Chapter 1 : Concerning Ash Ceremonies and Saggy Bosoms
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1. Understand that, as a muse and model, you are expendable and not in any way unique. Read: being a muse doesn’t make you special to the artist in any way. You are the equivalent to a bowl of fruit.
2. Be prepared to sit for hours straight without moving or whining in exchange for payment; either in money, or—ahem—confidential tutoring in charms so you can salvage your ‘smart girl’ reputation.
3. DO NOT fall in love with the artist—especially when the artist is James Potter, has a perfect and buttery (yes, buttery) girlfriend, and you just hooked up with his best friend behind a tapestry.
I am Evie Parker, and this is the story of the stupidest decision of my life.
“Excellent. Just bloody fantastic,” I say into the crook of my elbow, my head resting on the table.
I have found the crook of my elbow to be a constant source of comfort in my recent days of turmoil.
Pearl makes a sympathy noise with semblance to that of a dying animal.
“It’s honestly not that big of a deal,” Hazel says, her feet propped up on the chair next to her, her wavy light brown hair falling over her shoulder.
She would say that. To Hazel, nothing is a big deal except her current boy drama and when people wear tights as a substitute for pants.
Pearl scoffs at her and commences with rubbing my back. I burrow deeper into the warn crook of my arm, my dark hair spilling around my head and blocking out the light like a curtain from the nearby window.
We’re in the library, and we’ve just received our first grade report of the year.
I know that I shouldn’t be this upset.
I mean, there are people starving out there in the world.
At the same time though, you also have to keep in the context of your own situation. Like, babies. They freak out if they’re even the tiniest bit uncomfortable just because they don’t know any better. They don’t know that people are starving and living on the streets and such, they just know that they are unhappy in their own right because they’re hungry or need to be cuddled with or whatever. It’s true: unhappiness is a privilege.
Anyway, my being upset is totally justified. Even if the baby thing didn’t really make sense.
I lift my head up only to come face-to-face with the evil, glowing ‘T’ for troll--basically equivalent to a red, all capitals FAIL--that blares out from my otherwise spotless grade report sitting on the table, and let my head fall back onto my arms with an exasperated sigh.
“Evie. This stress is going to make you age prematurely,” Hazel says, wielding her self-righteous voice. She flips her hair over her other shoulder.
I can tell she’s about to go into the cat lady rant. For Hazel, the absolute worst thing that could befall anyone would be becoming a cat lady. For Hazel, cat lady equals doom.
Cat lady- (n.) 1. An old woman who lives only for the companionship of felines
2. Said woman who screeches and shakes her bag at children and smells distinctly of cat food.
3. Said woman who has countless photo albums filled with pictures of her cats
4. Worse than having bacne, dying a virgin, and wearing tights as pants combined.
Sure enough, Hazel says, “Studies have shown that stress has a direct correlation to becoming--”
“A cat lady, yes, we already know.” Pearl interrupts to my surprise. Hazel sniffs, offended at being interrupted.
“I hate that woman,” I moan. Pearl makes a soothing noise and pats my back.
“What a slaggy bitch.” Hazel says helpfully, forgetting her previous bitterness.
“Saggy bitch.” She adds as an afterthought.
Pearl says, “She clearly doesn’t know what she’s on about.”
“I bet her home life is rubbish.” Hazel declares.
I laugh at this one, making a muffled noise from the crook of my arm.
“But back to the saggy thing—have you seen the bosoms on that lady?”
“Honestly Hazel, as if that’s going to make Evie feel better.” Pearl shakes her head.
“But it did, didn’t it, Evie?”
I lift my head off the table and rest my chin in my hand and shrug.
“See?” Hazel says, and Pearl scoffs.
I am suddenly struck by how lovely my friends are: Hazel, pixie-like, with her wavy light brown hair and mischievous heart-shaped face, and Pearl, like a ballet dancer, her delicate blonde bob and perfect cupids bow lips, her eyebrows tilted at a skeptical angle. I am not a classic beauty as they are; I am what my mother used to insist an ‘interesting beauty’, with my dark hair and dramatically pale skin, spotted with awkward looking freckles. My mother too is a classic beauty, all dark hair and curves and long eyelashes.
