Ch. 28 – Human Error
I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
- A Poison Tree, William Blake
Crammed up against the very edge of Ian's bed with the suffocating heat of his body pressed against me, it was hardly a surprise that I couldn't sleep. But I laid there, unmoving as I listened to the sound of my boyfriend snoring softly behind me, squinting in the dark as I read and re-read the titles of the books on the shelves that had been carved into the wall. Anything to distract myself from the self-loathing that rotted away in my stomach. Anything to keep my heart from reminding me who I really wanted to be sharing the bed with.
I laid there for hours reliving the past few days, trying to figure out exactly where everything went so wrong, as if there was only one pivotal moment when everything began its tumble downhill. But there had never been just one thing, never just one miscalculation. Not that it mattered anymore, I couldn't change anything now. There was nothing left when I thought about what happened, what tears I'd had already been spent hours ago, leaving in their wake the hollow aching that I'd tried to placate with sex.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Bellatrix must have been throwing herself a party for how well her plan seemed to have worked. Ruining my friendship with James and Sirius, turning them against me, all leading me to an emotional downward spiral, doing what I could to distract myself from it all.
When did I become so terribly predictable?
Then I decided fine, if James and Sirius, and anybody else wanted to believe that I gave Slytherin the Gryffindor plays, let them. Let them hate me, let them call me 'traitor', let them talk about me when they thought I couldn't hear because I would not rise to their bait. I was better than that, and there were dozens of people who would be thrilled to see me fall – I would disappoint every single one of them. I would tackle every single obstacle they put in my way, and though I may be bloodied and bruised, I would come out stronger than them in the end.
Bellatrix wanted to see me broken and desperate, but I would not give her the satisfaction. Let her have her small victory now and come morning I would look at her and raise my goblet with a smile, head held high. I couldn't think of a better revenge.
And that's what I thought about all night, growing more bitter as the minutes ticked slowly away until the light in the middle of the room began to darken a little more signaling that it was well past midnight and the moon was no longer at its highest point. Finally, I couldn't lay there anymore and shifted to sit up, cringing against the twinge that ached across the expanse of my back as I did. I worked the kinks out from my neck as Ian moved behind me and it only took another moment before I felt his hand against the small of my back.
"I should go," I said over my shoulder. "Amos wanted me gone by morning."
Ian's eyebrows knitted together and his mouth twisted into a frown. "Forget Amos, you stay if you want to."
With a smile I brushed my knuckles along the angle of his cheekbone and said, "You're very sweet, Ian, but I can't hide in Hufflepuff house forever."
Ian smiled at me in return as I scooted to the end of the bed and pushed aside the hangings. He watched me as I went to his dresser, picking out for myself a pair of his sweatpants and a large t-shirt. The action positively delighted him, in the half-light I could still see his eyes light up as he watched me dress myself in his clothes. I do admit, dressing myself in his clothes was more for his benefit than for mine, I had an extra set of clothes in my Quidditch bag, but after I had all but used Ian, wearing his clothes was a subtle way to reassure him that nothing had changed even though everything had.
"What are you going to do?" Ian asked as I sat back down and began rolling up the legs of the pants.
I shrugged. "The only thing I can – show them that I am not toppled so easily."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that," I affirmed with a confident nod. "I'm not saying that it is going to be the easiest thing I've ever done, but it certainly won't be the hardest."
I moved to stand, but Ian's hand reached out and circled my wrist, pulling me back down with a small tug. He was sitting now as I let him pull me back down on the bed beside him. The way he looked at me then made my stomach bottom out, made anxiety crowd itself in my throat and dry out my mouth. Oh shit, I thought.
"…What?" I asked, hoping he would get this over with quickly.
His lips pressed into a tight line and it was the first time I'd seen the perpetual curve in the corners of his mouth disappear. "I just…" he took a deep breath, ran his hand over his face.
In my head, while Ian gathered is thoughts and mustered his courage, all I could repeat was: Please, please, PLEASE DO NOT tell me you love me!
