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Chapter 17 : the owlery
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“Oh come on, Eff,” said James, stretching his arms and yawning. “So what if he slept with the Montgomery twins. So what if he shagged Azalea sober, and may I add, she’s not a little girl anymore Wilderson, she is totally capable of making her own decisions. Chill out.”
“The Montgomery twins haven’t spoken for weeks and Jasmine was devastated when he didn’t turn out wanting a relationship and just used her, again, for sex.”
“I don’t judge girls when they’re sexually active,” he said, shrugging. I watched him pluck a grape from the fruit bowl between us. “And I don’t judge boys either. Cut it with the reverse sexism bullshit.” He let the grape dance between his fingers.
“He treats girls as either potential sexual conquests or past sexual conquests,” I said irritably. “How can you not see what’s wrong with that?”
“No one’s perfect, Wilderson, so stop acting like you’re taking residence on some moral throne!” said James, lifting an arm and pointing a finger at me, a smirk creeping on his lips. “We were both much worse last year. I actually think he’s actually matured.”
“Mm,” I said, twirling my finger in my cup of now lukewarm coffee. I didn’t mention how James was still flirting with other girls in his year, or how Jasmine would tell me about the conversations she’d overhear he had in the Gryffindor common room.
“So are we still on for Saturday night?” he asked.
“Oh shit,” I said, my eyes flying open. “Oh no, I forgot. It’s Mikey’s birthday dinner then.”
“So?” he said, leaning back again on the frame of the bench. The weak morning sunlight shone from the ceiling and made his brown eyes look lighter and brighter, his cheekbones and jawline darker, the slight veins on his arms bigger. “You said the other day how you haven’t been that close to Lancaster recently. Can’t you cancel?”
“No,” I said, pulling a sad pouting face which he rolled his eyes at. “Sorry, I have to go.”
“But Alfie’s been planning this for a month now,” he said, and I nodded. Alfie was having a small thing to celebrate his birthday, twelve people, and James wanted me to come with him.
“Yeah I know, but it’s not like I’m particularly close with any of your friends-”
“Eve likes you-”
“Eve likes everyone,” I said, and James smirked.
“True. Oh come on, Wilderson. That’s so not okay, you already made a commitment- how long has Lancaster’s thing been on for?”
“James! Oh my God. Let’s just have dinner tonight.”
“No, Elizabeth. Anyway, I can’t do dinner tonight, I have to see Dahlia for Potions coursework. How long?”
“Like a week, but it’s different, he’s actually my friend-”
“Yeah, but I’m your boyfriend-”
“It’s not your birthday-”
“You know, Wilderson? I don’t understand you,” he said, crossing his arms. “You say we don’t spend enough time together because I’m always working- which I am, I mean, exams are in June- and yet you cancel on me for Lancaster three days before the actual event?”
“Well,” I said, split between wanting to avoid another argument and yet overwhelming frustrated at his stupidity, “it isn’t really like that. Let’s be real, we’d go a half hour into Alfie’s thing before you and Freddie dominate the conversation about how great you are, how the school is going to plunge into boredom once you graduate, how brilliant you two are-”
He laughed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “This is so typical of you. I don’t know what you want me to do- give up my friends for you? You’re always attacking Freddie- you know, you’re not so perfect yourself-”
“Thanks, James,” I said, rising from the table. “This conversation is well past its sell by date. It’s stale, like your morals. See you around.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” he snapped coldly, and I left.
“The Potters suck,” said Poppy Atticus cheerfully. I had left James that morning for double Herbology, and partner work became group work as we were put on a table with Louis Weasley and Ruddy Walcott. “It’s been three months now and Potter number 2 still won’t leave me alone.”
“Yeah, why is he so obsessed with you?” asked Ruddy, his elbows deep in the box of mud we were huddled around, fishing out glowworms.
“He could get pretty much any girl in the year,” contributed Louis. “Like with me,”
“And me. Don’t leave me out in the dark now, Louis.”
“Sorry, Rudds. Yeah, Atticus, you should be flattered that a family member of mine is pursuing you so passionately,” he said, wagging his dirty finger at her, mud flying off and hitting me on the cheek. “If things work out, we could be cousins.”
“Thrilling,” said Poppy drily, as she wiped dirt off her chin.
Al’s pursuit of Poppy had only escalated over the weeks. He sent her howlers of love, ghosts singing poems and most recently, an enchanted envelope that was meant to erupt in confetti but ended up singing her eyebrows and eyelashes off.
