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Chapter 9 : Wither
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Some things you should know:
Professor Nott is a HUGE part of this chapter. If you don't remember, Nott is the newly appointed DADA professor. Everyone is making a big fuss over him because, a) they think that he might have been a Voldy-supporter, and b) a couple years ago, his wife went missing, and he was a prime suspect in the case. Of course, the case was never closed, nobody could prove Nott did anything, and to this day the mystery remains unsolved... (Dun dun dun). So. Yeah, there's your little mini-bio on Nott.
Also, Ryan Fisher is in this chapter. He's one of Aggy's patrol partners, and, if you can recall, she has a HUGE crush on him.
Now, onwards :)
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J.K.!
News about The Split (note the capital letters — this was a serious matter) traveled alarmingly fast throughout Hogwarts. Thanks to the school's ever-churning rumor mill, it soon became common knowledge that Aidan and Dom’s infamous relationship was now completely and absolutely finito. Even though we had tried to keep it quiet, somehow, people just found out. But, see, that was the thing with Hogwarts: even the walls have eyes (and I mean that as literally as possible — The Fat Lady was one of the most notorious gossips out there).
In what shall now be known as The Aftermath of The Split (again—capital letters, people), chaos reigned. The world had gone topsy-turvy — the previous certitude that was 'Dom and Aidan' had been rendered void. It was dissolved, and, along with it, all other notions of comfort and stability and permanence. In response, everyone reacted brilliantly and appropriately by veering into Panic Mode. Aidan now refused to get out of bed unless we bribed him with something shiny. Dom was on the brink of insanity and teetering over the edge. Freddy still had no clue what was going on — and not to mention the groupies.
You see, The Split had given rise to a new hope for the female population of Hogwarts. Now that he was officially “on the market," my brother was not on the list of desirable, eligible bachelors and his name on doodled-over cover of every Hufflepuff girl's Transfig notebook. Third-year girls would follow him around, claiming to be big Quidditch fans and asking for autographs. We had to check Aidan’s dinner every night to make sure it hadn't been spiked with a love potion. On more than one occasion, giggling Hufflepuffs approached me, asking what Aidan’s favorite movie is (he always says its Rocky, but it’s actually Miss Congeniality), or what his favorite fruit is (pineapple), or whether or not he'd ever want to have children in the future (yes — six, to be exact, enough for a traveling Bennett Family Quidditch Team-slash-Rock Band. Yeah, the bloke was kind of an idiot).
But Aidan wasn’t enjoying the attention — if anything, he had shied away from it, adamantly maintaining that the only girl he wanted was Dom. And, well, that obviously wasn’t an option. So instead, Aidan had to satisfy himself with shutting himself up in his dorm room and never seeing daylight again. The poor kid was miserable.
The most frightening part of it all, however, was Aidan’s newfound passion for reading trashy, paperback romance novels. He claimed he liked them because he could “relate to the underlying themes and motifs" — whatever that meant. I, personally, thought it was exceedingly weird. I mean, besides the fact that it was just plain creepy for a fifteen-year-old boy to be reading books with covers that bared men with hairy chests and titles like “A Captive to Passion” and “My Forbidden Paradise," the novels themselves were terrible. Each and every one of them was an insult to the collective intellect of humanity. The main heroines of the story were all ditzy and foolish, swooning over every Tall, Dark And Handsome that walked by. One novel even featured a character who fell in love with a vampire — ridiculous and implausible.. Like anyone in their right mind would ever want to read that.
After thumbing through a few pages of his books, I was fairly certain that I had lost not only my will to live, but also a couple of IQ points as well.
Aidan, however, wasn’t the only depressed one prone to weird behaviour. Dom hasn’t been taking The Split well either, even though she was the one who initiated it. The amount of pumpkin pie we’d gone through over the past few days had reached astronomical proportions — like, 'Guinness World Book of Records' proportions.
Dom had gone bonkers. Seriously. Last night, I found her (along with—ahem—two empty bottles of Firewhiskey) in the girl’s bathroom on the Third Floor. When she noticed I was there (which actually took about fifteen minutes), she proceeded to serenade me with a nice little medley of Aretha Franklin songs (my favorite was “I Will Survive”), complete with dance moves and everything.
