"Her acne's loads better lately -- and she's really nice!" -- Hermione Granger, while talking about Eloise Midgeon; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Pg 344, UK Version
Justin Finch Fletchley was a weird teenager. He talked to animals and while they couldn’t understand him, he truly believed they could. His favourite subject was Divination and he had the tendency to turn horribly jumpy if someone so much as uttered the word ‘snake’.
But for the most part, he was weird because he liked something no teenager or adult ever could.
“Yumm...mhmm...broccoli...” Justin mumbled, breathing in the scent of the overly cooked vegetable. The pungent smell reached Eloise’s nostrils and she recoiled in disgust.
“Could you at least do that in private?” Eloise tried her best not to let her apprehension show as she shifted further away from Justin on the grass, dragging her books along with her.
His eyes were dancing with mirth, and something much more obvious— greed, as it always was when he was near that disgusting vegetable. “I’m only eating, Broc,” he spared her a glance, looking up from his beloved food for only a moment. “You make it sound like I’m having sex or something.”
He laughed his very own laugh- rich and a little girly- as Eloise hit him over the head with her heavy Transfiguration book, and she couldn’t help but grin back.
“That’s so – ugh, Justin!” she squealed in protest and a sort of muted horror as he tried to wipe his icky fingers on her jeans.
His fingers stopped a few centimetres away from her clothes and Eloise froze in her process of scrambling awkwardly back on the blanket. “Don’t. You. Dare.” Eloise wished her voice didn’t sound so squeaky.
His face cracked into a wicked grin, and Eloise gulped, her stomach swooping in dread. To her relief, however, Justin drew back, choosing instead to wipe his hands on the snow covered ground. Eloise scowled darkly at him, folding her arms over her chest.
“You know I’m allergic! You – agghhhh!!” The hand which had been immersed in snow came up in one swift motion, directly at Eloise’s face, landing with a resounding splat.
She sat completely still for a moment, feeling the snow drip down and her face turn numb through her closed eyes. Raising a hand to her face, she swiped off the combination of snow and mud off her face and opened her eyes slowly. Beside her, Justin’s grin froze as her eyes narrowed. Rightly so, Eloise thought.
With a war-cry, Eloise lunged.
“And then...and then, he says, ‘Well, that’s funny, because I could’ve sworn I had seen it before’,” he said in an innocent voice, while reciting his tale. Eloise glanced at Justin, whose expression matched his voice, though she could see he was trying very hard not to grin. She couldn’t keep the grin off her face herself; Justin’s was as infectious as it could get.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” she said accusingly, though she was grinning wider than ever now. “Oh Justin! Tell me you didn’t!” She couldn’t help laughing as he shrugged, finally grinning back. “That was so mean!”
“Hey, I was just having a little bit of fun!” he said defensively. “Besides, you’d have done the same thing if you’d been in my place. I was getting sick of listening to him brag about the number of trophies he had won,” he added in an offhand way. Eloise didn’t doubt it; Justin’s cousins were snobbish and arrogant, even more so towards him because he was the exact opposite. Nor was he hoity-toity like his upper class Muggle family if his table manners were anything to go by. So it wasn’t shocking really if he vanished his cousin’s trousers mid-lunch.
“Clever, wasn’t it?” he said proudly. “And I didn’t have to use any magic, either. Sluggernuff powder- temporary but effective.”
Eloise just gave another laugh, lying down on her side beside him again.
The winter sun shone above them, making the snow around them glint strangely as they lay on it together at their usual place. It was chilling, and Eloise could feel the snow beginning to melt into her clothes, making her shiver, but she didn’t care. This was their tradition. Lying in the grass on a Sunday afternoon; the change in seasons had never disrupted it. And more importantly, she didn’t have the energy to climb up the tree under which they now lay to retrieve their blanket, which had mysteriously tangled itself in its branches during her snowball fight with Justin. Many feet away, she could see those Weasley twins playing snowball, and Eloise suspected the blanket had something to do with them.
She could still feel the perspiration on her neck from the fight, and knew that both of them would probably be lying in the Hospital Wing by evening, drinking Pepper-Up Potion, but it was somehow worth it— playing with Justin, just messing around. Not caring about anything—mundane or important. It was as if the outside of the castle was a different world altogether- the one still with the childish games and stupidity.
Eloise loved every bit of it.
