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Caught, Once Again, By a Hot Boy, While Curled Up in a Ball, Eating My Hair by isabellapotter
Chapter 12 : Horomones and Libidos . . . And Slimy Slytherin Prefects
 
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Chapter 12: Horomones and Libidos . . . And Slimy Slytherin Prefects






*****





I stumbled to the Gryffindor Common Room the next morning. I’d overslept and missed breakfast, so not only did I look and feel like the walking dead, but my stomach was doing a rather convincing impression of a snarling grizzly bear.

Hermione was waiting outside the portrait hole. “Good morning!” she greeted me brightly.

I grunted something like “Gumph murgh” in reply, rubbing sleep from my bleary eyes.

She looked me over, taking in the messy, unbrushed hair cascading unchecked down my back, the school robe thrown haphazardly over the polka-dotted pajama bottoms, and the unbuckled shoes yanked on over my bare feet.

Grabbing my arm, she herded me down the hallway, pulling me through a door at the end of the corridor. “Sit,” she instructed, shoving me down in a straight-backed wooden chair in the middle of the deserted classroom. She tossed a bulging canvas book bag into the chair next to me and waved her wand. A steaming mug appeared on the desk in front of me. “Here,” she said, shoving the cup under my nose.

The smell perked me up almost instantly. It had been nearly a week since I’d had coffee, and clearly, I was starting to suffer from withdrawals. I swallowed a massive burning gulp, coughing as the scorching liquid scalded my throat.

Hermione winced apologetically. “Sorry. I take mine extra hot.”

I shook my head. “No, thank you,” I sputtered, once the feeling in my taste buds returned and I could speak again. “It’s wonderful.”

She fixed me with an amused look. “You’re not exactly a morning person, are you?”

I quirked an eyebrow at her. “Did the pajamas tip you off?” She laughed. “Not in the slightest,” I admitted ruefully, unsuccessfully attempting to stifle a gigantic yawn.

She busied herself yanking large, dusty tomes out of the bag she’d brought and stacking them up in front of me.

“Here,” she said, plopping them down one by one. “Hekeziah Brantly’s Harnessing Your Powers For Happy Hexing, Valerian Laddislas Finch’s A Wizard’s Guide to Simple Spellcasting, and How To Stop Accidentally Cursing Your Toes Off Because You Don’t Know Which Side of the Wand Is Up, by Ulric von Uppenheimer. Not that the last one is really all that applicable here,” she hastened to reassure me. “I’m sure you’re nowhere near that bad, but it might have a helpful tip or two, since you‘re just starting out.”

“Don’t worry,” I replied, cautiously taking another sip of the coffee. “I’m not offended. As far as I know I still have all my toes, but really, to be honest, it’s a minor miracle. If I‘d been attempting a Dicing Charm instead of Aguamenti, who knows what could have happened.”

“Let’s not think about that any more, thank you!” she shuddered, cracking open  A Wizard’s Guide to Simple Spellcasting and scanning the table of contents with a furrowed brow. She flipped to a page and skimmed it quickly.

“Right, Dublin, apparently the first thing you want to remember when casting a spell is to clear your mind,” she said with a dismissive sniff. “Well, honestly, I could have told you that.”

She read a bit more, then spoke again. “‘One of the main facets of spellwork that untrained wizards struggle with is attaining the level of focus required to keep the spell in line,’” she quoted, tracing the lines with her finger. “’Their magic tends to burst from them in unpredictable ways, because they haven’t formed the framework for the spell properly in their mind.’”

I nodded, feeling a bit more alert after slurping down some more coffee. “Right. I went over this with my parents a little, when they taught me. I suppose it’s a bit harder in practice than in theory.”

She frowned pensively. “Why don’t you grab one of these,” she suggested, waving her quill at the stack of books in front of me, “and see if you can find anything that might be useful? I’ll read through this one a bit more.”

“Right,” I agreed, pulling Ulric von Uppenheimer’s book from the stack. I brushed the grime off the cover with the back of my hand, revealing a picture of a pudgy, balding wizard. He was smiling unctuously, revealing a massive gap in his teeth, and brandishing his wand theatrically. Ulric, I supposed. He didn’t exactly inspire much confidence in me.

