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How not to be a Woodley by NH Stadler
Chapter 28: Going Down
A/N: I AM SORRY
It took me forever and I hope you can forgive me. I did make the chapter super long in an attempt to bribe all of you
I twirled; not gracefully like Katie, who performed an elegant pirouette to my left, but just fast enough to not trip over my own feet this time. It seemed absolutely ridiculous – turning on the spot with your eyes closed like a complete loon without any apparent outcome. Not even the flimsy wizard that strolled lazily among the rows of rotating sixth years, seemed remotely interested in the task as his gaze wandered from person to person, his eyes glazed.
There was, of course, a purpose to the drill; apparition lessons, which had been moved to the school grounds now that the initial theoretical input had been completed, were probably the only activity that could succeed in keeping a group of 200 teenagers present and alert for more than ten seconds and willing to spend a Saturday afternoon in the freezing and unpredictable February weather. Despite the fact that no one had actually managed to apparate yet due to tightened safety regulations which had followed a series of horrible splinching incidents in the previous decade, the mere idea of de- and re-materialising was fascinating enough to keep everybody reasonably committed to perfecting their three Ds; Destination, Determination, and Deliberation.
„Very good, boys and girls!“ The tiny wizard finally shouted across the lawn when the fine drizzle that had been spraying us for about half an hour had turned into large, heavy drops, causing Demeter Notte to abandon her designated spot and hold her hands protectively over her perfectly straight hair. “Let’s pack up. You’ve all done -“
But the rest of his sentence drowned in a smattering of screeching and shouting as an ear-splitting crack of thunder rolled over the sky, releasing torrents of rain which sent the entire assembly running towards the safety of the castle.
Except for me.
The rain was cold and unpleasant, yet I made no effort to catch up with the others. The last week had almost been the worst week of my life, coming in second only because of the awful ten days that my parents had forced me to attend Little Lady Magical Manners Camp the summer before I had started Hogwarts.
It had been a week since McGonagall had called me into her office; a week of stares and whispers and sidelong glances cast from across classrooms and hallways, some of them barely concealed so that I was sure to notice them, others clandestine and fearful of the girl that had poisoned Albus Potter.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure which ones were worse.
No one had said anything to my face, of course – probably out of concern for their own safety and health – but the aftermath of being called into the headmistress’s office was disastrous. As with most shocking rumours at Hogwarts, word travelled silently through the school and, while Katie and Sam tried to convince me that it wasn’t as bad as it looked and that my alleged aptitude to brew sinister potions would soon be old news, I could feel it spiralling out of control, mutating relentlessly so that, within only eight days, I had become notorious.
“I’m starving,” said Sam loudly as we trudged up the sludgy trail to the castle, already drenched by the relentless downpour. He looked rather unhappy, as did Katie, whose auburn curls hung sadly around her pale face. Ever since the school was buzzing of my rumoured criminal activities the both of them had made a point of not leaving my side, which – inevitably – had pulled them into the slipstream of my infamy. And, while it couldn’t be easy for either of them, they made a point of not letting it show.
“It feels like I disapparated the entire contents of my stomach,” Katie moaned as we finally reached the safety of the dry castle, clutching her midriff. “Is that possible?”
We moved towards the Great Hall and immediately the latent stomach-ache that had accompanied me ever since I had exited McGonagall’s office became more bothersome. Lately, entering the Great Hall for meals had felt more like running the gauntlet and, even though I forced myself to hold my head high and ignore the silent stares and carrying whispers, the experience was still awful.
“Seth?” A soft voice rung out behind us and I stopped momentarily, somehow glad that I had a reason for stalling. Simone Servatius, a seventh year Hufflepuff prefect, stood by the wide staircase at the edge of the entrance hall, looking at us through large, brown eyes. “Can I talk to you for a second?” She said, her voice echoing from the high walls as she cast quick glances at Katie and Sam, who were standing on either side of me like wary sentinels. “It’s about the Valentine’s Dance.”
“Oh, sure,” I said, relieved by the triviality of her inquiry; the annual Valentine’s Dance, which was to take place the Wednesday after next, was traditionally organized by the Prefects and – while I had no intention of going – I was still obligated to help with the planning.
