After receiving a few drops of Essence of Dittany from Madame Lucinda, June sleepwalked back to the dormitory. The Common Room was thankfully empty and she clambered up the stairs and fell into bed, relieved that the day had come to a close.
By the next morning, things were not faring much better.
She rushed through breakfast and all but ran up to Professor Aubrey’s office. She could still hear an echo of Lucy reprimanding her, “Please don’t tell me you forgot you’re supposed to see Professor Aubrey. Career consultation? Don’t you remember? It’s already Thursday! Henry’s with her right now, so you should get ready.”
With that, June came to an abrupt stop in front of a large, wooden door, a small bubble of anxiety growing inside of her. What am I going to tell her when she asks me? I still don’t know anything about Apothecaries!
She had less than a minute to think before the door swung open. Henry Bates confidently strolled out, swinging his bag in rhythm with his steps. He caught sight of June huddled beside the door and broke out in a large smile. “June! You’re here!”
“Hello,” said June weakly, suddenly hoping that she would be called in soon. “How’d it go, Henry?”
“Well!” He ran a hand through his oiled brown hair and stood on the tips of his feet. “I think she’s convinced!”
“What did she ask?”
“Oh, nothing much.” He made an obvious attempt at looking casual; he folded his arms and leaned against the wall, winking at June. “You know. I’m good with these kinds of things.”
He reached out an arm and leaned across June and his face swam closer in sight: the oily hair, large, protruding noise, and happy grin. June wiggled under his gaze, feeling distinctly warm and uncomfortable. She found staring at her shoes was suddenly very fascinating.
“So, I was thinking…about that Hogsmeade weekend. You know it’s on Sunday. D’you think you’d like to – ”
The door swung open behind him, hitting him on the back of his leg. He yelped and flung himself at June, who abruptly moved sideways to avoid him. He collided against the wall, but threw one arm around June’s shoulder.
“I wasn’t aware I was interrupting anything,” came a cool, feminine voice, sounding unimpressed. A willowy thirty-something brunette stepped out, frowning as Henry rubbed his leg.
When Henry opened his mouth to retort, June quickly spoke over him. “You weren’t!”
“Very well then,” said Professor Aubrey with a curt nod. “Off you go, Mr. Bates.”
She stepped aside for June to enter her office. Henry was still saying hopefully behind her, “I’ll wait for you, June, I’ll – ”
Professor Aubrey shut the door in his face.
For a moment, June looked at her with mild apprehension. Professor Aubrey looked the same as she always did – the messy brown hair scrunched in a bun, loose smile, rectangular glasses. When Professor Aubrey grinned back, June sighed in relief.
“No problem,” said Professor Aubrey with a sigh. She removed her glasses and tossed them onto her desk as an afterthought. “He’s such an arse. Is he still after you?”
“Yes,” said June, taking a seat across Professor Aubrey’s desk.
“Fancy some tea? I can make some if you want.” She took out a grimy, chipped teacup.
“No thank you!”
Most of Professor Aubrey’s teacups had been used as vials for potions at some point of time and were, like the rest of the room, probably never washed. The last time June had taken a sip of Professor Aubrey’s tea, she had been a first year and had promptly sprouted feathers.
“It’s probably for the best, you know. I was really hoping Bates would try some. I think the last thing I mixed in here was Swelling Solution.” Professor Aubrey took a seat directly on her desk and put her feet up on the chair. There was a vast amount of clutter around the room: balls of scrunched parchment on the desk, towers of scrappy journals, and more vials and cauldrons than June could care to count. But the laboratory-office of Professor Aubrey was something June had been used to for years. “So, June, let’s talk.”
“Have you thought at all about what I told you in the beginning of the year? About getting your NEWTs in order and picking something to do?” Professor Aubrey swept her hands in her hair and picked up her glasses again. “You said something about going into Apothecaries, right?”
“Well, how’re you doing in your classes?”
“Alright, I suppose.”
Professor Aubrey looked around her desk, drawing out a long piece of parchment from the clutter. “Well, let’s see. You’re taking Transfiguration, Charms, Potions and Divination. You’re doing excellently in Divination.”
“Thanks,” said June in a small voice.
“Professor Trelawney’s thoroughly impressed with you. She thinks you might have a future in fortune telling.” Before June could say anything, Professor Aubrey rolled her eyes. “That blithering old hag. She’s unbelievably creepy. During lunch yesterday, she managed to sneak up on Professor Vector and tell her she’ll be hacked to death by parrots from Guam.”
It was one of the many advantages of having Priscilla’s cousin as their Head of House: the fact that June had secretly called her by her first name since their first meeting and that Professor Aubrey was now currently rambling about parrots.
