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How not to be a Woodley by NH Stadler

Format: Novel
Chapters: 32
Word Count: 142,969
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Humor, Romance, Young Adult
Characters: Albus, James (II), OC
Pairings: James/OC, Harry/Ginny, Teddy/Victoire, OC/OC, Other Pairing

First Published: 09/18/2014
Last Chapter: 09/17/2017
Last Updated: 09/17/2017

Summary:


 

*HPFF BEST STORY 2017*
*Dobby Award 2017 Best Post-Hogwarts*
*Dobby Award 2017 Best OC*
*Dobby Award 2017 Best Plot Twist*
*Dobby Award 2017 Most Original Fic*
(THANK YOU SO MUCH!)



 

Spectacular rumours, shocking plots, and outrageous family expectations.
Can you feel the pressure?
I know I do.


Chapter 15: Where there's a Weasley, there's a Potter

  

Chapter 15: Where there’s a Weasley, There’s a Potter
 
 

“He came back for you,” Katie said in a low voice, yet the underlying squeal was still evident. “That’s so sweet!”

“Yeah.” I looked up from the plethora of books and parchment on the table, frowning at the air in front of me. “It is, isn’t it? I feel bad somehow for being so rude to Asher before.”

What?” Katie said so loudly that a couple of people in our closer vicinity shot reprimanding glares at us. “I wasn’t talking about Asher,” she continued in a whisper that couldn’t hide her indignation. “I meant James.”

James?” I stared at her in disbelief for a moment. “He didn’t come back for me. He just came to gloat.”

Katie arched an eyebrow, a definite look of exasperation on her face. “About what?”

“Well,” I said as I twisted my hair into a messy top-knot, “obviously about the fact that I had lied about meeting someone.”

Katie simply snorted in response. “Yeah, right. Because James Potter has nothing better to do.”

“Well,” I said hotly, but the words got stuck in my throat as suddenly the wiry figure of Madame Pince appeared behind a shelf of books, swooping down on us like a vulture.

“This,” she hissed in a menacing tone, “is a library. If you cannot be silent, you have to leave.”

Katie and I both mumbled an apology before sheepishly returning to our half-finished Ancient Runes translations.

A hard rain was pounding the high windows of the Hogwarts library, sounding loud and callous, and after only a few minutes, I found myself staring into nothingness again. I hadn’t gotten much sleep; the Kick-Off party had gone on well into the night and the mixture of music and cheerful yells had carried up all the way to Ravenclaw Tower, preventing me from even closing my eyes. It was not until the wee hours that the sky had suddenly cracked and unleashed a torrential downpour over Hogwarts, putting an end to the 20th annual Quidditch Kick-Off.

“Have you seen Albus Potter lately?” I had turned to look at Katie, who surfaced behind a huge rune dictionary, looking bemused.

“Um, yes,” she said sarcastically, “We’re hanging out all the time, didn’t you know?”

I rolled my eyes at her and leaned back in my comfortable wing-back chair. “It’s just, I saw him yesterday and, well, he looked strange somehow. Different.”

“Different in what way exactly?” Katie had carelessly dropped the dictionary, leaning towards me with an eager expression on her face. Gossip was her favourite pastime.

“Well,” I shrugged before taking a quick look around to make sure no one would overhear. “His hair and clothes, it just looked odd; very preppy.”

“Oh that,” Katie sighed, waving her hand, “it’s probably just his new girlfriend.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Yes,” Katie gave me a scandalised look as though she couldn’t believe I would miss a chunk of Hogwarts gossip of such importance. “Haven’t you heard? Apparently he is dating Laura Valenti from Hufflepuff. She’s in his year, extremely pretty, very popular…”

“Oh, right.” The image of Albus snogging a petite Brunette appeared in front of my mental eye; so they had made it official after all.

“Yeah,” Katie sighed wistfully, “They are such a cliché.”

“That’s enough!” A shrilly voice bellowed and we both jumped, staring into Madame Pince’s bulging eyes. “Out! Out! Out! The both of you! OUT!”

“But we haven’t-”

OUT!” Madame Pince cut Katie off and, barely leaving us enough time to gather our things, literally shooed us out of the library.

 

***

 

The Ravenclaw common room was bustling with students like it usually was when the weather as bad as today, and it seemed like every chair, nook, and corner was occupied. I sometimes forgot just how many students actually lived in Ravenclaw Tower, although – as far as I could tell – some seemed to be guests from other Houses.

