Chapter 27 : When You Said You Needed Space
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Claudia and I worked together to detail exactly which facts we knew.
I told her about what I had witnessed over Winter Holidays. I told her about the ring and the box and the bit of hair wrapped so carefully with a ribbon. I told her about her father and her mother and everything in-between.
And the whole time, Claudia just sort of watched me with a cloud over her face. It was hard to tell what she was thinking. Was she frustrated? Sad? How did it feel to be the result of magic rather than love?
“Scarlett,” she said the name as though we weren’t talking about her mother, but rather, a stranger, “has been keeping Noah in the dark about something. Why?”
“And how long has it been like this?”
I saw a small emotion flicker across Claudia’s closed features. What was it? Hope? Hope that her parents had been in love at some point? Hope that she was the result of love and not some twisted manipulation?
“I think this mess started three years after Scarlett left Hogwarts.”
“How do you know this?”
“She isn’t exactly one to keep a diary.” Claudia replied. “But I do know that she had been dating a boy from Hogwarts. For awhile, I was under the impression that I wasn’t even Noah’s daughter, and she was somehow keeping him at her side in order to not have her life explode into scandal.”
“I dunno,” I twisted up my lips in thought. “This seems rather scandalous too, doesn’t it?”
We put our heads together and put our thoughts onto a piece of parchment brought to us by the House Elves.
Noah Gray had been a Hogwarts Professor of Astronomy. He hadn’t been in his station long when he was asked to be the Charms Club supervisor, which I found strange – but was ultimately told by Claudia that the rules were a bit murky when it came to clubs at Hogwarts. She had said that essentially, any professor could technically supervise a club because the rules only say that a professor has to agree to supervise to ensure that school rules are not broken. Professors were basically only needed to validate their club.
Claudia had also found out that actually, Anita Perez and Noah Gray hadn’t known each other at Hogwarts. She had dropped Astronomy after her O.W.L’s, and another member had been the one who had asked him to supervise.
“That’s interesting.” I chewed on the end of my quill. “They were in the same environment and yet…”
“It is rather interesting, isn’t it?” Claudia’s tone of voice was strained, but her face remained pleasant as she smiled. “It’s only too bad that Scarlett wrecked everything.”
“Maybe she didn’t wreck everything,” I replied, trying to be objective. “Maybe she was just a part of the overall problem?”
Claudia gave a bitter laugh and put the point of the quill back onto the piece of parchment. “My mother is always the overall problem.”
Three years after Hogwarts, Claudia’s mother had been dating someone from school and they had just split up when she set her eyes on Noah. We didn’t know the exact details of their meeting…but it was definitely fishy. Noah seemed utterly devoted to Anita and his sudden shift to attention was hard to believe.
“I went looking for clues,” Claudia told me as we continued unearthing the truths. “When I left you at the house, I had gone to Diagon Alley to look for clues. Anita worked at a nearby pub and the owner recalled that Noah would often visit her at work and give her flowers.”
“And then he stopped?”
“Yes.” There was a curt nod. “It just stopped one day, completely out of the blue, and he said that Anita seemed to grow more and more upset over it.”
“I wonder what happened.”
Claudia turned her eyes to me. “I don’t think we’ll ever know exactly what occured between Scarlett and Noah…but I do know that…well…” She lowered her voice and whispered the second half of the sentence.
I was stunned into sentence.
“…and the plot thickens, no?” Claudia’s voice had notes of bitterness as she turned to dip her quill into the ink.
“This definitely explains a lot.”
A few weeks later, though, and things were still going rather poorly for me. I had been tripped down the stairs more than once, and the gossiping still triumphed above everything else. It still hurt, of course, but I had begun to deal with it a bit better now that I was working together with Claudia on our “top secret” solution.
Oliver was still awkwardly avoiding me. Our eyes would meet across the Great Hall and he would avert his gaze somewhere else. I still didn’t understand why he was acting like such an idiot.