“All right, Mr. von Uppenheimer,” I muttered skeptically, opening the book to the first page. “Let’s see what earth-shattering insight you have to share.”

Do you struggle with simple spellwork? The introduction questioned in swirly bold script. Do your friends and relatives mock your catastrophic attempts at commonplace charms? Do you despair of ever being able to master humdrum hexes?

Um, unfortunately, yes. Thanks for rubbing it in.

Fear not! the text continued. Simply follow Ulric’s foolproof fifteen-step program, and you’ll be spell-savvy sorcerer in next to no time at all!

Ah, if only.

I flipped to the next page. A few lines of nearly microscopic text had been printed at the very bottom. I squinted to make them out.

It read, as clearly as I could decipher, WARNING! These steps are not meant for use by Squibs, underage or unauthorized witches or wizards, or anyone who has been deemed a threat to society by the Ministry of Magic because of abysmally poor or dangerous spellcasting and had their wand privileges revoked. Please do not attempt this program if you fall into any of the above categories, or if you have previously displayed a penchant for accidentally performing magic that may cause death, injury, hysteria, madness, or harm of any kind to yourself or to others.

Dear lord, they could revoke your wand for bad spellwork? I instinctively patted my back pocket, where mine was safely stored. You’d better get this sorted out quick, Dublin, a voice in my head cautioned me, or you'll end up the worthless waste of a witch who had her wand taken away so she couldn't cause any more damage.

I skimmed the table of contents. Some of the steps were pretty standard: procuring a wand, mastering the grip, perfecting your aim. It cheered me up a little to think that some people actually needed help with this stuff. At least I wasn’t that pathetic.

Well, I was pretty sure I wasn’t that pathetic.

As the list progressed, however, the tips got more and more outlandish. Ulric advocated, among other things, casting spells while standing on your head to facilitate better blood flow to the brain, chanting the mantra “Feel the spell. Be the spell. Cast the spell!” before attempting any sort of charm, and applying a special poultice of pulverized fennel and dried newt scales to your wand arm three times a day.

I didn’t fancy any of those options, to be honest. I’ve never been able to stand on my head unless I balance myself against a wall, and there’s not likely to be one of those handy every time I’ve got to cast a spell, I don’t think. Just imagine telling a Death Eater, “Oh, I’m sorry, could you wait to attempt to maim, torture, and/or kill me whilst I prop myself up against this wall over here so I can mount some sort of a proper defense?” Not likely to happen. Chanting any sort of mantra would, I was sure, make me feel incredibly silly. And even if I could somehow obtain the proper ingredients for the recommended poultice, I wasn’t too keen on plastering fennel and newt scales on my body three times a day. Just the thought of the smell was enough to put me off. Eurgh.

I chucked Ulric aside, ignoring the muffled bang and shout of indignation that issued from the book as it landed in the chair next to me. Hermione looked up as well. She stretched and leaned forward, propping her elbows on the table and rubbing her temples.

“Rubbish. All rubbish. These books are for morons with no common sense at all,” she muttered contemptuously. She glanced at her watch and yelped, leaping up and shoving the books back in her bag. “Oh no! We’ve got to be in Herbology in ten minutes’ time! Dublin, quick, run and get dressed, and meet me back in front of the common room as soon as you can. We can walk to the greenhouse together.” She shooed me from the room. “Hurry!”


*****









Five extremely harried minutes later, I hopped down the hallway back to the Gryffindor Common Room, straightening my skirt with one hand and pulling my shoe on with the other. I skidded to a halt, barely avoiding plowing into Hermione, who was waiting for me outside the portrait hole with Harry and Ron. I propped myself up against the wall with one hand and finally was able to slide my shoe over my heel. I looked up and smiled brightly, my hair falling in my face. “Morning, everyone.”

“Come on, come on,” Hermione urged, tapping her foot impatiently. “We’re going to be late!” She turned on the ball of her foot and sped off down the corridor, her brown curls bouncing behind her.

Ronald shook his head. “Mental,” he mouthed at me, pointing at his girlfriend’s retreating back. He ambled after her, his hands in his pockets. “Oi, Hermione, wait up!”

And then there were two.