“I thought it was all planned,” Sam said, furrowing his brows. The Valentine’s Dance was never fun to plan, owing largely to the fact that students could not choose their own dates but were allotted escorts by a random lottery system which, initially, had been installed to foster school spirit and unity. Of course, by now it had developed into a giant black market swap-meet, in which certain names generated quite ludicrous sums of money, James Sirius Potter leading the way.
James. As the name flitted through my mind I felt an involuntary pang somewhere in my chest. I hadn’t seen him since our awkward encounter in the library last week and for the smallest fraction of a second I had wondered if he had heard the rumours about me.
Surely he must have; not only because they concerned his brother, but also because some people had expressed considerable concern for James, who – and this seemed to be the general consensus – obviously must have been drugged by me at some point this year, but, heroically, had broken free of the curse and was now in immediate danger from my ugly retribution.
Everybody seemed to think this was a sound theory and maybe – I couldn’t help thinking – James did too.
“Um, no,” Simone said quickly, “it’s about the dress code. Some people have suggested changing it to a more formal one and I just wanted to discuss possible implications if we decide to do it. Seth is in charge of decoration, so… ”
“Oh,” Sam said slowly, apparently glad that he would not be included in this discussion. “Well then, we’ll wait inside, shall we?”
“Yeah, go ahead,” I told my friends, glad for the convenient excuse to delay – maybe even avoid – entering the Great Hall.
“I thought everyone was happy with the semi-formal theme.” I said as I watched Simone approaching, her long, black hair swishing behind her as she took long, urging strides. When she reached me, I suddenly noticed that her gaze was oddly tense.
“I need your help,” she whispered, her voice uncharacteristically high and shaky as she knotted her arms tightly in front of her ample chest. “I’ve tried everything but nothing’s worked. You’re my last hope.”
“Okay…” I replied very slowly, now slightly alarmed by the amount of stress the dress-code issue seemed to cause her. Surely I wasn’t the right person to ask for advice on dress-codes.
“I tried those ruddy pills you get at the apothecary and my friend Isla had some Mexican herbs that she swore have worked for her sister, but nothing happened. I even tried not eating for a week but that was a disaster,” she said, forcing a dry, humourless laugh that echoed strangely around us before she fixated me with her eyes, a strange, curious glint in them. “You’re my last hope. Everyone’s talking about it and you – you used to look so different before… and then this year – well, look at you. We all wondered – and it makes sense now, doesn’t it?”
It took me a moment to fully understand; to realise what I was being asked for. The request as well as the implication were so outlandish that I failed to reply, but the mixture of incredulity and offence that must have shown on my face at the insinuation that I had magically altered my appearance seemed to sufficiently alert Simone and she immediately began to backpedal.
“It doesn’t have to be something major,” she said and I was shocked to notice the plea in her voice this time as the full extent of her desperation surfaced. “Maybe just something to speed up my metabolism. Something that works fast – until next weekend. I heard Gracilitas is really efficient.”
“Are you – are you serious?” I finally managed to utter, looking aghast at Simone’s eager face, still not fully grasping the situation. “Gracilitas is extremely dangerous and illegal.”
Simone, however, did not seem to have heard me. “I have money – I can pay you,” she insisted, producing a bulging leather pouch from her skirt pocket. “I have ten Galleons from Christmas and my 17th birthday is coming up so I’ll have more then.”
“Simone,” I said, this time more firmly, “whatever you have heard, I don’t brew illegal potions!” It came out sounding more aggressive than I had intended it to, but the strain of the previous week and the ludicrous assumption that I would sell unlawful substances, made it very hard to withstand the looming panic attack.
“Oh…” Simone said after a moment of silence, her hand still clutching the small purse. “Oh, right. I just heard that – well, whatever.” She trailed off and – just as a loudly talking group of students ventured into the Entrance Hall – she turned on the spot and ran back up the stairs.
I remained in the middle of the hall, completely paralysed as the surge of panic that had built up over the last couple of days, and which I had deliberately ignored for so long, washed over me, burying me underneath it.
