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Missing by Courtney Dark
Chapter 9 : Me
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 17


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Image by heartfelt. @TDA

 
Rebecca’s ‘FIND TORI’ badges are a huge success.

I swear every single person in the school is wearing one-everyone except me and Aine that is.

It’s not that I have a problem with the badges…it’s more the fact that they remind me that as soon as Tori comes back, I’ll be gone, as Rebecca so kindly keeps reminding me.

Rebecca seems to be everywhere at the moment-in the Great Hall selling yet more badges, following me around the grounds to tell me Tori will be back soon and glaring at me from her bed in the common room, like I’ve just opened a can of smelly tuna.

Gross. Fish is disgusting, especially the canned stuff.

Anyway, it’s like having an extremely rude shadow.

I think Aine sense what I feel whenever someone flashes a ‘FIND TORI’ badge in my face.

“No-one saw her, Charlie,” she’s constantly reminding me, with an encouraging smile. “And even if she does come back-which is unlikely-that doesn’t mean you have to go! I’m sure they’ll let you stay here for the rest of the year.”

I snort loudly. “Oh yeah, because that’s going to be fun,” I say sarcastically. “Sharing my dorm with psychotic Rebecca and her perfect best friend…”

Aine gives me a soothing look. “You have nothing to worry about,” she says, before dashing off to Charms class.

I roll my eyes, and look at my watch.

Yes, I have a watch. What’s wrong with watches?

Merlin, everyone is so judgemental!

I swear loudly and a titchy first year who happens to be passing stares at me in fright.

Oops.

I give her a friendly smile, but she just looks at me like I’m the big bad wolf and scampers off like one of the three little piggies.

What? Mum used to read me Muggle fairytales when I was little.

As I’ve mentioned before, Muggle kids stuff is so much better than the wizarding stuff. Have you read Tales of Beedle the Bard? Scary stuff…

Anyway, if I don’t get my A into G, I’m going to be seriously late for Divination, and Professor Moon will have a fit.

For a dreamy woman, she sure knows how to throw a tantrum.

I hurry up several flights of stairs to the Divination tower. The bell rings as I run, red faced and sweaty down a deserted corridor.

Hmm. Red faced and sweaty from a little bit of exercise. Clearly I am very unfit, I should look into that.

Or maybe I should cut back on the chocolate.

Pfft. Who am I kidding? Chocolate is the only thing that gets me going.

The final bell rings just as I skid into class, and hurry over to my seat, trying to act like I don’t notice the many faces glaring at me, the ‘FIND TORI’ badges shining everywhere I look.

I sit down, dump my bags and look at James, who’s grinning at me with raised eyebrows.

“What?” I huff, still exhausted from my run.

If you’re laughing at me right now, you clearly haven’t been to Hogwarts-it’s huge. And when you’re late to class, it’s like running around a Quidditch pitch several times.

Which I wouldn’t know, because I’m never late to class.

And I don’t play Quidditch, so I haven’t had the unfortunate experience of Quidditch training.

James is a mean captain-I always hear Fred and Mickey complaining about it.

Anyways…

“You’re very almost late,” James observes, still grinning.

I scowl at him. “You can’t really talk,” I point out. “As you’re late to almost all of your classes, every single day.”

“True. But it’s much more fun laughing at other people who are late. Especially you.”

I glare at him. “Me? Why me?”

“Because you’re such a perfect student.”

I feel my cheeks going red, and cringe.

Perfect. He just called me perfect!

Alright, he called me a perfect student, but what’s the difference, really?

“Today we will be moving on to the complicated theory of reading minds,” comes Professor Moon’s dreamy voice from the front of the class, and both James and I turn our attention to her.

Today she is dressed in turquoise coloured robes, is wearing an orange and purple head scarf and peacock feather earrings.

I won’t be taking style tips off her any time soon.

Not that I can talk, because I have as much style as a raccoon.

Just to clear up any confusion: raccoons don’t have an ounce of style, so therefore, neither do I.

“…turn to page 264 of your books and read the chapter entitled ‘The Sight’ in silence,” Professor Moon continues, and there is the sound of flicking pages as the class turns to the correct chapter.

