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The Brave at Heart by marauderfan
Chapter 12 : Flying Together, Falling Apart
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4

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I ran out to the shed in the back garden, and grabbed Nathan’s new Nimbus 1000 broom. It was an amazing broom; it had just been released a few months ago, and it was the best broom I’d ever seen. I had an old Shooting Star that didn’t go very fast – Dad was always afraid I’d hurt myself. He said there was no need for a seven-year-old to have a racing broom. Holding tightly to the Nimbus, I soared up in the air.

“Get down from my broom!” I heard Nathan call below me as he ran out of the house. “I’m going to play Quidditch with my friends, I need my Nimbus!”

I sighed and flew down to the ground, and scowled when I handed Nathan his broom. “I want to play Quidditch too,” I said. I saw Lucius Malfoy and several of Nathan’s other friends coming outside the house with their brooms.

“Well you can’t.” He started to walk off with his broom. “Let’s go, guys,” he said to his friends. I remained standing there with my arms crossed.

As they approached Nathan, I heard one of them say to him, “Hey, there are only five of us, including you. Our teams will be uneven.”

“I can play!” I exclaimed, running after them.

“No, go back inside,” said Nathan.

One of Nathan’s friends turned to him as they walked. “What’s wrong Nathan, don’t want to play Quidditch with your little sister? Why not?” He laughed. They walked past me down the hill to an open bit of field. I marched off moodily and got my Shooting Star, and flew aimlessly around the garden. I kept watching them from a distance as I flew.

After a few minutes, they stopped playing and appeared to be arguing. I came back down and walked a little closer, but far enough away that it didn’t seem like I was trying to spy on them or anything. Then Nathan flew down and walked over to where I was standing.

“Er – so, you can play if you want to,” he said. “We don’t have even numbers and it’s not really working.”

“Really?” I was so excited. “Yes! I want to be on Lucius’s team.” Lucius had the best hair of any of Nathan’s friends – it was blonde and shoulder length, and looked perfect. I was really jealous of it.

“No, if you’re going to play, you’re on my team and you’re a Beater,” said Nathan.

“I don’t have a bat.”

“Use a log or something.”

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” asked another of Nathan’s friends as he came back with me. “We were doing fine, we don’t need a six-year-old on our team.”

“Seven!” I said indignantly, picking up a thick stick I would use as a bat.

“It’s fine, Gawain,” Nathan said to his friend. “She knows how to fly. But if have a problem with it, you can switch to the other team. Jack, you’re on my team now with me and Melanie.”

Jack and Gawain switched places, although Jack didn’t look too happy, but once I successfully hit a ball at Gawain and he had to swerve and couldn’t score a goal, Jack seemed much happier, and Gawain was quite surprised. After a while, I was rather enjoying being a Beater.

At the end of the game, Jack congratulated me. “You were pretty good,” he admitted. “You should play Quidditch when you start at Hogwarts.”

“Great job, sis,” said Nathan, smiling as he and his friends walked back to the house. I skipped back to the broom shed with my Shooting Star and decided I’d definitely be a Beater, and maybe even eventually Captain of my house Quidditch team at Hogwarts.

“Eat something,” said Mandy. I looked at the piece of toast on my plate. I wasn’t very hungry, but I knew I should eat, so I took a bite. The Quidditch match was today, and I felt nervousness and a strong desire to prove myself, after the fiasco of our last match. I had been thinking back to my first real Quidditch game nearly ten years ago in which I’d had to prove myself, when I was seven and playing on a team of thirteen-year-old boys, and I’d done remarkably well then. Maybe this game would be like that one.

After all, the Slytherin Quidditch team had warmed up to me a little after my first practice with them Thursday night. It was a very good practice, and boded well for today’s game. Friday had been much more difficult, as it was snowing, but I thought the team was working together well.

“Oh, Merlin, look at them,” said Charlotte.

I looked up from the toast I’d been blankly staring at. On the other side of the Great Hall, the Gryffindor Quidditch team, led by James, had leapt up on the table and were parading down the length of the table, holding their brooms high in the air and yelling. The Gryffindors seated at the table were clapping and cheering, except Lily and another prefect, who looked disgusted with the team’s behaviour. Professor McGonagall stood up from the staff table immediately, an enraged expression on her face. She hurried down to the Gryffindor table just as James and the rest of the team jumped off the table.

