Chapter 7 : (7)
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Hello hello hello! This is late, again, and I was unsure about posting it but it was now or never given that the time of mock exams, revisions and actual exams has come and I'm probably going to be swamped until February.
So here you have it! In this chapter, things happen and conversations are had. Enjoy (or not) and let me know your thoughts? Reviews make happy authors and happy authors tend to be more efficient.
Zacharias' commentary of the Quidditch match in italic (second paragraph) belongs to JK Rowling and is directly quoted from chapter fourteen of HBP, Felix Felicis (pages 261 to 283 of the UK hardcover version).
October came and went, mostly peacefully, with the noteworthy exception of Katie Bell's incident in Hogsmeade during the first visit. Eloise's time was divided between classes (the scar on her cheekbone, souvenir of her wrestle with a Snargaluff stump, had yet to heal properly), hours in the hospital wing (Aloysius Parkinson hadn't reappeared) and tutoring sessions with McLaggen (who was smarter than he looked and also considerably less irritating). Before she knew it, she found herself squished between Susan and Henry, shielding her eyes against the sun with her hands in order to make out the Quidditch players hovering on their brooms.
"Well, there they go, and I think we're all surprised to see the team that Potter's put together this year. Many thought, given Ronald Weasley's patchy performance as Keeper last year that he might be off the team, but of course, a close personal friendship with the Captain does help..."
A groan erupted from the huddle of Hufflepuffs. Susan dropped her face to her hands with a resounding smack; Wayne, sitting next to her, sympathetically patted her shoulder.
"Oh my god," Susan muttered, voice slightly muffled by her palms, "I should have known Zach was up to something stupid when he turned up with that shit-eating grin this morning."
"Shit-eating is his default grin setting, you couldn't have known," Justin consoled her teasingly.
"Besides," Henry chimed in, "had we known, we couldn't have done anything about it. Zach lives to be a pain in our collective asses. It's part of his charm."
At the mention of Zacharias' charm, Susan made a face that provoked the rest of the group's laughter. It continued throughout the match, accompanied by poking and elbowing and light mocking. They were all more interested in revelling in the joyful mood than in actually watching the match, so the cheer caused by Harry Potter catching the Snitch for Gryffindor surprised them all. Even more surprising was the blur of red and gold zooming straight into the commentator's box, eliciting a high-pitched shriek from Zacharias as he tumbled to the floor beneath a pile of debris.
Susan looked as though Christmas, Easter and her birthday had come early. "I'm fairly certain the pitch at which that came out was heard by dogs on the other side of the country. I'm going to go and congratulate Ginny Weasley, meet you in the common room!"
Eloise shook her head in amusement at her friend's antics, before linking arms with Wayne and Henry. "Well then. Shall we?"
I wish it'd snow again, Eloise mused as she eyed the view from the library window. McLaggen was slightly late, an uncommon occurrence, so she had plenty of time to watch the sun sink slowly over the dark lake, spattering the grounds with rapidly moving shadows. Sunsets in winter had something sinister to them, turning everything to ash and blood in a grotesque battlefield-like décor. Sludge puddles had turned the yard into a safety hazard: the Hospital Wing had seen a stream of injured ankles and wrists come through. The inside of the castle was far more cheerful – Hagrid had brought in twelve trees for the Great Hall a while before, candles and mistletoe sprang out of every corner and long garlands of holly snaked through staircase banisters. Everyone – down to Irma Pince, if the white and silver bauble hanging from the stern librarian's desk lamp was any indication – was enjoying the Christmas spirit during the last week of class before break.
Despite the lack of fresh snow, Eloise sighed contentedly. She had a head start on any projects due after Christmas, her work until the end of the week was done but mostly, there'd been good news from home earlier that morning. After the usual bits of information regarding her parents' work (a boy had tried for his Apparition licence and left all ten of his toenails behind, her father wrote, making Eloise crinkle her nose in disgust, and the Improper Use of Magic Office had beaten the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office in their inter-department Quidditch game, Helen Midgeon saving a goal that would've tipped the scales and earning herself a bruised forearm in the process), Vincent had scribbled a few lines about how his hearing was gradually returning in his left ear. The only fly in the ointment was his job at the WWN – the board was understanding of Vince's situation, but for how long?
A quiet thud on the table pulled her from her thoughts and she looked up at McLaggen with a small smile that he returned immediately.
"Sorry I'm late, I got caught up with Slughorn after Potions and Jesus fuck that guy does not know how to stop talking. Remind you of anyone?"
"Pish," Eloise responded primly, "at least I know how to dress and wouldn't be seen dead with that horrid velvet hat of his."
