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Chapter 16: And then there is a brief calm...
“So,” Benson Flint said, raising his eyebrows as we sat in the library going over our notes and doing homework (and odd sense of domesticity I’d yet to experience with one of the many individuals who’d claimed the title of Dom’s boyfriend), “two weeks till the end of the world.”
“Something like that,” I agreed, frowning at the date I’d scribbled at the top of the parchment feeling more than slightly alarmed about the prospect, but the fact remained that I liked James enough that I very much wanted to keep him in my life and, if Dom didn’t murder me on sight (a very real possibility, I think it’s fair to say), it might actually be time saving and easier to be able to see my boyfriend without sneaking around the castle and pretending we weren’t properly together in front of other people to nip some of the rumours in the bud.
Admittedly, the rumours were still circling overhead like a pack of vultures, but Benson Flint was doing a top job as acting as a sieve to what Dom believed and what Dom didn’t believe. Really, it was all very helpful and over the past fortnight I’d come to be not only grateful but also sort of like Benson Flint.
“Get your hard hat ready,” I muttered, flicking over a page of parchment and rereading my essay on some complicated potion that healed paper cuts (my main problem with this was that it seemed utterly, utterly pointless – with my bad luck and clumsiness, I usually ended up cutting myself several times each potion class when crushing or slicing some or other disgusting pickled body part or fowl smelling plant, so to go through such a trial to cure a paper cut seemed utterly backwards).
It then struck me that I’d just said a joke type comment out loud to Benson Flint. I had to admit that it would be pushing the truth a lot to describe it as funny in any way, but I said it – whereas normally I reserved those sorts of comments for the inside of my head, or maybe in front of Dom or, these days, in front of James.
“I’ve got thick skin me, Autumn, I should be all right.”
“Doubt it,” I frowned, “you’ll be getting the worst of it.”
“What do you think will actually happen?”
It didn’t really bare thinking about. I let the pages of the textbook fall closed and thought about it for a few moments. “If I tell her… she won’t talk to me straight away, but she’ll go and scream at James until the whole castle knows about it. Then… I don’t know, Flint, but it’s not going to be pleasant sharing a dormitory with it. I might have to start sleeping in the library or else I could wake up with my bed on fire. You’ll just get the continual bitching and… er, she might be quite needy for a bit.”
“Dom, needy?” Benson asked, raising an eyebrow.
I laughed at that before stopping myself, feeling slightly bad at laughing at my best friend behind her back.
People just didn’t understand Dom. Even Benson Flint, to whom Dom was probably closer to than all the rest of her boyfriends combined, didn’t really get the whole underlying psychology behind it. So although I was tolerating him and occasionally found he wasn’t such a bastard as I’d originally thought he was (so the poisoning had probably been unnecessary, particularly as the prank war was still on going and escalating to a point of extremity), I still couldn’t quite forgive him – he was dating Dom because Dom was pretty and… not popular, because that implied people liked her, but more well-known, and she would most likely put out – and probably soon, too.
He was not dating Dom Weasley because he could see past her borderline psycho-tendencies and see that she was just really insecure and had been really hurt. He just didn’t get that she felt like she was inhabiting the outskirts of her family and that, being clever and funny and pretty, she should have been popular and yet she wasn’t had turned her into a tough diva who was very controlling.
I thought in normal relationships it might be acceptable to laugh at something like that. Oh look Autumn’s a walking disaster. Oh look Dom’s having one of her tantrums. Dom, Needy? Whatever next? But the fact remained that our insecurities were so deeply engraved into our beings that we took those things as insults and as assaults on our characters rather than just throw away harmless comments.
“Where is she, anyway?” Benson asked.
“Detention,” I sighed, running a hand through my hair, “for turning James’s desk into a pig in the middle of a charms test.”
“Actually,” James said, sitting down next to us and grinning, “I turned my own desk into a pig and got Freddie to swear blind her saw Dom do it. So really, she’s in detention for nothing.”
“Lovely,” I said, shaking my head at him, “what a nice boyfriend you are.”
“Don’t I know it,” James grinned, pulling the piece of parchment with my list of work on it towards him and raising his eyebrows at the number of essays, “so, looks like you two have been having fun.”
“I’m going to head off,” Benson said, shoving his books into his bag.
“Probably for the best,” James said, narrowing his eyes at him.
