Chapter 11 : Mandy's Lonely Hearts Club Band
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“Really?” I asked. “When? They were still together a few days ago, at the dance.”
“About ten minutes ago.”
“Ten minutes??” I laughed. She knew the latest gossip before it even happened. It was like she had a sixth sense for it. “Charlotte, you know that when you’re old, you’re going to be one of those nosy, completely mental old ladies who spies on her neighbors with binoculars?”
She grinned. “Maybe I’ll just be so great at Divination, I’ll be a Seer and I’ll know what my neighbors are doing without having to spy on them.”
“Right, you’ll just sit in your rocking chair and crochet sweaters for your eleven cats, and occasionally stare into a crystal ball to interpret your neighbors’ future. You take stalking to a whole new level, but in a very subtle way. Well, your life will be great. I’m jealous.”
“Brilliant,” she replied. “I’ve always dreamed of having such an interesting life. Too bad you won’t be so lucky, you’ll be sitting around all day staring at plants and trying to understand their feelings, or whatever it is about Herbology that you like.”
I laughed. “Maybe just in my spare time,” I said. “Actually, in terms of a job, I’ve been thinking I want to do something in research, like how magic works.”
“That sounds complicated,” she said. “But let’s not talk about jobs and stuff yet, it’s depressing. Even after career advice last year, I still have no idea.”
“Well that’s because Slughorn was in charge of us, of course he wasn’t any help.” Things like last year’s career advice sessions made me wish I was in Gryffindor, because their Head of House, Professor McGonagall, would have helped me infinitely more than Slughorn. She may lack a sense of humour and be crazy about discipline, but she was brilliant and would know how to guide a fifteen-year-old through the mess of career options. Unfortunately, I had been stuck at a table listening to Slughorn prattle on about how his second cousin’s neighbor’s ex-wife played for the Caerphilly Catapults. Granted, they were my favourite Quidditch team, but I didn’t care who Slughorn knew. That wouldn’t help me with my future.
“Ugh, tell me about it,” Charlotte said darkly. “He offered me some food and asked me if I was related to Vincent Avery, who invented a hair-thickening potion and some jinx that makes you cross-eyed if you hear someone say ‘kneazle.’ I told him I wasn’t, because I’m not – how embarrassing would that be, he sounds like a complete nutter – and then Slughorn said ‘oh, that’s a shame’ and talked about someone he knew who invented a potion in our textbook. The only advice he gave was that he had connections if I wanted to be a Healer. Can you imagine me, a Healer?” She snorted.
“So useful, I know,” I said. “It is difficult to decide though; too many things sound interesting. Curse-breaker, tropical herbologist… or there’s always cat lady.” I grinned.
“I wish that was a real career,” she mused. “Anyway, what were we talking about before? Oh yeah… let’s not tell Mandy about Sirius and give ourselves a little peace and quiet until she finds out herself.”
“Tell me what about Sirius? What am I finding out?” asked a voice from behind us. Mandy had chosen that moment to join us. She sat down next to Charlotte, grabbed a sandwich and took a huge bite. Charlotte rolled her eyes. I shoveled food into my mouth so I wouldn’t have to be the one to tell Mandy.
“Er, Sirius and Kristen broke up…” Charlotte finally said. I guess she knew it was pointless to keep it from her; it wouldn’t have lasted long.
Mandy’s eyebrows shot up. “Rrrulllly?” she asked through a mouthful of sandwich. She swallowed, and said rather quickly, “No, I don’t mean it that way, I promise.” She coughed. “What are you laughing at?”
I started eating my green beans again. Charlotte kicked me under the table and said, “Oh, nothing.” Mandy raised one eyebrow. Then she turned to face me with the same expression, as if demanding an answer.
“How’s Russell?” I asked with a smirk.
“All right,” said Mandy seriously, with far less enthusiasm than usual. She and looked down the table at Russell, who waved at us. Mandy smiled back at him, then turned to face her food again and sighed. “But, well, I’m not sure how much longer it’s going to last.”
Charlotte snorted. “I hope this idea of yours isn’t just because of… recent events concerning certain Gryffindors.”
“It isn’t,” Mandy said. “Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not really into Sirius anymore. Anyway, Russell and I have been like this for a little while.”
And indeed, two days later, Charlotte informed me that she had overheard bits of a discussion between Mandy and Russell in the common room earlier in the afternoon, so we decided that as her best friends it was our duty to find out what had happened. We went up to the dormitory, and found her sitting on her bed with the hangings open, a mess of tiny beads and wires spread out before her. She held up a completed earring. “Check this out,” she said. “I just made it.”