“That was not agreement, Hazel. That was Evie being too upset to even acknowledge your dumb jokes about saggy bosoms,” Pearl says.
There is a moment of silence, where I suspect from her expression that Hazel is formulating some sort of plan.
“I know what you need,” she claims, slapping her palm on the library table loudly. There is a shushing from the depths of the bookshelves.
“A tutor?” Pearl interjects quietly. Typical Pearl humor. I glare at her.
Hazel ignores her and continues without lowering her voice.
“An ash ceremony.”
I lift my head off the table, immediately brightened. Usually once or twice a year, the four of us—me, Pearl, Hazel, and our other friend Dom—sneak out to a concealed spot in the forest and burn the things that have caused us grievances: photos, possessions of ex-boyfriends, letters, and an assortment of other random things. At the last ceremony, Dom burned a broken broomstick, Hazel burned a picture of Miles Dolinter—one of her many heartbreaks,—and Pearl burned a newspaper article that printed incorrect and unflattering information about her family.
I burned a letter from my father informing me that he wouldn’t be home over the holiday break.
Immediately I shy away from that train of thought.
“Tonight?” Pearl sighs, and I snap back to reality, “What do you even have to burn, Hazel? At least Evie has her grade report.”
“So, remember when Conner Pritchard hooked up with me behind the greenhouses, and then with Grace Kells a week later?” Hazel doesn’t wait for confirmation before rushing on.
“I have his tie, and I want to burn it.”
She actually rubs her hands together excitedly like she is some evil villain in a children’s story.
“What will Pearl burn?” I ask, amused.
“Kelly Parkinson’s lucky socks for when she stole her homework last month,” Hazel says immediately.
Pearl nods hesitantly.
“Excellent,” I say, and actually feel a little better about the large, red T on the grade report in my hand.
The three of us look at my grade report, it is silent for a moment, and then Pearl says, “You should go talk to her. Right now, Evie.” She gives my arm a squeeze.
I know, and hate, that she is right. With a deep breath, I get up from the cushy library chair, swinging my book bag over my shoulder.
“We’ll meet you after dinner, okay?” Pearl says. She gives me an encouraging smile.
Hazel carelessly blows a kiss in my direction.
“Make sure to not look at her saggy bosoms too much, it might offend her.”
I stifle a laugh.
“I’m just confused as to where this even came from.”
My voice did that thing. The polite-bitchy thing. I’ve heard my mother do it a thousand times to her work associates at the Ministry. And here I am, polite-bitching to a teacher.
“Look, Miss Parker, your grade isn’t something that I just conjure from nowhere. Your grade is based on assignments. The few assignments that you actually completed were entirely incorrect and hastily done. Your grade is a clear reflection of that.” She—Professor Miller, a medium aged woman with large bosoms and rather frizzy hair—actually sounds frustrated.
I study her face while she says this, and while I know I should be listening, all I can think about is why she has bags under her eyes. Does she not sleep at night? Is she married? How did she end up here? Did she buy those earrings for herself? This is what Hazel calls an extrinsic defector mechanism, which she claims is something that I do when I’m trying to push my problems onto others. Apparently I do it often.
“Miss Parker.” She says, and I blink. “I would recommend a tutor.”
She can tell that I am about to protest, and she holds up a hand.
“Or else you will not pass the class and be unable to continue in this class next year. I know it is rather your ambition to become a healer.” Her face softens a little bit, and I want to slap her. As if her pity will help me. Suddenly I am frustrated.
“Okay,” I exhale, “A tutor. Excellent.”
She gets up out of her chair and walks over to a smaller desk by the window that overlooks the great lake. She pulls out her grade book, and carries it back over to where we are conversing. She flips the book open and sighs again, running her finger down the list of students. It comes to a stop at a point.
When she says the name, I am sure that I have misheard her.
I think my mouth actually falls open. This is much, much worse than I had anticipated.
“Potter?” I exclaim, “You’re kidding.”
And in the totally expected and clichéd response, she says wearily, “Does it look like I am kidding, Miss Parker?”
I just gape at her. This is so impossible for so many reasons. My previous curiosity at her life situation and baggy eyes has been condensed into a sharp mixture of panic and anger.
