Chapter 16 : Formidable
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“I can’t believe she’s not in Slytherin.”
“She might just be the worst person I’ve ever met.”
“Can you believe what she did to him?”
“I can’t believe what any of them did. He’s so nice.”
“I was in the common room when he found out. It was awful.”
“I don’t know why he liked her anyway. She’s not pretty.”
“I don’t know why Malcolm Jannings dated her either. I don’t know why anyone would.”
“She’s such a slag.”
“I can’t believe she has any friends. How could someone want to be around a person like her?”
These are only a few of the not-so-quiet whispers I encountered on a daily basis. I could barely function through the days. I was miserable. I had lost Al, and the rest of the school had made it a point to make my life as awful as humanly possible. The whispers—while hurtful—were the least of my problems. I couldn’t walk down a corridor without being tripped, I had to get Vanessa to use magic to test my food to make sure there wasn’t anything in it that shouldn’t be, I had to put up with people throwing things at me in class. I had never really been bullied before, and, quite honestly, it was probably taking a bigger toll on me than losing Al was.
The days turned into weeks, and—while some people had lost interest in torturing me—a lot of people didn’t seem interested in letting the events of that night go. I was quickly becoming a recluse. The girls had all but given up trying to talk to me. I walked around like I was an inferi. Nothing and no one mattered to me at this point. Al wouldn’t talk to me, I couldn’t walk three feet without being attacked in some way, and my practical magic grades were suffering greatly. I would even go so far as to say that I was inconsolable.
I managed to avoid a jelly legs jinx as I walked into Charms class. I felt the same familiar sting when I spotted Al sitting with Rodney Knackley instead of in the seat next to mine. That was when I knew he wasn’t going to forgive me; when I walked into the first Charms class and he wasn’t there.
I took a steadying breath and sat down. I didn’t pay attention to what Professor Flitwick was teaching. I stared determinedly at me desk. The first few classes I had spent trying to get Al to make eye contact with me. It hadn’t gone well. He never once looked my way, and it really didn’t look like he had to try very hard. I had to stop when a few of our classmates noticed and took to tossing mean notes at me, poking fun of how desperate I looked.
The minutes ticked by torturously slowly, and when the bell rang I was the first person out of the door. Charms was my last class until Astronomy at midnight so I hightailed in towards the Common Room. I found that if I walked fast enough people tended to leave me be... for the most part, at least.
I turned a corner and saw Margo at the other end of the corridor. I quickly turned back around and ran towards a hidden passageway I had found a few days earlier while, ironically, running away from Margo. She was worse than anyone else. Her hexes and jinxes were definitely meant to cause the most physical pain that they could without causing her to be expelled. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that if I was alone and I saw Margo, I needed to run away.
Once in the passage—that was hidden behind a large tapestry—I started to calmly walk down it. It was a steep downward slope and came out somewhere in the dungeons. It was definitely the opposite direction I wanted to be going in, but soon everyone would be in class and I could make it safely back to my room without incident.
I came to the end of the passage quicker than I intended and I peeked out to see an empty hallway. I sighed happily and walked out and began the trek back to my room.
I wandered through the halls, happy to be able to walk them peacefully. I turned a corner and frowned when I saw James wandering toward me from the other end. Also on his way back, I assumed. He hadn’t been suffering from the rest of the school as badly as I was, but I had definitely been noticing some less than kind things being thrown his way since the incident.
To be completely honest, I was avoiding him like he was a Dementor. I wholeheartedly blamed him for what happened, even if I did know deep down that it was just as much my fault, if not more so.
He noticed me and quickened his pace as I slowed down considerably. I considered making a run for it. He wouldn’t follow me, surely. In the end it didn’t matter because he reached me before I made up my mind.
“Cam...” James put his hands into his robes and bit his lip.
“James.” I considered punching him. He hadn’t actually antagonized me in the least, but everything that was happening to me had left me on edge and angry. I probably would feel better and not guilty if I took it out on James.
“How are you?”
I snorted. “How am I? Are you being serious right now?”
James ran his hand through his hair, just like Al always did. That only made me angrier. “Yeah, stupid question. Look, we need to talk about what happened.”