I sigh, and open up my own book, staring down at the dull pages.

The author, Sybill Trelawney apparently used to teach at this school. James told me his dad had her as a teacher, and said she was a right loony. Which sounds about right, because her book is an utter load of crap.

Not to be rude or anything.

I realise I’ve been staring at the same word for several minutes, so I attempt to focus and read properly.

Nope, not working. This book is impossible to concentrate on. I slowly feel my attention drifting out the window…

Halloween is coming, and I can see the Care of Magical Creatures teacher, Hagrid, hauling several large pumpkins into the castle.

“Charlie!” James hisses, nudging a piece of paper on our table, which he’s torn from the corner of his book.

Naughty, naughty James. Madam Pince wouldn’t be impressed with you.

I glance down at the note. There is one sentence written on it, in James’ extremely untidy handwriting.

What is it with boys and not being able to write nicely?

I pick up the note and squint at it, trying to make out what it reads.

It’s impossible.

James rolls his eyes, and snatches the note off me. “Are you going to the Halloween ball?” he whispers.

I frown.

Halloween ball?

Halloween is in two days time, and I have not heard a single mention of a ball.

“There’s a Halloween ball?” I ask quietly back.

He grins and nods. “There’s one every year, for fourth years and up. Are you going?”

I shake my head fervently. “No way!” I whisper. “That sounds like my worst nightmare. Far too many people for my liking…”

James rolls his eyes. “You’re not that bad around big groups of people you know.”

I give him a look.

I’m terrible around large groups, and he knows it. The only times I actually talk are when there are four people with me or less. Otherwise I get all red and flustered and never know what to say.

James chuckles, and the girl sitting closest to us gives him a glare.

She’s wearing a big shiny ‘FIND TORI’ badge. I doubt Tori even knew her, she’s not from Gryffindor.

Then again, Tori seemed to be friends with the whole Hogwarts population, so what would I know?

“Come on Charlie!” James whispers. “It will be fun. Everyone dresses up as their favourite Halloween character, and there’s always amazing food…”

I sigh, and cross my arms over my chest. “Balls really aren’t my thing, James,” I say. “Anyway, I’ve got no-one to go with.”

“Go with me,” James says.

I gape at him.

Did he…did he really just suggest that we go to the ball together?

Like…as a couple?

Is he finally over Tori?

“As friends,” James adds, and my heart sinks.

My face must show what I’m thinking, but luckily James takes my expression for reluctance, rather than disappointment. “Please Charlie!” he says, doing these goofy puppy dog eyes, that make him look like an idiot.

A very, very good looking idiot.

“For me? Mickey’s going with Aine and Fred’s invited some Hufflepuff girl. I don’t want to be the only one without a date, I’ll get mocked!”

I sigh. “Fine,” I say, against my better judgement. “But there had better be chocolate there, or I’m not going to be impressed.”

“YES!” says James loudly, forgetting we’re supposed to be whispering.

Every member of the class turns around, including Clementine and Lavender (who still disapprove of me sitting with James. Ooh-what are they going to think about us going to the ball together? As friends, of course.) Professor Moon stalks towards us, looking irritable.

“MR POTTER!” she says loudly.

“Can I help you Professor?”

“I told you to read in silence!” Professor Moon hisses, her eyes wide and scary. I’m impressed when James doesn’t so much as flinch.

“Oops,” says James. “I forgot.”

Professor Moon glares at him, then her eye catches the piece of paper James ripped from his Divination book. Her eyes go as wide as two golden galleons, and she snatches the book off the table. “RUINING SCHOOL PROPERTY!” she hollers, sounding almost as crazy as Madam Pince when I gave her back a book with a chocolate stain on in.

“It isn’t school property,” James says happily. “It’s mine. I brought it at Diagon Alley.”

Professor Moon glares at him, and slams the book back down on his table. “Five points from Gryffindor!” she says, then turns to the rest of the class. “Well? What are you all staring at? Back to work, all of you!”

