“Evie, we’ve got that essay for McGonagall,” I say loudly. James and Remus have been joined by Sirius and Peter Pettigrew, thus completing their motley crew, and as usual their presence entails a lot of – well, primarily, shouting. “Want to head up?”
“Oh, sorry, Andy, I’m meeting Liam. He’s going to help me with Charms,” Evie drawls with a mischievous grin. She’d confessed to us that she and her latest beau never got around to much talking, much less studying. “I’ll have to pick your brain later, though.”
“What on earth would you do without me?”
Evie laughs her tinkling laugh. “Alright, alright. Now let me escort you to the common room.”
“Actually, if you’re going to be busy, I might go up to the Ravenclaws,” I say sheepishly. I hardly expect her approval; we both know that what’s waiting for me in Ravenclaw tower is Stephen Duke, a seventh year – ridiculously unpopular amongst my friends – that I’ve been dating for a while.
Evie is probably his biggest opponent – a fact probably highlighted by how frequently she insists on “brainstorming” other people with whom to set me up. She sighs. “What, have you still got a bit of sense left in you that you want snogged out?”
“Evie, play nice!”
“I’m sorry, I was under the impression that you were going spend the next hour up against a wall with Stephen mashing his face violently against yours, and then run into Herbology late with your hair a mess. Is that not the case?”
“No, it’s not,” I lie. “I’m going to the Ravenclaw tower for – for those little triple chocolate cauldron cakes.”
“At this time of the morning?” she snorts.
“It’s a Muggle thing I’ve decided to pick up,” I say, casting about in my mind for inspiration. I’m vaguely aware of how ridiculous I sound. “You take your dessert after breakfast. They call it breakfert.”
Evie covers her face with a hand. “Andy, we all know you’re this close to getting introduced to his trouser snake-”
I shush her violently, heat pooling in my cheeks. “Not true! That’s not how he, erm, does things. He’s the commitment ring type.” She giggles.
“You like that, Wildt? Are you the commitment ring type?” That lot has suddenly quieted down, and Peter is grinning at Evie, whom he’s always fancied.
Peter is the smallest of the boys in our year and has thin, mousy hair and a perfectly straight nose. His specialty is dirty jokes and, even more so, making run-of-the-mill comments sound dirty. He rarely stops talking. However, we all accept him to be harmless – at least, we shout Evie down whenever she goes off on a tangent about how much he resembles a rat (and, if I remember correctly, “smells like one, too”).
I exchange a look with Evie.
“Be polite, Wildt,” says James to Evie lazily, “answer Pete’s question.”
“I had nothing nice to say, so I didn’t say anything at all.”
“Can’t argue with that, mate,” says Sirius cheerfully. I have to stifle my smile and focus on finishing my tea. His arrogance aside, I secretly approve of his sense of humour – I occasionally catch him saying something particularly funny and have to hide my amusement. Although it’s certainly better to give a giggle or two than to spend all my time watching him and blushing, as I did for most of third year.
Evie turns to me. “Look, why don’t you come with Liam and I? I’ll get him to bring a friend along.”
“Evie, I’m not going to turn Stephen in that easily,” I smirk. “But I should get going. Bloody Rowena Ravenclaw had a bit of a thing for stairs, apparently.”
“Stephen?” repeats James curiously.
“Didn’t your mother teach you not to eavesdrop?” Evie snaps, before turning back to me. “Fine, suit yourself. I’ll go straight to the library, then.”
“Are you seeing Stephen Duke, Thorpe?” Sirius interjects.
“None of your business,” I reply contentedly.
“Well, of course it’s our business if he’s corrupting your innocent spirit and whatsit,” says James. “I don’t even recognise you anymore. The Thorpe I know wouldn’t sneak around engaging in illicit activities during class time... with a Ravenclaw, no less, and-”
“Stephen Duke is a tosser,” interrupts Sirius, meeting my eye and wrinkling his nose.
“That’s what I’ve been saying!” cries Evie.
I roll my eyes and stand up, slinging my bag over my shoulder. “Just because he beat you at Quidditch.”
Although Stephen himself had not beaten that lot specifically in a Quidditch game, he was playing Chaser last year when the Ravenclaws ravaged our chances in the tournament. It is a sore spot for most Gryffindors, and admittedly I’m not excluded – I’d argued with Stephen a number of times about the calls made by Madam Hooch in that game.
