Chapter 21 : Compromise.
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Mostly because things like this happened.
“Cassie,” James said, grabbing hold of my arm the second I entered the Gryffindor Common Room and pulling me over to one corner of the room, “I silenced her as soon as I could, but I think about half the room heard her.”
“Okay,” I said, stepping forward and examining my supposed best friend.
I’d definitely never seen her this bad before.
“They might not have believed her,” James said, “I tried to silence her discreetly, because I didn’t want to add fuel to the flame… but I… I don’t know.”
She looked like a mess. Normally, she’d get drunk enough to dance a bit more readily and, occasionally, she ended up making out with someone (although, that was usually one of those we-both-like-each-other-but-we-haven’t-admitted-it-and-now-we’re-drunk) but she’d never, ever started blurting out anyone’s secrets like that.
“Are you all right?” James asked, grabbing hold my arm and looking at my seriously.
“Fine,” I said, although obviously that wasn’t quite true. Currently, I was just numb to it all. It seemed like that might be the best way to deal with the situation at hand. “Has she been sick?”
“Yeah,” James said.
“I’ll take her back to the dorm,” I said, stepping forwards, “Leanne, we’re going to get you to bed. Okay?”
Leanne mouthed something, nodding her head and swaying slightly where she sat. I’d never quite gotten used to seeing someone who’d been silenced and I couldn’t help but thinking the whole effect wasn’t really subtle – either James was just being an idiot or he was a little drunk himself. I expected the latter.
I hoisted Leanne up, pulling her arm over my shoulder and made an attempt to steer her towards the door. She tripped up and swayed dangerously forward.
“Come on, Leanne,” I said, “work with me here.”
“Cassie,” James said, “you can’t… you can’t manage her on your own.”
“Well,” I said, “I’m going to have too. Come on, Leanne. Remember sobriety? Remember how that felt?”
“I’ll help you,” James said, wrapping an arm round Leanne’s other side.
I had to admit that job would be a lot easier with James onside, but I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted him to help me. Very shortly, the reality of the situation was going to hit me and I very much wanted to be alone when that happened. I did not need James to see me mid-breakdown.
And yet, I couldn’t drag her down all those flights of stairs without help.
“Okay,” I said, closing my eyes briefly. The whole room was buzzing with curiosity over the proceeding. Strangely, everyone seemed to have left Leanne and James in the corner… but, something had definitely happened. There was definitely more story here than James was letting on.
Then again, James seemed to be the king of not letting important things on.
“Let’s get out of here,” James said, guiding Leanne towards that portrait hall, and half pulling her over the threshold. “I’m waiting for you to start reacting,” James said pointedly, when we reached the first landing and paused for a second to work out how to navigate stairs, “to the fact that your best friend just spilt the beans. You know, that thing that just happened.”
“Don’t push me,” I muttered, as Leanne started grabbing hold of my wrist, shaking her head and crying.
“You’re unbelievable,” James said, “do you just not react to things?”
“She just told everyone.”
“I know, James,” I said, taking a deep breath. “What happened?”
“Ryan,” James said, glowering, “he… well, he thought he’d try start something. He was going on about you. And… Leanne tried to step in and defend you. Ryan called you crazy and… she was yelling that you were perfectly sane and that Ryan bought up the ‘don’t you remember when she tried to tell everyone her Dad was Robert Banks’ and then Leanne declared to everyone that it was true.”
“Okay,” I said, glancing at Leanne and closing my eyes for a second.
“Are you still not going to react?”
“Frankly,” I said, “maybe if you hadn’t reacted before none of this would have happened.”
“So you’d have me shake his hand and congratulate him on stealing my girlfriend?” James asked, pulling Leanne forwards.
“No,” I said, “but I wouldn’t have had you punch him in the face,”
“Why the hell not?”
“Maybe then you wouldn’t have got grounded,” I said, heatedly, “and maybe then I’d be happily not having anything to do with you, and then I wouldn’t need to be defended.”
“So this is my fault?” James demanded.
“I thought you wanted a reaction,” I hissed.
“All I’ve been trying to do here is stick up for you,” James said, his voice rising, “if you could stop turning me into a villain that would be just lovely.”
“Just shut up,” I said, as we reached the bottom of another flight of stairs, “unless you’d like to be caught out after curfew again, with a drunkard in our midst to boot.”
“Fine,” James said, folding his arms. The indignation was radiating from him; his emotions lit up and fired up much more than they should have been. Evidentially, James had been shaken up by the run in with Ryan much more than he’d like to let on and was subsequently looking for a fight.
