' said Scor with such reverence that Albus drew back. 'The art of acting!'
'I thought there'd be a bit more time before you absolutely lost your mind—'
'Al, it would be fantastic if someone could surgically remove that stick up your arse—' Scorpius broke off as something caught his attention behind us. 'Cecily,' he said in surprise. 'Where are you—are you okay?'
Cecily stopped abruptly and looked up at us, hazel eyes widening, scowl fading away. She glanced at me and then away. My stomach clenched with dread as a pang went through my chest. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Al whip his head around to look at me. I returned the look with a questioning one of my own but he just shook his head once, eyes vacant and surprised. What the hell was his problem?
'Hey,' Cecily said. 'Yeah, I'm fine.'
Then she looked at Albus, determination settling into her features like a stone sinking into a still lake. I couldn't stop staring at her. I'd been avoiding her for weeks and—and it had done nothing to stop the frantic beating of my heart. The hopelessness and terror I felt when I found myself looking at her lips and wondering what it would be like to—to—
'Can we talk?' she asked Albus.
He looked between me and Scorpius, expression turning to stone. 'Now's not a good time, Cecily. We were going to eat.'
'Please, Albus.' Each word was strained, dipped in an edge of desperation.
I wanted to reach out and assure her, to tell her I'd make him help, but—
'Fine,' he said. He barely spared Scorpius and I a second glance as he followed her away.
'What the hell was that about,' Scorpius said, dumbfounded.
I watched them go, my heart twisting with shame and guilt. I didn't know how much longer I could do this for. It was eating me alive, forcing myself not to feel the way I felt. Fighting tooth and nail against the rising tide, the swell that was dragging me under. I couldn't understand it. I fancied boys. I liked having sex with them—I had been in love with Scorpius and now I was pining after a girl? After Cecily?
It wasn't be possible.
It was harder this time. Albus' fire was a blazing inferno, whipping and lashing against the indomitable wall of ice. It roared and raged and I fought every instinct to fight it. There was a block in my mind, an uncontrollable, inexplicable terror, like a steel knot. It struggled against the onslaught of fire and fury even as I tried to untie it.
Stop fighting me, Albus grunted.
I let out a cry of anger and frustration. I didn't even notice until my knees struck the stone floor that I'd fallen over, clutching my head, tears of effort spilling out of the corners of my eye. White noise roared in my ears and suddenly Albus became a single force of pure energy, drilling into the wall of ice, an atomic blade of fire.
Wait—I suddenly panicked; my body locked, my mind seized up—wait Albus—
The wall of ice shattered.
'Hey! Murphy! Hold up!'
Olive, Eve and I stopped dead in our tracks. Neither one of us turned to look back or even at each other.
'It's him,' Olive whispered in alarm.
'This is weird,' Eve said frantically, eyes darting from side to side. 'We all look weird—standing about like this—'
'Well what do you suggest we do?!' I hissed, panic rising in a wave. 'You haven't learnt to Disapparate yet!'
'That's not even possible inside the castle walls!' Eve hissed back. 'I've only told you about a thousand times—'
'Hello! Time hasn't stopped so you two can bicker about Apparating!'
'I'm not talking to him,' I declared.
'Like you have a choice—Oh, how are you, James?' Olive practically shouted as he stopped in front of us. Olive turned her wide, skull-like grin to me and Eve, eyes screaming for help.
'Great,' he replied with a bland, genial smile. His gaze cut to mine. 'I was hoping I could talk to you.'
'We have class in—'
'Olive,' James said, not taking his eyes off me. 'We won't be long, I promise.'
She spluttered, eyes darting between me and James. I knew she was conflicted—her duty as my friend was to get me away from my ex-boyfriend as fast as possible, especially considering we hadn't spoken to each other in weeks. But Eve grabbed her arm and pulled her away—though not before shooting both James and I a reproachful look, as though she was begging me to keep my wits about me.
Like I'd fall apart if we had a bloody conversation.
But I wasn't that Kit anymore.
I knew who I was and if James never liked me then … well, it was his loss.
I had Jack. And it didn't matter that our conversation a week ago hadn't ended up with him asking me to be his girlfriend. It didn't matter that I knew, secretly, in the back of my mind, that I somehow needed that label so I could feel better about having sex with him. It didn't matter that ... that ... our relationship only simmered with lukewarm and tepid fondness. It didn't matter.
James leaned against the wall of the corridor, folding his arms across his chest, eyes flickering over me lazily. I noted objectively and without feeling that his hair had grown longer, curling and falling in his dark eyes. And it was okay if I was with Jack and still found him attractive. It really didn't matter if I still had nightmares about ripping the clothes off James and taking him in a broom closet.
