“Cassia, can we talk?” James asks, his words threatening to send me into cardiac arrest.
“Yes. Please. Definitely.”
“Room of Requirement?” he asks, unneccessarily pointing down the stairs and raising his eyebrows.
I nod, trotting to join him as he descends the stairs two at a time. Despite my apprehension at what he’s going to say, I can’t help but be excited about spending time with him. Just us. Talking. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll say he feels the same. Maybe What Happened Last Night won’t be the end of our friendship, but the beginning of something more.
We walk into the Room of Requirement, a cosy-looking room with a fireplace and a fluffy rug that I park my bum on. James sits beside me, thinks better of it and swivels around to face me. Our knees are touching.
“What did you want to say?” I ask hesitantly.
He frowns, his brow furrowing. “I’m not sure.”
Then he leans forward and kisses me, and fireworks are going off in my head. Suddenly, talking doesn’t matter anymore. I pull him closer, kissing him like my life depends on it.
That could not have happened again. No way.
I pull my socks on with a force that accompanies my words, ignoring the logic that tells me I wouldn’t be getting dressed if it hadn’t happened again.
Shut up, brain. Go die.
James is silent beside me, buttoning his shirt and avoiding my eyes.
I know I need to say something. Talk to him. But even as I open my mouth, my courage fails me. Why the hell was I put in Gryffindor? I should be a Hufflepuff.
I finish getting dressed and turn around to face him, preparing to demand answers or explanations. He looks up, raising his eyebrows. I’ve seen that face a thousand times before, it’s his “Okay, talk” face. He looks too normal, too unperturbed by what’s just happened. As if there’s nothing out of the ordinary about screwing your best friend on the floor of the Room of Requirement. Twice.
I pull the door open and run down the corridors like Voldemort himself is after me.
“What’s up with you?” Dom asks, looking startled as I fly past her on my way to our dorm.
“Fucking happened again,” I mutter, pausing to realise how true that is on more than one level before continuing on my mission. James and I run the Hogwarts black market; I have fifty Galleons worth of Firewhiskey under my bed and I have every intention of consuming it.
I’m glad the dorm is empty when I get there, and I’m leaning over the edge of my bed, rummaging around underneath it with feet flying in the air when Dom unceremoniously seizes my ankles and pulls me back.
“Ow! Violence!” I protest.
“Don’t go drinking all the stock,” she says, as if reading my mind. I’m a lot more paranoid about Legilimency than most people. Maybe it comes from Mum threatening me with it every time I kept something from her while I was growing up.
She waves her wand and the door slams shut. “So, you’re saying that you and James did it again?”
“Oh, quit with the euphemisms and call it what it is,” I say grumpily. “Are you seventeen or twelve? Yes, we had mad raging sex on the floor of the Room of Requirement. Can I drink now?”
“Unfortunately, I’m not.”
“Yes. Again. It was just so mindblowingly awesome I had to go back for more.”
Dom wrinkles her nose. “Tell me that’s sarcastic.”
“Of course.” Well, sarcastic enough.
“How did this even happen, Cass?”
“It just did.”
“With James? I mean, I know stuff sometimes…happens…but James, honestly? Twice?”
“You know what, just shut it,” I say angrily. “You act so grossed out because it’s James, because he’s your cousin and you expect me to see him the same way you do. I don’t. I see him in a way you would never understand.”
“Do you love him?” she asks quietly.
“Yes.” Holy mother of Merlin, that’s a relief to get off my chest.
She allows herself approximately three seconds of silence to process this, before clapping her hands and leaning forward earnestly. “Right,” she says, ticking things off on her fingers. “You love James. You slept with James. Twice.”
“We’ve established this.”
“You haven’t talked about it?”
“We tried,” I say sardonically, “But it ended in fornication.”
“No more fornication ‘till you talk,” she says firmly.
“You make it sound so easy. Talking, I mean.” I don’t really want Dom thinking I’ve turned into some kind of sex-crazed lunatic.
She shrugs. “Your problem for falling in love with James.”
“Aren’t you just the best friend ever.”
“At least I’m not screwing you in the Room of Requirement.”
“Touche.” I lapse into a glum silence.
“Was going to ask you what happened in DADA today,” Dom continues casually. “You guys didn’t come back.”
“Shit!” I yelp, leaping to my feet. “Essay!”
She looks at me quizzically.
“I have to write Mum an essay,” I jabber, “Otherwise I won’t be allowed back into DADA and it has to be three thousand words and I forgot to tell James—”
“Since when do you care about homework?”
“Since it’s my mum and I won’t want her angrier at me than she has to,” I explain patiently. Normally I don’t care about that either, but the favourite daughter thing is still in my mind and I have a strange urge to redeem myself.
“Suit yourself. Where are you going?”
“To find James.”
“No fornication,” she calls after me.
James looks slightly nervous when he sees me charging through the common room towards him.
“Essay!” I wail, drawing a number of strange looks and throwing parchment and a quill on the table beside him.
“Mum’s set us another one. Forgot about it. Due tomorrow.”
“Are we caring about this then?” he asks. There’s no sarcasm in his voice either; he’s actually asking for a consensus on whether we bother to do it.
“Considering I ran in here in my jammies with arms flailing, yes, we’re caring about it.”
“Okay,” he says agreeably, patting the chair beside him. “What’s the topic?”
I take a seat. “The importance of DADA. In relation to the evilness of the Dark Arts, in relation to the war, in relation to our parents.”