And when she finished, she turned around and drunkenly tried to high-five her reflection.
She missed. All 17 times.
So, in short: the world was about to end, my brother had turned into a middle-aged Book Club housewife, and I was in desperate need of some new friends. Preferably ones who had at least a pretense of mental stability.
I was entertaining the thought of holding auditions or interviews. You know, hand out fliers in the corridors, advertising my friendship and stuff. I could pass them around the Great Hall at lunch...
Are you a normal? Do you like to spend your days doing average, regular-people activities (preferably ones that don’t involve seducing my twin brother)? Is your sanity still intact?
If you answered yes to all the questions above, then have we got the job for you!
Introducing AGATHA BENNETT’S NEW BEST FRIEND, now open for applicants!
— Mentally stable
— Clean criminal record preferred, but not mandatory
If you are interested, please contact AGATHA BENNETT and hand her your résumé. She can be found at the Slytherin Common Room, in the library, or curled into a fetal position underneath her own bed. Have a nice day!
Oh, how I cracked myself up.
Seriously though. Quests for new friendships aside, something had to be done concerning the situation, and fast. Everyone was imploding on themselves, collapsing underneath the weight of their own crazy, and standing by to watch was like seeing a train veer uncontrollably off its tracks. And if things weren't returned to normal soon... Well, I shuddered to think what other bad habits Aidan might start adopting.
The next day, I had been on my way to Potions, mulling over the various ways I could bribe Aidan to leave his dorm room and actually attend his classes (A chocolate bar? Five galleons? The invaluable gift of my everlasting respect?), when someone called my name.
I wheeled around, red tresses flying into my face, to see who it was requesting my attention. Squinting, I barely made out a disheveled figure hurtling through the corridor, waving his arm madly in the air like he just didn’t care.
I watched, grimacing, as Fred pushed a group of second-years out of the way in order to get to me. The corridor we were in was already packed with students, chattering and bustling to their next classes, and Freddy charging through everyone like a clumsy Hippogriff wasn't helping matters.
Finally he reached me, out of breath, bronzed skin flushed and glowing. His shirt was rumpled and untucked, his tie hastily thrown over his left shoulder, and in his arms was a disorganized pile of papers that I assumed to be Freddy’s definition of the word 'homework,' a few of which already littered the floor behind him.
“Freddy-Freddy-er, Fred,” I responded, eyeing him warily.
“What’s up? What’s down? What’s all around?” The boy in question grinned his signature hundred-watt grin (Freddy never did things half-heartedly) and reached down to ruffle my hair. My grimace grew.
“Not much,” I answered curtly. “You?”
Fred's grin widened, something I hadn’t thought possible, as he began to walk forward and I fell into step next to him. “Going to Arithmancy. I’m so excited. Today’s going to be the day, Aggy. I can feel it in my bones. He’s finally going to crack.”
Stifling a groan, I tried to ignore the dread welling up inside me at Fred’s words.
Fred, since the beginning of time, had been carrying a sort of...unspoken vendetta against Hogwarts' Arithmancy teacher, Professor Fritz. I didn't know how it happened, or when it began. It was just... there, like how the sky was blue or Quidditch was popular. No one questioned it.
Professor Fritz was a nervous man who seriously lacked in the social skills department. His signature blonde comb-over, perpetually red face, and unfortunate speech impediment only seemed to add to his jumpy, anxious persona. This and the fact that he was obviously terrified of his very own students made him kind of like a teaching punchline here at Hogwarts.
However, it had to be said that Fritz, during all his years of teaching, had never lost his cool. Not even once. He was possibly the most irritatingly patient person that I had ever come across. I could probably murder someone in front of the guy, and he wouldn’t care in the slightest. In fact, he would probably offer to help me bag the body. He was unfailingly calm.
And this, apparently, annoyed Freddy to no end.
During his entire career at Hogwarts, Fred had one single academic-related goal, and that was to make Professor Fritz “crack." Fred wanted to see Fritz freak, launch into some nervous breakdown — even just show a sliver of emotion.
