Chapter 6 : (6)
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Reviews are a writer's bread and butter, please remember to let me know what you thought of this chapter in the little box at the bottom of the page and a lovely week to you all!
As often, chapter dedicated to Sian.
Also, crediting once more the amazing artist who created this story's banner, decoded. @ TDA.
"So apparently your girl's gone," John informed Cormac sliding into the seat next to him. "I heard Granger talking about it just now."
"Yeah, something about her father picking her up last night or something?"
Cormac's eyes instinctively lifted to scan the Hufflepuff table, relief palpable as he spotted a familiar head of blonde hair. "Well, she's still right there, so Granger's probably mistaken. Can you please not spring things on me like that, especially today?"
John's eyebrows lifted into his hairline. "Holy shit, you really like this girl, don't you?" His friend's murderous glare convinced him not to pressure the subject further. "Alright, alright, I didn't say anything, far be it from me the idea of the mighty Cormac McLaggen having feelings. What time are the trials?"
"After breakfast. Don't know when they'll be trying out for Keepers though."
"You'll be fine." Cormac shrugged, unconvinced, and John punched him in the arm. "You will. You not making the team doesn't question your Quidditch abilities. Now go out there, 'cause Potter's leaving, and kick their asses!"
"... ridiculous, really – did that Gryffindor just walk into the door?"
Eloise, who'd only half been listening to Susan, looked up at her amused exclamation and froze. Susan picked up on it instantly.
"That's him, isn't it? Your McLaggen boy?"
"Oh my god." Eloise turned a furious shade of scarlet. "He's not my anything."
"I'm not judging, he's hot! And well built too. Remind me again why you aren't climbing him like a tree?"
"Please stop talking," Eloise begged.
Susan stared at her pensively. "You did something, didn't you." It wasn't a question. Eloise held her gaze for a few moments before giving in.
"I might have yelled at him."
"Did he deserve it?"
"Probably not. I'll apologise sometime soon; in the meantime can we please get dinner, before all of the pork roast is gone?"
Eloise woke in her own bed early that Sunday morning, flat on her stomach and face pressed into the pillows. Henry had reclaimed his bed the night before, the dark circles under his eyes mildly less pronounced behind his glasses. It had been a collective and silent decision for the girls to retreat back to their dorm: their friend could do without the disturbance in his sleeping habits, not to mention Zach and Susan's mutual antagonising was reaching critical level.
Susan, Eloise could see, was still fast asleep, fists tightened around her honey comforter. There was a slight crease in between her eyebrows that belied her peaceful breathing, had the extremely defensive position she'd adopted, curled tightly into a ball of hair and limbs, not been enough of a sign. Despite Susan's attitude of loud-mouthing and crude comments that made Eloise laugh and cringe equally, it was obvious that she was handling the situation far less well than she tried to project. She'd still been reading when Eloise fell asleep, nose scrunched up and long dark hair pulled out of her eyes, angrily jabbing her quill at the paper she was reading (given the occasional huff that accompanied, she probably had the latest copy of the Prophet in hand) and taking notes semi-regularly. Once more, Eloise wondered – and worried – how deep into the spiral of government conspiracies her best friend would let herself be dragged in.
She let out a quiet hiss as she touched the floor. The end of September had seen the last dregs of summer warmth disappear, and the tiles of the Hufflepuff dorm were cold to the touch, meaning that Eloise was up far earlier than she'd realised if the house elves had yet to light a fire in the large stone chimney at the far end of the dorm. Slipping her feet into badger shaped slippers (something tugged at her heartstrings – the slippers had been a gift from Hannah the year they'd turned fourteen), she padded across the room and flicked her wand at the hearth, sighing contentedly at the heat. A look at her watch informed her that it was quarter past five – breakfast would not be served yet, but maybe she'd be able to grab a cup of tea from the kitchens.
As it turned out, it was indeed possible for her to grab a cup of tea (with a heating charm on the mug) and a couple of freshly baked cookies and was she really sure she wasn't needing anything else, miss? Wrapped in a coat and an oversized sweater stolen from Vince's cupboard, she made her way to one of her favourite spots in the courtyard. It was still dark, dark enough that calling it early morning or even dawn would've been an overstatement. Dark clouds canvassed the sky, much to Eloise's disappointment. Disappointment turned to frustration when she realised the wide arcade she was planning on sitting under was already occupied, and frustration curdled into sheer irritation, tinged with mortification, when the occupant revealed himself to be Cormac McLaggen, who had evidently recognised Eloise if his sudden fussing was anything to go by.
Grow a backbone, Midgeon, and go apologise.
He nodded, once, and shifted his legs off the stone for Eloise to sit. They sat in silence for a while, the calm only broken by Eloise's breathing as she puffed the steam off her tea.
"So," she began, "about the other day... I was completely out of line and shouldn't have yelled the way I did and I'm sorry."
"Well, not really, is it? You may have had a good excuse for all I know, my causing a scene was quite unnecessary."
Cormac flashed her a lopsided half grin (he does not look good when he does that, he does not, get a grip oh my god). "You ramble quite a lot, don't you? Am I ever going to have a chance to put in a complete sentence?"
"I don't know. Are you planning on showing up at our next tutoring session?"
