Chapter 3 : III. Frisson Instead of Fusion
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Hogwarts is not good at keeping secrets. The castle is, but the adolescents therein, not so much. And yet it has been sixteen-ish hours since that telltale clause escaped from James Potter’s “perfectly kissable” (10/10, would bang, as is scrawled across the stall doors in the second-floor ladies’ room) and a poor fictional Muggle was almost fictionally lobotomised, and I have not been approached once about either thing. I don’t know if James and Ivy have fortuitously crossed paths since yesterday, but when he arrives at double-Charms, he doesn’t seem to have been stalked or accosted, so… huzzah, I suppose.
I would ask if he’s been stalked or accosted, but he has slipped into the desk in front of mine, because of course, James has many friends, and he feels bad if he ignores them for my sake. Whether it’s wise of him to sit with Claire Olsen, of all the idiots, is another question. Not that I’m moping in my seat at not being able to soak up the glory of Sitting Right Next To James Potter. I do have other friends.
The friend who sits with me in Charms is one of my roommates, Poppy Hargrave, a fellow skeptic (regarding Potter’s divine origins) who spends most of class doodling doodles of heinous, bloodcurdling monsters in the margins of her notes. Occasionally she dabbles in poetry to express her intense hatred of Charms.
Today, she collapses into the chair next to mine, her mug of coffee shuddering with the force of impact. I don’t know where she gets coffee or what dirt she has on Professor Sinclair that she blackmails him with so he lets her drink it in class, but I wish I did. Once she told me that if the colour of her coffee didn't match the colour of her hair, she'd toss it out. So it's dark-brown/black/brackish coffee for her or nothing.
While Poppy remains curled up in her chair, the rest of us wait for Professor Sinclair to show up for once. There’s a school-wide betting pool that speculates on how late he will be any given class period. I don’t gamble very much, but the pool did come in handy when my dad found out I’d taken forty Galleons out of his Gringotts account to pay for tickets to see Four-Point Compass live in London.
(It was a terribly shitty concert, too. Couldn’t hear anything and was nearly strangled to death for daring to suggest that it was a terribly shitty concert. I know life at Hogwarts these days has prepared me better than it has others regarding the dangers of cults of fit young male personalities, but I dread the day when some spoiled Ravenclaw alumnus bribes her emotionally distant father into offering James a record deal and he, inevitably, becomes a one-record wonder.)
When the first and lowest threshold for betting in the pool is cleared at three minutes into the official class period (somewhere in this castle, a firstie who didn’t know any better is about to lose all the pocket money his parents trusted him with), I turn and appraise the sorry sight to my left with gentle pity. “Long morning?”
“All mornings are long,” the lump beside me grumbles. “Also it’s Monday morning.” She sits up to poke her mug and then glances at me. “I got maybe three hours’ sleep this whole weekend. All three on Saturday night.”
“Something bothering you?”
“No… no, I just couldn’t sleep.”
I peer piercingly into her eyes. “Does this have to do with that job application you’ve been whinging about?”
“Well. Um. Talking… a lot… about… anyway. That job. With that–what’d you call it?–really adorable little underground literary… journal?… Um, that thing. Any news?”
“Nah, it’s too soon for them to respond. But that’s not it.” She downs a sip of coffee like one would a shot. In a low but somehow more brazen voice she adds, “What’s this about James fancying someone now?”
Sixteen-ish hours. That must be a new record.
I roll my eyes and also lower my voice, well aware that the man himself is sitting just a few rows ahead of us, placidly conversing with one of his more impressionable female friends. “He doesn’t. He was just talking about the idea for some new song with Ivy Fawcett.”
“He’s writing about Ivy Fawcett?”
“Oh my…” I shudder. “No. Just no. He was talking to Ivy about his song.”
She frowns. “I heard he was talking with Elena Geller?”
“Geller would never believe that a song about a bloke falling in love with a mermaid means he fancies someone.”
“Mermaid is demeaning. Merperson is the preferred term.”
“Mer… people have said this? This is the consensus now?”
Poppy shrugs. “My writing sample for the job application was a review of a biography of some merpeople’s rights activist. Fascinating shit.”
“No.” She sighs gloomily. I suspect this is more because her coffee’s gone cold than because of the terror of a biography she had to slog through, which must be a shame.
I like the smell of coffee well enough, but the taste makes me want to get very drunk and hex my own tongue out of my mouth, because having no sense of taste at all would be better than tasting bitter death for eternity.