She came to a pause, flustered. “I could go on about that bat for hours. But anyway, it looks like you’re barely scraping an Acceptable in Transfiguration. And I know you’re not exactly passing Potions since the last Sleeping Solution you tried brewing was a lot closer to being a Draught of Death than putting someone to sleep. You nearly killed me!”
She gave June a half-grin. June instead deflated and Professor Aubrey cleared her throat.
“Look, if you can’t brew even a Sleeping Solution, I don’t know how you’re going to be an Apothecary, June. It looks like you might end up getting a Dreadful in Charms as well. You’re not going to be able to enter an Apothecary program like that.”
There was an uncomfortable pause.
“So,” said Professor Aubrey, with a short sigh, “I suppose I’ll have to tell you then.” She dived back into her desk and withdrew a folded piece of parchment. “This came when we were on holiday break from Prissy.”
“Priscilla sent you something about me?”
“Yes, it says here that she’s been talking to you about entering magical design as a course of study, but you’ve been too hesitant.” Professor Aubrey looked up skeptically. “Well, that would certainly explain the Apothecary bit. You’re obviously too shy to come to terms with it.”
“Er – ”
“Is it parental pressure by any chance? Does your father prefer you do something else? Because I’ve got some leaflets – ” She began opening a desk drawer.
“No leaflets!” said June quickly, who was all too accustomed to Professor Aubrey and her vast array of leaflets; her leaflets were usually encyclopedia-sized and occasionally carried an incurable disease or two. Professor Aubrey stopped mid-way in disappointment. “I don’t think my father really thinks much about what I’ll do.”
“It got me thinking, though. You’d be wonderful at it.”
“I don’t know two things about art.”
“But you sow! You make things! I’ve got a scarf somewhere under this – ” She gestured to the mountains of parchment and research journals. “ – from last Christmas! It had little Potion cauldrons on it! You could make money selling those!”
“I don’t know…” said June, “nobody’d buy them and I’m not very good – ”
“Anyway, Prissy warned me that you’d protested when she told you about it, so we both did a bit of research on the side.” She grinned in self-satisfaction, reached into a drawer and slapped a bright piece of parchment into June’s hand. “So, to help make up your mind a bit, I found this!”
It was a ferociously purple sign that read, Madame Malkin’s – hiring new graduates this summer, details below – followed by a long paragraph.
June squinted at it hesitantly. “What is it?”
“A competition deciding who’ll work at Madame Malkin’s. Wouldn’t it be perfect?”
June’s squint deepened into a frown. “But, Helen…look…they want five wedding gowns sent to them! I can’t sow gowns! I can barely make scarves!”
“But that’s the challenge, though! Isn’t it exciting! They hire five graduated students from around Europe and bring them here.”
“And each person has to have a theme…” June groaned, before pushing the parchment back to Professor Aubrey. “I couldn’t, I really couldn’t.”
Professor Aubrey’s nostrils flared. “You’re taking it with you! It doesn’t make a bit of sense to let you go on deluded that you can work in an Apothecary! My uncle Charles always told me that if you go into something you love, the chances you’ll succeed are much higher. Everyone in the family wanted me to go into Magical Law Enforcement, but I took a chance and here I am!” She swiped her arm around her desk and a dozen wads of parchment fell to the floor. “Completely satisfied!”
There was a light knock on the door and a call of, “Professor Aubrey? Er – it’s Nicholas Corner. I’ve been waiting outside for twenty minutes already and – ”
“Damn it,” said Professor Aubrey, ramming her glasses back on. “The talentless hack is here. I bet he’ll be on about his paintings again.”
“Priscilla thinks they look like catsick,” said June, slinging her bag onto her shoulders.
“Prissy’s kind of thick herself, but she’s got a point. If I’ve got to see one more abstract painting about bathtubs, I’m turning him into a pigeon.” She held the door for June open as she walked out. Nicholas gave her a nod and she waved to him as he walked inside.
June was halfway down the hallway lost in thought, the folded parchment in her bag still niggling away at the back of her mind. It was either trying this…or what? She couldn’t really consider Apothecaries or anything of the sort, could –
“There she is! Grab her!”
There was a frantic rush of footsteps and June turned to find herself suddenly flanked.
Three girls in Gryffindor ties were staring down at her from an uncomfortably close distance.
June blinked and took a step backwards. “Erm – ”
“Ooh, she looks nervous,” said a petite, nervous-looking brunette with large blue eyes. “Hi, June!”
“Iris,” said June, breathing a sigh of relief, “you scared me.”
