Chapter 21 : And then there are shifts...
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Dom didn’t believe that no one liked her because someone told her to believe that, she’d formed that belief all by herself with her own pieces of evidence. I didn’t believe that I wasn’t funny because Dom had told me I wasn’t; I didn’t believe I was funny because I had a twisted perception of myself after years of being treated as though I was boring and unimportant sank through my skin and made me believe it. We believed those things because we didn’t love ourselves.
I believed a lot of things and sometimes it was easy to forget what I believed.
I believed in forgiveness and treating people more than fairly.
And, as I was plunged into darkness and left in the cupboard with Dom, I remembered that I didn’t believe in taking out my problems on other people. I’d been angry at James for issuing an ultimatum, but also for forcing me to face up to these rumours and the lack of belief I had in myself – and that maybe hadn’t been very fair. Benson Flint too, as much as I didn’t like him, probably hadn’t really deserved the rant I’d thrown at him in the middle of a corridor.
It was one thing wanting to prove that I was capable of standing up for myself but it was another to cross over my own personal boundary and go against what I believed in and what I wanted to stand for.
I wanted James and Dom to know that I didn’t need them and I definitely didn’t need them to force me into a choice, but I never wanted to be cruel. And I wanted them. I really did want them.
The problem is, mopey James is all too concerned about Dom being alone but for her psycho boyfriend, and has thus brought to the whole family’s attention that we’ve made Dom unhappy.
And what had I done? Sent Oliver to dump his invisibility cloak with no regard to how that might make him feel, with no note and no thought given to the fact that it was not fair.
Now I was locked in a broom cupboard and unable to do anything to stop it.
Everyone was right, I was a hazardous natural disaster and I most definitely should never be allowed to do anything impulsive – it really was not my strong point and inevitably always led to some form of disaster or other.
“Dom?” I asked warily, groping around in the dark as my eyes began to adjust to the gloom. “Dom, are you in here?”
“Yeah,” Dom said, from somewhere to my left.
“Okay,” I said, feeling for the door handle and trying briefly to open it. I knew it was no good, as clearly Freddie and Roxy hadn’t shut me in the cupboard for the sake of a few minutes amusement, but I figured I’d feel like a bit of an idiot of they had left the door closed.
“This is your fault,” Dom said, pulling out her wand and lighting it so I could see. I screwed my face up in annoyance – obviously, Autumn, obviously. “I don’t need my family interfering in my life.”
James had said enough to Freddie and Roxy about Dom being alone to warrant the pair of them start an intervention. Dom’s family were not bad people and particularly not James who, right this moment, might be walking up the stairs to his bedroom to find the cloak and the map and no note.
It was cold. I knew had been cold when I was giving Oliver the instructions, but I’d been so angry and maybe that was justifiable, but acting like Dom was not justifiable. It was just mean and I didn’t think he’d deserved that.
“Your family are lovely people, Dom.” I said, my voice coming out slightly choked through my panic. If I could just get a message to Oliver…
“Not to me.”
“Fine,” I said, sinking down the wall and sitting down, “don’t take responsibility.”
“What does that mean?” Dom demanded, glaring up at me. It was still dark, but all the light in the room was concentrated around Dom’s face making her look more intimidating than ever. Dom could conduct light. I barely glowed in the background.
“It means that you’re just as mean to them,” I said into my hands, “it means that whilst your sister is mean and horrible, it’s sibling rivalry. And the others don’t always include you because you purposefully isolate yourself. You came to Hogwarts and no one warmed to you, because you are cold Dom and, at eleven, you were too pretty and too clever and too perfect for anyone to like you. That’s the only reason no one liked you, Dom, and for all the reasons to be unliked that’s not the worst reason. So then you became bitchy and controlling so you had an excuse as to why people didn’t like you. You’re insecure and you’re desperate and you’re lonely but that does not mean your family are mean and it does not mean that you have a right to make me miserable too.”
Dom seemed to be panting slightly, as if she’d the one who’d just said all those things in a rush of words and impulse. It would make more sense to me if she’d been the one who said it, because I felt disconnected from myself. Unable to work out if I felt light or heavy.