James’ jaw drops. “So, what, are you supporting Ravenclaw from now on, Thorpe?”
I smoulder a little. Still seething, I yank Evie out of her seat by the elbow and wait impatiently while she catches her balance and fusses with her bag. The boys have already gone back to their conversation, and she glances at James hesitantly. Before I can drag her off, she calls, “Hey, Potter.”
He turns around, probably expecting to be told off.
“I don’t know why,” she says, “but Lily might actually like you if you give her a chance to.”
He nods. Remus looks exasperated and nudges him in the ribs. “What? Oh, yeah, thanks, I guess, Wildt.”
She shrugs in turn and allows me to pull her away, giving her a horrified look. “High treason,” I mutter.
“He just looked so hopeless,” she explains.
“Useless is more like it.” I roll my eyes and say, in a bad imitation of a male voice, “What? Oh, yeah, thanks, I guess.”
“Oh, I don’t think he’s all bad. I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that sometimes he even seems to have the capacity for, you know, human decency.”
“What? Oh, yeah, thanks, I guess,” I repeat.
Evie elbows me, giggling. “Anyway, it’s not like his personality has anything to do with it,” she continues. “Trust me, Potter gets what he wants. He’ll end up with Lily.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Let’s hope not.”
“Oi, what’s got you so peeved off?”
“Just once I’d like someone to react positively to my boyfriend’s identity,” I grumble.
Gaining access to Ravenclaw tower takes an extraordinary amount of focus. Or at least, it does for a dim Gryffindor like myself. By some miracle, I don’t fall down the stairs, nor collapse of fatigue on them. Having had reached the landing, I rap the bronze door knocker once against the wooden panel it hangs from and bend over to catch my breath.
A benign female voice rings out. “What is the beginning of eternity, the end of time and space, the beginning of every end, and the end of every race?”
I consider this for a moment. Then I say, simply enough, “Shit.”
I’ve never gone up without Stephen at my side, and although he always offered me the chance to answer the riddle (as though he were treating me to something special), I’ve never actually had to. “Erm,” I say aloud, self-consciously, “I’m actually here to visit my boyfriend, so...”
The voice says nothing. Frustrated, I rattle the knocker again. The riddle is repeated and, somewhat predictably, I experience no sudden flash of understanding.
“The letter ‘e’,” says a voice from behind me. Over my shoulder, I see Stephen, grinning. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Correct,” replies the voice serenely, and the door swings open to admit us.
He wraps an arm around my waist and leads me in. The abundance of blue and bronze still startles me on my third or fourth visit and, as usual, I take a moment to gaze at Rowena Ravenclaw, carved in white marble, and the bookcases that stretch to the domed ceiling. “You’re a beautiful girl,” Stephen whispers into my ear.
I have to stifle a giggle; I’m terrible at romance. I kiss him on the cheek, for lack of any appropriate verbal response. “So, are you going to show me your dorm today?” I ask, trying to sound sultry. The truth is that I’m rather tired of making out in the Quidditch stands; I tend to lose my balance a lot.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? We’re not allowed in each other’s dormitories,” Stephen says apologetically. “One of my mates in Gryffindor told me about how girls are allowed into the boys’ there... not here.”
“There’s a total abhorrence of law and order back there,” I say seriously, shaking my head. The remark is lost on him.
“Let’s go find a private corner,” he suggests.
If nothing else, my fondness of Stephen is shown by how willing I am to follow him into a corner, even after spotting a plate of cauldron cake.
“I have news,” I declare, bursting into our dormitory that evening. Through the bathroom door, I can see Lily and Em examining their reflections side-by-side.
Evie, sitting cross-legged on the floor, sniggers. “You’re not the only one.”
“Well, tell me, then,” I prompt impatiently.
“Em has to do it,” she tells me, unscrewing the lid of a bottle of nail polish. In a low, conspiratorial voice, she adds, “I think she’s in shock. But Lily’s reaction was even funnier; she still doesn’t know what’s hit her. Honestly, you’d think it was the bloody apocalypse.”
Em emerges to ask, through a mouthful of toothpaste, “What are you two whispering about?”
“I was asking where Leah is.”
“And I was about to tell Evie off,” I say, “for forgetting that she’s at remedial Potions.”
