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Not Just a Bystander by AC_rules
Chapter 17: And then the proverbial excrement hits the metaphorical fan...
Running full pelt towards the Gryffindor Common room for the second time in so many weeks is certainly something I wouldn’t have anticipated at the beginning of the year, but there was hardly time to think about that when any second now Benson Flint was explaining to Dom that I was dating James bloody Potter.
It was just after midnight by the time I’d gotten to the Gryffindor Common Room, having given up sprinting after the third flight of stairs and trying not to obsess about the fact that the Founders really hadn’t designed Hogwarts for quick access between the various Common Rooms. I had no idea whether James would be asleep or not. I didn’t have much clue about anything really.
Not in the Common Room. Bugger.
I took the stairs two at a time, bursting into the dorm and causing all the Sixth Year Gryffindor Boys to look at me like a had an extra head.
I mean, they did have a point, because after my speedy journey from the Ravenclaw Tower to the dungeons and subsequently to the Gryffindor I wasn’t at my most attractive. Plus the fact that I was sure, whilst sprinting at full pelt, I’d been crying as well as sweating (although now the shock-tears had given over to a state of utter panic) and that it was not quite the middle of the night but definitely after curfew, and I was usually the type of Ravenclaw who was adverse to being caught breaking rules, I was sure I looked utterly deranged.
“Missed James that much?” Freddie asked.
“Dom,” I said, trying to remember how to breathe, “Dom…”
“If it’s about her flooding our dormitory with soapy water, don’t worry. I found the detonator and –” Graham began.
“– she knows.”
“How?” James asked, grabbing his dressing gown and pulling it on. I got a flash of James’s naked torso before it disappeared under the dressing gown. I very much wanted to cry.
“I…” It was about now that the enormity of everything was beginning to hit me. I mean, even if Dom was a normal secure person, the fact that I’d lied to her for such a significant amount of time was enough to cause more than a fair bit of turbulence in a friendship. Dom had her whole set of reasons why she didn’t like associating with her family, reasons that I could understand more than I liked to admit on a day to day basis.
I’d gotten irritated about April visiting my mother and that was despite the fact that April really had every right to, given it was her mother. If Dom even thought about getting chummy with my mother I couldn’t even imagine how I’d feel about it, so the very fact that after all that I’d gone against the fact that I understood and…
I was the worst person on the planet.
“Autumn,” James said, raising his eyebrows.
“I had this essay -”
“- Christ,” Fred said, raising his eyebrows, “with all your Ravenclaws there’s always a bloody essay.”
“Benson… picked it up by accident so I was with Benson,” I said, “no, no, not like that but Dom sort of walked in… and then she thought… so now…” I could feel tears prickling at the back of my eyes. Oh my gosh. “Benson’s telling Dom about everything right now.”
Dom was going to feel completely betrayed. Even if, for a moment, we pretended that sometimes her tendencies weren’t a tad… psychotic and controlling she probably still wouldn’t have wanted me to date a member of her family, and yes all her talk about James simultaneously ripping out my heart and stamping on it might have been a bit much, but it was only because I was her one friend and she didn’t want to share me with a family who barely had time for her.
I was horrible. Horrible on levels that I’d apparently been trying not to think about, because all these insights seemed to be flying at me all at once and I was blinking rapidly to compensate.
“That bastard,” James said, biting his lip as he walked forwards to give me a hug. I couldn’t decide whether James was scared or not. The fear hadn’t hit me yet – although lord knows I was terrified of Dom – but instead I was so overwhelmed by what a horrible friend I’d been for anything else to process. I really genuinely thought I was a nice person…
“Maybe if you’d been nicer to him,” I said, balling my hands in his dressing gown so I didn’t feel quite so alone, “he wouldn’t have…”
“Oh come on,” James said, properly looking at me (which I felt awkward about with the other members of his dormitory milling about), “if you can’t accept that he was only holding off the information until it was useful for him then I can’t help you.”
“It’s all my fault,” I said, weekly, “I shouldn’t have… shouldn’t have stolen your invisibility cloak and -”
“– Autumn,” James said gently, brushing a lock of hair out of my face, “I say this with the greatest respect, but get a grip. This isn’t a death sentence.”
“Exactly,” James said, “so they’ll probably be a high pitched tantrum and -”
“- she’s my best friend.”
“- aware of that.”
“Oh, shit,” I muttered, burying my face in James’s chest for a few seconds. I felt so horrible. I didn’t think I’d ever felt this guilty about anything before, and yet James… James was so lovely.
