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How not to be a Woodley by NH Stadler
Chapter 26: A Woodley Never Quits
The hot bath had helped.
To clear my head.
To remind me of who I was.
All that was left of yesterday night was a slight headache and a bitter taste in my mouth. Whatever had happened, it was over now. There was nothing to be done, nothing to change it, and I had decided I wouldn’t want to. Sure, I could not remember last night without cringing inwardly at the humiliation, but I refused to regret it. I refused to let James Potter make me feel even worse than I already did.
And even though I had considered it for a moment, I was not going to resign myself to misery. Instead, I intended to heed Katie’s advice and kept reminding myself of the positive aspects of this nightmarish experience. Admittedly there were only three, but it was enough to keep me from losing my sanity.
Number one: Nothing of the whole James Potter debacle – which was how I preferred to refer to not only last night but generally everything that had happened from the moment Potter had been shoved into my life by Slughorn – had apparently leaked through to the press, which was a miracle, considering the Potters’ popularity and my family’s social standing. Or maybe it hadn’t been so much of a miracle, but rather the fact that my grandfather had considerable influence on all wizarding news sources, who regularly received a very generous donation from the Woodley family.
Number two: I had achieved a new level of resistance to all things Woodley, which was but a small triumph, considering the damage it had caused. Nonetheless, I had at least succeeded in breaking up my future engagement with Asher Engelstein, who I couldn’t have married in a million years. I doubted that his parents wanted me to become their daughter in law any more than I did, after I had snogged another guy right in front of their eyes.
Number three: None of it mattered anyway, since I was not going to return to Hogwarts. Although it hurt to admit it, and the thought of not being able to finish this year together with Katie and Sam made me feel sick to my stomach, I had come to terms with the undeniable truth: I wasn’t going to go back. Only last year, my great-cousin Alfie, who had attended Beauxbatons, was sent off to military school in Croatia for getting caught at an unauthorized party in the school’s stables. Two years before that, my great-great-something cousin Selina suffered a similar fate. The Woodleys were unapologetic about sending off misbehaving family members to serve their sentences in rigorous and stifling places and I was not going to be an exception.
For all I knew, I had already been enrolled in Madame Esher’s Magical Academy for Manners and Etiquette; an all-girls school somewhere in the south of the United States of America, which was not only famous for its exorbitantly high tuition fees but also for the amount of rebellious upper-class daughters it managed to turn into pretty-looking air-heads by the time they graduated. Needless to say, university qualifications such as NEWTS were not on their agenda.
But I wasn’t going to give up that easily.
If I couldn’t control anything else, at least I was going to take control of who I was.
And I wasn’t going to wait any longer.
The marble tiles felt cold against my slipper-clad feet as I walked across the entrance hall, willing my heart to slow down. Traces of wintry morning light drew strange patterns onto the high walls, lightening up the otherwise dark house, but I barely noticed. My eyes were trained on the wooden door at the end of the hall, behind which I knew I would find my assembled family, probably still discussing how to proceed with me. In my hand I was clutching the thin necklace I had gotten from my grandparents – the priceless heirloom – tracing the jagged ‘L’ which had been engraved onto the back of the pendant. I hadn’t even noticed the letter until I had taken it off this morning, but I hadn’t had the mind to give it much thought.
My knuckles rapped on the door, echoing loudly through the otherwise quiet house. I knew it was somewhat unwise to find them before I was called downstairs, but neither patience nor obedience had ever been among my strong suits, and so I did not even wait for an answer, but simply pushed open the heavy door and entered the room.
The Woodleys usually looked imposing; most of all, when they were gathered like this in the impressive setting of my grandfather’s study, where dark wooden shelves covered the walls and thin, long windows allowed pale specks of morning light to dapple the walnut floor. The first person I saw, however, was my grandfather who was standing at the window opposite the door, staring back at me as though he had long expected to see me.
“Elizabeth,” my mother said in such a surprisingly soft voice that it startled me; she stood next to the thick wooden desk in the middle of the room, still wearing her silky ball gown and looking exceptionally tired. It was only now that I realized they all were still in their formal attire, which meant they had probably been up all night.
If there had ever existed something like an ideal condition to revolt against the Woodleys on top of publicly tarnishing the family honour, this certainly wasn’t it. However, I was sufficiently sleep-deprived and hung-over to not pay attention the little voice of reason in my head that told me to run, and so I forced myself to hold my head high and take a deep breath.
“I am sorry for what happened last night,” I began, ignoring the sharp snort that came from my aunt, who was sitting on the soft leather couch next to her husband. “But I can’t say that I regret it.”
My heart jumped as I said the words which I had recited in my head all night and I felt a definite surge of fear as my grandmother’s mouth shrank to form a tight, straight line on her wrinkly face. I was treading on thin ice but I also knew that, whatever happened, I could still swim.
