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Chapter 16 : XVI.
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I don't know how we ended up here
I don't know but it's never been so clear
We made a mistake, dear.
Unsure what else there was to do, I stared down at the letter in my hands, waiting, praying, and hoping for the moment to come when I finally plucked up the courage to open it.
My mother, before going to the tea room for some lunch – or perhaps even breakfast, had wordlessly left it on my bedside table, and had had no idea that I had been silently watching her through half-closed lids the entire time.
I’d been doing that a lot – mutely watching her – observing her mannerisms and the way that she blushed and smiled whenever Dennis was around and the way that he always grinned brightly when he first caught sight of her. At first, it had made me happy, but that had quickly transitioned into the same bleak sadness that I always felt.
They made me lonely, and worst of all, they made me miss what I had had in those all too brief, stolen moments with Albus in our room, in the Leaky Cauldron.
My fingers shook as I sheepishly opened the folded piece of pale parchment, and my eyes pointedly looked away as I heard the hammering of my own heart echoing in my ears.
I wasn’t brave, I was a Slytherin.
But then again, was I truly?
“Interesting - how very interesting.” The Hat said, speaking as though it was in my head and those were my own thoughts. “You seek a place in the world – and yet, to no avail it seems. You are loyal to your friends and would not knowingly cause them any harm. You’ve got a decent mind – however you lack the needed ambition for learning – ah, but there is ambition – such a ruthless ambition. You could do well in Gryffindor, but I think – perhaps – yes – you shall fair far better in Slytherin!”
I lowered the piece of parchment to my lap, and turned away from it. I focused my attention on the crass painting of fruit on the whitewash wall instead.
The Sorting Hat had been wrong; I would have never done well in Gryffindor. I was far too much of a coward for such a supposedly noble house. With housemates like Rose and Albus, within weeks they would have thrown me out for my spinelessness and sent me to Hufflepuff with the rest of the rejects.
A small sigh fell from my lips as I allowed my eyes to return to the letter sitting upon my lap. It was just a letter, after all. It couldn’t hurt me. Not literally, any way.
My lips pursed as I lifted it off of the white sheets, and held it up to my face. I saw the words, written in a familiar slanted scrawl and sighed once more. I could do it; I could be brave for once in my life.
Em – I must have imagined it, but I could have sworn you came to me during the night and said you loved me. But – where are you? Why did you go? They want to move me somewhere else, and no one will tell me why, and whenever I mention your name, things get weird. I don’t understand what’s happening. You’re alright, please tell me you are. If something has happened to you – I don’t know what I will do. I love you. I love you. I love you - Albus.
I was wrong. Words could hurt. They could really, really hurt.
I turned the piece of paper over, chewing on my lower lip thoughtfully, and picked up the quill Dennis had left behind accidentally over a week ago. I had to sign my heart away, so I could protect him from all that came with knowing me, and being in my godforsaken life.
I had to protect him from me, even if it killed me. Even if it broke my heart.
Albus - I’m fine. But we’re not. I never – never said that I loved you. Just go away, Potter. Please.
As my tears splashed onto the parchment, the black ink ran.
He deserved better, and I was giving him exactly that even if it was in the most cruellest of ways possible.
I drew out my wand, casting a simple spell, and watched as the letter folded itself into a plane and sped out of the room. He would get it soon – the sooner the better – and then I could escape and everything could go back to normal.
My eyes squeezed closed, and I fell back onto the thick white pillows. I pleaded for sleep to take me away, to allow me to escape from my bittersweet reality, and as it came, I found myself smiling. At least, I knew, there was something that I could rely on.
There was one wish that would be granted, when all others were denied.
Herbology class was usually a waste of time, during which I would spend my time trying to sneak off for a cigarette, or would sit and pretend that I was so much better than all of my classmates. Because, obviously, I was.
That day, however, things were different.
And I was not referring to the fact that our dim-witted professor had brought out new animals, but that I knew he was in my class, and therefore I had a reason to be around him. I had not seen and spoken to him since our final session in the library a week prior, and I missed him. As embarrassing as I was to admit.
He had not been in class since that day, and so each day I looked out for him with a touch of desperation to my hopeless longing.
That day, however, things were different.
He was there, wearing his hood up to avoiding being drenched by the downpour of rain, and standing off to the side. He looked paler than the last time I had seen him – which was worrying, considering he had looked pallid even then – and stood hunched as though he were cold, despite the thick coat he wore.
