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Chapter 19 : Green for Queen
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— 11:32am —
A smattering of girls mop the morning's mess into barrels, squeezing tapestries dry, and apologize to the portraits residing in today's battlefield. The hungry congregate on the scrubbed sections, huddled around the few unsullied sugar bowls like refugees. Warm milk, jellied curry, eggs twelve different ways—these girls have seen it all.
Professor Breech patrols them in stir-up heels straight out of a western. He hasn't got his Stepladder of Authority so he'll take anything that adds a couple inches vertically. "We'll leave the dishes dirty another day if we have to, if it'll teach you riffraff! Miss Oden—wand away, sponge out!"
House elves claw at the bubble Slughorn cast around the main floor, deep-set agony contorting their faces as they're unable to reach the mess. The kitchens are damn near mutiny over the dishes, according to Hufflepuff reports.
With a rag in each hand, Dom is vigorously wiping—attacking?—the underside of the Ravenclaw table. I sidle by her feet. They're stuck out from underneath the benches, toes tapping. It's our first greeting since last issue's distribution.
"Dom," I say.
The table stops shaking, her toes stop tapping and she squints from the shadows, still not a blonde strand out of place. Seriously, what kind of virgin blood is she bathing in? Her hair was soaking in cheese sauce four hours ago.
I take a deep breath. Sincerity is not my strong point but that doesn't absolve me from apologies, so I clear my throat and begin: "From the bottom of my heartless heart..."
Dom's expression, which seemed quite happy to see me, shrivels into a glower. "Clem—do not."
"I am truly..."
"Stop," she hisses. She kicks at me but I'm an inch too far. I made sure.
Now, louder: "...deeply..."
She flops flat on the floor, arms crossed. "You're worse than Vic."
Grinning, I sit down. She kicks my heel.
When she's less embarrassed, Dom crawls out from underneath the table, nostrils flared. Four loose curls are frizzed in front of her eyes. "Don't do that ever again."
"Not trust you or apologizing in public?"
"Apologizing! Of course you shouldn't trust me. Do I look responsible?" She whips me with her rolled-up rag and then dumps it into her water bucket, splashing us both with a fragrant mix of soapy chicken-milk-juice. "I've still got jam pouring out of my ears."
She's been at it for two hours straight, she tells me over a plate of griddle scones. She and Rose covered for me and the boys, which explains why the summons I expected from Slughorn never arrived. "It's our mess, anyway," she says.
"How many are in trouble?"
"Thirty-nine girls. Twenty-three Team Dom, sixteen Team Rose," Dom drills out with journalistic precision. Picking off the last raisin, she bites into a scone.
I consider the numbers. "They're loyal."
She smiles. "You're the only one's who's noticed. It's not that there were more of us causing a ruckus. More of us stuck around to accept responsibility." It's been three, four hours into her punishment and she's flaunting her food stains like they're the next big trend, an unflinching general amongst the creaking elbows of the room. I've missed her, pride and all.
A hem-hem clears Dom's throat. "But less about me, please; I've got a cult for that. You didn't come back last night and next I see you, you're with Al, snogging the lights out of him." Her cheeky, sidelong glance arches a little higher. She's missed me too, the presumptuous bint. "In my bottom desk drawer, there's a box."
My eyebrows can't move like hers but they try. "There were two vials missing, hem-hem."
You went looking, her smirk deduces. Does that mean there'll be three missing when I go check? "Oh, yeah, Sean—we're not anything. I just wanted to, you know, dip a quill in that well. See the fuss. But you..." Her tongue digs into her cheek. She wants to talk but we're sitting in a public space, and Breech is circling our way, spurs clinking. "Do you need your own supply?"
"No," I scoff, handing her the dirty plate. She stacks it in an overflowing tub destined for the kitchens, once the bubble charm lowers. The house elves are absolutely salivating. "It was a one-time thing."
"Like your snogging? I'd learn how to count again."
She flicks my head when I scowl, leaving a dripping trail of suds. When she's not looking, I double-check the top button of my blouse. I dressed in a rush.
"I can't help fretting, Clemence. You haven't got a mother figure in your life."
"Right now, I've got bigger worries than relationship shit." Rubbing my face, I glare through my fingers at the end of the Slytherin table, where a yellow-shirted gaggle is seated around Appy like a council of ducks. "I'll be lucky if I survive the day."