She was furious at the time, still convinced his obsession with her was a joke. I assumed her pleasant attitude to it today was just a side effect of the calming draught Madame Pomfrey gave her last night. Regrowing bones is a pain, but regrowing hair is agony.
“Really dig for those glowworms, Sixth Year!” called Longbottom cheerfully from the front of the room. “They are vital for flobberworm mating season!”
The sunlight shone from outside, stronger that earlier in the day. It was early May, and summer was truly approaching; the air was warmer, the days were longer, the sky was bluer. This was usually my favourite time of year, but James Sirius Potter was ruining it.
I had seen him flirting with a girl in his year in the library, but I didn’t want to be the type to call him up on it, you know? But it was becoming a regular thing. What made it worse was that Dahlia Moss, his on and off ex girlfriend of the whole of his Sixth Year was suddenly Potions partners with him, and they were spending a lot of time together. Like a lot.
“I hate Herbology,” whined Louis loudly.
“Careful, Louis,” said Longbottom, approaching our table. “I might take that personally.”
“Well you should,” said Louis, and Longbottom smiled indulgently, walking away.
Louis was cousins with James and Freddie, and whilst shared their handsome traits of slanted cheekbones and set jawlines, didn’t have quite the same intellect, the same wit, the same sharpness. He was funny in a slapstick way, not sharp enough to have the same manipulating arrogance of his two relatives.
“Do you ever feel,” said Poppy, looking pensive, “like a bit like… You’re a roll of toilet paper, and you don’t want to be used because gross, but nevertheless, you’re like, well, why not me? Am I not good enough for that?”
“I so get that,” I said, looking at her and nodding. “Yeah, oh my God! I so know what you mean!”
Opposite us, Louis and Ruddy exchanged glances.
“Bat shit crazy,” they chorused.
“Oh my God,” I muttered to Aspen as we sat down on the Ravenclaw table for dinner that night. “James totally turned down dinner tonight but look!”
She followed my gaze to the Gryffindor table, where he was sat with Dahlia Moss and two other Slytherin girls, and I watched him hi-five Freddie as he joined them.
“What?” asked Liam, as he and Mikey slid down opposite us.
“Is Oscar not with you?”
“We’re not his babysitter,” cried Liam. “If anything, he’s ours-”
“Hey,” said Mikey, looking at me. “You alright?”
I sighed, and then smiled at him. “Yeah, it’s all fine. You excited for your birthday, then?”
“Oh come on,” he said. “Fuck yeah?”
“You only turn seventeen once,” said Aspen, sounding wise as usual.
Liam nodded. “I agree with that statement with real passion and zest, Aspen.”
“So do you know what your parents are getting you for your birthday?” I asked.
Mikey shrugged, and stretched his arms. “My parents are more into coming of age being when you’re eighteen, not seventeen. Muggleborn mother and Muggle father, what can you do.”
“Effy and I got you a great present,” said Aspen bubbly. “Be excited.”
“Oh I am,” assured Mikey, patting her on the arm.
“How’s Lucy O’Donnell doing?” I asked him, as he helped himself to a large portion of sausages from the centre of our table.
He shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m kind of phasing that out.”
“Why?” I demanded, and he looked up startled. I quite liked Lucy. I quite liked all of the Gryffindor girls in our year, now Rose was being semi normal and Parker Wills stopped stopping around sending dirty looks and dirtier threats. She also stopped smelling like she bathed in blood on the daily, which was also nice, because I could smell that all the way from my seat in Defence.
“I don’t know, Effy. It was just a snog. I didn’t really want anything from it. It just kind of happened.”
“No, Aspen, not really anything like pregnancy.”
“Hello,” said Oscar, sliding down gracefully next to Liam opposite Aspen and me. “Pie again? Do they want to give me early set high blood pressure from cholesterol overload? Flitwick knows I’m sensitive to white grain and eggs. Oh my.”
“Only one more year until graduation,” said Liam encouragingly.
“Oh don’t say that,” I said, wincing. “I had double Herbology with Ruddy Walcott and Louis Weasley this morning and the idea of those two idiots being leashed into the world… I mean like, responsibility…”
There was a collective silence on our part as we embraced our shameless Ravenclaw snobbery, thinking we were far better suited for the Big Bad World than any other Sixth Year of any other house.
As the boys started discussing Quidditch, my gaze fell upon James opposite me on the Gryffindor table, murmuring something to Dahlia Moss with a smirk on his face, the tips of her fingers grazing the prominent veins of his left arm.
“I’m not that hungry,” I said, pushing the boiled potatoes around on my plate. “I think I’m going to head upstairs.”
“You want me to come?” asked Aspen, turning her head from the conversation as I stood up.
