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Chapter 26 : In Which Family Matters
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She sat down at the table next to the tulip. I stayed standing by the wall, staring at her.
“They thought you might be dead,” I said, my voice flat.
She winced in a way that wasn’t very Cassie. I wasn’t used to seeing her look guilty.
“They found your locket, Cass,” I told her. “With your blood on it. How did that happen?”
“I was scared,” she whispered.
“Of what? We’re your friends.”
She shook her head and lifted one hand up to her mouth, chewing anxiously on a fingernail.
“I didn’t want to come back. And I didn’t want people to find me. I thought...I don’t know what I thought.” She bit through the nail. I heard the sound of it splitting, and watched as she used her other hand to peel the jagged edge away from her finger, leaving a thin trail of blood.
“You thought if everyone thought something had happened to you, they probably wouldn’t come looking for you in Hogsmeade,” I said.
I wasn’t sure if I was right, but Cassie’s expression showed that I’d understood. She deliberately made it look like she’d been abducted. She wanted us all to think something bad had happened. She didn’t want us to realise she’d just been hiding away.
“That’s despicable,” I spat out.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” Cassie shrugged, looking pathetic. “I couldn’t come back to school. Not like this. And I could hardly explain it to anyone.”
I frowned at her. She seemed to think that her words made sense.
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
Cassie didn’t look at me, instead staring down at her hands. She wasn’t wearing nail varnish. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen her without painted nails.
“Cass, why didn’t you tell us? We could have been there for you. Did you think we wouldn’t? We could have helped!”
She still didn’t say anything, and I realised that I couldn’t stop talking. Words kept spilling over themselves and my eyes were wet.
“I’ve been so worried. All of us have been so worried. And, what, you were just here? In Hogsmeade?? I don’t get it. Why would you disappear like that? Because you’re pregnant? Did you think that would be a problem? Did you think that was a problem we couldn’t get past? Cass, we always look out for each other. Why would this have been any different?”
Cassie looked tired. “Ollie…”
For some reason I didn’t want to let her speak.
“And even if you didn’t want to tell me, why wouldn’t you tell Scor? He has a right to know about this. He loves you, Cass. And he’s been having the aurors speaking to him and he’s been so sad and he deserves to know about his child. Literally how could you keep this from him?”
“No! Nothing you say is going to make this okay. You have to tell him!”
I was startled by the strength of my anger towards her. I’d spent so much time feeling worried and kind of sad about Cass. I hadn’t thought about how I’d feel if I actually found her. And it turned out that I was furious.
“Ollie,” she said again, this time louder. “Ollie, it’s not his.”
“But he’d help you! He loves you. He...what?”
“The baby isn’t his,” she said, sounding drained. “He’s not the father.”
I stared at her.
Once, when we were fourteen, Scor, Cass and I had convinced Cassie’s brother to apparate us to Brighton beach. It was February and freezing and as soon as we got there we realised it was a pretty bad idea, but Andreas had already left and wasn’t going to pick us up until the evening. We bought fish and chips and took photographs on the pier and when it started to get dark Cass convinced us to go in the sea. We splashed around and laughed at our chattering teeth and when I looked at them I was completely overwhelmed by how happy they made me. And then Scor picked Cassie up in the sea, clothes heavy with salt water, and spun her round, and the way he looked at her made it clear that they had something I could never be part of.
I remember how worried I was that day. It was the first time I realised that Scor and Cassie might end up more than friends. And for a long time I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to our friendship. I thought I’d lose them both. But it turned out that their relationship was good for us, that it kept us stronger as friends, and kept both of them happier than they’d been when they were apart.
This was so so much worse.
“Ollie, I don’t know what to say,” Cass said quietly.
“Scor’s not the father? But then...who is?”
Cassie shook her head and sucked her bottom lip between her teeth, chewing the fragile skin. I rubbed my eyes with the palms of my hands. It all felt like it was too much.
I’d left the door open when I entered the cottage, so wouldn’t have noticed the person arrive behind me if Cassie’s eyes hadn’t widened at his appearance.
“Sorry, I got held up at school. Molly wanted to meet and I couldn’t get rid of her.”
I swallowed and turned around. I knew the voice but I didn’t want to believe it.