I looked over at Harry and smiled nervously. “Er, shall we . . .” I trailed off, indicating hallway to our right down which our friends had disappeared .

“Oh! Right. Yeah,” he replied. “That is, if you’re ready.”

“All set,” I said, stomping my foot securely into my shoe. We started off down the corridor.

We trudged in silence for a few awkward moments. I kept my eyes glued firmly to the floor, which served the dual purpose of keeping Harry out of my sight (I figured I was marginally less likely to blush or stammer or otherwise embarrass myself if he was out of my line of vision. Maybe I‘m deluded, but that was my thought process) and of enabling me to scan my path for impending obstacles or anything with the potential to trip me up. We meandered down the hallway, around several corners, and down three flights of stairs in this way. Finally, I plucked up the courage to raise my eyes from the floor.

Hey, one small step at a time, right? It may seem like a miniscule victory to anyone with any sort of aptitude for social interaction at all, but to me, it was a victory nonetheless.

I glanced over at Harry. He was looking back at me. I felt my cheeks begin to burn; I stared straight forward, focusing intently on putting one foot in front of the other, but I couldn‘t help sneaking a sidelong glance at Harry every few steps. He cleared his throat, opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it as if he’d though better of it. He shoved his hands in his pockets and shook his head. His unkempt black hair flopped over his face. The only sounds were the chattering of the other children in the hallway and the muted clicking noises our shoes made as they slapped against the hard stone floor.

Come on Dublin,
the rational part of my brain urged. Say something, for God’s sake. This can’t go on.

Don’t want to, my illogical half retorted sullenly. And you can’t make me.

Oh, for the love of Merlin, stop acting like a three-year-old! I practically screamed at myself. Open your godforsaken mouth. At this point, it really doesn’t matter what you say, nothing can possibly make him think you’re more of a nutter than he does already. Just say SOMETHING!

Thankfully, I was saved the trouble. He spoke first. “So, er, how did your lesson with Hermione go this morning?”

I inhaled and searched my brain for something appropriate to say. I’d been desperate to initiate some sort of conversation, but I hadn’t really considered how much of an effort it would be to sustain it.

“Er . . .”

Come on, Dublin. Why is it that you can carry out a respectable conversation with people like Abbey and Matt and Kevin and such, but whenever you get within 500 feet of Harry Potter, you turn into a gibbering lunatic?

I supposed it had something to do with hormones, or summat like that. Really, that was the only explanation I could come up with. I’d had little to no contact with boys for the first seventeen years of my life. All those normal chemical processes must have been repressed for ages, and now that they were finally being stimulated, they were going crazy.

Well, I was just going to have to do my best to soldier on in spite of the irrepressible chemical signals rampaging through my body.

“Er . . . My lesson. With Hermione. Right. Er, it was . . . It was good, I suppose. We did some reading and . . . Well, we ruled out a couple of things, I guess you could say. I believe I can safely assert that a lack of blood flow to my brain is not my problem. So no headstands for me.”

Oh dear lord. Did I honestly say that?

Headstands?

Really?

There was no winning against the hormones. They were unbeatable. I wanted to curl up in a ball, stick a strand of hair in my mouth, and hide in a dark corner until, oh, say, eternity.

But I suppose that wasn’t exactly anything new.

“Headstands?” Harry repeated slowly, a curious look on his face.

I grimaced. “I’m afraid so. Er, you probably don’t want to know.”

Stupid, stupid Dublin. I mentally whacked myself in the head. That’s what I got, wishing for conversation. I should’ve known I wasn’t capable of articulating anything remotely resembling intelligent speech.

Harry shrugged, reaching one hand up to run it through his hair. It made his thick black strands stick up in odd angles, giving him a messy, untidy sort of look. I gulped and forced my gaze back to the floor. I counted the floor tiles as I walked, doing my best to force all extraneous thoughts from my mind. Unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely successful. The monologue in my head went something like this:

One, two, three . . . Stop thinking about Harry!

Four, five six, seven . . . Especially how good his hair looks sticking up like that.

Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve . . . Headstands? Seriously? What is wrong with me?

Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen . . . Oh, God, he’s barely a foot away from me. He smells so good . . . Focus, Dublin, focus! Fif- . . . No, wait, six- . . . Or is it seven- . . . Oh, bollocks, it’s useless.

Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. That’s what I am.

I gritted my teeth. Right, Dublin, you are going to say something to him that you can look back on without cringing. You are a clever, engaging girl with plenty to talk about. So for once in your bloody life, act like it!

I pried my eyes reluctantly from the floor, looked up at Harry, and smiled in what I hoped was a charming, attractive, and un-desperate-looking manner. “So, er, when would you like to meet? If you‘re still up for helping me, that is. I‘m afraid that even with Hermione‘s help, I‘m as hopeless now as I was yesterday.”

There. Nothing earth-shattering or even all that interesting in the way of conversation, but nothing that made me want to sew my lips shut either. Absolutely no references to gymnastics, furniture, or other irrelevant or potentially embarrassing topics. I was practically over the moon, I was so ecstatic.

“Er, tomorrow after lunch?” Harry offered. “We’ve got another free period.” He busied himself fiddling with a clasp on his school bag. “And, er, I’m sure you’re not hopeless.”

I begged - most ardently - to differ. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell him that. I settled for a quick smile and a muttered “Thanks.”

We clattered down the steps out of the entrance hall and on to the grounds. Harry pointed off to the left. “The greenhouses are this way.”


*****








We scuttled in the door to Greenhouse 3 just as the teacher, a short, frumpy woman with smudges of dirt all about her person, was calling the class to order. I dropped my bag on the floor and hurriedly claimed a stool at the nearest table. All the seats were filled, save for the one I sunk on to and the one that Harry sat on, right across from me. Ron and Hermione, of course, took up two of the spots; two other boys I didn’t know filled the remaining two chairs.

“You’re late,” Hermione hissed, leaning across the table to reprimand Harry with a stern look in her eyes. “You’re Head Boy, you’re supposed to set a good example-”

“Sorry, Hermione,” Harry interrupted, heading off what promised to be a long, scathing diatribe. “And besides, we’re not really late, Professor Sprout hasn’t even started class yet.”

“That’s no excuse,” Hermione rejoined, narrowing her eyes at him. But at that moment, Professor Sprout called for our attention and she grudgingly swiveled to face the front of the room.

“All right, seventh years!” she chirped curtly. She clapped her hands once more to ensure that she had all the students’ attention, and a small shower of dirt rained down from her palms. She frowned and wiped her hands on the front of her robes, leaving two long parallel brown streaks of dust down her front.

“I’ve got a bit of a treat for you today,” she beamed, addressing the class once again. “The Vivisecting Violets are blooming! Who can tell me what that means?”

Ooh, I knew that one. My hand floated up into the air almost instinctively. When I caught a glimpse of Hermione beside me, practically writhing in an excess of nervous energy, her hand waving like a flag a foot above her head, I quickly pulled it down. Stupid, stupid Dublin. I couldn’t even carry out a normal conversation; what was I thinking, volunteering myself to speak in front of the entire class?

Professor Sprout glanced in our direction. She smiled at the sight of Hermione’s manic signaling, and nodded at me.

Oh, bollocks, she picked me. What was I thinking, raising my hand? Why on Earth would I do such a thing? WHY?

I gulped and felt my eyes widen. “Er, I, er, never mind . . . Um, I think Hermione would really rather answer,” I stammered, gesturing to the girl next to me. Her hand was still dancing frantically in the air.

Professor Sprout frowned. “Do you know the answer, Miss Farrell?” she queried, placing her hand on her hips.

I nodded sheepishly.

“Well, then, please, enlighten us. Miss Granger has had plenty of opportunities to share her thoughts in her long career at Hogwarts. I would like to hear what you can tell us.”

Stupid. Ever so stupid. That’s what I am. I felt like thwacking my head against the table. Repeatedly.

Well, there was really nothing left to do. I took a deep breath and opened my wretched mouth. “Vivisecting Violets are incredibly temperamental plants with a violent aversion to anything new or different. That includes changes in their own physiology. Once they start blooming, and their buds begin to open, they become agitated and begin to attack themselves with the sharp barbs on the ends of their shoots. The buds must be removed before they literally shred their leaves to bits of their own volition.”