Although this display was a bit over the top, they had every right to be confident. Gryffindor had won every game since James became Captain last year. They’d had the Quidditch Cup last year as well. Slytherin had lost quite impressively to Gryffindor last year, and I hoped it wouldn’t happen this time, but Gryffindor were an extremely strong team.

I saw Flint stand up at the other end of the table, and he signalled to us to get up and head towards the Quidditch pitch. I picked up my broomstick and my half-eaten toast and joined the six other Slytherin Quidditch players as we left the Great Hall to a chorus of cheers from the Slytherins still finishing their breakfast.

It was very cold out and there were at least eight inches of snow on the field, but thankfully it was not currently snowing. We walked down to the field, changed into our green Quidditch robes, and listened to Flint discuss strategies. I hated listening to Flint, but this time I hung onto his every word because it mattered and I wanted to do the best I could in this game. This was it.

“Here comes Gryffindor, led by Captain James Potter!” I heard the commentator’s voice say. It was Mary Macdonald again; why they had let a Gryffindor commentate for a game in which Gryffindor’s team was playing was beyond me. Loud cheers filled the stands. Then I heard “And Slytherin!” followed by a considerably lower volume of cheers. We walked out onto the field.

“Slytherin reserve captain Stephan Flint is leading the Slytherins in this match, in the position of Keeper!” Macdonald’s voice rang out. “And in Flint’s original place as Beater is Melanie Hastings, who played last time as a substitute.” I was grateful she didn’t add “and fell off her broom.”

“Captains shake hands,” said Madame Hooch. Flint and James shook each other’s hands, though each looked like they might be trying to inflict pain on the other. But this generally happened in all games, especially when Slytherin was involved.

“And they’re off! Gryffindor Chaser James Potter has the Quaffle, and he’s heading for the goal hoops! He dodges a Bludger from Slytherin Beater Nott! Potter passes to Kirke, who scores! Ten-zero to Gryffindor!” The stands erupted in cheers. “Now Slytherin Chaser Lim has the Quaffle! Here comes Derrick, Lim passes to Derrick – ouch! that must’ve hurt - he’s just been hit by a Bludger from Taing.”

Kirke of Gryffindor took the Quaffle and started zooming towards the goal hoops. I sent a Bludger rocketing towards him, using the stealthy but very difficult Bludger Backbeat hit. It didn’t hit Kirke, but it made him swerve off course and drop the Quaffle. Robins, another Gryffindor Chaser, caught it and headed for the goal hoops. I went after him, eyeing a Bludger soaring nearby. Flint blocked Robins’s goal, but James got the Quaffle afterwards. I hit a Bludger at him forcefully. Friends we may have been, but on the Quidditch pitch we were old rivals again.

“Potter takes it! He scores! Twenty-zero to Gryffindor! And wait – Gryffindor Seeker Cadwallader might have seen the Snitch! He’s speeding off toward the ground! There goes Warrington after him, they’re really picking up speed…”

I couldn’t believe they’d seen it this early in the game. Slytherin had zero points and Gryffindor’s Seeker was already much closer to the Snitch, which would have gotten Gryffindor a hundred and fifty points. I saw a Bludger and swung my bat at it with all my might, towards Cadwallader.

“Cadwallader’s almost there – look out! He dodges a Bludger from Hastings… but now the Snitch is gone. Warrington’s just plowed into the ground…”

It seemed our Seeker had only been watching Gryffindor’s Seeker, and forgotten to stop when Cadwallader swerved. Warrington got off the ground and back on his broom, though he looked to be in considerable pain. If he had to race against Cadwallader again, he’d probably lose unless he was already miles ahead. After our Seeker’s mishap, Slytherin’s team got a bit nastier. Richard Nott actually hit Kirke with his bat, and Flint grabbed Robins’s broom as Robins tried to score. “Penalty! Slytherins are cheating!”

