Chapter 6 : You can't fix stupid
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The latest ripple brought Al out of the dungeons earlier than normal that morning. Xavier had started eating with his girlfriend, Dinah Prentis, when she threatened to drop him over Quidditch practice schedules. The captain conceded his coveted lie-ins, trading for extra Pitch time in the afternoons and leaving Xavier in the middle of a near empty table. Lazily chewing and listening, his head tilted toward Dinah while his eyelids drooped in defiance. Until he met Al's glare.
“I’m not taking the shit.” Al dropped his books down on a bench across from the couple.
Xavier swallowed his last bite of toast while Dinah laughed out a greeting.
“You have to, mate." Xavier glanced in Dinah's direction, prompting her to pinch her lips together in an attempt that failed to eliminate the grin completely. He continued in a practiced voice. "Seeker positions are always last up. You’re the only one with the time to get out to the stables.”
“Send Malfoy Friday night,” Al insisted, kicking the bench out to sit.
“Think I didn’t consider that? Can’t. One of the blasted things are sick! They won’t have it out Friday.”
Dinah peered over at Al, forecasting her attempt at assistance. “What’s the difference for mucking stables?” she asked Xavier, the sympathy in her voice diminished by lingering amusement at the thought of this specific detention.
“Dens,” Xavier corrected. “The dens have to be cleaned before the full moon, but you can’t start until all the mooncalves are checked for contamination.”
“Can’t you just tell?” Dinah persisted.
“If they’re sick?”
“If the dung’s good.”
Xavier snorted. “You mean, if it’s not silvery, it’s shitty shit?”
He shook his large head. “No,” he said sideways to Dinah but kept his gaze forward to Al. “All the old shit needs to be shoveled before the full moon shit is shat.”
“Say that three times fast,” Dinah challenged.
Xavier’s girlfriend had the kind of sharp profile you'd expect to find on an ancient coin, but the amusement she didn't bother holding back softened her features considerably. Until Al stared the grins off both their faces.
"Why's Malfoy even trying out? He barely tolerates Slytherin teammates.”
“True.” The man himself emerged behind Al like an apparition.
Dinah shared the same impression. “Speak of the devil and he rises," she said into her goblet.
Scorpius surveyed the trio with eyes far sharper than expected, given his bed curtains were drawn when Al left the dorm fifteen minutes earlier. “You heard Vectra," he said. "Slytherin needs to be represented.”
“We need a house team, too,” Al shot back. "Other houses think you're demonic. That's the key to your success. You start playing with them, they figure you as just an average flier, and we lose the edge."
“I’ve a plan for Slytherin,” Xavier assured, mostly to Al. He shifted to Scorpius and continued, "How’s Spencer doing?"
Scorpius, leaning over Al's shoulder to pick through a bowl of fruit, didn't bother looking up. "Complete disaster. I’m done."
"I don’t need him doing feints, just pounding the hell out of the Bludger. He’s built like a bloody troll."
"With half the brain," Scorpius replied before straightening and sinking hie teeth into a green apple. He made no move to sit down, preferring to stand over the group.
Xavier darted a mutinous glance between his two veteran players. He opted for Scorpius, saying, "Keep working with him. If even one of us makes the Hogwarts team, Slytherin's reserve bench needs to be deeper to withstand injuries… or detentions.”
"Waste of time." Scorpius flung out the hand holding the apple in a dismissive wave. "You can’t fix stupid."
Al's attempt to refocus the conversation on detentions died in his throat when Dinah reached across the table with a quick tap on the back of his hand and a mixed expression backing her nod at the Great Hall entrance.
Rachel hovered at the door. The moment Al turned, she pivoted on her heel and disappeared from view, leaving nothing more than a vivid impression of a girl who hadn't expected to find such a big crowd at early breakfast. Al nicked a roll, and slipping a napkin around it, stashed it in the interior pocket of his robe.
When he found her, he preferred Rachel not blame him for being hungry also.
But Rachel wasn't to be found in any of the corridors. Al arrived to their first class, a double period in Transfiguration, to find her sat in the back row with females encamped in every available table around her. The arrangement was no coincidence; two of the Ravenclaws involved hadn't left the front row since first year.
Point taken. He'd give Rachel some more time.
Scorpius, smug that his weekend detention assignment hadn't changed while he slept, elbowed past Al.
