Chapter 14 : Progression
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So that first Saturday in March, I found myself back in the Great Hall, looking up at the grey clouds on the enchanted ceiling. I wished it were sunny – I thought maybe if it were sunny I’d be more likely to manage Apparition. It was as if the heavens were frowning upon me, saying “Sorry… not today!”
Twycross wheezed some more about Destination and Distraction and Distress (or maybe that was just how I felt), and then we were to try again. And so again, I heard a few loud cracks and found myself outside my hoop facing backwards, and I could see a few people had Apparated into their hoops. There was some cheering and high-fiving, and I grumpily turned around to face my hoop again.
Mandy, beside me, stepped out of her hoop in delight. “Don’t worry, Mel, you’ll get it… Eighty-third time’s the charm, right?” I rolled my eyes. “No, really,” she continued, “it looked like you almost had it.”
“How do you almost have it?” I asked crossly. “Did I half-disappear?”
“Twirl with more deliberation,” she suggested. What did that even mean?
Maybe it wasn’t working because I was so annoyed. I tried to clear my mind of all my frustration, but that made me more frustrated because I couldn’t do it. I closed my eyes. I was determined to Apparate this time. I turned with deliberation, visualized the hoop in my mind – and suddenly felt like I was suffocating. Pressure pushed in on me from all directions as if I were in a tube – had I fainted? Had I actually died of frustration?
All of a sudden the feeling went away, and I was standing three feet away.
“What happened?” I asked. I looked around. “Did that work?”
“You did it!” cried Mandy. “Sort of. You’re not in the hoop, but you moved, look!”
I was half impressed with myself, half confused, and felt sort of sick. Why did people even bother Apparating when it was so uncomfortable? Was I always going to feel like I was suffocating? Maybe I’d just use Floo Powder whenever I wanted to travel long distances – that was much easier. Sure, you got ashes all over yourself from traveling through the fireplace, and came out somewhat dizzy, but it was better than Apparition.
I wasn’t able to Apparate again for the rest of the lesson, but I wasn’t as bothered about it anymore; after all, I’d managed it once (sort of), and that was really enough for one day.
I left the Great Hall with Luke, who congratulated me on my almost-Apparition. “Even though you didn’t go where you wanted, you still moved – that’s the hardest part!”
“Thanks… Still, I prefer flying on a broomstick. I even prefer Floo Powder, and that’s saying something.”
“I hate Floo Powder,” Luke laughed. “But I agree with you about flying. I’d choose a broomstick over Apparition any day… well, except a rainy day, maybe. Broomsticks and rain aren’t a fun combination.” His last comment hinted to me that Luke was still not over the fact that Ravenclaw’s Quidditch team had lost to Hufflepuff by a mere ten points in last week’s game, which had been during a rainstorm.
“Don’t worry about that, I think your team can still—” I began, but stopped short when Peeves dropped a rubbish bin on us, and whooshed away blowing raspberries. This was something like the tenth time Peeves had disturbed us in the hallway. There was just nowhere you could hide from him.
“I’m pretty sure he’s out to get us,” said Luke, massaging his head where the rubbish bin had struck him.
“He’s out to get everyone,” I corrected. “At least he’s not following us this time.”
As Mandy and I no longer knew the Gryffindor common room password and the boys had not told us the new one, we did not see them as often as we had used to. It had always been us who went to go see the Gryffindors, never the other way around. The truth was, you’d be more likely to find them voluntarily jumping into the lake in winter than walking down to have a chat with Slytherins in our cold dungeon common room. But I couldn’t blame them; I myself didn’t really enjoy spending time in the common room.
I’d see them in the hallway every now and then, or in the classes we had together. On Thursday morning the following week, I saw Remus and Peter walking just a bit ahead of us on our way to Transfiguration. Since it was Remus’s birthday, I ran to catch up with them.
“Hey!” I said. “Happy birthday, Remus!” I handed him a box of Chocolate Cauldrons. “Sorry it’s not much, I should have got you more, since it’s your seventeenth and all… I can’t buy Firewhisky yet though, I’m still sixteen.”
