"Disappointment doesn't look good on you." I said wryly as I fixed Oliver with a curious look.
He looked absolutely exhausted and had dark bags underneath his eyes. His skin was pasty looking and his hair seemed dull and lifeless.
"Or," I paused, "is it worry?"
Oliver said nothing but ran a hand through the lifeless hair, trying to revive it somewhat. He turned a page in the Advanced Potions book.
Ever since Gryffindor had lost to Hufflepuff two Sundays ago, Oliver had been strangely quiet. His face had lost its animated expression of excitement and instead, was replaced with a sort of defeated look that I had never seen before.
And, to be honest, for once, I was trying to make conversation because the silence was quite uncomfortable. Usually, I didn't mind it, but Oliver's silence was smothering. It pushed down on my chest and caused me to gasp for breath.
"I think you'll do fine on the next Potions test." I was rambling and we both knew it. "You've been working hard."
It was rare for me to acknowledge his efforts but what else could I do? Oliver looked up at me and surveyed his tired eyes on my face.
"Really?" there was a hint of hope in his voice.
"Yes." I gave a timid smile. "I'm sure even Snape's noticed it."
There was a snort.
"You don't believe me?" I raised a brow. "He hasn't been making snarky comments about your scores now, has he?"
"Well, no…" Oliver's brows furrowed. "But he hasn't said anything about them, either."
I rolled my eyes. "You've had Potions for the last six years and you still think that Snape would acknowledge one's accomplishments?"
"He acknowledges yours…" Oliver's voice was gruff. Hoarse. He seemed almost sickly.
"No, he doesn't," I bowed my head. It would've been nice if Snape recognized my accomplishments in Potions, but I knew better than to expect something that wasn't going to happen. "He just passes back the homework and tests without so much as a word to me."
"He doesn't pick on you." Oliver said pointedly.
I grinned. "No. He often questions why I do certain things in his class, though." I gave him a slight frown. "They're always brief questions but never really…any disapproval about it."
Oliver nodded. There was a slight pause – a hitch – in our conversation. "Thanks, Charlotte."
He caught me off guard.
"Thanks." Oliver repeated slowly. "For helping me out so much." He looked like he was going to say something else, but he seemed to be fighting an inner battle. "I don't know…if…it's going to do any good, though."
The words came out slow and unsure.
"I mean, the entire purpose was to keep me as Captain of the House Team and…um, I don't think…that it matters whether or not I stay as Captain…" the look on his face said that he didn't exactly know what he was talking about.
I narrowed my eyes.
"The team's been through a lot and well…I suppose I've been…" he couldn't continue because he seemed to be in sudden pain. "I haven't been the best Captain…" and then he mumbled something about neglecting the team and how it was his fault that they lost.
"You're bloody kidding me, right?" I hissed in a low voice. We were in a library. "I don't think I've ever seen Oliver Wood being such a crybaby."
Oliver's cheeks flushed in a way that gave his ghostly appearance human life.
"You're giving up…is this what I'm hearing?"
"I'm not giving up!" Oliver hissed back. "I'm just trying to do what's best for the team!"
I gave my eyes a roll. "Clearly, you're not. Look at you! You look freaking terrible." I pointed at his face. "Pasty skin, dark circles under your eyes…lifeless…dull…hair!" I jabbed him in the chest.
I didn't realize that I could be so aggressive, but, the notion that Oliver was willing to give up really bothered me. It just didn't make sense.
All the hard work. All the issues that he had pushed through – were they were nothing? Were they so easily tossed away?
"Maybe I'm tired of it all," Oliver's voice was cracked halfway through his sentence so that he squeaked when he said tired. "Bugger it all! They spring Hufflepuff on me at the last moment when we had been training to kill Slytherin!" He was aggravated and frustrated and he demonstrated it by slamming his fist against the desk.
I flinched and Madam Pince came bustling over, her glasses set on the tip of her nose as she peered down at us in disapproval.
"Wasn't me," Oliver replied, pointing over to a random corner. "You might want to check over there."
I gave her a slight smile as she rushed over to where he had pointed.
"How could I have been so stupid?" Oliver turned back to me, his eyes blazing. "So ignorant, focusing only on how to defeat Slytherin when we should have had tactics that were full-proof."
I crossed my arms. "You're learning from your mistakes, why give up now?"
Oliver let out a loud sigh. "I'm so angry with myself. So annoyed with all of it. Why did Slytherin pull out at the last moment? Why did it have to be Hufflepuff? Why did Dementors have to attack and caused our bloody seeker to be tossed from his broom? Why was the weather so terrible? Luck wasn't on our side!"
