The rest of that weekend passed miserably, the predicament of detentions clouding over the Hufflepuff Common Room. The second week of February promised nothing more than glumness.
After a long day of classes that Monday – double Charms followed by double Divination – June trudged back to the Common Room. It was thankfully empty inside except for the small ring of Hufflepuff seventh years occupying the armchairs by the fireplace.
When June slung her bag off her shoulders and tossed it on the ground, Desmond and Nicholas shifted, making a place for her in their conspiratorial circle.
“How was your day?” asked Lucy, sounding tired.
“Horrible,” said June, massaging her forehead. “Professor Trelawney went on about how Venus and Mars are going to be aligned in my orbit.”
“Typical,” said Desmond darkly.
At his scowl, June looked at him, surprised. “Did something happen?”
“No,” he said irritably.
“No shame in it, Jordan,” said Nicholas, slapping him on the shoulder. “Gryffindors’ve been pelting us with dungbombs all day. One of them tried putting my robes on fire. Pris put it out in time, though. She’s amazing with that kind of thing.”
“You idiot,” said Priscilla.
“You are, though.” He patted her hand and she gave a strange mix of a grimace and a smile.
“I’ve talked to Aubrey about these detentions of ours,” said Desmond. “There’s no way in hell I’m bloody helping Filch.”
“Better than cleaning toilets,” mumbled Priscilla.
“You don’t know the half of it. Filch’s hated me since my second year.”
“I let Peeves into his office.” Desmond shrugged. “Makes no sense, does it?”
“Clearly,” said Lucy, looking exasperated. “What’d Professor Aubrey say?”
“She’s talked to Professor Longbottom. He’s agreed to cut everyone’s detentions down by a week. That still leaves me three damn weeks with Filch!”
“Two weeks cleaning the loo,” shuddered Priscilla.
“Big deal, all you’ve got to do is wave your wand and you’ll be done!” said Desmond.
“I’m helping Hagrid,” said Nicholas glumly. “That bit about cleaning flobberworm excrement was a load of waffle – his flobberworms died before the winter started. I’ve still got to help him with a Grindylow infestation, though.”
“I think we earned our punishments,” said Lucy earnestly, getting glares from everyone else.
“Except for Bates,” said Nicholas. “Five weeks – a month now, I guess – with the house elves. Potter went barking mad. And Bernard – ” He exchanged a look with Priscilla.
“Your punishment doesn’t even make sense,” said Priscilla. “Prefects don’t need help with their rounds! That’s why there’s a male and a female prefect! And prefects come from fifth, sixth and seventh years. Potter doesn’t need help!”
The Portrait Hole opened and Trista climbed in, Duncan Podmore at her heels. At the sight of them, she sighed and flopped into an armchair, Duncan hovering over her.
“What’re we talking about?” asked Duncan brightly.
“Our detentions,” said Desmond curtly. “Which you didn’t get because you didn’t bother showing up to the Gryffindor Common Room with us.”
“Erm,” began Duncan.
“Yeah, I have been wondering about that, actually,” said Trista, frowning at him. “Because when Albus Potter looked like he was about to try something on Priscillla, she had Nicholas. And Desmond stuck up for Lucy – and June at least had someone with her, even if it was Bates.”
“Err,” he wavered, staring at the stairs, obviously pondering whether a mad dash would be worth it. Trista continued glowering. “I – er – I had a bit too much to drink and I might’ve – ”
“You passed out?” said Trista, making a move to whack him. “Duncan, you didn’t even drink Firewhiskey! You drank Butterbeer!”
He defended himself feebly. “I know, I know, but I was tired after playing for so long and I – ”
“Oh forget it,” said Desmond crabbily, heaving himself off his chair. “Corner and I’ve got to leave anyway.”
“Good luck!” said Lucy as he left.
“I’ve got to go in two hours,” said June dully. “I’m in no mood.”
After Nicholas and Desmond left, Duncan took it as his queue to run up the stairs to safety.
“It isn’t fair, is it?” sighed Trista, staring after him ruefully.
“It’s Valentine’s Day on Wednesday!”
“Is it?” said June, exchanging a surprised look with Priscilla.
“Nobody really cares,” said Priscilla.
“We’re the only ones who never do anything for Valentine’s Day,” said Trista moodily.
“That’s because nobody’s asked us to go anywhere on Valentine’s Day in – oh – ” Priscilla feigned counting on her fingers. “Ever. Let me think, though. The last time a boy asked you out, St. Clair, you told him you had Quidditch practice every night for the next eight months. Maybe Lucy’d have a chance if every male in the Weasley clan wasn’t breathing down her neck.” She pointed to June. “Nobody’s going to bother with the property of Henry Bates over here. Nobody’s worth the amount of crazy that comes with all the people June knows. Us being the least of that package.”
