Chapter 22 : Friendship
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Since I could remember, I’d found comfort in sensing out the familiar presence of the others in the dormitory before I went to sleep and when I woke up. After Harry Potter had started to encourage me to practice using my sensing ability, it had further integrated into my routine; it was just automatic and a little sensible to feel out who was in the room when I was waking up.
The first time one of my dorm mates had her boyfriend stay the night in her room, I’d woken up disorientated and confused. So when this new presence in the dormitory didn’t worry me as much as it should do, that then started to worry me; maybe that was a stupid thing to be concerned about, but that was enough to drag me groggily to consciousness.
“James?” I muttered, sitting up and rubbing my eyes. Then I remembered. The party, Leanne, James... “Why are you still here?”
“Ah,” James grinned, “so you’re the love ‘em and leave’ em type, nice to know… and a morning blush, too! Excellent.”
“Seriously,” I said, pulling the covers around me and squinting at him. He’d changed into his robes, which meant he’d left and come back… all the sensing ability in the world couldn’t put that together in a way that meant sense. Especially when I was still half awake.
“I’ve been doing some damage control,” James said, “thought we’d go get breakfast before Divination.”
“I’ve got Transfiguration first,” I said, still trying to massage the residue of sleep from my forehead. It had taken me a very long time to get to sleep. For a start, I’d had James sitting on the edge of my bed, who was just as fidgety as always… and then I’d started to run over the situation with Leanne in my head until I was convinced an assassin was going to try and kill me. I had no idea what Dad was going to say when I called him and I was equally clueless as to what I was going to say to Leanne.
I didn’t like dealing with drama which was one of my top reasons for ignoring everyone.
“Yeah,” James said, “two hours ago.”
“Don’t worry,” James grinned, “I sorted it. I went and told Neville that you were sick.”
“Merlin, Cassie,” James said, expression twisting up into a grin, “you’re not very good at this rule breaking lark, are you? Downside is, Neville now thinks we’re sleeping together but… upside, your spectacular current blush is very amusing and you haven’t got detention. Wait, technically we do. Tomorrow night we’re cleaning the trophy room because of the caught our afterhours thing… but, anyway, breakfast?”
“Did you transform into a nice person overnight?” I asked, staring at him.
“You’re just finally seeing past you’re prejudice,” James said, winking.
“It’s too early for this.”
“It’s never too early for the Potter experience.”
The fact that, last night, James and I had a conversation about my sex life was beginning to dawn on me. Not only that, but I’d been honest about how much I understood about James’ innate need to be liked. I’d never been so explicit about what I could understand about people’s characters before (because most people don’t want to know) but, worse, I’d never actually worked someone out quite as much as I now had James worked out; I could blame the two nights we’d slept in close proximity and the emotionally charged situations all I liked, but it would have been easy to put of my foot down and tell him no.
Instead, I’d granted him friendship. Yes, I’d done that because I didn’t think it would exactly change much and might permeate the layer of guilt I’d accidentally managed to produce but… well, it was definitely too early for the Potter experience.
“Right,” James said, the second a particularly excitable House Elf in a top hat set down two mugs of coffee and a stack of toast on our table (the downstairs version of the Gryffindor table, which I couldn’t bring myself to argue about), “I think most people will just assume Leanne was talking drunk rubbish, but I figured it was best to cover all bases.”
“So you went back in time and didn’t allow Leanne to get so drunk?” I asked. I felt hopeless and I didn’t like it. Maybe if this had happened last year, no one would believe the rumour… but this year James had dragged me back into the sphere of public awareness. Now, people were curious.
God damn curiosity.
“No,” James said, hand pausing en route to the toast, “although, we should definitely try and get a time turner into our quest somewhere,”
“Moving on,” I said, smiling slightly. Considering how much of a façade James continually put up, he was also explicitly obviously; evidentially, his parents had an adventure with a time turner at some point. “You were covering bases?”
“Yes,” James said, “I talked to Dom. She’s… well, if you ever need a rumour spreading or, unspreading as the case may be, she’s your Weasley. I’ve assured her it’s not true, so she’ll make that known. Rose’s best mate runs the school newsletter –”
“– we have a newsletter?”
