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And All That Jazz by ShieldSnitch3
Chapter 20 : Reality, Ice, And All That Jazz
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 21


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“I’m really happy right now.” That’s the first thing Jett says to me as we walk down to breakfast together the next morning, a huge grin stretching across his face and no hint of emotion on mine. “I missed you,” he says softly, and I flinch slightly as his hand slides into mine.

A flush of shame creeps through my face, but I stay silent, not quite sure how to respond. God, I’m such an idiot. I mean, what the hell am I doing, getting mixed up in this mess? I should have just said that I’m over him - I should have told him I didn’t want to do this again.

But I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t say anything at all. I couldn’t, because apparently I have no skills in confrontation or any social interactions whatsoever. I mean - I just - I want everyone to be happy. I want Jett to be happy. He deserves that. But... why does this have to be so complicated?

“Come and sit with me,” he murmurs, tugging me along to the Gryffindor table as we walk into the Great Hall.

“I - Jett -”

I want to tell him no. I want to tell him that this is pointless. I want to tell him that I feel nothing for him. There are so many things that I want to say, but none that I can articulate. Because most of all, I want him to be happy.

“Morning,” Jett says happily as we settle down at the Gryffindor table.

Connor smiles lightly at me, while at his side Dom stares at me, eyes burning with questions and... disappointment? Fred, meanwhile, shoots me a grin and a wave before going back to stuffing his face with whatever food is within his inhalation radius, and James - well, James is sleeping against the tabletop.

I drop my bag onto the table and it lands with a loud thud, as I’ve got a bucket load of tests to study for today. James lets out a groan and clutches at his head with his hand, apparently no longer asleep.

Shh,” Fred hisses frantically. “Dear old Jamesie is extremely hung over.”

Jett cocks an eyebrow at him skeptically as he pours some juice into his cup. “James? Our James? Our James, who hardly ever drinks, is hung over?”

“Extremely.”

“James doesn’t drink?” I whisper to Jett.

“Only on rare occasions. I can’t even remember the last time - no, not true. The last time he drank was this summer when Puddlemere destroyed the Kestrels in the league final. And even then, it wasn’t that much. Not this much. Not without a reason.”

“Oh.”

Our group lapses into a monotonous silence as everyone preps their plates with food. Fred shovels food down his gullet monotonously, James sleeps (or something like it), Connor pushes his breakfast around with his fork uncomfortably, and Dom continues to stare at me with those damn eyes of hers. Jett, however, can’t keep from beaming and leaning over to peck me on the cheek or the lips, even though I can only give him half-hearted smiles in return.

All is silent for the better part of breakfast until suddenly, just as we’re finishing up, a new group of people settles down beside us. Jett moans as he catches sight of them, and I can’t say that I really blame him. For now, sitting next to us, is none other than his favorite person in the world - Grace.

“Why, Godric? Why?” he mumbles under his breath, stabbing into his remaining eggs moodily.

The girls - for it is indeed a group of girls - don’t even bother to acknowledge us. Rather, The Slutty One settles for speaking extremely loudly so we have no choice but to overhear her, whether we want to or not. Bitch.

“So, how were your Hogsmeade dates, girls?” she practically yells. “Mine was amazing.”

“Really? Why don’t you tell us about it?” Jett mutters sarcastically.

Grace pays him no mind, but still continues onward with her show. “Yeah, James and I had a great time together. Let me tell you, drinking with a Potter boy is pretty much the most fun you’ll ever have - I mean, besides the shagging afterwards.”

A loud clatter rings around the silence of our group as my fork drops instantly. I can already feel the blood draining from my face and the pain pulsing through my chest. Is this what James felt like when he saw Jett and I together yesterday? Is this what he’s felt like all year?

“He didn’t,” Jett whispers in disbelief, and I’m relieved to see that everyone else looks as dumbstruck as I am. At least I won’t have to cover that one up.

I feel sick. Honestly, truly, and completely sick. Sick to my stomach. Sick with disgust and hurt and jealousy.

“Ary,” Dom murmurs softly, “do you want to walk with me back to my dorm? I think I forgot something.”

But instead of taking her up on it, I shake my head defiantly. I know that Dom’s trying to get me out of here, away from Grace, but I don’t want to go. I won’t give her the satisfaction. I will not leave because of her.