                “Great. I’m going to bed,” Katie grumbled, looking daggers at a couple of first-years in wing-back chairs, who crumbled underneath her glare.

                “I’ll come with you.” I stretched my arms above my head, thinking that it wouldn’t be too bad to call it a day and go to sleep. However, just as I made to follow Katie upstairs, I spotted Sam, leaning against the wall, looking quite miserable.

What had he gotten himself into this time?

                “Go on,” I told Katie, who had stopped as well, looking grumpy. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

                “Sure,” she sighed, not bothering to ask me what I was doing, and simply continued to mount the stairs to the girls’ dormitories.

               

“We need to talk,” I said as I had reached Sam, who looked up at me with surprise. He seemed to have been immersed in his thoughts and apparently it took him a moment to even register what I had said.

                “Seth? Is everything alright? Was something wrong with the potion that-”

                “No,” I said quickly. “But something odd happened at the Kick-Off yesterday. Felicity accused me of breaking you up?”

                I had expected Sam to look puzzled or clueless at least, but his face had turned an unhealthy shade of white and his expression was clearly uncomfortable. “Did she?”

                “Sam,” I sighed, ignoring his attempt to feign ignorance, “what is going on?”

                He looked at me for a moment, probably sorting his thoughts, before finally letting out a deep sigh. “I’m sorry, Seth,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “You’re such a great person and you don’t deserve this.”

                “Deserve what?” I had absolutely no clue what he was talking about. “Why does Felicity think I broke you up?”

                He took a deep breath, his hazel eyes finding mine. “Well, um, Felicity found a couple of – well- letters in a box underneath my bed.”

                “Letters,” I repeated, remembering Felicity mentioning something like that, “like, love letters?”

                Sam nodded, his face now turning a light shade of pink. “She became furious and demanded to know who they were from and – well-” He trailed off, looking thoroughly uncomfortable.

                “You told her they were from me?” I could hardly believe it as I watched Sam nod his head slowly. “But, why?”

                He hesitated for a moment, looking at something behind my back. “Felicity has always been a little jealous of you; she knew I had wanted to go out with you. She just jumped to this conclusion and I didn’t contradict her.”

                “But why didn’t you tell her the truth?” I still couldn’t follow; if Sam had fallen in love with someone else, surely he could have told Felicity who it was, instead of dragging me into this.

                “I can’t, Seth,” he finally said, sounding sad, “No one can know. It has to remain a secret.”

                “But-” I began but Sam shook his head, cutting me off.

                “I’m really sorry, Seth. I just can’t.” He pushed himself off the wall and dived into the bustle of students, leaving me standing there alone, even more confused than before.

 

**

 

Wednesday had started just as grey and dull as Tuesday had ended, with heavy rain pounding the castle windows and soaking the grounds, transforming the trip down to Hagrid’s hut into a muddy glissade. As interesting as Billywigs were, the cold, wet weather simply didn’t allow for an enjoyable Care of Magical Creatures lesson and, after shouting over the rain for half-an-hour, Hagrid sent us back up to the castle to dry up before our next classes would start.

                “I guess, summer is really over, then.” Katie looked somewhat mournfully at the closest window, where rivers of rain ran down the glass, obscuring the view.

                “Yeah,” I sighed absentmindedly, as I dried my uniform skirt with my wand. Even though it was only the end of October, it felt as though the term had been going on for much longer than merely two months.

                “Oh Hector, I’d love to!” A loud squeal echoed through the entrance hall and heads turned towards Adina Singer, who was clinging to Hector Chang’s arm like poison ivy. She seemed to be examining something in his hand, a delighted expression on her face.

                Katie simply rolled her eyes. “Ugh, nauseating.”

                “Are they dating?” I asked casually while checking if the books in my bag were still whole and dry.

                “Goodness, Seth!” Katie gave me an indignant look. “Are you living in a cave? They’ve been dating since the Kick-Off.”

                “How was I supposed to know?” I laughed, mostly because Katie’s incredulous look was simply hilarious.

                “They’ve been snogging in the common room, like, every night since Saturday – and disgustingly so. How could you not see that?” She was laughing too by now, throwing an arm around my shoulders as we began to climb the stairs together.

 All around us, students were pouring out from their morning classes, instantly filling the corridors with cheerful chatter, which multiplied as is bounced off the high ceilings.