“Liv?” James dropped the paper bag he was holding. Vegetables spilled out onto the floor. He looked down at them and seemed to consider picking them up, but instead stayed still.
“What are you doing here?” I somehow kept my voice steady.
“I didn’t think you’d be here,” he said, not answering my question. “When did Cass let you know this was where she was?”
“She didn’t,” I said coldly, my eyes flickering back to Cass, who was still chewing her lip.
“Maybe you should go, James,” Cass said. Her voice was surprisingly gentle. “Ollie and I should talk.”
“No, that’s okay. Stay,” I said, taking a step towards the doorway. “I’m done.”
“Ollie.” Cass stood up.
“Don’t what? Talk to you? You’re my best friend.”
“Are you serious?” I glared at her. “You’ve been gone for months. You disappeared without saying anything and deliberately let us all think you might be dead. And so many things have happened and I’ve needed you and you’ve just not been here.”
“Ollie, I didn’t know,” Cass said.
“I wrote to you! I wrote you so many letters and you completely ignored them. And then I turn up here and you’re pregnant but you didn’t bother telling me. And you’re not just pregnant but you’re pregnant with James Potter’s child. So that’s another thing you just never thought to mention. Because I was under the impression that you were in love with our best friend, your boyfriend, who has been going completely insane while you’ve been gone. But it turns out there were just a lot of things I didn’t know about you.”
I stared at her for a moment. I was aware that my words had been too rushed, too emotional. I didn’t think I’d managed to properly show her how much she’d hurt me. But it was all too much of a surprise and I couldn’t organise my thoughts enough to speak clearly.
Cassie touched her fingers to her cheekbones, looking more vulnerable than I’d ever seen her, and then she lifted her head high to look at me properly. And I hated her.
I pushed past James, shoving him rather than walking around him to reach the door. I wanted to look back at Cass, hoping that maybe some of the hatred would dissipate, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn around.
I flung myself out of the door and ran down the path. I couldn’t see Al and panicked for a moment, but then caught sight of a figure further down the road and rushed towards him.
“Liv.” He sounded almost surprised to see me. “I wasn’t sure where to go. I didn’t want to intrude. So I waited here. I...are you okay?”
He caught my arms and looked at me. I shook my head and he curled his arms around me so that I could gasp against his chest.
We stood there for several minutes. He kept me steady and I didn’t want to move away from him. I somehow wasn’t crying, which surprised me. I think it must have been because I was so angry.
My whole body was trembling. It felt a little bit like at Easter, when I’d gone home to find the Healers outside my house. But this time for some reason I felt more pathetic, more out of control. Maybe because this time it was completely unexpected. I’d always known Cass could be difficult, but I thought I could trust her. She was one of the only people I’d felt so sure about, and it turned out I’d been wrong.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Al murmured against my hair.
I clutched onto him, digging my fingers into his shoulder blades, and he kissed my head.
“Okay. Okay, we don’t need to talk. I’m here.”
He rocked me from side to side while we stood. The motion was strangely comforting. Our toes were touching and I focussed on lining my whole body up with his. I could feel my hip bone grazing against him, and tried to straighten my body so it touched his hip, drawing my shoulders up so they fitted just below his. He held onto me while I wriggled, letting me try to calm myself down.
“Everyone keeps letting me down, Al,” I whispered. “Scor, and Mum, and Cass.”
“They’ll come back to you,” he said softly. “Malfoy did.”
“What if they don’t?”
I heard his breath quicken. He was worried about me.
“They will. You’re wonderful,” he said.
“I just want to feel like everything’s normal again. I want everything to stop being so complicated.”
A single tear finally burned itself into my eye, and I almost felt relieved as it trickled down my cheek. I wanted to be able to make sense of what I was feeling.
Al reached up a hand and brushed the tear away with his thumb. His skin was warm and rough.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” I confessed. “You’re always here.”
“I always will be,” he smiled, drawing me back against his chest. “I promise. I’m not going anywhere.”
I smiled against him, even though I could feel more tears coming. I wasn’t sure when it had happened, but at some point he’d become somebody who made me feel completely safe, and that was exactly what I needed.
