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How not to be a Woodley by NH Stadler
Chapter 13: A Rescue Mission
I stared at James, dumbstruck. My mind was suddenly wiped blank and I could feel the palms of my hands get sweaty, as I frantically tried to come up with something plausible to say.
Or anything, really.
“I’m not lying,” I said, terribly aware of how feeble my voice sounded.
James frowned. “Your lips are twitching.”
I clamped a hand over my mouth, suddenly feeling like I was six years old again and playing a game of cards with Grandmother. “It’s a project for Slughorn, okay?”
James raised an eyebrow. “No, it’s not,” he insisted and, bending over the cauldron, he sniffed at the slowly bubbling potion. “What is this, Woodley?”
“Nothing that concerns you,” I replied as sternly as possible, crossing my arms in front of my chest. “Now, would you please just go away?”
He gave me a weird, long look, almost as though he was about to say something, but then he simply shook his head to himself, muttering something that contained the word ‘crazy’, and began to gather the books and papers, he had come back for in the first place. I watched him reach for them over the table, assembling them into a messy pile, which he picked up at once, swiping a couple of loose sheets off the table in the process.
“I’ll do it,” I said quickly, but James had already bent down, snatching the pages from the floor. Instead of putting them back, however, he stared at them, his brows furrowed in consternation. It was only now that I realised, he was reading the instructions for the Graviditas potion.
“Give that back!” I tried to yank the sheet from his hand, but he reacted too quickly, pulling his hand out of my reach.
“You’re pregnant?” He sounded shocked, staring at me as though he was seeing me for the very first time.
“What? No!” I had finally reached the instructions and tore them from his grip, unable to look at him. How on earth was I going to get out of this mess?
“Are you kidding me?” James still stared at me incredulously. “You’re brewing a pregnancy test.”
“So what?” I snapped, busying myself with putting away the loose sheets of paper. There was no more use in denying it. And if he thought, I was brewing the potion for myself, all the better. I didn’t care what James Potter thought about me anyway.
“I just – I guess, I didn’t think you –“
“Were having sex?” I supplied rather aggressively, slamming the papers carelessly onto the table. I hadn’t meant to yell at him like this, but it was hard to keep calm at the moment.
“What? No! I didn’t mean that!” He snapped back, clearly upset. “I never even thought about you having sex! I mean – ugh.” He raked a hand through his hair, dishevelling it even more. “That came out wrong.”
“Sure,” I mumbled, more to myself than to James, and sank onto the nearest chair, rubbing my tired eyes. This was getting way too much for me to handle. “It’s not mine, okay? I’m only helping a friend.”
James only stared at me for a moment, before taking the seat across from me. “That miserable bloke from earlier?”
I nodded in response and it grew quiet again.
After a while, he leaned forwards, resting his elbows on his knees and giving me a weird look. “Why are you doing this?”
I shrugged, not exactly sure what to say. I had asked myself the very same question a couple of times already. “I just – I couldn’t turn him in. It felt wrong. And I just figured – if I can help him, why not?”
James regarded me with an almost curious expression on his face. “That is really-”
“Stupid?” I supplied, but he shook his head and the small dimple on his right cheek appeared as he smiled lightly.
“Actually, I wanted to say that it is very Gryffindor of you.”
At this point, I couldn’t help a grin, which I tried to cover up by rolling my eyes. “I’m not sure that’s a compliment, either.”
“Well,” James replied casually, rising from the chair again. “Considering you’re a Ravenclaw, I would say it is.”
Thin, green vines were flailing through the air like rabid garden snakes, lashing out at my gloved hands. Loud swearing mingled with cries of panic, as people dived underneath the long table or ducked behind one of the shelves. Across from us, one of the tentacle-like tendrils had gotten hold of Adrian Leigh’s wand, swinging it back and forth like it was waving it in triumph, but we barely noticed.
“Can we trust him?” Katie whispered, using the outburst of laughter to cover our conversation.
“Don’t make me feel even worse about it than I already do, okay?” I groaned, swatting at a particularly ferocious vine that had wrapped itself around my wrist. “Diffindo!”
