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Tug Of War by platform 9 3_4
Chapter 14 : Liquid Courage and Clichés
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 14


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Disclaimer: JKR owns Harry Potter; Lord of the Rings reference belongs to J. R. R. Tolkein. Anything less cool belongs to me.

 






Stella Wood & James Potter

Elenia@ TDA strikes again.






"You're a coward, Albus Potter."

Al folds his arms and scowls at me, "Well excuse me for not wanting to ruin my life."

I roll my eyes, "You're not ruining your life! You're coming clean about all of this to Ray, because that is the only way that she can move forward and forgive you." 

 "You think she'll forgive me?" Al asks doubtfully.

 "…Eventually," I lie, "Look Al, you've already told her too much. You told her that you never really liked me, and that warrants an explanation."

 Al continues to look unconvinced, "She's going to kill me, isn't she?"

 "Oh for Merlin's sake, stop being so dramatic," I snap, "Come on. I don't want to do this either, but we have to if you're ever going to stand a chance with Ray Mitchell."

 I grab his shirt cuff and drag him over to the library table where Ray is currently sitting as she pours over several books at a time, her blue eyes racing over the pages.

 She looks up, "Hi Stella," she mutters. Then she spots Albus, "Oh."

 She goes back to her book, but her eyes stop moving, meaning we have her attention.

 Albus struggles against my grip, but I drag him to my side and clear my throat, "Er, Ray. We have something to say to you."

 Her eyes immediately fixate on me, wide and nervous. 

 "Stella, nothing happened," she says quickly, "OK, we kissed for like a second. But I swear, I broke it off. I never wanted to hurt -"

 "Ray," I cut across her, "Albus told me everything. That's not what this is about."

 Ray frowns, looking surprised, "Really? Then what?"

 Albus looks at his shoelaces and coughs, "I have a confession to make."

 "Yeah, I know," Ray says coldly to him, "You told me you never really had feelings for her. Pretty shitty thing to say, not to mention a shitty thing to string her along-"

 "Ray," I cut across her again, "He never had feelings for me."

 Ray frowns again, looking even more confused, "Then why did you date him?"

 I open my mouth, then I close it, then I open it again. Now that Ray is here, clenching and unclenching her fists, her cornflower blue eyes narrowed and suspicious, my courage has officially failed me.

 "Er, Albus?" I prompt him.

He throws me a glare, before clearing his throat nervously again.

 "Um," he begins slowly, "I'minlovewithyouandStellaagreedtobemygirlfriendsothatyouwouldnoticeme."

 He says it so hushed and so fast that we barely catch any of the words. I roll my eyes at him.

 "What?" Ray leans in to hear him better.

 He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes and says very clearly and slowly, "I'm in love with you and I asked Stella to be my girlfriend, so that you would notice me."

 When it's over, and Albus opens his eyes again, Ray stays silent and still. She doesn't even blink.

 I remain in silence, waiting nervously for her reaction.

 "What?" she whispers, her throat constricted.

 "I," Al coughs again, "I've liked you for a really, really long time. But it was really hard to get you to notice me, I mean, you hate blokes, as a rule. Plus I feel pretty intimidated around you. And I asked Stella to try and talk me up, but you thought that it was she who liked me, but she only thinks of me as a friend, a brother more like. And so I…got desperate. And I asked her to just…pretend to go out with me. I thought that since you were her friend and all, maybe you'd try to get to know me. And you did."

 His speech comes to a quiet close, and Ray continues to stare in astonishment at him as though she hasn't heard, let alone understood.

 "So…" she pauses, "You got Stella to go out with you, so that you could make a move on me."

 That sounds dangerous. She's interpreting it all the wrong way. This is Albus, not Fred. All he wants to do was talk to her, stare at her pretty eyes and her pretty hair and think about how pretty she is.

 "No!" Albus cries, looking alarmed, "No! I just wanted to get to know you! I thought you would just ignore me."

 Ray widens her eyes and for a moment she looks ashamed, "Do you really think I'm that shallow? That I would only acknowledge you if you were dating one of my friends? And do you think I would fancy you if you were my friends boyfriend? Do I seem like someone who would do that to my friend?"

 "No!" exclaims Albus, "I just…I don't know. I didn't think."

 "No, you're right," she mutters, "You didn't."

 "I just wanted to talk to you so badly," he explains, "I didn't think you would fall for me."

 "Yes, you did," she cries, "That's what you hoped. And you were right."

 "No, honestly Ray-" Albus breaks off and stares at her, "Wait, I was right?"

 "I-" she shakes her head, looking embarrassed, "That's not the issue here! You lied to me! You both lied to me! You both tried to manipulate me!"

 "Ray, I'm so sorry," I begin, but Albus very helpfully cuts across me.

 "You fell for me?" He asks reverently.

 "Albus, not now," I mutter.

 Ray looks ready to hit someone. Her fists clench, her blood is up, and there's a distinct twitch in her eye.

 Goodbye, cruel world.

 "Look, Ray," I utter nervously, "I understand that you probably never want to speak to me again. Can I just ask one favour?"

 She looks straight at me, "What?"

 "Could you avoid the face?" I flinch.

 She frowns at me, "Stella, I'm not angry."

 "What?" I stare at her.

 How can she not be angry? I bet this is a trick, something to let down my guard before she throws me out of the window.

 "You were helping out a friend," she says, "I know you weren't trying to hurt me. You tried to talk to me about him, but I was too stupid to listen."

 I continue to stare at her, "So, you forgive me?"

 "Yes," she replies, "I forgive you."

 And then she hugs me. SHE HUGS ME.

 This is the first time Ray and I have had any kind of physical contact.