Slytherin was getting farther and farther behind – soon the score was eighty to twenty with Gryffindor in the lead. After the fourth foul on Gryffindor, Flint finally addressed the cheating and snapped at Nott and Derrick to play fair in order to keep Gryffindor from getting more penalty shots. And in fact, Slytherin started doing much better. Soon it was eighty to fifty, Gryffindor leading… ninety to seventy… then we were tied. It seemed that we had a chance at winning. I chased every Bludger I saw, as fast as I could, and hit them with so much force that I thought my arms would soon fall off.

Richard Nott, the other Beater who I really disliked, cheered as a Bludger I hit prevented James from scoring. Branstone made a spectacular goal from halfway across the field. Lim scored right under the Gryffindor Keeper’s nose. The Slytherin section of the stands was going wild. And then – Warrington was speeding towards the Slytherin hoops, Cadwallader right behind him. I temporarily lost focus on the Bludgers and just watched the Seekers. Warrington’s arm was out – he’d gotten the Snitch! Slytherin had won!

I heard Mary Macdonald curse into the magical megaphone, but more than that I heard the roar of Slytherins clapping and cheering, my teammates screaming with joy, a jumble of congratulations. I wasn’t really sure what was happening around me, but I felt arms around my shoulders; as we landed back on the snowy ground, we were all gathered together around Warrington in a huge group hug. I had tears in my eyes; I was so proud of Slytherin for once. Slytherin had just beat Gryffindor for the first time in years. Maybe we wouldn’t win the Quidditch cup, but we had just won a game and I had helped to do it.

The Slytherin common room was full of celebration when we walked in. Even Snape was thrilled and gave me an awkward high-five; he was glad to see James’s team lose. The party lasted until well into the night, and I could not remember another instance when I’d been so proud of my fellow Slytherins.

As I technically wasn’t a member of the team, I stayed mostly out of the spotlight, and instead sat with Russell on the outskirts. “You all right?” I asked him over the booming Hobgoblins song on the wireless.

He smiled humourlessly. “Yeah. You were right, you know – it’s mostly blown over by now. Occasionally I get stares while I’m walking in the corridors, but… it’s actually almost liberating to not be hiding such a huge secret anymore.”

I nodded. “I’m glad to hear it,” I said sincerely, and rested a hand on his arm. Then I saw a large bowl of popcorn next to his chair and lunged at it. “That’s where all the popcorn went! Russ, you thief!”

A laugh finally escaped him. “It’s not actually very good. I’ve been throwing it at people for the past hour.”

“I want in. Look, there’s Mandy!” A white puff of popcorn bounced off her shoulder. “How long do you think it will take her to notice?”

The only thing negatively impacted by Slytherin’s victory was Mandy’s and my friendship with the Gryffindor boys. I was sure it was temporary though; it was just because James was disappointed about losing to Slytherin. But every time I passed James and Sirius in the hallway, it was almost like we were in third year again – they’d cast Slipping Jinxes on me so I found myself constantly slipping as if there were water on the floor. I grew quite tired of falling on my backside every time I walked past the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, and hoped they’d get over Gryffindor’s loss soon.

And sure enough, after about a week, it had calmed down and we were able to talk to them again without fearing we’d sprout extra ears or slip on the floor. Of course, there always was that small chance – it tended to happen when your friends were the biggest troublemakers in the school.

One evening, Mandy and I were walking along the seventh-floor corridor towards the Gryffindor common room. We heard a loud group of people coming from the opposite direction, and soon enough, James, Sirius, Remus and Peter came around a corner laughing, their arms around each other’s shoulders. James had a large folded piece of parchment that he was tucking into his robes with his free hand, and as he did so he dropped several wrapped packages from Honeydukes. Remus was carrying a large bag from Zonko’s. James stopped to pick up the things he’d dropped, and the others kept walking. “Blueberry scone!” said Peter to the Fat Lady, and tripped spectacularly into the portrait hole.

I laughed. “Er, hi,” I said to Remus and Sirius as they approached to follow Peter into the room.

“Hey there beautiful,” said Sirius loudly and reached his hand out to ruffle my hair.

“I – what?” I asked, ducking away from Sirius’s hand. “Were you in Hogsmeade? How did you get there?”

“We flew on dragons,” he said casually, and turned to go into the portrait hole. I caught a strong whiff of firewhisky, and rolled my eyes.

