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Chapter 28 : In Which Stories are Told
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I’m not even sure how to begin this letter, but I know that I should write - I should at least be trying to explain myself to you.
I know you think I should have told you what was going on, but I hope you can understand why that was difficult for me. This whole thing has been so hard for me to get my head round and get used to. It’s changed everything for me. I wasn’t ready to talk about it and I needed some time to get used to the fact my life is going to be different now.
Things with James are...complicated. But he’s been supportive. And it’s been good for me to have somebody to talk to who understands.
You and Scor are probably furious with me. I hope you can forgive me. I did what I had to do. Look after him for me.
But anyway, enough about me. How are you?! Was that Albus Potter you were with at the weekend? I can’t say I ever saw that coming. How’s school? Are you doing okay in lessons without me to help you?
Love you girly,
I glared at the letter and then scrunched it up into a ball. It made a satisfying, destructive noise, so I smoothed it out again, wanting to crush it and hear the sound once more. Before I could screw it up, Scor reached out and slid the parchment out from under my fingers.
“I didn’t expect her to apologise. Thought she’d wait for us to go to her,” he said lightly.
“Not sure you can exactly call that an apology,” I scowled.
Scor raised his eyebrows and his eyes flickered down to read Cassie’s words. I watched his expression darken as her message sunk in, and then he very purposefully tore a straight line down the centre of the parchment, leaving it in two separate halves on the table.
“I don’t like her,” I muttered.
Scor tore the parchment again. This time his movement was less careful, and left jagged pieces of letter behind.
“She’s acting like she didn’t do anything wrong. Like this year hasn’t been hell without her,” I said.
“Did you expect her to do anything else?” Scor cut across me. His voice was angry, but I didn’t think the anger was directed at me.
“I thought...I don’t know.”
“This is a standard Cassie move. Cause absolute chaos and trauma for everyone around you and then pretend your actions made sense and nothing’s changed for anyone except you.”
I was actually quite surprised by the bitterness in Scor’s voice, but his words were true.
“Did you notice how many times she used the word ‘I’ in that letter?” Scor continued. “She’s not even thinking about the fact that her actions had an effect on us. And I cannot believe she had the cheek to tell you to look after me for her.”
“She’s showing she still cares about you, though,” I said.
“No, she’s not,” Scor said, shaking his head. “She’s showing you that she still has a claim to me. She’s acting like you wouldn’t look after me anyway, because she doesn’t think our friendship matters as much as our relationships with her. It’s fucking typical.”
I frowned. I’d been annoyed by the letter but I hadn’t really thought that much about the implied meaning of Cassie’s words. Everything Scor said made sense, and corresponded to all the things I’d always tried to ignore about Cass’s personality.
“You know what?” Scor said, not waiting for me to acknowledge his words before carrying on. “I’m done with her. Completely. I am completely done being a part of her life.”
I bit my lip. I never would have expected to hear Scor talk about Cassie like this. They were Scor and Cassie. They were supposed to be the most in love people I knew. They were supposed to actually be able to make it work. But then again, it was hardly Scor’s fault that it had all gone wrong.
“What will you do if she comes back?” I asked, not sure I really wanted to hear the answer.
Scor shrugged. “I don’t know. Ignore here, I guess? But I’m not playing her game. I’m not going to act like she’s just been going through some big problems and had to hide away and it’s all completely understandable and excusable. Because it’s not.”
“No. It’s not,” I agreed.
“I’m not going to tell you what to do,” Scor said. “Because how you handle your friendship with her is your own choice. But if I were you, I wouldn’t write back.”
I peered back at what was left of the letter. All I’d wanted since Cass had disappeared was for her to write to me, to get in touch and explain what was going on. I’d thought I could forgive her for anything, as long as she let me know she was okay and helped me to understand what was going on in her head. But now it was too late. Scor was right.
I nodded and Scor reached out to squeeze my hand.
“Come on,” he said, his voice softer. “We’re going to be late for Transfiguration. And I’ve missed too many classes already this week.”
I took a last gulp of my tea and then stood up, abandoning the rest of my breakfast. Scor walked next to me, his arm bumping against mine, but we didn’t really talk. All either of us could think about was what had happened with Cass, but we’d said all we needed to say about it already.