Iris Bosworth gave a smile. “Oh – um, I’m sorry, then – it’s just that Cora wanted to talk to you and I said I’d show her - ”
A blonde girl with an upturned nose and a nasally voice took a step forward. “So this’s Bernard. Funny, I thought she’d be better looking.”
“Do I know you?” asked June, stepping backwards into the wall.
“I’m Cora.” At June’s blank look, her eyes narrowed. “Cora Livingston. We’re in the same year. We’ve had Transfiguration together for the past four years.”
When no sign of recognition came into June’s face, she gave an exasperated sigh, “How do you not know who I am?!”
“Cora, you’re breathing down her face,” quipped a third voice. A rail-thin girl with a long braided black hair waved at June, balancing several large tomes on one arm as she did so. “Hey Bernard.”
“Indeed. I’m impressed you noticed, considering the circumstances. Cora looks like she’s going to eat you.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t’ve brought her,” said Iris fretfully from the side, nervously squirming her hands together. “Oh, but she asked me and I didn’t know what to do and – and I told her you’d be up here because everyone has their meetings and Lucy told me you’d be here and I told Cora!” She looked on the verge of tears. “I’m a horrible person, aren’t I?”
“Oh shut up,” snapped Cora, “and stop whimpering, it’s disgusting. We’re here to discuss something important.”
“I feel like a member of the mafia,” said Nikita gleefully. “I love intimidating people – no offense, Bernard – reminds me a bit of the Velvet Revolution, actually – kind of a peaceful student demonstration, if you will, against the unrighteousness of – ”
“You shut up too, Patil! I’ll be talking here!”
Nikita rolled her eyes.
“What’s going on?” said June in confusion.
When Iris opened her mouth, Cora screeched over her, “This is an interrogation.”
“We’re going to ask you some questions,” said Nikita, sounding apologetic. “Just routine, I’m sure you’ll understand.”
“About what?” June looked among them and they stared down at her. “I haven’t done anything – ”
They all shared a look. Nikita reached into her pocket and retrieved a monocle and a notepad; she hovered the monocle over her eye and began reading.
“Yesterday night, you were noticed leaving somewhere with Albus Potter. We’ve got several sources that confirm you were kind of – kind of leaning on him – down several flights of stairs at a – what time of night was it, Bosworth?”
“Around eleven-thirty,” chimed in Iris, looking much less flustered now that the topic had switched to Albus. The anxious flush and quivering eyes were set with newfound determination and she had stopped apologizing under her breath. “Some fourth years that were doing detention on the third floor saw them coming downstairs.”
“And the night before that, you were seen in yet another compromising position with said Potter. According to eyewitnesses who were probably eavesdropping on the scene, you were coming downstairs yet again. You were mumbling something and Potter was responding. At some point, he ran off on you. I paid off Ruth Chambers and she told me everything, Bernard.”
“He had Astronomy at midnight that night,” said Cora. “I would know – I sit three seats behind him! He knows who I am!”
“I…don’t know what you’re talking about,” said June, feeling her heart beat faster. Albus told me not to tell anybody or he won’t help me anymore.
“She’s denying all charges,” said Nikita, “oh the poor thing. She doesn’t have a chance.”
Iris’s large blue eyes were popping with excitement. “June, you wouldn’t lie to us, would you? You wouldn’t, right? We’ve known each other for like five years!”
“Seven, actually,” said Nikita, looking at Iris with amusement.
Cora unpocketed her wand and pushed it into June’s cheek. “I don’t know what you think you’re playing at, Bertrand – ”
“Bernard,” deadpanned Nikita from the side. “Fairly sure the fright value of threats decreases if you come off like a blubbering tool, Livingston.”
Cora ignored Nikita and instead pushed the wand closer into June’s cheek. “Look, all I’m saying is, leave Albus alone. You must think you’re so bloody wonderful because he walked around with you once or twice, but it doesn’t mean anything, understand?”
The heat was flooding to June’s cheeks.
“I hope you understand, June. I’m sorry about this,” lamented Iris. June had known Iris Bosworth all through their Hogwarts years; they looked, sounded and sometimes acted the same, sharing a lamentably small frame, brown hair and an anxious voice. Iris, like June, had a great affinity for exploding cauldrons, occasionally poisoning classrooms and destroying everything in the vicinity.
So, it was no surprise that on matters regarding Albus Potter, both of them had the same tenacity.