“It’s gorgeous,” I said. “I love it. If you ever find the pair of them missing, it’s because I stole them.”
“I’ll put charms on them so they only look good in my ears,” she asserted.
I grinned, and then asked her what Charlotte and I had actually come to ask. “Everything all right?”
She looked at both of us, then back at her beads. “Russell and I broke up.” Charlotte and I glanced at each other. Given what Mandy had said earlier, we had thought it might be something like that.
“Are you okay?” Charlotte asked. I could tell she really wanted to ask if it had anything to do with Sirius, but she didn’t mention it.
“Yeah… I think we’re both better off this way, anyway. It was easier when we were just friends. We’re going to stay friends.”
“That’s good. How is he dealing with it?” I asked.
“Pretty well I imagine, he broke up with me, not the other way around. And there was no fight or anything. We just…” She shrugged. “He’s interested in blokes, actually. But I don’t think he wants everyone at school to know that, so don’t go repeating it.”
“Oh, okay,” I said, musing that it sort of explained some things about Russell. Regardless, though I was rubbish about revealing my own secrets, this was far more important as I could end up hurting a friend. I hoped I could keep my promise.
Charlotte nodded as well, but then her inner gossip lover surfaced. “You know, Mel and I had been thinking you broke up with him because you heard that Sirius was single. But we weren’t going to mention it.”
“Charlotte!” I said, laughing and slapping her arm.
Mandy started laughing as well. “No! What does it take to convince you two?”
“It is a sad time for relationships though,” said Charlotte. “Two breakups within two days. You and Russell and Sirius and Kristen could form ‘Mandy’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ and pine about your losses together,” she teased.
Charlotte’s snark went right over Mandy’s head, as Mandy cried, “Ha! Mel, did you catch that? We finally did it, we’ve converted Charlotte to liking the Beatles.”
I grinned. Mandy’s and my mutual love for the Beatles had been one of the first things we’d realised we had in common back in first year, as she came from a part Muggle background, and I was from a small town near Liverpool. We had wanted Charlotte to understand what it was all about, and rather enjoyed the challenge of getting a pureblood to appreciate Muggle music.
“I didn’t say I liked them,” said Charlotte sniffily.
Classes started back up again shortly, which was nice as the castle was beginning to seem empty when some people had gone home following the Yule Ball. It was especially exciting because there was a sign on the notice board in our common room stating that Apparition lessons would be starting in February for anyone who would be seventeen by the 31st of August. All the sixth years were thrilled – I personally had been looking forward to it ever since Nathan started showing off at home the summer after he took his test by Apparating near me all the time to startle me.
This great start to the term was better still when a fresh layer of snow fell during the first week, so of course snowball fights raged all over the grounds and snowmen were everywhere. Mandy, Charlotte, Alanna, and I were building a snowman that weekend when we were interrupted by enormous snowballs being pelted at us from afar, by magic – there was no way anyone could throw a snowball that large. It seemed to be several people doing this; I saw more snowballs of the same size over by the lake, attacking Edgar Bulstrode and another fifth-year Slytherin, who were charming a snowman to walk like a zombie.
Suddenly, a large snowbank near us formed into a lion, which roared and jumped at us. I instantly knew who must be doing this – and sure enough, I spotted Remus and Sirius behind a tree, in a fit of laughter as I ducked from the lion leaping around. Then the lion fell apart, turning back into a pile of snow, which collapsed on top of me. As I struggled out of the snow pile, Remus and Sirius got up and left, still laughing.
Charlotte drew out her wand and created a snow serpent that chased after them, and once I had freed myself from the heap of snow, I ran after them as well. I caught up and grabbed my wand, pointed it at a nearby tree, and cried, “Mobiliarbus!” Since the tree was firmly planted there and couldn’t move, as a potted plant would have done, the top of the tree simply rocked back and forth and showered Remus and Sirius with snow.
After a moment I heard Remus’s voice say, “Merlin, you certainly have it in for us. We were just peacefully enjoying the snowy day and you had to come by and dump snow on us.”
“Well you know, we were just peacefully building a snowman, when you attacked me with a snow lion…”
“Don’t take it personally,” said Sirius. “It wasn’t just you, we were throwing snowballs at all Slytherins we found.”
“Oh thanks, that makes it so much better.”
Just then Mandy came running up to us, closely followed by Charlotte, Alanna, and the snowman, which they had turned into a snow troll in my absence. All of them were carrying snowballs. “Snowball fight!” cried Mandy, and unleashed her armada of snowballs. People from other houses showed up out of nowhere to join in, and it was a blast.
