Chapter 8 : And All the Girls and Boys Merely Players
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. 8 .
A day can waste away right before my eyes in the Speak Easy. There's quite literally something in the haze, some lingering enchantments of the Room of Requirement that makes time slow down. It shines—that's the best way to describe it. When I breathe, I'm not choking on the idiocy stinking up the rest of the castle.
There is tea and Pickett's babbling to occupy me but, try as I might, my eyes can't resist flitting toward the chess corner. My neck prickles in anticipation, like Potter's about to walk through the door any moment. I don't know what to expect anymore. If he's up to something, he would have had cues—cues that I brushed off because I thought he was just another bitter victim. Pickett and Dom warned me about him, on separate occasions no less, and I should've known better. It's always the quiet ones.
I will admit, without any additional footnote, that I've underestimated Albus. I still do. Arrogance will be my downfall, and I prefer it that way; the only person who will topple me is myself, with my large cancerous ego, not some boy who suddenly decides to play up his cryptic reputation. If he thinks he'll get the jump with a game of seduction, he will be sorely disappointed.
The metal tea tray catches the glint of my gritted teeth. Pickett stops mumbling about Odgin's new Double-Flaming Firewhiskey line and squints at me. I sheepishly loosen my grim smile.
So Potter's got me looking as if I'm about to murder the air. I can't help that he's struck a nerve. Or five. Whether he makes googly eyes at me or not, nothing's changed since he's first declared I'm a no-good stink on the school. It doesn't change the fact that he hates all that I represent, and I can't take that as anything but offense. If he doesn't like me for my opinions or my personality, what would it be then? My looks?
I glance back at the tray, which reflects the same freckled scowl I see every morning. Large foreheads are not the new chic, Clemence. Don't even try.
Vanity aside (he got that right about me), Potter's only interested in me because he wants to sate some morbid curiosity, and while it's been fun, I am not to be used and abused. I am—
A loud clash of plates and silverware spins my head toward the chess corner, where a Gryffindor-robed boy is kneeling on the ground, helping a house elf pick up fallen spoons. My throat closes in a choke. When did Potter—?
It's just a Frankenstein trick of the light, a mirage meshing Eddie's body and the top of a chess player's hair. The latter spots me watching and waves from his seat. I barely recognize him as Dennis Ichobod, who's sporting newly-dyed black hair, styled like a greasy kitchen scrub. It's not a pretty sight.
But there's something more disturbing than Dennis looking like a punk chicken, and the thought stakes into my brain until I heed it. That jump in my veins: was it perfectly timed with the crash or did it happen a moment after, when I thought I saw him?
A hot flash seeps into my cheeks as I relive last week. My eyes squeeze shut.
Dom's on the Quidditch pitch. Merlin does not have enough mercy to spare us.
One of the regular Beaters, Wesbeck Jordan, injured his leg in a "freak" accident (Pickett pointed a finger to the Gryffindor team) involving a rabid Kneazle jumping out of his cauldron during Potions. While he was under assault, he fell into another cauldron, fainting from the residual Draught of Living Death left inside. For his final act, his belt loop got caught on a screw, so not only was he unconscious, he was unconscious with his trousers at his knees and his niffler knickers on display.
The physical trauma should heal completely. The mental trauma's worth a couple years of therapy.
Our captain Will calls up Dom to fill in. She insists on accompaniment to practice, so while Pickett's in class, I'm her chauffeur. We've been waiting for Will to bring out the gear trunk, but it's been ten minutes and he hasn't returned.
Dom swings her beater bat up and down, testing its weight with a gleeful spark in her eye. "There is nothing like smashing a few bones in the morning."
The tendency for murder is a Slytherin trait. I blame the Sorting Hat. No one ever understands when I explain why the Houses are such a problem. We're such carefully shaped products of our social strata—what were the Founders on, thinking it's in our best interest to be housed amongst students like ourselves? Let's make all the brave idiots live together for seven years and call them Gryffindors! Let's not shove a 'Claw in there so they can't gain some sense, nor a 'Puff for humility, nor a Snake for some class. Honestly, they probably could've dodged the glut of the Death Eaters if they just stuck a few more Muggleborns and a few less pompous arses in our House. Impress upon the importance of diversity and tolerance. How's that for preventing a war?
I know we've been waiting too long when I start going off on historical-political tangents.
Harriet Nott, the other Beater and the only girl on the regular line-up, kicks up the ice on the grass. "Honestly, what's taking so long?"
