Chapter 4 : Much Ado About Nothing
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Author's Note: To the lovely people who favourited this story, ILY all. Enjoy!
Chapter Four: Much Ado About Nothing
"You know what? I'm seriously considering having Hamper's syndrome in my butteroinks now," Gen declared, breaking the silence inside the dormitory.
It was a chilly Tuesday night. Silva, Gen, Lily and I were the only ones in the room, while Mary had emergency Quidditch meeting. I looked up from my position at the foot of my bed to see Gen sitting crossed-legged on hers, staring beadily at me as she was brushing her long hair.
I was searching my trunk for yet another roll of parchment. Silva already warned me about the usual flooding of homework during Mondays, since most of teachers expected the students to recharge during the weekends, and sure enough, I had under my sleeve an essay on giant wars for History of Magic, another one for Potions about the properties of belladonna, some translations for Ancient Runes, and an essay on the limitations of Shield Charms for Defense Against the Dark Arts.
"Rubbish. You can't have Hamper's just because you fancy having it. It's a genetic thing," Silva informed her. She was sitting on her bed wearing her stylish glasses and on her usual bedtime ritual of skimming the first 300 or so pages of a book before retiring.
Gen rolled her eyes in Silva's direction. "It was a jest, Silva. Anyway, germetic or not, I still want to have it," she said stubbornly.
"It's genetic, not germetic," Silva told her expertly. "It means it runs in the family. Quin probably has a relative with the same condition too, don't you?" She turned to me.
"I wouldn't know. I mean, Hamper's syndrome involves magical energy, yes? I'm Muggle-born, so… probably a very, very, very distant relative?" I asked Silva.
"Probably." She shrugged.
"What's cooking?" came a carrying voice from the general direction of the door. The four of us turned to see Mary's tall figure, her long dark hair on its usual plait, entering the room.
"Genevieve here expressed her desperate desire to acquire Hamper's syndrome on her butteroinks just a while ago," Silva replied, grinning slightly.
"How was the meeting, Mary?" Lily asked, looking up from her copy of The Standard Book of Spells Grade 5, only to watch Mary trudged towards her side of the room.
The latter shrugged as she began to remove her trainers. "Bloody emergency. Jasmine bored all our socks off with her 'Time Management' speech. The next game's in two months, yeah? But the way she's perked up, you'd think it's happening tomorrow."
Jasmine Higgs was the seventh year Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team. She was very obsessed about winning and, according to Mary, an insufferable stickler.
Mary rounded on Gen. "So, why do you want Hamper's again?"
"Because she's gone soft in the head," sneered Silva playfully. She shut the book she was reading, clearly done for the night, and carelessly placed the large volume on a pile of library books on one corner of her bed. I glanced briefly in her direction, noticing a clutter of crumpled parchments, some quills and even a shoe - all scattered around her four-poster. I almost forgot just how messy Silva's area could get.
Gen gave Silva a wry look. "Very funny."
"So, why then? You heard Quin, it's nasty," pressed Lily.
"I wouldn't mind if I get to look like that in the end," Gen said, gesturing towards me.
I gave a slight jolt. "Whatever do you mean? You're thin as a stick already!"
"It's not just about you being slight, silly. Though of course, losing all that weight really gave you a boost. Your skin is glowing and your hair… don't even get me started on your hair," she said ardently, shaking her head.
Gen had always been critical with appearances. She shared with us before that in their household, the only place that you were allowed to look scruffy was the bathroom. Being the youngest of four girls, she was taught by her mother and her older sisters that you always had to present yourself in public perfectly at all times, in any situation.
I looked around and realized that Silva, Lily and Mary were also studying me.
"I know what you mean," Lily mused.
"My hair wasn't like this at first. You lose some of your hair in every medication cycle, see? And then you grow them again once you recover and lose them again on the next cycle. Your hair becomes uneven after a while. It's lucky my Mum was able to make my hair look decent after.
"And I have no idea what you mean about my skin glowing. It wasn't like this in the beginning, too. The Lobalug poison had this weird side-effect of making your skin rough and scaly. It peeled off when I rubbed it too hard and it was painful and disgusting. It took almost two weeks before I recovered," I babbled.
I felt like explaining. The four of them were looking at me like I just went through the most marvelous transformation— I didn't. It wasn't marvelous at all. It was agony. It was torture. I wanted them to see, to understand, that I did not have a good time; that every time I forced that horrid liquid in my mouth, I knew I was inserting poison inside my system; that every time I saw my hair falling out, I was convinced I was getting worse, instead of better. They didn't understand and I wanted them to understand.
Unfortunately for me, the four of them ignored my ranting.
