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Chapter 18 : The Self-Fulfilling Prophet
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— 7:05am —
The seconds plash in their hourglass, numbered, conscious of themselves. There is history in the making and no rewriting it—only damage control.
I drop the book and shove the cloak into Albus' hands. Appy lunges for me, but in the jostle of the crowd, elbows linked with hers yank her back. Still, she tries, a rabid dog fighting her collar. How soon will it snap? As fast as she did?
I grab Albus by the front of his sweater. "Let's go!" Mesmerized by the chaos, he doesn't move. "Potter!"
Then he looks at me—just me—with the same bewitchment, interrupted lust burning green, as if I were as mad as the crowd. The lump in my throat is too big to swallow; how many times have I told him not to look at me that way?
But I kissed him, after all. There are consequences. Exhibit A is foaming at my feet. Exhibits B through Z are shouting 'Team Clemence.'
The hall is all noise. I wanted to stop the war, not start a new one. Letting go of Albus, I jump off the table without him, parting a path with my glare, walking fast but not running. I will not be afraid in my own school.
The whispers are closer to shouts. "It's got to be a publicity stunt!"
"She's desperate, utterly desperate. Advice columns and now this."
A scramble of girls follow me out of the hall, led by the ex-Quirker Sandra with the mustard 'C' emblazoned across her front. "Clemence, don't worry! We're totally in support of you, all of us." She struggles through the throngs of newly-awake students streaming inbound to rubberneck. "Appy's been so goddamn selfish—shove off, Margie, I'm trying to tell her—it's about time someone shut that glitter demon up. Did you see how you left her? Her face looked like a potato!"
Margie edges in front, hair full of hash. "You mean a tomato?"
Circe, you'd think I'd have picked up a more educated following. Sandra's a prefect and the badge deludes her into thinking she's all-wise; she's more leaky spigot than sphinx and sheer Gryffindor grit rounds out the difference, making her twice the idiot.
Sandra's stomps match mine step for step down the dungeon stairs, leading a platoon of a dozen other devotees. "At least choose a color! What about an army green, you know, for war."
Swiveling around, I hold my index fingers in the air and draw a line at that word. "This is not a war." I point at each girl with a conductor's precision. "No colors. No shirts. You can be part of my team by not being part of a team."
"No." I leave the grumbling assemblage to bottleneck the staircase.
Distantly, I hear Margie suggest, "What about a troupe?"
— 7:12am —
Helen's favorite red jumper is swallowing her when I charge into my dorm. She tunnels her head through the opening and spots me through her nest of fly-aways, flushed a similar red from the effort.
"Clemence!" The more she combs her hair, the more it goes in the opposite direction. "Where were you last night? And—you know you've got a full breakfast on your backside."
"Long story, ask around. And I... went drinking with Pickett." I eye the bathroom, where I hear running water, and my throat knots. "Is Appy here already?"
"No, just sis."
I pound on the door. "Harriet! Hurry up!"
A shadow moves across the gap at the bottom and scarlet-painted toes wiggle back at me. Bint knows full well how much she hogs the sinks. "I've got half a leg left to de-hair! There's a bucket under the bed!"
"I don't need the loo! I need to shower!"
"The bucket does double-duty!"
It takes three veiled threats to her broomstick, two blatant ones, and nearly detaching the door from its hinges in order to haul Harriet's arse out.
Once I'm in, I strip off everything into the laundry chute, crank the shower's temperature knob to hot, and hang my head under the jet. Dirt pools around my feet and globs of icing grease the tile in thick, blue splatters. Every bit of evidence from yesterday evening to this morning, disappearing down the drain.
Facing the spray head-on, a shudder passes through me. The last time I was naked, there were fingers where the droplets are trailing, hands smoothing over my skin like water, following the only path they know down my neck, my breasts, my ribs, my hips. Scoff at love for the heartless, but lust only needs a body. It shouldn't be so easy. More than easy—I like it.
Panting in steam, I grab the soap and scrub.
— 7:39am —
I crack open the bathroom door. The dorm is empty. Wrapping my towel tight, I tiptoe to my dresser, rubbing the grit on my feet against my ankles.
I pick the plainest white blouse, with a black jumper and black, patternless tights. I'll wear black for the next year if I have to; I don't want the next color on me to become Team Me's fashion. Black goes with everything at least, until your whole closet is monochrome and then it goes with nothing, unless you want to look like one of those batty hags who still wears pointy hats.