The tentacle recoiled, hiding behind the others like a wounded animal.
“I just thought, the two of you are not exactly friends, and –”
“I know,” I sighed, hitting a couple of other vines with my wand. It had been stupid to confide in James Potter. He had promised that he wouldn’t tell but, honestly, there was nothing that actually kept him from doing so. And I didn’t know him well enough to rely on his word alone.
“Ladies, how is your Venomous Tentacular getting along?”
Katie and I both jerked up our heads, staring straight at Professor Longbottom’s face. It was hard to believe that he was the same person as the round-faced boy, smiling tentatively into the camera on the large photograph of Dumbledore’s Army that adorned the Albus Dumbledore Memorial Hall. His chubby cheeks had vanished since then and, while still being one of the nicer teachers, there was nothing tentative about his demeanour anymore.
“It’s going great!” Katie said, a little too brightly, leaning rather obviously over our pitiable attempts at sketching the plant’s poisonous buds. Drawing was not exactly our forte.
Professor Longbottom frowned at us warily but, before he could say anything, there was a blood-curdling scream and suddenly, Jasper Holt was born up into the air, ensnared by countless wriggling vines.
“Out of the way!” Professor Longbottom had yanked his wand from his cloak, pointing at Jasper’s Venomous Tentacular, which suddenly stopped writhing uncontrollably and began to sway gently, not unlike a many-headed snake that had been hypnotized. As it slowly put Jasper back onto the ground and retreated, thunderous applause filled Greenhouse 5.
“So, when will it be ready, then?” Katie mouthed, giving me a meaningful glance.
“Thursday, I think,” I whispered back, feeling a definite surge of relief at the thought of it. Only two more days and then this mess would finally be over and I would be able to breathe again.
I felt like a criminal as I leaned against the stone wall, my gaze wandering up and down the forsaken corridor. My blue uniform tie felt unnaturally tight around my throat but I didn’t dare loosen it just now. It was a crucial moment – the last hurdle – and it all depended on me.
Unfortunately, I was sweating like a pig.
Finally, Sam’s tall figure appeared at the end of the hallway, walking towards me rather swiftly. It was obvious that he wanted this to be over as much as I did.
Relieved that everything was working out according to plan, I took a couple of steps towards him, ready to hand over the small vile with the Graviditas potion, which I was clutching tightly in the pocket of my dark grey cardigan. It was then that an icy cold wind suddenly swept the corridor and a malicious cackle reverberated from the lofty ceiling, making Sam and me stop dead in our tracks.
“Ooooh, what is this?” Peeves, the poltergeist, had literally plunged through the ceiling, a gleeful expression on his translucent face as he swooped back and forth above our heads. Sam was still too far away to discern his features, but I was sure he looked just as anxious as I felt.
“Go away, Peeves!” I said bravely, trying hard to hide the fear in my voice. “Or I’ll call the Bloody Baron.”
The ghost summersaulted above my head, before cackling once more. “Ickle prefects, meeting in secret. Should call the headmistress, I should!”
“No!” I said a little too quickly, watching the stout man’s face light up with sardonic glee. He had sensed it – that he had actually walked in on something – and, before I could draw my wand to silence him, he took a deep breath and bellowed, “ALARM! ALARM ON THE THIRD FLOOR!”
Almost immediately, I could hear doors flying open in the close distance and hurried footsteps approaching the usually unused corridor. Sam had already turned on his heels, fleeing from the scene with Peeves in his wake, shouting abuse at him.
I wheeled around, running off into the other direction, my clammy fingers still wrapped tightly around the potion in my pocket. A couple of indistinguishable voices grew louder behind me, and I sped up, running as fast as I could. Unfortunately, it was not fast enough.
I slithered to a halt, just before I would have crashed into the towering figure of Minerva McGonagall. Behind her, a couple of curious students craned their necks to get a better view, and still more were trickling in from all sides, eager to see what had happened.
“What is going on here?” She gave me a stern look that made me feel as though she could see right through me, and I took an instinctive step backwards, tightening my grip on the vile in my pocket. Now, if ever, I needed to stay cool. Just for once.
