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Chapter 26: Old Friend, Why Are You so Shy?
He was avoiding me. Actually avoiding me.
I had sidled up next to him in Potions, hoping to actually have a conversation with him about what had happened two days before but he had turned away to go work with someone else.
I had tried again after class, quickening my pace to reach him but before I could speak, one of his Quidditch buddies called his name and dragged him up one of the moving staircases.
The past two days had been full of whispering. I could see and feel the eyes on me as I walked down the hallway, my books clutched to my chest. It was so awkward, all the staring and obvious whispering. Didn't they know that gossiping was bad manners?
“The whole school has gone bonkers.” Alex announced, flopping herself down next to me. “I thought we had gotten past all of this madness.”
“Gossiping is bad manners...” I murmured, my eyes lowered. I had been feeling the effects of the hideous Isabella/Oliver public break up.
“The whole school has bad manners.” She said matter-of-factly. “How have you been faring? Alright?”
“It's been okay so far...” I lifted up my face and managed a weak smile in her direction. “It's very different...to be so noticed.”
“Ah, yes,” Alex laughed. “You were never quite noticed before, right?”
I shook my head in frustration, and raised my hands up to the sky. “Why, why, why did they drag me into their bloody breakup? What do I have to do with anything?”
“You should hear the madness going around school...” Alex replied. “That you and Oliver were having secret rendezvouses in the library after-hours.”
“B-But...” I looked up at her, my eyes wide. “The library is locked after hours!”
“What First Year would know that?” She rolled her eyes. “They'd believe anything. I bet if I told a few First Years that Snape was actually half-Banshee they would believe me.”
That brought a small smile to my face.
“You haven't been listening to the rumors, have you?”
“I try not to pay attention...” I replied. “But it's hard not to when it's so bloody obvious that they're talking about you. I walk around feeling like I have this huge bogey sticking out of my nose...”
All the gawking made me feel like I was on display in a glass room, where my peers would press their ugly faces against the glass and jeer at me. It made me feel small...diseased.
“They're saying that Oliver broke up with Isabella to be with you.”
That made me laugh. “Are you serious? Have they nothing better to do? Why would he leave her for me? She's so much prettier and better than me and besides, he's been in love with her for ages! Why would he break up with her to be with me? Bloody ridiculous.” I rolled my eyes.
“Charlotte,” Alex's voice grew serious, and she grabbed my shoulders and forced me to turn towards her. “I-I don't want to frighten you...”
“You already are...” I joked, noting her serious expression.
“No, I'm serious now...joking aside, I'm afraid what Isabella's going to do to you.”
“What do you mean?” My brows furrowed. “Why would she want to...”
“Charlotte,” Alex's voice did frighten me now, as her eyes flashed with obvious concern. “Don't wander around the hallways without someone there, okay?”
“Alex, relax, she's not going to bloody murder me at Hogwarts, alright?” I tried to make light of the situation, to turn it into a joke. “We're already worried about Sirius Black murdering us in the middle of the night...it's not like Isabella is a blood-thirsty psycho after my head...”
“...Please, Charlotte,” Alex pleaded. “Between classes, you should go to the library or to the common room. Preferably the common room. Don't wander about by yourself, okay?”
“I'm not a small child.” I stood up. “While I understand and am touched by your concern, I just want to let you know that I'm going to be fine.” I took my leave, leaving Alex alone on the bench in the courtyard.
She was insane if she expected me to walk about Hogwarts with a chaperone. It wasn't like we were in some Gothic novel and I was some damsel standing in a white nightgown. No, I was seventeen years old, almost eighteen and I would be fine.
I kept walking when I saw Oliver exit a classroom and head right towards me...right before he cut a corner and walked into a hallway full of students. I followed, of course, squeezing and fighting my way through the current of students rushing to their next class. It was my free period, after all, and I really wanted to say a few things to Oliver.
Truthfully, I knew he was avoiding me. It was obvious, very, very obvious...but I chose to ignore it and rush after him. Why? Because some strange part of me wanting to assure myself that our friendship was okay...
“Oliver!” I called out, nearing him before a large Slytherin Sixth Year blocked me. I had to go around him and saw Oliver reach another corner. Rushing forward, I nearly knocked over a Gryffindor First Year and Second Year but managed to get out of the crowd. “Oliver!” I called out again, quickening my pace to reach forward and grab his elbow.
He had been close to sprinting towards his next class...but he turned, and when he saw me, he gave me a tight, close-lipped smile. “Oh, Charlotte, I didn't see you there. Hello.”
Lie. Our eyes had met in the hallway, when he had exited the classroom. But regardless of the lie...
“Hi,” I caught my breath and smiled at him. “You've been busy? Every time I see you, you're always rushing off...”
“Mm, busy, yes...” Oliver wouldn't meet my eyes. “Things to do...Quidditch...”
