Chapter 5 : Anthrax Allergies
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She smiles, but not as apologetic as she should be. “Sorry about man-handling you, but it had to be done.”
“Wh- no!” indignantly, I push myself away from the shelf behind me. The pair of brown eyes that stare back at me are surrounded by a familiar cloud of red hair, but she’s different. More civilised, if it’s possible to say that of the girl who just attacked me.
Lily rolls her eyes and sighs impatiently. “Please cooperate, Lottie. It’ll make this so much easier.”
What, murdering me?!!
“Why are you here?” I ask. “You’re supposed to be out in the real world! Employed! Paying council tax! Not ambushing Seekers at Hogwarts.”
She’s definitely different. Normally, if I’d raised my voice, she’d come back with a scathing retort that would burn me so badly, I’d be reaching for the Savlon for hours. Instead, Lily gives me an eye-roll before seemingly letting it go.
“So...” her voice rings out in the dank storage room as she causally picks her way through the sea of equipment I just crashed through. “You know how I work for The Pitch? The Quidditch magazine that is oh-so classier than,” she shrugs in mock-theatricality, “I don’t know, Snitch Weekly perhaps?”
I know where this is going.
“Anyway, I was at my desk the other day,” Lily continues, “and I saw a lovely article that a co-worker left on my desk, with a note saying ‘Wasn’t she on your team?’. So you can imagine my delight when I look through it and find your pouting mug splashed all over some second-rate, gossip rag!”
Anger pulses through my body, already near boiling-point after my public battering/humiliation session earlier this morning. “Great. Exactly what I need – another person telling me I’m a perpetual fuck-up.”
Lily’s ears prick up and she kicks a Quaffle out of her path. “Who said that?”
I have to actually think about it. Other than the red-tempered Chaser, there’s not been an occasion where I’ve been yelled at for my stunning lack of foresight as to how the whole article would pan out. “Jack,” I say. “Everyone else just sort of implied it, really. But in my defence, I didn’t know that’s how it was going to turn out-”
“- no, really. The photographer was a general sex-pest.”
There’s a grunt of laughter from Lily. She was never a big giggler, just one of those girls who make those god-awful noises that you feel obliged to apologise for afterwards. Like a snort and a yell at the same time. What a charmer... then again, I just performed an armadillo-themed striptease for a professional Quidditch player, I’m hardly one to talk about ‘sexy’.
“A sex-pest? That makes him sound endearing – what was he called?” she asks, and then in response to my quizzical eyebrows adds “I might have come across him in my line of work.”
“As a coffee fetcher?” I seriously think she overestimates how far up the journalism ladder she’s climbed during summer.
Lily slaps me on the arm. “Oi! I’m a dignified writer, dammit!”
“Calm down! Craig, he was called Craig.”
Her mouth drops open in disbelieving horror. “Not Craig?” she says his name like it’s some sort of disease. “Creepy Craig?!! The Creepy Craig, who’s been cautioned for harassment four times?!! Jesus, Lottie...”
“Creepy Craig?” I yelp. “I didn’t know he was an urban legend, alright? I just thought he was a generic pervert.”
There are a couple more seconds where she gapes at me, before a smile sneaks onto her features and she starts the snort-laugh again. “Seriously?” she asks, “All photographers are like that, I’m pretty sure that this ‘Craig’ is no creepier than the vast majority.”
“So he’s not a criminal?”
“As far as I know,” Lily’s smirk stays in place. “But then again, I don’t know him, do I?”
I sigh and move to sit on top of a bucket. “You’re a twat, Potter. And why are you here, anyway? To yell at me?”
“Nope.” She perches herself onto of a crate opposite me. Even in the semi-darkness, I can make out that she’s sitting on the back of her legs – like she did in the stands at every practice. “The desire of Ivanovitch’s parents for him to finish his education is why I’m here. The Pitch wants a bunch of us ‘young whippersnappers’,” she makes air quotes and a disgusted face, “to do a piece on who he’ll be playing with, and against in his matches here. A focus on upcoming talent, if you will.”
My mouth is open. A response should be coming out, but instead there’s this dying whale noise. More publicity. Is that really a smart idea for me? Shouldn’t I be barricaded in a bunker underground, in the hope that no camera will ever lay lens on me again?