“And that would be why James doesn’t drink,” Jett comments, scraping the last bit of eggs off of his plate. “He starts acting recklessly and impulsively and doing whatever he feels like. I mean, even more so than usual.”

“He kind of turns into a manwhore,” Fred adds solemnly. “His main pick up line is ‘Hey. I’m James Potter.’”

“And the sad thing is that it works.”

“Excuse me,” I whisper as I shove my plate away and stand up. I can’t listen to this anymore. The thought of him being like that... it’s making me sick.

“Where are you going, Aria?” The Slutty One calls after me mockingly. “Don’t leave. I thought we might be able to compare notes. I mean, we both have shagged him, haven’t we? Although maybe your time was a little different, seeing as you never even went on a date with him, whore.”

Suddenly, our entire group falls silent again, but not in the same way as before. I pivot slowly on my heel, spinning around to face her as my hands literally quiver with anger. “How dare you?” I hiss. “How dare you? I cannot believe you have the nerve to sit there and say those things about me. Have you looked in the mirror recently? You have no right - no right - to judge anyone but yourself.”

Grace’s jaw slowly drops lower and lower as I rant, but she never utters a word. In fact, she seems too shell-shocked to even defend herself, let alone attack me again.

“Yeah. That’s what I thought,” I mutter as I turn around and walk off. I am not in the mood to be messed with today. Especially by her.

I eventually wind up in the secret alcove above the library. I’m not quite sure how I got there, all I know is that I followed some passages that seemed vaguely familiar and then quite literally stumbled upon the staircase that leads to it in my haze of emotions.

It’s easy to see why James and Jett come up here so much. It’s quiet and serene and the perfect place to just lose yourself in your own thoughts, even if those thoughts aren’t good ones.

Maybe I’m being a hypocrite. I don’t know. But... I feel so betrayed. I mean, I’m not angry with James. He made a mistake. It happens. I just feel... hurt. Because this is exactly what Ryan did, and it’s like it’s happening all over again. I guess the situation is different, but it feels the same. It feels like I’m getting stabbed in the back and in the heart with the same knife.

But surprisingly, I don’t cry. I just - I don’t know. I don’t know how I should feel about this. I mean, I do know how I feel, but... I can’t help but think that this is my fault. No, scratch that. I’m positive that this is my fault. I’ve screwed up my own life, so I don’t think I can really blame anyone for what I’m feeling right now except myself.

All I can think about is what if. What if I had told Jett no? What if I hadn’t let myself get pushed around so easily? What if I had just given James a chance when I met him? What if I hadn’t been so quick to judge? Would things be different now?

I guess in the end it really doesn’t matter. What’s past is past. So now it’s time to fix the present.

The only problem?

I don’t exactly know how to do that.

The soft echo of footsteps coming up the stairs rings throughout the alcove suddenly, and I twist around to see who it is. In an ideal world, I know exactly who it would be. It would be James, coming to apologize and beg for forgiveness, and everything would just fall into place, exactly as it should be. But this isn’t an ideal world, and this isn’t James. It’s the person who, in reality, should be here - my boyfriend.

“Hey,” Jett says lightly as he takes a seat beside me. “I brought your bag. You kind of forgot it on the table.”

“Thanks.”

“What’s wrong?” he murmurs, carefully threading his fingers between mine. “I mean, besides the obvious.”

“I just - it’s -” I sigh and keep my gaze forward, never daring once to look at him, and free my hand from his. There are so many things that I want to talk about - not necessarily about us, but just my life in general - that somehow I can’t seem to put into words. Or maybe it’s not that I can’t say them, but simply that I can’t say them to him.

The hand that was just so recently held in his yanks back through my hair and twirls through it mindlessly, spinning and twisting the strands around and around. With another sigh, I let my hand fall back down to the ground and lean my head against his shoulder.

And just as the world before me tilts, in my mind’s eye I can see my reality tilting as well. I can see exactly how this scene could be different, if only James were here instead. I can see the way he would sit here and look at me with complete attention, never letting his eyes wander away from me. I can feel the way his fingers would loop through mine, but not in the same way as Jett’s did - his grip would be softer, looser, just barely holding on instead of clinging to my hand like it’s going to float away at any second. I can hear myself talking for hours, letting it all go, and never once hesitating behind my wall.

But that’s not reality.