From the side, Nikita Patil was looking a mixture of amused and serious, with no regret dotting her features. She was well known in Hogwarts for making Desmond Jordan’s booming black market an underground trade; her cloaking charms were strong enough to smuggle even the most illicit substance under Filch’s rather long and protruding nose. Bottles of prohibited potions smelled like perfume, powdered dragon claw resembled a box of chocolates and spell-check quills looked enough like sugar quills that there had been several cases of students digesting the feathers. It was an ability for which she charged a twenty percent commission fee from Desmond’s share (something he often complained about).
“No offense taken, right Bernard? I know you’d have done the same in our situation,” said Nikita. “And you have, as a matter of fact.”
That much was true; June, Nikita and Iris had bonded over Transfiguration sessions as they stared at Albus Potter’s perfect face, perfect body and just about perfect everything else. Iris wanted him for his looks (“He’s just so beautiful!”). Nikita wanted his status (“If I became a Potter, I’d be able to rule the goddamn world! No more scrounging for Galleons! I’d be as rich as God!”). June wanted his love.
The end result had led to them more or less stalking him for three months, chronicling every sidelong glance he gave to a girl, occasionally following him into Hogsmeade or watching him behind library shelves and trading notes.
With the three of them bearing down on her, June felt trapped within the gazes of the questionably sane women. Cora’s wand was still stabbing her cheek.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she squeaked again, “I really don’t!”
“I’m going to marry Albus!” said Iris, frowning over June, “so please don’t get in the way, June! I won’t let you! Tell us the truth! You’re his girlfriend aren’t you? Why else would he carry you to the Hospital Wing?!”
“I got hurt, it doesn’t mean – ”
“I’m in love with him! He’s my one true – ”
“Albus fancies me, so stop distracting him!” said Cora. “He’s going to ask me to Hogsmeade any day now!”
“Fat chance,” sneered Nikita under Cora. “He’s been scared of you ever since you tried stalking him into the Prefect bath and passing it off as a coincidence that he was half-naked!”
Blots of color appeared on Cora’s cheeks. “At least I didn’t try writing love poems to him in Polish and leaving them in the boys’ toilet!”
“It makes sense to put them there!” roared Nikita over her, “He’d have to use the toilet eventually and then he’d see it! I didn’t just leave it lying around – I left it in his stall. I know the one he uses and it’s practical! And for your information you uncultured cow, it was in Russian. Why would I write something in Polish? That would just be strange.”
“Oh yes, writing it in Russian isn’t completely mental at all!”
“It was a metaphor us being like the Russian tsardom – they’re always nice and contradictory in their policies – ”
“Don’t argue!” said Iris, slapping her hands over her ears. “I’m marrying Albus! June can’t have him! That’s what we’re here for!”
“Albus marrying her,” said Cora, smirking. She twirled a strand of June’s hair with her wand. “Look at her, she’s so plain and ugly. He wouldn’t look twice at her.”
“I’m not ugly!” said June, finally catching on to the conversation.
“Oh please,” said Cora, “Look here, you stupid bitch – you’re hideous. You look like a starved horse. Look at your face, look at the rest of you. What’ve you got at all that anybody wouldn’t find in a dead hippogriff? Leave Albus alone! He doesn’t need you following him around! Leave him to the people who actually have a chance!”
“That’s kind of low, Livingston,” said Nikita, “even for you. June, don’t - ”
“I don’t care! Just stay away from Albus!”
Cora retracted her wand without waiting for June’s reply and in a swish of blonde hair, she was gone. Iris followed her, sparing June a pitying, but not very apologetic look.
Only Nikita Patil hovered, still awkwardly balancing the books on one arm. “I’m sorry about what she said. I think perhaps we overdid it.”
“No,” said June, her voice quavering, “no, I’m fine, I’m fine. Just go, okay?”
“We’ll catch up some other time then,” said Nikita and with that, she too raced down the hallway, leaving June alone and shaking.
June trudged back to the Hufflepuff Common Room slowly, still reeling from the morning.
As soon as the portrait opened, it revealed a thankfully empty Common Room. Everyone was still in their morning classes save for June, who had Charms in half an hour but who was having less of an inclination to go with every passing minute. She sighed and made her way up to the dormitory, flopped onto her bed and drew the curtains around her bed, closing herself in comforting darkness.
Was she really that ugly?
It was a depressing, sinking thought.
It didn’t bother her much that they’d said that Albus would never look at a girl like her twice. She’d known that since she’d met him.
She knew she wasn’t conventionally pretty like some of the other girls in her year – the Ravenclaw girls with shiny, glossy hair or like Trista with her perfectly toned Quidditch body. Lucy was a little plump but she had the nicest smile and biggest eyes that June had seen. And Priscilla was oddly beautiful in a way – she had aristocratic, old world features and high cheekbones.