“There’s no one else that could tutor me?” I plead.
“No,” She says sharply, and I am certain she is just doing this to spite me. “I will owl Mr. Potter, but you are entirely in charge of setting up a time.”
Her face has closed off, and I know I should leave now before I either throw something or burst into tears.
Dismissed, angry, and mortified, I grab my grade report from her desk and flee the classroom.
“Okay, so what’s so bad about a tutor?” Dom asks, tucking her ridiculously long platinum blonde veela hair behind her ear. We’re sitting at dinner, and I’m catching her up on my recent conundrum.
“Maybe he’ll be cute and you guys can rub knees under the table…” She trails off dreamily. I wonder if she would be singing the same tune if she knew it was, in fact, her cousin.
“My reputation will be ruined,” I say, dishing up my plate with potatoes, “Everyone will know that I am a pseudo-intellectual.”
I say this mockingly, but it actually has some truth to it. I suppose you could say that being ‘smart’ is part of my identity. For Hazel, it would be being crazy and outgoing, and for Pearl, it would be being perfect and innocent. Even—just for example—James Potter; who else would he be if he wasn’t a famous, arrogant, Quidditch bloke?
These things constrict us. Stick to the status quo, and all of that.
“You poor dear,” Dom says sarcastically, “a ruined reputation is the worst.”
“Except being a cat lady,” I sigh.
“Right?” Hazel exclaims loudly from across the table. The entire table and a majority of the great hall turns to look at her.
“So who is it, then?” Pearl asks after everyone has stopped looking.
I hesitate for a moment, unsure if I even want to tell them. James Potter is…
I’m not even sure what he is. I realize that it is probably unfair of me to judge him because I don’t really know him. Quidditch interaction and friend-of-a-friend stuff aside, I can’t honestly think of a time in the past where we actually had a conversation just the two of us. Perhaps we’ve exchanged ten words in the last two years and probably only when Dom—the common link—was there; or to borrow a quill or something equally banal like that.
Because his father is Harry Potter, the paparazzi and the entire wizarding world are obsessed with him. There are countless tabloids—The Witch Weekly, Twitch Weekly, Magic Moment, Merlin’s Word—that feature him constantly, following his every move. Headlines read, ‘James Potter, Shirtless in Surrey,’ or ‘Red or Green? James’ Apple Conundrum’, which featured a full article and several pages of moving pictured of James at the grocery store. While I think the paparazzi must put a pretty serious strain on the Potter family, good-looking James, with his talent at Quidditch and mysterious gaze, seems to invite a whole new level of media obsession, much more than his younger brother, Albus, or any others of the Wotter clan.
And of course, inevitably, the school is obsessed with him too. Like any clichéd popular guy, he has the group of good-looking Quidditch blokes that always seem to be there to laugh at his jokes and thump him on the back and whatnot, and a plethora of fan girls that stalk him and even hold organized meetings. (I think they call themselves JPIS—James Potter Is Sexy—I know, not very original, plus it sounds like ‘jay piss’ when you just say it, which they hate. They insist that you have to spell our each letter.)
And on top of all of that, his girlfriend, Emma Wells, is not only gorgeous and popular, but actually nice. She is that girl—the one everyone wants to be. The one everyone denies wanting to be, but nonetheless, she is perfection. Plus, and I’ve talked about this countless times with Dom, she is—with lack of a better explanation— the personification of butter. She is butter. Every aspect about her, from her shiny hair to her warm eyes, even her voice, just absolutely shouts BUTTER when she passes you in the hall. And no one can compete with butter.
If she is butter, I am probably broccoli: awkwardly proportioned, rather gross (unless cooked in butter, ironically), and not nearly as alluring as butter. Plus, kids hate me.
But anyway. Back to the tutoring issue.
At the same time, I am uncertain as to why all of this worries me so much. I could easily claim that I just don’t want to be part of his whirlwind of attention, but I know that is probably untrue.
In honesty, James Potter is intimidating. He is the famous son of the savior of the wizarding world, and I am the awkward, charms-failing girl who has family issues and barely made it onto the Quidditch team. Plus, I will probably grow up to be a cat lady.
