A/N: Before reading this, I'm just letting anybody who's read my other Next Gen story, Delicate, that this has absolutely nothing to do with it. Rose is completely different, so please try not to think about that while reading this! Just a quick list of characters and their houses to make this easier on you:
Rose Weasley: Gryffindor
Bret Thomas: Gryffindor
Alice Greene: Gryffindor
Scorpius Malfoy: Slytherin
Michelle Masterson: Slytherin
Evan Adams: Ravenclaw
Hilary Higgins: Hufflepuff
Please read on and let me know what you think!
ONE - We Were Seven
I can pinpoint the exact moment when I started to hate Rhys Payne.
It was in my second year at Hogwarts, his second year too, when he called me ‘Ging-er’ (rhymes with singer) – a ginger minger – which resulted in this ridiculous nickname sticking with me until fifth year when it eventually fizzled out. Even in seventh year some people still used it if they were really trying to tick me off. I’d been walking out of Transfiguration class at the time, and right then, looking into that Ravenclaw’s piggy little face, I knew I hated him.
I’d never hated anyone before. Not really. People had annoyed me, of course, but I never really held a pure hatred for someone because I never saw the point in it. Tolerating people always seemed easier. I always tried my best to get along with my fellow students, striking up conversation with those I found myself working with in Potions, or remembering to say hello to acquaintances in the corridors. But I truly hated Rhys Payne. And I wasn’t the only one. Many students simply referred to him as ‘The Payne’, amused at the accurate irony of his surname.
By the time my seventh year at Hogwarts rolled around, I was used to the hatred I so deeply felt for Rhys. It didn’t occur to me to feel anything else towards him, and my feelings for him never changed given the fact that with each year Rhys got more arrogant and more annoying. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the series of events that led to Rhys’s hospitalisation in seventh year stemmed from an idea that I myself had both concocted and helped to carry out.
My friends shared my animosity towards Rhys. They each had their own reasons for hating him. Alice found him creepy and unsociable; Hilary hated his know-it-all attitude; Michelle hated that he’d started rumours concerning her ever-active love life; Bret hated him for taunting him during Quidditch matches; Evan hated that he had to share a dormitory with him; Scorpius hated most everything about the little git, from his pompous demeanour to his perfectly combed brown hair to his incredible ability to memorise everything he’d ever read.
We all had our reasons. But none of us meant for it to happen.
It happened on September 19th. The reason I remember the date is that it was my Mum’s birthday, and after sending her gift off with one of the school owls, I met my six friends who were lying out on the grass, savouring the last of the good weather before autumn arrived. The seven of us had only really formed this tightly knit ‘group’ in sixth year. I’d been friends with Alice from first year because we shared a dormitory in Gryffindor, and through her I met Hilary, who was in Hufflepuff. Hilary and I became close friends in third year when we both made the fatally awful decision of taking up Divination.
“It’s too warm,” Michelle complained, rolling over from her back onto her stomach and perching herself up onto her elbows. Complaining was Michelle’s speciality. Like most Slytherins, Michelle was self-obsessed and arrogant, but we accepted her into our group with open arms in sixth year when we realised that her selfishness was actually quite amusing. “Do we have to sit out here? I think my hay fever’s flaring up.”
“You don’t have hay fever,” Alice told her, rolling her eyes, “Get the package sent, Rose?”
“Yeah, but someone seriously needs to clean the damn Owlery,” I grumbled, annoyed. There were owl droppings all over my new shoes I’d gotten before returning to school. “I smell like a zoo.” I kicked my shoes off and lay back on the grass beside Bret, who was fast asleep. Bret’s favourite hobby, apart from Quidditch, was sleeping. He could often be found snoring in the Gryffindor common room, or even at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall.
“Can you believe how much Potions homework we have?” Evan grumbled angrily, flicking through pages and pages of notes. He was the only one who had opened his schoolbag, even though we all promised we were going outside to study.
“I know,” said Hilary, “And all for Friday.”
“Friday’s ages away,” Michelle declared, even though it was Tuesday already. “Tonnes of time.”