The four boys of the team have taken to their brooms, playing some mid-air limbo to pass the time. They don't seem to mind at all. But for me, it's cold and I was dragged here against my wishes, so if Will could just be a little faster than Binn's droning...
The sound of squabbling emerges from the supply closets. Will finally appears, but he's not alone. He's got one end of the gear trunk and the Gryffindor captain Riley is hauling the other.
"This practice time's been booked since December!"
"Not according to the calendar!"
"You probably blasted it off, you manky—"
"Lads, calm down before I make you calm down." Madame Hooch, who's been following behind them, pushes the trunk to the ground. A hundred and twenty and she's still got it.
The arguing continues at the edge of the pitch and Dom, Harriet, and I collectively sigh.
"Double booked a practice again, go figure. This is going to take ages to sort out," Dom grumbles. "Thought it was strange when I saw Alice down in the showers."
I've only just noticed the Gryffindor team milling about. Some are freshly arriving. Alice and Violet are chatting underneath an overhang.
Harriet drops her broom, dries up a patch of grass with her wand, and sits down. "So, mi'favorite ladies, what's going on with your lives?"
Dom and I glance at each other too quickly and too guiltily. Snogging in a dressing stall? Stealing a cousin's boyfriend? But Dom doesn't know that I saw her with Scorpius in the hallway.
Brow slightly raised, Harriet seems to catch onto us, and she does the hard part for me. "Oi, Dom, I've been hearing about you and Scorpius. Is it true?"
"What? Oh, those rumors? Don't listen to them." Dom recovers quick. I'd be convinced if I didn't see the proof before my eyes. "I'm just helping him get through a rough spot. Break-ups are tough for laddies, but they've got no one to go to."
"That's sweet, though."
"Helping him by stealing him away from Rose?" I mutter before I can stop myself.
Dom's smile drops, slack-jawed. Harriet stares as well. "What?" Dom utters.
This isn't going to be pretty no matter how I present it. "Excuse us for a sec," I say to Harriet, tugging my dear harlot's sleeve.
There's already anger forming in Dom's brow, and I know she must think I'm dredging up old news again. I pull her to the benches, nearly impaling myself on an icicle as I duck under the overhang.
"Dom, sorry but—"
"I thought I explained—"
"I saw you and Scorpius together," I say before she can get any other words out. "In the hallways, few days ago."
The lines on her face harden. "You were eavesdropping?"
Her arms are crossed but she's no cowering flower. "Maybe, just because you lot insisted I was going after Scorpius, I decided to prove you right!"
"Dom! Are you even listening to yourself?"
There's a thin line for bitchiness. It is one thing to stir up drama and another to become its queen.
After a moment, her fists release and her arms fall. She sighs, "You're just worried, I know."
"So it's true then?"
"It's not what you think!" She paces around the small hollow. It’s a little threatening when she’s got her broom around. "Weren't you all the way across the hall? You were probably just seeing things."
I suppose it wouldn't be so surprising; my little episode in the Speak Easy told me that much. But I'm unable to shake the intimacy from my mental image of them. I know Dom. Impassive as she appears, the satisfaction hiding under her skin surfaces eventually.
"You like the rumors, don't you?" I say, frowning. "I know you've heard people talking. Talking about you and Rose, on which one's better suited for him."
She smiles slightly, digging her heel in the dirt. "I might be reveling in the Anti-Rose sentiments of late." Sighing, she bites her lip, and glances at the players on the pitch, all still too far to overhear. "You might not remember, but Rose and I were all right when we started Hogwarts. Going to a new place, you tend to stick to who you know. We'd get in trouble sometimes. Small stuff, like skiving off Charms. But it always seemed to be my fault somehow." She shakes her head. "It wasn't obvious, oh no, and when I told her she laughed. But I could tell. The way she talked about me to our friends and to the professors and to—to everyone else who listened to her—I was a disappointment. Her bloody scapegoat. And six years later, she still has the audacity to think she's better than me."
Dom spits out the last three words and waits for my response, but I don't have one. I've seen so many feuds that I like to think I'd just understand, but I don't. I don't know what to do when it hits close to home.
Silence follows until the Quidditch clamor reaches our ears.
"I'm sorry," I say at last.
Dom sighs again, spent in her rant. "Don't worry about it. It probably is silly."
I let her be. The clamor at the center of the pitch grows, where our lovely captain is sticking up a most friendly gesture at the Gryffindor team. Hooch deducts five points.
"Ugh, we should get back." Dom hauls up her broom.
