Chapter 3 : Sucker Punch
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‘All packed then?’ Grace yawns, nodding at my trunk.
‘Yah,’ I reply, sliding my egg onto a plate and sitting down with it at the table.
‘Breakfast, Grace?’ Dad asks after giving me a tap on the shoulder.
She eyes my egg whites and the pile of spinach beside them. ‘Er, no, I’m not hungry.’
I hide a smile: even Dad doesn’t eat this – he’s not training for anything, and neither is she. I just like my protein and iron. But whatever. ‘You’re hurrying things along,’ Dad comments as he watches me tuck breakfast in speedily.
‘Got to be at King’s Cross in an hour,’ I manage after gulping down my last bite.
Grace whirls to the clock, robe flapping, mouth hanging open. ‘Oh Christ,’ she cries. ‘You’ll never make it in time –‘
I’m just starting to roll my eyes when I spot Dad giving me the “oh no you don’t” glare. I manage to stall the movement and shake my head instead. ‘I’m Apparating, Grace,’ I say calmly, taking my dishes to the sink and giving them a quick scrub. ‘It’ll take me about twelve seconds to get from here to London, and then all I have to do is walk down to the platform.’ She just sort of mouths at me like a goldfish recently pulled out of its bowl. ‘I’ll be on time – no worries.’
‘Right,’ she mumbles, and before she can get Dad to get me to give her an explanation of Apparating, I slide out of the kitchen.
When I return a half hour later, they’re both dressed and sitting at the table, Grace looking a bit pale and Dad a bit sad. ‘Everything taken care of?’ he asks as I pad back into the kitchen, having collected my last few possessions.
‘Yah. Guess I’ll be going then.’
They stand, and Grace starts to shuffle out onto the porch, grabbing the handle of my trunk and pulling it after her. Dad and I exchange a glance, him pleading, me skeptical. I don’t think Grace has quite got that I can leave from inside or out, doesn’t matter. But he looks hopeful, so I follow her out, smiling as best I can. ‘Thanks,’ I murmur, taking the handle of my trunk from her. ‘Er, um, have a good fall then, hope you’ll write –‘ Before I can finish with the niceties, she’s thrown her arms around me in a fair imitation of a Rory hug, her face only coming up to my shoulder.
‘Oh, I’m going to miss you Kellyn,’ she whispers wetly.
Miss me? You don’t even know me. Now gerroff you nutter . ‘Um, yah,’ I manage, staring at Dad in horror over her shoulder. He looks stricken too – we don’t really do physical goodbyes in our family. We’re more the nod and see you later sort.
‘I got you something, just a little remembrance,’ she’s saying, stepping back and wiping her eyes. I can’t wipe the look of horror off my face, but I guess she just mistakes it for sorrow at our parting. Bleh. ‘It’s a diary,’ she adds, pulling a small black packet from her pocket and holding it out toward me. She must be joking. ‘Go on,’ she says, smiling, her eyes glistening as she shakes the little black journal a bit. ‘Take it.’
I reach out slowly, grasp it with two fingers, and hold it up. ‘Er, thanks,’ I mumble, telling myself that I absolutely cannot look at Dad or I’ll start ranting and raving right here.
‘I had one my last year of school – kept it updated with what I wanted to do, the important things that happened…it really helped me plan for the future.’ She’s serious. Oh bloody hell, she’s serious. She really expects me to – to make entries and what not. What does she think I am, ruddy Bridget Jones?
‘That’s lovely of you Grace,’ Dad says very seriously over her shoulder, his eyes telling me to pull it together.
‘Right, um, I’ll just, er, make sure that I do that. Lovely diary,’ I add, not even looking down at it. ‘Always wanted one. Right then, I’d better be going,’ I add, grabbing up the handle of my trunk. ‘See you at Christmas.’
‘Take care of yourself – I’ll write soon,’ Dad says in Mandarin. Grace looks confused, eyes flicking back and forth between us.
‘I will. Try not to get into any trouble,’ I add, and grin at him.
He rolls his eyes. ‘Bye then.’
I can see Grace opening her mouth, her eyes confused at our lack of physical contact, at the fact that we aren’t hugging or crying. But I’m not waiting round to explain it to her, so I just twist, throw out my leg, and let go.