And that left June alone.
She’d been teased about it before, but she’d let herself forget it over the years. All girls had their insecurities and this would always be one of hers.
June sighed and made a beeline for the toilet. The sound of silence wafted from all the dormitories and probably from the entire Common Room; it was peaceful, knowing that she was alone.
She stared at her reflection in the grimy mirror for a long moment. There was a lone shard that was missing and in that moment, she thought she understood more than anything what it felt like to be completely unnecessary.
She had nothing that was special about her. Nobody really needed – or wanted – her. There was not anything about her that even she liked when she saw herself.
Same petite height, lack of a figure, pale face, stick-thin arms, and boring brown eyes.
Maybe I really am ugly.
It seemed to explain too many things to be untrue. Why she had never had many friends or been very happy or why she always felt all alone.
The next few days passed in a blur.
In between them, June stopped looking for Albus through every class and during every meal. She stopped attending their late-night tutoring sessions without giving him any notice. Sometimes she wondered if he’d waited for her at all on that night.
But of course, he probably hadn’t. He probably thought she’d given up on passing or finally lost that stupid photograph.
Either way, he was finally free of her. He’ll be happy, she thought bitterly. And so will all the other girls.
And so it was. Classes passed and life was the same for everyone else. Desmond was expanding his black market, Nicholas was sulking after Professor Aubrey told him if he didn’t start studying more, he’d fail Potions, Priscilla was busy tormenting Nicholas, Lucy was being a diligent Prefect and Trista had thrown herself completely into Quidditch and nobody noticed June.
She began to learn what it was like to be completely alone even when surrounded by friends. They wouldn’t understand. They’d try, but they wouldn’t understand.
She had given up studying entirely. Feeling completely defeated by somebody did horrible things to anyone’s determination. There was an odd moment in Transfiguration when Albus caught her eye and stared at her blankly, but she looked away, unwilling to give any explanations.
Her face was wane after only three days and she spent the weekend in bed, swaddled in sheets and feeling lonely. Every girl had her problems. June just seemed to have more.
She had never thought beauty was particularly important. People had beautiful lives without being beautiful. But this – this was something new. This idea that she wouldn’t be enough just being herself was suddenly what made her feel the ugliest – not the face or the hair or the brown eyes.
So she stopped looking in mirrors and hopped over puddles and didn’t see herself for the next few days. It didn’t matter much because there was hardly anything to see, but as long as she didn’t look, she would never have to admit that everyone else had been right. And she let the next few days pass, feeling as though she was losing herself more and more.
On Monday after a particularly dull day of class, June returned to her dormitories alone. It was blissfully quiet again and she began unpacking mechanically, wondering idly whether or not she should skip dinner.
There was a thundering footfall and Priscilla stormed in, tossing her bag off angrily and kicking it when it hit the floor.
“Ugh, that idiot Corner’s been begging me to start tutoring him with Potions, can you believe that? After Helen told him he has to do Remedial Potions, he comes running to me! It was a bit funny at first, honestly, but now he won’t stop following me – ” she broke off at the sight of June. “Is something wrong?”
“Oh, nothing,” said June, mustering as much fake cheer as she could; it was slowly becoming more and more exhausting.
Priscilla’s eyes narrowed and she took a seat on the bed facing June’s. “You know, you’ve been acting very strange lately.”
“You spent half of last week sneaking out and you wouldn’t tell anyone where you’ve been going. And then you went to see Helen and that all stopped. But you’ve been moping around since then.”
“I haven’t been moping. I’ve just been…busy.”
“With what? You haven’t been doing anything. I’ve been keeping an eye on you.” Priscilla bounced on the bed. “So, are you ready to tell me what’s wrong yet?”
June had never fully expected herself to the events of last week a secret; she knew there would eventually be a time when she would be telling one of her friends. Of course, she had assumed that it would be Lucy. “Nothing’s wrong.”
Priscilla grabbed the first pillow she could find and promptly sent it sailing at June. “Talk.”
“It’s nothing, really. It’s very stupid. I don’t want to – ”
“Look, I know we don’t do this very often, but you know I’m always here when you need me, right June?”
June sighed. “Yes.”
“Right. So either you talk or I’ll use some spell or the other and make you talk.”
“It’s Potter, isn’t it?” said Priscilla immediately, her nostrils flaring. “I’m going to hack him to pieces – is he who you’ve been sneaking out to visit?”
“Erm…maybe,” said June after a considerable pause. It didn’t really matter anymore now that that was all over with and behind her, so it probably wouldn’t hurt to tell Priscilla.
“He’s been helping me with Charms.”
