Chapter 13 : Thirteen
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Still, this was cause for a party, and since Gryffindor and Slytherin had postponed theirs on behalf of Nick Croaker’s accident, every house was invited. The Hufflepuffs, being such gracious hosts, had changed the barrel code for the night to something simple. This knowledge was then distributed via whispers on the way back to the castle from the pitch, careful to avoid the ears of the pricklier prefects and teachers. Professor Underwood and Madam Longbottom had both been reliably informed of the celebration, should it get out of hand, or, more likely, any students visit the hospital wing the next morning in search of a pepper-up potion.
Fred, James and Lucy made their way down there around six, three hours after the snitch capture, to find the party was well underway. Whilst the three of them had seen the interior of the Hufflepuff basement prior to the party (no house was exempt to retaliative pranking, as the Badgers discovered when three Gryffindor boys — who shall remain nameless — had replaced the shampoo in every bathroom with a potion of Fred’s concoction which slowly turned their hair black with a white stripe down the centre — after Quidditch Captain Marcus Malloy thought it was funny to trail the Gryffindor team’s clothes across the pitch whilst they were in the showers after practise one night last February), they weren’t quite prepared for the transformation which had taken place to it.
A thin cloud of herbal smoke hung around the ceiling. The only light came from the fire in the large wood stove, the few oil lamps sat on half-barrel coffee tables, and the amber glow of the medieval chandelier hanging above the huge round study table, set to one side, where a game of wizards poker was taking place. Someone had conjured a black velvet cloth and dragon-hide cushions around the edge for players to rest their forearms. Lucy noticed Nick was one of the players, along with a couple of other Slytherins, three Ravenclaws, two Gryffindors and two Hufflepuffs. They were betting with sweets and cheat-sheets for upcoming tests. She made a beeline for him.
The gramophone in the corner was cranking out a mixture of magical and muggle music, a stack of vinyls slumped against the side. Some people were dancing, some were smoking shrivelfig leaf cigarettes in armchairs made out of old barrels and furnished with button-tufted black leather cushions. Marcus Malloy was doing a yard of Daisyroot Draught, much to the entertainment of the rest of the team and those spectating.
A curved bookshelf, which had been previously positioned against the wall, had been turned around to act as a bar. The tomes and volumes replaced with tequila and vodka. Two seventh-years were serving butterbeer to younger students, lacing the older ones’ with firewhisky or redcurrant-rum. Sparkling Peach Cider, served in flutes with floating blackberries, were circling the room on floating trays. Fred, heading that way, could see Tara teaching Toby how to properly mix her a Hot Toddy.
You could say what you liked about Hufflepuff House being boring during the daylight hours; but they sure as hell knew how to throw a party that might easily last until dawn.
Kelly suddenly appeared at James’s shoulder. She was wearing black dragon-hide boots, mustard tights and a black sweater dress with dual yellow stripes on the hem and the cuffs. Her nails were painted black except her ring-fingers which were canary yellow. There was a stripe of amber on each of her eyelids above her kohl black eyeliner.
“Well, it’s clear where your loyalties lie.” James said, smirking.
She beamed at him, “I know, right?” Then she turned serious, “Fair warning, don’t drink the camomile tea, some of the fifth-years have been growing magic mushrooms and Argyll’s had to put a full-body-bind on Reynolds and levitate him back to his bedroom because of how strong the hallucinogens hit him.”
“Anything else I should know?”
“Not whilst you’re sober.” Fred replied, reappearing with three shot glasses of amber liquid. “Here. It’s spiced mead.” He handed one to James and one to Kelly, “To Hufflepuff!”
Fred put his arm around Kelly and leaned close to her ear, “Lily’s snogging CJ Creevey, keep Jamie occupied, will you?” Then louder, so James could hear too, “I’m going to get another — maybe see if I can beat Malloy’s record.” Fred winked, withdrawing his arm and weaving his way back across the room.
James and Kelly rolled their eyes.
“How do you lot get away with this with Smith as a prefect?”