‘I swear you’ve got taller,’ she says critically, eyeing me up and down.
‘Not a bit,’ I sigh, lifting my trunk onto the train and jumping up after it. ‘You’re hair’s got blonder though,’ I add with a grin as I back out of the way.
‘I thought it made a nice change,’ she says nonchalantly, shaking her waist – length curtain of hair back off her shoulders. When I last saw her, her hair had been as black as mine – not that that was its natural colour. This actually is, a soft, shimmering golden blonde that fits with her creamy skin and pale eyes. Of course, her mother loves her pretty blonde hair, and so Roz takes delight in darkening it, or when it suits, charming it any number of unnatural colours to complement her brilliantly hued make - up.
‘A nice change…or someone told you you looked like your mum,’ I said with a smile.
‘Stupid ruddy Mrs. Higgins, told me that the dark hair made me look “just like Mum at that age”. Horrid old cow,’ she growls, flicking her wand and enthusiastically levitating her trunk into the luggage rack before climbing into the train beside me. We’ve been waiting in line to get on for about twenty minutes, and any second now the Express is going to depart for Hogwarts.
I’ve never met Camilla Frayden because I’ve never had the chance to visit Roz on vacation, but from what it sounds like, she’s no treat. ‘It really does look nice blonde,’ I say bracingly as I lead the way down the corridor, looking for a place to sit.
‘We’ll see – I rather thought I might try magenta for awhile, just to brighten things up.’
I’ve been forced up against the wall to allow a group of fifth years to shuffle into a compartment, and take a moment to examine her. ‘Yah, it’d play off your eyes,’ I agree. ‘Maybe one or two streaks around the face.’
‘Excellent. I don’t suppose you’d consider trying something new?’ she adds with a gleeful grin.
‘Oh come on, it’s not like its permanent!’
‘I’d look ridiculous!’
‘You’d look fantastic!’
I just shake my head and continue down the corridor. We have this argument every few days. ‘You have to have style to pull off things like that, and while I have many things in life, style is not one of them.’
‘You have style,’ she argues, glancing down at my jeans and black vest, completely plain and devoid of decoration. My hair is tossed up in a knot on top of my head and I’m wearing black trainers, no make – up, no jewelry. ‘It’s just a little…er…simplistic.’
I roll my eyes again – you tend to roll your eyes a lot when your best friend is Raina Frayden – because while the two of us are inseparable, we’re more or less polar opposites. Rozzer, which no one else but I am allowed to call her, is going to be a fashion designer when we get out of school. And you can tell it just by looking at her. She’s always wearing some bizarre fashion or other, and even when she’s just got on the frumpy old school uniform, there’s something about her that screams “independent spirit.” Maybe it’s the loads of heavy eye makeup and the seven earrings, I dunno.
I, on the other hand, am built for coordinated physical activity, with a long body that doesn’t curve much, but is corded with lithe, smooth muscle. I can sprint a kilometer in just over five minutes, and swing a bo staff or a sword, which is all I’ve ever needed to care for. Rozzer’s constantly trying to get me to put on a bit of make up or spice up my wardrobe. Since I’m always after her to go running with me, or to learn a bit of self – defense, I don’t argue, and we sort of let one another fiddle, just spending our time together. It’s not like we’ve got anyone else to accommodate.
‘Ooh – look – empty compartment,’ she grins, throwing open the door and dramatically striking a pose in the centre of the space. ‘Perfect.’
‘You’re mental,’ I say with a yawn.
‘And you missed me.’
‘Yah,’ I sigh, dropping onto the bench and smiling. ‘I really did. Ugh,’ I add when something stabs me in the arse. I sit up and tug Grace’s diary out of my back pocket where I’d stowed it before going through the barrier onto the platform. I sneer at it and toss it onto the seat beside me.
‘Cor – don’t tell me you’ve started keeping a diary!’ Roz crows, folding her legs up on the seat and cackling. ‘Told you you’d do it eventually.’
‘Not likely,’ I sneer, leaning my head back. Unlike Roz, who keeps a journal religiously (once she’s rich and famous and known throughout the magical world, she’s going to publish her memoirs) I’ve never been able to sit down and scrawl out an account of my day. ‘What would I write about?’ I ask rhetorically, putting on a voice and imitated writing. ‘Dear Diary, today I got out of bed, took a nice deep breath, a run, a shower, went to class, did my homework, wandered around out of bounds with Roz, and went to bed. The end. Every day of every week.’