And believe me, Fred had employed a number of tactics — all different in their models but equal in their craziness — in order to do this. For example, he once convinced our entire class to speak in Australian accents. For the entire year. But Professor Fritz hadn't even blinked or made a comment — in fact, I don't think he noticed the anything was off. Refusing to surrender, however, the semester after, Fred organized auditions for the Official Hogwarts Yodeling Enthusiasts Club (which didn't exist) and, on the pamphlets he handed out (yes, there were pamphlets), listed Professor Fritz’s classroom as the venue. And that had been bad. I mean, having to listen to Aidan yodel for two straight hours would be enough to drive anyone insane.
However, all the torment and pranks seemed to have little effect on Fritz. He remained as soul-crushingly boring as always and, this, unfortunately, only seemed to strengthen Fred’s resolve.
Personally, I thought this whole idea was bad news. I mean, who knew what kind of uncontrollable rage Fritz was hiding beneath his fidgety, wimpy exterior? If he was pushed hard enough, he could lose his mind and start going on some sort of mad rampage — like Dominique at the shopping center that one time, when she had found out those boots she liked didn't come in her size. Only, you know, less hair.
“What about you, Aggy? Where are you going?” Freddy asked, jarring me from my thoughts as we came to a stop in front of the Arithmancy classroom. Already through the window of the door, I could see Professor Fritz inside — scribbling on the blackboard — his blonde comb-over doing some sort of excited dance atop his head.
“Potions,” I said, shifting my weight from one foot to another. Several students jostled past as they walked by, too busy gossiping with their neighbors to utter any apologies.
Freddy made a half-disgusted, half-sympathetic face. “Well then, see you in DADA, I guess. Tell Sluggy hello for me.”
“Will do,” I said, nodding. "Hey, Fred?"
Fred turned from where he had been peering, eyes narrowed with scary determination, at Fritz through the window. "Yeah? What's up?"
I heaved a big breath. "Have you seen Aidan today? He wasn't at breakfast this morning."
Fred seemed to sober at my words, his expression turning grim and drawn. "Yeah, I spoke with him." He paused and then fixed me with a sympathetic look, mouth pulled into a wan line. "He's not coming to class today."
My eyes fluttered shut as I let the information sink in. This was what I had expected, wasn't it? So what was this dread doing, heavy and leaden in my stomach?
"Figured as much," I said dully. And with one last glance of pity, Freddy opened the door and went inside, leaving me alone — in the middle of the corridor — with the chatter and laugher of the other students around me ringing in my ears.
Potions passed without incident. I spent the entire hour peering over a cauldron of Strengthening Solution with Hector sitting next to me, spewing uselessly random facts that passed through one ear and out the other. Nothing exploded that lesson, however, and the fatal injuries were kept to a minimum, so I guess the day was better than most.
Dom, already at work paving the road for future alcoholics everywhere, didn’t show for class. She was in all likelihood nursing a hangover, lying in bed with a pounding headache and a cranky attitude to match. I thought it wise not to disturb her... After all, it was a bad idea to mess with Dom when she was in a strop. She kept her nails that long for a reason, you know.
By the time Potions had ended, I was ready to go back to the dorm room and just sleep off the bad day. Unfortunately I couldn’t. I had one more class, DADA, and than patrol with Ryan.
DADA was one of my least favorite classes. It seemed as though Professor Nott channeled all his energy into two simple actions: hating his students, and making it clear that he hated his students. He spent the entire lesson sitting at his desk, glaring at everyone, not even attempting to pretend to teach us anything. He just made us read a couple of pages in the textbook and then write essays to pass the time until class was over. And if we didn’t finish the essays during class, we’d have to do them for homework. It was boring as hell, not to mention superbly irritating.
When I entered the DADA classroom, it was almost full. The noise was deafening, a cacophony of boisterous laughter and screeching chairs. Nott sat at the front of the room, his legs propped up on his desk, a scowl on his lined, albeit handsome, face. The image alone — of our Professor sitting at the front of his room, looking all dark and rugged and glowering — would have been enough to make Dom take a break from her hangover to go into cardiac arrest for a little bit.
I spotted an empty table and made my way towards it, avoiding any randomly strewn backpacks or chairs. I was almost to my spot when all of a sudden, I tripped over some obstacle in my path — a pair of outstretched legs, it seemed — and was flying through the air.
