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How not to be a Woodley by NH Stadler
Chapter 9: A Pocket full of Secrets
Darkness. Complete darkness enveloped me as I lay there motionlessly, staring at the ceiling. I didn’t know for how long I had been lying in this position or even what time it was. It could have been the brightest day outside, yet no light penetrated the thick, blue cloth that surrounded me. The darkness was of such density, that even after a while my eyes did not manage to adjust to the lack of light.
“OK, I have to ask,” Katie said next to me and I did not need to look to know that she had rolled to the side, her eyes fixating my left temple, “what made you do it?”
I shrugged as I continued my staring contest with the ceiling. “I don’t know. Everything.” Images were chasing each other in my mind: Albus, snogging that girl and looking at me like I was a pitiable stray puppy, me sitting in that empty potions classroom like the biggest dork, James and Freddie, laughing like arrogant pricks. “Hearing that Potter is casually flying around on a broomstick while I have been waiting like an idiot for him to show up – I guess I was just mad at myself for being such a gullible dork. And then I just-“
“You cracked like Gretchen Wieners,” Katie supplied, still staring at me with her head propped up on her elbow.
“Who is Gretchen Wieners?” I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to know this girl, but Katie simply sighed with exasperation, which was an infallible sign that she was referencing a movie I didn’t know.
“The point is, that you stood up for yourself, which is great!”
I simply groaned in response, not really seeing the greatness in yelling at the ‘Chosen One’s’ son in front of the entire Gryffindor Quidditch team. In the aftermath of my proper meltdown, I felt actually quite humiliated.
“You could have been more subtle, I suppose, but you stood your ground,” Katie continued, apparently determined to cheer me up. “You know, maybe you’ve got more Woodley in you than you know.”
“God, I hope not,” I sighed, hoping that my family would never ever get wind of this. Despite the fact that they were definitely not part of the Potter Family fan club, they would not approve of such a crude form of communication, most of all in public.
Silence fell for a while and my thoughts began to circle again, producing the same images I had been seeing for the last couple of hours. Katie had assured me that my little meltdown would not qualify for school-wide gossip, yet I already dreaded the end of the weekend.
“You know that you have to leave your bed eventually?” Katie suddenly said into the darkness as though she had been reading my mind. “Or at least stop staring at that ceiling.”
Monday had come, faster than usual, and so I found myself trudging along in Katie’s wake as we headed up to the third floor for a double period of Ancient Runes. I hadn’t been very keen on going to the Great Hall for breakfast this morning, expecting pointing fingers and gloating laughter, but, much to my relief, there had been nothing of that sort. People, as usual, were positively unaware of my existence; a fact that I had never been more thankful for.
Hence, for a glorious hour I was lulled into a sense of security that my moment of self-control-loss had actually remained uncovered by the gossip-loving student population of Hogwarts; that was, until I accidentally picked up snippets of conversation from a couple of Hufflepuffs that occupied the table in front of Katie and me.
“Have you heard about that crazy girl assaulting James Potter on Saturday?” One of them asked in the middle of a rather complicated translation task and I looked up with a jerk, abandoning the cluster of runes I had just been deciphering.
“Of course,” a girl with a thick black braid, tumbling down her back, answered in a tone that suggested scandal, “I heard that she was some creepy stalker, claiming James was her boyfriend.”
“How pathetic,” the boy next to her laughed like he had never heard of anything that pitiable, “what’s her name? Maybe I know her.”
My insides clenched as I held my breath, readying myself for the unavoidable humiliation I was about to face. However, to my great astonishment, the girl simply shook her head. “No one knows who she was. Could have been anyone, really.”
“Anyone who’s got a serious obsession with James Potter, which is basically everyone,” her strawberry blonde neighbour added in a whisper, as Professor Theta drew nearer to their table. “Mind you, I wouldn’t say no to James, either.” Both girls broke out in heaps of giggles, which earned them a dismissive headshake from the boy, who immediately turned back to his translation work.
Katie, who had apparently been eavesdropping as well, gave me a soft nudge. I hadn’t quite been spared the disgrace of being the school scandal – the stalker girl who assaulted James Potter, whatever that was supposed to mean – but at least the fact that Potter had never even bothered to remember my name, had saved me from facing school-wide humiliation. Who would have thought that James Potter would be good for something after all.