(I have strong opinions about breakfast beverages. Always have, always will. Poppy and our other roommates insist that I’m delusional and cannot have possibly truly lived without coffee, but since I am breathing at this very moment, and have not for a second ceased breathing, I’m still alive, and therefore have truly, in the most basic sense of the term, lived.)
“But yeah, he’s just writing a song,” I continue, still in hushed tones. “Nothing to get your knickers in a twist about.”
“It could be a metaphor,” Poppy counters. “Boy falls in love with for-some-reason unattainable girl. Merpeople live underwater… and the Slytherin dorms are under the lake, aren’t they? Maybe it’s a Slytherin!”
“Merpeople are also incapable of reproducing with wizards, so there. Trust me on this.”
“I’m the one who read about the ongoing, generational struggle for merpeople’s rights, not you. You should be grateful you’ve gone through your whole life without having to read this very detailed account of it. And this guy, let me tell you, he got up to some incredibly kinky sh–”
I sigh through slightly gritted teeth, “About James. Trust me about James, not merpeople’s rights activists.”
I am mildly disturbed, though. If Poppy sees a metaphor in nonsense, there can’t be much hope for the rest of the girls. There aren’t that many girls, admittedly, but when each one has convinced herself that she’s the merperson to James’ ordinary wizard, the plain numbers melt in the face of the sheer onslaught of romantic self-delusion.
“I mean, look at him over there. Does he look like he’s secretly harbouring a crush about whom he’s writing stupid convoluted love songs?”
We both crane our necks to watch them more closely. Professor Sinclair is, of course, still nowhere to be found, so the classroom is awash with stupid morning conversations. The one James is having with Claire Olsen is no different. He promised, I now remember, to help her brush up on her work for some spell or other, and James Potter never breaks promises to his friends. Therefore to anyone. Especially not to the demure, eyelash-fluttering, blush-stained face of Claire Olsen.
Oh, she’s nice enough. She’s cute enough. If ever anyone needed someone to play a marshmallow in a primary school play about the dangers of excessive sugar intake, she would be the go-to witch. I don’t despise her any more than I despise most of the girls who spend their nights praying for James Potter to talk to them and their days scurrying around behind him so they can take in his legendary beauty and not ruin their experience with exchanging words with him or anything. But James is a sucker for people just as awkward and kind as he can be.
Poppy is well aware of my antipathy to this particular devotee, and she eyes me over her mug as I eye the two of them sitting in front of me. At least she’s more interested in my reactions than in James’ nonexistent crush. “If looks could maim.”
“Not maim,” I correct her. “If looks could force a reaction from her that is not a startled awkward laugh or a goddamn blush.”
“She’s a ginger, she’s going to blush a lot more and more noticeably than non-gingers.”
“I don’t discriminate on the basis of hair colour,” I say matter-of-factly. It would betray my roots as the blonde pigeonholed into… well, the Claire Olsen mold. Retiring, giggling, blushing… eugh. It’s enough to make me want to throw up into a top hat. “But anyone blushing that bloody much needs to get a better handle on–”
“Her blood?” Poppy rolls her eyes. “People blush when blood rushes to their faces.”
“I once told her I liked how she did her hair. Some fancy braid. That made her blush.” I scowl. “And I do happen to know the biological impulse behind blushing.”
Of course, the would-be-but-definitely-not lovebirds aren’t listening to a thing we’re saying, nicely wrapped up in their own little world of friendship and Claire’s unrequited love. I lean forward out of a perhaps nosy whim (… well, all right, absolutely nosy whim) to hear what they’re saying.
James leans to the side to get closer to her just as I focus my attention on them. How convenient for me. Claire, of course, relishes this and blushes at the new proximity.
“No, you’ve got to hold it tighter…”
“That’s what she said,” I mutter.
Poppy snickers into her bag (she’s getting out some parchment) but doesn’t join me to snark. That she’s reaching for her doodling materials means that she’s lost all interest and understands what kind of person we’re dealing with here. One down, countless more to go.
“It’s so hard, though!” Claire squeaks.
This is far too easy.
They don’t hear it in the least. Claire keeps whipping her wand arm around like she’s about to chuck it into the great blue yonder. Yes, darling, that is going to be a huge help. You can try wandless magic when you lose it, see how that works out for you.
“I can’t do this,” she sighs, demurely dejected. She lets her wand fall onto the tabletop and crosses her arms. She swivels her neck to face James, and I can practically see the air displacement in her profile as her lower lip comes this close to wobbling. Wobbling. “It’s no use, James. I don’t know why I bother with all these Charms practicals… I’m just going to get a Troll on the N.E.W.T. and then I’ll never get into the Healer program… hey, do you know what I could do that won’t mind a T in Charms?”