Well, he wasn’t the only one.
“I’m sorry about Ryan,” I said as we reached my dormitory, and Leanne immediately stumbled towards the toilet and began throwing up.
I quickly cast a silencing charm in the direction of my dorm mates beds, suspecting that the two who’d chosen not to go to the part weren’t going to be mad keen on the idea of being woken up by the sound of Leanne vomiting. One girl was staying with her boyfriend tonight, as far as I was aware, and the other was at the party.
“I’m sorry about Leanne,” James said, his mouth forming the words with evident distaste, pushing open the door to the bathroom and unsilencing her, “apparently with both have bad choices in friends.”
“Cassie,” Leanne muttered, her voice thick with her tears, “Cassie… Cass, I’m sorry I….I can’t I didn’t mean to I just…”
“It’s okay,” I muttered, pulling a hair band out my trunk and clumsily tying her hair back from her face, “it doesn’t matter,” I said, “it’s okay.”
Leanne threw up again, clutching hold of the toilet bowl and grappling for the toilet paper.
“So that’s it?” James asked, incredulous expression reappearing on his face, “she tells the whole world your secret and you just forgive her?”
“James,” I said, “she’s drunk.”
“That’s a balls excuse,”
“It’s not an excuse!” I said heatedly, “but there’s not much point being mad at her right now, is there?”
“And you find that easy, do you?”
“Obviously you don’t,” I said, conjuring a glass of water and pressing it towards Leanne, “look, it’s fine. I’ve got this.”
“No, you don’t,” James said, stepping into the bathroom and passing Leanne a wad of toilet roll for her to wipe her mouth, “I don’t need some fucking mental sensing ability to work that out. I’m not leaving you alone.”
I deliberately shut my mouth, sitting down next to Leanne and pressing the glass into her hands. She drank a little more clumsily, spitting into the toilet before resting her head against the lid. James just had to get involved, when anyone could see that he was the one who didn’t want to be alone, and he was the one having the exothermic reaction to all of this.
“You just going to shut me out?” James asked, “oh sure, Cassie defence mechanism number one – ignore everyone and everything.”
“James defence mechanism number one, get angry and start trying to stir drama to distract yourself.”
“The tragic thing about this,” James said, folding his arms, “is that this is the first time we’ve ever had a conversation here you haven’t blushed.” I felt my face heat up slightly, but nothing in terms of how it would usually be. I really disliked the fact that he had a point. Not that I had a choice over when my face decided to heat up. “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” I said blankly, “we don’t even know what this means.”
“I know it’s not good,” James said, angrily, “She’s put you in danger.”
“James,” I said wearily, “what did Ryan say that got you so angry?”
“He said that apparently you now needed a certificate of insanity to sleep with me,” James said, heatedly.
Well, I suppose that made sense. The reason why James was so mad was because he didn’t want the whole of Hogwarts thinking that he would sleep with me. Lovely. Thus, he was directing his anger at me by trying to rile up a reaction – which he’d almost gotten.
To be fair to myself, I still hadn’t even begun to process what the effect of Leanne’s betrayal might mean to my life and here James was throwing comments at me and trying to provoke a reaction.
“He knows you’re not crazy,” James said, “He knows that.”
“You’ve been saying it for years,” I said, quietly, “why should he stop saying it now?”
“And where the fuck do you get off?” James demanded, glaring at me. “Letting people treat you like that. Just accepting people calling you crazy and then letting your best friend say something like that. And your Dad – haven’t you ever told him to stop expanding his company and start acting like a father? And lying to you your whole damn life and you just sit there all calm and unflappable and just take it.”
“If it bothers you so much,” I said, standing up, “why do you still do it?”
“What” James asked,” “You’re going to have to elaborate on the crazy, Cass.”
“That,” I said, “and what about that stupid book you read in the library. Apparently, I’m going to end up as a vegetable and you didn’t even think to mention it.”
“ – you were guilty,” I said, “you were guilty and worried and I just… I got curious.”
“You stalked my behaviour with your crazy power?”
“Why the hell did you do it?” I asked. “If you felt guilty and you were that worried then why would you do it James?”
“I didn’t want to scare you,” James said, “I’ve just been… trying to steer you away from all the brain stuff since I read it.”
“You mean,” I said, drawing myself up to my full height, “that you didn’t want to tell me, have me back out and for you to lose your stupid cause?”
