Chapter 23 : A New Start
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“Who are you and what have you done with Hector Branstone?” I asked, laughing. “Good to see you. How was the rest of your summer? How was Greece?”
“It was great,” he said, lifting his suitcase up onto the rack. “Just got back a few days ago, I’m not ready for summer to be over!”
“Of course you say that, all you did was sit on your lazy arse all day,” Russell muttered.
“Hector, by the way, congratulations on Quidditch captain!” I said, remembering his last letter.
“Thanks! It’s going to be great this year, I’m so glad Simms left. I was worried, because he never did any work so I thought he might have failed seventh year and then had to repeat it. So how was your summer? Er, after you moved out, I mean…”
Mandy and I looked at each other, trying not to laugh. The last Hector had heard from me was about leaving home, and the only major thing that had happened since then was Mandy and I getting into a kerfuffle, which was something we both agreed had never actually happened.
“We moved back in with my parents,” said Mandy. “They were fine, they just ended up leaving for a while and then moving house.”
Russell looked confused. “So what happened exactly?”
Mandy and I covered the essentials of the story, and then our discussion inevitably turned to the increasingly routine topic of developments in the war with Voldemort. We were always so much more aware of things happening outside of Hogwarts when we were away; Hogwarts served as a shield both from invading Death Eaters and from information. All we got at Hogwarts was the stuff in the Daily Prophet, which wasn’t always true (even Mandy’s mum said that, and she worked for them).
Russell had heard from one of his father’s Ministry coworkers that someone high up in the Ministry of Magic had been under the Imperius Curse for a while, and it was difficult to investigate because no one knew who to trust. We were interrupted from our collective worrying about the future of wizardkind when the compartment door opened again.
“Just heard the news,” said Charlotte as she breezed in and left her trunk in the middle of the floor, and sat between me and Hector. “Your favourite professor left.”
“Whose favourite? Not Professor Trynn, is it?” I asked, shocked. I loved the Ancient Runes professor. “Did the Death Eaters find her? She’s Muggle-born, I think she mentioned that once…”
“No, no, not her. I meant Professor Alvers!”
“Ugh,” I said. If I were to rank my favorite professors at Hogwarts, Professor Alvers would be at about 50, even though Hogwarts only had 14 professors. He was just that bad. “He’s gone, though? That’s a relief!”
“Defence Against the Dark Arts professors never seem to last long,” Hector observed.
“Guess what happened to him?” asked Charlotte. “You’ll never guess, so I’m going to tell you. He got bitten by a werewolf!”
“That’s terrible!” cried Mandy. “Is he going to be all right?”
“He lived, if that’s what you mean, but of course he’s not all right – he’s a werewolf now.”
“No wonder he left,” said Russell. “Wonder if he got fired or if he just resigned?”
“I don’t know,” said Charlotte. “I sure hope our new professor is better though. Wouldn’t take much, would it? Anyway, what’s new with you lot?”
We had already covered everything before Charlotte had come in, but she wanted to hear everything, particularly the aftermath of Mandy’s and my temporary homelessness. So we essentially repeated much of the previous conversation, and then listened to her dish out some more gossip as we watched the familiar landscape drift by outside the windows.
As Charlotte was regaling us with some hushed-up and questionably factual scandal involving the Minister of Magic’s teenage daughter running off to elope with a Yugoslavian dragon tamer, I looked up just as Sirius, Remus, and Peter walked by our compartment. I didn’t think they had seen us, but suddenly Sirius turned and slammed into the door, pressing his hands against it and making a grotesque face, and then sliding down the door as if he were dying. Mandy jumped in her seat as Sirius hit the door, but passed it off unconvincingly with a badly faked sneeze. Remus grinned and waved over Sirius’s shoulder while Peter just laughed, then Sirius stood up again and the three of them walked off down the corridor. Charlotte glared after them, as they had interrupted what was clearly the most gripping part of her story.
“What was that all about?” said Hector.
“Honestly, would you expect anything else from them?” I asked, laughing.
We hadn’t even gotten to school yet and the three of them were running around creating trouble on the train. This was of course no different to the train ride any other year, but they didn’t have James with them this time because he was probably at this moment meeting with Lily to discuss their duties, talk to the prefects, and patrol the train as Head Boy and Head Girl. And James’s friends didn’t let this stop them – maybe they wanted to see if James would actually try to tell them off.
