Chapter 5 : Certifiably Quirky
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There is a single swivel chair in the newsroom, and Pickett has been on it for the past hour, turning and turning until even I'm dizzy. If Pickett had it his way, every seat in the newsroom would be enchanted to spin.
Pickett pinches his chin. "I dare say this is a most fascinating development," he declares with the exaggerated air of Monsieur Breech.
The afternoon is waning and I'm in a good mood, so I humor him. "Good sir, indeed," I say, mimicking him, "Sir Potter, thought a-courting, is truly a dastardly knave with coup up his robes?"
"Who would have guessed such a twist?"
I clutch my papers closer than a nun with her good book as I walk them over to the typewriters. "Not a soul, nay, not a soul! The people demand answers!"
Thrusting a finger in the air, he makes one dramatic spin and shouts in his loudest indoor voice, "Throw him to the brig until he speaks!"
My act drops. "Pickett, you went from being a baron to pirate."
"Does the fair maiden captain not approve?"
I roll my eyes. Good Godric, he's a plague on productivity. "You sound idiotic."
"You both sound idiotic," Dom says as she walks past holding a fan of photos, ponytail swishing behind her.
Pickett and I glance at each other.
Dom taps the table impatiently until the room stills, save for the sound of typewriter gears resting into place. "This is serious. Albusgate a big bloody mess."
Pickett scoffs and he's back to spinning around on his chair. "Oh I see, this is serious but not your meddling with your other cousin's love life."
Her eyes narrow into a squint and his respond in kind. "Don't start this again."
"I will start whatever I want, princess."
Dom clears her throat and turns very deliberately away from him and toward me. "Anyhow Clemence, when Al gets confrontational, it's a big deal. He definitely has something in mind so—"
"Perhaps, perhaps," Pickett interjects, with equal deliberation as to cut across her sentence, "Al's just saying that to throw us all off. Reverse psychology. There's actually a girlfriend, but he acts like he's just acting that there's an act..." His eagerness sputters. "...give me a second."
Leave it to Pickett to not understand his own conspiracy theories.
Dom shrugs and resists shaking her head, lest she catch Pickett at the side of her vision. Although Pickett is often in dire need of borrowing Occam's razor, he does bring up a good point.
"I might consider that he has a girlfriend and he's taking advantage of my doubt," I sigh. "I can't print anything until I know for sure what's going on. People are expecting the story soon, too. Bugger." The public gets so antsy so quickly, like a stressed fault line, waiting for a little shake to burst. I do not want to be at the epicenter.
At the aroma of supper (perks of being near the kitchens), Pickett is the first one out, his stomach guided by the Hall's mating call. Dom pulls me aside after he leaves.
"You don't have to worry about this issue," she says. "No one's going to forget it. I have confidence that the Rose-Scorpius split is happening this weekend."
I blink. The exposé she and Pickett were fighting about yesterday. "How?"
"How about straight from Scorpius?" A mad mischief twinkles in her eyes. "He told me that he was going to do it earlier this afternoon."
My shoulders wilt. "Please don't tell me he's doing it for you."
Her eyes flash lividly and every pristine hair on her head bristles. "God, no! Why do you keep siding with Henry? I am not interested in Scorpius and he is definitely, definitely not interested in me."
With her utter vehemence, I'm inclined to believe her but my doubt asks a question for me instead. "Then what's with the break-up?"
"I don't know, it happens! People fall out of love. I told them they were incompatible from the start. This is just my I-told-you-so."
Even under so many layers of irritation, I can still see the glee she gets every time she trumps Rose. But no, I don't have any concrete reason to believe Dom is lying.
I let the matter drop.
Despite how I treat Potter, I'd be a fool to underestimate him.
In a world where you either need to be clever or popular to survive, he's both. He knows how to dance with reporters, having dealt with us since he was a clump of cells, and he's sensible (re: paranoid) enough to avoid sins and poisons.