I heard the professor shout out that we were supposed to be in partners, and I could not help what happened afterwards. My feet moved without thought, and my eyes remained fixed on his face without shame.
He glanced at me briefly, in surprise, when I stopped by his side, but said nothing.
I brushed the wet hair away from my face, and observed him as he pointedly avoided my gaze.
He looked thinner, his cheeks sunken and almost gaunt, and fragile. Delicate, as though he could break at even the lightest of touch.
I reached for his bare hand without thinking, and enveloped it with my gloved one.
He turned to me slowly, squinting slightly through the rain, and I smiled faintly up at him.
He opened his mouth to speak, but I shook my head and lightly pressed my index finger to his lips. I watched as his blonde eyebrows drew together briefly, and felt my own do the same as my hand dropped.
I shouldn’t have touched him. Even through the material of my glove, I felt those same sparks erupt throughout my body. I shivered slightly, and whether it was out of pleasure or not, I didn’t know. I didn’t care to know.
It was wrong, what I was doing, I knew that well.
Slowly, my hand slipped out of his, and I heard him sigh softly.
“Why does this feel right – when it’s actually so wrong?” I despondently whispered, moving close to him. His arm wrapped around me, hugging me to his warm, tall frame, and I rested my head against his shoulder.
“I don’t know.” He murmured tenderly, “But it’ll work out – everything always does. In the end...”
“But when is that? How do we know when it’s ‘the end’?” I asked, looking up at him with a sort of melancholic hopefulness. I saw his lower lip tremble as he glanced down at me, and it made me frown.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you know anything?” I snapped quietly, however sharply, unable to help myself.
“Seems not.” He muttered, and so abruptly, I could have blinked and missed it, he pushed me away from him. The comforting weight of his arm around my shoulders was gone, and I could not longer smell that pleasant – and heightened with the rain – smell of trees and spices and something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
“I’m sorry.” I murmured, looking down at the black material of my gloves. My housemates all had green ones, and so, as I chose not to follow them, they had always felt it was appropriate to look down on me for not wearing my house colours. I didn’t care about my house, I never had.
“Yeah. So am I.” He mumbled curtly. His cold grey eyes shifted so they looked past me, over my shoulder, and I frowned in both anger and confusion. Had I managed to fuck everything up once again?
“Look. No – look at me!” I exclaimed frantically, “Scamander. Look at me.” And very slowly, he did. “Don’t be angry with me – please, I can’t handle it. Anyone else, sure, that’s no problem. But not you, alright?”
I hadn’t meant to do it, but I did.
I grabbed his face gently, but held it firmly between my two gloved hands. His eyes were surprised, however his lips remained pressed together in a pensive line. I brushed the honey blonde curls away from his forehead with my thumb and watched in wonder as his facade of control slipped away.
I was a bad person. I was a bad person. I was a bad person.
“I’m a bad person.”
“No, you’re not.” He whispered quietly, sounding certain of himself. “You’re pretty much perfect to me.”
I wanted to groan, to roll my eyes and smirk as I told him that he was a moronic fool that needed to stop using lines from the book Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches – yet I didn’t, not because I was any nicer or politer than I usually was, but because I liked it. I liked him saying nice, albeit corny, things to me and wanted him to go on, to never stop.
“We both know this can’t happen.” He whispered, saying it so abruptly and bluntly that it made my heart skip a ragged beat.
“I don’t want to stay away from you. Is it pathetic to say that I missed you?” I whispered in response, ignoring the rain and the class we were meant to be participating in and the students, who if by chance turned around, would see something that they would misunderstand. No one understood, and it was likely that no one could.
“No. Not really. Because I missed you too.” He smiled slightly, as though he were nervous, and shrugged his shoulders. He was making it harder for me to not touch him, and made me frightfully aware that I still held his face in mine, that I was still staring into his eyes and was just close enough to possibly – maybe – kiss him?
My hands dropped from his face as though he was painful to touch, and I took a wide step away from him. I drew in three deep breaths as I pressed a hand to my lips and ignored the way I knew he would be looking at me. I didn’t dare to look at him, but that didn’t stop me from imagining it.
“Stop – just stop.” I murmured, my cheeks flushing an embarrassing shade of red. “Not here.”
“Where then?” He whispered, his eyes flickering around us wildly as though looking for somewhere suitable.
