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Chapter 18: And then I run into another wall...
I couldn’t run anymore, not after the excessive sprinting around the castle, but that was okay because I didn’t need to run when I could hide. As soon as I was out of the Gryffindor Common Room I pulled the cloak over my shoulders, stuffed the map into my pocket and waited to see if they’d follow.
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted them too or not. I wanted to be away from them and I wanted to disappear, but there was no point walking off now and risking them hearing my footsteps.
Dom came spilling out of the door first, her normally pretty features screwed up in anger and her face flushed pink. James was a second behind her, an odd shade of shocked white that I’d never seen him wear before. I think what struck me most was the fact that they were together.
“Great,” Dom spat, turning around to glare at him, “no sign of her.”
“Where would she be?” James asked, a deliberate note of calm in his voice.
“Shouldn’t you know?” Dom demanded, “as her loving boyfriend?”
“Of less than two months,” James said pointedly, “stop fucking around, Dominique, this isn’t about us.”
“No,” Dom said, “it’s about the fact that you just –”
Dom wasn’t wearing her heals. She looked too short and slightly odd. Vulnerable. A lot less imposing.
“- yeah, well, I can hardly claim all the credit.”
“She was fine before you stuck her nose in.”
“Bloody hell, Dom! It’s not like I sodding corrupted her. She stole my fucking invisibility cloak, scared the crap out of me with a borrowed chicken and then accidentally exploded my bed when she was trying to apologise. This wasn’t my design.”
“Oh,” Dom said, still glancing around “so it just happened did it?”
“Not all relationships are plotted.” James said, sending a look in her direction.
Dom took in a deep breath but looked away,
“Oi,” Dom said, turning around to face the Fat Lady with a hand on her hip “where did my friend go? Tall, very pretty, probably looked upset thanks to this fuckwit.”
James, showing a fair amount of self-restraint considering how he normally would have acted, kept his mouth shut and instead turning his gaze on the Fat Lady too.
“Disappeared,” She said, sniffing disdainfully at the pair of them, “one of those cloaks you lot seem so keen on.”
Dom turned on James with her eyes flashing “were you going to mention she had the invisibility cloak at any point, Potter?” James raised his eyebrows at her. “Has Albus got the map? Oh, don’t tell me you’re sodding serious – she’s got the map too? To facilitate all your sneaking around?”
“It’s not like that,” James said impatiently, “where would she go?”
“I don’t know,” Dom said, breathing in sharply and looking around the corridor. His gaze paused in my section of the corridor. I tried very hard to continue looking transparent.
I’d like to say it felt weird to have everyone looking straight through me, but I wasn’t entirely sure if it was different to normal. It did, however, feel weird to have them looking for me.
“So that’s what all this stalling is for?” James asked triumphantly. “You don’t know where your own best friend goes when she’s upset?”
“She goes to me!” Dom said. “Or she goes to the dorm. To bed. As the situation stands, neither of those are looking like likely suspects.”
“The Owlery?” James said. “Hagrid’s? To see Oliver?”
I felt my heart speed up slightly. It was definitely wrong to be listening in on their conversation right after I’d run away from them, but -
“It’s late,” Dom said, “and Autumn doesn’t like getting into trouble.”
“Well she’s got an invisibility cloak and a magical map, trouble is unlikely.”
“And she doesn’t want us to find her,” Dom said pointedly, “so this is a waste of time.”
“Fine,” James said, shoving his hands in the pockets of his dressing gown, “you go get your beauty sleep, I’ll go look for Autumn.”
“Christ, you Gryffindors,” Dom said, rolling her eyes, “you think if you stumble down the right corridor you’re going to walk straight into her? She doesn’t want to see us, Potter. Frankly, I don’t blame her after you -”
“- oh right,” James said, “you keep blaming me.”
“Why the hell shouldn’t I?” Dom said, turning round to face him with her eyes narrowing again, “you insolent moron! Autumn hates having to be assertive, okay –”
“- no, she doesn’t,” James interjected, “you hate her being assertive.”
“And you’re trying to make her into someone she’s not!”
“And you’re repressing her!”
“Repressing? Stop being so dramatic.”
“That’s your job, I suppose,” James said, glancing around the corridor as if looking for some sort of clue. He looked completely miserable. Dom still looked livid, but at least it was something that she was willing to try and find me – or at least, she would be if she hadn’t deemed it illogical. “So you’re giving up?” James said.
His tone was accusatory again.
“Oh,” Dom said, raising an arched eyebrow and folding her arms over her chest, “you think going off one some futile quest to locate our mutual interest makes you the most interested party? Well, fine, Potter. You play up your bleeding heart and search all night. I’m having a crisis of my own.”
“Broken a nail?”
“My best friend and my boyfriend have been lying to me for months,” Dom said curtly, “so she can fuck off if she wants. She’ll be in back in the dorm by the end of the night. Just remember, Potter, she didn’t pick you.”
“She didn’t pick you either.”
“Good,” Dom said, “I don’t want her.”
“Bullocks.” James said, clapping a hand on her shoulder. Dom pushed the hand off her shoulder and muttered a few choice swearwords before stalking off in the direction of the stairs. Which was, incidentally, not the quickest route to the Ravenclaw Tower. “I’m going to the owlery!” James called after her.
She ignored him.
James watched her go for a few seconds, his expression collapsing into one of irritation. He clenched his fists, squared his shoulders and set off.
She’ll be back in the dorm by the end of the night.
My heart was thudding erratically in my chest. I didn’t want to be the same old predictable Autumn. I didn’t want to be in Hogwarts. I wanted to get away from everything.
It’s her or me.