“But I’m not here to discuss last night. I’m here because I have a proposition for you.” A definite hush had fallen over the room by now, but I refused to be irritated, neither by my father’s stony expression, nor my mother’s fearful look. “I will apologize to Asher and to his parents, but I will not marry him. Also, I accept that I won’t go back to Hogwarts, but I won’t go to that horrible etiquette school either.”
My grandmother muttered something that sounded a lot like “preposterous”, but I was too nervous to pay attention to anyone else but myself. “I will go to Rabenstein in the Black Forest. It’s far away from the UK but also a really good school. I just… I don’t want to end up as just the wife of someone. I want to go to university and I want to have a career.” I took a deep, steadying breath to calm myself before finally looking up at my mother. “After I graduate I might consider possible matches which you find suitable, but I can’t promise anything.”
Whenever I had played out the scenario in my head, I had imagined gasps, shouts, maybe even disinheritance to follow my performance; however, of all the horrible scenes I had imagined, I had never expected that there would be complete and utter silence.
“And, um – well, that’s all I had to say,” I finished lamely when I couldn’t take the silence any longer.
My father was the first to come out of the apparent shock I had put my family in, rubbing his eyes with his thumb and index finger before looking up at me. “This is not how it’s done, Elizabeth,”
“I know,” I said quietly. “But I can’t let somebody else decide over my life.”
All eyes were still on me as I moved towards the sturdy wooden desk, squeezing the necklace in my palm once more before finally placing it on the table, not daring to look up at my grandfather. After everything that had happened, it didn’t feel right anymore to wear a Woodley heirloom.
“I’m sorry I disappointed you,” I said and then quickly turned on my heels to leave the study to give them some time to consider my proposition. Whatever the outcome would be, at least I couldn’t say that I hadn’t tried.
“Wait!” A booming voice called out before I had even reached the door and I stopped dead in my tracks, not daring to turn around. I had hoped to at least escape before the Woodleys could realise what had just happened, but apparently I was out of luck. Whatever my grandfather was going to say, it wasn’t going to be good.
“Edward,” my mother started in a mellow, soothing sort of voice, but Grandfather had raised his hand into the air and silence fell again.
“You will not go to Rabenstein,” he said firmly and I could feel a great lump forming in my throat as I stared down at my plush and most inappropriate cat slippers.
I should have known.
“I think we better discuss this before we make a decision,” my father said firmly, probably in response to my mother’s pleading looks. However, Grandfather was adamant as usual.
“There is nothing to discuss,” he said and I finally found the courage to look up into his face – the expression on it was as hard as stone. “Elizabeth will return to Hogwarts after the holidays.”
At first, I didn’t even register what he had just said; my grandmother gasped audibly as my mother exchanged a surprised look with my father, but I still couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of my grandfather’s words.
Maybe I had fainted and this was only happening in my imagination.
“I will talk to Justus and explain the situation, of course,” he continued, now addressing my aunt and uncle. “I will suggest Cassandra as suitable replacement. She seemed quite infatuated with Asher. I believe you will agree that they make a respectable match.”
My aunt nodded so slowly, someone might have pressed the slow-motion button.
“Good.” For the fraction of a second it looked as though the corners of his mouth were twitching upwards, but as Grandfather looked at me again, his face was as composed as ever. “No matter what happens, a Woodley never quits, Elizabeth.”
“Right,” I answered before I had even realized it, and before anyone could stop me again I had turned on the spot and fled the study in a run.
I had given up trying to write a letter to Katie; whichever way I put it, nothing came even remotely close to what had just happened. Most of all, I wasn’t exactly sure if my return to Hogwarts was sheer dumb luck or actually a punishment; after all, I had already put James Potter behind me, just to come to terms with having to face him again.
So instead of confronting my rotating thoughts, I had resigned to sitting on my bed and staring at the blue ‘Ravenclaw’ lettering that adorned my grey tracksuit trousers, listening to the moodiest Ben Howard song I had been able to find. As Katie always used to say, there was a time to be strong and there was a time to pathetically wallow in one’s own misery.
Not a very Woodley thing to do, but after everything that had happened, I knew that there was no more need to pretend; My entire life felt like a practical demonstration on how not to be a Woodley, which had culminated in my stupid attempt to hook up with James Potter and, ultimately, his rejection.
I felt as though I was in some sort of daze – so much that it took me a moment to realize that someone had been knocking at my door.
“Yes?” I answered still perplexed, surprised by how steady my voice sounded when I felt anything but.
“May I come in?”
I stared at my grandfather for a moment, too taken aback to even react. I wasn’t quite sure who exactly I had expected, but it definitely hadn’t been him.
