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Chapter 31 : In Which There Is An Unwelcome Visitor
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Harry and Ginny were having a quiet conversation with Madam Bulstrode and didn’t look at me as I walked over to Al’s bed. James was sat beside him, one hand resting on his brother’s shoulder. He had dark circles under his eyes and I wondered if he’d managed to get any real sleep. Behind him, Lily was curled up in a ball on her own bed. Her mane of hair was tangled over her face, making it hard to tell whether she was awake.
“I feel like shit,” James told me as I sat down beside him.
I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t know how I felt about James. He was still the boy that had ruined my friendship with Cass, but somehow I felt connected to him. He understood how I felt about Al. And he was the one that had made sure I could stay with them all until we knew what was going to happen.
“Rosie’s in the Library,” he said. “Think she’s trying to singlehandedly discover how to cure him.”
“Sounds like Rose,” I sighed. “If in doubt, find a book.”
James smirked and then sighed. He rubbed his eyes with his fists and ran a hand through his hair to push it back from his face. The movement was so like Al that my breath caught in my throat.
“That was really decent of Malfoy to look after my broom yesterday,” James said. His voice was steady but he looked like he might be nervous.
“Well, he’s a decent person,” I said. “Better than decent.”
I could see James turning my words over in his head. I didn’t know what he’d thought of Scor before this week. Presumably it couldn’t have been anything good. But most people didn’t think anything good about Scor.
Harry and Ginny finished their conversation with Madam Bulstrode and came back to Al’s bedside, sitting down next to each other on the other side of the bed to James and me.
“You look awful,” Ginny said to James.
“Cheers.” James rolled his eyes.
A small cough sounded from the doorway and both James and I jumped to our feet. He took a step away from Al, closer to the door. I took a step back.
It should have been strange to hear Cassie’s name spoken with such care from James Potter. But he gave her such a tender expression that her name from his lips didn’t really seem surprising.
Cassie ignored him. She looked more like her old self than she had when I’d seen her in Hogsmeade. She was wearing a long white coat over a black dress and her nails were painted a deep, emerald green. She didn’t even look at James. Instead her gaze was fixed on me.
“Ollie,” she whispered, rushing over to me.
She reached out to take my hand and I took another step backwards. My legs were pressed against Al’s bed now and I had nowhere else to go to get away from her.
James looked like he wasn’t sure what to do with himself, and hovered behind Cass.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Cassie said. “Poor you. Ollie, I watched the Match. I saw him fall. How are you?”
I frowned at her. Everything in her voice was telling me she was worried about me, but it didn’t make sense.
“Get out,” I said, forcing myself to look away from her and turn my eyes back to Al.
“Don’t do that. Let me be here for you, Ollie. You’re my best friend.”
“Oh?” I could feel anger flooding through my chest and up into my throat. I wanted her to leave.
“Of course. Come on, Ollie. We’ve always talked through everything. And you’re having a hard time. I want to look after you.”
I laughed and looked at her again. Her lip was trembling and she looked uncharacteristically nervous.
“And at what point during this year did you think you were looking after me?” I managed to keep my voice calm.
Cassie bit her lip and looked like she was trying to think of something to say.
“Because last time I checked,” I said, not giving her a chance to reply. “Last time I checked, you’ve spent the last six months being completely awful to me.”
“You don’t mean that…”
“No, I do. I really do.”
“I just...I’ve been having a hard time. With all this.” Cassie gestured to her stomach. The roundness was visible even under her coat.
I shook my head. “No. Cass, you don’t get to tell me you’ve had a hard time. You really don’t.”
James was looking increasingly awkward. His eyes were fixed on the floor and he was fidgeting like Al did when he was trying to work out the right thing to say. I was suddenly very aware of his parents, still sitting beside Al and listening to the whole conversation. It wasn’t really surprising that James was embarrassed.
“Cassie, this is what you do,” I said. “This is what you’ve always done. You float around doing whatever you want while everyone else collapses around you, and then when you notice that they’re hurt you decide it’s time to reveal your great vulnerabilities and whatever so they don’t realise that you’ve been ignoring them all along.”
“No. You don’t get to make excuses this time. I’ve had an objectively terrible year. You were my best friend and you were meant to be there for me and you weren’t. And I’m not okay with that. You don’t get to just turn up and act like you’re being supportive. That’s not who you are.”
“Ollie, I didn’t realise…”
“Oh, shut up, Cassie.”