“I know you’re angry,” he said, pulling away from me a little so he could see my face and wipe my eyes again. “I do. But I think it’ll get better.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“It will,” he insisted. “It might take time, but you won’t always feel like this. And James and Cassie...they weren’t trying to hurt you. I know it’s hard to see their point of view, especially right now. It’s a lot to take in, obviously, but I think when you’re ready you’ll be able to talk to them about it.”
I swallowed, staring at him. He looked confused by my changed expression, but before he could say anything I stepped backwards, out of his grasp. Cold realisation swept over me, and brought back the fury he’d managed to soothe away.
“You knew.” I stared at him.
“You knew. You knew about Cassie and James!” I took another step backwards.
“You just started talking about them. I hadn’t even told you what happened and you knew. You knew.”
Al looked alarmed and held up one hand, perhaps thinking about reaching out to me again, but he lowered it when I glared at him.
“I’ve been so worried about her! And all this time I’ve been upset, and talking to you about it, and you’ve been acting like you’re helping...and you knew where she was!”
“No, Liv, I...I haven’t known the whole time.”
“But you still knew before I did. And you didn’t tell me?”
I stood still, watching him, waiting for him to deny it. But the denial never came. Instead, he slowly inclined his head. He looked like he was wilting.
I didn’t wait to let him speak again, and instead did what I do best. I turned around and ran as fast as I could, ignoring his shout for me to come back.
The journey back to school felt shorter than it had on the way into the village, and I sprinted the majority of the way, rushing past laughing students and ignoring anyone who recognised me. It was still light and Hogsmeade was still full of Hogwarts students enjoying their weekend. It seemed absurd that they could all be out here, that the world hadn’t been turned upside down for them, but I didn’t let myself think about them.
When I reached the school I hesitated, unsure where to go. At some point I knew I needed to see Scor, but I didn’t feel ready to do that yet. I waited by the gates to catch my breath. Al hadn’t followed me. I wasn’t sure whether I was disappointed or relieved. My breathing eventually calmed down and I pushed my hair back behind my ears, already feeling calmer.
The sky was clear and I couldn’t see anybody flying so I walked towards the Quidditch pitch, wondering vaguely whether being up in the air might make me feel better.
The pitch was completely empty. I walked all the way to the very centre of the grass. I liked being there alone. It made me feel tiny, but in a way that was comforting. I abandoned any plans I had to fly, and instead knelt down in the grass and hugged my knees against my chest.
I stayed there, by myself, for a long time, letting waves of worry and anger wash over me. I couldn’t even be bothered to make myself properly think about how I was feeling, but I knew I couldn’t just go back up to the castle and act like nothing had happened. It felt like everything had changed. I was angry with Cassie, for disappearing, for not being around, for lying to Scor. But for the moment I wasn’t even thinking about her.
I felt completely and utterly betrayed by Al. In some ways, it felt the same as Scor distancing himself from me earlier in the year. The only person I’d trusted and wanted to talk to about it all had been Scor, but I couldn’t go to him because he was the one that had been making me sad. This was similar. I’d learned to rely on Al, to talk to him whenever things were difficult, but now the thing that was difficult was in some ways his fault, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
I sat up and hastily wiped my eyes to check that they were dry. Jason was jogging towards me, wearing his Gryffindor hoody and what looked a lot like pyjama bottoms.
“Hey, moron,” I muttered when he was close enough to hear me without me having to raise my voice.
“Hi.” He dropped down beside me. I edged away so there was some grass between us.
“What are you doing here?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk to James Potter’s best friend right now, even if he was my cousin.
“Erm, James just got back from Hogsmeade,” Jason said. “He said you might need some company.”
“Oh.” I lay back in the grass.
“We had a pretty long chat. Turns out there was quite a lot he was keeping from me. I’m not used to my best friend keeping secrets like that.” Jason lay down as well. His head nearly touched mine, but he flung his feet in a different direction. We made a kind of right angle on the floor.
“Join the club,” I said, forcing a laugh.
“I would have told you if I’d known,” he said seriously.
I rolled onto my front so I could push myself up using one hand, and then reached out and messed his hair up. He stuck his tongue out at me and I managed a small smile before lying back down on my tummy.
We didn’t say anything else to each other, and I expected Jason to leave me alone and go back to the castle, but instead he shuffled closer and closed his eyes.
It was maybe the first time I’d realised that it was sort of nice to have some family at Hogwarts.
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