“Will...” I swallow uncomfortably, and just end up choking on my own saliva. “Will I end up in that article?”
Oh god. “On what?” I ask.
“On how well you spy for me.” Lily fixes me with that almost Slytherin-esque glint in her eye. “Roxy’s meeting me every fortnight, but I know she’s not going to give me the full story on how well our team are doing. I have a very large bet riding on the outcome of this Quidditch cup – I need to make sure we’re going to win.”
I consider her offer, then realise that it isn’t actually an offer. “Hang on,” I interject, “what’s in it for me?”
Lily stands and starts fastening the buttons on her coat. Even trying to cover it up with the casual action, I can see the smug smirk on her face. “The piece on Hogwarts Quidditch,” she says slowly, wrapping a scarf around her neck, “could be focussed on a virulent hussy, who’ll screw anyone to get where she wants.”
“McLaggen?” I say hopefully.
She brushes dirt off her coat, but never lets her eyes stray from mine. “Do this, and I’ll write you up to be the finest potential Seeker we’ve ever seen. Continuously, until the scouts recognise your name for something other than your bum.”
“And if I don’t?”
There’s a sadistic quality to the way Lily calmly considers my words. “How’s the title ‘Sex, Drugs and Sloth-Grip Rolls: The Hedonistic Life of the Lennox heir’? I personally find it a bit of a mouthful, and you’re not technically an heir...”
“Point taken. I’ll do it,” then I hesitate and add “How the hell were you not in Slytherin?”
“My evil streak only really took off in third-year,” and she walks out the door.
Ironically, third year’s when she made the team. I feel that’s a significant factor in wondering what happened to sweet, innocent Lily who painted her nails pink – this Lily prefers to have her nails coated in a fine film of her victims’ blood.
My feet hit the floor a little less gently that I planned, and I feel two bursts of pain shooting up them. The bruise put there on my shin by that Verena girl throbs magnificently, and I mentally add her to the list of people I must maim in retribution.
Lily’s not in the corridor when I open the door, nor is anyone else. The spot where Ivanovitch was standing is still empty, not yet swarming with fangirls who desperately want a DNA sample of the sex god himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if I turned up tomorrow and there was a plaque stuck to the wall there, saying ‘Sergei Ivanovitch stood here for more than thirty seconds’ with a roped-off shrine and merchandise stalls.
And the Beater gear’s gone. The pads and helmet aren’t in sight, and my broom is worryingly AWOL too. Shiiiit
What? No note to say ‘hey, this is your resident thief just letting you know I’ve taken your discarded kit, and my plan is to sell it on the black-market’? Fuck, Roxy’s going to kill me.
... Or she was the one who took it.
Yeah, that would make sense. The entire team were just about to head back to the changing rooms when I left them. Stumbling across the Ground Zero of my impromptu strip and kidnapping would probably inspire them to organise a search party, or (being slightly more realistic about how much they’re concerned about my welfare) just take the kit back with them instead. Nice to know they care.
A wave of ‘I can’t be arsed with Roxy right now’ washes over me, and I reconsider going back to the changing rooms. On one hand, there’s an angry captain there. On the other hand, there’ll be an even angrier captain in my room if I don’t go to the team meeting that she’s currently hosting. It’s a choice between having one limb chopped off now, or two chopped off later.
Ah well, I think, spinning on my heel and limping in the other direction, if Roxy’s roaming the halls looking for me, I’m going to blame the fact I’m walking away from the changing rooms on the confusion caused by my concussion.
My heart flips over as I walk past the spot formerly occupied by Ivanovitch and his perfect arse. Not a ‘oh-my-god-I’m-so-in-love-with-him-that-my-stomach-goes-goey-whenever-I-get-within-a-ten-metre-radius-of-anything-he’s-ever touched’, but the blood running cold feeling you get when your body realises something that your brain hasn’t quite processed yet. This spot of corridor is familiar, has certain emotions already tied to it.
I know who’s in the photo before I even tilt my head left to look. And sure enough, staring out of the picture frame like she’d done when Ivanovitch was inspecting it, and staring out like she’d done for the past twenty five years, is my mother.