Sheesh! That woman’s moods change as fast as a goldfish on steroids.




I almost immediately regret my rash decision to accompany James (as friends) to the Halloween Ball.


When I go up to the dormitory that night, Aine and the twins are already there, excitedly discussing their plans for the big night.

“I have the perfect costume!” enthuses Aine, sounding more girly than I’ve ever heard her. “My folks are sending it up tomorrow.”

“James invited me to the Ball today,” I say vaguely, as I flop down onto my bed. Bernard immediately pokes his head out from under the duvet and crawls onto my lap. He’s so fat, he’s like a mini heater.

Aine, Clementine and Lavender all turn round to stare at me with bewildered expressions on their faces.

Clementine and Lavender look at each other.

God, will they ever stop doing that? It’s like they need each others permission to talk!

“James asked you to the ball?” Clementine asks, sounding disbelieving.

Which is quite rude actually. I mean, I’m perfectly okay to ask to a ball! It’s not like I’ve got rabies or anything-and that’s always a bonus, right?

“James asked you?” she continues. “James Potter?”

“Well, I don’t know any other James’,” I say irritably.

Clementine looks at me with big, stupid eyes. “But…James and Tori are in love,” she says, for what must be the millionth time. “You can’t just go stealing Tori’s boyfriend.”

“Tori and James went to the last Halloween Ball together,” agrees Lavender. “And if she was here now, they’d go together again.”

“Yeah well, she’s not here,” I say. “James asked me and I said yes. That’s all there is to it. If Tori wanted to go to the ball with James so badly, she’d be here, wouldn’t she?”

Okay, that was probably a bit mean, considering the girl is missing, but the twins really get on my nerves sometimes, with the stupid things they say.

“But they’re in love,” Lavender says slowly, echoing her equally stupid twin sister.

“Charlie can go to the ball with whoever she wants,” says Aine, coming over to sit on the edge of my bed. Bernard stumbles over to her on bandy legs, and she rubs him between the ears. 

“We’re only going as friends, anyway,” I admit, trying to sound casual. I don’t want anyone, especially the twins, to realise I may have an itsy bitsy little crush on the missing girl’s boyfriend.

Aine gives me a look that is all too knowing

I still reckon there’s a possibility she’s a seer.

Which would be why she doesn’t take Divination, because she doesn’t need to.

Or just because the subject’s rubbish, and is not helpful at all for any future career that’s worth doing. 

That probably seems more likely.

“Robbie asked me a whole week ago,” Clementine sighs dreamily, referring to her Ravenclaw boyfriend. You know, the one that refused to pass me a watering can in Herbology.

He doesn’t seem the brightest grape in the bunch.

“Who are you going with?” I ask Lavender.

“Robbie set her up with one of his Ravenclaw friends,” Clementine replies for her, as she often does. “Robbie and I are colour co-ordinating.”

I suddenly realise I don’t have a single item of clothing to wear to the ball! I’m really not a dressing up type of person-my wardrobe consists of jeans, trackpants, baggy t-shirts and lumpy jumpers.

I point out my conundrum to Aine.

“You could write home and ask your Mum to send you something,” she suggests.

Not a bad idea, except there are only two days till the ball, and that doesn’t give me a lot of time.

“Or…” says Aine, grinning slyly. “I could always make you something.”

Aine loves designing clothes. She’s got a Muggle-made sewing machine in the corner of her room, and knows more fashion spells than anyone I’ve ever met.

However, her homemade outfits always look very…quirky, to put it politely.

“Erm, no thanks, that’s okay,” I say quickly. “I’ll write home tonight.”




The day of Halloween Ball soon arrives, and I still don’t have my costume!

I wrote home, just like Aine suggested, but I haven’t got any response, so I’m not even sure mum got my owl!

Thinking back on it, I probably should have chosen a healthier owl.

The one I tied my short note to was frail and old and looked like it was about to kark it.

Nice going, Charlie.

The delivery to my house will probably kill the poor creature.

I hope it had a nice life, delivering letters.

I wouldn’t like to be an owl, far too much flying around for my liking, and I’m scared of heights.

