Chapter 12 : Echoes, Lies, And All That Jazz
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“Hey there, beautiful,” a voice whispers in my ear over the bustle of the platform.
“Jett!” I screech, turning around and practically jumping on top of him.
He staggers backwards under my weight as I plant my mouth firmly on his. The people around us mutter disapprovingly, but I don’t care. All I care about in this moment is us. Because, thank Merlin, we’re still here. That little spark, that little floating feeling, that skip of a heartbeat - everything that makes us us is still here.
And that’s a relief. I was consumed with worry and anxiousness all of Christmas break for no reason. The James thing was a fluke, nothing more. This proves it. This - this is real. This is good. This is right. This is safe.
Jett pulls his head away with a slight laugh but keeps me in his arms. “Why, hello to you, too.”
I grin wickedly and bring his face back to mine. Merlin, I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoy kissing this boy.
“Not - that I’m - complaining,” he murmurs between kisses, “but - what’s - gotten into - you?”
“Oh, nothing,” I say with a sigh as he pulls away again. “I just missed you is all.”
“Maybe we should spend time apart more often.”
“Shut up,” I whisper before making him do exactly that.
“Oh, get a room, why don’t you?” some random stranger hisses at us.
Wow. How original.
I ignore the comment, but Jett doesn’t. Instead, he pulls away again (he’s trying to torture me, I know it) and removes his arms from around me. “Let’s find a compartment, yeah? Stake our claim before all of the good ones are gone.”
I nod reluctantly as he grabs my trunk and clambers up onto the Hogwarts Express. “I think I see an open one down there,” he says, walking off down the corridor as I join him on the train.
I follow him to the compartment, watching quietly as he puts our trunks away. “How soon do you think everyone else will be here?”
“Er - I dunno. I reckon we’ve got at least a good ten minutes.” He turns around to face me before dropping onto a seat.
“Hm. What in the world could we do to fill up ten whole minutes?”
Jett grins as I take a seat beside him. “I think I have an idea.”
He leans in to kiss me, and Merlin, this time he kisses me. And I mean, damn, it feels good. The minutes blend together in a rush. Somehow I wind up sitting on his lap - I’m not quite sure how that one happened - and everything just feels perfect. I’m fairly certain that more than ten minutes have gone by, but I’m not exactly sure. It could have been ten minutes or ten hours. Honestly, I don’t really care.
Jett and I jerk apart, our heads whipping in synchronization to stare at the door. In it stands a very uncomfortable looking group of Dom, Connor, Fred, and James.
I feel embarrassment flood to my face as I assess the situation. I’m still sitting on Jett’s lap with his hand precariously far up my thigh. He, meanwhile, looks completely disheveled, hair sticking up all over the place and lips swollen.
“We can come back later,” Dom says awkwardly.
“No, that’s okay!” I exclaim in a high-pitched voice. “Come on in!” I slide off of Jett’s lap and pat the space beside me.
“Er - are you sure? Because you two were practically shagging -” Fred is cut off by a quick jab in the gut from Dom.
The four of them shuffle into the compartment in silence. Connor and Dom take a seat across from us and Fred soon joins them.
James swings onto the seat next to Jett with a clap to his shoulder. “Hey, mate. Guess what? I snogged your girlfriend.”
My breath catches in my throat as his words ring around the compartment. Jett erupts into a violent fit of coughing and spluttering, Connor’s jaw drops to the floor, Dom’s eyes widen, and Fred just looks dumbfounded.
“Wha- what?” Jett manages to choke out.
“At the Christmas party. Mistletoe.” James shrugs nonchalantly.
An undeniable tension fills the compartment as we wait for Jett’s response. He blinks a few times, seemingly attempting to process what was just said. “Oh.”
“No big deal.” James shrugs again.
“In that case, I’m cool with it.” Jett says.
I exhale softly as the tension vanishes. “You’re not upset?”
Jett looks at me, then at James, then back at me again. “Nah, I get it. Mistletoe. It’s tradition.”
