Chapter 16 : Shrieking Shack, Seventh Year.
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It was raining. Thunder rumbled threateningly across the sky, the silent flashes of lightning occurring just seconds before it. It beat heavily against the roof of the Shrieking Shack, and the sound of water against slate echoed through the old, creaking house.
I wondered whether Amelie was out in this rain. I pictured her in my mind, running up the pathway to school, her hair plastered to her forehead and her clothes soaked. She would trip and stumble, and drop her books in a puddle. She would swear loudly, causing a nearby first year to shriek and run away. Some handsome, charming someone would pick her papers up for her, and they would be swept into a whirlwind romance that would involve grand marriage proposals in Venice and a summer house in the south of France and end with the two of them in rocking chairs, all wrinkled and dressed in cardigans.
I fucking hate the rain.
I brought the bottle of firewhisky to my mouth again, the liquid burning against my throat. I thought that the flavour would remove the repulsive taste of cherry from my lips. It had been there for over a week now, since that hideous night of the Quidditch cup. On the way down here, I stood for an hour in the pouring rain, hoping the falling water would wash the horrible scent of perfume from my skin, my hair and my clothes. I hoped it would wash away the memory of Georgia Watson crawling predatorily towards me across my bed, a disgustingly smug smirk on her face as she pulled off my top and bit into my neck.
I took another gulp, and my head span dangerously.
I heard a knock at the door, and I remained silent. More than once, some angry villager from Hogsmeade would tell me that I was trespassing, that the Shrieking Shack was an important piece of Hogsmeade history and that it should be respected and not turned into the hang out of drunken youths. My cousins had come down one afternoon and begged me to return to the castle and to my lessons. I was going to graduate in a couple of days, they had said, and that I should at least finish in style.
I pulled back a dingy, moth-eaten curtain to peek outside. I could see nothing in the pouring rain and the overwhelming darkness.
A flash of lightning illuminated the sky, and I could the face of my visitor. I dropped the bottle of firewhisky, the glass breaking and the alcohol spilling over the dust-ridden carpet. I stumbled over my feet in my hurry to get to the door. My hand slipped with the thousands of locks and bolts. I was wasting precious seconds, and I considered kicking it down.
I undid the last lock quickly, pulling open the door. Amelie looked beautiful.
We stood looking at each other. We didn’t say anything. I could see her eyes take it all in. I hadn’t changed in days, and my hair was all over the place. I stunk of firewhisky and Watson’s perfume and cherry and Droobles Best Blowing Gum, which was the only thing I had been eating for the past week.
The rain was cascading down her face. It was like one of those moments in the Muggle film where the heroine comes to apologise to her romantic interest and then they kiss in the rain. I shuddered. I was never going to baby-sit Hugo again. He loved his mother’s motion picture collection way too much.
Apart from, this time, I was the one that needed to apologise, and I was sure I wasn’t going to get a kiss in the rain.
“Can I come in?” Her voice was quiet. I struggled to hear her against the sound of thundering water against stone. I motioned her inside. She stood in the centre of the main room, looking around at the squalid sofa and old bottles and bubble gum wrappers. I stood awkwardly in the doorway, deciding whether to immediately start apologising or to simply admire her.
“So this is what you’ve been doing,” she said, and her voice was louder now, with a hint of laughter, “hiding out in the Shrieking Shack with your old friend Mr. Firewhisky.”
“He is a very old and dearest friend,” I replied quickly, kicking an empty bottle behind a mouldy armchair, “we’ve just been reacquainted.”
“Was it a beautiful reunion?”
“How lovely,” she said, picking her way through the pile of old clothes to sit on the sofa. She looked uncomfortable, perching on the very edge of the seat, as if it might eat her or infect her with something. That was quite likely, but I was pretty sure that it wasn’t the lack of cleanliness that was making her ill at ease. She was probably a little bit freaked out by the way I was staring at her. She still looked so beautiful, and I hadn’t seen her in so long...
“Your cousins sent me,” she said, her gaze was focused on the floor. I leant against the doorway.
“So you’ve joined the let’s-get-James-back-to-school campaign.”
“Oh they paid me,” she quipped jokingly, “it’s not like I volunteered.”