“I told you it wouldn’t be that bad!” Katie slipped her arm through mine, her smile wide as we ambled down the broad corridor together. The October sun was low on the horizon, hitting the stained-glass windows at an angle that made them glow like gems.
“Yeah,” I muttered quietly. Though glad that I had not yet been connected to Hogwarts’ latest rumour, I couldn’t help thinking that there was something fishy about this whole situation. Snippets of gossip concerning my meltdown – which had somehow mutated to a proper scandal by making it sound as though I had ripped my clothes off right there on the Quidditch pitch and literally thrown myself at Potter – had been floating around school all day and the fact that people were still puzzling over the identity of James Potter’s latest stalker, seemed almost too good to be true.
It would not be too hard to actually find out. In fact, it was positively easy: Besides the rather obvious fact that a good half dozen people – who incidentally all lived in the same castle as I did – had witnessed the scene, Potter simply had to ask Slughorn about my name, or – if he ever considered to take a look at the books I had thrust at him – he would find my name scribbled into the margins of the first pages. Hence, if all laws of gossip were still intact at Hogwarts, my name should have been on everyone’s lips, and the fact that it wasn’t, suggested that something wasn’t right.
“Would you please just relax?” Katie squeezed my arm. “What happened to fierce, Voldemort-may-care Seth from the other day?”
I shook my head laughing, about to answer, when suddenly something further down the corridor caught my eye and in a wave of blind panic, I grabbed Katie’s arm and pulled her behind the ample statue of Leander the Literate.
“Ouch!” Katie complained, completely aghast, looking at me like I had lost my mind. “What the hell are you-“
“Shush!” I peeped carefully around Leander’s large belly but backtracked again immediately. “James and Albus,” I explained in a barely audible whisper, “they are talking to each other. Why are they talking to each other?”
Katie raised her eyebrows at me, probably contemplating the possibility of me having an aneurism. “Um, well, I guess because they are brothers?”
I exhaled deeply and pressed my body against the wall, feeling stupid and helpless. Was this how my last two years at Hogwarts were going to be? Ducking and hiding whenever I ran across Albus or James?
“Ouch, you’re hurting me!” Katie cried out, pulling her arm out of my grasp, which apparently had been a little too firm. “Jesus, Seth!”
“I’m sorry. Can you look if they are still there?”
Katie rolled her eyes but complied, stretching just enough to see past the statue. If the boys had suddenly decided to look around, they would have probably spotted a tuft of her auburn curls protruding behind Leander’s belly.
“And?” I prompted after a few seconds, trying to peep through the small gap between the wall and the statue’s bottom without success.
“They are still there,” Katie commented in a low voice, “James has just gotten something out of his pocket. It looks like old parchment. He gives it to Albus. That’s weird. What do you think it is?”
“Maybe some old homework?” I shrugged, trying once again to find a gap between the statue and the wall. “Hey, does James look like he has any books with him?”
Katie turned back to me, her eyebrows once again raised with disbelieve. “Are you serious? What kind of question is that?” She whispered, giving me a look that suggested I had gone mental.
Her reaction was quite understandable; my question had been completely out of context and sufficiently weird. However, this had bothered me for quite a while now: Not long after I had marched off the Quidditch pitch last Saturday, I had realised that I had just left some of my favourite Potions books in the care of James Potter and I had no idea how to get them back.
“Quick, someone’s coming!” Katie hissed as a group of people had turned the corner of the corridor, having a full view of us half-cowering behind Leander’s ample bottom.
“That’s quite an interesting sculpture style,” I said clumsily, pretending to be very interested in the folds of Leander’s toga, “with all the – um – the lines and, um –“
“The alignment of the, uh, material,” Katie chipped in, imitating my poor performance that earned us weird looks from the passing group. However, it seemed to have been enough for them to not question our odd behaviour. As soon as they had walked by, Katie and I exhaled with relief; no matter what the purpose might be, lurking behind overly large statues to spy on people usually never looked too good.
“Calfacto.” I tapped my wand softly against the brim of my mug and the water within began to bubble for a second before thin wafts of steam rose snakelike into the air. Quite pleased with my own spell-work, I plopped a tea bag into the now heated water and stuffed a large biscuit into my mouth, before balancing the mug on a stack of books, carefully making my way to a quiet niche of the common room.