‘You do things besides that.’ I raise one brow and stare at her. ‘Well, you could at least go into detail about the interesting parts,’ she argues when she can’t think of anything. ‘That’s what I do – describe our adventures, tell about the funny things that happened.’
‘Well then, you can just scribble about it in my diary too,’ I grumble, looking out the window.
She reaches over and picks the book up. ‘At least it’s a nice one – and small enough that you can carry it round with you.’
‘Because I’m dying to do that. She doesn’t want me to write about boring stuff anyway – she wants me to use it to “plan my future.”’
‘No way,’ Roz gasps. ‘She actually said that?’
‘Oh yah – dead serious. She’s mental, I’m not kidding. She started crying and hugging me just as I was about to leave too – it was bollocks.’
‘She was there this morning? At half eight? What, your Dad just lets her come round whenever she feels like it?’
‘She stayed the night,’ I reply, covering a yawn and watching trees blur by the window. Not sleeping well is starting to catch up with me.
‘Argh – gross,’ Roz groans. ‘That’s really disgusting – doesn’t it bother you?’
I grimace. Roz’s parents don’t like one another much – in fact, they don’t really talk from what I can tell – but at least she doesn’t have to think about them, well – right, you get the point. ‘He asked me once if it was all right if she stayed over,’ I explain. ‘And I just told him I didn’t want to know anything about it.’
‘Ugh – I can’t believe it,’ she snorts, clapping a hand over her mouth to stifle the giggles. ‘I’m sorry – it’s really not funny –‘ she was really laughing now, and I could feel myself starting to smile.
‘I don’t even want to think about it,’ I say firmly, squelching the thoughts. ‘Let’s just change the subject. What happened to that bloke you were flirting with? The one from the record shop?’
‘You mean Jack? We went out night before last – I told him I’d ring him.’
‘Hm,’ I murmured, leaning back against the seat. We both knew she wouldn’t ring him, not until Christmas holiday at least. Roz is like that, blokes all over the place – and since her Mum hates Muggles, that’s all she dates. She meets them everywhere - in shops, in coffee houses, on streets, and she never keeps them round for very long.
‘You didn’t happen to meet a bloke and not tell me about it, did you?’ she asks accusingly, joggling my leg with her foot. This is another point of consternation – she dates all the time, and I never do. She says its because I’m too focused and emotionally shut off. I say its because I’ve got better things to worry about, and she never seems to have that much fun anyway.
‘Course not,’ I mumble, my eyes drifting closed.
‘You’re falling asleep,’ she said, sounding almost disgusted.
For some reason, I’m wearing leaves. Not stuck in my hair or anything, I’m actually wearing what feels like a dress, made out of leaves. And my feet are bare. And I’m sitting on a tree limb high above the ground with one knee folded up. Huh. These aren’t my woods at home, either, this is some strange combination of rain forest and Sherwood. And down below me there are things moving around in the dark. Probably I’m just back with Mai Ling, sitting in a tree on sentry duty. Wearing leaves. And no shoes. I’m actually starting to get nervous – something is going on. Or about to go on. And I’m a part of it. I roll up onto the balls of my feet, balancing one hand against the trunk of the tree, peering down towards the forest floor where there are definite rustlings in the brush. But I can’t see anything. In fact, it’s almost unnatural – I have good night vision, almost uncanny, really, and I can usually spot things in the dark. But this is more than night darkness – this is black space or something. And I have the urge to leap right into it.
I’m about to, setting my body up for a jump, when I hear a whistle in the air and something slips right through my hand, pinning it to the trunk. My head whips round and I stare at a little brown man, his face wrinkled and foul and slimy, sharp yellow teeth bared in a war – grin. I glance back at my hand. A miniature spear has stabbed right through it, effectively pinning it to the trunk. ‘You little bastard,’ I say to the creature.
‘Aiiiii!’ it cries and launches itself at me.
‘Gerroff me you bloody – little – wanker -!’ I shout, rolling round. I’ve forgotten that I’m on a tree limb, hanging far above anything. ‘Gerroff!’ I shout as we tumble into space. ‘Gerroff you bastard!’