Priscilla was struggling under the weight of her open jaw. “He’s been helping you?! What did you do, Confound him?”
“I didn’t Confound him,” said June, indignant at the accusation. And then, in a small voice, she added, “I blackmailed him.”
June reached into her trunk, pulled out one of the photographs and slid it to Priscilla, who merely looked at it in confusion. “And what’s this supposed to be?”
“It’s him. When he was younger, he used to fancy dressing up as a little girl.” June shrugged. “I found it in his house and I took it and I told him he had to help me or I’d show it to everyone.”
There was a huge silence as Priscilla stared at the picture, then June, looking thunderstruck. Then an expression of rapturous joy spread across her face: she might have just been told she was going to survive a terminal disease.
“Oh my GOD. He IS gay, isn’t he?!” she screeched, seizing the picture and positively leaping up in joy. “I KNEW IT, I KNEW IT. June, you brilliant little ninny, let’s mail this off to Witch Weekly right now! They’ll pay us enough to cover any cost we can think of! So much for the most eligible bachelor in England! All the disappointed fangirls’ll murder him and I’ll spend the rest of my life poking his dead body with a stick! Come on, let’s – ” At June’s vacant expression, she stopped herself. “Why do you look so sad, then?”
“I…some girls stopped me this morning…and...” She hadn’t intended to say more, but Priscilla’s familiar, intense eyes brought out everything that had happened in the past few days. She had never kept secrets before and she had known it was a matter of time before she had told somebody.
“They really said that to you?” said Priscilla slowly, sounding as though she were chewing her words.
“D’you think I’m – you know – ugly – ”
“Oh you fantastic idiot,” said Priscilla with a sigh, reaching across the bed and hugging June. “Is that why you’ve been so sad? Why do you even bother yourself with them?”
“Are they right though?”
“Only if you think they are. They’re incompetent buffoons.”
Tears were sparkling in June’s eyes again. “That’s easy for you to say!”
“What do you mean?” said Priscilla, taken aback.
“Well – you’re perfect, aren’t you? You’re pretty, Priscilla, and you’re rich and you’re smart, you’ve got a big famous family – and I’m none of those things. I’m completely poor, I’m ugly, everyone thinks I’m stupid – ” The tears dripped down June’s cheeks and onto the sheets and her mouth went dry.
“Who thinks that? I don’t think any of those things about you.”
“You call me an idiot all the time!”
“That only means I love you!” Priscilla laughed, clearly resisting the temptation to add ‘you idiot’ at the end. “I don’t think you’re stupid. I just think you make some dumb choices sometimes, but nobody’s really innately stupid, if you think about it. It’s all just the choices they make. There’s no such thing as intelligence or stupidity because in the end, it doesn’t make you who you are.”
June’s mouth hung open. “Are you really saying that?”
“Why do you think I wasn’t sorted in Ravenclaw? Because I think the whole idea of that House – ‘wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure’ is shit. It’s just an excuse for people there to feel like they’re better than other people. That’s why I hate Potter. Being intelligent is worth less than the air you breathe if you don’t put it to some meaningful use. Being intelligent for intelligence’s sake means very little.”
“But I fail like everything,” mumbled June to herself, “and Charms and Potions – ”
“Everyone has their intelligent days and their stupid days. You don’t have to be born brilliant. I think the point is that you try to get there at some point one way or another, no matter what it is you choose to do.” Priscilla bit her lip. “I can’t believe they said you were ugly.”
“And I am, aren’t I? I have these days where I feel like I’m ugly and that’s why I have all these problems. Beautiful people never seem to have problems.”
“You shouldn’t think like that about yourself, you know.”
“I can’t help it.”
“Do you ever wonder if maybe the reason why some girls are pretty is because they are happy and they come off that way? Maybe the happiness comes and then it’s the beauty, in that order? Sadness isn’t exactly attractive on anyone. Try being happy first and then see how it works out.” Priscilla smiled at June and took a deep breath, falling backwards onto June’s bed. “In the end, nobody has a perfect life. And if they do, it won’t last forever.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“What I mean is that you can choose to just see the bad parts of yourself and make yourself miserable. Or you can realize that just because not everyone loves you, it isn’t an excuse to actually go and agree with them. You might as well feel happy because feeling sad doesn’t do a thing.”
June gave a half-smile. “When did you get so smart?”
Priscilla scoffed. “Oh please. I’m a blessing bestowed on all of mankind. Feel free to kneel and kiss my feet.”
“Priscilla,” said June, “what if Al never fancies me back? What if I just fancy him forever and then nothing happens?”
