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Chapter 1 : 1 September, 2022
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Penelope Sweets sat in a compartment all by herself with a book open in her lap, but she wasn’t reading it. Her eyes were trained on the page as she scanned and rescanned the first five words of the first line for over an hour. No matter how many times she read it, she just couldn’t get the words to stick in her mind. She paid more attention to the way her old sweater felt as she rubbed the fabric against her palm with her fingers. It wasn’t a surprise though; as of late, her mind had more important matters to focus on, rather than what was about to happen in her latest literary adventure.
“Penelope,” a mischievous voice called, followed by a short laugh.
Penelope’s eyes shot up from her five words and a smile immediately flashed across her face. Her closest and oldest friend and next door neighbor, Christopher Lovett, stood outside of the compartment with the door slid open just enough so that he could press his face up to the gap. His dark gray eyes twinkled as he opened the door wider and stowed his trunk away. Smiling brightly at Penelope, he took his seat across from her.
“Dear Merlin, you’re reading school material already?” Chris asked with a repulsed look on his face, picking up her copy of Magical Theory by Adalbert Waffling with his thumb and index finger. “I am utterly sickened at how boring you can be sometimes.”
“Stop with the compliments Chris, you’re making me blush!” Penelope laughed, snatching the book back and setting it beside her. “I just want to get a head start this year. There is absolutely no harm in being ahead.”
“I had no idea you were such a compulsive liar, Sweets,” he criticized, interlocking his fingers behind his head and stretching his legs out. “In all seriousness, how have you been? I feel like it’s been ages since we last talked; you’re always so busy now.”
“I know. I should have come over more often. I’ve been working all summer at that small café down the street and they give me terrible hours. Plus my boss is a total arse.” Penelope began fingering the holes in her jeans, plucking at some of the frayed denim. She had wanted a new pair for a while now, but it wasn’t at the top of her priority list.
“You should have said something! I would have taken care of that,” Chris began, sitting up and balling his right hand into a fist. “I’d have walked right into that shabby little place, insulted the cook by saying the sandwiches are complete rubbish, and shoved my fist right up your boss’s—“
Before he had the chance to finish his humorous and mildly graphic rant, the compartment door slid open and in walked the last two members of their bumbling band of buffoons, who were engaged in a very heated debate.
“You are such an idiot!” yelled Lewis. He held his dirty jumper out in front of him. It looked have a smear of some sort of thick, brown substance and Penelope didn’t even want to take a guess at what it was. “I told you to wait until we got on the train to eat the damn stuff, and you decide that it’d be fine to stuff your face while we’re still navigating our way through people on the platform. Look what happened to my new jumper, you dolt!”
“Lewis Bradley, how dare you! There is never a wrong time to eat cookie butter,” Simon replied calmly, holding a jar of cookie spread in one hand and a spoon in the other. Lewis watched in disgust as Simon jammed spoonfuls of the batter into his mouth, giggling a bit with each bite. “And it’s not my fault that you stopped abruptly. You should have given me some warning.” He took one big glob of the cookie spread out of the jar and popped it in his mouth, smiling at a fuming Lewis.
“You’re unbelievable,” Lewis growled, sitting down next to Penelope, who was shaking with laughter.
“That is possibly the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, thank you Lewis.” Simon said endearingly, taking a seat next to Chris.
Penelope could remember five years ago, when she and Chris met Lewis and Simon for the first time. The two second years held a compartment to themselves when two first year boys boarded the train late and had asked to sit with them. The ride was mostly quiet save for some small talk that Penelope started, but Simon, after eating the lunch his mum packed for him, let out a loud belch that shook the whole compartment. His gassy performance landed him a few disgusted looks from Lewis, but Penelope and Chris couldn’t help but fall to their knees laughing until they cried. Lewis lectured him on proper manners, but Simon only responded by belching in his face. One would think that they wouldn’t be able to stand each other, but it was quite the opposite. They were joined at the hip ever since then.
“What is that?” Chris asked, peering into the jar.
“Heaven in a jar is what it is.” Taking one last scoop of the spread, Simon screwed the top back on the jar and stuffed it into his coat pocket. “My uncle Bixby married this muggle woman, and for my birthday she sent it to me. At first I was quite offended because it’s sodding cookie butter, might as well attach a card that said ‘Enjoy your diabetes, fat arse!’ but then one bite and I was in love.”
“There’s something I have to talk to you guys about,” Penelope said as she took Lewis’s jumper and tried to clean it with some napkins she kept in her bag. The whole compartment fell silent. It wasn’t often that Penelope said something in complete seriousness, and the odd change in tone of the conversation was a reason for worry.
The train let out a loud whistle, and with an awkward lurch forward, the train began its trip to Hogwarts. Tension hung in the air as the scenery outside began to blur, and Penelope sat silently, trying to formulate the best way to break the hard news to her friends. Cleaning the mess with napkins helped; it took much longer to wipe the spread off manually rather than magically. Penelope decided the way to treat the situation was like a bandage—she’d just do it quickly. “This is going to be my last year at Hogwarts.”
“No, no, silly Sweets. I know Arithmancy isn’t your strong suit, but I believe you’ve done the maths wrong. This is only your sixth year, not your seventh,” Simon said, trying to correct his friend. Lewis also looked incredibly confused, while Chris had an expression on his face that told Penelope he had seen this coming.
