image by hayley jade @ TDA
Less Than Admirable
I had come to the library to try to get a bit of studying done away from the insanity of the Ravenclaw common room. According to the stereotype perpetuated by the Sorting Hat, we were all supposed to be quiet, studious and timid. But saying that was like saying that Hufflepuffs were always happy and full of sunshine and I had seen Lysander Scamander after his favourite pair of gloves was stolen in fifth year: it was neither a happy nor sunshine-y sight. Thus, I had left the boisterous common room for the more subdued library.
I was just finished with a Transfiguration essay and was opening my Arithmancy book, hoping to get a few hundred pages read, when a group of boys walked in. At first, I tried to ignore them, hoping that if I did, they would be quiet and go away. If I didn’t see them, they didn’t exist, I told myself.
But apparently, my skill at wistful thinking was not as strong as I’d hoped, for they sat at the table next to me.
“I can’t stand that old bore,” a boy drawled, his voice dripping arrogance. “Isn’t it time someone told Binns to go ahead and die already?” He obviously found himself very witty by the way he ended his question in a laugh that was soon joined by others.
I thought that ghostly Professor Binns was certainly not the most intriguing man, but not one to be insulted either. After all, no one had to take his class after fifth year. I was going to look up and say something to them, but remembered that I was pretending not to notice or be bothered by them.
For a few minutes, I was able to lose myself in the complex pattern of numbers in the Arithmancy book, but a familiar voice, one pitched loud enough for the whole library to hear, brought me back.
“Just don’t call me Albenezer Scrooge!” Al Potter said at nearly a shout from across the cavernous room.
I wasn’t sure whether to roll my eyes, snort, or be disgusted. I compromised by doing a bit of each. “And it’s not even Christmas,” I muttered under my breath. I had taken Muggle Studies at the order of my gran for several years and we had read some Dickens. I didn’t remember much, but I did remember Ebenezer Scrooge and his miserly ways. While a Muggle literary reference was certainly a non sequitur coming from Potter, his trademark ego was written all over it. For God knows what reasons, he had managed to turn something as classic as Dickens into a probably idiotic joke.
“Potter!” one of the boys at the table next to me yelled. “Oi!”
I frowned deeply, trying to bury myself farther into the book. He would come over here. It would be just my luck. I come to study and find even more trouble.
I could practically hear Albus saunter over, though I tried not to. “My good man,” he greeted the other boy, who I realized now was a fellow seventh year, Finnegan. Potter was a pretentious git. No one said that anymore.
I finally glanced up when I heard chairs scrape next to me. From over the cover of my book, I saw Al sit down, mussing up his hair as he did. He leaned forward, conspiratorially. “Now, don’t call me Sirius Black,” he said in an egregiously loud voice, “but I finally got her to agree to go out with me.” Call him Sirius Black?
What was wrong with his own name? Wasn’t it famous enough? And besides, did getting a date really make him as much as a lady’s man as Black? I think not.
“Done already with the essay?” Al was asked by Finnegan who seemed un-phased by Al’s boasts. “I thought that Lily was going to keep you locked in the tower till you did.”
I caught Al’s furious glare. “As if Lily could make me do anything!”
“Hey mate!” Finnegan said, holding up his hands. “She’s a prefect. And she seemed pretty serious about that Bat Bogey Hex.”
“Well, ’course I finished it then,” Albus said. “And you’ll never guess, I worked in a whole bit about the New Marauders when I had to start going on about the importance of regeneration, or whatever Chapter 15 was on. The rest of my essay may have been a piece of shite, but that paragraph is a thing of beauty.”
Finnegan gave a nod of approval.
I hoped that that was the end of their exchange and that I could continue studying in peace. Finnegan, for one, looked as taciturn as ever, and started making his quill fly around the room, dropping dots of ink on squealing first years. It was a nice bit of magic, if stupid.
“HUGO!” Al bellowed suddenly. “All right then?”