Explaining Mr. Albus Enigma Potter requires explaining his entire family. The story of his dad is History of Magic 101. Golden Trio brought down the big bad Dark Lord before they were even out of their teens. His dad's the big star since he's the one with the funky scar and exciting backstory—every Hogwarts dropout's idol. Mum says you won't ever amount to anything if you don't finish school? Point to Head Auror Harry Potter.
Great-Aunt Rita always likes to talk about Harry, says she saw the boy grow up. She was on the front lines when the war went down and was so happy that she cried when he made it out alive (so he would live to grace many more of her tell-alls). She also says that out of the Potter children, Albus is most like his father. Has the same flavor of anger and fear of cameras, and anyone who really pays attention to the Potter children should be able to see it instantly.
Born under the flash of a photographer's bulb at St. Mungo's, James and Lily both embrace their fame. On the other hand, Albus was born three weeks early with the help of a local midwife while the Potters were on holiday; the press had hardly any notice of it.
Right now, James is well on the path to international stardom after signing with the Tutshill Tornados. He's bright enough to avoid scandal but you never know. The press is like Voldemort and his horcruxes. Murder a reputation and we become a little more immortal. We never truly die; we just try a little harder on a slow news day, cross a few more personal boundaries, and eventually the celebrities snap like knock-off wands.
But James knows how to play the field, literally and metaphorically. Camera-friendly face helps, but mostly he likes the attention. I suppose that's why I've never been too interested in him; he's too easy.
Lily Luna, too. At fourteen, she's already sitting atop a throne of modeling offers, interviews, and product deals. Her debut perfume line Lis by Lily comes out this summer and it smells like—surprise, surprise—lilies. The name literally means Lily by Lily. Creative, that one.
Albus, on the other hand, considers himself fortunate as the stereotypically forgotten middle child, overshadowed by his more exuberant siblings. Even when he was young, he was always the one hiding behind his dad's robes. He still gets plenty of unwanted attention; fascination only grows the more you keep away.
Albus has always beat out his siblings in the number of fans. He's tried to stamp them out, but they come back in greater numbers like an angry anthill. It's not the same as James and his Quidditch fangirls. Some are right loony too, but they average out in the overall mix. No, Albus gets... the odd ones.
The quirky ones, to be precise.
The common room couches could put me in a coma when falling asleep is the last thing I want to do. Yawning, I shut my Charms textbook. Reading's a lost cause for the night, and I'm fairly confident I have tomorrow's Latin memorized; listening to the Dead Languages is almost like studying anyway.
When I put the textbook away, I catch sight of a garishly embellished cover peeking out of Dom's bag. I frown, pulling down the leather flap covering the title: Enchanted at Evening.
"Have you been reading Fifi LaFolle?"
Dom, who's sitting cross-legged on the floor, looks up from her notes and her eyes grow wide. She lunges across the carpet and shoves the book out of view. "Just... the first part!"
"My god, is this what you do with your free time?"
"I was curious!"
Fifi LaFolle is a romance novelist who churns out three books a year, all pandering to girls' fantasies. If I recall correctly, Enchanted at Evening is the tale of Sabine Boufette, who runs away at the altar and into the arms of the local barkeep. According to the cover, he struts around with his rippling pecs bared as he dispenses steins of butterbeer. So much for no shirt, no shoes, no service.
Spoiler alert: they end up together after lots of shagging.
Oh sorry, that spoils all of her stories.
A shrill voice shrieks behind us, "Did I hear Enchanted at Evening?"
I wince. There is only one person in this school who can break the sound barrier at such an ear-bleedingly high pitch: Apostrophe Hyphen Colon, founder of Quirky Girls Anonymous. Names like hers don't pop up often and I'm convinced she's either the spawn of very unoriginal grammar teachers or post-modernists.
The truth is worse: she's the daughter of the Witch Weekly Head Editor.