Anyway, when Aine and I go down to the Great Hall on the morning of Halloween, I can smell the delicious scent of pumpkins roasting.

“There was this amazing pumpkin pie at the Ball last year,” Fred enthuses, as Aine and I sit down with the gang.

FYI, the gang consists of me, Aine, Fred, James and Mickey. I’ve decided to call us ‘the gang’ because all of our names put together are too long.

Fred has a stack of toast the height of the Eiffel Tower on his plate, and as he speaks, flecks of bread fly from his mouth and splatter the poor girl sitting next to him.

She gives him a look of disgust, and shuffles as far away from him as possible.

“Do you care about anything that isn’t food, Fred?” Aine asks, helping herself to a bowl of porridge.

“Of course I do!” says Fred, pretending to look hurt.

Mickey snorts. “Like what? Girls and snogging?”

Fred looks at him very seriously. “Two of the most important things in this universe. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do with my time. Except maybe drinking Firewhiskey.”

James and Mickey chuckle, and Aine rolls her eyes. “I don’t know how you managed to get a date for the ball, Fred,” she said. “You are the most immature weirdo that I know.”

“Not like me, eh Aine?” says Mickey, planting a kiss on the top of her head.

“I take offence to that!” says Fred, putting a hand over his heart. There is jam smeared all around his mouth. “The girls adore me, Aine! And what’s not to love?”

Aine, Fred and Mickey get into a playful argument about Fred’s ‘amazing’ qualities, and James grins at me.

“Looking forward to the ball?” he asks.

I groan. “I don’t even have a costume yet!”

He shrugs. “I don’t care. You can go in jeans and that big ugly jumper you have if you really want to.”

“Did you just call my jumper ugly?”

He’s talking about the one that belongs to my dad, the one with moth holes in it.

“Charlie, it’s ancient!” James grins. “But if you like it, I’m fine with it.”

I snort. “Because you’re totally the most fashionable guy in Hogwarts.”

Fred laughs, hearing our conversation. “Trust me Charlie, James has no fashion sense whatsoever. His pyjamas have little teddy bears on them.”

James pushes his shoulder. “I do not Fred, you liar!” he says, but his face has gone a bit pink.

I take a bite into my toast, so that I don’t laugh.

Now I’m imagining James covered in little brown bears…an interesting look, I’m telling you.

It’s nice that he said he wouldn’t mind if I turned up to the ball in my daggy jumper and jeans, but I definitely can’t do that.

Now that everyone’s wearing ‘FIND TORI’ badges, people have started noticing me, and not in a good way, either.

Sometimes, when I’m walking down a corridor or out over the Hogwarts grounds to get to class, I’ll hear people looking at me, whispering and pointing.

They all know who I am now.

They don’t know my name, but they know who I am: Tori Heron’s replacement, the girl who everyone wants to come back.

If I wore jeans to the Halloween Ball, I’d just get stared at even more, and I absolutely hate being stared at.

It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me.

Once, I was in a café with mum, and I went to the bathroom.

When I came out of the bathroom, every single person in the café was staring at me. I got back to my table and mum told me the denim skirt I was wearing was tucked into my underwear.

God, it was so humiliating.

I seriously wanted to dig myself a hole in the ground and pile a mound of dirt over my head so that no-one could ever see me again.

Anyway, that’s probably where my fear of being stared at comes from.

Which is why I have to source a costume for the Halloween Ball tonight…




When I get back to the dormitory after classes that afternoon, I am in despair.

The ball starts in less that four hours and I still don’t have anything to wear.

Merlin, I sound like such a girly girl.

I don’t usually care about clothes-usually I just throw on the first thing that I can find, even if it has a chocolate stain the size of Alaska on it.

I storm right over to my suitcase, and begin pulling items of clothing out at random, not even noticing that Rebecca is sitting on her bed, staring at me with that sullen look of hers.

“You’re going to the ball with James,” she says suddenly, making me jump out of my skin in fright.

“You heard,” I say, not even turning around to look at her.

I don’t want to see that horrible, violent expression in her eyes.