“And I’m sure I could sue them,” she continued, “as they are my employers, you know? I’ve probably got hypothermia already and I’m pretty certain I’ve caught something from this sofa...”
I couldn’t think of anything to say, so the silence sunk in all around us. The loud pitter-patter of the rain made any comprehensible thought impossible, so I just stayed leaning against the doorway, looking at Amelie like she was some sort of deity.
“Have you ever been to Venice?” I asked.
“And what do you think about the south of France?”
“I hate it. It reminds me too much of Victoire.”
I nodded thoughtfully.
“Why?” Amelie asked.
“No reason. Do you ever wear cardigans?”
“Only granddads wear cardigans. And your cousin Molly.”
I nodded again. A dribble of water fell through the hole in the roof and into the bucket below with a satisfying ‘plop’. We both watched the ripples for a second.
“So,” I said, “aren’t you meant to be convincing me to go back to school?”
“No. It’s your choice.”
I wanted to go and sit next to her, but it was like my arm had been glued to the wooden frame of the door. My feet also felt like lead so I couldn’t move them. My eyes were stuck in place so I couldn’t look anywhere but at Amelie. I wasn’t complaining. She looked beautiful even in the dark.
“Rose threatened me with SPEW, you know,” she began, standing up and looking around the crooked house, “that’s why I’m here. I really didn’t mean to interrupt your private time with Mr Firewhisky.”
I shrugged. I was surprised that she was talking to me. If she had kissed someone else, I wouldn’t talk to her. I would simply sit and stew in my room and cry my heart out to Celestina and spend a whole weekend with Mr Firewhisky. I definitely wouldn’t be trying to convince her to come back to school. I definitely wouldn’t be being this comfortable with her. But she was Amelie. She was kind, she was clever and she was funny. I loved her. She did things differently to me because she was better person than I was. She was a person who didn’t fool around with Georgia Watson or not talk to their girlfriend and tell them not to be a Quidditch player or prevent their cousin from being with a boy they liked.
It was strange how changeable our relationship was now. Before, when we had been best friends and when he had been dating, we were steady: a casual mixture between banter, bitching, Quidditch talk or, later, heavy flirting. But after that night when I had found out about Rose and Malfoy, it seemed to change. It was much more unsettled. We would flit from flirting to bitching to arguments at the drop of a hat, and those arguments were always the worst. The ones that seemed to spring from nothing, where I made basilisks out of billywigs and that seemed to last for days until I regained the use of my tongue. She would immediately apologise, even though it hadn’t been her fault.
I fucking hate myself for that. I don’t even know why I acted like such a wanker.
I saw Amelie wiping at her skin. The rain had caused her make-up to smudge down her cheeks.
“There’s a mirror in the kitchen, if you want to... you know... sort yourself out.”
“I’m not Julia Ripley, I can cope with a few mascara stains.”
“I’m not worried about that, it’s just I’m really not sure whether you can pull them off...”
“Very funny,” she said sarcastically, standing up around walking towards the kitchen, “no, really, that’s very witty.”
I followed Amelie into the kitchen, leaning against the dusty old worktops as she inspected her face in the cracked mirror.
“Anything exciting happening at school?”
“I’m pretty sure the entire female population have gone a bit do-lally that you’re not there. That craziness is going to be mixed with the happiness they are going to feel when they hear you’re single again. They are all going to be looking for a goodbye kiss...”
I nodded, trying to ignore the ‘you’re single again’. My stomach squirmed ominously.
“I’ll be sure to be on my guard,” I said uncertainly. Amelie smiled.
“They’ll probably find out about this place,” she continued, “and then what will you do?”
“Fight them off with a broken firewhisky bottle.”
“Oh, of course.”
It was like we had returned to best friend mode. It was almost as if we hadn’t spent the past year kissing and flirting and holding hands underneath the desk. It was like the old days, when I used to get upset with my family or with my Quidditch team and I would come down here and sulk. She would leave it for a couple of hours before coming down to fetch me. She wouldn’t ask me to talk, and instead we make would tease each other and joke around on the way back up to school.
Amelie was behaving like those ten months hadn’t happened. I wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or feel guilty. I wasn’t upset. I was happy that she was still talking and that we were holding on to some remnants of the relationship ruined by my inability to keep my own tongue in my own mouth.
