Em, as a matter of fact, lost her virginity over the summer.
Not two minutes after arriving at Kings’ Cross, I bump into Rodney Wood – quite literally – and find myself being quizzed about Evie’s romantic status and preferences. Em, looking flushed and generally overwhelmed, spots me and waves enthusiastically over Rodney’s shoulder. She mouths something and I give her a bewildered look. She tries again.
“You’re a curmudgeon?” I mouth back uncertainly. Rodney doesn’t suspect a thing and is rambling on about how he’s not sure whether he’s correctly interpreted Evie’s behaviour. Em slashes her hand across her throat. “NOT a curmudgeon!” I guess – out loud, to my horror.
“Yep, Evie, not a curmudgeon, not in the least,” I continue hastily, nodding knowledgeably at Rodney, “so no problems there. But the bad news is that I’ve just remembered – I’m so scatterbrained – that she’s just come out as a lesbian, I think. Sorry about that. Good news for me, though. Anyway, see you at the castle.”
Em swoops in and we link arms. Without so much as a greeting, much less an explanation, she gushes, “I wanted to tell you all at the same time, but nobody knows and you were just there so I thought why not, but now we definitely have to find the others!”
“Wait, Em, Em, what did you say?” I cry, chasing after her. But she refuses to say anything until she has trapped myself, Lily, Evie and Em in a compartment and locked the door. There’s barely time for us to hug each other before her speech begins.
“I want you all to know about something very important that happened to me over the summer,” she says.
“God, Em, if this is about that layer cake you made-”
“I fell in love.”
I blink and look around to gauge the crowd reaction: mostly blank faces. Awkwardly, I put my hands together and begin applauding – I mean, no one has ever made declarations of love in my presence and I do what seems appropriate at the time.
“No, that’s not what I wanted to tell you,” snaps Em, looking put out. “Ihadintensedirtysexwithmyneighbour.”
I’m astonished. Bloody astonished. And I’m not alone. Eventually, Evie leans forwards to congratulate Em and demand all the details.
While Leah and I are still exchanging confused glances, Lily recovers and says, “Em, wow, I’m happy for you. Um, to deconstruct that sentence-”
“-we’ve got the subject and verb,” I begin unsurely, “but that’s where it begins to get a little hazy-”
“-with the sex-”
“-erm, dirty and intense, was it-”
“-and, unexpectedly, the neighbour part-”
“-presumably, he participated in, erm, sex, of the dirty and intense variety?” finishes Lily uncertainly.
Evie rolls her eyes and decides to lead the interrogation. “I think what they mean is, tell us, is this neighbour that Muggle boy you wrote me about?” I have a vague memory of said Muggle being mentioned, but this hardly makes the news easier to digest.
“Yeah,” Em answers brightly, “and by the way, it was awful of me to leave it out of my letters, but I just wanted to do it in person.” She seems completely unaware of our disbelief.
“Well, tell us, then,” I say weakly, “tell us everything.”
“All the dirt and intensity,” agrees Leah quietly.
“Well, you know, he’s going away to college in Sussex, and we knew we wouldn’t see each other again,” she sighed, “but neither of us had done it before, and we like each other so much, we thought it would be a good way to, you know, remember each other. The first time was like everybody says– awkward and stuff – but the next time it was really lovely, he’s so passionate-”
“Alrighty,” interrupts Lily cheerfully. “Well, I’m pleased if you are. What’s his name, again?”
“Stacey,” answers Em.
“Wait, he isn’t a she, is he?” asks Evie – but her sarcasm goes unnoticed in the midst of our chatter and excitement.
“Find it awfully difficult to listen to the Sorting Hat’s song,” says James Potter, lunging for the mashed potato that has just appeared in abundance on the table. “He says the same thing every year... phrases it differently, but there’s never any actual change, is there?”
Peter nods vehemently and recites, “Gryffies are brave, Ravenclaws are know-it-alls, Hufflepuffs are duffers, and don’t trust Slytherins, the bastards.”
Sirius raises an eyebrow. “Wormtail, old boy, I don’t think that’s exactly what Prongs was talking about,” he says bracingly, “but some good points there.”
Lily nudges me with her elbow. “Wormtail?” she mouths.
“Don’t ask me,” I mutter, although barely hiding my curiosity, “something ridiculous, knowing that lot.”
“I was more talking about the fact, Wormy,” James was saying, “that since about second year the bloody hat’s been talking about binding together, having faith and trust and whatsit. A little tiresome.”