“Quidditch...” I lowered my eyes, my chest constricting in the strangest of ways. “How have you been, Oliver? Good?”
Merlin! This conversation was so bloody stiff! And awkward. He wouldn't meet my eyes, no matter how much I looked at his face. His gaze was shifted to the right, his stance one of nonchalance as he stood with his hands deep in his pockets.
“Things have been good...” His words seemed to not be directed towards me.
I wanted to wave my hands in his face, to pull his attention towards me. Why was he behaving this way? Why was he of all people, treating me like this?
“Good? I'm glad...” I said, straight from the heart. “I'm...quite glad...”
There was a pregnant pause as Oliver cleared his throat and shifted a bit on his feet.
“Am I keeping you from something?” I inquired.
“Ah...” Oliver's expression changed, something I couldn't understand. “I've got class.” With his thumb, he jabbed at the air behind him. “Transfiguration...”
“I shouldn't keep you, then...” I inhaled sharply and turned. “Sorry! I-I...” My own voice was quickly changing. I couldn't keep such a light-hearted tone with him when I was feeling so-so... “I'll see you later...?” My voice trailed off, softer.
“Goodbye, Charlotte.” Oliver said, his own tone of voice strangely strangled as he turned and made his way down the hallway.
This was what I wanted. This was what I had always wanted. I sat alone in my dormitory room. The rest of my roommates had class and I had decided to skip Arithmancy. I had closed all the curtains upon entering, so I sat in semi-darkness – perfect for my self-loathing.
He was ignoring me. And I wouldn't stop chasing after him. I shook my head. Why bother talking to someone who doesn't want to talk to you? Why does it matter so much that he's ignoring you? Truthfully, I wanted to cry. I felt so...alone.
Which was stupid because Alex, Piper and Claudia were still there for me. And Fred and George, as well. Why would I be feeling so down because one person decided not to be my friend anymore? And let's speak honestly. It wasn't like I had exactly sought out Oliver to be friends with in the first place. He was the one who had put out the olive branch for me to grasp.
I tried to reason with myself. Tried to use logic to overcome the amount of frustration I felt. Having someone ignore you...avoid you...really, really, just...hurts. Especially when you had thought that you were friends to begin with.
I remembered my philosophy from oh-so long ago: don't be with people who don't want to be with you. Don't be with people you don't like. I had stuck with Oliver because Alex had persuaded me to. Because his Quidditch mates had asked. Because I felt bad for him...
And even though he was stupid and bone-headed and stubborn and...so many things...we had become friends. We had become rather good friends.
I didn't want to admit it, but I sorely missed Oliver's company.
I missed his smile, his comforting presence when I was feeling down. I missed the way he scrunched up his brows when he was thinking over a Potions problem, or the way he always called me 'Charlotte' even though other people had come up with various nicknames for me.
Oliver had become such a large part of my life that when he wasn't there...I felt like I was missing someone. It was the same feeling I got whenever Alex left me to go party or hang out with other people. That feeling of missing a piece of yourself.
My mind was too overwhelmed, so I decided to go on a walk. Walks helped me clear my head and helped me really get out my frustrations. I grabbed my wand, pocketed it and left my dorimitory.
I just needed some clean air, and to get my blood flowing – everything would be alright.
Everything would not be alright.
As soon as I came down the steps to the common room, there was loud whispering. Three First Years pushed past me to go up the stairs and I caught a snippet of their conversation.
It caused me to nearly fall down the last couple steps in shock.
I-I...was a what?
The whole common room was staring at me. Their voices mingling together in whispers...and the things I heard...
I wanted to flee, but my feet felt like they were cemented to the floor.
“I heard she slept with the entire Quidditch team.”
“Really? She was always so quiet.”
“It's always the quiet ones.”
“I heard she's pregnant and the father is denying that the baby's his.”
“Did you hear about what she's done?”
“She earned her grades in Potions by...”
All of their words swirled around my head like a buzzing cloud of insects. I felt my face get hot...redden with embarrassment. What was I supposed to do? How could I correct all of them?
“She was dumped by that bloke in Ravenclaw because he finally heard about what a slag she was...”
If this was a movie, I would have prince charming swooping in at this moment to save me. To sweep me up in a princess lift and carry me out of the common room.
But this wasn't a movie. This was reality. I could feel my heart begin to pound in my chest, the blood suddenly rushing to my face. I tried to lift up my heavy foot and managed a step. I lifted up my other foot and managed another step.
Somehow, I managed to step out of the common room and into the corridor. By this point, I was breathing quickly and shallowly. I fought back the emotions that threatened to pour out.
I understood Isabella's warning, now, about enjoying the attention. I understood, now, why Alex was so...afraid for me.
Because rumors, and the way people look at you like you're dirt...because those things hurt so much more than physical pain.
