Chapter 2 : Business as Usual
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“How’s your essay?” Mandy asked, as she lay on her bed eating Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.
“It’s rubbish,” I said. “I don’t know anything about Potions. Have you started yours?”
“Oh… um, I just finished.”
I sighed. “I can’t think anymore. I’ve been daydreaming for about ten minutes.”
“I saw,” she said with a smirk. “You were dribbling.”
I scowled at her.
“Need help?” she asked, and then walked over to my bed and picked up my discarded essay.
I watched her cross out some things on my essay, thankful my best friend was so good at Potions, my worst subject. Ever since our very first day at Hogwarts, Mandy and I had become remarkably close. We formed a tight friendship despite the awkward first train ride, and now we told each other everything, helped each other with homework, and got in trouble together. The two of us easily clicked due to how excitable both of us were, whereas Charlotte rarely displayed emotion other than cynicism; she was a rock who brought Mandy and me back down to earth when she thought we were being weird or improper. We all balanced each other out, my two best friends and I.
“So what were you thinking about earlier?” Mandy asked excitedly, as she set my quill down. “I bet you have a secret crush you’re not telling me about. That explains the drool.”
“No,” I said truthfully.
“Is it Sirius?” she asked, completely ignoring that I had said “no” to her previous question.
“If I said yes, you would probably kill me,” I teased.
“You didn’t say no… you’re avoiding my question…”
“No,” I admitted, and Mandy looked relieved. I laughed. “Honestly, I don’t know what you see in him, he’s such an arrogant git.”
Mandy was a wonderful person, but I wished she’d set her sights on someone a bit more realistic. Sirius had had a few girlfriends over the years, but nothing serious; he was more interested in pranks and mischief with his friends. He would certainly never go out with a Slytherin; he rarely even talked to us.
“So, is it Russell?” Mandy guessed, ignoring me. “Oh, I know. Severus Snape!”
“It’s no one, Mandy.”
Mandy sighed dramatically. “Boring,” she said. She looked down at her lap, and tugged at the hem of her skirt, then asked me, “Do you think my skirt is too short?”
I looked at it; it was far above her knee. “Yes,” I said.
“No need for your sass,” she said, scowling halfheartedly; clearly this hadn’t been the answer she wanted. “You’ll start to sound like Charlotte.”
“Hey, you asked my opinion, so I gave it.”
Mandy shrugged. “Well, I like it this way.”
I highly doubted that Mandy wearing her skirt shorter this year would finally make Sirius Black notice her, but I kept silent on that. “Time for Potions,” I said, reluctantly looking at my stack of papers on my bed that seemed to be waging war against me.
“It’s done, remember? Here, Transfiguration. We can work on this together.” She got a stack of parchment off her bedside table, and a quill and ink. “Turning a table into a tortoise… first we have to make sure we can do it, then we write about it.” She readily looked over at my nearby bedside table, but then seemed to think better of it as my table was covered in rubbish and my large collection of peculiar looking, colourful rocks, which would be a mess to clean up if we transfigured my table. Mandy flicked her wand and conjured a new table.
“I’ll try it,” I said. “Okay… um, I think it’s…this,” I waved my wand floppily, and we were immediately faced with a particularly vicious alligator.
“This will take a long time,” sighed Mandy, setting down her quill.
I looked at the alligator, which was currently attacking my slippers. “We should get rid of that.”
The next morning when I stumbled sleepily into Potions, I took my usual seat with Mandy and Charlotte, and were joined by Hector Branstone and Russell Rabnott, two of our fellow sixth year Slytherins. They seemed awake, as did most people in the class. “How did everyone finish their homework?” I asked Charlotte. “We’ve had tons this week! I really didn’t envision NEWT-level classes being this intense from the start.”
“Maybe you’d have finished earlier if you hadn’t been organising your rock collection,” said Charlotte.
“It was messy,” I mumbled.
“It’s okay, Mel, I didn’t even start my homework,” Hector admitted. His dark hair looked untidy and windswept above his brown face – he had probably just been playing Quidditch all weekend and never gotten around to studying. This was the hardest part of coming back to Hogwarts – over the summer we seemed to always forget how to study, and then classes were a rude awakening the first week back.