Behind them, James stood up, carrying his Honeydukes purchases, and hurried to catch up to them. He was singing a Hobgoblins song and making up his own lyrics, as it was obvious he couldn’t remember the real ones. “Hi!” he said enthusiastically when he saw us. “Chocolate?” He handed Mandy one of the wrapped packages from Honeydukes, and practically skipped into the portrait hole. The portrait shut behind him.

Mandy and I turned to look at each other wordlessly. For several moments we just stood there comprehending the weirdness that had just happened. Then we burst out laughing.

“Well, I’m sure they’d be fun to talk to tonight,” I said. “I wonder if they brought any firewhisky back?”

Mandy laughed. “I hope not, they definitely don’t need any more… Do you want some of this chocolate?”

“Sure,” I said. She broke off a piece, handed half of it to me, and we stood there in the corridor, eating the chocolate.

After a little while, I wondered aloud, “Why are we still here?”

“I dunno… Let’s go in. Blueberry scone.”

The portrait swung forward to reveal far less noise and laughter than we had anticipated, and Lily Evans and Mary Macdonald, seated in the window seat, looked up from the pages of Witch Weekly upon our arrival. “If you’re looking for the boys, they all went upstairs,” Lily told us. I heard a loud laugh echoing down the stairs; it sounded like James. “You’re welcome to stay though,” she continued. “They gave me this piece of chocolate I’d love to share, and we’ve also got this absurd personality quiz in Witch Weekly that we all need to take. What’s your zodiac sign?”

The last week of January passed by quickly with the exciting prospect of Apparition lessons beginning on the first Saturday of February. And finally February arrived. On Thursday evening, Mandy and I were returning from the library when we saw James, Sirius, and Peter standing in a group about ten feet ahead of us. We were about to approach them when James pulled something shiny out of his bag and the three of them disappeared.

They were under their Invisibility Cloak, and definitely up to something. I looked at Mandy, who grinned and silently motioned me towards her. After a second she started tiptoeing in the direction the boys had vanished.

“How do you intend to follow someone invisible?” I whispered as I walked alongside her.

“They were facing that way,” she said, pointing. “An Invisibility Cloak doesn’t prevent you from making noise. It’ll be like that time when we heard them say the Gryffindor common room password in the hallway!”

I put my finger to my lips as we continued, lurking around corners and crouching behind suits of armour to stay out of sight if they turned around.

Mandy tugged on my sleeve. “I just saw someone’s heel, way up ahead. We’re going the right way.”

We followed them to the entrance hall. “I bet they’re just going outside,” I said.

“Let’s get to the door before they do and freak them out by opening it,” Mandy suggested. Before I could stop her, Mandy leapt out from behind a large stone statue of Circe. “Surprise,” she said. “Where do you think you’re going this time of night?”

Sirius appeared out of the cloak a few feet from us, and he looked furious. James and Peter stepped out after him, and they both looked angry as well.

“Just a joke,” said Mandy, her eyes wide with anxiety at seeing the anger in our friends’ faces. “It was Mel’s idea, really – we saw you and thought we’d just give you a surprise…” She reached out towards me, grabbed my arm and pulled me out from behind the statue as well.

“It was not my idea,” I hissed.

“Why are you following us around?” Sirius demanded, pointing his wand at the two of us. “Wondering what we’re up to? Thought it’d be a bit of fun to spy on us?”

“Are you trying to get us expelled too?” asked James.

“Wouldn’t be the first time a Slytherin has done that,” said Peter.

“No, we just… I’m sorry, we didn’t mean anything by it!” I pleaded. “We didn’t know you’d get so upset, we just thought it’d be a joke!” Where was Remus? He’d be able to calm his friends down and stop a row from escalating. But he was missing.

“We’re leaving,” said Mandy, giving up. “Carry on doing whatever you were doing. Sorry we interrupted your little secret meeting.” We sped away from them, but after we’d turned the corner, we slowed down in order to be quiet so we could keep an ear out for Filch’s cat Mrs. Woodhouse or someone else unpleasant who’d punish us for being out after curfew.

On Friday, Mandy and I had put this altercation behind us, and we walked into Potions discussing Apparition, which was to begin tomorrow, but had to abandon this lively discussion when, in class, we were given the difficult task of inventing an antidote for a blended poison.

