Chapter 3 : (3)
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The only thing Eloise hated about Hogwarts was that it was impossible to have actual privacy anywhere. Even when one was taking a bath, there was the risk of roommates barging into the bathroom, letting out a loud scream and backtracking fast, mumbling something like oh my gosh I'm so sorry I forgot you were there.
Over the years, Eloise had become an expert at discovering the secluded spots in Hogwarts; it was therefore even more of a frustrating occurrence when she found someone else in her place.
This time, it was a snogging Ravenclaw couple who had settled into the alcove close to the library. Grumbling under her breath, and hearing Hannah's disapproving voice in her head (just because you're single doesn't give you a right to be bitter about those who aren't), she headed for the greenhouses instead. Professor Sprout never minded having an extra pair of hands around, and hopefully there'd be something for Eloise to do – if she remembered properly, September was the season where Mandrakes bred, and they'd probably need to be re-potted by pairs.
The thought of sticking her hands into the mud and forgetting about the ambient tension in the castle – there'd been two more murders since the start of the year, which was less than a week away – brought a smile to Eloise's face, and she was quietly humming to herself as she walked across the grounds, mist gathering around her feet. She loved early mornings and twilights most, when the world around her seemed to pause, time ticking away at a slower pace. The light was always especially beautiful too, soft fingers of sunlight trailing over the skies, either peeping out or fading away.
A little out of breath, she knocked against the glass pane of Greenhouse 1 before allowing herself in.
"Hello, Eloise," Professor Sprout smiled at her, momentarily stopping her wrestling match with the Fanged Geranium she was holding. The plant nipped at the woman's fingers, and she rapidly chopped it off its stem. The bud fell into the witch's plump hand, and she sighed. "The plants are terribly jumpy, I'm sure there's a storm coming. But you didn't come here to listen to my predictions about the weather, did you? What was it you wanted, my dear?"
"I was hoping to help you prepare the Mandrakes for breeding season. All my homework is done and Madam Pince won't let anyone in the library until after lunchtime because she's dusting."
Eloise had injected slightly more sarcasm than intended in the last word, which the Herbology teacher immediately caught on.
"Ridiculous," she asserted. "Children who want to learn more should be given the possibility to do so; Heavens know that if Irma is dusting, she'll need much more than a few hours on a Saturday morning to do so… Of course you're free to help, though I've dealt with the mandrakes already. The Flutterby bushes need a trim, however, if you're up for it, and that way I'm sure you won't end up in the Hospital Wing." Eloise nodded, and the elderly witch continued talking. "Right then, grab a pair of clippers from the table behind you, and off you go to Greenhouse 2!"
To Eloise's great surprise, someone was already busy snipping away at one of the bushes.
"Hello, Neville," she greeted him. He hadn't heard her come in, and jumped in surprise, missing the twig he was aiming for and catching the tip of his finger in between the blades of his scissors instead.
"Hi, Eloise," he politely responded nonetheless, rummaging through his pockets for a tissue to wrap his wounded hand in.
"Wait, let me take care of that." She caught his hand mid-movement and placed the tip of her wand against the cut, remembering one of the basic healing spells she'd learnt over the course of her summer internship at Saint Mungo's. "Medeor." In the space of minutes, it had disappeared, leaving a line of skin slightly brighter pink than the rest of Neville's palm.
He grinned widely at her. "Thanks."
Eloise liked Neville. He was less boisterous than the other Gryffindors, though quite easy to overlook – to be entirely honest, Eloise had wondered more than once why he'd been sorted into Gryffindor. But something about the way he faced each day, with determination and a refusal to back down in the face of adversity, made him braver than he was willing to let on. Eloise often ended up working with him in Herbology, and they'd developed, if not friendship, a partnership over the years.
They worked in silence for a while, the only noise coming from the rustling of the plants in the greenhouse, until Neville's stomach emitted a loud rumble. He glanced down at his watch.
"Half-past twelve, already! Should I wait for you?"
"If you don't mind, I'm almost done."
Neville stood patiently by the door as Eloise finished what she was doing and threw her cloak over her shoulders.
"How are your classes going?" Eloise asked.
"Okay, I suppose. Charms is a bit difficult, but nothing unbearable. The worst of all, though," his face hardened and his lips set into a thin line, "is Defence."
They walked in silence up to the castle, Neville brooding and mumbling about Snape under his breath. As the doors came into view, Eloise spoke up again.
"Can I ask you a bit of a nosy question?"
"Can I refuse to answer?"
"Of course," Eloise laughed. "Why did you pick Defence in the first place? I mean, it wasn't really your best subject and…" She trailed off, embarrassed.
Neville blushed. "It's important, isn't it, given the times we're living in? Besides, my gran would never have let me drop it because she thinks I need to follow in my parents' tracks. I just never imagined Snape would be the one teaching it."
It was clear that there was more to the subject than Neville had admitted, but it wasn't Eloise's business: the day Neville would want to talk about it, he would, and in the meantime she let the matter drop.
Well-mannered, Neville escorted Eloise to the Hufflepuff table, where Hannah was sitting. He gave the latter a tentative smile before disappearing to the other end of the Hall to enjoy his lunch.
Cormac glowered at Longbottom as he sat down at the table. The girl was so damn elusive that he hadn't been able to find her anywhere for days, save for glimpses from afar, and suddenly she turned up with Longbottom, of all people, smiling and laughing with him.