 Wow, I should fake-date my best friends to get her attention more often.

 "You're a good friend, Stella," she says, during her embrace, "A little misguided sometimes, but you just wanted us to be happy."

 She breaks away, and smiles.

 Bloody hell.

 Al looks relieved, "Thank god," he says, breathing out an easing sigh, "Well, now that that's all sorted out: Ray, will you be my girlfrie-"

 His romantic declaration is cut off by the smacking sound that reverberates around the library, as Ray punches him clean on the nose.

 His head snaps back, and his nose cracks, a stream of blood issuing down his face.

 I barely have time to scream, it happens so fast. Instead I let off a loud gasp, and stare from Ray, to Albus, then back to Ray, who looks livid.

 "I said I forgive her," she corrects him furiously, "Not you. You deliberately tried to fool me into liking you. You manipulated me! You lied to me! And you used Stella to get to me."

 "No, Ray, it wasn't like that," Albus replies weakly, although his injuries are making it hard for him to talk, "I swear."

 "And why should I trust you ever again?" she asks him, her voice icy and hard.

 She picks up her bag and leaves the two of us standing there. Me still in a state of shock, and Albus groaning as he clutches his broken nose.

 "Hospital wing?" I ask him faintly.

*          *            *

After Madame Pomfrey has fixed Al's nose and mopped up all the blood, he decides to return to the Slytherin common room for some light wallowing.

 "I've ruined everything, haven't I?" he mutters sadly, as we walk down the corridor, "She'll never forgive me."

 I can't answer. Even I have to admit that Al's chances with Ray are looking pretty slim right about now.

 "I can't believe she forgave you!" Al says.

 "I know, me neither. I'm more shocked by that than by her right hook."

 "It is a pretty impressive right hook," Al says sullenly.

 At the door to the Slytherin common room he looks back at me hopelessly, "You sure you can't stay?"

 I give him a comforting pat on the back, "Sorry. I'm tutoring someone, and I'm already late."

 "Oh, who are you tutoring?" he asks.

 I pause, "You don't know them."

 He shrugs, "OK, I'll see you around then, I guess."

 "Yeah," I sigh, "See you."

He goes inside the common room and I turn around to leave.

 OK, I'm going to be seriously late.

 Up several flights of stairs, I walk along the corridor and count the classroom doors on my right.

 "One…two…three…four…five," I nod at each one as I pass, until I find myself outside the fifth door.

 Taking a deep breath, I open the door and step inside.

 He's leaning against the wall as I come in, but when he sees me he walks over quickly and immediately wraps his hands around my waist and leans in.

 I lean back for a second, "Sorry I'm late. Al had this-"

 He doesn't wait for me to finish, pressing his lips down onto mine impatiently, backing me up against the door and kissing me hungrily.

 He pulls away, and I find I'm already short of breath. James grins, "Doesn't matter. I was only waiting for five minutes."

 And he quickly reattaches his lips to mine.

Something makes me pull away again, "So, no class right now?"

"Free period," he replies quickly before kissing me again, pressing himself even closer to me.

 My brain can't fathom what's happening. I'm snogging James Potter. James bloody Potter, the bloke who I've been in love with for four sodding years, is snogging me. And it isn't under the influence of alcohol or the imperious curse.

Bloody hell he's good.

Throwing my arms around his neck, I let go of all my inhibitions and launch into the snog with such intensity that I surprise even myself, forgetting all about Albus, all about Ray, and the fact that I still have no idea whether James even likes me.

I mean, of course, the fact that he's here, snogging me of his own free will is definitely some indication. But whether or not it matters if it's me, or someone else, remains unclear.

All musings on this topic go flying out of my head as James moves one hand from around my waist to my cheek, his thumb on my cheekbone as he kisses me slowly, almost as though he's about to break it off.

Suddenly footsteps come to my ears and I freeze, my lips still pressed firmly to his. His ears prick up at the sound and he immediately releases his hands from either side of my face, and leans back. We both breathe shakily.

The footsteps die away however, and I feel myself sigh with relief.

Now it feels too awkward to go right back to snogging him. It's been over a week, and neither of us have actually acknowledged why no one can know about us. This. Whatever this is.

"Probably just a student late for class," James chuckles slightly, sounding just as awkward as I feel.

"Really late," I point out, "Could have been a teacher."

"Right," he replies steadily, "And someone could have heard us and looked inside."

"Yeah."

Another pause.

"Maybe we should be more careful," I suggest.

"You haven't told anyone, have you?" he asks, eyebrow raised.

"No," I reply, "I mean, no one knows about…this. Fred knows we snogged at the quidditch match, and…well, so does Eve. But neither of them know that it's…continuing."

He looks a little relieved, "Oh, OK."

I still feel nervous, "Eve said she won't tell anyone, but who knows? She seemed pretty pissed when we last spoke."

"It's my fault," he sighs, running a hand through his hair, which I must admit is infuriatingly attractive, "I kicked her off the team."

"I'm not going to argue with that," I smirk slightly, "But, it's not just you. She thinks I was trying to sabotage her because I wanted her spot on the team."

"What?" he frowns, "That's ridiculous."

"I know," I reply.

"I mean, just stupid," he murmurs, edging slightly closer to me.

"Yeah, obviously," I whisper back in a hushed voice.

He reaches up and fiddles with the edge of my shirt collar, running his thumb along the corner, his voice suddenly husky, "The idea is laughable."

"That's what I thought," I whisper, feeling suddenly too warm for comfort. The tips of my fingers are burning to touch his shoulders again. I pretty sure if I don't snog him again soon I'm going to do something really embarrassing.

He leans in suddenly, his face very close to mine, "Enough talking."