“We’ve been doing this long before Smith came along. He knows he’ll be kicked out of Hufflepuff — perhaps Hogwarts — if he breathes a word of this to anyone.” She said seriously.
James smirked, “So he’s currently sedated and hog-tied to his bed?”
“Exactly.” Kelly nodded. “Henry even helped — and he’s his brother!”
“I wouldn’t act so surprised; I think I’d probably do the same to Al if he tried to stop us throwing a party.”
“I doubt he would, since he’s been here for an hour already.”
James gaped, then muttered, “That lying bastard — he told me he was going to the library!”
“Clearly deception was dished out equally between you and your siblings.” In answer to James’s questioning look, Kelly added, “Lily’s here too.”
James whipped around, instantly in older brother mode. “Where?”
However, Kelly didn’t seem to hear him. “Oooh! I love this song! Come dance with me!”
And that was all it took for James’s attention to shift. She pulled him onto the dance floor, her fingers winding around his arm, his hand finding her waist as she spun in and out, moving easily and gracelessly. She had no intentions of looking cool, just having fun. That’s probably why she dared to pull him closer, her hands on the collar of his shirt and her hips against his, she was lost to the music and the touch of James’s hands sliding over her ribcage to her waist.
“You’re a terrible dancer.”
“You’re the one leading.”
“Maybe we should change that.”
She whirled away from him, dissolving effortlessly into the crowd. James shook his head, attempting to follow in her general direction, but he was bounced and buffeted off bodies of different builds, temperatures and states of sobriety — or lack thereof. He thought he stepped in something sticky, and touched too many sweaty hands, and heard too much of the dirty whispers being exchanged by some of the sixth years. He must have been getting older, he had only been at the party ten minutes and already he wanted to get out of there. With Kelly. To somewhere they wouldn’t be disturbed. For an hour. Maybe ninety-minutes.
A pair of arms wound their way around his neck, one hand holding a tall shot glass of something yellow, the back of one palm glittering with something in the dim lights. He recognised Kelly’s nail polish pattern.
Her mouth was on his ear, making him shiver, “Lick. Drink. Lime.”
James brought her hand to his mouth and dragged his tongue across the back of her knuckles. Salt. That didn’t stop him from noting that her skin tasted like strawberries.
James guided the glass to his lips and drank. Tequila. It warmed his throat on the way down, but he didn’t wince.
Kelly flipped the hand he’d licked the salt from and presented a slice of lime.
He winced this time as he bit into the bitter fruit, the juice stinging every sensitive spot in his mouth. “Agh! That was horrible.” He groaned, tossing the crushed lime into one of the cauldrons set up as rubbish bins.
James turned in her arms, his hands tugging her closer by the hips. He leaned in and kissed her pulse point, her neck, her earlobe. “Why are we still here?”
Kelly was about to respond in kind, her hands threading into his hair, when she caught sight of something over his shoulder and her face fell. “Because of that.”
James turned, bewildered, only to see that Rachel Carter had climbed onto a table in her heels, and after testing her balance, started to dance. Rachel held her hand out for the Sparkling Peach Cider bottle Grace was topping up glasses with (Grace Belby was an excellent prefect, but an even better hostess). “Belby, hand me the booze, and watch me get fabulous!”
“Oh, bloody hell.” Kelly muttered, sliding away from James and weaving through the crowds towards her friend. “Rachel! Get down!”
“Because everyone can see your knickers, is why.” Tara chimed in, appearing between Grace and Kelly.
“That would be true... if I were wearing any.”
“I’m joking! Of course I’m wearing underwear… geez, you lot are far too easy to shock.”
“Carter, get your crazy ass down here, already.” Lucy had joined in the fray.
“Or what?” She was doing the running man. In platform heels. It was annoyingly impressive.
“Or I won’t teach you how to turn someone into a teacup pig like you wanted.”
Rachel stood up straight. “But you promised!”