“Thank you! It’s the thought that counts,” said Remus, taking the Cauldrons. “And to be honest, I don’t really want to have a huge birthday bash anyway… it’s not really my sort of thing. James will make up for it when he has his birthday in a few weeks, I’m sure.”
“You’re still going to have a cake, aren’t you?” asked Peter.
“Where are your cohorts today?” I asked.
“Eh, somewhere…” said Remus evasively. “They said they were coming to class, but I think they found something and wanted to have some fun first. I don’t know if—”
“Excuse us! Watch out!” came a voice from behind us. We turned around; James was soaring through the air, standing on two brooms: one under each foot. Sirius had somehow gotten hold of a pair of Muggle roller skates, and was racing James through the hallway. People jumped out of the way in front of them to avoid being hit in the head by James or knocked down by Sirius, who it seemed hadn’t quite figured out how to skate. James leapt off the brooms as he reached the classroom, but Sirius was unable to brake and crashed into a nearby suit of armour.
“Smooth, Padfoot,” James laughed as Sirius tried to stand up again in the roller skates. “I win.”
Professor McGonagall poked her head out of the doorway, evidently trying to find the source of the clattering noises. Her eyes narrowed as she spotted James with two broomsticks and Sirius pulling the suit of armor back up off the floor. Sirius noticed McGonagall and said, “There was a strong wind in the hallway, Professor, that’s why this fell down.” McGonagall was unconvinced, possibly due to the fact that Sirius was still wearing his roller skates, and both of them got detention for the following night.
“I’m just glad she didn’t give us the detention tonight,” Sirius told Remus as everyone filed into the classroom. “We have to be there for your birthday party.”
“I appreciate it, but I told you I don’t need a big party with a hundred people in the common room. We can just have some cake up in the dormitory or something.”
“Chocolate cake,” suggested Peter.
“Don’t you want firewhisky?” asked Sirius.
“Okay Moony, we don’t have to if you don’t want to, it’s your day,” said James. “I know I will for my birthday, which is in less than three weeks!”
“Or vanilla, with chocolate icing…” Peter continued.
I had planned to meet Luke for dinner at the Ravenclaw table. Normally on these occasions, although they were never actually a big deal, I would tend to dress more carefully than usual. This time, however, I was more worried about my Defence Against the Dark Arts essay than about how I looked. As I walked by the mirror in our dormitory without glancing at my reflection, Charlotte walked in, and raised an eyebrow critically. “Please don’t tell me you’re planning to set foot outside this room wearing that, it’s hideous.” I examined my jumper in the mirror. It wasn’t that bad…
“You look like my gran,” Charlotte continued as she collected some books from her trunk. “Go with the yellow one. Don’t look at me like that, I’m sure you’d rather it was me telling you this than Luke… Just trying to help.” She grinned and walked out the door.
I was sure Luke would never tell me I looked like his grandmother, but I switched to the yellow jumper anyway. When I walked up to dinner, I met Luke in the Great Hall and we walked over to the Ravenclaw table. We discussed random things, but it seemed both of us had our minds on something else. Neither of us really cared that the discussion was going nowhere. Luke wondered if there was another Hogsmeade weekend coming up. I rambled about my chance encounter with a house-elf outside the kitchens at the beginning of the week.
“Sorry I’m acting so… vacant,” he said. “I’ve just got so much going on this week. I actually had to cancel our Quidditch practice yesterday. Cecil Braddock yelled at me for about an hour because of it. Of course, he’s a fourth year, so he has loads of time. But I’m the Captain.”
“Yeah, I know the feeling,” I said. “Sort of. I’m with you in the feeling of too much work, but I haven’t got Quidditch going on too…”
Priya Kaur, my friend from Astronomy, was sitting across from me at the table, and during the many lulls in my uninspired conversation with Luke, she chipped in to supply us with a selection of random trivia. She was very talkative, which usually got the two of us into trouble during Astronomy classes, but today I didn’t mind. At least it gave Luke and me something to talk about.