“We do,” James confirmed, nodding seriously, “fine paper. Very useful for keeping the fire alight in the common room. So, Rose says she can get it printed that it’s not true. Leanne is also denying any truth to it.”
“You spoke to Leanne?” I asked, blinking. I hadn’t spoken to Leanne and I still didn’t know what I was going to say… but it seemed James had. I wasn’t sure what to think about that. Part of me wanted to draw back and away from the situation, but just last night I’d agreed to friendship. It seemed a bit soon to retract it.
“I said all bases,” James said, “the only other problem is people are going to notice the fact that you have the sexiest pone I’ve ever seen in my life, and then they’re going to put some stock in the rumour. I think you should just tell people your Dad works for WCT; you should always try and your lies on some truth.”
“Is that how you do it?” I asked, blushing slightly (but not too much) as I took another sip of my coffee, hand unconsciously travelling to my phone.
“Why don’t you tell me?” James said, quirking up his eyebrows. “It helps that you and your Dad have different surnames… and the fact that he doesn’t look much like you. In fact, are you sure he’s actually your father?”
“Pretty sure,” I said, smiling slightly.
“That would be a plot twist.” I decided it was best not to merit that with a response. “You might still want to call your Dad and tell him what happened, though. Just in case.”
James had his eyes narrowed, watching me carefully. He wanted to know how I was going to react about the prospect of talking to my father, no doubt reading more into our current lack of trust than he perhaps should have; nothing practical had changed with the relationship with my Dad, I was just second guessing and filling away everything he said.
Besides, I didn’t think I’d be able to gleam much from the phone call. Without him actually present I couldn’t get a proper gauge on what he was thinking; it was just dry conversation stripped of the emotion behind it, like reading a book about a character you’d only just met.
“Yeah,” I agreed, pulling out my phone and setting in on the table. I had a couple of messages that I hadn’t read, mostly from Leanne. I didn’t much feel like reading them much yet… James was watching me, still. Curious, dissecting. Time for a conversation shift, then. “James, it’s only half ten. When did you get all this done?”
“Insomnia,” James said, offering me a slightly sarcastic thumbs up.
“Did you sleep at all?” I asked. I thought he had. I thought he’d fallen asleep before I had, but it was difficult to tell. When James had fallen asleep on my shoulder in the passage way, it was the first time he’s emotions had been completely honest and transparent. At the back end of our conversation last night, James had been a little similar to that… probably figuring that I could read through it anyway. It was strange to experience James without the accompanying performance and maybe I’d imagined the subtle shift into unconsciousness… maybe he’d just, for once, started to relax.
“Worried about me?” James asked, grinning. “Yeah, for a bit.”
“What… keeps you up?” I asked, glancing up at him. I couldn’t imagine having gotten less sleep than I’d managed last night and still being able to function; hell, I’d already managed to sleep through a double period of transfiguration, although I was fully blaming that on whoever thought it would be a good idea to throw a party on a Sunday night (Leanne said it was so the teacher’s didn’t ‘expect it’ which sounded like James logic, if you asked me).
Still, it was the most personal question I’d ever asked him and it was the first time I’d really wanted an answer. Usually my desire for more information was tempered exactly with a desire to not know anything else. It was probably too late to remain distant now, anyway.
“I don’t know,”
“Lie,” I said.
“Damn your freaky powers,” James said, grabbing another slice of toast, “can a man have no secrets?”
“Are you using one of your vetoes?”
“And now you’re using my system against me?” James said, bringing a hand up to his chest and glancing upwards. “You wound me, Cassandra.”
“Now I’m really curious,” I said, leaning forwards and trying to work it out. James didn’t want me to know, which was enough to stop me pushing in and aiming to decipher it properly – because that was unethical, I couldn’t help but sense people’s basic emotional state, but I didn’t need to dig further without their permission – but, for the first time, I actively wanted to.
Sure, James was constantly moving and on edge. Even now, one foot was tapping under the table and he was tearing a toast crust into pieces. He had to be in action and he had to avoid being still, but it made me wonder what he could possibly trying to put off thinking about.