“Everyone has heard,” she says in a flat, dull voice. “James is Tori’s boyfriend. No-one can figure out why he asked you.”

I throw the t-shirt I’m holding back down into the suitcase, and turn around to glare at her. “Oh yeah?” I say, my voice rising an octave. “Maybe if they want to know so much, they should ask him. Anyway, it’s not like we’re dating or whatever. We’re going as friends.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say this now.

And it’s killing me.

“Oh,” says Rebecca, and she seems surprised.

“Yeah,” I say angrily, turning back to my mish mash of clothes. Maybe I could just ask Clementine or Lavender if I could borrow something…I’m sure they’ve got plenty of dresses…but they’re both a lot smaller than me…

“You need a costume?”

I turn around in surprise. “What?”

Rebecca bites her lip, and puts the book she is holding down. She looks dreadful-mascara and eyeliner smudged all around her eyes, tangled black hair and pale skin. “I might have something you can use,” she says, getting off her bed.

I stare at her, as she opens a box I’ve never seen from under her bed.

I must have heard her wrong. Did she just ask if I, me, Tori’s replacement, needed a costume?

She pulls out a folded dress-it’s bright red.

“What’s that?” I ask stupidly.

She hands it to me, smiling an odd sort of smile. It doesn’t seem to fit her face…or maybe that’s just because I’ve rarely even seen her smiling. She seems to go round in a gloomy sort of grump most of the time.

“It’s a Halloween Ball costume,” Rebecca says, as I warily take the dress from her. Is this some kind of trick? Why is Rebecca, my bitchy roommate being so nice to me all of a sudden? “There are some accessories to go with it,” she continues, digging around in the box and taking out a pitch fork, spiked tail and devils horns.

Rebecca’s got a devil’s costume.

Ha ha. That makes sense, as she’s pretty much a devil incarnate.

“Why are you giving this to me?” I ask dully, as she piles the accessories in my arms. Maybe I had been wrong about Rebecca. Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe…maybe she’d just lashed out at me because of her grief, and was now trying to make up for it…

“I’m not going to the Ball this year,” Rebecca says, her face as pale as I’ve ever seen it as she goes back to her bed and sits down. “And I think it will look good on you.”

I can’t stop staring between Rebecca and the costume?

Is this an olive branch she’s extending, or some kind of trap?

Either way, it’s not like I’ve got anything else to wear…

“Thanks,” I say.

She smiles at me. “You’re welcome.”




Aine is rapping impatiently on the bathroom door.

“Hurry up Charlie!” she shouts. “We’re going to be late!”

I stare at myself in the mirror.

I am wearing the devils costume Rebecca gave me earlier, and it is the most revealing thing I’ve ever worn.

It is extremely short, only just brushing my upper thighs and is also extremely low cut, showing off a lot of cleveage.

I definitely can’t imagine Rebecca, who is much skinnier and more flat-chested than me, wearing this. I wonder why she brought it…

I’m also wearing a pair of small heels that Aine leant me-she had to teach me how to walk in them without falling over, because I’ve never really worn anything with a heel before.

I know, I know, that sounds pathetic, but I’ve never been to a ball or party in my life.

The closest thing I’ve come to something like this was my Great Aunt Matilda’s birthday.

“CHARLIE!” hollers Aine, banging loudly on the door with her knuckles. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN THERE?”

I quickly put on the devils tail and horns and look at my reflection in the mirror. “I’m coming!” I shout. “Just give me a second!”

At the last minute, I throw my black cloak over the costume. I don’t want people to stare at me, while I’m walking down to the Great Hall.

I’m really hoping this costume doesn’t attract too much attention.  

I open the door, clutching the cloak around me self-consciously. Aine, Clementine and Lavender are all waiting for me.

Aine looks adorable in a pink cat costume complete with a puffball skirt and whiskers. Clementine and Lavender are wearing matching dresses-one is orange and the other is purple. They are both wearing ridiculous floppy bunny ears in their hair.

Aine sighs in relief and takes my arm as we start walking towards the Great Hall. “Why are you wearing that jacket over your costume?” she asks me curiously as we hurry down a flight of stairs.

