Chapter 3 : Yang’s Audacity
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Sixth year starts as normally as it could, being in a school of magic and all. I am sitting on the train, reading this year’s Transfiguration textbook when the compartment door opens.
“Annett. . . Hi.”
I notice a redness in Al's eyes, and his shoulders looking more relaxed than usual. One small, unnoticed sniff, and I could tell he's been out near pine trees quite recently. His hair is severely windblown. This was not the first time I’d seen him like this.
Having studied his—and everybody I encounter’s—body language, facial expressions, and tonal changes for years, I have a couple inklings as to what causes him to appear like this on a couple of occasions.
"Hi, Al," We hadn’t spoken too much over these past years, so it is not in my place to question his possible case of insomnia. It was either that or he was in a constant state of sleep deprivation. Even on weekends. And on summer breaks. In any case, we respect that we each have our secrets.
The ride passes by with infrequent small-talk. Halfway there, I get up to change into my school uniform—excluding the robe because I find that they are simply annoying articles of clothing. In the corridor, Lindström Ahlberg and I bump into each other. Over the summer, the Swede has gained what looks like around five kilograms of solid muscle.
“Excuse me, sorry,” I apologise.
Ahlberg’s head whips towards me, his eye sockets widen, then he starts a rushed, yet quiet apology, managing to squeeze more than 20 of them in under ten seconds. I lost count.
“It’s. . . quite alright,” I told him, quite baffled. He looks genuinely terrified because of me?
Relief flashes in his face as he mutters more apologies, increasing the distance between us.
I replay that scene in my mind. Why is he scared? I walk back to the compartment, but I hear loud voices:
“Yang's going to try to ask her out, half the student body have placed their bets!”
“Look, mate, I understand that it’s all fun and games, but you can’t bet on someone’s life like that, especially someone like Annett.” I recognise that voice as Al’s.
"Mate, she could actually kill us. . ."
I open the door of the compartment to find Clinton Corner, his younger, Slytherin brother, Carter Corner, and Scorpius along with Al.
My gaze travels from one face to the next, stopping for one, long second each. As I release each face from my gaze, they fall to face the floor. I find this amusing. Having slept amazingly well and being energised as a side effect of my excitement about going back to school, I feel enough energy build up inside me to start a conversation.
“Arden Yang?” I ask. Arden Yang is a Ravenclaw. His only talent is essay-writing. He has no touch for performing magic. Additionally, he’s taken credit for some of my own pranks. That’s right, I indulge in pranking and nobody in Hogwarts has a clue. Except Mrs. Norris, but she helps me with a few of them. She’s in it to scare the students. I’m in it for the amusement.
One time, I replaced all the liquid soap in the castle with Flobberworm Mucus. Another time, Mrs. Norris and I unleashed a couple of puffskeins on an unsuspecting seventh year couple who fell asleep in a broom cupboard while trying to hide from Mr. Filch. Mr. Filch found them sprawled on the floor through an open broom closet door, struggling to extract the cute, little creature’s tongue from their nostrils. Puffskeins prey on bogeys of unsuspecting wizards and witches when they turn to the comfort of deep slumber. And then there was that time I amplified the volume of a dozen Jarveys and hid them inside a few first year classrooms. The school knew these pranks to be the work of the anonymous ‘Incog Imp’. It's not as grand of a name as I would have liked, but it wasn't mine to choose.
Regardless, now Yang has the audacity to even think about asking me out? The nerve.
The boys nod.
“What are the odds?” I ask slowly.
Their gazes shoot up to my face. What they find is a devious smirk.
“So. . . what is Yang up to?” I straighten my robes cooly and sit down.
Hesitantly, Scorpius speaks up, “Arden Yang has developed a massive. . .’thing’ for you. He’s afraid of you, but somehow that only fuels his interest.”
“Malcolm Chu is daring him to ask you out to Hogsmeade sometime this year,” Clinton adds.
“Naturally, people have started to take their bets,” Carter continues, sneaking multiple cautious glances at me. “The odds are two to nineteen for you to say ‘yes’. And three to one for you to say ‘yes,’ but out of desperation. They’re also betting on when he has the courage to ask you out.”
“Because they think you’re a scary, but shy, lonely cat-lady with a secret, needy desire for some human company,” Scorpius tells me the words nobody in the school dare utters and he does it to my face. Instead of blowing up in anger like most would expect me to do so, I simply nod.
“How will that be judged?”
“Well, if you stammer or scream or smile uncontrollably when replying to him or maybe even cry, then we’ll know. There’s a list.”
“Are you sure you want to get into this, Annett?” Al asks, genuinely concerned.
“Yang’s a bit of a presumptuous prat, isn’t he?” They nod. “He needs a good pranking, yes?” More nodding.
“Didn’t know you were much of prankster,” Carter looks at me critically. I shrug casually.
“How does this fear-having a ‘thing’ for me concept work?” I avoid answering the question.
“He thinks you’re mysterious and scary and he finds mysterious and scary really hot,” Scorpius supplies.
People are strange. . . And I'm one to speak. . .
“He’s scared of me?” I ask with a mirthful glint in my eyes.
“Actually, most of the students in Hogwarts are. Ballard Goyle most of all,” Albus agrees, nodding.
“Why?” What have I done?
“You did tell him off very coldly last year. He looks like he’s about to piss his pants at every glimpse of you since then.”