“What are you doing?” Katie watched me, clumsily trying to set down my books without spilling scolding hot tea all over them, her arms folded in front of her chest. “Don’t tell me you are skipping dinner again.”
“I’m not hungry,” I replied, though it sounded more like ‘I nog hungee’ as I was still clenching the large biscuit with my teeth.
Katie gave me one of her most exasperated eye-rolls. “You know that you could just as well run into James during breakfast or lunch, right? This is ridiculous.”
“Actually, it’s not,” I countered, as I set up my books on the table, “sixth and seventh years have completely different schedules so we rarely have lunch or breakfast together. At dinner, however, the entire school shows up.” Trying to minimize the chances of running into James Potter, I had given this matter quite some thought and decided that being cautious for a few more days until everything had blown over, couldn’t hurt.
“Fine,” Katie sighed reluctantly, “I’ll go alone. But this is the last time. Tarquin always tries to chat me up when you’re not around and it’s annoying.”
“OK,” I agreed, nipping on my still steaming tea, “and don’t be too harsh to the poor boy.” I grinned at her, earning another massive eye-roll.
After Katie had left, the common room was empty to a point that was almost eerie. Nobody usually missed dinner if they didn’t have to. It was the biggest social event of the day; a chance to finally ditch the school uniforms and to flirt and interact with people from different houses. I didn’t mind the quiet, yet it was strange that the loudest sound was the gentle crackling of the fireplaces.
I took a generous sip of my tea and then longed into my pocket, pulling out a neatly folded piece of parchment, tied together with an emerald bow. Archimedes had delivered my parents’ letter this morning but, never opening my mail at the table, where basically anybody could read it, I had not yet gotten around to have a look at it.
“Dear Elizabeth,” my mother’s slim, loopy handwriting sprawled across the page, “Thank you for your letter. Your father and I are glad to hear that you are well. Everything is fine at home although the weather in Cornwall is horrid. I spent the last week in London to prepare for the Conservatory Gala. Incidentally, I met Charlize and Justus Engelstein and their charming son Asher (I don’t know if you remember him; you used to play together as children); he studies Magical Law at the University of Beaufort. He is such a handsome, well-mannered young man.”
As a matter of fact, I did remember Asher Engelstein quite well; mostly because of the mortifying, rather sloppy kiss he had planted on my mouth behind my mother’s peony bushes about three years ago. He hadn’t been so well-mannered back then.
“Your father and I will be attending the Quidditch event at Hogwarts at the end of October. Your grandparents might accompany us as well. We are looking forward to seeing you then!”
I groaned inwardly at the information in the last two lines; it wasn’t unusual for the students’ families and alumni to join the Quidditch Kick-off celebrations, yet I had a hard time picturing my parents enjoying the event. The entire day was usually messy and loud, involving impromptu dancing and barbeques; not exactly what my family usually considered to be fun.
I leaned back in my chair, staring at the writhing flames in the fireplace until they began to look like actual shapes and faces. I wasn’t sure how I felt about my parents’ visit; while the fact that I was in Ravenclaw was hardly a secret, it had been easy to avoid the topic when I was at home. Here at Hogwarts, however, it was an entirely different story.
Discarding the letter, I reached for my tea and the book on Shield Charms, which I had borrowed from the library for my Defence Against the Dark Arts homework, and began to browse the yellowed pages for useful information on shield radii and protective properties. I was halfway through a passage on negative influences affecting shield strength, when, all of a sudden, the silence in the common room was broken by a strange gulping noise, followed by a miserable moan that sounded much like a dog’s. I sat up straight, looking around for the source of the noise but from my secluded spot, I could hardly see anything at all.
As the wail sounded again, I got up as quietly as possible and moved further into the room, careful not to make too much noise. Whatever had gotten into the common room didn’t sound too happy and I was not sure I wanted to run into it. The nooks and corners that have been added over the years, provided ample hiding space and made it fairly difficult to spot anyone who did not want to be spotted.
Once again, a howl pierced the silence. However, this time, it didn’t sound menacing but somehow desperate, and, as I turned the corner, I saw a slouching figure, sitting in one of the armchairs, their face buried in their hands as they sobbed convulsively into their palms.