“No, it’s fine,” I said brightly. “Thanks.”
As I walked out of the hall and into the cool, almost silent corridor, I thought about James. I wasn’t an idiot. He was like that before we dated, I knew that. I had grown up watching him charm beautiful girls of all years, listening to rumours of his shameless sex life, his life of boarding school debauchery.
I didn’t expect him to change for me, I just didn’t expect myself to change for him. I was such an idiot! He had toned down the arrogance and superiority blindness since I had first spoken to him, but he hadn’t really changed at all.
I mean, perhaps it wasn’t great of me to cancel on Alfie’s party. But obviously I was going to pick Mikey over Alfie- I wasn’t even friends with Alfie, even though he has been very nice to me since the Quidditch incident last term.
I found myself leading up to the Ravenclaw tower. A few people were still in the common room working, including Danny Alton, who smiled at me absent-mindedly when he heard me walk in. I know it was absent-mindedly because Danny hasn’t smiled at me since Fifth Year.
And I walked up to my room, and then my bed, where I collapsed into a dreamless sleep, absolutely exhausted by it all.
“I wish I was famous enough to be in these history books,” I said I sat in the Ravenclaw common room the next morning with Oscar as we wrote up our History of Magic essays. To what extent has the baby boom shortly following the Second Wizarding War of Britain had an impact on contemporary Wizarding British society?
“I wish I was famous enough to be in magazines,” said Oscar, and we looked up at each other in perfect sync.
“Idol. Absolute angel,” sighed Oscar. “If only her son wasn’t such a museum exhibition of the pre-civilised man.”
“He’s not that bad…” I thought about how Ruddy challenged him to see how many glowworms he could fit up his nose, and threw a tantrum when Ruddy ended up beating him. “No, yeah, you’re right.”
To the window beside us, I heard a tapping. I turned around and saw James’ owl, a slightly scruffy tawny type tap against the glass, and I opened the window and let Narcissus in. James told me how Lily called him Narcissus as James was so obsessed with himself and he didn’t talk to me for a whole hour after I almost wet myself laughing at it.
“Whose that from?” asked Oscar, looking up.
“James,” I said, untying the parchment from Narcissus’s ankle. “It better be an apology letter or a gift card of some sort, the way he was bossing me about today…”
Wilderson, I feel like some explanations are in order. I truly was seeing Dahlia for Potions revision; we had just decided to break for dinner after working in the dungeons for hours on end this afternoon.
Anyway, give Alfie’s party some more thought? Maybe leave Lancaster’s early or something like that. You already made a commitment to going, and I just haven’t seen you at all recently. James
“No kisses at the end?” asked Oscar, reading over my shoulder. “He signs off as just James? What is he, my father? When I come home, make sure the kitchen is cleaned. Dad. Please feed the cats. Dad. Like, what is that?”
“He’s being such a fucking pain,” I said, scribbling a reply on the other side of the parchment.
James, I’m sorry, but Mikey’s one of my best friends. I wouldn’t expect you to come to Mikey’s party over Alfie’s event if the positions were reversed.
I paused, trying to think of a compromise.
“Mikey’s and Alfie’s are both this Saturday night,” said Oscar, “and there’s a Hogsmeade visit this weekend. Just go to that in the day with him?”
Oscar just reminded me there was a Hogsmeade weekend this weekend, so we can just go to that in the day? I was planning on staying in but let’s go then. As a feminist, I’ll ask you on the date, whatever, cool, just call me a Pankhurst sister. See you after lunch?
I sent that, and Narcissus was back within five minutes.
I can’t- the Potions test is on Monday, so I already committed myself to seeing Dahlia to practise. I know it sounds bad but the practical counts for almost half of my overall NEWT. We’ll find an alternative. I’m sorry Eff xx
“Well, at least he’s finally sending you some kisses,” said Oscar.
I raised my eyebrow, as Narcissus flew away into the cloudless early summer’s night. “He almost never sends xx’s, he thinks they’re embarrassing.”
Oscar shrugged. “Anyway, back to this essay. What if I write the first half and you do the last bit? We just need separate introductions, he never marks past the first three feet of parchment…”
That Saturday was a glorious day, absolutely beautiful. The recent summer heat of cornflower blue skies and warm breezes was to come to an end tomorrow, however, as thunderstorms were predicted for the early hours of Sunday morning and throughout the rest of the week.
Quidditch practise that morning was surprisingly tolerable. After Gryffindor won their match against Slytherin, we were to play Hufflepuff next week for our place in the finals, in June. Danny was stressed out, but everybody else was in high spirits. Isn’t it funny how a bit of sunshine and some warm weather can just suddenly turn people’s mood switches on? You know?