We trek into the shivering cold and find that, by Hooch's orders, Gryffindor and Slytherin are to share practice space for the day. We have the north end, while they have the south.
The Gryffindor rabble jeer at us as they take off. At least they can’t get the spelling wrong verbally, as opposed to the giant poster they put up outside our common room last month—"Dunjeon Scum, Death Eaters, and Dark Lords Report Hear." Never would've happened if the Sorting Hat chucked a Ravenclaw into Gryffindor. Their maturity is a lost cause, though.
One player is still on the ground. Upon a second glance, I see that he's watching me.
Upon a third, I see it's Albus.
Dom notices him right after I do and gives me a knowing look before joining her team. Albus must be filling in for their Seeker. He plays better than the current one but doesn't have time to play a full season, according to his mates. Merlin knows he just doesn't want the additional fan girls mobbing him down.
He's turned away when I look again. I shouldn't over-think. It's just a trifling coincidence of wrong-place-wrong-time. Nothing can conspire anyway; we're out in the open. Prepared to leave for the stands, I wave goodbye to Dom. A heavy fabric drops on my head, plunging me into darkness.
For a full second, I stand stock-still. It has a funny effect—one really can't fault the parrots for thinking it's night time. If someone's trying to kidnap me, I'd probably be doomed.
But I remember the scent immediately, the same that seeped into my clothes that one day, and I lift a flap over my head to spot Potter just as he swings his leg over his broomstick. His outermost cloak is distinctly missing.
"Doubt it's very comfortable, being so cold all the time," he says with a light grin.
That’s not even clever.
"Har har, Potter," I say with a halting incredulousness. People aren't exactly staring, but our presence is suddenly stark against the grey morning. "What are you—?"
He flies off before I get an answer. He doesn't look back.
I can hear Harriet's chuckle as she swoops down beside me with Dom following.
"So you and—"
"No," I say immediately. I'd been clenching the cloak tight around myself, and only now do I relax my fingers and let it sag by my legs. As soon as the musky warmth leaves, a blast of wind shakes me to my bones and I am, once again, utterly cold.
"Oh yeah, I can see how it'd be strange. I just thought—" Harriet giggles and doesn't go on. "Is it true that he's with someone?"
"Er, no. That was a mistake. I called off the Girlfriend Watch yesterday." Dom is giving me more looks.
She nods. "For the best, yeah? I heard a bunch of, you know, those girls a couple days ago going absolutely bonkers over him. Gag!"
I chuckle along with her, cursing inwardly; it's the first time that Potter and I ever rose suspicions, however inconsequential, and—it's his fault?
But he hates attention. He’s got more to lose than I do.
I pull the cloak back over my shoulders.
A delicate balance maintains my common sense. People like me and Potter aren't governed by the rules of typical courtship—and I can hardly call this thing between us a courtship. He is not boy trouble. He is a chess game.
Appropriately, the only clear memory I can seem to grasp at the moment is our singular chess game, still untainted by our physical affairs. I first saw the cracks in his pieces then, like flecks of chipping paint, revealing the not-so-golden boy of repute.
The white knight, losing his luster.
He has neither stone nor faith to protect him but persistence and cunning will save him in the end—Slytherin tricks. Both sides fall around him. Marble crashes harder than blood. When he comes face to face with the king, he will raise his sword like the others.
He marches forward and lifts his helm, and I know those green eyes will be underneath. His fingers wrap around his sword, the same fingers that pulled me astride him in the dressing stall, marking my waist with red—
I suck in a breath. This is not focusing; this is fantasizing.
He leans in with a grin fit for a snake, close enough to kiss.
Pickett's voice jolts me back into reality. The only fingers I see are two of Pickett's in front of my nose, poised to snap. "Are you having elaborate, metaphorical daydreams again? Because if you are, that's the third time this week."
My expression remains stony. He takes it as an affirmation and nods. "You had this really pretentious look on your face."
"Oh, shut up."
"What was it?"
"You can know when you become an Occulmens."
"You know I don't trust those," he grins, so proud of himself. He even made himself a tinfoil hat once, as if masquerading as a shiny gnome is supposed to stop magic.
I pour myself another cuppa, letting my nose bask in the steam. It's too easy to drift off again with nothing to catch my attention. Most people are still in class, and the Speak Easy is practically deserted, save for a few house elves.
"It's him, isn't it?"
I look up quicker than I should and a corresponding amusement paints Pickett's face.
"Shit, Clemence, you think it's that hard to see through you?" He lifts the pot from my hand. "Dom isn't as great of an actress as she thinks she is, and you aren't infallible."