“You don’t have to,” I said helplessly, giving James a look. Considering how much Benson was helping us out with the secret relationship lark – which, although James wasn’t thrilled about, he’d definitely agreed on – I did think he should try being a little nicer to the bloke, but apparently James just could not get on with a Slytherin.
“Well,” Benson said, standing up, “If Dom showed up now, she’d have nowhere to address the angsty bitching. I don’t think anyone should have to cope with double betrayal at the same time.”
I shook my head at his retreating back feeling irritated all over again. He wasn’t too bad, Benson, and I’d been following Dom’s wishes and I had been doing my best to be friendly towards him (not that this gesture on my behalf could ever outweigh Dom’s view on my current dating choices).
“That’s the third time you’ve got Dom into detention,” I said, folding my arms, “I’m beginning to think it’s a get-Dom-out-of-the-way thing rather than a prank war thing.”
“Bit of both, maybe,” James grinned, leaning forwards to kiss me properly.
I allowed him a few moments.
“Right,” I said, gathering my books, “you promised you’d go through the theory of patroni today.”
“You know,” I said, “the plural of patronus.”
“Surely,” James said, raising his eyebrows, “its patronuses.”
“It’s like Cactus,” I said, “Cactus, Cacti. It’s a grammatical rule, James.”
“Yeah but,” James countered, grinning as he brushed his fingers over my hand which was still on the table, “its buses rather than bi.”
“I know you hate theory,” I said, smiling, “but do you really want me to tell your brother that me and you discuss plural rules during our study dates?”
“Fine,” James said, holding up his hands in mock surrender, “you are by far the most studious girlfriend I have ever had. Seriously, Autumn, my marks must have gone up at least two grades in the past two weeks. Even watching you do all that work makes me tired.”
“Ravenclaw,” I said, tapping my nose with my quill, accidentally inhaling it and tipping an ink well over James’s Gryffindor tie.
Spending more time in the Gryffindor Common Room meant I’d seen much more of my brother than I normally did in school time. Our relationship was slightly odd and difficult to explain to people – as much as I had attempted to do to James – but the fact was that we were actually really close, some of the time.
Given our whole family situation was strained at best, it was nice to have someone on my side at home, and because we spent our summers in either a corner of the house as far away from our parents as possible, out and about at the park or with some of the others that went to church, the excess time in each other’s company meant we talked about everything – we talked about April, we talked about Dom, we talked about Hogwarts and God and the people at church.
Then during term time we saw very little of each other. My time was usually full up with studying and Dom (even before I started the NEWT courses this year I’d done an excessive number of OWLs for no real reason, meaning my timetable was significantly fuller than anyone else’s for several years on the trot now) and Oliver was a normal kid with normal friends and the occasional girlfriend. Of course now there was also Quidditch and, well, I assumed he must do some studying at some point.
Then we communicated via the occasional letter – stupid considering we cohabited the same building – which were flat and lacked the depth of our summer conversations.
So, they were too usual spheres to our relationships and currently we seemed to exist in neither, instead oscillating between the two. Although occasionally frustrating when we were on different levels to each other, with me expecting a few words on a letter and him wanting to sit down and talk about our feelings, it was nice to actually know what was going on in my brother’s life a bit more.
“Autumn!” Oliver called as I entered the Gryffindor Common Room whilst untangling myself from under James’s arm (the height of subtlety, James Potter was not). James shrugged and went off to sit with Freddie and Roxanne, who seemed to be in the midst of an arm wrestling competition with an ominous looking vat of gloop as the fate for whoever lost. “Did you get a letter from April?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head, “she wouldn’t have had time to write a letter yet, Oliver, and flying from Australia is a long way -”
“- the owl must have taken yours to the Ravenclaw Common Room then. She’s back, Autumn, she’s back and she’s bought a flat in Hogsmeade!”
“What?” I asked, frowning, “she’s… she’s back?”
I pulled the letter out of his hand and scanned it, feeling my jaw slacken slightly as it took in her semi-familiar handwriting with a jolt of some emotion that I wasn’t going to think about right now. But she hadn’t let us down, not this time, and she was back in England and she’d bought a flat!
“We need to go see her,” I said, frowning, “ask her what’s going on.”
“Well,” Oliver said, uncomfortably, “I was thinking… well, Autumn, you’re seventeen.”
“You… you don’t have live with Mum and Dad anymore.”
That had barely crossed my mind. I’d had some vague notions of moving out after sixth year for a while, thinking I might try and get a job and live elsewhere in the summer but knowing the likelihood of it happening was very slim, but if April had bought a flat..