How is he being so calm? How can it not even bother him in the least? How is he okay with this?
WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?
“You - you don’t care?” I ask in a small voice.
“Well, yeah. I care a little bit. But come on - it’s James. I’d be a bit more worried if it was some bloke that fancied you or something.” He lets out a short bark of laughter and James suddenly becomes extremely interested in the floor. “I mean, it’s not like it meant anything, right?”
“Right,” I respond weakly.
“It’s all in good holiday spirit,” he continues on. “I’m actually really glad that you two are getting along so well now.”
I make a squeaking sound that Jett apparently takes as a positive response. James glances up from the floor, his face unreadable. “You know, mate, I swapped spit with Aria and she just swapped spit with you, so by the transitive property, you and I -”
“Merlin, James! Stop!” Jett exclaims, covering his face with his hands. “Disturbing mental images! I love you, mate, but not that much!”
Dom, Connor, and Fred laugh, and everything appears to go back to normal. Our group chats lightly and exchanges stories of the holidays, but I’m in too much shock to contribute. I sit and listen quietly, my mind reeling over everything that has just happened.
He thinks it was just a kiss. He thinks it was just one simple, harmless little kiss. If he only knew. A stab of guilt hits me as I watch Jett laugh loudly over something stupid that Fred just said.
I’m hurting him and he doesn’t even know it.
“Hey,” Jett says softly as James launches into a story about pranking Albus over break. “You okay?”
I nod, not trusting myself to speak.
“You’re being awfully quiet.”
“I’m all right.”
“You don’t seem all right.”
“I said I’m fine,” I snap back viciously.
“Now hold on one second. Don’t turn into a bitch on me again.”
I breathe in through my nose and close my eyes. “Okay. Sorry.”
“Do you want to tell me what’s wrong now?” Jett asks, lightly brushing my cheek with his thumb.
“No. Nothing’s wrong.”
He sighs heavily and says, “I’m going to find the trolley. Want anything?”
I shake my head and he exits the compartment with a bit of a harder door close than was necessary.
“Did he just say the trolley?” Fred asks excitedly. “I want food!” He then proceeds to sprint out of the compartment like he has a fleet of Dementors on his tail.
Dom glances between James and I, then stands up and follows Fred out of the compartment, dragging Connor with her.
Which leaves James and I alone. Again.
Dom really enjoys leaving us in train compartments together.
A silence falls between us. James drums his fingers on the window pane while I cross and uncross my legs, attempting to find a comfortable position.
I have never felt more awkward in my life.
The silence drags on.
I can’t take this anymore.
“What the hell were you thinking?” I explode.
James turns to face me, apparently surprised that I’m speaking to him. “Pardon?”
“Telling Jett! What could have possibly been going on in your head? Do you suffer from brain damage? Were you dropped on your head as a child?”
“One - that’s insulting. Two - no, I do not suffer from brain damage and no, I was not dropped on my head as a child. At least I don’t think I was.”
“Then what reason could you possibly have for... that?” I flail my arms around wildly as I attempt to demonstrate the level of my exasperation.
“Aria. Calm down.” He grabs my thrashing hands and lowers them gently to my lap. “Now listen. I know Jett. I knew how he would react. I just thought it would be better to get it out in the open and -”
“Oh, hell no, James. That is not what you were thinking. No one - and I mean no one - could have predicted that reaction. That’s not the normal way for someone to behave. Tell me the truth.”
“It is the truth.”
I turn so I can look him directly in the eye. “Don’t lie to me, James. Don’t you dare lie to me.”
“Fine,” he snaps. “I didn’t know. I don’t even know why I said it. I just did, all right? I guess maybe, deep down, I was hoping that he would be angry - I don’t know.”
“How could you do that to me? All of it? Do you know how awful I feel? How ashamed I am?”
“You know what? You were the one who told me to stop fighting, so I stopped. I saw a situation and I took advantage of it. I’m done fighting with myself about this. I’m sorry that you hate me, I’m sorry that I’m such an arse, but I’m not sorry that I kissed you.”