“It’s three feet of parchment!” Hilary pointed out.
“So?” Michelle and academia never really went together. She was far more interested in herself than in studying, and I knew fine well that she would do the Potions essay ten minutes before class, and spend the rest of the time leading up to the class doing her hair. But that was just who she was, and there was no changing her.
“Don’t look now,” Alice mumbled, and of course we all turned to look in the same direction as Alice (except for Bret who was still snoring to the high heavens). We all saw him walking towards us – well, perhaps he was just passing by. I doubt he had set out to find us, as I’m quite sure he hated us just as much as we hated him.
“They really shouldn’t let Rhys Payne-in-the-arse out on such a nice day,” I declared with narrowed eyes, “Ruins it for the rest of us.” Scorpius was giving him a similar look. Like Michelle, Scorpius was in Slytherin, and while he didn’t quite possess the same self-centred qualities as her, he could definitely hold a grudge like a Slytherin. Scorpius was the quietest of our group, not out of shyness, but simply because talking was not his forte. He spoke when spoken to, or when he had something important to say, but talking for the sake of it was not something Scorpius approved of. Although I had technically been friends with Scorpius since third year, I found that I knew very little about him.
As he drew nearer, Rhys’s smirk became wider and wider, and my desire to punch the git was stronger than ever. Rhys wasn’t a tall guy, about 5’8”, and he had a nose not unlike a pig’s. He was ugly as sin, but somehow managed to get girlfriends, though granted most of them were terrifically desperate.
“I didn’t think gingers were supposed to go out in the sun!” Rhys called out as he came near us. Honestly, after five years of commenting on my red hair, I was finding the ginger jokes stale and boring.
“I didn’t think pigs could fly, but I’ve seen you ride a broomstick,” Scorpius retaliated quickly. We all laughed, each of us reminded of why Scorpius was there in the first place – he may not have said much, but the few things he came out with were golden. Bret had woken up with the arrival of Rhys, and groaned miserably.
“Fuck, that has to be the ugliest face I’ve ever woken up to,” Bret grunted looking up at Rhys.
“Really? Didn’t you go out with Higgins last year?” Rhys retorted cheekily, pointing to Hilary, who blushed furiously. The failed relationship between Bret and Hilary was still a sensitive issue, and none of us ever brought it up around them. It just made everything awkward, and Rhys knew it.
“Fuck off, Payne,” Bret spat.
Rhys did as instructed, but not before spitting at us. As much as I loathed him, I had to admit that he was either very brave or very stupid to walk up alone to a group of seven people who hated him as much as we did. He had some fellow Ravenclaw friends who accompanied him places, but they weren’t with him that day. Evan hated all of the boys he shared a dormitory with, and was therefore extremely grateful to have the rest of us to fall back on.
“I wish that bloke would just curl up and die,” Michelle hissed.
“Michelle!” Alice exclaimed, “You can’t say that!”
“I just did,” she shrugged, clearly not bothered by Alice’s outrage.
We split up to leave our bags in our respective common rooms before dinner; Michelle and Scorpius headed down for the dungeons, Hilary broke off near the kitchens for the Hufflepuff common room, while Evan, Alice, Bret and I headed for the towers. Evan left us on the fifth floor for the Ravenclaw tower.
“I could kill that prick,” Bret vented to me and Alice as we made our way up to the Gryffindor common room, “Fucking idiot.”
“I was hating him way before it was cool,” I claimed.
“You’re just angry because he made that jab about Hilary,” Alice said to Bret, who gave her a dirty look in return. She quickly added, “But I don’t like him either!”
It was during dinner that the plan was formed. Evan sat with us at the Gryffindor table to avoid the idiots in his own house, and once we had finished eating, we were joined by Michelle, Scorpius and Hilary. This was a regular occurrence. Since the beginning of sixth year, the seven of us had become inseparable, an exclusive group that nobody else was allowed into. Of course we talked to other students, but the secrets that were revealed among the seven of us always stayed between the seven of us.