“Angry Dom is not that scary,” James said.
“She’s part veela!”
“Yeah,” Freddie interjected, “so minimally it’s barely a fraction. Honestly, the way she talks about it…”
“Shut up about Dom,” I said, blinking again. And there was the first tear. “She’s insecure and she’s going to be really really upset.”
“Because,” James said, rolling his eyes slightly as he started pacing up and down the room, “for once something isn’t going her way.”
“No!” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. “She’ll be upset because her whole life she’s had to deal with everyone liking the rest of her family more than her, and I’m the only person that she’s got all to herself, and now I’ve…” my voice trailed off. My throat constricted slightly, “serious friendship betrayal.”
“Bloody hell, Autumn,” James said irritably, “if you’re going to get that upset about it then why do it.”
I wasn’t entirely sure I had an answer about that.
“No, look, Autumn, I didn’t mean that,” James said, waving it off and threading his fingers through mine, “you’re just… this is…”
“She’s going to come here and shout the tower down,” Freddie supplied, sitting up in bed and reaching for his T-shirt. I’d seen an underdressed Freddie more than I’d seen my boyfriend underdressed, there was definitely something wrong with that, “and I, for one, am going to watch.”
“Oh, sod off Freddie,” James said, “you’re helping me out.”
“Like hell I am,” Freddie said, “this is not in the bro code.”
“I unstuck your arse of a toilet, you shit!”
“Only because of Autumn.”
“Exactly!” James said, gesturing towards me, “who’s having a breakdown here, if you hadn’t noticed.”
“I’m…” I was going to say fine, but then the words died before I had a chance to say them. Graham sent me a look. I suspected this was one of the first times they’d had a crying Ravenclaw inside their dormitory with the prospect of a livid other woman on the way – although, actually, it wasn’t a given.
“Oh, fine,” Freddie said, “Autumn – you, me, and the men’s toilets. In.”
“What?” I asked, but Freddie was already ushering me into the bathroom and sending James a wink.
“I’m assuming you don’t want Dom to find you here?” Freddie said. “Now, see, I’m in here having a shower,” he continued, turning the shower on with a mock bow, “and, naturally, James wouldn’t let his girlfriend watch his cousin get showered so… you’re not here.”
I took the previous comment back. They had most definitely done this before.
Freddie turned off the shower and leant against the door.
“How long have we got?” James asked, still pacing. “The map, Autumn, where the hell is she?”
“Oh, right,” I said, pulling it out of my pocket and searching desperately for her dot, “erm, she’s got two more flights to climb.”
“Wearing those stupid heals?”
“Well, that buys us time,” James said, hovering at the edge of the bathroom door, “what do you want me to say, Autumn?”
“The truth,” I said weakly, “I’m sorry for dragging you into all of this, I mean I didn’t… I -”
“ – worth it,” James grinned, reaching forward and kissing me for a second, “anyway, you know I couldn’t give a crap about what Dom says or does. I just don’t want you to have a major freak out and dump my ass.”
“No, I don’t, you daft bint,” James grinned, “Just remember that Dom’s been brain washing you. Nothing she said about me is true,”
“Don’t go breaking my heart, Autumn,” James grinned with a mock wave, before he closed the door behind me and Freddie started up the shower again. I sank down and sat next to the door, closing my eyes shut and feeling my heart hammering inside my chest.
I couldn’t believe this was happening. It was like something out of another world.
Not least because I wasn’t the type of girl to get caught up in drama. I mean, it had always just been me and Dom and the most drama that we ever had was Dom throwing a tantrum and me sitting it out until she wasn’t mad at me anymore. Dom was the queen of drama and had absolutely no qualms stealing boyfriends, pissing off ex-girlfriends and bitching in public. Dom spread rumours for fun and made saw they all traced back to her. Dom was the one with the drama, whilst I just sat and waited for her to be finished with it all, getting stressed out about getting all my homework done.
And that was why I’d done it.
Because, gradually, I’d been beginning to think that I was worth something. So when that moment arrived – an opportunity – something within me that I hadn’t even recognised at the time was crying out for something to happen. I hadn’t even realised that I was frustrated about being Dom’s pet puppet, but I had been, I’d been feeling swallowed up by her all year – disagreeing with her about her boyfriend, being annoyed at those comments on my birthday, directly going against what she wanted just because I didn’t want to be her companion anymore.