As we left the Hall, I was stopped by Professor Slughorn calling my name.
“Miss Bell! Ah, there you,” he panted, out of breath as he waddled over to catch up with us. “I’ve been meaning to have a chat with you. Let’s go to my office.”
Scor gave me a questioning glance and I shrugged.
“Um, I’m meant to be in Transfiguration,” I said.
“No matter, no matter. I’ll explain your absence,” he said, waving a hand to demonstrate how unimportant my lesson was. “Now come on, Miss Bell. This won’t take long.”
I shrugged at Scor again and he shook his head in bemusement. Slughorn was already starting to walk away, so I left Scor to catch up.
I wasn’t sure what Slughorn could possibly want to talk to me about. There was a large possibility that he’d heard about my absolute incompetence as a prefect, but he’d never seemed that bothered about prefect duties anyway, and I couldn’t see him pulling me out of a lesson to tell me off about skipping patrols.
When we reached his office, I sat down near his desk, moving an empty box of crystallised pineapple from the chair to the floor. Slughorn bustled about getting himself a glass of mead before sitting down opposite me. I wasn’t sure it was really appropriate for him to be drinking mead at school, but he’s been working there for about a million years so I figured he could probably do what he wanted.
“What’s this about?” I asked, aware that I was scowling but unwilling to stop.
“Miss Bell, I had high hopes for you this year,” Slughorn said, reaching out to a box of chocolates on his desk. “You’ve been making friends with the Potters, and your achievements on the Quidditch pitch haven’t gone unnoticed. I had half a mind to invite you to my next little gathering.”
He was speaking through a mouthful of chocolate. I felt mildly disgusted.
“But I’ve been getting worrying reports from your teachers, and as your Head of House I can’t ignore them anymore,” he said.
“What? Which teachers?”
“All of them.” His voice was uncharacteristically gentle, and I thought I could maybe see why he’d been given the position of Head of House in the first place. “You’re falling behind in your work, Olivia. Your grades have been slipping and you haven’t handed in essays for any of your subjects since the Easter holidays.”
“But…” I felt like what he was saying was unfair, even though I knew it was true.
“We are aware of your current family situation. And I’ve been trying to give you time to process what happened over the holidays. But we need to develop a strategy to help you catch up, or you’re going to struggle to manage your NEWTs next year.”
He waited, obviously letting his words sink in. I swallowed. I’d been sort of aware that I wasn’t doing much work, but I hadn’t thought it was bad enough for my teachers to have noticed. And he was implying that it would affect me next year as well.
“What do I need to do?” I looked at him.
“To start with, let’s look at some of your extracurricular commitments,” Slughorn said. “I’m aware that I asked you to take on the prefect role, and most of these problems have started since then. It would perhaps be a good idea for you to pass on the duty to somebody else, to give you some more time to focus on your studies.”
“That’s sounds like a good plan,” I said, feeling a little bit relieved. I hated being a prefect. I wished he’d told me earlier that I could stop.
“Good. I’ll discuss it with the Headmistress. And then of course there is the matter of your position on the Quidditch team.”
“I’m not giving up Quidditch,” I said immediately.
“I understand that it might be difficult for you to let go of, Miss Bell, but you can’t deny the level of commitment Hogwarts Quidditch requires. And it’s my belief that you might require that extra time for school work.”
“Professor…” Tears were welling up in my eyes and I brushed them away. “Please don’t make me give up Quidditch. I need it. And the last match is next weekend. Can’t you let me keep it just until then? It’s only two weeks.”
Slughorn frowned, but he nodded slowly.
“That seems reasonable. Just ensure that Mr Malfoy doesn’t push you too hard. And you need to show me that you’re taking your study seriously.”
“I will. I promise.” My eyes were still wet, which I hated, but I thought it might be making him a little more sympathetic than he otherwise would have been.
I thought he’d let me go after that, but he kept me there to discuss my feedback from various teachers and make sure I understood what I needed to work on. I’d always thought of Slughorn as a bit of a joke, and was surprised by this side of him. He seemed to really care about me doing myself justice when it came to the NEWTs, and hearing this from him made me want to try harder. It had been stupid to let myself fall so far behind.