“I’m cold,” I lie hunching my shoulders.

Aine looks at me suspiciously, but says nothing. We complete the rest of the journey to the Great Hall in silence, something I am grateful for. I am feeling more and more nervous about this ball, and the dress I am wearing.

Maybe I should have just stuck with James’ advice and worn jeans and sneakers.

I would’ve felt a lot more comfortable, that’s for sure.

My feet keep sliding around in these bloody heels-Aine’s feet are a bit bigger than mine.

When we reach the Entrance Hall, which a lot of students are mingling around, waiting for friends and whatnot, Clementine and Lavender say their goodbyes, and hurry over to their dates.

As Clementine told us, she and Robert Davies are colour co-coordinated-he is wearing a bright purple tie to match her dress.

Aine and I meet Fred, James and Mickey who are waiting for us patiently.

Fred, who is dressed as a vampire, complete with a red cape and long fangs, and has a giggling blonde bimbo attached to his arm. I recognise the girl-I think she’s in my Herbology class-but can’t remember her name.

Mickey looks absolutely ridiculous in  brightly coloured dress robes and large pink fairy wings (that boy needs help) and James…James is looking unbelievably hot in a gorgeous black tux.

Though I can quite work out what he’s supposed to be…

Trying to control my heart that is pounding a hundred times faster than it normally does, and wiping my sweaty palms on my coat, I stand awkwardly as Aine leaps onto Mickey and gives him a classically mushy Aine/Mickey kiss.

James smiles at me. “You look great,” he says.

I give him a look. “You haven’t even seen my costume yet. And…what are you supposed to be?”

James looks horrified. “You can’t tell?”

“Er…should I be able to?”

“He’s the Man in Black,” says Fred, rolling his eyes at me.

The bimbo on his arm giggles stupidly, making Fred look a little uncomfortable.

I wonder why he didn’t invite someone he actually likes, he’s got enough girls lining up after him…

I frown. “Who?”

James gasps dramatically. “Have you not watched the magnificent Muggle TV series Lost?” he asks. “I’m the evil guy off that, the one who wants to destroy the island.”

He is making absolutely no sense. “Right,” I say.

James shakes his head, and offers me his arm, which I take nervously. “Where have you been, Charlie?” he asks. “Do you not watch TV?”

“Some of us have better thinks to do than watch the Muggle box, Jamesy,” grins Fred.

“Like what?” James asks indignantly.

Aine, who has finally stopped sucking Mickey’s face off, rolls her eyes. “Come on boys,” she says. “We’ve got better things to do than stand around here all night-let’s party!”

James, Fred and Mickey all whoop loudly, attracting many looks from the girls around us. I pull my cloak even tighter, feeling awkward as we walk into the Great Hall.

The Hall looks amazing.

It has been cleared of all the house tables and benches-there’s now only one table, laden with food, running along the edge of the Hall. It is also darker than I’ve ever seen it, with blue lights darting around the ceiling and walls, and a band playing loud bass-heavy music on a large make-shift stage, filling the air and shaking the stone floors.

In the dim light, it isn’t easy to tell who everyone is, which gives me a little boost of confidence, and I can already see a lot of people dancing in time with the music.

There are a group of boys to my right wearing masks, people with fake blood pouring from drawn on wounds…

“FOOD!” says Fred at once, and drags his date over the table, an overly-excited look on his face.

Mickey grabs Aine’s hand. “Come on, babe,” he says. “Let’s dance!”

Aine giggles girlishly, and James and I watch, both standing a little awkwardly as Mickey drags Aine towards the dance floor, and begins to whirl her around flamboyantly.

I laugh as people quickly moved out of their way, in fear of getting hit.

James grins at me.

Is it just me, or does he look a little nervous?

Of course, that is probably just the dim light, and the strange shadows that dance over his face…

“You wanna dance?” he asks

“I’m…I’m not really I very good dancer…” I protest, but before I can do anything about it, he’s grabbed me by the hand and is pulling me through the crowd.