“The Charms professor had a nervous breakdown,” Amelie said, “the one who had started at the beginning of this year? She went completely mental yesterday charmed a tail onto some fourth year. The parents came in and the headmaster was there and it all got pretty messy...”
She could tell that I wasn’t listening, and she ended the story abruptly. I saw her toy nervously with the edge of her t-shirt, and I brushed my hair through my fingers, trying to pat it down. We heard the steady drip of water through the leaking roof.
“Apparently Fred got an offer at Gringotts,” I said lamely.
Silence again. Amelie started whistling, looking around the old kitchen.
“So... err... you said... so you said that I was... I was single again.”
Amelie turned, for the briefest of moments, to stare at me. It was over in a heartbeat, before she started rummaging through the cupboards. She pulled out an old kettle and two chipped mugs. She boiled some water and pulled some teabags out from her pocket. Milk streamed from her wand tip.
“I think you’ve had enough firewhisky,” she said, handing me the old mug. She pressed the cup into my hands but I didn’t drink it.
“Merlin, Jimmy. It’s not like I’ve poisoned you or anything.”
“I try and talk to you about our... situation... and you answer by making me a cup of tea?”
“I had a momentary urge,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
“Can we just try and be serious for one minute?”
“Can we please stop talking like you’re our Astronomy professor?”
The silence returned. She absent-mindedly stirred her cup of tea and walked back into the living room and returned to her spot on the sofa. I wanted to sit next to her.
“Why is always raining?” Amelie said, gazing out of the window.
“What?” I said, and she turned to face me.
“It’s always raining: when we first met, when we had our first kiss, our first time. Even last week, it was raining when... when everything... when we had that talk,” she finished rather lamely, and I felt that massive flame of self-loathing ignite in my chest. It was at those moments when the taste of cherry plundered my lips and the scent of Watson’s perfume clouded my senses.
“And now,” I replied quietly, “and what about now?”
“What about it?”
“You’re saying something always momentous happens between us when it rains. It’s raining now, so is something going to happen?”
She looked away from me, her gaze returning to the floor.
“No,” she said simply but firmly, “nothing will happen.”
My brain was telling me that this was the time to start apologising, to not let this moment alone go to waste. I couldn’t do it. I just kept staring at her, admiring the way her hair was drying into loose curls. I wanted to twirl them in my fingers, like I had done once when she had woken up in my arms on a sunny Sunday morning.
I suddenly had a craving to touch her. I tore myself away from the safety of my doorway and crossed the room, slumping down on the sofa next to her. I saw her stiffen, and I was sure that she could smell Watson’s perfume on me.
“Amelie, I am so...”
“Don’t James, please,” she shifted further away from me on the sofa, “I am simply here to ask you whether you would like to come to back to school and you will yes otherwise Rose will probably rip my head off.”
“She pulled out the big guns when she asked you to come,” I replied quietly and, trying not to sound too cheesy or too much like a girl, “I would come back to school if you asked me. I would do anything you asked me.”
“I never asked you to sleep with Georgia Watson,” she said bitterly, and she tore her eyes off the floor to look at me.
“I didn’t sleep with her.”
“So I asked you to kiss her? To fool around with her?”
“No. Amelie, please...”
A tear escaped her eye. I watched it as it trailed down her cheek.
“Please,” I repeated, “please just listen to...”
“I had never cried before,” she interrupted, her hands wiping at their face, “obviously I cried when I was a baby but since about the age of two I haven’t shed one fucking tear. But you and Georgia Watson fuck around for one night and suddenly it’s like a bloody flash flood. It’s like they’re catching up with me.”
I sat watching her, watching the strange sight of Amelie wiping tears from her cheeks with the already damp sleeve of her jumper. I wanted to do it for her, to feel her soft skin underneath my fingertips.
“Amelie, I just want to say...”
“I’m going to keep interrupting you until you stop talking,” she said defiantly.
“Because I’m not going to let you turn this into something. I’m not going to let you turn this into something I’ll regret.”
“You’ll regret getting back together with me?”
Amelie took a long sip of her tea, and I could tell that she was trying to avoid answering me. She kept her gaze downcast, and her fingers tapped a rhythm on the old, chipped mug.