“I didn’t know you needed Charms for Healing,” is all he can say. Luckily, it’s not words Claire needs to get her fluctuating self-esteem on the up-and-up.
The look in the one eye I can see of hers when James reaches over and pats her on the shoulder could power a small village for about a decade. Maybe that’s something to look into. Power powered by the burst of frisson in teenage girls when attractive young men make physical non-romantic contact with them. (Frisson instead of fusion. Or fission. I can never remember which. My father would be so disappointed).
It’s not even a particularly intimate shoulder-pat. If her skin were bare or if he lingered on that shoulder longer than he should have, then I would understand, even sympathise. But it is a friendly pat, so utterly sexless that it could pass between siblings or distant cousins.
I blink and turn around. For a moment I think it’s Claire noticing my more-bitter-than-bemused staring, but of course, it’s only Poppy. She pokes my arm with her quill and points to a poem she’s scrawled. So no doodles this morning; perhaps that’s an honour that only Sinclair’s severely shortened lectures receive.
There once was a girl with a crush
And a boy with a brain made of mush.
They’re perfectly matched,
He’s such a catch.
But he’s also oblivious so fuck them.
When I glance at her, she shrugs and tosses her hair. “I write from the heart.”
“You were so close. Lush, brush, rush. Flush.”
At the end of class, which must end on time even if Sinclair does not arrive on time, James bids goodbye to Claire and walks with Poppy and me to lunch. He’s telling us about poor Claire’s poor worries about her poor future and how much potential the poor girl doesn’t even know she has. For the sake of what’s left of my public image, I’m fairly quiet along the way; he’s already walking with two girls, one of whom represents a Noted Threat to His Safety And Otherwise General Well-Being and the other of whom is just a girl. Poppy, however, does not have my gift of tact in public at a delicate time.
Somewhere before the Entrance Hall but after the last staircase we have to descend, she makes her own rhetorical move.
“It’s a metaphor, isn’t it?”
James hasn’t finished his spirited and heartfelt account of Claire’s self-confidence issues, so he’s drawn up by her question. I harrumph in the background.
“The merperson thing,” Poppy clarifies. “It’s a metaphor, right?”
He shifts uneasily even as he doesn’t break his stride. God, no one can be as awkward as him and still manage to look like a pop star on his way to lunch. “Not that merpeople’s rights don’t deserve acknowledgment and a place in the greater… political public discourse and all…” He clears his throat, wisely drawing out of a subject even he could not genteelly bullshit his way out of. “But that’s not my focus, exactly. I’m more interested in the literal but, er, very fictional situation, the wizard bloke and the female merpers–merperson?”
I jump in again before things can get worse. “I told you it’s not a metaphor, Poppy. And,” I add in an undertone, “I thought you just saw in there that Ja–”
“That I what? Oh!” Oblivious though he is to many things, James always knows when someone’s talking about him within earshot. “Oh, right, the supposed fancying someone thing. How’s that going, Augusta?”
“Splendidly until right about now.”
“Then maybe it’s a subconscious metaphor,” Poppy said rather pompously over both of us. “Because you’re subconsciously in love.”
I gawk. James gapes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Poppy beams, showing off her slight chipmunk-ish overbite. She looks ever so proud of herself. It makes me even more uneasy. “I think you’re in love but you don’t know it yet. So the romance angle slipped into your songwriting and you don’t even know why.”
“Inspiration struck me when I saw the Giant Squid trying to resuscit–”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Our friend skips backwards ahead of us to the Great Hall doors, pulling faces alternately silly and affected in her joyous retreat.
“You’re in love, James Potter!”
Thank God she has not gotten very far and it’s the swing of lunch hour: no one hears her.
“But I’m not,” James insists to the space where she just was.
I pat his shoulder once, just as awkward as him, and then drop my hand to my sides.
“I know, honey. I know.”
Author's Note I... wish I had more to say to you guys but somehow I don't? This story, and Augusta, and now Poppy, say more than even I could ever say. I hope you're all enjoying this story, because there's nothing I enjoy more than thinking up stupid things for Augusta and Poppy and the rest of the gang, of whom we'll be seeing more soon, to talk about. (Not that merpeople's rights is a stupid thing just mined for fanfiction comedy!!1!1). Do let me know what you think in your reviews, because I love hearing what you love and don't love, respectively. Thanks, all!
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