After flipping through the pages of Advanced Potion-Making twice without seeing anything useful, I began glancing around at what others were doing to get ideas. Behind me off to the right was the table where the Gryffindor boys usually sat. Remus was not there, but the other three looked very tired and ill, and were covered in scratches again. Sirius had a gash on his face but he seemed unconcerned, the same usual haughty expression on his face as if nothing was out of the ordinary. But when he saw me looking, he glared at me and then looked away.

I mentioned this to Mandy, and she looked back at their table. “I don’t know, I guess they’re still angry at us. It looks like they went into the Forbidden Forest, too. This isn’t the first time that’s happened, either – they just go in and run into all sorts of things out there. I hope they’re all right… But you should be working on your antidote, not looking around. It’s already been fifteen minutes and there’s nothing in your cauldron.”

“I don’t understand Golpalott’s Third Law! Are you supposed to put in all the separate antidotes and then something else, or invent a new antidote entirely?”

“It says in the chapter,” she said distractedly, pouring a vial of something red into her cauldron, where the potion turned a gold color. “Er… the sum of the combined antidotes is… more than the separate ones – oh no, too much frog blood…”

Rather than starting my potion, which was sure to be a disaster, I kept looking around. Charlotte was eyeing Russell’s cauldron as she poured something into her own, but since she wasn’t watching, she poured it all over the table. That wasn’t too unusual… I looked back at the Gryffindors. I was concerned for them, but it was also possible that this wasn’t that big a deal for them, if they did this a lot. After all, we’d never really paid much attention to them in previous years, because they didn’t have all the same classes as we did until after OWL’s at the end of last year. But I still wondered why they would do something like this on a regular basis – they didn’t seem to get much out of it except injuries and a lack of sleep. I watched them for a while, but eventually decided I needed to be working on my potion.

At the end of class, my potion was just as awful as usual. I couldn’t even try to copy Mandy because she had a different poison than I did. Slughorn came by to inspect my antidote and had to lean away, gagging – it was hissing and thick grey smoke billowed out from the cauldron. I cleaned up in a hurry, haphazardly throwing things in my bag, hoping to talk to James, Sirius, and Peter and apologise for whatever we might have done. I really wanted to talk to Remus, as he was more understanding and hadn’t been responsible for most of the post-Quidditch jinxing, but he was the only one not in class. But the three of them disappeared out the door too quickly, and I could hear them laughing all the way down the corridor. I supposed I’d have another chance.

The next day, we went down to the Great Hall in the morning for our Apparition lessons. The usual long tables had been removed; the hall looked much larger without them. After about ten minutes of milling around and waiting for everyone to show up, we heard a somewhat wheezy voice greet us and we all looked up.

“Good morning,” said a slight man in the front of the Hall, who looked like he’d just been caught in a windstorm. He was pale and had very light colored hair and eyebrows, which stood out against his dark Ministry robes. The Heads of House were assembled next to him. “My name is Wilkie Twycross,” continued the man, “and I will be instructing you in Apparition for the next twelve weeks, by which point many of you will be able to take your Apparition Tests.

“Normally, one cannot Apparate within Hogwarts, but for the purposes of this course, the enchantments have been lifted for an hour inside this Hall only. Now if everyone could please find a place where you each have five feet of space around you.”

There was a lot of noise as people tried to find a space, and the Heads of House had to separate people and find places for them, as left to our own devices we could not all find places near our friends.

Twycross waved his wand and wooden hoops appeared in front of everyone in the hall. “Apparition has three components: Destination, Determination, Deliberation! These are the three D’s which you must remember! You must concentrate upon your desired destination. You will be trying to Apparate into the hoop in front of you. Everyone focus on your destination now.”

I stared at the hoop. Twycross continued about being determined, and turning on the spot with deliberation. How exactly did that work? Was it just thinking while spinning that enabled people to Apparate?

“On the count of three, now… One… two…three!”

I spun around and simply found myself facing the other direction; I hadn’t gone anywhere. Mandy was waving her arms around wildly to stay standing up. Several people had fallen over. One boy fell into his hoop and thought he had actually Apparated.

We had to try again several times, but Twycross’s instructions seemed useless. At the end of the hour, all that had happened for me was a strong feeling of dizziness from spinning around so much. No one had managed to Apparate, and it seemed like a waste of an hour.