After dinner I walked into the common room and found Mandy and Charlotte sitting in the most comfortable chairs by the fire, surrounded by textbooks and a few crumpled pieces of parchment. “How was dinner?” asked Charlotte.
“Eh, it was fine, I guess,” I said. It had been rather boring, but not every day could be an exciting day.
“What are you doing now?” asked Mandy. “Did you want to visit Gryffindor tower?”
“I’m probably going to just do homework. I think Remus just wanted a quiet sort of celebration with the other Gryffindors, so we can visit tomorrow.” It was a rather funny thought; I would never ordinarily use the word ‘quiet’ in the same sentence as discussing those four. For some reason I had envisioned that mostly all they did involved wild mayhem, but this could hardly be the case. They had real lives too, they couldn’t always be entertainers.
“All right. Well, we’ve saved a seat for you,” said Mandy, lifting The Standard Book of Spells: Grade Six off a chair.
“Thanks,” I said. “I’m just going to go get my books and stuff.”
When I had collected everything I needed to write my essay from the dormitory, I went back to join Mandy and Charlotte at the table by the fire, and began writing my Defence Against the Dark Arts essay about how to deal with dementors. Not that it really mattered what I wrote, because Professor Alvers gave practically everyone Outstanding’s – seeing as he knew nothing himself, any information we wrote about in our homework was a bit of a novelty to him.
“It’s a bit hard to write about it if we can’t even do the Patronus Charm yet,” said Mandy after a while, looking at her nearly complete roll of parchment.
“Looks like you did fine, though,” I said. “Your essay is five times as long as mine and I’m starting to run out of things to say.”
I glanced over at Charlotte, who had not even started her essay and was poking her wand at her parchment to fold it into various shapes.
I laughed and turned back to my essay, but luckily was saved from having to think about it any more when Alanna ran down the stairs, several pieces of parchment and a quill in one hand, a thick book in the other, and ink smudges on her face. “Have you finished the Defence paper?” she asked breathlessly. “I just realized it’s due tomorrow and I haven’t started and we have so much other work to do!” She tossed her parchment scrolls and heavy book on our table, making the table shake, and turned to a second year girl nearby who had managed to get one of the comfortable chairs. “Excuse me, I need to sit there. I’m a sixth year and a prefect and I’m about to die.” The girl scowled and left with her book.
I laughed. “That’s really not helping the second-years’ image of us… remember how terrified we were of sixth-years when we were twelve?”
“It had to be done,” insisted Alanna, dragging the now-vacated chair over next to Mandy’s. “She’ll understand when she’s our age, and then she’ll probably do the same thing. Right now she doesn’t have half as much work as we do, and since we’ll probably be sitting here until three in the morning, I need to be comfortable.”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not staying here until then,” I said. “If I have to go to sleep before I finish, so be it.”
“So has anyone started the Transfiguration paper?” she asked us. “I was working on it but that one’s not due until next week.”
“I don’t think so,” said Mandy, turning a page of her book. “We’re working on the dementor essay for Alvers now. Well, Melanie and I are. I’m not sure what Charlotte is doing.”
Charlotte raised an eyebrow. “I’ll have you know I am very busy over here.” She gave her folded parchment one last prod, and it soared into the air, in the shape of a magnificent phoenix. It flew around the room and then caught fire.
“Very realistic,” I said, grinning.
Charlotte scowled at the few ashes floating down. “Damn it, now I need to start over.”
“You had written almost nothing, so don’t be too upset,” I reasoned. “I don’t really want to work on mine either, do you want to see if we can make a Patronus instead?”
While Mandy helped Alanna with her essay, Charlotte and I set to work practicing the Patronus Charm, a ridiculously complicated charm that supposedly would drive off a dementor, if done properly. So far, all I had managed in class was an indistinct, possibly four-legged shape that disappeared after a few seconds. Charlotte’s was just a wisp of smoke.
