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Chapter 1: One
Authors Note: Title inspired by the Death Cab for Cutie song of the same name. A massive thank you to Rachel (PengiunsWillReignSupreme) for beta'ing this for me! And also to those at TGS who helped me with my multiple WIP woes - your encouragement helped me to write this! Thoughts and alterations are, as always, welcome!
With an armful of books and a frown fixed upon his freckle-spattered face, Percy Weasley made his way to Greenhouse Four, trying his best not to cover up the brand new gold and scarlet Prefect badge shining elegantly on his chest, yet still managing to stumble very ungraciously over the uneven cobblestone path.
It was September, and with it came new spellbooks, fresh parchment and a warm, steady wind to soothe the Hogwarts students back to their old routines. Herbology was his last lesson before lunch, and with his stomach beginning to grumble (probably missing his mother's home cooking already), Percy wished this first lesson back would fly. He paused at the ornate, rusty greenhouse door, sparing one hand for a few seconds to yank on the handle, but catching his books just before they tumbled to his toes.
"Merlin's beard..." he muttered angrily, readjusting his grip and straightening his glasses.
The greenhouse was damp and warm, and Percy could almost feel his flyaway red hair frizzing up by the second and tiny water droplets flocking to his lenses. As he took his seat at an empty spot on the bench, he breathed in through his nose, the familiar tangled scent of earth, lavender and bubotuber pus greeting him strongly. It was oddly comforting.
He just couldn't make his mind up on Herbology, and for many years considered it to be one of the subjects he'd have to leave behind when progressing to NEWT level. It wouldn't look very good on an application to the Ministry, he had thought, but he couldn't deny that Herbology was his guilty pleasure. Although he'd roll his eyes at soil trapped between the spine of his books and cringe at the triangles of muck caught in his fingernails, it did make him feel rather wild, and that wasn't a word he was associated with often.
It reminded him of being at home watching his brothers degnome the garden (something he insisted he wouldn't do), their fingernails clawing at the shrubbery, or accidently bringing mud into the shabby kitchen at the Burrow on the bottom of his wellingtons when he'd go for a wander across the hiking routes surrounding their house. He hadn't told anyone any of this, though, because Percy Weasley intended and expected to be the most responsible candidate for every job possible. Larking about in the flowerbeds wasn't exactly mature.
With a sullen stomp of rubber against stone, the footsteps approaching him stopped and Percy glanced up instinctively out of his daydream at the intrusive figure.
"Do you mind if we have these seats?"
It was Louisa Rosing, a short and rather chubby Ravenclaw in his year. He sighed inwardly, knowing Louisa had a dreadful habit for talking out of turn and for being incredibly brash, not a quality he liked when trying to study.
"Not at all," he replied politely, shuffling his pile of books closer towards him as the group of girls settled in the empty spaces around the bench. They giggled quietly to each other, poignantly leaving a space between him and them. Diagonally opposite him sat Penelope Clearwater, the pretty mousey-brown haired girl he recognised from the Prefect briefing they'd attended the night before. She smiled briefly at him, before casting her long eyelashes down and straightening her own pile of new textbooks.
"Did any of yours get lost?" he asked abruptly, his voice raised so that she could hear from across the dusty bench.
Unfortunately, he was a little too loud, and the eagerness in his tone made Louisa stop midway through her dreadful account of her summer romance and thus hushing the students that surrounded them in a rippling effect. Percy felt his ears burn pink at the sudden attention, and, his eyes darting, composed his expression as though he had said nothing.
"Sorry?" Penelope blurted, her facial features curved into confusion.
"Your first-years," Percy said awkwardly, his voice beginning to trail, regretting more than anything having his hair cut just above his (now scarlet) ears before returning to Hogwarts, and nodding towards the bronze and deep blue Prefect badge perched proudly on her chest. "I was wondering if any of them got lost."
There was a tense silence, and someone at the far end of the room snorted into their hand. Percy blushed further. He never meant to demand attention.
"Oh," Penelope said simply, blinking at him. "No, they were okay."