— 1:01pm —
Two Quirkers are standing outside of the owlery when I go in to feed Barry, marked by their newly embroidered shirts and shiny, black shoes. Their number has doubled when I step back out.
They follow me down the corridor, murmurs rising and falling as hands cup to whisper. Look at her. High-horsed shrew overdue for her due. A fox—a vixen—preying on our boys. Sly, slippery—she has it coming.
They close in. Clack-clack. Clack-clack. The halls are empty on the weekend, bigger without the crowds. I won't reach the stairwell soon enough.
Feeble heartbeats, the forgotten sound of fear, count down time.
Where is your wand?
Where is your fight?
— 3:20pm —
Cold seeps through my clothes, like a ghostly breath of stone. Scores of interviews have occurred at the foot of this stairwell.
In this quiet crumbling nook, it is easy to forget the castle's five hundred other occupants, as if life beyond this spot were fiction. And why not? Reality is absurd on paper. It's currently dictated by girls who rally around fictional relationships—seeing as none of the established Teams will ever come to fruition since Blondie's gay, Potter and I are moving backwards, and Appy won't get him even in her dreams. Maybe his nightmares.
Like Appy—a reminder that she gets to be the norm in this world—it's not as if these girls mind their odds. If reality were a cannon, their delusions would be a solid-steel warship. Gun it all you want; they'll just keep sailing, straight through the muddy Scottish moors.
Footsteps approach. They leave no sound but I feel their tremor against my skull. At the corner of my eye, two brogue stubs peek out of their shroud.
"Following again, Potter? Let's not glorify stalking for the kiddies."
Albus folds his cloak over his head, where tufts of mussed hair gleam, framed by the mosaic windows.
"We're celebrities now." I spin a finger in the air. "Role models."
"Why are you on the floor?"
"It is ever so slightly farther away from you."
I grab the railing and sit up, knees aching from lying bent against the steps, and the rush of blood throws me into a stagger when I stand. He catches my elbow and I jerk away on contact, wincing as I strike the railing. Bruised and battered by architecture; what is this, recompense for evading the Quirker assault?
"Piss off," I mutter. "I told you that already, didn't I? If you're looking for a shag, there's a mob ready to please you." Clutching my elbow, I charge past him but with most of his body still invisible, I miscalculate and—of course—slam into his shoulder on my way out.
Albus lets the cloak fall as he follows me, and our steps and voices mingle in cacophonous echoes. "Could you stop avoiding me for one second?"
"I wouldn't have to if you left me alone."
"I was fine," I grit. The word bounces back at me.
"You couldn't even breathe!"
"It was just—" Turning around, my fists are clenched for a verbal fight. Pain flares from the bottom of my lungs, and I'm transported to two hours prior, when I saw the girls in masks and choked. "I was fine! It's you—!"
You're the problem.
His eyes dart away mid-blink, that ugly reminder of how it hurts for him to look at me because he knows. This is all his fault and he's helpless; how does he suppose I like it?
"I don't know what to do with you, Clemence," he whispers hoarsely. "If you knew how much—how easily you could—"
He laughs suddenly, wipes off the ringing sound with his hand and takes a step, our gravital way of conversing—all wants and needs, bodies and heat, and a dash of to-hell-with-it. Here I shut my eyes, bracing, but his touch never comes.
Instead, a familiar, bitter but fragrant tang wafts from his breath. "You don't even know, but I finally get it. The tragedies. Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Guinevere and Lancelot. Watching kingdoms burn for the sake of... a thrill."
It's not the window's colored light; his eyes are bloodshot. He's drunk. Just a little, but he's got to be, to spout that sort of shit. I could laugh. Golden Boy Albus, drunk at three o' clock in the afternoon, hoisting our romance to the heights of the tragedies. It's become outright comical, how messed up we are.
"Love isn't a pardon for shoddy decision-making," I say, letting Albus down far more gently than he deserves, and he is sober enough to recall his shame and close his mouth.
I leave him in the cold to pick up his cloak.
— 1:05pm —
Fine. I'm fine. The words bulge hot and nauseous in my throat, swallowed and regurgitated amongst my sickly gasps. Breathe, Clemence, focus.
There is a blur of bodies on the floor. Scattered Venetian masks stolen from the drama club. And Potter—
"Clemence, hey, are you okay?" His fingers stretch the skin on my cheek, brushing my hair back. "Clemence, look at me."
