Chapter 4 : IV
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Most of his roommates were still asleep. Abdi Karimi was up as usual, kneeling by his bed and murmuring his morning prayers. Dennis was lying horizontally across his bed, head dangling down over the side of the mattress, snoring loudly. Tristan and Ming both had their curtains closed but their steady, slow breaths suggested they hadn’t yet woken.
The room was horribly bright. Lily never bothered closing the curtains around the bed when she stayed, thinking that doing so might inspire unfavourable rumours. Hugo wasn’t sure where she’d got that idea from. Ravenclaw boys didn’t do gossip. And the open curtains brought the sunshine closer to his throbbing head.
He shielded his eyes with one hand and looked down at his cousin.
“Lils?” His voice came out deep and husky.
“Morning,” Lily whispered, not opening her eyes.
“I feel like shit.”
“That really doesn’t surprise me.”
Lily yawned and rolled over, propping herself up on her elbows so she could look at Hugo properly. She was still wearing her party clothes but had taken off her make up. With her hair tangled and her face bare, she looked younger and more fragile. Hugo always felt protective of her when she was like this. It was the side of her people didn’t see very often at Hogwarts.
She reached out and patted Hugo’s head.
“You frightened me last night,” she told him.
Hugo winced. He couldn’t remember exactly what had happened the previous night, but he remembered the panic he’d felt when he’d realised he couldn’t get back to school by himself. He’d hoped that Lily would just think he was drunk as usual, but the edge in her voice told him she’d realised something was wrong.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Lily narrowed her eyes and Hugo shrugged, looking away from her. She shuffled up the bed and sat up next to him, leaning back against the headboard.
“I’ve never seen you like that before.” Her voice was matter of fact but he knew her words were a warning. She wanted him to explain himself. It was usually sensible to just do what Lily wanted.
Hugo sighed. “I know. I’m sorry. I added some bits to the euphoria elixir you made. Thought it would keep me awake but I think I did something wrong because I felt bloody awful.”
Lily reached out with a tiny fist and punched his chest. Hugo tried to cover his wince to hide how much it hurt him, but Lily’s guilty expression told him he hadn’t been successful.
“You need to leave my potions alone,” she said seriously. “I mean it. I know I experiment but that’s because I’ve put a lot of time into my studies. It’s dangerous to mess around when you don’t understand the different components.”
“Yeah, I know,” Hugo said through a yawn. “It was stupid.”
“Really stupid. What were you thinking?”
“I just...it was all herbal stuff. I figured I was only using ingredients I’ve worked with before.”
“You’re a herbologist. Not a potioneer. The fact you understand your ingredients in their plant form doesn’t mean you’ll get the same effects when you mix them into potions. Especially when you’re using things I’ve brewed, because I’ve usually added a load of different components that aren’t usually included.”
“I won’t do it again.”
They sat in silence for a moment, uncharacteristically tense. Usually Hugo found Lily easier to be with than anybody else in the world, but today he knew he’d annoyed her. It would be alright in the end. She never stayed cross with him for long. But he’d made her worried and it was making her icier. At moments like this he thought he could see why other people found her so intimidating.
“I’m really sorry, Lils,” he murmured.
Lily’s face softened. “I know. I just want to know you’re okay.”
Hugo lifted one arm and rested it across the headboard behind Lily’s shoulders. She tipped her head to lean against his chest. Her hair smelt like lavender and was soft where it brushed against his neck. He wrapped his arm around her and held onto her. He hadn’t liked hugs when he was little, and would still rather keep to himself, but he knew Lily found it reassuring. She hated that he didn’t look after himself properly and needed to know that he still cared about her even when he struggled to care about himself.
“Okay,” Lily said, pulling away. “I should get back to Slytherin. I need to get changed and then grab a potion and something to eat before class. This hangover isn’t going to cure itself.”
“I can come to breakfast with you,” Hugo said tentatively.
Lily’s pitying expression made him wish he hadn’t offered.
“You don’t have to do that for me,” Lily said, shaking her head. “I know you hate being there. Anyway, I want to try to meet Lysander. I lost him last night.”
“I thought you were with him outside? Just before you came to help me. I remember seeing you.”
Lily frowned. “No. I didn’t see him at all once you got there.”
Hugo groaned. “My memory must be more fucked than I realised. I can’t even remember how we got back here.”
“Chang helped me drag you in,” Lily said.
“Oh. I should thank her.”
“Maybe. She’s a bit odd, isn’t she? I was surprised to see her there.”
Hugo shrugged. Lily shook back her hair and then climbed out of bed. She smoothed her hair back behind her ears and picked up one of Hugo’s discarded jumpers from the floor beside the bed, pulling it on over her crop top.
“Right. I’m in desperate need of a shower. I’ll see you later?”
“Yeah.” Hugo closed his eyes again, sliding back down the bed. “See you later.”
“Thank you Lily, my most beloved cousin, for getting me home safe instead of leaving me to die in the street,” Lily said, leaning over to flick his forehead.
“Thanks, Lils. I’ll bring you some kind of gift later.”