I answer him by grabbing his shirt and pulling him forcibly to me. He responds eagerly, wrapping strong hands around my waist and lifting me up against the wall.

It feels almost like I'm drowning in heat, wanting to gasp for air, only I can't.

It's just so easy to just meld into his arms, forget that there are very obvious reasons for why I should stop.

I've often wondered if we were just avoiding the inevitable: dating.

Only doing such a thing would probably result in my excommunication from any hint of friends.

First I dated Albus, the Slytherin quidditch captain, and betrayed my entire house, then we had broken up. If I start dating his older brother, the captain of the house team which I had quit, and then subsequently betrayed by dating previously mentioned Slytherin captain, I'll probably find myself on everyone's most wanted list. Hell, I won't even be able to leave my dorm without the fear of mortal peril.

Maybe, at some point, I'll get over my worries about being a social outcast for the rest of my Hogwarts life, and then maybe I'll acknowledge the possibility of ever coming clean about my feelings to James. Soon. Ish.

Yeah, my fear of Gryffindor house far outweighs my fear of what  James might actually say if I asked him how he felt about dating me. That's totally it.

Seriously.

I mean, I must be giving off some clue. I'm standing here snogging him, aren't I?

If he hasn't figured out that I must be somehow attracted to him, then he's more blind than Cameron, which is difficult. 

Here's an example: The other day Lexie came up to Cameron and said shyly,

"Oh, Cameron, I was wondering…do you want to go up to the Astronomy tower? I have this project due tomorrow, for Astronomy and I could really use the help."

Cameron stared at her blankly, "Oh, er, well, er, er, I mean, er, I don't take Astronomy, Lexie. Wish I could help."

Lexie looked slightly wounded, before nodding, "Just thought I'd ask." and walking away slowly.

She doesn't even take Astronomy.

So for James to beat Cameron in a who's more dimwitted contest, he'd have to bring some serious game.

He must have figured it out, right? 

It's the oh-and-by-the-way-I've-been-in-love-with-you-for-four-years part that he might have trouble comprehending.

Just as James' tongue ran across my bottom lip, making me let out a short, but slightly embarrassing, moan, footsteps come loudly to our ears again.

He moves off me slightly and I slide gingerly down the wall until I find my footing.

We both stand there in silence, breathing shakily, waiting for the footsteps to die down.

Suddenly the bell rings sharply, reverberating around the classroom. I sighed and smoothed down my school shirt which had become considerably rumpled.

"We should probably go," he murmurs in a low voice, close to my ear, "Before people see us leave together."

I nod quickly, moving away from him.

"Maybe we shouldn't do this any more," I say softly, "I mean, someone could catch us at any moment."

"You said that last time," he replies, and I see the smallest hint of a smirk at the corner of his mouth.

"Well this time I mean it," I say firmly, "Let's just…I don't know, cool it for a bit."

"OK, sure," he grins, "If that's what you want."

"It is," I reply, though my resolve is weakening.

"OK," he picks up his school bag which has been carelessly dropped on the ground, and with a wink and another grin, he says "See you next time then."

And with that he leaves,with me rolling my eyes.

*    *    *

 Later that day I bump into Albus again, whose nose now resembles an oversized tomato.

"Wow," I say, more impressed than amused, "Ray really does have an impressive right hook." 

"No shit, Sherlock," Al glares.

"Where are you off to?" I ask.

"The hospital wing," he growls.

"Again?"

"Yes, not only is my nose completely swollen, it also hurts like a bitch." He uttered the last word with bitter relish.

"Come on then, grumpy," I smirk, "Let's get you to the hospital wing."

"You'd be grumpy too if the girl of your dreams had just punched you in the face."

"Hey," I say, putting a comforting arm around him as we walk towards the hospital, "Maybe she wasn't the girl of your dreams."

"I'm pretty sure she was," Albus laments, and he sounds more upset than irritated.

"How do you know?" I point out.

"I was in love with her!" Al cries, "Like…properly in love."

I stop for a moment, "Wow, really?"

"You didn't think I'd go through all of this for anything less than love, did you?"

I don't reply, but resume our walk to the hospital wing. 

If Ray really doesn't want to take her chances with Albus then she's nuts. I didn't think that guys did romantic gestures like that anymore.

Well, to be fair, that assumption is based on my limited experience involving last week's escapades with James that involved empty classrooms and abandoned broom cupboards. James sure knows how to woo a girl with charm.

Why can't it be Al that I'm in love with? Al is into big romantic gestures (apparently), and he falls hard and fast. 

Bloody hell, I'm being such a girl about this whole thing. Why can't I just set my emotions aside? Then again, why should I have to?

As I ponder over these long, difficult questions, Al looks at me curiously, "OK, why are you so quiet all of a sudden?"

I look at him suddenly, "You know what? You should try and get over her."

"How?" he replies tragically, "It's not that simple."

"There are plenty of girls who I know that think you're really fit," I tell him happily.

"Really?" his face perks up at that prospect, "You think one of them would go out with me?"

"If you try to get over the girl of your dreams, maybe," I grin, "I mean, who knows? This girl could be your next Ray Mitchell."

He shrugs, "I don't know, Stella. What if it doesn't work, and I just end up hurting this girl because I'm still in love with someone else?"

"Look," I sigh, "You did all you could, and you failed. I think Ray's made her last move. She doesn't want to be with you."

He looks so tragically forlorn at these words that I feel an immediate sense of guilt. "It's not because you're not a catch!" I exclaim, "Ray just doesn't want a boyfriend."

He nods, "OK then, who do you know that might want to go out with me?"

"How about Cecily Prewett?" I suggest, grinning slyly at him.

