Chapter 12 : Denial, What's Denial?
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Anyone can be the best liar when they're lying to themselves. Denial, denial, denial—has a certain ring to it.
They say that the hardest part is admitting that you have a problem, but I don't have problems. It's not denial. I know what denial feels like: there's resistance, something to refute. Me? I'm just indifferent.
I don't need people like Potter telling me that I'm heartless. I know. I was the first to know, because it doesn't happen by accident; it's a skill. Just another one of the ways we adapt our silly lives, not so different from hope.
I do, in fact, have a heart, right here in my chest. But the other one, the invisible one, has been on extended vacation. We have two hearts, two different beats, not the least bit interchangeable. One is to live and the other is the reason to live, and that second heart is particularly good at providing a purpose. That urge that pulls us forward in impetuous leaps through life (or onto Potter in badly planned snog sessions). Without it, what will tell us what we want?
So we go to backup: the mind. Instead of feeling, we know. The problem with knowing things is sometimes we're too sure, and it isn't until the quiet moments that we worry.
I say that I want to be the Daily Prophet's ace reporter, but why? For the prestige? For the audience? Just because? And there's a drop in our chests, the drop of a heart that isn't there, when we think: what's the point? There has to be a point, because if there isn't, then what have I been working toward? What am I proving with all these words, with Witchy Business?
I say that Potter means nothing, that he's wrong about me, and that my hums and drums are nothing but bottled-up lust. Even when he's right, his reasoning's all faulty and he's got a prissy attitude to back it up.
But I can say a lot of things.
So maybe I do have problems. I still don't think so. You can call it denial. You even can call it a unicorn, if that tickles your fancy, because in the end, in all my ramblings and moments of doubt, it doesn't matter what it is.
I won't care, anyway.
It doesn't take much to turn the newsroom into an interrogation room. Stark walls, bare table, and good-auror-bad-auror duo on the opposite side.
Pickett's the good one. He's concerned about me. Dom... has her own agenda.
"So, how far did you get?"
Her nails clack together as she steeples her hands. Dom's concerned about me, too—really—but being Dom, her first questions were, "Can I tell Harriet yet?" and "How many clothes were off? Or on, if that's easier to count."
The previous worst-thing-that's-happened is back when the faculty threatened to shut Witchy Business down. I'd just taken over the old Hogwarts Weekly publication and we were stupid enough to continue distributing publicly, but when the Headmaster brought us in, I kept cool as a cauldron. The difference between Slughorn and Albus is—well, a hundred-year age gap, but also—their transparency. Slughorn's easy to read, easy to please. As soon as we moved newsstands to the loos and slipped in an advertisement for his nephew's owlery service, he turned the other way or, as we in the business say, 'forgot' about us. Bless dodgy authority.
Albus, on the other hand, who knows what the fuck he wants? He doesn't have a clue. One minute he's condemning me, and in another he's got his hands up my shirt in the middle of a hallway.
Which I remind Dom of as I press my fingers into my temple, squashing the memory. "We were in a hallway."
"That doesn't stop lots of people! Margie and Wesbeck shagged in a hallway."
"I thought that was a rumor," mutters Pickett.
She tut-tuts, shaking a finger in his face, scolding the amateur. "Believe what you want. This is why I let you open doors for me. Who knows how many trysts have happened against those things? Centuries of splinters."
My nose wrinkles, fully regretting letting Dom take charge. "Ew, Dom. Who thinks about that?"
"Me. And now you do. 'sides, it's not like you weren't contributing." Dom slides forward, tilting her head ever so exaggeratedly to make her point. I hoped that she'd be too squicked out to get into the nitty-gritties since her cousin's involved, but my involvement trumps his.
"It was snogging not shagging."
"You said clothes were ripped off!"
"By a mob!"
Dom opens her mouth, but before any further lascivious arguments can be made, Pickett clamps a hand over it. "So er, why don't you expand on how he's 'using you'?"
I relay Albus' joke of a plan to take down the Q.G.A., and now that I have space to think, it wasn't a plan as much as half-arsed drivel about working together. It's so obvious he only thought of it after I auctioned him off and proved I'm on top. What happened to not wanting anything to do with me? And if he thinks I want anything to do with him...