I sighed and took a deep breath. “Yeah.” I needed to calm down. James was one of very few people that didn’t hate me.
He motioned for me to walk with him. I did. “How’s Jen?”
I rolled my eyes. “Shouldn’t you know? You’ve won your prize after all.”
James frowned at me. “I haven’t really talked to her outside of class since... well... since.”
“Why not?” I looked at him. After all this he wasn’t going to ask her out?
“I want to talk to Al first, you know? Clear the air. Can’t do that here, too many places for him to hide. I probably won’t get to ask Jen out till after Christmas.”
I pulled the elastic out of my hair. I sighed and went to put it back in when I felt a strong hand grab mine. I looked up to see James staring at me.
“I interrupted something, didn’t I? That night?”
I couldn’t help staring into his eyes. They weren’t the same beautiful green that Al’s were, but they were very similar in shape and size. I vaguely managed a nod.
James nodded too, like he’d already known the answer. “I’m sorry.”
I felt the all too familiar sting in the backs of my eyes that indicated tears. “You didn’t know what was going to happen.”
“I thought you told him.” James whispered. “The way you always went on about how you didn’t want to string him along, I assumed you told him right from the beginning.”
My lip quivered. “I thought you did. I figured you would have told him to try to get him to stop blushing.”
“I should have told him.”
I nodded. “Me too.”
“I’m sorry this is happening. I just...” James trailed off.
“Why did you do it?” I asked. “Why did you make that stupid bet?”
James squeezed my hand. “Honestly? At the time I didn’t really think about it... Jen was offering me a deal to go out with her... After... Well I really thought you’d fall for him if you got to know him better and then he and I would both get the girl.”
I smiled weakly. “I did.”
I took a deep, shuddering breath and then looked down at our hands. I reached my other one up and gripped his hand over mine. “He’s really amazing.”
“I know. I can’t believe I did that to him.”
For the first time since that night I didn’t feel so alone. “You didn’t do it alone.”
James nodded and we were quiet for a brief moment. Then he smiled. “You remember the first time you met Al?”
I smiled. I did remember. “At the welcoming feast in first year. I dropped my wand and it rolled under his feet.”
“Al came in and told me about it that night. Said he’d met an angel, a girl named Camry who had the prettiest eyes he’d ever seen.”
I frowned again. “We didn’t even talk.”
“Love at first sight, I suppose.” James shrugged and then gave my hands a squeeze. “I’ll fix this Cam. For both of us.”
I sighed. I doubted it. “You and Al can work through it. You’re brothers and you love each other.” I pulled my hands out of his. “I had my chance and I messed it up. Al isn’t ever going to forgive me for this. I’ve accepted that.”
James shook his head. “He’ll forgive you Cam. Anyone with eyes can see how horrible you feel about everything that’s happened.”
I smiled weakly at him. “It’s okay James. I’m sixteen, I’ll get past this eventually and I’ll be fine.”
“Nevertheless, I’m sorry.”
I nodded. “I’m sorry too.”
With that we both walked silently toward the Common Room. It felt nice, actually, being in someone’s company again. I hadn’t been in a while and it was probably hurting me just as much as everything else. It made me feel better, knowing that James was suffering too. I reached over and held his hand. If I didn’t look over I could almost pretend it was Al’s.
I even smiled a little when James linked his fingers with mine. He even smelled a bit like Al. I wondered briefly if all of the Potters smelled like that. It amused me to think of Lily with such a masculine scent.
When we got to the common room we separated and went up our individual stare cases. I didn’t look back to check, but I’m pretty certain James didn’t spare me a second glance either. I just went into my room and threw myself onto my bed and closed my eyes.
When I woke up it was dark in the room. I looked over and saw Jen asleep in bed. That meant I had slept through Astronomy. With a heavy sigh, I sat up and frowned; I was still wearing my robes and uniform. I felt warm and uncomfortable, so, as quietly as I could, I reached down to the foot of my bed and grabbed the sleeping pants that I’d had on the night before. They were white with bright pink cartoon cats. I slid them on under my skirt and then grabbed that matching t-shirt in exchange for my blouse and Gryffindor jumper.
