Chapter 7 : Seven
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“Because I’ve never been able to do this before!” he explained with a grin. “Three years where you’ve been allowed to tease me mercilessly about girls and finally I get to do it back. I still think you should ask her to Hogsmeade. Pretend you’re just going as friends.”
“I’ve never spent time with her outside of school.”
“God forbid you want to spend time with your classmates in our final year at school. Everyone’s making friends with everyone, did you see Isla and Nerys hanging out with Angelina the other day?”
“Angelina’s a Gryffindor.”
“Exactly. Togetherness! Unity! That’s what seventh year is for. Perfect cover for a secret girlfriend.”
I glared at him. “She’s not my girlfriend.”
“She could be.”
“I’ll shut up if you at least come out to her.”
“She came out to you. Fair’s fair.”
“Promise you’ll leave me alone if I do?”
“Promise. Cross my heart.”
“No pestering me about what she said?”
“Not at all. Though I do expect you to tell me.”
“No telling me to ask her out?”
“I swear on the name of Rowena Ravenclaw.”
I raised an eyebrow, momentarily sidetracked. “You deified your house’s Founder?”
“She is a goddess. The House of Ravenclaw is actually a cult. Studying is ritualised worship and we offer our first-gained Outstandings to her.”
“Slytherin prefers sacrifices of pureblooded virgins,” I responded solemnly. “Thank God for the dirty Muggle blood that runs through these veins.”
“I hear the aroma of burnt detention slips is particularly pleasing to Gryffindor.”
I snorted. “I thought that was failed IQ tests?”
“Either or, I don’t think he’s too picky. You can sort of tell by the people in his house.”
“Speak of the devil,” I murmured as the embodiment of Gryffindor walked towards us.
“Afternoon, Heads!” Fred Weasley greeted us cheerily.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” George added.
“What do you want?” Oliver asked dubiously.
“Just a moment of your time.”
“Heading to Defence Against the Dark Arts?”
“Course they are, George, they’re in our class.”
“It was a rhetorical question, Freddie.”
“We heard tell that Umbridge has a bumper reading for us today—”
“And we have a way of getting out of it—”
“We’re hoping for a mass boycott, see, then she can’t punish us all—”
“It’ll just cost you a few Sickles each—”
“Hobbs, your face looks like a cat’s bum.”
George was right – Oliver’s face had a pinched, disapproving look. Any credit with the twins I had won for us was about to be lost.
“We should probably still show,” I said reluctantly. “It’ll look bad if we don’t.”
Oliver looked distinctly relieved.
“How many other people have you convinced?” I asked the twins.
“The whole class.”
“Literally the whole class.”
“Except you, that is.”
“Even the other prefects.”
“We’ll cover for you,” I told them. “Are these your make-everyone-sick-to-get-out-of-class things?”
“Skiving Snackboxes, yep,” Fred said proudly. “So you won’t tell, then?”
“No. We’ll just tell Umbridge that all the seventh-years had a shared lunch as a year-group bonding thing and got food poisoning.”
“You’re brilliant, Amelia Greenslade.”
“Thanks. See you guys – briefly – in class. If anyone gets vomit on my robes the deal’s off.”
The twins saluted and walked away, beaming.
“What did you do that for?” Oliver demanded once they were out of earshot. “Standing up to unfair treatment is one thing, pandering to the Weasley twins’ stupid tricks is another—”
“Togetherness! Unity!” I trumpeted in a sing-song voice, mimicking Oliver’s tone a few minutes ago. “That’s what seventh year is for.”
Umbridge bought our fib that everyone was off having a shared lunch and got food poisoning from it, probably due in part to our stunning performance when she asked why we weren’t there. Oliver let out a loud, bitter laugh that sounded more like a bark than anything else, and I, with an overly cheery demeanour that said I was masking some deep hurt, told her that Head Prefects aren’t usually the most popular people in the school and we preferred each other’s company anyway, so we really didn’t mind and hey, they got food poisoning and we didn’t. It was improved even more by the fact that Peeves was floating around at this point and, never passing up an opportunity to rip into the Head Prefects, seized upon the comment that we ‘preferred each other’s company’ and was now spreading a rumour through the school that Oliver and I were madly in love and spent our lunchtimes doing naughty things behind tapestries.
“Y’know, I could probably come out right now and everyone will just assume it’s a cover story,” I mused as we wandered through the corridors after class.
“Should I drape myself in a rainbow flag as well?” I asked, rolling my eyes. “I don’t get why you’re so keen for me to be out.”