“And let’s face it,” said June, frowning. “You’re probably going to end up a serial killer, Priscilla.”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t under the impression this was particularly important to any of you.”
“I just think it would be nice if we did something other than sit around and eat chocolates we nick from third years,” said Trista. “Even third years get chocolates and flowers! Third years!”
“Jealous of third years,” observed Priscilla, “your life’s hit a new low. Besides, those little beasts get excellent chocolates. And we get them for free!”
“Because you steal them,” said Lucy. She looked outside the window of the Common Room wistfully. “Though I hardly think it’s worth the fuss this year. It’s still snowing horribly and we’ve all got homework to do and those detentions to take care of…”
“We’re going to be alone forever,” said Trista grumpily.
After a mostly lonely evening of completing homework and listening to Trista and Priscilla complain in turns, the hours passed. Priscilla left at six o’clock, cursing all the way down the stairs to report for cleaning loos. Trista left soon at eight and after dinner, Lucy tapped June awake from her studying stupor.
“What is it?” asked June, pushing her Charms homework to the side and feeling slightly cross-eyed.
“It’s nearly ten,” said Lucy. “Prefect rounds start soon.”
When they walked downstairs, they found Duncan waiting for Lucy by the entrance to the Common Room. There were two pairs of younger Prefects from the fifth and sixth years and they all gave June a curious look, but said nothing.
“Baron wants us to meet on the third floor this week,” said Duncan cheerfully. Lucy stoically nodded and they set off, all of their Prefect badges pinned neatly to their robes save for June, who felt awkward between them.
“Where’re we going?” whispered June to Lucy.
“Duncan said the third floor. The Head Boy and Girl’ll give us our rounds for the evening,” said Lucy.
A small crowd awaited them on the foot of the stairs at the third floor. The awkwardness increased immediately for June; the Prefects all seemed to know each other, save for her. June stood between Lucy and Duncan, hoping that Duncan’s height would shroud her from sight. The dimness of the torchlight overcast everything in a melancholy, flickering orange.
Maybe Albus wouldn’t show up and then –
“Quiet!” said a voice from the front. June peeked over Duncan to see Baron Davies unfurling a scroll of parchment, the Head Boy badge on his robes glimmering in the torchlight. “Is everyone here?”
There was a general sound of agreement.
June heard a whisper of, “Bernard? Is that you?”
She turned to see two girls, one in Gryffindor robes and the other in Ravenclaw staring.
“Hi,” she managed, blushing spectacularly.
The Ravenclaw with long black hair shook her fringe out of her eyes. “You know this is the Prefect’s meeting, right?”
“This’s a special circumstance,” whispered Nikita Patil to Eve Chang. “Didn’t you hear about the incident in our Common Room last week?”
Before Eve could reply, there was a small commotion as Rose Weasley appeared, her brown hair frizzing spectacularly around her face. She seemed to have been racing after someone and she stopped in front of the Slytherin Prefects as a streak of blonde dashed out of view. Rose’s face was red and she stopped, panting before breathlessly shrieking. “You do fancy me, all right?! You just don’t know it yet!”
Everyone’s stares were interrupted when a willowy girl with dark red hair passed by, taking attendance.
“Wow, she’s pretty,” murmured June to Lucy.
“That’s Megara Vaisey. Head Girl,” said Duncan, staring openly after her as she walked by.
“I don’t know her,” said June.
“She’s a Slytherin,” said Lucy, as if that explained it.
Finally, when the Head Girl passed between them, Duncan nearly leapt out of the way to give her space.
“Podmore, Weasley, Patil, Chang.” Megara Vaisey noted it down, giving them a smile. Duncan went bright red. At the sight of June, she stopped. “I don’t know you.”
“Special circumstance, Meg,” said Baron, swooping in to rescue June’s floundering response. “Potter assigned her detention with us.”
“We’re detention, are we?” she said, grinning. “Well, I suppose that’s that. You can help the Hufflepuff Prefects, then.”
She walked away, most of the male Prefects staring after her.
“Thank goodness,” said Lucy, exhaling in relief. “She said you can help us. You won’t need to help Albus after all. You can do your rounds with me and Duncan!”