Cecily Prewett is one of the prettiest girls in our year. She's a ravenclaw, so she's whip smart. And she's told me on multiple occasions, when we were partners in Herbology in our 5th year, that she thought Al was fit.

The only downside is that Cecily Prewett is what they call a serial dater.

Al scoffs, "How about you get real?"

"What?" I cry, "She's nice! And smart! And so pretty!"

"And she's dated every guy in the Northern Hemisphere!" Al retorts, "Whereas I've only had one girlfriend, in 2nd year. And you, of course."

"She thinks you're really fit," I add temptingly, "Like, really fit."

He raises an eyebrow skeptically, "And how do you know this?"

"I sat next to her in Herbology in 5th year, she told me!"

"So why hasn't she asked me out?" Al asks, "If she's so bloody into me."

"Well," I hesitate, wondering how best to put this, "She thought you were too…inexperienced"

Al stares, "What? Why?"

I sigh, "Albus, you just said it yourself, apart from me, your last girlfriend was in 2nd year."

He looks mortified, "So, she thought I didn't know anything about dating?"

"Well, I'm sure her mind is changed now that you and I went out for a bit," I try to reassure him.

"OK," Al says resolutely, "This is ridiculous. Can you get Cecily to date me?"

I scoff, "How about you get your own girlfriend?"

"I…" he looks instantly pathetic, "How?"

"Merlin, Albus! You can't just get your best friend to pretend to date you every time you want to make a move on a girl!"

"You're right," he sighs, "It wouldn't work. You're not friends with Cecily like you are with Ray."

I hit him on the upper arm, "Come on Albus, you're a nice, smart, attractive guy. You're the captain of the quidditch team, for Merlin's sake! This should be a piece of cake for you!"

We walk into the hospital wing, and immediately lower our voices for fear of waking the other patients, "I'm sorry that I'm not as smooth as James," Al hisses, "He's a real charmer that one. I should take a leaf out of his book, start hooking up with random girls every time it tickles my fancy."

"Oh come on, Albus," I laugh, before my happy gaze drops like a stone, "Wait, he hooks up with random girls?"

"Let's get real, Stella," Al smirks, "I know you lurrve him, or whatever twisted thing is going on in your relationship, but James could probably snap his fingers and girls would come running."

I pause to get my wording right, "So…does he hook up with random girls a lot?"

"Ok, he's not nearly as bad as Fred and Cameron," Al admits,  "But yes. James, my brother the charmer, does like the idea of no strings attached. Sorry to break it to you."

I can't say anything. This isn't exactly news. James, like Al, doesn't often have serious girlfriends, but he likes to enjoy the benefits of his attractiveness once in a while.

However, the idea that he likes to hook up with random girls is news to me. 

"He has a classroom on the 5th floor. It's hardly ever used, so he knows he won't be disturbed," Al sighs, "That's where he goes when he wants to hook up."

"What classroom?" I ask, panic rising quickly.

He raises an eyebrow, "I would have thought you'd know about it. Nearly everyone does."

"H-how do people know?" I stammer.

"Well, he's taken a lot of girls to that classroom," Al says, "Word circulates."

I'm beginning to feel slightly numb. I was been there only this morning! As one of James' fucking conquests! 

On the outside I'm calm, but inside alarm bells are ringing like mad. Merlin, how could I have been be so stupid? All he had wanted all week was to hook up, and I, like a fool, had fallen for all of it.

This morning I had been pondering whether or not James cared. At least then  I had been uncertain. Now it's all far too clear.

"Goodness Mr. Potter, who have you offended this time?" Madame Pomfrey says as she comes strolling towards us, "You were in here just this morning."

"No one" Al replies stonily, "She just punched me harder than I had expected."

Madame Pomfrey allows herself a small smirk before sitting him down on a meticulously made up bed and beginning to examine his nose.

"Goodness me, I haven't seen swelling like this in years," she murmurs.

"That's Ray," I can't help but grin. Albus returns my grin with a glare.

After a few flicks of her wand and a dab of magical cream that glowed an eerie orange colour, before causing Al's red nose to diminish, Madame Pomfrey said, "If it gets any worse I'll give you a pot of this. You should be fine, as long as you stay out of the way of that girl that hit you."

I snort. Albus continues to give me surly looks.

I look around the hospital wing and notice that only one bed is currently occupied. 

Scorpius is sleeping at the moment, his blonde hair splayed across the pillow, betraying his desperate need for a haircut. 

"I didn't know Scorpius was still in the hospital wing," I say to Albus once Madame Pomfrey has left.

"He fell from 100 meters in the sky, what do you expect?" is his reply.

I walk over to his bedside and look down at him. 

"He looks peaceful," I say.

"I hope he'll be alright soon," says Al, "I want him ready for our next match."

"You sound exactly like my dad," I tell him bemusedly.

Suddenly the sound of a muted sneeze comes from somewhere below my feet.

"What the…" Albus mutters, frowning in the direction the sneeze had come from.

We both crouch down and peer under the bed, only to see a very embarrassed red head staring back at us.

"Rose!" I exclaim, "what the hell are you..." I trail off.

Rose is here, at Scorpius' bed side, hiding under the bed to pretend she's not actually here. 

Rose grins half heartedly, "Oh, hey guys!"

"What are you doing under Scorpius' bed?" I ask her, grinning widely.

"Oh, nothing!" she exclaims, "Did you know this school has a shocking amount of dust? I was just checking under the beds. Someone should really inform a teacher. I mean really-"

"How about we all get off the floor then?" Al suggests, "If theres so much dust."

We all scramble up off our knees and face each other, Rose on one side of the bed, Albus and I on the other.

"Have you been visiting him?" I ask, unable to disguise my glee.