“Loosen up, new girl,” he says, his eyes twinkling. “Have some fun.”

We begin to dance, and I soon realise it’s a lot easier, and much more fun than I’d expected. The music is loud and pumps in my ears, making my heart pound as James twirls me around, eventually joining up with Mickey and Aine.

“Aren’t you hot wearing that cloak?” Mickey asks me, as the four of us dance in a circle, probably looking like complete idiots.

I can see the people around us giving us funny looks, but for once, I don’t mind. I am with friends. Friends who want to be with me.

“No,” I lie. There are a lot of hot bodies in the Great Hall now, and I am beginning to feel stuffy in the cloak...

I look around. Yes, there are a lot of girls with dresses even shorter than mine.

What was I being so self-conscious for?

James grabs my hands and spins me around, both of us laughing. He pulls me closer to his chest and whispers; “What are you afraid of, new girl?” into my ear.

I pull away from him, grinning.

I have no reason to be nervous.

Still smiling, I slip off the cloak and reveal the dress.

I look up at James, and stop grinning.

His smile has vanished, and his jaw has tightened.

Aine gasps and puts her hands over her mouth. Mickey is also looking at me, with a slightly confused expression on his face. Slowly, his eyes slide over to look at James.

I feel myself going red. “What?” I ask, folding my arms across my chest. I should never have taken the damn cloak off. “I look stupid, don’t I?”

And then suddenly, before I fully realise what is happening, everyone is staring at me.

And I mean everyone.

It seems like everyone has stopped dancing to stare at me and the stupid fucking dress.

And then suddenly, James is gripping my wrist-so hard it hurts.

“Ouch!” I wince, trying to pull away from him. “Ow, James, you’re…”

Why the fuck would you do that?” James hisses, shaking me slightly. “What the hell is wrong with you! TAKE IT OFF! THAT’S NOT YOUR FUCKING DRESS!”

I stare at him, in shock.

I don’t know what to say.

Aine steps forward, and puts a hand on James’s shoulder. “James, I’m sure…”

He shakes her off. “GET OFF ME AINE!” he shouts, before letting go of me and storming out of the room.

Everyone in the room stares after him, deathly quiet. Numb, I stare down at my wrist. I can still James’ red finger marks.

Slowly, the laughter and chatter breaks out over the hall again, and I look at Aine, desperate for an explanation.

She doesn’t say anything, and at that moment, Fred comes rushing over, leaving his blonde date behind. “What the hell is going on?” he asks Mickey. “Where did James just go running off…oh.” His eyes have at last fallen on me, as he takes in everything from the horns, to the dress to the tail.

“What is going on Fred?” I ask, and I’m surprised when my voice comes out as a whisper.

Fred, Aine and Mickey all look at each other.

Then Aine comes closer to me, so that the people listening in on our conversation can’t hear. “That…that was what she was wearing last year,” she whispers.

I don’t need to ask who she means be ‘she’.

She means Tori.

This is Tori’s dress.

Shit.

Shit.

How could I be so stupid? Of course the only reason Rebecca gave me this dress was to humiliate me!

Did I seriously believe she’d turned a new leaf, that she wanted to help me?

God, I’m such an idiot! And now, I’ve probably ruined everything with James.

Aine looks at me with apologetic, sad eyes as a look of comprehension crosses my face. “It’s just that…for a minute…when you took that coat off…it seemed like…like…”

“Like she was here,” says Fred in a croaky voice, and I remember that he must have been quite close with Tori, if his best mate and cousin was her boyfriend.

“Which is ridiculous of course,” says Aine quickly. “You and Tori look nothing alike…”

I suddenly realise how dizzy I feel. I clasp a hand to my forehead and, as if from faraway, I see Aine looking at me in concern.

“Charlie?” she asks. “Charlie, are you okay?”

“I…I just need some air,” I manage to choke out, and get out of there as fast as I can.

I run out into the entrance hall, out of the castle until I’m standing at the edge of the courtyard.

I take several gasps of cold, fresh air and sink down against a stone pillar, breathing heavily, eyes wet with tears.

Why did Rebecca do this to me?