What was he blathering about now? And to Rose’s brother too. Hugo might have been in Gryffindor, but he wasn’t part of Al’s little squadron.
I could see Hugo wince a little bit from where he stood, several rows away. He looked around, as if hoping for a place to hide, but when he saw nothing, he advanced towards his cousin. “Al,” he said slowly, sounding exasperated already. “What do you want?”
From where I sat, I could barely hear Albus muttering something that sounded like, “No respect.” It was laced with a few curses, though they were almost inaudible.
“Nothing,” Al said louder, waving Hugo away. “Never mind. Just forget it then. Just forget it.”
All this fake bravado was making my head hurt. Al could puff up in false indignation faster than the peacocks at Malfoy Manner. I moved to put my book back into my bag, so that I could return to the common room to study—thankfully, Potter couldn’t follow me there—but Hugo saw me and waved. “Hi Laura.”
I wanted to hit him then. Hugo had about as much subtly as his father, which was to say none. His ability to pick up on social cues was sorely lacking, much to the chagrin of his mother and sister alike. “How are things then?” he continued. “I haven’t seen much of you or Rose since the Express.”
“Fine,” I said as tersely as possible.
Before I could make any excuse and leave, Al swivelled around in his chair to face me. “Hullo Laurie,” he said with mock seriousness. “How’s the schoolwork coming? If you’re anything like Rosie, you already have a time table for exam studying.”
“Everything’s going just brilliant, Al,” I said in as saccharine a voice I could and mimicked his habit of repeating himself: “Just brill.”
“Good, good,” he said earnestly, looking a bit demented in his false cheeriness. I was wondering if he had some sort of psychosis when he spoke again. “Now if you don’t mind.” He turned back to his table with a wink. “Tell Rosie hello.”
I bit back a retort and glared at Hugo instead, who shrugged. For someone with such a smart mother and sister, he was really quite thick. “Shame on you,” I whispered at him, nodding my head towards Al.
Hugo stared blankly as I gathered my things. I meant to stalk out of the library in a very dignified but annoyed way, but my bag was so heavy with all my books and papers that I staggered instead. I looked liked an injured gnome, limping along, half stunned.
In all honestly, other than that I was short, I didn't much resemble a gnome. I had wavy light brown hair where most gnomes were bald. And my eyes were actually a nice hazel. Still, I could think of no better comparison, so a gnome I was. At least figuratively.
I yawned as I took a sip of tea which was a mistake. As I inhaled the liquid, some of it caught in my throat, causing me to cough violently and earning me some bleary looks from the others near me. “Sorry,” I choked out, feeling a blush on my cheeks.
“Shut up,” Rose muttered, stirring her own tea so violently it splashed over the edges of the cup, onto the saucer.
I didn’t bother to ask her what was wrong because I knew. Normally, Rose was cheerful and alert in the morning, ready for class, but this morning, she had walked past Scorpius snogging some other Slytherin girl and was in a foul mood. In fact, I saw, as I glanced over my shoulder, they were still at it now. The girl was practically on his lap and it seemed that they were having difficulty staying upright.
“Yech.” Ella shuddered as she flung herself onto a seat next to me. “Someone needs to tell those two to get a room. That reminds me of last year when Lucy Weasley and that Thomas bloke were always in the hall together. They didn’t quite understand the concept of privacy either, always standing in the middle of the halls between class, or on the stairs.”
Rose looked up only for a moment to give Ella a scorching look.
I took a more cautious sip of my tea and cast a worried look at Rose. If she was going to be this moody for the year, things would be rough. I hadn’t seen her this upset since she was passed over for Ravenclaw prefect fifth year. Though Rose was nearly perfect by most accounts, she didn’t necessarily have the ability to control other students. So instead, the honour was given to Seren Rees, a Welsh Muggle-born girl.
“So, Ella,” I began. “Who’s the captain of the team this year?” Quidditch would always distract Ella from anything.