“I didn’t promise not to take it back.” Lucy countered, crossing her arms and cocking a hip. “Which is what I’ll do if you don’t get down in five… four… three…”
With the aid of Toby and Fred’s long arms of support, she clambered back onto ground level.
“Spoilsport. You’re worse than my mother…” Rachel mumbled to herself as she moved back among other dancing bodies to keep her in time with the music.
Kelly shook her head, “I need another drink.”
“It is too early in the night for this crap.” Tara agreed, turning back towards the bar.
Lucy asked Grace, who was still pouring peach cider, “How much has she had?”
“The teams were ‘boat racing’ before you got here. Hufflepuff won, three out of five. And then I told her to eat something so she’s been on the cider so she can argue that she ate seven blackberries—”
“With seven flutes of cider.” Lucy finished. “Merlin, that girl knows how to hold her— Oh! Never mind.”
Students scattered at the sound of vomiting, providing a perfect circle around Rachel, where she was doubled over coughing the contents of her stomach onto a ten centuries old carpet.
“I’ve got her.” Lucy sighed, pushing back the sleeves of her sweatshirt. She had grown to like the exuberant girl with the wild hair and more freckles than light brown skin, in their time spent after class working on the practical elements of Transfiguration. Watching her descend into disgust and self-doubt at the sight of her classmates rushing away from her, made Lucy want to kick someone’s teeth in with her steel-toe-capped combat boots.
She vanished the vomit and placed a hand on Rachel’s lower back, guiding her towards the girls dormitory, “Let’s get you cleaned up, shall we?”
“I was spinning… Or… the room was spinning…”
“That’s what happens when you replace your entire blood volume with alcohol, darling.” She wrapped her arm more firmly around Rachel’s waist to keep her steady. “Which door is it?”
“The last one on the left... Your left... No, my left.”
“It’s the same left, love.” Lucy sighed, opening the aforementioned door and pushing through to the adjoining bathroom since Rachel was making wrenching noises again, already.
“That’s it, into the the toilet.” Lucy told her, holding her hair and rubbing her back.
When she emerged, Rachel accepted the piece of toilet paper Lucy offered her, “You’re a good friend, Lucy. Why didn’t we start hanging out sooner?”
“Well, because you’re three gallons of crazy in a two gallon barrel, and I don’t have time in my life for a mess like you.”
“I’ll find a compliment in there somewhere.” Rachel smirked. “Just give me an hour and some pepper-up potion.”
“I would if I thought you could keep it down.” Lucy slid down the bathroom cabinet so she was sitting opposite Rachel, a combat boot enclosing the child-like, drunken mess on either side. Rachel’s knees pressed against the inside of hers.
Rachel propped her chin on her hand. “You’re so pretty.”
Lucy mimicked the gesture, three shades more sarcastic, “Thank-you, that’s all that matters.”
Rachel’s nose crinkled as she exhaled a silent laugh, then she sighed. “This can’t have been the best day of the year for you. First you have to tutor me. Then your house team lose their first game of the season. Then you can’t even enjoy the party because you’re taking care of me… Why are you taking care of me?”
“Because nobody else could get you off the table.” Lucy lied. There was nowhere else she wanted to be right then, except there on the bathroom floor, talking to her. Somehow she could tolerate this sort of silly. Rachel’s sort of silly.
Rachel groaned, hiding her face in her hands, “Could everyone really see my knickers?”
Lucy smirked and blurted, “I could,” before she found that she too was blushing.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on perspective, Rachel hadn’t seen this through her hands still covering her eyes. “I am an embarrassment.”
“I thought they were cute. I’ve been looking for unicorn pants in my size for years.”
“Oh, well, that makes me feel much better.” Rachel smiled, finally lowering her hands. She drew her knees to her chest and rested her chin on them. Her eyes were so big and brown when she said, “Maybe I’ll let you borrow them sometime.”
Lucy gazed at her for a solid seven seconds before she decided that was ample time to break the magic of moment with her sarcasm safety net, “Don’t you dare kiss me before brushing your teeth.”
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