I said it all very quickly, in one massive stream of words. When I was done, I felt like I was going to pass out. I inhaled with a mighty whoosh of air.

Madame Sprout blinked. “Well done, Miss Farrell. Well done indeed.”

I smiled weakly, still fighting oxygen deprivation and doing my damnedest not to fall off my stool.

“Right, class, it’s just as Miss Farrell has said. The Vivisecting Violets are in full bloom and we really can‘t wait another minute to prune them. Watch out for the barbs - they're rather vicious when they‘re touched. No gloves, though - they absolutely won‘t tolerate them, so you‘re just going to have to do your best not to get stuck. Right then. Every table take a Violet. We‘ll talk a bit about their properties and then we can get started!” She proposed the last bit with a beaming smile and the air of someone who has conferred a great blessing upon her audience.

I wasn’t too sure. Spending the rest of the hour pruning sharp, vicious plants that would concede to being snipped only after they had tried and failed to shred our bare hands to bits?

Oh, yeah. That’s how I love to spend my afternoons.

A timid-looking Hufflepuff girl raised a trembling hand. “Er, Madame Sprout? Isn’t that a bit . . . well . . . a bit . . . er . . . dangerous?”

The professor shook her head dismissively. “Not in the slightest, dear, not in the slightest, as long as you take the proper precautions. Be exceedingly cautious, of course, and for the girls, it might be wise to tie your hair up. They like to tangle their barbs in it, if they can, and once they‘re in there, it can be rather difficult to get them out.”

She surveyed the shocked-looking class. “Oh, come on, now! Why the long faces? Come on up here, now, and grab a Violet!”

Hermione, looking resigned, pushed her stool away from the table and rose to grab a plant.

“Be careful,” I warned her. “Why do I feel like you might not come back alive?”

She grimaced. “This is shaping up to be a marvelous afternoon, isn’t it?”


*****








I made my way to lunch with Ron, Hermione, and Harry after Herbology nursing abused fingers but otherwise none the worse for wear after my first lesson in the menacing Greenhouse Three.

I walked slowly, working a long, hooked barb from a particularly vicious Vivisecting Violet out of the tender skin of my palm as we wended our way to the Great Hall. 

"Bloody nuisance," I groused, wincing as the hook caught and a sharp pain stabbed through my hand. "What are those blasted violets good for, anyway? I mean, besides stabbing innocent girls who are just trying to prune them a bit . . ."

"They're marvelously useful in fever-fighting potions," Hermione informed me. "And their leaves can be formed into a poultice that has been proved to be an effective boost to the male wizard's . . . er . . . libido."

"She knows, Hermione," Ronald interjected, rolling his eyes. "We all do.  We did just sit through the same dodgy, awkward lecture on the properties of the Vivisecting Violet as you did, you know."

Hermioine smiled mischievously. "I know. But I thought Dublin seemed a little . . . distracted." She shot me a playful glance loaded with all kinds of secret meaning, and purposefully coughed in Harry's direction.

Being the bumbling, bungling, blundering dunderhead that I am, I stumbled in response to her words. I had to latch on to the back of her robes to keep myself from sprawling face-first on the cold stone corridor.

I revert back to clumsiness when I'm agitated. It's sort of like a nervous habit. Except it doesn't happen only when I'm nervous. It's just accentuated.

Luckily, the boys were, well . . . boys, and, as such, denser than two walking slabs of three-year-old fruitcake. Ron frowned, looking confused, and Harry shrugged nonchalantly. "Like anyone pays attention to Professor Sprout's lectures but Neville. And you, of course."

I exhaled and shot a glare in Hermione's direction that was guaranteed to peel paint. OK, I'll admit it. My mind may have wandered ever so slightly a few times during the course of the lesson away from Professor Sprout's scintillating lecture on the . . . er . . . titillating capabilities of the Vivisecting Violets.

Herbology's never been my best subject, and, well, with Harry right across from me . . .

Let's just say I got a little distracted.

But there was no reason for Hermione to bring it up. Absolutely none. And therefore I was determined to glare at her until either she apologized or her eyebrows caught fire.

Whichever came first. I wasn't all that picky.