In Potions, we were no longer partners, to Snape’s slight interest. He had raised a brow when we had silently switched, but said nothing about the matter.
“He’s being a right git.” Alex seethed, pushing through a group of Second Years to seat herself next to Fred and across from me at the Gryffindor tables. “I thought he wanted to be friends with you.”
Fred patted her on the shoulder and gave me a sympathetic look. “Don’t let it get you down, Lots. He’s probably just…trying to be…”
“Noble or something.” George concluded, the right side of his lips lifting up to form a half-smile. “He feels bad.”
“There’s no room for noble idiocy.” Was Alex’s icy reply as she turned to send a glare down the other side of the table, where Oliver sat by himself. “If he feels so bad, he should apologize and stick by her side like a true friend.”
“He doesn’t know what to do?” George responded, tiptoeing around the subject for fear of Alex’s wrath. “I dunno. You know how blokes are. We like to fix problems…find solutions to things. We aren’t observant enough to realize that sometimes, we just need to listen.”
Alex rolled her eyes.
“The only reason he knows this,” Fred whispered in an aside to me, “is because he tried to comfort Lindsey once – except of course, he tried to ‘fix’ whatever was the matter and ended up making things worse for the poor girl…”
George elbowed his brother, and Fred winked.
“Maybe he just needs some time?” George tried again.
“Time? He needs time?” Alex snorted loudly, and a couple of Sixth Years sent her a few dirty looks. “I don’t know why he needs time to sort out whatever the bloody hell he is thinking or feeling.”
“Oi, listen here,” Fred interjected, jabbing her in the ribs, “just because girls are allowed to be all feel-y and whatnot doesn’t mean that blokes can’t be complicated, too.”
“I never said men weren’t complicated.” She defended.
“But you implied that men are much simpler than women.”
“I never –”
“It’s no matter. Everything will work itself out in the end.” I interrupted, flashing a rather small smile at them. If I didn’t interrupt them, they’d argue until the world ended. I made to stand up. “My free period’s up, and I’ve got to go to Arithmancy.”
“Ah, so you’re going back to classes again?” Alex perked up at the words. “I’m glad. You didn’t seem quite like yourself when you were skipping.”
I shook my head her. “I’ll see you at dinner.”
At the other end of the table, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Oliver slam his book shut, stand up and toss his bag over his shoulder. With my heart beat suddenly quickening, I hastened towards the door so I wouldn’t have another awkward encounter with him. I knew my face was flushing, but his legs were so much longer than mine!
By the time I reached the hallway and made for the staircase, Oliver had caught up.
Our eyes met as he made to take the same staircase as me. The moment was fleeting, as he was much faster than me at taking the stairs. He took them two at a time as he took a sharp corner to take another set of stairs towards the fourth floor.
The staircase started to shift, and I just barely managed to hop off onto the landing before it had moved completely. I was annoyed at the moving staircases. They had shifted before I had gotten on the right one and the path I was currently on was not the path towards Arithmancy. It meant I had to double back and take a different route. Silently cursing the staircases, I moved to take a shortcut down a smaller set of stairs. It would take me down two flights so I could grab the correct staircase leading to Arithmancy.
I pulled aside the tapestry and followed the steps down before I collided with a person. I crashed into a chest, and arms suddenly wrapped around my body to keep me from falling. My schoolbag went tumbling down the steps as I took a wobbly step and found my foot stuck in the school’s trick step.
The pair of arms studied me, and as I tried to maintain my balance with one leg stuck within the trick step, I realized that the pair of toned arms belonged to a very familiar person.
He almost jumped back, but couldn’t really because both of his feet had gotten stuck in the trick step.
“Hi…” He managed awkwardly, releasing his hold on me as I gripped the bannister for balance.
“W-What are you doing here?”
“Er,” Oliver looked embarrassed. “I…uh…” He took a breath and turned to look at me. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have class?”
I narrowed my eyes. “How do you know that I have class?”