"You should've heard what the boys from my team said about her earlier. Denver Strom kept whispering on and on about Quin, Jasmine almost made him swallow his Beater's bat to stop him from distracting everyone," Mary shared. She sniggered, and was now polishing the tail of her broomstick, a tin of Fleetwood's High-Finish handle polish propped open on her side.
"Strom? Isn't he that 6th year bloke who used to call Quin 'Hefty Bennie'? The nerve of that guy," Silva said disapprovingly.
Lily joined in. "During the rounds, April Showers, you know, the Hufflepuff prefect, kept on harrying me about details on how Quin lost all that weight. I was telling her about Hamper's but she kept blithering on and on about this story that you, Quin, were attacked by a Lethifold—"
"WHAT?" The new information slightly distracted me from my silent grumbling.
"That you were attacked by a Lethifold, yeah," Lily repeated, nodding to me. "And that you were rescued half-way through. The Lethifold only ate a portion of your body explaining why you've got so thin," she said, then added wryly, "Pretty original theory, eh?"
"But— what are Letty-whatsits?" I asked confusedly.
"It's this monster that's also called the Living Shroud…"
As it turned out, Lethifolds were creatures that suffocate you, then digest your body to clear away evidence of an attack. And yes, they were actual creatures. Silva even showed me a description from Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.
How can a normal person even had the time to make that connection?
"Ridiculous. Lethifolds kill their victim before eating them. Even if an attack did happen, which is impossible, because Lethifolds are found only in tropical countries, and you survived, you would've been dead, Quin, and not just a reduced version of your body," Silva elucidated indignantly.
"Don't worry, Silva. I don't buy it either. I mean, if I suffocated, died, got digested, and returned from the dead, I'm sure I would've remembered it," I assured her.
The four of them laughed.
"Pathetic. Who came up with this kooky idea anyway?" Mary asked, still giddy.
"Bertha Jorkins, seventh year Ravenclaw," Lily replied. She, too, finally closed the book she was reading earlier and was now preparing for bed.
Mary bolted. "Jorkins? Wasn't she the one who came up with that stupid rumour about Silva's glasses?"
There was this harebrained rumour back in third year about Silva's glasses being the lost diadem of Ravenclaw transfigured, that allegedly accounted for Silva's genius in class.
"Nope. That would be Bettina Jorkins. She's in fourth year. They're second cousins," Lily clarified as she fluffed her pillow.
"Looks like zany runs in their family," Mary sneered.
We all nodded our agreement.
"It only goes to show," Gen interjected, keen to return the conversation on track, "that people are now curious about you, Quin."
"I— only because I look a little bit… different," I said defensively. Gen was at it again and the slight feelings of frustration I had earlier was starting to go back.
"Different? Honestly, Bennett, have you seen yourself in the mirror lately?"
"Yes. I just look, er, healthier, that's all. It's not a big deal. It is, but— I mean, I'm… still me," I finished weakly. The whole thing was getting a little bit too uncomfortable.
"Of course you're still you, Quin, but people don't really know the real you, do they? All I'm saying is, you should be a little more careful. You can't hide in here for long, you know," Gen insisted.
It was true. I'd been keeping myself away from the public by spending more time in our dormitory during breaks, carefully avoiding the Gryffindor common room as much as possible, despite the fact that the place was more ideal for doing homework, since there was more room to spread out. Gen was right, of course. I had to show myself sooner or later.
"But it can't be that bad. I mean, people will get tired of me eventually," I suggested hopefully.
"Let's hope so," Lily said, suppressing a yawn.
The next couple of days, however, made me realize that I was getting my hopes up a little too much.
Whispers followed me occasionally in corridors and people kept on hounding me for details of my losing weight; some of them subtle, but some of them shockingly rude and straightforward that sometimes, I found myself wondering where the heck these people learned their manners from.
At first, I tried to exert some effort to explain about Hamper's— I even memorized a fast and simple routine speech:
"My magic jammed the area that happened to control my weight. They fixed it and voila!" (extend arms to accentuate body size)
I was hoping that once I put myself out there, the information would circulate by itself. I was clearly wrong. People seemed to think that it was too far-fetched and opted to hear the explanation from me firsthand. Mary jokingly suggested to make a leaflet about Hamper's:
"What you do is, the moment someone approach you, don't even ask what they want. Just give them the bloody paper and be done with it."
In a castle filled with gossiping teenagers, however, every news item was bound to get crazier. When people get tired of one story, it was only natural to have taller versions with every retelling. In less than a week since I was back, I got to marvel at how thick a Hogwarts student's imagination could get.
Bertha Jorkin's Lethifold Theory was only one of the more creative conjectures that people came up with in an attempt to justify my metamorphosis. The others were either too gruesome, rather offensive or just plain stupid.