I felt very tired. In some ways I didn’t want to have this conversation. But at the same time I had a lot that I needed her to hear.
“I haven’t seen you properly since New Year’s Eve,” I said quietly. “Since we were out on New Year’s Eve and you watched me get sexually assaulted by your brother’s friend and did absolutely nothing to stop it and then made jokes about it on the way home.”
This time, Cassie didn’t try to interrupt.
“The same night that your long-term boyfriend decided to tell you that he loved you and you pretended not to hear him. That’s the last time I saw you. That’s the last time you were my best friend. And to be honest you did a pretty terrible job.”
Cassie nodded slowly. Her eyes were sad and her face was wiped of its usual confidence.
“I don’t want to bore you by going on for too long, but I’ll just give you a quick summary of my year since then,” I said. “Because it’s been a pretty dramatic one.”
I knew that Ginny and Harry and James were all listening, and Lily was now stirring on her bed, but I didn’t care. Cassie needed to hear this and I was ready to talk about it all.
“Since then, I’ve been questioned by law enforcement officers who thought I was helping you hide. I’ve watched my best friend dragged away by aurors under suspicion for a crime that never even happened. And that’s not even the start of it…”
Saying it all out loud felt ridiculous. I felt a funny urge to laugh.
“Because once my life at school was royally fucked up, my parents decided to make home just as complicated as well. And you knew about my dad’s affair, didn’t you? The one we all found out about that ruined christmas? I told you, but obviously you didn’t want to talk to me about it. It didn’t involve you at all. Anyway, Dad decided to move out and in with the woman. So Mum was obviously a mess. You know what she’s like.”
My voice was getting louder but I didn’t want to lower it.
“And actually I have a funny story about all that, because that woman turned out to have a daughter we go to school with! You might have heard about her. Laura Brogan? Al’s ex-girlfriend. Yeah, she lives with my dad now. Apparently he likes her more than he likes me.”
I let myself laugh a little and then shrugged.
“Anyway, I thought that was the worst of it. But then I went home for Easter and didn’t have a home to go to because Dad’s a terrible human being and Mum decided she didn’t want to live anymore. And I mean that quite literally. I’m sure you heard about her suicide attempt.”
“But don’t worry. I get that you didn’t have time to write to me about it. It was only a little suicide attempt, after all. She’s okay. She’s decided to spend her recovery time in Barcelona getting a tan and forgetting she has a daughter.”
I shook my head and laughed again.
“And I think you probably could have helped me, you know? You used to help me. Sometimes. When you felt like it. But this time you’d unfortunately tried to fake your own death and disappear and stay hidden even while your boyfriend, who you were meant to love, who’s terrified of aurors, was questioned about where you were. And you hid away because you were embarrassed that you’d cheated on him and you couldn’t be bothered to tell us the truth so you decided to leave us by ourselves. Because you’d prefer to leave me to deal with with my whole life being messed up by myself than actually have an honest conversation with me.”
I had tears in my eyes now. I wanted to wipe them away but I was worried that if I tried to conceal them I’d start crying properly.
“But somehow it’s all been okay, you know?” I said quietly. “It has. I’ve been okay. Because I met a wonderful boy who’s kind and patient and who wants to look after me. And I’ve never really talked to him because you always made such horrible comments about him and his family, but he’s just been amazing. And a better friend than you ever were. And then yesterday I watched a flying rock crash into his skull and I couldn’t do anything about it while he literally fell out of the sky and now it just feels like everything’s broken again.”
This time there were too many tears to ignore. I tried to wipe them away but more kept spilling through my eyes and before I could do anything to stop it a horrible sob had racked through my body.
Cassie stepped forward and folded her arms around me and I let her. I was furious with her but she smelt like lavender and her coat was soft and she squeezed me tightly and stroked my hair.
“We’re not okay,” I told her.
“I know,” she said.
“Like...we’re so so far from being okay.”
“And I don’t forgive you.”
“And being nice to me now won’t make me forgive you.”
I stopped talking and rested my forehead against her shoulder, letting my tears seep into her coat and darken the previously immaculate white. I was vaguely aware that Al’s whole family were still there, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.
Cassie rubbed my back and held onto me. I stayed rigid in her arms but couldn’t help but feel comforted by the familiarity of her embrace. Despite my anger, she was one of the people that knew me best, and a small part of me was glad she was here.
“Ssh, that’s it,” Cassie said soothingly. “It’s okay to cry. Let it all out.”
I laughed through my tears and sniffed, pulling away from her.