“I thought you were supposed to help Potter specifically,” said Nikita from the side. “I was there when he assigned you all the detentions – ”
“You’re no help,” snapped Lucy. “June doesn’t need to help Albus specifically, she just needs to serve her detention with any Prefect – and besides, she’s a Hufflepuff, why would she do rounds with you Gryffindors?”
Nikita seemed to be affronted by Lucy’s sudden waspishness and disappeared within a throng of black robes.
“Maybe I was too straightforward,” said Lucy apologetically, after a moment. “I just really don’t want you stuck with Albus for two hours, June – it wouldn’t do any of you good – and he’s been so strange lately.”
“Thank you,” said June sincerely.
The less time she spent with him the better. The last few weeks after she’d decided to give up on him, she’d spent in quiet studying and with her friends. It was peaceful enough whenever he wasn’t near, confusing her and making strange feelings surface. Nothing made sense when he was near, busy contradicting himself.
Meanwhile, Nikita had returned, her face turned to somebody behind her. “ – so I told her you meant specifically us, not just any house – ”
“I did,” came the terse reply.
Lucy glowered as Albus appeared, the other Gryffindor prefects behind him. “Albus, that isn’t fair.”
“It’s perfectly fair.” He didn’t bother looking at June. “I assigned the detention, I can choose the terms.”
As Lucy began arguing with him, Baron’s loud voice called over them, “All right, we’ve passed out your rounds for the night and taken attendance. Get started!”
Feeling overwhelmed, June interrupted Lucy as the crowd dispersed, all laughing and yelling. “Where am I supposed to go?”
Lucy looked a mixture of humiliated and furious. But being Lucy, she finally bowed her head and sighed. “With Albus, I suppose.”
She gave June an apologetic look as Duncan shepherded his group upstairs. “Good luck. I’m sorry I couldn’t change his mind.”
“It isn’t your fault,” June muttered as Lucy passed her by.
June waited until the last Hufflepuff scrambled upstairs, before turning to face the Gryffindors. I’m not going to panic, I won’t say anything -
“Yay!” said Nikita, hopping over and grabbing June by the elbow. “Sorry I was so stubborn about it, Bernard, but there’s absolutely nobody I’ve got to talk to during the rounds and I saw you and went right for it.”
June nodded mutely.
Albus stood at the head of the group, busily ushering them upstairs. June lagged near the back as they climbed to the fifth floor, Nikita chattering incessantly the entire time. Thankfully enough there were four other Gryffindor Prefects and excluding Albus’s silence, most of them seemed to be busy talking to each other.
Finally, at the top of the stairs to the fifth floor, Albus stopped beside a painting of several fat priests. Nikita stopped midway about a story involving her homework and turned around, addressing the others in a bossy tone. “Thomas, Undine, you two can take the third and fourth floor. Be back in an hour. Ester, Francis, patrol the Astronomy Tower, you know how the snogging Ravenclaws can get.”
To June’s horror, she watched them all nod in agreement before they set off in their own way. Nikita turned back to June, beaming. “Excellent. Anyway, like I was saying – ”
“Patil,” said Albus from over his shoulder. “Go with them to the Astronomy Tower.”
Her mouth fell open. “What? Why?”
“I don’t trust them to do their rounds.”
“They’ll do fine! They’re responsible! Besides,” said Nikita, grabbing June’s arm, “I’m here for Bernard.”
With that, he set off down the hallway by himself, leaving June and Nikita exchanging confused looks.
“I’m a fellow Prefect, he can’t tell me what to do,” mumbled Nikita.
“Stay,” said June, nodding. “I want you around.”
“Still…” Nikita gave Albus a cautious glance. “Well, there’s really no telling with Potter if you don’t listen to him. He’s probably got a reason.”
Before June could protest further, Nikita began walking, giving June a halfhearted wave.
And very suddenly, June found herself in an empty hallway with Albus. She stared at her feet for a long moment, feeling an unpleasant tingling settling itself over her. The slowly flickering torches bathed everything in a strange, still light.
He turned and began walking ahead of her. “Come on.”
After a moment, she cleared her throat, still feeling stuffy and warm and followed him silently down the hallway. She hoped that he wouldn’t say anything for the remainder of their hour together; even the awkward silence was better than talking.
He stopped somewhere ahead of her, waiting for her to catch up. But she passed him by and began to ascend the stairs to the next floor.
He cleared his throat, making her freeze on the third step. “Hang on.”
“Don’t,” she snapped immediately.
“What?” he said defensively.
“You know what.”
“Did you have to talk to Lucy like that? She was trying to help.”
“She was in the way,” he said dismissively. His words echoed in the emptiness.