“Well, so what?” said Priscilla. “This’s the problem with the stupid, melodramatic stories you read. You expect an amazing happy ending with the first swine that walks your way. If he’s a horrible person, girls think they can change him because he’s broken or some idiotic thing like that. If he’s rude or arrogant or anything, everything suddenly becomes okay as long as he’s attractive or rich. Everyone’s too busy shoving their fantasies on somebody to see them for what they are.”
“But – ”
“If things don’t work out, they don’t work out. It’s not like you’ll keel over and die. You’ll move on, find somebody else, or maybe you won’t, but what’s the big deal? Why do people act like if you don’t end up with someone, it’s like you’ve lost some battle or you’re not good enough?” Priscilla shrugged. “We live in such shallow times.”
June cracked a hesitant smile. “Okay, now you’re just showing off.”
Priscilla nudged her with her foot and her voice took its usual caustic tone. “Do you really fancy Albus, June? Like honestly, truly?”
“Honestly, truly,” said June, “why?”
“It’s just that what that Livingston girl said is bothering me. And I’ve got a plan.”
The next morning during breakfast, June and Priscilla made their way down to the Hufflepuff table. Priscilla had a determined expression on her face, but June was shaking nervously beside her.
“Do you really think this is a good idea?” she whispered urgently.
“You said you fancied Potter and I believed you and we’re going through with this!” hissed Priscilla.
“But I’m too nervous and I don’t think it’ll work – ”
“Look, Lucy said she’ll help us, okay? She’s probably already getting ready, so it’s too late to do anything about it!”
“You told Lucy?” yelped June, “She’s a prefect, she’d never help us!”
“I can be very persuasive when I want to,” said Priscilla gravely. “And either way, she doesn’t know about the second part of the plan, so she doesn’t know we’re doing anything against the rules…you know, yet. Trista should be in place as well.”
As soon as they entered the Great Hall, nothing of particular circumstance had occurred. Everybody was still eating breakfast and a loud amount of chatter was circulating. June squinted over the crowd to see Lucy approaching the Gryffindor table with a set expression on her face.
Priscilla steered June into their usual seats as June watched Lucy carefully, her stomach bursting with butterflies.
Lucy was gesticulating ardently and Albus seemed to be arguing back, shaking his head in refusal.
“What’s going on?” she whispered to Priscilla.
“Alright, right about now, Lucy should be coming up with an excuse to bring him over here. You see, he has to come here. If you go there, you’ll just look like some crazed stalker. If he comes here, it looks like he wanted to see you.”
Spots of red appeared high on June’s cheeks. “Oh, I don’t know – maybe this won’t work – ”
Priscilla wheeled around. “Look, you said you fancied him, right? You might as well show those arses that you do in style!” Her tirade was promptly cut off when she spotted Trista moving across the Great Hall. Albus and Lucy were still arguing. “Look, Trista’s on the move!”
Trista walked by the other side of the Gryffindor table where the girls were sitting; she was holding a goblet of pumpkin juice and obviously trying to look very casual about where she was going. For a moment, she turned around and looked at Priscilla in confusion.
“The blonde one!” Priscilla mouthed furiously, “The blonde one and Bosworth if you can!”
Trista nodded and went back to walking. She halted in front of Cora Livingston and Iris Bosworth and pretended to fall over her own feet and launched the goblet of pumpkin juice above their heads. Both of them were drenched in juice and they turned around, squealing in horror.
“JUST LOOK AT WHAT YOU DID TO MY ROBES!”
“My hair!” Iris was moaning, “My hair’s all sticky! Cora, my hair!”
“I’m so sorry!” Trista was saying over them, “It was an accident! I’m so clumsy, you’ll have to forgive me! I didn’t see where I was going!”
“You cow!” snapped Cora, “Do you know how expensive these robes are?! I can’t walk around like this all day!”
“My hair!” Iris wailed.
“Okay, now she makes up an excuse to bring them over here,” whispered Priscilla, watching them intently.
“Well, I’ve got my wand in my bag over there,” said Trista innocently. “I feel so horrible at doing this. I can Scourgify your hair.”
“What about my robes?” shrieked Cora. “Not that you would now – dumb Hufflepuff – all idiots – ”
“I’ve got some money, I can pay to get them cleaned. If you’ll just come with me…”
Cora and Iris shared a look, with Cora looking deliberately more murderous. Finally, Iris stood up and began to follow Trista. After a tense moment, so did Cora, still mumbling to herself about dumb Hufflepuffs.
“Always knew she had it in her, that one,” said Priscilla beaming. “Okay, now for Lucy.”
Albus still hadn’t moved. A bit of their conversation was audible over the noise.