True to character, her face lit up. “Andrew Corner. He’s the best Chaser we’ve had since Roger Davies played twenty years ago and he went on to be captain of the Wasps!”
I frowned, biting my lip at Ella’s last words.
“Oh!” She looked apologetic. “I’m sorry, I forgot that...” She trailed off, still looking at me like I’d was about to break into tears. “You know, that he’s your father.” Her voice was a mere whisper now.
I nodded curtly. “Don’t worry.” My father wasn’t someone I talked about much. It wasn’t so much that he was a secret, plenty of students knew, but most of them soon forgot it. Since he had never married my mum, who had had me right out of Hogwarts, I didn’t have his name. And I had been raised by my mum’s mum and dad.
I only ever saw Roger on holidays anyways, mainly just on Christmas. He always felt obliged to invite me over for a few days, and my gran made sure I accepted. If I had any say in it, I would have avoided him all together. It wasn’t him that I mined so much as his family. My father had gotten married when I was seven or so to a glamorous witch named Felicity. He and Fee, as they called her, had two small and increasingly bothersome children.
“Laura?” Ella was saying, and she tapped my shoulder. “Are you alright? I’m really sorry!”
“Perfect,” I said as brightly as I could. “I just stayed up late writing a Charms essay, that’s all.” I added in a fake yawn for effect.
“Well,” Ella glanced around at the students who were starting to get up and go to class. “I need to leave. Bye Rose, bye Laura.”
“Goodbye,” I said for myself and for Rose, since she was still staring dismally into her porridge.
“Are they still, you know?” Rose asked softly. She sounded more vulnerable now, almost near tears. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, if only for a moment.
I glanced behind me. The girl had disentangled herself from Scorpius, but only so that she could gather up her things.
“Nope,” I said quickly, yanking Rose up by the arm. “Come on, class time.” She stood slowly and with deliberate sloppiness, knocked her cup of tea into the porridge.
I rolled my eyes. “Enough,” I said, exasperated. “I see that you’ve only gotten more mature now that you’re a seventh year. Now, come on.” When she didn’t move, I let go of her arm. “I will not drag you to class,” I said. “Feel free to not come.”
Knowing that she would follow, I marched away. We were one of the few ones left in the Great Hall and we would have to hurry to make it to class. At the door, I looked back and saw Rose finally running to catch up. I also unfortunately saw Scorpius and the girl had resumed snogging, this time managing to walk along at the same time. Disgusting.
Rose remained in a foul mood for the rest of the day. I couldn’t abide her sulking and was thankful that I had Herbology alone, so that I was away from her.
Professor Longbottom was one of the younger professors and very good natured. I liked his fairness and tolerance in class. He was not the kind to give long lectures about the pending NEWTs because he preferred working with his beloved plants.
Because Longbottom was a war hero, as well as a member of Dumbledore’s Army, his classes were always popular. I wondered if our NEWT class was so large in part because most students wanted to hear more of his stories. Either way, I didn’t mind. Herbology was neither my strongest nor my weakest subject, so I wasn’t bothered by the constant requests for stories that the professor received. And he did have good stories. I wondered if I was so interested because I was deprived of any such tales. Neither of my parents had fought in the Battle of Hogwarts, nor had either of them raised me. Instead, I was left with my wonderful, yet boring, grandparents who had also not participated in the battle and thus had no stories to share.
When class was over, and after I carefully removed my bubotuber-pus encrusted gloves and dumped them into a bin, I made my way up to the castle, cursing the pouring rain that turned the slope of the steep hill into a mud slick. I would have cast a drying spell, but it would be useless until I was back somewhere dry. With each step, more mud splashed up my legs and onto my stockings.
Finally, with a burst of energy, I forced myself to run the last hundred yards to an overhang. Mud and water flew everywhere, but I didn’t care. As soon as my head was covered, I cast a quick spell and my clothes went from dirty and cold to steaming clean. I smiled at that, at walked, more slowly towards the dreaded dungeons and potions class.