“It means,” I said, and at some point I’d started to cry again, “that you should sort out your issues, so I don’t have to continually forgive myself and hate myself for not having enough backbone to stand up to you.”
“I never meant to hurt you.”
“Well,” I said, and Dom was reaching for me through the dark, grabbing hold of my arm and trying to inch closer, “you did. And it wasn’t just once but over and over. But you also made me happy and… and when I was eleven and mixed up and upset you were the only person who cared.”
“I didn’t let anyone else care,” Dom said, her arm suddenly around my shoulders, “but you, Autumn, you -”
“- I want to forgive you,” I said abruptly, “and it’s not because I need you, but because I want you to be my friend.”
“I need you,” Dom said into my hair, her voice dropping to that low tone of amusement it took on when she talked about herself – all the self-deprecation and loathing so apparent within the fact that she was just laughing at herself, “you’re the only person in the world who doesn’t think I’m horrible, even when I am. The rumours, Autumn,” Dom muttered, “it got out of hand. It just… I couldn’t stop it, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do so I just, I guess I just…”
“You wanted to make yourself the villain and for me to still not think you were.” I said, thinking of all these years and issues and being so tall that Dom couldn’t rest her head on my shoulder. And I thought of the first time I was kissed and telling Dom about it, and she’d scoffed at me, but then we’d laughed together for fifteen minutes solid about my description of the blokes tongue (not a very good experience, all in all – but I had a feeling first kisses were like that for everyone). We had a lot of memories. A lot of trust, too, which meant it shattered all the more when it finally broke.
“Why are you upset?” Dom asked. If I detached myself from the situation then it might have seemed like a stupid question, but Dom always knew me better than anyone: I wasn’t upset because Dom had spread some stupid rumours and James had issued an ultimatum, I was upset because for years I’d let myself become this victim just like Dom had let herself become a villain.
I’d allowed myself to become small and unimportant, answered my questions as to why by pointing at my reflection and never, not for a moment, considered the fact that I was selling myself short. I’d lost track of who I was and the good things about myself. I believed all this stuff about everyone having a worth and never applied it to myself. I’d watched Dom digging herself into a hole and never thought about my grave. I hadn’t taken control. I’d just let the world happen and blamed it on myself.
“I’m a disaster,” I muttered, pressing my finger into my forehead, “I have welcome printed on my forehead and I let people wipe their feet on me and I convince myself that I should be pleased they’re given me the time of day.”
“Autumn,” Dom said, her voice cracking slightly, “that’s not true.” I didn’t want to look at her and see her face all bathed in life and still twisted into misery. “You’re still not seeing yourself properly.”
“I just mess everything up.”
“There’s a reason we’re fighting over you,” Dom said, levelly this time, “and it’s not to laugh at you, either.”
“For fucks sake, Autumn,” Dom hissed, “you’re biggest fault isn’t the fact that you’re accommodating and nice and a bit too absorbent about what other people say, or the fact that you do have a tendency to not think things through entirely and somehow wind up in frankly ridiculous situations involving stolen invisibility cloaks, okay? You don’t need to break your back trying to prove you have a backbone, because I know full well that you’re strong and for all your forgiveness you won’t put up with my shit beyond a point. The problem with you, Autumn, is that you don’t like yourself and then that pushes everything off balance; you forgive more than you’re naturally inclined to because you don’t think you deserve better, and then you’re more tolerant because you think of yourself as worse, you believe what people say because of course they must be right and… the bad luck, well, I’m not sure that is related. And then bam two people who should have known better push you into an impossible situation and you suddenly have to dig out yourself respect to get through it, leading to this excessive crisis about who you are.”
“I’m making things worse.”
“Honestly,” Dom said, “I’ve been… proud of you.” Dom took a deep breath. “We’re best friends, right?”
“Yeah,” I breathed into the darkness, eyes slammed shut as I looked at my knees.
Dom’s hand slipped through mine.
“I’m mad at you,” Dom said, “in fact I’m bloody furious and I’m upset and I’m hurt and all the rest of it, but that’s temporary. Don’t interpret that as a character flaw on your behalf, either, because it’s not. I think… I think that you’ve been doing well.”