Percy wished everyone would turn away and talk amongst themselves. He had only tried to be polite, and had ended up looking like a complete muppet with dreadful chat up lines. Thankfully, before the awkwardness could drag on any longer, Professor Sprout emerged from the double doors at the end of the classroom with a hefty bang, climbing energetically atop a wooden chair and brandishing her wand unsteadily.
"Morning, fifth-years," she chirped, craning her neck in order to summon the overhanging projector screen from the ceiling. It whizzed down in a flurry of sparks, straightening itself midair. The slide projector was already resting on the closest edge of the bench and with a prod of Sprout's wand, it clicked into life.
The class replied monotonously, seeming to have been successfully distracted. Percy kept his eyes downcast, sparing only a glance at Penelope. When he did, however, he saw her to be looking at him too, her face anxious. She smiled apologetically, making Percy feel even more like a fool. At least she didn't laugh, though, he thought, tuning in to Professor Sprout's ramblings instead.
"Today we're going to be working with Screechsnap, a very temperamental little fellow that'll squirm right out of your hands and grasp you around your wrist if you're not careful with 'em." She raised a large plant pot from the shelf behind her with both hands, from inside which stemmed a thick, acid green plant with finger-like tentacles and small, very disproportionate purple leaves. It seemed to be curled in on itself and occasionally a tentacle would stretch out and wiggle, emitting a contented gurgling sound. "Now, the reason I say he's temperamental is because he likes his conditions just right. Can anyone tell me what those conditions are?"
Behind her on the screen, a vast array of stills were alternating, some showing crossections of parts of the plant and other displaying graphic snapshots of a Screechsnap squeezing whatever body part it could; the ankle of an unsuspecting gardener, the wrist of a terrified toddler.
Percy, fairly confident he knew the answer, cleared his throat and raised his hand boldy.
"Go on then, Mr. Weasley, you always give us the right answer." Sprout beamed at him from the front of the class.
"The Screechsnap likes to be bathed in dragon dung, doesn't it?" He didn't bother to hide the smugness of his tone. "The more the better, I believe."
But Professor Sprout gave an awkward cough, and scanned the rest of the class.
"Err...no, not quite," she began. "Quite the opposite, in fact. It loathes too much dragon dung. Remember that, class, otherwise you're in for a mighty shock when it comes to potting these seedlings up."
Percy blushed further, a few people sneering at his wrong answer. As the class were instructed to put on their protective gloves, he wanted nothing more than to sit this one out. It didn't help matters that for the second time he caught Penelope Clearwater's eye, his ears still burning and his cheeks just as red; she tried to smile encouragingly at him. He was flattered, because no one, not to mention a girl, cared much about his feelings, but he just wished that it wasn't under these circumstances. It was his own fault he was a boasting idiot. She was probably just trying to clear her conscience.
But maybe she's different, he thought wistfully to himself a little later on, as he carefully weighed out dragon dung with a teaspoon. Maybe there's more to her than I....
A highpitched squeal awoke him from his thoughts and he leapt backwards from the plant, tossing a handful of dragon dung into the air, scattering it all over himself accidently and screaming in suprise.
"Mr. Weasley, it hates too much dragon dung! Hates it! What did we say earlier?"
Professor Sprout hurried over and elbowed Percy out of the way, before snatching the teaspoon still in his hand and tentatively scooping the tiniest amount of dung out of the plant pot. The horrible screeching ceased immediately. Percy glared at it and could have kicked the plant pot onto the floor.
"And for homework, class," she turned to the rest of the class as if nothing had happened, whilst Percy stood beside her, seething and covered in poo, "please complete the appropriate topic questions in your -" she groped around his desk for the right textbook, smearing the linen covers in the dung that littered the table "- in your red textbook. I want them done by Monday."
"How many are there?" someone asked from the other side of the greenhouse. Sprout leafed through his book roughly, marking the pages accidently with her mucky thumbs and depositing clusters of dragon dung as she turned them.
"Thirty-two, I do believe!" A chorus of groans accompanied her words as she slammed the book shut and carelessly tossed it back onto the table. "Class dismissed!"