“Well that was thrilling,” said Charlotte as we left. “Why were we looking forward to this again?”

“I don’t know. I always imagined it being much more fun,” I agreed.

“I always imagined not having to puke afterwards.”

“At least we don’t have to do it again until next Saturday. And we have Hogsmeade to look forward to after Apparition!”

“But you’d better not be thinking about it during Apparition,” chided Mandy, “or you won’t be sufficiently Determined. Deliberation! Destination!” she cried, raising her fist in the air as she listed each one, with the air of one leading a rally. Charlotte and I laughed. “Only eleven more weeks to go, unless we fail the test!”

At least we had other things to entertain us; Mandy’s seventeenth birthday was the following Tuesday. Charlotte and I woke her up early and gave her presents and watched her open all the gifts while she still wasn’t quite awake.

“Don’t forget, the best present of all!” said Alanna as she slid out of bed, having decided that she would be unable to sleep in any more due to us making so much noise. “No Potions on Tuesdays!”

“Fantastic,” said Mandy. “That’s a much better present than being woken up at six o’clock. Mel and Charlotte, you two are like little kids on Christmas.”

The Gryffindors’ odd behaviour towards us lasted for several days. Fortunately, the next time I saw them, Remus was with them, just as friendly as always, but Sirius seemed wary of us, like he didn’t trust us. He’d stay in a moody silence all the time and I knew he was still stewing about what we had done. I wondered if the four of them had ever cared that much for a group of Slytherin girls anyway, as they were rather popular and had plenty of other friends.

I had no idea what had happened, or whether I’d done something wrong, but regardless, it seemed unlikely that we’d end up spending much time with them again. We went back to hanging around with people we’d spent much of our time with before we’d gotten to know the Gryffindors.

One evening, Mandy, Charlotte and I were having dinner with Russell Rabnott and Hector Branstone. I was looking over at the Gryffindor table and saw them laughing. “I don’t know why you’re so concerned about them,” said Russell as he helped himself to some steak and kidney pie. “Yeah, they’re funny, when they’re not hexing you in the hallway… but you have other friends.”

“I know, and we only really got to know them this year… but I do miss them,” said Mandy.

“We never had a lot in common with them except a mutual love of irritating Filch,” said Charlotte. “But that was a lot of fun.”

“Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that you couldn’t walk within ten feet of them because they’d jinx you?” Russell asked.

“They were just jealous Slytherin won the Quidditch match,” I said reasonably.

“As they should have been,” said Hector. “That was the best game Slytherin has played in a while! We were fantastic. Simms said he tried to watch from the window during his detention, and that hearing Slytherin win made his day. I think he was a bit upset that we won without him though.”

We reminisced about the Quidditch match for a little while, and then Mandy stood up to leave. At the same time, I saw the four Gryffindor boys get up from their table aross the room and leave the Great Hall. “I’m going to the library, if any of you want to come with me,” said Mandy.

Charlotte and Hector both expressed interest in going to the library to work on Divination. I thought I’d go as well, but after seeing the Gryffindors leave, and having talked about them at dinner, I decided to visit them. After all, it looked like they’d been in a good mood at dinner, and I wanted to apologise for anything I might have said that had made them turn their backs on us. So I told Mandy I’d see her at the library in a few minutes.

I walked up to the seventh floor. In the hall containing the entrance to Gryffindor’s common room, I began to wonder whether this was a good idea. But as long as I was here now, I may as well visit… “Blueberry scone,” I told the Fat Lady. The portrait did not swing off the wall to reveal the doorway though – the password must have changed. “Er… chocolate chip scone?” What kind of passwords did the Gryffindor common room usually have anyway? Maybe they were the opposite of Slytherin’s passwords. “Muggle-born? Godric? Lion?”

Nothing happened. I was about to turn around and leave when the portrait swung out and I heard Sirius’s voice coming from inside. “Have you got your mirror? I don’t want to sit there just sorting pickled mouse brains for five hours.”

“Yeah, I’ve got it.”

“Is anyone coming out, or am I just going to wait here?” asked the Fat Lady irritably. “You’re not going in, you didn’t have the password,” she said to me.