And of course – although nobody ever said it out loud – the Sorting Hat is horrendously out of tune.
“So,” Evie says, ever the hostess, “how were everyone’s OWL results?”
In between mouthfuls of pie and chips, we take turns mumbling out a brief approximation of how we’ve done (“not terribly,” I say – two Os, four Es, two As, and two Ps). James and Sirius both shrug and describe their achievements as “Not bad,” but Lily later informs me that they received nine Outstandings a piece. And they’d spent maybe three sum hours studying between the pair of them.
“You really got an Outstanding in Herbology?” Leah asks Em suspiciously. “That was one of the hardest exams I’ve ever written.”
“I’m dropping it, too,” I console. “Only just scraped a pass.”
“I got a D,” she informs me miserably.
“Ah, it’s just Herbology. Did anyone get a T in anything, by the way?”
“That grade doesn’t exist,” announces Lily disinterestedly, grabbing a kebab off my plate.
“Let’s hear from Wormtail first,” jokes James. “If anyone’s gotten a T, it’s him.”
Peter opens his mouth indignantly, but Sirius cuts him off. “He got one in Transfiguration last year, remember? That essay is still on the wall. Permanent Sticking Charm.”
Sirius is different. He doesn’t hold his chin up quite so high, and his face has lost some of its haughtiness and gained a noticeable weariness. In fact, more than anything, he just looks deathly tired – and only more so when making his usual witty comments, pulling his lips into a less than full-hearted smile. I get the impression that he’s reciting lines. James, at least, is not unaware of these changes. He throws himself into banter with more enthusiasm than usual – but even when entertaining, his attention doesn’t waver from Sirius.
Nevertheless, the feast proceeds in an unusually jovial manner, and I allow myself to accommodate some hopes for the coming year. It would certainly be nice to be on friendly terms with that lot – although something of a nuisance, hanging around with them doubtlessly beats being on the receiving end of their many experimental jinxes.
I yawn as I attach another couple photos to the wall behind my bed with an adhesive charm. “...coming back from summer with these ridiculous nicknames,” Leah is tutting as she re-arranges her bedside table.
“Has anyone worked out who’s who?”
“Peter is, erm, Wormy?” guesses Em.
“Wormtail,” corrects Evie, “which is fitting, since he is kind of a worm. And Remus is Moony. What were the other two names, again?”
“There was Prongs,” I supply distractedly, eyes on the piece of parchment in my hands.
I hadn’t forgotten about the promise I’d made the day I broke up with Stephen: to change. No more pooheads, I think was how I’d phrased it at the time. With this imperative in mind, I’d written a list of silly and exciting things to do around the castle, things that would hopefully change the way Andy Thorpe is perceived (if not universally, at least in my own head). It’s not a terribly long list, but all of the items require a more reckless attitude that I’m used to bearing.
“Prongs?” repeats Lily. “What, like on a fork?”
“I think that was Sirius,” Em pipes up.
“James sounds like more of a Prongs that Sirius does,” declares Evie, and the rest of us make thoughtful noises.
After a moment, I ask, “Did anyone else notice Sirius? I think there’s something up; he looked... well-”
“Terrible,” completes Evie with a nod.
Lily hesitates. “This is just gossip, but I- well, in the prefects’ carriage, there was- people were saying that he ran away from home?”
Leah’s eyebrows shot up towards her hairline. “You don’t think-”
“Remember last year, at that party, when we were all completely pissed?” says Em with a frown. “He was all I’m going to do it.”
“I wouldn’t blame him,” I offer tentatively. “He seems completely at odds with his family. They’re all Slytherins, aren’t they?”
Evie, whose father works for the auror department, says, “His parents are very anti-Muggle. Sympathetic to Voldemort – or You-Know-Who, I suppose they’re calling him these days.”
“Sirius is immature, and egotistic, and trouble, but he’s not like that. His best friend is a Potter, for the love of Merlin.” James’ father is a retired auror – as was his father – and, in fact, mentored Evie’s dad. Evie herself has acquired a scowl – although Em idolizes Mr Wildt for his job, it means that Evie doesn’t get to see him much even when she’s at home.
“And we know they both hate the, erm, M-word,” adds Em hesitantly, glancing at Lily. Em is a half-blood, but Lily comes from a Muggle family and has experience with the word. We’re all thinking of the time a childhood friend called her a mudblood and James leapt to her defence.
“Well,” I say, “if he has had to run away, that’s horrible.”
