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Chapter 4 : Dreading a Question
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I still haven’t forgiven you for sending me to Romania, but I think you should know that I got here alive. If you’re wondering why I didn’t write to you sooner, it’s because I have a very busy week. I expect it will go on this way for a whole year. I really don’t mind classes, but we have Physical Education twice a week and it’s utterly exhausting. The Dean said the class was important to keep our muscles trained because as Dragon Keepers, we’re working on field and not behind desks. Hogwarts didn’t have the class and I haven’t done much exercise in the last seven years, so it’s been very tough for me.
I still don’t see ‘the beauty of dragons’ like you always say, but I don’t think I ever will. I’m not breaking our promise though. I hope you’re doing alright, and don’t forget to feed Crème for me.
I twirled my quill in my hand as I reread the letter. I hated to sound so brusque, but I was still mad at Dad. He should’ve known more than anyone else how much I’m scared of dragons, but he still enrolled me here. We bickered for weeks before I left, and I left without letting him hug me goodbye like he always does. I didn’t want to write to him, but Lisa urged me to. I had been very bitter for a couple of days and she thought I was homesick.
I sighed and rolled up the parchment, intending to send it tomorrow. I propped my head on my wooden desk and closed my eyes. I didn’t lie when I said I had a tough week. The first week was easy, because the professors were still welcoming us and introducing their ways of teaching and how the classes go. But the Dean suddenly added Physical Education class to our schedule. He said as Dragon Keepers, we had to keep our body fit so we could handle our dragons without many problems. So every Thursday and Friday after classes, we headed out to the ground and did some exercise. I hadn’t been running or exercising routinely in seven years and I wasn’t a Quidditch player, it was easy to say that I was one of the weakest in the class. Coach Turner noticed this and made me stay behind after classes to do more workouts with her. It was very nice of her, I suppose, but it was embarrassing. The passer-bys would stop and point, snickering as they watch me run laps with my hair sticking to my face from sweat.
To top off my suffering, none of my friends went through the same thing. Lisa, Dawn, and Allison were prepared for the class and they were way better than I was out there. They were stronger, taller, and faster. After running five laps, I would sprawl on the ground, gasping for breath, while they would be ready to play a game of basketball-the Muggles’ sport Coach taught us. They did sympathize with me, but I could almost see the question in their minds. Why wasn’t I ready? Why was I so weak? They never asked it out loud, so I never answered them.
If it wasn’t for Dad, I wouldn’t be there at all. Despite all of our arguments, I wanted to make him proud and it seemed that the only way to do that was to be a Dragon Keeper. When I found out I was scared of dragons, I resorted to studying and achieving perfect scores. He had told me over and over again that he was indeed proud of me, but perhaps deep down it wasn’t enough for him. Maybe that was why he enrolled me in SFU without telling me. He knew I wouldn’t do it voluntarily, so he forced me to. If I didn’t hear what he said that night, maybe I would’ve run away from home.
“I hate you!” I bellowed, slamming my bedroom’s door with all my strength. The frames on my wall quavered visibly, but I didn’t pay attention to them. Hot tears were stinging my eyes and sobs were escaping my lips. I threw my body on my bed and cried into my pillow. I couldn’t believe what he had done. Dad had ruined everything!
There was a knock on my door. “Irene, come out and talk to me!” Dad called.
“Go away! I don’t want to talk to you!” I yelled. I heard him let out an impatient sigh.
“You have to. You only have a month before you have to leave and I don’t want us spending our last time together fighting.” He could be so sweet sometimes. Too bad he always chose the wrong time to be sweet.
“It’s your fault, you know I don’t want to be a Dragon Keeper and I especially don’t want to study in Romania!” I heard another sigh released.
“Fine, have it your way. But you don’t have another choice but to go to Romania. I’ve withdrawn your application from the Healer Institute and you can’t return it.” That being said, he walked away. I let out a frustrated shriek and threw my pillow at the door.
I cried for another hour while searching for some ways to change his decision. I found none and began to feel discouraged. My eyelids were heavy from crying and my empty stomach ached for some food. I didn’t want to eat dinner with Dad, but a loud rumbling from my stomach forced me to change my mind. I crept down from my bed, which was now covered in tissue papers, and headed downstairs. I had to pass Dad’s bedroom on the way, and as I tiptoed across his door, I heard him talking. Curious about who he was talking to, I stopped and carefully pressed my ear against the door.