Sirius stepped out of the portrait hole, his bag over his shoulder. He scowled when he saw me. “Coming to spy on us again?” he asked.

“I came to visit!” I cried. “I used to do that, remember, before you became such an arse!” I looked at the portrait hole, where James was leaning against the wall, and then back to Sirius. “I should have realized you’d only want to have Slytherins around when it’s convenient for you – but no other time, because it would ruin your reputation. You’re too cool for me, huh?”

“What are you talking about?” asked James, taken aback by my outburst.

I sighed. “Ever since we followed you out of the castle that night, you’ve all been so formal to us, like we’re not friends. I’m sorry we upset you with that joke, I really didn’t think it’d go over so badly… We thought it’d be funny to startle you, that’s all – we’ve always played tricks on each other, haven’t we?”

James and Sirius glanced at each other, and then James looked back at me. “You’re right,” he said finally. “I understand it was a joke. By the way, I don’t think we’re too cool to hang around with you, that’s ridiculous.”

It did sound ridiculous, and immature, now that I thought about it. I was glad I was wrong.

“You really weren’t trying to get us in trouble?” Sirius clarified, eyes narrowed.

“Of course not,” I insisted. Sirius appeared unconvinced, and glanced to James, who looked perfectly content.

“He’ll come around,” James advised me with a smile.

“Who’s there?” asked a voice from inside the common room, and then Peter showed up behind James. “Oh, it’s you,” he said happily. “I thought I heard your voice. Do you want to play Gobstones?”

“Thanks Peter,” I said, “but I should get going, I have homework to finish in the library. Maybe tomorrow for Gobstones…”

I headed down the corridor to the library, while Sirius stalked off towards his detention without another word.

Mandy, Charlotte, and Hector were sitting at a table with quite a few stacks of textbooks. Charlotte looked bored as she leafed through Divination books and threw them onto a pile, and Mandy was absorbed in The Standard Book of Spells, Grade Six. Hector was writing a long essay, glancing now and then at a book with odd, ethereal illustrations; his dark brown skin was smudged with ink.

“Hi,” I said glumly, sitting down in an empty seat.

“Hi Melanie,” said Charlotte. “Hector, did you find anything useful in that book? These are all rubbish.”

“All of Divination is rubbish,” I teased.

“You just wait, I’ll predict the most gruesome death for you – maybe trampled by a hippogriff – and then you’ll wish you hadn’t said that.”

“Can’t wait!” I got a quill and ink bottle out of my bag.

Hector finished writing his sentence and then picked up his book, which was called Advanced Seeing for the Untrained Inner Eye. “This one? Yeah, it was sort of helpful…” He ripped a page out, which he set down by his parchment again, and handed the rest of the book to Charlotte. There was a shriek behind us, and Madame Pince, the librarian, stepped out from behind a bookshelf, her eyes wide. She swooped upon our table like a vulture.

“Look what you have done to that book!” she hissed, pointing a clawlike finger at the page on the table and then at the book in Charlotte’s hands. Charlotte merely stared insolently back at her. Madame Pince circumnavigated the table, peering at all the books as if to make sure none of them had met the same fate.

“You have desecrated – befouled – ruined a library book!”

“We’ll put the page back in,” said Hector. “It just takes a quick Reparo—”

Madame Pince looked back at us threateningly. “You have no respect for books,” she said. “Day after day I have to deal with students like you, abusing my books! If I hear one more page rip—”

Hector sighed, and fixed the page. “Back to normal, see?” he said. Madame Pince gave us all a suspicious glance and then disappeared behind another bookshelf. “Mad old bat,” Hector muttered under his breath as she walked away.

No sooner had they started to work again – I hadn’t even got out my parchment yet – and we heard laughing coming from a table concealed by some bookshelves, followed by a girl’s voice crying “Stop!”

We looked up, but the disturbance seemed to have ceased. Then we saw Lester Avery, Charlotte’s brother, coming from around the shelf. When he saw Charlotte, he ducked back behind the shelf.

“What are you doing, Lester?” she asked suspiciously. There was no answer. It was stupid of him to hide, because obviously she’d seen him, and this just made it look like he was up to something. She scowled and picked up her Divination book again, but then we heard the voices from behind the bookshelves again.

