Chapter 10 : (10)
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The first Monday back after the holidays brought a hefty dose of excitement with it, as placards announcing Apparition lessons popped up on Common Room notice boards. It was all sixth year students could talk about over breakfast.
"You're signing up, yes?" Ernie asked over a mouthful of eggs and toast. Susan kicked him in the shins for talking with his mouth full and he hastily swallowed before continuing. "D'you think your dad will be the one giving us lessons, Eloise?"
"I don't think so, he's taught seventh years for ages now – I doubt he'd be allowed to suddenly swap."
"Seventh year students get Apparition lessons too?" That was Henry, still half-asleep to Eloise's right.
"Yeah, if they turned seventeen after September 1st this year they wouldn't have been able to take the lessons last year, hence a class being held for them specifically so they can get their licence too."
"That makes sense. Plus it's cheaper to get your licence here than on your own via the Ministry directly, right?"
"Yes, because if you turn up at the Ministry self-taught in Apparition, they deem the risk to be higher and make you pay more."
"Splinching," said Susan, at the same time as Zach said,
"Apparating in the middle of a group of Muggles." When all heads swivelled towards him, he shrugged. "Happened to a friend of my sister after he got his licence. The Ministry had to send in people to deal with the fallout of someone appearing out of thin air on top of the dining table of a Muggle dinner party."
Susan winced. "That was a hypothesis I hadn't considered and now I'm even less willing to go."
Eloise reached over the table to pat her hand. "You'll be fine, Susie." She waited until Susan nodded, however half-heartedly, to ask "First one back to the Common Room signs us all up, then?"
The lull that followed the round of approvals gave Eloise the opportunity to let her gaze wander around the Great Hall. Breakfast was, without a doubt, the best time to people-watch: students and staff alike were still sleep-imbued, less in control of the persona they attempted to project. There at the Gryffindor table sat a younger Ravenclaw, probably eating with a sibling; on their left, Neville was nodding at something Hermione Granger was saying. There was no way for Eloise to glance at the Ravenclaw and Slytherin tables without swivelling around in her seat in the rudest, most obnoxious way imaginable, so she let her gaze continue to travel down the Gryffindor table until, inevitably, it landed on Cormac McLaggen.
The problem with crushing on pretty boys with shitty attitudes, Eloise reflected, was that despite how terribly they behaved, it was still difficult to tear one's eyes away. McLaggen's blond hair was cropped shorter than it had been at the Ministry's Christmas party and no longer fell into his eyes. He was evidently not used to it yet as his hand shot up reflexively on occasion to push back the hair that should have been there. This dragged Eloise's attention to his hands and arms, visible as they were with the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbows. Eloise followed the curve of his shoulder distractedly, back to his face – and flushed with sudden mortification when she realised he was staring right back at her. Stupid, stupid, she chastised. The fact that he looked as red as she felt did nothing to ease her embarrassment, but caught out as she was she did not look away and waited for him to do so first.
"He hasn't apologised, has he?" Wayne murmured from next to her.
"Of course not."
"He's an idiot. Want to make him seethe?" Eloise broke her staredown to look up at Wayne, who was eyeing her with amusement. "Come on, El, he looks at you like you're a Chocolate Frog and he's a starving man; no need for an eye like Mad-Eye Moody's to see it. And if I were in his place, it'd piss me off to see you flirt with another."
"Wayne Hopkins, you absolute bastard," Eloise laughed. "I never knew you had it in you."
He rose from the bench and held his hand out. "Liar."
Eloise only laughed again as she followed suit, accepting his help to stand up. She then wrapped an arm around Wayne's waist and pressed her lips to the shell of his ear. "Guilty as charged. Let's get out of here."
Susan and Zach let out a duo of wolf-whistles that followed them out the Hall.
January was much of the same. Snow turned to sludge, classes and volunteer work kept Eloise busy. She had not talked to McLaggen since Christmas and, having informed Professor Sprout of what had caused this rift, had been relieved of her tutoring duties. Professor Sprout had been disappointed, but understanding nonetheless. Still, Eloise took to avoiding the greenhouses outside of her Herbology classes, in order to stay out of range of both her professor's would-be disapproving gaze and of McLaggen's radar.
Her return to what Susan called fourth-year-Eloise – hiding out in the Common Room or the library between classes with her nose buried in a book – would have been complete save for her relationship with Wayne. Fourth-year-Eloise, after all, did not get laid on a regular basis, whereas sixth-year-Eloise most definitely did. Her first experience with sex a few years previously had left an okay memory, albeit one that included blood and a fair amount of fumbling; this time around, there was less fumbling and a lot more laughter. The Hufflepuff dormitories were rather convenient in their layout, too: from the Common Room, seven tunnels led down to pods that grouped students by year and not by sex. This meant that the sixth-year girls' dorm faced the sixth-year boys' dorm, and while this had always been convenient given Susan, Eloise and Hannah's habit of going to sleep with the boys when nightmares plagued them, Eloise was suddenly keenly aware of another advantage to this proximity.