“I feel really bad about making her cry, but I did this for her own good. Irene has a talent for taming dragons, but she’s too scared of them to notice. Remember when she was a toddler and we took her to Scotland? Remember how we lost her and then found her at the newborn dragon’s cage? She was playing with him and he didn’t even try to bite her! That was when I knew she’s going to be as good as I am at it, and I can’t wait any longer for her to realize it. If only the accident didn’t happen…” He paused. By then I knew that he was talking to Mum. There was a beautiful portrait of Mum in Dad’s bedroom and I often caught him talking to it as if he was really talking to Mum. Dad continued to speak, his tone soft and rather sad this time. “She’s never been this mad at me. Do you think she’ll ever forgive me?” He sighed heavily. “Probably not soon, but she will. How I wish I could understand her like you did.” I flinched and backed away from the door. There was something in his tone that wrenched my heart and made me want to cry again. So I ran back to my room, ignoring the growl of my stomach.
Maybe I was too soft-hearted, or maybe I just didn’t want to break his heart. So we compromised. I would study to be a Dragon Keeper for a year and if after that I still hated the job, Dad would let me quit and enrol in the St. Mungo’s Healer Institute. You should’ve seen the joy on his face when I told me about my decision. I had never seen him that happy, not even when I reached top of my class and was made Prefect.
The door was pushed open and Lisa walked in, humming a song from the rising new band, The Weird Sister. Her hum stopped when she saw me with my head on the desk and a scowl appeared on her red lips. “Why aren’t you ready?”
“Ready for what?” I asked, lifting up my head to shoot her a perplexed look.
“The party, remember?” She gave an exasperated sigh when I crinkled my forehead. “The senior party Gavin invited us to. You’re going, right?”
“Is that today?” I glanced at the calendar on our wall and saw Lisa’s curvy handwriting on today’s date. Party at 5. “Oh, right.” I bit my lower lip. It still seemed pretty risky for me, but I needed something to relax. The party could be just the thing I needed. Plus Charlie’s going to be there. I smiled to myself and stood up. “I’m coming. But you got to help me pick out something to wear.”
Loud music greeted Lisa and I when we walked into the senior’s hall. The room was exactly the same size as the freshman’s, but far smaller than the Great Hall I was used to in Hogwarts. Colourful lights danced around the room, illuminating faces and objects as they continually changed into a different shade every five second. People were chatting over the music and I bumped into more than two people dancing to the upbeat music. I was beginning to regret wearing my old high heels. I hadn’t worn it for some times and I could feel my right heel wobble under the weight of my feet. I grabbed Lisa’s elbow so I wouldn’t lose her in the crowd and avoided all eyes. Lisa had repeatedly assured me that we weren’t crashing, we were invited, but I couldn’t help worrying.
Relief washed over me when we finally saw Gavin. Lisa raised her hand and caught his attention. He looked pleasantly surprised when he saw us and immediately came over after excusing himself from his group. I couldn’t help thinking he looked very attractive in a red button-up and jeans. “Hey, I thought you weren’t coming,” he said, smiling warmly at us.
“Irene needed some convincing before she agreed to come,” Lisa replied, earning a jab in her side from me. “What? It’s true.” Gavin laughed. He had a deep laugh, the kind that echoed in your ears pleasantly and made you feel more at ease. It wasn’t as nice as Charlie’s though. Speaking of Charlie, where is he?
“Well, I’m glad you showed up.” I quickly turned my attention back to Gavin. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to my friends.” He led us to where he had stood a minute ago, where his friends were standing. My heart leapt when I saw Charlie between them. I let go of Lisa’s elbow and used my hands to smooth my black sweater and subtly check on my hair. Lisa caught me doing it and raised an eyebrow teasingly. I grinned and shrugged, pushing a strand of my blonde hair behind my shoulder.
The conversation between the seniors ceased as they turned their attention to us. Gavin started to introduce us. “Guys, this is Lisa, my sister. That one is Irene Connelly, her roommate. Girls, meet Philip Conner, Ross Reed, Jordan Ackerman, Julian Bradwell, and Charlie Weasley.” I shook hands with all of them, but hesitated at Charlie’s turn. I already knew him; it would odd to shake his hand now. Fortunately, he gave me a smile and a small wave. I returned the gesture, glad that he remembered me.
“So, are you related to Ignatius Connelly in any way?” Philip immediately asked. I suppressed a sigh and nodded.
“I’m his daughter,” I answered. They all seemed to be surprised, except for Charlie. I tried not to roll my eyes, but Gavin might’ve seen the look on my face because he promptly changed the subject.
“So, what do you think of the party?” he asked Lisa and me.
“It cool,” Lisa answered, her eyes roaming the scene. I merely nodded as my mind refused to form a word when Charlie’s eyes were on me. Lisa’s eyes twinkled as she turned to face her brother. “Aren’t you going to ask Irene for a dance? If not, I bet Charlie would ask her.”
