Chapter 15 : Literary Lasciviousness and Midnight Meanderings
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Drugs. Alcohol. Shopping. Ice cream. Meaningless shags with random strangers.
I suppose all that’s well and good for others, but none of it really appeals to me. Drugs? They’ve never been my preferred method of brain cell massacre. Alcohol’s all right, I suppose, but, as I discovered when my cousin and I snuck a bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey out from behind the bar at my Auntie Clara’s wedding a few years ago, I’m rather a happy drunk -- a bit too happy for my own good, actually. I got the feeling that stumbling blissfully down the hallways belting out “A Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love” at the top of my lungs would go over about as well with my classmates as it did with the bridal party. I’ve never been much for shopping; ice cream is something I’d much rather associate with the cheerful times in my life; and I’ve so little experience with the opposite sex that the thought of shagging anyone fills me with a terror comparable to that evoked by Death Eaters and the Grim in more reasonable witches and wizards.
No, none of that’s for me. My drug of choice? Books. I suppose running’s usually an option as well, but my muscles were still smarting from my stint in the hills, so I slipped quietly into the library the day after my disastrous lesson with Harry. I spotted Hermione at a small table in the back, surrounded by a fortress of books approximately ten volumes deep, and a group of Ravenclaws all bent over rolls of parchment, scribbling furiously; otherwise, the room was deserted. I let out a small sigh of relief and made a beeline for a secluded shelf. I yanked the thickest, dustiest volume within reach from its perch on the shelf, nearly trembling with anticipation.
I needed a fix. I needed one bad.
I smiled with pleasure at the feel of the book in my hands, reveling in the heft of it. Its weight seemed to ground me, and for the first time in the nearly 24 hours since I had stumbled back from my trek around the lake, I felt my head begin to clear. After glancing around to make sure no one had snuck up behind me, I raised the treasured volume to my face and inhaled deeply. Particles of dust danced inside my nose; I sneezed happily, and lowered my face to the pages of the massive beast of a thing for another whiff of its comforting scent, the unique aroma all old books seem to share.
“Is this not a good time?”
I whirled around, guiltily shoving the book behind my back.
Kevin ambled down the row toward me, hands thrust deep in his pockets, the corners of his mouth dancing mischievously. “I can leave the two of you alone and let you enjoy a proper snog, if you like.”
I hastily shoved the old book back on the shelf. “Not necessary, but thanks for the offer. Er … what brings you here?”
He quirked an eyebrow at me, and pointed to the badge on his robes. “Ravenclaw. We live here. Don’t tell anyone, but we don’t actually have a dormitory. We don’t need one; we prefer to live in our natural habitat amongst the books.”
I snorted. “Right. Nothing like curling up with a nice copy of Charm Your Own Cheese on those cold, lonely winter nights.”
He frowned. “Don’t mock. That‘s as close to cuddling as a large portion of my socially stunted but oh-so intellectually advanced housemates will get inside the walls of this castle. Our most meaningful relationships are with books.” He paused and furrowed his brow. “Actually, our only meaningful relationships are with books.”
I crossed my arms and pouted a bit. “What are you saying, Kevin? That what we have means nothing to you?”
He flashed me a dazzling smile. “What can I say, love. You just can’t satisfy me quite like Lumbert Digberry.”
When I raised my eyebrows he said, “Lumbert Digberry? No? He wrote 10,000 Uses For Fennylwort That Your Potions Professor Never Taught You. Apparently if you plaster it to your elbows and stand stark naked under the new moon, you’ll grow a forest of nose hair unrivaled by the shaggiest niffler in Britain. Whatever would we do without such knowledge? Just thinking about it makes me weak at the knees.” He waggled an accusatory finger at me. “And I don’t believe you’re in any position to judge. Just two minutes ago you were getting up close and personal with …” He paused and yanked the book I’d been sniffing off the shelf next to me. “Rutherford Lipswitch’s Guide to the Predominant Magical Insects of Uzbekistan. Nice choice. The Quidditch manuals are a bit tarty, everyone’s always checking them out; the textbooks all blather on until you’re bored stiff; and all the ‘How-To’s ever do is nag, nag, nag. But Lipswitch here looks like a real winner.”
I huffed embarrassedly. “Were you just desperate for someone to pester, or is there actually a purpose to your visit?”
He handed me the Lipswitch book and leaned back against the dusty shelf. “Actually,” he said, dropping the playful, roguish tone of his voice in favor of a much more serious pitch, “I’ve been looking for you all day. I wanted to make sure you were all right. You know, after yesterday.”