Rose bites her lip, "…Ok, maybe I have popped in once or twice"

"Just once or twice?" Al grins slyly.

"Ok, fine," she relents pitifully, "Every day this week, happy?"

To answer her I clap my hands excitedly, "I knew it! I knew you liked him!"

Rose flaps her hands at me, "Shhhh! He's only sleeping. You'll wake him up!"

"Aw, do you watch him sleep?" I tease.

"Shut up!" She cries, "Trust me, this is bad enough already without you giving me shit for it."

"Whats so bad about it?" Al looks pleased. His hard work of forcing Rose and Scorpius together until they like one another has actually worked.

 Sighing, Rose says, "I don't know, it just is."

"What is?" comes a drowsy voice from below us.

Rose nearly jumps out of her skin at the sight of Scorpius lying there with his eyes open. My guess is she only popped in to see him while he was asleep. Which is mildly creepy.

"Nothing!" she cries, her voice considerably more high pitched than usual.

"Oh," he looks around, "Are you all here to see me?"

"No," Rose replies quickly, "I came with Al to er, fix his face, and Stella, um, was already here on a visit. Apparently she's been coming a lot," she lets off a nervous giggle.

I glare at her from across the bed. Scorpius looks strangely at me, "Oh, well, thanks Stella. Was it you who left the flowers?"

"Seriously, Stella?" Rose snorts with laughter, "Flowers? Bit overboard, don't you think?"

I raise an eyebrow at her, "I thought it was a pretty nice gesture," I reply stonily, "Considering I don't actually fancy him."

Rose flushes bright pink, as Scorpius frowns curiously at me.

"Well…thanks anyway," he says uncomfortably.

I can see why it doesn't make much sense. Scorpius and I have never really clicked. I mean, I don't hate the guy, but I probably wouldn't bring flowers to his bedside either.

There's a moment of extremely awkward pause, where Scorpius blinks sleepily at us.

"Well," Rose says briskly, "We've been here long enough, shall we go to lunch?" 

Just as I'm about to answer, the door for the hospital wing bangs open with a crash and Lily, James and Albus' younger sister, appears, followed by none other than my brother.

Instead of him having his usual, detestable smirk, Mark looks absolutely terrified. And anyone who takes one glance at Lily knows why.

Her face is covered from hairline to chin with swelling boils, scarlet red and blistering. My face feels sore just by looking at them. Lily doesn't appear to be enjoying it much either.

"You're dead, Wood!" she shrieks, "You're dead!"

Typically when Lily is annoyed with Mark, which is all the time, he enjoys it far more than he should. He grins, and takes it as encouragement to tease her some more. But now he looks completely distraught, running after Lily all the way to Madame Pomfrey's office.

"I'm so sorry, Lily! Oh, Merlin, shit! Lily!"

Lily's jaw is set, although it's a little hard to tell under all the boils, as she strides towards the office.

The rest of us immediately leave Scorpius' side and surround them. 

In a moment of chaos, Madame Pomfrey comes out of her office, looks shocked at Lily's almost unrecognizable face, and flaps her hands, fumbling for the various medical treatments.

"What on earth happened here?" she cries.

As she grabs Lily's wrist and sits her down on a bed, she looks around at the rest of us.

Mark steps forward, and I detect beads of sweat appearing on his forehead, "I didn't think it would do that, I swear!"

"Well you should have thought about the possibility of blowing my fucking face up before you slipped something into my potion!" Lily cries angrily.

Madame Pomfrey soothes her, while Albus turns on Mark, "What were you trying to do, punk?"

Mark looks a little terrified now that he's being confronted with Lily's older brother, "I-it was just a bit of fun! I thought it would give her a fright! I didn't know it would do…this!"

"So you slipped an unknown substance into my sister's cauldron?" Al repeats menacingly.

"I'm sorry!" Mark cries, sounding increasingly desperate.

I cover my face with my hands at my brother's pathetic tone of voice. When would he learn? Lily was never going to pay any attention to him when he played tricks on her. 

Madame Pomfrey reveals a black pot of yellow cream and begins to dab it onto Lily's face. Slowly, but surely, the swelling sores begin to diminish, and the redness fades. Then she brings out her wand and pointing it carefully at places the cream didn't work.

"I imagine Professor Wilde has given you detention, Mr. Wood?" She asks with raised eyebrows.

"A months worth," he mutters, "And 50 points from Hufflepuff."

"You bloody well deserve 100!" Lily snaps viciously at him.

"I'm so sorry, Lily!" he wails.

"Don't talk to me," she says bitterly.

Now that all the boils are gone, she is still left with obvious scars. Lily reaches up to touch her face and when she feels the roughness of her facial scares, she almost goes ballistic again.

"Oh my god! Am I going to have scars forever? You little BITCH!" She reaches out her hands, grabbing at my brother's face with a look of fury and panic in her eyes.

Albus holds her back, and Madame Pomfrey raises her voice, "The scars will fade in a few days, Miss Potter!" she cries, "Calm down, please!"

Albus manages to restrain Lily, just enough to stop her from clawing my brother's eyes out. He glares at Mark, "Don't think this means I'm on your side.

Mark nods, "Lily, I am so sorry."

"You've said that already," she snaps, "And don't think I believe a single word of your crap. You're just going to keep playing pranks of me, making my life a bloody living hell!"

"No," he says firmly, "Lily, I swear, I'll never do anything to you ever again."

Lily takes a second to look suspiciously at him, "No, you're lying."

He starts nodding violently, "On my mother's life, I swear. I'm going to be the best friend you could ever ask for." He looks impressed at his words, as though he just announced that he's returned from Mordor.

