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Chapter 3 : The Snake Without His Prize
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As always, J.K. Rowling is the Supreme Queen of this universe. I am nothing more than a humble speck, floating along in the cosmos.
I am a Slytherin.
I am ambitious, cunning, and almost ruthless at times.
I am also a coward.
Melinda Plinkett broke up with me eight months ago because I was too cowardly to break up with her first. I had been waiting for the right time to end it for months, but somehow, I could never bring myself to say those words.
There is never a right time to shatter a world that you’ve known for too long.
Our relationship was great in the beginning. Melinda was beautiful and smart, and as a fourth year, I couldn’t figure out why no one had noticed her except for me. She was a loner by nature, and not afraid to be intelligent and unique. I loved that about her.
But over time, things started to sour. She studied obsessively for O.W.L.s, and her already introverted personality excluded her from most of Hogwarts society. I wanted my friends to like her, but they thought she was excessively strange and refused to make her feel welcome in our group.
“And then, Peterson tripped on the rug and ran into the wall!” Roger Checkmate laughed. It was a Friday in the Slytherin common room, and I was sitting with a few of my friends, chatting about the week.
I glanced over at my girlfriend. I had invited her to join us with the intent of her adding some Ravenclaw wit into the conversation, but instead of chatting, she was reading a Muggle book.
“Melinda, dear!” I called. She looked up, peeved that I had interrupted her reading. “What was it you told me about Professor Cogswheel’s mother on Tuesday? Tell us the story, darling.”
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “When I agreed to sit with you in your common room, I thought we were going to study, not gossip.”
My friends gave me incredulous looks as Melinda went back to her novel. “What a stick-in-the-mud,” Emily Larkspur whispered loudly. “How do you put up with her?”
Melinda’s head snapped to attention. “I see,” she said calmly, rising from her chair. She left the room, not meeting my eyes.
I did not follow her to beg for her forgiveness. Melinda’s antisocial tendencies often caused embarrassing scenes like the one that had just transpired. As I listened to my friends chatter, I decided that sacrificing my social life for my girlfriend wasn’t worth it anymore.
By the end of fifth year, we had become an awkward couple. I felt ridiculously out of place in her company, but I wasn't ready to break up with her. I was far too cowardly to take such a huge step, and she had done no major harm--yet. So after school got out, I set off to work in my internship in the Floo Department at the Minstry, believing that I was right to keep the truth locked inside.
Her letters became constant nuisances. She was so sweet, asking after my family and my internship, giving silly anecdotes of her three brothers, and begging me to find time to visit her, but I felt harried by her requests. On the only occasion I wrote her back, I managed to stop her queries and stories for good.
It was early July. The late afternoon sun streamed through my curtains, illuminating the letter I was finishing. I signed my name with a flourish and sat back in my chair. The ink dried poisonously in the sun.
The family and I are all doing well. Thank you very much for asking. I have been busy in the Floo Department, so until now, I have been unable to reply to your letters. You can’t imagine the work that must be done to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
I must mention that because of my internship, I will not be able to see you at all for the rest of the summer. There is no way that I can get out of work, and you know me well enough to know that I would never ask. I shall see you again on September 1st, and our reunion will be much happier for it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, does it not?
Please understand that there will be no time for me to answer any more of your letters. The July season is very busy, and I am working from nearly dawn to dusk, helping my superiors with the paperwork that needs to be filed.
Understand that I love you, and I am counting the hours until we meet again.
Most of it was fabricated, and for a moment, I felt a twinge of guilt. It was wrong to avoid Melinda, but I knew that she would believe my lies. The letter was my only hope for freedom.
I sealed it in an envelope and whistled for Archimedes, my owl. As I watched him fly off into the fading sunlight, a burden lifted from my shoulders.
It was an awful thing for me to do, but I didn’t regret it. Melinda only wrote me one other letter after that, telling me that she completely understood my lack of communication and she was looking forward to our reunion.