“We need to take him down a peg or two,” Hilary had decided. We were all thinking it, but Hilary was the one who voiced it first. Rhys Payne needed to be taught a lesson.
“Agreed,” Bret nodded. Rhys was making faces at Evan, sticking out his front teeth and circling his eyes with his fingers. Evan looked down at his hands. He was the smartest of us, but he was also the weakest. He was tall and skinny, with braces and glasses, and although he wasn’t bad looking, his crippling lack of confidence meant that Evan never had a girlfriend. We were all fiercely protective of him, and seeing Rhys’s idiotic actions made me want to jam my fork into his eye.
“I can’t believe he told everyone I had a pregnancy scare,” Michelle scowled, “The nerve!”
“I can’t believe you haven’t had a pregnancy scare,” said Bret, and she smacked him. Michelle’s popularity with the opposite sex was legendary.
“Seriously,” I brought them all back to the point, “We need to do something. We can’t just let him walk all over us – we’re smarter than that jackass.”
“But what can we do?” Scorpius frowned, “Seven people ganging up on one bloke seems a bit–”
“One very annoying bloke!” Alice interrupted, “But I do see where you’re coming from. It’ll be seen as bullying.”
We all remained quiet for a moment. The students around us had cleared off once dinner was finished. We were the only ones left at the Gryffindor table.
“What if nobody knows it was us?” I suggested. The plan had formed in my head already, and my six best friends stared at me, intrigued. “I’ve heard about this spell – it’s a bit tricky, my cousin James knows how to do it – and when cast properly it makes the victim shout out random swear words at regular intervals. Sort of like Tourette’s, except it only lasts twenty-four hours.”
“Brilliant!” Bret laughed.
“We have to do it!” Michelle agreed, “Imagine the look on Mulcahy’s face when Payne shouts out ‘dickhead’ in the middle of Charms!”
“But I don’t know how to do it,” I pointed out, “Like I said, it’s tricky.”
“I can do it,” Evan piped up. His brains weren’t always used for academic purposes – Evan was always great for carrying out pranks. “I’ve read about that spell before, my brother gave me that book with all the pranking spells in it that your uncle wrote,” he said to me. My Uncle George had written a book detailing the best pranks and how to pull them off – it had been banned from Hogwarts, and my parents never allowed me to buy one. But somehow, Evan had managed to sneak one in.
The excitement was bubbling inside all of us. We decided that we couldn’t jinx Rhys until everybody else had gone to bed because nobody could know it was us. So we developed the plan further. We would lure him outside after curfew with a fake note from Ellen Simons, a Hufflepuff who he had a well-publicised crush on. In the note, she would ask to meet him by the lake at 11pm sharp. As I was a prefect and on patrolling duty in the entrance hall that night, I knew that sneaking out would be fairly simple. The seven of us would be hiding in the trees near the lake, and then Evan would cast the spell on the unsuspecting Rhys. Then we’d run back to the castle, creep back to our dormitories and wait until morning to laugh our arses off.
The entire student body would praise Rhys Payne’s mysterious cursers as heroes.
Michelle wrote the fake note from Ellen, and Evan left it on Rhys’s bed. We then split up into our respective houses and waited. Bret, Alice and I sat in the common room by the fire, each of us anxiously looking at our watches and hoping that we didn’t look suspicious to the other students. Luckily for us, the common room emptied by half ten, so we were able to sneak out without being spotted.
When I think back on that night now, I wonder just how on earth the three of us managed to get from the seventh floor all the way down to the Hogwarts grounds without being caught by a patrolling prefect. I assumed they were off snogging their boyfriends or girlfriends, or perhaps some of them hadn’t even bothered to patrol at all. Who was I to judge them? I was a prefect too, and I was breaking every rule in the book. But the thought of getting revenge on Rhys Payne was so exhilarating that I seemed to have forgotten all responsibilities bestowed upon me.
We met Evan on the fifth floor, who looked very excited, armed with his wand and a copy of my Uncle George’s book ‘The Prankster’s Bible’. “You should see him, he’s wearing a tie!” Evan told us excitedly. “I pulled the curtains around my bed, he thinks I’m asleep.”