Maggie Lennox was just as blonde then as I am now. Her defined jaw and cheekbones are made effeminate by the full lips and wide eyes, just like mine. Our body shapes are both oddly curvy for Seekers, and the smile we share is hauntingly similar. But I can’t smile back at her, all I feel is the cold grip of dread squeezing my chest.
It’s not unusual for Ivanovitch to have been inspecting this picture – it’s the first team photo in the corridor, the first one taken after the war and the stadium rebuild. Mum was only a fourth year, but the fact she was rewarded a year later with the captain’s badge made it clear how big the impact she had was.
My feet carry me unfalteringly – past the 1999 picture, to the next. Another pang of familiarity as I recognise the guy standing on the far right of the back row.
Tom’s laughing at something along with the rest of the team, his eyes on the gleaming cup in my mum’s hands. He still has a layer of baby fat clinging to his face, but by the next team picture it’s gone completely. There’s an impressive stubble on his chin for a sixth-year – all the tell-tale signs of a mid-pubescent teenager rapidly disappearing from his face.
Their seventh-year photo is where the school stick the leaver’s information. Anyone who went on to be anything in the Quidditch world has relevant articles framed and stuck up alongside the image of their team during their final year. The cup winners of 2002 are surrounded by a sea of articles, one or two regarding the rise and rise of Leaenis Broom Company and their wildly successful Hurricane range, the rest detailing Mum’s Quidditch career.
It’s to their credit they didn’t put in one of the many sensation stories penned about her death. Theories ranged from a foreign team assassinating her before she got her third chance at the world cup, to a more localised version where she was killed in cold blood by a slighted suitor.
Thankfully, it was common knowledge that she had epilepsy – otherwise I’m pretty sure reporters would continue to stir up rumours that my mum’s death was not a tragic case of smacking her head on the kitchen table whilst falling into her final seizure.
God, I miss her.
The next Gryffindor team picture is on the opposite wall, sitting alongside the photos of Slytherin and Ravenclaw in the non-victors category. No cup in the captain’s hand, only balled fists as they tried hard not to leap out of the frame and lunge for the Hufflepuff team gloating from across the corridor.
Like any celebrity who dies young, Mum’s legacy has spiralled to the point where ‘Maggie Lennox’ is a synonym for ‘Quidditch prodigy’. It’s so powerful, that the Carradale Chaffinches had a double page spread in Quidditch Today when I won them the league. The junior league, may I add, when I was only eight and Jack Wood wouldn’t let go of the damn trophy long enough for them to get a photo of me on my own.
The September air hits my face as I push through the doors, sharpening my mind and making me feel almost concussion-free. My eyes find the castle, and I try and put as much space as I can between me and the expectations I’ve been saddled with since birth.
I’m technically ‘ill’. That’s the best excuse I can come up with for not returning to our first official team meeting in the changing rooms. I bet you Roxy’s there building a funeral pyre for me – when she’s through with me and my disappearing act, I’m going to need it.
So if anyone asks, I’m unwell. I had to kick off the kit when my stomach threatened to empty itself, and then I dashed off to my room to take a cocktail of anti-sickness potions. Roxy isn’t going to believe that for one second, but she can’t prove me wrong. And to be honest, my encounter with Lily has left me feeling a little worse-for-wear, both physically and emotionally.
Fucking Lily. So perfect, so lucky with her stupid family getting her jobs that no regular Hogwarts graduate could even interview for. And me? I’m a semi-orphan – scratch that, a full orphan, with step-parents galore and a subconscious, attention-seeking bimbo in my brain who will don degrading outfits in the hope of ensnaring a professional team position.
Teenage woes – nothing kicks your confidence quite like ‘em.
I don’t care if I’m being whiney. Lily’d bitch about how hard her life was all the time, and so does Georgie. They have two parents each – people who are obliged by blood to love them unconditionally, no matter how much shit they do.
And though Tom and Annette claim to care for me like one of their own, I can’t help but feel like I have to earn their love.
I sigh in a very ‘woe is me’ fashion and kick my legs up against one of the posts on my bed. Staring at the canopy above my bed feels weird now – I’d just gotten used to seeing the familiar ceiling of my bedroom back home, and now it’s back to Gryffindor tower’s scarlet decor.
