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How not to be a Woodley by NH Stadler
Chapter 2: Hogwarts Again
A/N: To new readers, welcome to chapter two. To old readers, I have changed the chapter a bit… not tremendously but a few tweaks here and there to improve it. The story stays the same
Thick clouds of steam wafted into the air, blending in seamlessly with the overcast sky. The platform was bustling with people like it only ever did at the end of September at the start of the new academic year. Towers of luggage piled high in front of the long scarlet train that - despite standing still – was fuming like an angry dragon and the indignant cries of hundreds of owls that were trapped in their travel cages rose above the lively crowd.
I always wondered how it was possible that no Muggle ever got suspicious at seeing an alarming number of people carrying owls and cats through King’s Cross and vanishing abruptly into a seemingly solid stretch of wall. I knew that people could only see what they want to see but it didn’t stop baffling me that waves of people walking through walls had never caught any attention.
When I had been ten and about to go to Hogwarts for the first time, I knew that someone had watched my disappearing through the barrier between Platform 9 and 10. I had looked into the man’s eyes – a typical London businessman by the look of his suit and briefcase – as my parents had nudged me forwards to the wall and right on through. He must have seen it. I was sure. But he had probably just shaken his head to himself, taken an aspirin and moved on.
“Will you write?” My mother gave me a small smile and hooked a stray strand of hair behind my ear.
I only nodded in response, not wanting to enlarge upon on the subject. Writing to my parents was a delicate task; I had long learned that I couldn’t share any news that were related to Ravenclaw or anything that might remind them that I was not in Slytherin; which was practically everything. Hence, my so-called letters usually consisted of a pitiful two-liner, saying that I was doing OK, which really was the literary equivalent to rice cakes: plain, nondescript and mostly consisting of air.
“If you need something…”
“I will let you know,” I ended my father’s sentence and pulled my jacket a little tighter around my torso, already regretting that I had opted for cropped skinny jeans this morning as another gust of nippy air swept across the platform, biting at my exposed ankles.
“OK,” I finally said after a lengthy stretch of silence in which my mother had oddly stared at the family next to us that was already into their fifth round of bone-crushing hugs and kisses, exclaiming vows of daily letters and care packages. “See you at Christmas?”
“Yes. Christmas,” my mother nodded quickly, her composure as immaculate as always as she looked away from the now wildly waving family, and clasped my shoulders in what might have almost been a hug. For a second I thought she was going to say something, but the moment passed again and she released me with a small smile.
I turned away from my family and quickly strode towards the nearest opportunity to board the train.
“Take care!” I heard my mother call out just before I had climbed the stairs, and I paused for a millisecond, turning around to give her a tiny wave before taking the last few steps to board the Hogwarts Express.
The corridors of the ancient train were teeming with students who flitted from one compartment to the next, talking in excited voices. It was the usual back-to-school fuss that started as soon as one had boarded the Hogwarts Express and it always felt like a small piece of home.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed on through the narrow hallway, balancing the cage that held my brown-and-white-spotted boreal owl Archimedes (who had gotten quite huge over the summer) and my large leather tote bag that I had slung over my shoulder.
A wave of girlish laughter reached my ears just as I passed another compartment and through the windows I could see a group of girls in designer clothes, giggling and screeching. Two of them were sitting on their friends’ laps since the seating was only designed for six people but they didn’t seem to care all that much. I knew those girls, of course; they were all in my year and immensely popular.
A particularly shrill laugh pierced the mix of moderate clatter and I didn’t need to look to know that it belonged to Vala Carrington. My cousin was sitting in the left corner of the crammed compartment, throwing her head back laughing in a quite ostentatious manner that was typical for her.
Even though she wasn’t carrying the name, she looked more like a Woodley than I did; her hair had the characteristic dark brown shade and pin-straight texture that ran in the family. Her nose was more prominent than mine with a slight up-turn and her lips were thin like those discernible on dozens of paintings in our grandfather’s study. There wasn’t even a single freckle on her pale skin, which always pleased our grandmother vastly and gave her a chance to point out how ‘common’ the few light brown dots that were sprinkled across my nose looked. Only Vala’s almond-shaped brown eyes did not come from the Woodley genetic pool.
A hard shove from behind finally made me prise my eyes from the girls in the compartment and move on along the corridor. Outside of our rigid family gatherings, Vala and I didn’t even so much as greet each other, let alone socialize.
I passed a few more bustling compartments when finally I reached one that was almost empty except for a girl with short auburn curls and a violently pink glittery top that seemed to mock the green army pants covering her legs. Her face was buried in a Muggle gossip magazine while she was kicking her right leg back and forth, seemingly not taking any notice as I pushed open the sliding door and manhandled my heavy luggage onto the empty row on the right side.