For a moment I was paralysed, unable to think of anything to say or do. I had never seen Sam Henderson like this; in fact, I had never seen anyone like this. He was crying so much that he was shaking, occasional wails mingling with the sound of his sobbing, and I took an instinctive step backwards. I couldn’t deal with this. Growing up in a family where public displays of emotions were frowned upon, I was absolutely useless when it came to comforting people.
Very slowly, I turned around and began to walk away again, hoping that he would not look up in time to see me. I probably would have gotten away unnoticed, but, unfortunately, I hadn’t seen the random, misplaced coffee table that was in my way, and ran straight into it, banging my knee rather noisily.
“Seth?” I stopped dead in my tracks, resisting the urge to groan. I had messed up my chance to walk away without looking like a git, and so, taking a deep breath, I turned around to face Sam.
“Hey!” I waved, feeling rather awkward when he only stared back at me with red, puffy eyes. “Are you – are you alright?” I had no idea why I had asked that. He was crying like a maniac; obviously he was not alright. “Can I – can I help you?”
Sam continued to stare at me for a moment, his cheeks completely wet and snot dripping from his nose. Then he finally shook his head. “No one can help me,” he said in a strangled voice and his face screwed up as he resolved into tears again.
I could only stand there like an idiot, feeling helpless and uncomfortable at the same time. I was probably the most useless person to stumble across Sam in this situation.
“Should I – should I get someone? I could-” I stammered, fidgeting with the cuffs of my slouchy jumper. However, when Sam did not react and continued to sob into his hands, I finally sat down in the armchair next to his and began to pad his arm awkwardly. He looked up, a strange expression on his face, studying me like he was seeing me for the first time.
“I screwed up,” he gulped suddenly and began to shake his head slightly, “I really screwed up.”
“I – I’m sure it’s not that bad,” I replied, but he only shook his head more vigorously.
“No, it is. It is bad.” He paused and gave me a weird, long look. Then, he suddenly dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out two small vials; one of them contained a clear liquid, the other one a flaky powder.
I stared at the items, feeling something clench in my stomach; this wasn’t good. “It was you?” I whispered, even though we were still quite alone in the common room.
Sam nodded gravely, staring at the vials like he couldn’t believe it himself. “I took it. I thought I could do it, but I can’t. I don’t even know how-” His words drowned in his sobs and he simply sat there, his shoulders heaving as he cried silently into his hand. I was at a loss for words; how on earth was I supposed to deal with this?
“I’m sorry-” He suddenly said, a fearful expression on his face. “I shouldn’t have told you. I promised Felicity – I promised I wouldn’t. But I can’t-” He wiped his face with the sleeves of his jumper and looked up at me, his eyes red and swollen. “Here.” I felt his hand grab mine and he pressed the vials into my palm so forcefully as though he was afraid he would change his mind half-way through.
“What – what are you doing?” I stared at Sam, who had risen from his chair, looking slightly wobbly on his feet. Did he expect me to hide the stolen potions ingredients for him until he had found out how to brew the pregnancy test? Was I supposed to help him? I couldn’t let him drag me into this mess.
“You’re a prefect,” he suddenly said, his voice surprisingly clear, “you know what to do with this.”
“Sam,” I rose in protest but was immediately interrupted by a loud thud, followed by a jumble of different voices that made both Sam and me look up apprehensively. People were apparently returning from dinner and soon the whole room would be bustling with Ravenclaws again.
“I should go,” he said quietly and, before I could come up with anything to say, he had turned around and strode away towards the boys’ dormitories, leaving me standing there with the vials clutched in my hand.
The ugly face of the stone gargoyle stared back at me, its mouth slightly opened; just enough to reveal a row of pointy, sharp teeth. It had never looked that menacing before and it seemed to get worse, the longer I stared at it. My hand was buried in the pocket of my uniform cardigan, clutching the vials for reassurance; I was doing the right thing. There was no other way.
I had barely slept last night, rolling around in my bed restlessly, and got up before sunrise, sneaking out of the dormitory. My plan had been to go straight to McGonagall, hand her the stolen ingredients, and be done with it before breakfast. After all, it was not a question of keeping a secret or not: Sam had been quite clear when he had given me the vials; he wanted me to turn him in. I couldn’t help being mad at him for dragging me into this. I had never wanted any part of this.