"I don't want you to be my friend," Lily says cooly, "I just want you to stop bothering me, stop messing with me, stop teasing me, stop being a complete and utter-"

"Ok, Ok," Mark relents, "I'll stop! I'll stop everything! I swear!"

"I'll believe that when I see it," says Lily.


*         *        *









"Where were you during our free period this morning?" Lexie asks me curiously, as I sit down next to her in the common room.

"Oh," I pause, trying to think of a more eloquent answer than 'snogging James Potter's face off', "Nowhere."

Seriously? Nowhere? Is that all I can come up with?

Pathetic.

Lexie narrows her eyes, "I haven't seen you in ages. You're hardly ever around during our free periods. And last night I saw you sneak back into the dormitory at one in the morning!" She looks suddenly scandalized, "What have you been doing?"

"Nothing!"

OK, seriously, what is up with me today? James must have snogged away what was left of my brain cells.

Lexie looks at me directly, narrowing her eyes as she surveys me carefully, "You haven't joined a cult, have you?"

I sputter with laughter, oh-so-attractively I might add, "No, Lexie, I have not joined a cult."

"You sure?" she asks, still not convinced.

"Absolutely."

"Then what have you been doing?"

I bite down on my lip, "Maybe it's none of your business."

She raises an eyebrow, "Stella Wood, you can't keep a secret to save your life."

Actually, I beg to differ. I've kept the secret about Cameron fancying the pants off Lexie, although that much is pretty obvious to anyone with a sense of vision. 

And I did spill the initial secret that Lexie fancied him, so the whole initiation of Cameron's secret is technically my fault.

"I can too!" I reply indignantly, although at this point I'm not sure that I have any evidence whatsoever.

She rolls her eyes, "Spill."

I think back to this morning, when James looked relieved to know that no one actually knew about us. It's better not telling anyone, isn't it?

And I don't even know if I want to keep doing it. If James clearly has so many other girls he can go and snog, then why should he care if I break it off?

I didn't want to end up at the end of, what I could only presume was, a very long list of conquests. I didn't really want to stop snogging him, but did I care more about that, or my pride?

I needed help.

"Ok," I sigh, "You know that James and I…snogged at the match?"

"Yeah," she nodded eagerly.

"And then we got into that stupid bet about who would cave first and make the next move?"

"Yeah."

"Well…I sort of won."

She squeals and claps her hands like a child, "'Course he couldn't resist - wait, what did you mean sort of?"

I swallow, wondering how best to describe it, "Well, I tried seducing him, and it kind of worked, and then we sort of just ended up snogging."

She grins widely, "So have you two…Is that where you've been this last week?"

"Yes," I mutter.

"You don't seem too happy about finally getting together with the guy you've been in love with for…how long has it been?"

"Four years." 

"Exactly! And here you are, all mopey!"

"Well," I admit, "At first I was happy. I really was. But, see, we're not getting together."

She stares, but suddenly her gaze darkens, "That bastard! Did he use you for a snog and then dump you?"

"No! Well, not exactly," I reply, "I'm not sure."

"Then what?"

"At first I didn't want anyone to find out," I explain, "If anyone found out I was kissing James after dating Albus, I wasn't exactly going to be liked. So I was fine that we didn't want anyone to know. Anyway, today Albus told me that apparently he's had a whole string of girls, that he just hooks up with whenever he pleases! And apparently he hooks up with them in the same classroom that we were in today!"

Lexie frowns slightly, "He has a classroom?"

"Yes!" I cry, "So apparently I'm just one of many."

She shakes her head, "I always thought James was the OK one."

I nod, "So did I, I mean, compared to Fred and…well, Cameron."

This puts a rather sad look on Lexie's face and I bite my lip, "Sorry. Cameron's not that bad."

She nods, "No, he is. You're right." She laughs bitterly, "He's probably snogging someone right now."

I wish I could tell her that Cameron likes her. But, no, that will ruin it. Cameron should be the one to say that.

"I just…" I hesitate, "I don't really know what to do."

She sighs heavily, "You shouldn't care what anyone in Gryffindor house thinks. If they don't like who you go out with, who cares? You don't need their permission."

Every word she says rings of the truth. I'm being a coward. Using Gryffindor house as an excuse for not asking James what he really thinks.

"As for James," she sighs again, "You'll never know unless you ask him. But you probably won't like his answer."

I nod, "No, you're right. I have to ask him."

"These guys," she mutters, "They fool you into thinking they can change, like they actually might like you. They talk to you at parties like you're the only one they notice, give you compliments. And it's all to fool us into thinking that we can change the player, when in reality we're the ones who are getting played."

I open my mouth to reply, but I'm interrupted by the portrait hole opens and Cameron Mitchell climbs through it.

"Stella!" he cries when he sees me, a big, broad smile on his face.

He strides over, and I can tell within a few seconds that he's had something to drink. He blunders across the common room, sidestepping chairs with little success.

"Are you drunk?" I ask him in surprise, "It's a school night!"

He leans over and whispers an extremely loud whisper in my ear, "Liquid courage."

I realize too late what's about to happen. It's going to happen anyway.

Cameron straightens up and climbs clumsily onto the table in the middle of the common room, which is now filled with people.

"Ladies and Gentlemen!" he cries, "May I have your attention! I have an announcement to make!"

"Oh, God," I mutter under my breath.

Too late. Cameron, in all his spectacularly drunk glory, is on a roll, a huge grin on his face as he turns his gaze to Lexie.

She looks at him nervously, then at me, then at everyone else. She goes extremely pink.

"LEXIE CLARKE!" he booms, "I REALLY, REALLY LIKE YOU, OK? I WANT EVERYONE TO KNOW! OK? PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW! SO, WILL YOU GO OUT WITH ME!"