“Pushed me too far.” I muttered, thinking about Dom lying, James omitting the truth and my sister keeping me in the dark. Dom was right. If none of them were able to love me then I had to do it myself, and that was something that I’d been running from for years: Mum couldn’t manage it so no one did, April was bad at it but Dom was controlling and possessive and needed me. And then there was James.
I hadn’t realised that I’d hated myself though, with my height and my stupid impulsive tendencies and the fact that I wasn’t funny. Confronting that was the difficult bit that far surpassed teenage drama. That was what had driven me out of the castle to visit my sister, and then that hadn’t worked either.
This time I chose me.
Except picking Arithmancy was easier. And the me who I thought I could almost be proud of was lost between a gutless bystander and someone cold and unforgiving, and I didn’t know what I really wanted to do and what I felt I had to do to prove that I was choosing myself.
I didn’t think writing Dom and James off was the right thing to do for me because I cared about them and I didn’t think I could forgive myself for not forgiving them. Maybe there was nothing wrong with that. Maybe it was okay for them to be sorry and me to accept that.
“I’ve messed things up with James.” I said quietly.
Getting Oliver to leave his invisibility cloak on his bed wasn’t doing myself justice; it just made me a pernickety coward who couldn’t accept the fact that people did make mistakes.
“I think he messed it up first.” Dom commented. She wasn’t comfortable with me caring about my relationship with James and I wondered whether what I’d done would make her more proud of me or if she’d see it for what it was – a desperate attempt to spring back the other way. Her voice was terse.
“I’ve been a bitch,” I said, finally turning to face her and the light from her wand full on, “he’s going to hate me.”
“Really,” Dom said, folding her arms over her chest and sending the light spinning around the room, “you’re going to sit and talk to me about your relationship problems with my cousin?”
“I listened to you talk about Benson,” I said, straightening up slightly, “even when you’d been horrible, if you had an issue you with any of your shitty boyfriends I listened to you.”
“You lied to me.”
“You never had a right to dictate who I could date.”
“You purposefully kept a secret from me for months.”
“Grow up, Dom,” I said, glaring at her, “I knew exactly how you were going to react and I didn’t want to deal with one of your tantrums.” Dom remained looking at the wall. “This argument is transitory, Dom, but the primary basis of our friendship is that we’re there for each other when it’s necessary. If your sister turned up right now and insisted you were her maid of honour I’d pretend none of this was happening until I knew you were okay.”
“Okay,” Dom said, her red lipstick twisted into an expression of distaste, “I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. I think its crap but, fine. What have you done that’s so sodding terrible?”
So then I told her.
“They’re not going to leave us here forever,” Dom said impatiently, “they were off to Quidditch practice. As you presumably know, James is the Quidditch Captain. They will come and release us after Quidditch. James will still be down at the pitch doing captainy things. You will run up to his dorm, take back the cloak and the map, get out of there and then talk to him in a calm and rational manner tomorrow.”
“It won’t work,” I said, wringing my hands as I looked at the door, “my plans never work. I’ll blow up his bed or accidentally kill someone.”
“Autumn,” Dom said, “you only did that once. And it was a gerbil. I think you need to forgive yourself.”
“I’ll fall over.”
“Then get back up.”
“I’m talking about metaphorically falling over,” I said anxiously, “falling at the first metaphorical hurdle.”
“Then metaphorically get back up.”
“Dom,” I said, pulling my knees into my chest and looking at her.
“Autumn Olivia Pearce,” Dom said, glaring at me, “get a grip.”
We both looked at each other for a few long moments before we were grinning. I wasn’t even sure where the moment of euphoria had come from, but it was rising up from somewhere in my gut and god was it a relief. I’d missed Dom. I’d missed this.
There were muffled voices from just outside our broom cupboard.
“I don’t hear them arguing,” Freddie Weasley said from beyond the stone walls and the wooden door. “That’s good.”
“Or it means someone’s dead,” Roxanne said, wrapping on the door for a few seconds, “yell if you’re both dead, please. I don’t want to be convicted for an accessory to murder.”
“Both alive.” Dom called irritably.
“I’m going to need proof of that,” Freddie declared, much too loudly, “are you okay in there Winter?”
“Fine.” I said.
“The Autumn/Winter thing still isn’t funny,” Roxy said dryly. I could almost visualise her expression just outside the broom cupboard. “Okay, we need some proof that you don’t need extra time. Are you or are you not the best of friends?”