Contrary to the implications in the letter, I didn’t live in the Ministry all summer. I relished my weekends spending time with friends. For the first time, being a part of the schemes that my brother, James, cooked up was an opportunity to squeeze the excitement out of life.
I found myself forgetting that I had a girlfriend, and I was completely okay with that. Because Melinda wasn’t around, it was okay to admire the beauty of other girls, so long as I only looked, but didn’t touch.
Life was carefree and simple without her. I was in a fantastic mood when I went to Diagon Alley for school supplies. I didn’t expect to run into her there.
I stepped out of the Apothecary right behind James and Lily, who were squabbling again. Their voices grew louder and their actions were becoming ridiculous. I slipped away and hurried across the street to Flourish and Blott’s.
Before I reached the shop window, the door opened and Melinda walked out. The first thing I noticed was the enormous daffodil in her hair. (When had she become so embarrassing?)
She scrutinized me closely, unsure if she was seeing me, or a ghost. “Albus?” she asked. Her smile brightened. “Oh, Albus, it’s really you! I haven’t seen you in so long!”
She threw her arms around me, causing me to stagger backwards. When she finally let me go, I could only say the first thing on my mind.
“What is that thing in your hair?” Her face fell a bit, leaving me to think that perhaps she thought I was being rude. (I was merely curious, is that so wrong?)
“It’s—it’s a daffodil, Albus. Do you hate it?” Her voice was sad now, but I was merciless.
“Actually, I really do.” I was only being honest with her. (Relationships are supposed to be based on honesty, are they not?)
She took the offensive flower out of her hair and smiled again, though it was nowhere near as bright as it had been. “Well, please forgive me for my silly whims. I won’t wear flowers if you don’t like them, dearest.”
“Thank you. It just isn’t normal, you see?” I was treading dangerous territory with someone who embraced her uniqueness. Her eyes flashed, but she remained calm.
“Yes, Albus. I understand completely. Would you like to meet me at Fortescue’s after you’ve bought your books?”
“I’m afraid I haven’t the time. I’ll see you next week at King’s Cross!”
Her goodbye was lost on me as I hurried into the shop, escaping from the girl that I used to love.
I shrugged my actions off, telling myself that her flower fetish needed to be stopped. It seemed like a plea for attention, and besides, that daffodil was tacky. At the time, I was unaware that with one accidental meeting, I had set the ruin of our relationship into motion.
A week passed. We had a row on Platform 9 and ¾ when I saw the purple iris in her hair. We proceeded to ignore each other until Charms, our only class together, three days later. It was such a trivial disagreement, but the only thing that mattered was that I won.
Our fights were bad, but our apologies were worse. She felt like she had to grovel for my forgiveness, and I acted like I shouldn’t forgive her. For the first time, I had power over someone, and it went to my head. It was a cruel game that I played, though I would always forgive her in the end.
By the end of October, we were trapped. I hated Melinda, but I wasn’t going to give up the level of control I had over her.
And then, she was brave where I had been cowardly: She broke up with me right before Halloween.
I was angry with her, for daring to end it. I was angry with the world, for splitting us apart. And I was angry with myself most of all, for being such a coward. Of course, all my anger spilled out that night. My control over my actions slipped, and I fell apart in front of my roommates’ eyes.
“SHE BROKE UP WITH ME!!” I roared, slamming the door to the sixth year boys’ dorm.
“Whoa, mate, calm down,” Roger warned. “You didn’t like her that much anyway, did you?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know,” I snapped sarcastically. “It’s complicated. You wouldn’t understand.”
Our third roommate, Garrett Framework, walked out of the bathroom, rubbing his head with a towel. “What’s up with Lover-Boy over there? Has the Flower Girl gone and hurt his feelings again?”
Melinda had become a major subject of mockery since school had started. My friends would whisper insults at her in class and in the hallways. They said worse things when we were in the dorm, and I never tried to stop them.
