Chapter 4 : Curses and Cheers
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“Yeah, I almost 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 couldn’t help laughing. “It never ends, does it,” I said.
“Well, they’ve gotten much better since last year.”
“Really?” I asked. “I hadn’t noticed. It feels like every day they’ve got a new hex to practice on Slytherins. I personally think they’ve gotten worse since last year.”
“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, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’re a Marauder. You’re in on it all just as much as they are.” I laughed.
Remus rolled his eyes. “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, but I wasn’t too bothered. 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.
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 Calvin Mulciber and 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—” He trailed off, and coughed. Peter giggled, looking between Sirius and me eagerly. “Anyway, I’ve got things to do…” Sirius claimed.
“A bit more what?” I insisted. “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: Evan Rosier 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 Elliott stood right up against my table. He had a horrible sneer on his face; his two minions 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 in his hand, ready.
“Careful, Jasper,” I said icily. “No hexing in the library. Madam Pince is right there, you idiot, 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 sarcastically.
“So,” he said, drawing his wand, “Are you ready to be defeated? You’re going to learn, Hastings, that you do not try to humiliate me in public.”
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 Elliott laughing, and I was sure my face was red in fury. I looked at Evan and Regulus. Both were laughing now, and Evan had his hand in his pocket, as if he were about to pull out a wand. “What is this, three on one?” I exclaimed. “By the way I wasn’t trying to humiliate you. But were you embarrassed, Jasper? Poor baby. Well, news flash, it was the truth! You’re a coward!”
“No less than you, who’s afraid to duel with a fifth year.”
“There’s three of you! And I’m upside down in the air, that’s not fair!”
“Accio wand.” My wand flew out of my pocket and into Elliott’s outstretched hand. He turned to his friends. “Sounds like Pince is coming, let’s go.”
“Mobilicorpus,” said Evan, and I felt myself drifting out of the library, still floating upside down. They moved me into the hall outside the library. I was running through my options. I could scream, which would alert staff, but it would also attract more students. Bad idea. I couldn’t say “leave me alone” or anything, or Elliott would accuse me of being a coward. I couldn’t do much without a wand, either.
I felt myself falling, and I landed on the floor in a crumpled heap. Regulus and Evan were both sending curses at me now, and I was dancing uncontrollably, then slammed into the wall, then in the Body-Bind curse, and I couldn’t do anything about it. It was all I could do to hold in my tears. Now I was up in the air again; I heard laughter all around, and could see students approaching the entire time, from all the houses, watching the Slytherins fight. A couple of fourth-year Slytherins tried to break it up, but they were ignored.
But with an incredible stroke of luck, Lily Evans happened to turn the corner into the corridor at that precise second, and told Jasper in her most authoritative Prefect’s voice to let me down. She looked livid.
“I’m taking twenty points from Slytherin,” Lily said icily. I groaned inwardly from my place on the floor, hating 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 tripped over it. Some people laughed, Jasper hurried away cursing, and I put my head back down on the floor.
I didn’t hear any other students moving away, though. How was I ever going to leave with everyone watching? What would they say? I was mortified. I had just been defeated by a fifth-year, in front of the entire school.
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.
But now, this was different. There were a lot more people watching, and they didn’t leave. Some of them were whispering. I just wanted them to go away so I could avoid all humans for the next week.
“Are you okay, Hastings?” I heard Sirius’s voice, and felt a hand touch my shoulder. I shook it off forcefully. I looked up, and saw Sirius standing next to me, and around us remained a crowd of onlookers. I made the huge mistake of making eye contact with a few students in the front row, but I saw concern in their eyes. It was the first time a Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, or Ravenclaw had ever looked at me like that before. It was almost… sympathy. Was the stupid hostile rivalry between Slytherins and the other houses finally coming to an end?
I looked back at Sirius. “I’m fine,” I said as confidently as I could, and stood up, brushing the dust off my robes. Thankfully, people began to leave now that the action was over. Sirius was still standing there, scowling. “Why all the sudden concern for me?” I asked edgily.
“I’m not concerned,” said Sirius.
“Thanks, that makes me feel loads better,” I said sarcastically. “Your brother’s got some really lovely friends.”
Sirius was silent for a moment, and I thought the conversation was over. But then he asked me softly, “Does he 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 hints of caring he’d displayed a few minutes ago when I was on the floor was now gone, locked behind a mask of indifference. I didn’t really know what to say anymore, which was odd – I always 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.
Baffled, I turned around to see the remnants of what had once been a crowd. There were a few Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs standing there, and had clearly just been waiting to talk to me. A Hufflepuff boy, maybe third year, came up to me and said “Great job standing up to Jasper!”
A fifth year said, “Jasper’s a real bastard, way to bring him down after that. Literally.” There was some laughing.
“I—I didn’t!” I stuttered. I was so embarrassed. “What are you talking about? That was so embarrassing, and you’re all acting as if I just saved a puppy from a fire. Maybe you missed what was happening, but basically Elliott Jasper made me look like a loser, not a hero.”
“No one’s forgotten when you stood up for Liam when Jasper was bullying him,” a girl said. “You made Jasper look stupid then, so he sees you as a threat. It’s nice to know there are Slytherins speaking up for Muggle-borns. And anyone willing to stand up to Jasper is a friend of mine!”
“Er…” I couldn’t quite grasp her obscure logic. Maybe people thought that because Sirius, one of the most popular boys in the school, thought it was worth bothering to talk to me, I must be all right.
The girl smiled. “Basically what I’m trying to say is don’t let it get you down – we’ve all been there too.”
“Thanks,” I managed to say. This had been such a weird day. It started with disaster at almost being caught, elation upon the results of our prank, humiliation during Jasper’s one-sided fight, and now relief. I smiled at my fellow students congratulating me. “Really, thank you. I appreciate it,” I said, and headed back to the library.
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