                “Tarquin asked if we wanted to come to the Hufflepuff common room after the feast tonight – they are having something like a costume party.”

                “Uh, when have you been talking to Tarquin?” I could barely supress a grin, earning a deadpan look from my best friend.

                “I’m sorry,” I laughed and quickly cleared my throat. “Sure, why not. Hufflepuff sounds fine.”

                “Yeah,” Katie sighed, “better than spending Halloween eating sweets in bed. Again.”

                “Although-” 

                “No,” Katie cut me off quite resolutely, “you can do your grandma stuff any other night of the week. Let’s just act like young people. For once.”

                “Sure,” I said, barely able to keep a straight face. “I can take my knitting stuff in case it gets boring.”

                “That’s a great idea,” Katie said, her lips twitching. “Maybe you should also bring a pillow, in case you get tired and want to take a nap.”

                “Good thinking,” I mused and we both began to laugh, barely watching where we were going. It wasn’t such a bad idea, actually.

“Seth! Watch out!” Katie had stalled suddenly, tugging on my arm as though trying to pull me to the side, but it was too late already; there was a hard bump as my body collided with something solid, and I slammed into the obstacle with full force.

                “Oh, sorry!” A deep voice said somewhere close to my ear. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

Still slightly disoriented, I looked up; straight into a pair of deep blue eyes.

Augustus Cotton smiled, revealing a row of perfectly white teeth.

“Did I hurt you?” He asked in a low voice, the smile never fading from his handsome face.

“Um, no,” I said, still quite perplexed. It even took me a moment to realise that his fingers were wrapped around my arm and that something pointy was digging into my wrist.

What-” I looked down immediately, shocked to see his wand pressed into my skin, the tip glowing in a faint purple light.

“What the bloody hell are you doing?” I yanked my arm away from him, tumbling backwards a bit as his grip had already loosened again.

“Nice to meet you, Elizabeth.” He winked, still smiling as though nothing weird had just happened, and then simply walked away again, disappearing into the crowd.

“What was that?” Katie had pulled me closer to the wall, shieling me from the curious stares of passers-by. 

“I don’t know,” I said, looking down at my wrist; right where Augustus’ wand had touched my skin, thin writing had appeared, almost like a tattoo: Find Barnabas the Barmy.

Katie, who had looked deeply worried, suddenly gasped, her eyes widening as she examined the words on my arm. “Do you know what this means?”

I raised my eyebrows at her. “Um, that Augustus Cotton is a psychopath, who has marked me for murder?”

“No,” Katie said, rolling her eyes as though I was being ridiculous. “It’s a clue.”

“I don’t-”

“Seth,” she sighed with exasperation, “it’s an invitation.” She paused, probably for the dramatic effect, looking at me with a mixture of excitement and disbelieve.

“It’s the invitation.”

 

***

 

I was sitting on my bed, looking at the plush cat-eared slippers on my feet as I swung my legs back and forth. The bathroom door was closed, yet loud clanking and occasional cursing could be heard as Katie probably went through every single make-up product she had ever bought.

                “And what if it’s a hoax?” I said loudly, examining the words on my wrist once again. The whole thing just seemed too weird – sure, Katie and I had been invited to one or two common room parties before, but this was different.

                “Stop overthinking, Seth!” Katie called back. “It’s happening, OK?”

                “Fine,” I sighed, still not fully convinced. The fact that there was no information about the location or anything really, bothered me; I didn’t even know why I had been invited in the first place.

                “OK, I’m ready!” The bathroom door had swung open and I was momentarily blinded by a startling amount of teal glitter.

                “Ta-dah!” Katie sang, throwing her arms up as she twirled on the spot to show off the long, sparkly dress. “What do you think?” She ran her hand over her auburn braid, which was adorned with bits of glittery shells and tropic flowers.

                “You look great, Kat,”

                “I know,” she sighed, examining her reflection in the mirror, “I make such a great mermaid. What about you?”

                “I’m ready,” I said, stowing my wand in the front pocket of my fluffy blue bathrobe.

                “What?” Katie’s voice had come out unnaturally high as she stared at me incredulously. “You can’t go like that!”

                I looked down at my flannel pyjama bottoms and the furry slippers. Maybe it wasn’t very sexy, but the entire outfit was immensely comfortable. Also, I really didn’t own anything else that might have passed as a costume.

                “I’m a sleepy person.”

                Katie groaned. “Seriously, that’s the lamest thing I have ever heard.”