“At least we don’t have exams like the O.W.L.s this year,” Russell reminded me. “We’ll get through it.”
“And don’t forget Quidditch tryouts on Wednesday,” said Hector.
“Of course!” I said. I had tried out last year, but hadn’t made it onto the team; our captain, seventh-year Roger Simms, had a penchant for choosing his friends for the team rather than people with ability. But maybe this would be the year everything changed… I could only hope.
The class quieted down as the Potions master entered the room jovially. Professor Slughorn, a plump, short man with a walrus moustache, was one of the teachers I most disliked, as he tended to pick favorites who were either brilliant at his subject or knew important, famous people. He was also Head of Slytherin House; I often wondered why we didn’t get someone nicer.
“Right then, I’ll collect your essays on the Polyjuice Potion,” said Slughorn. “Miss Macintosh?”
“Um, three,” Mandy muttered. Some people laughed. “What?” she asked, raising her head. “Oh…”
Slughorn smiled and said, “Today we will be making the Draught of Living Death. You know what this is for, of course? Lily?”
She hadn’t even had her hand raised, but I knew Slughorn would call on either her or Snape – they were clearly his favourite students. “It is a very powerful potion that puts the drinker into a deep sleep,” she recited.
“Precisely; ten points to Gryffindor. Well, the ingredients are in the back cabinet, and instructions are in your book on page ten.”
Now that we were into N.E.W.T. level, all four Houses had all our classes together. So now the Gryffindors wouldn’t just be outshining us in Transfiguration, which we’d had with them last year – they’d be beating us in all classes. I worked hard at my potion, determined to win Slytherin some glory against Gryffindor for once.
There wasn’t any glory for Slytherin, though – at least not from me. My potion was blue and frothy and produced an odd humming sound, though it definitely wasn’t supposed to. At the end of class I began packing away my things, brushing my frizzy brown curls away from my face. My hair smelt like the potion now – really terrible, in fact.
Of course, Mandy had finished all of her homework by the time Quidditch tryouts began; I still had a stack of empty parchment the size of the Astronomy Tower. But I was going to be at the tryouts no matter what, going for the position of Beater, just like last year. When I had played games of Quidditch at home with my brother and his friends, they had always made me a Beater because none of them liked doing it. But I liked it, and Nathan had always said I was good at it. I wasn’t the strongest hitter, but I had great aim.
I convinced Mandy to try out with me, which she consented to do – although I had a feeling this was mainly because she wanted to ogle the boys rather than actually be on the team. So I grabbed my Cleansweep Five broomstick, Mandy got one of the new school brooms, and we spent an hour behind the castle practising: me hitting rocks with a stick in place of a Bludger and Beater’s bat, and her zooming off to catch the rocks (she was trying for Seeker). It went well, and I was briefly filled with hope of being on Slytherin’s team and perhaps even becoming Captain next year.
The first people to try out were the Chasers, and I was happy to see Hector keep his spot on the team. As he walked off the field, he pointed at me and then gave me two thumbs up, and I grinned back at him. The prospective Beaters were next, and three people other than myself were striving for the two Beater positions. Stephan Flint, a seventh year, was first, and he was good. Richard Nott and Edgar Bulstrode were all right, but they both missed quite a few Bludgers. I was last, and despite being under pressure, nervous, and trying to ignore Hector’s loud whistling from the stands, I thought I did rather well.
“Our new Beaters are Flint and Nott,” announced Simms with a sneer. I sighed and slunk off to sit next to Hector and watch the Seeker tryouts.
I paid little attention until Mandy got up there. She did remarkably well catching the Snitch amidst the Bludgers and Quaffle and the several other players that were flying around her, apart from one rather embarrassing moment when she actually stopped to blow a kiss at Andrew Derrick. Apart from that, I was proud of her, but Simms chose Warrington as Seeker instead.
After the unsuccessful tryouts I went back to poring over my immense piles of work in the common room. After what seemed like hours of writing, I practiced some nonverbal spells for Defense Against the Dark Arts, and then, rubbing my stiff shoulder, I came up with a plan. A small break for something fun would be refreshing, and then I might be more motivated to finish my work afterwards. A quick look at the clock on the wall informed me that there was just enough time before curfew.