I know she doesn’t like me, but I honestly didn’t believe she hated me this much.

I let out a strangled, dry sob from the back of my throat, and bury my face in my hands.

The air is freezing-I could really do with that cloak now-but I can’t seem to find the energy to move.

Maybe I’ll just freeze to death, it will save me from having to face James tomorrow…

“Charlie?”

Great. Just great.

I look up, furiously rubbing the tears away from my eyes, to see James standing over me, looking at me with an unreadable expression on his face.

“It’s cold out,” he says. “You shouldn’t be out here alone. Come inside?”

I look down at my bare knees and shake my head.

I can’t seem to form words.

James takes off his jacket and drapes it around my shoulders. I shudder involuntarily and he sits down beside me.

We both sit in silence for a while, neither of us looking at each other; neither of us knowing what to say.

“I’m sorry,” James says finally, and I look at him in surprise. He stares back at me with dark eyes, and I’m not even sure he’s seeing me at all. “I’m sorry for what…for what happened in there. I overreacted. It’s just…for a moment.”

“You thought I was Tori,” I whisper, and James has the decency to drop his gaze.

He stares down at a crack in the cobbled ground. “The others told you then?”

“That this was Tori’s dress?” I nod. “Yeah.” I pluck up the courage to look at him, and see that he’s staring straight back at me. I take a deep breath. “But James, you have to know…”

He closes his eyes slightly. “Rebecca gave you the dress, didn’t she?”

I stare at him in surprise. “How did you…?”

He laughs humourlessly. “How did I know? It seems the sort of thing she’d do.”

“I shouldn’t have accepted it when she offered it to me,” I say quickly. “I should’ve realised it was a trick…”

“You weren’t to know,” James says, still looking at me seriously. “You can’t blame yourself. The moment I…the moment I stormed out of there I realised I’d done something stupid. I realised it wasn’t your fault. I went back in there to find you, but you were gone. Aine said you’d just run out.”

“I was upset,” I say, fiddling anxiously with the end of the dress. “I mean…I know I’ll never be as…as good as Tori…”

“Don’t say that,” says James. “Don’t you ever say that. You’re three times as good as Tori ever was.”

I stare at him, my eyes wide.

Did he seriously just say that?

Or is this some kind of fantastical dream?

“But…Tori was…is your girlfriend!”

James takes a deep breath. “Even if Tori comes back, me and her…we’re done,” he says. “She never liked me properly, and I was an idiot for falling for her act. Anyway, I’ve found someone I like a lot more.”

“Who?”

He smiles, slightly cockily, and leans in towards me. He gently places his hand on the back of my neck and kisses me.

I’m not prepared for it.

My eyes widen as I feel his warm lips against mine.

I’ve never kissed anyone before, never been kissed. I don’t know how to act in situations like these!

But I want him to kiss me, I know that. I think I’ve wanted him to kiss me for a while now.

So I close my eyes and melt into the kiss. He presses against my mouth harder when he realises I don’t want him to stop.

My heart is fluttering and my skin is tingling as I wrap my arms around him, tangling one hand in his messy hair.

The kiss seems to go on for hours, and when James finally pulls away, my lips feel chapped and red.

“Wow,” I whisper, and immediately clap my hand to my mouth.

God, I can’t believe I just said that aloud.

I am so embarrassed of myself!

James grins at me. “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.”

Has he? Well, that’s news to me.

“That was…wow,” I repeat.

Tongue tied. That’s what I am right now.

But James seems to understand.

He holds out a hand and helps me get to my feet. We begin to walk to the castle, his warm hand in my cold one.

“You realise people are going to stare?” I whisper, as we head towards the Entrance Hall.

James smiles. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. “I know,” he says. “And I don’t care.”




A/N: I wasn't actually planning on posting this chapter until after the queue opened back up next year, but I've been getting such lovely feedback that I couldn't resist!

I hope you enjoyed the chapter! And before I forget, I'd like to give a big shout out to peanuts11 for being the first to post on my Meet the Author page-you rock!

Happy holidays!

Courtney:)
 


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