                “It’s a Halloween party. Everyone is going to look lame,” I said, waving my hand airily. “Now, are you coming or not?”

 

**

 

Frankly, I had been sure Katie and I would be back in our dormitory within a couple of minutes. Finding the way to a secret party with only a vague instruction to guide us, had seemed like an almost impossible task. Most surprisingly, however, it had been positively easy. Inhabitants of several portraits had been eager to point us into the right direction. It didn’t take us long until we finally ended up in front of a gigantic tapestry of a man, teaching ballet to a couple of trolls in tutus.

                “Over there,” Katie whispered, pointing at a lanky boy, who was sitting on a stool in front of a bare stretch of wall, reading a magazine. He looked immensely bored and, even after we had approached him, he took his time to finish his article before finally looking up.

                “Invite only,” he grumbled, frowning at my cat-eared slippers.

I rolled up the sleeve of my bathrobe, holding the tattoo-like markings on my wrist right under his nose. For a moment, he looked thoroughly taken aback, but then simply got up, put his magazine down on his stool, and began to walk up and down in front of the empty wall, mumbling quietly to himself.

                Katie and I exchanged doubtful looks; maybe I had been marked for murder after all.

However, as he passed the wall for the third time, the faint outline of a door appeared, seemingly materialising out of thin air. I couldn’t help gaping thickly as I watched the door grow solid, looking like it had been there for a thousand years already.

                “Have fun,” the boy drawled in a monotonous voice, returning to his magazine. He was obviously quite unimpressed and I wondered how often he had already performed the trick tonight.

                “This,” Katie said, her voice quavering slightly, “Is going to be the best night ever.”

               

**

 

                It was one of those moments – when you just knew that you were the odd kid on the playground; the one everyone was avoiding because it had dirt smeared all over its face and snoot dripping from its nose. Only that this was about a hundred times worse.

“Seth,” Katie said slowly, sounding almost as though she had fallen into some kind of shock-related trance. “Seth.”

“Yes,” I replied, unable to take my eyes off of the scene in front of me. We were suddenly standing in what looked like the latest London it-bar: Low-slung lounge chairs were grouped around drink-laden tables and a pulsing crowd moved to thick hip-hop beats. Countless bare light bulbs were hanging from the high ceiling, dipping everything into a soft glow that was just enough to create a cosy yet enticing atmosphere.

It was, however, not the location, which made Katie hyperventilate next to me; it was the mass of beautiful people in tiny dresses and crisp shirts that pushed past us, giving us looks that suggested we were a pair of slimy flobberworms.

“Seth, why is no one wearing a costume?” Katie squeaked uncharacteristically, her eyes wide with mortification as she hid her glittering self behind me a little.

“I think it’s not a costume party,” I said, feeling quite uncomfortable as a couple of girls examined my bathrobe, collapsing into hysterics.

“OK, well – that’s no problem.” I had composed myself quickly, turning towards Katie to give her a reassuring glance. “We’ll just go change and then come back.”

“No!” Katie grabbed the sleeve of my bathrobe, pulling me back to her. “We can’t.”

I wasn’t sure what she was talking about at first, but when she pointed at my wrist, I realised that the words on there had vanished. Apparently, after leaving the party, we wouldn’t be able to get back in.

“Maybe we could fake it?” I said, trying to remember the exact look of the words that had been written on my wrist until a couple of minutes ago. It couldn’t be too hard to perform the spell, but to make it look exactly like the one Augustus had produced might be quite a challenge.

“No,” Katie said, looking determined all of a sudden. “We just need to find a bathroom.”

 

**

 

                I took a doubtful look at one of the full-length mirrors that covered the bathroom walls; while Katie – who was standing behind me, fussing with my hair – looked almost normal without all the shellfish jewellery, I was still wearing my flannel pyjamas (the bathrobe had been cast aside) and the cat-eared slippers. Our countless cries of Accio had had virtually no effect, which probably was connected to the magic of this strange place.

After finally accepting that, apparently, things couldn’t just be magicked in, Katie had announced ‘plan B’, which was basically trying to make us look as normal as possible. It had worked fine with her outfit; she might have looked slightly overdressed in her all- sparkly dress, but without all the seafood it was actually okay.

I, however, still looked like a dork in my loose, checked pyjamas and fluffy slippers and Katie’s attempts to style my hair – no matter how skilled she was – weren’t going to change that.

