Chapter 4 : Counterstroke
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“Yeah. Nearly did, though. So will we see your stuff tomorrow morning? Where will it be?”
“You’ll see,” he said. “You know, it actually took a lot of convincing to get the others to join, which I wasn’t expecting. I think they were just against having a friendly competition with Slytherins. But you know how they are with pranks, it’s like second nature; I think the opportunity to create a mess for the entire school won out after all.” He glanced off to the side. “Speaking of which, I should probably stop James and Sirius before they get too carried away.”
I looked over. Snape’s head was twice its normal size and his arms had grown feathers. I rolled my eyes. “It never ends, does it,” I said.
“Well, they’ve gotten much better since last year.”
“Have they?” I asked. “It feels like every day they’ve got a new hex to practice on Slytherins.”
“Well you know, they think it’s their calling in life to put Slytherins in their place.” He smiled apologetically.
“They just thrive on being the center of attention. And I don’t know why you’re saying ‘they’, because… well, don’t you four do everything as a group?” I laughed.
Remus smiled. “That’s true, but at least I talk to you. I keep telling James and Sirius you’re not that bad. I think they believe me, but they don’t let on about it because they just like hexing Slytherins.”
“Well that’s wonderful. I guess it’ll stop by the time we’ve left Hogwarts. Unless they decide to stalk us after Hogwarts?”
“You never know,” he said. I laughed.
Remus ended up just standing by as James and Sirius finished with Snape. I told them once to cut it out, but all three of them ignored me, so I just shrugged. It wasn’t like Snape didn’t deserve it; every other time I saw Snape, he was inventing some cruel spell to test out on the Gryffindors. Last year he’d even come up with one that cut James’s face like a sword.
This time, James and Sirius had the upper hand, until Snape cast two curses in quick succession. James dropped his wand and grabbed his wrist in pain; his entire arm looked red and burnt. Sirius fell to the floor, immobile. But they deserved it just as much as Snape did.
As Snape turned away, satisfied, he spied me standing next to Remus. “What are you doing with them?” he asked acidly, a cold look in his dark eyes, like black holes. His eyes darted between me and Remus, and I could feel the last of our bonds of friendship fading away.
“No – I’m just…” I didn’t know what to say, and stopped. I was treading on thin ice, and if I said the wrong thing I’d offend either an old friend or a new potential friend.
“She’s just standing here,” said Remus when I faltered. “I was asking her about Transfiguration. I assume she doesn’t need your permission for that?”
Snape’s lip curled. As James and Sirius stood up, Snape pulled out his wand again, but then he looked up at something down the hall, sighed, and put his wand away. He gave us all one more menacing look before he slunk off with Lester Avery, Charlotte’s brother, just as Professor McGonagall walked by. Snape wouldn’t dare jinx a fellow student in front of a teacher, particularly one as unforgiving as her.
The action now over, Sirius turned to face me. “So I hear you went on a date with Remus here,” he said, a very calculating expression on his haughty features, as if he were trying to assess whether I was good enough for his friend. I would normally have been content to walk off without talking to him, but he was regarding me in a way that felt like a challenge, like he was daring me to argue.
“It wasn’t a date,” I pointed out. “Anyway, it was your idea, if I heard correctly. Didn’t know you were a matchmaker as well as a troublemaker.”
Sirius raised his eyebrows. “I made no matches. There were loads of girls there, I thought he’d have the sense to pick someone a bit more pleasant.” He shook his head, and Peter’s eyes widened as he looked between Sirius and me expectantly.
“What does that mean?” I insisted. “I’m not an unpleasant person. You mean you were expecting a Gryffindor, and you’re disappointed that he became friends with a Slytherin instead.”
“Calm down,” said Remus, putting his hands up between us. “This isn’t worth fighting about.”
“No,” I agreed, looking down at my feet again. “Thanks Remus, I’ll see you later, I’m going to the library.”
I walked to the library to get some work done. I sat down at an empty table and spread my books and parchment out in front of me. I had barely been working five minutes when I heard someone approach my table. It was Elliott Jasper, and with him were two other fifth-year Slytherins who spent a lot of time with him: Darian Wilkes and Regulus Black.
Regulus was Sirius’s brother. The two of them looked very similar, but they could not have been more different people. They acted like they didn’t know each other. And while Sirius was the charming, rebellious Gryffindor, Regulus was as Slytherin as you could be. Apparently the only thing they had in common was that they both disliked me. So now that I’d just had a quarrel with one Black, along came another to ruin my day. I tried to go back to working, but Jasper stood right up against my table, his face twisted by a slight frown, while the two others just looked bored.
“What, Jasper?” I demanded. “Can’t you see I’m working?”
“You can… take a break,” he said slowly, still smirking. “You’ve obviously been working so hard.” Behind his crossed arms, I could see his wand ready in his hand.
“Careful,” I said icily. “No hexing in the library. Madam Pince is right there, so whatever you’re thinking is stupid. You’ll lose points for Slytherin.”
“She’s currently dealing with an escaped book from the Restricted Section.”
“And I suppose you had nothing to do with that,” I said.
Jasper shrugged. "You suppose wrong,” he said. At least he was honest.
Just as I was wondering if they were going to do anything, I suddenly found myself helplessly hanging upside down in the air by one foot. I hurriedly pinned my arms to my sides so my robes wouldn’t fly over my head. I could hear Jasper laughing, and I was sure my face was red in fury. I looked at Wilkes and Regulus. Both were laughing now, and Wilkes had his hand in his pocket, as if he were about to pull out a wand. “What is this, three on one?” I exclaimed. “That’s not fair! Why are you doing this?”