“And you had to put all of us in detention like that—”
“You earned them.” He crossed his arms and she glowered down at him.
“Lucy – you nearly made her cry – she’s your cousin, how could you be so – ”
He sighed. “Is it too much to ask for you to be quiet?”
She fell silent immediately and climbed back down the stairs. She brushed past him, wobbling slightly as she stalked into the corridor.
Albus frowned after her. “Where’re you going?”
“Back,” she said tersely.
He was walking fast to catch up, mumbling angrily. “Did you forget you have detention?’
“Would you just stop?” she wheeled around. “Could you please just leave me alone?”
“You’re in detention because it’s your fault,” he said coldly.
“Stop treating me like I’m stupid,” she hissed. “You know I didn’t do anything.”
“And you know Henry didn’t do anything, but you gave him a month!”
“Why do you care?” he scoffed, “It’s not like it’s you – ”
“Are you completely insane? Henry’s my friend! You put all of my friends in detention! What do you want me to tell you?”
“They earned it.”
The self-satisfaction in his voice made her want to slap him. Instead, she contented herself with digging her nails in her palm. “You were horrible to them.”
“They were running around in our Common Room, what do you expect? I don’t think I’ve ever seen something look as pathetic as they did.” He laughed.
In response, she continued walking back. Albus skittered somewhere in the distance. “Stop acting like so self-entitled.”
June stopped, angry heat flushing through her face, combined with the usual uneasy dropping in her stomach. “Stop insulting me all the time.” She paused, feeling the words rise out of her before she could stop them. “You’ve got no right. You don’t even know me.”
“Yeah, and you know me?”
She turned to face him and he was looking disapproving yet again.
“Better than you know me,” she said quietly.
“Stalking doesn’t constitute knowing somebody, last time I checked.”
“At least I gave you a chance.”
He crossed his arms. “You don’t get it, do you? I don’t care what you thought about me because you aren’t right. You aren’t right about me at all because I’m not that stupid.”
“And I am?”
“That’s not what I meant – you know that’s not what – ”
“Whatever,” she scoffed. She walked past a portrait of a sleeping nun and stared out the window. Outside, the grounds were littered with snow. “It’s still snowing,” she mumbled to herself.
“Well, it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow.”
There was another “So?”
“People have plans,” said June lightly.
“You have plans?”
Resting her hand on the banister, she slid down to sit on a step. “Maybe.”
He lurked on a step below her, looking up. “Really?”
After a long pause, June pondered whether lying would be worth the effort. ”I’m not sure.”
“Thanks,” she said with a grimace. “I don’t understand why you bothered making me come with you if all you’re going to do is insult me.”
“That wasn’t an insult, all I said was that I wasn’t surprised! And besides, I didn’t make you, you deserved it – ”
“You don’t have plans either,” said June.
“How do you know?”
“Reading doesn’t count. And neither does insulting people or giving out detentions or – ”
“I don’t exclusively pursue activities that cause people pain,” he folded his arms, looking like a petulant child.
“You’re a saint. Girls’ll be really busy pelting you with chocolates, I’m sure,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“Maybe they will,” he said. “Would it matter to you?”
“No,” she said irritably, feeling his satisfaction wafting her way. “You aren’t worth it. You’ll probably yell at them.”
“Probably,” he said.
His pronouncement was followed by an uncomfortable silence that left June fuming. Finally, she frowned at him, a more productive realization taking root. “So. Rounds.”
“Right,” he said hastily. “I forgot.”
“You forgot,” she repeated blankly.
“Don’t sound so happy,” he remarked, beginning to ascend the stairs as she grinned to herself. “We’ve got to cover four floors.”
“So all you do is walk around?” said June. Somehow it seemed less glamorous than she’d imagined, but she trudged behind him quietly.
After reaching the top of the stairs, they proceeded to walk down an empty hallway with June lingering behind him. Torchlight reflected off the metallic suits of armor, casting the hall in burnt orange. The few portraits on the floor were already asleep, punctuating the air with small snores.
They continued in silence for two more floors, June dragging her feet and Albus casting occasional backwards glances. As they neared stairs for the third time, he turned to face her, motioning upstairs.
“One more floor?” she asked.
“The last one. You can go after that.”
“Thank goodness,” she mumbled.
He looked strangely uncomfortable. “So, you might be wondering why I made you come.”
“I already know that answer,” said June irritably, “you enjoy ruining people’s lives.”
“I’m going to ignore that,” he scoffed. “I don’t value you enough to try and ruin your life, sorry. I thought this would be an opportune time to discuss Easter. That way, you could serve your detention and we could get this over with without anybody seeing us.”