Ian breathed another sigh as his hand came to rest on mine, his long fingers curling around the side of my hand. I could feel him looking at me again, but I did not want to raise my eyes to his. This was the part that I had not thought through to the fullest – what would happen the morning after. Part of me had hoped that I would have been able to sneak out before Ian woke up and avoid this whole awkwardness. Or I had hoped that Ian was perceptive enough not to make this awkward.
"I just want you to know that… I don't regret what happened, I understand that it was what you needed to get your mind off of everything, but I don't think any less of you for it," he stated. "And I know that you don't quite feel for me the same way I feel for you, but I… care about you a lot, Elaina. Whatever you need, I'm here for you."
I felt my shoulders sag under the pressure of the guilt Ian had just put on top of them. But despite that, I couldn't help the warm smile that I felt spread across my face because of the nervous expression that knotted Ian's face. He wanted, needed me to say something, anything at that moment and I don't think he would have cared what it was as long it was kind. He must have felt like he just bared his soul to me for how red in the face he had become and I almost laughed, barely managing to hold it in knowing that if I did laugh in his face he probably would have wanted to hang himself.
"Oh, Ian," I sighed, removing my hand from his and cupping his cheek. "You are far too good for me – you could do so much better than me, you know that?" I am going to ruin you.
Something any person will tell you: it's easier to play pretend when you have an audience.
I honestly hadn't expected Sirius to still be awake by the time I returned to Gryffindor tower, I hadn't expected anyone to still be awake. I figured that, like me, everyone would want to get to sleep as soon as possible and try to forget that the day even happened.
I knew Sirius was the one in the Common Room almost as soon as I stepped into it, in the same way that he probably instantly knew it was me. Content to ignore him, I had intended to head straight to the dormitory, but Sirius had other plans. It was not any kind of conversation that I wanted to have so soon after the Quidditch match, but like I said all those months ago at the Potter's – Sirius deemed a conversation finished once he'd had his say.
The old Elaina reared her head a lot quicker than I would have liked and my temper was thinner than I realized, though I shouldn't have been surprised with the amount of sleep I didn't get. And I do admit that some part of me thoroughly enjoyed watching Sirius try to control his jealousy, but this time I was not about to let him have the last word.
But like I said, it's easier to pretend when you have an audience. It's easier to don the unemotional mask when you have to, to be cold and callous and act like you don't give a damn. Uncomfortable as it may be, it was mask that I would have to continue to wear for a little while longer. I didn't give a second glance into the Common Room, I couldn't bear to see the resignation in Sirius' demeanor, and less than half way up the stairs, my temper pooled at my feet and tumbled down the stairs in my wake. I had to pause, catch my breath and swallow down the choked feeling in my throat.
My face was hot to the touch so the first thing I did was deposit my things on my bed and head to the bathroom to rinse my face with cool water. The guilt Ian had saddled me with, coupled with the confrontation with Sirius was making my stomach trip over itself. I stood in front of the sink, letting the water run ice cold, splashing my face and wetting the back of my neck.
I realized everything was unraveling. Everything I had gained and created for myself since my parents were killed was crashing down right in front of my eyes, and I was helpless to stop it. It's the worst feeling in the world – helplessness. It feels like drowning and since I've nearly drowned, I found the metaphor terribly accurate. No matter how much you claw and fight for the surface, all you do is sink lower and further, constantly gasping for air as you thrash around in a storm of bubbles, but you never actually drown. That's the worst part – you never actually drown. You just drift, pressed against from all sides continually reminded of you own inadequacy and lack of resilience.
I heard the doorknob rattle and turned in time to see the door open, watch as Lily sidled into the bathroom with me. "Do you ever sleep?" I wondered blankly, reaching out to turn off the tap.
"Chronic insomniac," she replied.
I made no reply, but turned to leave the bathroom instead, I'd already had one confrontation tonight and I was not looking for another. But Lily didn't move, just stood there with her back pressed against the bathroom door, blocking my way out.
"Move, Lily," I sighed.
"Tell me you didn't give Rodolphus the plays, Elaina."