"Someone told me you used Entrail-Expelling Curse on yourself. That's probably why your body can't absorb all the food, right?" came from a sixth year Hufflepuff bloke who ambushed me outside Charms classroom.
Right. And you thought I'd be dead after all my insides were removed, didn't you? Ha!
"Is it true that you switched bodies with another person who's a thinner, leaner version of yourself?" a second year Ravenclaw girl on pigtails asked me, while I was doing Kettleburn's essay on the library.
First of all, if you're suggesting I traded bodies with a twin, I'm an only child. Second of all, is that even possible?
"You know what I think? I think you cast a mass Confundus Charm on all of us, so we'd all think you're slender, but really, you're not,” sneered Hedda Woodcroft, Slytherin fifth year, as I was washing my hands in the girls' bathroom.
And you know what I think? I think that I don't need to put Confundus Charm on you at all, considering the way your bloody mind's running.
The Slytherins were having a field day, of course. Not one single day did I get to have a break from their jeering and mocking. They could've succeeded in getting my goat, but I was so used to their style that they never bothered me one tiny bit.
Alecto Carrow, a tubby Slytherin fourth year, taunted me when she spotted me on the girl's bathroom. "Ooohh… if it isn't the new Gryffindor stick girl, Bennett."
What was it with Slytherins and bathrooms anyway?
I ignored her, but grabbed my wand secretly from my pocket, just to be sure.
"No wonder it reeks in here," she said mockingly, fanning her hands in front of her face. "A dirty Mudblood just took a leak."
Mudblood was a very derogatory term for a witch or wizard of Muggle descent. I raised an eyebrow and scanned her from top to bottom, thinking to myself that this girl had some nerve calling anyone dirty, when she couldn't even take the time to wipe the snot off her pudgy face.
"You sure it's me, Carrow? Because I think you're just sniffing your breath," I retorted and left hurriedly, before she could even catch up on what I just said.
Everyone knew that Slytherin's Carrow siblings were slow. What they lacked in sense, they compensated with built. Her older brother, seventh year Amycus Carrow, was huge— you could only imagine the size of brain that one got.
Of course, a juicy intrigue like my weight loss miracle couldn't possibly escape the Marauders. Peter Pettigrew managed to interrogate me during Potions as the two of us were waiting in line to get sneezewort from the Professor Slughorn's storage cupboard. The class was brushing up on Confusing & Befuddlement Draught that day.
"Did you use some sort of a diminishing potion then?" Peter started.
"No." I immediately knew what he was talking about. People did that a lot— jumping onto questioning me without as much as an introduction.
"A kind of minimizing spell?" he persisted, eyes squinting slightly.
"No. Can't do magic outside school, remember?"
"Oh yeah," he muttered, almost to himself.
Peter had this habit of biting the nail off his right index finger when he was thinking hard about something. I noticed it every time Professor McGonagall called him up during class— he was doing exactly that.
"I know! You didn't eat for five months!" he shrieked, index finger pointing to the dungeon ceiling, eyes alight with sudden inspiration.
"Are you serious?!"
Peter's pal, James Potter, was just as bad. He cornered me during Herbology as we were huddled together awaiting our turn to use the balance scale, each carrying a bucket of dragon dung manure. We were working with Screechsnaps that day and Professor Sprout required us to measure the amount of fertilizer to be used.
"Bonker’s syndrome, eh?" James prompted. He obviously grew taller since I last saw him, because he was surveying me with his head tilted down.
"Hamper's…" I corrected him.
He seemed to have heard nothing and just shook his head feverishly in an attempt to ruffle his already untidy hair. James was always fond of messing up his hair, but to use his hands seemed unwise at that moment - unless he wanted to style his fringe using dragon poo.
"And in the blubbertionks, you say?"
"Butteroinks…" I muttered.
"I think Professor Montgomery mentioned that in class. It's that Muggle disease where a part of your body reproduce, isn't it? I think it's called Clanker—"
"I think you mean cancer."
Merlin. James Potter should pay more attention to Muggle Studies.
The incident that truly unsettled me, however, happened on a Thursday evening of my second week back, when I was walking back to the Gryffindor Common room. I was the last one to leave the library yet again that night, because I had to research the ingredients of the Draught of Peace for my first ever extra Potions lesson that Friday.
As I turned one corner on the seventh floor corridor, I was greeted by the vision of Florence Campbell and Sirius Black in a tight embrace. Rather, Florence squeezing Sirius, while the latter just stood there, looking bored.
Why did it always have to be these two?
I turned my heels immediately, eager to leave, but I almost jumped when Florence started bawling.
"I'm sorry! I'm really, really sorry!"
I stopped dead on my tracks and blamed curiosity for doing so.
"No." Even Sirius' voice sounded bored.