However, when I opened my mouth to speak, nothing came out. I was frozen, unable to even blink.
“Miss Woodley,” McGonagall said again, this time warier still, and my heart sank, as her gaze fell onto the bulging pocket of my uniform cardigan. “What is in your pocket?”
“My pocket?” I croaked feebly, feeling my heart hammering against my ribcage. It felt as though it was struggling to break free. This was it. I had been caught and there was no way I could prevent the consequences that were bound to follow.
“Your pocket, Miss Woodley.”
It was over.
“Professor!” There was a wave of muttering from the small crowd and suddenly, James Potter had entangled himself from the gathered onlookers, striding confidently towards us, his burgundy tie loosened around his open collar and his shirt-sleeves rolled up.
“Potter,” McGonagall said with surprise, though her voice sounded softer than usual. It wasn’t a secret that she was close to the Potters and it showed in the way she talked to their offspring.
“I – er – Hagrid sends me,” he said and, without so much as looking at me, positioned himself right in front of me, as though I was a mere part of the dirty stone wall.
Such a gentleman.
“Hagrid?” McGonagall frowned. “Potter, I don’t have time for this now.”
“But it’s urgent!” He insisted. “Really urgent.” A sharp jolt of pain rushed through my body, as the heel of James’s desert boot slammed into my toes, and I gasped, stifling the cry of pain that had threatened to burst from my mouth. I looked up at his back, blinking away the tears in my eyes, and suddenly noticed that he was discreetly holding out his hand to me.
“What is it then?”
McGonagall seemed to lose her patience with him and, not really knowing what I was doing, I quickly produced the vile from my pocket and pressed it into James’s open palm. His fingers closed around it immediately and he pulled back his arm.
“Oh, um, you know what?” He said quickly, a nonchalant smile on his face. “Now that I think about it, it’s really not that important.” He scratched the back of his head as he began to walk backwards down the corridor. “Sorry, Professor!” And with that, he simply turned around and left the hallway in a jog.
“Potter!” McGonagall called after him, but he had already disappeared behind the corner. “That boy,” she mumbled to herself, shaking her head slightly, before turning her attention back on me. “Where were we? Ah, yes. Your pocket, if you may.”
But there was nothing to show her anymore and, concluding that Peeves had once again pranked the entire school, she told me to return to my common room, before shooing away the curious flock of students that had ventured out of their dormitories, following Peeves’s call.
I literally stumbled into the Ravenclaw common room, still feeling trance-like. A couple of people gave me curious looks, but I neither had the time, nor the nerve to worry about them now. I needed to find Sam, to talk to him, but he was nowhere to be seen.
“Seth!” Katie had stumbled towards me, looking stressed. “Seth, what happened? Someone said Peeves-“
I shook my head quickly, not wanting anyone to overhear, and pulled my best friend into a quiet corner, before retelling the outline of what had happened. Her eyes seemed to grow bigger with every word and when I finished, she had raised her eyebrows so much that they threatened to disappear into her auburn hairline.
“You mean James-?”
I nodded, once again looking around if anyone was close enough to eavesdrop.
“And -” She paused, a confused expression on her face as she seemed to put the pieces together. “What do you think he has done with the potion?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted, raking a hand through my slightly sweaty hair. “He just ran off.”
“You need to talk to him!” Katie urged. “Maybe he’s in the Gryffindor common room?”
“Yeah, maybe,” I mumbled, still feeling a little disoriented. I didn’t even know how to get into the Gryffindor common room. Wasn’t there a password or something?
“Sam!” Katie nudged my arm and I wheeled around on the spot. Sam had indeed just entered the common room, his eyes searching the closer vicinity. When they found me, he suddenly smiled very slightly and gave me a tiny nod, as though to say that everything was alright.
“The potion?” I whispered as he joined Katie and me in the corner.
“All went well,” he said, and I was relieved to hear that there was a little more life in his voice again. “James found me and gave it to me.”
“He did?” I couldn’t help sounding surprised. “Why? I mean, how?”