Before I forget, I also rummage into Dom's bottom desk drawer and pull out her box of contraceptive tonic, hidden behind her revision of the N.E.W. S.P.E.W. constitution. Of the sixteen slots, there are two vials missing; how recently, I'm not sure. Though, Sean Blackbury's been extra giddy, skipping to class like he's in a tampon ad.
Right—Sean. I didn't even remember him with Scorpius around. Wasn't Sean snogging a girl around Dom's height near Charms just two days ago?
A hungry gurgle wakes the cramps in my side, a signal of the dwindling eight-hour deadline for the potion's usefulness. I uncork a vial and knock it back, ears abuzz. A rusted tang sticks to my throat, but it goes away with another swallow.
It unsettles me again—the I'm-not-sure. Dom and I aren't attached by the hip or soul (soul-bonding, done exclusively by Hades' Ladies for demon romance enthusiasts, is a trend that needs to die sooner than the Q.G.A.). I'm not her mother either, and Fleur isn't the type to hover over her daughter as if she can't climb stairs without asking for directions. But Dom is something like my best friend, and I ought to know she's with someone new because she tells me these things, or at least she used to, and I could recognize her in a hallway.
She can't possibly know what I said to Albus. What if Rose told her hearsay? One stupid remark about how we might drift apart—
But it was before that, wasn't it?
— 8:11am —
Stragglers enter the common room with food dripping from their chins. Their silhouettes turn full-color under the light, forming faces of housemates I've known for years or those of younger snakes learning anarchy hard and fast.
And finally, the glitter devil I've been waiting for, Apostrophe "Call me Appy or I'll choke you" Hyphen Colon, appears in the doorway by her lonesome. The vessel of all that is unholy wears a bob cut.
Word has gotten around even without my encouragement. Across the room, people slow their steps, conversations pause, and eyes rise above their books.
I stand from my seat, fingers prickling on the upholstery. I swear I have something prepared for this moment—something diplomatic but firm, where both of us win—but then I remember she's nuttier than a hibernating squirrel.
"No, no, it's fine." The girl glides closer before I can move; she insists. "I forgive you, Clemence. I really do." She wears a smile to signify her truth, and disturbingly, it looks genuine. "Merlin knows that Albus is hard to resist and, well, it's only natural to want him."
"...right." Unmerciful Merlin, she's probably killed someone already. "Look, Appy—"
"I might be the only one who deserves him, but that doesn't mean other girls won't fall in love with him, too." With a flounce-flounce-flounce, she's in my face, nose a freckle away from mine, eyes bloodshot to hell and back. "I forget that sometimes, and I apologize. That's why I'm giving you until tonight—first curfew—to give him up. Fair?"
"Not really," I croak. Fixation or not, Potter is so not worth this.
She pinches my cheek like I'm being cute when really, my default smugness is petrified; if someone figures out what the appropriate expression is for fucking terrified, I'll switch to that. "That's funny. I didn't hear a yes. But I'll assume you meant that."
There's nothing for me to say. This isn't a dialogue; it's a threat, and threats go one way.
"So, yes then? Good." Stroking the patch of skin where her nails left their bite, Appy coos, "I value our friendship, too."
Skirt whirling, she saunters to our room. The collective quiet ruptures. Out of nowhere—I swear she just excavated herself out from underneath the sofa—a wild Sandra appears, fists clenched at her sides. She shouts after Appy, "She's not going to take that, you know!" She glares at me. "You're not, right?"
I don't dignify her with a response, but no I can't, at least if I want to be taken seriously in this school ever again. But the thought of fighting for Potter—he must have laughed all the way to the Gryffindor tower.
Glancing down at Sandra's clothes, any remaining hope that this commotion will end soon dies agonizingly in the pit of my stomach, with olive-green as its killer.
"When'd you get that shirt?"
— 10:25am —
Caroline Escot, patron of my other cheek's scars, is making her rounds in the social circuits, pretending that she's got seer smarts.
"I called it weeks ago." She shrugs her shoulder, twirling the straw around her drink. "Clem-clem was drooling all over him. It was so obvious, it was vulgar, and she calls the Girlfriend Watch to get everyone looking the other way. But I didn't."