“I thought I was right,” I began nervously, and I saw Amelie stiffen at my words, “I thought I was right about the Rose and Malfoy thing. I thought my family wouldn’t like it. I thought that he would hurt her, I thought he was exactly like his father...”
“That he would suddenly turn around and kill Rose and then skip off to join a merry band of Death Eaters? Yeah that sounds about right,” Amelie finished sardonically. Her eyes focused on the mug in her lap. She still didn’t look at me.
“I was trying to protect Rose. I know now that it was pointless trying to and I’m sorry that I acted like such a wanker and we had that stupid argument and that I was being prejudiced and stupid and not talking to you and stupid...”
I paused. I waited to see her reaction.
“Is that all you’re going to say?” Amelie answered quietly. She had finally looked up at me.
“There’s quite a lot of stuff I need to apologise for.”
She smiled faintly, her face softening.
“I better get started then.”
We sat there for an hour. It was mainly me talking about how much of an arsehole I had been, why I had been so uptight and why I had stupidly decided to jump into bed with Georgia Watson. I wasn’t able to tell Amelie why I had done those things, but I tried and tried again to apologise to her, to explain to her that it wasn’t her fault, that I was the world’s worst boyfriend. She interjected from time to time with sarcastic comments about Watson, but mostly she kept quiet. She had disappeared into the kitchen to refill our mugs of tea.
When I had finished describing - at Amelie’s request - the disgusting details of mine and Watson’s sordid affair, we both sat in silence and listened to the rain pattering against the roof.
“What I don’t understand,” Amelie said, “is why you didn’t just apologise before, at school, before the Quidditch match, rather than a couple of weeks later in a rain-drenched shack in an alcohol-induced haze.”
“Because I’m an arsehole.”
“Something like that, yeah,” Amelie replied absent-mindedly, draining the last of her tea. She stood up and approached the front door.
“I will see you later, James, if you haven’t been eaten by werewolves or your liver disintegrates or you run out of Droobles. Oh, and Rose might come down here and kill you personally if you don’t come back for graduation.”
She opened the door and the wind swept through the tiny house, making it rattle and shake. I stood up and hurriedly and rushed over to her, placing a hand on the door and slamming it shut.
“You’re just going to leave?”
“Well dinner starts in five minutes and you know how I get cranky when I don’t eat,” she said bravely.
“Amelie...” I said.
“Jimmy...” she imitated, putting on a fake, gravelly tone.
“I just spent an hour apologising to you and you don’t say anything, you just get up and leave. I thought... I thought that...”
“You thought I might take you back?”
I nodded slowly. Amelie’s jaw clenched. A moment of silence passed between us, and we listened to the sound of the rain.
“I’m not going to,” she said quietly, her fingers wrapping around the handle of the door, “I’m not going to take you back.”
It was like all of the blood inside my body and rushed to head. It made me feely dizzy, and a dull ache formed in my chest. It weighed me down. I tried to grab onto Amelie’s arm but she shrunk out my grasp.
“Amelie...” I mumbled.
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed me lightly on the forehead. I tried to put my hands around her waist, but she stepped back too quickly and too forcibly. I recognised the break-up kiss, but I was usually the one administering it and not receiving it.
“I love you,” I said rather weakly. My eyes were stinging.
“I know,” she replied.
I placed a hand on her cheek, and she didn’t move away.
“Be careful,” Amelie said, with a hint of a smile, and her voice was cracking as I watched as a tear rolled down her cheek, “those Hufflepuff girls can get particularly violent when they smell fresh meat on the market.”
“I’ll watch out for them.”
She opened the door and the rain hit both of our faces. I grabbed onto her hands. She didn’t recoil.
“Stay here,” I said desperately, hoping that I spent a little more time with her that she might change her mind, that we might be together, and the horrible throbbing in my chest might go away. Amelie shook her head, tears now tumbling down her face and mixing with the raindrops.
“I can’t,” she replied shakily.
“Just until the rain stops.”
She pulled her fingers out of mine, and I paled at the sudden loss of contact. She ran out onto the street and up the lane. She disappeared around a bend. She didn’t even look back.
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