I propositioned this idea to Mandy across the table – we could just take a walk around the castle and perhaps get some snacks from the kitchens. We would have to hurry lest we get a detention for sneaking around the castle after hours, but over the years we’d developed a list of the best corridors to use for things like this: ones with abundant statues or tapestries to hide behind in case we heard someone coming.
From the kitchens downstairs, we walked on up several staircases, and were nonchalantly prowling a seventh-floor corridor near a painting of a fat lady in a pink dress when we heard a sound in the empty hallway. Mandy grabbed my arm and we hid in an alcove, listening, until two other people materialised out of nowhere: James Potter and Sirius Black. We waited in shock as James quietly said a password to the portrait, which swung forward to reveal a hole in the wall.
“What on earth just happened?” Mandy whispered after the boys had disappeared behind the portrait.
“They must have an Invisibility Cloak,” I said. “Ugh, I’m so jealous.”
Mandy raised her eyebrows. “But now we know where their common room is… and the password.”
I grinned. We had a definite opportunity for retaliating mischief, something I had long wanted to do.
Not that the school needed any more mischief; James, Sirius, and their best friends Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew were Hogwarts’ lead troublemakers, infamous for their tricks played on the school, especially on Slytherins. But now we had a chance to get back at them. Mandy and I decided we wouldn’t let that chance pass by.
We hadn’t officially planned anything out, but two days later, when we went down to the Great Hall for breakfast, Mandy looked uncharacteristically smug. “What did you do?” I asked suspiciously. “Did you go over to Gryffindor Tower…?” I scanned the Gryffindor table. Nothing seemed odd, although Sirius wasn’t sitting by his girlfriend; in fact the latter was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly it dawned on me. “Did you play some sort of prank on Kristen? That wasn’t part of the plan! I thought we were only going to do something to the boys.”
The details were revealed at that moment, when a group of chattering girls came in, surrounding a girl with green hair, whose face was hidden in her hands. Mandy giggled and watched excitedly. Kristen walked to the Gryffindor table, where Sirius saw her hair and laughed. They got into an argument, and I noticed that Mandy was even more pleased. My guess was that Kristen thought Sirius had done it. In the end, Sirius’s hair had been turned purple and he was sitting next to her anyway.
Mandy’s gleeful smile dropped off her face, and I turned to her and said, “You were trying to make them break up! You’re horrible! She never did anything to you. Although I have to say that was pretty lame.”
After our first class that day, which was Transfiguration, Mandy and I came up with a delightful scheme to play a trick on those notorious pranksters James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter – after all, as I insisted, there was need to involve anyone but the idiots who pranked Slytherins.
So, late that night, after we had finished our work (however distractedly it was done), we snuck into the Gryffindor common room and hung Slytherin banners everywhere, then up into the boys’ dormitory and carefully Levitated all the beds up so they were touching the ceiling. Mandy cast another charm that would hold the beds up there until morning. They might figure out who had done it, but they couldn’t prove it.
The next day at breakfast, we found the Great Hall transformed into a barn with four long hay bales instead of tables. There appeared to be a cow munching on the Slytherin hay bale. So the Gryffindor boys had woken up early, and gotten away with something else… I just hoped they had all hit their heads on the ceiling when they woke up, and had trouble getting the beds down.
As our plan had obviously not made enough of an impression, Mandy, Charlotte, and I decided we needed to do much better. Over the next week we played some stealthy tricks on Gryffindor, perhaps equal in intensity to the pranks the Gryffindors always did on us. The best part was that no one else had figured out who was responsible for it. Hogwarts was constantly going to be subjected to mischief now, and already this week Filch, the caretaker, had been noticeably more grouchy than usual.
My arms were aching as Mandy, Charlotte, and I walked through the hall on our way to Charms some time later. I was carrying numerous books, each with unfinished homework crammed inside, and my bag was slung over my shoulder. As we turned left around a corner, I saw Elliott Jasper, a rather aggressive fifth-year Slytherin, pointing his wand at a cowering second-year Gryffindor. I made to keep walking, trying to stay out of a fight that was none of my business, but with my eyes on Jasper I tripped over Mandy’s foot, landing on my knees and dropping my books and bag with a loud, resounding THUD. Quills and ink bottles scattered from my bag.