“You know, I think I should -“

“No!” Katie’s eyes were wide as she gave me an imploring look. “You can’t leave me alone here!”

I sighed, leaning against one of the sinks with my arms folded across my chest. “Kat, I’m wearing pyjamas. I look like an idiot.”

“So what? You ran around Hogwarts looking like a boy in a girl’s uniform for five years,” she said, her eyebrows raised. “You didn’t care what anybody thought about you back then, did you?”

She was right somehow. Even if her argument had sprung solely from her desperation to be part of this party, she did have a point. Of course, it was considerably more embarrassing to wear pyjamas to a fancy party; but then again, I doubted anyone here even knew my name.

                “Alright,” I sighed, rolling my eyes dramatically as Katie engulfed me in a bone-crushing hug. “But I get to be a granny for the rest of the semester.”

                Katie simply beamed. “Anything!”

 

**

 

                Katie had vanished.

Without a trace.

After about half-an-hour of running around aimlessly, looking for hints of glittery teal cloth, I had retreated to the bar, which stretched in a circle across the middle of the room, hoping that my best friend would find me again somehow.

It should have been obvious, really; after everything that had already gone wrong tonight, I should have realised that it wasn’t a day to follow strange invitations to secret – and, most probably, illegal – parties, but a day to build pillow forts and wait for the day to be over. Instead, I was sitting amidst beautiful people on a barstool in my most unflattering pyjamas, wanting nothing more but to crawl into my warm bed and read until I fell asleep.

 “I’m so drunk, I don’t even feel my legs anymore!” A pretty blonde told her group of friends as they staggered past me, apparently finding this a valid reason to squeal with delight. Demeter Notte’s dress had ridden up her thighs, exposing probably more than it was supposed to, but she didn’t seem to neither notice, nor care as she stumbled towards the dance floor.

This really wasn’t my kind of thing; parties and dancing and bodycon dresses. I sighed quietly to myself and raked my hand through my hair as I stared absently at particularly glamorous-looking group in the back. They were occupying one of the few tables on a raised platform, looking more like a couple of celebrities in a VIP section rather than regular teenagers. Among them, I could spot Freddie Weasley, dark-haired and freckled, his arms wrapped loosely around the waist of a pretty brunette, who was sitting on his lap.

And, of course, wherever Freddie Weasley was, James Potter couldn’t be too far; he was leaning forwards, his elbows on his knees, with a characteristic smirk on his lips as he talked to the broad bloke opposite him, who was a beater on the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Meanwhile, the stunning blonde to his right could barely take her eyes off of him, leaning towards him in an obvious attempt to get as close as possible. She seemed so immersed in making mooneyes at Potter that she didn’t notice Athena Notte, staring daggers at her from the side.

I rolled my eyes inwardly, yet I was compelled to keep on looking; it was like watching one of those teen dramas on television. Augustus Cotton, who I hadn’t seen until he had leaned across Freddie, was whispering something into James’s ear. Potter gave him a crooked smile and took a generous sip from a glass tumbler before turning his head towards the bar.

But he wasn’t looking at the bar.

He was looking at me.

I sat up a little straighter, feeling caught. Why, for the love of Merlin, did Potter always have to find me staring at him?

To make things worse, Freddie and Augustus had joined him, looking very obviously into my direction. It wasn’t hard to guess what they thought, judging by Freddie’s amused grin as he checked out my flannel top.

At least they couldn’t see the cat-eared slippers.

I blushed violently but didn’t dare to swivel around on my barstool just yet; that would just make me look like the pathetic stalker James already was convinced I was. Instead, I simply let my gaze wander a little further, hoping that it looked as though I had merely been taking in the scenery.

Apparently, however, I hadn’t been as smooth as I had thought.

 “That’s quite an interesting outfit, Woodley.”

I raised my eyebrows at James, who had leaned against the bar counter next to me, looking awfully confident. As usual, he had rolled up the sleeves of his checked shirt and his dark brown hair looked windswept.

“I don’t know if I should get you a drink or a glass of warm milk.” He smirked and I narrowed my eyes at him.

“How about you don’t get me anything?”

                “Oh, Lizzy,” he said cheerfully, raising himself onto the barstool next to me. There was a slight slur in his voice but he still seemed relatively sober otherwise.

                “Please don’t call me Lizzy,” I sighed, but he didn’t seem to have heard me as he had already turned to the bartender, ordering two glasses of Firewhiskey.