I thought I could find refuge in the Speak Easy, but Caroline brought her whole clique in at quarter past, filling three tables full of airhead lemmings who have no idea why they're there, other than for the famous excuse, "because my friends are, too." What I'd give to shove one of them off the astronomy tower.
"No one listened. But you remember those messages in the loo, right? Don't say I didn't warn you lot." Caroline levels her gaze on me.
She's lying; the lipstick messages were from only last week, and Escot isn't smart enough to pull it off. But her followers would believe in prancing Nargle gods if it came out of her mouth.
It's an easy tale to tell: the school's gossip bitch seduces the most wanted boy in school. You'd believe that even if you had no idea who Potter and I are. Bitches plot evil. They ruin lives because. End of sentence. Compare that to the truth: the self-fulfilling prophet Fitzgerald, in search of a secret girlfriend when there was none, becomes the one.
Caroline calls in another round of butterbeers which means another round of high-pitched tittering and my departure. A house elf open the door for me as I leave. Sour-faced, I scare off the next girl coming in.
When I turn into the main corridor, movement from outside catches my eye. A snowy owl soars past the window, looks straight at me, and hoots.
— 10:57am —
Broken latches rattle as we slam into the cupboard door, his fingers digging under my thighs, pulling at the wool, peeling my legs apart. I tear his sweater upwards, my own having been discarded over the ingredient jars, and grope for a handhold. The knob—slips. My hand lands flat against the door, knuckles white as he grinds against me, his kiss and moan filling my mouth.
Without so many words, we are so very stupid.
When I followed his owl to a disused classroom on the third floor, I expected Albus wanted to talk about what happened. And he did. It devolved.
It's not yet eleven and I've already had enough of this morning; with stress at a peak and the contraceptive tonic working eight-hours before and after imbibing, there's an economical advantage to shagging a lot in that window. The fact that Potter and I tend to start our conversations snippy and tense and in each other's face is just the light to a pre-existing fuse.
Still—"We shouldn't—Potter," I pant as he claims my neck, and I grip at the mangled lump of fabric where his shirt has ridden up. Sweat stings the air; there's hardly oxygen to spare. In the past minutes, we've awoken a frenzy worthy of a mob, all the more potent with only two bodies to latch onto. "Potter, we shouldn't get used to this."
His mouth dips below my blouse's neckline. "I thought the whole point of snogging me in front of everyone is so we can."
"We were talking and—I was going to say sohommething—Potter—" I pull his head back by the hair.
"So say it." There's a time for softer emotions and messy discussions of our relation-whatever-ship, but not when his green eyes flicker so ferally. And damned if the challenge licked upon his grin doesn't make me want him to inconvenience me as much as possible.
He pushes off from the cupboard, sending us spiraling into an old preparation table, where I yank his shirt and sweater over his head—to give myself a few seconds, mind you, as he grapples with it.
"I don't want outright war." I might admit to spectating as he drops his clothes to the floor. His frame is solider than what his frumpy sweaters disclose, something I couldn't see in the dark waters. An old potions classroom with shuttered windows aren't much better, but there is a sensuality about the lines of light that fall across him and the table.
"Look"—I bite my lip as his hands slide up my hips, my ribs—I gasp—under my bra—"at Rose's idea and where printing that fake letter that got us." He slips two fingers under the elastic band of my tights, but I knock them away, lifting my head against the rush. "You Gryffie pot-stirrers never think that letting things be might be better."
Bending down, Albus presses a kiss to my stomach. "Come on, it's too good to pass up. You against Appy; it's the exact match-up we need. She won't even know we're aiming to take down all of Q.G.A. with her." His slighted fingers walk up my body, pressing me down to the table, pinching open any buttons that stand between them and skin. "Just hold your own, nothing more. I'll take care of the rest. I already talked to Riley and Miles about taking some Quirkers on dates, depending on what advice you write. Do you know what you'll print yet?"
So bloody smitten over his own plans that he assumes I'll just fall in line now that we're shagging. "No."
"Could you owl me a draft tonight?"
This bit of disobedience, of all things, jars him from his teasing, just as he's climbed atop me no less, and he frowns. "It's Saturday. There's no time for planning if you print on Monday—"
"I am aware of the days of the week." Twisting my legs, I flip Albus over and he slams onto the table. A lantern on the other end clatters to the floor. "What I am less aware of is how you managed to get exactly what you want. Taking down the Q.G.A. with me as your champion. I wage war. I get the fallout. While you sit pretty and be Albus Potter."