James falls silent and turns to stare out the window at the rolling countryside. I close my eyes and lean against the back of my seat, letting his words wash over me.
“I don’t hate you,” I say quietly.
There’s a rustling noise as he shifts in his seat and suddenly his hand is on my face, brushing the hair from it. Then his lips are on mine, and he’s gentle and tender and it’s over all too soon. My eyelids flutter open to find his face right in front of me, so close that our noses are touching.
“Last one, I promise,” he says with a half-smile dancing on the corners of his mouth.
Like a flash he’s back to his seat, eyes returning to the window. I blink in confusion a few times as the moment fades away. The door to our compartment slides open and James’s sudden change in behavior is explained.
Dom, Connor, Fred, and Jett have returned from the trolley, laden down with sweets of all kinds. “You two weren’t snogging again, now were you?” Jett asks jokingly as he settles back down beside me.
I let out a nervous laugh as I feel my face start to burn. “Yeah, like I would ever kiss James of my own free will.”
James doesn’t react to this, he just continues to stare out the window.
Conversation strikes up again, but I don’t say another word for the rest of the trip.
Because I have just realized that I am completely and utterly screwed.
No matter how hard I try to convince myself that it meant nothing, that I don’t care about him, I know it’s not true.
I do care. I did feel something.
But that doesn’t make any sense. It’s so obvious to me that I have feelings for Jett - there’s no doubting that. I like the way it feels when he takes my hand in his, I like the way it feels when his arm is around me, I like the way it feels when I’m with him. He makes me feel safe.
So then why? Why does my head spin when James kisses me? Why does my heart race at the mere thought of him? Why does it hurt so much to see his misery? Why do I even care?
It’s terrifying how electricity shoots through my body at his touch. It’s absolutely terrifying.
It’s not rational and I can’t handle it.
So I won’t.
I’ll ignore it and shove him to the back of my brain.
As we approach Hogsmeade, Dom and I make our way to Lily and Rose’s compartment to change, and, before long, the train is screeching to a halt. Our group files out and heads toward the carriages, only to find ourselves at the back of a very long line.
We eventually manage to snag a carriage - one of the last ones, I might add - and bumpily ride up to the castle. After the carriage rolls to a stop, we pile out anxiously, eager for some of the delicious food that is sure to be waiting for us.
As Dom, Connor, Fred, and James scurry ahead in anticipation, I hang back. Jett was nearly as silent as I was after he returned from the trolley and didn’t say one word on the carriage ride.
“What’s wrong?” I murmur as I reach for his hand.
“Why don’t you tell me?” he responds, pulling away.
“Merlin, are you still upset about -”
“Why won’t you tell me what’s bothering you?”
“Nothing’s bothering me. I’m fine, I’m just not -”
“Aria, stop it. You’re not acting like yourself, so don’t keep saying that you’re fine.”
“But I am,” I protest.
“Why don’t you trust me?”
Not a lie.
“Then tell me what’s wrong.”
“What could possibly be so bad that you can’t tell me?” he asks, voice rising.
“Jett, just drop it. I’ve already told you that I’m okay.”
“What are you hiding from me? Why can’t you let me in?”
“I’m not hiding anything -”
“Don’t give me that bullshit, Aria! Don’t give me that!”
“It’s not - Jett -”
“Whatever it is, I can handle it! What I can’t handle is you standing there and lying to my God damn face!”
“I’m not lying -”
“Stop it! Just stop!”
I’ve never seen Jett look so angry with me before. Even during our fight before Christmas he didn’t look nearly as upset as he does now. He’s standing a good five feet away from me with a heaving chest and a look of bitterness sketched across his face.
“You know what?” he says furiously. “I’ve had enough. I’ve put up with your mood swings and your crazy moments and your freak outs. And when you yelled at me for not asking you what was wrong, I apologized for it. But when I do try to talk to you, you shut me out. I can’t win with you. So I’m done.”
He turns around and begins to walk towards the castle.