Em nods earnestly. “They’re good people at heart. And so good-looking, aren’t they?”
I allow myself to tune out of this less compelling conversation and return to sticking my bucket list to the wall. It’s been enchanted to show its contents to me alone.
And then I climb into bed and fall asleep with the lights still on.
“Oh, those house elves have outdone themselves today,” cries Leah, pouncing on a plate heaped high with pancakes.
“It’s the first day of school,” shrugs Mary MacDonald. She sits across from us, beside her friend Isabel Pewter, and I can’t help but admire her gleaming new prefect badge. “The teachers probably want us all inspired and motivated.”
Evie smirks. “You lot especially,” she reminds the pair, “but you’re going to find yourself uninspired and unmotivated for most of the year, so don’t get used to it.”
Professor McGonagall is making her way down the table, arms overflowing with transcripts and blank timetables. Upon reaching me, she smiles surprisingly warmly and says, “Miss Thorpe, I was pleased to see that you finally decided my subject is worth your valuable time. Congratulations on your result.”
Evie and Leah choke on their pumpkin juice at the same time, hurrying to disguise their laughter as a synchronised coughing fit.
“If I remember correctly, at our careers meeting last year you expressed indecision about the area you want to enter after leaving Hogwarts,” McGonagall continues with a frosty look at my friends. “Have you made any progress?”
I shake my head. “But I’m sure about History of Magic and Arithmancy.”
These are both known as “Squib Subjects” – in other words, essay subjects requiring little practical work. Still, they’re undoubtedly my best hope; I’m good at both – better at Arithmancy (although perhaps that’s only further proof that Professor Vector outstrips Binns), but not as fond of it.
“Thorpe, that’s non-negotiable, for you,” McGonagall says drily.
I blush and add, “Oh, and I’d like to drop Ancient Runes.”
“Alright... and you’re cleared for four core subjects – not Astronomy or Care for Magical Creatures, of course” – I hadn’t even passed those – “and I don’t think that Professor Sprout is accepting A students.”
I glance around, a little embarrassed at having my grades announced to everyone in the vicinity. “I’ll continue with Defence and Charms...”
“May I suggest rounding that off with Transfiguration and Potions?”
I consider this for a moment, and when I agree McGonagall waves her hand and hands over my timetable. I scan it, pleased, while munching on a muffin.
“We have double Potions together now,” murmurs Lily, leaning over to read the Thursday column, “and then after break, a free for both of us – that’s nice.” She smirks. “But then after lunch, the rest of us have frees while you’re in History.”
I groan. “I can’t be the only person in the year taking it, can I?”
“You can get nice and cosy with Binns,” teases Evie, and I whimper fearfully. “I think you’re the only Gryffindor taking it, at least.”
“Says something about the rest of you,” I mumble, sticking my nose in the air, “not even willing to put in a bit of hard work for a fascinating subject.”
“Because you know all about hard work.”
“Annabelle taught me a nasty acne hex over the summer,” I warn menacingly.
“You have to admit it’s funny that your sister knows more magic than you.”
Annabelle is a couple years away from getting her Hogwarts owl, but she’s been starting fires and giving unwanted haircuts for about almost as long as I have. It also turns out that she’s already made friends with other untrained wizards in our neighbourhood. One day I’d been sent to fetch her from the park, and one of her little cronies hadn’t found me to her liking – so much so that she was able to, without a wand, produce the effects of a Stinging Hex on me. Leah found this story especially hilarious.
“Oh, do demonstrate that hex, Andy,” urges Lily. “Preferably on James Potter. If he’s half as handsome as Evie claims, a couple pimples won’t detract from his attractiveness, right?”
I giggle and pat her on the shoulder. “Two more years, Lil.”
“Two more years,” says Evie, “full of proposals from James, unless you give him a chance. You have two more years here, and you can’t spare half an hour for a date?”
“We’re not going through this again,” she wails. “That goes for all of you. Now, listen, let’s just – go. Slughorn, anyone?”
Potions is long and exhausting; at break, we can found in the common room – sweaty, frizzy-haired, and barely keeping our tempers. Lily rushes off early to be a Prefect in the flowery valleys of Overachiever Land, and Em, Leah and I spread out. We’d been determined to write our essays for Slughorn during the free period – he’s already set homework, and plenty of it – but end up flicking through the textbook.
“Is it too late for me to see McGonagall about dropping Potions?” I enquire fearfully, staring in horror at the cramped page on Amortentia.
