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Chapter 22 : A Kingdom For My Name
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For the first few hours, it is very nearly bliss.
When Albus and I escape Hogsmeade, our clothes soaked past decency and mouths hot, we have the castle practically to ourselves, or it just seems that way. We stagger down the hall, laughing and gasping, hands under shirts, momentum spinning us into the Prefect's bathroom where we first let our carnal side win. For once, fortune favors the wicked. There is no one in the bath, no screaming mob on our tail, no scheme to argue out—just us, drunk on each other.
"Can't we ever do it somewhere normal? Cushioned?" I say, as we shed our jackets by the tub. Hot, frothy bathwater overflows onto the pearl tile, and I turn off the tap by stumbling onto it.
"If you're free after dinner..." Albus' lips travels down my neck and collarbone into the V of my blouse, where his fingers are unbuttoning as fast as he can kiss. I push his shirt off his shoulders—nearly tear it off as he pulls down my skirt and tights and his lips press below my stomach.
We don't make it to the water.
Down on the tile, our bodies crash and tangle. My fist is in his hair. His mouth is on my chin. This is where he likes me best: underneath him on a bed of his clothes and wrapped in his scent.
I remind him, when he is poised above me with a half-lidded passion, "You don't deserve me."
Albus seems distracted, marveling over my nakedness as if it is art, from my wet hair spilled above me to where the tips of my breasts graze his chest. His discarded shirt is spread out behind me like wings; under his moonstruck gaze, I might pass for an angel.
"I know," he says and kisses me hard.
If the first time was enlightenment, the second is greed. The wrinkles of his shirt dig into my back as his hips roll into mine, and I gasp when it hurts but not nearly enough to stop. Fingers bite into thighs. I move against him faster, faster, A growl tears from his throat. Rain and sweat slick the floor. The lake was good but we've learned something about savagery since.
We don't give in until skin and cloth are worn through, every muscle clenches, and my name resounds against the walls like last words—Clemence, god, Clemence.
Adrenaline beats from my skin. Albus nuzzles my neck, my name still in his breath. Somewhere, a faucet drips, but for the moment, we are alone from the littlest intrusions. Whatever lives we hold outside this room don't exist; there is no past to mar us, no future to doubt. Here, with only each other to want, we kiss and kiss until it could fill a language. Here, we make sense.
The candles floating overhead flicker as a ghostly baroness sweeps through the room, tittering behind her fan. Her laugh is almost anachronistic like it'd belong better in Appy's mouth; the thought makes me shudder. She disappears into the adjacent wall and the draft cools my skin to Albus' touch.
"Just a ghost," Albus says, running his thumb along my brow.
But the spell has broken, and the slow tick of seconds speed to meet reality. I'm naked and grimy, with a besotted boy in my lap and a maelstrom in our wake.
Hail rattles the window with a tak-tak-tak. I imagine the castle filling with students taking shelter, relaying their theories about the worst Valentine's in recent history: Potter's gone missing with that cheating Clemence. Appy's bawling like Myrtle somewhere—or she's missing, too. Murder, maybe. Secret threesome, another suggests. The girls are living together, aren't they? And what about Scorpius Malfoy, spotted sneaking out to the lake with Potter not long ago?
One is never alone in Hogwarts.
"We should get cleaned up," I mumble into Albus' lips. I shift out from underneath him, despite his weight protesting against me.
Albus steals one last dizzying kiss before he relents, slow and yearning as if the image of his goddess hasn't quite faded. Sober of alcohol and aphrodisiacs, a third delirium is drawn to the forefront and the words are all but said.
He bites back a laugh as if to apologize. "Clemence..." My name floods his breath; he drowns in it. I've seen enough to know how he fixates. I am just one in a long line of addictions, from firewhiskey to fixing the unfixable.
He goes to the edge of the bath and slides in without saying more. He doesn't trust me with those other words—not aloud where I can reply. But how much can I say after today? Screaming and clawing with jealousy, all to save him. I was insane. In love.
This is love. This is it.
This... is it?
A ghost's laugh echoes. I slip into the water, into Albus' arms. His heart hums against me like a siren's song, but my own coils deeper into my chest as if it's already done all it can.