I could hear a faint pop as the fly flew against the bedpost; unyielding, headfirst. I had been watching the tiny creature for a while now, observing its outraged buzzing as its flight was yet again interrupted by another insurmountable obstacle. At first, I had thought it was simply trying to find its way out of the labyrinth of heavy curtains and wood into which it had ventured in pursuit of food, but even as I offered it a chance to escape by pulling aside the heavy blue drapes, it failed to leave, continuing its relentless circles almost as though it revelled in its trapped state.
“Fine, have it your way,” I sighed, propping the large book in my lap up against my legs once again to resume my reading.
After only three sentences, the fly landed on the page, crawling over the writing.
“I can kill you, you know?”
It looked thoroughly unimpressed as it continued to move jerkily across the page, only stopping occasionally to rub its tiny front legs against each other like a mad scientist.
With a lurch, the thick blue curtains I had drawn all around my bed were suddenly yanked open and Katie’s mop of shiny auburn curls appeared as she stuck in her head.
“Who are you talking to?” She said with a mixture of concern and curiosity, scanning the moderately sized bed. I wasn’t quite sure who she was expecting to find, and, frankly, I did not want to know.
“Um, no one.” From the corner of my eye I watched the fly take off again, resuming its senseless routine. “I was… reading aloud.”
Katie frowned. “I thought I heard the word ‘kill’”, she said, looking down at the book in my lap. “What are you reading?”
I contemplated my answer for a moment, biting my lip. “Ancient Runes?”
“Rubbish!” Katie cried out, snatching the book out of my hands and dangling it above my bed so that the flashy cover print of a setting sun and a half-naked man cradling a busty woman with long, black hair was clearly visible. “Ambrosia Tinkletabber? Seriously, Seth?”
“What?” I said defensively, albeit unable to supress the colour that rose to my cheeks. “It’s yours. You read them all the time.”
“Seth,” Katie said again after a short pause, this time more seriously. “You’ve got to stop this.”
“This here. All of it.” She waved the well-used novelette in front of my face, agitating the fly that had settled on her arm just a second ago. “Stop spending all of your free time in bed, reading crap, wallowing.”
“I’m fine,” I said defiantly, hugging my legs to my torso, unwilling to discuss my questionable lifestyle choices.
“You’ve been eating nothing but Ginger Newts for five days,” Katie sighed, sitting down at the edge of my bed, her expression full of genuine concern. She seemed exasperated by my stubbornness and I felt a twinge of guilt for acting like I did.
While I refused to admit it, I knew that my best friend was right. Between classes, I had rarely ventured beyond the confines of our dorm room, skipping meals and avoiding crowds and busy places. I could feel the stares; the eyes that followed me down the corridors as I tried to navigate the castle, making as little eye contact as possible. Even the professors behaved differently towards me, treating me – or so it seemed – with some sort of wariness that implied a certain alertness.
Worse even than that, however, were the notes; jagged little pieces of paper and parchment that had suddenly begun to appear on my desk during classes, on the library shelves I was perusing, on the bottom of my bag; all of them queries for specific potions of various degrees of illegality with the promise of generous monetary compensation.
“You need to get out of this bed, Seth,” Katie said, watching me as I tucked my chin between my kneecaps, still refusing to look at her. “Come with us to Hogsmeade this weekend. It’s the winter carnival. It’ll be fun.”
“No thanks, I’d rather stay in the castle.” I had actually been looking forward to the prospect of empty hallways and a forsaken library, which would allow me to study without eager girls creeping up behind me, loudly discussing their needs for love potions and the enormous amount of pocket money they would be willing to spend on them.
Katie let out an exasperated groan. “You can’t shut yourself off forever,” she insisted, slamming her fist on the Ambrosia Tinkletabber book in her lap. “I let you wallow in self-pity long enough. It’s time you get a grip on yourself.”
I grimaced but did not contradict her; my rotten mood hadn’t exactly been easy on her and Sam. While I didn’t want to hear all of this, I also knew that hiding out in my room could barely be considered a permanent solution, even if I wanted it to be. If anything, it only seemed to have made the rumours even worse.