“Finally. You have followed my invitation,” she said with a strong Italian accent without looking up from her magazine.
“You know, you’d look much more mysterious without a magazine that announces ‘Seven Super Weight-Loss Tips in Seven Days’”
“For God’s sake, Seth!” She cried laughing, her accent completely vanished. “You’re such a party-pooper!”
“I’m allowed to. I have a crap family.” I plopped down onto the empty seat across from her, snatching one of the glossy magazines, poking out of her bag. As always, my best friend Katie was traveling with an assortment of light entertainment from the Muggle world.
“The woes of being a Woodley,” she sighed, discarding her own issue of InTouch to give me her full attention. “Let’s see; I can smell guilt with a little hint of rigid self-doubt and a dash of ancient fire whiskey. How are your grandparents?”
“Well, after shaming me for being in Ravenclaw again and not having any ounce of grace, or any other presentable abilities again, my grandmother actually said something bordering to not mean.” I had thrown the copy of People Magazine away again, too agitated to actually read about Kim Kardashian’s nudes.
“Ah, bless them.” Katie smiled sarcastically. “I bet Cecilia liked that you don’t look like a ten year old boy anymore.”
“I never looked like a ten year old boy!” I cried indignantly, hurling my already crumpled magazine at my best friend. It missed by several inches and hit Archimedes’ cage, who hooted reproachfully.
Katie raised her eyebrows, amusement curling her glossy lips. “Just last year, Demeter Notte had a meltdown when you came into the girls’ bathroom.”
“Demeter Notte also cried when we had hush puppies for dinner last Halloween, because she thought they were actually made from puppies.”
Katie snorted but I knew that everything she had said was true; I had never looked like a girl; not only have I always been lacking in the curves department but also the fact that my nickname was Seth hadn’t contributed to emphasizing my feminine side, either.
“Have you seen Kim’s nudes? They’re appalling!” Katie waved the magazine I had previously discarded in her hand.
“No, let me see!” I immediately moved onto the seat next to her and together we immersed in the scandalous muggle gossip while the train rattled on through thick wafts of fog. It felt good to be home again.
The ride up to the castle in the ancient carriages was rather unpleasant; hard rain was lashing from the black sky, shaking the magical vehicles so roughly that everyone was relieved when we touched ground again. A mass of black-cloaked figures, all with their hoods pulled tightly into their faces against the heavy downpour, streamed through the wide, impressive front doors into the castle, pushing forwards to get out of the rain.
Katie and I had fallen to the back, wedged in between a group of loudly chatting people that, by the sound of it, were bubbly second year Hufflepuff girls who had been riding the Thestral-drawn carriages for the first time this year.
“I can’t believe this!” Katie snapped as she shook the thin candy pink object in her hands so violently that it almost slipped out of her grip.
I laughed at the familiar scenario and shook my head. “You know that technical devices don’t work at Hogwarts.”
“Yeah, well, I thought they might have fixed that by now. Google could save us so many hours in the library.” She let her smart phone slip back into the pocket of her cloak, looking agitated as a wave of people swept us into the large, warm Entrance Hall.
“Probably that’s why they keep it that way.” I said as I pulled off the thick hood of the ceremonial cloak and loosened the ribbon around my throat that held it together. The thing always felt too heavy and I was glad to be rid of it for the entire year after tonight.
“Over there?” Katie asked over the general clatter that had followed us into the Great Hall, pointing at a free spot at the long Ravenclaw table. I nodded wordlessly and followed my friend through the throngs of students until we had reached the empty seats in between Sam Henderson, a sixth year and Ravenclaw prefect, and Milina Jacobson, a perky seventh year who I only knew from Potions Club.
“I hope the sorting goes fast,” Katie sighed as we sat down next to each other, the bottoms of our cloaks tumbling to the floor behind us. “I’m starving.”
“Um, Seth?” The voice came from my right and I turned my head to find Sam Henderson leaning over the table, his uniform tie piling on his empty plate as he gave me a friendly smile.
“Yes?” I replied, feeling the heat rise to my cheeks as I realised how snobbish my voice had suddenly sounded. Without meaning to, I had talked like my Grandmother.
Sam laughed – rather uncomfortably – but continued to smile. He seemed determined to have a conversation with me, no matter how incompetent I was.
“Um, I wasn’t sure if-” he trailed off midsentence but continued to stare at me with a bizarre half-smile on his face, “I like your hair.”