“Jett, wait!” I jog after him, but he ignores me. As I catch up to him, I grab his hand and pull him around to face me. “What do you mean you’re done?” I ask softly, trying to hold back the tears pricking at my eyes.
He stares at me coldly for a second before responding. “I’m done. We’re over.”
And then he walks away.
My stomach drops instantaneously as his words hit me.
A wave of nausea passes over me, followed by a stab of pain right in the chest.
He broke up with me.
I want to cry, but it’s like the tears just won’t come. They were right on the brink before, but now -
I enter the castle and pass by the doors to the Great Hall without a second thought. All notions of food have vanished from my mind. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to eat again.
Instead, I wander around the castle, listening to my steps echo against the empty corridors. Empty. Alone.
I sink down against a wall after some length of time. I’m not quite sure where I am, all I know is that I feel nothing. I stare blankly at the wall across from me and watch the shadows from the flickering torch light dance across it.
Eventually the soft padding of feet shakes me out of my trance. “Aria?”
I glance to my right and see the figure of Alex Harrison advancing down the corridor towards me.
“Is that you? Why aren’t you at the feast?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” I respond scathingly.
“Prefect duties. Have to patrol.” He points to the glittering badge on his chest. “What’s up? You look upset.”
“Jett dumped me,” I whisper quietly.
“I’m sorry,” he responds gruffly. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I don’t know why you even bothered with him in the first place. The Gryffies. What a joke. Especially with Potter as their ring leader.” He lets out a dark chuckle and squats down to my eye level.
“Stop, Alex. They’re nice people.”
“I can see that they have you fooled. You wasted your time, Aria. You should’ve been hanging out with me instead.”
“Please, Alex -”
“Let’s get out of here,” he says, extending his hand to pull me up. “We can go and talk. You obviously need some cheering up.”
“I said I don’t want to talk.”
“Doesn’t matter. You should anyway.” He pulls me along the corridor and swings off into a door on the left-hand side.
“Where are we going?” I ask in confusion. “I thought you were taking me back to the common room.”
“Nah, it’s going to be flooded with people coming back from the feast soon. Do you really want everyone staring at you and asking if you’re all right?”
“No, I guess not,” I say slowly.
Alex smiles and shuts the door to the classroom. As I watch him come striding back towards me, a memory floats up in my brain. The first time I met Alex, when I was watching the Gryffindor Quidditch tryouts. That was the day James warned me about him. He said Alex was bad news.
I never really took that much to heart, but suddenly, I’m starting to believe it. I don’t know why. It’s just - something feels wrong. I can’t really explain it. It’s like... when you’re watching a scary movie and you know that something bad is about to happen. Something ominous is just there and you can sense it. That’s how I feel now. Something’s off. Something’s off with Alex. The way he looks at me, the way he smiles. It’s just wrong.
I gulp slightly as Alex continues to make his way towards me. My heart picks up speed, but not for the reason it does around James.
“Alex?” I ask in a quavering voice.
“Yes?” He cocks his head to the side as he comes even nearer.
“I think I’d like to go.”
“You can’t go yet. We haven’t even gotten started.”
“Gotten started with what? Talking?”
He shoots me another one of those smiles - those twisted, off smiles - and says, “Now, Aria. We both know what talking is code for.”
I gulp again and take a step backwards. I’m shaking all over, my palms are sweating, and my blood pounds in my ears. This is all wrong.
Alex reaches out a hand and lazily runs it down my arm. I shiver and step away again, only to find my back hitting a wall. His hand moves up and trails across my cheek, skims down my neck, and finds its way to my collar bone.
I’m frozen in place, legs petrified. My muscles have seized up and it’s like no matter how hard I try, I have no control over my body.
“You need cheering up and I’m just the one to do it,” he murmurs as his fingers fiddle with the top button on my shirt.
My mouth goes completely dry as I stare at him. This can’t be happening. This doesn’t happen to people. This isn’t real. It can’t be.
Adrenaline courses through my body, but I just can’t move. All I can do is stand there, feel the pressure from his hand playing with my button, watch as his eyes skim over me.