I looked up at Katie, somewhat defeated. “I’ll think about it.”
She beamed. “Then it’s settled.”
I watched her leap up from my bed, the cheap novelette – of which she harboured an entire collection – pinned firmly between her arms and her torso.
I hesitated for a moment, tucking my legs underneath the blanket. “Let me just finish this chapter. Lucrezia just found out that Juan-Carlos has an evil twin.”
Katie rolled her eyes, not showing the slightest inclination to return the book to me. “Juan-Carlos is the evil twin,” she said mercilessly. “And now get out of this bloody bed!”
Warm specks of light danced on the grey stone walls as I walked along the corridor, books clutched against my chest, the dull thuds of my sneaker soles hitting the floor echoing faintly from the high vaulted ceiling. It had been a long time since I had had the luxury to peruse the library at my leisure, which was also why I had completely lost track of time. I had almost forgotten how it felt to spend more than an hour in one place without the constant presence of prying eyes in my neck.
Much to Katie’s and Sam’s relief, I had braved the rumours and stares as best as I could, bearing them with some sort of fake casual aloofness that would have made my grandmother quite proud. Keeping it up was exhausting, however, and it had felt wonderful to simply let my guard down for a few blissful hours as most people spent their Friday nights in their dorm rooms, preparing for the greatly anticipated Hogsmeade winter carnival tomorrow.
“Oi, careful there!” Someone suddenly called out even as I rounded the corner and I swerved, just in time to avoid a painful collision. Unfortunately, my jerky movement had unsettled the stack of books in my arms, sending half of them flying to the floor.
“I’m sorry,” the blond boy said sheepishly, his hand scratching the back of his neck as he took in the half dozen books that lay scattered on the dirty stone floor. “I didn’t expect to run into anybody at this time.”
“It’s fine,” I sighed, feeling that it was just as much my own fault as it was his. “I didn’t look either.” I bent down to pick up the library goods, glad that Madame Pince had not been here to witness the scene, when suddenly my hands brushed against another pair of hands and I looked up to find the blond boy crouching as well, a smile on his rather handsome face.
“I’m Lucas,” he said confidently, still smiling as he held out the books to me.
I took them rather awkwardly. “Um, thank you.”
“You’re Seth, right?”
I frowned in response, my shoulders suddenly rigid as every fibre of my body tensed up. Of course he knew who I was. I should have realised what this really was the moment he had ‘accidentally’ collided with me in an entirely empty corridor.
He seemed to notice the wary look on my face, apparently thinking I was upset that he knew my name for he quickly said, “We’ve met before – on the Quidditch pitch.”
My frown only deepened. Not only could I not remember having met this boy – Lucas – before, it also seemed very unlikely that someone would know me from the Quidditch pitch of all places.
“You were shouting at Potter.” He grinned as though the memory of my meltdown still gave him immense pleasure. “You were brilliant.”
“Oh,” I replied as a vague memory took shape; of me, marching down the mushy lawn and an arrogant James Potter I had hardly known then, smirking as I flung my books at him. “Right. That.”
“I’ve never seen anybody talk to him like that before,” he continued, now looking at me somewhat curiously. “Especially not pretty girls.”
The blush that crept to my cheeks was inevitable; luckily the flickering torchlight concealed my absolute ineptitude at handling complements and so I simply tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, pretending I had missed the obvious implication.
“So you’re on the Gryffindor team?”
“Yup,” Lucas replied, leaning casually against the wall. “I’m a chaser.”
I nodded my head slowly in response as an awkward silence settled around us. I wasn’t quite sure why I was still talking to a stranger in the middle of a scantily lit hallway, but it was somehow nice to have a conversation without being asked the price of Amortentia.
“So, um, I should probably get back to my common room,” I finally said, unable to think of anything else to say. Social awkwardness should have been my middle name.
“Oh, um, sure.” He stepped aside to allow me to pass. “It was nice meeting you, Seth.”
“Yes, um, you too.”