After such a dramatic entrance, I could hardly just get up and continue walking, so I spoke up. “Leave him alone, Jasper,” I said, acting much braver than I felt. Then I stood up, feeling that this would look a lot better than trying to chastise Jasper from the floor where I’d been collecting everything I had dropped.
“Are you standing up for the Mudblood, Hastings?” he sneered. “In case you hadn’t noticed, you aren’t a prefect and this is none of your business. You can just leave, and pick up the stuff you dropped very gracefully over there.”
“I’m only standing up for what’s right, because unlike you, I have morals. So stop it.”
The Gryffindor kid edged away from Jasper, whose attention had diverted to me now. “Look who’s getting all high and mighty about defending what’s right,” said Jasper. “He’s a Mudblood, who cares? You think you’re too good for Slytherin. The truth is, we’re too good for you.” Behind me, I could hear the footsteps of other people arriving, and itched to keep walking before this turned into a fight or something.
“Oh, shut up, Jasper,” I said. His words hurt, but I didn’t show it – although now I wished I’d just kept my mouth shut, because I didn’t even know that Gryffindor kid. What was I doing? “Next time you’re planning to be nasty, pick on someone your own size. You’re three years older than he is and you’re almost a foot taller. That only proves you’re a coward.”
I knelt down to pick up my quills and ink bottles, which were still lying on the floor, and found myself face to face with James Potter and his three sidekicks. They were all looking down at me curiously. Peter seemed to be in awe of me, but his face just usually looked like that.
“What are you looking at?” I asked, flustered. I was still kneeling on the ground, collecting my books.
“Didn’t expect to see another display like that from you, Hastings,” said James with a mild look of surprise on his face.
I supposed James was referring to the time about a year ago when I’d hexed Calvin Mulciber in the corridor. He had been making some rude comments about half-bloods, and Mandy had been upset, as she was a half-blood. Mulciber’s arms were soon covered with angry boils, but unfortunately I hadn’t been as subtle as I thought; Professor McGonagall had walked out of a room just at that moment and had been none too impressed with me. Sirius and James had been impressed though – they were walking nearby, and had witnessed the whole thing. Maybe they just enjoyed the fact that a Slytherin got hexed and they hadn’t been the ones to get in trouble for it. Regardless, that was around the time they made a distinction in the Slytherins they hexed, and for the most part stopped making my life hell. They’d still never seek my company, but they started acting somewhat friendlier to me.
“I’m full of surprises,” I said expressionlessly. “Run along now, you don’t want people to think you’re willingly talking to a Slytherin.”
Sirius looked thoughtful and said, “I think it’s pretty clear now that you’re not a typical, foul, blood-purity-obsessed, nasty Slytherin.”
“Okay, congratulations, that only took you five years to realise,” I said. “And was that a compliment or an insult? I really can’t tell.” So maybe they were coming to see me in a different light now, but honestly all I wanted was for them to get out of my way so I could leave. I had a class to get to… the same class they had, in fact, although they seemed to be in no hurry.
“It didn’t take five years,” said Peter. “Only four. I’ll always treasure the memory of Mulciber’s face after you hexed him in front of McGonagall last year.” His face took on a dreamy quality, and I unintentionally let out a snort of laughter. Charlotte tugged on my arm, clearly having no desire to stay and talk to the Gryffindors.
I looked down again, and thrust my belongings haphazardly into my bag. “Well, I have to get to Charms,” I said quickly. I stood up and tried to leave, but I felt a hand grab my shoulder. “What,” I demanded.
It was Remus Lupin. He was holding out my copy of Advanced Potion-Making. “You dropped this.”
“I dropped a lot of stuff,” I said bluntly, probably the stupidest thing I could have said on the occasion, but I couldn’t think of anything else. I laughed in spite of myself.