On a completely different note, I don’t think I would like him very much as a person anyway. My impression of his character so far has led me to believe that he is rather shallow, something which Dom agrees with heartily. And how couldn’t you be when the paparazzi follow you around and write articles on when you went grocery shopping or your underwear preferences?
“It’s Potter, actually,” I say finally, “James, that is.”
“JAMES?” Hazel says loudly, and the great hall is suddenly very quiet. I sink down in my seat, certain that he is looking over here now.
“Good luck with that,” Dom—the ever cynical cousin—scoffs, “If he’ll even do it, it’ll cost.”
Oh god. That hadn’t even occurred to me until just now. What if he says no? I’m sure he wouldn’t want money, the Potters are loaded.
“Could I pay him?” I ask anyway.
“Yeah, like sexual favors!” Hazel exclaims, “Worked for me in Potions.” She grins. I shudder, thinking of our portly Potions professor (try that for alliteration), Professor Barnes.
“Maybe try your firstborn child.” Dom laughs.
A while later, we are at the edge of the forest. It is an exceptionally clear night, which also means that it is rather chilly. The stars blaze at us from above.
“Friends,” Hazel says, the fire giving her face an eerie, hollow look to it.
“We have gathered here today for a sacred ash ceremony to release the old, and embrace the new.”
She opens a bottle of firewhiskey—our most recent addition to the ceremony—and takes a large swig and passes it around the circle. Pearl has to take two because her sips are so small. Bracing myself, I take a large swallow and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. It sizzles into my stomach.
“Now, sanctified members,” --I smile slightly at her vocabulary, which is often not quite right--“present your items of sacrifice to the gods of fire and ash.” I see Dom smirk, but Pearl is in total seriousness. We all pull out our items from our bags and hold them before us.
Hazel goes first, dropping the tie into the fire after a brief speech about the injustices of men, (she would know), and then takes another swig of firewhiskey. Pearl follows, as does Dom, and then I am the last to go. With a final breath, I toss it into the fire. A sense of comfort settles over me as I watch the edges of the parchment curl into flames.
“Drink up!” Dom says, passing me the firewhiskey. I take two sips for good measure, feeling the warmth spread down my arms, and then—
I nearly pee my pants I am so scared. I suddenly realize that a) being out here is totally against the rules, probably for good reason, and that b) no one knows where we are.
“Fuck.” Hazel whispers, “What was that?” The firewhiskey has made it hard for me to focus my eyes, and the forest appears as a dark blur.
“Get your wands.” I say softly. Pearl whimpers.
For a moment we are suspended in uncertainty, and just when the suspense is about to kill me--
“Dom?” A male voice says, and we all scream.
James Potter steps into the light of the fire, grinning, and I am struck—in a totally unbiased, objective, unattached way-- by how beautiful he is. The shadows from the fire dramatize his jawline. His hair is in casual disarray—serious sex hair if I’ve ever seen it.
An ugly, unpopular tutor would have been so much less trouble.
“Sorry, did we scare you guys?”
He is with the usual suspects: Ellis Dorrington, Fred Weasley, and Nate Levitt. They are all unreasonably handsome, especially Ellis, who I’ve had something of a thing for since my third year. He catches my eye and smiles.
I try to smile back, and hope it doesn’t look like I’m baring my teeth at him. Some girls can pull off that ferocious animal sexiness, and I am almost certain I am not one of them.
“You fucking idiot,” Dom says, and for a brief, guilty moment I think she is talking to me, “You nearly gave us all a heart attack.”
“Apologies,” Fred says nonchalantly, strolling over to stand next to the fire, his bronzed skin glowing in its light.
We all exchange pleasantries and I note that Pearl blushes when Nate Levitt smiles at her. While we are all in the same year, the boys are in Gryffindor and we are in Ravenclaw, and because of this—and perhaps their ridiculous popularity and good looks—our two groups don’t necessarily mix very often. That is why I love Dom so much; even though she could hang out with whomever she wished, become part of anything just by her relation to the Wotters, she remains loyal to us, her lowly dorm mates.
“What are you guys even doing out here?” Hazel says loudly to James.