Now the one hovering in the doorway, Al considered his options. The breakfast roll seemed a bad idea. He didn't fancy navigating a flock of watchful birds to give the food to Rachel. If he sat by Scorpius, he'd be tempted to stuff it in that pale, smug face. Al headed to the front row, sitting in the middle of three empty seats.
Angela was the last person to enter, arriving on the heels of the professor. Her habitual stride stuttered beside the front row. Angela spared a quick survey of the classroom before she uttered a quiet incantation to pull out the chair on the end of the table Al occupied. Again, he got the sense that his presence factored in someone's calculation of the lesser of two evils. The thought didn't improve his morning.
Al understood Rachel’s defense mechanisms. He could work around them, whenever she felt comfortable enough to move away from the flock, but Angela was annoying him. He'd done nothing to her.
Eyes ahead, Angela pulled out her parchment and quill with smooth, economic movements. Everything about her posture pulled inward, away from the touch of anything, even the desk and almost the chair. Nothing like the woman he'd seen with Wyatt the previous night.
She could talk about him with her Head Boy-toy but she wouldn't talk to him?
"Can I borrow a quill?"
She stilled, her head cocking in Al's direction. She had to have heard him.
"You don't have one?"
He had three, but simply shrugged.
Angela slid a skeptical hand along her side to the bag resting an inch from her chair, pulling out a quill by touch. She held the very tip and placed the deep green plume toward Al’s outstretched palm, letting go just before the fringe touched his skin.
"Thanks," he whispered, pleased with her suspicious expression. "I must have left mine in my journal."
Al didn't really expect a reaction and he didn't really get one. But he wasn't being easily ignored.
Mooncalves were awkward beasts. Their bottom half was surely intended for another animal. Everything about them was rounded except their stringy legs and huge flat feet. Even if Al could stun them, he couldn’t maneuverer their gangly dead-weight through the passages connecting the dens. Not alone, no possible way. He couldn't even get near the things.
The buggers were all feet and fidget.
The sun wasn’t visible to judge how much time Al was loosing, dens for Hogwarts' resident mooncalves were more under the stables than in them, accessed by a steep, slide-like tunnel outside the back corner of the building. Stone-walled paddocks stretched outward on each side of the stables, but the back was clear for the shy mooncalves to come and go. Without the cover of moonlight, the beasts were staying, hunkered down and panicked in one of the spaces that served as individual dens. The last hour, at least, had been devoted to moving the skittish animals from where they cowered.
Al sighed and moved to the only other den left, only to find the floor inside pristine, the hay undisturbed.
“This the guest stall?” he asked, liking the baritone echo of his voice off the earthen walls and the company of the chorus of small bleats protesting from the next room.
He adjusted the headlamp providing the only light for his task and circled the room. Each individual den leading off from the main corridor was a hollowed-out honeycomb shaped space with rough hewn walls and a bed of hay across the dirt floor. The hay in this one was dry, but the walls glistened with frost. His breath was visible. Through the cone shape illumination of the lamp beam, only small glimpses of this underground world were visible at a time. That wasn’t enough to tell where the water condensation originated, but the impression of several circles marked the frost in a repeated pattern around the room.
Backing out, Al faced the remaining room -the one with all the bulgy eyes, blinking desperately at him. As nervous as the mooncalves were, it was unlikely the hay in there would be as pristine as the cold room.
Mardy beasts, he was trying to help them.
You can’t fix stupid.
Scorpius’ dismissive voice echoed through Al’s head. He preferred the mooncalf bleats, which could only mean he needed to get out. He crawled through the short but steep dirt ramp, packed smooth and cement-hard by the movement of the animals to and from their home, and scrambled back up the main entrance to the dens.
Leveraging a timber foundation beam, Al freed himself through the mound of earth and rock supporting the Hagrid-sized hole in the stable's stone base, a jagged opening not unlike the unlit mouth of a massive and very surprised jack-o-lantern. He fell back on the grass, upwind of the bin where he’d chucked the manky hay, and inhaled before he squinted to the sky.
The sun shone directly overhead.
This trip to the surface, he left the heavy metal muck-bucket behind. The break was the first he’d taken. No more than three bucket fulls -tops- remained to be removed, but Al couldn’t get to it. And he could no longer tell if he smelled any better then them.
He rolled, propping up on his elbows to see the pitch in the distance. He could barely make out the three hoops on the closer side. No noise from the crowd carried this far over the grounds. Al could only hear whistling behind him, a tune he recognized but couldn't name.
