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. Mandy had once described me as fiery, and she was a very excitable person, so we easily clicked. 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. She tended to have more Slytherin views than we did, but that never stopped the three of us being best friends.
“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.”
I had had a grand total of three hours sleep last night, when I stumbled into Potions the next morning, taking my usual seat with Mandy and Charlotte. We were joined by Hector Branstone and Russell Thatcher, 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!”
“Still as efficient as usual about getting things done, I see,” she said. “Maybe you’d have finished earlier if you hadn’t been organising your rock collection.”
“Don’t even go there,” I mumbled.
“It’s okay, Mel, I didn’t even start my homework,” Hector admitted. His brown hair looked messy and windswept – 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.
“You did fine last year,” Russell told me. “And that was even with O.W.L.s. None of that this year – so you’ll live. It’s just getting used to the first week that’s hard.”
“And don’t forget Quidditch tryouts on Wednesday,” Hector reminded me.
“Of course!” I said. I had tried out last year, but they hadn’t let me on. It seemed that our Captain, seventh-year Roger Simms, only wanted his friends on the team rather than people with ability. 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, though it definitely wasn’t supposed to be. At the end of class I began packing away my things, brushing my frizzy brown curls 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 the size of the Astronomy Tower. But I was going to be at the tryouts no matter what. I was going to go 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.
Tonight was not one of those times. I was behind the castle practicing for the tryouts, but I was exhausted from lack of sleep, and kept hitting the rocks I was using as Bludgers off in random directions. Mandy passed by at one point, and teased, “You have to do better than that if you want to be Captain next year…” She knew I had always been hoping to make it on the team, and become Captain next year so I could make a difference in the horrible way the team was led. So far, it wasn’t looking like that was possible.
“Oh shut up,” I snapped. “Watch out, I might hit a Bludger at you.”
After dinner I couldn’t concentrate on anything until the tryouts began. Half an hour before they were scheduled to start I walked down to the pitch with my Cleansweep Five broomstick, Mandy following with one of the school’s old brooms. We practiced with the actual Bludgers and bats, which were down on the field with Simms already, and I soon felt ready to go.
After the new team members had been chosen for the three Chaser positions, it had started to get dark, and the last two tryouts remaining were Beaters and Seeker. Three people other than myself were striving for the two Beater positions. Stephan Flint, a seventh year, was first, and he was good. But then came fifth years Richard Nott and Edgar Bulstrode, and I personally thought their existence was an embarrassment to Slytherin House.
I was next. I hit the Bludgers exactly where I wanted them to go, and it thrilled me to know that I could still perform well despite being tired and nervous. I knew I had done better than Nott and Bulstrode, but whether or not Simms would do anything about it was a different story.
“Our new Beaters are Flint and Nott,” announced Simms with a sneer. “Seekers come on down.”
I watched the Seeker tryouts with little interest 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. I was proud of her, and thought that if Simms chose Bernard Warrington instead of Mandy, then he was an idiot. Of course, I already knew he was an idiot, but I could still hope, right?
“Warrington’s our new Seeker, everyone!” Idiot. I rolled my eyes, and when Mandy came back I told her she had done a good job despite what Simms said. Warrington’s tryout had been rubbish, but Simms failed to see that. But at least we had tried.
After the failed 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, but was unable to do much. I slumped onto the floor, parchment flying everywhere, and scooted over to the fire. How would I get through all of this?
I heard a sound behind me, but when I turned around there was nothing. Suddenly Mandy materialized out of her Invisibility Cloak, smiling. “You look tired. Want to go take a break?” Mandy had had her Invisibility Cloak ever since I could remember. Frequently we would make night-time voyages through the castle, whether to the kitchens, or just taking a walk outside to get our minds off stress.
“I was about to die,” I said. “Of course I do!”
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 ran into something else invisible. Our invisibility cloak slipped and revealed my head, and Mandy ended up sprawled on her back on the floor. I gasped as I discovered that in front of us were the heads of James Potter and Sirius Black, both of them looking shocked and noticeably shifty-eyed. Apparently, one of them had a cloak as well, and we had bumped right into them. Upon recognizing these two, Mandy promptly said “Hi” very loudly, blushed, stood up, and forcefully pulled our cloak over us again. Then, rather awkwardly, we both continued our separate ways.