A few chuckles echo around the room, and you can hear Cameron's breath, see his red face as he struggles to regain his pulse.

I cover my face with my hand. 

Lexie looks as though she's just had a stroke. Her eyes are almost bulging, her limbs trembling. 

Slowly she stands up, one hand on the armrest of her chair. She looks up at Cameron, who still looks ridiculous standing ontop of the table.

She clears her throat, "Cameron," she mutters in a low, embarrassed voice, "Maybe we should go outside…and talk about this."

"WHAT?" he says loudly, "SAY THAT AGAIN! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"

"I- just," she mutters, "Just, get down off the table."

"Oh, OK!" he says eagerly.

Everyone watches him as he jumps off the table, stumbles a bit, before falling headfirst into the couch. This earns him several laughs from the various people watching.

Cameron laughs loudly, gets up from the couch, and stands properly in front of Lexie.

"Did you have to be drunk?" she asks him, looking mortified as people continue to laugh at them.

"Oh come on, love, it's just a bit of fun!" He chuckles, "Give us a kiss, then."

And before she can say another word, he plants a firm kiss on her lips, taking her by the arms and pulling her to him with his strong arms.

She struggles, squirming for a second, before breaking apart and pushing him roughly away. Everyone is laughing now, as Cameron stumbles backwards and falls over the edge of the table, roaring with laughter.

"YOU KNOW WHAT?" Lexie cries, looking completely appalled, "I was going to do this nicely, but since you clearly don't care about whether I'm embarrassed or not, I'll treat you with the same courtesy! You are a pig-headed man-whore, who doesn't give a shit about other people's feelings, and I would be the biggest idiot on the planet if I actually agrees to go out with you! You think I would even consider you, knowing your track record with girls? No! And you honestly think I would be tempt by your alcohol breath and humiliating choice of time and place? That's insulting."

She stops, taking deep, shaky breaths. This time no one laughs.

Cameron is lying on the floor where he'd previously been laughing, with a shocked expression on his face.

Lexie looks around at everyone, and for a second I think I can see tears pricking in the corners of her eyes. She turns around and runs away, running up to the dormitory, the picture of humiliation.

Cameron is still lying there, his face the picture of disbelief.

Suddenly everyone goes back to talking and whispering, looking from Cameron, to the staircase that Lexie had just escaped by. Cameron gets gingerly to his feet, any trace of a smirk wiped from his face.

"What just happened?" he mutters to me, looking slightly horrified at his own behavior. 

*            *           *






 

 







 I move past each classroom door, and when I reach the right one I take a moment to reread the note he sent to me, before going inside.

Wood,

10 o clock tonight. The classroom on the 5th floor.

J

It's like he's summoning me to do his fucking laundry. I mean, seriously, what a complete prick.

OK, so I've also sent him messages along similar lines all throughout last week. But now that I'm starting to wonder if there are other girls that he sends these messages to, I feel extremely annoyed to say the least.

I push open the door, feeling my jaw set. I'm going to take Lexie's advice, and stop being a coward. 

He's sitting on the desk in front of me. He looks like he's about to get up, but stops when he sees the furious expression on my face.

"What?" he asks, frowning.

I throw the rolled up piece of paper at him, "I'm not some kind of servant that you can summon, you know?"

James unrolls the parchment, reads it and raises an eyebrow at me.

He gets off the desk and begins searching in his pocket, "Hang on a second," he mutters, "I think I have one of your old messages."

Once he's found the right piece of paper, crumpled into a small ball, he unravels it and reads it aloud: "Come to the broom cupboard on the second floor corridor. Now" He smirks, "You're right, Wood. How rude of me."

"Can you not mock me for just one second?" I snap, feeling unnecessary anger boiling over in spite of my earlier promise to myself to keep things cool.

He frowns, looking suddenly concerned, "Is something wrong Wood? Shall we just leave this till tomorrow?"

"No!" I shout, "We'll bloody well just do this now."

And then, without thinking, even though everything is telling me not to, I close the space between us and start kissing him passionately. Maybe because it might be the last time.

He responds eagerly, bringing his arms around the back of my waist as I wrap mine around his neck. His cool fingers touch the burning skin of my lower back, and I arch into him, sighing breathily.

He swivels me around and sits me down on the desk that he was just on, and I wrap my legs around his waist, pulling him even closer.

I don't even know what I'm doing anymore. I shouldn't be snogging him, I should be asking him about important stuff.

Super important stuff.

James knots his fingers in my hair and the kiss becomes even more powerful. I feel butterflies overwhelming my stomach and just feeling what he's doing with his tongue…shit.

Yeah, that stuff doesn't feel so important anymore.

I'm officially giving up on my brain now.

...

No, no, I have to stop this.

With every ounce of force I can muster I put my hands on his shoulders and push him off, "No, stop. I can't do this."

He sighs and takes a step back from the desk, running his hands through his hair, which almost makes me want to snog him again, "OK, what's wrong with you today?"

"Nothing! I'm fine!" I cry, even though it couldn't be more obvious that I'm anything but fine.

"Look, tell me what's going on!" he says, "You're angry at me one minute, then you're snogging me. So stop bullshitting me, and just start talking about something that actually makes sense."

I take a deep breath and look at him, "Yeah, OK, we need to talk."

He rolls his eyes, "Are you breaking up with me?" After I give him a meaningful look he sighs, "Ok…what about?"

"I just…I….I," I pause again. He waits patiently. "I think we should talk about why we're not telling anyone."

"About this?" he gestures.

"Yeah," I answer.