As we tumble into the blackness the evil gnome or whatever it is grapples with me, its teeth gnashing inches from my face, and I can feel what seem like surprisingly human hands grabbing at my shoulders, my arms. And that isn’t quite right, is it? So I jerk away, still scrabbling, and managed to throw out a punch that connects with something firm, something real. The pressure on my arms lessens. And then the fall is over.
I land with a thud that seems rather mild given how far I’ve just tumbled, and my eyes snap open. But there aren’t any trees above me, or even a nasty snarling little brown creature. Only two boys staring down at me like I’m some sort of rare zoo exhibit. ‘Mrhghahd,’ I mumble, shaking my head.
‘You all right there Sirius?’ one of the boys, who has sandy brown hair says, turning to look over his shoulder.
‘Nearly had my jaw ripped off,’ a low, shadowy voice replies. ‘But I’ll be fine.’ The boy that had been talking to me disappears, going to help his friend who is sprawled back against the door, clearly having been knocked on his arse.
I push myself up on my elbows and stare round, my eyes narrowing when I realize who’s in my compartment. And who’s not. ‘Where’s Roz?’ I ask the remaining boy blearily, the dream still clinging to me. Or maybe I’m still asleep, and this is all in my head.
‘Roz – you know – Roz.’
‘Oh, you mean that Frayden girl. Dunno – we heard you yelling in here like someone was attacking you so we thought we’d better see if you were all right. Are you?’ he tacks on, hazel eyes narrowing slightly.
‘Yah, yah, I’m fine,’ I mumble, finally realizing how monumentally humiliating this is. ‘Sorry you er – um – sorry, didn’t mean to punch you,’ I add to Sirius Black, who’s got a rather nice start to a black eye.
‘All in the line of duty,’ he says darkly, eyeing my left hand, which I quickly hide.
I can tell he’s about to say something else, probably something quick and discerning because he’s supposed to be quite clever under that pretty skin, but thankfully I’m saved. The compartment door thwacks him solidly in the back of the head as it opens and I can hear Roz on the other side. ‘Oy – Kellyn – get out from in front of the – oh – sorry, didn’t realize… Er, is everything all right?’ She asks as Black, rubbing the back of his head and looking seriously put out, shuffles out of the way so she can peer inside.
‘Fine,’ I call, scraping myself off the floor, sore for some reason. ‘Fine. Er, thanks for stopping in,’ I add to the blokes, who sort of edge their way backwards out of the compartment, Sirius Black shooting me a look stuck somewhere between mild irritation and darkest contempt. Roz stays out in the hall for moment with them, giving me time to pop my left shoulder and glance around to see if I’d disturbed anything else during my fight with the Phantom Budgie. Everything looks all right though, and I’m able to let out a smile when I hear Roz close the door behind her.
I turn round, and feel the smile wobble. She’s got her quizzical expression on. Unlike most people, Roz does not slap you in the face with a dizzying barrage of questions. Instead, she smokes you out. She’d be a brilliant investigator. ‘Feeling all right Sleeping Beauty?’ she asks, crossing the compartment and taking a seat across from me.
‘How long have I been out?’ I ask, slowly sinking into my own seat and rubbing my face with both hands.
‘Sorry,’ I say contritely, glancing up at her through my fingers. ‘I didn’t mean to desert you.’
‘Oh, its all right,’ she replies breezily, flicking open a copy of Enchantress, the witch version of Cosmo.
This instantly has my eyes narrowing – normally she’d be in a bit of a strop with me for falling asleep and leaving her bored. ‘What’d you do?’ I ask, feeling for my eyebrows, making sure she hasn’t Charmed them off again. She does that sometimes, likes to see how long it takes me to notice.
She’s trying to keep her cool, but I can see her grinning down at an article entitled Dressing for Undressing – How to Look Your Best at the Right Moment. Honestly, how does she read that rubbish? ‘Oh, I think having to wake up from a twitching fit of a nightmare to those three is punishment enough.’