My elbows pin his arms down and I rest my head in-between, proving myself sober to his seduction after all. He says he cares; proved it once and promptly mislaid that concern as soon as events turned in his favor. He wants to use me, control me, if he could, destroy me. I can be distracted from our relationship's brutal reality, but I will not forget it.
"You'll turn heroes into villains and villains into martyrs if it means getting what you want," I say. "Damn the good of the school. I want what's good for me."
The other houses are so quick to mistake survival for selfishness. I can see in the dullness of his eyes that he doesn't get it; it's tainted instead by the disease he calls courage. "It's too late to change anything. What are you going to do, magically make amends with Appy?"
"I can give you up." I don't say it like a threat, but it could be one. "You need me more than I need you."
"Then we both still need each other." He holds my gaze, hands sliding up my neck, finishing their journey across my body, but the air is tepid and itchy. When he brings my face down to kiss, I turn away.
"Get dressed, Potter."
— 11:16am —
The first headline is scrawled across all four mirrors of the third-floor girls' loo.
'EXTRA, EXTRA, C.F. SHOCKED SHE'S POTTER'S SECRET GIRLF'
I smear my hand across the message, but it only spreads the lipstick. The remaining red runs down my hands like blood.
Whatever, I guess. It's not as if people don't already know. Rolling up my sleeves, I rub off the stains. Then I splash my face with sink water and smooth the crimps in my hair. A fresh blouse will have to wait until I'm certain Appy's left our room, but for the most part, I don't look guilty of classroom indiscretion. I drag my hands down my face; Circe, once the mood's killed, shame wastes no time walking over its dead body and moving in.
Turning off the taps, I stand back before the mirrors. No, the lettering is definitely too neat to be Caroline's. But a Quirker—there are smart girls in there with a flair for sarcasm. It's a pity they go the quirky route, really.
I give up. It could be anyone, even Filch on a bored day; what else would he do with all that confiscated makeup? Taking out my wand, I mutter 'Aguamenti' and begin blasting off the words. My reflection stares back in-between the last F's fencepost strokes and tapered-off tail—
Lumos goes the candle.
The letter isn't finished. The word isn't finished. Whoever wrote this was interrupted.
I spin my heel toward the exit, cursing into my fist. I might have just missed them. There were at least three girls in the halls, but also some heading the other way—for the love of Salazar, I just missed them!
The first step of my run stamps down onto the tile when a draft shudders.
I turn back, blood beating in my ears, and I almost don't hear it, but I can feel it shiver. Something like a gasp and not a draft at all—a human breath.
My eyes fly to the second stall, the only one without the door wide open. Someone is trying to be quiet, their muffled fear escaping between fingers in lieu of breathing. My hand reaches the door and I push—
It blasts open, throwing me to the ground. There's a second panicked spell from the girl's voice and the room fills with smoke.
I jerk upwards, wand slashing the air. A flash of a leg, black shoes—I stumble, teary-eyed, brought to my knees with coughing. Water sprays from a broken pipe, melting the message off the mirror. Puddles rim with crimson.
When the smoke finally clears, she's gone.
A/N I'm back! This is a short chapter that continues next chapter~ so we'll have a full 12 hours of this day up until curfew hehe. I'm giving another go at that shorter-chapters-quicker-updates thing now that etc is my main fic, which'll hopefully maintain my sanity with writing, too. I've got a new inspiration blog going on, too~
I'm bringing back a lot of characters and loose threads, but I'm also reintroducing them (like Sandra was briefly mentioned as the Quirker who outbid Appy in the auction and got ex-communicated, but it doesn't matter if you forgot). I'd like to learn how to maintain a cast of background characters *__* The next chapter should have the whole Witchy Business staff and ol' Scorpo and finish off the set-up from this chapter. The situation with Dom is not as dire as it seems, quite the opposite; I only say this because I'm excited to write more of their friendship~ c: This fic is a bit sparse in healthy relationships.
And now to write the next chapter! I hope this chapter's (and next chapter's) timed style works. Sorry for the previous wait! Reviews are appreciated! HPFF has been getting slow, but I see you readers coming back ♥
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