Chapter 6 : VI. Cold-Bloodedly Proposing a Practical Plan
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We spend the next two hours trying to figure something out. At some point Noel wanders in, once he’s noticed that his friend is being even more reclusive than usual, which brings Poppy in, because she’s as nosy as I am, which draws Louis himself back in, as he gets sick of standing guard for his dorm when he realises that Important Things are Happening In His Own Dorm and he is Missing All The Fun.
The four of us try our respective methods to help James come to a decision between Claire and Ivy, as those are the only ones in particular he seems to consider. Louis, made of ice, is attracted to fire, so he votes Ivy on the basis of her having a fit body and not being tearfully boring, and all he does to emphasise his vote is whinge, and whinge, and whinge some more. Noel is a best friend, so he vehemently disagrees with any and all proposals related to either of these nutjobs. Poppy, when she finishes screeching “I WAS RIIIIIIIGHT” to the rest of us (which necessitates an explanation of her James-doesn’t-know-he’s-in-love-but-he-totally-is theory to Noel and Louis, which launches a mini-debate about how right Poppy can claim to be, since James only wants to be in love and is not necessarily actually subconsciously in love right now, which we resolve by letting her qualify it to “I WAS kind of RIIIIIIGHT”), plays devil’s advocate and votes Claire on the basis of her Not Being Ivy Fawcett.
“Just put their names in a top hat.”
“I don’t have a top hat.”
I throw my hands up in defeat and inadvertently smack Noel across his scruffy, worried face.
James continues to dither and badger while Noel tends to his injury. “But what if I pick wrong?”
“That’s life,” I say. “Making choices, James. That’s what life is all about. Taking… risks and stuff. It’s not our fault you don’t know A, if you’re in love or B, who you want to be in love with.”
It’s not easy for a bloke to be best friends with someone like James, but Noel does pretty well with it. He’s a good, straightforward, normal influence for James. Usually. “When was the last time Jamie ever took a risk?” he asks, in the Scottish burr he pretends to have.
“He tried to fake-saw me in half last April,” Poppy supplies ever so helpfully. She volunteered to be his first lady assistant for some Muggle magic act he was trying out back then, because she thought it’d be a laugh, but she scurried away after that first practice. “It might not’ve worked. He could’ve scratched me with the edge of the rubber saw. Or he could’ve accidentally Transfigured the rubber saw into a real one and literally sawed me in half. That’s a risk he took.”
Louis pouts like a whiney baby. “That doesn’t count.”
There’s a suspiciously glazed expression on James’ face, and I fear his heart isn’t in this debate about the matters of his own bloody heart anymore. “So what now?” I would complain about the unfairness of it all, but all of us here are used to it, so I would merely be preaching to the choir. And I hate choirs. Especially the Greek tragic ones.
“Well, is there anyone else you feel strongly about possibly wanting to love?” asks Poppy. “Other than Fawcett or Olsen?”
James ponders this for a second before shaking his head.
She slinks down to the ground and passes her hand over her face.
“This is what we call a lose-lose situation,” Louis announces pompously. “It doesn’t have to be, but this is what you’ve brought us to, James. This is what you’ve done now. You’re hexing yourself in the foot, do you know that?”
“I’d rather hex myself in the foot than doom myself to unhappiness in a relationship with someone I’m not sure about. Not to mention doom the girl to unhappiness in a relationship with someone she deserves to be sure about.”
Good God, not this again. This does not have to be an arena for his adorable but annoying brand of romanticism. “All you have to do is… pick a girl. Just one is all you need. Somehow, you pick one of the two and then you’re…”
The only one who hears the note of panic in my voice is, oddly, Noel. He glances over from the other side of the room and raises his bushy Scottish eyebrows (which are real; his accent, however, is rougher than the typical burr, though, which is why I like to think of it as a pretense). “Augusta?” he asks uncertainly. “Is that a bright idea in the making I hear?”
“Pick me. ”
Noel darts forward and puts the back of his hand to my forehead. I bat it away and shriek, just a little, “Stop it! I’m serious. Say it’s me. Everyone thinks it’s me, anyway.” Or has, at some point. I didn’t bribe anyone and no one politicked to get me to the top, but it has crossed many minds. “So you see, no one’s going to be mad–” lie “–they all know we’re good friends–” true but irrelevant when everyone is James’ good friend “–and I don’t have a problem falling on the sword if it means we all–” mostly me “–get some extra time and space from all this… and… um…”
“I KNEW IT!” screeches Louis. “You did come here to seduce him!”