“It’s about my mum.” She started watching as everyone’s faces fell. “Well, you all know that cancer never gets better.”
“Sweets…” Lewis frowned.
“Money has been tight, and we’re not going to be able to send both me and Pippa to Hogwarts. I can’t rip her out of school when she’s only in her third year. I’m going to have to start working full time to help my dad pay for Hogwarts and the house.” Penelope gulped and hoped that the silence she was experiencing was anything but angry.
“You know what,” Chris said after a long while. He clapped his hands together and looked around at everyone. “Forget it. It’s my last year too!”
“What?” Penelope asked, looking at her best friend incredulously.
“I won’t be able to go to school if I get thrown into Azkaban for trying to break into Gringotts. And just before the dementors come down to suck my soul out, I’ll scream, ‘It was all for you, Penelope!’” Chris pointed his finger at both Lewis and Simon, fiercely glaring at them. “If you two don’t join me, I will be thoroughly ashamed of you.”
A smile cracked the sad expressions on everyone’s faces and Penelope found herself grateful for Chris and his complete and utter ridiculousness. It was a trait she had treasured in him since they were both children, and she loved the fact that he had never grown out of it. Honestly, she didn’t know what she would do without him. Now that she was thinking about it, she would probably wallow in her own depression, which didn’t sound as fun and entertaining as listening to Chris’s rants and fake stories.
“In all seriousness, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we are here for you, through everything.” Chris smiled at Penelope, while both Lewis and Simon nodded in agreement.
“I know what will make you feel better,” piped up Simon, digging in his pocket to grab the jar of cookie butter and a spoon and handing it to her. “Don’t worry, it’s a clean spoon. I brought an extra just in case I dropped my other one.” Lewis rolled his eyes and shook his head.
Penelope stuck a large spoonful of the cookie spread in her mouth. Her eyes widened as she looked in the jar in astonishment. “Oh, sweet Queen of England.”
Simon held up his hand and nodded in understanding. “I know.”
Panicked screams started permeating the walls of their compartment and Chris groaned. “Damn it! Every year! I’d really just like to have one quiet train ride to Hogwarts, is that too much to ask?”
When riding on the same train as James Potter, yes it was too much to ask. Every year it was the same story. Some unfortunate and unknowing first year’s ears would perk up to the sound of the sweet, kind-hearted Honeydukes Express trolley woman, with her white hair pinned in a tight bun and a smile with such warmth only a grandmother could muster. This woman changed every year, making this the only reason the prank worked in the first place. This poor first year would buy an innocent box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, a slight twinkle in their eye as they gazed upon the sweets, and with a toothy grin, would stick their hand in to find not jellybeans, no, but—
“SPIDERS!” A girl ran down the corridor of the train car screaming her head off and flailing her arms. She shrieked, “THEY’RE ALL OVER ME!”
“You’d think someone would warn the first years to not get the jellybeans on the train,” Simon said, craning his neck over Chris to get a better look at the girl, who was now doing something along the lines of a very violent interpretive dance. Simon tried to stifle his laughter, but failed miserably. “You have to admit though, it’s hilarious.”
Lewis scoffed, “Yeah, maybe the first time. The fifth time is a bit lackluster.”
“And it’s not even a good prank,” Penelope pointed out, seeing more people burst from their compartments, losing their minds at the hundreds of little transfigured jellybeans crawled all over their body. “Even I could do better.”
Chris opened his mouth to add to all the complaints that were circulating about the room, but then he stopped. He eyed Penelope curiously, a thoughtful smirk playing on his face. "Maybe you should prove it." Penelope raised her eyebrow skeptically and watched Chris formulate some crazy scheme in his head. "I'm just saying," Chris shrugged, trying to ignore the chaos going on outside. "It's going to be your last year anyways. Why not spend it in a little friendly competition? What have you got to lose?”
Penelope sat for a moment, thinking about the very likely possibility that she could partake in such uncharacteristic behavior. Factoring in her average study time and the fact that she had three friends who were willing to help her, she would have more than enough time and was more than capable of succeeding without getting caught. She also concluded that this would be a fantastic opportunity to work her brain in a way she has never had to before, and the competitiveness of it all was quite enticing. With this being her last year, Chris’s question was very valid. What did she have to lose?
“Oh no, she has her thinking face on,” Lewis groaned. He was the model Ravenclaw student and out of the four of them, he would never think of even bending a rule, but when it came to Penelope he was also just as unlikely to not help. “You’re not seriously considering this, are you?”
“Merlin, I hope she is,” Simon smiled, leaning forward in anxiety at Penelope’s furrowed brow and slightly wrinkled nose. “Can you imagine Sweets using her powers for evil instead of good—what a twist that would be!”
“Chris is right,” Penelope stated, as if she had just had an epiphany. “As long as I have you all with me, I see absolutely no reason why we can’t pull this off. And how gratifying would it be to say that we out-witted the James Potter at his own game? I can’t wait to see the look on his face!”
The compartment erupted in approval (and slight disapproval from Lewis). Chris and Simon high-fived each other, and Simon let out a loud ‘whoop!’ in poor Lewis’s face. Penelope grabbed his face, squeezing his cheeks enough to make his lips pucker.
“Chin up, Lewis!” She exclaimed. “This is year is going to be fantastic!”
A/N: Hello everyone! Hope you enjoyed the first chapter of my NaNo novel! Thank you for reading :)
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