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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 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 grandma,” 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 shirt 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.”
“Yes you can, Charlotte. Let’s keep practising. You just need to focus.” I smirked.
We kept practising, and I could tell we were getting better. The indistinct silvery shapes we produced had more of a shape, 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.”
Luckily, we all finished without having to stay up until three in the morning, so in Potions the next morning my Memory Potion was average instead of horrid. At the end of class, as I threw Advanced Potion-Making into my bag and Mandy was gathering up the last remaining debris from the desk, James and Sirius walked by our table, Peter and Remus trailing behind them.
“What happened to your potion?” asked James obnoxiously, peering into the cauldron on my desk and wrinkling his nose.
“That’s how it’s supposed to look,” I lied. “Or did you forget already?”
“No, I have a fantastic memory thanks to my potion.”
“You tried your own potion in class?” Mandy asked, raising an eyebrow.
“All I had to do was look at it and my memory was improved instantly,” said James.
Sirius snorted. “Only because his memory was rubbish to begin with,” he added. James punched him on the shoulder.
“I see,” I said. “What an interesting ability. Too bad it won’t come in handy if we study Ageing Potions. You’ll be fifty by the end of class.”
“You should come to Gryffindor tower later this evening,” said Remus, “because these two idiots will be in detention and otherwise Peter and I will just have to study.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty awful,” interrupted Sirius. “Who wants to study on a Friday afternoon? I’d rather go to detention.”
“I wouldn’t,” said James with a wistful look. “I was going to spend the afternoon with Vivian.”
“You can’t have it both ways, Prongs,” said Peter.
“We can’t get in, the password’s been changed,” I said to Remus. “What’s the new one?”
Sirius raised his eyebrows in mock indignation. “That’s top secret, for Gryffindor ears only.”
“Obviously we can’t just give secret information out to the enemy,” James agreed.
“Enemy?” said Mandy. “I thought we were friends? It’s not like we’ve never been up there before.”
“It’s ‘frabjous’,” said Remus quietly as we walked into the Great Hall for lunch. “See you later,” he added as Mandy, Charlotte and I split off towards the Slytherin table.
When Mandy and I finally headed over to visit the Gryffindors while they were studying, James and Sirius had apparently finished their detentions already. When they had said they would be studying, it was perhaps an overstatement. Remus was lying down in the window seat reading, Peter was playing wizard chess with a fifth-year I didn’t know, and James was talking loudly with several members of the Quidditch team. Sirius was across the room, his lips practically glued to those of Persephone Winchester, Gryffindor’s fifth-year prefect.
I looked over at Mandy, whose eyes were narrowed as she spotted Sirius and Persephone. “Er… all right, never mind,” I said. “We’ll come back and visit later.”
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, Mandy saw Persephone and Sirius together in the hallway twice and talked about it a lot, 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 that Winchester girl is there,” said Mandy. “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 telling a story, surrounded by a small crowd. He was quite the entertainer, and thoroughly enjoying himself. I decided to wait until a bit later in the evening to wish James a happy birthday, because he seemed too occupied at the moment, so Mandy and I found Remus and talked to him. I asked him how they’d managed to get so much stuff from Hogsmeade, but he refused to tell. After a short while, Lily Evans came up to join us.
“Hey Lily, I didn’t know you’d show up, that was nice of you to join us,” said Remus. “I’m sure James appreciates it.”
She rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. “Yeah, I figured since it’s his birthday I’d be nice…” She turned to Mandy and me. “It’s good to see you two here! How are you?”
“Great!” said Mandy. “It’s spring, I’ve finished my homework, there are no Slug Club meetings in the near future, and I’m at a birthday party. Nothing could possibly get me down now. How about yourself?”
Lily laughed. “Good, thanks. Potter sure does know how to throw a party, I’ll give him that.”
“Just wait, the best part is still to come,” said Remus.
“What’s that, Potter asking me out again?” asked Lily sarcastically. I snorted. Lily had been dating Lewis Ackerley since the Yule Ball, not to mention that James was with Vivian now.
Remus shook his head. “No, remember he’s got a girlfriend now, Lily. You’ll see. It’ll be fun… and colourful.”
Mandy greeted someone walking through the portrait hole and went off to chat with her, so I talked with Remus and Lily a bit longer and then wandered around mingling, until I found Sirius, who was 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.
“Shouldn’t you be up there in the centre of attention with James, making a fool of yourself like always?” I asked him.
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.”
“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 pulled the thing out of his pocket and began adjusting it again, and I saw that it was one of Zonko’s new Indoor Fireworks.
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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