“I can’t see why I can’t help you after breakfast,” Albus was saying.
“Because it’s due right after breakfast, Al!” Lucy was doing an excellent job of sounding urgent.
“I’m surprised. You always do your homework on time. Why’re you coming to me all of a sudden?”
Lucy ran her hand through her hair. “You know how busy I’ve been. I just forgot. Please help me, Albus. Please.”
“Come on, fall for the trap, you prat,” muttered Priscilla.
Albus sighed and put back his toast. “Fine. Only this time and I won’t help you finish.”
“Thank you!” said Lucy, grinning. She began to walk towards the Hufflepuff table with Albus trudging reluctantly behind her.
“They’re almost both here!” said June, fighting an overwhelming urge to run and hide. From one side of the table, Trista was leading an angry Cora; from the other Lucy was stringing along a clueless Albus.
Priscilla pushed June to her feet. “The moment’s almost here, June. You can do it!”
Trista, Cora and Iris arrived first. Iris was still on about her hair, but Cora stopped in her tracks at the sight of June and her eyes narrowed. “What is she doing here? You’re not still talking to – ”
From the other side, Lucy had brought Albus in. He was looking as aloof as ever, but his eyebrows rose at the sight of June.
At Albus’s arrival, Iris gave a shriek and he looked at her, distracted by the noise. She made a frightened attempt to smile and flatten her sticky hair, looking mortified. Behind her, Cora had no such reaction; she pushed past Iris and Trista and wrung out her robes, giving Albus a glimmering smile.
“Hello, Albus! Fancy seeing you here!”
From the side, away from June and the others, Priscilla steadied her hand and narrowed her eyes in concentration. She pointed her wand as Cora continued to talk.
“It’s a lovely day, isn’t it? I was just wondering whether or not we’d be having class again together this evening, you know, after – ”
Priscilla closed her eyes and released a spell; a spark flew from the end of her wand soundlessly and snaked around Lucy and June to hit Cora.
Nobody had yet to notice.
Cora kept talking. “ – Professor Vector canceled class last time. And did you get around to finishing that essay on – ” She continued her speech, but feathers slowly began drifting down from her arms. Her face was shrinking slightly and her nose was growing.
Priscilla flicked her wand and feathers began dropping more quickly. Cora broke off and stared at herself in confusion. Iris’s eyes had widened to the size of saucepans.
“What’s going on?!” Cora shrieked. She looked up as Albus stared at her in confusion and her body began being engulfed in feathers. She turned to the others. “DO SOMETHING!”
Iris stared back at her. “Cora – your – your nose!”
Cora looked down and there it was: her nose was suddenly protruding, her legs shrinking rapidly, her arms gaining more and more feathers. The entire Great Hall, including the teachers were looking on in utter confusion as Cora shrunk and shrunk. She gave one last scream until she had finally shrunk down into her final form.
A small chicken clucked around where Cora had stood seconds ago, looking bemused.
Several tables burst into raucous laughter, jeering openly.
Iris was swaying in place, looking as though she would faint. When the Cora-chicken realized what had happened, it gave a furious cluck and began running towards Iris. At the sight of the Cora-chicken, Iris screamed in alarm and ran out the Great Hall, the chicken following frantically behind her.
The teacher’s table broke into whispers and Professor Aubrey began to walk down, obviously struggling to not burst into laughter. Priscilla leaned back with the most self-satisfied expression she had given yet.
But June had no time for the laughter.
She had no time to see the teachers or anyone coming closer or ponder the state of the Cora chicken.
She looked up at Albus, who was saying something to Lucy, a smile on his face.
She didn’t know how long the smile would last. She didn’t know much about whether or not she was even the least bit pretty. She was not doing this because nobody liked her and she needed somebody, but because she liked him and someday, she’d make him need her.
Priscilla could be skeptical, he could be rude, Cora could call her ugly, but in that moment, June learned what it meant not to care. She was going to do something very stupid and have no regrets.
In the end, she wasn’t doing it for him. She was doing it for herself.
She took three calm steps forward.
With the entirety of the Great Hall watching, she put one hand on his shoulder, the other on his tie, yanked him forward and kissed him.
Author's Note: It Started With...A Kiss.
The chapter title is an homage to the TV show/story that inspired this story; at this point onwards, Bathing in Roses and it will no longer reflect the same storyline and BIR will become more of my own story.
So, I apologize for the length of this chapter, but it had a lot of obstacles, new characters and revelations. I'd love to know your thoughts on June, the difficulties she encounters, her friendship with Priscilla, and of course, what you thought of the ending!