Once the train stopped and we arrived at Hogwarts, we filed out of the compartment and towards the carriages. When I stepped off the train I saw Lily already halfway to a carriage, marching swiftly. Her friends Mary and Carol were running to catch up to her. I had a feeling she had bolted out of her compartment the moment she could get away from James.
I passed Snape on the way up to the carriages and we did not acknowledge each other, as was now usual. It was so strange that Snape and I had started our time at Hogwarts first year by becoming friends on the train. How much had changed since then… He wasn’t even friends with Lily anymore, and they had known each other since before Hogwarts.
Mandy, Charlotte, Russell, Hector and I got a carriage together. After the ride up to the castle, we walked into the Great Hall and sat down to watch the new group of first years get Sorted before the welcoming feast.
“Ooohhh, look,” said Charlotte, pointing up at the staff table and paying no attention to the Sorting Hat singing its song at the front of the hall. “That must be the new professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts! He looks like he’s only in his early twenties. He must be brilliant to get a job teaching here at such a young age. When do we have his class?”
“I think Charlotte is in love,” Mandy whispered to me, eyeing the new professor. “I never thought I’d see the day – you know every boy at Hogwarts annoys the hell out of her. She was always interested in the older guys and they’ve all left school. Until now, I guess.”
“I know, remember when she had a crush on Nathan?” I said. “Eww.”
Mandy rolled her eyes. “It’s not that weird for a girl to have a crush on her friend’s older brother.”
“Don’t tell me you did too.”
“No, I didn’t. There were about three guys in our year I liked at the time, I think that was probably enough! Until you scared them away – I’ll never forget you accidentally pouring Shrinking Solution on Norman’s feet in third year, and how he avoided me because he thought I was in on it. Maybe it was for the best though… he didn’t turn out to be that good looking. And then Caius liked Charlotte instead. Well, until she told him to go get eaten by a Hippogriff.” She shook her head, and smiled at the memory.
I laughed. “Funny how Charlotte is the prettiest girl in our year, but also the most offensive.”
Mandy laughed. “I wouldn’t say offensive, just not friendly…”
“We’re just used to it. But every word out of her mouth is rude and sarcastic, or else gossipy. I’m a bit amazed she’s as popular as she is.”
Charlotte turned around. “Are you talking about me?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I thought you were listening, but I didn’t realize you were too busy ogling the new professor to hear us!”
I was probably lucky there was no food on the table yet, because if there was, Charlotte might have thrown it at me.
After the Sorting finished, Dumbledore introduced Professor Thornhill, the new Defence professor, and reminded us again that the forest was out of bounds, and other things that I didn’t particularly pay attention to. I was getting hungry and the only thing keeping the food from appearing was the fact that Dumbledore was talking – a fact he probably was well aware of because his speech thankfully wasn’t too long.
The food appeared on the table and I reached for a dish immediately. Charlotte had stopped looking up at the staff table and Mandy was questioning her about him already. I laughed. It was good to be back.
After the welcome feast, we went down to the Slytherin common room, where I stretched out on one of the comfortable sofas. It was the one evening we weren’t going to have any homework, because classes hadn’t started yet, and I intended to use that to its full potential.
“You look like my cat,” said Charlotte. “He always takes up as much space as possible. Actually I think the only difference between you two is the amount of hair you shed.” She picked a stray long curly hair from my sleeve and dropped it on the floor.
“Yeah, your cat sheds enough hair to weave a blanket.”
“No, I meant you shed more hair.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, I don’t cough up hairballs!”
“After you comb your hair, I always find hairballs in the bathroom.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” said a voice. I looked up; it was Mark’s friend Camilla, and she had a sour expression on her face. I instinctively looked around for Mark, but didn’t see him; for some reason Camilla had decided to talk to me, which was weird because I was sure she didn’t like me. It was also weird because Charlotte and I had just been arguing about hairballs when she showed up, and Camilla’s expression told me that she thought such conversation topics far beneath her.
“Hello,” I said blankly.
“What happened to Mark?” Camilla asked me accusingly. “You were always telling him who to hang around with. Now he’s not back at Hogwarts.”
I was affronted. “First of all, I never told him who to spend time with; he hung around with you, after all. And second, why are you asking me? I thought you two were friends, shouldn’t you ask him instead of me?”