'You look well,' he said plainly.
'Thanks? You do too?'
'Thanks. You know, I was thinking … Just because we broke up—or, sorry, pretended to break up since we were never really dating in the first place—' I frowned, tightening my grip around my bag '—why are we pretending like we aren't friends?'
'What?' Of all the things I'd expected him to say … 'We are friends.'
A corner of his mouth lifted up into a charmingly crooked smile. 'But we don't hang out like friends do.'
I shifted my weight, uncomfortable with where this conversation was heading, involuntarily drawing his attention to my body. I wasn't wearing my uniform robes, leaving me in just my skirt, jumper and tights. I blushed as he eyed the rather short hemline of my skirt.
'What do you want?'
'I want your company,' he said bluntly.
'You want my company? People also want the company of dogs and frogs and teachers.'
'I want your company as a human being,' he said irritatedly. 'God, Murphy—why do you make it so impossible to have a conversation with you?'
'If it's so bloody difficult then why do you even bother!' I said fiercely. 'No one's asking you to force a conversation or pretend like this isn't so bloody awkward!'
'In case you haven't noticed, pointing out awkward situations doesn't make things less awkward!'
'A forced conversation it is then!' I exclaimed sarcastically.
He glared at me and I tried not to glare back but I couldn't help the anger that took control of me. It was like a defence mechanism—an elite unit of furious cells that were out for blood, roaring to annihilate the sickly sweet, pink invaders. Those colonisers had torn into me and carried a deadly disease, making my stomach flip, my heart race, my blood burn, my hands ache to touch him—
Who d'you think you're kidding? a mocking voice sang in my head. He's the earth and heaven to you! Try to keep it hidden—honey we can see right through you—
Oh my God, why did I watch Hercules last night.
'I think we should go on a double date,' James said abruptly. 'You, me, Jack and Vivian.'
'That's impossible!' I blurted without thinking.
He had me there.
I struggled to answer. 'The—you—'
'Don't tell me you're jealous.'
'Jealous?' I mastered my rage and plastered on a wide-eyed look of pleasant astonishment. The innocent, I'm just a silly little girl mask I wore whenever I tricked Slughorn. 'You're such a little jokester! I think that's fantastic! I always thought you and Vivian were well suited to each other!'
'Really,' he said dryly, clearly not believing me. 'Well, we think so too. So what do you say? Double date this weekend at Hogsmeade?'
My smile froze on my face. The angry warrior cells started to organise themselves, grabbing their knives, machetes and guns, barking orders to prepare for battle. The pink, dreamy cells were alerted at once, scrambling to find cover and hide. James definitely knew. He knew that I was—that I had been—confused! And he was trying to prove that I didn't like Jack!
Well I'd show him proof!
'Yes! I'd absolutely love to!'
'Perfect!' he snarled back. 'I can't wait!'
'See you there! I'm late for class now so I'm leaving!'
I whirled around and stormed away, hands balled into fists.
James watched Murphy lumber off. When she disappeared around the corner, he spun around on his heel and let out a hiss of frustration.
That conversation did not go how he'd wanted it to.
God, he was such a fucking idiot! What the hell was wrong with him?! Why had he asked her go on a fucking double date?
He'd have rather slit his own throat than spend even a minute with that loafing idiot Jack Day. And—to make it worse—she'd definitely caught him checking her out!
James couldn't explain what had come over him. He had just seen her walking with her friends and he couldn't shake the image of her kissing Jack fucking Day from his head. When he'd seen her last week—and his eyes couldn't seem to stop looking for her, wondering what she was doing, who she was with and why—with Jack, sitting at the table they'd written their contract, he'd wanted to slam Jack's head onto the stone table—wanted to rip Murphy away from him—to tell her that—that—
But he'd stopped himself. Either she'd chosen not to read his last two notes to her or she'd read them and … and she didn't feel the same way. He'd thought … just maybe … after he'd heard what she'd done and said to Dean that she … that maybe she'd done it because …
He'd told himself that it didn't matter. It didn't matter that he couldn't explain what the hell was wrong with him. It didn't matter that when he'd seen her in the Room of Requirement, startled and dismayed, all he'd wanted to do was run up to her and beg her forgiveness. It didn't matter that he'd wanted to explain—explain everything. All the secrets he'd kept, all the lies he'd told, all the uncertainty and doubts that he felt. It didn't matter that when she'd stuck her wand in his throat, he knew that he was totally, and utterly, lost.
It didn't matter.
So he avoided her just as fiercely as she was clearly avoiding him.
