Chapter 4 : sweetheart
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But now I’m tired of digression. I don’t want to get lost in the many facets of the story, of the truth. There was one thing that ultimately trumped the rest, and that was the prospect of Clara Montague’s end. That was the brightest facet of the diamond. It blinded the rest. It was what the eye lingered on. Couldn’t look away from. That was what that prospect meant to me.
In a certain slant of light, you could say it consumed me.
But that’s not true. I’m just someone who believes in the truth. I believe that it should not be hidden. I believe that liars should be punished. I believe that Clara should be dead.
And really, that’s not too much to ask.
I could go really crazy and start to pursue the rest of them–Olivia and Dominic and Jamie. But they are only lesser parts. They are worker bees. Clara is their queen, whether they like it or not, whether they even know it or not. And that was incredible to me. That they could be so taken in by one person that they could be blinded from the truth staring them in the face.
That was not fair.
Clara deserved to die.
For days after I trapped her, I kept an eye on her. I wanted to see how good she was at disguising her shaking hands and quaking knees. I wanted to know how she was coping with what I’d at least had the courtesy of telling her. But, and I should have known this–she was a liar. She didn’t show that sort of insecurity to the world at large. I suppose you could say that we had a special connection or something, she and I, because I knew what she was.
She pretended that everything was normal between us, too, if you can imagine that. We didn’t talk often, granted, but when had we ever? She wasn’t the only one who liked playing games, or the only one who could. We wrote our papers for History of Magic together. About tracing the origins of the Goblin Revolutions of 1848, the nature of wizard-goblin relations, that sort of thing.
“Oh, no, Rose, you can’t say that,” she told me, clicking her tongue as she skimmed my first paragraph. “You can’t generalise the revolutions that way, they’re much too different for that.”
“But that’s the point of the assignment, isn’t it?” I held her essay in my hand, but hadn’t read it yet. I wasn’t sure what she wanted from me–History of Magic was her subject, not mine. I was only taking the class because the N.E.W.T. was supposed to be the easiest, even if the class was not. “We’re supposed to find the similarities between the major ones. Compare and contrast, right?”
Clara shook her head. “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean that you can generalise. You have to be able to tailor your observations to fit each separate case. That’s not what you’re doing here, as far as I can tell.”
“That’s not how I’m going to approach it. There are different factors, that’s true, but–”
“Listen to me.” For a minute, she sounded as frightened as she looked when she saw what I’d already done and what I could do to her. “You can talk all you want about the general instability of the governments in power. You can say anything about the growing class of discontented goblins there. But you must realise that sharing some similarities means nothing in the greater scheme of things. You may have some pieces, but you don’t have the whole picture. What you’re saying is categorically wrong, and I genuinely don’t want to see you fail because you think you’re doing the right thing.” She stared earnestly at me, at the essay in my hand, at my essay in hers. “You can’t do this, Rose.”
No one else was listening. They were used to her waxing on about stupid things from the past that they did not understand. They were used to me not caring.
Her earnestness froze. “Maybe I misspoke. Maybe I meant that you shouldn’t do it. If you insist…” She broke off, delicately. Smiled cryptically. “Well, it’s your funeral, darling.”
I returned the gesture, except my smile was genuine. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I’ll do just fine, I think. Don’t you think, sweetheart?”
I don’t think I was the spider weaving the flies into my web. Not at all. It’s such a cheap, easy metaphor. My journey to this point was neither cost-free nor simple. I’d hope that that much is clear. It was Clara who was the spider, who pulled the strings, drew the flies closer and closer to her. She wanted to devour them. All I was doing was getting close enough to the spider so that I could destroy the web.
In the most dramatic way possible. Obviously.
You know, I’d never really cared one way or another about Jamie Lithgow outside of his supposedly superior Quidditch skills. He was Keeper. He was Albus’ closest friend. He was Clara’s boyfriend. Still. Which did surprise me, as I always thought of him as her rebound, but even that didn’t bother me too much. He was a prop. He was a toy.
He was also a person. Which, all things considered, was odd.
“Hey. You need something?” I assumed he did, because otherwise, we didn’t talk very much. Besides, I was in the library, writing the essay that Clara felt was so fundamentally wrong.
Jamie sat down across from me. He’d obviously just come in from Quidditch practice, because he smelled like he’d just taken a shower, and he had no books or rolls of parchment with him. It occurred to me that he had come here just to talk to me. Which, all things considered, was also odd.
“I wanted to talk to you, actually. If that’s okay.” He put his hands on the table, palms down. I wasn’t sure what he was playing at, but I put down my quill and waited. “I… this might sound totally out of the blue, but, you see, I’m worried about Clara.”
I’d become very good at keeping my face expressionless. It’s an occupational hazard when you’ve spent months planning someone’s downfall. “Really? Why?”
He bit his lip, which was not something guys really did. He picked it up from Albus, probably. “I’m not sure. That’s the problem. She’s been upset or something lately, but she won’t tell me what’s wrong. She won’t even admit that something is wrong.”
Inside I was doing somersaults. Outside I was blank.
“What, exactly, do you think is wrong?”
“Just… I can’t put my finger on it, but I can tell. She hides it well, you know.” His eyes were angled towards the table, and his left hand twitched. I was surprised to see a show of genuine emotion. That was not usual for him. “I’ve been trying to keep an eye on her and she’s really good at it. But Olivia doesn’t notice anything, Kate doesn’t, Mona doesn’t, the guys don’t, so I was wondering. Do you?”
There were two ways to play this. I chose quickly.
“Now that you mention it,” I said, “I… you might have a point. Emphasis on might.”
It was so heartening to see him perk up. He’d obviously courted many people in our year, those close to his little girlfriend and those on the periphery. I was last. I was in the clear, and always would be.
“Yesterday, you know, we were writing these History essays, the one I was just working on, and she read mine and started ranting about not having the whole picture or something. She looked raving mad the whole time, I’ve no idea what got into her. So,” I concluded, “I… maybe she’s reaching a breaking point.” I glanced at the shelves behind him, out the window to my left, all mysterious and thoughtful. That approach worked well. People fell for it. People like Jamie, specifically. “N.E.W.T.s are coming up, graduation’s coming up, and before you know it she’ll be in the same position as Isabel was. That’s scary, isn’t it?”
“That’s possible,” he mused. “But… I don’t know. I really don’t know. That’s what’s scary to me.”
I’d never dreamed of having this conversation with Jamie Lithgow, but then again, there was a time when I didn’t believe that Clara Montague killed her sister.
“So what do you want to do?” I asked.
“Ideally, I’d like to help her, but I don’t know how.” He muttered something then. Seeing that I didn’t hear him, he repeated, “It’s like she doesn’t trust me.”
Of course she doesn’t trust you, I wanted to say. She’s never liked you.
“Don’t say that. Just keep an eye on her. I’ll even help, if you want me to.” I gave him an encouraging smile, even nudged his still outstretched, no longer twitching hands. “I’m sure she’ll be fine, but if she doesn’t get better… okay, I don’t know either, but we can go from there, right?”
Jamie fixed his eyes on me. I don’t think he’d done that in years. Never like this, at any rate. If Dominic was intense, Jamie was intensely bright. It was strange to see him subdued. Reaching out for help. Dominic would never do that. “Thanks, Rose. You have no idea how much better I feel, talking to you.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” I wiped away the sweet smile. “Now, would you mind? I need to finish this essay.”
He left with a smile on his face.
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