There had been one incident, midway through January, when Susan had barged into the dorm unannounced while Eloise and Wayne were making the most of their evening; she'd let out a shout of horror that was, she'd later admitted to calm a fretful Eloise down, unjustified given that the only thing on display was Eloise's back and Wayne's fingers peeping out on her sides. That had served as the basis to a conversation between the seven Hufflepuffs, conversation which they all left with burning ears and the firm reminder that a sock was to be left on the doorknob in the case of such events.
All in all, Eloise considered as February rolled around, the entire group had taken her and Wayne's trysts in stride remarkably well. She knew she hadn't been the only one worried about the group dynamic changing, but she'd always been close to Wayne, and it turned out that being biblically close did not make as much of a difference she thought it would. As long as you don't catch feelings, Susan had told her when they'd talked about it, you should be fine.
Given that Eloise's feelings still, for some inexplicable reason and despite not having seen him in weeks, revolved around someone who was not worth her time, thoughts or energy, she felt reasonably safe on that front.
With February first came the first Apparition lesson. As expected, Eloise's father was not the one standing in the Great Hall teaching her year about destination, determination and deliberation. Anthony Midgeon had always believed determination should come first and had informed his daughter of this when they'd practiced Apparating together at home over the course of the years; Eloise figured she'd give Wilkie Twycross's method a go before pulling out the 'this is my dad's job and I know better' card.
Standing in the midst of her group of friends, she focused intently on the hoop in front of her. When she relaxed her attention, she'd barely moved an inch and would have been unable to say whether she'd properly Apparated or merely shifted from foot to foot. To her left, Ernie had attempted some sort of pirouette that had Dean Thomas crying with laughter across the hall. Tries two and three were about as conclusive, which was to say not at all. When Twycross called for a fourth attempt, she figured she may as well close her eyes to visualise the hoop in her mind's eye instead of focusing on the physical object in front of her.
She'd no sooner closed her eyes that an ear-splitting shriek of fear forced them open again. Just next to her, a left leg stood, alone, detached from the rest of Susan's body which she'd managed to Apparate into her hoop. All four Heads of House rushed forward immediately, accompanied by a bang of purple smoke, and Susan, sobbing, was reunited with her leg. Eloise got to her side faster than the professors and pulled her into her arms, holding her as tight as she could manage. She could feel Susan crying uncontrollably into her neck. Bringing one hand up to cradle her friend's head, she rubbed circles into her neck and back until Professor Sprout reached them and took over. She got Susan across the Hall near the exit, sat her down and gave her a hefty sip from a vial she pulled out of her apron pocket – Calming Draught, were Eloise to hazard a guess. Try as she may, her focus was no longer on Apparating but entirely on Susan, and thus the first lesson came to a fruitless conclusion.
Preoccupied as she was – despite Sprout's best efforts, Susan could not calm down and had to be taken outside of the Great Hall, most likely to the Hospital Wing – Eloise almost missed her father's entrance when the lesson was dismissed. Sixth years started to trickle out, replaced by a smaller stream of seventh year students. Her father stood at the door to the Great Hall, ushering them in, and he tapped Eloise on the shoulder as she made to exit.
"Daddy!" The childlike cry escaped her before she could do anything about it. Her verbal outburst was followed by a hug to her father, which he returned in kind.
"Hello, darling. How did you do?"
"Not great. Susan Splinched on the fourth try and it was hard to concentrate afterwards."
"Ah. Give her my best regards but mostly tell her she needs to make it to next week's lesson or she'll never try Apparating again. Splinching is scarier than it's painful if treated immediately, but fear can be a powerful brake."
"I'll make sure to let her know. Are you staying very long?"
"Just long enough to teach these kids how to Apparate and then I'm off, I'm afraid. Had I known for sure I'd run into you, I would have tried to make more time. I'll check with Dumbledore to see if I can stay for lunch next week, yeah?"
"That'd be great. I'll leave you to it, give mum and Vince all my love?"
"Always." He pressed a kiss to her forehead before making his way into the Hall proper. "Stay safe and behave."
"I always do," Eloise muttered. The remark wasn't ill-intentioned, but that didn't make it any less irritating. Her happiness at seeing her father was now somewhat subdued, and she was apparently still frowning when she joined her friends who were waiting for her a few steps away because Wayne pressed a finger to the furrow between her brow, simply stating, "No."
Eloise leaned into him, suddenly exhausted. "Let's grab a snack and go see Susan, shall we?"
Because it was a Saturday, Eloise was supposed to volunteer in the Hospital Wing anyway. This made it possible for all six boys to crowd around Susan's bed while she puttered around on the pretence of doing her job. Had the Hospital Wing been full, she never would have dared, but only two other beds were occupied and both had curtains shut around them. Eloise felt free to hover around Susan with her conscience at peace.