If he was standing, Oliver would have kicked something over.
"And Isabella won't speak to me at all. She's angry with me because I ignored her after the game. The team's disappointed in me and the results."
"Boo freaking hoo, Wood." I crossed my arms. "You have so many issues and you don't know what to do so you're going to crawl into a hole and disappear, right? Because that's just the best bloody plan."
"Like you understand," Oliver snapped back. Our voices were gradually increasing in volume. "You act like the bloody ice queen when you're with me – like, I should be honored that you sacrifice your precious time to come teach the invalid some Potions."
"You all question why on earth I'm a Gryffindor when I'm the only who should be questioning why you are one!" I stood up from the table, hoisting my book bag over my shoulder. "At least I fight for what I want." I ignored his ice-queen statement.
"You don't even know what you want!" Oliver retorted.
"QUIET! QUIET! QUIET!" Madam Pince had returned, wiser to our ways and was snapping at us horribly. "THE LIBRARY IS NOT A PLACE TO BE SHOUTING!"
In any other situation, the irony of the situation would have caused a laugh. However, we both just sat down and glared at each other mutely.
"Have some bloody sympathy for me, Charlotte," Oliver replied quietly after a long silence. "You do know how to be sympathetic, right?"
Aggravated, a little offended and more than over the situation, I frowned. "Do you want me to hex you to Kingdome Come?"
"I'm tired! And Snape works us all like dogs." He thwacked the Advanced Potions book. "How am I to focus on Quidditch when I've got his leering face in my mind?"
Pity caused me to loosen my frown. I suppose that I had overreacted a little. Okay, more than a little; I sort of exploded at Oliver.
As much as I didn't want to admit it, it wasn't entirely Oliver's fault, either. I had been stressing over future-job applications and this was just the match underneath my cannon.
"I'm sorry for exploding," I said with a sigh. "Many things on my mind." I closed the Potions book and withdrew from my book-bag my Ministry applications. "I've been wondering about whether or not I really want to do this."
Oliver looked up at me.
"My mum's wanted me to be in the Ministry for Merlin knows how long. And really, for the longest time, I thought that was what I wanted, too."
"You should do whatever makes you happy, Charlotte." Oliver gave me a serious look. "And if that isn't what's going to make you happy, don't do it."
"Mum says it's all a waste of my potential if I don't and I so don't want to disappoint her!"
"You won't," he was very stern on this statement, "because she'll be proud of you no matter what you do."
"You don't know my mum."
He raised a brow. "Yes, but I know mums in general."
"You sound like a female."
The tension between us evaporated with this conversation. We had gone from two stressed out, angry and angst-ridden teens to two adults having a regular conversation.
"Mum doesn't want me to play Quidditch, but she'll accept it because it's my life, not hers." He tapped his fingers against his desk. "I think you and my mum would get along famously."
It was my turn to raise a brow. "Really, now? How so?"
"Well, for starters," he grinned. "You both adore scolding me to death."
I frowned, but not seriously, "Oh-ho, aren't you funny?!"
"And well," he gestured at my hair. "She's a redhead as well, and I believe your personalities are rather similar in many ways."
"Ha. Honestly, I don't think you know me very well, Mister Wood."
It was my turn to be surprised. "I think I know you better than you think I do, Charlotte." He continued drumming his fingertips against the wood. "I know that you aren't as sure of your future as you seem, and that you're deathly afraid of flying." He looked amused because my expression was rather smug. "I know that you live and breathe orange juice in the morning and strangely have a dislike for tea." Oliver grinned as the smugness started to vanish. "I know you really do enjoy Potions – I don't know why, but I know that you do – and that you have always hated Defense Against the Dark Arts and are absolute rubbish at Transfiguration work, even though you always did the bookwork well."
I blinked a few times.
"Should I continue?"
So, Oliver sort of knew what I was like…sort of.
"I know that you're afraid to disappoint your family, and that even though you often complain about your complaining mother, you love her very much. I know that she means a lot to you and that's why you're willing to forsake your own happiness for hers. I know that although you put on this persona – a façade, if you will – of being happy when you're alone, you're not. You value your friendships above everything else; even if you pretend that it doesn't matter to you. I know that you pretend to have a thick skin when comments really do get to you."
I tried to hide the smile that was spreading itself over my lips. "Very good, Mister Wood." I managed. "It seems you know me quite well, but not very well."
And then he said something that surprised me. "You're a bit like Isabella, Charlotte." He ran a hand lazily through his hair, his tone totally nonchalant. "You try so hard to be someone that you're not; hiding away behind a façade and a shell of your actuality."