“I’ll see you in the Three Broomsticks,” I said, throwing my arm around Mikey as I squeezed him, beaming, as we walked into the changing rooms after practise. “You seventeen year old!”
Mikey laughed, and hugged me back. “You coming with Aspen, then?”
“Yeah. Oscar’s already out with Jasmine and Ophelia, but he said he’ll stop by.”
“No pressure, he’s coming tonight.”
“Happy birthday, mate,” said Danny, clamping a hand over Mikey’s shoulder. “Sorry for my bad mood this morning. Have a good one, Lancaster.”
“Thanks Danny,” said Mikey, grinning, as Danny smiled before slipping into the Captain’s quarters.
“Happy birthday again, Mikey!” chirped Lara, blushing slightly as she walked into the girls’ changing room before Mikey could even say thank you. I turned to Mikey, once she was out of earshot.
“I think somebody has a cruuuuush,” I sang quietly.
“Oh fuck off,” he said, good-naturedly, as Liam and Josh came in, discussing something that must be Quidditch related, Liam looked so excited.
After I showered and slipped into regular clothing, I walked through the castle and up to the Ravenclaw tower, the common room and then my dormitory, where I found Aspen making out with Louis Weasley.
“Effy!” gasped Aspen, looking up from Louis, who looked at me sheepishly.
“Oh my God!” I cried. “I’m so sorry!”
“No I’m sorry! I should have knocked!”
“No! Why would you have knocked? Oh my God, I thought you wouldn’t be back for another hour!”
“Oh my God, I’ll go- I’m so sorry-”
“No, honestly, I-”
“Oh stop apologising,” said Louis, sitting up and slipping his shirt over his head and onto his body. “The amount of times Ruddy and I’ve been in this situation? More than I have hands. No, fingers. Fingers and toes, I would say, but no more than that.”
“When did this happen?” I ask, sitting down on my bed, as Aspen began buttoning her blouse.
“Literally just this morning!” she cried. “You would have known, Eff-”
“No, honestly Aspen, I really don’t mind-”
“We were in the library,” began Louis, sitting upright on Aspen’s bed opposite me, “and doing the same Transfiguration essay. And then we got kicked out of the library for snogging, so we came here.”
“Our tower is much closer than his,” Aspen contributed helpfully.
“Oh, right,” I said, sounding slightly dazed.
In all reality, Aspen and Louis made perfect sense. Both blonde beauties, with scattered brains and good intentions. And of course, they had snogged at Louis’s party a month ago, but they’re both quite frequent kissers, so that wasn’t much more than next day gossip over breakfast.
“So is this just a this morning thing?” I asked, as Aspen copied Louis in sitting cross-legged opposite me. What was a passionate make out session had turned into something that wasn’t quite, but similar to a meeting of sorts.
“I don’t know,” shrugged Aspen, looking at Louis. “What do you think?”
This had to have to be the oddest thing I have ever witnessed.
Louis turned to Aspen, and crossed his arms. “You fancy going to Hogsmeade today then, Az?”
“Okay,” she said breathlessly. “Sure.”
There was a pregnant pause, where they both looked up at me, and I looked at them.
“So do you want me to go or something…?”
“Don’t worry,” chirped Aspen happily. “We’re all going out for Mikey’s birthday lunch today, Louis, do you want to come to that?”
“Sure,” he said, nodding, ruffling the back of his hair. “I’ll see you there, As.” And he nodded at her, and then smirked at me- “Wilderson”, he sang- before leaving, closing the door delicately behind him.
I turned to Aspen, my arms crossed.
"Something you want to tell me?" I asked. "Az?"
“What?” she asked innocently, before we both burst out laughing.
An hour later, there were eight of us seated around Mikey for his birthday, and a passionate, heated discussion about- obviously- Quidditch was taking place, because whilst most of the people there were Ravenclaws, we were on the idiot side of the house, Ravenclaw eternally divided between the clever and the stupid.
“The Thai have a really solid team, but the Americans are at a clear advantage playing on home ground,” said Liam, pointing his finger down, like he was some prestigious politician and not a teenager discussing a sport, spraying food everywhere.
“America’s seeker is too useless to win anything,” said Scorpius, who regarded Quidditch second to family and looked fit to tears from the excitement of it all. “They have amazing defence, but their attack isn’t strong enough.”
“Completely disagree,” said Albus, shaking his head. “Look at France, for instance. They’ve won three games recently without a Seeker’s victory.”