Even if it meant getting a snowball to the face and being near Justin, who truthfully, smelled quite badly of broccoli.
Eloise had never been able to understand how Justin could ever digest something as disgusting as broccoli, let alone like it. Like it so much, in fact, that he made his mother send weekly packages of the cooked vegetable, because for some reason unfathomable to him, the house-elves never made broccoli for lunch.
“But it’s the most crunchiest, scrumptious vegetable ever!” He had protested loudly, back in their first year upon discovery of this horrific news; his eyes widening in genuine confusion. Eloise still marvelled to this day how effortlessly she had acted comforting and hid her amused laughter.
Yes, Justin was a weird kid indeed, Eloise mused as she gazed at him now. The sunlight made his eyes appear almost golden, and his lips were stretched in a large grin, revealing overly pointed teeth at the corner of his mouth.
“You’re staring, Broc,” Justin spoke up suddenly, his eyes on hers. “Say, something on your mind?” he teased. “Me?”
Eloise frowned in response. “Don’t call me that, please!” she whined for the umpteenth time.
Eloise obviously remembered the day Justin had coined the stupid nickname for her— she doubted she would ever forget it. After all, no girl could appreciate being called ‘Broc’.
It had been a Sunday like this one, when Eloise had first learnt of his obsession with broccoli. The two first years had been loitering around in the courtyard that afternoon, when Justin’s owl landed a package in his hands. It was wrapped in brown paper and smelled somehow familiar to Eloise, a pungent smell of something cooked.
"What’s that?” she asked, trying to place the smell. “Is that food in there?”
Justin’s face lighted up with an infectious excitement that made Eloise grin for no reason. “Yes! Yes!” Justin proceeded to hug the package in a most ridiculous of ways, which made Eloise laugh. “It’s finally here!” he then began jumping in apparent elation. Now Eloise’s curiosity was really stoked.
“What?” She prodded, hopping on the balls of her feet along with him. In answer, or probably not really listening to her, he ripped open the packaging. The smell was stronger than ever now; it made Eloise’s stomach churn. Stepping back in horror, she finally realised what the package contained.
“My mum cooked this specially for me!” Justin continued ripping open the many layers of packing, oblivious to her immense discomfort. “Because Hogwarts never has this for lunch for some reason,” he became silent, as if in a melancholic pause, then regained his animated demeanour. “And I was getting tired of waiting. But no more waiting for me!”
“Oh no, oh no...” Eloise moaned, backing away, her hand clamped over her mouth. She could feel her breakfast coming back from the overwhelming fumes.
“What’s- what’s wrong?” Justin finally looked up, realising that Eloise was no longer beside him, but a good ten feet away.
“It’s broccoli, isn’t it?” Eloise shuddered, though she could speak more clearly now, now that she was out of range of the smell. “I’m allergic.”
“To broccoli?” Justin’s expression was nothing short of horror-struck.
“Yes!” Eloise hissed in annoyance. “Now if you could wrap it back up?”
“But that’s not possible,” he shook his head for emphasis, his wide eyes earnest. “Nobody can be allergic to broccoli!” He said this as if the mere thought was blasphemous.
“Well, I am!” Eloise was getting really frustrated now.
“Do you get boils?”
“Then you’re not allergic,” Justin stated smugly. “Come here, I’ll prove it to you.”
“No!” Eloise was very close to shrieking now, and possibly hitting someone if he didn’t shut up. “Ugh! Don’t tell me you like that disgusting vegetable!”
Justin scowled, but shut the package back up slowly to Eloise’s utter relief. She lowered her hand from her mouth with a relieved sigh, revelling in the pure air. Justin, however, did not look up at her again, choosing to frown at his shoes and sulk. Eloise hesitated, wondering whether she had somehow hurt his feelings by insulting his mother’s cooking.
“You’re not allergic,” Justin persisted, shoving his hands in his pockets but still petulantly avoiding her eyes. “That’s just what you think. It’s all in your head.”
Eloise scowled, not bothering to reply anymore. She was sure her friend had gone utterly mad. When he didn’t hear her response, he finally looked up.
“I just wanted to share it with you,” he said in a small voice, blinking at her shoulder.
Eloise’s eyes widened and she blinked back, unsure whether to feel flattered or horrified.