By the time I left Slughorn’s office, the lesson was nearly over. I had a free period left so could have gone straight back to my dormitory, but there was somebody I needed to find so I headed back towards the Transfiguration classroom to ambush my class on their way out.
“Rose.” I found her red hair in the crowd and tapped her on the shoulder. “Rose, I need your help.”
She spun round to look at me. “Liv? You okay? Has something happened?”
“I’m fine, really, I just…”
She looked worried. Scor looked over from where he’d left the room with Joe, and came to stand next to me, his face anxious.
“Rose, will you help me make a study timetable?”
For a moment, Rose looked confused. And then her nervous expression brightened into a huge smile.
“Oh, I thought you’d never ask,” she beamed.
Working hard actually made me feel really, really good. Scor organised Quidditch practice every evening - the final was approaching and he apologised for the time commitment but was more driven than ever to beat Gryffindor. And when I wasn’t practicing, I was in the Library.
Rose had drawn up a colour coordinated study chart for me, and was completely dedicated to making sure that I stuck to it. I sat with her for an hour before dinner each night, and then Scor and I joined her for another two hours when we finished practice. They sat either side of me for Transfiguration practice, laughing at my wand work and correcting my theory, pushing themselves to understand why everything worked the way it did so that they could help explain it to me. When I guiltily apologised to them for taking up so much of their time, Rose’s eyes widened - “oh no, you mustn’t think that. This is fascinating, really it is. I don’t usually get to look into the subject in so much depth” - and Scor flicked my nose and told me he’d do anything for me.
In my free periods, I usually ambushed whoever I could find that was free at the same time and asked if they had time to help me out. Joe spent an afternoon practicing practical Charms with me, and then when he’d decided I understood he gave me a stack of notes Oz had passed on to him, telling me he’d memorised them all already because he found things easier to learn when they were in Oz’s handwriting. Louis tried to explain Herbology and then, when it was clear he didn’t know any more than I did, he marched me down to Professor Longbottom to demand that he give us an extra lesson and explain the things we’d missed. Esther turned out to have a surprising knack for Potions and read through my essay for me, tutting and explaining my mistakes with remarkable patience. Clara snuck tea into the Library, batting her eyelids at Madame Pince and sliding a disillusioned flask across the desk towards me, and Jason, who was busy practicing flying techniques at all hours for his last game at Hogwarts, sent a steady stream of younger students to deliver chocolate frogs to me.
The more time I spent with them all, the less time I spent thinking about Cassie. She wrote me three more letters over the two weeks. I read the first one while I was in the Library with Louis. It said pretty much the same thing as she’d said before, and I managed to throw it away without him noticing. The second one arrived at breakfast time again, and Scor set fire to it before I’d even opened it. He apologised, looking sheepish, and I laughed. When the third letter arrived, I took it to Scor without opening it. We read it together, pulled faces at each other and then fed it to Oz’s pygmy puff.
Being busy was good for me. I still got a funny feeling in my tummy whenever I saw Albus, and had to hold onto Scor once when James Potter walked past because I was worried he might do something he’d regret, but in general it felt like things might be getting a bit better.
By the time the weekend of the Quidditch match arrived, I was exhausted. As soon as my last lesson finished, I allowed myself to head back to my dormitory instead of the Library.
The room was empty apart from Amethyst Twine, who was curled up in a ball on her bed with large muggle headphones pulled down over her ears. I didn’t understand her. We all knew muggle devices didn’t work at school, but for some reason she was still wearing the headphones. I laughed to myself and sat down on my own bed, pulling out my sketchbook.
Looking at my drawings made me feel a little bit wobbly. The pages were filled with Al, laughing and sleeping and eating, and the pictures made it hard for me to remember why I was so cross with him.
I sighed and turned to a new page, planning to draw something else, anything other than Al, but for some reason when I lifted my pencil to the sheet all it wanted to do was outline his face.
I paused when somebody knocked at the door, but didn’t move to answer it. Nobody I cared about would bother knocking.