I folded my arms over the book, hugging Rutherford’s monstrosity to my chest. I suspected I was coating the front of my lovely white shirt in dust, but I didn’t care in the slightest. “It was just so …” I faltered, took a breath, and began again. “It was scary,” I admitted. “Sure, Professor Dumbledore set everything to rights, but Merlin‘s beard, Kevin, I lifted the whole bloody castle ten meters in the air! Nobody got hurt, but I’m terrified of what might happen next time.”
He chucked me under the chin. “Chin up, love. If you’ve decided to make a habit of this sort of thing, we’ll just tell all the first years to keep away from the windows. And if we lose one or two of the little buggers, what’s the harm, really? ‘S not like anyone would notice a few less of that mangy lot running around.”
He held up his hands in reaction to the horrified look on my face. “I didn’t mean it. Honestly. Dublin, relax. You will learn to control this, all right? And Dumbledore’s watching out for you. He wouldn’t let anything bad happen. Everything’s going to be all right.”
“You think so?” I whispered.
He gently tugged the bug book out of my grip, placed it back on the shelf, and wrapped a reassuring arm around my shoulders. “I know so. Now come on. Let’s get you out of here before you and Lipswitch do something you’ll regret in the morning.”
Kevin steered me out of the library and down to the Great Hall. The room was buzzing with chatter as he pushed open the giant doors and ushered me in. Kevin led me quickly down the hall in the direction of the Ravenclaw table, but he couldn’t spirit me through fast enough to stop me from overhearing snippets of conversation on our way.
“Yeah, that’s her all right,” a Hufflepuff girl whispered to her dinner companion.
“Her?” He sniffed incredulously. “She’s the one who levitated the castle? I doubt it. I thought she couldn‘t even do magic.”
“No, no, you’ve got it all wrong,” a girl with long blonde hair and protuberant blue eyes interjected serenely in a dreamy sort of voice. She leaned across the gap between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables to address the pair. “It was the Bendymoths, I‘m sure of it. I can’t wait to write to father and tell him, he’ll be so excited, there hasn’t been a sighting in nearly a century!”
“Bendymoths, Luna?” Kevin inquired, sliding into a seat across from the blonde. I sat down next to him. His eyes crinkled, as if he was fighting to keep a smile from his face. “And what exactly are these elusive creatures?”
Luna’s eyes bulged in excitement. “They’re very rare. Lushby Alkiebeber discovered them in 1783. As he was leaving a pub, he was suddenly lifted off his feet and he crashed into a potion-seller’s cart, smashing the whole thing to bits. He told the angry vendor that it felt as if a bevy of fluttering insects had swarmed under his body, propelling him into the cart. Bendymoths are very tricky to catch, because they‘re invisible, and there’s never been a satisfactory explanation for their penchant for lifting things into the air, but daddy’s determined to find one and do some more research. I suspect Hogwarts has a whole swarm!” She stood up, brushed off her skirt, and turned to go. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find some Tortamerinda root. According to Rutherford Lipswitch, it attracts them in droves!”
“Luna Lovegood,” Kevin supplied as she scurried away. “Her father owns The Quibbler. And apparently it’s never occurred to either of them that Lushby Alkiebeber was a clumsy drunk with an active imagination and acute instincts toward self-preservation.” He waggled his eyebrows at me as he heaped meat and potatoes on his plate. “I had no idea that Lipswitch was so well-known. It sounds like you picked quite a bloke.”
“Of course I did,” I countered. “I went for the biggest, most stimulating book in the place. Nothing else could keep my interest.”
He grinned impishly. “It also appeared to be the oldest book in the place. Is there a correlation?”
I chucked a bit of bread at him. It bounced off his nose, and he scowled at me. “This is hardly appropriate dinner conversation,” I scolded him, conveniently forgetting that I was the one who has steered it in this rather improper direction. “Unless you’re my Aunt Estella, I suppose. One supper, she spent three quarters of an hour blathering on in excruciating detail about the mating practices of the Welsh goblins. I still can’t eat pot roast. It brings back bad memories. And I‘ll never look at a goblin the same. You‘d never suspect it, but apparently they‘re quite flexible.”
He shuddered and pushed his half-empty plate away. “Thanks for that. I think I’ve lost my appetite.” Chucking his napkin on the table, he stood up and gathered his things. “I’ve got my own books to get back to anyway. There must be ten of them clamoring for my attention.” He thrust his hands on his hips, puffed out his chest, and deliberately brushed his long hair back out of his eyes. “I hope there’s enough of me to go around.”
I couldn’t help laughing at his ridiculous display. “Go on. Get out of here, you poncy git.”
He bowed extravagantly and began backing away. “As you wish.”