Lysander Scamander stood near the gate of the paddock sorting a tangle of horse bridles, flipping several over the fence as he freed them. Lysander wasn't one of the handful of students who boarded their own winged horses at Hogwarts, but he watched over the school's animals like they were his own. Rotten luck he was the wrong Scamander twin to try to bribe into finishing the last bit of work Al had left.
The thought of skiving off that last den crossed Al's mind, but the mooncalf heard was for the Herbology department and Professor Longbottom was too close to Al's parents. Last thing Al needed was future shit over leaving shit.
The sky disappeared above Al with the shadow of a winged horse, a sleek Granian, speeding in low over the stables. If Al hadn't been on the grass already, he'd have been able to reach the hoofs as the stallion touched down in a flutter of wings and trotted up the grassy slope to the paddock gate with a gentle low-pitched neigh. Lysander stroked the horse's neck, but the animal had a clear goal in mind, nuzzling a satchel by the gatepost. Lysander obliged, pulling an apple out and offering it open-palmed to the expectant pearly gray horse.
A lightly scolding female voice reprimanded Lysander from the doorway. "You'll spoil him, Nature Boy.”
"Couldn't possibly. I barely see him these days," Lysander replied, turning to face the girl's approach. "He only makes an appearance for your rides."
Angela emerged fully from the building, kitted in tailored riding pants and gleaming knee-length boots, but with a weathered Puddlemere United jersey on top. More contradictions. Al intended to throw his own shoes out after a single day in the stables, not shine them. Angela's other shoes were never the standard uniform variety most girls wore, either. They were the kind Rose tried to wear and gave up after the first month of school.
"You riding today?" Angela asked Lysander over the horse's back.
Lysander grimaced and flung his hand at the mess of leather he'd attempted to untangle. “Can’t. Just ran from the Pitch to grab something to do between turns.”
“Try outs? You? What position?”
“All of them.”
Angela's tone switched from skeptical to teasing. “I thought your brother was Quidditch Boy.”
Al continued to stare over Lysander’s shoulder and the horse. He’d never guess Angela knew Scamander any more than Eaton. She moved through Hogwarts, more ghost-like than Scorpius, yet maybe she’d snogged Nature Boy too.
Because there she stood, laughing as she said, “They’re not going to let you ride a Thestral, you know.”
“I wanted to, but James thought that would be taking things too far. Like rallying all of Gryffindor to try out is subtle.” Lysander smile grew flippant. “For him, I guess that is.” He moved his arms in a fair impression of James. “The more positions, the better - House pride and all.”
Al’s attention bounced from Angela’s impish grin to Lysander’s exaggerated expression. Ah, hell, James got the whole damn house involved.
"Sweet Merlin!" Angela interrupted Lysander's performance. "Did he pause for the applause?"
"He waved it down modestly." Lysander flipped a handfull of bridles over his shoulder and, flicking his wand, sent the rest back inside. With a wistful glance skyward, he sighed. “Going to be a long day.”
Al cursed silently into the grass. He shouldn’t have been surprised James went to the extreme to delay try-outs. His brother had no concept of discretion. And it was Gryffindor; they wouldn’t cross a hallway for a Slytherin, but they’d brave the Forbidden Forest for James. Without question, they'd go along with him. People always did.
And now, Al owed them all.
Lysander was observant, far more than people credited him for. He might be one of only a few realizing the reason behind the antics, but even one or two Gryffies knowing James' motives was enough to obligate Al. Albus Potter repaid his debts. He simply had no use for effort wasted.
Springing up from his stance in the grass, Al said, "Don't bother, it's not worth it. I can't get the blasted things to move."
Angela reacted first, scanning the slope to the back corner of the stable. Her face, a dictionary of emotions. Annoyance. Confusion. Disbelief. Embarrassment. Frustration. She stopped on suspicion. "What are you doing here?"
Lysander responded with the same calm he employed to quiet the horse between them. “Temperature charms," he stated over his shoulder, all the while holding a steady hand on the horse’s neck.
When both Al and Angela stared at him, Lysander shifted back to Al and elaborated, "Heat the floor where you want the mooncalves. Cool it where you don’t. They like warmth, they’ll move on their own.”
Al turned on his heels and dove back down the jagged stone opening he'd escaped earlier.
Thanks to for the lovely reviews that reminded me that I really liked this story. It's been forever and three days, I know, for this update. Thanks for sticking with me. I'll be quicker (how could I not).
Also, thanks to Rachelle for adding 'mardy' to my vocabulary. Hopefully, I used it correctly.
Take care :)
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