“Easter?” repeated June blankly. “What about Easter?”
Albus’s eyes flickered to the empty hallway. “I assumed you’d be returning so I thought we should establish a few things.”
“You mean – back to your house?”
He gave an irritated grimace at that and June sighed. “I almost forgot that I had to go back to your house. Since being back, I haven’t really thought about where I’d live at all. My dad’s doing all right with your mum, right?”
“Oh, they’re both fine,” said Albus disdainfully. “My mum writes to me in detail about them wasting time together. They’re trying to renovate your dad’s restaurant thing and they’re both wasting time and money in the process.”
“My dad’s trying to reopen the café?”
“Doesn’t he write to you?”
“He doesn’t understand how magical post works. And he’s scared of owls.”
“And anyway, I don’t think you’ve got anything to worry about. I’ve been working, so I’ve got a bit of money.”
“I saw. I don’t think that the greenhouse pays much.”
“It doesn’t,” admitted June. “But by now to Easter, I might be able to save enough for the first month’s rent in some shabby flat in Diagon Alley so my dad can stay there between April and May. After that, I’ll graduate and move back and start working full time to keep up our rent.”
“You’re – ”
“Anyway, in case my savings aren’t enough for even month, Priscilla’s agreed to loan me some money until the summer. So as soon as we leave for Easter break, I’ll start looking for flats and we’ll move out before break is over and we’ll never bother you again.”
She stared at her hands as she finished speaking, feeling the heat rising to her face. It felt like something new and confident being spoken aloud for the first time.
“So you’ve thought this through,” he said in a different voice.
“Yeah.” She shrugged. “I didn’t like the idea of bothering your mum for so long.”
“Whatever. She likes it.”
“And your sister.”
“Everything bothers her.”
“And your dad.”
“You haven’t even met him,” he said, grinning.
“Thanks then,” he said, stepping away, still smiling. “I appreciate it.”
“You thinking things through. I’m surprised. I didn’t know you had the capacity to try.”
As they ascended the last staircase June replied, “You should be surprised. I’ve been through a lot.”
“What, is that my fault?”
“Like you being deliberately awful to me sometimes.”
“I lose my temper occasionally,” he conceded.
“Occasionally,” said June, rolling her eyes. “Do you remember how you responded to that letter I tried giving you?”
“Can you blame me?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” said June.
He turned, making a disgusted expression at her. “But come on, your grammar – ”
“Try and treat the girls who fancy you with a bit more respect. Even if you think they’re annoying, they’ve got feelings.”
“Does that still include you?” he said, giving another smirk. “As I recall, you tried calling yourself my soulmate or something and then you followed me around - ”
“No, I don’t,” she said firmly, though heat burned in her face. “Unfortunately, I’ve actually gotten to know you since then, so that’s gone away.”
“That’s reassuring,” he said with something between a laugh and a scoff.
As they walked down the hallway, they heard a soft clatter followed by whispers and giggling. Albus took a few steps forward, cutting her off as he approached the suit of armor at the end of the corridor. The whispers grew audible. He pushed back the suit of armor and it clanked as it hit the ground, revealing two people sitting in the shadows.
“Back again, Gibbons, Smith?” he said with distaste. A boy and a girl emerged in Hufflepuff ties, looking redfaced and sheepish.
“Um – did we do something wrong?” stammered the girl.
“Well, let me think,” sneered Albus,“it’s rather past your bedtime.”
“We just lost track of time, honest,” said the boy.
“Consider investing in a watch, then.”
Before he could finish, they both scrambled to their feet and hastened down the stairs. Albus stared after them. “Ten points from – ”
“Oh, don’t,” said June.
“What?” he said, stopping himself.
“Don’t take points away from them.”
“Just because they were from your house – ”
“It isn’t that. They both looked maybe thirteen. So they were out after hours.”
“Which is against the rules.”
“I know,” said June calmly, “but it isn’t a big deal. They were just snogging, not trying to kill people.”
“It’s my job to dock points,” he frowned.
“It’s your job to watch over students. Frightening some third years isn’t that impressive.”
“Fine, whatever,” he said reluctantly. Behind him, the clock’s ring echoed. “Eleven-thirty. You’re done here. I’ll walk you back to your common room.”
“No thanks,” said June. “I know my way around. Good night.”
“Good night,” he echoed back, still standing near the stairs. She smiled once and walked downstairs, swerving out of sight.
The next morning, something nudged June awake. Priscilla’s wand came into view.