James’s eyebrows shoot up into his hair. That’s not his “Okay, talk” face, those eyebrows are lower. This is his “Wait a minute what did you just say?” face.
“In relation to our parents?” he repeats. “Like, your parents?”
“Well, you’re talking about yours, obviously.”
“Your mum wants you to write an essay about her in the war? I thought you’re not allowed to even mention it.”
“She wants us to realise the importance of Defence.”
“Oh. Right. How long is it meant to be?”
“Three thousand words.”
“Three thousand?” James repeats incredulously. “It’s already past midnight…I might go get some of that Muggle stuff.”
He disappears, during which time I write three paragraphs, and returns with two shiny metal cans of something called Red Bull.
“You’ve written heaps,” he says incredulously.
“I am the daughter of a Hogwarts Dux and a Head of Ravenclaw, I can write essays.”
“True. Red Bull?” he asks, offering me one of the cans. I eye it dubiously.
“It’s safe. Doesn’t contaminate your magic or some nonsense. I’ve had it heaps.”
I shrug and take it. What with sitting here acting all normal with my best friend who I slept with twice and having to write a three thousand word essay at one in the morning which drags all my family’s skeletons out of the closet, I need something, and Dom’s guarding the Firewhiskey.
Two hours later, essays finished, we shuffle off to bed. I can’t help but realise we spent the entire time in companiable silence or amiable chatter. Just like old times.
And we also didn’t address the elephant in the room.
I punch my pillow several times. Stupid boys. Stupid Potters. I hate them. No, I don’t. Boys smell, but they’re generally fun to be around. Potters aren’t all bad. Look at Lily, she’s the sweetest little thing I’ve ever seen. I want to adopt her as my sister. Maybe James can have Emilia.
I growl into my pillow, and Dom sleepily pokes me in the side. I roll over to face her, wondering what amazingly supportive thing she’ll come out with.
“Shuddup I’m try’na sleep,” she mumbles.
I need to lower my expectations of people.
Mum lets James and I back into DADA, and I resolve to put more effort into it.
“Who are you and what have you done with Cassia Rutherford?” James hisses after I answer the third question in class.
“Blame the Red Bull,” I reply, and smirk as he looks alarmed and peers into the half-empty can he has sitting on his desk.
Things seem almost perfectly normal again. James and I sit with Dom and Freddy at interval and lunch, as usual. We talk about Quidditch. The others exchange family gossip. I feel slightly left out of this process, but considering the circumstances, I think it’s a good thing I’m not related to the extensive Weasley-Potter family.
James pulls me aside and asks if we can talk. In the Room of Requirement. And despite knowing full well what happened last time, I agree. Note: Reason why I wasn’t sorted into Ravenclaw.
“Cassia,” he says once we’re ensconced in the cosy room, and oh Merlin, I actually think he’s going to talk to me.
He kisses me. And despite my best intentions, I give in. It just feels right, standing here, wrapped in his arms. I’ve been dreaming about these moments since I was third year. Maybe…maybe he does love me.
But when I feel his hands fiddling with the clasp of my bra, something inside me snaps.
“No,” I say, pulling back.
“No,” I repeat vehemently. “What the hell gives you the right to pretend like everything’s okay, like nothing’s changed, and then bring me in here to—to use me?”
“I’m not your whore, James Potter!”
I stay just long enough to see the stunned look on his face before running as fast as I can out of the room, down the stairs and into Myrtle’s bathroom.
I’m shaking. I don’t know what’s going on. I feel sick. Used. He doesn’t love me. I was just an easy shag to him—easy because I’m so obviously, pathetically in love with him.
I draw my knees up to my face and howl.
“Are you okay?” A fourth year Hufflepuff with a smile wider than the sun enters the bathroom. I forgot. The Guardian Angels. A bunch of kindhearted Hufflepuffs who have taken it upon themselves to patrol Myrtle’s bathroom, preying on the vulnerable and depressed for their special brand of Hufflepuff cheeriness and comfort.
“What’s happened?” she asks gently.
“What kind of shit?”
“Get lost. Can’t I wallow in my own self-pity in peace?”
“I know you’re angry,” she begins, crouching beside me, “But—”
“Move before I curse your face off.”
“It’s not me you’re angry at.”
Merlin help me, I’m going to punch her.
“Emma Lattimer, leave my daughter alone,” a cool voice says from the doorway. “You’re fifteen years old, not a qualified counsellor, and have no place doing what you’re doing. Ten points from Hufflepuff, and get out.”
Did I mention I love my mum?
“Yes, Professor. Sorry, Professor.” The girl flees, and I look at Mum with tear-filled, grateful eyes.
She waves her wand, closing the door of the bathroom, calls Myrtle a lesbian, which sends her floating away at an impressive pace, and sits on the floor beside me.
“Talk if you need to,” she says simply.
“I hate him!” I cry. “I fucking hate him, Mum!”
“I never liked him much anyway.”
“He’s a prick!”
“An absolute prick,” she agrees, nodding.
“But I can’t stop loving him!” I wail.
“Isn’t love a bitch.”
“And he acts like everything’s so fucking normal—”
“When it’s obviously not.”
“One in the morning…essays…normal…Red Bull…fucking normal…classes…normal…fucking Room of Requirement…I hate him!”
I sniffle loudly and look at her. “Are you allowed to talk about your students like that?”
“Technically, you haven’t named anyone. Technically, I don’t know who you’re talking about. It could be anyone. I’m a mother before I’m a teacher, Cassie.”