Luckily, I didn't have to wait long. She slowed her pace a bit to let the boys gain a few steps on us and leaned in close to me.

"OK, OK, I won't mention it again!" she whispered urgently. "Just quit looking at me like that!"

I intensified the glare for a moment, just as a bit of a warning. "Promise?"

She shuddered. "Yes, yes, whatever you want."

I relaxed my facial muscles and turned the glare into a haughty smile.

"But I still think you should . . ."

She trailed off as I fixed her with The Look once again.

"Fine, fine! I won't say anything about you and Harry again! My god, where did you learn that? That face . . . I'm sure you could get the Dark Lord himself to . . . to hug a Muggle with that look!"

I nodded solemnly. "It is a powerful weapon indeed," I intoned gravely, "and a great responsibility, a thing to be treated with infinite respect and caution. I use it only when faced with the most dire of circumstances. To do otherwise would be seriously unwise. If you are lucky, you will never see it again in your long life, young grasshopper."

Hermione blinked at me, presumeably trying to decide if I was stark raving mad or just kidding. Apparently she determined it was the latter, because she covered her mouth with one hand and began to giggle. My stern visage began to crack, then to crumble. Soon, we were bent nearly double, clutching each other for support, having what, I'm sure, appeared to be joint nervous breakdowns in the middle of the hallway. I was laughing so hard that sound escaped in sporadic bursts and gulps; Hermione was wheezing, tears streaming down her face.

A pair of frightened-looking first-years edged around us, shooting cautious glances in our direction. "Blimey," I heard one of them whisper, "I know they say seventh year is rough, but that's just scary." His companion nodded fervently, and they scampered away, shooting timid looks over their shoulders as they hustled down the hallway.

The boys, oblivious as usual for the greater part of our conversation, finally realized that we weren't keeping pace. They doubled back to find us nearly curled up in a single ball on the floor, laughing hysterically.

I think I even snorted once or twice. There's nothing like a good, solid snort to impress a guy, right?

They exchanged confused, helpless glances, and stared at us silently for a few moments.

"Er . . . I dunno what's going on with you two, but if we don't get a move on, we'll never get any of the good stuff for lunch," Ron finally ventured.

Typical teenage boys will do anything to avoid the risk of cold potatoes. I'm sure Ron figured that we'd have the same inclination to avoid tardiness to lunch as he and Harry did.

Er, not quite. Entice most girls with the promise of a nasty public breakup or the launch of a new beauty product and they'll pretty much abandon all other considerations and hasten to the scene. But . . . lunch? Not such a big motivator for those of the female persuasion. His attempt just made us laugh harder.

Having exhausted his ace in the hole without instigating perceptible improvement - having, indeed, apparently worsened the situation by adding to our mirth - Ronald threw up his arms and stomped away.

"Girls!" I heard him muttering disgruntledly under his breath. "Always on about something . . . Mental. Absolutely mental."

Harry shot us one last bewildered look and set off after Ron.


*****








We joined the boys about ten minutes later in the Great Hall, once we'd, er, gathered ourselves. We slid onto the long wooden bench opposite Ron and Harry, hiding sheepish smiles.

"Right! I'm starving," Hermione said brightly, loading her plate with food.

Ron looked at her incredulously. "That's it then? You're not going to tell us what that was all about?"

Hermione looked at me. I raised an eyebrow and narrowed one eye at her as a reminder. She stifled a giggle. "Er, no, I don't suppose we are."

Ron shook his head. "Mental."

I copied Hermione and loaded my own plate. I chewed in blissful silence, pausing only occasionally to share a conspiratorial look with Hermione. After a few minutes, however, my peaceful reverie was interrupted by a haughty cough in my right ear.

I whirled around, my mouth bulging with asparagus, to face the mysterious lurker who either had a rather spastic thoracic cavity or a yearning for my attention.

Giving the rather authoritative sound of the cough, I suspected the latter.

A tall, lanky boy dressed in Slytherin robes was standing behind me, his arms crossed stiffly over his middle. A prefect badge gleamed on his chest. His eyes were hard and piercing, in a rather unsettling way that set me immediately on guard. His hair, such a pale blonde as to be nearly white, was slicked back away from his face, making the effect of his eyes even more disconcerting. He was looking at me with a rather disdainful, autocratic smirk between his pinched cheeks. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ron and Harry visibly bristle. I swallowed my asparagus in one massive, painful gulp, hacked and sputtered briefly, and, once my windpipe was unencumbered, raised an eyebrow at the boy.