“Go on, wake up already. It’s eight-fifteen.”
“All right, all right,” said June grumpily, flailing in her sheets in an attempt to fight back Priscilla.
“Don’t punish me because you sleep too much,” muttered Priscilla, moving on to prod Trista awake.
The usual chaos ensued as the four of them readied themselves, throwing clothes over their unmade beds and searching the dormitory for their books.
Lucy emerged from the loo, already dressed and drying her wet hair with her wand. “You lot should go shower now. And look nice, it’s Valentine’s Day.”
“Who cares?” said Priscilla. “Who needs to look nice to nick chocolates?”
After a morning full of listening to Professor Trelawney informing Rose Weasley that she would marry young and have twenty children and attempting a Dream Draught in Potions, June trudged down to the Great Hall for lunch, Trista and Priscilla at her heels – Trista groaning about something in Quidditch language and Priscilla clearly on the lookout for prey.
A few minutes after they seated themselves at the Hufflepuff table, Desmond, Nicholas, Duncan and Lucy wandered their way. Before anything substantial was said, a commotion erupted at the Ravenclaw table followed by squealing. One of the fifth year boys had presented a girl with a harp that floated around her, stringing itself.
“A harp,honestly, this school’s getting filled with lunatics,” said Desmond in disbelief.
“I think a harp’s very nice,” said Trista stiffly, staring at Duncan, who promptly took another swig of pumpkin juice to occupy himself.
“I heard that Elliot Vaisey asked Jelena Jorkins to be his girlfriend this morning,” said Lucy.
“What’d she say?” asked June eagerly.
“Maybe she told him to bugger off,” said Priscilla.
“Don’t sound too happy for her,” said Lucy dryly. “And she said yes! It was during Herbology and he charmed some roses up for her and everything!”
“I think roses are nice too,” said Trista, staring at Duncan with an intensity that hinted at something between bludgeoning and maiming.
“And of course, there’s loads of people who are already couples who’re doing things.”
“Valentine’s Day is like the parade of the obnoxious people,” said Priscilla.
“And crazy girls who expect way too much,” said Nicholas. “Why’ve we got to buy roses and chocolates and bloody harps? When do girls ever buy things like that for us?”
“Are you in the market for a harp, then?” began Demsond, “Because, incidentally – ”
“Girls do things for boys,” said June, “just not for you.”
“That stings, Bernard,” said Nicholas. “What do you think, Priscilla?”
But Priscilla wasn’t paying attention, instead craning her head to the entrance. “Look, Potter’s here!” They all peered over at the Gryffindor table as another Albus walked towards it.
“Oh, this should be good,” said Nicholas.
“Anybody think any of them’ll cry this time?” asked Desmond.
“Oh you’re all horrible,” said Lucy crossly. They all watched as a small Ravenclaw girl sprung from her seat and made her way determinedly to Albus, her friends watching from behind her. She offered him something rectangular and pink and he stared at it, before accepting it and walking away.
“He took it,” said Nicholas in amazement.
“Didn’t think little second years were his type,” said Desmond, looking disappointed. “Too bad. I really wanted a repeat of that girl who cried and then tried beating him up with her chocolate box.”
“Good times,” said Nicholas wistfully.
“I like chocolates too,” said Trista from the side.
Duncan finally lowered his goblet with a relieved smile. “Yeah, so do I. Just maybe not girls who beat blokes up with chocolate boxes, but chocolates taste good, I guess.”
Trista’s smile twitched murderously.
As they continued eating, another girl from the Gryffindor table wandered towards Albus.
“My God, they just never learn, do they?” said Priscilla, shaking her head.
“They’ll learn,” said June quietly. Everybody avoided looking at her.
Most of dinner that day was spent brightened by a few, last minute Valentine’s Day gestures. More chocolate boxes were given to Albus, a badly rhymed poem was read to a Slytherin girl, and several fourth years a few feet away wondered at length where their chocolates had disappeared to while Priscilla ate away in the background and Desmond bragged about the sales of his love potions.
Her head pounding, she rose and left the Great Hall, leaving Priscilla and Nicholas comparing notes about how many chocolates they’d stolen and Lucy tutting over Desmond.
She navigated haphazardly back to the Hufflepuff Common Room, but the still life painting of grapes swung open before she said anything and a flock of first years filed out. The audience of the Common Room seemed to be dwindling; she fell into a chair, prepared to hide there for a few minutes before her detention.
Within a few seconds, there was a thunk and a clambering noise and a cry of “June! I’ve been looking for you!”