Usually, I’d have stuck up the collage I crafted back in my second year. It’s a messy affair, with photos of Georgie and me messing around, Quidditch pictures, my mum, family holidays (with my non-biological relatives) and even one of Jack.
Not like a stalkerish photo – I’m on it too. It’s the one from when we’re about eight, and fighting over who gets to hold the Chaffinches’ trophy, having just won it in our final against the Tyne Terns. Oh nostalgia, how you creep up on me.
It was easy to be friends with him back then. Our interests were similar (Quidditch, Quidditch and more Quidditch), plus his dad’s job meant I could wander around the Magpies’ stadium at my own leisure. Now, he has a massive head and I have a massive chip in my shoulder because people seem to like him more than me.
“Lottie?” Georgie emerges from behind a box bearing ‘biohazard’ warning symbols. Because that’s not worrying at all.
“Yeah?” I groan.
“Oh, quit with the sick act, you’re fooling no one.” She hurls a pair of socks at my head. “You have a gentleman caller at the window, just so you know.”
Her socks have cute owls on them. As discreetly as I can manage, I pocket them then shift my attention to the window – where a scowling Wood hovers on his broom.
Brilliant, because I wanted my headache complimented by a side of raging Scotsman.
Jack’s grim expression becomes more and more pronounced as I draw closer to the panes of glass, and it doesn’t improve when I throw open the window, especially when his shoulders seem to wedge in the frame.
“Getting fat, Wood?” I ask innocently, watching him shuffle his body through the narrow gap. The hiss of swearwords is like music to my slightly off-balance ears, and I don’t think I help the situation at all by just standing here, laughing.
I feel like I’m watching a Mastiff trying to fit through a cat-flap. Jack gives a very attractive grunt (I fake-swoon between laughing fits), and manages to angle his shoulder enough to allow him entrance to our humble abode. A very swift entrance too; he ends up sprawled on our floor with his broom poking out like a fifth limb.
At that choice moment, the door swings open. My roommates Marnie and Colette are on the threshold, peeking out from behind a raging Roxy – shit.
The three girls sweep their eyes in unison from me cackling, to Jack’s crumpled form on the floor, to Georgie and her bio-hazardous mystery box. Suddenly, I feel like some kind of Bond villain from the seventies, standing over the eponymous hero as he lies poisoned at my feet. Blood pooling out of his head would be a nice touch, but then again, that would probably be taking things too far.
“That’s what I was going to warn you about,” Jack groans, gesturing to the fuming Keeper as she balls her hands into fists and steps over the threshold.
How... considerate, I guess. But stupid, because now we’re both going to die.
“As one of the most senior members of the team,” Roxy spits, “you’re supposed to set a good example. Not disobey my orders.”
Jack grunts a ‘shut-up’ noise from his position as Human Rug, but it’s too late. Roxy’s stopped shaking, and I can feel the fury building up inside.
She steps closer, and brushes the post of my bed with her sensibly clipped – yet unfortunately sharp – nails. My throat gulps audibly against my will.
“I told you we were going to have a team meeting right after try-outs,” her voice is dangerously low and reminds me of Lily whenever she went head-to-head with an opposing captain. “You didn’t turn up, so we’ve had to cancel it and reschedule for tonight. Do you have any idea how that makes me look?”
The look she gives me could kill. Okay, maybe only a chipmunk or something equally as weak, but it’s bloody terrifying; I’m genuinely starting to fear for my life here.
“‘Flexible’ is not what I’m aiming for – I want order.”
My god, Roxy’s starting to sound like a dictator. The team is collectively fucked if this is how we’re going to be run until summer. Might as well start on the towering monuments she’ll want built in her honour: a statue in her own image erected in the Gryffindor common room, the members of other lesser Quidditch teams crushed beneath the soles of her giant, bronze feet.
“Rox,” says Jack, rising to his feet behind me. “Lottie’s not trying to cause trouble – neither am I. We respect your authority.”
Resent. Jack clearly got his words mixed up there; ‘resent’ is definitely the correct term to describe how I’m feeling right now. Kind of like when you end up baby-sitting someone’s demonic dog, and the little bugger doesn’t stop yapping for three hours straight. I don’t respect that it’s a dog’s right to bark non-stop if it wants, I resent that it seems so vocal. The only reason I don’t dropkick the little shit into next year is because I don’t have the power to do it without repercussions.