Susan didn't have much to say, however, and soon nodded off. Deciding there was no point in staying to decipher her snores, the boys left with a promise from Eloise that she'd send for them if Susan woke up. Submitting her friend's sleeping form to a final once-over, just to make sure she showed no signs of discomfort, Eloise made her way to the Matron's office.
"Madam Pomfrey? Is there anything I can do for the patients, or would you like me sorting supplies in the back room?"
"Check in with the patients; if they're all asleep I could use your help with last month's patient log."
Eloise nodded and headed back out, grabbing the clipboards with relevant patient information from where they stuck to the wall. Blaise Zabini, Slytherin, sixth year, was in bed one showing signs of a rather aggressive flu strain that Madam Pomfrey feared might be the Black Cat Flu which had plagued wizarding Britain a year ago. Bed two hosted Cormac McLaggen, Gryffindor, seventh year, two broken ribs, broken cheekbone, splintered wrist. Reading that got Eloise to pop her head back into the Matron's office.
"If Mr McLaggen's awake, is there a salve or something I should give him? The same goes for Mr Zabini."
"No need for the latter, he's had his potion two hours ago and can't have anything for at least another two. As for Mr McLaggen, give him a dose of diluted Skele-Gro – one spoonful for a volume of water – and apply bruise-removing salve, but only if he's awake and in pain. You'll find both in the drawer of his nightstand, which, as always, is calibrated to recognise your wand if you open it with Alohomora."
Zabini was not asleep when Eloise pulled the curtain to his bed aside. He looked ashen, but his eyes weren't bright in a way that suggested a fever, nor was his forehead clammy when Eloise pressed the back of her hand to it. Concerns of pain were waved away easily; all Zabini wanted was a cup of hot tea, please, which she gladly provided after double-checking with Madam Pomfrey that hot liquids were acceptable.
Once Zabini was settled in with his mug and Eloise had gone back to check on Susan, still fast asleep, she steeled herself and moved over to bed two.
"Oh, my God." The murmur of horror crossed her lips unwillingly.
Cormac spared her a wry half-smile, soon engulfed within a wince. Plum blotches ate their way across nearly half his features. The skin under his left eye was taut, swollen and red; there were still traces of a gash, despite it having been already fixed. Without saying a word, Eloise moved closer and took his face in her hands, delicately turning it away from her to better examine the damage. Unless she was mistaken, those were flecks of dried blood creeping towards his hairline. And it felt like there was a fracture there too, she thought as she felt her way across his temple with gently probing fingers, though it must have been an older one. The hand not currently palpating Cormac's broken bones had moved to give Eloise a better hold, unknowingly bringing her thumb to his lips and her pinkie to cup his jaw.
"What happened to you?"
"I fell off my broom." The movement of his mouth against her fingers made Eloise jump back as if struck by lightning.
"Christ. On a scale of one to ten, in how much pain are you right now?"
He attempted a shrug, winced, thought the better of it. "A six, maybe? My ribs feel worse than my face."
"Right." Eloise tapped her wand to the nightstand and waited for it to pop open, giving her free access to the medication she needed. "Drink this, then we'll get your shirt off."
If she'd hoped that the time it took for him to drink the Skele-Gro would be enough for her to compose herself and stop the tingling in her fingers, she was gravely mistaken. She was able to use her wand to unknot the ties to Cormac's hospital shirt and avoid contact, but was still left with a dry mouth when he pulled it off and let it rest in his lap – both because there was a lot of golden skin on display, and because all of its flat planes were marred with scars. A pointed cough made her realise she'd once again let herself get distracted; she snapped her eyes from his navel to his face, cursing herself for her lack of professionalism, for being caught out, and for her blasted pale skin that was currently aflame. McLaggen said nothing, but his eyes were darker than they'd been, and Eloise felt herself turn four shades redder.
"Alright," she intoned with false brightness. Be aggressively normal and all will be fine. "You said your ribs are what hurt most, yes? We can start with that. What about your wrist?"
"My wrist feels fine."
"Great! Ribs and face it is, then!"
Thank goodness for magic, Eloise thought as the salve applied itself to McLaggen's torso with a flick of her wand. If she'd had to touch him once more she might've spontaneously combusted. The downside of just standing there with her wand pointed at him was that it made for an excruciatingly awkward situation. It was a relief when he claimed that the pain had abated somewhat; Eloise made haste in getting his shirt back then fled the scene faster than if she'd been chased by a Hippogriff.
A/N the second: Eep. I really am sorry for how awfully late this is. The good news is, this was my NaNo project, and I succeeded in writing 35K of it, most of which has already been edited. This means that the next dozen chapters are written and near-ready to go. If anyone is still here to read this, please let me know -- regardless, more will be coming your way. Thanks for reading!
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