Oliver tried to look nonchalant, but the furrowed brows gave him away. He shrugged his shoulders coolly. “I assumed.”
“Really?” I raised a brow. “Well, your assumption is correct.” The conversation stopped there, and we just sort of stared at each other for a bit, unsure of what to say. “This is so…awkward…” I murmured to myself, shifting my body slightly away from him. Being in such close proximity was making me very nervous.
Oliver might’ve been feeling the same way because he was trying to inch away the best he could, but since he couldn’t really, Oliver just settled for leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. He fidgeted, slightly, his fingers tapping on his forearm, his eyes determined not to meet mine.
“I, er,” I stumbled through the beginning of my sentence, “have never actually heard of anyone stuck on this trip step before…”
“Neville Longbottom often gets stuck here.” Oliver replied.
“He’s a boy in our House. A few years younger?”
“I’ve never heard of him.”
The conversation stopped again, but picked up a few moments after when Oliver cleared his throat loudly and inquired, “Do you know how to get out of this trick step?”
I tried lifting my foot out of the step, but it wouldn’t budge. Instead, I seemed to almost sink further into it. “Clearly, just pulling yourself out isn’t the way to go about this…”
“I’ve tried that already.” Oliver replied. “I was taking the stairs too quickly and went feet first into it. Tried lifting one of my legs out afterwards, but it only caused my right foot to sink deeper than my left foot. It’s a rather strange feeling to be so lopsided…”
I couldn’t help but laugh at our predicament. “In all my seven years at Hogwarts, I’ve never once had to take this way before. I mean, I knew it existed since everyone does, but I never really had to take it before…”
“Me either, truthfully.”
Our eyes met for a second, and I felt my stomach gurgling in a very unfamiliar way. He looked away before I did. “What should we do?”
“What can we do?” was the inquiry from Oliver, his voice slightly gruffer than it was moments ago. His face seemed to have taken on the guise of annoyance. “We can’t stay here all day and night.”
“No, that wouldn’t be very enjoyable…” I agreed, trying to keep my tone pleasant despite his changing facial expressions. “If we yelled for help, do you think anyone would hear us?”
Oliver looked at me for a second, and then looked down the steps. “This should be a pretty popular staircase…right?”
“It’s hidden by a bloody tapestry, though…”
“I would either wait here for someone to help us or try to yell for help?”
“Frankly, neither option sounds very good right now.” I sighed. “I’ve got to get to Arithmancy. I’ve skipped some classes already and I need to turn in my assignments…”
“You’ve been skipping Arithmancy classes?”
My lips lifted themselves into a small smile. I couldn’t help it! The boy looked absolutely befuddled. “Such a tone of surprise! Is it such a shock for me to not go to class? I’m sure Fred, George and Alex had the same reaction when I told them.”
“It’s just very…unlike you.” Was Oliver’s response.
“What do you know about me?” I asked softly, using my free foot to angle myself away from him. “Everyone always seems to know so much about my character…”
Oliver didn’t respond to that. He tried turning away again, but couldn’t, and instead, moved to sit on the step above us, his feet still stuck in the damned step.
We were together silently for maybe another ten minutes before either of us tried to converse again. Surprisingly, Oliver was the one who spoke. “Have you been sleeping well? You’ve been looking rather tired lately.”
His words caught me by surprise. How had he been noticing anything about me? About my demeanor or behavior? We hadn’t spoken, or had really faced each other at all. I cleared my throat, my face still turned away from him. “I’ve been sleeping all right.”
There was another pause, but Oliver was quick to pick up the conversation. “LookcharI’mablodidiot...” The sentence was said so quickly that it sort of slurred together as a jumble of sounds.
“Excuse me?” Quickly, I glanced back at him, and saw Oliver’s face pale and then redden.
“Look,” he took a deep breath, “Charlotte, I’m a bloody idiot.” His face was still red as he continued.