At one point, when it had seemed the snow fight was calming down a bit, someone behind me grabbed the back of my coat and stuffed snow in. I gasped as I felt the freezing snow on my neck and in my coat, and turned around to see Sirius beside himself with laughter. I ran at him and pushed him down in the snow, but he grabbed on to me as he fell and pulled me into the snow as well. We rolled over in the snow a couple times, and I ended up lying on my back, and Sirius was on top of me.
“Get off me!” I said, and I squirmed to push him away but he had already got up quickly, looking rather embarrassed – a rare expression for him.
I started to laugh. “Are you blushing?” I asked incredulously as I sat up. For once it seemed it was me who had him in the awkward situation rather than the other way around.
But it didn’t last long; if he had blushed at all he recovered quickly and responded, “Oh yes, Hastings. It’s because I’m madly in love with you. The cold has nothing to do with it.” Then he shook the snow out of his shaggy dark hair like a dog shaking off water. And now it was my turn to be embarrassed again.
Sirius stood up and offered me a hand, but I scowled and got up by myself. “Turning me down when I just confessed my love for you?” he teased. “I’m so hurt.”
“Well, life’s tough,” I said, stooping to grab a large handful of snow and then dumping it on him.
“Careful, Melanie,” he said, grinning. “I know your weakness now.”
So I burrowed my head further down into my scarf and cloak like a turtle, so as to protect my neck from any more snow. But it didn’t last long; he proposed a truce hug and I fell for it, receiving another icy shock, and then we were back to hug-tackling each other with snow, laughing and shrieking, and finished the snowball fight far more soaked and exhausted than anyone else. We all walked up to the castle arm-in-arm, part of a big group of Gryffindors and Slytherins together, with a few random Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws. Upon returning to the castle, we passed by James in the corridor, hand in hand with Vivian Bell, and he waved at us.
After our snowball fighters had disbanded and gone to our separate houses, I came across Mark, the first-year whose quill I had borrowed before Christmas, in the common room again. He was in a chair by the fireplace; he and a couple of other first-years were all bent over a thick book I recognised as A History of Magic, one of my least favourite books in the world. I ran up to my dormitory, threw my coat and gloves onto my bed, and found Mark’s quill on my bedside table next to the autographed parchment.
“Here’s your quill,” I said when I brought it back down to him. “I’m sorry it took forever for me to get it back to you.”
“That’s okay,” he mumbled, taking back the quill.
“Aren’t you the girl who loves Mudbloods?” a dark-haired girl next to him asked suddenly. “Elliott Jasper said so.”
“Hmm,” I said evasively. “Well, we’re not the best of friends, I don’t know what he’s said about me behind my back. But I don’t have a problem with Muggle-borns.”
The girl scowled. Mark looked back at his textbook, and then at the blank piece of parchment in his other hand. “Hey, do you know anything about goblin rebellions?” he asked hopefully.
“There was one in 1613,” I said uncertainly. I had never paid attention in History of Magic, mostly due to the fact that the professor could make even the most attentive student fall asleep with his boring lectures. I had been so glad to drop the class last year. “No… maybe it was 1712? I’d love to help, but I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I nearly failed my History of Magic O.W.L.”
He turned back to his textbook and blank parchment with a groan. “I’m going to fail the class before I even make it to O.W.L.s,” he said.
“No one does well in that class, you’re not the only one. Don’t worry, you’ll never need to know any of that information again anyway. Just write really big and you won’t have to write as much.”
“That’s not helpful,” said the dark-haired girl with a patronising look.
“Yeah… Sorry I’m not much help. If you ever have trouble with Charms though, I’d be glad to help.” I took out my wand and demonstrated by practicing a little of what I had just learned in Charms this week, sending a perfect fountain of water at the back of Elliott Jasper’s head. He turned around, furious, and I looked up at the ceiling casually, one hand up as if trying to tell if it was raining. “Well I’d better go,” I said, as Jasper stood up. “Things to do… Good luck on your essays.” I sprinted up the girls’ staircase before Jasper had the chance to do anything.
The following week, tensions between Gryffindor and Slytherin were slightly higher than usual because this coming weekend Gryffindor would face Slytherin on the Quidditch pitch. James's group reverted to old habits a little, and didn’t have much to say to me other than brag about Gryffindor’s team, or make somewhat snide remarks about my spectacular fall from my broom in the last match and ask if I’d be on the team again and try out the same stunts.
