Chapter 5 : Pushing Boundaries
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“You barely cut anything!" She glared at Wyatt through the mirror before dropping it down beside her.
He passed the scissors he’d just used over her shoulder. She didn’t take them, forcing him to walk around to face her. Her direct glare didn’t incite a reaction from him either. Placing the scissors on top of the mirror with a clink to retrieve his wand instead, he produced a blast of air from the tip, first pointing directly at her face. He smiled at the way her nose wrinkled in response before diverting his aim around her shoulders and back to dislodge any stray hairs from her clothes.
“You want to be like all those other girls in the castle chopping everything off?”
“Ah, the Dominique effect.” Angela took a nimble jump off the desk now littered with brunette strands, each no more than two inches long. “She cuts her hair -looks stunning- and every girl thinks cutting theirs will make them look like her.”
Angela didn’t want a short crop. Her hair was straight. A longer length suited her face and looked better than average without effort. She exploited that advantage to limit her time in dormitory bathrooms.
Something about the porcelain invited drama. Excited squealing. Tears inside the stalls. Critical examinations conducted far too close to a mirror…
Every trip inside a girl’s bathroom at Hogwarts was a game of emotional roulette.
She appreciated her longer hair but had specifically asked Wyatt to trim four inches off the end. The git thought he knew better. Angela knew what looked best on her. “I recognize I can’t pull that off. Unlike some.”
“She’s one of the few who could without looking like a boy.”
Wyatt’s comment brought a wicked grin to Angela’s face. A grin that had the effect the glare should have. “What?”
“I was talking about the posers trying to be her, but, ooh, think she looks good, eh?”
He didn’t reply.
Raking a hand through her hair, Angela gathered and twisted the locks into a loose knot. “That’s who you should ask to the Yule Ball.”
“You know another one?”
“What the hell, Ang, a post-snog setup.” He shook his head and banished the pile of hair clippings to the rubbish bin. “We really need to examine this arrangement.”
Still smiling, she replaced the scissors in her bag and pulled out two feet of parchment. “You examine my Potions essay. I'll examine the arrangement."
He took the essay and the seat she’d vacated on the top of the desk, not looking up when she said, “Our little study breaks are great, but you’re going to want an actual relationship sometime.” He hadn’t dated anyone specific since he’d accepted the position of Quidditch Captain the summer before his sixth year.
“I have N.E.W.T.s and Head Boy duties. No time for maintaining actual anything.”
Wyatt never over-committed. He insulated his schedule in the same way Angela insulated her personal space. In that respect, they were the same kids who'd met in the hallway of St. Mungo’s when she was eight and he was nine-and-a-half. She’d been scared, not understanding why other people didn’t believe what she was telling them - why they didn’t see the same thoughts she did. He’d been the excited son of a Healer, in the hallways waiting for his father to finish with patients so they could go to a Quidditch match.
The boy who would become one of her closest friends had missed half that match, but he never blamed Angela. He never really blamed his father. Healer Virgil Eaton was as exceptional at diagnosing unique manifestations of magic as he was unable to turn down a challenge. He habitually took on more cases than one man could juggle. Wyatt had grown up with a front row seat for that act and never wanted to be a juggler himself.
He wanted to have it all; only in small, manageable phases. Angela would know. Last year, she made herself one of those phases when she’d kissed him.
Her first kiss. She wouldn’t trust contact that close with anyone else.
Alighting on top of a circular table in the back row of the classroom, she crossed her legs and rested her hands on her knees while she examined him over the essay.
“She’s not your average fangirl. She’s got substance. Ask her, it‘ll be good for you.”
The top half of the page flipped down with a press of his thumbs. “I was going to drag you to the ball for your good!”
She believed him. She’d been the one who'd requested discretion. As Head Boy, no one questioned his interaction with any student, but he’d respected her wishes. Until now, it seemed.
The Yule Ball was out of the question for her. A date would be noticed. A date would be scrutinized. And the other problem: she knew he’d consider the event a form of therapy.