“Oh.” I stared at him for a moment, feeling Katie’s leg pressing against my shin underneath the table as I desperately tried to think of a suitable reply. “Okay,” I finally produced and practically felt Katie’s eyes roll in their sockets as she quietly groaned to herself. This was uncharted territory; although we had known each other for more than five years, Sam’s and my conversations usually never extended beyond our Prefect duties and maybe the latest Ravenclaw riddle, but that was about as deep as it got.
“Um, right.” Sam cleared his throat. “Well, then – um – I’ll just…” He pointed vaguely at the clump of people sitting beside him. “I’ll see you around.”
“Sure,” I said quickly, feeling a mixture of relief and mortification as he gave me one last smile before turning away again.
“‘Okay’?” Katie groaned, her cloak billowing out behind her like the cape of a superhero in action as she hurried along next to me. “Are you kidding me?”
“I know. I’m pathetic,” I sighed, feeling a whole new wave of mortification as I replayed the conversation I had just had with Sam Henderson in my head. “Watch out for the stairs – they move!”
The first-year Ravenclaws behind me exclaimed in awe as one of the seemingly solid stone staircases suddenly lurched and disconnected from the landing it had led to, swinging out of sight. There was something amazing about witnessing this Hogwarts-specific quirk for the first time; after a while – and a couple of unnecessary detours – however, you started questioning the practicality of the whole thing.
“You know that’s why people think you’re stuck up.”
I looked at my best friend, only just dodging a low flying, cackling Peeves who had swooped from the ceiling. “People think I’m stuck up?”
“Seth,” she said with a sigh, “you barely talk to most people.”
“Well, I don’t like most people. EXPULSO!” I pointed my wand at Peeves, who had begun to flick the first-years’ hats from their heads, and although spells could not actually hurt the poltergeist, it was enough to get the him to leave, his swearwords echoing from the ceiling even after he had gone.
“Are you sure the sorting hat didn’t say Slytherin?” Katie raised her eyebrows at me as we climbed the last flight of stairs to Ravenclaw Tower, before stopping at the tall door that was bare except for a brass door-knocker in the shape of an eagle.
The crowd of first years now pooled around us and I noticed Sam Henderson and two fifth-year Prefects ploughing their way through the crowd to get to the door for the grand demonstration; it had become quite the ritual – answering the first riddle of the new school year.
“Uh,” Katie hissed quite suddenly, making me jump a little. “Sam is checking you out.”
“What?” I glanced up, shocked to find Sam Henderson looking at me as he passed by and – in an attempt at taking a casual step backwards – I treaded on something small and soft, causing the first year behind me to cry out in agony.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” I bit my bottom lip as I tried to pacify the little boy on whose foot I had just stepped, ignoring the snickers and snorts that issued from the crowd around me.
I might have mildly injured a kid on his first day at Hogwarts a but at least no one could call me stuck up.
As usual, suitcases were already piling on the wooden floor of the small dormitory and I couldn’t help a smile as a familiar warmth surged through my body. The four four-poster beds had been made to perfection, looking cosy and inviting, and the lit candles dipped everything into an appealing glow. Without hesitation, I made my way through the pieces of luggage to the bed on the far left and let myself fall onto the soft matrass, arms and legs outstretched.
“You know, you might suck at flirting, but at least you made a lasting impression on that poor first year.”
I laughed as I felt Katie sit down next to me. “Oh shut up.”
“I love you,” she said, sinking into my bed as well so that we were lying next to each other. “But you have rotten social skills.”
“I’m just not good at small talk,” I sighed, turning my head to look at my best friend. “What does small talk even mean? I mean, what is small in terms of a conversation?”
“You’re overthinking this, mate.” She had produced a bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans from her cloak pocket and popped a few into her mouth, releasing a distinctive fragrance of strawberry and pine.
“Maybe.” I held out my hand to Katie and she immediately shook a handful of sweets out of the bag into my open palm. I regarded them for a moment, spotting a few suspicious khaki coloured ones, but then decided against sorting them out and simply thrust them all into my mouth.
“I’m not stuck up,” I said after a while, grimacing at the strange taste of avocados and chocolate that still lingered on my palate as my thoughts inevitably strayed to my family. “Am I?”
“Of course you’re not!” Katie exclaimed so fiercely that it made me smile. She had turned her head to look at me and I could tell that her handful of beans definitely had contained one or two onion ones.
“I can’t believe we’re back,” I sighed, taking in the ceiling of the room with its elaborate bronze pattern. “Sixth year.”
“It’s going to be brilliant,” Katie said, her voice echoing strangely from the walls, mingling with the shuffling of feet that was clearly audible through the door. “Trust me, I can feel it.”
A/N: Dear lovely readers, I hope you've enjoyed chapter two. As usual, I would love to hear what you think about it. I can't even tell you how excited I am about every little review I get :)