I turned the corner and the tiny covered path I was on widened into a central outdoor courtyard, surrounded by more covered walkways. There were more students around, though most were on the outskirts, under cover from the rain, which was now falling with more force than ever.
I had to make my way to the opposite end of the plaza before I could go inside. While it would have been easiest to simply walk straight across, I was not willing to risk the rain, not now that I was warm again. I would have enough time to walk the perimeter anyways.
By now, most other classes had been let out and the path I was on had become crowded with others trying to avoid the downpour. It was nearly impossible to move through the crush, and I had to push past several first years, stopped dead in the centre of the flow of traffic. I was about to tell them off for blocking the way when I saw what they had been ogling about. Another couple was blocking the way as well. It was Malfoy again and his paramour, passionately kissing again.
I raised my eyebrows. Thank God Rose wasn’t with me. She would have probably attacked the girl.
As I walked past them, someone came along side me. “Hello,” Neel said, giving me his usual open smile.
I nodded a greeting back. Even though we had been partners in potions for nearly three weeks, I still didn’t feel comfortable talking to him. I had never seen him be cruel to anyone, and he lacked Al Potter’s obnoxious humour, but he still felt like only an acquaintance. “Hi,” I said back, hoping he would change directions, but then I remembered that he was headed to where I was: potions.
“Did you see them?” Neel asked conversationally as we tried to make our way inside.
I nodded. “Yeah.” How could anyone miss them?
“You know, I don’t have anything against public affection. I just want it done in private.”
I smirked at the contradiction. “What does that mean?”
He nodded his head back in the direction of Scorpius. “They can snog, just not in the middle of the hall.”
I had to agree with that. “Yeah.” I said again. Ella’s previous sentiment was appropriate: get a room
, or at least a broom closet.
“Well,” I began awkwardly, after we had been silent for a moment. I looked to see how close the door was. Just one more side to go. And I was ostensibly stuck with Neel unless I wanted to run out into the rain.
He smiled again. “How’s everything this year?” He spoke as if we were friends.
“Fine,” I said, ducking my head. While it was nice of him to ask, I didn’t feel much like sharing. “The usual. It’s just school.”
“That seems rather impassive from a Ravenclaw,” Neel said with laugh. “‘It’s just school.’ Shouldn’t that get you a detention or something?”
I pressed my lips together, to keep from giggling. “There’s no rule like that.” I used as serious a voice as I could manage.
That was all we said because we had finally reached the door and now had to force our way inside against the tide trying to leave. Some of them stopped halfway out to curse the rain. ‘Damn that rain,” they said. Well, damn them. I was just trying to get inside. Some students had no concept of traffic flow.
To my immense relief, I no longer had to talk to Neel as we descended to the Dungeons. His cousin, Shreya, had caught up with us just as he had begun to start another conversation. She was about my height, I noticed as I walked next to her, but she seemed much shorter. Her dark hair was long like a little girl’s and she wore it in a curly braid. Her face also seemed strangely breakable. Her eyes were too large, her skin light, but with a gray pallor. I wondered if she were ill. Neel certainly treated her like she was delicate.
“Did you get a letter from your mum, today?” she was saying. Her voice did not match her fragile appearance; it had much more strength.
Neel looked puzzled and the perpetual smile left his face. “You were there at breakfast, you saw the owl come.”
Shreya shook her head, sending a furtive glance over at me. “I know that.
But did she tell you about what happened with...” She paused, looking at me again, then stood on her toes to whisper a word in Neel’s ear.
From all the secrecy that Shreya was using, I would have thought that Neel would have paled, or something dramatic, but he only laughed. “You’re worried about that?” he asked, teasingly. “Don’t. It’s not like you run the business already.”
From the sound Shreya made it sounded like she was annoyed that Neel had said anything in front of me.