Because Isabella knew how to play the social game, and I didn't.
Picking up my walking pace, I rushed into the nearest girl's lavatory. I went into one of the stalls, closed the door and sat down. What was happening? Why was this happening? So far, I could keep the emotions and the tears at bay. They threatened to spill over but I kept them in check.
I just barely managed to calm myself when I heard people come into the lavatory. I heard them chatting, complaining about classes and typical subjects until I heard my name. I heard what they were saying about, laughing, saying how they were disgusted with my behavior.
These girls, who hadn't known I had existed at all previous to this, were now laughing and judging me as though they had known me my whole life.
I wanted to scream at them, to shout and throw a tantrum. I wanted to be self-righteous and angry and defensive...but I didn't.
I looked up at the door and saw the writing scrawled against the wood.
My good name smeared in the bathroom stall. My good name being associated with all sorts of things. They accused me of sleeping with random boys I hadn't even heard of. They accused me of using people. Of being pompous and arrogant and buying my grades.
I ran out of the lavatory and sprinted down the corridor before I hit a dead end.
I leaned heavily against the wall, my breathing still labored as I fought the tears. Fought the embarrassment. I just wanted to have a peaceful Seventh Year.
I just wanted solitude and civility.
I didn't want this. Didn't want to be caught up in people's games. Didn't want to get caught up in feelings and-and...
I broke down.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him. And I know he saw me, too. Saw me like he saw me after Drew and I had ended.
Only this time, Oliver didn't come to comfort me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him turn away and walk away in the opposite direction.
And that, for some reason, hurt so much more than what everyone was saying about me.
“Charlotte...” Claudia found me, huddled alone in the Owlery. The wind was cold, and it bit my cheeks. My lips were chapped from the crying and from the wind. She came towards me and wrapped her arms around me, pulling me to her. “Charlotte...”
I couldn't do anything but cry.
“This is my fault.” Claudia said, still cradling me like a child. “This is entirely my fault.”
“W-Why is it your fault?” I blubbered, feeling swollen and cold.
“I provoked her. I provoked her and she just...went into this tail-spin.” Claudia's eyes latched onto mine as she took a mitten'd hand and rubbed my icy cheeks. “There's so, so much you don't know, Charlotte. And I know that you know quite a bit.”
I gave her a questioning look as she pulled me up.
“Everyone's looking for you, Charlotte.” Claudia said. “And you must be completely chilled through. Let's get you back inside.”
I gripped her hand tightly. “Claudia?”
She turned. “Yes?”
“For coming to find me...” I gave her the warmest smile I could muster.
Claudia smiled. A real smile. A smile that reached her eyes and made them sparkle. “You're my friend, Charlotte. I'll always come find you.”
She took me right to our dormitory room. She shooed out the other two girls and wrapped me in three blankets while we waited for Alex and Piper to return.
Alex was the first to return. “Why on EARTH did you decide to hide in the Owlery? That place doesn't even have windows! You could have froze out there!”
“But...I didn't...” I gave them both a smile.
“Have a piece of chocolate.” Claudia crouched down and swiped a box from underneath her bed. She handed me the heart shaped piece. “You'll feel lots better, I promise.”
“I went to the Owlery because...it just seemed logical at the time.” I told them, still cold but feeling better. “It was away from everyone else and no one really sends letters home on the weekday...I just needed some breathing room...”
Piper burst into the room and threw herself at me. She smelt of the kitchens as she handed me a giant cookie. “Thought you might need some warming up.”
“How did you know Claudia had found me?”
Piper snorted. “She sent an owl. Can you believe it? Alex and I were looking frantically for you in all the lavatories when this owl started tapping on the glass...”
“It was a little absurd,” Alex admitted. “But we're glad you're alright.”
“They're just words...” I told them. “Just words.”
“And words are quite harmful.” Alex retorted. “Don't you remember when Isabella spread about me?”
The flash of memory was quite vivid. The slanderous things scribbled in every bathroom stall. Alex was this, Alex was that. Alex had lost more than a few friendships because of Isabella. No one wanted to be friends with someone who stole boyfriends.
“I was worried that you'd do something drastic.”
“Ha. How did you know something was wrong?”
Alex, Piper and Claudia looked at each other.
It was Claudia who spoke.
“You skipped Charms...” She paused. “And Oliver said that he saw you crying in the corridor.”
“Ah, so he cares...” I murmured to myself.
“What did you say?” Alex leaned in closer.
“Nothing,” I smiled. “I also skipped Arithmancy today as well.”
“Skipping classes? You?” Piper stared at me, dumbfounded. “I would have never thought you would be one to skip classes.”
I gave a watery laugh. “I'm becoming quite the rebel thanks to you guys.”
“And quite the dramatic,” Alex grinned, plopping down next to me as she wrapped a warm arm around my shoulder. “Hiding in the Owlery isn't something I'd expect from you, either.”