“I didn’t want to come here, you know,” I say slowly, attempting to lower my guard. I’m trying for him. I know that’s what he wants, so I can at least try. “I really hated the idea of moving and change and everything that comes with it. But at the same time, it was like I was getting a new chance. And yet here I am, still an outsider, still getting treated the same way. It’s all still the same. And I know that it’s my fault - I know that now - but...”

Jett nods and sits there in silence, one hand fiddling with the strap on my bag. But if James were here, I know that he wouldn’t just be quiet. I know he would tell me that things have changed, because Ryan’s gone now, and I have him instead.

Except I don’t have him. Instead, Grace does. And that’s the thing that really kills me. It’s like my chest has a stake splitting right through it, with a pain so paralyzing that it’s hard to breathe.

“Can you - um - can you just go?” I whisper, feeling the first stings of tears leak out. “I want to be alone.”

So that’s what Jett does. He gets up and walks away without a parting word between us. No protests, no attempts to comfort me. He just... goes. And I suppose that’s what I asked him to do, but that’s not what you’re supposed to do when you care about someone. You’re supposed to stay no matter what. That’s what James does. Or did.

I guess Jett gets points for coming in the first place, though. How did he know where I was, anyway? He must have borrowed the map -

From James. He was the one who would have told Jett to use it to come and find me. Of course it would be him. Who else would it be? As nice as Jett is, he doesn’t get me. He doesn’t understand that when I tell him to go, that what I really need is for him to stay.

And I really hope he realizes that soon.



One month. That’s how long it’s been. One month since James last spoke to me.

He won’t look at me, he won’t sit next to me - it’s hard to even get him in the same room as me. At meals, he won’t sit with his friends because I’m there. Instead, he’s off gallivanting around with every girl that moves and breathes. It’s like he’s gone back to that guy he was at the beginning of the year, burning through girls like it’s nothing. But that’s his choice, not mine.

I’m losing him. That’s what all this pain is really about. James is finally letting go, and I can’t handle that, no matter how much I tell myself it’s what’s best for him. I can’t let go. I don’t want to.

It’s my fault, though. This whole year, this whole mess, it’s all my fault. I should be happy right now. I shouldn’t be moping over the fact that I have this fantastic guy who brings me roses and sticks up for me and is the most adorable thing in the world. I’m lucky, and I know that.

So, I try for Jett. I really do. I try to be happy with him, I try to feel something, I try to be a good girlfriend, but I know it’s useless. He’s a friend to me, and that’s all he ever will be. At least he’s happy, though. And that’s good, because he deserves it.

Things are different now. I have my friends back, but I still don’t really talk. I mean, I do talk - I talk about a lot of things - but I don’t really talk. To anyone. Not even to Dom, even though she keeps trying to get me to open up to her. The truth is, I don’t trust her. Not after she ditched me for her boyfriend. It’s not just her, though. I don’t trust anyone.

So even though I’ve got all my friends back, I feel even more alone than I did before. That’s the worst part, I think. To not have anyone to really talk to - it makes everything so much harder.

But I’m not going to let that get to me today. Today’s going to be a good day, dammit. Today it’s finally my birthday, finally my seventeenth, and I’m going to be happy. I mean, I’m not really expecting anything - no one knows it’s my birthday except for me - but I’m still going to have a good day.

When you have a positive outlook, things tend to feel just a little bit better, even if nothing’s really changed. So, as I sit down for breakfast by Jett, I put on a genuine smile and glance down excitedly at the food before me. I still haven’t been eating a lot by anyone’s standards, let alone compared to how much I used to go through, but at least I’m getting better. And today - today I finally have a bit of an appetite.

“You look happy,” Jett comments as he watches me shovel a large pile of bacon onto my plate.

“I am,” I say, and I think it’s the truth.

Everything’s going so well today: the weather above us shows a sky clear of clouds; I got ten hours of sleep last night; the Ancient Runes test was pushed back a day; and, as I gaze up at the ceiling, I spot my owl, Beacon, flying towards me with a package held carefully in his talons.

The package lands with a thwack in front of me on the table, just narrowly missing the bacon and nearly knocking over my orange juice. On top of the brown wrapping are two letters, one from my parents, and one addressed to my house in London via the Muggle post. I skim over it quickly, understandably confused, until my eyes land on the ‘return’ address and the name listed there.