“Just close the book,” begs Leah, slamming her own shut exhaustedly, “let’s not think about it.”
I glare down at my parchment. I have headed it and written my name neatly – but that’s all. “Listen,” I sigh, “I don’t think we’re going to be making momentous leaps in this today.”
“Lily’s going to be livid with us, but you’re right,” agrees Em, chewing on a fingernail. “Let’s do something fun.”
“Fun, like – like talk a walk around the grounds fun? Or like James Potterfun – like, “you want to duel, Snivellus?” fun?”
Snivellus is the name that lot have for Severus Snape, who’d been good friends with Lily until he mucked it all up. He was in Slytherin and a lot of his friends – Wilkes, Avery, Rosier – weren’t excellent influences.
“Whatever kind of fun happens to present itself,” decides Em. “But no duelling.”
I think about the bucket list hanging up in our dormitory. I could manipulate Em and Leah into helping me complete one of the items, but I can’t decide where I want to start and how I might do so. The simplest one is probably stealing a book from the Restricted Section, but this seems tricky.
“I dare you to break into the Restricted Section,” I say bravely.
Leah raises an eyebrow. “Why? Are you alright?”
I flick a balled up piece of parchment at her. “I’m just wondering if it can be done.”
They shrug and decide to walk down to the library to scope out the scene. About halfway there, Evan Rosier appears and blocks our way – my guess is that he’s as bored as we are, and I know that bullying has always been a hobby of his. It takes about three minutes for him to come out with an insulting comment about Em’s blood. I feel annoyance bubbling in my cheeks; the bucket list is still on my mind, and perhaps it’s this that leads to my recklessness. It’s been a while since I last used the Bat Bogey Hex, but I do excellently.
Unfortunately, Rosier’s shouts are inconsiderately loud, and Professor McGonagall materialises before we can make a getaway. When she heard about my reasons for hexing him, she softens – almost imperceptibly, though, and not enough to mitigate punishment. My detention is the same evening, and I’m to report to Filch’s office (which is never a good thing).
As we return to the common room, grumpy with the injustice, it occurs to me that, on the plus side, at least now I have somewhere to begin: the very first item on my list is Get a detention from every teacher.
I recite Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration silently, taking the marble steps two at a time. It’s probably nearing midnight, but there’s no question of my fitting some homework in before turning in for the night.
“Bloody Filch,” I mutter to myself. Since first year, the man and I have been feuding in secret, and this evening only justifies it.
My detention, as I’d suspected the moment I was sent to the Knights Room on the seventh floor, was polishing a long aisle of armour. Without my wand, of course – Filch hovered tirelessly, watching. The most frustrating element is the knowledge that magic could complete the task in minutes. Nearly as frustrating, though, is how extraordinary perceptive Filch is of any blemish on the silver metal; he kept me at it for hours.
I suddenly doubt the probability of my ever striking a line through number one on my bucket list, which just hours ago I’d decided to focus on. It’s a long shot – there are a lot of teachers, for one thing, and therefore a lot of statues to polish.
I’m passing a non-descript tapestry, woven of copper and golden thread, when it swings open with a creak. In the darkness, I don’t immediately recognise the person hopping out of it as Sirius Black.
“Thorpe, holy shit,” he hisses, “you gave me the shock of my life.”
“Evening, Black,” I snort, cocking my head to the right. I feel uncomfortable, in the light of the rumours about his leaving home. After a slight pause, I add, “You know, whichever girl you have in there, you can let her out – I won’t tell.”
Sirius grins. “Nah, it’s just that James has the – I mean, I thought it would be safest to come out here. Far from Filch’s office, and all.”
“I’m still suspicious. What were you doing alone in the hidden passages of Hogwarts?” I ask curiously as we set off towards the common room together.
“If not fornicating, you mean?”
“I didn’t say a word about fornication,” I point out. “For all I know, you were tutoring a girl back there.”
“I hope you can trust that I was putting the passages to better use than fornication,” he says drily. “But trust me, the less you know, the better off you are – that is to say, the less susceptible to detention.”
I groan. “It’s the first day of school, and I’m pretty sure you lot have already dragged Gryffindor down into negative integers. I don’t think we’ve actually had house points for more than a day or two since you arrived at Hogwarts.”
“We rarely get caught,” Sirius exclaims, seeming almost offended.
“And besides that,” I continue sternly, although unable to conceal my amusement, “you should know that McGonagall will personally and mercilessly rip you limb from limb if you haven’t finished the homework she set for tomorrow.”