There had always been something simultaneously peaceful and terrifying about Hogwarts by night, Cormac felt. He'd grown up in a small magical town in Cornwall with squat buildings and low, beamed ceilings, only shrubs and sea within seeing distance, and the steep, spiry towers of the castle overlooking the Forbidden Forest with its imposing trees had made for an unsettling change of scenery in eleven-year-old Cormac's eyes. With time though, he'd grown to love the sense of feeling small in the face of immensity, to the point where he'd abandon the dorm in favour of falling asleep under the sky when the weather allowed it. Sometimes, however, escaping the dorm and finding refuge beneath the stars became more of a necessity than anything else, a way to remind himself that no matter how badly he fucked up the Earth would keep on spinning. It was in search of that feeling of insignificance in the face of something more complex and more beautiful that he'd found himself outside before six on a Sunday morning.
The footsteps had cut through the quiet like a knife and he'd been annoyed at the disruption until he'd recognised the figure making her way through the yard. She'd stopped in her tracks when she saw him and he'd stiffened, unsure of what to do. Eloise Midgeon had made it quite clear where she stood in regards to him, the last thing he wanted to do was unleash her fury again. Talk in the Gryffindor common room had brought it to his knowledge about how a Hufflepuff in her year had left Hogwarts due to her mother's murder, so he assumed her short temper was in part linked to that, but he had no idea whether the two girls were close or not, the extent to which it had impacted her reaction, if at all. Regardless, the last thing he'd been expecting was for her to sit herself down next to him – within touching distance, but he pushed that thought away – careful not to slosh her drink over the edge of the cup, let alone apologise then poke fun back at him.
"If you're willing to reschedule, I'll be there."
"This evening then? Library, nine p.m."
He smiled, she smiled back, and god must they have looked stupid just grinning at each other like that but Cormac just couldn't bring himself to care.
"While we're apologising," he offered, "I really am sorry I didn't show up the first time."
Eloise gave a half shrug. "It's not so much you not showing up that irritates me than you not letting me know you wouldn't be there."
She didn't ask why, didn't demand an explanation, and Cormac knew he was well and truly fucked.
Eloise spent her afternoon in the hospital wing, which was a mostly subdued affair until the door banged open to a boy, the cuffs of his unbuttoned sleeves stained red and copper, carried in by two other students. The noise alerted Madam Pomfrey, who seemed to recognise the boy instantly given the way her eyes widened.
"Bandages, essence of Dittany, blood-replenishing potion," she barked at Eloise as she hurried toward the trio. "Mr Zabini, Mr Malfoy, get him on the bed."
Eloise dashed into the nurse's office, making a beeline for the shelves lining the walls – Accio was inefficient on all medical supplies, in order to avoid potions disappearing to places they had no place to be, but it made emergencies such as these more complicated to handle. Fortunately, two years of volunteering and countless occurrences of organising the shelves had made Eloise rather proficient at finding things amidst the clutter and finding them fast. She was back into the main room in no time, where the matron was still giving orders.
"Close the curtains, Mr Malfoy; Mr Zabini, help me prop him up, he needs to have his wrist above heart level. Eloise, put that all on the table, now all of you out!"
Slytherins, Eloise realised once they'd all ducked out from underneath the curtains, Madam Pomfrey waving her wand about frantically.
"Third time this month," the blonde muttered to his friend. "He can't go on like this."
"We're doing everything we can, Draco."
"Pansy is going to kill us both if anything happens to him."
Eloise cleared her throat. "He'll be fine, Pomfrey knows what she's doing."
Both boys swivelled in her direction, the blonde – Malfoy – a lot more hostile than his friend, albeit less threatening physically. "If we want your opinion, we'll ask for it."
She sighed. "Look, first of all, you may want to have your conversation someplace else if you don't want me to hear things I shouldn't. Second, he will be alright: this happens more often than you'd think, you get used to... Well, not to the fact that there are students doing this to themselves, but you learn how to heal them. I'm going to need to sign him in, can I please get a name and a person to contact when he's allowed visitors?"
The other boy, Zabini, looked suspicious. "How do we know you aren't going to go blabbing about what happened here?"
"Even if I wanted to, which is not the case because what kind of despicable human being would I be, I signed a contract when I started to volunteer here. I physically cannot talk about what happens in the hospital wing outside the hospital, at least not when it comes to people's condition and the reasons they were here in the first place. I can dig out the paperwork if you want proof, but you can also take my word for it and go reassure Pansy that this kid is going to be alright – physically, at least. I'm not sure what we can do about the rest."
"How d'you know who Pansy is?"
"You literally just mentioned her name. Please?"
The moment where both Slytherin boys deflated was physically visible. "His name's Aloysius Parkinson," the black guy stated. "Slytherin, second year, person to contact is Pansy Parkinson, sixth year. She's his sister."
Eloise had whisked a quill and notepad out of her apron pocket and scribbled the information down. "Alright. Is there anything else you feel like I need to know?"
"He doesn't like sleeping with the lights off," Malfoy blurted.
"Noted. I'll make sure to let Pomfrey know, and I'll find his sister as soon as she's allowed in."
"Thank you," Zabini breathed. Malfoy said nothing, only nodded, and then they were gone. Eloise copied down the information about Aloysius into the massive leather-bound register as she waited for the nurse to step out from beneath the curtains, pausing at the year he was in. Second year, so twelve or thirteen at best, can't sleep without the lights on – he's just a kid, for fuck's sake. Working in the hospital wing often made Eloise want to cry, but this was the first time in a long while.
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