She crossed her arms, turned her back on me and walked away. I watched her go without caring; I had been sort of rude, but then again we had never particularly been friendly to one another. However, I was concerned that Mark apparently wasn’t back at Hogwarts and had not told his friends why.
My first class on Monday was Ancient Runes. Seventh year was when we took the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests, or NEWTs, which were kind of like the OWLs in fifth year but worse. And professors wouldn’t let us waste time when the exams that partially determined our future careers were at the end of the year. So I was assigned two feet of translations and about two hundred pages of reading, and when I went to Defence Against the Dark Arts class that afternoon I was already tired. I joined the middle of the queue where Mandy and Charlotte were standing together.
“Excuse me, I believe you cut in line,” said a voice behind me. “How unbelievably rude.”
I turned around. It was Sirius. “Sorry, I didn’t realise you wanted to be first into the classroom,” I said. “I’m surprised you turned up to class at all.”
He laughed, resting his hand casually on my shoulder, and my whole arm felt tingly. Was I imagining it or had Sirius become more attractive since I’d last seen him three weeks ago?
No, no, of course he hadn’t – he looked the same as ever. Boring, really. But I supposed that phrase about absence making the heart grow fonder was not just talk. After we’d become so close over the summer, things were definitely different, and now he was more than just my somewhat good-looking but obnoxious Gryffindor friend. To avoid looking at him, I busied myself with searching through my bag for nothing in particular.
“Hello?” asked James, waving a hand in front of my face.
“Sorry,” I said. I had no idea what he had just asked me, or if he had even asked me anything at all. Fortunately, Professor Thornhill arrived just then and let the line in. I walked to a seat without looking at Sirius again.
Professor Thornhill began discussing what we would learn this year in Defence Against the Dark Arts. Charlotte was not the only person to have noticed his appearance at the start of term feast; half the girls in the class seemed transfixed by him. Veronica Smethley, sitting front and center, was staring at Professor Thornhill without stopping to write notes, or even blink. Charlotte was paying as close attention to the professor as I’d ever seen her. For the most part, I was concentrating; I spent over half the time in class paying attention to Professor Thornhill and frantically writing notes, and admittedly a fair bit of time staring ahead of me at the back of Sirius’s head. And the occasional glance up to see if Veronica Smethley was drooling.
Halfway through class Sirius cast some spell on James, so when Professor Thornhill asked him a question, James could only answer in a strange growl; it honestly sounded as if he were speaking Troll. Leave it to those two to create disruptions in class on the new professor’s first day. Needless to say, they started out the year by getting a detention.
It was pretty hilarious, really. I guess Professor Thornhill hadn’t been warned about them, because he seemed quite rattled and uneasy afterwards, and didn’t ask any more questions to the class. I felt a bit sorry for him, but I knew he’d get used to it. They regularly played practical jokes, but I had a feeling all the professors loved those Gryffindors. After all, they were all very bright students, and a little fun kept people in good spirits with something to laugh at, despite the fact that Death Eaters were running around destroying things just outside the safety of the castle walls. Why worry about the war when you should be worrying about James Potter turning your ears into leeks?
At the end of class I was able to ascertain that Thornhill was indeed a much better professor than Alvers, but I wasn’t sure how much I’d actually learned in class today.
“Good start as Head Boy,” said Lily sardonically to James as we filed out of the classroom. “Not even a day into the year and you’re causing trouble for new teachers!” I rolled my eyes. I had seen Lily laughing just as hard as the rest of us at the disruption in class, only she’d had her hand over her mouth as if to hide that she was laughing. “What am I going to do for patrol tonight while the Head Boy is in detention?” Lily asked in exasperation.
“I’m sorry, Evans,” said James guiltily.
Lily made an irritated noise and walked off. Remus turned around and saw us, and stopped while we caught up to them. The others were a bit more oblivious and walked on a few paces before stopping too.
“We were just on our way back to Gryffindor Tower,” said Remus. “Come join us, we didn’t have time to catch up on the train!”
“Sure,” said Mandy, and we fell into step beside them.
“We could have had time for that on the train,” I said. “If you hadn’t been too busy running into the door of our compartment, that is.”
“You didn’t like our friendly greeting?” asked Remus, grinning.
James asked Mandy about the end of the summer as we approached the portrait of the Fat Lady that led into the Gryffindor common room.