I spent the next day holed up in my room pacing, as Professor Dumbledore had excused me from my magic lessons for the day. In my experience, nothing helps to clear the mind more than a good bit of pacing -- and I had a lot of thinking to do. First I paced left to right. Then I paced top to bottom. I tried north to south, northeast to southwest, diagonally, and in circles. But no matter which way I aimed my feet, I just couldn’t seem to make sense of anything. My mind was a bloody wreck.
I collapsed on my bed with a titchy huff. “Well done, Dublin. Brilliant solution. You’ve spent the better half of a day stomping back and forth across your room, and all you’ve managed to do is wear the soles of your shoes clean through.” I bumped my toe against the bed frame and hissed in pain. “And you’ve given yourself a blister. Fan-bloody-tastic.”
I had no idea what to do with myself. I was scared stiff to try magic again, but a nagging little voice in the back of my head kept insisting that if I simply ignored the problem, it was bound to get worse. Let’s say you bottle it all up, the pesky little know it all admonished me. Fine, that’ll work for a while, but what happens when it gets to be too much to hold? It’s burst out of you before and it’s bound to happen again. And it’ll likely be more powerful, unpredictable, and uncontrollable the longer you let this go on.
That’s all well and good as a theory, the spineless, quivering half of me argued back, but how can you be sure? How d’you know that if I ignore it it won’t just … all go away? It’s dangerous and … and irresponsible to mess around with magic that’s beyond your control. Someone will get hurt. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s bound to. It’s only a matter of time. Tell Professor Dumbledore that you’ve changed your mind, you don’t need a Hogwarts education, and get the hell out of dodge before you do something you can’t take back.
“AARRRGGGH!” I buried my head in my pillow with an anguished groan. I had worn myself out tramping back and forth across my room all day and it had gotten me nowhere. I rolled over, hugging my pillow to my chest like a life preserver, and let out a long, exasperated sigh. It was going to be a long night.
I awoke with a start, and everything was dark. I sat up quickly, catapulting myself into the inky blackness.
Bad idea. Apparently I had rolled around a bit in my sleep, so when I hurled myself off the mattress with such reckless impunity, I rammed myself head-first into the bedpost.
I hissed in pain. “Festering, rotten, godforsaken, worthless scrap of timber!”
I tumbled out of bed, rubbing my tender forehead, and groped around the nightstand above my head for my watch. After much clattering and banging, I managed to locate the blasted thing. I held it up so the thin stream of moonlight filtering through my curtains illuminated the dial. It was 3:30 in the morning, and thanks to the vicious pounding in my head, I was sure I wouldn’t be drifting back off to sleep any time soon.
I stumbled to my feet, grumbling and grousing and still massaging the knot on my forehead. I lit a lamp, plunked myself back down on my bed, and watched the flickering light play across the wall opposite me. It skipped and skittered and streamed and danced in turn around the bumps and crevices, alternately illuminating them and casting them into shadow. It was quite pretty, but after a few minutes it made my head throb anew in complaint.
I conceded grudgingly to my aching forehead and swung my feet over the edge of my lovely, warm bed, all the while cursing my inability to cast a simple Abrasion Relief spell. “Fine then. You won’t let me be? I’ll just go off and find some ice. No trouble at all, it’s only the middle of the bloody night. Shouldn’t be a problem in the slightest … maybe that agreeable poltergeist will be kind enough to point out the way to the kitchens. Or possibly one of those charming staircases will oblige and drop me on my arse right at the bloody door.”
I threw a blanket around my shoulders, jammed a pair of shoes on my feet, stuck my wand in the waistband of my pajamas more out of habit than anything, and gently eased open the door to my dormitory. No one was around; Madame Mortimyer’s soft snoring was the only sound in the corridor. I propped the portrait open with a book so I wouldn’t have to wake her when I returned and stepped out into the hallway.
I wrapped the blanket snugly around me and weighed my options. There was a staircase going down down the hall to my right, one going up down the hall to my left, and one that changed its mind with every phase of the moon behind a tapestry straight ahead. Since I vaguely recalled Ron hinting that the entrance to the kitchens was below ground, and seeing as I couldn’t remember whether the moon was waxing or waning, I set off to the right.
I traipsed down three flights of stairs without incident. The castle appeared deserted. The portaits’ inhabitants all slumbered placidly in their frames, and there was nary a sign of ghost nor poltergeist nor malicious feline patrolling the halls. I was too preoccupied to appreciate my luck, however; my head was still throbbing like mad, and I could think of nothing but the sweet relief of a bit of ice as I crept down the empty seventh floor corridor (at least, I was fairly certain it was the seventh floor.)