“Okay,” said Charlotte, holding notes about the Patronus Charm in one hand, and her wand in the other. “You need to think of a happy memory, and say Expecto Patronum.”
“I know that. But if it’s that easy, we should have been able to do it during class. Is it just any happy memory?”
“No idea. I would guess it needs to be a really happy one, because it has to be the opposite of a dementor, which likes fear and despair and stuff.”
“All right, I’m going to try… Expecto Patronum!” I said, thinking of my first date with Luke. Nothing happened. I scowled at my wand, as if it was its fault.
“Are you implying I’m a dementor?” asked Charlotte. “Point your wand at someone else.”
“Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was pointing it.”
“Maybe that’s the problem – you have to be focused.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine then, since you’re so smart, you show me.”
She held up her hands. “I’m just reading the notes. You know I can’t even come close to making a Patronus.”
We kept practising, and despite the frustration, I could tell we were getting better. The indistinct silvery shapes we produced had more of a form, and lingered for a bit longer than they had used to.
I thought of the first Easter holiday I had spent at Mandy’s house with her family, in second year, and cried, “Expecto Patronum!” I watched in awe as a silvery-white horse shot out of the end of my wand, galloped around the room, and then faded away. “Did you see that?” I asked Charlotte as it disappeared. “I did it! That was a Patronus!”
“Well what do you want, a trophy?” asked Charlotte. “I mean, it’s great, but let’s see you do that when there’s a real dementor standing in front of you.”
“Thanks,” I said dryly, “I’m lucky to have supportive friends like you.”
She laughed. “If you want, I can pretend to be a dementor so it’ll be just like the real thing.”
“Actually, you’d be scarier.”
“Thanks, I’m lucky to have friends like you,” she said, mimicking me. “Expecto Patronum!” Something silver soared out of her wand, and it was not as shapeless as before, but before we could have a good look at it, it disappeared.
“This is just like Apparition,” she said critically, staring at where her Patronus had vanished. “Why am I bothering?”
“No it’s not, this is more fun, and it doesn’t end in feeling like you’re suffocating. You’re so close, Charlotte, really! Try just once more!”
She tried again twice and it finally worked: A fox leapt around above our heads. Charlotte’s face lit up with a wide grin, something that was kind of rare for her – she usually did not show such excitement about anything except gossip. She was able to keep her Patronus from disappearing, so I cast my horse Patronus at it, and they chased each other over the table where Mandy and Alanna were working.
“Will you cut that out?” Alanna laughed, waving the animals away from her essay.
As Charlotte and I looked down from the Patronuses, they disappeared. I sat down at the table with Mandy and Alanna. “How are the essays going?”
“I finished my dementor essay,” said Mandy. “You two should be able to finish yours in about five minutes, since you can write all about the Patronus now. I saw those, they were fantastic!”
“Thanks,” I said, ecstatic, and dragged out my parchment again to keep writing about the Patronus, while Charlotte dragged her chair back to the table. When she disappeared behind a copy of the Daily Prophet newspaper, I stopped writing, unnerved by the relevance of the newspaper’s front page headline, and craned my neck to try and read the article. Dementors, which were supposed to guard the high-security wizard prison of Azkaban, had gotten loose and were wreaking havoc in Liverpool. Dementors less than twenty miles from my home. Suddenly the idea of producing a misty, beautiful Patronus was a lot less of a fun assignment and more a necessary means to survival.
“Did you read the front cover, Char?” I asked.
She nodded. “They’ll be knocking at your door soon, won’t they?” she asked, and an involuntary shiver escaped me. Charlotte saw this, and added, “Fortunately you can kick their arses with that Patronus.”
“I hope so,” I said, wondering whether I’d be able to conjure a Patronus under stress.
Mandy asked conversationally, “Are you going to take those extra classes in Hogsmeade for the Apparition exam?”
“I think I will,” said Charlotte. “Merlin knows I’m awful at Apparition so far. I haven’t even managed it once.”
“I’m not going to be seventeen by the test date at the beginning of May,” I said glumly. “It’s a week before my birthday, so I’ll have to wait until the next test.”