“Explain to me what’s seductive about cold-bloodedly proposing a practical plan that’ll save lives and give him time.”
“Why not, Poppy?”
She splutters, incensed and outraged and totally flabbergasted. Poppy is as easily excitable as I am not, and I suppose this plan goes against every grand, stupid romantic gesture in her vocabulary of grand, stupid romantic gestures. “It’s not faaaair.”
“To who?” Noel rarely supports me in anything, so I’m not sure where this is coming from. “To each and every idiot who thinks she’s his soulmate or to the idiot who doesn’t know if he has or wants a soulmate?”
Poppy makes some elaborate, winding hand movements and finishes with a great flourish before placing them on her head. “It’s just not faaaair! It’s mean!”
Louis, who is both triumphant that he is supposedly right and squeamish at the idea of whatever this is transpiring where he can’t escape it, trumpets over the bickering, “MAYBE JAMES DESERVES TO HAVE SOME INPUT.”
The others blink. Poppy sneezes into her sleeve. James mutters a heartfelt ‘bless you’ at her general area and then stands up. Looking, I imagine I’d be remiss to not note, like some kind of Roman emperor about to lead his peasants to war against the Carthaginians. Noble and self-sacrificing and all kinds of hot. Loyalty-inspiring.
“Do not say it’s because you’d feel bad about me.”
James fidgets on his feet and sighs. “Um… I do, though? Feel bad?”
I close my eyes, because of course James would express deeply-held unshakeable principles in the form of a question.
Noel and Louis both snicker in their respective corners. I can imagine full well why Louis is–foiled again! he rejoices, as if I’ve come up with other far-fetched but otherwise super workable schemes to get James to fake-date me recently that he and only he has seen through–but again, I’m not quite sure what’s going on in Noel's head. For my convenience, he clarifies:
“There goes your last chance for a relationship ever.”
Poppy comes to my defense faster than I would come to my own defense. “If Augusta gave two Knuts about any of the idiots in this school, she’d be racking up suitors like you rack up bruises when you, our Beater and Captain, miss the Bludgers.”
I will add silently, as there’s no point repeating what everyone else knows already, that I do not not give two Knuts about any of the boys here. I just am not very good at being the kind of girlfriend these boys (including James, to be frank) would want. Everyone remembers the Marcus Ealing period, I dread being reminded of the Shyam Saxena phase, and if I even hinted at the Connor O'Sullivan thing, even James would break into less-than-kindly laughter. Not to mention even more passing fancies that lasted a week or two or twenty-seven (let's all be grateful that Joshua Bromley graduated last year or God knows where I might be now). I may be a girl, but I’m not totally hopeless. Except at holding down a bloke. That, as you may remember from that adorable little prologue of sorts, is not my strong suit.
Anyway, Noel of course does not like to be questioned about his leadership or athletic ability, but before he gives another speech about why at that one game, at twenty seven minutes past two, the sun was at an eighty four degree angle and he, Noel, was flying on a line that was another angle and the sun got in his eyes and he smashed into our Seeker and also both Bludgers, which were hovering around said Seeker, and lost us not only the game last year but also the championship, I cut in with the following:
“James, they will happily slaughter you.”
“Correction,” says Noel, “they will happily slaughter Augusta.”
“Correction of an incorrect initial correction,” Poppy jumps in, “even if it isn’t Augusta who is the arbitrary fake girlfriend, they will righteously slaughter each other for the chance to become the arbitrary fake girlfriend because then they’d be closer to becoming your actual real girlfriend.”
Louis the ever vigilant raises an eyebrow. “Speak from experience?”
“If you’re asking if I have experience slaughtering people for the chance to become someone’s arbitrary fake girlfriend, the answer is no.”
“I’m asking if you’d be happier with the plan if you were the arbitrary fake girlfriend.”
“If anyone is going to do this, and it is so, so, so stupid that anyone is…” She takes a great, soul-rattling breath and sighs, “… it should probably be Augusta.”