"I could talk to Al," Dom says delicately, after near-severing one of Pickett's fingers to free her muzzle. "Tell him to back off."
I recoil all the way from the table. "God no. Why would you do that?"
She's just as taken aback. "Well, you seemed pretty upset."
"I'm not upset."
"You were when you walked in."
"I was—it was just shock." Her frown only lets up slightly. "I'm embarrassed you had to see that, honestly. Let's forget about it, shall we?" My face screws into a twist.
Dom exchanges a glance with Pickett who, after a cross-eyed scrutiny of me, nods. My eyes dip into a glower as I translate each movement of his squint-aha-wink, and I slam a fist on the table.
"I am not in denial!"
"How did you—"
"Talking without words doesn't really work when I can understand it, too."
Pickett grumbles, but the same exchange of glances occurs again, this time one that I can't catch before Dom rolls her eyes and sighs, "Okay, fine, I'll say it. Clemence, we know you're a big girl. But just because your little thing with Al is casual or mindfucking or whatever it is, doesn't mean you can't get hurt. Things get too far. Circe, knowing you two, it definitely will. Evidenced enough by—" She eyes over my rumpled clothes, silently scolding, 'In the hallway, for shame. You go girl.'
"But you don't care, he doesn't matter, it's just a game—whatever. However you see yourself, the person I saw coming in this room was not all right." Dom leans across the table and pats my hand. "And I'm not going to argue further, because you'll never give up. So I'll talk to Al."
"And make him think I'm a coward?" I shoot back. As pissed as I am, in the end, it's just Albus. Hardly merits the kid-gloves.
"So are you going to talk to him yourself then?"
"No," I declare rather pridefully. "I'm done with him. Told him to piss off."
"Ah, avoidance," drawls her hot-shot psychologist partner. "The indirect cowardice."
"Shut up, Pickett."
"Funny how denial involves denying you're in denial. You know I'm right."
'"Oh?" As if I haven't noticed how he's been inching closer to Dom's seat the whole time. "Has Dom heard about your love life yet? Ah right, it doesn't exist, because you haven't told her that you—"
"Lalalala I have no idea what she's talking about," Pickett hollers, waving his arms until he's the recipient of Dom's stare.
"You fancy someone?" she asks, brow arched and decidedly cool.
"Absolutelynoidea—" Clearing his throat, he stops yelling in Dom's face, and his cheeks have turned red in the effort. Turning toward me, he mutters, with finger pointed, "You're a cruel woman, love."
Who is now escaping.
I rise from my seat, and Dom is about to follow, but I gesture for her to sit her tush down. "I appreciate the ears, but I'm all therapy-ed out. Don't worry about me—really." Backing toward the door, I shoo her toward our human windmill friend. "Dom, you should grill him. She's a stunner. You'll never guess who."
That does the trick. As I shut I newsroom door behind me, I hear Dom's indignant huff. "I thought she was joking! You really told her and not me?"
Dom can see decimal-point variation in font size, catch a period mistaken for a comma from across the room, and put her ear to school flyers and hear the quiet, anguished scream of bad design. But when it comes to herself, what a major whoosh over her head.
The ache from all the running has finally sunk into my legs and when the dungeon draft breezes underneath my finger, I remember: me and Albus, in this corridor, not even an hour ago, nearly doing the stupidest thing we could possibly do—each other.
Dom and Pickett may be mental with an agenda, but they're... onto something. So I technically didn't tear off Albus' clothes and shag him in the hallway; would I have done it if I hadn't stopped at that last moment? If I didn't remember we stand for different sides and that every move we make, intentional or not, is potential for manipulation?
For once, the Q.G.A. might have done something helpful; if they didn't rip open his shirt first, I might not have been able to tell Dom I didn't rip it off myself. A sixteen-year stifled libido struts through my mind, whispering cloyingly out my ear. You would have loved pulling those buttons apart, Clemence. The snap when they break and his groan on your lips. You would have loved to see him want you. A shudder passes through my body, all the way down to my feet.
Hypotheticals can go rot.