“Lisa!” I exclaimed in surprise. I couldn’t believe she said that! Now they would think I liked them both. I gave them both an awkward smile while glaring at Lisa. “You don’t have to dance with me, really.”
“Actually, I’d be flattered if you’d dance with me,” Gavin said, offering his hand. My eyes widened and I gazed at his extended hand.
“Um… I can’t dance. I’m a hopeless dancer,” I stuttered out, trying not to glance at Charlie. I didn’t want to give the impression that I like Gavin, but I didn’t know how to refuse him. However, Gavin didn’t drop his hand.
“Come on, I don’t mind if you step on my toe a couple of times,” he insisted. He looked like he really wanted to dance with me and I was somewhat flattered that he did. So I sighed in defeat and took his hand.
“Alright, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” I said. He smiled and enveloped my hand with his. It made me feel slightly uncomfortable, especially because Charlie was nearby. However, when I dared to steal a glance at him before following Gavin to the middle of the crowd, he already turned to talk to his friends. For a moment, my hope was dashed. I began to think my crush on him was going to end unrequited, again.
I didn’t dwell too long on it since Gavin had already found a spot in the crowd for us. They had turned a fast-paced music, and I was grateful for it. The last time I slow-danced was at my cousin’s wedding, which was almost five years ago. Hogwarts didn’t host a ball when I was there, so I didn’t get much practice there either. Gavin had let go of my hand and he was soon moving along to the beat. I didn’t move much, only nodding and swaying slowly, since I was too afraid I’d knock into someone, but Gavin didn’t seem to mind. He showed me a couple of silly moves to make me laugh and got me doing something other than nodding my head. I had thought it would be awkward, but I was actually enjoying his company. I didn’t want to think that he was flirting with me, because I really hoped he wasn’t, yet I could feel his eyes watching me the whole time we were dancing. I know it would be rude to not look at your partner, but he hardly looked anywhere else. That’s why I was rather relieved when he said he wanted to get some drinks. I followed him to the snack table and accepted the drink he poured for me.
“You’re not a bad dancer,” he commented after taking a gulp of his drink. “You just needed to loosen up a bit.” I chuckled.
“Maybe I did. Thanks for inviting me here.” He smiled and nodded.
“No problem. You’re my sister’s friend, and I wanted to see you again.” I felt my cheeks growing hot and hastily looked away. I raked my brain to find another topic, something to distract him and myself from that subject. I wouldn’t know what to do if he actually asked me out. Therefore, it was best to avoid it as long as possible.
“So, did Professor DeMonte assign you to raise a baby dragon when you were a freshman?” I asked. The assignment was going to start the next day and I was keen to get as much information as I could.
“Oh yeah, it was the hardest and best part of the year,” Gavin answered. “You learn first hand how to handle the dragon and it’s fun, but you won’t get away without a few scrapes and bruises.” I flinched inwardly and my hand instinctively flew up to my right upper arm. It had been more than ten years since the accident, but I could still feel it. “Don’t worry about it, it’s not that hard. Besides, you can always ask your father,” Gavin added. I smiled half-heartedly and gulped down my drink. It tasted a bit odd; it was sweet with a sharp edge to it, tingling on my tongue like a hot drink even though it was cold. Gavin watched my expression with a small smile as I eyed my glass.
“What’s this?” I inquired.
“Honeypunch. It’s stronger than Butterbeer but less intoxicating than Firewhiskey. Invited by Romanian, so it’s popular around here. I heard it could also be used to heal small wounds on dragons. Do you like it?” I took another sip and let the taste linger in my mouth before shrugging.
“Not my favourite, but it’s okay.” Gavin nodded thoughtfully. We stood in silence for a while, not knowing what else to say. I was trying not to blush under his attentive gaze, wishing he would look somewhere else.
“Have I told you, you look beautiful tonight?” I looked up in surprise and my eyes met his. He didn’t look like he had stated it just to make a conversation or to flirt with me, instead he looked sincere. That made me blush even worse. I didn’t get a chance to thank him, because Lisa suddenly appeared from between the crowd, Charlie in tow.
“There you are!” she exclaimed as she walked toward Gavin and me. She was panting slightly, but she had a huge smile on her face. I could tell she had been dancing, but was she dancing with Charlie? Could she be interested in Charlie as well? I shook the thought out. Lisa knew I like him, she’d have said something if she liked him too. As though she could read my mind, Lisa looked at me and shook her head slightly, signalling with her eyes to Charlie. She linked her arm with Gavin’s and tugged on his sleeve. “Come on, you have to introduce me to that hot guy over there,” she said, nodding to a messy-haired guy in the corner. Gavin rolled his eyes.
