Chapter 14 : Propositions in the Owlery
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“Oh sweet Merlin in a dress, please don’t tell me he’s going to start sulking again.” ~Tabitha Hart
The grounds of Hogwarts glittered as though they were covered with millions of tiny white diamonds. Late November had brought with it the first snow and the entire landscape surrounding the castle had been transformed into a winter wonderland. Tabitha stopped on the front steps to tighten her scarf and took in the scene.
The vast lawns stretching out before her were covered in a thick blanket of fluffy white snow. Several paths had been made through the drifts, leading to various locations across the grounds: Hagrid’s hut, the greenhouses, the Quidditch Pitch. At some point, someone had cleared the long sweeping driveway of snow magically, leaving a dark ribbon of gravel winding towards the large iron gates, the black stones creating a striking contrast against the white snow. The Black Lake was living up to its name, the green-black water reaching out towards the mountains like a large puddle of ink. A soft layer of fog floated just above the surface, giving the whole place an ethereal and enchanting feel. A few students had braved the crisp air to enjoy the snow, making snow angels in the drifts or tossing snowballs playfully at each other, although the few footprints and warmly dressed bodies did little to ruin the vista. Most students were inside the Great Hall having an early lunch or curled up in front of the fire in their common rooms, enjoying the relaxation of a lazy Saturday.
Tabitha set out onto one of the rough paths, the one leading around the castle. She had followed a different path earlier that morning when she and Natalie had trudged, weary eyed, to the Quidditch pitch for an early morning training session. As she walked, she noticed that her toes were still a little numb from being out in the cold so early, despite a hot shower and warming them up by the common room fire for fifteen minutes! When she reached a fork on the path, she turned right and made her way to the cluster of school greenhouses, looking rather small in the shadow of the high castle wall.
Tabitha had forgone eating lunch with her friends, not being very hungry. She hadn’t been hungry all week, only really eating so that people wouldn’t ask her what was wrong. It had been over a week since Tabitha had found her mother’s letter, and she still felt uneasy every time she thought about the message it held. For the first few days, Tabitha wouldn’t allow herself to be alone after night had fallen, staying put in the crowded common room until her friends decided to retire to bed. Even then she would lie wide awake long after the others, trying to shut out the creaks and groans of the castle and the tricks these noises would play on her mind. An odd paranoia had settled over her, much like the fog settled over the Black Lake, and it was causing Tabitha to feel constantly on edge, jumping at the tiniest noises and looking over her shoulder so often she was starting to get a sore neck. This constant state of suspicion was her own private hell though, as Tabitha hadn’t yet told her friends about the secret compartment in Annabeth’s diary. She told herself it was just because she hadn’t worked up the nerve, but what really scared her was the idea that she hadn’t told anyone because she didn’t really trust them.
Tabitha reached the door of Greenhouse Five and let herself in. The bright colours, mostly green, of the glass building were a striking contrast to the snowy grounds she had just left; this and the slightly humid temperature caused Tabitha to relax her shoulders and take her cold hands out of her pockets. Professor Longbottom glanced up as a draught of cold air followed her into the room and smiled warmly.
“The Tentacula’s pretty content today.” He said, nodding his head towards a row of plants with vines, waving gently as though a breeze had caught them. Being inside however, Tabitha knew that a breeze had nothing to do with it. “Probably a good day to have a look at them.” The professor added as he followed Tabitha’s glance to where four or five students sat, stroking the vines gently or scribbling onto parchment. Professor Longbottom was kind enough to allow his sixth and seventh year students – those working towards their NEWT levels – to come into the greenhouses at certain times to do some hands on studying with various plants. Many students only took up this offer occasionally, usually when it didn’t clash with their social life or when they weren’t deterred by the weather. Tabitha however, spent more time in the greenhouses than any other sixth year Herbology student. She found the jungle-like environment to be very soothing, and could spend hours tending to the plants. Over the last week, she had found herself frequently seeking solace amongst the foliage, sometimes studying and sometimes simply thinking. Professor Longbottom and the other students left her alone, and she appreciated this immensely.