“Pick another question,”
“Okay,” I said, hand curling round my cup of coffee. This was new. He was offering me an opportunity to ask anything. There was a lot of trust involved in that. When had James Potter started to trust me, anyway?
And, damn it, I had a question.
Normally, I’d have gone down the euphemistic route; maybe bringing up the joke he’d made about this being the first time I’d had a bloke in my bed, maybe skirting even further around the question… but, on the whole, I decided it might be best to go for the plaster method. Quick and get the pain over with immediately.
“Did you sleep with Natalie?”
“Yeah,” James said, eyes digging into my skin, “you know, Cassie, you’re impressing me this morning.”
“Well,” I said, “I guess we’re friends now,”
“I guess we are,” James said, slapping the table unnecessarily to punctuate his point, “although… did I mention everyone thinks we’re dating?” I stared at him, silent. “Ah, see… Ryan and my roommates sort of noticed I never returned to the dorm… I didn’t think they would and I didn’t think they’d take note, because I’m always wandering around in the middle of the night… but, alas, they registered my absence.” My mouth was fixed into a straight line, silent and unmoving. “And Neville… see me and Neville have a bit of a deal; he lets me get away with stuff, providing he can tease me so… I mean it’s up to you, but they either think we’re dating or we’re just sleeping together… and without the romance angle, then Rose and Dom are gonna think – ”
“ – that you’re a good person?” I interjected, frowning at him, “That must be really hard for you.”
“Sassy Cassie,” James muttered, “We don’t have to do anything, you know. The rumour runs itself.”
“So we’re fake dating,” I deadpanned, “it’s definitely still too early for this,”
“I…” James looked a bit helpless and had, momentarily, stopped ripping the curst of his toast to shreds, “The whole things a mess, I just wanted to…”
“No,” I said, “thank you. This is… good, actually. Thank you.”
“It’s my apology for last night,” James said, “I didn’t… I shouldn’t have tried to rile you up. That, and I’m the best friend ever.”
“I shouldn’t have got mad either,” I conceded, looking down at my phone and blushing.
I had lost my temper and spoke my mind which were usually things I tried to avoid where possible. Surprisingly, I didn’t actually regret it. I might have spent weeks silently fuming about the discovery I’d made in the book and missed James’ actual reasoning – that he ‘thought I had enough to deal with.’ It was a rubbish reason, but he was telling the truth. With James, it might have taken me weeks of silence for me to work that out. He was right about my tendency to cast him into the role of the villain without due evidence and… he’d promised he wouldn’t keep secrets like that again.
“Am I forgiven?”
“For everything?” James said, hopefully.
“I said it was fine,” I said, uncomfortable as I set down my last slice of toast untouched, “it doesn’t matter.”
“You’re proposing forgetting,” James said, frowning, “I want forgiving.”
“Well maybe you don’t have any right to dictate that,” I said, voice rising and face heating up, “we may be ‘friends’ now, but that doesn’t mean you get to decide how I deal with things. This is what you get. I’m sorry if that isn’t what you want.”
“I know,” James said, “I just want you to be honest about it,”
“Right,” I said, “you’re asking for honesty.”
“I can’t lie to you,” James said, “apparently, you know me to well. I’m just asking you to extent the same curtsey to me.”
“I’ll try,” I said, uncomfortable. This was a little bit too close to home for me to be able to relax, but I could see his point; this evened up the playing field. Maybe I started off as the vulnerable one with the secrets, but I knew enough about James now that the tables had turned. I had the advantage of knowing my way round James’ feelings and motivations. “One more question,” I said, frowning at him, “you… your bases. This whole thing started because Ryan managed to twist him sleeping with his girlfriend into you being the bad guy… why didn’t you talk to Rose and Dom then?”
“Veto,” James said, decisively, “we should go to Divination.”
“Wait,” I said, heart hammering in my chest, “what? You can’t veto. You’ve used two vetoes already.”
“Actually,” James said, reaching out to pluck my last slice of toast off my plate, “I think you’ll find I didn’t veto the first question, I merely avoided it.”
“It amounts to the same thing,” I said.