“No,” James said, stepping back.
“And then you have the audacity to ask to be friends and then criticise the way I run my life when, arguably, this is all your fault anyway.”
“You wanted a reaction,” I said, “there. Where do you get off, Potter? You can’t get all righteously angry on my behalf when you’re doing just the same thing. Fuck you, James.”
“Is that the first time you’ve ever sworn?” James asked, lips tilting upwards slightly. James took another step forward, refilling Leanne’s glass of water and leaning against the sink. “Cassie, the book…I thought you had enough to be dealing with.”
I squared up my shoulders and concentrated on sensing my way through James’s emotions. It was all too easy, these days, to decode every little change in how he was feeling (and I didn’t appreciate it; I didn’t need to know the intricacies of everything everyone felt) and the undercurrent of angry frustration was still bubbling away in his stomach. The worry was still there, too. Indignation, shock, misplaced righteous anger.
At some point, James Potter had started caring about me.
“Don’t do this,” James said, sighing with his usual air of drama, “Don’t block me out with your silence. I mean, yeah, I want you to stand up for yourself – but I don’t mean to me.”
That didn’t change the fact that he was still a prat with a terrible understanding of who I was.
“Do not keep things about my life hidden from me,” I said, quietly.
“Okay,” James said, “Okay, Cassandra Meredith, I will not keep things hidden from you. Okay?”
“Okay,” I said, “Leanne, are you done being sick?”
“Yes,” Leanne said, pushing away from the toilet and spinning slightly, “yes.”
“Bed?” I suggested, pulling her up – trying to avoid the vomit on her robes – and helping her stumble towards her bed. Leanne was muttering some more incomprehensible apologies, but at least seemed to have stopped crying.
I had no idea what I was going to say to her tomorrow.
I didn’t believe she’d meant to tell anyone, certainly, but the lack of malice didn’t make up for the fact that she had done it. I hardly had any friends as it was, and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to lose her, but I wasn’t entirely sure whether I could forgive her.
Hell, I didn’t even know what the consequences were.
“I’m soooooo sorry,” Leanne said, as I helped her pull her robes off, “Cassie,” she said, reaching out and grabbing hold of my wrist, “believe me when I say that I am sooooooo sorry,”
“I know,” I said, as her head hit the pillow. I pulled the curtains around her and closed my eyes for a split second, still clueless as to how you were supposed to react to something like this.
“Cass,” James said, stepping out from the bathroom. For once, some of his overdramatic persona seemed to have slipped away and, instead, I was faced with a tired, apologetic James who’d just had an argument with his old best friend. I supposed I should try and be more sympathetic: James had lost his girlfriend and his best friend, been grounded for the trouble, then come back to school to find that the majority of Hogwarts was not on his side. Even Crazy Cassie Jones wouldn’t be his friend. “I tried to stop her,” I nodded. “And whatever happens… we’re colleagues to the end.”
“Thank you,” I said, arms folded over my chest. If I couldn’t trust Leanne, how was I supposed to trust James? It was too late to retract any of the facts now, but it was there – he could tell anyone if he wanted too.
James’ phone punctuated the moment by vibrating loudly in his pocket. James blinked before retrieving it, scanning over the message before swearing.
“The party’s been busted,” James said, “Vector’s guarding the entrance to Gryffindor Tower giving detentions to anyone who tries to turn up.”
“I’d have thought your little party was already ruined,” I said.
“Yes Cassie,” James said, “well done. Problem is, Cass, my bedroom is in the Gryffindor Tower.”
“Exactly,” James said, running a hand through his hair in frustration, “shit. Well, it’s a good job I’ve got a good colleague in Hufflepuff then.”
“Sorry, Cass, but I don’t know that you’ve got much choice. I’m stuck here.”
“James,” I said, narrowing my eyes slightly, “no,”
“You can sleep in the Common Room if you want,” James said, rolling back his shoulders and grinning, “but I can’t. With my rep as it is, someone will turn me in. Course, I can sleep on the floor if you want all your room mates to know that we spent the night together…”
“Don’t you have any relatives in Hufflepuff?” I asked.
“None that haven’t heartlessly graduated,” James said, “so which is your bed? Do you have any embarrassing soft toys? Skimpy pyjamas?”
“James,” I said, helpless, “you can’t.”
“I’m not about to hit on you,” James said, “I believe that was in the contract. No flirting, am I right?” I stared at him. “I’m on red alert,” James said, sighing, “if I get caught out of bed again I’m toast.”