The knock sounded again, and then the door swung open to reveal Lily Potter.
I closed my sketch book and looked at her. I didn’t know her very well. She was in fourth year, and tried out for the Quidditch team this year as Chaser. She was pretty good and I thought Scor would probably put her on the team when Oz left. She didn’t look anything like her brothers, and mostly kept herself to herself. Right now, she looked determined and a little bit scary.
“I need to talk to you,” she said, striding into the room.
“I’m busy,” I yawned.
“That’s too bad.” She sat down on the end of my bed and pulled her legs up onto the mattress, sitting cross legged and facing me.
“Fine. What do you want?”
Across the room, I noticed Amethyst looking at us. I wondered if she could hear anything through the headphones, but decided it didn’t matter even if she could. She didn’t talk to anyone anyway.
“I need to talk to you about my brother,” Lily said.
I groaned. “Which one?”
“Good question. Both.”
“I look forward to it.” I slid further down in the bed, not really looking forward to the conversation.
“I know you probably hate them both at the moment,” she said.
“You’re a wise one, baby Potter.”
“But you need to listen, okay?”
I turned back to my sketchbook, waiting for her to keep talking, but looked back at her when she stayed silent. She was obviously waiting for me to agree to listen.
“Fine. Whatever. But it won’t change anything,” I said.
“Maybe,” Lily conceded. “But you need to hear it.”
“Go ahead.” I closed my eyes and listened as Lily started to speak properly.
“Look,” she began. “I don’t think Al ever told you much about what it’s like at home. He doesn’t talk about it much. I mean, I tell people, you know? Because it’s my life and I know it’s different and it’s important to me that my friends understand where I’m coming from. And James tells your cousin a lot. But Al’s never been that keen to talk, maybe because his best friends have always been family so they understand anyway.”
I yawned. Lily ignored me and kept talking.
“And I mean, I can’t blame him. The only time he did properly talk about how it makes him feel was with Laura, and we all saw how that turned out.”
She sounded cross and I smiled. She was obviously protective. Al needed that.
“But what you’ve got to understand is that growing up with the Potters is a strange experience,” Lily continued. “It really is. Our dad literally saved the world, and that means people look at us differently. They expect things from us, and we couldn’t possibly live up to it. And then you look at the rest of our family, at our aunts and uncles and grandparents, and all of them saved the world as well.”
I opened my eyes. I hadn’t expected to be interested in what she was saying, but I couldn’t help but want to hear more.
Lily shrugged. “I know I sound like I’m whiny and spoilt. Our family’s wonderful and they care about each other and they love us. But it’s difficult. And other people don’t understand. It’s not their fault, they just can’t understand. This has been our whole lives.”
“So the only people that really do understand are other people in the family,” Lily said. “I know everything about my brothers. I know what makes them sad and what makes them insecure and I know what would make them hurt somebody else and what would make them give up.”
Her voice started to grow stronger, and she sat up a little bit straighter.
“I would do anything for them. And they’d do anything for me. And for each other,” she said. “I know you might not have realised it, but Al worships James. When we were little he’d do pretty much anything James asked him to, and he still finds it hard to say no.”
“That doesn’t excuse anything,” I interrupted.
Lily shrugged again. “I don’t know. I get why you’re cross, but I’m not sure that you’ve really thought about what this has been like for Al.”
“And I guess you’re here to enlighten me?”
“I’m here to try,” Lily grinned. “I’m not sure I’m doing a very good job of explaining, but I couldn’t watch you keep ignoring him and just not say anything. He...I understand why you’re annoyed with him, but I also completely understand why he did it, and if I were you I think I’d forgive him.”
I shook my head. “Lily, he watched me struggling with Cassie’s disappearance, and he saw Scor being questioned, and he knew all along that she was safe. He should have told me.”
“Actually,” Lily said. “He watched his brother freak out over christmas, not eating and refusing to talk to anyone unless they were going out and drinking. And then he eventually convinced James to talk to him about it and James burst into tears and made him promise not to tell anyone at all. Keep in mind that James hasn’t cried about anything except Quidditch since we were kids.”