Evie explodes in a fit of giggles. Even Em, who has retreated to rinse out her mouth, can be heard giving a bark of laughter. Leah’s inability to understand even the most fundamental of potions concepts is almost legendary.
“Be nice,” Lily scolds us half-heartedly, climbing into bed in her white gown.
“Leah’s so lucky she has that famous granddad of hers,” I remark as I shimmy into pyjamas. “Do you think old Sluggy would even give tutoring her a thought if she wasn’t in the Slug Club?”
“I wish him the best of luck, either way,” says Lily, shaking her head. As one of the Potions prodigies of the school, she herself has attempted to coach Leah many times over the years, with no success.
“Remember the last time somebody decided to tutor her?”
“Let’s have a moment of silence for Rodney Wood’s eyebrows,” I say soberly.
“I can’t wait to drop core subjects,” Em says happily. “Only a few more months ‘til my last History lesson ever.”
“You know, I was thinking, and that course could actually be really interesting at NEWT level,” I say casually. “I mean, as long as you don’t-”
“Fall asleep?” drawls Evie.
“Go ahead and laugh, you lot. If you manage to keep your eyes open and get your head around the way Binns teaches, the content is quite cool.” I peel back my sheets and slide under them, although without expecting to get to sleep anytime soon. Almost every night, the members of our dorm end up chatting in bed about our days.
“What a strange idea,” says Evie with a yawn. “Even Lily doesn’t want to continue with History of Magic.”
“Well, I see what Andy means,” she interjects fairly. Cheekily, she tacks on a comment about how I wouldn’t be able to keep up in the subject without her notes – which is possibly a valid point. We tend to take turns taking notes in class, leaving the other to catch up on homework or sleep.
“I could do it,” I protest.
“Yeah, but you won’t try,” snickers Evie. I feign offence, but I’m well accustomed to stabs at my laziness.
“So, Em, tell me your news!” I demand earnestly, eager to change the subject.
“You won’t believe it,” says Em, “I thought I was dreaming.”
Evie rolls her eyes. “Get on with it.”
“I was in the common room reading,” she began, “and James walked over and sat down and apologized to me, very seriously. Can you believe it? Not just for breakfast today, for the last five years of my life!”
“Really? Was he being genuine, though?”
“The point of apologies is not to be genuine,” interrupts Evie. “Anyway, I think Em has Lily to thank for this. He wants to impress her and things.”
“She makes him a better person,” Em corrects. “Oh, look, she’s blushing!”
“Developing a soft spot for Potty?” enquires Evie drily, violently plumping her pillow.
“No, I’m not,” Lily insists, crossing her arms. “It’s just a surprise, that’s all.” I make a dubious noise in the back of my throat – I haven’t quite forgiven James.
“You have news too, right, Andy?” asks Lily.
“Oh, yeah. Well, I know that it’s a common misconception that Stephen and I are quite, erm, physical-”
“Putting those rumours to bed, aren’t you,” says Evie. I snort at the horrendous pun.
“Anyway, there was the first bit of sub-jumper activity today,” I finish.
“Gave the girls a nice honk, did he? What a lad.” I toss a surplus pillow at Evie’s head, but laugh despite myself.
“That’s nice, Andy,” Lily comments brightly as she turns off the lights with her wand. She always tries to pretend that she likes Stephen, and I do appreciate her support.
Lily manages to get excited about every meagre development in my life. In the past, it had almost persuaded me that I possessed some semblance of a romantic life – despite the fact that until Stephen, my only experience had been a brief, shining week with a Hufflepuff named Axel Alexander. We shared one uncomfortable kiss and several reiterations of our love, but apart from that interacted little between the day he asked me out in a note and the day we acknowledged the disintegration of our relationship. It was third year, after all.
I smile into the darkness. “Goodnight, guys.”
A/N: Big fat edit on 20/07, continuing with the tense change and chapter splicing. I'm just racing through these chapters - which can't be a good thing, uh oh. Anyway, please please please stop by in that little grey review box if you have the time or the inclination. If you're in a particularly kind mood, tell me that you don't find the scene changes too confusing - the time and day and month and setting can jump a lot from scene to scene and chapter to chapter. I'm doing my anxious flail. But I hope you approve of the characters so far, and that they're beginning to develop in your mind!
Expect: disillusionment and sequins.
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