“Yeah, but look at France’s Chasers,” said Declan stubbornly. “Chandon and Luca? Come on-”
“What about Denmark-”
“What about Denmark, their Captain spends half the time calling for penalties-”
“We’re going to go,” said Louis, his arm around Aspen, placing down a galleon for their butterbeers. “Happy birthday, mate.”
“Cheers,” said Mikey happily, and as the two left, Jasmine and Oscar descended, throwing shopping bags all over the table.
“You’ve spilt fucking butterbeer all down me,” whined Liam. “I hate cleaning…”
“Just get the house-elves to do it,” said Jasmine, looking uninterested. “Hey, Effy, look at the sparkling parchment Oscar and I just got- it smells of peppermint-”
“Anyway, your argument about America is invalid when Chile has the same defence tactics-”
“Okay!” barked Oscar, and the table went quiet. “I am done with Quidditch talk! Done! All you talk about in the dormitories is Quidditch, all you talk about at meals is Quidditch… It’s just a sport!”
There was a silence, until Liam spoke up, his Irish accent bolder than ever.
“It’s never just Quidditch, Oscar. It’s a way of life.”
“Nicely put, mate…”
“Look at the parchment,” said Jasmine, happily. It was light green, sparkling in the dimmed lights of the pub, and the artificial scent of peppermint saturated my senses.
“Great,” I said, coughing. “Longbottom would love that.”
“Thing is, he actually would,” Jasmine said. “So Aspen and Louis, huh? I would never have pegged them together, but you know what? It actually makes sense!”
“Couldn’t agree more,” said Oscar, clapping his hands together. “They’re both so blonde and… Well, dumb.”
“Aspen’s not dumb,” I said automatically. “She just doesn’t think.”
“Hmph. Thoughtless, then.”
As the boys banged on about the Quidditch World Cup, the three of us chattered about Aspen and Louis and perhaps Jasmine and Ruddy? No? Never? Bit drastic… No, absolutely not, well, maybe.
“Hey, look,” said Jasmine, craning her neck towards the door. “Is that James and Dahlia Moss?”
I turned around and followed her gaze. James and Dahlia had walked in and were following a waitress to a smaller booth quite far from us, but I could make out James’ silhouette any day. As they walked, she laughed as he murmured into her ear, her delicate fingers on his arm.
“Oh my God!” I cried. “He told me he couldn’t come to Hogsmeade with me because he had to work!”
Jasmine looked outraged. “What the fuck?”
“Ew,” said Oscar, craning his neck as the three of us watched them across the room, our breaths held back, sat in total silence (by contrast, the boys couldn’t have been louder in their Quidditch talk). They were laughing and murmuring to each other, their heads really close, Dahlia twirling the ends of her blonde locks and biting her lip as James ruffled the back of his hair, smirking.
“You should go over to them,” said Jasmine, nodding encouragingly. “Oh my God. What a dick.”
I felt numb, and then furiously angry. My head throbbed with sadness and fury pulsed through my body. I didn’t notice it, but I was shaking.
“I’m done,” I said to no one. “I’m so done.”
He said something and she laughed, and he smirked triumphantly at her giggles.
Jasmine nodded furiously as Oscar patted me on the back. “Want to get out of here?”
And we left, only looking back to say bye to Mikey, the birthday boy.
The owlery was empty, and whilst the day was pleasantly warm with only the mildest breeze, the small room at the top of Hogwarts’ highest tower was freezing. Wind blew in from the many glassless windows, making my hair flutter and my skin prickle.
I crossed my arms against the coldness, and called for an owl. When you're a First Year, having an owl is the height of glamour, and I was never that glamourous. My brother Jack had a history of short-lived owls, and as a result my mum firmly denied the luxury of a personal owl to me when I started at Hogwarts.
So I had to use a school owl, which suited me just fine- I was never an animal person.
“Hey,” I said softly to a nearby owl, my voice clouded by the breathing I was doing through my mouth. The owlery stunk of stale bird poo, and cleaning day was Sunday.
“Wilderson,” said a throaty voice. It sounded relieved and almost apologetic.
“James,” I said, refusing to turn around before I had finished attaching my letter to the owl.
“I would say I’ve been looking for you, but I knew you were here.”
“Should I bother asking how?”
“Nah,” he said, and there was a pregnant pause as I refused to turn around and he refused to walk into my line of vision. We stood like that for a minute before he walked over in front of me.
“Hey,” he said, crossing his arms. Behind him, the sky was just as beautifully, vividly blue as it was when I woke up this morning, and the Quidditch pitch below glittered a twinkling, emerald green.
“Hi,” I said, as my owl flew away.