I have never been more scared in my life.
“St- stop,” I choke out.
“But love, we’re just getting started. Think of it as... the rebound.”
As his hands wrap around my waist, my body comes back under my control. I give him a hard shove and, without hesitation, reach out to smack him. A satisfying crack echoes around the room as my hand makes contact with his face.
“What the hell?” he demands.
“Don’t you ever touch me again,” I say in a shaking voice.
And then I run.
Out of the classroom, away from Alex, down the corridor. I just run. My entire body is still trembling with fear, I stumble and trip, but I keep running. This time the tears come with ease. They slip hot and fast down my cheeks as I run, blurring everything in sight.
Eventually I come to a stop in the Astronomy Tower. The cold January air nips at my skin, but it’s a welcome relief to my flushed body. I sink to the floor as the sobs rack through me, curling up tightly into a ball.
Life would be so much easier if I just didn’t care. If I didn’t feel. I wish I didn’t. I wish I had no emotions. I wish it was all gone - the hurt, the confusion, the fear.
But I suppose that’s what makes us human.
And for me, it’s all so much worse. Because of my blood, everything is heightened - everything amped up a thousand times over. It’s like my mom told me. When we hurt, it’s paralyzing and consuming. And that’s what I feel now.
But when we love, she says, we truly love. When we fall for someone, we fall hard, and there’s no turning back. No fear, no regret.
She says she would never give that up, that she never wants to be without love. That feeling when she looks at my dad, how there’s nobody else in the world when they’re together - she says it’s breathtaking.
As far as I go, well, I’d be willing to give up this damn Veela blood in a heartbeat. Maybe it’s only because I’ve never been in love, I’ve never experienced our whole range of emotions. Maybe someday I’ll be thankful for who I am because maybe someday I’ll be left breathless, too.
But right now - right now I’d give anything for it to be gone.
“Aria?” The shadow of a figure joins me on the tower.
Before I can respond to the call another series of sobs take over my body.
I hate Veela blood.
“Shit,” he mutters as he locates my balled up form. “Come here.” He joins me on the ground and wraps his arms around me, pulling me tight to his chest.
I breathe in his scent and know instantly who it is.
Of course. Really, who else would it be?
“I feel like this is becoming a weekly occurrence,” he murmurs softly.
My laughter mixes into my sobs as he holds me gently. It’s true. He’s always the one to see my cry.
He remains silent for a while, content to let me sit and allow my tears to drain out. His hands run up and down my arms in a small gesture of comfort as my breakdown slowly ceases.
I unbury my head from his chest so I can peek up at him. His face is set into a stony expression, gazing blankly out at the night sky.
“Was it bad?” he asks quietly. I don’t respond as I ponder his question and he takes my silence as a cue to elaborate. “The breakup.”
I shift around so that my back is leaning against his side as I continue to think. He twists his arms so that they encircle me, and I trace the veins of the hands now resting in my lap.
“No,” I say slowly, “not more so than any other I’ve had. I mean, it still hurts - it still hurts to think that there’s going to be a hole in my life now. But no, it wasn’t particularly bad.”
“But you’re so upset -”
I interrupt him with bitter laughter. “Trust me. That has very little to do with Jett.”
By now I have progressed to tracing the veins up his arms. A silence settles over us for a brief time before James speaks again.
“Then what happened to make you so...” He struggles to find an appropriate word. “Distressed?”
As I think back on the event, the panic retakes my body. My heart beats wildly again and I feel Alex’s breath on my neck, his finger on my face.
“Alex,” I whisper.
James’s reaction is immediate. His entire body tenses, arms stiffening around me. “Did he hurt you?” His voice is barely audible, a low growl that vibrates through his chest.
I shake my head, not trusting myself to speak. The tears cut at my eyes again in hot drops and fall silently down my face, landing on James’s clenched fists.
“I’m going to kill him,” he says roughly. “I’ll kill him.”