"Piss... off." It is a haggard gasp, foreign to my ears. There are a million things I ought to shout at him, if I only had a breath.
My knuckles scrape into the wall. He's too close. He doesn't need to be here. I can say it again: I'm fine. The girls never touched me. They were Petrified by the time I turned around. He should know; he was the one who did it.
But I'm still panicking and it won't stop. Frailty and fear mocking me, and it’s your fault, all your bloody fault.
— 5:33pm —
"I know. I know I'm being horrible. I know it." Dom pinches her lip.
"Then why keep this up?" Leaning over the banister, I can almost see every floor below. Scattered pink and purple loyals, yellow on the ground floor, and a growing number of greens. It's both comforting and unsettling.
"Why does anyone keep habits they don't like? It's what people expect of us."
"Dom Weasley, a follower?" I snicker and await her fiery, bullet-pointed response.
But she's tired. Her hands are pruned. She'll be picking off cheese sauce for six more showers. "You know what I mean. I'd be a sellout if I liked Rose, she'd be enabler if she let me be, and we'd both be hypocrites. The Rebel and the Good Girl. Once they start calling you things like that, you're committed to it."
Further down the hall, the gargoyle statues scrape apart. Rose exits the Headmaster's office, nodding at something Slughorn is saying.
"Rose and I would be a right force if we ever teamed up," Dom muses, flicking her gaze toward her cousin, "but that's erasing the history books."
"So that's it? Dooming yourself to repeat history?"
She knows about the new message on the mirror and my panic attack and that everything I'm asking her is in preparation for my own inevitable war. Chewing on her lip, Dom barely glances at me as if embarrassed for the answer, but at least I get to be privy to this side of her. "Our rivalry won't flare up any time soon." It isn't a no. "Too many of the shirts got ruined and, I mean, you saw. It takes a load of energy... only to end up exactly where we started. At least Rose got punished, too. Finally knows how it tastes."
She seems confident about this much, despite the approaching redhead lacking any sign of it. Punishments for Rose are likely slaps on the wrist. Slughorn quashed accusations of playing favorites after retiring his Slug Club, but he only just renamed it to Heads and Prefects.
When Rose passes us on her way to the stairs, she returns Dom's flat smile. A secret one, by its brevity. I wouldn't jump to assuming they gained respect for each other, but there is some understanding between them that exists only when no one can witness. A shared suffering.
Perhaps there was a day long ago when they branded themselves with those titles—The Rebel and the Good Girl—presenting to their peers two girl to admire, two girls to rally for. War, at its most pointless, is an excellent P.R. tool for creating loyalties out of thin air. This isn't a fight for a boy nor a crown and only barely their principles. It is to seal the cracks of the status quo and maintain the popularity they have grown accustomed to.
But if anyone bothered to look a centimeter past the label, they'd see: the Good Girl isn't so good and the Rebel's lacking conviction.
— 6:57pm —
They giggle, looming ever-closer except when they stop to hush. The castle only gets darker and emptier this way. Sweat slicking my wand, I turn and I'm met with three pairs of wide, glistening eyes. The mouths underneath are practically slobbering.
"You two're really together?" asks the left-most girl, shadowed by the sconce's backlight. "You and Albus?"
"How'd you do it?" asks the girl clinging to her arm.
There is one more, a runt, hiding under her robes. None of them look older than thirteen. Underneath their collars is a peek of green, the same shade Sandra was wearing.
If I were moral-minded, I tell them all to run now. Apply themselves toward something more useful than a color-coded war. Try fortune cookie telling. Amateur paleontology.
In the end, I merely grin. "Wait for Monday's issue."
— 7:49pm —
Janey twirls her Easy-Edit quill, flipping it one-and-a-half times in the air and catching it by the tail, a habit she adopted from me. They grow up so fast.
After one last red slash, she holds up the interview transcript. "I think that's it. Do you want to look this over?"
"No, I want to burn it," I drawl, spinning on the newsroom's swivel chair. "I'm sure it's fine. I trust your writing—and your commas, unlike Pickett."
She grimaces, adjusting her glasses. "Still..."
All right, I probably should, considering my reputation and possibly my life hinges on this piece. "Toss it over then. Sorry, I'm tired."