“A room packed with gyrating bodies and raging hormones,” she replied. “My nightmare."
He accepted her tone and hedged another direction. "Better that nightmare than others.”
She’d wondered when he’d broach that subject. Her wily friend hadn't accumulated his list of accomplishments without retaining focus and thinking fast on his feet. A trait she admired less when directed at her.
"Yes, still. You nosy git.”
"Talk to someone about moving beds,” he asked, always searching for the correct series of adjustments to prescribe.
Wyatt was going to make a great Healer someday, but she wasn’t sick.
"For an occasional rough night? I don't fancy explaining that, and I never said I bought your Chamber theory."
"The Knights of Walpurgis-"
"Then why only recently? I've had the same bed since the night I was Sorted."
"Is every bit as likely to be someone's heirloom necklace or used hanky. You wouldn't believe the ridiculous trinkets Slytherins hold onto.” A simple pocket-watch could retain a trace of its maker, no matter who'd carried it since. And Merlin help her if the subsequent holders imparted anything strong upon the timepiece while in their possession.
“Can we drop the 'fix Angie' bit? All I wanted was a haircut."
Wyatt’s father had spent years teaching Angela to filter the impressions that intermittently flashed through her mind. Residual magic was the explanation he’d given her, but that didn't answer why she could tune into those traces so vividly. Hogwarts Castle hummed to her constantly, but she’d learned to adapt. Objects spoke to her in the memories of those who charmed them, used them, desired or feared them. The hint of a spell hung in the air long after the caster had left, providing a connection, a glimpse of the witch or wizard holding the wand.
She couldn’t predict what magical energy would trigger an image, a borrowed memory. Her last professional haircut had been given by someone with deep personal issues. She’d had to leave the moment the woman touched her hair, and spent a over a month funneling that information away from her consciousness.
The night visions were new, and an annoyance, but she could handle them.
“I’d re-work your summary. You rushed it.” Wyatt tucked the Potions essay back in her bag and pushed it away. “The journal helping?”
“Nice segue, Healer,” she said, wondering if his haircut was worth the cross-examination.
She smiled to herself. The snog probably was. She did like the feel of him. Solid, warm and comfortable. She jumped off her perch on the table and joined him on the desk, snuggling into his side and smiling when his arm came around her shoulders.
"Journaling's boring. And I, erm... burned the thing after someone got hold of it,” she confessed.
Wyatt sat up straighter and gazed down at her. “What did they see?”
“Nothing. I had it secured." She shook her head. "But it'd only be a matter of time, if someone set their mind to it. They are Slytherins, after all."
"Ruthless lot, I hear."
"Hearing plenty 'round the commons these days?"
"I'm trying." He sounded tired, and she was drawn closer as his posture deflated. "You lot don't make things any easier. Everything's tightening up, and now I'm wasting time proofing Prefect schedules.”
"More patrols the closer you get to the dungeons while the towers feel… light?" She shrugged with a smirk as he glance at her. "I know my castle traffic."
His arm squeezed her in. "It’s a clerical anomaly."
Angela wished she'd seen the meeting when the question of patrol discrepancies came up. She didn't believe the Heads were malicious, simply unaware of the extent of their own bias. Only one prefect would have been bold enough to point something like that out.
"Al wouldn't have brought it to your attention if it weren't provable.”
Wyatt stilled. "Never said it was him."
"Wasn't it?" She should stop winding him up, but she loved these rare occasions when she cought him off balance.
"Arguing that more patrols equate to more percentage of House points taken is thin, at best."
"Yeah? You going to fix it?"
"Said I was proofing the schedules. Cynthia’s schedules,” he was quick to point out.
Angela softened at the increased edginess, threading a hand behind his neck and massaging him there. Wyatt depended on delegation, and she was being a right brat by highlighting where the division of labor broke down.