“I’m talking to Irene, can’t you go by yourself? Since when are you so shy?” Lisa scowled at her brother. “I just thought he’d be nicer if he knew I was your sister, and you can talk to Irene later. Charlie’s here, she won’t be alone. Oh, come on, Gavin, please?” She gave him the puppy eyes. Gavin heaved a sigh.
“Fine.” He turned to me and smiled apologetically before Lisa dragged him away, leaving me with Charlie alone. My hand immediately flew up to my blouse, smoothing out the creases that had formed while I was dancing. He watched the siblings walked away in amusement before he turned to me. My heart rate picked up some speed as he leaned forward to speak. “Having fun?” he inquired.
“Uh-huh. Do you seniors party like this all the time?” I was relieved to hear my voice coming out so steady. He shook his head and poured himself a glass of Honeypunch.
“Just on special occasions, like Christmas, Halloween, the beginning of new term, and the last day of exams. Sometimes there are smaller parties on weekends, but not much. How’s your first week in SFU?” he asked. I shrugged.
“It’s okay. We haven’t had too much homework, and the lessons aren’t bad.” Except PE. But of course I wasn’t going to tell him that. We were silent as I tried to find something to talk about. “So, how are your brothers? How’s Percy’s job?” He cocked an eyebrow.
“You know about his job?” I nodded.
“We met at the Quidditch World Cup last summer and he told me about it. Actually, he sort of gave me a lecture about it.” Charlie laughed out loud. I grinned, pleased that I made him laugh and relieved that I hadn’t bored him to tears.
“Tell me about it. He was a real pain when I was home last summer,” he replied, shaking his head. “Never talk to Perce about his job, unless you want a long monologue about cauldron’s bottom.” I giggled. Percy and I weren’t close, but Penelope Clearwater, his ex-girlfriend, was one of my close friends in Hogwarts. When they were dating, sometimes we hung out together, so I knew Percy was a bit on the boring side. He was slightly worse when we last met, though. He had a superior air and he seemed to think he was much better than me. He didn’t say it, of course, he implied it. Something along the line of: “While you’re cramming for exams and relying on your parent’s money, I’m earning Galleons every day in one of the Ministry’s top departments.” He was the only Weasley I didn’t like.
The conversation flowed much more easily after that. He gave me some tips about handling the baby dragon and the good food in cafeteria. I told him about Hogwarts after he left and how his Quidditch team suffered after he left. Sometimes, out of nervousness, I talked really fast. Ella, my best friend, said I speak in run-on sentences when I’m nervous. We still had those awkward moments when we had nothing to say and he seemed to be holding back. I still had a great time though, and I was glad I didn’t have to dance again. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a dance with Charlie, but my heel continued to wobble every time I moved. A broken heel was the last thing I needed right now.
Gavin and Lisa returned after about thirty minutes, quarrelling over something. They instantly stopped when they saw us and Lisa stepped over to my side. “I think we should go back. It’s getting late.” I glanced at the pink watch around my wrist and was surprised to see that it was already half past ten. We had been there for almost two hours.
“Yeah, I think we should.” I turned to Charlie and Gavin. “Thanks for inviting us. See you around.” After they said goodbye too, I gave a small wave and turned around to leave with Lisa. Suddenly my name was called, and then Gavin stepped in front of us.
“I, er, I was wondering if you’d like to go out with me next weekend,” he said, his face a bit flushed. I gaped at him. I had expected it from the way he acted around me, but I thought he wouldn’t ask me now. I was painfully aware that Charlie was still within earshot and no doubt he was watching. Gavin was his friend after all.
“Go out? As in, a date?” I asked, wanting to make sure my ears didn’t deceive me.
“Well, yes,” he answered, an awkward smile forming on his face.
“I…I, well…” I stuttered out, looking at Lisa for help. She merely shrugged, which was no help at all. I looked back at Gavin, his anxiety apparent on his face. Why would he, a popular senior, be anxious about asking me, a freshman, out? It was very flattering, but I couldn’t accept him simply because I was flattered. What would Charlie think if I went out with Gavin? My chance with him would disappear at once. However, I didn’t have the heart to say no to Gavin. He had been nothing but sweet to me. But why does he like me? A negative notion jumped immediately into my mind. Maybe because I’m a Connelly. In Hogwarts, nobody really paid attention to my surname since I didn’t flaunt it and nobody thought my dad was some kind of an idol. Here, who knows?
“So, what do you say?” he asked tentatively. I opened my mouth and closed it again, smiling uneasily.
“Sure, why not?”
What was I getting myself into?
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