“New rule,” James said, “you have twenty four hours to answer before it counts as a veto. Now come on, you nutter, we have a divination class to attend.”
“Cassie,” Dad said, answering almost immediately. I knew from the offset that it was going to be near impossible to have this conversation now, because even the way he’d formed my name sounded rushed and stand-offish, “Cassie, hi, I’m really busy at the moment would you mind – ”
“– this is important,” I said, cutting across him feeling a flash of anger flare up. I was there whenever he wanted to go through his fancy new products, or whenever he deemed it a good idea to whisk the pair of us away on holiday. Nothing ever revolved around what I needed and I’d dealt with that.
Now, when you added in the fact that he’d been lying to me my whole life and spying on the school work he was always to ‘busy’ to hear about it, I figured I was overdue getting angry at him.
“I’m sure it is,” Dad said, his voice dropping to a gentler tone, “I’ll call you back the moment I have this disaster sorted out with the prototypes, Cas, I promise…”
“Leanne got drunk and told everyone my father is Robert Banks,” I said, pressing my knuckles into my chin and sitting down on my bed, “have you got time for that, or shall I make an appointment with your PA?”
I hung up.
I’d never hung up on Dad before, but I was tired and confused and angry. If I knew why the big secret was a big secret then I might know what to expect, but no one had ever told me that. When I was younger and still a little angsty over the constant teasing, I’d defaulted onto assuming that my Dad thought having a child would negatively impact his public image... that was just a thought borne out of teenage insecurity with virtually no merit, but sometimes it still felt like Dad liked pretending he didn’t have a daughter.
Five minutes later, Dad called me back.
“Cassie,” Dad said, “I’ve cancelled my meetings.”
“Great,” I said, furious at myself when I realised I was crying, “James… James has been doing damage control. I don’t think enough people believe it that it’ll be a problem.”
“Cassie,” Dad said, seriously, “I can call a press conference right now, if that’s what you want.”
“What?” I asked, blinking. “I thought… you said… my safety.”
“You… you’re old enough,” Dad said, “it shouldn’t matter. If you want me to, Cassie, just… say the word.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head, “no, I don’t want that.”
The idea of having everyone in school knowing was a little alarming, let alone the whole world. I wasn’t sure what would happen… I couldn’t even conceive how everyone would react. The looks I’d been receiving in the corridor all day was enough, and they were a backlash of a rumour hardly anyone believed (James’ damage control had been impressive) and a rumour that everyone believed about me and James Potter.
I really didn’t need that on top of everything.
“Dad,” I said, my voice cracking, “Why?”
Maybe this was an angle James and I should have explored. I’d never even considered just asking my Dad what was going on, but… now seemed like a perfectly good opportunity to try.
“People do stupid things when they drink too much, Cassie. Don’t be too hard on Leanne,”
“No,” I said, “why has this been a secret for years?”
“For your safety,”
“The moves,” I said, “all the addresses… Dad, don’t you think it’s a bit much?”
“Yes,” Dad said. It was difficult to get a proper read on his emotions when he was this far away, but he sounded upset, “yeah I do, Cas… which is why we’re not going to do that anymore. We’re in this house for good, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, “guess I’m stuck with James Potter as a neighbour, then.”
“Looks like it,” Dad said, “Cassie… I’m sorry. All the moves and… I know it was disruptive… I was paranoid. I wanted you safe.”
I wanted to demand what from and I wanted to ask whether this had anything to do with my Mum. I wanted to ask why, with the aid of a memory potion, I could just about remember that in the last memory of my mother, the knife was covered in blood. I wanted to ask why my memories had been changed and what he could possibly be trying to achieve with all these lies, but I was too far away to know if he was telling the truth.
“I didn’t mind,” I said, hunching my shoulders over and turning on the laptop James and I had bought, “it was kind of fun.”
“I’m not a good father, Cassie.”
“You’re just busy,” I said, biting my lip as I began to type out the conversation. “I understand.”
You’re old enough now. It shouldn’t matter. We’re in this house for good, okay?