Once upon a time, there was an evil witch who bespelled Hogwarts. She was no ordinary evil witch. She was... quirky. She made people adore her, made them quirky like her. She raised a quirky army and then a whole quirky kingdom, all in pursuit of the prince.
But when she showed him her handiwork, he was not at all enchanted.
The witch flew into a rage. She dosed his drink, steaming in the winter morning—a warning to those who spurned her—and by noon, she held his quirky-loving heart in her hands.
All seemed lost until true love stepped in...
Well, that's one way to tell the story.
Or, once upon a time, there was an evil witch who had Hogwarts dancing at the stroke of her quill, universally hated from Tuesdays to Sundays and a beloved savior come distribution Mondays. She was respected, feared, unapproachable. She would have liked to stay that way.
Instead she got saddled with a happily-ever-after.
"Clemence has got a good heart," is the first thing I hear through the breakfast babble Monday morning.
At the Gryffindor table, ex-Team Green captain Sandra is preaching to a flock of rosy-cheeked minions, each of them clutching a copy of the new Witchy Business as if it were dogma. "She fought for Al, even when we doubted her. She fought for us," she says. "When new generations of students pass through our doors, you'll tell them how Clemence Fitzgerald-future-Potter saved Britain."
From Appy, she means. There's speculation that my defeated rival put in a transfer to Beauxbatons for her seventh year, but I only know that she hasn't left her room all weekend. Dom says she's been stinking up her corner with a dark aura—"I mean literal black tendrils. You turned Miss Glitter into a cosmic horror."
Sandra fans a set of photos to a chorus of oohs. "You can see the change in Clemence. Al's melting those icy walls—with a little physical therapy I hear."
She manages her wink before my crumpled copy of Witchy Business hits her. When she sees me, she waves with the same hand that slapped me less than forty-eight hours ago.
"She's a little defensive about it," Sandra whispers loudly.
I'd tear through that rabble if I didn't need Sandra's photos from last week for evidence. The person who drugged Albus' drink is likely the same girl who's been slandering me on the walls, and Sandra's the only one who's stalked me as much as my stalker. I'd suspect her if she didn't have the subtlety of a howler.
Beyond Sandra's huddled group, the four long tables of the Great Hall are a minefield of glittering eyes. Tongues flick and draw into mouths with a pop, my name brazen on their lips as I pass down the aisle.
"Clemence can't be so bad—"
"—totally not a virgin—"
"—missed her advice column—"
Dead is the wicked witch and all her proud villainy. Long live Potter's girlfriend.
I sit across from Dom, who is shielding her food as the owl post flies in. Janey, bless her efficient Ravenclaw soul, is dead asleep next to her. Between Valentine's Day and Dom and Pickett's falling out, no one had time to write and I'd have scrapped this edition entirely if Janey hadn't woken me up at midnight with three articles on the newsroom table. The topics are vanilla—an editorial, an interview with N.E.W. S.P.E.W., bare-minimum Valentine's updates—but at least we're circulating.
Letters and parcels volley onto the table. The flurry of feathers is gone as fast as it arrives. Only Barry the Breaking News Barn Owl remains, flapping lopsidedly toward me, overflowing postbag in tow.
"Circe give me strength," I utter.
"Give Barry strength." Dom filters through the post dropped into the fruit bowl and plucks her Mama's weekly letter from the crook of a banana. "Did you see Sandra?"
"Yeah, with the Church of Clemence." I untie the cord from Barry's feet. He droops over the sack, regretful of his career choice. Two girls come up to ask me to sign their toast; I ignore them.
"Church, pshaw. Call it what it is—a cult. Have they built you a statue yet?"
"No idolatry, pagan."
"You're a witch, bitch." Bright blue nails tap against her cheek. Queen Dom's retired from queendom, and she's bored.
I sling the envelopes aside one by one. Witch Weekly. Miss Magic. Salem Star Gazette. Press inquiries for Potter's girlfriend. I'd be fool to think I could avoid them, even with Albus assuring me that he owled his father and large sums of money transferred hands.
Today's Celeb Coven headline blares 'HOGWARTS ON WHOREMONES' above a photo of Puddifoot's in ruins. There's also gems such as 'Potterwatch: our predictions for Al's blossoming romance' and 'Star-crossed lovers or Scarlet Letters?' Bonus column, completely dry of wordplay: 'Malfoy denies rumors about son's sexuality.'