We rushed down the stairs, being careful to look around every corner for prefects, and met Hilary at the bottom of the staircase waiting for us. The more people we gathered, the harder it was to keep quiet, and I had a sickening feeling that we might get caught. We made it to the entrance hall where Scorpius and Michelle were hiding behind a suit of armour. In retrospect, it would have made much more sense if just Evan and one other had gone. The chance of getting caught would have decreased significantly, for one. But none of us wanted to miss Rhys Payne get his comeuppance.
“I can’t believe we’re really doing this!” Alice giggled as we crossed the grounds.
“I think this could actually be the highlight of my life,” Bret added.
We gathered in the cluster of trees that were quite near to the castle, but still offered us a great view of the lake and a perfect aim at Rhys. It was very cramped – Scorpius’s elbow was sticking into my side, and I stepped on Michelle’s foot three times.
I’d like to say that I felt guilty at this point, but I didn’t. I was excited, the adrenaline rushing through my veins and the exhilaration of doing something so unlike me. Rhys appeared bang on time, 11pm, and checked his watch, clearly looking around for his fake date who was no doubt tucked up in her bed at that very moment.
“Right, Evan, don’t be nervous,” Scorpius whispered to him, “Make sure your aim is perfect.”
We all held our breath. Evan’s hand was shaking, but with a few deep breaths he managed to calm himself. Rhys was still waiting, unsuspecting. Evan muttered the incantation.
But he missed.
The spark flew past Rhys’s head and just like that our cover was blown.
“Fuck!” Bret hissed, “Run!”
“We can’t run, he’ll see us!” Hilary squealed.
“Shhh!” Scorpius insisted.
“We can’t just stand here like arseholes!” Michelle snapped.
“He knows we’re here!”
“I think he saw me!” Evan gasped fearfully. Rhys was looking right towards the trees – he had indeed seen Evan.
“That you, Adams?!” Rhys called, and Evan looked at us with panic in his eyes. “I can see you, you gangly twit! Try finding a better hiding place!” Like a soldier going into battle, Evan nodded at us and walked out from the trees to face Rhys. We all pulled out our wands, ready to defend our friend, just in case. We all had an unspoken agreement that we would not cast any spells on Rhys unless it was completely necessary. Seven against one was cowardly.
“What the hell were you doing in there?” Rhys laughed pompously. “Was that you who tried to curse me just now?”
Evan was holding his wand tightly. It still wasn’t too late to cast the jinx, but all anonymity had been forfeited. “You really are a little rat, Payne. Everybody hates you.”
“Really? Seems to me like you’re the social reject here – none of the lads in the dorm speak to you, Adams. You’re a freak, and you know you are.”
Rhys laughed. It was infuriating. Evan charged at Rhys, and before we knew it, they were punching each other fiercely at the edge of the lake. Despite the fact that Evan was far taller than Rhys, Rhys had somehow managed to get the upper hand and was now punching Evan, who was weakening with every blow. Scorpius and Bret looked at each other and without a word ran from the trees to help our friend.
By the time Alice, Hilary, Michelle and I had reached the scene, Scorpius had pulled Rhys away and Bret was kneeling beside a bleeding Evan.
“You brought the whole gang, eh?” Rhys snorted bitterly, “What the hell is this, an ambush? Seven against one?” We seemed so pathetic now that he said it out loud. “I honestly don’t understand why you all felt the need to accompany Adams if you’re just going to stand there gawping! Well, I understand why Weasley’s here – she’s only really supposed to go out at night, what with the ugliness and all –”
I was used to his ridiculously childish insults, so this did not bother me. However, the girls all hissed abuse at him in my defence, and Scorpius punched him right in the face. While I shouted at them to stop, Scorpius and Rhys now engaged in brawling by the edge of the lake, and I can safely say that I only realised the danger of our location right before it all happened. We were on a height, and the lake was deep beside us. It happened as if in slow motion. Evan lay bleeding on the ground; Scorpius and Rhys were teetering closer to the edge. Bret lunged forward to break them up, but somehow in the scuffle, Rhys was pushed backwards, and with an almighty splash he had fallen into the lake.