“He caught up with me after I had run off. He said, you’d almost gotten into trouble?” He looked guilty, almost worried, but I quickly shook my head, eager to hear the rest of the story.
“It’s fine. I got away. What happened then?”
“Well,” Sam, who was still panting slightly, probably from running up the stairs to the tower, took a deep breath. “I gave it to Felicity and she did the test immediately.”
“AND?” Katie and I both spoke simultaneously. My stomach clenched and the mounting tension was hard to bear. But suddenly Sam smiled; and it was a genuine, easy smile that curled his chapped lips and he simply shook his head.
I could barely believe it. After everything, I honestly had not believed in a happy ending anymore. “But, what about the morning sickness and her being late and-“
Sam shrugged, now leaning against the bookshelf to our right. “She reckons it was only her psyche acting up. She’s feeling better already. It was a good idea to have a back-up plan.”
“Oh, um, yeah,” I said lamely, producing a feeble smile that hardly could have looked genuine. Sam, however, seemed too relieved to even notice.
“Seth, thank you so much. You are seriously awesome.”
I watched him walk away and then let myself fall against the wall, suddenly feeling immensely tired. Of course, I hadn’t had a back-up plan. If it hadn’t been for James Potter, I would have probably been sitting on the Hogwarts Express right this moment, on my way back to Cornwall.
“That was really nice of James,” Katie said, albeit tentatively, glancing at my profile as we trudged up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories.
“Yes.” I wasn’t sure what else to say. It had been nice. But somehow, I wasn’t sure I liked the thought of owing James Potter.
There was a sudden burst of light and a loud rattling sound, as the dark blue curtains around my bed were yanked open and I groaned, covering my stinging eyes.
“Rise and shine!” Katie chirped and I could feel her sitting down on my bed, probably staring at me as I lay there, refusing to accept that it actually was morning already.
“Go away,” I groaned once more, pulling the blanket up to my face. “It’s, like, midnight.”
“It’s 10 o’ clock.”
It took a moment for the information to sink in. Then, in a spurt of sudden panic, I sat up straight, blinking at the glaring rays of sunlight that lit up the entire room. It was the first time I had slept that long in, well, ever. “What? But why?”
“That’s a really deep question for Saturday morning.” Katie laughed.
It was Saturday. The Kick-Off Saturday. And my family would be arriving in less than an hour. Panic-stricken, I peeled myself out of my cosy bed and began to pace around frantically, not exactly sure what I was even doing.
“I need to wash. And dress,” I mumbled, still pacing, “and brush my teeth.” I caught a glimpse of the bushy, unkempt blonde mop on my head in the mirror and another moan escaped my mouth. “-and my hair.”
“Those are all good ideas,” Katie chimed in, “but how about some breakfast first?”
It was only now that I noticed the small tray on my bedside table, containing a steaming mug of coffee and a buttered scone. The sight somehow had a soothing effect on me, and I could feel my heartbeat slow down again.
“You are literally the most awesome person I know,” I said, as I sat down next to Katie, cupping the warm mug in my hands.
“I know,” she shrugged, and we both looked up as the door to the dorm-room flew open, revealing Ursula Mussegros.
“Hi!” She greeted us in her usual squeaky voice, and slipped into the room, closing the door quietly behind her. There was something about the way she spoke and moved – all very softly and never too quickly – that was slightly weird. It had probably also been the reason why Adina Singer and her posse had bullied her out of their dorm room in third year.
“You look really nice,” I told her, when she had sat down on her bed, her light eyes gazing at the window. Her dark blonde hair was in a neat plait and she even seemed to have applied a little lip-gloss.
“Oh, thank you.” A tentative smile appeared on her lips and she smoothened out the skirt of her blue midi-dress. “My boyfriend is coming today. He’s a Muggle,” she explained, a slight blush appearing on her cheeks. “Are your families coming?”
I simply mumbled something close to a ‘yes’, not feeling particularly psyched about the weekend that lay ahead, but Katie’s loud ‘YES’ would have drowned out my answer anyway.
“My Mum comes. And I think-” She had leaned over me, peering at the watch that lay on my bedside table. “- Oh, I should probably get going. She arrives with the first group.”