"I never said I'm infallible."
"You think you are."
Remembering my tea, I take a sip and watch the specks drift down to the bottom of the cup. "I'm not lovey dovey over him, but..."
He grins. My very own friends like to watch me squirm more than Potter does. "He's getting under your skin?"
Or my shirt. I blink the image away. "It's like that's his goal." A kiss, a cloak, and a date—of sorts—to throw me off balance.
Pickett leans back, lips pursed in thought, and I bristle already at what he might say. He has a heart, unlike the rest of us, and it gives sight to the parts of me that I don't utter aloud for my own sake. He's known me long enough for that to be dangerous.
I clear my throat. "Shouldn't you be worrying about Dom and Scorpius? You being in love with her and all."
His mouth open like a goldfish and he is a sliver away from toppling off his chair. "Why would you say that?"
"You aren't infallible either."
He raises a finger, but the creak of the door interrupts him. A house elf greets the new guest with a bow, who sweeps in with a smile that quickly morphs into a grimace when she spots me.
I don't have anything personally against Rose—we've hardly ever talked—but what Dom tells me takes its toll. We've avoided each other, and it's worked for the best. This is the first time in ages that she's explicitly sought me out. I gesture to a chair, which she takes with a slight smile.
"Henry," whispers the shunt out third wheel.
Rose and I glance at him before turning away. He sighs heavily and pours her tea.
Rose folds her hands together in front of her. "I'll get to the point. You—your paper slandered me this issue. 'Scorpius never loved me'?"
So she's here for reparations. "I left that article up to Dom's discretion. There was a footnote about that."
"Well, you're aware of what Dom and I are like. The whole school knows, of course."
Her smile is strained, but when is it not? Though she usually fidgets more than this around me, so I laud her for keeping her gaze straight.
"She won't reason with me," Rose says. "She’ll never write what she knows to be true. There will always be something out of context... something misconstrued. I know you won't stop publishing things, but I thought I'd at least try giving you my side."
She closes a hand around her cup, nodding to Pickett in thanks. He's happy enough to be noticed. "Scorpius and I are still on friendly terms. It's—it's not that he didn't love me. He didn't, but not in the way Dom put it. Not so... heartlessly. It just didn't work out. There's a difference."
"My readers know there's a tendency for exaggeration in my—"
It is that single sharp word that jars me out of my routine.
I've compared her to Dom many times before, but never has it ever been so obvious. There's a regal quality in the way Rose carries herself. She is unwilling to be pushed around, and when she is, she will build herself up again without thought. Without a whimper. Without scars.
My gaze lowers. "Why are you here, Rose?"
"I told you why I'm here."
"Why else? Why now?"
Confusion and anticipation meld together on her face, but Rose pick ups the sudden change in pace of our conversation. "Felicity said I should give you a chance. And I don't want things to turn uglier than they already are."
Frowning, she sets down her tea. "You don't see it yet."
Her disbelief is genuine and worry sinks into me. A sudden chirping alarm breaks the silence.
"I, um—" Rose hurries to stand, glancing at her cuckoo watch. "I've got class. I better go. But—"
She pauses behind her chair before she pushes it in. Her lips are tight and thin. "Maybe you don't think much of the feud between me and Dom because you're close to her. Stuff like this must be nothing after seeing it so much. But other people have strong opinions. You know what they call us—"
The Rebel and the Good Girl.
"—and you know what the girls in this school are like—"
Single-minded and obsessive.
"—and you know what they're capable of."
Tearing apart anyone in their way.
I nod, and with a returning nod, she departs.
After Rose is gone, Pickett hunches forward, arms on the table. "What was that?"
How I wish I could be as clueless he looks right now. I hold my cup out for a refill. "War is coming. Brace yourself."
Chapter title adapted from Shakespeare's As You Like It.
A/N At last, an update! I'll probably keep updating for awhile, though I'm also trying to update Capers monthly and uni's going to be terrible for me this quarter.
This is a pretty important chapter, because it sets up a lot of Rose-Dom conflict I’ve been skirting around, so I finally knuckled down and wrote it right. Twilight levels of frenzy, I say. And Al/Clem's big date/non-date is next chapter~
It's been a very long time since I've had to get into Clemence's head (and all her fantasies of Albus oohlala), so please do leave a review and tell me what you think! :) I'd really also like to know what you think about Rose and Dom.
Coming up: the "date"!
"I liked you better when you were bitter all the time," I mutter.
"I didn't know you liked me at all."
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