His brow furrows for a moment, "You never actually mentioned it before, but I assumed it was because you don't want everyone else finding out so soon after you and Albus 'broke up'."

"Well, that was my reason," I agree, "But you never told me yours either."

He shrugs, "I'm not exactly going to be Mr. Popular if I start fooling around with my brother's supposed ex-girlfriend, am I?"

"Is that your reason?" I ask sharply.

"I guess, yeah."

It seems logical enough. But something inside of me keeps nagging, telling me that it's not enough.

"OK, so we both have reasons," I pause, "But say those reasons were to…go away?"

James' frown deepens, "How could they just go away?"

"Well," I pause, "Hypothetically, what if we just said, hey, fuck all?"

He doesn't seem to understand what it is I'm trying to tell him. He looks curiously at me, as though he's trying to figure out how I want him to answer.

"But those reasons aren't going away," he says slowly, "So there's no point in thinking hypothetically."

My heart starts pounding in my chest. So it's true. He doesn't really care. He doesn't want to date me.

I open my mouth and prepare myself for what I'm about to say, when suddenly he interrupts me, "Come on, Wood. Do you really want to go to all that trouble? Getting the crap that we would get? Is it really worth it?"

He leans forward and presses his lips to mine once again. I lean back almost immediately.

"Are you saying I'm not worth it?" I ask him cooly, raising an eyebrow.

He rolls his eyes at me, "Of course that's not what I'm saying."

"Then what are you saying?"

He shrugs, "Just…why do we need to be a couple? Why all the rules, the boundaries? The labels?"

I'm gobsmacked. He's actually admitting it. He's admitting that he's only interested in me as a snog buddy and nothing more.

I'm trembling slightly as I say, "This is such a cliché."

"What?"

I take a beat before I explode, "A fucking cliché, Potter! Have you heard of it? You're the ladies man, telling me that you don't want to label things, and I'm the desperate girl who doesn't want something meaningless. My God this is just so cliché." By this point I'm laughing, almost hysterically at the ridiculousness of my situation. 

James looks baffled, "Hey, I mean, it's not just me. You can snog other people if you want to."

This makes me go into another peal of helpless laughter, "Oh yeah, and who would I be snogging? The giant squid? Maybe Peeves is available!"

"Come on," he says, looking slightly worried at my uncontrolled and slightly unhinged giggling, "I'm not saying that I'm just in it for the physical stuff."

I let off another ring of laughter "That's what it fucking sounds like Potter! Merlin, this is turning into one big, clichéd mess."

Suddenly he looks slightly annoyed, no, angry, "Oh, yeah, I'm the big bad bloke, constantly out for a shag, a girl I can use and then lose. You know why I thought it would be better to keep things on the down low? Because you wanted it that way! Yes, YOU! You're the one who after every fucking snog says 'Ooh, It can't happen again, no one can find out.' How do you think I feel? I'm not exactly going to jump on the monogamy train after that positive response!"

By this time I've stopped laughing and I'm glaring at him, "Don't try to make yourself the victim here. You're the one who was terrified of people finding out, every time there were footsteps walking past."

"Because of the reasons we just said, if someone finds out, we'll probably be socially ostracized for months!"

"Oh, yeah, I bet it'll be really difficult for you to score then, won't it? That's what you're really worried about, right?"

He frowns angrily at me, "What the hell are you on about?"

"Don't think I don't know that this is your little classroom," I sneer, "The one where you take all your conquests. The girls who are so desperate to shag you."

Suddenly he laughs back at me, "Yes, Wood, welcome to the Potter bachelor pad. Who told you all this crap, anyway?"

"Everyone knows!" I reply shrilly, "I hear it from people all the fucking time!"

"And you just decided to believe them?" his eyes are wide, "Wow. Now you're just being paranoid."

"Why wouldn't I believe them?" I snap, "I see you with girls every day!"

"So that must mean that I'm snogging them in this classroom, mustn't it?" he chuckles darkly, "You've really hit the mark there, Wood. Bravo."

"Look," I snap, "The fact remains that you're not interested in a relationship-"

He smirks, "What, and you are?"

"Maybe I am, how the fuck would you know?"

He looks ready to laugh again, "With me? You must be joking!"

"Well it's clear now that I'm not interested in a relationship with you, at least," I snap coldly, "So I can't think of a reason why I would waste my time with someone who doesn't give a shit."

"Stop making me out to be the bad guy here!" he snaps, "Just because I don't want a relationship doesn't mean I don't give a shit."

"Sorry, Potter," I reply bitterly, "I'm done. Go and find yourself someone else to snog."

He shakes his head, "Fuck you!"

"No, fuck you!" I reply fiercely.

He picks up his bag and heads for the door, "Have you got any more of your little clichés before I leave?"

I smirk bitterly at him, "Don't let the door hit your arse on the way out."

It doesn't.

 









 A/N:

I realise that it's been a rather long time since I last updated, sorry about that. I've had a small case of writers block these last two months, but I am much more satisfied with this now than I was two months ago, and I hope you were too!

Phew! Bitter ending huh? Unfortunately there must be plot twists galore, just to annoy you as much as possible, so Jella, Stames, Jamella, (you guys decide) are not ready just yet! There are rough waters ahead.

Next time: Albus finally gets a proper girlfriend (hint hint, not Ray), Cameron goes on hunger strike, Luke Corner, the ravenclaw captain makes a reappearance, and Rose might just have to come clean about everything. As for James and Stella, well that remains to be seen.

I just want to thank you all for reading, reviewing, favouriting. You guys are all amazing. Seriously. I love you. I will love you even more if you leave a quick review telling me what you thought. :) (Did anyone miss Fred? I did, oh well, he'll be back soon, no worries) xxx


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