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Chapter 5: Chapter 4
5th September 2019: Seb
Sometimes, I wonder whether I should have done Divination.
Batty old Trelawney aside, my prediction on the platform had been quite accurate: it was only the fourth day and already school was proving to be no more interesting or exciting than previous years. In other words, it was dull as a great big reservoir of the dirtiest ditchwater that you could find. Or maybe two of them.
It didn't help that my idiot of a brother ended up in Hufflepuff of all places. Hufflepuffs were well known as nothing more than a load of sappy, pathetic do-gooders. It was almost embarrassing to associate his name with mine, although nobody looked to the Becker name with much interest anymore. People didn't know the shame I'd felt at seeing my brother put with that house full of prats. At least Alexander had had the courtesy to become a Ravenclaw. I could at least admit he was my sibling. Stephen was going the right way to be disowned in every sense except legally.
So when Professor Cooper made mention of him in Potions, citing quite knowingly my brother's house to the whole class, I could only respond with a disgruntled moan. She smirked as though she'd known exactly what she was doing and I glared at the table with a fixed jaw. A couple of the Hufflepuffs that were in my class cast me glares out of the corner of their eyes and I grimaced.
"Pairs, everybody," Cooper called, her head down and staring at an open book on her desk. Everyone began to move around and I waited for whichever poor sod was left at the end to work with me. I glanced up to see a Ravenclaw with a dark scowl on her face dropping into the seat behind me. I didn't say a word, merely flicked to the page that the professor was indicating and got up to collect the ingredients from a store cupboard.
Upon my return, Cooper was in deep conversation with the girl in question, who glanced to me and promptly shut her mouth. I slid into my seat and shoved some of the ingredients over to the blonde girl's side. She coveted them and Cooper walked away. I pretended not to see her dozens of cautious glances in our direction as I let the girl, who introduced herself meekly as Daisy, do the majority of the work.
"Are you going to help?" she hissed after a few minutes of me just sitting there watching her chop Mandrake roots into inch and a quarter strips. I shrugged and she rolled her eyes.
"Unless you want this to be a real disaster, I wouldn't recommend my help," I muttered, picking up a box and spinning it between my fingers. She rolled her eyes.
"You could at least measure stuff out, make yourself useful."
I went to protest but then saw her steely glare and decided that any error on my part would in fact be her own fault, so set to measuring, ensuring that each one was wrong by such a tiny fraction that it would be barely noticeable to her but enough to have a detrimental effect on the potion.
Daisy Froggart left the lesson with black hair and a detention for the string of swear words she'd thrown at me. I lost an eyebrow and gained a detention for 'purposely sabotaging the potion'. How Cooper had found me out, I never discovered. Perhaps she'd seen me, or perhaps she'd just guessed and got it spectacularly right. All my indignant protestations were wasted on her and she sent me away with a detention slip and warning for next time.
I trudged up to the library as soon as I'd escaped the dungeons. I gave a polite smile to old Sykes, the librarian, who grimaced back in recognition of me, one of the regular users of the room. I idly wondered if I could swap him for my father as I wandered down to my usual spot by the Transfiguration section, the blank stare and empty eyes far easier to cope with than my father's passion and disappointment.
I turned into my usual nook without thinking much of where I was going and did a double take as I looked down at the chair, my chair, and the girl with almost fluorescent hair sat on it.
"You're in my seat," I said, dumping my bag at her side and pointing to the desk in case she didn't quite understand. She glanced up at me and a flicker of something crossed across her face in the dull light, a ghost of recognition or perhaps alarm.
"It doesn't have your name on it," she replied, returning her gaze to her pile of work though I could tell that her eyes were fixed on one line and they flickered to the side occasionally to my tall figure at her side. I smirked.
"I think you'll find it does." I leant forwards and pointed to an etching on the side of the desk, then traced the same marking across the back of the chair. She tried hard to conceal her smile of defeat as she ran a finger across the scrawl.
"Touché." She made no move to change seat though, turning back to her book and jotting something down on a piece of parchment.
"Well, aren't you going to move?" I asked in a low hiss, aware that though Sykes knew who I was, he would still not hesitate in throwing us both out if we were caught. She smiled and glanced up at me.
"You've forgotten an important word." I said nothing. There were few people who would even bother to give me the time of day let alone argue with me. She intrigued me. "No?" she prompted. "Suit yourself."
She let her hand dart back over the parchment. Was I going to give in? Was I going to let her win? My stomach churned as I realised I was trapped. She'd won. I either had to give up or give in. I pulled out the seat opposite her and sat down with a resigned thud. Her smile, breaking through her curtain of red hair, was what gave away her complete understanding of what she'd done and I had to give her some respect for her intelligence.