My hands clenched at my sides on reflex, but at least she hadn't out rightly accused me like Sirius had. I don't know what she had hoped to gain from trying to force this conversation at the moment. I wouldn't have been surprised if James had asked her to talk to me, just like he had asked her to try and befriend me.
"Get out of my way," I told her, my tone even.
Stubborn as ever, Lily didn't budge and I had it half in mind to physically remove her from my path. "Why are you letting James and Sirius think you did this? I know you didn't, you wouldn't."
Curiosity got the better of me once again and I rose to her bait. Bitter and irritated, my words were hard and flat as I spoke, "And just what makes you think I wouldn't, hmm? It was hardly a stretch of the imagination for James and Sirius."
A relieved smile graced Lily's freckled face and I saw the triumph light her eyes. Damn her for being so clever, I thought. "Because you told me about the night your parents were killed, but you haven't told them; and you haven't told them because you don't want them to know what you went through. You want them to believe you're so strong when it left you so broken. You told me how alone and lost you felt, but felt as if you'd found another home with James and his family."
"And how does that make you believe that I wouldn't give the Slytherin team our plays?" I demanded.
"You consider James and Sirius your family. You're not going to betray your found family, when you've already lost your flesh and blood family," Lily stated, seeming thoroughly pleased with her deduction.
Slowly, I raised my hands granting Lily a slow, sarcastic round of applause. "Well done Miss Evans, I think that deduction deserves an Outstanding mark; once again you are at the top of your class," I told her, tone heavily laden with sarcasm. "Now for bonus points you can explain to me how exactly your brilliant deduction is going to help the situation in any way, shape or form."
"I could tell James –"
"Absolutely not," I cut her off before she could even think to finish her statement.
"Why?" She demanded. "James would believe me!"
I shook my head, forcing back the laugh that I could feel bubbling in my chest. "No, he wouldn't and I will tell you why – James Potter is a proud creature. He is not going to admit that he is wrong when a crowd of a thousand people saw what happened on the pitch."
"But you didn't give the Slytherin team the plays!" Lily countered.
I shook my head. "No, I didn't, but I knew that they had them and instead of trying to get them back or telling James that they were stolen from me, I did nothing. I only thought one move ahead instead of two like I should have, not thinking that Rodolphus would make it appear as though I actively helped them."
Lily blinked at me, processing my words and I could practically see the cogs of her mind turning. "That's hardly something they can blame you for!" She exclaimed. "You're human, you made a mistake!"
"Yes," I agreed, "I made a mistake and it cost me my two best friends. It's better that you leave well enough alone, Lily. I will figure something out eventually, but for now I am going to let it be; I am not going to make a volatile situation even worse by trying to fix everything so soon. Do you understand?"
Slowly, Lily nodded dejectedly, casting her eyes to the floor looking for all the world like a puppy that had been kicked. Clearly this was not how she had imagined this conversation was going to end when she rehearsed it with herself. Finally, she side stepped from the door allowing me enough space to slide out of the bathroom.
"What I don't understand is why you don't want to fix this as soon as possible. Doesn't their friendship mean that much to you at least?" she asked the back of my head.
I didn't stop to acknowledge her, just continued to put my things away and draw back the hangings of my bed as I told her, "Their friendship means everything to me, which is exactly why you don't understand."
After only a few hours of sleep, I was up, dressed and one of the first students in the Great Hall for breakfast. I ignored everyone, sending the most withering glares in the direction of other students who made some kind of comment at me or about me. I wasn't deaf, dumb or blind, and there were several people who didn't even bother to hide the fact that they were talking about me and what they thought I had done. And I do admit, finally being in the middle of all the whispering and the gossiping made it a little harder to stick to my original resolution to let everyone paint me as the villain.
As more students and a handful of teachers trickled into the Great Hall, a heavy hand landed on my shoulder. I didn't look up as Derek leaned down so he was level with the side of my head. "We need to have a discussion, Miss Cochran."
I sighed, lifting my glass of orange juice to my mouth and taking an overly long gulp. After wiping the corner of my mouth, I asked, "Now, professor?"