I was standing in the owlery, the Ministry application tucked firmly in my gloved hand. Was this really the path I wanted to choose? To go and become a junior Unspeakable on the path towards becoming an actual one?
My thoughts were interrupted when a gloved hand placed itself on my shoulder.
"Debating something, Miss Murray?" Professor Lupin's tired face smiled at me.
"Uh, yes, I suppose…" I stuttered, a bit embarrassed that he had caught me.
His eyes travelled from my face to the application in my hand. "The Ministry? You have high aspirations."
I found myself saying, "My mum has high aspirations, sir."
"Ah." His tone did not change and neither did his expression. It was pleasantly neutral and he surveyed the flock of owls. "I, myself, am here to send off a letter." They scanned over the plain Barn Owls with their pale faces and the small Elf Owls. "And on that note, I find myself also debating on whether or not this note should be sent."
"Interesting," I murmured. "And what keeps you from sending it?"
A small smile tugged at the corners of his tired lips. "Pride, maybe," Lupin turned his attention back to me. "Typical trait of the Gryffindor house." He sounded a bit amused. "I recall from our last conversation, Miss Murray –"
I interrupted him. "Charlotte, sir."
"Well, I recall from our last conversation, Charlotte," he said my name pointedly but good-naturedly. "That I told you not to call me 'sir' and that you discussed with me your dislike of the subject Defense Against the Dark Arts?" he added the last part conversationally, and with a smile as he turned his attention back towards the owls.
"Uh, yeah," I scrunched up my brows in thought. "I believe so…sorry."
"No need to apologize." Lupin softly petted the breast of one of the owls and it cooed, leaning against his finger pleasantly. "Just out of idle curiosity – which course is your favorite?"
The answer was immediate. "Potions, si-" I caught myself in time. "Potions." I said again, more firmly.
He turned back and looked at me, his face one of surprise. "Really?" He sounded truly interested. "Potions? A Gryffindor?" And then his voice became soft. "I only knew of one other Gryffindor who adored Potions." Lupin's eyes lingered on my hair. "She was also redheaded, like you."
Self-consciously, I touched my red hair.
"You do not mind Professor Snape?" he allowed one of the owls to hop onto his finger (it was an Elf Owl) and Lupin let his arm rise and fall, testing the owl's weight.
"No, I do not." I replied. "He's never once picked on me or has ever given me any grief. I'm thankful for my good marks in his class."
Lupin gave me a wry smile and started to laugh. "First time I've ever heard of a student compliment Snape. He must like you."
I pulled my lips into a confused sort of line. "I wouldn't say that he likes me, Professor, more that he's quite neutral to me."
A shrug of his shoulders told me that Lupin would not judge whatever I said, so I continued our conversation. "And if you really must…know…I am debating on whether or not to send this application."
"Worried that you won't get it?"
"Worried that I will."
My response must have surprised him because he turned rather quickly, startling the little owl, which went fluttering off.
"I don't want to sound arrogant or give off any such impression," I explained quickly. "But I do realize that I have high marks in my classes and excellent recommendations from McGonagall, Flitwick and Professor Vector. It seems likely that I'll be accepted into their Ministry ranks, but I'm afraid that I'll be unhappy."
"If I understand it," Lupin furrowed his brows in thought. "You are going to apply because it is what your mum intends you to become, and you don't wish to disappoint her." I nodded. "However, you're afraid that this isn't the correct path for you to choose, and thus, will become unhappy and eventually hate your career choice?"
"Yes," and then I frowned, "but when you put it that way, the choice seems rather obvious."
"I see that people have been giving you some advice on the matter."
I thought of Oliver. "Well, yes."
"And you're still considering sending that application?" he eyed it.
"It's a brilliant career choice and it would make my mum proud. It would provide stable income for my family and 'fulfill my potential'…whatever that means…" I replied slowly. "And I'm sure that one could become used to anything if at it long enough…"
"Spoken like a true Existentialist." He replied with a wolfish grin. "Why hesitant, then? It seems as though your choice has been made."
I nodded. "Yes." And then I stepped forwards into the owlery, looking up into the rafters are the snoozing birds. "Which would you suggest for a quick delivery?"
Lupin's eyes were sparkling when he pointed at an excited looking Long-Eared Owl.
"I like Professor Lupin," I said randomly at dinner. The conversation that Piper and Claudia were having stopped; they both turned to look at me. "What? Can't I say something random without having you all act like the world's gone and gotten itself blown up?"