Roxy is my yapping dog – I must endure the barking if I want to stay on the team.
I’m also aware of how bad I am at analogies. Sorry about that.
Her fingers tighten on the bed post. A flicker of uncertainty and confusion crosses her face, but she brushes it off quicker than it appears. A cool mask of indifference goes on, and she fixes me with her cold glare. “Do you respect me then, Lottie?”
“Yes.” No, you’re just a power-mad pretender who’s wearing the badge I deserve.
She considers me silently. Superiorly.
I can actually feel my dignity draining out of my body, and collecting in a pool at my feet. Marnie and Colette are edging back down the stairs, already hating themselves for letting us have another team domestic in our room (last year, it served as the arena for mine and Lily’s epic showdown after I disqualified myself and Jack from the fight to become captain). Hell, even Jack looks embarrassed on my behalf.
Sweet humiliation, how quickly you find me again. It seems like just an hour ago, I was stripping in front of an international Quidditch pla- oh wait, that was an hour ago.
If someone could leave flowers on my pride’s grave, that would be awesome.
“Alright then,” Roxy sweeps her eyes over my tense stance, and briefly glances at Jack standing behind me. “Meeting’s rescheduled for half nine tonight, usual place.”
And she turns on her heel. My shoulders stay slightly rigid as I watch her disappear down the stairs, but it’s only the sound of Georgie giving a low whistle that breaks me from my reverie.
“Shit... someone’s on a power-trip,” she says, eyeing me and Jack warily as if Roxy’s insanity is infectious, and one of us is about join our captain’s madness. “Oh, and can I just ask – neither of you two are especially allergic to anthrax, are you?”
Suddenly, I wish that I’d kept the hazmat suit from King’s Halloween costume last year.
“And that is my cue to leave.” Jack straightens up, broom in hand and a concerned expression on his face as he eyes Georgie warily.
I hear her mumble something along the lines of ‘sealed box, no need to panic’, but Jack and I are almost over the threshold. We just escaped Roxy with our lives intact, there’s no need to tempt fate twice in one day.
Although I’m noticing that between my Bludger battering, plural captain attacks, and now the worrying chemicals that Georgie is apparently harbouring, the message that fate is actually trying to tell me is pretty clear.
Jack has to fly down the stairs so we don’t end up on Slide City, and I trail along on two legs, scowling because my broom is still at the pitch.
But before we can enter the common room, his feet touch the ground and I feel the warmth of a hand on my arm. “Wait,” he glances at the stairs we’ve just come down as if expecting to see a cloud of toxic smoke. “Have you spoken to Lily recently?”
He knows. I don’t know if he’s supposed to know, but he knows.
“So that’s a yes then?” The corner of his mouth quirks upwards, the vaguest hint of amusement tugging at his features.
I aim a kick at his shin. “No. That was a ‘she definitely didn’t attack me when I was on my way to the changing rooms half an hour ago’.”
“Right...” Jack falls silent as a couple of second year girls scoot past us on their way to their dormitory. “Well she didn’t ambush me at the pub a couple of nights ago, either.”
Shit, she’s really getting around at the moment – or not getting around, if you’re talking in mine and Jack’s oh-so cryptic terms. “So she didn’t warn you about a certain article?” I ask.
“Maybe. And my responsibility is definitely not ensuring you don’t do anything stupid.”
That’s when I make a squealing sound. An angry squealing sound, but nevertheless it causes Jack to wince, along with several hundred bats roosting around Hogwarts.
“Shut up,” I say, “Lily is just assuming I’m an uncontrollable wench these days. That’s unfair.”
His hand shoots out and ruffles my hair before I get a chance to duck out of the way. Damn his Chaser’s arms.
“You’ve always been an uncontrollable wench, Lennox.” And before I can reply with a casual ‘fuck off’, he’s disappeared up the stairs to boys’ dormitories. Great, now I have no verbal-sparring partner, a best friend who’s elbow-deep in dangerous chemicals, and the Weasley/Potter cousins from captaincy hell.
You know what, life? Fuck you too.
I’m still feeling angsty.