She thought about Annabeth’s letter quite a bit, and what the files inside the diary might tell her, although she had been too afraid to go back and have a look. The day she had found the letter, she was determined to scour the files and search for answers, but with each passing day, she found herself less and less motivated to open the compartment again. She sat for long periods of time, talking herself into opening the files only to spend the same amount of time talking herself out of it.
I really should have a look at those files.
But they probably won’t tell me anything that will help – they’re so old.
But Mum went to so much trouble to put it all there and maybe it will tell me something.
What if it tells you something you don’t want to know? Like maybe Professor Longbottom’s a spy!
Maybe it can help me to protect myself from someone dangerous.
You haven’t been attacked by anyone yet, maybe all those dangerous people have died or been caught. There’s probably nothing to worry about…
And so the internal arguing continued; Annabeth’s diary remained under Tabitha’s pillow, untouched, and Tabitha fought daily with her paranoia and confusion, all the while masking it from her friends. And for the most part, her friends remained oblivious to her inner turmoil. Natalie and Rowan were constantly talking together, blushing and smiling in an embarrassed way whenever someone looked over at them. Annie was caught up in her Ball planning, Rheydyn tagging along as her makeshift personal assistant. The only one who seemed to notice any oddness in Tabitha’s behaviour was James. He had not said anything about her being upset since that night behind the statue, but he noticed – and Tabitha knew it. More than once, she caught him looking at her, his eyes full of concern and curiosity. Neither of them ever spoke of it though, and he continued to tease her in the same infuriating way he always had. Tabitha still felt the same frustration and annoyance towards James as always, and yet when she caught him looking at her with that worried expression, a warm, safe feeling seemed to spread through her.
An hour or so later, when she climbed through the portrait hole and joined some of her friends near the fire, he gave her this look once more. Tabitha turned away from him to warm up her chilled fingers, glad to have the fire’s heat to blame for the sudden reddening of her cheeks. She watched the flames for a few minutes before hearing the portrait hole open again. Glancing over, she saw Rowan enter, followed by Natalie, both looking flushed. Natalie walked over to Tabitha, grabbed her hand and nodded her head wordlessly towards the girl’s dormitory stairs. Curious, Tabitha allowed herself to be dragged up to the deserted room. Once inside, Natalie closed the door and threw her arms around Tabitha in a bear hug.
“Oh Tabby! I’m so excited! I’ve never been so happy before!” She exclaimed. Tabitha gasped as Natalie’s embrace crushed her lungs against her ribcage. Natalie pulled away and smiled sheepishly at her friend. “Sorry.”
“What’s happened?” Tabitha asked. “What’s so exciting?” A pink blush coloured Natalie’s cheeks and she ducked her head coyly. Tabitha raised an eyebrow, intrigued.
“Rowan asked me to the Ball.” Natalie muttered to the floor. Tabitha felt her stomach drop as though she’d skipped a step on the staircase. She had known this was coming, known it was inevitable. Natalie and Rowan had been smiling at each other for weeks…months even. And yet, at hearing Natalie say those words, all of Tabitha’s fears about being left behind flooded back to surround her. Natalie looked up at her friend for a reaction and Tabitha quickly rearranged her features into an excited smile.
“Natalie, wow! That’s really exciting!” She smiled. Her voice sounded so genuinely excited that for a second she wondered if she had really spoken. She almost turned to look over her shoulder to see if someone else was in the room with them who was gushing in this way. “I’ve been wondering if he would.” She went on, the words seeming to form by themselves.
“Have you really? Between you and me, I’ve been hoping he would ask me for a while now. Oh Tabby it was really sweet too…we went for a walk out by the lake and he looked so nervous, it was so cute!” Natalie giggled. Tabitha smiled in what she hoped was an encouraging way and let Natalie continue. “And he stammered a little bit as he asked, and he said ‘only if you want to’ as though I’d want to go with someone else! Oh Tabby, I’m just so excited!” And with that, Tabitha was once more captured in a bone crushing hug. She felt her eyes stinging, but she blinked back the tears, determined not to ruin this moment for Natalie. She would smile and continue to show nothing but happiness and support for her friends. Nobody needed to know that as well as fearing for her life and missing her mother dreadfully, Tabitha now felt the added pressure of being one of the few girls left without a date for the Ball.