Ballard Goyle. He is a round one. Contrary to his stick of a brother, Adin. The only time I’ve talked to Ballard Goye was when I asked him to masticate before swallowing unless he wanted the whole pig to be lodged in his throat.
“Oh,” I utter.
Al thoughtfully adds, “Well. . . It’s not only that incident. You appear very intimidating––see, look at that.” I raise my right eyebrow and and slightly squint my left eye.
“So the general population of Hogwarts is scared of me? Since when?” I am perplexed.
“It was a natural process. It’s what happens when you’re very quiet and oddly calm and when you look like plotting someone’s death when you write essays and when you don’t bother to correct anyone’s perception of you.” Al's countenance gives no indication of being intimidated by me at all. He seems almost relaxed.
Most of the time, people are perfectly fine with my presence, they usually don't notice me at all. When they do, I feel very awkward. Rather than spend my time with peers, I prefer to spend it with my thoughts alone. The more ferocity with which these thoughts move about in my head, the more stern I find my facial expression. It hadn't occurred to me that my thinking face was ever very fear-inducing.
“Also, everyone has noticed that Mrs. Norris doesn’t intimidate you. Lola Davies and Ada Barnes saw you stroking her back on multiple occasions. The news spread like butter on hot toast. Didn’t you hear about it?” Carter points out. He pushes his glasses up nose.
“Why would anyone gossip to me, much less about myself, considering my reputation? What about Dahlia and Daisy? They still talk to me sometimes.”
“That is because they see goodness in everyone. It outweighs any negative thing they hear about you,” Al says.
Scorpius agrees, nods sagely, getting up as he looks at his watch. "Prefect meeting," he explains.
"That's why that Hufflepuff in Lily's year, Dougal Peakes flinches when you catch him looking your way." Carter continues after we've all waved Scorpius away.
"You'd think he swallowed the exotic fly specimen Declan Davies calls his pet,” Clinton laughs.
“So how did this bet start? Who’s involved?”
“It started when the train did. Yang was telling his whole compartment about how much he likes you. Malcolm Chu, was between daring him to ask you out to Hogsmeade or slipping Veritaserum in his drink and getting him to to talk to you. Davies, McLaggen, Baddock. . ." Al listed a great big number of names that I catalogued mentally, ". . . and some of my relatives placed their bets while Anand Thomas, Dahlia, and Daisy gave the quivering Yang a pep-talk,” Al informs me.
“There are more than that now!” Carter exclaims. “The whole Thomas family and their cousins, the Finnigans, the Creeveys. Then there's also Nott, Farley, and Carmichael.” Clinton lists even more names.
I raise my eyebrows, resisting the urge to squirm.
Why must so many people involve themselves in things that do not concern them?
To note, the Thomas family and the Finnegan family are cousins, having both mothers be Patils.
How many people in this school are related to each other?
Sometimes, it feels like watching a convoluted, massively extended series of family reunions in Hogwarts.
Well, haven't I any such relatives? You may ask.
My mother's only brother died before he was even born due to a bacterial infection. My father had three lovely sisters until a notorious criminal gang took them away, and later. . . his parents.
I have only ever had my parents and my maternal grandparents. My maternal grandparents who attribute the beauty of their dances to opening themselves up emotionally, baring them for their viewers to see.
I shove these thoughts out of my head to focus on the present.
“What are you going to do with Yang?” Al asks me.
“I’m only going to have fun with him,” I promise him.
“This is going to be a fun year” Scorpius says back from the meeting, grinning evilly on my behalf.
Clinton, as Yang’s roommate and someone whom Yang considered a friend—although the feeling was hardly mutual—led him into the carriage with me, Al, Scorpius, Carter, and Rose. I tested the waters, nodding to him to acknowledge his existence. His face revealed an internal conflict: he was between smiling widely and quivering in fear.
Wanting to help me out for their equal dislike of Yang, the Corners, Scorpius, and Al gave me as much information about him as they could that night.
I don’t tell them I know most of what they told me, I just nod along. The general population of Hogwarts may not know me very well, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know the general population of Hogwarts very well.
I know that, being the fool that he was, he asked Roxanne and Lucy out to Hogsmeade in the same week, all the while flirting with Lily. Within that month, he sabotaged Rose’s 10 foot long essay about an in-depth explanation about the fundamental principles of Charms and how new charms are created. As a prefect, she was keeping a watchful eye on him now.
You would think he'd stop there, but the boy just keeps going. Hugo only recently took his arm out of its cast after he was struck by Yang’s beater bat. The bat hurtled into him, and he hurtled into a goal post in Gryffindor vs. Ravenclaw quidditch match. Lucy, James, Fred, Lily, Roxanne, and the only non-Wotter in the Gryffindor quidditch team at that time had to continue without their keeper for the rest of the year.
Although only five people in the world know, I know that he and Valentina Esposito engaged in an all out snog fest last year while she was dating Al. She’s not the reason why Al suffers from the occasional case of insomnia, though. In his face, I could tell, he actually didn’t mind his relationship was over.
I have sources. . .
I know that he talks about himself a lot. I know that his sense of self-importance is inflated more times than an electron microscope could magnify. Also, I know that he has an irrational fear of all reptiles—birds included.
So, while I sat quietly reading, practicing all sorts of Transfiguration and performing my own science experiments in my secret hideout, Arden Yang had managed to hold the record for the most Wotters’ wraths inspired. Add that to his taking credit for my pranks, he wins first place for the single most annoying prat I’ve ever encountered. His prize was humiliation by secretly vindictive Austrian-German Slytherin.
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