"Farrell?" he queried, managing to sound cavalier and imperious at the same time.

I nodded rigidly, resisting the urge to massage my injured throat.

His smirk grew even wider. "I assumed as much. Who else but a home-schooled country halfblood would have the bad sense to fall in with this disgraceful lot? Scarhead, Weasel King, and the Mudblood? Honestly."

Ron and Harry looked to be on the verge of leaping across the table and grabbing for his throat. I was repressing the compulsion to pound my fist right through that annoying sneer myself. Or, at least, to flick him in the nose. Being, usually, a pacifist by nature, and consequently having never before participated in a physical altercation, I wasn't all that confident in my punching abilities.

I was nearly willing to test them out, though.

Hermione set about soothing Ron, whispering to him urgently from across the table. The mottled, red blush that pervaded his face began to gradually subside. For my part, I flashed a warning glance at Harry. He nodded almost imperceptibly and settled for fixing Malfoy with a menacing glare that nearly rivaled my own.

"What do you want, Malfoy?" Hermione finally asked in a scathing tone of voice.

He brought his hands up to shield his face and cowered in mock horror.

"Oh, no! Somebody help me! The Wookie's* testy." He lowered his hands and resumed smirking. "Did someone forget to feed it?"

At that, Ron stood up and heaved himself at Malfoy, his face a mask of unadulterated rage. Luckily Harry, who apparently was possessed of a heretofore unsuspected foresight, had had the presence of mind to restrain his friend.

"Settle down, Weaselby," Malfoy upbraided Ron, his cold green eyes dancing with glee. "Manners, remember? Or did you not learn anything like that in your . . . well, I hesitate to call it a household, but . . ."

"Oh, come on, Harry," Ron burst out, struggling against his grip. "Just one good shot at him . . ."

Malfoy shuddered. "I'm shaking in my boots," he simpered. "Well, then, as fun as this has been, I think I'll get to the point, because the Weasel King over there is starting to make me fear for my life."

He paused, turned his eyes skyward, and stroked his chin as if contemplating something.

"Actually, no, really, I think it's just because I have infinitely more important things to do than stand around sparring with a gaggle of useless Gryffindors."

"Whatever your motivation, I'm sure we'd all be exceedingly grateful if you just got on with it," I shot out through clenched teeth.

Malfoy shrugged. "Fine then. It is my unfortunate duty as Slytherin prefect to have to cater to the every daft, contemptible whim of the antiquated old geezer who, lamentably, retains headmastership of this institution. He apparently thinks you, Miss Farrell, would benefit somehow from my tutelage. Meet me in the empty classroom across from the statue of Bartleby at two on Friday. Don't be late."

With a final parting leer, he swept away, back to the table at the other end of the hall.

I huffed and turned back to my lunch. I had suddenly lost my appetite.

"Well, that lesson should be just chock full of sunshine and smiles," I muttered. "I take it he's usually that unpleasant? Or was he extra abhorrent for my benefit? Because he really shouldn't have expended the extra effort. I'd have disliked him just on principle."

Hermione looked thoughtful. "I suppose that was a tad worse than usual," she decided, "but generally, that's his normal disposition."

Ron was still practically foaming at the mouth.

"Don't worry, Ronald," Hermione consoled him, shooting him a placating smile. "I'm used to it."

"He's vermin," Ron growled, pounding his fist on the table. Harry had released him only when Malfoy was safely ensconced in his seat at the other end of the hall, surrounded by Slytherin cronies. "He's worse than vermin, he's . . . he's . . . he's lower than a flobberworm. A vicious, sneaky, slimy little flobberworm."

"Be that as it may, I suppose I'm going to have to try to get along with him," I said grudgingly. Nearly every cell in my brain was screaming at me not to make a single concession to this thoroughly unpleasant prefect, but, for once in my life, whatever rational faculties I possess won out. "I am going to have to work with him once a week for a while."