“I’m going to go write to her now,” I said finally, nodding slowly and squeezing my brother’s shoulder for a second, “but I won’t leave you on your own, Oliver, just because Aprils back from her little adventure doesn’t mean I don’t trust her to sell up and move to Timbuktu next Sunday.”
“Tell James I’ve gone to write to April if he asks.”
I waited in the Owlery for the response, staring out the huge windows and trying to ignore the smell of Owl droppings assaulting my nostrils – maybe it was because of my affection towards almost all animals (much simpler than humans, and no animal would go any further than a bit of healthy jealous if I paid attention to one of their family members), but I always found the owlery unquestionably relaxing.
James’s comment about his grades improving was circling round my mind.
I wasn’t entirely sure if most girls would be glad that they’d increased their boyfriends marks or not: it did suggest a lack of fun to the relationship, when most of the time we had together was snatched between different essays and assignments and since our first date we’d never really had the chance to go somewhere (maybe, Next Hogsmeade weekend, James would somehow cripple Dom to give us shot – but I imagined that I’d be on bedside duty and too irritated at James to attend a date after that anyway)… but even so James had changed me slightly.
Well, not changed. Encouraged.
I hadn’t sat there forcing James to do his homework, it was just a given that if I was doing a piece of homework than he might as well do it at the same time. It hadn’t been intentional, more just a side effect.
And the main side effect between mine and James’s relationship was that, after all his comments about how I couldn’t take a compliment and should have a better opinion of myself, I was beginning to listen. And I was beginning to see, like I did in Dom, how things had shaped me to become this version of myself – where I let people walk over me and my social interactions were fairly limited to a select few (although these days that had increased to included Roxanne and Freddie, and occasionally the others in my dorm)… but that was good, self-awareness.
Self-awareness was definitely a good thing.
There was a small chance (a very very very small chance) that when Dom found out about my relationship with undesirable number one, in two weeks’ time, that I might be able to stand up for myself and fight back against the onslaught of the consequences.
Although that was no doubt optimistic.
The return letter arrived within thirty minutes.
I smiled and accepted it, letting Comet perch on my shoulder as I unfolded the parchment.
My Dearest Darling Sister,
I am here resisting a told you so moment only because I am the mature elder sibling who should know better (but alas, does not). I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t thinking about your coming of age when purchasing a flat (although, I really should have thought about that Autumn and I’m really sorry I didn’t – but you’ll understand soon enough, honestly you will) and it would be more than slightly impractical for you to stay here for any length of time.
But, revenue for the books is higher than expected and I will make sure that you have an alternative place to stay should you so wish – although, I would have thought you’d have stayed with Oliver at least until graduating Hogwarts, which is only one more Summer.
I have a lot to talk to you about really soon which should explain some of my behaviour lately. I’ve wanted to explain it for a while, but I needed to get everything settled and sorted beforehand. Things are getting into the closing stages now, Autumn, so don’t be too mad at me!
I’m attaching my address and a picture of my flat to the other piece of apartment and we should definitely all get together at your next Hogsmeade weekend (unless you have a hot date with James, or are beginning to feel like you’ve seen too much of me).
Lots of English-Hogsmeade love,
“Autumn,” Felicity said when I entered the dorm, “Benson Flint was downstairs looking for you earlier, he said he accidentally picked up one of your essays for Arithmancy with all his stuff.”
“Oh,” I said, frowning as I did the maths in my head – the essay for first period tomorrow morning for the teacher to whom I’d been told that any more late essays would result in immediate detention and lots of trouble, “shit.” I muttered.
“Is he still downstairs?” I said, feeling slightly desperate and therefore forgoing the fact that I’d just walked up from the Ravenclaw Common Room and there was most definitely no Benson Flint downstairs waiting for me.
“No,” Danielle spat, “told him where to stick it.”
“Oh,” I said again, blinking rapidly. Professor Vector was not going to take my excuse as valid, not at all, she was going to put me in detention and report me to my other teachers and… I was Autumn Pearce and I was not the sort of person to get put in detention for not handing in my homework. And it was only by special consideration that I’d been allowed to stuff my timetable so through of subjects, and if I was in trouble then…
“Autumn, what’s wrong?” Felicity asked.
“I need to get my essay,” I said, frowning, “why didn’t one of you..?”
“I guess he sort of thought, because we hate Dom, we’d hate you too…”
“Which we don’t,” Jessica said quickly, “we don’t hate you at all, Autumn, but he wouldn’t give us the essay.”