I simply nodded, unable to speak because of the large piece of scone I had just stuffed into my mouth. Since Hogwarts was unplottable and, hence, invisible to Muggles, non-magic family members attending the Kick-Off had to be charmed by Flitwick first, before they would even be able to see more than a mouldy old ruin.
“Say ‘hi’ to her. I’ll catch up with you later,” I muttered, despite the lump of scone I was still chewing on.
“Right,” Katie pushed herself up from my bed, pulling on the light pink blouse she wore underneath a tailored military jacket. She too, had obviously made an effort to look nice. But then again, unlike me, my best friend usually made an effort.
“See you in a bit.” Katie smiled at me as she reached the door. Ursula, who was coming with her to get her boyfriend, trailed mouse-like in her wake. “And don’t let the Woodleys get you down.”
I only grimaced and, when the door had shut behind them, finally dragged myself up from my bed again, ambling through the now empty dorm room, the cup of coffee still in my hand.
Just like the House teams, I had prepared a game-plan for today: Firstly, dodging any kind of questions by my family, related to Ravenclaw or Slytherin. Secondly, ignoring anything my grandmother said; or anyone else from my family, really. Thirdly, avoiding James Sirius Potter, come what may.
The last point wasn’t actually related to anything, I just wasn’t ready to face him yet and I needed time to think. Saying ‘thank you’ really sounded easier than it was, especially when it was James Potter I had to be grateful to.
Tents had sprung up everywhere, dotting the vast Hogwarts grounds like sprinkles on a cake. The rain had stopped two days ago and the autumn sun graced the treetops of the Forbidden Forrest, which glittered in brilliant shades of gold and orange.
I breathed in the crisp air and drew my large, knitted cardigan a little tighter around my torso as I took in the scene from the distance. There were already flocks of people, marching towards the Quidditch pitch, looking like tiny dots of red, yellow, green, and blue. The Kick-off would not begin before an hour, but the hard-core Quidditch-nuts, as usual, scrambled to get a head-start, securing the best seats. It wasn’t hard to guess that my family would not be among them; the Woodleys never scrambled for anything.
I continued my walk down the grounds, passing by oddly shaped tents, adorned with various House flags and banners that all billowed in the soft breeze. Jovial chatter and music filled the air and the tingle of excitement for the oncoming Kick-Off games was almost tangible. A group of children raced past me, weaving through the tents with scarlet and gold banners tied around their necks like capes, screeching and giggling as they chased each other. Despite the uneasy feeling that had settled in my stomach in the past days leading up to this event, I was actually beginning to relax a little; that was, until I had spotted the blinding white pavilion that towered a little distance away from the others.
A tiny groan escaped my mouth as I stared rather thickly at the elegant construction in front of me. I wasn’t the only one, either; a couple of people stopped as they passed, pointing at the pavilion with gaping mouths. I couldn’t even blame them; it was magnificent with its polished wooden floor and glittering chandelier hanging from the ceiling. A couple of white-clothed tables bore bouquets of fresh peonies and around them, two neatly dressed waiters dashed back and forth, carrying silver trays with sparkling Champaign and miniscule hors d’oeuvres.
“Elizabeth! There you are!” My mother had spotted me amongst the onlookers, immediately ushering me towards the pavilion, her long, jewellery adorned fingers clasping my shoulder tightly as though she feared I would run off otherwise. I did feel the strong urge to turn away, but as I was even too dumbfounded to speak, I could only hope that no one I knew witnessed how my mother pushed a glass of Champaign into my hand, explaining that I had to try the Norwegian Caviar with it. Leave it to the Woodleys to turn a simple Kick-Off camp-out into a five-star gala event.
“Elizabeth!” My grandmother’s melodious voice had reached me even before I had gotten a glimpse of her; her long, forest green cloak billowed behind her as she approached, but her neat white-blonde hair-do was rigid and unmoving. Like my mother, she was a tall, slender woman, who, despite her age, was still towering over everyone else; at least it had always felt like that to me.