Cormac let out a muted laugh that caused butterflies to flutter in Eloise's tummy. He was attractive on a regular basis, but his lopsided grins and deep chuckles made his eyes crinkle and dimples frame soft-looking lips and Eloise was such a goner. Wayne, who was a member of the Slug Club, said Cormac was an unbearable wanker, boasting and self-loving, an attitude Eloise sometimes saw resurface during their tutoring sessions but, mostly, that she had trouble associating with the boy watching her with guileless blue eyes.
"Uh oh," Susan had commented after Eloise had come back from their first tutoring session far more confident that the whole shebang would end well than she'd been before leaving for the library. "If you don't fall for this guy before the end of the school year, I'll eat my socks."
She'd let out a string of protests, of course, that had fallen on deaf ears, Susan merely shrugging and turning another page of Compendium of Common Curses and Their Counter-Actions. When Eloise had come back two weeks later and admitted defeat, her friend had laughed, bumped her shoulder benevolently and declared, "If he's got a personality as great as his looks, why aren't you fucking him yet?"
"Sluggy's fashion statement aside, what're we working on tonight?"
"I thought we could go through the different species of trees used in wand making and their attributes, picking up on where we left the other day? Then if there's still time we can review the various uses of Snargaluff pods and those horrendous tubers inside them, that should be more than enough. Yes?"
"Fine by me."
"Alright then, tell me about the use of beech in wandlore."
"... and the tubers found in Snargaluff pods can also be used as a neutral base to thicken medical preparations."
"Correct! Alright, bonus question and we're done." Eloise shifted closer to Cormac, pulling her textbook between the two of them, and tapped a diagram. "What's this?"
Acutely aware of the way her leg was suddenly lightly pressed against his from foot to knee, Cormac blinked twice at the page in an attempt to pull his concentration back. "Uh..."
Eloise knocked her knee against his once, sharply. "Oh come on, we did this last week!"
"Nice try, but nope – I guess you'll have to look into it over the holidays and come back to me afterwards."
"You're giving me homework?"
She gave him a withering glare. "One diagram."
"Come on, Midgeon, what about the holiday spirit?"
"Holiday spirit can suck my –" Eloise froze, turned an interesting shade of puce then took a deep breath before resuming, "Holiday spirit is why I'm only asking you to look up one diagram and not six of them that you'd have to copy and label. And unless you tell me you've got sixteen children to care for 24/7 and that you really can't spare ten minutes given the amount of actual homework you have, I stand my ground."
Her babbling was decidedly endearing, with the added benefit of dragging his mind out of the gutter her first exclamation had pushed it into. "What about four kids, can we negotiate?"
"Please tell me the four kids in question aren't your four kids."
"I know I have a reputation but please, give me some credit. My little wizard never goes out without his hat."
That elicited an outright guffaw that she hurriedly silenced by clapping a hand over her mouth. Shoulders shaking with laughter, she remained as such for a few minutes, keeping her eyes well away from his face as that only seemed to increase her mirth. When she was finally able to speak again (slightly more high pitched than her normal voice), she fixed him with a glare that only mildly served its purpose due to the hiccup preceding her words. "Please don't ever, ever, use that analogy again. Also, nice try distracting me –" she went a little red again, Cormac noted with interest "– but that doesn't answer my question."
"Technically you didn't really ask me a question, only declared and inferred."
Cormac was torn between laughter at her dismissive hand gesture and exasperation at her insistence. "The four kids are my siblings."
"Oh. I didn't know you had any, what're their names?"
"Um – Aoibheann is the eldest; then you've got Finlay and Sean, who're four, and Keegan is a year and a half."
Eloise smiled. "All Irish names, huh? Were your parents from Ireland?"
"Yeah, my mum – Saoirse – was born and raised in Belfast."
"You must miss them while you're here, no?"
"Eh. It's not so bad; there are quite a few reasons why I'm glad to be here."
Fuck, why did he have to stare straight her while uttering that last sentence? She'd already let her imagination run haywire when he'd talked about her distracting him, because she had a lot of ideas, but this was on another level than plain old physical attraction and Eloise was not going there god damn it.
"Besides," he continued, "I get to spend two weeks with them soon and given that they're like a pack of loud leeches, I'll be glad to have space to myself by the end of the holiday. What about you, what are your holiday plans?"
"Sleep until midday, spend time with my brother and celebrate my birthday. We may head to France at some point to ski, but I'm not sure."
"Aw shit, are you one of the poor souls who never really get to celebrate because they happened to be born on the same day as Jesus?"
"No, thankfully my birthday is on the seventeenth."
"That's tomorrow! Why the hell are you wasting your time tutoring me instead of celebrating?"