“Adam!” I shriek with delight before ripping open the envelope. Jett, Connor, Fred, and Dom all stare at me in confusion, but I don’t bother to explain, simply unfold the letter as quickly as I can.

Hey you.

I know we said we weren’t going to write each other, but I just had to make an exception.

(By the way, it really sucks that your school won’t let you have electronics. How lame is that? And no Internet? I would die. Like, literally die.)

It’s your birthday! I mean, you know that, but I just thought I’d say it anyway. So, from all of us back home, I send you a big, warm, Bostonian hug through the mail because I can’t do it in person. You didn’t give me your school address - or the name, come to think of it - so I sent this to your parents and I really, really hope that they send it along to you. Hopefully this arrives in time; I think I sent it early enough to do so.

I miss you, Fields. Probably a lot more than you miss me. I mean, now I have no wingman (wingwoman?). Do you know how hard it is to get a girl to pay attention to me without you there to help out? Yeah, it’s hard. You need to come home soon. Like, now. Now would be good.

...you’re still not here. But that’s okay, because I’m gonna see you soon, right? You gotta come home sometime this summer so we can hit up a Sox game like old times. You miss the T, don’t you? Admit it - riding to Fenway, smushed up like sardines right before a game is way better than whatever transportation they got over there.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that you need to come home. Oh, yeah, and happy birthday. Don’t worry, I didn’t get you a present. I know how you get all weird about that.

Love ya always,

Adam

I carefully fold up the letter and place it in my bag once I’ve finished reading, now fully unable to keep myself from grinning like a lunatic. Sure, his letter only makes me miss him and home even more, but it’s just... It’s the perfect thing to make this day what it needs to be.

“What was that?” Jett murmurs, and I can practically feel his hand itching to reach into my bag and read the letter.

“Oh, nothing. Just a letter from a friend back home.”

“What’s this?” he asks, poking the box that I have yet to open.

“Care package. From my parents,” I mumble as I grab the box in question and stuff it into my bag. I’m not sure what they got me, but I don’t want to open it here. I don’t want everyone to know it’s my birthday - I hate when people make a big deal out of it.

“Hey, it looks like you’ve got another one,” Connor says.

Following his gaze upwards, I spot what he’s looking at easily - a brown barn owl peppered with gray spots heading straight towards me. Immediately an icy chill runs through my body, and I can feel the smile slipping from my face with each passing second as the owl approaches.

I would know this owl anywhere. I can’t even count the number of times I heard it rapping at my window or saw it begging to come in. But I never thought I would see it again, and I especially didn’t think I would see it today. Yet here it is, swooping down towards me and dropping a letter neatly onto my lap, just like it’s done so many times before.

I stare down at the letter, take in every loop of the messy scrawl on the front, and feel my heartbeat quicken to a rapid thumping in my chest. With shaking hands, I tear open the envelope and remove the letter from inside, fumbling as I unfold it because my fingers are trembling so badly.

Ree,

I know you’re wondering what the hell is going on right now. I would be. And, to be honest, I don’t blame you. Things ended badly, and we never really got a proper chance to say goodbye.

Listen, I know you probably still hate me. And I know you probably still haven’t forgiven me. But I just wanted to see how you’re doing, and to try and apologize one last time, even if it doesn’t mean much. I know you won’t believe me, but I’m sorry. I thought today would be an appropriate day to say that, seeing as everyone feels a bit more charitable on their birthday. So I’m sorry, and take that for what it’s worth.

By the way, I’m going to be in London over Easter - you guys have break then, don’t you? Let’s meet up. We can reminisce together about the old times. Maybe make some new memories. Have a little fun.

Best,

Ryan

By the time I finish the letter, my hands are no longer shaking from nerves, but rather from anger. My cheeks flush red with it, my head pounds with the pulsing blood from it, and my body rushes with the feel of it. Anger. No - hatred.

For what feels like ages I just sit there, staring at the stupid letter that he had absolutely no right to send. I want to rip it to shreds and burn the pieces and destroy every last trace of it. But instead, I settle for crumpling it up into a ball and shoving it into my bag.

“You all right?” Jett asks, but I don’t bother to answer him. I just get up from the bench, swing my bag over my shoulder, and walk straight out of the Great Hall without a word to explain. That should be answer enough.