“Later.” I murmured with exigency, “After class.”
Once I saw him nod his head – only once – I found myself able to leave. My legs guided me back to my tree, and there I found peace. I did not look for him again, nor did I speak to anyone.
My eyes closed, and I forgot the world.
My first visitor since my mother was not someone I would have expected – at least, not in a million years.
In bewilderment, I stared as the familiar mop of black hair entered the room, looking so out of place it was almost humorous, and took in the muscular frame with wonderment. The face I knew so well was without its trademark characteristic, its smirk, and it frightened me. It made me painfully aware that nothing, not even a person, can stay the same for ever.
“James?” I whispered sharply in alarm. My eyes were wide as I watched the older boy sit down on the edge of my bed with a bizarre sheepishness I had never seen in him before. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see my brother.” He muttered nonchalantly, looking down at my neck as he spoke. His eyes were guarded, which was another thing I had never seen in him before. “But then I got sidetracked.”
“I can see that...” I murmured, unsure what else I could say to him. James Potter, ordinarily, was as easy to read as an open book – but now? Now his thoughts were suddenly a mystery to me. “Why are you here?”
“To see you, to make sure that you were alright.” He mumbled, looking up at me for the first time. His eyes were not lit with same humour as they usually were, but instead, amongst emotions I could not comprehend; there was a touch of kindness. It reassured me that I had not lost James completely. “I mean, contrary to what my mum has been saying, you did save my brother’s life, and you almost died trying.”
My eyes shifted away, staring pointedly out of the window and at the rain that lightly hammered against the glass. It had snowed again the day before, and my mother had brought me hot chocolate with pink marshmallows floating in it. How I longingly wished that I could go back to that happy, carefree moment.
“James – don’t.” I whispered, “Please.”
I hadn’t realised that my hand had curled into a tight fist around my bed sheets until his hand lightly touched my wrist, sending a cold shiver up my spine. I jerked away violently, wincing at the sudden movement and the pain that came with it.
“Hey, hey – it’s fine. Relax.” He urged, shifting closer towards me. “I’m sorry. You know me – I don’t really have a lot of what they call ‘tact’, do I?” He released a shaky sort of laugh, and then looked away from me awkwardly.
“You said you’ve been so see Albus. How is he? Is he alright? Is he -?” My mouth couldn’t work fast enough to air all the questions that were manically running through my head. I was so distracted by them, that I barely had time to register the strange expression that flickered across James’s face. “What – what is it?”
“He’s... good. I guess.” James had never been a good liar. Never. He always told me when I asked that he never had the energy to lie, that it was so much easier to just tell the truth. Regardless of whether it was hurtful or not.
“James, you’re an appalling liar. Just spit it out, we both know you will eventually.”
For a split second, he was back. I had him back.
His handsome face broke into a cocky smirk, which made me painfully nostalgic of the past, and his hand lifted to sweep his dark hair away from his face. I watched as he ruffled his already dishevelled tresses and I rolled my eyes, unable to help myself from doing so.
But then, all too quickly, it was gone. James was back to being a stranger.
“He’s not doing so well – they’re – they’re moving him to another ward for a more – intense treatment. I – he didn’t want to go so – well – there’s been a spot of trouble. But – uh, then I found that letter.” His eyes sheepishly met mine, and I felt my cheeks flush.
“What letter?” I inquired innocently, hoping desperately that he wouldn’t call my bluff.
“I think you know, Em.” James replied, almost sadly. “I found it – embarrassingly, in his hand – well, curled in his fist – when he was asleep. I – I read it. Sorry, but I did.”
“So what? I’m doing exactly what your mother told me to do. She said I could never see him again, and that’s what I have got to do. Don’t think you’re so high and mighty James, because you’re not. He could have died because of me – if it was you in my place and the same happened to Fiona, wouldn’t you do the exact same thing?”
“I don’t know – but Em, do you really think that breaking the poor guy’s heart is going to help him?” James said in an urgent whisper, frowning deeply. Frowning and James, I never would have put the two together. Ever. Not in my wildest of dreams.
“It’s for the best.” I replied, making sure to keep my tone monotonous. That way, it didn’t give anything away.
“Why can’t you get it into your head? It is not for the best. Not for anyone.”