“Um, yes, of course” I finally managed to say after a couple of quite awkward seconds in which I had simply stared at him like a complete idiot.
“Well,” he said firmly as he closed the door behind him. “That was quite the show, I have to say.”
I automatically pressed my lips together and watched him walk across the room towards my bed, on which I was still sitting cross-legged and muted.
“May I?” He gestured at the spot next to me.
For a moment I didn’t quite realise what he was getting at, until I finally understood.
“Oh - um – sure.” I moved to the side a little and, to my utter astonishment, Grandfather sat down next to me, his big hands folded in his lap as he stared at the old, weathered desk in front of the window.
“Being a Woodley is not easy,” he finally said, very quietly, and I glanced at his profile; the wrinkles on his skin seemed more pronounced than ever and for the first time in my life, he didn’t look cold or hard or imposing; he simply looked weary. “I know you think no one understands. But I do.”
I watched him unfold his hands and suddenly realised that he had been holding the golden necklace I had just returned to him; the pendant was turned upside-down in his palm, displaying the jagged ‘L’. Grandfather looked down at it, brushing his thumb against the amateurish engraving, and I was surprised to see his mouth curling into the smallest of smiles.
“It belonged to my sister,” he said after a moment of contemplating the piece of jewellery and I couldn’t help the frown that creased my forehead. It seemed more than just odd that my grandfather actually had a sister and I had never even heard about her.
“Her name was Elizabeth,” he continued, suddenly digging his hand into his breast pocket and producing his ancient silver time-piece. As he clicked it open, I saw the faded portrait of a young woman on the inside of the lid; she was looking at someone in the distance it seemed, laughing brightly as a soft breeze dishevelled her light-coloured bob. “Lizzie. You were named after her.”
I only stared into my grandfather’s dark grey eyes, not sure how to react. I felt as though I should have known. Someone should have told me; a great-aunt – and I was named after her. Yet, no one had ever even mentioned this other Elizabeth Woodley to me.
“It all started when she was sorted into Ravenclaw,” Grandfather said slowly, raising a bushy grey eyebrow at me as he handed me his pocket watch. “I dare say you can imagine our parents’ reaction when they heard?”
Still too perplexed to produce actual words, I cradled the watch in my hands and studied the black and white picture of the woman who shared my name before finally uttering “Yes”.
“She was the brave one,” Grandfather continued, the small smile appearing on his lips again as he watched me from the side. “Always determined to go her own way. She refused to marry the man my parents had chosen for her. And then she fell in love with a muggle.”
I looked up from the picture, observing my grandfather’s face very closely. Falling in love with a muggle was not exactly an option when you were a Woodley.
“What – what happened then?”
Grandfather sighed, his gaze wandering once more towards the old desk in front of the window. “I was torn between my sister and the rest of the family. I loved her. More than anything. But I wasn’t brave like her.
Still, she never held it against me. Lizzie was a wonderful person.” He blinked suddenly before looking down at his hands, which were folded in his lap, still holding the dainty gold necklace. “And then she died. In a car accident.”
It felt as though a heavy weight had settled on my chest as I looked at my grandfather’s face; his features still seemed rigid and composed as usual, but for the first time, I could see more. I could see behind the mask. “I didn’t know”
“Well.” He gave me a miniscule smile. “It’s been a long time. And we don’t talk about it. We are Woodleys, after all.”
“Yeah, great,” I muttered, unable to conceal the sarcasm in my voice. 16 years, and I hadn’t even known that my grandfather had had a sister; a sister who bore my name and who apparently hadn’t quite fitted into the family either. I felt as though there should have been stories, and photographs, but, most of all, there should have been memories.
“You are a Woodley, Seth,” Grandfather suddenly said as though he had been reading my thoughts and I looked up, realising that he was holding out the necklace to me – Lizzie’s necklace. “Whether you like it or not.”
I took it without hesitation, squeezing the pendant between my thumb and index finger. It was strange how it suddenly felt much warmer – much more familiar – than it had before.
“No matter what happened – and I don’t want to know the details – you are going to be fine, Seth.”
I looked up at my grandfather once again, tracing the sharp-edged ‘L’ as I gave him a small smile. “Yes,” I said, thinking of Katie and Sam and Hogwarts. “I know.”
The platform had seemed moderately full, yet the train was much less crowded than it had been at the beginning of the school year. In fact, most compartments where eerily empty when I passed them by, pulling my book-filled bag behind me as I walked along the narrow corridor. It seemed as though, despite the ample choice of seating possibilities, Katie had, as usual, opted for a compartment at the rear end of the Hogwarts Express.