Face, meet floor. Floor, meet face. You’re going to become fast friends.
I scrambled off the floor, dusting myself off as I tried to ignore the snickers from some of the students who had noticed my little tumble. Furtively I looked around and realized that the owner of the mysterious legs I had tripped over was none other than the infamous Fallon Cooper, who had been too busy to realize what had happened, let alone utter any sort of apology.
Fallon Cooper was a seventh year Slytherin, so what he was doing in a fifth year DADA class, stretching his appendages all over the place for innocent bystanders like myself to stumble over, was beyond me.
But then the reason quickly became apparent when my eyes shifted over to the person on top of Cooper.
See, Cooper and Evelyn have been dating since I was in my third year. They were the Golden Couple, even more notorious than Dom and Aidan. As Captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team, Fallon was prime swooning material though, personally, I didn’t trust his slicked back hair, or his cold, laughing eyes. Not to mention his wandering hands.
Evelyn was currently sitting on Cooper’s lap, her mouth grotesquely melded to his as if they were in some sort of barren desert and his saliva was her only source of hydration. In front of the class, in front of Professor Nott and everything. The two had no shame. I had to look away as I limped past them because the indecency of it all was making me blush.
I sat down and began unpacking my things. On the blackboard in front of me was today’s assignment — pages 271-286, and then a paragraph-long summary of the chapter. Ugh.
The class was starting to settle down. Professor Nott didn’t say anything, just scowled at us from his perch at his desk, a quill twiddling between two, nimble fingers. I gritted my teeth and opened my book, ready to start numbing my mind with some good ole, compelling textbook-writing, when the door to the classroom bust open with a bang.
I jerked around to see the door to see Fred and Potter stumbling into the room. Fred was keeled over, his chest rising up and down with each gasping, rattling breath, and Potter was leaning against the doorframe, obviously exhausted, his skin—already tan from Quidditch—flushed a slight pink color.
"Sorry — we're late — Professor — won't — happen again," Freddy rasped.
Nott raised his eyebrows, sitting up and taking his legs off his desk, but didn't say anything. He simply gestured to some empty seats with a lazy flick of his hand.
Fred sat down behind me, his breathing already slowing but still audible and wheezy, and left the only remaining empty seat next to me. Realizing this unfortunate fact, Potter scowled and plunked down in the chair, face dark.
I looked at Potter. Potter looked at me. Instinctively and at the same exact time, we scooted our chairs away from each other, making sure there was as much distance as possible between us. After all, who knew if Potter’s stupidity was contagious?
One could never be too careful.
I set to work, beginning to read. Cooper, having detached himself from Evelyn's face, ambled out of the classroom, and we students fell into an uneasy silence, save for the occasional flip of a page or scratch of a quill. Twenty minutes or so passed, and I was almost to the last page when —
There was no mistaking Freddy’s voice, even when it was lowered into a barely audible whisper. Still, I kept on reading, clenching and unclenching my jaw as I ignored the boy behind me.
I could sense Potter’s gaze flicker towards me. Freddy tapped my shoulder, but I stared determinedly at my book, refusing to give in.
“What.” I turned around, glare murderous, to see Freddy looking at me, eyes sparkling playfully.
“Hi,” He said simply. I waited for him to continue, to tell me what, exactly, had been so urgent and important that he just had to disturb me while I was reading, but he said nothing else. Just smiled and went back to his book.
I resisted the urge to scream.
“Hi,” I spat back, though my tone seemed more appropriate for a death threat than a greeting. At this point, there was nothing I wanted more than to hurl my body over the desk and rip off every single strand of Fred’s perfect glossy dark hair from his thick skull, one by one.
There was a long pause. Potter was looking at us curiously through the corner of his eye. Freddy was smiling.
Stifling a sigh, I asked the question that I knew Fred had been waiting for: “So, did you make Fritz crack?”
“No.” Freddy’s smile seemed to slide off his face as he sighed glumly. “And I even got everyone to do the Macarena on top of their desks.”
“Sucks,” I hummed, trying (re: failing) to sound sympathetic.
“Yeah. Though I swear I saw his eye twitch once.”