I have no idea where I’m going. All I know is that I want out. So, I bang my way out of the Great Hall and stand stock still in the entrance hall, glancing around desperately for some new room to appear to me. Some way to get out of here.

But there’s nothing. It looks the same as always, just the wide open expanse of marble with the same staircase and the same few doors spread around the outside walls. The only thing that’s different than usual is a couple kissing a little ways away against the wall.

And you know what? Normally I would be okay with that new addition. Normally that would be fine. I would just be on my way and wouldn’t think twice about the stupid couple in the corner. But apparently Wizard God is just really out to get me today.

I mean, really. The letter and now this. Yeah, I hope you’re having a good laugh about this one up there. Well, enjoy it while it lasts, Wizard God, because I’m not putting up with this today.

Are you watching? Good. Because suddenly I know exactly what to do about this little situation.

So I do it. I walk straight up to the pair, grab the guy’s arm, and spin him around. He glances down at me in surprise, with only a slight flicker of emotion playing across his otherwise expressionless face.

“You’re a real jerk, you know that?” I demand as I shove James on the chest.

The brunette he was so interested in just a few seconds earlier clears her throat and taps me on the shoulder. “Um, excuse me, but we were kind of busy -”

“Shut up,” James and I both snap.

She huffs in frustration, fixes her hair, and stomps off across the hall towards the stairs, all the while muttering angrily under her breath. James watches her until she disappears, then smoothly leans back against the wall, crosses his arms, and raises one eyebrow at me.

“Was that really necessary?” he inquires coolly, and I feel my fingernails cut into my skin at his nonchalance.

“Was that - was that - you - ugh - you’re such a -”

“Do tell me, love. What am I?”

My jaw literally drops at his tone, to which he responds by simply smirking at me. “You’re an insensitive, selfish, arrogant -”

“Well, at least I’m not a liar,” he hisses.

“Oh, and what’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know perfectly well what that means -”

“No, James. I don’t. But maybe I would know what it means if you were actually speaking to me -”

“Maybe I would be speaking to you if you weren’t such a liar -”

“And how exactly am I liar, James? How?”

“Because you made me believe that you might actually care about me -”

“How is that a lie, huh?”

“Because you don’t, Aria! That’s generally what people consider to be a lie, when you make someone believe something that isn’t true -”

“So somehow it’s my fault that you have this misconstrued notion-”

“Yeah. It is. And you want to know why it hurts so much?” He pauses, apparently waiting me for answer. When I don’t, though, he lets out a hollow laugh and moves a step closer. “It’s because some of us actually have hearts.”

I blink once and shake my head slowly, a look of disbelief crossing over my features. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

“Yeah, I did. And guess what, James? You don’t get to pull that card. You brought this on yourself. I begged, I pleaded, I sobbed trying to get you to stay. But you still left. So how is it fair that you can turn your back on me, you can do whatever the hell you want, but I can’t tell a friend that I’ll spend a day with him in the village?”

“You know that’s not -”

“Oh, like hell. You walked away, so I can do whatever I want to. You lost the right to play the guilt card when you shut the door on me. Deal with it.”

“Aria -”

“And you know what else?” I demand angrily. “You say that I’m hurting you by being with Jett, but do you think about what you’re doing to me? The day after I sit there and tell you how much I need you, you agree to go to Hogsmeade with Grace. With Grace, James. The girl who made me feel so badly about myself that I cried. You knew how much that would hurt me. You knew. And then I find out that not only did you go on a date with her, but that you slept with her. After everything that I told you about my past, after everything she’s done to me - do you even know how much that hurt?”

“Don’t give me that, Aria -”

“Don’t give you that? Don’t give you that?”

I can hear the hysterics in my own voice as it ratchets up to a louder and louder volume. For the first time, I am actually furious with him. Completely and utterly furious to the full extent of my part-Veela wrath.

“You - you - I hate you, James. You know that? I really, truly despise you. Everything’s always my fault, isn’t it? The wretched bitch that plays with your heart just because she can. Did you ever think that for once - just once - maybe I’m not trying to do it on purpose? Maybe I really do care about you, but I’ve just made some bad decisions? Do you really think I would do that? Don’t you know anything about me?”