“No, I don’t-” I tried to protest, but the lanky guy behind the counter had already pulled up two tumblers and filled them to the brim with deep amber liquid from a bottle of Odgen’s Old Firewhiskey.

I only stared at it for a moment, reluctantly remembering last Christmas, when I had had some of my grandfather’s impossibly expensive Firewhiskey and ended up chanting ‘wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure’ over my grandmother’s favourite string quartet version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

“So, what’s up with the pyjamas?” James asked, not even trying to hide his grin as he examined my fluffy slippers.

“I thought it was a costume party.” I shrugged, sounding much cooler than I really felt about this whole thing.

James frowned. “And what exactly are you dressed up as?”

“A sleepy person,” I said, somewhat defiantly, which made James burst into laughter.

“That is seriously the worst costume I have ever seen, Woodley.”

“Oh, shut up,” I grumbled, picking up my untouched Firewhiskey and taking a large sip. The thick liquid burned as it made its way down to my stomach and a deep, comfortable warmth spread through my entire body.

James watched me curiously; there was a certain twinkle in his eyes, which – as I had noticed for the very first time – were very alike in colour to the Firewhiskey in his glass. “How’s your brother,” he finally said, swivelling his tumbler lazily so that the golden-brown liquid rolled around the glass. “I hope he didn’t hurt himself in the Forbidden Forest.”

I almost chocked on the swallow of whiskey in my mouth, coughing as a bit of the burning substance trickled into the wrong pipe. “You mean Asher? He’s not my brother.”

“Your cousin?”

I shook my head, feeling slightly irritated; was he insinuating that I had asked one of my relatives to pretend to be my boyfriend in front of him? “You really do think a lot of yourself, don’t you?”

James frowned, but there was a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Generally.” He took a sip from his drink. “I’m pretty awesome most of the time.”

I only rolled my eyes. “More like inflated.”

He smirked, leaning his back against the countertop. “I’m having a hard time taking you seriously with those fluffy mouse slippers.”

 “They’re cats,” I said firmly, with as much dignity as I could muster. “And, just so you know, they are very comfortable and warm.”

James laughed; but it wasn’t a mean sort of laugh. It was unexpectedly warm. I had never heard him laugh like this.

“What?” He said, the dimple on his right cheek still clearly visible. I must have been staring at him a little weirdly and, realising this, I quickly shook my head, hoping he wouldn’t notice my burning cheeks.

“Nothing.” I took an automatic sip from my glass and, forgetting that is was filled with alcohol, spluttered as the burning sensation took me by surprise. “Merlin, that’s awful.”

“You don’t drink much, do you?” James asked, watching me with a crooked smile on his face.

“Well,” I said, looking down at my dreadful appearance, “I know it’s hard to tell with my sense of style and everything but, I’m not really a party girl.”

                He chuckled. Suddenly, however, the smile on his face froze and I noticed how his eyes had shifted focus. He was looking at something behind me, his eyebrows furrowed, and I turned around to follow his gaze.

                It was Albus.

                Albus and a petite girl with long, brunette locks, who was hanging on to his arm, dragging him towards a waving group of people. He was dressed like he was going for a game of golf with a bunch of snooty businessmen and his black hair was pushed back, looking horribly slick.

                “What’s wrong?” I asked James, who had taken a large sip of his drink, looking rather irritated all of a sudden.

                “Nothing, just-” He sighed, raking a hand through his dishevelled hair before looking up at me again, studying my face.

“It’s my brother, Albus,” he finally said, “We’re having a bit of a rough time.”

“What did you do?” The words had been out before I could stop myself, but James simply grinned.

“Well, I’m not a big fan of his new girlfriend.”

 I nodded slightly, not really knowing what to say. I could have come up with some lame cliché about siblings and fights, but, honestly, I had no clue how those things worked. After all, I was an only child and the inner workings of sibling-relations had always been a mystery to me.

“Also,” he said with the air of someone remembering something very uncomfortable, “I might have told him that he looks like a pompous prat with that stupid slicked-back hair and that Rosie is right in calling Laura a prissy little bitch.”

“Ouch.” I grimaced.

“Yeah, I know,” James sighed, “but all that beige and those creases – that’s not him. She’s dressing him up and the git is too smitten to notice.”

I smiled slightly, looking down to my still rather full glass of Firewhiskey. I had never seen this side of James before – the concerned brother. Frankly, I hadn’t known that he even had more than the strutting-arrogant-prat side.