I come home to an empty dorm, a serene quiet where I can, joy of joys, continue to be alone with my thoughts. Throwing myself onto my bed face first, I bite down on my quilt, hoping it might cure me. Dom can't be—it's not—
All right, I felt something, but I'm sure I would have felt the same if it were another kisser like that with a body like that in a situation like that. Potter just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right chemistry. He doesn't even know my favorite color.
I groan, rolling over. The problem with not having problems is that when I have something resembling a problem, I sulk and flounder and really, after all this time, I should be achieving that wise-but-jaded status like the hardened ex-auror. Or the Muggle Studies professor.
Cotton taste in my mouth and lusty thoughts on the brain, I begin blocking Albus out, bit by bit, starting at his smirk. Think of headlines. Snappy wordplay. Tomorrow's another distribution day, and if I write it in time, the big story might just be the Q.G.A. bash, go figure. With Appy's super-duper exciting book deal, surprise guests, surprise auction, and surprise shirt-ripping mob, it's by far the most newsworthy event that's happened this week—and mostly my fault, double go figure.
Half the school's girls were there, so there's no fudging the fact that I arrived with Albus and ran out with him. If the bash doesn't go in the paper, it'll look like I've got something to hide. Better to spread the story the way I want it than let people talk or—Merlin have mercy—speculate.
I hear a tap on the mail chute as I'm thinking of words that rhyme with quirky (perky turkey?). Dragging myself up on aching ankles, I unlatch the lock, hoping it's a letter from Appy's publisher declaring her manuscript firewood. A snowy white owl's head bobs in and, lifting a claw, drops a note at my feet and then... a present of its own. Lovely. Hate mail.
But when I pick up the parchment and unroll it, I find only one freshly-penned line:
Astronomy tower, tomorrow 10PM—A.P.
That damned owl hoots, and I end up smudging the 'A' as it flies away, leaving the metal door clattering in its wake. Snowy white, how could I mistake it? Albus' owl.
The door clicks open behind me. "Clemence?"
I bite down on my lip hard before a peep can escape. Well if it isn't my favorite one-polka-dot-shy-from-a-psychopath roommate.
"Appy," I grit, turning toward her. She sounds like she's back to her dopey eagerness, but if this afternoon's been any indication of her extremes, I'd rather not associate myself with Potter for the time being.
"Was that an owl? I thought it looked like—"
"Um, spam." I scrunch the note behind my back and chuck it in the rubbish bin at my first chance. "Owlmarketers," I clarify as she prances to her side of the room like a lamb. "Wondered if I wanted carpet-cleaning service. Our floors are clearly stone, so. Yep."
She twirls around, hands primly in the air. "Oh, my aunt's actually been needing her carpet cleaned—"
"Carpetbag," I amend without hesitation. "Carpetbag-cleaning service." I better not need to bring out the carpet bagpipes.
"Oh," Appy says again, disappointed. "My aunt doesn't have a carpetbag."
Appy and I aren't exactly known for shooting the breeze, so when we fall into an extended silence, I assume that's all I have to bear. Then she has to ruin it by opening her mouth.
"It's been a crazy day, hasn't it?" Appy stretches over her desk, fixing her makeup in front of her wall mirror. "Sorry for nearly running you over. Sometimes I just get a little," she fans herself, "caught in the moment." A giggle here, a giggle there. "By the way, is that auction valid?" Her reflection bats her lashes toward me on my bed, schoolwork and notes on my knees. Why do I get the feeling today's going to haunt me for a long time?
I plaster on an apologetic smile. "Ah... no. Turns out you actually need the gavel to make a legal transaction." Bullshitting's like breathing today.
"That's a real pity. I was the highest bidder." With a heavy sigh, Appy flops down in her seat, skirts puffed up around her. "Albus is all I want, I'm sure you've heard me say. But I wonder if he sees that."
She's talking as if I'm totally not hiding behind my textbook and looking up only to check if she's still there. She is. I don't know what I'm waiting for, though for the past year, I've got a secret wish she might suddenly and inexplicably implode under her lack of substance and brain cells. It doesn't physically make sense, but it's not like she makes an iota of sense either.
"Those other girls, they're dears but they simply don't love him like I do." Every little syllable is stressed with shake of her head. "They don't get him. He's complicated, you know."
Oh, I know.
"He's just waiting for the perfect girl to come along and lay out the answers for him."