Sirius runs his fingers through his shaggy hair and laughs drily. “Really? Tell me more. I don’t believe I’ve heard anything about how our work ethic is especially important this year, or how our entire futures are put at stake with each piece of homework – nothing of the sort.”
I giggle despite myself. “Right, I see what you mean. Still, though-”
“Why aren’t you busy studying, then? I never had you down as one for late-night castle prowling – not so early in the year.”
I glance around furtively. “Well, you have to swear not to tell anyone, Black. I mean it. But, well, last year, I wasn’t doing very well in Potions, and I went down to see Slughorn about it – he was very understanding, and he offered me a bit of an exchange. You know, he grades me with a certain, erm, lenience, and I offer... well, certain favours in return.”
Sirius looks at me quizzically, and it seems that my perfectly straight face passes his inspection because his features quickly rearrange themselves into a scandalized expression. He gapes wordlessly.
Eventually, as we hurry to hop off a swivelling staircase, I bite my lip and prompt, “I’m kidding, you know.”
He roars with laughter for what seems like ages. I’m perplexed by the confidence with which he can throw his head back and chortle in the middle of the night, while breaking a dozen rules. I’m starting to worry that we’ll be caught and consider using a Silencing Charm on him, but decide against it just before he recovers and looks at me appreciatively, as though seeing me entirely differently. “The look on your face, Thorpe... I never thought you, of all people.” He shakes his head.
“Never thought what, exactly? That I’m the sort of student who’d have a crass, unrefined affair with our Potions master? Me neither, funnily enough.”
“No,” says Sirius, although he has once again let slip a bark-like laugh, “I never thought you were the sort of person who jokes around about having a crass affair with our Potions master.”
I shrug, trying to look aloof and mysterious. We’re nearing the common room, and I almost wish we aren’t. Sirius is surprisingly easy to talk to, and the conversation is pleasant – and what’s more, I’m well aware that this is the last time he’ll pay me any attention at all.
“I’m terrible at Potions,” he offers suddenly, “always have been.”
“Trust me, I know,” I smirk, “I’ve been in your Potions class since first year, after all. I remember when the dungeons had to be evacuated because of you... and the day Slughorn made an Unbreakable Vow with McGonagall that you and Ja – Potter would never, ever partner up in any kind of potion-making again... Although I’ve forgotten what you did to make them so angry.”
“James is pretty good at Potions,” insists Sirius. “But I always get so bored. That time, we were just chatting a little, and I wondered how big, exactly, a reaction between the asphodel root and knotgrass would be. And there wasn’t a reaction until some of it spilt on James, and he turned blue.”
“Oh, yeah, and a cool shade of blue, too,” I enthuse. “I’d like my bedroom that colour.” I smile over at him. “So that’s how you swung an Outstanding in the exam, even when I couldn’t after twelve straight hours of revision? You just had to keep your curiosity in check? ”
“Yeah, I guess,” he says, seeming a little embarrassed by the query, “I just got really lucky on the practical, too. And the theory.” After a moment or two of silence, he laughs a little hollowly. “In case you’re worrying about the prank thing, I was lying. I’m the only one out here – just needed to think.”
“Not a wink.”
We reach the portrait of the Fat Lady, who bats her eyelashes at Sirius. “Absit invidia,” he says dully, and she reluctantly swings open to admit us. The common room is entirely empty – I expect that everyone, older students included, wanted to get a good night’s sleep before the second day of classes.
I set off immediately towards the girls’ staircase. I have one foot on the bottom step when Sirius pipes up. “You never told me why you were out and about, anyway.”
I turn. “Detention.”
“Really? What did you do? Not even we’ve gotten one yet.”
“Hexed Evan Rosier, the creep.”
Sirius’ expression is surprised, and a little impressed. He’s silent for a minute – a long minute in which I wonder whether the conversation has ended, or whether I should stick around to hear his response. Finally, he says, “You know, Thorpe, I just never-”
“Never thought I was the type,” I finish, somewhat irritated. “I know, you’ve said that already. Good night.”
“Night,” he echoes.
Big fat edit on 04/08, more tense change and whatnot. I’m just trying get all these chapters up, eeee. Hopefully, this gives a new side to Em - with the dirtyintensesex and whatsit - and to Andy - with all the irritation and playing around with Sirius.
Expect: more detentions, more illegal wandwork, and more Sirius!