“Maybe I don’t know anything about you, Aria, but at least I don’t lie about knowing you better than I do -”

“Oh, well aren’t you so high and mighty, Mister I’ll-Sleep-With-Anything-That-Breathes -”

“It’s still better than being a liar.”

“Ugh - you know - I can’t stand you, James,” I shriek, then turn promptly on my heel and storm out of the castle to the grounds below. I just need to get out of here. I need to get away from him and everything and everybody.

“Hey!” he yells after me. “We are not done here -”

“Oh, give it a rest,” I throw back over my shoulder as I tramp down the wide sloping lawn.

Don’t tell me what to do -”

“Shut up, James. Why don’t you just go back to not speaking to me -”

“You were the one who started this -”

And just like that, we’re back to yelling at each other. It’s freezing outside, the wind is whipping across the grounds with a vengeance, and it’s starting to snow, but still we stand there, not minding the cold, and yell at each other. I don’t think either of us actually notices the temperature; we’re both too involved with our fight to care about anything else.

I don’t even know how long we go at it - it must have been ten minutes of solid yelling at least. All I know is that eventually I physically cannot bring myself to yell at him anymore; my throat is raw, my voice is completely shot, and my body is totally exhausted.

So we just stand there. We stand there, wind howling around us, and stare at each other. James runs one hand back through his hair and rubs at the back of his neck, looking anywhere but my eyes.

“What are we doing?” he asks softly. “Why are we fighting like this?”

“I don’t know.”

But I do know. And I’m pretty sure that James does too, even if he doesn’t want to talk about it. We’re fighting and upset and angry and hurt because we don’t want each other to be with other people. Whether he’ll admit it or not, he doesn’t want me to be with Jett. He wants to be selfish and not care about his best friend. And I want to be selfish and not let him try and move on. That’s why we’re fighting. Because we love each other.

“We should go inside,” James murmurs. I nod in agreement, finally feeling the cold catch up to me as the heat of the fight is lost. “Oh, and Aria? Happy birthday.”

Then he turns and begins to walk up to the castle, the frost covered grass crunching beneath his feet with every step. I stand there, hands shoved into my pockets, watching him walk away yet another time. My breath comes out in little white puffs, and soon the puffs are going faster and faster, hanging a trail of white in the air as I run up the lawn towards James’s retreating figure.

“You remembered,” I gasp once I’m within his earshot. Suddenly the crunching stops, and his head slowly turns to glance at me over his shoulder.

“Yeah, I - never mind.”

The crunching begins again, and James turns his head back to the castle, feet taking him further and further away from me.

“What?” I call after him. “What were you going to say?”

By the time I catch up with him, he’s reached the castle doors, one hand reaching to pull it open. My hand grabs his arm, and suddenly he seems to lose a bit of the iciness that’s been frosting between us. “I was going to tell you that I - I got you something.”

“You got me something?”

“Yeah, I mean - it’s not a big deal, but... Do you want it?”

“Of course I do,” I whisper, and a hint of surprise flickers across his face.

“But - but you’re so mad at me -”

“I’m not mad at you.”

“Really?” James asks skeptically. “Because it seems like you were pretty mad just a few minutes ago.”

“I mean, I was mad at you. But I’m not anymore.”

Then, for the first time in a month, he looks me straight in the eyes. No nervous shifting around, no looking over my head, none of that. It’s just him and me, my blue locked with his hazel. And you know what I see?

I see that nothing’s changed. Whatever he says about getting over me, whatever he says about not wanting to care anymore, it’s all still there. He hasn’t moved on; I can see it.

“All right,” he says with a sigh of fake exasperation. “I suppose it is your birthday...”

And then, for whatever reason, James opens the door and pulls me inside, hand looping casually through mine. As if that’s okay. As if nothing else but us matters. He laughs as we run across the entrance hall and up the stairs - Merlin knows why we have to run - and for some inexplicable reason, I feel a bit of a laugh bubbling off my lips, too.

“Where - are - we - going?” I pant out as we sprint up stair after stair on the stupid Grand Staircase. Seriously, would it kill them to put some elevators in here?

“Gryffindor Tower. Seventh floor.”

“Seventh floor? Seventh floor?”

James laughs again at the look of outrage on my face, but no mercy is given. Instead, I’m fairly certain that he begins to run even faster, and I have no choice but to pick up my pace as well. It’s either that or quite literally get dragged along, and I like my arm in its socket, thank you very much.