“I’ll ask Dominique, if you promise to go yourself,” he said after a few moments of silence.
She didn’t like the thought of going herself, but she couldn’t shake the niggling concern that she was making him too comfortable with their relationship. Never a martyr, she’d sought and exploited an opportunity to gain the experience others were free to have without so many strings. The arrangement had been mutually beneficial, but she wouldn’t kid herself. She’d played on his need for convenience to keep herself from being lonely.
The last thing she wanted was for him to leave school and wonder if he’d missed out on something more. She’d experienced, vicariously, the exhilaration the mere prospect of a new relationship held. Comfortable was fine, easy and convenient, but the unexpected held an excitement that was palpable - an energy that was unique and strong enough for her to pick up from others.
“You can’t wait until she’s accepted someone else. Won’t count.”
He dipped his head close to her ear and said, “You’ll have to stay for at least an hour. No hiding.”
She pinched the back of his neck before sitting upright, putting some distance between them.
“Dad's going to find out you burned your therapy." The change of topic had him sounding more like a sibling than her own brother.
"Oh, back to me, then?" Her expression held all the innocence of a five-year-old caught next to a cookie jar before she broke down and smirked. "Ease up, I still write things down." His disbelieving expression challenged her to continue. "On plain parchment with names changed and more entertaining details. Maybe I'll be a writer someday.”
His forehead crinkled. "As long as no one discovers your inspiration. You burning those as well?"
"Can't seem to. " She shrugged. "I send them out via owl."
"To who?" The forehead crinkling gave way to a full central furrow reaching down between his eyebrows.
"Whatever random stranger the bird chooses. Like I said, no one knows what they are or-”
The sound of tinkling bells from his watch signaled the approach of their curfew.
“-where they come from.” She completed the thought as she gathered her bag, glad for the excuse to leave the topic. Wyatt helped her close the windows around the round room before they headed for the trapdoor.
Four steps down, her foot halted and her breath stifled in her chest. Rather than focusing on an image, as she’d expect, she experienced a blank in her mind’s eye. A mental blink. Head and shoulders still above the level of the trapdoor, she was no longer aware of the breeze-cooled classroom or the relative warmth of the room below.
The spot where she stalled held no temperature at all.
“Professor Trelawney back?” Wyatt asked from behind her, anxious to return to his dorm in time for Prefect duties.
“No.” Angela shook off the odd feeling of having no feeling. “If history serves, her knitting cronies should be pouring the sherry in Hogsmeade right about now.”
For three years, Angela had been spending time in the Divination classroom under the pretense of an Independent Study. Professor Trelawney never interfered with Angela’s time there, and despite the excess of items littering the crowded shelves spanning the circumference of the space, the attic-like room was one of the least magical places in Hogwarts Castle. She’d sensed more crossing the littered floor of the Owlery for her favorite ginger bird that afternoon than she could ever remember picking up from this space.
That fact made the new sensation on the stairs a solid concern. She hadn’t sensed anything entering the room that night or from Wyatt while he was there with her, and they’d been in constant contact since he’d arrived.
Something had changed after they’d entered the room. She definitely detected something that was nothing.
A void, almost. Something she couldn't classify.
The thought unnerved her.
Matilda Howard lacked the filters to be embarrassed by much of anything. Sure, she hadn’t turned out to be the journalist her parents had envisioned, but she held down a job in the industry. Even if she was a lowly office aide. And, even if her employer wasn’t the Prophet.
Having met and fallen for a series of men with a talent for unemployment, she never discounted herself in the least for her position. After all, she’d maintained her job for five years with minimal real work required. The biggest part of her employment involved ignoring the unexpected, or at least not overreacting much. Matilda possessed the filters for that.
Despite her propensity for apathy, she had developed a soft spot for her employer. Her affection for the woman had Matilda smiling at the sight of a reddish pygmy owl gliding across the field to their window.
“Luna,” she called into the adjoining room, “that owl’s back.”
Today she might even work late.
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