The news about Rowan Bennett and Natalie Cooper spread around Gryffindor house quite quickly, so that by the time Tabitha sat down to breakfast in the Great Hall the next morning, it was practically old news. She nibbled on a piece of toast, not really hungry, and glanced up as James sat across from her, his eyes twinkling mischievously.
“Took him long enough, didn’t it?” He smiled, his eyes turning to glance down the table. Tabitha followed his gaze to where Natalie and Rowan sat, heads together, laughing about something together. Tabitha vaguely noticed several girls at the table smiling at them as though they were the sweetest thing they had seen in a long time. Tabitha was tempted to roll her eyes, but the grin stretched across her best friend’s face caused her to smile instead.
“It’s nice to see them so happy.” She said quietly. James looked at her curiously and opened his mouth to speak, but seemed to think better of it and shoved a piece of sausage in it instead. Tabitha had considered suggesting a walk to her friends after breakfast, but when Annie and Rheydyn set off to talk about Ball details and Natalie disappeared with Rowan, Tabitha found herself at a bit of a loss. She decided to write her father a letter since it had been over two weeks since they had last corresponded. She had been avoiding writing this letter as she knew she knew it would be a difficult one to compose. Tabitha was resolved to tell Luke nothing of Annabeth’s diary or the secrets it held. There was absolutely no use in worrying him over something that he had no control over. Tabitha simply had to assume that Annabeth’s enchantments would still work at protecting him. She spent a good hour at a window seat in the common room, writing carefully formed sentences with her quill. She wrote about Quidditch and Herbology, gave him an update on her classes (making sure to include lots of detail about Care of Magical Creatures) and asked plenty of questions about his work, Bosco and Miss Peach. When she had filled two pieces of parchment, she signed the letter, folded it up and sealed it into an envelope. Stretching her tired fingers, she stood up, climbed out of the portrait hole and headed towards the Owlery.
Tabitha had followed the path to the Owlery so many times that she let her feet take over, not really paying attention to her surroundings. This was why, as she rounded a corner, she walked straight into something hard and solid, yet soft and warm all at the same time. Tabitha gasped in surprise as she lost her balance and stumbled backwards. A strong hand reached out and caught her arm, steadying her before she could fall over. Tabitha looked up and realised that the thing she had walked into was a person. She took in a simple blue jumper stretched over broad shoulders, a strong curved chin, a mess of brown hair and two dreamy hazel eyes: Peter Smythe.
“Whoah, sorry there Hart! I didn’t see you coming!” He said, smiling down at her in such a friendly way that Tabitha couldn’t help smiling back.
“Oh that’s ok Peter, it was really my fault. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.” She replied, noticing the cute way his eyes crinkled when he smiled. “I was just heading up to the Owlery and –” She was cut off by a loud clanking noise coming from down the nearby hallway. Tabitha stopped mid-sentence and stared up at Peter, confused.
“Peeves.” He said, lowering his voice to a loud whisper. “I was heading up to the Owlery too when I came across him booby-trapping suits of armour to shoot fish heads at people.” The clanking noises continued, and now Tabitha could hear the unmistakable cackle of Peeves, the Hogwarts poltergeist, singing to himself.
“Oh Peevsie’s here at Hoggy Warts
On a beautiful winter’s day,
And he’s got a fishy surprise in store
For all who pass this way!”
Tabitha had never really been very fond of Peeves. Certainly she had found some of his pranks amusing when it was someone she didn’t particularly like at the receiving end, but ever since he had dropped a water balloon filled with treacle on her head in her second year at Hogwarts, she’d made a point of avoiding him when she could.