He seems to know what happened without me saying a word. “I - I’ve never been so scared before. I don’t know what he would have done if I - if I hadn’t -”
My words are cut off as I begin to sob again. This time I just let it all go, not caring if I look weak or afraid.
Because, in truth, I am weak. And I am afraid. I’m afraid of Alex. I’m afraid of what James will do to him.
As the last of my tears drip away, I reach up a hand to wipe the moisture from my face. I hate crying. I hate how it makes my eyes burn and my face sting. I hate how it makes me all puffy and red. But most of all, I hate how it betrays my emotions.
“Why did you come looking for me?” I ask quietly.
I feel James take in a long breath as he considers my question. “Honestly? I don’t know. I guess... I guess because I knew you would be upset. I mean, you weren’t at the feast, so I knew something terribly tragic had to have happened for you to miss out on all that food.”
“Shut up,” I mutter, elbowing him in the ribs.
He laughs at my pathetic attempt and pauses slightly before continuing on. “I’m being serious, though. I asked Jett where you were and he said, ‘Don’t know, don’t care.’ I said, ‘Shouldn’t you care? She’s your girlfriend,’ to which he responded, ‘Not anymore.’”
“So you came looking for me? Hoping for a little rebound action?” I tease.
“Don’t say that, Aria. Don’t you ever say that. I would never stoop to Alex’s level.”
The biting edge to his words surprises me, and I turn my head slightly to look in his eyes. They flash with anger as he stares out at the stars.
“I’ve seen it happen so many times before,” he says quietly after a brief pause. “But most girls - well, they don’t end up as lucky as you.”
I reach out for his clenched fists, and they immediately relax under my touch. I watch his fingers curl around mine and let out a small gasp as a jolt of electricity sparks from our hands and crawls up my arm.
James doesn’t notice. Instead, he laughs darkly and continues on with his speech. “And the worst part? Most of them want it. Because Alex - he’s a master at what he does. He’ll become whoever they need him to be, say whatever they need to hear, make the brokenhearted feel wanted again. And then, when he’s had his way, he tosses them aside without a second thought or a backward glance. It’s sickening. It’s absolutely sickening.”
“You warned me,” I murmur. I feel his head tilt slightly to look at me, so I continue on. “You warned me that he had one thing on his mind and that it wasn’t friendship. And then,” I stifle a bitter laugh, “you told me not to come crying to you when I got hurt.”
James sighs and wraps his hands tighter around mine. “You didn’t. I found you, remember?”
“How did you find me, anyway? Lucky guess?”
“No.” A mischievous glint sparks in his eyes as he grins down me. “Marauder's Map.”
“Oh. That thing. Right,” I say lamely.
James rolls his eyes at my feigned knowledge and reaches into his pocket for something. He pulls out a ratty old piece of parchment and hands it to me.
“Of course. How could I have been so stupid as to forget about the all-knowing parchment scrap?”
“Hang on, will you? Merlin. So impatient,” he mutters under his breath. He shifts around for a few more seconds and produces his wand, which he promptly points at the piece of parchment and says, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
“What? Oh,” I breathe as ink spreads across the parchment. “Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs?”
“My grandad and his friends from school,” James murmurs as the writing slowly fades away.
“Oh, right. James the first. Which one of them was he?”
“You remember his name?”
“It’s the same as yours, stupid. Of course I remember.”
He seems slightly taken aback by this. “I was under the impression that you tune out whenever I speak,” he says sarcastically.
“I’m sorry. What was that? I wasn’t listening.”
James laughs and nudges me in the side gently. “Prongs.”
“Prongs? I like it. In fact, I think that it shall be your new nickname.”
He snorts. “Whatever. Look.”
I oblige and scan the newly formed map with my eyes. Tiny dots cover it, each with their own label, and seem to move of their own free will. “Where are we?”
He takes the map from my hands and unfolds it a few times before pointing with his finger. “There. Aria Fields and James Potter. Sounds good, doesn’t it?”
Yeah... it does sound good.
“There’s Alex,” James spits out bitterly, pointing to another dot on the map. “Looks like he’s gotten over your rejection.” I glance towards Alex’s dot and find it placed right next to another one labeled ‘Lara Peakes.’