"I love Fifi LaFolle!" Sure enough, it's perky Miss Colon who flops down between us with her oversized bag and floral-print skirt (she has one in seven different flowers, one for every day of the week).
Even after six years of rooming with her, there is no such thing as tolerance. She's the reason why Dom and I are always hiding out in the newsroom, at least until nighttime. The Nott twins busy themselves with extracurriculars—Harriet with Quidditch and Helena with band.
I glare at Dom before turning to our Apostrophe with a plastered smile. Don't you regret reading that book now? "Hello, Apostrophe," I say.
"Oh please, not the full name. I've decided to go by Appy now."
She's been considering this for ages but never found something "catchy" enough. I thought of plenty: possum, strop, trophy. Of all things, she chooses Appy. What kind of quirky girl is she?
Whatever, might as well nip conversation at the bud. "We were just talking about, er, the new enchantment seminars in the evening. You know, the ones for aspiring Ministry employees." Inching closer to Dom's bag, I cover up the book with a nudge of my wand.
"Oh." Her toothy smile doesn't falter and a sickening dread washes over me as I realize she's not going to leave. Instead, she clutches my arm. "Sooo... it's Quirky Girls Anon's first anniversary next week. Will there be a story?"
"Maybe." It is, unfortunately, the largest unofficial club on Hogwarts, making it somewhat newsworthy. There's no good way to sum up Q.G.A. but my best attempt would be 'a congregation of hysterical girls whose singular goal is to get into a bloke's pants'.
"Well, we're planning a party in the ballroom—getting it handled by professionals, even. Nothing but the best for my girls!" She claps her hands together. "You should come! I know it's not your scene"—how casually she throws out the understatement of the year —"but I try to make sure there's something for everyone, even guests. Who knows? They could be future Quirkers!"
I heard Quackers. Did anyone else hear Quackers? Well, Quirkers isn't much better.
"Future Quirkers?" I repeat in a drawl. "Even for a poor cynic like me? There's hope yet."
Dom groans. She doesn't like it when I egg people on, especially those whose brains are not equipped with a sarcasm meter.
"Of course!" Appy chirps. "We at Q.G.A. believe there's hope for all. With a little effort, every girl can have their own romance story—isn't that what you say, Clemence? Everyone has a story?"
"Not exactly." Thanks for defiling my motto; now I have to make up a new one. Maybe a catchphrase instead. Fitzgerald on the fritz.
"Well, it is what we say. It's a pity we live in a world where girls just trying to be themselves can't get a bloke to notice them." She presses a hand to her heart as if the issue were as grave as mass murder. "If you can't make it to the party, you can come to our next meeting."
Out of nowhere, the Quirker proffers two sets of brochures and hands them to me and Dom. Dom holds it by the corner like a dead possum. I think I'd prefer the possum.
"There's been so much buzz since you said Albus has a girlfriend." Appy leans forward. "Have you found her yet, by the way? The girlfriend?"
"Not yet." I need to kill this rumor now. "It was a confidential tip, so it might not be true after all. Best not to get worked up until there's an official statement."
A squeak. "Oh. Well! That's very interesting. Here I thought that one of my Albus-loving members was keeping something from me..." She chuckles for a moment before stopping abruptly and her grin returns, toothier than ever. "Well, I've kept you long enough." Standing up, she gives a half-curtsey. "I'll see you later. We never hang out much. We should fix that someday!"
I nod until she skips out of view, dragging her bag along the floor. Any longer in her presence and my brain cells would have withered.
Dom has been muttering her daily feminist rant in the background. "I cannot believe she's actually popular. They listen! To her! My nana did not raise me to devote my entire existence to a boy! At least it's only another two years with this idiotic lot."
"Unless Appy goes into politics," I muse. I recall it being her dream once.
"Oh God, no."