Hugo tugged the duvet back over his head to escape the sunlight and closed his eyes again.
When he woke up again it was because Dennis was charging around the room, yelling that it was morning.
“Weasley Weasley Weasley! Get up get up! Lessons!”
Hugo glared at him but Dennis was already stumbling out of the door. He was wearing odd socks and his bright blonde hair was sticking up in all directions. The other boys had left empty beds and must already be at breakfast.
Hugo dressed slowly, taking time to alter his uniform so that it didn’t gape around him where he’d lost weight. He still felt awful. He hoped Lily would have brought him a hangover solution to give him in Herbology.
The Common Room was nearly empty. Two second years were trying to get a kitten down from the top of one of the bookshelves, and a girl was sat by herself in one of the window seats, staring out at the grounds below.
“Chang,” Hugo called out. “You coming to Herbology?”
Mei turned around. She had dark shadows under her eyes and her cropped hair was unwashed. Lily always laughed at the way Mei shaved the back of her head and let it grow longer and fluffy at the top, but Hugo thought it kind of suited her. Mei swung her legs around and off the window seat, doc martens landing on the floor with a soft thud, and headed towards Hugo.
“How are you feeling?” Her voice was gentle.
Hugo shrugged. “I’ve been better. I hear I owe you a thank you. And probably an apology.”
“It’s no problem. I’m glad you’re alright.”
“We should get moving. We’re late.”
Mei swore under her breath. “Lost track of time. I’m starving as well. Did you go to breakfast?”
Hugo shook his head and Mei’s cheeks flushed scarlet.
“Why didn’t you go?” He asked.
“I was waiting for Lyra. She didn’t come back last night.”
“Yeah. I think she went with a guy from another House.”
Mei held the door open for Hugo to step through and together they made their way down the staircase towards the Entrance Hall. The corridors were chilly. Hugo wished he’d put his jacket on under his robes.
“She’s probably already in the greenhouses,” Hugo said.
“Nah, she’s taking Arithmancy instead. I think you and me are the only Claws who like plants more than numbers.”
“They’re all idiots,” Hugo breathed.
Mei giggled. “Agreed. What else are you taking this year?”
“Erm, Charms. Transfiguration. Potions. Defence. Kind of regretting Potions though. Might switch to History instead.”
“I’m taking History. And Transfiguration, Charms and Care of Magical Creatures. My mum’s not that keen on the idea of me taking Creatures though.”
Mei shrugged. “She was a Ravenclaw too. I think she finds it a bit hard to shake the idea of Creatures and Herbology being soft subjects. She wanted me to do Arithmancy and Defence.”
“A lot of people said their parents have been making them take Defence.”
“Makes sense, I guess. Mum was in Dumbledore’s Army when she was at school. She finds it hard to see that it’s less important for us than it was for them.”
“My parents say we should never stop seeing it as important,” Hugo said quietly.
Mei glanced at him.
“Yeah. I agree. But I got an O in the OWL and now I’d rather focus on the subjects I’m passionate about.”
Hugo nodded. He was surprised how easy it was to talk to her. They’d shared lessons all the way through school but he’d never really spent any time with Mei by herself.
They continued to chat about OWL results and their plans for the year, and when they reached the greenhouses Hugo found himself disappointed to move away from her.
Paige Parsons was perched next to a bench near the door to the Greenhouse. She beamed at Hugo and gave him a little wave, not acknowledging Mei by his side. She was saving the space next to her, presumably waiting for Lily to arrive from breakfast.
“Hey,” Mei said to him. “Um, do you want to grab a bench with me? Us Ravenclaws are outnumbered in here. Better stick together, right?”
Hugo stopped looking at Paige and turned back to Mei, taking a moment to process her words.
“Unless you’re working with somebody else already,” Mei said quickly, cheeks flushing again. “Sorry. Don’t worry about it.”
“No,” Hugo said, shaking his head. “That sounds good. Yeah. Let’s sit down somewhere.”
They chose a seat near the back of the room. Hugo noticed Paige’s eyes following him as he sat down, and deliberately didn’t look back at her. Paige wouldn’t understand why he’d ever want to sit with somebody who wasn’t in their group. Like Lily, she was very selective in who she spent time with.
The greenhouse gradually filled up with Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors. The Hufflepuff Quidditch captain stopped by Paige’s seat to say something that made her blush, but the conversation didn’t last long. The seat next to Paige remained conspicuously empty. Lily must be running late.
“Look,” Mei said, sounding delighted. “Another Ravenclaw. Abdi, come join the gang.”
Abdi Karimi smiled when he saw her and sat down on Mei’s other side. The two of them fell into an easy conversation and Hugo shifted awkwardly, edging a few inches further away. The rest of the Ravenclaws had bonded quickly, laughing and studying together in the hours Hugo had spent with his cousins and Lily’s friends. Listening to Mei joke with Abdi, Hugo wished he found it easier to join in.
Abdi and Mei didn’t seem to have noticed the awkwardness Hugo was so aware of, and Abdi leaned forwards so he could see Hugo better.