“It’s okay to cry? Cass, that goes against pretty much everything you’ve ever said to me,” I said.
Cassie shrugged and grinned. “My mantras have had to be modified a little bit this year. Times change. What can I say?”
“I never thought I’d see the day,” I said, wiping away my tears again. “Sorry for being so pathetic.”
Cassie frowned. “You’re not being pathetic.”
“I just feel sad.”
“Of course you do. I’d be shocked if you didn’t.”
“What happened to Slytherins being resilient and not needing anyone else?”
“You are resilient,” Cassie said, shaking her head. “And despite what you might think, you don’t need anyone else. You’d be okay by yourself.”
“I don’t feel like that right now.”
“Of course you don’t. Potter’s unconscious. And you’re in love with him.”
I stared at her. The only time Cass and I had ever come close to talking about love was our hopeless conversation about Scor at New Year. She was generally of the opinion that love made you weak and wasn’t worth thinking too much about. But now she was telling me I was in love with Al and she didn’t make it sound like a big deal. She said it like it was obvious.
Cassie looked at me with a shrewd expression. I had a feeling she knew exactly what was going through my mind. She seemed to crumple slightly and looked fragile again.
“I think…” She paused, blinked slowly, and then took a breath. “I think I tried to stop you finding someone like Albus. I think...I think I was always scared of what it would be like for you to love somebody who wasn’t me. And I kept you away from people.”
I nodded slowly. I’d never thought too much about the effects of Cassie’s friendship on the rest of my relationships, but my months without her had shown me how different things could be.
“That was wrong of me,” Cassie stated. “And...I’m sorry.”
I nodded again. “Right.”
“Do you think we might be able to be friends again?”
Cassie spoke quietly, but I could see James listening intently from behind her. On the other side of the bed, Harry and Ginny were whispering to each other, perhaps trying to avoid eavesdropping.
“I don’t know, Cass,” I managed to say.
“Do you think one day we might be able to try?”
I closed my eyes and nodded. When I looked back at her, her smile was radiant. She reached out and squeezed my hand once, then stepped backwards into James.
James’s arms were immediately around Cassie’s waist, hands clasped over her stomach. He rubbed the back of her head with his nose and kissed her hair. She looked calm. She didn’t light up in the way she used to with Scor, but she was clearly content, and as she leaned back against James I thought I might be able to see why they worked.
I felt better after talking to Cassie. Ignoring her letters had felt like the right thing to do. I was still angry and we were a long way from being okay. But it had been a necessary conversation, and it had reminded me of the things I used to love about her.
I took my seat beside Al’s pillow again and ran a finger down his cheek. His skin was cool and I wanted to draw back my hand. I didn’t like being so near him when he couldn’t even see me, but I didn’t feel like I could let go.
I caught Ginny’s eye and she gave me a supportive smile. Harry was watching James and Cassie, eyes narrowed, but Ginny seemed to have immediately accepted Cassie’s presence and was instead looking at me while I looked at Al. I felt strangely exposed as she watched me watch him.
I spread out my fingers across Al’s cheek so that I was holding his face, and he turned his head into my palm.
For a brief moment I didn’t think anything of it. The movement felt so natural that I almost forgot it was unexpected. But then I saw the chalk-white of Ginny’s face and quickly pulled my hand away.
Al groaned and then spluttered into a rattling cough.
Madame Bulstrode rushed back over to the bed, pushing past me to hold Al’s forehead and lean close to him to look at his closed eyes.
“Everyone out,” she said. “Everyone who isn’t immediate family out. Now.”
Her instruction didn’t properly filter through my brain until the Hospital Wing descended into chaos. Ginny was clutching Harry’s hand, both of them firing questions at Bulstrode that went unanswered. James was babbling that Cass and I should stay but was being completely ignored. Louis had woken up and was shouting that he was related to Al and was Al’s best friend and the fact that he wasn’t technically immediate family didn’t give him any less of a right to be here.
Somehow, through the sudden panic, Cassie remained calm. She reached out to me and put an arm around my back.
“Come on,” she murmured. “We’re in the way.”
Everyone was shouting and anxious. I didn’t know what was happening to Al and I didn’t know whether I should be frightened. I couldn’t think properly and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and hide.
Cassie understood all of this. She formed a kind of cocoon around me and gently led me across the room, shaking James off when he tried to follow.
“I’ve got you. It’s going to be okay.”
Her voice was soothing and saying the words I needed to hear and, for some reason, I completely believed her.
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