“It might just be a phase,” I told him after a moment of silence. “My friend Katie once dated this Muggle boy, Kevin, who was really into bomber jackets and had about three brain cells. He once set his own hair on fire just to see what would happen, but she still insisted that he was a secret genius.”

James laughed. “When did she realise that he wasn’t?”

“She just outgrew him at one point,” I shrugged. “People grow all the time. Things change. Faster than you might think.”

He gave me a long look, a kind of curious expression on his face. “You’re kind of smart, Woodley.”

I rolled my eyes, sliding from my barstool. “And you’re kind of tolerable when you’re drunk, Potter.”

He smirked, watching me roll up the sleeves of my pyjama top.

“Where are you going?”

“It’s late,” I sighed, rubbing my tired eyes, “and I really have to go look for Katie.  I’ve lost her a while ago and, while I know she can take care of herself, I also know that she once dated Kevin.”

James smiled and I couldn’t help but notice that the dimple on his right cheek was even more pronounced in the dark violet light that swept the room.

Maybe it was only the Firewhiskey that still burned in my stomach, but, for the very first time, I literally saw him in an altogether different light.

 

**

 

                My search for Katie was thoroughly unsuccessful; I looked everywhere, even in the boys’ bathroom, but she didn’t seem to be at the party anymore.

It wasn’t until I discovered her empty bed in our dormitory, however, that I began to panic.

One horrible thought chased another in my head as I paced the completely empty common room in circles, thinking of places I hadn’t checked yet. Scenarios in which she had been poisoned with Crapula again, had even made me sneak up to the Astronomy tower, where I had searched every nook as the combination of icy wind and rain had drenched me within a couple of minutes.

It was nearly three o’clock in the morning when I had finally retreated into one of the big wingback chairs, my arms wrapped around my legs as I tried to fight off sleep. The fires in the common room had been extinguished by the house elves about an hour ago and darkness engulfed me, making it even harder to stay awake.

I couldn’t just go to sleep when my best friend was missing.

But my eyelids were so heavy.

I just needed to close them for a second.

Only for a minute, maybe.

The rain was drumming a steady pattern as it hit the windows.

It was almost like a melody.

A lullaby.

Crack.

I jerked up, blinking rapidly. My head was still drowsy but I had definitely heard something. Someone was in the common room; I could hear the rustle of their clothes as they moved across the carpets.

For a sleep-drunken second, I was convinced that it had to be Katie. Who else would sneak around Ravenclaw tower at this hour?

But then someone talked; and it wasn’t a girl’s voice.

“Such a clever plan,” he hissed angrily. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Another, deeper voice said, somewhat soothingly. “I’m just trying to keep up appearances.”

The other one snorted. “Yeah, right.”

“Sam, I swear.”

At the sound of Sam’s name, I shifted in my chair, careful not to make a sound, and peered over the backrest. Two tall silhouettes stood clearly visible in front of one of the windows, apparently in deep conversation.

“Do whatever you want.” This time, I clearly recognised Sam’s voice. “I’m going to bed.”

“Sam,” the other boy pleaded, “don’t go.” He grabbed his hand and took a step towards him. A glimmer of light fell onto his face and I only just managed to stifle a gasp.

Right there, holding Sam’s hand, was Hector Chang, the Ravenclaw Seeker.

“I don’t even like Adina,” he said quietly, “I like you.”

There was a dull thud as my knee slid from the chair, scarping the wooden frame painfully, and the two boys whipped their heads around in shock. I had ducked instantly, feeling my heartbeat crawl up to my ears, hoping that I had reacted in time.

“What was that?” Sam whispered, sounding scared.

“Who’s there?” Hector’s deep voice bellowed, but I remained hidden, squeezing my eyes shut like a toddler who was trying to become invisible.

“Let’s go,” Sam said after a period of silence and I could hear them climbing the stairs to the boys’ dormitories.

Only when the sound of their footsteps had faded away completely, I dared to breathe again; my heart still thumping wildly against my chest.

Great. This was just what I had needed.

Another bleeding secret.


 





 

A/N: Thanks for sticking with this über-long chapter… I have re-written this a couple of times, which is why it took me so long to upload. I’m still not completely happy with it. As always, I can’t wait to hear what you guys think! Your feedback is greatly appreciated and always makes my day, which I spend studying for enormously boring exams these days. You people are seriously awesome!


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