People are queuing to quip about the gossip reporter getting a taste of her own medicine but the scandalizing doesn't faze me; it's part of fame's growing pains. I take more issue with being "the lucky girl who stole Al Potter's heart and maybe more" (Miss Magic, page 16). Because the coy implications of his virginity are infinitely more interesting than my overthrowing a brainwashing tyrant and saving Potter from his own stupidity.
Janey's sleeping figure slumps over and she jolts awake. She mumbles something cluttered with drool, but I make out her last words. "How's... the paper?"
"Entirely too obsessed with my love life," I drawl. "I may be the niece of the famous Rita Skeeter, but please, a little privacy."
"Er... our paper."
"Oh. Well." I found a mess of them underfoot walking into the hall. This issue has our best writing yet thanks to Janey's meticulous research, so obviously it was ill-received. Elsewhere, someone chews with her mouth open: "Even the Prophet's covering her relationship, and we get some tosh about centaurs instead. She's isn't even trying to cover real news—"
"Personally, I liked it," I cut in.
Janey withers. "That terrible, huh?"
I feel bad, I really do. Gave her that whole speech on persevering should Witchy Business end, which she clearly took to heart, and all she gets is sleep deprivation. "It's not your fault people are allergic to substance," I say. "God knows, eighty percent of this school is willfully illiterate. Dom once had to show a third year how to read a book."
Dom nods. "Fourth year. He was stuck on the table of contents and had it upside down. Thought it was Cyrillic."
"But... but if you don't like it either, we can change." Janey licks her lips, suddenly alert. The creases on her face mark her like warpaint. "We're popular. You're popular. We can be better than the Prophet—"
"Yes, we can change," I say. "But we aren't the problem."
Hope clings to the girl's furrowed brows—a far crueler disease than naivety. It endeared me to her when she first asked to write for the paper. She was a wisp of a girl; eighty percent tea, small-voiced, but had eyes like Rowena, thirsting for truth. I knew Witchy Business wouldn't suit her, but a desperate reporter was a rarity I couldn't give up.
Her friend ducks in to grab her for class and Janey gathers her books. The pile of letters weighs heavy on my lap. I say, as she rises, "You're going to be a wonderful newswoman. Just toss in some horoscopes next time."
"I guess." The last syllable drags into a sigh. She joins a throng of Ravenclaws.
Dom chews on a straw, watching Janey until she's gone. "I think you inspired her. This is a dark path for you."
"Shut up. This whole thing is pissing me off, too." I shuffle through the rest of the letters. One seal catches my eye, a gleaming R.S. impaled with a quill.
"Oh my god." An epiphany snakes across Dom's face as her eyes flit between me and the hall's exit. She jabs a blue-tipped finger in my direction. "I think you actually—do you agree with Janey? Do you want to be better than the Prophet?"
"Don't what me. You're tired of this, this 'whole thing.'" Dom becomes a jumble of waving arms. Her hand spirals around as if this 'whole thing' were a drunk bird. "Scandals and idiots, the circus of it all. It's no fun anymore—oh my god." Her jaw drops, mouth forming a perfect circle. "You're too good for it now. Literally, too good. You're cleaning up your act."
I lay a hand on the table between us and lean in. "Dom. I'm not judging and I want you to be safe. So I'm asking as a friend, and be honest with me—are you high?"
"Fuck you. It's so obvious. Humoring your groupies... the fairy-tale romance... you've become a role model. Practically Pollyanna."
"Call me that again and I will carve up your broom and dump the splinters in your shampoo." I stand, taking only the R.S. sealed letter from the pile.
"Your threats were the best. Such wasted talent."
"Are you coming to D.A.D.A. or not?"
Dom spins around on her seat. "Nah, I'm skiving. Harriet and I are gonna beat the Gryffie boys in Shuntbunts. A month of pitch privileges on the line." She kicks her broom into her hand and high-fives Harriet as she walks by. "Hex Rose for me, Polly. If you don't feel too prim."
"Broomstick. Woodchips," I seethe.
With Dom gone, I leave the Great Hall without a second glance. Any admirers mustering the courage to approach me are left with their fingers in the air and their questions stuttered. In my jacket pocket, the letter crumples in my grip.