Henry Bates appeared at the foot of the stairs, something large and protruding hidden behind his back.
June’s eyes widened. Of course. It was Valentine’s Day, after all. The novelty of having somebody actually trying to do something for her struck her.
Nobody’s ever actually given me anything on Valentine’s Day, she mused. Albus didn’t pay me any attention last year and before that, neither did Baron or any other guy. It was a new and strange thought and it took considerable self-control to suppress the succeeding groan. But why did it have to be Henry of all people?
“Hello Henry,” she said dully.
“So…” began Henry, still awkwardly lingering near the stairs. “Well, I’ll go right out and say it, then. It’s Valentine’s Day, June.”
“Oh…urm, yeah, I guess it – ”
“And I decided that I should do something for you this year. To show my true feelings for you,” he said, giving her a nod.
There was a pause.
“Oh – well – you really didn’t need to – ”
“But I had to!” he said earnestly.
“No, you didn’t, believe me – ”
“This is why you’re so different, June! You’re so modest.”
“I don’t think it’s really that,” she said weakly, as he sprang across the room.
He gave her a crooked smile and dropped a wrapped, oddly shaped white package in her lap. She stared at it for a long moment, wondering whether or not it would be rude to refuse it once more. It smelled like something decaying, which already promised Henry’s handiwork.
“Go on, open it!”
She tentatively prodded the side of the package before tearing the paper off.
“Now open the box,” he said, looming over her.
“All right…” Once the box had been opened, she stared, taken aback at its contents. “Henry, you really didn’t need to.”
In her lap sat a large, badly compiled bouquet of several dozen red roses. Some had lost most of their petals and others were strangely lumpy and seemed more pink than red.
“I Conjured them myself,” he said proudly. “Do you like them?”
“They’re – um - lovely,” she said. She looked at the bouquet, panicking. What do I do with these? I can’t possibly put them in the dormitory. They’ll wilt and make the whole room smell strange. And Priscilla’ll tease the life out of me. “Well, it’s nearly time for my detention, so I’ve got to go.”
“Are you taking them with you?” asked Henry, smiling.
“Yes,” she said, trying not to sound resentful. She stood up, balancing her bag on her shoulder and the extravagant mess of wrapping paper and flowers in the other hand. “Thank you again.”
She heard a faint cry of “You’re welcome!” as the painting shut behind her. She exhaled in relief, pondering what to do with the flowers as she walked to Charms. Binning them once I get to Charms would be the best option. Or I could ask Lucy to help me Vanish them.
The idea of throwing away the only flowers she’d ever received depressed her slightly, even if they’d come from Henry. But it wasn’t really of much significance. He always attempted this sort of thing every Valentine’s Day for whatever poor girl he fancied. He’d baked Victoria Bosworth a cake two years ago, which ended up giving the all of the Ravenclaw girls in her year food poisoning.
So it’s probably for the best I throw these away, she reasoned, before they come alive and try to attack me in the middle of the night or something.
So she wrestled them into her bag and walked to the third floor for the Prefect rounds. The Prefects had already conglomerated and June slipped in between Lucy and Duncan as Megara Vaisey walked around, taking attendance.
“Where were you?” whispered Lucy.
“Common Room. I wanted to sleep for a bit.”
Before Lucy could reply with her usual sympathy, Baron Davies’s bark of, “All right, move along! You’ve got your assignments, so go on!”
The Prefects dispersed into smaller groups, leaving June staring after them.
“Ready, Bernard?” came a squeaky voice behind her; Nikita Patil bounced into view, looking sour. “You’ll be with Potter again. He’s sending me off with Thomas and Undine again. I’ve got to patrol the Astronomy tower! The Astronomy tower! All I’ve got to look forward to is either the Bloody Baron or cliché snogging couples for the next hour!”
“Sorry,” was all that June could manage before Nikita stalked past, looking contemptuous.
“Let’s go,” came Albus’s voice behind her.
They walked in silence for a while, before the awkward discomfort became tangible.
“So,” began June, “did…you have a nice day?”
He gave her a disbelieving look. “What do you think?”
“I saw that you got a lot of chocolates.”
“Yeah, I know that much.” He stopped. “I’ve been wondering this for the past ten minutes, but what the hell is that smell? Is it you?”
“Me?” June’s mouth dropped.
“It smells like a dead animal.” He took a step closer. “It is you.”
“Excuse me, I don’t usually walk around with dead animals – ” She broke off, stuttering. It was her. Henry’s bouquet was still in her bag.