"Alright, first of all, what is there to celebrate? My last evening of being underage? Whoop dee doop, no thank you, I'll celebrate tomorrow. Second, this isn't a waste of my time: I get extra Herbology credit, Sprout will be waxing lyrical in her recommendation letter for Healer training and your company's not too bad." Ugh, she cringed. This is why I should not open my mouth around attractive people.
To her great surprise – and her utter relief – McLaggen smiled, the wide, dimple-framed smile that Eloise hated and really wanted to kiss away. "You're not too bad either. Regardless of how irresistible we both are, I'm still going to insist on splitting ways now and sending you off for pre-coming of age shenanigans. Can I walk you down to the Great Hall?"
"By all means, kind sir, please proceed!"
At midnight on the dot, a booming cacophony that could probably wake the dead pulled Eloise from her slumber.
"Fuck, Susan, my teeth are fucking rattling, what the bloody fuck –"
The boys were there too, she realised belatedly. Justin eyed her with interest. "I don't think I've ever heard that many expletives from anyone."
Henry snorted. "I once had the misfortune of meeting up with Eloise after she'd made her way through a crowd of people walking slowly."
"What the expletive expletive are these expletive people expletive doing, expletive seriously, would it expletive kill them to expletive walk just a little bit expletive faster."
"I'm right here," Eloise grumbled, "and they were really slow."
"Look, it's all well and good to criticise her language habits but that's not why we got out of bed; can we get back to the point?"
"Thank you, Ernie," Susan said pointedly, tossing herself onto her bed. Though she was wearing pyjamas, Eloise suspected she hadn't slept yet and had stayed up to plan her surprise. "Now, Ellie, the boys and I had a song and speeches planned, in order to celebrate the fact that you are now of age, allowed to use magic as you so please, be it to scratch your nose, fold underwear or turn Zach's hair purple, but we figured food and presents were a better idea. Tada!"
Despite the smile creeping up on her face, Eloise felt obliged to point out, "You know this is the first night in ages I've been asleep before midnight?"
"You can catch up on your beauty sleep later, Midge," Zach said through a yawn. "Lord knows you need it." He smirked when she flipped him the bird and tossed a painstakingly-wrapped present into her lap. "Merry happy, joyful Easter and whatnot."
"You are terrible," Susan hissed. Zacharias ignored her, choosing instead to sit down next to her, much to her horror. The other boys imitated him, Ernie settling in as buffer between the pair with a long-suffering sigh, Justin on Susan's other side (she seized the opportunity to slide her cold feet under his legs, sticking her tongue out at him when he pretended to grumble), and Henry and Wayne on either side of Eloise.
Zach's present was surprisingly personal, Eloise realised as she unwrapped the paper to reveal a framed picture of her, Susan and Hannah, arms tossed over one another's shoulders, smiling at the camera. "Oh, Zach..." He made a please-don't-get-emotional face at her so she blinked away the tears and stuck to a simple, "Thank you so much; where did you get this?"
"The Creevey boy in Gryffindor – Muggle-born, fifth year, kind of scrawny? He's always taking pictures of everything with that blasted camera of his, I sort of bullied him into letting me look through his pictures and found this one."
Which, translated from Zach-speak, meant I bothered to let people know I do in fact have a heart and put time into finding you something that I know you'd like; also I know how much you miss Hannah and I'm sorry, and that was maybe the better gift.
Ernie, ever practical, had gotten her a daily planner with a cover in soft grey leather, embossed with the Hufflepuff coat of arms. Eloise, who harboured a deep love for anything stationery, had to tamp down the urge to let out a happy squeal, but from the look on her friends' faces as she hugged the planner to herself, it was as good as not.
Justin handed over a collar for Oscar, explaining with a half grin that it would allow Eloise to locate the Kneazle and Accio him to her without harming him in the process – Oscar, for some reason, adored Justin, hence why he was Eloise's first pick as partner in crime when she went on a rampage through the castle in search of her runaway pet.
Finally, Henry, Wayne and Susan ceremoniously placed a white box in front of her. It contained a silver bracelet with four intricate charms: a Kneazle, a caduceus, a willow branch and a teacup.
"The Kneazle represents Oscar, it's Henry's contribution; Wayne got you the caduceus –"
"Because you want to be a Healer and all," Wayne explained, "I had to look it up. Did you know Muggles and wizards have the same insignia for members of the medical profession?"
"I got you the willow branch," Susan went on, "as it's what your wand is made of and I remember our trip to Ollivander's like it was yesterday, and the teacup was Hannah's idea."
Eloise looked up from the charm she'd been tracing with the tip of her finger. "How long have you been planning this?"
"A while. You're the first to turn seventeen, after all."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever, we love you too. Cake?"
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