I felt smothered, having missed the opportunity to relieve the stress that came with curfew. There was nothing I could do about that, though, so I did my best to ignore it.
I laid back down in my bed and closed my eyes again, but I wasn’t the least bit tired. I rolled around for a while, trying to find a position that might help me fall asleep quicker. Nothing seemed to help and then I felt an almighty grumble in my stomach.
I bit my lip and sat up. I wasn’t going to sleep like this; I was hungry and extremely stressed. I slid off my bed and walked to the door slowly, and without picking up my feet. I opened the door as little as possible and peaked back into the room to Emily’s face as I slipped out. She was still asleep and I felt extremely relieved. If Emily had been awoken and picked a fight with me right then, there was no telling what awful, unforgiveable things I might say to her.
After I had the door closed I quickly rushed down the stairs and out of the portrait hole into the corridor. I instantly felt a weight being lifted from me and I started making my way down to where I knew the kitchens were. I knew I could get caught, but I just didn’t care anymore. I’d stopped caring about most things at this point. I was pretty much just numb all over.
Besides, I figured so long as I was caught out by a male member of staff then I could just burst into tears. With my hair mussed from sleep and the ridiculous pajamas I was wearing, they would most likely take pity on me and just send me up to my dorm.
I stood outside the portrait and stared blankly at the pear. I wanted to reach out to it, to tickle it, and to get some food. I couldn’t bring myself to, though, because all I could think of was the only other time I had ever ventured into these kitchens. The first time I’d ever spent time with Al outside of Charms, or tutoring. When he’d told me about his crotchety old house elf and I’d seen him charm his way out of trouble.
I had come to realize that my trip to the kitchens with Al was when it all really started for me.
I just turned around and walked away. I couldn’t ever go in there again. So instead I wandered and ignored my hunger. It didn’t matter anyway. I just made my way up flight after flight of stairs, and through as many passageways as I could find and found myself thoroughly lost. I had no idea where I was or how to go about finding my way and for the first time in weeks I actually felt at peace. Discovering new parts of the castle was beyond worth any discomfort I might feel at being lost.
It didn’t last long unfortunately, because soon enough I found myself in the same corridor that the Room of Requirement resided; and just like that, all the peace I had achieved was ruthlessly destroyed. I walked from one end of the corridor to the other thinking of Al and knowing that I was being truly masochistic in doing so.
When the door appeared I just stared at it. I knew that I wouldn’t go in there. I knew that the beautiful green house that Al had conjured for me was what was on the other side. I knew that if I couldn’t bare the sight of the kitchens then I certainly wouldn’t be able to endure the sight of the green house that held the Bleeding Heart and the Green Anthurium.
Then I heard a crash and the telltale ranting of Jenkins, and even though I’d thought I wouldn’t care if I were caught, I felt a wave of cold fear and stupidly thrust open the door in front of me and rushed into the green house I’d never meant to see again.
I looked around and the dull ache that had plagued me since that night was suddenly very sharp. I felt tears in my eyes and walked around, very purposefully avoiding the areas with mine and Al’s flowers. I quickly found myself drawn to the large cherry blossom tree in the center and froze in my place when I saw Al sitting underneath it, staring at me.
Surely the Room of Requirement couldn’t conjure people too?
Then he spoke, rather quietly. “What are you doing here?”
How was Al here? “How are you here?”
Al stared down at the ground next to him. “I asked you first.”
I nodded. “I wasn’t going to come in...”
“Then why did you?” Al snapped and stood up.
I blinked at him. I didn’t want to tell him that I came into this place just to avoid being caught out after hours. How awful would that make me sound? About as awful as I was for letting that be my reason. So instead I just shook my head. “I don’t really know.”
Al pressed his lips firmly together and stared at me with shining eyes for a moment before starting to walk toward the door.
I quickly moved into his path even though I knew that I wouldn’t know what to say if my life depending on it.
“Cam!” Al frowned at me. “Don’t do this again, please.”
I looked into his eyes and wanted nothing more than to drown in them. “Why won’t you let me explain?”