I shudder and pull myself closer to James, resting my head on his chest. “I know you don’t like to talk about,” I murmur, “but what happened between you and him?”
James is silent for an agonizing two minutes, and I’m afraid that he’s angry with me. His body has tensed again, looking ready to spring at any moment.
“It’s not that I don’t like to talk about it. It’s that I don’t talk about it.”
“Maybe you should,” I say without hesitation.
James falls silent for another endless expanse of time. I reach for his hands again and he sighs, twining his fingers between mine.
“We were best mates. Not as close as Jett and I, but best mates all the same. Then one day during fourth year -” He falters a bit, and I squeeze his hand encouragingly. “One day during fourth year, everything changed. He started asking me for things - free Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes products, Quidditch tickets, favors from people high up in the Ministry - and eventually I put my foot down. His requests had gotten ridiculous. I just flat out told him no.” James pauses and glances down at me.
“What happened then?” I murmur.
“He got mad. He started to yell at me and asked why I was being such a lousy friend. I - I told him that our family doesn’t work that way. My dad doesn’t even ask for that kind of stuff, we never take advantage -” He stops suddenly and looks down at me again.
“I just realized - it’s nothing.”
“What?” I ask again.
“I just realized - I’ve - I’ve never told anyone this before. Not even Al. I - okay. Anyway, Alex - he got extremely angry, but I just kept saying no. He said - he said that I better do as he asked -”
“But you didn’t.”
“What did he do?”
“He -” James drops his head so that it’s on top of mine, buried in my hair. “I’m so ashamed of this. I still feel so guilty, even now.”
“James, you can tell me,” I say softly.
James lifts his head and pulls me a little bit closer. “It - it was Jett’s first girlfriend. He was so excited, so happy.” James shuts his eyes and breathes in deeply. “The day after I told Alex no for the last time - I - I found him with the girl. Alex convinced her to break up with Jett for him.”
“Poor Jett,” I whisper.
“Yeah. Alex didn’t even have the nerve to get back at me directly - he had to go through my friends. Jett - when she broke up with him - he was crushed, just completely devastated. She wouldn’t tell him why. But he knew that I had something to do with it.”
“You didn’t tell him what happened?”
“How could I? That incident... it really screwed him up. He’s such a mess because of it. He knew I was involved somehow, and ever since then, he’s been constantly comparing himself to me. He thinks that he’s always going to be second best, just because I knew something that he didn’t.”
“But he’s not always second best.”
“No. He’s a great guy, one of the most genuine people that I’ve ever known. But he can’t see that. And that’s not all. He’s just - I really screwed him up. He’s become so paranoid about everything. It’s so hard for him to trust anyone now. And I feel so guilty about it, every single day. Every time I look him in the eye, I know that it’s all because of me. It’s all my fault that he’s so messed up. It’s all my fault that he has this thing about people keeping secrets from him, about people lying to him -”
“Which would explain why he broke up with me.”
“Merlin - it wasn’t about the kiss, was it? I’m so sorry - I didn’t mean -” A look of anguish crosses over his face as he speaks. I can see the guilt gnawing at him, pulling him down.
“Stop, James. It’s not your fault. None of this is your fault.”
It’s mine for not being able to ignore you. For not being able to push you away.
“I just - never mind.” He sighs and shakes his head.
“So that’s why you hate Alex, huh?” I ask after a beat of silence.
“That incident made me realize exactly who he is. He’s the worst kind of person - a manipulative, twisted bloke who doesn’t care who he pushes down to get what he wants. His own despicable ends justify any of his sick means. He - he’s a warped Machiavellian.”
I feel my brow furrow at his words. “Machiavellian?”
“It means -”
“I know what it means. I just - I didn’t know that you read philosophy.”
“Shocking, I know,” he says with a slight smile. “I stumbled upon the philosophy section of the library last year and bam - I couldn’t stop reading.”
“We have a philosophy section?”