“I think we should probably find an alternate route.” Peter suggested. “Come on, I know another way we can get up to the Owlery tower.” He led Tabitha down several corridors, up staircases and through more than one secret passage. It was certainly not the most direct path to the Owlery, but Tabitha figured it was worth it not to get pelted with fish heads. She found herself actually enjoying the journey as she and Peter chatted comfortably about Quidditch and Hogwarts. Tabitha had never spent much time with Peter, after all he was a year older than her and in a different house, but they knew each other through Quidditch and passing in the hallways. When they finally reached the Owlery (completely safe from fish guts), Peter walked over and selected a brown school owl from the closest perch and tied his letter to its foot. Tabitha found Gerry and called him down. He flew down to her shoulder and nuzzled her ear gently, the soft feathers felt comforting and safe, although they did tickle a bit. She laughed and scratched his head before feeding him a few owl nuts from her pocket. Gerry hopped down to the nearest perch so Tabby could tie the letter to his leg.
“It’s for Dad, ok?” She said, stroking his soft feathers. Peter turned from the window where he had just released the school own and watched her, smiling.
“Is he yours?” He asked; Tabitha nodded. Peter walked over and gently patted Gerry’s wing. “He’s beautiful.” When he said this, he wasn’t looking at Gerry, but right into Tabitha’s eyes. She felt a slight flutter in her stomach and her ears grew warm. Tabitha finished tying the letter on Gerry’s leg and he lifted gracefully from the perch to soar out the nearest window. She watched him and then looked back at Peter, who was still smiling at her. “It’s a pretty amazing coincidence that I bumped into you Tabitha.” He said, “Because there was actually something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh?” Tabitha replied, her ears now burning hot. She was sure they would be bright red and was glad that they were hidden under her long hair. She did her best to appear nonchalant as Peter continued.
“Yeah, I um, spoke to Annie the other day and she told me that she’s decided to go to the Ball with Mitchell Farris.” Tabitha felt the fluttering in her stomach again as she vaguely wondered why Annie hadn’t mentioned that she was going to the Ball with Mitchell. In the same thought, she realised that Annie probably had mentioned it but Tabitha had been so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she hadn’t taken it in. Feelings of guilt shot through her, but her focus was drawn back to Peter, who continued to talk. “I’m kind of glad she decided to go with Mitchell actually, because I’ve realised that there’s another girl I’d like to go with a lot more.”
“Oh?” Tabitha replied, wishing she could think of something a little more interesting to say. Her heart was thumping loudly and Tabitha wondered if Peter could hear it.
“Yeah…um, look I’m sure someone’s asked you already, but if you don’t have a date for the Ball yet Tabitha, I was wondering if you would consider coming with me.” Peter said this rather quickly, finishing with a hopeful yet nervous smile. Tabitha couldn’t help but think it was rather cute. She smiled back at him, knowing her nervousness matched his.
“I would love to go with you Peter.” She said in a quiet voice. Peter’s smile widened and his eyes crinkled at her.
“Really? That’s great Tabitha.” He said. They smiled at each other again and then turned and walked out of the Owlery together. Their comfortable conversation continued as they made their way back down the stairs, although Tabitha found it a little harder to concentrate on what they were discussing this time. She couldn’t believe that a boy, an honest-to-goodness boy, had asked her out. She had an actual date to the Ball and she wouldn’t have to feel stupid going alone. As well as that, she was going with a handsome, funny, clever boy, with whom she got along with very well. Tabitha felt lighter than she had all week. When they parted to return to their own common rooms, Peter gave Tabitha another crinkle-eyed smile before saying, “I’ll see you around Tabitha.” Tabitha smiled back in return and then practically skipped the rest of the way to the portrait of the Fat Lady.
Rowan and Natalie had returned from whatever it was they had been doing, because Tabitha could see Rowan and James were playing a game of Wizard’s chess by the fire, while Natalie was sitting with Annie and Rheydyn who were poring through the latest issue of Witch Weekly, Natalie looking slightly bored. She smiled at Tabitha when she sat down, then narrowed her eyes suspiciously at Tabitha’s silly grin.