We assumed he would resurface. Of course we assumed that. How could we have known at that point that he’d hit his head on a rock on the way down?
It was a whole minute that we stood looking at the water that Rhys had disappeared beneath. We were all in shock. Why hadn’t he come back up?
“Fuck,” Scorpius yelped, “Fuck!”
“We have to get him,” Bret decided, already stripping down to his underwear. Scorpius hadn’t bothered – he dived straight into the lake, having cast a quick transfiguration charm on his neck to give him gills. He did the same for Bret.
I’m not sure how I didn’t vomit while waiting for Bret and Scorpius to return. I have never felt more ill in my entire life. If Rhys was dead, we were all responsible. We’d spend the rest of our days in Azkaban, living with the guilt that we had killed our fellow classmate. Hilary tended to Evan’s injuries while Michelle, Alice and I sat by the lake, praying. I could see they were crying. I was too.
After what seemed like an eternity, Bret resurfaced, followed by Scorpius who was holding Rhys’s limp body. We helped them drag Rhys onto dry land, and then surveyed his body. I could still feel a pulse.
“We have to get him to the hospital wing right now,” I said urgently. Scorpius, Bret and I carried Rhys back towards the castle, while Alice and Michelle walked ahead to make sure we weren’t caught. Hilary helped Evan walk back to the castle; his injuries were insignificant to us now.
“Please don’t die, please don’t die,” I could hear Bret mumbling.
By some divine miracle, the castle was completely quiet. The ghosts were sleeping, Peeves was nowhere to be seen. And here we were, seven students, carrying an eighth towards the hospital wing, unsure whether or not he would make it through the night. If he died, we’d all be his killers.
When we eventually reached the hospital wing, Michelle stopped us before going in.
“Wait,” she frowned, “We can’t just waltz in there with him in this state. We’ll get expelled for sure.”
“We can’t just leave him here!” I protested, “He needs help now!”
“I know that!” she hissed back, and then looked around edgily, “Wait here.”
She slipped in through the door of the hospital wing. As it was the beginning of the year, and the Quidditch season hadn’t yet started, the hospital wing was empty. Michelle beckoned us in after her having checked that the coast was clear, and Scorpius and Bret laid Rhys down on the nearest bed.
“Go wait outside!” Michelle whispered, and still shell-shocked by the reality of the situation, we followed her instructions. We watched as she knocked on the door of the matron’s office and bolted back outside the hospital wing to us. Through a small crack in the door, we watched as the matron rushed from her office, extremely confused as to how Rhys Payne had ended up there.
The seven of us rushed up to the Gryffindor common room. My heart was pounding fiercely, and I felt disgusted with what we’d just done. What if he didn’t make it? How long would it be before we were found out? Evan still had Rhys’s blood on his hands.
We all sat in a circle on the floor of the common room. Nobody said anything for a few moments. How was it that just under an hour before we were so optimistic about this plan? Alice was still crying. I had stopped, but knew as soon as I was alone I’d begin again.
“We need to make a pact,” Michelle announced in a husky voice, “That we will never breathe a word of this to anyone.”
“Shell!” Hilary gasped, “How can we not tell? Rhys will tell on us anyway.” She didn’t add it, but we were all thinking it – if he wakes up.
“A simple memory charm will take care of that,” Michelle shrugged, “But we’re all facing expulsion if the professors get wind of this.”
I’m ashamed to admit that I agreed with her. We couldn’t ever tell anyone of the nights events.
“If anyone asks,” Michelle continued, “We went to our dormitories early. People saw us in our common rooms. A lot of people didn’t like Rhys, not just us. We won’t be the main suspects.”
Suspects. We were now outlaws.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” she went on, “And if we keep our traps shut, so will we. Agreed?”
I nodded. Alice nodded reluctantly. Scorpius and Bret did the same. Evan sounded in agreement.
“Hill? Are you with us?” I asked Hilary.
She sighed. “I’m with you.” And there was no denying she was.