“Watch it!” cries a ballsy first-year as I nearly knock him over whilst stalking the corridors. There’s a stack of books in his arms, which totters to an unstable level about four inches above his head.
Flick. My wand twitches, and the books go careening down a nearby stairwell. Serves the little shit right for not respecting his elders.
The rest of my day had been average at best. Georgie retrieved me from the common room about twenty minutes after I left the dorm, saying that the anthrax scare was merely because she needed to hide my Christmas present, and couldn’t do it while I was in the room.
That still doesn’t explain the biohazard tape – unless that’s something to do with my gift, in which case I should probably dump it in concrete the moment she hands it over.
My meandering through the halls of Hogwarts has purpose though; the team meeting is in ten minutes, so I’m trying my best not to cruise in late and give Roxy a reason to publically execute me.
There’s a faint buzz in the back pocket of my jeans – probably a Weasley/Potter with some fresh threat on my life to deliver. I fish my phone out, and note with a pang of annoyance the five bars of signal I’m receiving despite being in the heart of Scotland’s wilderness. Bloody magic, I wish whoever managed to get these phones to work up here a painful death.
It’s Annette though, asking ‘How’s school going? Xx’
‘Fantastic. Roxy’s already gone insane x’
She’s a modern mum – and the fact that she has an irrational hatred of owls means texting is a much better alternative. Plus she has a thing about sending me pictures of the twins, as if I need help remembering the two junior-agents of Satan she produced six years ago.
Speaking of which, she replies with a nice photo of Kieran with his arm in plaster, and ‘Well at least she didn’t break your arm with bludgers xx’.
I plough through a group of fourth-year girls as I text back with ‘She tried. I was the target in beater trials :( x’. The unhappy face in a bit of an understatement, but there’s no appropriate emoticon for ‘seething with rage’.
Sometimes I wonder whether I’d have this kind of relationship with my actual mum if she were still alive – I always remember her as being one of those ‘cool’ adults who didn’t tell you off. I’d probably be a raging slut by now, and she’d be a drinker for sure. Annette is a more protective, maternal figure than Mum was. She doesn’t stand for my attitude when I’m being particularly foul, and I can’t say she’s ever been a fan of my sneaking back home after a night out with Georgie. Tom just shakes his head when I have a hangover, laughing and telling me that I’m too much like my mum for my own good.
‘Don’t provoke her xx’
Annette, don’t provoke me. I’m a teenager – I naturally have the opinion that I’m never wrong, and that Roxy was clearly at fault here.
I’m about to text back a lengthy explanation as to the whole story behind my new role as human bull’s-eye, but I realise I’m about to take the long route up to the team meeting; there’s a perfectly usable passage next to me, covered in tapestry.
My phone and wand clutched loosely in one hand, I lift the other and draw back the heavy material.
It’s dark and oddly warm back here, but as my eyes adjust to the light and the two figures silhouetted at the end of the passage, I immediately wish I’d stuck to the corridor.
The situation could be worse – they could be semi-clothed. Or completely naked. Although saying that, they’re hardly sharing a chaste peck on the lips at the moment. My body is screaming at me to quietly turn and head back out from under the tapestry, but a tiny spark of curiosity keeps me rooted to the spot. My eyes narrow, and I suddenly recognise the defined jaw line on the taller one of them.
Naturally, I feel a minor twinge of jealousy in my chest – this dark-haired girl had managed to ensnare Hogwarts’ newest (and most impressive) catch in under a week, reducing him to nothing more than a hormonally-charged boy who gets off with people in secret passages. But it’s not the fact that she’s snogging Ivanovitch that shocks me the most, it’s who she should be snogging instead that gets me.
Because wrapped around the Arrow’s new Keeper like a cobra, is none other the Slytherin captain’s girlfriend.
Lexie McLaggen has a lot of explaining to do.
RIGHTY HO! So McLaggen is McSlaggen-around behind her boyfriend’s back? Lovely girl, shame about the lack of morals though. I hope you didn’t get the urge to leave during the serious business with Mama Lennox, because that’s not exactly the most light-hearted shit in the world.
NEXT TIME: I’M SORRY! IT WILL BE BETTER! (Who am I kidding, of course it won’t...) BUT THERE’LL BE LIBRARIES, LAWS, AND KING'S GIRLY LITERATURE!
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