“Awesome. Making progress.” I paused, took a deep breath, and then asked the question that had been burning in the back of my brain ever since Freddy entered the classroom: “And Aidan? Any news?"
Fred grimaced. “He’s still in his hermit cave. Won’t come out, unless it’s to get food or another one of his girl books.” He wrinkled his nose in obvious disgust.
I rolled my eyes. “They’re not girl books, Freddy. Honestly. The stereotype is borderline idiotic."
Fred looked genuinely confused. “What are you talking about? I thought girls loved that stuff. You know, romance and frills and shirtless Italian men on the cover and what not.”
“Well I don’t read those books, and I’m a girl,” I pointed out.
Potter snorted beside me, obviously unable to resist butting in. “Well, the second part's debatable.”
I whipped around, about to retort with a witty and self esteem-crushing insult of my own (most likely something along the lines of, “Yeah? Well... whatever, Potter”), but before I could even open my mouth, I was interrupted.
“Hey, you. Red hair,” Nott commanded from his High Imperial Desk at the front of the room, pointing to me. “No talking.”
I don’t know why, but for some reason, the fact that Nott said this made me very, very angry.
Maybe it was because Nott thought he could order me around, even though he was the crummiest excuse for a teacher that I’d ever met during my entire stay at Hogwarts (and that was saying something, because I had Fritz in third year). Or maybe it was because he had yelled at only me, while Freddy and Potter were spared the humiliation. Or maybe it was simply the fact that he even didn’t know my name, for Merlin's sake, although he’d been teaching me for almost a month.
The words were out of my mouth before my brain could even process them. "Well, maybe we wouldn’t have to talk if we were actually learning something here. I mean, this is a school, in case you haven’t noticed.”
The reaction was immediate. Potter’s mouth twisted into a smirk as he leaned back, obviously getting himself ready for a show. Freddy let out a low, impressed whistle. And I think someone in the back of the classroom started slow-clapping.
However, to be honest, I was probably the most surprised person out of everyone. I had never, ever been outwardly rude to a teacher before. Never. The minute the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to grab them out of the air and shove them back inside. My heart seemed to be racing a marathon inside my chest cavity.
I bit down, hard, on my lower lip, bracing myself for the inevitable punishment. Two weeks detention. Thirty points docked. A suspension from prefect duties.
But Nott did nothing, merely raised his eyebrows and stood up from his position at the desk, rubbing his hands together.
“Oh, so little Miss Goody Two Shoes wants to learn something here, does she?” He said, tone light and musical, as if, by suggesting that we learn at school, I had made some ridiculous and far-fetched request.
He strode towards me, hands in his pockets, and I automatically leaned back, slightly afraid. “Alright. What do you want to learn?”
My throat was dry. “I want to learn... Defense,” I said, before adding rather lamely and unnecessarily: “Against the Dark Arts.”
Nott laughed. Actually laughed, and somehow, that made me feel angrier. Which, in turn, made me feel braver.
“But why, Two Shoes?” Nott said, the sarcasm obvious in his caustic tone. “It’s not like you’re going to need it. Harry Potter’s already saved the world and laid the smack-down on every one of those mean, nasty, Mouldymort bullies. Sure, a countless number of people died in the process. And sure, maybe discrimination and prejudice is still as rampant as ever. But the world’s sunshine and daisies, now, isn’t it?”
Everyone in the room seemed to be holding their breath. Even Evelyn perked up from her notebook, apparently somewhat interested.
I looked at Potter, but his face showed no emotion at the mention of his father. He was completely impassive, as if he had no idea what or whom Nott was talking about. He looked bored, almost.
Freddy, obviously having struggled and failed to contain himself, suddenly exclaimed, “What are you talking about, Professor? There’s no discrimination anymore! The war got rid of that!”
Nott grinned a wicked, spiteful grin, as if he knew some nasty joke we didn’t. His eyes — pale, blue-green ice — flickered to Fred. “Maybe not the kind of discrimination you’re thinking about.”
Before Freddy could reply, I butted in. Conversations about discrimination and prejudice and principles were all well and good, but beside the point. "Professor, I'd still like to learn," I said clearly, drawing on my steadily-depleting reservoir of bravery. "Just in case."