“You are late,” she sighed as she stopped in front of me, her pale, blue eyes narrowing, as she stared at my white linen trainers as though they had personally offended her. “And, apparently, you forgot how to dress properly as well.”
I only pursed my lips, biting my tongue to restrain myself from giving her a stroppy reply. I had actually thought I looked quite nice today in my pair of dark, cropped jeans and the silky camisole underneath the oversized woolly cardigan.
“Oh, well at least she can go to the girls’ bathroom now without causing a scandal,” a snide voice said next to me, but I didn’t need to look to know who had spoken.
“Hello, cousin,” Cassandra drawled in an almost bored voice, taking another sip of her Champaign. While she and Vala had the same brown hair and dark eyes, Cassandra was distinctly bonier than her sister, and it seemed to have gotten worse ever since she had graduated from Hogwarts two years ago. “I must say, I didn’t really believe it when Val told me, but here you are.”
Vala, who was standing next to her sister, only rolled her eyes and downed her glass at once, before stalking off into the pavilion. Her gait seemed a little shaky, but it was probably due to the six-inch heels that kept getting stuck in the earthy ground.
“Nice to see you too, Cassie,” I said so brightly, the sarcasm should have been hard to miss. Cassandra, however, didn’t seem to notice or care about that. She simply swiped her pin-straight hair over her alarmingly knobbly shoulder and smiled brilliantly. Confused about her reaction, it took me a moment to realise that she was not beaming at me; her gaze was fixed on something behind me, and suddenly, I felt a strong hand gripping my shoulder.
I wheeled around, looking straight into the wrinkly yet stately face of my grandfather. The thin lines around his dark grey eyes crinkled as he found mine, and, even though his mouth did not twitch, it looked as though he was smiling.
“Didn’t I tell you, son?” He boomed and I felt taken aback for a moment, not exactly knowing what the hell he was talking about. Then, I spotted the tall figure next to him, scrutinising my face.
“Oh yes, exactly the same colour.” The young man smiled somewhat complacently, as he gave me a very obvious onceover. “Of course, it is hard to focus on eye colour in the face of such breath-taking beauty.”
I couldn’t help a confused frown as I watched the two men exchanging knowing glances. Next to me, Cassandra looked like she had just eaten something disgusting and was about to throw up.
“Elizabeth, you surely remember Asher,” Grandfather said, clapping the guy’s shoulder. “He is Justus and Charlize Engelstein’s son.”
“Well, Edward,” Asher said, giving me a bright smile, “It has been a while since Elizabeth and I have seen each other. I surely would have not recognized her.” He winked at me and I cringed inwardly, remembering the last time we had seen each other and he had forced a wet kiss onto my lips. What on earth was he doing here?
“As you know, Asher didn’t attend Hogwarts,” Grandfather began to explain, as though he could read my thoughts, “So I invited him along. I was thinking, you could show him around a little. After the game, of course.”
“Um, but,” I said rather slowly, not quite sure what Grandfather was playing at, “I, um, I already – uh, made plans.” Meeting up with Katie and her mum hardly qualified as ‘plans’. It had been a lame attempt to talk myself out of having to deal with Asher all day. After all, Cassandra, who was now sulking next to the waiter with the Champaign, had seemed rather eager to do it. And I really wasn’t.
“Perfect!” Grandfather boomed, much to my surprise. “Then it is settled.”
“Oh, I -” I tried once again, suddenly realising that I really didn’t have a good excuse. “Well, I’m not sure I can -”
“When does the game start?” My mother had interrupted my feeble stammering, shooting me a glance that told me to stop trying to wriggle my way out of this. “Isn’t it soon?”
“There’s still time,” Vala, who had emerged from the backrooms of the pavilion, was leaning against one of the tables, looking bored. “Ravenclaw against Hufflepuff is first and, honestly, who wants to watch that.”
A/N: If you got this far, thank you for reading! As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings on this chapter! What did you think about James saving Seth? And finally, the Woodleys reappeared – what did you think about that? And what about Asher – why did Seth’s Grandfather bring him along? I a really looking forward to hearing what you guys thought! Lots of love!