Ringleader to ringleader, I can’t help thinking. She has her shoulders thrown back, her hair flipped over to one side. All the previous ceremonialism in her manner has been erased, and replaced by this other Hazel, ferocious yet exquisite, made worse by the firewhiskey. She is even bolder, if that is possible.
James is looking at the mostly burnt items in our fire. “I think the better question is what are you guys doing out here?”
“None of your business.” Hazel asserts, squinting her eyes in a—somehow—attractive manner. I can’t help but admire how well she flirts.
“So are you guys having a ritual or something?” Ellis says to me, and I turn to face him. He has a very open, attractive face with a wide smile that comes easily. His blonde, curly hair looks darker than usual.
“Yep,” I say, “just made some sacrifices to the gods and such.”
He leans skeptically over the fire.
“That’s a squirrel, isn’t it? Dear God.” He says flatly. I admire the prefect outline of his profile as he leans over the fire.
A teensy spark of my old attraction comes to life in the presence of his sense of humor. I laugh at him, and he smiles at me. I feel the firewhiskey burning through my body, making me feel loose and happy.
We hang out by the fire until it is nearly entirely burnt through, and Ellis and I enthusiastically discuss the ongoing Quidditch season.
“We should probably go, guys.” Pearl says eventually from across the fire.
“Yeah, it’s getting late,” Ellis says, placing a hand on my elbow when I nearly fall over in an attempt to pick up my wand from the ground.
Ellis raises an eyebrow at me. I wink at him.
“Let’s get out of here.” Hazel says. She looks over at me, and there is something almost spiteful about her smile. “Evie, put out the fire, will you?” Her voice is not as slurred as mine is.
Everything freezes inside of me.
Okay, three things:
1. I FAILED CHARMS. She knows for a fact that I have serious problems with the aguamenti charm, and that the closest I have ever come to actually accomplishing it was a light misting that shot out of my wand and smelled faintly of the loo.
2. I AM KIND OF PISSED.
3. This is so typical Hazel, who does this kind of thing when there are boys around and there is a battle for attention.
“Um…” I say, too surprised and confused to figure out what to do. Pearl’s mouth makes a perfect O. Dom starts to come to my defense.
“Oh, I got it,” Ellis says, and easily extinguishes the fire with a squirt of water from his wand. I find that I like him more by the minute.
“Thanks,” I say, trying to be casual.
“Sure, friends don’t let friends charm drunk.” He says easily.
Everyone laughs, and the moment has passed.
We start out, James at the lead, followed by the rest of the group. We illuminate our wands to see where we are going.
Away from the fire, the effects of the firewhiskey are beginning to wear off, and I find that I am shivering. And tired. Hazel’s loud giggling grates on my nerves.
“Here,” Ellis says, and slides out of his jacket. I start to object, but then realize that I am actually quite cold. I let him help me put it on.
“Thanks,” I sigh, and we keep on walking. A small part of me is freaking out a tiny bit.
Nate comes to walk with us, and he and Ellis strike up a conversation about the new Flamewhip II.
Fred, Pearl, and Dom are walking behind us, James and Hazel ahead of us. Hazel drops back until she is in step with Ellis and Nate, joining in—loudly, of course. The group shifts and I find that I am walking by James, the rest of the group behind us on the narrow trail.
“Hey,” he says, glancing sideways at me before returning his gaze to our illuminated path ahead.
“Hi,” I say. I can’t really make out his face, and it throws me off.
“I—“ I start to say something at the same time he does.
“Sorry,” he says politely, and for some reason, this frustrates me.
“It’s fine,” I say, “What were you going to say?”
Hazel interrupts us, shouting up to James a question about the new chaser on the Hollyhead Harpies, which he answers, and then it is just us two again.
A distinctly awkward silence falls over us, and I suspect that he already knows about the tutoring thing.
Who knew that James Potter could be sullen? He must really not want to tutor me. And face it, why would he? I am totally average--at best—and he would get nothing in return. I can’t even bake him a cake. That is how pathetic I am.
We walk in silence—ignoring the voice in my head, that is—for a moment, listening to the chattering of the group behind us.
I know that I have to tackle the tutoring issue before someone—ahem, Hazel—interrupts us. I know she will be wanting back into the James Potter spotlight any minute now.