“Shut it, you,” Roger answered. “The nerd has just broken up with him. Whaddaya think of that?”
“Blimey, Al. That’s brilliant! Think of all the girls you can have—real girls, not warty nerds,”
Garrett whooped, twirling his towel above his head like a lasso.
“You two are both idiots,” I hissed. They stopped and looked at me in shock. I never called them names or insulted them, even when they were being stupid.
“It’s probably for the best that she ended it, since you don’t love her anymore,” Roger reasoned.
I knew he was right, but I was in a funk. “Shut up. You don’t know how I feel about her at all. I’m going to bed. Don’t talk to me until I’m ready to put up with you losers again.”
Their hurt faces were the last things I saw before I closed the bed hangings.
At times, my rage subsided and I missed the girl that I took to Hogsmeade in fourth year. It was in those times that I went out of my way to hurt her in some way, tripping her in the corridor or ignoring her when we had to work together on a project. I had to push all of the leftover feelings out of my system, and anger was the only painkiller.
Life was going well without her, but good times always have a way of coming to an end. At Christmastime, I was faced with the dilemma of explaining to my parents where my “lovely girlfriend” had gone.
The Hogwarts Express had arrived at Platform 9 and ¾. I disembarked and pushed through the crowd to my smiling parents.
“Hello, Al,” Mum said, wrapping me in a warm hug before moving to greet Lily.
Dad looked down the bridge of his nose at me. “Hi Al. Where’s Melinda?”
I groaned inwardly. My parents were in love with Melinda. It was as if they thought she had hung the moon in the sky. Outwardly, I tried to look disappointed.
“She decided to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas this year,” I lied. “She said something about wanting to see how the castle looks when it’s all decorated and the teachers are actually cheerful rather than strict.”
He chuckled. “I don’t blame her. It is an interesting sight, seeing professors singing carols instead of lecturing. I remember my first Christmas in Hogwarts…” He trailed off, staring at a person who was getting off the train. I followed his gaze.
There was no mistaking the brunette with a large poinsettia in her hair. Melinda Plinkett hopped onto the platform and ran to meet her parents. I looked at Dad, waiting for him to say something, but he just sighed and turned back to the rest of our extensive family.
Two weeks passed, and Dad still hadn’t said anything about my lie at Platform 9 and ¾. I thought I would get away without telling him the truth, but the day before I was to go back to school, he confronted me in my room.
“Albus, what’s going on?” he asked, sitting on my bed.
“What do you mean, Dad?”
“I think you know very well what I mean, young man.” Ooh, he was being stern. I would have kept on feigning ignorance, but as a cowardly Slytherin, I’m afraid of my Dad, too.
I groaned and flopped on the bed next to him. “She broke up with me in October, Dad.”
“Why didn’t you write home to tell me? And why did you lie at the station?”
“You and Mum are enamored with her. I knew you’d be disappointed.”
“I will not be disappointed in you until I have a reason to be, Al. Why did she break up with you?”
“Our relationship was on the rocks from the time fifth year ended, and we never set it right. We couldn’t agree on anything, and my friends kept making fun of her. She felt like it was the best thing to do, and I know it was,” I explained sourly.
To my surprise, Dad hugged me. “I’m sorry that you had to go through that. I’m not disappointed in you, and I know that your mum won’t be, either.”
Of course, I had omitted the part about how I had driven her off with my need to control her, and how I had ignored her all summer, but as he left my room, I felt much better than I had in a long time.
I spent this past semester focusing on what really matters: my grades and my friends. At this point in my life, a relationship is a huge waste of time. Now that the school year is finally over, I can retreat to my internship at the Ministry, where I will be safe from petty adolescence. Girls are trouble, I’ve decided. I’ll have plenty of time to find one when I’m older and settled in to a high position at the Ministry.
Who needs love? I have a career to build.
The snake without his prize is heartless.
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