“I don’t want to talk about this. Please, James. I can’t talk about this. Talking about him – it – it makes me -” Hearing myself, sounding so tired, and frightened, and heartbroken, it made me unable to say any more. I was lost for words, which was something that never happened. Not, at least, for a long time.
“Okay.” He whispered, “We’ll talk about something else.”
Unexpectedly, James leaned forward and without my permission, drew me into his bare, muscular arms. He pulled me forward, into him, and awkwardly, I touched his shoulder. He was warm, and he smelled like smoke, soap and faintly, of Firewhiskey. He was so familiar, he made me feel safe.
I felt myself tearing up, and as I moved away from him, I found that my throat was too thick for me to speak properly.
“I- I’m sorry I ruined your Christmas – I shouldn’t have made him leave like that.” I weakly said, fighting to keep myself from sobbing and falling back in his arms like some sort of pathetic damsel in distress.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Albus left a note explaining everything.”
“He did?” I frowned. How was that even possible?
“Yeah, it said ‘sorry for bailing on Christmas and all but there is this stupidly hot girl with deep family issues and a great ass who –”
“Shut up! He did not!” I exclaimed, trying to slap him across the arm and failing miserably. Despite the laughter, which blended into his, I was in an incredible amount of pain. I could feel the section of my body that had been splinched, and it felt as though it was being burned. I concealed my wincing with a hand that covered my laughing mouth and face.
“I was just trying to diffuse the tension.” James said, laughing in his usual manner.
“Why are you really here, James?” I asked, and at once, his laughter ceased. The smile fell slowly from his lips, as did the colour from his face. He had not expected that from me.
“I know what my mum said to you, and I guess I just wanted to see what you were going to do about it – and, obviously, I found that letter and basically, if you weren’t in such bad shape, I’d be shaking some sense into you right now.” He grinned, crookedly, and patted my hand. “I know you, Em. Just as well as I know my brother –”
“And? So what?” I snapped, challengingly, with my chin jutted out stubbornly.
“He’s never loved anyone – until you.” James’s eyes, his lovely smouldering hazel-brown eyes, met mine then, and I felt myself sag. He had, as he always had done, broken through my facade, and called my pathetic excuse for a bluff.
“What do you want me to do?” I sharply asked, “What do you expect will happen, James? That he’ll forgive me? That your mum won’t murder me? I gave her my word.”
“Your word? Bloody hell, Em. Sod your damn honour, and do what is actually right. I love my mum – but she’s always been too protective over us. Even before what happened to Lily, she’s had this tight grip on us. I can understand, we’re her kids and she knows that there are people who’d want to harm us – but you’re not one of them.”
“No, don’t say anything – just, think about it. Alright?”
He grinned at me lopsidedly one more time, and left the room without saying another word. I saw, as he paused by the door and looked back at me, that his hand ran through that lovable mess of black hair. I smiled, wanting to say something, but it was too late. By then, he was already gone.
That one hour of class, to me, felt as though it had dragged out to be thirty years of my life.
I sought him out the minute it was over, and without a word, took him by the hand, leading him into the forest we were forbidden to enter. I saw him silencing his own protests, and it made me smile.
“Okay – it’s later. We can talk.” I whispered as I dropped his hand.
“I don’t remember what we were saying.” He murmured in response, looking past me with a peculiar dreaminess that I guessed must have come from his infamously airheaded mother, Mrs Scamander.
“I do.” I whispered, and took a step towards him shakily. He wasn’t looking at me, so I knew that I had to make him. I lifted a hand, and raised it so that it ran lightly through his damp flaxen hair. My other hand touched his chest, and lay against it. It made me look like I knew what I was doing – but I wasn’t. Far from it.
I stretched up onto my tiptoes, and very lightly, I pressed my lips against his.
I felt his hands move, and I felt him returning my kiss ever so slightly.
His hands touched my shoulders, and roughly, they pushed me away from him. I stumbled backwards, almost tripping over my own feet, and I released a loud laugh out of sheer disbelief. I had never been rejected before. Not once. Not even when I had wanted to be.
“Don’t, Emmanuelle. You know just as well as I do that I’m with your cousin. I’m – I’m supposed to be in love with Dominique and us – this – is not helping!” I watched in wonder as his eyebrows drew together and his eyes flashed as his voice rose and then pondered over the manner of which he touched his throat and shied away, as though I – or someone else – had touched him.
I still felt, upon my lips, his touch, as slight as it may have been.