Also, if I don’t do it now, I might not ever do it. I take a deep breath,
“I got an owl—“
“I have to ask—“
Again, we speak abruptly at the same time.
I laugh embarrassedly, and he smiles, a more familiar sight.
“I have to ask you something.” I say too quickly, before we talk over each other again.
“Yeah, I, um, got the owl about tutoring.” He says, and he glances sideways at me again. He seems almost amused, and it annoys me.
“Oh. Okay.” I say, hoping that he understands how unreasonable Miller is.
I wait for him to say something, and when he doesn’t, the word vomit begins.
“It’s kind of a secret.” I say, “I mean, I just don’t want everyone knowing.” I suddenly realize how shallow this must make me seem. Maybe I actually am that shallow. “If you don’t mind, that is.”
From the look on his face, he must think so too, but then he says, “Sure.” He has a strange look on his face that I cannot quite identify.
“I know it’s really unfair of her to ask you to do it,” I say, stumbling over my words a little, “So if there’s anything that you need…from me, or whatever…”
I let my sentence trail off, suddenly worried that I am being suggestive. I sneak a sideways peek at him through my eyelashes, but can’t make sense of his expression.
“Like, busywork, or something like that,” I add hastily. Surprisingly, he laughs.
“So you need me to tutor you, then?” It’s not really a question.
“Yes,” I say.
“Okay,” he says simply. I can’t tell if he is being nice, or if he just feels sorry for me.
“Wait, really?” I say unbelievingly, processing what he has said.
He turns to me suddenly, and we stop. The group is only a little ways behind us, but far enough to be out of earshot. I note that his green eyes are very bright. For the first time all evening, he looks right at me, a slight furrow in his brow.
“Actually, there is something that—“
“OH MY GOD, James, did you guys see that amazing shooting star?” Hazel’s voice seems too loud for the fact that we are out past curfew and very close to the castle.
“Hazel, shut up,” Dom hisses.
“God, sorry Mom,” Hazel replies sharply, “I guess some of us just don’t get excited by the wonders of the universe.”
If I said this, it would sound extremely stupid. When Hazel says it, it becomes an excellently aimed insult.
“Now, now, ladies,” Fred cuts in smoothly, draping an arm over each of their shoulders. Dom shoves his hand off, and he laughs.
“C’mon, seriously, before we get caught,” Dom says, grabbing my arm and pulling me towards the castle, Pearl hurrying beside us, Hazel in tow.
Later, when have made it safely into the cozy beds of our dormitory, Pearl whispers,
“Evie? Did you talk to James?”
“Yes,” I whisper back, staring at the draping above my bed.
I hear Hazel roll over in her bed so that she is facing me. In the moonlight that comes through the window I see Dom prop herself up on her elbow.
“And what did he say?”
Again, I hesitate, realizing that his answer was rather ambiguous. What was he saying when Hazel interrupted us? I think for a moment, but can’t remember. He sort of said yes.
“Um,” I whisper, “He didn’t really say yes or no.”
“So that’s probably a no, huh?” Hazel whispers from my other side. “Bummer. He is so fit.”
“Plus the whole tutoring thing...” I whisper pointedly.
“Don’t worry,” Dom says, “You’ll figure it out. You always do.” Although these are empty fluff words, they make me feel a little better.
“And what was going on with Ellis?” Hazel says. “He was all over you.”
“I saw when he gave you his jacket,” Dom says, “That was way cute.”
I smile up at the ceiling.
“Yeah.” I sigh, “Too bad I have to give it back to him tomorrow.”
“So, you like him?” Pearl prompts, “Again?”
“I suppose,” I say casually, and I can still feel the blush on my cheeks from when he winked at me as Dom pulled me away.
“Excellent, because he is totally into you.” Dom confirms.
“Thanks,” I say, even though I don’t quite believe what she says. Giving me his jacket doesn’t necessarily show anything except good manners and a tendency for chivalry.
But, when I think of his blue eyes and the way he smiled at me by the fire, I find myself hoping that they are right, that maybe he likes me a little.
We all murmur goodnight to each other, and then I am asleep almost at once.