“It’s not good enough,” Dad said, “it’s not. We’ve got a lot of things to talk about… at Christmas, maybe,”
“Sure,” I said, saving the document under ‘suspicious things about my father’ “how are the TVs coming?”
“Not bad, Cas,” Dad said, “Not bad at all.”
The door to the dormitory opened and Leanne walked in, biting her lip as she looked at me. She looked like hell. I was half pleased that her hangover was doubtlessly just as aggressive as it had promised to be last night.
“Hey Dad, I’ve got to go,” I said, “Leanne’s just come in… I need to talk to her about stuff,”
“That’s okay,” Dad said, “call me soon, okay?”
“Yeah,” I breathed, “sorry for making you cancel your meetings.”
“You’re my daughter,” Dad said, although it sounded to me like he was justifying it to himself rather than to me.
“Bye,” I said, quickly, because I didn’t want to deal with the tail end of that comment. That I was worth cancelling a couple of meeting over? Or that my crisis was worth it? What, exactly, was enough justification about my being related to him for him to put me first.
“You talked to your Dad,” Leanne said, folding her arms around herself and blinking at me, “Cassie, I’m really sorry. I’m so so sorry… I never drink that much. I was just… Henry kept pouring me drinks and I didn’t realise how much I’d drank until… Cassie, you know I’d never –”
“– I know,” I said, closing my laptop down and looking at her.
“Are you in danger?” Leanne asked, voice dropping in volume.
“Dad doesn’t think so,”
My voice sounded colder than I precisely meant it to.
“I heard you and James talking,” Leanne said, stepping towards me, “you… something’s going on, isn’t it?” I nodded. “With… all the houses and your Dad and stuff?”
“I was going to tell you about it,” I said.
Leanne shook her head, wringing her hands, “I’m glad you didn’t. What if I’d spilled my guts about that, too?”
I was glad I hadn’t, too, but it sounded a little too harsh to say something like that out loud. Leanne was – had been – my best friend, and I didn’t really want to yell at her or make her feel worse. I could tell she’d been beating herself up about it, just like I could tell that she would continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
“I hope everything… I hope you work it all out,” Leanne said, sitting down on her bed heavily, “and when you’ve worked it all out, I hope… I hope that then you’ll be able to…”
“I’m not going to write you off forever,” I said, frowning.
“No,” Leanne said, “good. I mean, I hoped so… but, you can’t trust me,” I nodded again. “And, if you’re going to be keeping all these secrets then… then that’s going to be hard on both of us so…”
“We take a time out,”
“Not properly,” Leanne said, “I don’t want you to hate me. I want to be friends, Cassie… but you shouldn’t tell me things for a while.”
“Okay,” I said.
Leanne turned away and I suspected she might be crying. She probably wanted me to cut across her and tell her everything, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t trust her. Maybe that wouldn’t last forever, but it was definitely active right now.
“I’m going to bed,” I said, “it’s been a long day.”
“Yeah,” Leanne said, voice shaky, “I’ll say.”
It was beginning to get light outside and I’d been tossing and turning for at least an hour. I grimaced and reached for my phone to check the time. I grappled through the semi-darkness, frowning when the screen read two new message.
I hadn’t had a new message at half three, the last time I’d checked the time.
Sometimes I get sad
That’s what keeps me up at night.
I grimaced and dropped the phone next to me. On balance, I didn’t want to know that. I didn’t want to know that James had been up till at least four am because he was sad, just as much as I now really wanted to know what he was sad about.
He could be lying. He could have waited until four am because he knew that I couldn’t sense out his emotions from this far away, but it really didn’t seem like the kind of thing he’d lie about.
I could simply text back ‘why?’ but that seemed like a terrible, terrible idea.
I turned off my phone, rolled over and went back to sleep.
It was for the best.
Next up: James may have missed a base, more friendshipy talk and the return of the actual plot (that mystery thing?)
*insert obligatory appology for late chapter here*
Does anyone remember that time when I used to be really good at updating? Hmm? Well, if it helps... most of my major projects are largely finished, which makes this story my number one HPFF priortiy! Hopefully, that will translate into actual updates. Hmm.
Well, thanks for reading and being patient with me!