“Just in case what? Voldemort pops out of his coffin and starts doing the hokey pokey? Face it, Two Shoes. This class is about as useful as tits on a nun.”
My jaw dropped open a little. “That is not... Appropriate.”
“Appropriate?” Nott raised his eyebrows. “I think I lost my capacity to be 'appropriate' after my second Court Order.” He paused, tilting his head in mock thoughtfulness. “Or maybe it was my third...”
Someone in the room snickered. Nott's history was another familiar piece of gossip around the castle. Our professor, it seemed, had a shady past. Beside the father was had been a supporter of Voldemort, and that Nott himself had strong ties to the Pureblood Slytherin world, there had also been an incident involving his wife, who had gone missing a couple years back. For the longest time, Nott had been a known suspect, though nobody had been able to prove anything definite. Cleared of any charges, the Hogwarts administration had apparently experienced a lapse in sanity and decided to hire him. This would be shocking anywhere else, but we were talking about the school that once had on its faculty a man with Voldemort's face hiding inside a turban.
I glowered. “That doesn’t matter, Professor. I still want to — "
“Yes,” I said, my courage (or stupidity, depending on how you look at it) finally returning.
“Why? So that, if the opportunity arises, you can be the hero? Save the day?”
“No.” I snapped back, my patience waning. “So that, if I’m ever dueling someone or caught in a dark alley or encountering someone trying to break into my home, I can stay alive.”
Nott paused, his eyes taking in my green and silver tie with an almost appreciative glint. Then he said, so randomly it sort of jarred me a bit, “Who wrote your textbook?”
“Who wrote your textbook?”
I glanced down at the hardcover sitting on my desk. “Penelope Trimble. Why?”
“Do you think this Penelope Trimble was happy?” He asked
I paused. “Um. Well, she dedicated her life to writing school textbooks — "
“So she was miserable, then."
“I didn’t say that!”
“It's what you implied."
"No, it's what you interpreted."
Nott raised his eyebrows derisively. “Alright. Fine. There’s Penelope Trimble’s contribution to society. A five hundred-page textbook that makes students around the world want to hang themselves by their toes. Boy. She must have been ecstatic with herself.”
I didn’t say anything.
“You want to know something, Two Shoes?” Nott said, placing his hands on my desk and leaning towards me. His eyes were two, identical winter nights, crisp and frigid. “Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants to matter. But, guess what? Nobody ever does.” He took my book from my desk, turning it around in his hands, and then tapped it against the edge of my desk. Thud. Thud. Thud. “I mean, sure, you’ve got your exceptions, like Harry Potter and whatnot, but other than that, we all just end up withering away, with nothing left to prove we existed except a bunch of old,” Thud. “yellowing,” Thud. “textbooks.” Thud.
I looked at Nott, unsure of what his nihilistic ranting had to do with DADA. And then I thought about his missing wife, and about the criminal charges leveled against him and those DADA textbooks, stacked on top of each other, sad and lonely with no one there to read them.
A long silence overtook the whole class. No one breathed a word.
After forever, Nott pulled away and glanced at his watch. “Well,” he said, tone too casual as he tossed my book to me. I barely caught it. “There you go, Two Shoes. That's what you have to learn. Class is over.”
And than he sat down, folding his hands together as his face assumed his signature scowl, like nothing had happened.
I didn’t know what to say, so I settled for nothing.
“Can you believe him? I mean, really! He basically told us our lives aren’t worth living! Some teacher he is! Honestly, I don’t even know how he got hired. Vespertine could not have been sober. Who in their right mind would want him in a school...A round small children, no less?”
Apparently, my little encounter with Nott had really loosened my tongue, because that night while on patrol, I found myself ranting and raving about him in front of none other than Ryan Fisher. That’s right — the Ryan Fisher, the one who could make any female he met generate enough drool for the Atlantic Ocean, was listening to me. Me! Griping about our DADA professor!
Usually, on my patrols with Ryan, I was too worried about making a complete and utter fool out of myself (which, believe me, was a legitimate fear) to even think about voicing my opinions. But Nott had made so angry that I just had to vent... Like a dam breaking, everything just came gushing out.