Continuing my swift walk, I had already half-way reached the end of the corridor, when suddenly, Lucas called out after me, his voice echoing strangely from the ceiling.
I stopped and turned around, the heavy stack of books still wedged uncomfortably in between my arms. “Yes?”
“I’m going out on a limb here,” he looked at me, the handsome smile still in place. “But I’d probably kick myself if I don’t ask, so… do you want to go to the carnival tomorrow? With me?”
I froze, unable to hide the surprise in my voice. “What?”
My utter astonishment must have come across as slightly aggressive, for Lucas quickly rubbed the back of his head and said almost apologetically, “Of course, you already have a date”.
“I – no,” I said lamely, shifting my weight from one foot to the other. Something weird and fluttery had come to life in my stomach as my face turned a bright shade of red. “I mean, I don’t have a date.”
“Oh, great!” He looked oddly relieved, the smile back on his face once more. “So, do you want to go?”
An avalanche of thoughts descended in my head, rendering me speechless for a moment. This was the first time I had been asked out on a date – by a quite handsome guy, at that – and I was utterly overwhelmed. After all the bad things that had been happening in my life lately, this seemed almost unreal; too good to be true.
However, before I could contemplate the implications and possible risks of this situation any further, my mouth had opened and I heard myself say, “OK.”
“Brilliant!” Lucas called out. “It’s a date then.”
“Yeah,” I said, feeling odd. “I guess.” And with that, I simply turned around and speed-walked to the end of the corridor, not looking back once until I had run all the way to Ravenclaw Tower.
“Lucas Gallagher. You know, I think I’ve seen him before,” Katie said, somewhat muffled as she was just applying several generous coats of tinted lip balm to her mouth. “This is going to be great!”
“I shouldn’t have said yes,” I moaned and let myself fall back onto my bed, staring at the intricate bronze pattern that laced the high-vaulted sky-blue ceiling. I had spent half the night glowering at it, thinking of ways to get out of having to go on a date with a guy I barely knew to a place where literally everybody could watch.
“Of course you should have!” Katie protested and – quite unceremoniously – threw my woolly grey coat on top of me. “Now, woodley up.”
I pushed the piece of clothing off of me, feeling queasier by the second. “That doesn’t mean anything.”
“It means stop whining and get dressed.”
I lingered for another second, then followed Katie’s order and pushed myself up into a sitting positing, the coat cradled awkwardly in my arms. “This is going to be a disaster.”
Sam was already waiting by the stairs to the girls’ dormitories when we made our way into the common room, his gaze resting on one of the gaudy posters for the Valentine’s Dance that had been put up all over the castle last week. By Monday, the lottery pairings would be announced and only then the real matchmaking would start as people threw in bids on their girlfriends, boyfriends, and crushes, happily defeating the purpose of the entire system.
“Where’s Hector?” I asked Sam as we had reached him which earned me a rather dramatic eye roll.
“Oh he’s meeting me in Hogsmeade,” he said, not without a slight bitterness in his voice. “Doesn’t want people to stare at us. Bloody coward.” He grumbled a few other, indistinguishable words under his breath before looking up at us again. “You two look nice. I bet your dates are happy to be seen with you.”
Katie said, “Thanks”, just as I said something along the lines of “urgh”.
“She’s just nervous,” Katie explained in response to the confused look on Sam’s face.
“I’m not nervous,” I insisted stubbornly. “I just don’t want to go. Dating is not my thing, that’s all.”
Katie sighed, giving me an annoyingly patronising look as she pushed open the common room door. “How can you say that? You’ve never been on one.”
This seemed to take Sam by surprise for he almost tripped over the threshold, his brow furrowed in utter bewilderment as he stared at me. “Wait, you’ve never been on a date?”
I shrugged, hoping that I looked much cooler than I actually felt. “If you don’t count my parents trying to force me into a loveless arranged marriage then no, I guess not.”
“But – I mean, you’re sixteen.”
“Thanks for bolstering my confidence, Sam.”
“Sorry,” he said quickly. “I just – you don’t even look bad or anything.”