“Um...er...thanks?” she finally ventured. Justin didn’t meet her gaze, just shoved his hands deeper into his pockets. “Uh...but look on the brighter side!” she tried her best not to sound too excited. “Now you can have...that all by yourself!”
He blinked, apparently just realising this. “You’re right!” A wide smile graced his lips and he licked them as he glanced back at the package. “You’re right!” he exclaimed again, this time with obvious enthusiasm. He then surprised Eloise by engulfing her in an almost bone-crushing hug. “Thank you, Broc! Thank you, thank you!”
Her head banged sharply against his as he did so and Eloise winced in pain. “Ouch!” she protested loudly, rubbing her forehead and trying to push away from the asphyxiating hug. It was then that the previously spoken words finally registered in her mind.
“Wait— wait a minute,” she drew back from him to stare at his face. “What did you just call me?” she asked, sure that she had misheard.
“Broc, of course,” he replied innocently, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Short for broccoli.”
“Excuse me?” Eloise asked, flabbergasted at his remark. “But...but I don’t even like broccoli!”
Justin winked. “That’s what I said.”
Eloise’s mouth hung open. “But that doesn’t even make any sense!” she exclaimed, baffled.
Justin gave a wicked grin that Eloise would come to recognise very well later on. “Exactly.”
That was the first time Eloise had learnt it was futile and completely pointless arguing with Justin.
At the time, Eloise had let it go— the weird nickname that he always insisted on using from then on, unaware how it would sound to her over the years. That despite her growing tolerance towards broccoli, she would come to loath it even more, merely because of what it would symbolise to her. How she was destined to become a hapless victim of vicious insults, snide remarks and pitying looks. How she would sometimes guiltily wish that Justin wouldn’t associate her with that ugly vegetable, because she would become too cruelly synonymous with the name over the coming days— ugly.
As every time Eloise recalled that day, she currently felt a sort of exhilarating happiness— the same that came from a snowball fight or a laugh shared or a smile sent your way. Somehow, for reasons Eloise couldn’t explain, it was different from the nervous one she felt when a teacher praised her or the satisfying one when she looked thinner in a dress.
It was a happiness that could only be borne out of something innocent, childish. Of something that was very rare in Eloise’s life— friendship.
The second thing she felt was a little alien, yet familiar feeling. It was the longing, the wish that she could look as good as she did back then as a first year— her face wasn’t that chubby then or her teeth that crooked or her hair that wispy.
“Don’t call me that,” she now muttered to Justin, closing her eyes. She knew it was a futile attempt; all attempts were when it came to Justin- he was used to getting his way.
“But it’s such a cool name!” he protested in her ear. “And unique! Have you ever heard of anyone else with that name?”
“Obviously not,” Eloise muttered again, frowning at the conflicting emotions that the nickname arose in her- the embarrassment, bitterness. Strangely though, she sometimes liked it when Justin called her that. ‘Els’ was preferable, of course, but Broc wasn’t too bad either when they were alone. When Justin shrieked that name at the top of his voice in the middle of a crowded corridor, however, all such liking was forgotten.
“But it sounds like I’m a... I’m a dragon or something!” Eloise groaned, more out of habit at the usual conversation than actual feeling. “Or a... or a hippogriff! Or...”
“An alligator?” Justin suggested, sniggering. Eloise narrowed her eyes for the second time that afternoon, gathering snow discreetly in one hand. This time unaware, Justin kept on sniggering.
A snowball hit him square in the face.
As Eloise scrambled up quickly, laughing at a roaring Justin, dodging snowballs and jumping with mirth at his face, she felt utterly free and alone. There wasn’t that ever-lingering sensation that someone was watching her; there wasn’t that need to watch herself, to concentrate on not grinning so as to hide her hideous teeth. There were just them— her and Justin. And snowballs.
And despite everything. Even when she felt like shrieking and screaming for all of it to just stop— the staring, her worthlessness, the apparent rancour against her— Justin’s voice filled her with something nobody else’s quite did.
Hope. That perhaps she wasn’t worthless after all.
A/N:Hmm... this chapter was really, er...fluffy. Not my forte. Anyway, it might have been a tad bit boring, but real life is like that, isn’t it? Or maybe that’s just my life...hm... :P But there is a plot, promise, however ridiculous.
I was really nervous while posting this chapter. Please do tell me your views- whether this was okay or utter rubbish?