Appy's a dumb cow, of course, but the rabid following is real and has a modicum of actual power with her parentage. It's possible. "If you're lucky, she'll go somewhere out of the way. International's even better. Be the new Magical Representative of Alaska."
Dom blinks. "Is that the place with the camels?"
"Wrong latitude. Moose, perhaps. You can see Russia from there."
She rolls her eyes. "You and your Russians."
Sunday evening, Dom and I are still waiting for the supposed weekend breakup. We stand by the edge of the Great Hall, watching the Gryffindor's table where Rose and Scorpius are sitting—and looking as couple-y as ever, in my opinion. Dom assures me that any minute now, Rose will dash down the hallway in tears or her friends will chaperone her away, leaving a trail of whispers in her wake.
But neither has happened and my patience is thinning faster than Slughorn's nose hair.
My foot tapping grows louder. I have better things to do, like plotting world domination or doodling pictures of cows featuring Hogwarts' it crowd. "Dom..."
She crosses her arms in a huff, her gaze unwavering from the pair sharing dinner side by side. "Oh for the love of Rowena, it's five words, Scorpius! 'I just need some space.' 'We're meant to be friends.' 'It's not you, it's me.' 'I'm bloody breaking up with you!'"
"That last one is—"
"Six words, whatever! Just make them break up already!"
I sigh and rub my temple. This isn't happening tonight. "Look, the greenhouse was ridiculously humid today, so I want to relax in a nice hot bath. You can tell me if something happens." I tap at my two-way compact.
Dom scowls at my escape; she knows I've been plotting it for awhile. "Leave me to do all the work..."
And that's exactly what I do. Who are we kidding, anyway? This is all Dom's story. I'm just there so she has someone to brag to when it goes down.
I make my way up to the fifth floor. I haven't been pampered lately and the prefect's bath sounds perfect. Helen Nott keeps me up to date with the passwords, and it's 'Queen's Hippo' this month.
I'm a few doors away when shrieking erupts from the castle's east end. My instincts kick in, and I still my body to listen. It can't be less than a mob, so close that I can feel the rumble underneath my feet like a hum.
A body flashes by. I look up and certainly do not expect Albus Potter to be the one skidding into view.
He spots me and groans, "Oh Godric, not now."
He pushes past before I can ask questions. From his haggard gait, he's been running for a while.
"He went that way!"
"We love you, Al!"
"THROW ME YOUR SHIRT AND I'LL SQUEEZE THE SWEAT OUT FOR YOU!"
A shudder passes through my bones like a ghost except this is much, much worse than the undead. My feet spin around. "Oi Potter, wait up!"
There is a special kind of stampede in Hogwarts. One either follows the pack or becomes trampled and suffocated by the sheer volume of hormones. Even the straggling pig-tailed second-years join in. It happens after Quidditch games, before Yule Ball, on Valentine's Day—any time when a popular bloke is especially desired—but today is none of those and yet this mob sounds bigger than any I can remember, its shrieks on course to break the sound barrier.
A/N Sorry if this is a tad fillery; I had to split up this chapter into two because it was getting too long! But the majority of the next chapter is already written as a bonus :D
I've got lots of people to thank. First, Celestie for introducing me to the gloriousness that is Fifi LaFolle, who is canon. I first saw her in Bathing in Roses, where a character has the most delicious rant on trite romances. Also Rita/Llyralen for the shirt and sweat fangirl. If you don't know her, she's kind of super glorious. Writes my fav rom-com After Hours and is my eternal inspiration for writing and graphics. And of course, Sarah Palin for inspiring the comment on Russia because the world needs more jokes about Russians. And you guys, who keep reading despite my inability to make my characters shut up ♥
"What? No comeback? You could be brilliant, Fitzgerald. You're clever. But you choose to roll in the mud and I've got no respect for that."
There it is again — the flicker of satisfaction in his eyes that says, 'Gotcha'. If we weren't in a bloody changing stall and he didn't insist on playing close and rough, I might not have noticed.
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