I am so fascinated. Tell me more.
As if she hears my thoughts, she stands—oh Merlin, now she's coming over. When she's too close to be ignored, I lower my book to find the most demented eyes greeting me behind its cover.
There's happy, and then there's happy-crazy, and then there's Appy-crazy. The euphorically deranged expression on her face is like a pyromaniac stumbling upon a match factory next to an explosives warehouse. Doused in kerosine.
The pyromaniac also happens to be a Hungarian Horntail.
"You're... close to him, you would say?" Something in her sticker smile tells me that I'll need to answer this question very carefully. Scooting against my pile of quilts, I prime my book as a shield, the first time Advanced Magick has ever come in handy.
"He's in a few classes." Every inch I retreat, she leans two inches closer. At which point is this considered harassment and beaning her with five pounds of paper is justified? Perhaps I'm taking the murder metaphors a touch too far, but Appy is, without a doubt, a couple nuts short of a fruitcake. It's all giggles and ribbon until she snaps like the Titanic. Seeing me with her dream husband? Makes for a pretty sizable iceberg.
"He was with you today. If someone didn't know any better... it almost looked like you two were," she pauses, bubblegum breath like a cavity to the brain, "running off together, wouldn't you say?"
There's no more space to scoot. "Well—"
"I adore Albus, but how strange it was that he visited the bash today." Her voice is trance-like. "I wonder why he did it."
"There is the auction—"
"He didn't seem too pleased about it. But he is very complicated." Something like a thought almost appears on her face, lighting up—oh no, it's gone.
I dig one elbow into my mattress. "Look, Appy, he probably just heard about your book deal—congratulations by the way—" my mouth painfully forms the words "—and wanted to um, send you his own congrats."
She blinks. "But he didn't."
"Think about it. He didn't get a chance to."
Appy seems satisfied with this and the second interrogation of the night seems over until I sit up again, and she suddenly takes me by the throat. My next breath dies in a constricted squeak. Never mind: murder metaphors completely justified.
"I know we're not the closest of friends, but... you wouldn't hide anything from me, would you, Clemence?" Her voice maintains every drop of syrupy innocence as her nails tap on my collar bone. She's towering so near that I'm legitimately afraid she'll know the truth just by proximity. Like bloodbait for the shark, the hint of his cologne on my collar has become a sharp stink.
It's the gleam in her wide eyes that petrifies me, icy blue and threaded with veins, sapped of all mercy, and a crystal ball for tomorrow—the day that I finally get on the front page of the Daily Prophet. "Clemence Fitzgerald, future Prophet Head Editor according to twenty seer sources, was found strangled in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this morning. The only clue is the trail of sequins and glitter leading from a roommate's bed, leaving stumped Aurors with no leads."
By some miracle, the scent and my fear elude her. She holds up her pinky, taking my silence as a yes. "Swear?"
What choice do I have but to hold mine up as well? Appy hooks it with her own and this finally makes the demonic look fade. She skips back to her side of the room, smiling so witlessly, I'm not sure if I imagined the previous minute.
But feeling the hollow of my throat, the marks don't don't lie.
I don't end up on the Daily Prophet, not in the obituaries nor in a byline, but tomorrow's another day. Witchy Business's headline remains a benign 'A Bash to Bash all Bashes', and as far as any Quirkers are concerned, my visit with Albus was purely professional.
Not everyone is convinced, but three-quarters success rate is already very high, especially since the public get so choosy about their gossip around the middle of the school year. I'm no stranger to swings in public opinion. After every disaster, I think it's my last. Falsely reported couples, flubbing Centaur names (who apparently read teen gossip and have very loud, stompy opinions about them), the ever unmentionable Doxy incident... the list gets worse as it goes on.
As big of a blunder as crashing the Q.G.A. party was, short-term memory will work its magic. All I have to do is not make it worse such as, for a convenient example, rendezvousing with the hot-topic boy in the Astronomy Tower. Only two people will know every detail of what happened yesterday, and maybe if I forget, yesterday can just disappear. Fell off the calendar.
I stand outside the common room as ten o' clock taunts from my wristwatch. The seconds tick past. Six seconds past ten. Seven. Eight. Nine. I haven't told Dom or Pickett about Albus' note yet, because I know exactly what they would say, but there's a difference between cowardly avoiding and simply taking the smart course of action.