The barely legible, tea-splotched parchment she hands me is the means of my first strike. An exclusive interview with yours truly, divulging how Albus Potter and I came to be... and for those soon-to-be-ex-Quirkers reading in between the lines, how to claim an Albus Potter of their own, blinding wit optional.
I could have penned it myself but I find the interview perspective charming. Slightly less egocentric than me writing about an irresistible me. But there is a second reason for calling Janey down here so urgently from the Ravenclaw tower.
I fold the parchment in half after a cursory glance. "Janey?"
"Yeah?" She's pouring tea to the tip-top brim of her mug, solely so she can skim the top with her mouth like a hoover.
"If this goes south... I want you to be prepared for the possibility that Witchy Business will end."
Her hand jerks and the tea overflows. She blinks, wiping her fingers on her coat. "What?"
"If I go, so will Dom. Pickett's finishing at the end of this year. You wanted to go into journalism, too, didn't you? You've got real talent. I don't want for this—whatever happens to me—to hurt that. So you go on if none of us do."
She stammers for a moment, deciphering what I might mean by 'go on.' Making sure Witchy Business survives or just escaping this zoo with some of her scruples in tact? Her rattled stare never entirely fades, more in denial than I am. "How can you just say that? You—we'll all be fine. Even so... aren't you scared?"
So much that I couldn't breathe. "I can't be."
— 9:01pm —
Appy towers over me, flanked by her number two and three from Q.G.A. The single sconce in this corner of the Great Hall decides to light up her gleaming teeth. "Albus might be under your spell or whatever you did to make him like you, but it won't last. If you love him, you'll leave him to someone worthy."
When I met Appy at the curfew bell, she motioned to the floor insisting that I sit and I foolishly thought she would also sit. Maybe we were doing this powwow-style like a friendly indoor campfire circle—really, what were you thinking, Clemence? That we lived together for six years, so it surely must count for something? No, the line of thinking goes: oops, not only did I piss her off, I was her friend, meaning that I betrayed her, too.
Hand on her chest, Appy emphasizes what she means by worthy. "Albus and I—we're meant to be." Her eyes glaze over as she slips into a daydream, spot of drool hitting my cheek. "I'm being reasonable. We both know how these stories end, Clemence. The happily-ever-after goes to the good girl and that simply isn't you."
Number two and three nod vigorously in agreement, ponytails swishing. Two other Quirkers are holding me down by the wrists, and two more went rummaging through the nearby broom cupboard. I didn't think to bring backup. I can have every religion's karmic god against me, and I'd still be overconfident.
"So what will it be, Clemence? Please don't make this harder than it needs to be because—I will defeat you."
What am I, a dragon? I making a scoffing sound. I would love to tell Appy that she can have Albus. He isn't worth fighting for, plain and simple. I care for him as much as I do for my cat. I don't have a cat.
But this morning, I made a spectacle. Claimed him as mine and snogged him, with emphasis. Handing him to Appy after that only brands me as a hypocrite. I know I can end our war before it begins if I only take that label. Shut up, give up, bear the humiliation. News is fleeting. Life goes on. No one will remember this in a week.
But I am nothing if not proud. Like Dom, like Rose, too cowardly to lose. It's fun and games until someone gets hurt. Then we keep score.
"Appy," I say, grin cocked to the side, not even sweating. "It's time someone said this to your face: you're a delusional bitch."
Her face contorts. I've never seen anything like it. Wait, no—she looks like the plastic guardian lion statue outside of the Chinese take-out by Aunt Rita's. I could never figure out if it was smiling or choking. Appy is currently doing a little bit of both.
"Heh... say that... again?"
I hear the click of heels behind me; the other girls have come back from their search. I stretch as far forward as those holding me down will allow and grin under her nose, ready to eat shit. "Green... for... queen."
A full spray of spit flies in my face as she sputters. Oh yes, she heard right.
Appy swiftly raises a shaking arm. I look up. A string of once-melted cheese slides over the rim of a barrel, one used to store the oozy, putrid breakfast artillery wiped from the walls. The smell hits me first; it could knock me out. Then the liquids—mushy and green. Finally, everything that accumulated at the lip of the barrel falls in one tremendous splotch over my head.
There are yelps from ricocheting foods, but soon they're laughing at the spectacle of me, floundering; eyes, nose, mouth burning.
I can barely make out Appy's departure. "I'm going to go enjoy a long, hot shower. It might take a few hours," she seethes, beckoning her girls to her.