“Because I don’t want to listen to you defending what you did.” Al put his hands on my shoulders and I felt my heart skip a beat until I felt him moving me aside.
I reached up and gripped his wrists as tightly as I could. “I won’t do that. I promise I won’t.”
“Then what could you possibly have to say?” I paused and I felt like he might finally be willing to listen.
“That I’m sorry.” I couldn’t look away from his eyes. They were just so perfect.
Al wrenched his hands away from me and out of my grip and turned away with a bitter laugh. “You know, I had you on a pedestal for so long and now I just can’t seem to remember why.”
I took a step back as if he’s physically struck me. “Excuse me?”
He turned to me with a detached numbness that contradicted the cruelness I was sure he was feeling. “You’re just a liar. That’s all you are.”
“I never lied to you!” I snapped. He wasn’t willing to listen to my side of the story because he’d already decided he knew it. “You don’t know anything about what really happened! You won’t let anyone tell you!”
Al shrugged. “James made a bet and you played your part.”
“No!” I cried. “Maybe that’s how it started, but that’s not how it is now!”
“Just shut up, Cam!” Al’s numbness faded into anger. “Why won’t you just leave me alone?”
“Because I care about you! Al, before James interrupted us that night—I was getting ready to tell you—“
“I don’t care!”
I stopped and took a deep breath. “Why are you so surprised?”
Al stopped and stared at me. His eyes were wide and he didn’t say anything.
“You didn’t know me before this year, Al. You saw my face and decided that you were in love with me because you liked my eyes!” I was being cruel, but I couldn’t stop myself. “You decided I was this perfect person without ever talking to me.”
“You’re right. Clearly I couldn’t have been more wrong.” Al started for the door and this time I didn’t try to stop him.
I did however, scream after him. “So what? You’re just going to give up on me entirely now that you know I’m human? Now that you know I can make mistakes, I’m no longer worth it?”
Al paused for a moment and I thought maybe he might reconsider listening to me, but he just opened the door and left without looking back at me.
I sobbed as the door clicked shut and grabbed the first thing within reach and threw it with all my strength. The sound of the pot shattering did nothing to satisfy me. Al was so infuriating! He claimed to care about me but he wouldn’t even listen! How dare he? I wanted to hit him!
After an undetermined amount of time raging against Al, I realized that I wasn’t honestly angry with him at all. I understood why he wouldn’t listen to me. From where he was standing I had just done something truly awful to him. Not just from where he was standing. From where anyone stood I had been awful. I might not have outright lied to Al, but an omission was still a lie. I hadn’t wanted to have the conversation telling him about the bet, so I hadn’t. I’d convinced myself that he was aware of it even if he never gave me any indication that he was. I’d convinced myself that what I was doing wasn’t truly terrible because I’d made it clear that we were only friends.
I’d known from the start how this would end.
I sighed and left the beautiful room behind that somehow seemed to be much less special now. I didn’t want this to be the end. I had gotten to know Al as a person and I genuinely cared for that person. Even if Al’s initial feelings for me weren’t based on anything real, they had certainly become real over the last few months because he had gotten to know me as well.
If his feelings for me weren’t real then he wouldn’t have continued to feel them after truly getting to know me. I knew that he felt what I did and I knew in my heart this couldn’t be the end for us. I wouldn’t let this be the end.
Al needed time, and I could give that to him. After all, these feelings we shared were far from fleeting. I could wait for him to come around. He’d have to listen eventually. He’d have to let me tell him that he wasn’t alone in his feelings; that I shared them wholeheartedly. If I had to work for it, then that just meant it’d be more worth it in the end, right?
I made sure to walk slowly so that I wouldn’t catch up with him on my way back to the common room. I was halfway there when I saw my reflection in a window. I looked so unbelievably ridiculous. I groaned and looked down in embarrassment.
I couldn’t believe Al hadn’t laughed in my face.
I originally had this really long story planned, with Margo playing an very large part in it. Because I've been so awful in keeping up with writing this story (I started it years ago!), I've decdied to end it after part one and possibly write the rest as a sequel. This time, though, write the entire story before starting posting.
Which means there are only four more chapters after this one until it's finished.