“Because I live vicariously through you,” Oliver replied matter-of-factly. “I’m a boring pureblood kid obsessed with Ancient Runes. You’re a half-blood lesbian Slytherin raised in the Muggle world. You’ve got to admit, that’s a lot more interesting.”
“You live vicariously through me?” I repeated, unsure whether to be annoyed, offended, flattered or to burst out laughing. “I’m sure there are better people to live vicariously through. Harry Potter, for one. You could fight Voldemort by association.”
Oliver snorted, glancing at the poster for the Hogsmeade weekend we were passing. “Got any plans?”
I recognised his tone. “Yeah, I’ll probably meet up with Mum.”
Oliver and I usually went to Hogsmeade together, but on the occasions when we didn’t, he usually happened to like a girl and wanted to ask her to Hogsmeade. That was probably one of the reasons he was eager for me to go with Penny – he adhered to the “bros before hoes” policy religiously, and only went on a Hogsmeade date if I’d already made other plans. I usually worked out when he liked someone and would arrange to meet up with Mum on Hogsmeade weekends so he would be free to go with a girl, but I’d been a bit slow on the uptake this time.
“Oh, okay,” he said. “Might not go this time…unless I can find someone else.”
“Who is she?” I asked, abandoning all pretence.
So did he. “Er…Katie Bell.”
“The one on the Gryffindor Quidditch team?”
He nodded. “She’s…”
“Yeah. And she’s really nice and she has this laugh—”
“Yeah all right, Romeo. When are you going to ask her?”
“Soon,” he said determinedly. “But I don’t know what I’d talk to her about…I know nothing about Quidditch! I know she plays Chaser…but I don’t even know what a Chaser does…”
I rolled my eyes. “Talk about her. Just get to know her. Ask her about herself. When you find common ground, go with that.”
“How do you even know this stuff?”
“Because I am a girl. It may have escaped your notice—”
“But you don’t have a soul.”
“Yeah, Sorting Hat sucked it right out of me when it put me in Slytherin. I propose a deal. You ask Katie to Hogsmeade and I come out to Penny before the end of the week.”
“It’s Thursday. That’s one day.”
“No time like the present,” I told him bracingly, feeling slightly better about the whole situation now that I had something to pressure Oliver with in return.
With a long-suffering sigh, he agreed.
“You’re in here early,” Penny observed when I entered the dormitory shortly after seven, kicked off my shoes and sat on my bed.
She was right. I’d been avoiding the dormitory since she talked to me, coming in just before curfew when the other girls would be there so I wouldn’t have to face her alone. I was perfectly happy admitting I was a coward – in Slytherin it was almost a badge of honour and nobody could suspect you of being a Hatstall with Gryffindor.
The others wouldn’t be back for another couple of hours at least – the age-related hierarchy was back in place in the common room and as seventh-years, we were entitled to the prime spots. Penny and I were the only people in our year group who didn’t enjoy spending time there.
“You’ve been avoiding me, right?” Penny asked matter-of-factly, looking over at me. I took a moment to take in the sight of her – dark hair falling in messy waves around her face and down her shoulders; slim, elegant face; brown, almond-shaped eyes holding my gaze unflinchingly. She was strikingly beautiful – how had I missed it? I had always known she was attractive – you would have to be blind not to notice – but…
She was still staring at me, waiting for an answer. Feeling slightly flustered, I broke eye contact. “Yeah, I have.”
She blinked, surprised I had admitted it. “I assume it’s got something to do with what I told you.”
“Yeah.” I picked at some lint on my tights. Maybe I could just keep giving one-word answers until she guessed the truth. That would make my life infinitely easier.
“You haven’t told anyone, have you?”
“No. Why would I do that? And more to the point, who would I tell?”
“Your boyfriend?” Penny shrugged. “I don’t really care, but it would have been better to tell me you had a problem with it rather than say you’re all good and avoid me like the plague from there on in.”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“You’re not going out with Oliver?”
“Why not? He seems nice.”
“And you get along and stuff.”
“He’s my best friend.”
“And he’s all right looking,” Penny conceded.
“I s’pose. If you like that kind of thing.”
“What kind of thing?”
“Let’s rethink the situation,” I began. “Say I’m not homophobic. Why else would I react the way I did?”
“Well,” she said skeptically, “You could be deep in the closet yourself, in denial, and I hit a nerve.”
“The denial part’s over, but otherwise you got it in one.”
I risked a glance at her again, and couldn’t help grinning at the look of shock on her face.
“No way. You?”
“Is it really that hard to believe?”