“For Merlin’s sake, why are you still talking?” Katie hissed, pummelling Sam’s arm, who looked simply aghast.
“I was just – It was a compliment!” He gave me a desperate look but our conversation was forced to a sudden halt as we rounded the corner and joined the considerable crowd of overly excited students in the entrance hall, filing out through the large set of doors past Filch, who checked off names on a very big and very old clipboard.
“I’ll go find Tarquin,” Katie said as she stood on tiptoe, scanning the considerable mob of people before diving into the mass and vanishing from sight.
“And I’ll see if I can find Hector so I can skulk after him, pretending we don’t really know each other,” Sam said miserably. “Will you be alright?”
“Sure,” I lied, my voice brimming with false confidence. “Go find your man.”
“Good luck,” he smiled, squeezing my shoulder comfortingly before he, too, disappeared into the crowd, leaving me by myself amidst the sea of hostile Hogwarts students.
Ignoring the group of fifth years that was blatantly staring at me, exchanging barely whispered Is-that-her-s and are-you-sure?-she-doesn’t-look-that-crazy-s, I took a quick look around the slowly emptying entrance hall, contemplating my options. Nothing had been lost yet; I could still leave and return to Ravenclaw Tower, put on my most comfortable jumper and horrible baggy tracksuit bottoms, and spend all Saturday in bed, reading.
But then the crowd moved and he saw me and my heart stopped.
I hadn’t seen or talked to James for two weeks, which I had largely attributed to the fact that he probably didn’t want to be seen with me after everything that had happened. It was therefore quite strange that he continued to stare at me from across the hall; and it was even stranger that I couldn’t look away either.
“There you are!” Lucas said brightly as he came up to me, ploughing his way through the crowd, and I instantly tore my eyes off of James. A couple of people began to whisper as he reached me but if he had noticed, he didn’t seem to care. “I thought you might stand me up.”
“Of course not,” I said, my voice sounding a tat too dramatic, and I quickly cleared my throat. “That’s a nice jacket.”
I had said it before really thinking about it; the looming awkward silence had made me panic and I had simply spat out the first thing that had come to my mind, not thinking that it might make the situation even worse.
Lucas looked down at his green parka, first obviously bewildered, then laughing. “Thanks,” he said, before adding, “You look great, Seth”.
I hid the oncoming blush by fishing my hat from my coat pocket and putting it on rather slowly, hoping that it still came off as naturally. The date hadn’t even started yet and I was already wishing I was back in my bed, reading Ambrosia Tinkletabber.
A blanket of vivid grey clouded the Scottish sky, the threat of rain looming in every gust of cold wind that swept over the rolling hills. This gloomy prospect was quite forgotten, however, amidst the bright lights soaring above the bustling street and the rows of cheerfully decorated wooden stalls that sold homemade mulled wine and roasted chestnuts as soft music filled the heavy, sweet air. It mingled with Lucas’s laugh and I felt a tiny jolt in the pit of my stomach.
“Are you serious?” He said, the skin around his eyes crinkling as he continued to grin. I couldn’t imagine how I had failed to notice the startling blue of his irises before.
“Well, what was I supposed to do?” I replied, laughing as well. “I thought it was drowning.”
Lucas raised his eyebrows as he looked at me, his blond hair sticking out from under his hat. “Don’t toads live in the water?”
“It didn’t look as though it could swim. I swear!”
He shook his head before he said, “Poor Cinnamon.”
“Hey,” I protested half-jokingly, half-seriously. “He had a great old life with me.”
“I’m sure he did.” I could feel Lucas’s eyes on me and quickly began to sip on my mulled wine in desperate need for something to do. So far, the date had been unexpectedly fun, with light banter and comical stories, but it suddenly felt as though the mood was changing.
“You look really good,” he said, the amusement gone from his voice, and I forced myself to look up. My cheeks felt hot – maybe from the mulled wine – and a sudden burst of excitement flickered in my stomach.
“You – said that already,” I replied lamely.
And I had been doing so well.