And yet just moments ago, when he'd seen her roll her eyes at something one her friends had said, he suddenly found himself shouting after her, legs propelling him forward of their own accord. He'd just wanted to get a second with her alone and just—just tell her that he—that he—
Fuck's sake. It didn't even fucking matter.
He had convinced himself for the longest time that Murphy was just a friend. His best friend's sister who he found immeasurable delight in teasing and winding up. And he couldn't lie to himself—he'd always found her obvious crush on him extremely flattering. He was the most himself around Charlie and Kit had caught glimpses of that over the years. It was a compliment to him that she found something worth fancying—and he loved compliments.
But now he found himself cursing the day he'd ever asked her to pretend to be in a relationship with him.
What the hell had he even done it for? How the fuck was being with her in that way—a pale imitation, a weak, unsatisfying farce—worth Pauline? He couldn't remember at all.
When he'd found himself smiling when he thought about her, it was because she'd done or said something ridiculous and it was funny. When she'd told him she just wanted to be friends at the Valentine's Day party, it had been a bruise to his ego but swiftly forgotten. The only reason he was bothered by Dean Beasley's attention on her was because he was a massive fucking bellend. And Jack Day was a spineless prick.
He couldn't remember when he'd started to look forward to his conversations with her. Waiting for the nervous way her eyes darted from side to side before she was about to blabber. The way she bit her lip before she was about to tell a ridiculous lie. He couldn't remember when he'd realised that she was fierce and stubborn and that he liked it when she got angry, because it was so at odds with her usual cheery self. He liked that she was sweet and kind, that she said exactly what she was thinking.
James had barely lifted a hand in his relationship with Pauline. She'd basically thrown herself at him, dictating the terms of their contract without his input. It had been easy and a farce. He had never told her half the things Murphy had made him reveal. He had never wanted to reveal anything at all to anyone before Murphy. And instead he'd said the first stupid thing to come out of his mouth!
Furious with himself, he marched off to find Vivian.
There had to be a way to convince her to go on this date with him.
The wall of ice tore apart. My back arched of its own accord. Black, sand-like mist burst from me, flaring out like a star turning supernova. On my knees, arms spread wide, the black sand shimmered like a sentient mirage—before freezing in place, arrested in time. I opened my eyes and watched as Albus staggered back in wide-eyed horror.
I tried to speak but I had no voice.
Albus. It's okay.
'Cecily?' he said out loud, voice strangled. His eyes darted all over my face, terrified yet relieved. 'Cecily, you—'
I know. I could see why he was afraid. The black sand around me … my Obscurus. Apart from me yet a part of me. I couldn't remember now why I had been so afraid of it before. It glittered around me, stilled by the calm I felt. It was … it was beautiful. And I finally understood what the Grey Lady meant about my rage. What Albus had finally allowed me to see. You saw me kill them. I'm sorry.
'Cecily,' Albus said, looking frantic. His black curls were damp with sweat, his pale skin clammy. 'What—what is this—'
It's my Obscurus. Please don't be afraid. I won't hurt you.
He gaze flicked up to meet mine.
'Cecily, I'm not afraid for me. I'm afraid for you.'
I … I think I'm in control, Albus.
'Then make it go,' he said, unable to hide the edge in his tone. 'Get rid of it.'
Get rid of it …? The Obscurus was pure power around me—I could feel it. Small particles that were extensions of my self. My consciousness, my soul, my rage. I looked at Albus and he was still in fear. Okay.
I clenched my fists and the mist surged back into my body at my will. I'd felt this once before—in the orphanage. Particles of myself rushing back into me, sinking deep into my flesh, returning to my physical body.
I opened my eyes and blinked.
'I told you,' I breathed. 'I'm in control.'
Hey guys! I just wanted to write a quick thank you to everyone who has reviewed. I'm not sure what I've done to deserve such thoughtful and careful reviewers! I've said this before but when I respond to your thoughts, musings and questions, I find myself discovering things about my characters and this story that hadn't even occurred to me. You make me think so much about my characters' motivations and desires and you truly help me write this story. It's all the better for it.
Also - I'm sure some of you might be surprised and possibly dismayed that James now has a POV (others are probably very happy to finally get a look into his thoughts) in the story but don't worry! I haven't done it just because. James plays a big part in this story and so needs to be a POV character going forward. Albus and Charlie will also be a POV character soon so that may be something to look forward to—or not! Lol.
Anyways, if you've read this—well done. Happy reading and stay safe guys! x
P.S. a couple of fun facts: 1) I was so inspired by all of your reviews that I went on a crazy writing spree and finished this chapter last night! 2) so many of my responses to your reviews go over the 4000 character limit and I'm bummed about it hahahahaha.
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