“I might,” said Alanna. “Only if that Ravenclaw Mudblood doesn’t go. She was the first person to Apparate during the regular lessons, I couldn’t believe it! And she just went on and on about it for an hour. She was stressing me out.”
“Everything stresses you out,” I muttered.
Alanna laughed. “I know,” she said. “Speaking of which, all of this is distracting me from my essay.” She flailed her hands for emphasis. “So let’s stop talking now.”
Taking advantage of an unusually warm, sunny spring day that week, I sat on the steps in the courtyard with the Gryffindors and Charlotte. The news article about the Dementors from a few days ago was still on my mind; I’d written to my parents and heard back from them that they were all right, which was a relief. But Remus noticed I seemed out of sorts, and as I stared at the flagstones in front of me I didn’t even notice as Remus moved up one step to sit next to me until he was right there.
“You all right?”
“I’m… er, yeah.” I hesitated to announce my fears to the courageous Gryffindors, as it might lower their opinion of me, but I just couldn’t keep it inside. This was the point when I would learn a lot about our friendship. “I just think this business with You-Know-Who, this war, is getting so bad, and it scares me. I don’t see any end in sight, at least not soon.”
Remus put a comforting arm around my shoulders, and I leaned into the hug. Peter looked over at us. “It scares me too,” he admitted.
“I think everyone is scared,” said James, seated in front of me on the step just below mine. “We’re teenagers, and facing the idea of fighting a war when we leave school.”
“You going to fight in it?” Sirius asked him.
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it,” said James. “I want to do what I can. Our side needs all the help we can get to stop Voldemort.”
Sirius grinned. “I will, for sure. It’ll be nice to use everything we’ve learned here in a real way, actually doing something.”
I stared at them. “But you could be killed! It’s not just a fun way to test your skills, Sirius, it’s war and it’s dangerous. People die out there.”
“Someone has to take that risk,” Sirius insisted, “or Voldemort will be around forever.”
“What are you going to do, Mel?” Remus asked.
“I don’t know, but I’m not fighting,” I said. “I’m not on any side. I think you lot are brave to do it, but I don’t want any part in that violence; I don’t want to kill anyone or be killed.” I met Charlotte’s eyes over Peter’s head; she and I were on the same page, wanted no part in the war. And the two of us probably knew people on the other side, though I didn’t say that out loud. I didn’t know what to do, having the future so empty and uninviting.
Remus’s arm tightened around me, and James nodded. None of them tried to persuade me to do anything or feel a certain way. They had different perspectives on the war than my Slytherin friends and I did, and that was that; both sides were valid. I was lucky to have such good friends.
But a thought came to me as I sat there in the protection of Remus’s arm: if I now considered Voldemort’s side ‘the other side’, did that mean I actually had chosen a side now? Had I subjected myself to the fate of caring about the war, given up my independence in it all?
“Have you heard the new Hobgoblins song?” Peter asked, to relieved laughter. “It’s called ‘Voldesnort’. It’s brilliant.”
The next couple of weeks were nothing out of the ordinary, except the practice sessions for Apparition started for the people who would be taking their tests in early May, which included Mandy and Charlotte. Other than that, life went on as normal; it rained a lot as spring came around the corner, we went to classes, and the escaped dementors were apprehended by the Ministry after ripping up loads of trees.
The last Saturday in March, James came up to talk to Mandy, Charlotte and me as we were leaving breakfast. “I don’t know if you know, but tomorrow is my birthday!” he exclaimed. How would we not know? He’d been talking about it for over a month. He continued, “There’s going to be some festivities in the Gryffindor common room tomorrow night, and you’re invited. Consider yourselves very lucky and special, because I’ve never invited Slytherins. There will be Firewhisky. See you there!” He bounded off down the hall.
“I’m not going if Persephone Winchester is there,” said Mandy. “Sirius’s new girlfriend. She… has an annoying voice, and I don’t want to hear it.”