We sat in silence, except for the turning of my pages and the scratching of her quill across the page. There was a pause in which she flicked quickly through a book, her hair starting to come loose from its ponytail, and her quill hit the table with an explosion of ink the colour of dusk and her head flopped backwards. I stopped and looked up to see her hands run down her cheeks and rest behind her neck as she stared at the parchment in front of her as though it had done her some great injustice. Deciding it was of little concern to me, I rejoined the chapter of my book.
"Can I ask you something?"
It took me a second to realise that it was aimed at me and I looked up blankly.
"How much do you know about Partial Vanishment?" she asked, looking completely lost. I leant back in my seat, propping my book up on the table and stretching out my arms.
"I know it's fifth-year Transfiguration," I retorted, knowing little of her besides that she was a sixth-year, recognising the stack of textbooks at her side. She scowled.
"Yes, I do too but I can't do the spell let alone write an essay on its importance in our society today," she muttered, glancing at her essay then the wand tucked beside the books.
"Well," she started, running her fingers along the edge of the table. "Okay, I don't usually do this. Well, not to complete strangers anyway but," she paused, "can you help?"
"Teach you how to Partially Vanish?" I suggested, swallowing the tone of surprise. She nodded shyly in a way that made me feel strangely at ease. Trying to keep the dissatisfied scowl on my face, I shrugged. "It's not exactly difficult." She looked a little put out and I took my wand out of my back pocket.
"You shouldn't put that in your pocket, you know," she commented, watching me do it intently. I stared at her. "Elementary rule. You could lose a buttock." After a moment of just looking at her as though she'd sprouted another head and a tail, I found an incredulous laugh coming to my lips.
"That's bullshit," I exclaimed, shaking my head. "Complete rubbish." She looked at me with wide eyes.
"It is not!" I cocked an eyebrow upwards. Arguing was pointless.
"Do you want my help or not?" Her eyes had returned to a normal level now and she clicked her tongue on the roof of her mouth.
"Actually, I think I'll be fine on my own."
Her voice was cool and calm. She leant forwards again, piling up her things and placing them with precision into her bag. Tucking her wand into her robes, she got to her feet, quietly tucked her chair under the table and breezed past me. I exhaled deeply and my heart began to slow from the quickened pace I hadn't realised it had reached. After a couple of minutes, I decided that she wasn't coming back and turned my eyes back to the book, though my attention was somewhere else, possibly in the arms of one slightly unconventional sixth-yearl.
At the ring of the lunch bell, I moved on autopilot down to the Great Hall, my mind still somewhere else entirely. Running my eyes over the crowds of students, I found it impossible to locate her; there were flashes of red everywhere, and jostled by another wave of incoming children, made my way to the Slytherin table at the far end of the room without managing to find the girl amongst the crowd.
Filling my plate with as much as I could, I located individual redheads. Some were too young, others too tall, some with hair too dark and others too bright. They were bland, dull and ordinary, not one of them quite like her.
As another wave of students flocked into the room, I saw her. I don't know what gave it away. Perhaps it was the hair, at first, a flash of red amongst a sea of black and blonde and brown, or her smile, glowing even from where I sat. I followed its path to her crinkled eyes and up, up, up. Up to the figure of some pretentious looking Prefect whose thick arm was slung nonchalantly around her tiny shoulders. My knife skidded in my hand, a squealing screech ripping through my ears and the girl next to me flinched.
I watched her sit down beside him at the Ravenclaw table. I watched her fiddle with her necklace and then saw him lifting a clumsy hand to take hers away into his own. She smiled and with her free hand began to pick at the food on her plate. I glared and turned my gaze to my own meal, not that hungry anymore, and got up. I gave one last glance to where she was sat, looking at her plate with an unnatural fixation - a convincing one until her head jerked towards the doors. It was a split second, a tiny slither of a moment but I saw it. I saw her eyes lift, I saw them following my path and I saw her noticing my own gaze falling on her. As soon as it had come, it had gone. She turned back to the oafish boyfriend and put another forkful of food in her mouth, making a sweeping gesture with her hand at something he'd said. Feeling a little jerk of frustration, I walked straight out of the doors and into the Entrance Hall.
Upon reaching the marble staircase, I felt my heart strain again, like a dull ache that forced a gasp into my throat in the shape of an unwanted lump. Swallowing it away, I climbed up the steps two-by-two, my mind trying to wander but failing. Perhaps it was some form of inherited magic that was making me so enraptured by her, or perhaps she'd placed a charm on herself, enhancing her good qualities. Or maybe, something inside me suggested in a wry murmur that niggled the corner of my mind, maybe this was what a crush felt like.