We finally skid to a halt outside the portrait of a very fat lady wearing some sort of hideous pink dress, and James lets go of my hand, only to clamp his hands down on top of my ears. I pout at this, and even through my muffled auditory sense I can hear him laughing yet another time.

Suddenly the portrait swings open, my ears are freed, and I’m pulled again through the entryway and into what must be the Gryffindor common room. I wish I could describe it, or, you know, even get a chance to look around, but James isn’t having it. I’m simply getting dragged away again and up another set of stairs.

“If I have to climb one more stair, I swear -”

“Relax,” James murmurs, pushing open a wooden door as we reach a flat landing. “We’re done with the stairs.”

I step into the room, and immediately it feels as if my eyes have started to bleed. Yeah, not kidding. There’s literally scarlet everywhere.

Everywhere.

Besides the massive onslaught of red attacking my senses, though, the room’s pretty much the same as my dorm. A group of four posters arranged in a circle and a window with a spectacular view. Sure, it’s a bit - okay, a lot - messier than our dorm, but other than that...

James flops down on a bed across the room from me and pats the spot beside him on the mattress. “C’mere,” he says, so I do as he asks and take a seat next to him. “Now close your eyes.” Again, I do as requested, and then nearly jump off the bed when his hands suddenly touch mine.

“Relax,” he murmurs. His fingers slowly turn my hands so that they’re palm up, and then he rearranges them so they form a sort of bowl shape in front of me.

“Please, sir, I want some more,” I mutter sarcastically, but James ignores me. Either that or he doesn’t get the reference. I’m leaning towards the latter.

The mattress shifts a bit as James slides off of it, then I hear the opening and closing of a drawer. Seconds later, something is placed very gently inside my cupped hands, and my eyelids flutter open.

And sitting there, right in the palm of my hands, is a tiny plush Golden Snidget. My breath freezes in my throat, and suddenly my heart beats just a bit quicker and just a bit louder. He couldn’t have picked out a better present.

“I know it’s stupid and I know it’s just a children’s stuffed animal but I saw it and I thought of you and how much you love Snidgets -”

I cut him off with the press of my lips against his, then pull away just as quickly. “Thank you,” I whisper. “It’s perfect.”

“You - you like it?”

“James, I - I love y- it. I love it.”

The thumping of my heart is so loud that I swear he can hear it. They can probably hear it all the way in Africa. God, why is my heartbeat so loud -

“Aria?”

“Yeah?”

Our eyes meet again, and this time the pause in conversation feels unbearably long. James takes a deep breath and opens his mouth to finally end the silence, but he says nothing. He just stares at me, looking like he wants to say something so badly, yet can’t find the words to do it.

“Whatever it is, you can tell me,” I say softly. “I can handle it.”

He sighs and continues to look at me, and it’s not hard to pick out the fact that there’s some sort of internal conflict running through him. It’s so obvious that there’s something going on; I just wish he would trust me enough to say it.

“James -”

“Break up with Jett.” He winces as he says it, almost as if the words physically hurt him, and I’m fairly certain that my own reaction isn’t much different. “I can’t do this. I - I’m avoiding my best friend. I can’t even hold a conversation with him anymore. I - I don’t care if he’s happy with you. I don’t care. There. I said it. I’m selfish and self-centered and - I’m sorry. I can’t ask you to do that -”

“You’re right. You can’t.”

James’s gaze drops to bed, shame evident in his expression. He gently sits down on the edge of the mattress, then falls straight backward, eyes now locked on the ceiling. “Just forget I said anything,” he mumbles. “You don’t know how guilty I feel, Aria. And it’s tough because I already felt guilty about things pertaining to him, and now I feel guilty about you too, and I feel guilty about how selfishly I’m acting, and - and that’s the real reason I’ve been avoiding him. Because I feel so guilty.”

I follow his example and fall back onto the bed. Our legs dangle awkwardly off the end of it, bent at the knees over the edge of the mattress. I turn my head slightly to the side so my cheek is lying flat against the soft fabric of his bedspread. Now the only thing I can see is the profile of his features against a background of scarlet - not that bad of a sight.

“You know, you keep acting and talking as if you’re a bad person. But you’re not. You just don’t see yourself clearly.”