“Insomnia,” James said, “I mean, it’s hard to sleep with… Ryan there. Nothing menacing, I assure you, I just keep being caught walking around the castle and… Longbottom said I was on my last chance… Quidditch position on shaky ground. You know how it is.”
“Why can’t you keep out of trouble?” I asked, glancing over at my bed. Considering the beds were meant for eleven year olds, they certainly couldn’t be accused of lacking space: not quite double beds, but definitely a lot bigger than the bed I had at home (and I lived in the largest house to have ever existed), which meant… there was room.
“I’m assuming that’s it,” James said, brightly, stepping over it and heading towards the bed I was looking at. James half lay down on top of the covers, stretching his arms behind his bed; the very picture of ease (he wasn’t at ease at all, he was a positive volcano of barely repressed emotions).
Well, that wasn’t so bad. If he wasn’t going to get under the covers, then…
“I bet this is the first time you’ve had a bloke in your bed,” James grinned, tracking out the resulting blush with an air of satisfaction. I ignored him, falling back into the grip of the usual silence without comment. If it wasn’t for my overactive face, then the moment would have slipped by unnoticed, but…. “Hold up,” James said, face twisting into a grin, “is that a James made a sex joke blush, or is that a yes I have had a bloke in my bed blush?”
“We are not having this conversation,”
“Who did you sleep with?” James asked, sitting up properly and staring at me, “ha! I’m right! Cassandra Meredith, you sly – ”
“– stop with the middle name,” I interjected, pressing a finger to my forehead. I had some vague, disjointed memories of my Mother using my full name, but the memory made my head hurt. Apparently, that wasn’t a good sign and could lead to me going full blown bat-shit crazy.
“Did your face not catch fire?” James said, “because you were blushing so much,”
“James,” I said, “drop it.”
“Was it Luke?”
“So it was someone,” James said, lit up with surprise and amusement, “or someones. Was it a Hufflepuff? I bet you’re all at it. Man, should have been a puff,”
“No,” I said, pulling on a jumper over my robes and deciding I’d have to sleep like that. I certainly wasn’t going to change into my pyjamas with James apparently sharing my bed.
“Slytherin? Claw? It can’t have been a Gryff,”
“Muggle,” I said, if only to stop him listing each individual male Hogwarts student in order to gauge my reactions and jump to conclusions on the basis of how much I blushed. Besides, it was the truth.
“Summer romance?” James asked, “foreign fancy man? Was he French?”
“To this conversation,” I said, slipping under the covers and pulling them around me for protection.
“What, is this not beneficial to our working relationship?”
“It’s not relevant,” I said, turning my back on him and confining myself to the furthest third of bed away from him. James had insomnia, which was new and maybe not entirely surprising; I’d virtually never seen him completely still, so perhaps the idea that he’d have trouble stopping fidgeting enough to sleep wasn’t entirely surprising. Then again, he’d managed to fall asleep on my shoulder in a bloody secret passageway.
“I’m betting it was on a holiday,” James said, “some Greek waiter who broke your heart. Poor Cassie,”
I turned around to glare at him.
“Stop acting like you know me, Potter,”
“Prove that I don’t,” James said, eyes sparking, “I believe I have the right to ask some questions, anyway. Or will you be using your veto?”
“Out of the two of us,” I said, “you’re the one far more likely to get your heart broken,”
“Is that a veto?”
“Two muggles,” I said, “one in Spain so yes I was on holiday and another near my old home in Scotland, but no, neither of them broke my heart. I don’t need people like you do, James. I’m not like you,”
“I need people?”
“You need people to like you,” I said, folding my arms around myself, “You need Ryan to like you, you need Natalie to like you, you need your Dad to like you, you need the population of Hogwarts to like you. Hell, James, you even need me to like you,”
The digging and the jokes and the attempts at forging friendship were all too obvious, but that didn’t mean I liked how much I knew James.
“A little emotionally investment in other people doesn’t make me needy,” James said, “It makes you aloof and distant.”
“Stop judging me,” I said, propping myself up on my elbow to glare at him, “you think I’m messed up,”
“Oh believe me, Jones, I know you’re messed up.”
“For me to accept anyone properly in my life then I need to trust them properly,” I said, “and I’m not allowed to do that. Friendships are complicated and relationships are worse.”
“Well maybe you’re just picking the wrong damn people,”
“No,” I said, my forehead folding, “why do you think Natalie cheated on you, James?” I asked.