She whirls around and then again, thrusting a finger in the air to claim the last-last word. "Appy: 1, Clemence: 0."
— 9:09pm —
"Clemence? Oh nooooo."
A hand pulls me out of the pile. When the toast slides off my face, I see it's Scorpius. He's on patrol.
He helps me find my wand. I lost it while scrabbling for my pocket, hoping to blast my way out with a spell. The food had jellied around me. I got a hold of something stick-like but turns out I'd been trying to cast with a chicken bone.
He finds my wand skewering two meatballs and a tomato. I pluck it from him and squeeze off the food. "Thanks. Aguamenti." I spray my face and cough; the water running down stinks of egg salad. "A favor: is the password to the prefect's bath still 'Queen's Hippo?'"
"They changed it last week. But I can ask." He flicks a decaying snack from my shoulder. A glob falls from my hair to take its place.
"Never mind," I grumble. It's five floors up anyhow. Maybe Pickett's shower is free. "Good night, Blondie. Stay safe. Blokes like you shouldn't walk around alone this time of night." I start trudging toward the dungeons.
"Oh, er—there's also the showers at the pitch," Scorpius calls after me, wiping his hands on his handkerchief. "No one's there this late. That's why Al likes to fly at night."
I stop, arching a brow. "Does he?"
— 9:24pm —
Locker hinges squeak. I slap my feet against the floor, parading my slime trail as I enter. Our eyes meet over a dividing row. Albus falters as he stares at me, gulp in his throat bobbing. I head straight to the shower area.
Pulling my top over my head, I use it to scrape off the chunks in my hair and then fling it to the floor. He watches me but there's nothing sensual about it. Ogling the bruises and scars and stinking muck that he knows are his fault.
The shower tiles are slick, recently wet. Breathing shallow, Albus stands there pretty and clean, shirt still in his hand. Hasn't moved since I arrived. I face him whilst stripping off my tights—and grin, because it'll hurt him more.
Look at us. Look at what we do. Fighting over such big ideas in such little lives, scrounging for control over people we don't even like for a thimble of power.
Dressed only in my knickers, I turn the shower knob behind me, eyes locked with his as I rake my hair back under the torrent. He swallows his gulp. His hands knead into his towel. Distraction creeps in as the food washes off.
I pull the dispenser lever for the shampoo, scrub a full handful into my hair, and finally speak. "Here's the reality: we're stuck with each other." The bitterness I saved, in barrels and barrels, drip from my words. "In an ideal world, I wouldn't need you, but the Tutshill Quidditch Team isn't shirtless and peeling me grapes right now, so I guess we don't live in an ideal world. If we're going to take down the Q.G.A. with fake relationships, you and I have to be front and center amongst them."
Suddenly, he can't keep my gaze anymore. You chose me, Potter. Out in the lake, you chose me.
"Do you have a problem with that?" I say. "Not like our relationship was very real before."
He stares into his open locker. "...I'll do whatever you want."
"Good." I turn the taps down to let the shampoo sit. "Let's get a few things clear. I'm not your girlfriend. You're my boyfriend." He grimaces at that word, such a strange one to come out of my mouth. "You're going to hold my hand, take me out to Hogsmeade, buy me stupid stuffed toys, and you're going to tell the world that I'm the best bloody thing that's ever happened to you."
His face darkens and he wants to interject. He had so many plans, so brilliant in his mind. This is what he wanted, but it wasn't supposed to turn out like this. It wasn't supposed to hurt.
I can't help sneering. "Did you think war was going to be fun, Potter?"
A/N I am late. I made waaaay too many war metaphors, pseudo-political tangents, a canon/cannon joke, Appy keeping score. There is a lot of angst and wailing and not enough Pickett and I totally didn't mean to have that happen?? But I swear on Merlin's bathroom reading material, next chapters have a lot of cynic-friendly derpy fluff.
They're the Valentine's Day chapters. *thunder and cackling*
I dropped in some new and old stuff: Clemence's panic attacks, Albus drinking habit, WB potentially coming to an end~ I wanted to try this timed-style out for these two chapters, and I'm not entirely happy with it. Maybe it's just me wanting to get to the Valentine's fluff already, hem hem.
etc. also picked up a few awards in the latest Dobbys—both dialogue and description—thank you readers! Aaaah, you guys spoil me c:
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