“You keep saying that – but do you really love her?” I whispered, looking up at him with anxious eyes as I feared the response that he may give. I should have asked for a lie, a lie was something that he might have given me.
“Whether I love her or not doesn’t matter. She loves me, and you can’t hurt the people who love you.”
His eyes rose, finally meeting mine, and I saw, despite the inner battling he was fighting, that he truly believed in what he was saying. That his conviction wasn’t just a ruse to make me go away, to stop me from caring. Maybe, he was saying, he didn’t love her, but that didn’t matter.
I didn’t understand, I couldn’t understand for I knew the truth about myself, something which he didn’t.
No one loved me. And no one ever had.
I awoke with such a start, that a shooting pain flashed through my neck and stomach. I made a noise a protest and swore colourfully before I realised why it was that I had woken from my dream in the first place.
“...you can’t hurt the people who love you.”
My eyes, flickering wildly around the room, took in the sleeping form of my mother, and the darkening sky outside of my window. I surveyed the empty ward, weighing my chances, and touched the aching place beneath the gauze bandage was wrapped around my waist.
I knew there would be consequences to my actions, as there had been before, but I couldn’t not do anything. I couldn’t let myself be a victim to the past, and repeated mistakes.
I grabbed the pale blue jumper my mother had brought with her from where it sat on the chair beside my bed. I tugged it over my head as I slowly climbed out of bed, and pulled the sleeves down over my hands as I steadily got onto my feet.
My mother made a quiet, murmuring sound in her sleep, but I ignored her. I was, by now, very much used to the bizarre way that she behaved whilst sleep – an unfortunate mannerism she had passed down to me also. I left the room easier than I had done the last time I had escaped, and knew exactly where I was going this time.
“...you can’t hurt the people who love you.”
“He’s never loved anyone – until you.”
I stumbled into the lift, ignoring the woman who eyed me curiously, and pressed the button for Albus’s floor impatiently.
“Are you visiting?” The tall woman asked, sounding oddly suspicious for someone who wasn’t, seemingly, part of the staff. I glanced at her, frowning slightly, and attempted to relax my face into its usual sardonic smirk.
“Yes, I’m trying to get to one of the patients. You see, I recently escaped from Azkaban and really, really want to see my buddy before the Dementors get me.” I snapped, pulling the finger as the lift stopped at Albus’s floor. I smirked at the sight of the woman’s alarmed expression, and resisted the urge to stick my tongue out as well.
I knew which room was his, but yet, I still whispered its number under my breath like a song I couldn’t get out of my head.
I could hear voices coming down the hall, which shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. I stumbled, swearing, and clutched my aching side with hot tears leaking down my cheeks.
Forcing myself not to be deterred, I continued my pitiful attempt at hurrying down the hall until the moment I fell against the door marked with his number. Three hundred and ninety four. Oh, that blessed number.
I pushed against the door, desperate to get to him now that I was suddenly so close, and gracelessly, I fell into the room. My feet knew the way to his bed, and I blindly hurried to it, completely unaware of my surroundings.
“Albus!” I exclaimed, and my eyes, for the first time, looked up and around me. I took in the room with a falling heart, which was slowly collapsing, and took in sharp, shallow breaths in an attempt to control myself.
His bed was empty, and he was gone.
I fell against the bed, my knees buckling, and sank to the floor. I took hold of the white sheets in my hands and pressed them to my colourless face. I didn’t cry, I didn’t breathe. I didn’t do anything for the longest amount of time. I just stayed there, silently staring at the place where he had once lain, wishing that somehow I could bring him back.
That I could bring them both back.
Eh, this chapter was rushed. I’m sorry. I’m really behind on writing and I feel bad because validation is only at like, a day and if I didn’t get this chapter done I’d have missed a great chance to update really quickly. I hope you didn’t hate it; I’m not very impressed with it. But, it does, I suppose, show a glimpse of the relationship she has with James, and with her past love. I couldn’t make my mind up with that last bit, whether she should see Albus or not – don’t hate me for how it turned out, haha! Well, anyway, thanks for reading and please, if you have time, leave a review. I love to hear from you guys.
Lyrics: Through the trees – Low Shoulder.
I heard it on Jennifer’s body – haha, I love that movie.
P.s that little note of James's, the one that he said was from Albus, that belongs to Sanguine. I told you I loved it, and that I would find a way of putting it in here! :)
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