James must have thought we were gone, because we heard him quietly say a password to the portrait, which swung forward to reveal a hole in the wall. Now we knew the location and the password to Gryffindor’s common room! This was 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 a very close group known as the Marauders. They 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. “Kristen isn’t there. You were playing tricks on her, weren’t you? I thought we were only going to do something to the Marauders. Oh no, what did you do to her?”
She didn’t need to respond. At that moment, 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.”
Classes seemed incredibly long that day. In our first class, Transfiguration, Mandy and I came up with a delightful scheme to play a trick on the Marauders. I convinced Mandy that we had no need to prank anyone but the idiots who pranked Slytherins. During class we formed a plan, and every class seemed to last forever as we waited with anticipation for the night.
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 till 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 Great Barn with four long hay bales instead of tables. There appeared to be a cow munching on the Slytherin hay bale. So the Marauders 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.
Mandy and I decided we needed to do much better. This obviously had not made enough of an impression. During the day, Mandy, Charlotte and decided to form our own group: the Anti-Marauders. We discussed our ideas secretly until late in the night.
Over the next week we showed what we could do. Our pranks equaled the intensity of the Marauders’, only with Gryffindor as the target of our pranks. And, nobody had yet caught the devious culprits. Hogwarts was constantly going to be subjected to mischief now, and already this week Filch, the caretaker, had been noticeably more grouchy.
My arms were aching as Mandy 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. We came up to a corner and as we turned left, 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. Looking up, I was startled to see a few students surrounding two boys in the center. Everyone turned to look at me.
I was about to run away, mortified, when I noticed again the students in the center. Elliott Jasper, a fifth-year Slytherin who was always picking on younger students, was now pointing his wand at a cowering second-year Gryffindor. This happened quite often, and I hated it, because it reminded me of my father when he got angry at me for being a disappointment. Usually I tried to stay out of fights that weren’t my business, but thanks to my smart mouth I’d sometimes find myself involved anyway. This time, I’d already made such an entrance that people were staring at me, and then the kid looked at me too, pleading silently for help with wide, terrified eyes.
My embarrassment was replaced with anger when I saw Jasper threatening that kid. “Leave him alone, Jasper,” I said loudly, 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.” I could hear the horrible empty silence of the crowd surrounding us, and the footsteps of even more observers arriving.
“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 the Marauders. 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 realize,” 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. Although, they had the same class, but 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.
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.
By that evening, life had returned to normal. People had stopped talking about that episode in the hallway, the Marauders were back to largely ignoring us, and the rest of the week passed by as usual, except for the announcement of an upcoming event. Posted on boards around the school were notices declaring 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, I told Mandy, “Finally! You better not keep talking about Sirius now.”
“I won’t,” she said. “What makes you think I like Sirius? Oh, it’s going to be so different this time! It’s always been you, me, and Charlotte together.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll have a great time!” I said. “And guess what, only a week after that trip, is the first Quidditch match! Slytherin versus Ravenclaw!”
“So who are you going to Hogsmeade with?”
“What? Er…” There was no way I was going with a date. “Myself?”
“No, you can’t do that. Since you can’t go with me and Charlotte… wait, does she have a date?”
“Ask her,” I said, dreading whatever horrible scheme Mandy was planning. When she got that glint in her eyes, nothing would turn out well.
“If she doesn’t you can go with her; if she does, I’ll set you up with someone.”
“Oh wonderful,” I said sardonically, as we pushed open the door to our dormitory.
“Stop that, you’ll have a great time. I’ll make sure it’s someone you’ll like, I know I can. I’m good with people.”
I snorted. “Most people,” I corrected. “I don’t think drooling and staring counts as—ow!” She hit me with her elbow.
“Hey, I do not… You go on like that and I’ll tell the world you have a crush on Professor Alvers.”
“Eww!” I exclaimed, laughing. “I don’t think you could have picked a more revolting person! Well, no one would believe you, anyway.” Professor Alvers was our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher; we got a new one every year for some reason. Alvers was short and had thick eyebrows, and his round head was mostly bald, but the hair he did have was long and straggly. He also didn’t seem to know his subject very well.
Mandy turned to Charlotte, who was sitting on her bed writing a letter home. “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.”
“Did I hear something about Professor Alvers?” she asked, fighting back giggles. I threw a pillow at her.
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 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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