“I thought you were going to go, Avery?” a voice whispered. “Or did you come back to watch the Mudblood? Imperio!

There was a loud crash. “You idiot, someone will hear you,” said another voice, and then all I could hear was a faint buzzing.

“Do you hear that buzzing?” I asked my tablemates.

“Yeah…” said Charlotte. She stood up and walked around the bookshelf. I followed instantly. There at a table was Lester Avery, Calvin Mulciber, Evan Rosier, and a Hufflepuff girl who kept running into the bookshelves. Severus Snape was sitting in a chair to the side of the table, poring over his old, marked-up copy of Advanced Potion-Making.

“Lester!” Charlotte cried indignantly. “You’re using the Imperius Curse on someone? I heard that, you know. It’s illegal.”

He said something back, but we couldn’t hear him – only the buzzing. Mulciber laughed. Snape looked up from his book and flicked his wand, and the buzzing stopped. “Well. How nice of you to butt in.” Then he resumed watching the Hufflepuff girl, and then back to his book.

“I was just saying,” said Lester, “I don’t know what you heard, but I didn’t do anything. She seems to be really tired… bet it’s all the studying for her O.W.L.s, maybe she hasn’t slept in a few days—”

“People don’t run into walls like this when they’re tired,” said Charlotte as another shower of books cascaded off the shelf. “You take that curse off her.”

Mulciber looked up at Charlotte and me insolently. “You want to be next?” he sneered. I wished Mark were here to see this – then maybe he wouldn’t idolize Mulciber so much.

“You have a problem with this, but you don’t seem to mind when your little Gryffindor friends do it,” said Snape frostily.

“They don’t use Dark Magic!” I said hotly. “They would never do anything like this!”

“Oh, is that right?” Snape suddenly looked very menacing. “I don’t think you know half of what they do.”

Hector showed up behind my shoulder. “It’ll only be a matter of time before Madame Pince sees this,” he told us. “You know she’s probably lurking around here right now.”

“Oh, she can’t hear us… just some buzzing,” said Lester.

“Run along now, before we practice the Cruciatus Curse,” said Mulciber. He laughed.

I was appalled, and drew out my wand. “You’ve been practicing the Cruciatus—

“Well, we certainly will if you keep hanging around.”

“Lester, you shouldn’t be doing this,” Charlotte insisted. She stood over him, and as she was rather tall, she looked scary. But Lester stood up too, and he was a couple of inches taller than she was. Charlotte continued, “I don’t think Mum will be pleased when I tell her that you’re using Unforgivable Curses on other students.”

“Bet she will.” Lester pointed his wand at the girl, who instantly stopped running into the shelves, and looked around terrified at the knot of Slytherins surrounding her and the books all over the floor. She rubbed her face in pain and dashed away, and I thought I heard a sob as she went. Mulciber, Snape, and Lester all turned back to their textbooks, and Charlotte, Hector and I walked back to our table. Although I still had yet to get out parchment, I decided I was done with my essay for the night.

Apparently Charlotte had had enough as well. “He doesn’t know what he’s getting into,” she muttered. “Sometimes I’m really proud to have him as a brother, and then sometimes he’s…” She shoved the ripped copy of Advanced Seeing for the Untrained Inner Eye into her bag forcefully.

“What happened?” said Mandy, finally looking up from her book. “Did you make that girl run out crying?”

“Didn’t you hear?” I asked. “You didn’t hear what they were saying?”

“Of course she didn’t,” said Charlotte, “Snape said he’d done some buzzing charm.” She turned to Mandy. “My brother and his friends thought it would be amusing to try out the Imperius Curse on someone.”

“Was he with Mulciber?” asked Mandy darkly. “I heard him saying something about making someone carve up the ice and jump into the frozen lake last week.”

“Yeah. Well I can’t get anything done, I’m just going to go to sleep.” She hoisted her bag over her shoulder and started to walk out. I threw my quill in my bag and followed.

We walked in near silence down the stairs. “The Cruciatus Curse,” she muttered as we neared the Slytherin dungeon.

“Maybe he’ll grow out of it… And I think it’s Mulciber that’s the worst, not Lester.”

“Yeah… maybe.”

“Forget predicting my death,” I said, “you should predict a horrible one for Mulciber instead.”

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