Thank Merlin – I hate having to grow my eyebrows back in. ‘Why were they here, anyway - one of them ask you out?’ I ask, rolling my left shoulder, which is still sore. I should probably go ahead and mention that Potter and Black, and Remus Lupin by association, are the most popular boys in Gryffindor, maybe even the entirety of Hogwarts. They don’t hang round with the likes of us – in fact, I doubt they know who we are, which means they probably wouldn’t have stopped to help me even if I’d been screaming “help, dragon!”, leaving me with the assumption that they’d been after something else. Ulterior motives are everything.
‘Course not,’ she sneers – she doesn’t date Hogwarts boys. ‘They’re all too young, and none of them is really my type. Well, maybe Sirius cause he’s such a smarmy wanker. But,’ she adds, smiling at me conspiratorially. ‘The point is something soooo much more entertaining, really –‘
‘What, were they stopping by to inform you that they’ve suddenly become religious missionaries for some cult?’ I ask, not liking the tone, or the look. They both said she was amused, and when Roz was amused it was usually at my expense.
‘What’s a missionary? No, never mind - stop interrupting – let me get to the good stuff. Sirius Black kept staring at you through the compartment door while they were out in the corridor with me – James had to poke him when they left so he wouldn’t just stand there, watching you.’
Glaring at me, more like. ‘A missionary’s someone who goes round trying to convince you to join his religion -’
‘Are you even listening?’ she shrieked. ‘The most attractive boy ever at Hogwarts was staring at you even though you were having a fit in your sleep! Does that mean nothing to you?’
I just shrugged. ‘He’ll stare at anything with tits,’ I said blandly. ‘It’s what he does. Likely he’d just never gotten close enough to notice I had any,’ I added, glancing down at my meager endowments – between the fact that I wear mostly sports bras and a lot of black, even I forget they’re there on occasion. ‘You still haven’t told me why they were here,’ I point out after a pause.
‘Potter was looking for Lily Evans.’
‘Ahhh.’ James Potter suffers from the most painful – and public – case of unrequited love I’ve ever heard of. He’s been mad for Lily Evans probably since the day we stepped foot into Hogwarts, and isn’t shy about letting you know it. Course, she can’t stand him, and while Potter’s heartache is probably quite pitiable, I’ve always found it rather hilarious. ‘Why’d he think she might be in here – wouldn’t she be sitting with The Perfects?’
I should also probably mention this other phenomenon of social absurdity: it mostly revolves around a girl called Claire Norrington, who’s absolutely horrible, and unfortunately is also a seventh year Gryffindor. She has a little band of minions, most of them in our year, who follow her around and do her evil bidding – Roz and I call them The Perfects, cause then you can divide our dorm into The Perfects, The Prefects (that’s Lily Evans and Marcia Grary) and The Rejects (that’s Roz and me).
‘He said he’d already checked with them, and she wasn’t there,’ Roz yawns, picking her magazine back up.
I shrug. ‘Probably off patrolling the corridors, looking for delinquents.’ Lily’s a born prefect – she’s probably going to be a professor one day. She’s certainly clever enough.
Roz’s eyes flick up at me. ‘I wonder when he’ll ask you out.’
‘Sirius Black – I wonder when he’s going to ask you out.’
I roll my eyes. Sirius Black is the best looking boy at Hogwarts. And he knows it. ‘He isn’t going to ask me out,’ I say with absolute certainty.
‘You didn’t see his face – he was entranced.’
‘He wasn’t entranced, he was glaring daggers. I punched him Roz – that bit of a black eye, that was me, okay? He wasn’t staring at me with lust in his eyes, he was probably plotting on how to get me back for ruining his pretty face. So, I really don’t think that he’s going to come round knocking any day soon.’
Her face is priceless. Just completely blank. Totally surprised. ‘Oh,’ she says after a moment. ‘Oh. Right. Why’d you punch him?’
Another eye roll, this time aimed at myself. ‘I didn’t mean to,’ I explain, slouching down in my seat, wanting to forget it. ‘I was fighting this thing off in my dream, and I guess I must have been yelling or something, because they tried to wake me up, and I could feel one of them trying to shake me or hold me down or something, and I thought it was the thing in my dream and…yah, just punched him right in the face, knocked him on his arse.’
She slaps a hand over her mouth in a failed attempt at stifling her giggles. ‘I’m sorry,’ she laughs when I glower at her. ‘It’s just – oh it’s not funny but it is.’