“Ha, bloody ha.” I rolled my eyes.
She squeezed me tightly. “I'm glad you're alright.”
“They're just words.” I said again, almost to reassure myself more than them. “I'm sure it'll blow over.”
Claudia got that strange look in her eye again, and I recalled something she had said when she found me...that it was her fault...and that I knew...
Knew quite a bit.
Quite a bit about what?
“Rumors are nothing,” Piper said with a smile. “People get bored of talking about one person for so long. I'm sure they'll find another victim.”
“Isabella might have lost it...” Claudia said softly, her eyes taking on that far-away look again.
“What do you mean?” I inquired, staring intently at her now.
Claudia looked up at me quickly, unaware that she had spoken aloud. She stood up, and handed me another chocolate. “Have another, won't you? I'm going out for a bit.” Smiling, she slowly backpedaled out of the room.
I stood up, making to follow, but Alex and Piper pulled me back. They didn't want me running around when I was already so chilled through. But I needed to talk to her. I needed to know what she was talking about.
I followed my feet down the bright hallway and towards the staircase. I took a few steps down, but stopped when I heard Claudia speak.
“Have you been pacing down here?” Her tone was curious, tinged with something else.
“No, of course not...” Oliver's voice replied, tense.
“It looks like you have been pacing.” Claudia replied, her tone elevating. Was she baiting him? I heard her take a step, and Oliver stopped her.
“Is she alright?”
Claudia harrumphed. “You should ask her yourself.”
“Please.” Oliver asked.
“That's a relief.”
“Do you feel guilty?” Claudia demanded.
I took another step down.
Oliver didn't answer.
I heard her leave the common room, my cue to follow. I took the remaining steps down the steps and saw Oliver turning at the same time.
Our eyes met, and for a moment, my heart skipped a beat. A strange feeling washed over me, and wanting to avoid another awkward moment, I rushed past him, following Claudia out.
“Claudia, wait!” I ran to catch up with her, stopping when she stopped. “Let's talk.”
Her face took on that vacant expression. “Talk?”
“You're the one that mentioned it.” I pointed out. “What is going on with you and Isabella?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don't play dumb.” I told her. “Let's talk.”
“Fine.” Claudia nodded. “We'll talk.”
We were in the kitchens, and some of the Hogwarts House-Elves had brought over warm mugs of tea. Claudia cradled one, sipping from it as she stared at me from across the small table.
“You said that this was your fault...that you provoked Isabella...”
Claudia didn't move, but continued sipping.
“I saw you talking to her in the corridor a few days ago.”
Claudia put the mug down, a small smirk tugged at her lips. “Ah, it was you? I knew someone was listening. I could feel it.”
“It was the same day that Oliver broke up with her and she dragged me into their break up.” I said this all matter-of-factly, not touching my tea, my gaze not leaving her face. “What were you talking about?”
“What do you know, Charlotte?” Claudia leaned forward, her eyes surveying me. Her attitude was different. She was not the Claudia who had found me back in the Owlery. She was much more cocky, arrogant...much more full of emotion. “I know that you were snooping in my library over Christmas.”
“You gave me free reign to explore.” I countered.
“I did.” Claudia acknowledged. “So, tell me, what did you find? What can you help me with?”
“Yes, help me.” Claudia straightened up on the stool. “I've been looking for something. Can you take a guess?” She smiled a bit. “You've looked through the wedding photos. You've found the album I was going through in the library. You've heard me talking to Isabella...now tell, me Charlotte – what do you know? How can you help?”
“Anita Perez.” I said the name quickly. “How does she fit into all of this? Is she Isabella's mother?”
Claudia's gaze travelled from the small table to my face. “Yes, she is.”
“What else do you know, Claudia? Because I think I understand, now.”
“I understand Isabella's reasoning.” I replied, crossing my legs. “Why she's doing this to me. Why she always overreacted with Oliver. Why she broke off connections with Alex...”
Claudia's lips quirked.
“I saw something, Claudia, something else when I was staying with you over Christmas.”
“What did you see?” Claudia suddenly dropped her act. She resumed being just Claudia, except, more in-tune rather than aloof.
“One word.” I said, leaning forward towards her. “Obliviate.”
Author's Note: Dude, guys. I'M A TRUSTED AUTHOR, NOW! It's like all my dreams have come true! I'm so excited because I can update faster. For instance, this chapter came out quicker than the last one, right? :D I'm hoping to finish this story before summer is over! So, stay with me. Four more chapters, methinks. Might be a little bit shorter. Let's see what my brain thinks. :D
Things are starting to unravel. The plot is coming together. I am very happy. Thanks so much for your feedback! I would still love some reviews.
Thank you so much for all the support. Especially those who review after every chapter. ;) You guys know who you are! ♥