As such, Mandy, Charlotte and I decided it would be best if we waited until after the match to spend any time with them. Charlotte worked on her homework in the common room with Stephan Flint, which I found irritating. I sometimes avoided working with Charlotte just to stay away from what would surely have been a prickly situation with Flint.
One evening, Mandy and I were sitting in chairs by the fire, doing our homework. Charlotte and Flint were working nearby; close enough for me to talk to Charlotte if I wanted to, but far enough away for me to be okay with Flint being there. During a lull in our conversation, I heard them discussing Quidditch. Flint had the gall to tell Charlotte that he’d rather have played Keeper, which only made me more annoyed that he was a Beater on the team and I wasn’t.
“It’s going to be a great game,” said Mandy, who had been listening too. “I hope we win, I’m tired of the Gryffindors being such gits.”
“I don’t think a Slytherin victory is going to stop them being gits, but it’d be nice,” I said, labelling a constellation on my star chart.
“You should practice for Quidditch again this week,” said Mandy. “What if something happens? You never know, you might play in the match again…”
“That’s very unlikely to happen, Mandy. You saw how I played last time…”
“Yeah, but you don’t usually fall off your broom. They thought you were great until then.” She finished writing a sentence, set down her quill, and closed her textbook. “Could you give this book back to Charlotte?” she asked.
“You do it.”
“I just spell-checked your essay.”
“Oh, okay. Thanks,” I said, picking up the book. I carried it over to where Charlotte and Flint were sitting.
“My neighbour’s kids try to play Quidditch in their garden,” Charlotte was saying. “They’re only three years old and have toy brooms that go about a foot off the ground. It’s so cute.”
“Yeah, that’s just like Marcus… my nephew, I’m sure he will be great at Quidditch. Even though he’s really young - he’s about two - I’m going to train him to be as good a Quidditch player as I am.”
“Then you won’t need to teach him much, will you?” I scoffed.
“Shut up, you want to be on the team, don’t you?” Charlotte hissed quietly. I didn’t quite know what she was getting at – how would being nice to Flint help me get on the team? That was Simms’s business and the team had been chosen months ago. I handed the book back to Charlotte, said nothing to Flint and walked back to my chair.
I found out what they meant later that day, when word got out about Simms. Apparently, he had a week’s worth of detention for starting a fight with a Gryffindor, and couldn’t play in Saturday’s game. My dislike for him increased considerably. There was no need for such aggressive behaviour just over a Quidditch game.
On Wednesday I was approached by Stephan Flint, backup Quidditch Captain, who told me he’d be playing Keeper for Saturday’s match. “Charlotte has told me that despite our last match, you are a respectable Beater,” he said, though I could hear the disdain in his voice. I’d have bet ten Galleons Charlotte put him up to this, and if it weren’t for her talking with him so often earlier, he’d never come up and talk to me. “Do you think you can play Beater on Saturday? And I mean play well; not like last time. You’d have to practise tomorrow and Friday with the team for several hours, and we’ll have to change all our tactics. You’d better practise outside of the team practise too.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m so sorry about last match… It won’t happen again. I want Slytherin to beat Gryffindor just as much as you do.”
“Especially after that Gryffindor Peakes landed our Captain in detention,” Flint seethed. “I can’t believe that bigoted prick. We have to win this game for Simms.”
“Er… what?” Flint’s story wasn’t exactly matching up with the one I had heard from the various unreliable sources where I’d gotten my information. “I heard Simms started the fight.”
“Yeah, well he was standing up for Rabnott. Turns out Rabnott is gay, and Peakes outed him to the entire Gobstones Club.”
I could only stare at Flint, shocked. “Wow,” I finally said. “Clearly I underestimated Simms.” And poor Russell – I couldn’t even imagine how difficult this all was for him now.
He studied me, scowling. “I’m not offering you a spot because I like you at all. I just know that Bulstrode is the only reserve Beater and his tryout was rubbish.”
Despite the snub, I smiled. He thought I was a good player, he just didn’t want to tell me so because he disliked me. “When is practise tonight?”
“At seven. Don’t be late.”
So that night I had Quidditch practise, for the first time in my life. With me as a new member, the team would have to play a bit differently to what they were used to with Flint as Beater and Simms as Keeper. I had never been more nervous; I was more nervous than I had been during our last game, in fact. Last time they’d had no other option but to use me as a Beater, but now if I didn’t do well with the team, they might replace me before the match. I swung my Cleansweep over my shoulder and hoped for the best.
Disclaimer: As always, only the original characters and the plot are mine. The rest of the credit goes to J.K. Rowling (and to the Beatles for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band")
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