I awkwardly bit my lip. “Don’t worry,” I promised. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. And I’ll just go ahead anyways.”
Shreya looked pleased, but Neel shook his head. “We’re coming.”
So we all trudged down to the dungeons, Shreya still appearing unsettled. She had moved so that she was as far away from me as possible, as if I was the cause of all of her problems.
When the stairs levelled out, the air had taken on the dank quality of the Dungeons. I saw with dismay that the door was already closed, signalling the start of the lesson. “Oh no,” I breathed. We were late. Professor Noble normally needed no reason to antagonize me, and now she had a perfectly good one.
Beside me, Shreya said something in another language that sounded like, “Dios nos ampare.”
I looked at Neel in confusion, hoping for a translation, but he had already moved forward to open the door.
“Hey!” I snapped. If Noble was going to attack me for my tardiness, I needed to come up with a plan to detract some of the blame. The last thing I needed in my file was a detention.
Neel, however, seemed not to hear me and opened the door even as I lunged for his shirt to hold him back. And then it was too late and I was falling forward into Neel and into the classroom. “Shit,” I muttered, as I finally backed up and stood up.
Noble was advancing on us, looking livid. Her robes were edged in pink today, which seemed very out of place for her normally professional self. When she stopped, it was several feet away. The whole class had turned around to face us, but they all sat mute with anticipation.
“Pass the tardy sauce,” Albus said in a loud whisper.
My gaze snapped over to where he sat, next to Rose. She looked as if she were about to hit him, as he sat there with a smug smile on his face.
Neel shifted beside me, drawing my attention back to Noble, who was still staring at us, probably best deciding how to humiliate us. When she finally spoke, her voice was all sugary sweetness. “Miss Burke, Mr. Rao, Miss Ayala. You are all late. Do you have an explanation?”
I looked at Neel. “The weather, ma’am,” he said.
Shreya said the same thing in that other language again, but this time it was barely a whisper.
“Sit,” Noble snapped after a long pause. “And get started working. Today you will brew a Stinging Salve by yourself.”
I practically ran to my place at the front of the room. I knew from reading a bit ahead in the book that the potion we were to prepare was immensely complicated. I flipped open to the page, cutting myself on the paper by accident. “Shit,” I hissed as blood began to fall. I rubbed the blood off on my sweater and kept reading.
Quickly I gathered the needed ingredients and began to stew the lacewings with a drop of bubotuber pus. Beside me, Neel was carefully arranging his wormwood bark to be minced. I quickly chopped up the florescent bark as well, letting three scoops fall into the green mixture. According to the book, I needed to stir it three times counter clockwise, then wait ten minutes. I did so.
With a sigh, I sat back and looked at Neel, who also had to wait. I chewed my lip, hesitating to speak. “Whatever you said, about the weather. Thank you.” He had kept me from a detention with Noble and I was deeply grateful.
He looked surprised to see me. “Sure. I had no idea that would actually work though.”
I smiled. “Still, thanks.”
With that done, I turned back to watching the clock, wanting to be sure that I waited exactly ten minutes. I thought back to what had happened, wondering if Noble had something worse in store because she had been so lenient. I remembered Shreya saying something in another language before we had entered and again when her cousin spoke.
“Neel?” I asked, seeing him look up in surprise at my voice.
“What did Shreya say outside the door?”
He looked thoughtful, then laughed. “I have no idea.”
That was surprising, I thought she had been talking to Neel. “I thought you spoke another language,” I said, carefully.
“Oh I do,” he said. “But Shreya’s dad is from España
. She was speaking Spanish.”
As I processed the information, I saw Neel looking at me carefully. “Did you know your finger is bleeding?” he asked.
I looked down, and saw that it was. “Oh.” I said in surprise. I hadn’t wanted to bother, but since there was now a fair amount of gory blood down my finger, I fished out my wand and cleaned it up.