His eyes had been inexplicably drawn to her as she walked in, even before she'd actually crossed the doors – almost as if he'd sensed she was about to make an entrance. There were many other blondes in Hogwarts (Cormac had snogged more than one to know), but this one was different. Even if they were on opposing sides of the courtyard, he recognised her demeanour, her dark blond hair twisted into a knot on top of her head, and the way her hands fluttered when she spoke.
It was borderline obsession, come to think of it, and he still had no idea what her name was.
Pushing his hand into his pocket, he caught her handkerchief in between two fingers. E.M. Was it Eleanor, Elise, Ellen? He had been through a long list of names, but the same kept coming back, none of them seeming to fit, and it was driving him mad.
But, after all, he was Cormac McLaggen: what he wanted, he got, and he would get his mystery girl too.
Monday came again, and with it double Potions.
"… get to work!" Slughorn concluded cheerfully.
"What are we supposed to do?" Cormac turned to John Barrow, his potions partner and best friend.
He rolled his eyes. "Don't you ever listen? How do you manage to get good marks?"
"Talent," Cormac replied smugly. Unfortunately for John, it was true: Cormac was good at potions, not to mention a special favourite of Slughorn's, something that had clearly come across on their first lesson with him, a week before.
"Right. Well, we're making Amortentia. Page 98." As Cormac flipped through his textbook, John began chopping daisy roots into identical pieces. "I wonder what it'll smell like for me."
"Probably your girlfriend's…"
"Cormac!" John interrupted, flushing crimson. "Don't be so crude about Katie."
HIs friend didn't reply, and simply threw two unicorn hairs into the cauldron, a large smirk on his face.
An hour and three quarters later, both boys stood proudly in front of a bubbling potion. It was slightly darker than expected, but overall they seemed to have done a more than satisfactory job. Better, in any case, than the pair of Ravenclaws in front of them, who somehow had managed to obtain a blue brew.
"Excellent, m'boy," Slughorn commented as he passed, giving Cormac a hearty pat on the back. "However, I'll have to siphon it out – security measure, you see. We can't have Amortentia smuggled out of the class, now, can we?"
With a flick of the old Potions master's wand, the contents of the cauldron vanished. Once the same process had been repeated for every pair, Slughorn nodded enthusiastically, his head bobbling away on a near-inexistent neck.
"Now, before you leave, here is Amortentia as you would have obtained had it been prepared properly."
And with a triumphant flourish, Slughorn whisked the lid off a cauldron sitting on his desk. Heavy vapours immediately filled the air, which all students instinctively inhaled deeply.
Cormac recognised a few smells immediately: broom polish, earth after rain, the laundry his mother seemed to have used since forever, and apples.
The smell continued to fill his nostrils throughout Herbology, protecting him from the stench of dragon dung. It was more than a little distracting (no wonder the bloody potion was prohibited), made Cormac miss the bell announcing the end of classes for the day, and almost made him miss something else – or rather, someone.
She was animatedly chatting with Sprout, and for once, her hair tumbled freely around her face.
"The letter came in this morning… Thank you so much for your recommendation, Professor, I don't think I would ever have been accepted in Saint Mungo's junior training program otherwise."
"It was my pleasure, I was very glad to be able to help you and – Mr Munroe, what are you doing?"
Cormac's head snapped up spontaneously – this was usually the sort of tone used when addressing him – even though the comment was directed at another Gryffindor behind him who had apparently poked a Venomous Tentacula.
"Off with you," Sprout shooed Munroe out. "Not you, Mr McLaggen, we need to discuss something! Come here, please." She shook her head in disappointment as he approached. "Your marks were disastrous last year, as you probably know, although you managed the exam quite well. I refuse to let things remain unchanged this year. My salary is partially determined by the success rate of my students in their N.E.W.T.s, and you will not be the one to compromise my retirement pension. Therefore, I've asked Miss Midgeon here to view her sixth year course with you, in order for you to grasp your basics fully. Any questions?"
Both students shook their heads without a word, Eloise wondering why she'd even accepted, then remembering she'd be given less homework to compensate; Cormac barely believing his luck.
For the second time in a week, Eloise marched up to the castle accompanied.
"So," she stated quietly, "I'm Eloise."
"Exactly how catastrophic were your marks last year?"
"I had an average P all year."
"Oh, good grief." The words escaped her before she had a chance to think about them, but Cormac just laughed them off.
"In my defence, I didn't work at all."
"How is that in your defence?"
"If I'd bothered to work, I would have gotten excellent marks."
"We'll see about that. Does tomorrow evening, before dinner in the library sound okay to you?"
"Alright then." Eloise motioned to leave, but paused mid-movement. "Sorry to ask this, but were you in the Hospital Wing last week? With warts, on your, erm…" Cormac's slightly reddening face was apparently a good enough answer, and she grinned. "I thought I recognised you. See you tomorrow, Cormac."
He stared at her ass until she disappeared past a corner leading towards the general direction of the Hufflepuff common room.
A/N: I am so bad at updating these days, feel free to throw things at me. Hopefully this chapter made up for the delay?
As always, thanks to the perfect Jami (JChrissy) for beta'ing this for me. If you haven't read her amazing Before They Fall yet, why are you still reading this author's note?
Also, special thanks to Sian, Aisha, and marauderfan.
And hugs to Isobel because she is lovely.
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