“Go on, take it out. There’s something in there, isn’t there?” He motioned at her bag. “I can’t deal with this for the rest of the night.”
Feeling mortified, she opened her bag, revealing the bouquet swaddled messily in wrapping paper.
Albus’s eyebrows rose. “What’s that supposed to be?”
“And what’re you going to do with that many?”
“I don’t know,” she said defensively. “Don’t laugh at them. I think they’re nice. I could put them in a vase or give some to somebody or - ” As his grin grew, she said more wildly. “ – or put them in the Common Room or pluck all the petals and bathe in them!”
“Bathe in them?” He scoffed. “You were planning to bin them, weren’t you?”
His amusement left her slightly defeated. “Yes.”
“Who gave them to you?”
“Henry. Henry Bates. He Conjured them for me.”
“How typical. They look like they’re rotting.”
“They do smell strange,” she admitted. “But I thought it was – you know – sweet. Just like how you got all those chocolates.”
“But they don’t mean anything.”
“I don’t think that’s for you to decide.”
“Of course it is,” he said dismissively. “Because none of these things are actually genuine. It’s all very extravagant but meaningless. They come from random people who think you’re something else on a day when all this stupidity is idealized. And we just have to pretend to be gracious about it.”
To this, June stuttered. “When have you ever been gracious?”
Albus opened his bag, revealing what looked like five or so boxes crammed inside. “I decided for a new course of action this time. Instead of yelling or the usual, that is. I’ve been giving these away all day.”
“I sent a box each for my aunts and one for my mum. And Roxanne and Rose and Dominique’ve been eating some all day, but I’ve still got these left. I tried giving one to Lucy, but she refused like it was some kind of ethical dilemma.”
“Why don’t you eat them?”
“I hate chocolate. Tastes disgusting.”
“Here, take this one.” He pushed an especially pink box tied up with a frilly large bow at her. “You know, to match your equally ugly flowers.”
She stared dumbfounded as he pushed the box into her bag and turned red. “Um – thank you, but I’d rather…”
“You might as well take it. I’ll only throw it away.” At her perplexed expression, he said, “I already threw away the ones that were laced with love potion. You might want to keep your friend Jordan in check. He’s going to get himself expelled one day.”
“He doesn’t really care.” She shifted the roses from one hand to the other, dropping a few in the process. “Oops, that was stupid – ”
Albus extracted his wand from his pocket and flicked it first at the ground and then at her hands. The bouquet vanished immediately, leaving her hands feeling strangely empty.
“Thanks,” she said.
They proceeded down the hallway in silence. Finally, Albus said, “So, I’ve been thinking about these detentions. You don’t have to do them anymore.”
“Three weeks is a waste of both of our time. Frankly, it’s not very useful having you here and you’ve already got things planned for your Herbology job.” He cleared his throat, avoiding her eyes. “So, you’re done after today.”
Her head throbbing slightly, June managed a strained smile. “Thanks, Albus.”
“Whatever. You can go back now.”
“I suppose this means I won’t really be seeing you around, then.”
“Well, thanks for the help,” she said, beginning to walk towards the stairs. “I’ll see you during Easter break.”
“Yeah. Good night.”
She waved goodnight and walked downstairs into the darkness, feeling lightheaded.
Within the next few weeks, she saw Albus considerably less and less – occasionally in passing, but she never attempted to say anything. She heard no news about him and concluded that it was probably for the best. Life continued as it always had for her in the following month. There was the usual montony of homework and exams. Desmond was expanding his business to include Durmstrang. Nicholas and Priscilla were planning a small-scale invasion of the Slytherin Common Room andTrista, Duncan and the Hufflepuff Quidditch team began practicing manically for the final match against Slytherin in May. June continued working at the greenhouses, listening to Lysander and Lorcan Scamander argue feverishly on every topic from chess to the Chudley Cannons.
February and most of March passed in a familiar haze. Nearly a month and a half came and went with little incident; Easter break somehow managed to loom around the corner.
Author's Note: I'm so sorry for the wait!No, I didn't die or abandon this story, but college's eaten my life. Thanks to everybody who reviewed the past few chapters - I've been reading your reviews and it's what motivated me to finally sit down and write this chapter. I hope it doesn't sound too bumpy; I haven't written June or Albus in a while and I didn't really edit this chapter after Iwrote it.
With that said, I do hope you enjoyed this chapter. There's going to be a bit of a time skip to Easter break in the next few chapters. ;) I'd love to know your thoughts on June and Albus's prefect rounds or the chapter in general.
Thanks for all the support in the past few months! I'll try and update sooner this time!
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