Ryan was a great listener. He nodded at all the right parts, his eyes squinted with a kind of thoughtfulness that — until then — I hadn’t though existed within the male gender. He had an amused sort of smile on his face, but it wasn't a condescending amusement. No, it was gentler. Understanding.
We were walking up and down the Third Floor corridor, occasionally checking into quiet, grey classrooms and musty broom closets. The hallways were dark save for the torches fastened to the walls, their flames casting eerie, grinning shadows on the stone floor. Our footsteps were loud and metallic, ringing off the stone as we walked.
I was trying really hard not to have another one of my full-blown Girls Gone Mental episodes (as Potter liked to dub them) in front of Ryan, but I couldn’t help it. I could feel myself getting angrier and angrier by the second, Nott’s jeering, holier-than-thou words playing through my mind on an endless loop.
I took a deep breath, mentally counting to ten in an attempt to calm myself down. When that didn't work, I tried it again in Spanish. Uno. Dos. Tres. Cuatro...
“I’m sorry, Ryan.” I finally said when my heart rate returned to normal, smiling slightly sheepishly. “I don’t mean to get all worked up about this. It’s just... He makes me really mad.”
Ryan let out a deep and velvety chuckle that made my stomach clench. “No, it’s completely fine. In fact, its entertaining. You make me laugh, Agatha.”
I frowned slightly, unsure of what to make of this new revelation. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
He smiled, grey eyes crinkling at the corners. “Good. Definitely good.”
I raised my eyebrows in a sort of cool-calm-and-collected fashion, although on the inside, I was doing cartwheels and handstands. Uno. Dos...Tres. Cuatro. “Well, thanks then.”
Ryan nodded, still smiling. A comfortable moment of silence passed, and then he said: “So, besides the whole crazy professor ordeal, how was your day?”
I want to carry your future children inside me. “Fine,” I said. “Yours?”
“Pretty good. Except I've been having a lot of trouble with Transfiguration recently. You know that test we got back today? Yeah, didn’t do so well. McGonagall thinks I should get some extra help.” He raked a hand through his (golden, perfect, luminous) hair and shook his head, obviously distraught.
And here is where I saw my opportunity.
“Oh!” I exclaimed, a little too loudly and a little too excitedly. “I’m at Transfiguration good! I mean—Good at Transfiguration I am! I mean—” Instantly, all common sense (and, it seemed, knowledge of the English language) left my body as I started stumbling through my words in eagerness. Merlin, I was pathetic. All it takes is for Ryan to be in my presence, and then instantly I turn into some sort of redhead, socially-inept version of Yoda.
Ryan was grinning ear-to-ear.
“I’m good at Transfiguration.” Yay! A coherent sentence! I was wondering when one of those would show up. “And you know, er, transfigurizing stuff," I added lamely after a second's pause.
“I see,” Ryan said, somewhat slyly. “So do you think you might be able to tutor me, or something? Because I really need some help with my... transfigurizing.”
Uno dos tres cuatro — “Yeah! Of course! Um. When are you free?’
“How about next Wednesday? Is that good for you?”
I could be getting open heart surgery on that day, and I’d still push it back to tutor Ryan.
“Yeah! Wednesdays are great!” I said brightly. This was it. This was my karmic reward for putting up with Aidan's dumb friends and suffering through school and all the other horrible things I had to tolerate. I was finally getting my due.
“Thanks, Agatha,” Ryan said, smiling warmly. “You have no idea how big of a help this is for me.”
“Oh it’s no trouble. Not at all.” I was on top of the world. No, scratch that, I was on top of the universe. I was standing on the moon, and somebody had filled my oxygen tank with laughing gas. That was how delirious I was.
Ryan frowned. “Um, there’s just one little problem, though," he began, his tone almost sheepish.
My heart stopped. My face fell. Oh no. “Er, what?”
“Well,” Ryan said. “I might not get everything at once, so we could have to do more than one session. Is that okay?”
YES. YES. YES.
“Oh, well, I’m not sure. But that should be fine, yeah.” UNO DOS TRES CUATRO CINCO SEIS SIETE OCHO NUEVE DIEZ! DIEZ! DIEZ!
Ryan looked immensely relieved, and, as we began walking down the cold, empty corridor one last time, he said: “Thanks, Agatha. I totally owe you.”
This was very, very good.
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