“How are you, Hugo?” His voice was deep and slow. Whenever Hugo heard him speak, it surprised him that such a big voice would come out of such a small person.
“You sounded like you were ill in the night,” Abdi said.
Hugo clenched one hand into a fist, digging his nails into the soft skin of his palm. He couldn’t remember getting in the previous night, but he hoped he hadn’t woken up his roommates.
“I’m alright,” he repeated.
“Glad to hear it,” Abdi said, leaning back again. “I’m surprised three of us made it here. I thought all Ravenclaws took Arithmancy.”
Mei laughed and then mentioned something about Care of Magical Creatures later on, and the two of them started to talk about their plans for the year.
Hugo crossed his arms and leaned his elbows against the table in front of them, resting his head on one arm. He closed his eyes and didn’t bother opening them when Professor Longbottom entered the room. He’d already studied sixth year Herbology in his own time and thought his time would probably be better spent sleeping off his hangover.
Longbottom didn’t bother him until the end of the lesson. As other students started to pack away their things and stand up, the Professor stood next to Hugo’s bench and used his knuckles to knock on the wood beside Hugo’s head.
Hugo rubbed his eyes and forced himself to sit up.
“Morning, Professor,” he mumbled.
Longbottom looked exasperated. “Nice of you to grace us with your company, Hugo.”
Mei and Abdi both stood up. Mei looked like she was waiting to say something to Hugo, but Longbottom showed no inclination to move away any time soon, so she walked away.
“Your parents asked me to look out for you,” Longbottom said quietly. “They’re worried.”
“I’m fine,” Hugo snapped.
Longbottom raised his hands in the air and took a step back.
“I’m not trying to anger you,” he said. “I’m just concerned. We care about you. We want to make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m fine,” he said again.
“Well, sleeping through your first lesson of the year isn’t the best way to show that,” Longbottom said.
Hugo yawned and started to pack away his things.
“Sorry, Professor. I couldn’t get to sleep last night.”
“Just make sure it doesn’t happen again. You’re top in the year for Herbology. I don’t want to see this from you.”
“Right.” Hugo stood up, slinging his satchel over his shoulder. “Is that all? I should get to Charms.”
“Yes, that’s all,” Longbottom sighed. “Let me know if you ever need anything.”
Hugo gave him a jerking nod and started to walk towards the door. He paused when Longbottom called his name again.
“Do you know where your cousin is this morning?” Longbottom asked.
“I was expecting her in class. Miss Parsons didn’t seem able to explain where she was, which seemed odd given that they should have been sleeping in the same dormitory.”
Hugo shrugged. Confessing that Lily had spent the night in Ravenclaw Tower wouldn’t get her out of trouble for skipping class so he didn’t see the point.
Longbottom looked disappointed.
“Well,” he said. “Tell her to come and see me before the end of the day. Missing lessons is unacceptable, especially now that you’re NEWT students. She’s a bright girl. I don’t want that to go to waste.”
Hugo nodded and left without checking that he was dismissed. His thoughts felt blurred and he was too tired to keep up the conversation.
“What was that all about?” Mei asked when Hugo stepped outside.
She walked next to Hugo and Abdi took her other side.
“You waited for me?” Hugo was confused.
“Sure. We’re all going to the same place, aren’t we?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“Are you okay?” Abdi asked. “Are you in trouble?”
“He just wasn’t particularly impressed with me today,” Hugo said.
“Maybe you should try to stay awake for your next lesson,” Mei suggested.
They walked in companionable silence until they were near the castle, and then Mei grabbed Hugo’s arm.
“What’s going on?” She nodded in the direction of the lake.
Hugo looked over to the lake and frowned. A crowd of thirty or forty students had gathered around the edge of the water, huddled together and staring at something. It was hard to tell what was going on from this distance, but at least two of the students looked like they might be crying.
“I don’t know,” Hugo said. “Maybe we should just leave it. We’re already late.”
Mei shook her head. “I'm a prefect. I should check what’s going on. I can meet you guys in Charms, though, if you don’t want to get in trouble again?”
“Nah, I’ll come with,” Hugo said, wondering as he spoke why he felt this new obligation to stick with these two Ravenclaws he’d hardly spoken to in the five years he’d known them.
The three of them walked towards the lake, speeding up when they got closer and realised how distressed the students looked.
“Is that…” Mei started to walk even faster. “Is that a person?”
Hugo followed her gaze and then sped up to match her pace until they reached the lake. Now that she’d said it, it was obvious what the students were looking at.
A body was floating face down in the centre of the lake. It was a girl, bare legs looking eerily green in the water, red hair fanning out from her head.
Abdi seemed to realise who it was a moment before Hugo did, because strong arms reached out and wrapped around him before he could throw himself into the water.
He struggled against Abdi, clawing at his arms, but the shorter boy stayed strong and calm and didn’t let him go.
When he shouted, his voice sounded strangled and ragged, and somehow shrieking her name made the whole thing feel more real, more evil, more awful.
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