“It was good,” Mandy replied. “We didn’t do much… We just went back to my parents’ new flat and explored London and watched some Muggle television. That’s really all. How was your summer? How long did you two stay with James?” she asked, indicating Remus and Peter.
“Just under a week,” said Peter. “It seems weird that we’re back here now for our last year at Hogwarts!”
“Why’s it weird, thought you’d fail out before now?” Sirius teased.
“No, just that it doesn’t seem real that we’re seventh years! I know I’ve been saying so ever since we got back, but it’s still true.”
“Don’t worry, Peter, I feel the same way,” I said. “I’ve been thinking about it ever since we got on the train to leave last year.”
It was certainly odd for me to think that just a year ago, I could never have predicted we would now be such good friends with the Gryffindors who were most responsible for playing pranks on Slytherins. Funny how things work out.
We walked into the common room and James went off to talk with two members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team who apparently had known he was coming and ambushed him in the doorway to show him their new brooms. Sirius got caught up talking to a few girls before we even made it three steps inside the room, so Mandy, Charlotte, Remus, Peter and I sat down and talked without them.
I kept glancing up at Sirius standing there with Mary Macdonald and Persephone Winchester. One of these times, unfortunately, I looked back at the group in front of me only to find Remus watching me. He raised his eyebrows, and I could feel my cheeks getting red as I looked away. I wished Remus wasn’t so observant. What if he thought we came to visit only because I had a crush on Sirius? This was of course wildly false, but I didn’t want him thinking it. I made a conscious effort to not look in that direction again.
This was an ill-fated goal, because Sirius soon came to join us. He walked over behind the sofa where I was sitting, and leapt over the back of the sofa into the empty seat next to me. I watched the curve of his mouth as he smiled, before reminding myself not to stare at his lips. And I had never really noticed before how lovely his grey eyes were.
What had happened to me? Soppy thoughts like this had no place in my mind – I was not the sort of person to spend all day thinking about dreamy eyes. (Except for Luke, I guess. But really, where had that gotten me?) This was not good.
I was now past the point where I could deny I had feelings for Sirius, but I knew the best thing to do would be to keep on as usual and hopefully get over him. I had no idea whether he even liked me or just enjoyed flirting with me – but I imagined that if I acted upon my feelings, I would just get my heart broken. Our friendship was too important for me to risk losing it, so I would try to just keep it cool.
But here he was, sitting next to me and being as charming as ever. There were a number of different conversations going on within the group at the same time, and Sirius was telling me jokes and trying to get me to laugh, but I refused to laugh. I looked over at Remus, but he was just smiling encouragingly. That was useless; I wanted him to say something to make Sirius leave. After all, the easiest way to get over Sirius would be to ignore him… though in the long run, that wasn’t likely to work very well.
As we were all chatting, Sirius had taken out his wand and was pointing it at my hair, which I had just realized was winding around my neck and beginning to strangle me. I wasn’t able to unwrap it from around my neck as fast as he was wrapping it there. The best thing I could do was to just reach up and strangle him in return, but he kept moving and it turned into a sort of one-sided tickle fight. I wasn’t quite sure how this fit in with my resolution to pay less attention to him.
“Oi, you two!” said James. “Cut out the flirting, we’re trying to have a discussion here.”
“We are not flirting, he’s strangling me!” I protested.
Sirius stopped attacking me with my own hair, and I turned away from him and struck up a conversation with Charlotte instead, who was sitting in the armchair adjacent to the sofa where I was. On Charlotte’s other side, Mandy and Remus were talking about classes, but I noticed Mandy twirling her hair, laughing unnecessarily, and casting flirtatious glances in the way she only did when talking to guys she liked. Remus seemed oblivious, or at least was just acting as if this was normal. I’d had no idea Mandy fancied Remus – or maybe she was just so used to acting that way that it had become normal for her when talking to anyone whether she liked them or not. I made a mental note to ask her about it later.
After a while, James and Sirius left, much to my relief, and Lily and Mary stopped by for a brief moment. We asked each other about how summer had been, and I congratulated Lily on becoming Head Girl.
“Thanks,” she said. “I was so surprised! I could hardly believe it when I got my letter.”
Mary laughed. “You were the only one surprised in the entire school; I was sure all along it would be you.”
“James knew it too,” I told Lily. “I was at his house when he got his badge for Head Boy, and he thought there had been a mistake. But he knew you’d be Head Girl for sure!”