Sighing, I finished the last of my orange juice and rose to follow Derek out of the Great Hall, my stomach sinking with every step I took because I knew I was not going to enjoy this conversation. Derek was a few strides ahead of me, unsurprising considering how long his legs were, but when I saw James, Sirius, Remus and Peter walking into the Great Hall shoulder to shoulder, I suddenly wished I had kept pace with Derek. To be honest, I was more than mildly terrified because I knew they wouldn't just kindly step out of my way as they had for Derek, I would have to walk through them, right between Sirius and James.
But I couldn't let them know I was terrified. So I squared my shoulders and held my head a little higher soldiering toward them, my gaze focused on the space between their heads. I could feel James and Sirius glowering at me, but I refused to acknowledge them as I approached. Heart hammering in my chest, it seemed that they were going to let me pass between them without incident… how wrong I was.
James rammed his shoulder into mine with bruising force, knocking my bag into the crook of my arm and tilting me off balance; as I took an extra step to right myself, someone's foot (I don't know whose) tangled with mine to send me crashing to the floor. My knees hit the stone ground with a sickening crack, a jarring pain shooting all the way up my arms as I caught myself on my wrists to prevent my face from making friends with the floor as well.
As the approving laughs and jeers of my classmates rose around me, I couldn't help the sad, bitter laugh that escaped me and I was horrified that I could feel tears welling in my eyes. So much for my pride. So much for thinking that if I ignored them that they would show me the same courtesy.
Derek crouched down beside me, putting a hand on my shoulder which I immediately shrugged off as he looked up to the retreating forms of the Marauders. "Mr. Potter!"
"Derek, don't." I quietly pleaded with him.
Behind me, I heard James' footsteps stop, the squeak of his shoes as he spun around. "Yes, professor?" his voice was so aloof and innocent that I could have kicked him.
"Care to explain yourself?"
"Explain what, professor? She tripped is all, she's not the most graceful person, you know," James said dismissively, refusing to say my name. I'd been reduced to a pronoun. "Isn't that right?" This was directed at me and I knew it because I could feel his eyes burning into the back of my head.
I was shaking as I glanced over my shoulder at him. James' anger I could handle, the way he yelled at me that day on the pitch, I could handle. But this… this complete and utter… dismissal of me was heartbreaking in a way I couldn't explain. This time when James looked at me it wasn't with laughter and brotherly affection in his eyes; if it had been anger and hurt and betrayal, I would have understood that and I could have handled it, but there was nothing. He looked through me.
I kept my gaze locked with James' as I said, "Yeah, I tripped, that's all. It's not a big deal."
He saw me then, his eyes focused on me, alight with self-satisfied triumph. "See, professor? Not a big deal."
James turned away from me then and headed back into the Great Hall and I could practically see the arrogance radiating from him. He knew I was going to agree with him, and I was so fucking tired of playing right into everyone's hands lately.
Time to teach you some goddamned humility Mr. Potter, I thought, focusing on James.
Suddenly, James' slacks were down around his ankles and he gave a surprised shout as his legs tangled in his pants and he went down, his arms flailing comically as he tried to maintain his balance. It didn't work and James even managed to take down another student with him, completely taking the poor boy (a third year I think) off the bench, while the boy dragged his food off the table with him covering him and James with breakfast foods.
The entire Great Hall erupted in raucous laughter as I clamored to my feet and picked up my bag, unable to hide the smirk pulling at the corner of my mouth. I heard James struggling to reclaim his dignity, cursing loudly as he tried to bring his trousers back up around his waist. When he turned to glare at me, I held up my empty hands to show him that it couldn't have possibly been me because I didn't have my wand, then gave him a thumbs up for his spectacular performance.
However, when I turned back to Derek I found him staring at me with his arms crossed over his chest. "What?" I said.
"Elaina…" he said warningly.
I shrugged my shoulders brushing past him. "He should learn to wear a belt."
REJOICE! It seems I have found a random bought of inspiration!
But I don't know how long it's going to last :(
Thank you everyone for your continued support of this story
it really does mean the world to me!