"I didn't mean to do it. I should've trusted you. Please… I'm so sorry!" Florence sounded like she was all choked up from tears.
"Don’t… stop doing that. I told you, I don't want this anymore."
I should not be here.
I forced my legs to continue walking, but it was too late. Just as I took my first step, I heard scampering footsteps behind me and before I knew it, Florence Campbell dashed ahead of me, still sobbing uncontrollably. She didn't even notice I was there at all.
I heard another set of footsteps approaching me and I decided it was too late to feign innocence. With all the audacity that I could muster, I turned around to face Sirius Black.
"Has anyone ever told you that you have perfect timing, Bennett?" he snickered. He had indeed grown taller, very much like his best friend James. Our height differences became more pronounced then as we were facing each other, yet again— with me, looking like a child caught stealing a cookie from a jar, and Sirius, standing there, looking supercilious as ever with his arms crossed and a playful smile on his lips.
I gulped. "I didn't mean to hear any of it. This is a corridor, Black. You can't expect things to be private here," I blurted.
He laughed. It almost sounded like a woof. "It's true," he said in between chuckles. "Good point, good point…" He was casually running his hands across his chin, nodding thoughtfully.
"Good. I'll go ahead, then." I marched towards his left, but he deftly cut me off by stepping sideways. I sprung backwards a couple of steps.
"Wait just a second." He started going forward. "About the other night…"
I retreated. I didn't feel like discussing the other night.
"What about it?" I stepped backwards again. Things started to feel very discomfited then. The two of us were doing some sort of a bizarre dance routine, and I must tell you, my feet were not much for saltation.
I heard a clearing of throat and I turned around to see my saviour standing there, mighty and resolute, ready to catch me just in case I happened to collapse on the bloody floor.
And that, my friends, was the exact moment I fell in love with Remus Lupin.
Nah. I was just extremely glad that someone finally interrupted the stressful situation I got myself into. My legs were starting to feel like flobberworms.
"Oh, hello, Moony. Welcome back," Sirius said casually, clearly unaffected by the tension. It figures, since it could possibly have been he who created the said tension in the first place - he and his bloody charisma.
Remus walked forward. I supposed he was Moony, because there were only three of us in that corridor and no one ever called me Moony before. Strange nickname for a bloke, though.
"What's happening here, Pa— Sirius?" he asked with a small knot on his forehead. He then turned to me and said mildly, "Nice to see you, Quin."
"Oh, nice to see you, um… Lupin," I answered awkwardly. Remus always called me by my first name. In fact, he always called everyone by their first names. But I didn't consider us particularly close, so it felt uneasy to call him Remus. Or Moony, for that matter.
"What's happening here?" Remus addressed Sirius again.
The latter shrugged. "We were just talking, Remus. Anyway, it's very good to see you, mate. I felt like I haven't seen you in a very long time," Sirius said with a very meaningful and sarcastic smile as he patted Remus' shoulder.
Remus appeared to have not noticed the suggestion Black was obviously trying to make. "I guess I missed you too, Sirius," he replied good-naturedly, then added in a more sober tone, "But it's running late and we don't want to miss the curfew."
"Come on, Moony, we still have fifteen minutes! It just so happened that I had some, er, business to attend to so I hung back a bit," Sirius confided, rubbing his nape while giving Remus a sheepish smile. "But James and Peter were in the library hours ago!"
I found myself interrupting. "No, they're not. I've been in the library since after supper and I haven't seen those two in there."
Sirius smirked. "I hate to break this to you, Bennett, but what you see is not always what you get."
I stared at him, confused. I had no idea what he meant by that. I didn't really notice those two at all and to be honest, James and Peter in the library? Between the four of them, the only one I ever saw spending time in that place was Remus.
"Let's go ahead and rescue those two then, before Filch catches them lurking again. We don't want any more detention, especially for James. He'd been missing out on Quidditch practice lately and I don't think Jasmine Higgs likes him nowadays," Remus finally said.
"Off we go, then," Sirius answered. He proceeded to walk towards the staircase, leaving me and Remus standing there.
"You're okay with returning to the common room by yourself, aren't you, Quin?" Remus asked me kindly, which only established my impression that he was the one Marauder who seemed to have his head and heart on the right place. He was a real gentleman.
"Of course. It's only a couple of steps," I replied.
He smiled. "If any of my friends ever bothered you in any way for the past couple of days, I apologize on their behalf. Sometimes they can be a little…"
"You're being kind. I think the more appropriate word would be devilish." We both laughed.
"I'm used to it. A lot of people are being devilish these days. I feel pretty calloused about it myself," I assured him.
"Oh, yeah. It's been a rough couple of days for you, hasn't it?"
"You have no idea."
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