“What are you smiling about?” She asked slyly. Tabitha twirled a piece of hair around her finger casually but didn’t speak. “Where have you been?” Natalie tried again with a different tactic.
“Just up in the Owlery.” Tabitha replied, trying to keep her voice indifferent. Natalie leaned forward in her seat and studied Tabitha for a minute. Eventually she spoke.
“Who were you with?” Annie, who up until this point had been chattering away to Rheydyn about something, looked up at her two friends. Rheydyn glanced over when Annie stopped talking but quickly turned back to the article in front of her. Tabitha looked at her two best friends, making them wait just a few extra seconds before she simply said,
Natalie and Annie both leaned across the table towards Tabitha.
“What did he say? Did he ask you to the Ball?” Annie gasped excitedly. Tabitha felt her grin widen as she nodded her head. Natalie and Annie both burst out with girlish squeals and Tabitha couldn’t help but giggle as her friends reached over and clasped her hands in theirs.
“Oh Tabby, that’s so great!” Annie gushed. “Didn’t I say I thought he fancied you?” Tabitha and Natalie giggled and for the first time, Tabitha could understand why Annie was the way she was about boys. There was a slightly addictive, lightheaded feeling that came with knowing a boy actually liked you; at least, liked you enough to ask you to the Ball. Lost in her thoughts, Tabitha didn’t notice Rowan and James approach until the latter threw himself down in to the chair next to hers.
“What’s all the excitement about over here?” James asked with a cheerful grin. “Hart’s finally decided to publicly acknowledge that she was wrong and I am the best Quidditch Captain Gryffindor has ever seen?” Tabitha rolled her eyes at him.
“Actually we were discussing our dates for the Ball.” She replied.
“Ahh…come to your senses and decided to accept my offer huh?” James slung an arm over the back of Tabitha’s chair and leaned towards her. In a stage whisper he said, “Don’t worry Hart, no girl can resist my charms, I knew you’d give in eventually.” The others were watching Tabitha for her reaction, even Rheydyn had lifted her head from the magazine and was watching them seriously. Normally this sort of comment from James would have annoyed Tabitha immensely, but as she was still in such a good mood, she simply giggled and pushed him away.
“Actually Potter, I got a better offer. I’m going to the Ball with Peter Smythe.”
James looked as though he’d been hit with a rather strong confundus charm. He froze, staring at Tabitha for so long that she leaned back in her chair away from him and her eyes widened apprehensively. Oh sweet Merlin in a dress, please don’t tell me he’s going to start sulking again. She thought to herself. She wondered if she should do something, slap him, scream, ignore this behaviour. But before she could act on any of these impulses, James was pulled from his stupor by a loud giggle from across the room. His gaze pulled away from Tabitha and focussed instead on his sister, standing across the common room, leaning against a wall and giggling loudly as she flirted with a fourth year boy. James’s eye narrowed as he stood and marched across the room.
“Lily Luna Potter!” He shouted, startling the two younger students, the smiles wiped from both of their faces. He only had to say a few words before the fourth year boy shot Lily an apologetic look and slipped up the stairs to the boy’s dormitories. Lily’s eyes followed his movements before turning back on her brother. It wasn’t long before the entire common room was watching the intense fight between the siblings.
“What did I tell you? You’re not going to –”
“It’s not up to you! You can’t stop me from going!”
“I forbid you to go to the Ball, Lily!”
“Ha! Forbid me huh? Well Mum said I can go –”
“Well I’ll ask Dad then –”
“Dad said I can go too!”
Lily glared angrily at her brother, eyes flaming. “I’m going and there’s nothing you can do about it!” She snapped, before storming up to the girl’s dormitory. James watched her leave, and then he turned, angrily, and marched to the portrait hole, storming off to goodness knows where.
AN: Sorry this update's taken a little while, life has been so busy lately! But this chapter is a bit longer though so I hope that makes up for it.
Thankyou to everyone for reading and reviewing, it's great to see how much people love Tabby and James and everyone else.
Please keep reviewing, it keeps me so motivated :)
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