I snorted. “Yeah, that’s why she bothers you.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Mandy, she’s a Gryffindor, so she’s probably going to be there. Don’t pass up an opportunity for fun and Firewhisky because some girl may or may not be in the room.”
So on Sunday night we all went over to the Gryffindor common room with high hopes. They always knew how to throw a party; I’d heard stories of post-Quidditch-match victory celebrations. And we were not disappointed: There were streamers and balloons all over their common room, and on the tables were heaps of food from Honeydukes. They had indeed even managed to get Firewhisky, as promised; how they had gotten all these things without a Hogsmeade trip was beyond me.
James was by the window surrounded by a small crowd including Peter; as quite the entertainer, James was thoroughly enjoying himself. I decided to wait until a bit later in the evening to wish him a happy birthday, because he seemed too occupied at the moment, so I found Remus and Sirius and talked to them instead. I asked how they’d managed to get so much stuff from Hogsmeade, but they refused to tell. After a short while, Lily Evans came up to join us.
Perhaps now that James was dating Vivian, and Lily had been with Lewis Ackerley since the Yule Ball, she wasn’t as worried about being propositioned by James. “Potter sure does know how to throw a party, I’ll give him that,” she said, looking around appreciatively at the decorations.
“Do mine eyes deceive me?” cried Sirius. “Lily Evans! You’re actually here!” He threw his arms around her, and she laughed.
“Of course I’m here,” she said, shoving Sirius off good-naturedly. “I told you I would be.”
“I’m glad you came,” said Remus.
Sirius disappeared off into the crowd, but Remus, Lily and I caught up for a bit until we all split off and mingled among the crowd; I found Sirius sitting with his legs up on a table, his chair leaning back at a precarious angle. He had something in his hand and was prodding it with his wand, making it click.
He grinned. “Can you keep a secret?”
“Not really, no,” I said.
“Then you’ll find out later.”
“Ugh,” I groaned. “Shouldn’t you be up there in the centre of attention with James, making a fool of yourself like always?”
He ignored my question and put the object into his pocket. “We haven’t seen you for a while! Has Mr. Prefect replaced us?” He put his hands behind his head and leaned his chair back even more. If he fell all the way backward, I would do nothing but laugh at him.
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not my fault you haven’t seen me, you’ve been too occupied with Persephone. You keep going on about me dating a prefect, but Persephone is a prefect too, you know. And one of your best friends is a prefect!”
“No need to get worked up over it.”
“I’m not worked up, I just think you’re being hypocritical.”
Sirius put on a look of mock hurt. “You wound me, Hastings. Your words are a stab to my heart.”
“Well, not everyone can like you as much as you like yourself.” I smirked.
He scowled, but this time it wasn’t in jest, as he let his chair legs fall back to the floor and turned away from me to sulk. “Sorry,” I said quickly. “That was rude. Even if it’s a little true. I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t like you – you’re a great friend, actually, even if you’re a twit, and–”
I was cut off when Sirius interrupted me with laughter. “You’re certainly something, Hastings,” he said, throwing a friendly arm around me, and then removing it again almost instantly. “Well, it’s time to sing.” He stood up and announced, “Everyone! It’s time to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to James!” The room was soon filled with the sounds of many people singing slightly off-key, and Sirius reached into the pocket of his robes and pulled out what appeared to be one of Zonko’s new Indoor Fireworks, and waved it at me briefly.
When people finished singing, Sirius threw the firework into the air and it let out a bang and various fantastic shimmering colours of light. Remus and Peter joined in with a multitude more fireworks, and soon, stars and spirals of various colours danced around the room. James was standing with Lily by the window, and they were both laughing, enjoying themselves, until Vivian entered the room and James left Lily at the window while the fireworks sparkled around them. Sirius caught my eye and gave me a thumbs-up from across the room.
A/N: Thanks so much for reading! ♥ If you’ve gotten this far, why not leave a review? It would totally make my day. (Imagine how Ron would feel if the Chudley Cannons actually won a Quidditch game. That’s how I feel when I get reviews!) :D
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