Lucas, however, did not seem to be offended as he chuckled and – quite suddenly, without any warning – took my gloved hand into his so that we were walking along the busy street hand in hand as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
It happened then – unintentionally and unexpectedly – that the memory of another boy grabbing my hand in the midst of a yelling and shoving crowd pushed to the surface; a deep, throaty laugh, a mass of swirling colours, the pleasant heaviness of a warm jacket around my shoulders.
“Refill?” Lucas’s voice cut across my thoughts like a knife and I looked up to find him pointing at my almost empty mug.
“Um, sure,” I said perplexed, still drowsy from the scenes I had just seen in my head. “Maybe something without alcohol.”
“You got it.” He let go of my hand to take my mug. “I’ll be right back.”
As I watched him disappear into the crowd, I couldn’t help feeling angry at myself. I was on a date – a good date – with a nice boy who obviously made an effort and who seemed to be genuinely interested in me.
Why then – why on earth was I thinking of James Potter.
In an attempt to divert my mind, I looked around, vaguely taking in the colourful booths, stopping only when a frantically waving arm caught my attention, forcing me to focus on the person it belonged to.
Freddie Weasley, who was encased by a slightly crooked yet colourfully lit stall, beckoned wildly for me to come over and, after a moment’s hesitation, I decided to oblige him before even more people would pause their perusal of various merchandise to stare at me.
“Look who it is, the one and only pyjama girl,” he said brightly as I approached, holding out a steaming paper cup. “Weasley’s finest hot cocoa.”
I took the cup hesitantly, sniffing warily at the creamy brown substance which, coming from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, probably made you belt out Celine Dion at the top of your lungs or something equally mortifying.
“Not everything we do is a joke, Lizziebeth,” Freddie said seriously after watching me for a moment. At a closer look, I noticed that his eyebrows and hair seemed to be sparkling. “I swear the cocoa’s fine. Would I lie to you?”
I looked up at Freddie’s lopsided grin and finally took a sip of the drink, thinking that the rich, sweet taste was probably worth any mortifying side-effects it might cause.
“Good, eh?” He said, refilling my cup without waiting for a reply. “We’ve been drinking it all day to keep warm. Technically we’re not supposed to but what Dad doesn’t know…”
“Are you working here?” I asked, feeling sung and warm as Weasley’s finest hot cocoa travelled to my stomach. Above my head a yellow bird had just dissolved into a cloud of vivid red smoke with a loud puff, attracting the eyes of a couple of bored kids that trailed after their parents.
“Yup, my dad says it’s character moulding to know what real work feels like.” He leaned against the counter of the booth, his arms folded across his chest, hiding the brightly orange shop logo emblazoned on his jumper. “He really just can’t be bothered to stand out in the freezing cold all day.”
Somewhere out of sight, a renewed bang rattled the booth and I was instantly showered with glittering confetti.
“Oh, sorry for that,” Freddie said as he watched a few glitter particles land in my cocoa. “Great sellers but a bit uncontrollable.”
“It’s fine,” I laughed, brushing a thick layer of silver confetti off my coat. “My friend Katie would love this.”
“We’ve been glittered all day,” he said, trying to diffuse the cloud that still floated around me by waving his hands. “James was hit by a vicious pink one before we even opened. I reckon he’ll sparkle forever.”
As if on cue, the back of the spacious wooden stall swung open and, hidden behind a pile of heavy-looking boxes, James came in, swearing under his breath.
“What the fuck is in those boxes?” He practically slammed them into the corner, looking as though he only just restrained himself from aiming an additional kick at them.
“He’s been a bloody sunshine all day,” said Freddie, a sort of weary expression on his handsome face.
Apparently at hearing his friend speak, James looked up and his features seemed to freeze as he saw me, standing at the counter with the paper cup cradled in my hands, still engulfed by a faint silver cloud. There was a moment when I considered running, but my feet would not move and so I simply gave him a friendly nod, which he did not reciprocate.
“Oh drat, those are the wrong ones mate,” Freddie said loudly, as though determined to break through the awkwardness, and – stalking purposefully past James – called out, “Don’t worry, I’ll get them!”