Harry's face darkened. "I'm worried about that. No doubt Malfoy will use your lessons as a chance to cause trouble, just because you're friends with us."

Harry Potter called me his friend. Sweet Merlin, he called me his friend!! I did a little happy dance inside my head.

After a few glorious moments, I pulled myself away from the party in my brain and back to reality.

"Don't worry," I comforted Harry, throwing him what I hoped appeared to be a reassuring smile. "I can take care of myself."

I hoped.

We all lapsed into agitated silence for a few moments. Then, remembering something, I spoke up. "Who's Bartleby?"

The trio exchanged glances. "That's, er, Salazar Slytherin's pet Cockatrice," Harry informed me. "The statue's over by the Slytherin common room. I can take you there when it's time for your lesson."

Why was I not surprised that Salazar Slytherin had a pet Cockatrice? I mean, who wouldn't want a pet with the power to kill with only its gaze?

Cuddly.

We finished up our lunch and I compared my schedule with the trio once again. As luck would have it, we were all off to double Defense Against the Dark Arts next.

"Great," Ronald mumbled. "Yet another chance for Snape to humiliate us at every turn."

"Snape?" I asked. I was pretty sure I hadn't met him yet, whoever he was.

"Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher," Ron informed me. "And Harry's sworn enemy. He's a right foul git, he is. Pure evil."

"Oh, come on, Ronald," Hermione berated him. "He's a bit . . ." She trailed off, presumeably searching for a suitable adjective.

"Evil," Harry prompted her. "The word you're looking for is evil. Or perhaps greasy. Either one would do, really."

She shot him a look. "Difficult to get on with," she emphasized. "He can be a bit difficult to get on with, occasionally, but Dumbledore trusts him, so we should, too."

Harry and Ron snorted jointly.

"Oh, and did I mention he's the head of Slytherin?" Hermione added.

That did it for me. Anyone responsible for Malfoy was immediately in my bad graces.

"And he hates Gryffindors," Ron chimed in.

Hermione sighed.

"What, Hermione? You can't deny that," Ron argued.

She shook her head mutely. "Just make up your mind for yourself, Dublin. Come on, we'll be late for class if we don't get a move on."


*****

Footnotes:

* Yes, apparently Malfoy, despite the outward show of blatant contempt that he puts on with regards to anything having to do with the Muggle world, is a closet George Lucas fan.

Well, he has to have at least one redeeming characteristic, doesn't he? :)


*****

A/N: I'm beginning to suspect, thanks to all the reassurance and questions about my schoolwork and when I planned to update that I got in reviews that some of you guys were worried I might actually make good on my threat and jump off a building after killing my GPA to get that last chapter out. Well, good news (or bad news, depending on who you are and what you think of me): I've still got both feet firmly planted on the ground. And my GPA made it out of the situation in one piece. Hallelujah. It's a miracle :)

Also, I'm teriibly sorry for the long wait. I had the best intentions (I always do), but then, well . . . life happened :) I had knee surgery to fix a soccer injury and spent about two week lying on my couch, spaced out on Vicodin (believe me, it's not as fun as it may sound. The Vicodin, I mean. Clearly not the knee surgery. That's rather obviously not fun. Although I did have two really cute doctors . . . Still, I wouldn't recommend it, if you can avoid it).

So, between Christmas, going under the knife, a rather extended period of narcotics-induced loopyness as I got used to the Vicodin, and final exams, I got a little . . . distracted. But hopefully, I'm back on track now. The only holiday coming up is Valentines Day, which I steadfastly refuse to celebrate, due to the unfair and morale-damaging stigma that it forces upon those of us who happen to be romantically unattached at the moment (I'm not bitter, I swear); I have absolutely no plans to blow out my ACL and my meniscus again any time soon; the Vicodin bottle's almost empty; and I shouldn't have such a horrible onslaught of horrifically weighty tests for another nine weeks.

Life is good :) And I'm not just saying that because I'm medicated out of my mind.

So! Point, point, I swear I had a point . . .  Aha! Hopefully the next chapter will take a bit less time to produce than this one. Fingers crossed. And toes :)

Thanks to everybody who's still sticking with me. You're amazing.

-Isabella


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