“Since no one is doing it,” James butts in, loud but mostly pleasant, “I’m not sure I see the point.” He furrows his perfectly imperfect brows and shakes his head again at all of us. “I'm not letting you announce your death sentence.”
“No, it's not a death sentence!" My natural optimism and deep wells of earnestness help sell the lie. “Okay, so we announce we've been secretly together for a few weeks, but you don't actually, like, love me or anything, because you're not a complete crazy person–”
“You sure about that?”
“Yes, Noel, I'm quite sure about James’ mental stability, thanks for asking. So we fake date for, I dunno, two or three weeks maximum, and then when it, um, when the time is right–” read: when I've suffered enough to satisfy all parties involved “–you can nobly break up with me ‘cos you think it’s not fair to put all this shit on me, I don’t deserve all the, um, unpleasantness that comes with being your girlfriend, and you can look sad and tragic, I can look… fine, and they give you space because they know you're heartbroken afterwards, and that’s it. You get your time to figure out who you actually do love, if anyone, without people knocking themselves out at the sight of you.”
As far as far-fetched but otherwise super workable schemes to get James to fake-date me go, this one does not sound half bad. If I do say so myself.
“I'm personally very worried that you came up with all that so quickly.”
“I'm a quick thinker.”
“James. Where are you going to find someone who’d do all this for you?”
“In this very room,” adds Noel.
Poppy gasps but does not seem energetic enough to deny it.
Louis deigns to make a suggestion and I brace myself to defend against another slight to my character.
“Poppy would fold under Claire Olsen's crazy eyes in six seconds flat.”
Something from out of his mouth that’s not a slight to my character?
“Augusta’s the better fake girlfriend choice in that she already beats most girls at the crazy eyes thing.”
“Dude, have you seen Larisa Abramovich? Her eyes are two different colors. Blue and brown.”
“She’s fifteen and taken, Noel, you can relax. Louis, that's mean to Poppy but also… thank you.”
“So it’s settled?” Poppy’s face is straight but not unkind. “Augusta’s our super special secretly-fake girlfriend?”
“Our? I’m not dating all of you. This is not some weird polygon of, uh, of… stuff.”
“Our in that the plan in which you become the fake girlfriend is our plan.”
“No, dummy, it’s my plan. It gets to be part yours when you contribute something.”
“I’m supporting you!”
“That’s not contribution! Being supportive means that you’re not involved because how could you be merely supportive if you weren’t inv–”
“This is all well and good, but nothing is settled.”
James raising his voice is… well, unprecedented. I genuinely do wish I had a story about the last time this happened but… I don’t know. I can’t remember. (Claire Olsen might know, because her knowledge of James’ personal history beats mine any day that ends in ‘y’.)
Noel looks between Poppy, Louis, and me. “It looks like it is, mate.”
“Don’t I get, I dunno, veto power on this plan that directly affects my life?”
I cross my arms and march straight up to him, looking him full in the angelic but needlessly stubborn face. “Do I repulse you, Potter?”
“Am I so unattractive that it would cause irreparable damage to your eyes or your soul if you pretended to fancy me for less than three weeks?”
“Of course n–”
“Is there someone other than me you’d prefer to pretend to fancy for less than three weeks?
“Is there someone other than me you wouldn’t have to pretend to fancy for less than three weeks?”
“Well, no, b–”
“Do you have a better idea to save yourself from the mild irritation of having girls stalk you for the chance to become your real girlfriend, save me from the crippling neuroses spurred by having girls stalk you through me for the chance to become your real girlfriend, and save these very girls who stalk you for the chance to become your real girlfriend from injuring themselves in the pursuit?”
It takes him a few minutes to work through the question. And then, the sweetest reply he could have given:
Author's Note It has been a long time since I've updated this story, and this chapter has been done for almost exactly one year. But I thought if I kept this chapter - an ace up my sleeve, if you will - I could blackmail myself into writing more. It hasn't quite worked yet, but because my dear friend Celestie asked, I'm putting up what I have left of Cosmically Clueless. It is still close to my heart, and so I'm happy to do it. Plus, a world without Augusta, James, and the gang is just a little too boring for me.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you've enjoyed.
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by Amy Sellers