I wanted to cry out for him to wait, to not leave me here alone with James, but Freddie had shut the door behind him with a bang that seemed to echo from the wooden walls.
I hesitated, waiting for James to say something, but he simply stood there, his hands buried deeply in the pockets of his jeans. He, too, was wearing a Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes jumper in grey, which seemed to have a soft pinkish shimmer that clashed horribly with the vivid orange logo.
“So, you’re working here too?” I said in an attempt at friendly conversation, not really sure what else to say.
“Yah,” he replied coldly and something heavy seemed to dislodge itself from my chest and sink to the bottom of my stomach. Of course he didn’t want to speak to me; after all, I still stood accused of poisoning his little brother and, according to rather persistent rumours, him as well. I wasn’t surprised he believed the stories; still I had secretly hoped that he might not.
“How’s – How’s potions going?” I continued lamely, shifting my weight from one foot to the other as the cold air slowly crawled underneath my coat. Why on earth I was trying to make conversation with a boy who obviously wasn’t interested, I didn’t know; but somehow I just couldn’t walk away.
James only glared at me, his eyebrows knitted as thunder growled threateningly in the distance.
“How’s your date going?”
I stared at him, too perplexed to answer for a moment. It wasn’t the fact that he knew about my date with Lucas that rattled me, but rather the strangeness of hearing him say it out loud. “Oh, um, good.”
He nodded, slowly, and began to arrange items on a random shelf, slamming them aggressively on the wooden ledge. When one of them fell over and knocked down the rest, he stared at the mess for a second, the expression on his face livid. I was sure that this time he would deal out the kick which he had held back before, but instead he turned around to face me.
“I don’t want you to hang out with Gallagher.”
“Excuse me?” I snapped as the familiar feeling of irritation that was especially reserved for James Potter prickled in the back of my head. This conversation had gone from weird to outrageous within the mere fraction of a second.
“You can’t hang out with him,” James insisted, an infuriatingly imperious tone in his voice. “He’s a prick.”
I shook my head before I was able to produce actual words. Both bewilderment and anger seemed to be battling it out in my head. “What are you even talking about? He’s on your Quidditch team.”
“He’s on the reserve team!” He practically shouted, just as one of the weirdly shaped objects on the shelf behind him exploded with a loud fanfare. A couple of people had stopped their merry shopping to stare at us, apparently trying to make sense of this strange scene.
“Well,” I said as calmly as possible, lowering my voice to avoid attracting any further attention. “I’m on neither of your teams so luckily I don’t have to listen to you.”
James glowered at me. “All he wants is – he just wants to get into your pants.”
“What in Merlin’s name is wrong with you?” I was furious, unable to contain my temper any longer. For weeks he had ignored me, not even bothering to talk to me about all the awful rumours that circulated at school; let alone ask me how I was. His audacity to even comment on my love life when he was the guy who had basically pushed me out of his bed was simply the final straw.
All I wanted was to scream – to yell at him.
Instead, I took a deep, steadying breath.
I had put down the paper cup – tiny silver confetti were still swirling in the now cold cocoa – and made to leave, but James had reached out, grabbing my arm. I looked up at him, focusing on the smudge of pink glitter on his right cheek.
“For fuck’s sake, Woodley, just listen to me this one time,” he said darkly, his voice throaty and low. “He’s bad, okay?”
I hesitated for a moment, feeling slightly nauseous as I looked straight into his eyes. “Well haven’t you heard?” I said, freeing my arm from his grip. “So am I.”
And I turned around and walked away from James Potter, only just blinking away the angry tears that stung in my eyes.
A/N: I hope you lovelies enjoyed the chapter despite the long wait. I know it’s not ideal to take that long but I’ve had quite the writer’s block (which only your fantastic reviews have managed to dissolve). The good news is that the next chapter is already in the making and should be up much sooner than this one was. Also, I was made a trusted author so the whole uploading process is faster :)
I really want to thank all of the people who not only read but also take the time to leave a review, however short or long. All of you who have stories on here as well know how much reviews mean, especially when you put so much time and effort into your chapters, so thank you guys so much!
Cookies and Kneazles to you!