The last time I saw this seal, Aunt Rita was posting back the guardian signature for Hogsmeade trips a year late. She's 'too in-demand' for frivolous correspondence, outside of advertising for her latest book.
I break open the letter. It reads:
It has been ages, hasn't it? I heard you caused QUITE the stir at school this weekend. I had no idea you were so close to Harry's son. You must invite Albus home for Easter, take him around Cheltenham—excellent photo ops. Wear something nice. My newest book also comes out the Wednesday after—
I hurl the letter into a sconce.
Clementine. Ten fucking years raising me, and my aunt calls me Clementine.
Maybe if I were Appy, I would have gotten the saccharine fairy tale, the kind with overstuffed dresses and talking animals. Instead, I've landed in the kind that teaches a lesson and where wishes are never the way you want them.
I want fame. I'm fame's girlfriend.
Stalking past the D.A.D.A. classroom, I keep on walking. Albus, waiting by the door and sipping that firewhiskey coffee he calls breakfast, cuts his chat with Scorpius short and tails me.
"Hey, are you okay?"
"When we started this arrangement, we agreed," I say, teeth grit at him, "that you're my boyfriend but that I'm not your girlfriend."
My words prick ears, and Albus cups his body toward me, a shroud against the turning heads. "If this is about the papers, I did what I could."
"Puddifoot's," I scoff. "That story was always going to break. Too many eyes, too many mouths. You can't hide that short of handing out blank cheques and Unbreakables to every witness. No, Aunt Rita doesn't even know my name, isn't that funny." I choke on a laugh; oh, if I could cry. "But she knows your name. She didn't send post when my pets died at home, but a whiff of you and it's a next day owl."
Albus fidgets. He wants to apologize, but it's not his fault. "I thought you didn't care for her."
I pull away from him. "I care enough to pretend that I care. She can't even return that much."
I need to be alone, I don't say as I duck into the traffic of students. I don't want comfort; I want my old life back. Neither Albus nor I have a language for this—apologies and sympathies and everything earnest. We endured the war. It's peacetime that'll kill us.
The corridors empty as the clock tower tolls. In the dungeons, I slip past the tapestry into the newsroom, my last stalwart. Here is my heart cracked open: an embrace of stone, windowless and grey, deaf to the world. Any truth can be rewritten inside.
The two printing presses, dull of Protean charms, tower in the shadows. Copies of today's issue litter the floor. In place of our relationship column is the headline: ILL BEHOOVED: HOGSMEADE BUILDS STABLES ON SACRED CENTAUR SITE. Centaur council calls it "an insult upon insult." A bit sensationalist, just enough to grab attention. Better than the rubbish in the Prophet.
Dom's right. I'm tired.
I hear the tapestry flutter and his footsteps near, because of course Albus would follow me; when hasn't he?
He presses a kiss to my shoulder and doesn't utter a word, finally wise enough to refuse me artillery. Are you sure you deserve better than this? he doesn't say. Gossip queen raging over gossip. The hypocrisy escapes no one.
His face is cool against my neck, and he smells of the earth from the greenhouse. His kisses travel upwards, until they are buried in my hair. He loves me like he's afraid to lose me, and he's more afraid of losing me than he hates me.
A prince in my hand, a kingdom usurped.
I have everything I never wanted.
A/N: I DISAPPEARED, I'M TERRIBLE, THIS IS ONLY HALF THE UPDATE. SORRY IT IS SHORT AND ANGSTY. IF YOU ARE STILL READING, BLESS YOUR HEART.
So over the last year I've tapped at the keyboard with a giant frowny face as this chapter did not want to come to fruition. Pretty busy--finished school, first full-time job, moved twice. Still totally no excuse so I've brought complimentary pitchforks and torches (please, only take one). The responses to the last chapter probably terrified me because I thought to myself, "Everyone's so happy with that chapter hahahaha they are going to wish it ended there."
A BIG THANKS to Julia and Gubby for dealing with me for A YEAR and for inspiring various lines and headlines; Roisin for doing a SUPER beta job; Diya for sending timely threats and encouragement; AND EVERYONE WHO STUCK AROUND AND BOTHERED ME. ♥
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