I’d taken the invisibility cloak in a moment of irrationality, but the reasoning behind it wasn’t as impulsive as I thought it had been – I was done with having one friend and stupid parents and an absentee sister and I wanted more.
So I’d set off this chain of events which led to this very moment, when I’d quite possibly broken my best friends heart and might very possibly break a boy’s heart (and who even knew I had that in me?) but I’d most definitely proven that I was not just a bystander watching Dom’s drama and the Weasley-Potter’s pranks and my dormates girly sessions before going back to my excessive amounts of studying.
I was worth more than that.
“All right?” Freddie mouthed, sat with his back against the bath and raising his eyebrows at me. I nodded. He bum-shuffled closer, until he was practically sat next to me. “For the record,” he whispered, “I don’t think you’re a bad person.”
“I feel like such an idiot,” I said, biting my lip. Now, this whole thing seemed like it had stemmed out of some weird form of teenager rebellion – against my best friend. And James, lovely James, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do.
“First,” Freddie said, “you should know that James actually doesn’t date that much. Oh, probably more than you no doubt,” he continued, offering me an apologetic look, “but, it’s especially a no go area if It’s remotely messy. And believe me, Autumn, you are messy.”
“I didn’t –”
“And,” Freddie continued, dropping his voice even more, “he likes you a lot.”
“It’s not like I don’t like him!” I hissed back, opening my eyes and staring at him. Freddie shrugged his shoulders slightly.
He thought that I was going to meekly apologise to Dom and fall back into line. I bit back the sob waiting at the back of my throat and gritted my teeth. He would be on James’s side, though. He didn’t understand Dom.
James made me nervous and fluttery and I liked spending time with him. He reminded me that I was worth something and he made me believe that I could be funny and interesting and impulsive, if I wanted to be. Dom, on the other hand, made me believe the exact opposite.
If only I’d mastered the art of being self-sufficient.
“I hear footsteps.” Freddie said, then he was silent.
Holy crap. This was it. This was the moment.
“Where is she, Potter?” Dom demanded.
“My least favourite cousin, to what do I – ?” James began.
“The season?” James suggested. “It’s all around us, Dom love.”
I bit my lip and tried not to start laughing hysterically because James really really shouldn’t be winding her up anymore. I suspected, with the pair of them, that it was like a compulsion that neither had any control over.
“My best friend.” Dom, on the other side of the door, said and suddenly the door knob was rattling. Evidentially, Freddie must have locked it.
“Oi!” Freddie yelled, sticking his head under the shower for the extra effect. “If that’s Graham trying to perv on me again – “
“- fuck off!” Graham yelled back.
“Freddie’s in the shower,” James supplied, “so I really can’t help you.”
“You can’t fucking help anything, can you, Potter?” Dom said, her voice low and dangerous and building up to something supersonic. “You can’t just stay out of my business,” Dom hissed, “you could date any sodding bimbo in this place and you have to pick my best friend.”
“Autumn isn’t a bimbo.” James said, levelly.
I shut my eyes.
“Oh,” Dom said, “so you’re not dating her just to piss me off?” Dom questioned.
I hadn’t even thought about that before now.
“How self-centred are you, exactly?” James asked. “Last time I checked, it was a free country and I can date whoever the hell I want.”
“Except,” one of the dormates interjected, “anyone you’re related to, because that’s illegal.”
“You think this is funny?” Dom demanded. “Get the fuck out of here!”
“Dom,” James said, his voice heating up slightly, “you can’t chuck out my dorm mates in the middle of the night.”
“Watch me,” Dom hissed, “get the hell out of here!”
“Dom?” Freddie called, pressing his ear against the door and grinning, “do you want me to leave too? Only I’ve still got bits I need to watch -”
There was a strangled scream and the sound of something sharp hitting the other side of the bathroom door. I suspected it was one of her stupid heals.
I was no longer crying. Instead a weird sense of calm had settled over me and I was just taking deep breaths and trying to work out what was going on next door. There were no voices floating through the bathroom door, but there were the sounds of movements, which suggested Dom was following through on her quest to kick out all the other Gryffindors.
Bloody hell. Even if I lived till tomorrow everyone was going to be talking about this for years. I wouldn’t be able to walk down the corridor without people talking about me and the more I thought about it the more I realised that this would all reflect badly on Dom and practically give James a halo. I’d made things even worse.