Lily glanced around to make sure James was not within earshot, and said, “I still have trouble getting my mind around that. I had thought it would be Remus; I owled him over the summer and asked, but he wrote back that Potter was Head Boy. Obviously I thought he was joking. And then when Potter walked into the compartment on the Hogwarts Express, I just asked him if he was lost. I still didn’t think it was true. I mean, what did he ever do to deserve that responsibility? And what did I do to deserve having to work with him?” She paused. “I’m sorry, that’s mean, isn’t it.”
I smiled, and said, “You can handle it, Lily. It’s only the first week.”
Lily and Mary headed out, and not long after that, Mandy and Charlotte and I decided to go sit out by the lake and fruitlessly attempt to get some homework done. Remus and Peter bid us goodbye, and I couldn’t help feeling that Remus still had that smug knowing look in his eye after having seen me staring at Sirius. I just hoped Remus was good at keeping a secret.
On Wednesday afternoon we had Herbology, and it was nice to be outside for class instead of in the castle when the weather was so beautiful. Technically we were in the greenhouse, not outside, but the windows were open and the sunlight and a breeze were coming through. It was lovely.
We walked in to sit at the tables. There were pots on the tables, full of dirt and odd little blue stalks. I waited for Mandy to take the seat next to mine, but Luke got there first. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Not at all!” I said. He sat down, and Mandy, arriving a minute later, sat behind me and flicked clumps of dirt into my hair.
Once Professor Sheridan began the class and discussed how we’d be repotting and trimming Indigo Spinecorns, I reached my hand into the soil, hoping it wouldn’t get bitten off by the Spinecorn lurking beneath the surface. I touched something sharp and grabbed it out of the dirt, where once out of its natural environment it became dormant. The plant looked like a spiny blue Puffskein with a stalk growing out of it. As I moved it into the other pot it started moving again, and I almost dropped it. Luke steadied my hand so I wouldn’t drop the Spinecorn, and helped me replant it while it moved around and refused to stay still.
I trimmed the stalk and slid the pot to the side, and pulled over another one. We were enjoying a great conversation when, out of the blue, he said, “You know, we got off to a bad start after we broke up, but I think we’re good now – do you want to try again? I really like you…”
Just because we were on good terms, he thought that meant I wanted to go out with him again? He was polite about it, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t know what to say, so I dropped the Spinecorn on the table to distract him. However, the Spinecorn spewed out purple slime that got all over our hands, and then rolled off the table onto the floor, where it continued to emit slime.
“Be careful!” squealed Professor Sheridan, racing over to our table, her long grey hair flying out behind her. She picked up the plant from the floor where it had fallen, and crooned softly to it, gently setting it in the pot.
Luke and I glanced at one another. Here she was talking to the plant, while we still had nasty slime on our hands that was likely poisonous. Luke said “Scourgify,” and the oozing liquid disappeared but left our hands purple-tinted and stinging. How did I get myself into situations like this? I looked behind me at Mandy exasperatedly.
Professor Sheridan walked away, cradling the pot containing the injured and now replanted Spinecorn. Luke stared after her. “I thought for a second that she was going to help us,” he said. “Silly of me to assume that… Now what? How do we fix the sting? I don’t know what to do.”
“Use the Force, Luke,” said Mandy’s voice from behind me. I laughed hysterically. Luke was baffled, but I didn’t bother explaining.
Professor Sheridan came back a few minutes later after she was done saving the plant from us. “Oh, I have a potion that can help get rid of the sting,” she said distractedly. “Your hands might be purple for a few days, though.”
After things had calmed down, and Luke and I had continued working, he brought up his question again. I had hoped he had forgotten in all the commotion of class and getting stinging slime on us, but I was unfortunately incorrect. I told him I thought we should just be friends, which was actually a lie – I didn’t really care if we didn’t talk to each other anymore, but he wouldn’t have wanted to hear that.
Mandy had been lucky breaking up with Russell – the two of them had been better as friends anyway, and went back to being friends without an issue; we hung around with him all the time and there was no problem. I had thought Luke was over our relationship as I was, but even now, months after we broke up, he still thought we would get back together. Although I had been over Luke for a long time, I hated to admit to myself that one reason it bothered me so much was because part of me wanted to be with Sirius instead; something that would never happen.
Disclaimer: The Star Wars-related dialogue does not belong to me, Star Wars is owned by Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox.
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