And it's not like I ever accepted his invitation. His risk for sending an owl. I bet he's already pacing about up there, figuring out how to convince me to join him. How long will he wait?
When the second hand goes around to fifty-nine, I turn on my heel and go back into the common room.
I hope it's all night.
Proving that my plans are far superior to any of Albus', the avoidance has worked so well, I don't think I've even seen his face the past week, and we have the same D.A.D.A. and Charms classes. I never noticed how little he looks up. It's only to talk, and he only talks when he has to. Maybe that's why he gets the crazy ones; they're the only ones he can't ignore.
The days have returns to a routine, of sorts. Albus hangs about Scorpius, Dom isn't far behind (Pickett chickened out of confessing to her, which proves once again, that we're masters of every relationship except our own), and Rose is there when Dom isn't. Rose's continued correspondence with Scorpius has sparked a lot of talk, especially after their publicized breakup. Admittedly, I'm sort of glad for that Team Dom versus Team Rose rubbish for taking the brunt of the attention away from me.
Today in History, before Binns begins his hour of instruction, I hear the sound of cows on the range.
It's Caroline whispering to her clique around her. "Lindy was so right. That whole girlfriend story was just to get rid of the competition. Clem-clem wants Albus all to herself."
Burning ears pricked, I stop trying to find the page marked on the chalkboard and start listening.
"Can't get a bloke the normal way, so she fixes up some ruse to make up for it. How deplorable."
"Deplorable?" I swing my arm around the back of my chair, unable to help myself. "That's a big word, Escot. Gold star." Her simper sneers at me, along with her four bimbo friends, each sporting more dye than hair on their head. "Maybe he made up the story himself. To get rid of you." I mimic her precious trill.
Her nostrils flare. "He'd never do that. He's not like you! Some people have principles."
"And when did he last he give any of you the time of day?" It's possessive of me, I'll confess, but after all I've gone through, I get that right, don't I?
They fall silent. Her token nerdy friend sitting one seat behind mumbles, "One time he told me my shoelaces were untied." She pauses. "Oh no, that was a House Elf."
Caroline leans forward on her twined hands, her too-plucked brows like curved daggers. "You're just jealous because he doesn't hate me. Don't think that I can't tell you'll dig your claws into him when no one's looking."
Hmm, shrieking fangirls, secret revenge, pinky swears with the devil's devil, i.e. more baggage than Moaning Myrtle—"I think I'll pass. But all the luck to you; you'll need it. Merlin knows you haven't got anything else." I place a hand on my chest, cooing, "And Caroline, my dear bovine, let me assure you: I don't get jealous. Know why? Because I get what I want."
Binns calls for attention and I turn back around as the steam erupts behind me.
For the next half hour, he drones about the Rhine River skirmishes—some lethal mix-up over goblin danishes and Danish goblins; war never makes sense. When class ends, I leave with a six-page assignment souvenir. I've also got a spare quill I forgot to return to Trevor which, at this point, will never be returned. One more class and the week is over.
I head downstairs to pick up my Charms textbook from the newsroom. "Lum—" I cast upon lifting the third tapestry past the Potions classroom, but the candles are already lit. Dom never remembers to extinguish them and it's such a waste of wax.
The tables and chairs are empty. The only other place I study is by the printing press, but I stop far short of it when I see Albus lounged at its seat, holding up my book, waiting for me.
A/N: I couldn't decide what to put in and leave out this chapter and I ended up mashing more and more things in here. It's a bit of a transition chapter. Clemence entwined in her gossip web not looking good for her credibility, Appy the murderer-author, and the ever enigmatic Albus Potter sitting in her territory right now.
I've been extra busy lately (chapters arriving late to everything x__x), so sorry if I don't respond to reviews immediately, but they've been really awesome his week especially, after the long work hours. I'm going to try to get through all of them over the weekend :3 Thanks for reading! ♥
"It was only the heat of the moment," I say, putting him out of his misery.
"We seem to have a lot of those."
"Well, you initiate a lot of them."
"It's a two-way street, dear."
"Don't you dear me, buttercup."
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