“Yes!” Dom said, heel making contact with the door. “We’ve made an unbreakable bond of friendship and made sodding promise rings now open the sodding door before I knock it down and flatten you both.”
“I want a hug.” Freddie declared.
“Desperate, even for you.” Roxy commented.
“Noooo… them. A friendly hug as proof of their continued friendship,” Freddie clarified, “promise?”
“Okay,” I said, my stomach beginning to feel nervous about the amount of time this was taking, “okay, we’ll hug. Just let us out Freddie. Please.”
“Can’t resist a girl who begs.”
“Lovely,” Dom said, pulling herself up to her feet and offering me a hand up. I hadn’t even thought about standing.
The light of Dom’s wand blinked out just before the door opened and we were faced with Roxy and Freddie. Something a little bit like dread stirred up in my stomach, churning; they both had wet hair. They’d had showers and… what if James had decided to shower back in his dormitory? That might mean he’d already seen the cloak? Would he be prepared to listen to me?
“Fuck your hug,” Dom said. Her wand had still been in her hand from its stint as our primary light source, now stretched out and pointed somewhat ominously towards her cousin’s throats. Oh God. It wasn’t like I was surprised, given how much Dom detested them interfering in life and how much the idea that they were trying to help (and actually had helped) would make her blood boil.
I knew she was so fractionally veela that it was barely worth mentioning, but I still fancied that when Dom was angry that she turned into an imposing terrifying creature with high heels and a tendency to throw a tantrum.
“Autumn, piss off and sort it out.” Dom ordered. For a second I was frozen in place, vaguely aware that this particular family argument was all my fault. It was probably going to turn into an out and out duel. Fred Weasley was the sort of bloke to have cauldrons exploded in his face and get stuck to toilets, but I really wasn’t sure whether he had any legitimate duelling skill. Roxanne probably did. I wasn’t sure whether that made me feel better or worse.
Then the whole James thing came crashing back down around me and I snapped into action.
I didn’t know what I wanted to happen with James, but I did know that I didn’t want him to find the cloak. I knew that much. That was a good start.
Why was the Gryffindor Common room always so far away? It seemed I’d an eternity running from one dormitory for another. It was like the founders were purposefully trying to test out my long legs with an excessive number of stairs.
James would have had more flights of stairs to climb than I would have done, so there was still a chance that I was going to beat him there. Then I could throw the cloak over my shoulders and hide in his dorm until the opportunity to leave came around.
Ironically, the map would have been really useful right now.
The Fat Lady again. Before this year I’d almost never ventured to this part of the castle and now I was sure she was beginning to recognise me again.
James wasn’t in the Common Room. Oliver was, though, which meant he was back for Quidditch practice too which was very bad but maybe… maybe luck would actually be on my side for once and I’d be able to fix something instead of slowly but surely screwing it up a little more with each impulsive action?
I burst into James’ dormitory.
James Potter was sat on his bed, one hand balled up in the material of the cloak and the other running through his hair, his expression a flat, steely line. Obviously, the sound of the door banging open had been enough to drag his gaze away from the cloak and back up to me.
“Autumn,” James said, glancing back at the cloak with a grimace, “really wasn’t expecting you.”
Okay I'm sorry. Honestly was not expecting there to be another cliff hanger. I am a bad person. Feel free to throw things at me. All thought I can now say with all certainty that there will be two more chapters, and no more cliff hangers ever. I wasn’t expecting this chapter to take so long, either, but I’ve ran into my first bout of writers block (it’s been horrible) and although I’m mostly over it now it still seems to be hanging around my HPFF fanfiction.
Oh, and I’m sorry about this chapter. Really I am. Most of this was written at an inappropriate AM (I’m talking between four and nine, stupid insomnia) and although I’ve read it over four times, I also haven’t slept for… thirty something hours. So I might have accidentally started writing about dancing elephants and not noticed.
OH. And, guys, you’re the best! I’m nearly at number nine on the best of HPFF! It’s been less than a month since I made number 10, so I’m like…crazy thrilled about that and the fact that, madly, I seem to be moving up! You guys are the best people ever and I adore you.
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