“Elizziebeth!” Someone suddenly shouted, and I looked up to find Freddie Weasley walking straight towards me, his arms outstretched in a welcoming gesture. “I haven’t seen you in ages. Well, not since you snogged my best mate in a phone booth, at least.”
“Freddie, hey,” I said quickly, hoping that he would stop shouting about topics that included James and me in promiscuous situations. After all, I didn’t know how much James had actually told his best friend about what had happened and, honestly, I wasn’t keen on finding out. “How was your Christmas?”
“Oh, you know. Family. Tons of people. Grandpa mixing up everybody’s names,” He said brightly as a broad grin appeared on his handsome, freckly face. “You?”
“Lots of wine; lots of guilt-trips, mostly,” I sighed, trying to sound at least vaguely sarcastic as I said it. “The ususal.”
Freddie laughed, obviously thinking I was joking. “Well, that sounds like fun.”
“I wish I had your sense of humour,” I said as I squeezed past him, trying not to jam my bulging back into his stomach.
“Oh wait.” He stopped me before I could move on, his face looking suddenly excited as though he had been struck by a genius idea. “You wanna join us in our compartment? It’s only James, Augustus, and me, so-“
“No! I mean, um, no… thank you,” I stammered a little too quickly, barely able to hide the panic in my voice. Sitting in a compartment with James Potter was really the last thing I wanted to do. “I said I’d meet my friends, so-“
“Right. But you should drop by later!”
“Yeah. Maybe.” I lied, giving him one last wave before turning around again, only to find that my way was blocked again.
For a moment, James and I only looked at each other and I could feel my heartbeat quicken. Everything I had felt when he had basically thrown me out of his bedroom came flooding back in, washing over me like an icy, unfriendly wave. I had known that I would inevitably have to see him again at some point, but not this soon; not in this bloody narrow corridor.
“Hi,” he said weirdly as he continued to stare at me as though I was a pink Hippogriff.
“Hi,” I replied in a fake casual voice and then quickly attempted to move past him. I simply wanted this to be over – to bring as much distance as possible between us – however, as usual, James didn’t understand.
“How are you?”
I only stared at him incredulously for a second. Was he actually trying to make small talk? Or maybe he was making fun of me; either way, the situation was unbearably awkward and I needed to get away.
“Splendidly,” I said “Now, can I-?” I gestured past him, hoping that he would get the hint. However, he simply continued to stare and I began to shift my weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
“Oh, um, yeah.” He finally said, running a hand through his messy hair as he moved towards the wall as much possible. Unfortunately, the train corridor was still too narrow to allow us to pass without touching one another, and so I squeezed myself past him, all the while firmly keeping my eyes on the ceiling to avoid any accidental eye-contact as our bodies brushed against each other.
Finally, as I hurried away red-faced and refusing to look back, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a whole new level of awkward.
“There you are!” Katie exclaimed cheerfully as I slid open the compartment door and hauled my gigantic book bag into the small room. She was sprawled across an entire row of seats, her fluffy sock-clad feet resting in Tarquin’s lap. Across from her, Sam had taken the seat next to the window, a broad smile on his face as he padded the empty place next to him.
“Hey. Sorry. Couldn’t find you,” I said quickly, not really keen on recounting the disastrous encounter with James in the hallway.
“You look flustered,” Katie said as I tried to stuff my bulging back into the luggage rack above my seat. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I replied as casually as possible and sat down next to Sam. “Sure.”
I could see that Katie did not buy my lame attempt at playing it cool, but thankfully she didn’t say anything. Instead, she slid into a lounging position and smiled at me as Tarquin began to massage her feet.
“I’m so glad everything worked out. I knew you could convince the Woodleys to let you stay in Hogwarts.”
“Well, I didn’t,” I sighed, sinking a little further into the plush seat. “My grandfather did.”
At these words, Katie jumped so violently that she accidentally kicked Tarquin’s chin. Her face looked like she couldn’t decide whether to be scandalized or pleasantly surprised as her eyebrows threatened to vanish into her hairline.
“Wait, I thought your grandfather doesn’t like you?” Sam looked properly confused, which was understandable considering that he had only recently been familiarised with my complicated family history.
“So did I,” I said and – as the first, thick snowflakes whirred by the window – I launched into the thrilling tale of the other Elizabeth Woodley.
A/N: Hello lovely readers! I’m so sorry it took me that long to update. It was quite a stressful month. But now that boyfriend is much better again and my Master thesis is almost completed, I will definitely find more time to write again. Thank you so much for sticking with this story and with me. It really means a lot to me. I love to read your reviews and I want you all to know that they really make my days. So thank you for that!
P.S.: I hope you liked the chapter. Suggested music to go with it:
Ben Howard - ‘Depth over Distance’ (The chorus is just amazing)
Kodaline – ‘Take Control’