“Is this about you avoiding me all this time?” I could have left his pride alone, but I didn’t want to. Not when I was the one who was having my name pulled through the mud. “Or about how somehow, I was dragged into your little row with Isabella?”
“Don’t say that I wasn’t considering your feelings.” Oliver pleaded before I could say exactly that. “Because I did. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to drag you further into anything.”
“You’ve got a funny way of showing consideration.” I managed. I could have raised my voice and yelled at him, which was what I think he was expecting, but I didn’t. He looked surprised at my matter-of-fact tone, and rather afraid of it as well. “You left me alone when I needed a friend the most.”
“I’m a rubbish person.” Oliver hung his head. “I didn’t know what to do or how to handle a situation like this. I feel absolutely terrible about it.”
I sighed deeply.
“The more I tried to understand and fix what was going on, the more awkward it got when I saw you and I just…it was just easier to avoid rather than confront…I’m sorry, Charlotte. I’m a bloody idiot.”
The apology brought a smile to my lips. It had taken him a bit to get to it, but he had gotten there in the end. I reached over and put both of my arms on his shoulders and gave them a squeeze. “I suppose Fred and George were right about why you were avoiding me.”
“What did they say?” Oliver looked intrigued.
“Something about noble idiocy.” I laughed. “Well, Alex sort of put it together as such, but they were the ones who were trying to make us understand things from your point of view.”
“Things ended so hideously with Isabella,” he shook his head. “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect things to end like that – or even, really, to go in that sort of direction at all!”
“I don’t know how my name got dragged into the fray…” I told him seriously, barely noticing the reddening of his cheeks and a sudden spark in his eye. I assumed he was still embarrassed about the whole situation. “It was so random and completely without evidence.”
Oliver made a noise I took for agreement. “She went absolutely mad towards the end of it. I didn’t even know what was happening most of the time. And I feel bad, though, because I should have spent more time trying to understand what she was going on about but everything was happening so quickly and I had so many things to do…”
“Stop blaming yourself.” I interrupted, giving my eyes a roll. I was pleased that the awkwardness had subsided and we had gone back to our usual conversations. “You were just trying to be a normal person with priorities.”
“She was so bloody jealous of everything…” Oliver shook his head. “I felt bad at first, because I thought I understood why she was feeling abandoned and I tried to make more time for her…but there was just no winning! Nothing pleased her. If it wasn’t one thing, it would be another thing!”
“Ah,” I nodded. “If it hadn’t been my name that had popped into her head at the moment, it probably would have been someone else’s, eh? Glad to know that chance managed to throw me into the rumor mill alive.”
Oliver’s expression changed a bit, but he didn’t comment on anything, but rather continued what he had been saying. “I realized a few weeks before the actual row that I was honestly just staying with Isabella because I felt bad for her – isn’t that awful? I felt awful. I felt like a fool and a loser and a real jerk. I never wanted to drag someone along – I never wanted to be in a relationship with someone I didn’t like.”
“Did you ever love her?” I don’t know what pressed me to ask, but something did. And as soon as the words were out, a small part of me regretted ever wanting to know.
“I thought I did for so long.” Oliver mused, pondering the thought for a couple moments. “But I was more intoxicated with the idea of her, only because I had fancied her for so long. We had very little in common and even less conversation.”
“They tell me that communication is key.” My lips twitched.
“I suppose they are right.”
Our eyes met again.
“I really am sorry, Charlotte.”
“It’s okay.” The words came out softer than I had anticipated. I hadn’t realized my voice could sound like this. “It’s good to know that our friendship has been restored.”
“Friendship…” Oliver’s voice took on that strange sound again. “We’re good friends, aren’t we?”
I allowed myself to grin at him, and put my hands on my hips. “We are very good friends, Oliver.”
A strange feeling washed over me as the words left my mouth. The sentence left a strange after taste. Bitter? I couldn’t put my finger on it. As I saw him smile in return, a small part of me felt…disappointed.