"Because your interference on behalf of Mudbloods two weeks ago made me look stupid," said Jasper. He let me down, though it seemed like the action was more out of boredom than anything, and I began to put away my parchment and ink. When I saw Calvin Mulciber approach and stand alongside Jasper, appreciating his spellwork, I hurried faster - Jasper wasn't nice, but he wasn't dangerous like Mulciber. I shoved my books back in my bag as they all stood there watching me like vultures, and then I sped out of the library. Footsteps behind me indicated that they were following.
“You should watch yourself,” said Jasper evenly, once we were outside the library doors, and I realised that I’d probably been better off inside the library. “You don’t want people to think you’re a blood traitor.”
I snorted. “I can’t be a blood traitor if I’m not even a pureblood, can—” I stopped, gasping, when there came an immense pressure on my right elbow, as if it were being twisted, and I grabbed it with my left hand. Nothing looked physically wrong with it – and then I noticed Mulciber pointing his wand at me. Tears sprang to my eyes as the pain intensified in my arm; it felt like it was breaking. “S – stop,” I gasped finally. Wilkes laughed, and Jasper and Regulus just watched with interest as Mulciber demonstrated his newest spell to them.
But with an incredible stroke of luck, Lily Evans and Sirius Black happened to turn the corner into the corridor at that precise second, and, seizing the opportunity, I cried out through gritted teeth, “Hi, Lily! Good afternoon!”
She glanced over at me where I stood holding my arm and grimacing, and at my four housemates surrounding me, then told Mulciber and the others in her most authoritative Prefect’s voice to desist their behaviour at once. She looked livid. And finally the pain went away as suddenly as it had come; I sunk down to sit on the floor, leaning against the wall.
“I’m taking twenty points from Slytherin,” Lily said icily. I groaned inwardly from my place on the floor, hating Mulciber and Jasper. Slytherin was my house too! “And I will be speaking to your Head of House about a detention.”
As they turned to leave, I stuck my foot out suddenly and Jasper stumbled over it. It wasn’t much, but it certainly made me feel better. But when I glanced up again, I noticed that a small crowd had accumulated. I stood up quickly, then made a business of tidying my bag while avoiding all the eyes around me.
It wasn’t unheard of for me to get into a fight in the corridor. A couple of years ago I’d fought with Archie Summerby, a Hufflepuff who was two years ahead of me. Hufflepuffs generally didn’t get into fights, but he was a gentleman about it; he apologised to me immediately afterwards, and I, caught off guard, had then apologised as well. Somehow, we’d become friends after that, and I’d been quite sorry to see him leave last year when he graduated.
No one had been hurt in my fight with Archie; it was loud and spirited and then suddenly over, with no hard feelings. But this was different, now; it had hardly been a fight at all, and I was left feeling small and weak. Not to mention the fact that there were actually quite a few people whispering around me.
“Are you okay, Hastings?” I heard a girl’s voice, and looked to see the Head Girl, Hufflepuff Claudia Quirke, standing beside me, her brown eyes wide. “I saw what happened, I came into the corridor just after Lily,” she said. “You’re brave to stand up to Mulciber like that.”
I shrugged, brushing the dust off my robes and rather disliking the attention. “I’m all right. Thanks.” I offered her a smile.
“You’re pretty cool for a Slytherin,” she said. “Archie Summerby used to talk about you.”
“Hopefully he said good things,” I said, with a hint of laughter.
“Of course,” she promised, grinning. “Hufflepuffs only say good things.” She paused, then to my utter surprise, gave me a hug. “Stay strong. I’ll be keeping an eye on Mulciber this year.” And she walked off down the corridor with a parting smile, leaving me feeling rather better.
Hufflepuffs were a great crowd – always there with a smile. I was going to miss Archie this year; he was the one who had showed me the secret of where the Hogwarts kitchens were (right next to the common room of those lucky Hufflepuffs), and I would always treasure those occasional evenings sitting in the round, cosy Hufflepuff common room where he’d strum on his guitar and I’d sing, often along with a few others, and no one cared in the slightest about House divisions. He’d taught me Muggle folk songs, and I’d taught him some Hobgoblins songs. Now he was off doing something cool – travelling the world, perhaps.
I turned to walk the other direction, and was startled to see Sirius standing there; I couldn’t fathom why he was still there. I’d have expected Sirius to dash off to meet his mates long before this. “Er… Black? Do you need something?”
He looked briefly down the corridor again before asking me, “You sure you’re all right? You’re not hurt or anything?”
Nodding, I replied, “I’m fine, yeah. But why all the sudden concern for my well-being?”
“I’m not concerned,” said Sirius. “Well, not about you, anyway.”
“Good, thanks, that makes me feel loads better,” I said sarcastically.
Sirius was silent for a moment, and I thought the conversation was over. But then he asked me softly, “Does Regulus do that a lot?”
I rolled my eyes. “Why don’t you ask him yourself? He’s your brother.”
Sirius’s forehead creased slightly into a frown, and his grey eyes looked stony. I sighed. “He doesn’t usually,” I said, relenting. “At least he never starts anything. He just goes along with whatever Jasper’s doing.”
Again, Sirius remained silent, just watching me critically. Any hint of caring he’d displayed a few seconds ago when he’d approached me was now gone, locked behind a mask of indifference. I didn’t really know what to say anymore, which was odd – I usually had something to say about everything. But Sirius suddenly stepped back, as if he thought he was standing too close to me. “I’m sorry they did that,” he muttered, and then walked off down the corridor.
“Thanks, Sirius,” I said gently, though I wasn’t entirely sure what I was thanking him for. Perhaps Claudia’s geniality had rubbed off on me. And so finally, I left the corridor, musing on what an odd day it had been; everything from disaster at almost being caught, to elation upon the results of our prank, to intimidation from Jasper, to appreciation of my other classmates. Thank goodness every day wasn’t such a bumpy ride.
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