I just sit back and wait it out, trying not to relive the moment over and over in my head. So what if they think I’m a nutter – no different than what the rest of the school thinks. Big deal. But why oh why did I have to punch him in the face. After a few minutes Roz’s giggles quiet and she yawns. ‘So,’ I say, ready to commence with our traditional train conversation. ‘What didn’t you tell me in the letters?’
‘Ahhh,’ she sighs, leaning back in her seat and staring at the ceiling. ‘Where to begin? Well – after I went up to see you…’
This is how we start our year off, every year, since second year, which was our first summer apart. Roz hooks her knees up on the seat and details the rows she’s had with her mum, how her dad is never around, and the fact that her cousin Giselle, who’s French and rather nasty, came to stay for two weeks. Of course, I know all of this generally because we write letters, but she includes the details, the things you just don’t think to write down.
‘I feel like that was rather short,’ she says with a frown when she’s finished. ‘Normally it takes about half the train ride.’
I shrug. ‘We’ve written a lot more letters this summer than usual – and we actually saw one another, too.’
‘Yah, I guess. It was weird, writing you letters, and them getting to you in under a month. I really did tell you more than usual. Was it odd, not being there?’
By ‘there’, she means China, where I’ve lived every summer since…well, since I was six. I actually lived there full time from six to eleven, but then I had to come back to England for Hogwarts because Dad promised my mum he’d send me there no matter what. But I always went back during the summers to live with Mai Ling, to be trained. At the end of last summer though, he told me that I wouldn’t be coming back, that the things I had left to learn life would have to teach me. ‘I missed it,’ I admit, looking out the window at the gathering dark. ‘The days used to just bleed together, you know? They don’t really do that at home. But that’s probably cause of Grace and Rory.’
She shakes her head. ‘It sounds miserable. I wish I’d got to meet her.’
‘No you don’t – you’re lucky as anything they weren’t there that weekend you came up.’ We had just passed our Apparating test, and as celebration Roz came up for a weekend while Rory and Grace took Dad to a family wedding. I flatly refused to go, saying I’d already invited a friend up. Grace hadn’t argued after she’d got a good look at my face.
‘What was the end of the summer like?’ she asked, leaning forward, eyes wide. The dramatics that have overtaken my family life fascinate her – she says her parents don’t even talk to one another, so having a dad who’s actually dating someone is incredible.
I sigh, think for a minute, and then start in. ‘Grace sort of got it into her head that I should start taking Rory to the park on the weekends as ‘bonding time’ – she’s really into bonding time….’ It doesn’t take me long to get worked up, and pretty soon I’m doing vicious impersonations of Grace, drawing a very unflattering portrait of her. Roz finds this hysterical, and we’re both laughing so hard that we completely forget to change out into our robes, and when the train screeches to a halt we’re racing round the compartment, trying to find all the bits and pieces of our school uniforms. I’m short one knee sock, Roz can’t find her tie, and neither one of us is even close to being changed as we haul our trunks out onto the platform. I’ve managed to haul my school kilt on over my jeans, but the rest of the uniform is wadded up with my robes and I’m clutching it under my arm as I pass my trunk off to Filch.
‘Let’s hope we get a carriage to ourselves,’ I mutter to Roz as we make our way towards the Thestral drawn carriages waiting in the drive. Hogwarts looms great and glorious on the hill above us, and we pause for a moment, sighing.
‘This is the last time we get to make this trip,’ Rozzer murmurs.
‘Quit being maudlin,’ I grumble, elbowing her in the ribs. She lets out another long sigh, and we salute the great castle before hurrying towards the queue.
Luck is not on our side – it seems that they’ve cut the student/carriage ratio rather close this year and, since we’d taken a moment to admire Hogwarts by Moonlight, we’re stuck in the end of the line in a coach with two third year Slytherin boys who are trading tips on hexing “mudbloods”. I happen to be a mudblood, a fact that doesn’t bother me one bit except for the fact that, like any other sensible witch, I despise the derogatory term and don’t take it for anything. As we shuffle onto the seat across from them and start changing as modestly as possible, the taller of the two slithers his eyes around too us.
‘What are you looking at, you nasty half – breed?’ he snarls at me, trying to be menacing. Roz and I share a glance; she nods imperceptibly. My hand shoots out, too fast to even see.
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