Suddenly, the stone gargoyle rumbled, moving to the side to reveal a tall, cloaked figure, briskly walking down the spiralling staircase. At the sight of Professor McGonagall, a dignified witch with iron grey hair, I took a step backwards, quickly fumbling with my bag, as though I had not just been waiting in front of her office. Unfortunately, my clumsy cover had absolutely no effect.
“Miss Woodley,” she said, sounding slightly irritated, “what are you doing here?”
I looked up at her, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks. The vials in my pocket suddenly felt unnaturally hot against my skin, yet I couldn’t loosen my grasp. I had to tell her. There was no other way. If I didn’t hand in the stolen ingredients and report Sam, I would break school rules and maybe even face expulsion.
“Miss Woodley,” McGonagall said curtly, yet not unkind, “Are you feeling alright? You look unwell.” She was probably referring to the puffy, bluish circles underneath my eyes that had been resistant to any amount of concealer this morning.
“No,” I said quickly, “I’m fine. I just – I was-” I paused for a moment, squeezing the vials in my pocket. “I was just looking for Professor Vector. I am having trouble with my Arithmancy homework.”
“Well, she would be in the Great Hall for breakfast.”
“Oh, yes, right. Thank you, Professor,” I blurted and then quickly turned on the spot, walking away before McGonagall could see my bright red face. I had no idea why I hadn’t told her. I should have; not only was I now running around school with incriminating objects in my pocket, I was also lying – again – for another boy I barely even knew. Maybe my grandmother had been right after all, when she had told me that sympathy made people weak and vulnerable; it didn’t get you very far and, hence, was a waste of time.
I looked up, though not consciously, since my thoughts were still revolving around the vials in my vest pocket. Hence, for a moment I only stared at Albus Potter’s face, probably looking rather gormless as my sleep-deprived brain tried to cope with the new situation.
“I was looking for you,” he said with a smile on his face; it was the first time I noticed that his eyes were actually green. They contrasted nicely with his black hair.
“OK,” I uttered sluggishly after realising that Albus had been looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to respond. I must have sounded really stupid, since he furrowed his brow, the smile fading from his lips.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, sure,” I waved my hand as casually as possible, barely missing Albus’ face, “I’m sorry. I didn’t sleep much last night.”
Albus continued to frown at me and, for a moment, I was sure he was going to ask me why. Yet, when he spoke again, it was about something else entirely.
“I – I wanted to talk to you about, well, last Saturday.”
“Oh, um, sure.” I had actually hoped that I would never have to talk about the embarrassing encounter in that forsaken corridor again. It wasn’t exactly a moment I wanted to remember.
“What you saw, well, I just wanted to ask you-” Albus halted, a sheepish look on his face. “Laura and I are not officially going out and we don’t want anybody to know yet. It would be great if you could, um, keep this a secret for now?”
I felt an unexpected twinge in my stomach, yet I managed a flimsy smile. “Sure!” I blurted brightly, “I always do!”
I wasn’t entirely sure why I had said it like this; it sounded as though I had loads of friends who I regularly walked in on when they were snogging in dark corridors. I actually had not thought it possible, but my attempt at being cool, had made me look even more pathetic.
“OK, great.” Albus gave me another smile. “Thank you.”
“Sure thing,” I said in an odd voice that made me sound like a 90s rapper on speed. It was the obvious sign for me to leave, before I could embarrass myself even more.
“Well, I promised Katie I would meet her at breakfast, so – I see you around.”
Albus nodded, his hands buried in the pockets of his uniform trousers. “Yeah. I see you around.”
I watched him walk away and, as soon as he had turned the next corner, I let my back hit the stone wall and closed my eyes. At least, sixth year couldn’t possibly get any worse than this.
A/N: Hello lovely reader! I hope you enjoyed this chapter, which is a little filler-y, yet somehow necessary to propel the plot into the right direction. Feel free to review, critique, comment, ask, etc.! Most of all, I want to wish you all a merry Christmas (or Chanukah, or Kwanzaa), hoping this chapter reaches you before the holidays :).