Remus laughed. “You know, I’m sure Sirius really didn’t mean to offend you,” he said, handing me the book. I looked over at Sirius, and the expression on his face upon hearing Remus’s words indicated that he probably had meant to offend me. Remus continued, “I’m sure all of Gryffindor would thank you for defending a Gryffindor instead of going along with someone from your own house. It speaks a lot about you.”
“Well, thanks,” I said awkwardly. “I’ll keep that in mind next time you charm my scarf to turn into a boa constrictor.”
“I thought you liked snakes?” Peter asked innocently. “Don’t tell me you’d rather have a lion around your neck.”
“We could arrange that, if you want,” said James.
“Of course you would,” I said. “Well, I should get going.” I turned to leave and noticed Mandy lingering behind me and staring at Sirius, so I slung my arm through hers and we set off for class. Along the way, Charlotte supplied us with a lengthy treatise on who, in her opinion, were idiots; the list included Jasper, me, and all four of the Gryffindor boys.
By that evening, life had returned to normal, and the Gryffindors were back to largely ignoring us. At the end of the week, notice boards around the school featured announcements for the year’s first Hogsmeade weekend in the beginning of October.
Most Hogsmeade trips so far, Mandy, Charlotte and I had stayed as a group. Occasionally Mandy wasn’t with us because she’d have a date, and Charlotte and I would walk around on our own, but Mandy was single for the time being. But as we were eating dinner that night, Russell asked Mandy, and she agreed immediately.
As we were walking up to our dormitories afterwards, Mandy told me, “Sorry, Mel – looks like Charlotte and I have deserted you on this one. Are you going to ask anyone to Hogsmeade?”
“No,” I said. “Wait, Charlotte has a date? Maybe I’ll just hang out with Hector then.”
Mandy got a manic glint in her eyes that I disliked. “I’ll set you up with someone,” she suggested. “It’ll be great, I’m good with people.”
“Brilliant,” I said sardonically, as we pushed open the door to our dormitory. “And define ‘good with people’, because I’m certain that drooling and staring at Sirius Black doesn’t count—” I broke off with a shriek when she elbowed me in the ribs.
Charlotte was sitting on her bed writing a letter home, so I asked her, “Charlotte, are you going to Hogsmeade with anyone?”
“Yeah, with Andrew,” she said. My jaw dropped. This was a pretty amazing piece of news coming from the girl who usually told guys who asked her out that they should take a long walk off a short pier. Sweet girl, she was. But maybe she actually liked Andrew. Not that she’d ever tell us; Charlotte didn’t discuss feelings. “What about you?”
“Russell,” Mandy replied.
“I wasn’t asking you,” said Charlotte, “I already knew you’d have a boy wrapped around your finger by now.” Mandy rolled her eyes. Charlotte grinned and asked me, “What about you, Mel?”
“Nope. Looks like I’m going solo.”
Mandy grinned. “I’m going to find someone for her to go with.”
“No,” I interrupted, “I’m, well, I think I have to… shop for a new broomstick. I need a new one, you see. I’ll just go alone, I don’t need help deciding which one. Maybe I could get a new quill…”
“All day?” said Mandy, smirking. “Well, great, all you need is someone to shop with… you’ll find out.” She sat on Charlotte’s bed and the two of them began plotting in whispers and every once in a while glancing at me.
“Oh please,” I said, “Let’s talk about something else, something interesting? Slytherin versus Ravenclaw Quidditch match in two weeks, do you think we’ll win?”
“You’re not going alone.”
I was fighting a losing battle with my friends, so I decided to get ahead on my homework. It was an ill-fated goal; our other two roommates Alanna and Rachel returned shortly and provided ample distraction. Rachel started playing her tin whistle and I hummed along softly to “My Bonny Lass Disapparated Away” while I idly doodled on my parchment, until the noise got to be too much for the easily-stressed Alanna and she grumbled the whole way out of the dormitory as she returned to the common room to do her homework in peace. By this point, Mandy and Charlotte had apparently abandoned their idea of setting me up with a date, as Mandy was loudly extolling the many virtues of Russell, her date. Charlotte looked bored. My essay was now covered in drawings of birds, so I gave it up as a bad job and thought maybe I was done for the night.
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