“Al told me you saw Dahlia and me today at lunch.”
He paused, and ran a hand through his hair. “Look, Wilderson, you must know that if I had any intentions of doing anything we wouldn’t have gone to the Three Broomsticks.”
“I know,” I said loftily. “I’m not accusing you of cheating on me.”
“So what is it?” he said suddenly, breaking from his cool demeanour. “Effy! I can’t help it if Dahlia’s my Potions partner- we’re meant to spend time together outside of class for this coursework-”
“James,” I said, interrupting him as I crossed my arms against a sudden icy breeze. “I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m not. It’s just- why would you tell me you couldn’t come out for lunch when you could, just with Dahlia? And it happened the other day as well-”
“We had to eat-”
“So you took the ten minute walk to Hogsmeade and not the Great Hall?”
He ruffled the back of his hair again, and breathed heavily. “I know what it looks like-”
“And I saw the way you two were with each other! James, she’s clearly not over you and I don’t think you’re over her-”
“What?!” he said harshly. “There is nothing going on there, Wilderson. I know for a fact she’s over me, and I can’t believe I have to convince you that I’m over her-”
He broke off suddenly, and I watched his face. The sun shone on his handsome features, but his eyes were wide with frustration and panic.
I felt the words tumble out of my mouth, every syllable against my tongue and teeth, like painting soft strokes on a harsh canvas. “I just don’t know if I believe that.”
“Effy,” he said, walking over to me with one massive step and holding my arm with his big hand, looking into my face. “Let’s not do this.”
“We’re not doing this,” he said firmly, and I looked up into his dark, brown eyes. I could see every faint freckle on his cheeks, just where the sunlight hits under the eyes, scattered over the bridge of his nose. “Effy.”
I looked up at him, as he stroked my hair. “You’ve always been the type to have loads of girls, James- no, don’t deny it! You know it’s true! You know it wouldn't be out of character for you to get bored and go after somebody else-”
“So it’s me you don’t trust,” he said, laughing harshly.
“I spent the whole of my years at Hogwarts listening to stories about you cheating on girls, sleeping with everybody-”
“I was young! Oh my God,” he said, laughing again, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Come on, Effy-”
“Didn’t you cheat on Dahlia herself with like, three people last year?”
“I was sixteen-”
“James,” I said, softly. “I’m sixteen.”
We looked at each other, until he spoke, piercing through the silence.
“Effy,” he said, quietly. “I flirted with Dahlia because I flirt with most girls that I’m not close with. And I know the way I speak to Dahlia is the way Lancaster speaks to you, but it’s all innocence. I’ve cheated on people previously because whilst I was your age, I wasn’t mature at all. I can’t change my previous actions. I don’t think any of my actions since you’ve gotten to know me- not even date me, just know me- can prove as evidence of what you’re claiming.”
He paused, and stroked my jaw with his thumb.
“If you can’t trust me, Effy, that’s just as much your problem as its mine.”
I nodded, and there was another long pause, the silence of the owlery engulfing us. We were in this impossible limbo; I was too scared to make the next move, knowing how fragile we were, but we couldn’t stay in this moment of silence forever.
“I’m sorry, James,” I said, slowly. “You’re right. I just don’t trust you.”
He nodded, and withdrew the warmth of his hand from my face. The coldness that replaced it made my cheek tingle.
“I don’t think we should break up,” said James, steadily. “But let’s take a break. Wilderson, I’m crazy about you, but if you can’t trust me… Yeah. Let’s just take a breather.”
I crossed my arms as a particularly harsh wind blew through the fragile tower. “I think that’s a good idea.”
“My exams start in two weeks anyway,” he said, nodding slowly. “It’s a good time for it.”
I suddenly found a lump in my throat the size of the letter I had just sent to be delivered. “Okay, yeah.”
“Hey,” he said, wrapping his arms around me, and the warmth of his body was a relief against the iciness of the tower’s air. I was overcome with his scent, his smell of summer and tobacco and that clean, fresh soap that was particularly strong around the neck area. “Hey.”
“I have to go,” I said into his shirt. “Aspen’ll be wondering where I am.”
“Okay,” he said, but I didn’t leave his arms, and he didn’t break away.
Until suddenly, I did.
“Effy,” he said, looking down at me.
“No,” I said, anger rising from my marrow, flooding into my bones, rising up through my throat and pounding in my head. “No, fuck that. James, you can’t just call a break if I confront you over lying to me about having lunch with your ex girlfriend and then, like- like- manipulate me into thinking I’m being paranoid.”