"He's a nice teacher," Claudia agreed, "but he has such shabby robes."
Our eyes went up towards the Professor, who was sitting at the foot of the table, calmly eating his soup with a spoon whilst reading the Daily Prophet.
"And all those malicious scars on his face." Piper added. "I wonder how he got them. Some kind of fight, maybe? He is the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, you know."
"Hmm, maybe." I chewed silently. "Anyways, have you all seen Alex? She seems to have vanished lately."
"Oh," Piper looked about. "I think she's been nagging Professor Sprout for a recommendation letter."
I stopped chewing. "For what?"
Claudia set her grey eyes on me. "Our Alexandra wants to be an assistant to Mister Jenkins Auldberry. He's quite the famous botanist and he's set to travel to India and China this summer to study some rare species of whatever it is."
Ah, I recalled Alex telling me about him.
"She's eager to finish her application and send it off." Claudia sounded wistful.
"I've sent mine off, as well," Piper replied. "I've applied to Gringotts and many of their branches abroad." She smiled. "Hopefully, they'll consider me for a Curse-Breaker. Merlin, I wouldn't mind a desk job! Anything to get me away from my two cranky aunts."
"Me, too." I suddenly said, feeling quite awkward about it. "I've only sent one, though."
Piper's eyes bulged. "And what if you get rejected?"
"I won't…" I said this slowly and she gave me an almost scornful look. "I'm not arrogant! I just…know…" my lips twitched.
"Well," Piper tried to hide her disapproval. After all, she had been one of the few who had acknowledged that an Unspeakable was quite the job for me. "I wish you luck, Charlotte."
Claudia also smiled. "An Unspeakable remains one for their entire life. I hope you are making a wise choice."
I swallowed the lump in my throat. "Me too."
The rest of dinner went by rather quickly. Alex returned with dirt on her hands (I charmed them off because frankly, it was disgusting) and a sloppy grin on her face. Sprout had agreed to the recommendation letter. Apparently, all that Alex needed to do was to agree to repot some of her more exotic plants.
We argued with the stupid Knight that insisted on changing the ridiculous password and entered the common room.
Isabella, it seemed, was still furious at Oliver. She sat across the room from him and never looked up once. Oliver, on the other hand, looked miserable, and kept glancing up at her from his textbook.
"Lover's quarrel?" Piper hissed as we walked past.
Isabella's eyes rose, briefly, and connected with mine.
I prayed that she wouldn't greet me. I hoped that she wouldn't smile at me. I wished that she would never acknowledge my presence
"I suppose so." I felt my lips molding the words, my eyes still locked with Isabella's. Her lips quirked into a strange sort of sadistic smile.
"Has anyone else noticed that the she-devil has turned down her torture?" Piper was tapping her fingers against the window sill. "I find it strangely suspicious."
Alex was staring at me from across the room. "Yes, I agree with you on that." Her gaze turned towards Piper. "I don't know what she's planning, but I don't like it."
"Let's hope it isn't some sort of ridiculous public humiliation." Piper retorted. "I was quite surprised today when I was out with Richie. He was telling me something when we were approached by his girlfriend and Isabella." Her brow furrowed. "Elise came over and practically sucked the air out of Richie's lungs. She's absolutely smothering. I hate how she has to baby-talk when she speaks to him! It makes her look that much more stupid."
"She's always been daft," Alex replied. "I don't know how on earth she managed to get into Ravenclaw."
"Or Advanced Potions, N.E.W.T level." I replied. I had trouble believing that even Oliver had gotten into the course, sometimes.
"Anyways," Piper continued her story after we had ceased our comments about Elise's character. "Isabella set her dark eyes on me, right? And right away, I knew something was going to happen but I wasn't really sure what. She looked at me," Piper raised her chin and looked directly into Claudia's eyes, "and sort of pulled her lips into this strange smile…"
I was reminded of the smile she had given me in the common room. The one that had sent chills down my spine.
"What were you doing with Richie, Piper?" Claudia's inquiry had nothing to do with Isabella.
Piper looked surprised at Claudia's question. "We were just hanging out."
Claudia didn't look convinced, but she said nothing. I thought it was weird that Claudia would inquire something like that of her friend.
"Should I not be seeing Ritchie?" Piper asked, crossing her arms defensively over her chest.
I closed my eyes for a moment, willing the tension to disperse.
"Do you want my honest opinion?" Claudia replied. "Because I'm not sure if you want to hear it, Piper."
I had never heard Claudia speak to her friend in such a tone before. It was a mixture of disapproval and arrogance.