I pulled the cloak around me and headed down a corridor on the left, in a direction neither of them had gone in. I was going to get well and truly lost in Hogwarts and it was going to be wonderful. What did it matter that I’d lost my best friend and my boyfriend in the same utterance? What did it matter that the whole castle was going to be talking about that for months? That I no longer felt like the person I was?
At least Hogwarts had enough corridors and walls to get utterly, utterly lost. And maybe when I hadn’t got a clue where I was or what floor I was on or spent half an hour trying to find my own tiny dot on the map it would at least be a metaphor of how I felt.
I shoved my hands in my pocket and withdrew it quickly, startling myself with a paper cut – my sister’s letter was still shoved into the pocket of my robes, half screwed up from my irritation at her dismissal, even though that had been muted by the pleasure at thinking my sister might root herself here, with us, after all this time.
This was definitely too much for one day.
Dom had been spreading rumours about me and, according to James, reinforcing the bullshit of my mother. You’re not funny, Autumn. Find me something else to wear. Don’t do that, do this, don’t attempt humour. I could see it, if I really squinted and concentrated, these little comments that felt like paper cuts, but they were outnumbered by the nice things Dom said, surely. Nice thing about how I had long legs and nice hair, about how I was kind and too caring and not judgemental enough.
And James demanding me to choose between them felt like more than a paper cut, it felt like a wound.
Part of me was refuting the cases against the both of them. James had made it more than clear on many occasions that he didn’t see the problem with me being friends with Dom and dating him at the same time, he’d just been so sure that after mentioning the rumours I’d pick him rather than Dom and he couldn’t resist the pull towards winning the argument. Dom had merely been acting out of insecurities and hadn’t meant any of this in a malicious way, it was just that she needed me, was terrified of losing me and wasn’t quite in control of her own sense of self enough to not act like a crazy person.
But for once I didn’t feel about thinking about their problems or thinking about their point of view, I wanted to think about how it felt to stand there and have the two people I’d chosen to care about most in the world demanding something of me that I absolutely refused to give. It was irrelevant that Dom hated herself and that James hadn’t really meant it, because I’d been placed in a position where neither of them should have dreamed of placing me – especially James – and been asked to go against everything that made myself just to give one of them the satisfaction of winning.
Dom hadn’t voiced the question, but she hadn’t told James to shut up and, when talking to James after, she still seemed to completely miss the point about why this made me so mad. And James, for all his talk, had demanded a choice from me.
The problem was that by asking that question James had made it quite clear that he thought I was a pushover just as much as Dom did. That he seemed to think he could do something as awful as that and walk away as the victor had really pulled the carpet from under my feet, because one of the reasons why I valued James so highly was because he gave off this impression of respecting me. When in actual fact, he thought I was a doormat just as much as Dom did.
And I wasn’t a doormat and I didn’t have welcome printed on my forehead and I was not just some slightly geeky, studious Ravenclaw who was stupidly tall and the least popular Weasley’s best friend. I was a person and the people I cared about had a duty to pay me some respect.
Including my sister.
So, I pulled out the scrap of paper with her address scrawled on it and took a deep breath. Dom had said I hated getting into trouble and would be back in my bed by the end of the night, but I was going to act on impulse and walk to Hogsmeade with my boyfriend’s – ex-boyfriend? – magical map and demand to know why my sister didn’t feel like she owed me an explanation about the last few years of her life.
I glanced at my watch and immediately wished that I hadn’t. In terms of being assertive and rebellious, I may have been outdoing myself tonight, but that didn’t change the fact that it was well past two in the morning and I was wondering around the backstreets of Hogsmeade on my own.
On a school night, in a stolen invisibility cloak, and feeling decidedly shaken up.
I scrabbled to get out of the invisibility cloak and shoved it into the depths of my bag.
I pulled out the scrap of paper again and continued to squint at it, double checking that I was stood in front of the right house before reaching out and knocking on the door – the ridiculous time of the morning also didn’t help with the prospect of just showing up without warning, but given she was my sister I felt she might have some duties in my time of need. It should be acceptable and yet I couldn’t help slouching to minimise my height, a habit Dom had reliably (or not so much) informed me that I fell back on when I was nervous and trying to make myself seem insignificant.
Ten seconds past before someone came to the door – I could hear the footsteps – and I braced myself for having to explain this all to my sister and then the fact that I was about to demand an explanation in return and then…
The man at the door was not my sister. He seemed to be about the same age, tanned skin, a mop of blonde hair and a confused expression. It was only his pyjamas that jogged my memory and reminded me it was nearly half past two in the morning and that I’d apparently just knocked on some random guys door.
“Oh shit,” I muttered, staring up at him, “I’m so sorry, I… I must have the wrong flat.”
“Autumn?” The guy asked, tilting his head at me slightly, “It’s Autumn, right?”
His Australian accent was almost comical.
Before I could have any further reaction to an Australian, mildly attractive, bloke somehow knowing my name and not cursing me into next week for disturbing his sleep at a stupid time in the morning, there was a loud bark and then there was a golden retriever licking my legs.
“Neb,” then man said, grabbing hold of his collar and pulling him away from the door, “Neb.”
“What’s going on?” Another voice asked, and then my sister appeared in my line of sight and stopped abruptly.
“I think Autumn’s probably wondering the same thing,” Australian Guy said, “come on in.”
“What are you…?” April said, still faltering, “Autumn, what’s - ?”
“Who?” I asked, stepping over the threshold with my eyes fixed on Australian Guy.
“Why are you…?”
“I’m Ethan,” Australian Guy said, “I’m your sister’s fiancé.”
This chapter is short and therefore also shakes the plan up slightly. There will now be 21 chapters, but I couldn't resist having three cliff hangers in a row (and also the fact that I'm a bit stuck on the next chapter and I promised you guys fast updates). More coming soon :)