“It doesn’t matter though, right,” Felicity said, “it just an essay.”
“It’s in tomorrow.”
“Well,” I frowned, trying to hide the fact that I was actually beginning to feel a little upset (and it wasn’t just the essay, either, it was the slightly embarrassing rejection from my sister and the fact that I was still behind on work and the growing realisation that Dom was absolutely going to slaughter me and the prank war was escalating to levels beyond normal and I just…), “she said that if I handed in an essay late again she’d… I’ll go find him.” I decided, frowning as I picked up my school bag which contained both the Map and the Invisibility cloak.
“We’ll wait up.”
“He’s not going to murder me.” I said, pushing open the dormitory door and pulling the cloak out of my bag and over my shoulders.
The Marauder Map navigated me towards the Slytherin Common Room and it was safe to say that it was a very long way away from the Ravenclaw Common Room and much colder than the other parts of the castle. It was getting late. If I was caught outside after curfew now I was going to be in even more trouble.
It wasn’t very pleasant pulling off the invisibility cloak whilst tracking the dot exiting the Slytherin Common room and approaching me.
“Hi,” I said, slightly breathless as I reached forward to grab hold of the guy’s wrist, “I… Benson Flint, he’s got my essay and I need it. Could you…?”
“Sure,” he said, narrowing his eyes and wondering away muttering about bloody Ravenclaws (which was fair enough, because I was currently really living up to the traditional stereotype), but it looked like he was still going to get him which meant he wasn’t living up to the stereotype. Really, the Slytherins were growing on me.
It took five minutes for Benson Flint to appear outside the portrait hole, clutching my essay.
“Knew you’d be worried,” He said, smiling slightly.
“Thank you,” I said, taking the essay out of his hands and holding onto it tightly, “Professor Vector said that -”
“- don’t worry,” Benson said, reaching out and putting his hand on my arm to stop the somewhat erratic hand gestures that accompanied my nervous ranting.
I let out a shaky breath and nodded at him.
“What the hell is going on here?”
My blood froze. I dropped my essay. Benson’s eyes widened.
It took me a few seconds to track out exactly how this would look to my best friend: as far as she knew I had absolutely no reason to be near the Slytherin Common Room, and even less reason to be with her boyfriend. His hand on my arm – which had been quite obviously a perfectly innocent gesture – now seemed practically sordid.
“Dom…” Benson said, slowly, “don’t freak out… it’s not – ”
“I know I told you to be friendlier with him,” Dom spat at me, “but I didn’t mean -”
“-no no no no, my essay – ”
“ – Dom, why would I –?”
But Dom Weasley, tough girl extraordinaire, had turned round on her heals and was stalking away.
“I’ll go talk to her,” I muttered, bending down to pick up my essay, “I’ll… I’ll explain about the essay and…”
“I’ll go,” Benson said, “you’re not exactly the person to have around in a crisis, Pearce.” I glanced down at my slightly crumpled essay and had to concede the point – considering how stressed out I’d just gotten about a missing essay, the fact that Dom (who, it seemed, wasn’t planning on going back to the Ravenclaw Dorms tonight) now seemed to the think that there was something going on between me and her boyfriend was several levels above a ‘late essay’ in terms of crisis point.
After all this time committing a serious friendship betrayal, it seemed now Dom was convinced I was committing an even worse one. Although, I wasn’t entirely sure whether Dom would rate it as worse or not… Oh God.
“What are you going to tell her?” I squeaked.
“The truth,” Benson said, his eyes hardening slightly as he turned round and looked at me.
“About the essay?”
“All of it.”
Oh my God. Benson Flint was going to let me take the fall for this. He was going to tell Dom who I was really dating. He was going to tell her everything to divert the crisis away from him. Oh my God. I’d said she’d need someone to whine at. He was saving himself, that… that Slytherin bastard!
“I’m going to tell Dom that you’re dating her cousin.”
I sent Flint – the prat – one last look before my brain seemed to kick into action and I headed for the stairs, legging it towards the Gryffindor Common Room to warn James about the oncoming eardrum implosion (and likely real implosion).
So, an update at last! In the name of NJAB being a Dobby finalist (and loosing out to one of my other stories) and, on that note, there are only four chapters left of this story and hopefully they'll all be posted before the end of 2012! Celebrations all round guys and thank you so much for the noms and the voting. You're wonderful!