“You want to go on a break?” I said loudly, and my voice echoed off the walls. I felt like half my body was yearning me to stop, whilst the other half pushed on. My head felt heavy under sudden saturation of emotion. “I’m so done. Yeah, let’s go on a break. Or let’s even break up-”
“Wilderson,” he said, his tone starting to match mine. “Listen to me-”
He tried to bring me into him again but I shoved him off, my hands on his chest.
“You listen to me! You can’t call a break the second I start to call you up on your shit-”
“This isn’t the second!” he yelled, his tone now meeting mine. “You’re so constantly vigilant on your bullshit, Wilderson! Lancaster’s been in love with you since before I met you and you happily ignore that because it boosts your fucking ego, and then when I talk to my Potions partner suddenly you freak the fuck out!”
“You can’t compare the two at all-”
“Really, Wilderson? Because I think you fucking can,” he said, speaking fast, and that’s when I knew he was just as livid as I was. “And you know what, I get that you and Freddie don’t like each other. I fucking get it. But he’s willing to make an effort you will never meet because you’re so morally opposed to him because he’s a fucking teenage boy-“
“Fuck you, James, I do make an effort only for him to laugh at me-”
“He laughs at everyone! He hasn’t had an easy fucking life, Wilderson!” snapped James.
“And I bet he doesn’t call a break the second shit gets bad- you know, you preach bravery and lions all the fucking time and yet the minute shit hits the fan you’re proposing a break? Are you a fucking coward? Or maybe you’ve just lost energy now you’re seeing Moss-”
“You know that’s not true-”
“I mean, lying to me? Twice in two days? Do you think I’m a fucking joke?”
“Yes, Wilderson,” he snapped sarcastically, and I would have flinched at his tone if I wasn’t so angry. “I’ve been dating you for the past few months for the banter. Jesus fucking Christ. If I wanted to cheat on you, don’t you think I’d be a little more clever about it?”
“Well I wouldn’t know, would I? I’m not the one who’s done it before-”
“I’ve fucking SAID THIS BEFORE,” he screamed. “You’re different to Dahlia- I’m different-”
“Are you really?”
He paused and looked at me, and in the golden afternoon sunlight that poured into the owlery like honey he had never looked so beautiful. His face glowed and the angles of his face shone, his dark brown eyes glinting amber and bronze.
“I’m sometimes unreliable,” said James finally. “I haven’t been great about the Dahlia thing. I’m trying, but I can’t change for you.”
I nodded numbly. “There’s no need,” I said. “I’m done. I’ve had enough.”
“Fine,” he said, looking me right in the eye. “Yeah, fine, Wilderson. I’m exhausted.”
“Bye,” I said, and he raised his eyebrow at me. He suddenly looked like the James Potter from September, the boy who had a row with Danny on the Quidditch pitch one morning. Strikingly handsome, intimidatingly arrogant, a total stranger.
Oscar was one of my favourite people in the world, and he didn’t have many bad traits, but he did have a few, and one of them was his inability to be quiet.
“So Effy and James broke up, guys,” he chattered loudly. “But you can’t mention it tonight-”
“I can hear you, Oscar,” I called from the bottom of the ladder up to the Astronomy Tower. There were several laughs, but a very awkward silence afterwards.
The sun was just setting on the tower, casting the flat landscape in a kaleidoscope of vivid pinks, golden oranges and sparkling yellow glimmers of light. The day’s evening was far cooler than the day itself, but the same cool breeze of the impending summer blew through the air, and I followed Aspen to our seats by the table.
It was so classic of Mikey to orchestrate a sit down dinner for his seventeenth on the Astronomy Tower. I don’t know anybody who had done it before, but it was such a clever idea. NEWT Astronomy students were given the keys to the tower, and Mikey had arranged for house-elves to bring up food throughout the night.
There were eight seats around the table; Mikey, Liam, Declan, Scorpius, Albus, Oscar, Aspen and me. We all sat down, with Mikey in the middle of the rectangular table, and Albus and Scorpius sat opposite Aspen and I.
I was wearing a leather jacket over a black sleeveless, summer dress, my hair tucked behind my ears and parted off to the side. I had just washed it, so it had more volume than usual, but I wasn’t in the mood to make any special effort tonight.
“I’m sorry about you and James,” said Scorpius, grimacing at me.
“What part of you can’t mention it tonight did you not understand, Malfoy?” I said playfully, imitating Oscar’s voice.
Oscar, from the other side of the table, turned around from his conversation with Mikey. “I do not speak like that, Elizabeth Jane Wilderson!”
“Jane?” said Liam, looking horrified. “Since when?”