“Yeah, but I think I’m the only person who knows about it. Now, come on. We should get you back to your dorm.” He slides me gently off of his chest and stands up, pulling me to my feet as well.
I watch him quietly as we walk towards Ravenclaw Tower. He stares straight ahead, blinking every now and then, expression unreadable.
James Potter fascinates me.
There. I said it.
Not in a creepy way. I just... I can’t figure him out. I’m not pretending to be an unfailingly accurate judge of character, I think the Alex thing demonstrates that quite nicely, but I’ve always been fairly good at pegging people for who they are. Dom, for example, may be slightly crazy at times, but she has a good heart. There’s always a method to her madness.
But James - he’s an entirely different story.
I thought I had him figured out on the first day I met him. Arrogant, obnoxious, world-class jerk. We all know people like that. And yet...
The more time I spend around him, the more I see that he’s not that person at all. He puts up this wall, this mask to hide behind, and I’m just now getting through it. There’s so much more to him than I thought - I just wish I knew more.
“What are you thinking right now?” I ask abruptly.
“Excuse me?” James turns his head to catch my eye.
“Right now. Tell me exactly what you’re thinking.”
“Er - well, I’m thinking a lot of things right now. Like, at this moment, I’m thinking that I am an extremely selfish person. I should feel terrible about everything that’s happened to you today, but I don’t.”
“What do you feel?”
“Right now, I feel unbelievably happy.”
James grins and looks down at me. “Because you’re holding my hand.”
“Oh,” I feel my face start to blush as I look down at our hands. I hadn’t even noticed. I guess it just happened unconsciously. “Sorry,” I mumble as I start to pull my hand away.
“No - don’t,” he says immediately, grabbing at my fingers.
“But James, what will everyone think of us?” I ask in mock worry.
He shrugs. “I’m also thinking about how you are quite possibly the strangest person that I have ever met.”
“Hey! I’m not strange! If anyone here is strange, it’s you, you loggerheaded pox-marked nut-hook!”
“Did you just Shakespearean insult me?”
Merlin, he reads Shakespeare, too.
“Indeed, I did.”
“Like I said - you are quite possibly the strangest person that I have ever met.”
“That’s not fair!” I protest. “Have you met my father? He read me Shakespeare for my bedtime stories! All things considered, I think I turned out fairly well.”
“Aria.” He turns to face me seriously. “You are weird. Embrace it.”
He ignores me.
“I’m not weird.”
James sighs heavily as we approach the door to the Ravenclaw common room. “Really? What’s your favorite thing that you did last summer?”
“Oh!” My eyes widen as I think on the memory. “It was so awesome. I went to see this alpaca farm -”
James bursts into laughter. “An - alpaca - farm?” he chokes out.
“Um, have you seen alpacas? They’re like the coolest animals ever,” I say defiantly.
“Stop - just stop. Merlin, I’m in love with a freak.”
As soon as his words hit the air, the world grinds to a halt. My heart stops, then resumes at double its pace. Blood pounds in my ears. Every detail, every sense is heightened.
James freezes as his words sink in. “Shit - I - uh - I didn’t - shit.”
I blink blankly as I stare at him, watching his face twist into an expression of panic and horror.
“James,” I begin gently. “You just said -”
“I - I should go,” he says, face flushing violently.
I nod slowly and watch as he walks away, left only with the echo of his words and the pulse of my heart.
A/N: Well, my lovelies, how was that for an action filled chappie? Hopefully it topped the last chapter. Er - yeah. Can you spell awkward?
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. So... How d’ya feel about the breakup? I tricked you, didn’t I! Everyone thought that Aria was going to dump Jett... TWIST! I know it happened very fast, and you're probably confused. But that's good, because you're supposed to be confused, as Aria is confused as well. Some of the reasoning was revealed by James towards the end, and some will be revealed in coming chapters. Fear not, my brave readers! Have faith - I know what I am doing. Promise :D
And then, of course, how are we feeling about Alex? About James’s little slip of the tongue? These are important questions, people! TALK TO ME!!
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