After the ten minutes had passed, I finished making the potion. But by the time I was adding in the final drop of bubotuber pus, I knew something had gone wrong. Instead of being a bright orange, like the book illustrated, it was a limpid sort of gray.
“Time to bottle your salves,” Noble instructed handing out flasks.
With a heavy heart, I ladled some into the glass vial and stood in line to turn it in. I looked at my fellow students, seeming that most had a potion that was at least close to orange. Neel’s was surprisingly perfect, the shade so bright it was hard to look at. Noble gave a grudging nod of approval as he handed it in.
Her face turned almost gleeful as I extended out my hand, with the flask filled with failure. “Oh Miss Burke,” Noble said, shaking her head in mock sorrow. “I’m afraid that’s all wrong. Why don’t you wait to talk to me after class?”
I gritted my teeth and stood next to her desk, waiting for the rest of the class to turn in their potions. When it was Rose’s turn, she mouthed, “I’m sorry.” I could only shrug in return.
Noble came over to me and sat primly behind her desk. “Have a seat, Miss Burke,” she offered.
I did so, stiffly, and sat awaiting my punishment.
“As you know, your work in this class has been less than admirable,” she said in her too sweet voice. “In fact, some might call it unacceptable. I have yet to see you make a potion on your own that was viable. Only your work with Mr. Rao is passable, and in that I suspect his influence.” She paused for effect. “I don’t know how you managed to get into a NEWT level potion class, but it’s clear you don’t belong here. While it is not common, it is possible for students to drop classes at Hogwarts, Miss Burke. If your grades do not improve drastically, soon, this is what I suggest you do to avoid a failing grade on that otherwise spotless report of yours.”
I felt like she had slapped me. Drop potions?
That was impossible! I had to take potions to become a healer. It was true that I was not doing the best job in the class, but professors were supposed to help students, not get rid of them!
“That will be all,” Professor Noble said, standing up. “If you choose to drop potions, I will give you my full support in the matter.”
I sat frozen, unable to move. That meant that she would also to her best to make sure I had
to drop the class. What was I going to do?
Noble narrowed her eyes, “That will be all.”
Finally, I forced myself to stand and nearly stumbled out of the classroom, feeling like I couldn’t breathe.
Later that night, I retold Rose all that had happened. My distress was enough to keep her from moping about Scorpius, for she seemed kind as she tried to cheer me up.
When I mentioned Shreya’s strange exclusivity, she laughed. “Don’t worry about her. I heard that her parents don’t even let her date! She’s bound to be odd.”
After hearing about Noble’s ultimatum, Rose shook her head. “That bitch.
“What am I going to do?” I said, wiping a few stray tears away with the back of my hand. “If I can’t take potions, no healing school will accept me!”
Rose looked thoughtful. “You could get help,” she suggested. “Maybe if someone was willing to just show you where you were going wrong, you’d be able to fix whatever’s going wrong.”
“Who would do that?” I asked. “You?”
“Well,” Rose began. “Laura, you know I’d always help you right? But I’m probably not the best person to ask. I do decently in Potions, but I’m horrible at explaining.”
My heart sank. “Who then? No one’s better at Potions than you.”
“That’s debatable, actually,” Rose said, and I could see that it pained her to admit it.
I sat up straighter. “Who?” I repeated earnestly.
Rose only shrugged. “I’m just not the best,” was all she said. Even if she could say that, she could never say who
. Maybe she didn’t even know. Either way, I had no idea who she was thinking of, and if they would even bother to help me.
As I lay in bed that night, I thought back to my conversation with Noble. “Only your work with Mr. Rao is passable,”
she had said. Honestly, she was right. Whenever I worked alone, my grades dropped significantly.
As I was just about to fall asleep, my mind drifted, remembering my partner’s perfectly orange potion. I knew someone good at potions, I thought hazily. Really good. Probably better than Rose: Neel
Thanks again for reading so far.
Here’s a translation for when Shreya speaks Spanish (Dios nos ampare).
What she says is “God help us.”