“I knew her middle name is Jane,” said Albus, smugly. “I know everyone’s middle name.”
“Go on,” said Aspen, crossing her arms confidently.
“What?! How- Effy!” she hissed, turning to me. “You’re the only one I told.”
I looked up from my glass of water, and smiled sheepishly. “It may have slipped out.”
She hit me playfully and Albus laughed, as the conversation quickly turned to comparing teachers, to discussing Fifth Year gossip- then onto Quidditch, which was a conversation almost violently changed by Aspen and Oscar onto something treading neutral ground that everybody had an opinion on.
“Poppy Atticus is just playing hard to get,” said Scorpius confidently, clamping a hand on Albus’s shoulder.
“I heard Ruddy say how fit she was in Potions the other day,” chatted Oscar. “And she also overheard, and oh my God, the temper on that girl! So admirable. I loved it.”
“What did she do?” I asked, twirling my fork in my pasta.
“Throw pickled frog brains at him,” he chirped.
Above us, the sunset had died, and the sky was a brilliant navy black, studded with stars.
“I know you guys think it’s a joke,” said Albus, sighing. “And her constant rebuttals of my signs of affection is kind of funny, if you’re into that sort of humour-”
“Not helping, Mikey. Anyway, I can’t help it! The more she turns me down, the crazier I get over her!”
“Do you ever think,” I said gently, “that maybe it’s the chase that’s attracting you, not Poppy herself?”
“That’s what she thinks,” said Albus. “But it’s really not. I know what the difference is between the chase and the girl.”
Albus’s attempts of gaining Poppy’s love had evolved from a small joke to a topic of discussion in the school. Albus was highly popular and very handsome, so whenever a guy like that devotes so much time to a single girl- such as Poppy- people start talking. Especially when the girl is so vigilant in saying no.
“Go on,” I said, shoving spaghetti in my mouth. The boys beside me started discussing some girl in the year above, but I was interested in Al and Poppy.
“She’s got this great laugh,” he said, leaning back on his chair and crossing his arms. “And she’s very defiant. I love how she stands up for herself, always arguing or laughing.”
“Feisty,” said Scorpius, nodding.
“Good one, Scor.”
“Come on, mate,” said Mikey, turning from that conversation to ours. “It’s just Poppy Atticus. You could easily have any other girl in the year.”
“You don’t get it, Mikey,” said Albus, ruffling the top of his hair in annoyance. “I wonder what I could do to get her to go on at least one Hogsmeade date before the end of the year…”
“Good luck,” said Aspen encouragingly, as I thought about how his last attempt of asking her out ended up in Poppy spending the night in the Hospital Wing. Albus claimed that desperate times called for desperate measures, but the only thing desperate about the situation was himself.
The night went on like that; easy discussion, laughter, Declan adamantly defending himself against Scorpius’s theory of him being in a secret relationship with Teddy Oliver, Aspen beaming as she was asked about Louis Weasley- concluding in Mikey blowing out the candles on a massive, multi-tiered cake brought up by several house-elves, the chanting of Happy Birthday you Pikey booming so loud they could probably hear us in the dungeons.
“Thanks for such a great night, Mikey,” I said, hugging him as we all began to leave.
“You sure you’re okay about James?” he said, holding me at arm’s length and looking at me skeptically. “You know you can talk to me, Eff.”
“I know,” I said, laughing lightly. “He’s a prick, I’m over it. But thanks.”
I kept my facade up for the whole night. I could be an actress. But when we got back to the dormitories, and I saw James’ old, battered grey Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher tee-shirt- I always wanted to ask what that meant, but never got around to it- I couldn’t help myself. I drew the curtains around me, and tried not to cry.
James' Margaret Thatcher tee-shirt is a very unnecessary detail I added in because I feel like James is the kind of person to not only know about British muggle political history but have very invested feelings about it. Sorry if I offended anyone!
I don't own, as usual, anything you recognise. THIS CHAPTER WAS SO DIFFICULT TO WRITE, I love Effy and James but I think it had to be done. Didn't I warn you!? Anyway- thank you SO SO much for all the amazing, genuinely overwhelming reviews I've been getting. They genuinely mean the world to me, and are undeniably motivational- not only to keep going with this fic, but in general. I've decided to enroll in writing workshops for university as a result of all your incredibly nice, generous words! Cannot express how much they mean to me... Thank you over and over again!
We also just passed FA's 2 year anniversary (!!!!!) and as a celebration, I've decided the next chapter WILL be up by the new year- if not, I'll upload as big a snippet as possible onto the tumblr site for it. Happy holidays!
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