She thought for a moment. “I guess not. But I thought I was the only one in the entire school, let alone our dormitory.”
“We can’t be the only ones in the school.”
“I guess. Not that we’ll ever find out.”
“So what made you realise?” she asked.
“A range of things,” I said cautiously. “I dated Lee Jordan in fourth year and it was weird. I went to the Yule Ball with a Beauxbatons boy and it was weird. I thought about all the boys in our year and who I’d want to date and came up with nothing. So I looked at the girls instead. What about you?”
“Any particular girl?”
“Don’t deflect my question with your question.”
“Fine. I liked this girl for a while. A year, maybe. And so over summer I talked to my aunt, who’s a lesbian, and she told me to tell the girl I was gay and see how she reacts.”
“Wait a minute,” I said slowly.
“She freaked out at first,” Penny continued, staring resolutely at her green bedspread, “But it turns out she’s actually gay as well.”
“And that she likes you too,” I concluded. “And, in hindsight, has done for a while.”
There was a very long silence. I could hear the distant, muffled sound of the lake lapping against the walls of the castle and the faraway buzz of conversation in the common room. Neither of us made eye contact with the other and the silence rang in my ears. Any moment now, someone would come in and the chance to talk would be lost.
“So,” I said, startled at how loud my voice sounded. “What now?”
“I’m not really ready for other people to know.”
“Neither am I.”
“I gathered as much.”
“So where does that leave us?”
“Well,” Penny began, “We’ve shared a dormitory for the past six years, but I still don’t feel like I know you. Other than the fact that you’re good at Transfiguration, alluringly charismatic and generally beautiful.”
“I—” I managed, unable to respond. I knew I should tell her something in return, but her words had caught me off guard and my brain wasn’t cooperating. “We could go to Hogsmeade,” I suggested. “Just as friends. Well, not really…but not like…nothing official or anything, just…Three Broomsticks, maybe? Just to hang out…” I was tripping over my words, unsure of what I was even saying, and felt my face reddening. She had called me alluringly charismatic and now I couldn’t string two coherent sentences together.
I looked up at her and she smiled. “Yeah, that sounds good.”
“Good.” I turned my attention back to my feet, but a smile was tugging on my lips and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I didn’t know how Penny could look so calm and composed, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, but when I glanced over at her she still had a little smile on her face and her cheeks were tinged pink, and the fact that I made her look like that made me feel all giddy inside.
“Just so you know, I think you’re beautiful,” I blurted. “I always have, even when I didn’t realise that I liked you in that way, even when I didn’t realise I liked girls in that way, and I wish I had some meaningful observation to make but that’s all I really notice…Oh, God, I’m awful at this. Um…” I struggled to my feet. “I’m going to remove my alluringly charismatic self from the room now.”
I fled for the door. “See you later,” Penny called, and I glanced around long enough to meet her eyes once more before hurrying out of the dormitory and in the direction of Ravenclaw Tower.
“You saw me where I never was and and where I could not be. And yet within that very place, my face you often see. What am I?”
I sighed at the bronze knocker on the door to Ravenclaw Tower. This was the annoying thing about going to visit Oliver – but it was easier than him having to come to the dungeons and stand around outside until someone happened to let him in. The knocker was in a bad mood – it always was when it asked questions like this with right or wrong answers. I much preferred when it asked philosophical ones and you would pass if you reasoned well enough.
“I don’t know,” I told the knocker. “A shadow?”
“Incorrect,” it said smugly.
“Correct,” it said grudgingly, and swung open to let me in. “But if you cross to where you do not belong, no effort will be spared to correct your wrong.”
“Yeah, thanks,” I muttered. It often said things like that to me, but I’d never heard it say anything to Oliver. The thing must have figured out I wasn’t a Ravenclaw, but why it was still letting me in was anyone’s guess.
I entered the common room, making a beeline for Oliver. He was tucked into one of the window ledges with a spellbook, practicing what appeared to be a Patronus charm, and jumped when I tapped him on the shoulder.
“Thought I would take advantage of my good mood.”
“Katie said yes, then?”
“Yeah.” He grinned. “We’re going to the Three Broomsticks. Did you arrange to meet up with your mum?”
“I may have made other arrangements.”
His eyes widened. “Really? With Penny?”
“Keep it down,” I hissed. “Yes, with Penny.”
“Good for you,” he said sincerely. “I expect a full run down of events later on.” He turned back to his spellbook, whispering incantations under his breath. Slightly miffed that I hadn’t gotten a better response from him, I took my leave.
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