“Fine!” James said. “I’m dating Autumn. What you going to do? Tear off her face so she can’t ever snog anyone ever. You know, Dom, your best friends is scared of you. Do you realised how fucked up that is?”
“Get your ugly nose out of business.” Dom spat.
“You’re the one invading in my business,” James returned, “if Autumn wants to date me than she can bloody well date me.”
“You’re no good for her!” Dom all but shrieked.
“And Dom knows best?” James asked, the sarcasm so thick in the air that I could practically taste all the way through the other door, “do you know what you’ve done to your supposed best friend? You’ve stopped her having any life of her own. You’re controlling and weird and fucked up.”
“Well, that’s rich,” Dom spat back, “she’s been here for six years, Potter, why the sudden interest.”
“She stole my invisibility cloak,” James said with a laugh, “you know, no one’s ever done that before.”
“I have one thing,” Dom said, her voice dropping to ice levels, “one thing in my life which is halfway decent and you have to take it away from me.”
“I haven’t taken bloody anything,” James said, “I’m not stopping her being your friend, you are.”
“Really?” Dom said, her voice building up again. In the bathroom, Freddie was towel drying the bit of his hair that got wet and examining his fingernails with a slightly critical eye (with a second look, I realised his fingernails were painted a bright green so that probably explained it) and I was hugging my too long limbs to my chest and biting my lip. “Because I don’t remember Autumn ever lying to me before you came into the picture.”
“Because she was scared you were going to go psycho!” James said, his own voice rising. “And worse than that, despite the fact that you’ve purposefully insuring she has no friends for years, she feels sorry for you.”
“Back off.” Dom hissed, in the sort of voice that would have made me fall over and die in fright. My heart was beating continually in my chest. I guess that explained why James was a Gryffindor.
“I know what you were doing, Dom.”
“Making her feel like shit for years, reinforcing what her Mum did, just so she’d stay your friend and wouldn’t abandon you. That’s fucked up, Dom. Making up rumours about your own best friend to make sure no one else tries to be nice her.”
“Rumours that you believed.”
My heart stopped.
Freddie stopped towel drying his hair to send me this horrible, pitying look. I blinked repeatedly and stared at my hands. Freddie’s gaze seemed to say ‘I told you so’ and I wasn’t sure I could handle that.
“One conversation and I saw through your bullshit.”
“And did you tell her about that?” Dom asked. No, he didn’t. Dom knew he hadn’t. I could feel the brutally victorious look plastered across her face, her withering look, her whole stature screaming I’ve beaten you. You’re just the same as me. You’re a bitch too.
I should have seen it coming. Because James and Dom fought without considering the consequences, were at each other’s throats continually, and neither of them wanted to lose this battle: Dom was upset and angry, but James was pissed off too now he was losing an argument he never thought he’d lose.
So he needed a trump card.
The footsteps should have given it away, but my brain was still stuck on rumours and making you feel bad on purpose so it didn’t click until the second the James muttered ‘alohomora’ and threw open the door.
“Autumn,” James said, breathing heavily. Dom’s eyes were flashing dangerously. “I’ve had enough of this bullshit,” James said, “apparently; you can’t date me whilst being her best friend. So choose.”
I stared at him.
Freddie’s eyebrows had disappeared in his hairline. James still had that oddly competitive look written all over his face. Dom… I couldn’t even decide whether Dom wanted me or not, because she was looking at me like I was giving off a foul odour – but then that wasn’t necessarily uncommon. Sometimes if she didn’t like my hair or I’d said something particularly unfunny she’d give me that look and I’d always feel this uneasy edge of embarrassment creeping up my toes. Now though, I just felt dread.
“It’s her or me.”
Dom folded her arms, glancing at James with a self-satisfied smile.
She thought I was going to pick her.
James looked at me in that way that made my stomach turn over.
He thought I was going to pick him.
My body seemed to be catching up with what was happening all at once. I stood up, my long limbs folding out shakily, my heart beginning to beat so loudly in my chest that it was almost deafening, the knee-jerk tears burning at the corners of my eyes.
I had no idea who I thought I’d pick.
I looked at Freddie and that opportunity of a third option seemed to swallow me whole. No. I thought. I’m not going to do this.
Then I pushed past the pair of them, wrapped my arms around myself, and headed for the door.
So this is pretty intense guys. Thanks for all your reviews on the last chapters and please forgive the lack of response (I'm behind at the moment thanks to NaNo prep and university) but updates should be FAST until the end now guys.