“Because she’s a bitch,”
“How reductionist,” I said, biting my lip, “insecurity. I’m not excusing what she did, or saying that was a good reason, but that’s how it happened. You aren’t known for being particularly good at relationships, so she’s half worried that you’re about to screw her over. She probably convinced herself that you were cheating on her, or about to, and decided to get in their first. Ryan? Well, he was just damn tired of you being in the top position. Can’t have been easy, James, being continually over shadowed by the son of the chosen one. So then he made a mistake and now he’s scared that everyone’s about to decide they hate him, because why would they pick him over you? Now he’s continuing on all this stupid stuff because he likes you being seen as the bad guy for once. You can write them off and say that they’re both just horrible people if you like, James, but there was a reason they were once your friends. Because you liked them.”
“So this is my fault?”
“No,” I said, “that’s just how people are. Leanne likes knowing peoples secrets because it makes her feel important and unique, which gives her a one up on her twin brother… who’s that little bit more popular than her. You want everyone to like you because you think you should be liked, because of your Dad, and if people don’t like you then you feel like you must be doing something terribly wrong. You want everything to be dramatic and exciting and you want a cause because you feel like you have to prove yourself. Teenagers screw each other over all the time, James. Relationships don’t work out. Drama is a top priority. I can sense every stupid layer of motivation of just about everyone and I don’t trust anyone because I know what makes them tick. There’s nothing messed up about that. It’s sensible.”
“You trusted Leanne,”
“Yes,” I said, turning back away from him and turning over, “and how did that work out?”
“So you’ve… never had anyone earn and keep your trust?”
James felt sorry for me, which defeated the whole point of the conversation. I didn’t feel lonely. I didn’t want to throw my lot in with a bunch of people I didn’t trust and expect them to keep me afloat. I didn’t want that and I didn’t trust in it.
“My Dad and Leanne,” I said curtly, “but apparently not. You’re lonelier than me, James,” I said, “constantly trying to prove yourself, seeking affirmation, not being yourself because you don’t think people will like you. You’re the one that’s messed up, James, not me.”
“Have I screwed you over yet?” James asked voice stripped of the usual over dramatic façade for a few split seconds, instead settling on pure curiosity. This was James without the performance and I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought about that. “I think I get it, Cassie,” James said into the dark, “and I’m sorry.”
I stayed silent.
“Not for the whole of humanity,” James said, “but, if my… if my teasing before had any contribution to your twisted sort of cynicism, then I’m sorry for proving you right. I don’t think about people like you do. It was just this big joke, Cas, but… I am sorry.”
“It’s fine,” I muttered, because the twinge of James’ guilt tainting the rest of all his emotions was going to become tiring very quickly. I didn’t need to be surrounded by that the whole time we were working on digging up my past. I didn’t need that, because it was only going to make me feel guilty which was beyond illogical.
“It’s not,” James said, “but it’s okay, because now I’m going to prove you wrong. No more keeping stuff from you, no more trust betrayals, just me being the best… colleague ever.”
“James,” I said, biting my lip for a split second, turning over so I was facing him once again. James was still on top of my covers, hands folding together and unfolding (why couldn’t he just be still for one damn minute?), staring at my yellow and black hangings with a surprisingly vulnerable expression. Apparently, he wasn’t expecting me to actually be looking at him… or maybe, given I’d just laid his soul bare he was giving up on all the pretending for a little while.
The guilt was still there, a swirling pool of it at the bottom of his stomach. And he was thinking about everything too much. It seemed I’d finally gotten through to him. James Potter was finally listening to me and taking me seriously.
“Let’s be friends,” I said, taking on James’ usual tone of drama with a hint of sarcasm.
I was going to regret this.
“Seriously?” James asked, turning to look at me with his eyebrows raised.
“Sure,” I said, as James grabbed my hand and shook it deliberately, grinning.
“You won’t regret it,” James said, before his expression slipped into a smirk, “if I’d known it was this easy, I’d have tried to get in your bed earlier.”
I closed my eyes for a split second, head spinning; there was no way that I was going to be able to sleep with the knowledge that Leanne had ratted me out, James was both on my bed and now my legitimate friend and that, in the morning, I was going to have to face a renewed Cassie-is-crazy campaign, or worse. Tomorrow was going to be horrible.
Especially with James’ new quest to be the best friend ever.
So, the update was slower than I thought it was going to be... but, Cassie got mad! And they're now, wait for it, friends. Only took twenty one chapters ;)
Thanks for reading!
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