"Yes, dear," Piper's words were like a poison cloud hanging thickly in the air. "I would love to hear what you have to say about the matter." Her sarcasm cut that cloud, and I half expected it to rain venom-laced rain over Claudia.
She didn't look too bothered, though. "I don't think you should hang around that boy too much, Piper." Claudia responded in such a way that shocked Alex and I. Her tone was not the familiar tone of coolness that we were used to hearing. It was almost mocking, as though she knew something that we didn't.
"And why, pray tell, should I not?" Piper retorted. "I get to pick the company I keep, thanks."
"Because he's bad news." Claudia's haughty tone was replaced with one of severity. "He's really bad news."
"He can't be too bad," I spoke up and the two of them stopped glaring and turned towards me.
"What?" They echoed, voices joined in unison.
"Well," I felt awkward cutting into the argument, but I did have a valid point to make, "he is Drew's rather good friend. I don't really see Drew as the sort of fellow who hangs around people who could potentially be that bad…" At the end of my sentence, my voice sort of dropped in volume because the intensity of which Claudia was staring at me frightened me.
Piper looked, however, thankful for my remark.
"That's just bloody great, isn't it?" Claudia said in a dangerous voice. "A wonderful way to evaluate one's character!" I felt my face redden slightly. "We should run everyone by Drew, first, Charlotte. Thank you for the suggestion."
She didn't roll her eyes, but she might as well. Her statement caused my cheeks to flame with embarrassment. I was just trying to make a point; to save Piper some face.
"Don't get defensive just because Charlotte's right." Piper retorted, her own face flaming red. "Ritchie is not a sort of bloke that…"
"He's bad news, Piper."
"He's not the sort of bloke that leads a girl on and then leaves her in the dust, Claudia." Her voice rose in volume. "Not every boy is going to be the same as Barrett!"
There was a hush. Claudia's face tightened ever-so-slightly. Her cheeks were suddenly as ruddy as my Gryffindor scarf and I could see that she looked incredibly angry.
Piper must've realized what she had said, because she shut her mouth almost immediately and held a fist to her lips.
"You didn't go there…did you, Piper?" Claudia's eyes filled with a sudden hurt that overwhelmed the rest of her features. They glistened, and her lip trembled.
"I'm sorry, Claud," Piper was saying. "I don't know what overcame me…"
But her apologies fell on deaf ears. Claudia had exited the room in a hurry, attempting to keep her face stony and unemotional.
"Just my bloody luck and my sodding mouth," Piper groaned. "Why did I have to bring up the one thing that she hates to have mentioned the most?"
Alex gave Piper a simple pat on the shoulder, and gazed out the door thoughtfully.
I was beginning to wonder if Isabella even had to get involved. It seemed like we had already begun to fray around the edges.
"You do fancy Ritchie though, don't you?" I asked softly, hoping that Piper wouldn't blow up at my question.
Thankfully, she was more preoccupied with how she had upset her best friend. "Unfortunately," Piper sighed, "he makes butterflies fly up in my stomach. I wish he wasn't attached to that disgusting Elise."
I recalled how Isabella's lips curled when she had said Elise's Ritchie.
"Is it wise to fancy a boy who has a girlfriend?" It was Alex that asked, and I looked up quickly. I was surprised that this girl who liked to chatter all the time, had suddenly become very quiet.
"I don't care." Piper declared. "I know that he's the one for me, and not even his stupid prat of a girlfriend is going to stop me from going after him."
I winced, not purposely of course. "I don't think I'd be very happy if another girl continued to pursue Drew while we were together."
Piper gave me a defeated sort of look and shrugged her shoulders. "You can't stop love, darling Charlotte."
Alex raised a brow.
Love? Love? What sort of messy triangle was this going to be? And while Ritchie was with Elise, I couldn't help but remember how his eyes lingered on Piper's face when they had ambushed Drew and I in the library.
Later that night, when Piper finally left our room and Claudia returned at Merlin-knew what hour, I sat thinking about what Piper had said. My fingers traced out their names on my covers.
Piper ♥ Ritchie ♥ Elise?
I shook my head.
Piper fancied Ritchie, clearly. Did Ritchie fancy Piper too? If he did, why was he still with Elise?
What were we getting ourselves into? And more importantly. What was Piper getting herself into?
Author's Note: Today is the fourth of September! And my birthday! :) But that's of little importance! I hope you enjoyed this chapter. The drama was fun to plot.
I'd like to hear what you think is going to happen! :D Please, don't hesitate to leave a review. They do make my day & today is my birthday! ♥
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