I don’t see myself clearly? What about you?” he asks, nudging me in the side.

“Don’t change the subject,” I snap as I nudge him back.

“I wasn’t trying to change the subject - I - okay, fine. I lied before, you know. When I said I don’t care. I do care if Jett’s happy. I care so much and I just feel so guilty and he deserves to be happy because I’ve done so much to hurt him -”

“James. Stop.”

He takes a deep breath and turns his head slightly so he can look at me, and I can’t help but notice that his eyes linger on my lips before traveling up to meet my gaze.

“Have you ever heard the story of how Jett and I met?” James asks seriously. I shake my head slightly, and he grins at my response. “We were seven. I was walking back from the store with my mum, and he was out learning how to ride his bike...”

So that’s what we do for the next few hours. We lay there on his bed, and James rattles off story after story about the two of them - everything from how they “accidentally” set a broom on fire to the pact they made before their very first day of school.

“And what was the pact?” I ask softly, smiling as his hand slowly tangles itself in mine.

“That we would never let anything come between us. Best friends forever.”

Suddenly a deafening silence seems to fill the air. It rings everywhere and pulses through space, blanketing over every inch of the room. Even my heart seems to quiet down, no longer the loud and monstrous thumper that it was earlier in the day.

Calm. That’s what it is. The entire world just settles into some sort of peace as the silence echoes everywhere. And for one gratifying instant, my thoughts are still. Everything that’s been bouncing around relentlessly for months dissipates into the perfect clarity of the moment.

The feel of his hand in mine. The fact that even though his touch is so familiar now, I still get little jolts of electricity running through my veins.

I want this. More than anything.

And suddenly the words are tumbling out, faster and faster without like an avalanche. I know it’s not how I should feel, but it’s how I do. And I think I’m finally coming to terms with that.

“I’m going to do it. I’m going to break up with him,” I say.

“No, you can’t -”

“I want to.”

Surprisingly, he says nothing to this. His eyes remain firmly fixed on the ceiling, betraying no emotions. The only thing that changes is a slight tightening of his grip on my hand, but it’s barely even noticeable. For all I know he hasn’t even heard me.

“I was really drunk.”

“Hm?” I murmur, and he takes a deep breath, seemingly to prepare himself for whatever’s coming next.

“The thing with Grace. I saw you and him and I - I just - I couldn’t do it. I knew it was coming, but I couldn’t handle it. So I got drunk. Really, really drunk.”

“I know, James. It’s okay -”

“No, you don’t know. I was gone. Smashed out of my mind. And that was my decision. Yes, I was under the influence, but I knew what I was doing when I downed those shots. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry for the way I’ve been behaving lately -”

“Hey -”

“I just - I don’t know. I’m freaking out. I can’t - I just -” James shakes his head and pops himself off of the bed, pacing around the room and winding his fingers through his hair. “I don’t even know anymore. I’m so conflicted and confused and all I want to do is scream and throw things and it’s so frustrating and I -”

And just at that moment, the creak of the door being opened stops him mid-rant. I immediately sit upright and peer towards the door, not quite sure why James’s face has suddenly gone deathly pale.

“Hey, mate, have you seen - oh.” Jett blinks once as his eyes zero in on me, then flit quickly to his best friend. I swear I see something there - some strange, knowing look in his eyes - but before I can place it, the look is gone.

A dreadful silence creeps over the room, and once again my heart is hammering like a drum in my chest. I’m not sure if my cheeks are burning or slowly draining of color - they seem to be doing both at once - and somehow my fingers have knotted themselves into the covers of the bed, tugging at it for stability.

“Aria,” Jett says slowly, “I think we need to talk.”



A/N: Hello, lovely readers :D Sorry for taking so long with the update, but college is strange and unpredictable and you never really know when two of your professors are going to assign three (not two) papers due within one week of each other. Nor was I aware of the fact that in college you can have not one, but multiple midterms in a single class. Someone please explain to me how this is possible.

Anyway, the chapter’s here now, so enjoy it. I command you. And review, too. That would be nice.

P.S. I am very, very sorry about how long it is taking me to answer reviews. But I promise that I will always answer every review. I PROMISE. I love you all. :D

P.P.S. "Please, sir, I want some more," is a reference to the novel Oliver Twist, written by Charles Dickens, and is part of the public domain. I claim no credit for his work.


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