“Will you go to the Quidditch game?” Oliver’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts.
“The Quidditch game.” He blinked twice. “You know, the final game of the year…against Slytherin…” Oliver coughed. “The game I’ve been preparing my whole life for…”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a bit. Of course. “When is it?”
“Tomorrow.” His voice changed again, sounded a bit hopeful but also…
“Tomorrow?” It was my turn to look at him blankly. “Tomorrow?”
“Sorry, it’s just…rather last minute.”
Oliver cleared his throat, looking awkward again. “I said I was sorry…”
“I’m joking,” I grinned. “I’ll go, Oliver.”
He looked confused again, like he had expected to be let down. “What? You will? Really?!”
We looked at each other again, and I felt a serene feeling of peace fall over me. I was surprised how quickly we adjusted to being comfortable with each other again. There were no more awkward pauses or jumbled small talk.
We would have been stuck in that trick step all day if Professor Lupin hadn’t lifted up the curtain, intending to take the small staircase down two flights himself. He didn’t look very well, his skin pale and his lips cracked, but he smiled when he saw us.
“Stuck in the trick step, I see.”
“A notable observation, sir,” I laughed.
“Do you know how to get us out?”
“Of course.” Lupin half chuckled and half coughed. “Tried to take the shortcut for class, eh?”
“Unfortunately, it was the wrong day to be not paying attention…”
“Not when you’re encountering this particular staircase.” Lupin grinned again, a strange sparkle in his eye. “But I really must be going.” He made to leave.
“Sir! Sir!” Oliver called, “You haven’t told us how to get out of here!”
“Oh, sorry,” Lupin paused a moment, as if contemplating whether to help us out. “But you really don’t need my help at all.”
Lupin’s eyes were still sparkling. “You’ve just got to stand still enough to give a little tug!” He stated it as if it were obvious.
At that, I stopped struggling for a moment and felt the step tighten its hold on my leg slightly before loosening its grip. I gave it a quick tug and my leg came out of the step and rested on the one under it.
“Have a nice day, Mister Wood, Miss Murray.” And he paused again, and replied pointedly, “And you two, please stop skipping your classes.”
And like that, Professor Lupin descended the staircase without another word and disappeared.
“Hold still, Oliver,” I steadied him with my arms to stop his squirming. “It’s like a Chinese Finger Trap. Once you’ve stopped struggling, just let the step grip onto your leg.”
Oliver stilled, “I don’t know what a Chinese Finger Trap is but I feel it squeezing my legs like a fist…at the same time, it also feels like I’m sinking deeper into it…”
“It’s also like…like…” I wracked my brain to find another comparison. “Quick sand? Just still yourself for a second.”
“Okay, now, when you feel it loosen up a little, leap up.”
“I think it’s loosening.”
“On the count of three, okay?”
“One…” Oliver steadied himself with both hands on the bannister. “Two…” He squatted down a little, making sure not to move too much. “Three!” Oliver launched himself into the air, finally free, and fell down the steps.
“My arse…” Oliver stood up, very near the bottom of the staircase, and rubbed his bruised bottom. “That was awful. I am never taking this staircase again.”
I could have brought up him avoiding me again, but I was too pleased that we were talking again to care. I scooped up our things and handed him his book bag when I had reached him.
“So you’re really coming to the Quidditch match tomorrow?”
“I said I would, wouldn’t I?”
Oliver grinned like I had never seen him grin before. “I’m glad, Charlotte.”
His smile was contagious and I found myself grinning as well. “Me, too, Oliver.”
Author's Note: I've completely run out of excuses. On a better note, I have achieved my goal this year! I've finished this story! Well, I've finished writing it out. It's just been sitting on my computer, waiting for me to put on here and I haven't been able to get myself to do it.
But here it is. Chapter 27, with 28, 29 and 30 and an epilogue on the way.
I have the most patient readers in the entire world and I am forever thankful for every single one of you. :)
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