And then, out of nowhere, the soft whisper of a shoe scuffing on stone hit my ears. I froze, unable to determine where it was coming from. I started back down the corridor the way I had come, but then I heard it again. I whirled around and scurried up the hall in the opposite direction. All I want is a bit of ice, I lamented internally. Please don’t let me end up with a detention.
As if in answer to my silent entreaty, a solid wooden door seemed to grow out of the wall to my left. At that moment, a tall, imposing figure turned the corner and bore down on me. His face was obscured in shadow, but I wasn‘t inclined to stick around and figure out who he was -- the only people who were allowed to be out of their beds at night all had to power to throw me in detention until I graduated. I yanked open the door and dashed over the threshold, my blanket streaming behind me like a cape. For a split second, I felt like a superhero, escaping down a secret passageway from a dastardly villain who aimed to thwart my noble mission. And then my brain caught up with my imagination … and my “cape” caught in the door as I attempted to pull it closed behind me.
Bloody nuisance of a bit of fabric.
It jammed the latch and arrested my momentum; as I fumbled with the fraying edge of it that had gotten fixed on the door, I heard a low voice call out softly, “Dublin?”
I ceased wrangling with the blanket immediately and froze. Shit. He had recognized me. I was going to be scrubbing bedpans in the infirmary until June.
I let the traitorous swath of cloth fall to the floor and inched backward away from the door, trying my best to keep quiet. That proved difficult, however, as my teeth seemed to be chattering. Wherever I was, it was bloody freezing. I exhaled slowly and my breath hovered in front of me in a white, frozen cloud. As I rubbed my arms vigorously in a futile attempt to bring some feeling back into my suddenly frozen limbs, the door inched open.
I cowered in the corner of the room as the shadowy figure from the hallway stepped over the threshold. “Dublin?” he whispered again. “Are you there? Lumos.”
Light flooded the room, casting the intruder’s face into sharp relief. Messy black hair, bright green eyes, and a jagged, lightning-shaped scar gradually came into focus. I breathed a massive sigh of relief. Harry.
I picked myself up off the floor. “I’m sorry, I thought you were a teacher. I was sure I was done for.”
He smiled mischievously. “Well, I am Head Boy, and I would be shirking my responsibilities if I didn’t strongly chastise you for being out of bed after hours. But I think I’ll just settle for asking … why in Merlin’s name were you desperate for a room full of ice?”
I blinked, confused. He pointed over my shoulder, and I turned around slowly. The small room behind me was packed full of ice, stacks and stacks of great massive blocks piled on top of each other, reaching up to the ceiling.
I smacked myself lightly in the forehead, and immediately regretted the decision. It still smarted. “Ohhhhh. Seventh floor. We’re back in the Room of Requirement, aren’t we?”
“I hit my head,” I explained, pointing to the protuberance on my temple. “On the bedpost. I was looking for the kitchens … I just wanted a bit of ice, but then you came out of nowhere and the door appeared and I figured I should hide and … well … here we are,” I finished lamely.
Harry took a few steps toward me and lifted his wand higher. “That’s a nasty knot,” he said. He ran his fingers gently over the bump, and I shivered -- and not from the cold. We locked eyes and neither of us moved for a long moment; my breath caught in my throat and it felt like the world was spinning around us. Finally, Harry cleared his throat and let his hand fall back to his side.
“Here, let me get you some ice,“ he offered. He pulled out his wand and aimed it at the nearest chunk of frozen water. “Sectumsempra!“
I let the air out of my lungs in a massive whoosh. Harry sliced a good-sized hunk of ice off the block, wrapped it in a scrap of my blanket that had ripped off in my scuffle with the door, and held it out to me.
I wrapped my fingers around it and gingerly pressed it against my forehead. I couldn’t help but sigh with relief when I felt the cool numbness sink into my skin.
Harry bent down and picked up my blanket. “Let’s get you back to bed before a teacher really does come along,” he said, holding open the door for me. “Snape just loves to skulk around the corridors at night.”
We stole back to my dormitory in cautious silence. I followed half a step behind Harry the whole way, feeling comforted by his presence. All too soon we were standing in front of Madame Mortimyer. Her ridiculous orange wig bobbed up and down as she breathed in and out, slipping over her forehead each time she inhaled.
“How’s your head feeling?” Harry asked, turning to face me.
“Much better,” I whispered, lowering the hand holding the ice from my forehead. “Thank you.”
He smiled and slowly draped my blanket around me. I felt a warm fizzing in the pit of my stomach as he smoothed it clumsily over my shoulders.
“Good night Dublin,” he murmured softly. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Good. Sleep well, then.”
With that he disappeared down the hall, and I eased through the portrait hole to my room, fairly certain I wouldn’t be able to sleep a wink.