She looked at me, challenging me to say something, but I didn’t interrupt.
“James refused to tell Al about Cassie, but he told him about the baby. And then Al started to get him to drink a bit less and spend some more time with the family. By the time we came back to school, he was almost acting like himself again. And Al kept it a secret, even from the family, because he promised James that he would and because James was starting to look happier again.”
She paused to take a deep breath, a flicker of sadness passing over her face. I wondered what it was like for her, knowing that the secret had been kept from her too even though she was their sister.
“And at the same time as Al was supporting James, he was starting to get to know you and get involved with the whole Cassie thing, still not knowing that they were connected,” Lily said. “And he really, really likes you. More than he’s liked anyone before, I think.”
“Well, he had a funny way of showing that,” I muttered. Lily rolled her eyes.
“It was only much later that James asked Al to meet with him. He said he wanted to tell him who the girl he’d been seeing was, but needed Al to promise he wouldn’t tell anyone, even you. And Al...well, Al loves James and he was worried. Of course he promised.”
“Right.” I wasn’t sure what Lily really wanted me to do with this information.
Lily sighed. “I see why you’re so cross. I do. I would be too. And what Al did to you was wrong. But what he did for James? I reckon I would have done the same thing. We’re there for each other. That’s the kind of thing we do.”
“He just...he made me really sad,” I admitted.
Lily gave me a small smile and nodded. “I know. He messed up. But he’s a good person. He’s just loyal to a fault, and he made James a promise without realising it would mean hurting you. And I think...I think if you can manage to forgive him, you won’t regret it.”
I didn’t say anything. Lily took a deep breath and stood up.
“Um, okay. I’ve said my bit,” she said, walking over to the door. “Good luck in the match tomorrow.”
She closed the door behind her. I groaned and rolled onto my front. I hadn’t thought anyone would be able to talk me into forgiving Al, but I was very aware that over the course of my conversation with his sister, most of my anger seemed to have disappeared.
A voice from across the room spoke up, making me jump.
“I would try to forgive him,” Amethyst said, pulling her headphones away from her face and sitting up to look at me. “If you care about him.”
I sat up too, staring at her. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard her speak.
“I don’t know what’s happened between you and Potter,” she said. “Only what I heard just now. But...don’t be angry just for the sake of being angry. You don’t know what will happen next, and it’s just not worth it.”
“I just feel really betrayed right now. I feel like he let me down,” I told her, surprised to be having this conversation with Amethyst Twine.
“I started seeing somebody last year,” Amethyst said.
“Oh?” I didn’t know where she was going with this, and started to think about how I could leave the room without being rude.
“A girl from home,” she explained. “A muggle. I used to spend a lot of time with her in the holidays and then write to her whenever I could from school. Sometimes her letters were the only thing that made me smile.”
She was using past tense. “What happened?”
“She was sick,” Amethyst said. “Really sick. With a muggle illness. She’d been ill the whole time I’d known her but she never told me. I only found out because her brother mentioned it by accident while I was at their house. And...I was so furious with her for keeping it a secret that I just felt like I couldn’t be around her anymore. And I stopped writing. It’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.”
“You could start writing to her again?”
“No, I couldn’t.” Her voice sounded flat. “She died. Just before christmas.”
Without really thinking, I got up and moved across to her bed, reaching out to hold her hand.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.
Amethyst took a deep breath and managed a smile that didn’t meet her eyes. “Don’t be. There was nothing anyone could do. She’d known all along that she didn’t have long left.”
I looked down at my lap. I didn’t know how we’d got here from talking about what was going on between Al and me.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, really,” she said with a pained laugh. “I guess I just...I think if someone loves you and treats you well and the relationship means enough, you shouldn’t let it go. Not for anything. Because you don’t know if something else is going to come along and take it from you.”
I squeezed her hand and we sat together in silence.
A/N: Credit goes to Margie for her thoughts about Olivia's schoolwork, which I've been forgetting about a little bit... Thank you Margie for reminding me (and inspiring Slughorn to remind Olivia) that even though her life is complicated right now her studies are still important. And thanks as always to all you wonderful readers and reviewers - I really appreciate all your kind words. E xx
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