Chapter 12 : (12)
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The day of the Gryffindor / Hufflepuff Quidditch match saw Eloise make her way down to the pitch with Neville. Despite being decked in the colours of opposing teams, there was no animosity in their conversation, and they kept up a steady stream of Hannah and Herbology-related chatter up until the point where they had to part ways. Justin, black and yellow hat practically swallowing his head, was the first to catch sight of her loitering at the top of the stairs and to wave her over. Despite the beginning of the match still being half an hour away, seating herself next to the boys was a rather tight fit. Ernie and Wayne were deep in conversation about the upcoming game.
" – know who'll be replacing Weasley, what with him in the Hospital Wing and all."
Wayne cast a glance in Eloise's direction. "Cormac McLaggen, I think – that's what Padma Patil told me in Muggle studies yesterday."
"How would Padma know? She's a Ravenclaw."
"Her twin sister is in Gryffindor in Potter's year and she's dating one of our Chasers, this match is probably of at least some interest to her."
"I'd say," Eloise intervened, pointing to a figure a few rows below. Padma was sitting by the edge of the Ravenclaw section, wearing a Hufflepuff Quidditch jersey. Her sister, looking thoroughly disgruntled, sat next to her, hair charmed red and gold for the occasion.
"Is McLaggen any good?"
"Dunno. Zach was at the Gryffindor team's tryouts back at the beginning of the year, he said he was pretty good on the first four Quaffle shots and then missed the fifth one miserably, so we'll see."
Susan arrived mere moments before Madam Hooch whistled the signal for the players to make their way onto the pitch. Whatever excuse she had to offer as she attempted to squish herself onto the bench next to Eloise was swallowed by the roar of noise as both teams exited their respective locker rooms. She identified McLaggen almost immediately, breaking away from the group with an angry step. There wasn't much time for her to take interest in the scene: Madam Hooch whistled again and then all fourteen players were up and off into the sky.
"And that's Smith of Hufflepuff with the Quaffle," said a dreamy voice, echoing over the grounds. "He did the commentary last time, of course, and Ginny Weasley flew into him, I think probably on purpose, it looked like it. Smith was being quite rude about Gryffindor, I expect he regrets that now he's playing them – oh, look, he's lost the Quaffle."
Even Susan, in similar fashion to all the Hufflepuffs surrounding her, looked disappointed at that. The disappointment did not, however, last very long, as Cadwallader – and not Bibble, as Luna Lovegood suggested before Professor McGonagall reprimanded her – scored under the cheers of his house. Eloise kept her eyes to the goalposts where Harry Potter and McLaggen were shouting at one another. She wasn't the only one to pick up on it – soon enough, Luna noticed the situation as well and brought it to the attention of the entire stadium, causing jeers and laughter to rise from the ranks of the Hufflepuffs and Slytherins. Those turned to groans when Gryffindor scored twice in a row, then Cadwallader scored again and a wave of sound rose from the yellow quarter of the stands. Luna was no longer commenting the game by then, so Eloise mostly tuned her out save for the moment where she heard Zach's name. Luna, it turned out, was convinced that he suffered from something called 'Loser's Lurgy'. House pride or not, Susan let out a peal of laughter at that.
Professor McGonagall took over the microphone then to announce that Hufflepuff was ahead by thirty points, which Luna ignored to point out that McLaggen had grabbed one of the Beaters' bats, unaware of the Bludger careening his way. Eloise's heart lurched into her mouth at the sight. The air around her was alive with emphatic mutters of "what the fuck is he doing". Shouting could be heard above; someone was speeding towards McLaggen – "Potter," Wayne said grimly, tapping the side of his glasses with his wand to zoom in on the name stitched across the player's robes. McLaggen had spotted the Bludger by then but didn't hit it right, thwacking it towards his captain instead of away from him. There was a split second of total silence – then a resounding crack as the Bludger collided with Harry's head.
He slumped to the side then off his broom under the screams of the pitch. The two Gryffindor Beaters, Coote and Peakes, surged forward to catch him; after a couple of unsuccessful attempts that made the screams intensify (which was most likely not helping), they managed to grab hold of him and descended to the ground carefully. Eloise lost sight of what happened next because Summerby caught the Snitch and suddenly everyone around her was standing up, shouting and gesticulating wildly, effectively cutting off her sightlines.
"Fuck," she hissed. There was no point attempting to push her way out now: all exits would be swamped. Disapparating was equally out of the question. Heaving a sigh, Eloise chose the only option left: she sat back down and bid her time. She managed to make it out after about twenty minutes, which was a decent amount of time; breaking out into a run, it only took about ten more minutes until she stood facing the double doors to the Hospital Wing. Bracing her hands on her knees, she took a moment to catch her breath and pull whatever sweaty mess was parading on her head into a neat ponytail before making her way in. Harry Potter lay in the bed next to Ron Weasley's, the latter of which was awake. She paused just long enough to make sure he didn't need anything before continuing to the Matron's office, knocking once on the doorframe before entering.
Madam Pomfrey looked up from an enchanted mortar cheerfully grinding herbs into a paste just long enough to recognise Eloise. "Ah, excellent. As soon as this is done, I'm going to head down to the pitch to tend to the other students, as I'm sure Mr Potter wasn't the only one injured. Be a dear and stay here while I go, will you? Mr Potter should be out of it for at least four more hours while his skull fixes itself back together properly, so all I need is for you to stand vigil and take care of anyone who might come in. Consider it a review of all the skills acquired to this day, yes?"
The fuss of the morning did not bleed into the afternoon, and Eloise spent a quiet few hours in the Hospital Wing even after Madam Pomfrey's return. The Matron had come back huffing and puffing about Quidditch, and had decided it was high time Eloise was briefed in field medicine. She could not, she'd explained, manage both the infirmary and the pitch on match days, and it would be good to have someone to deal, directly on the field, with the minor injuries sustained by the players. Eloise hence spent her afternoon learning or re-learning healing spells, bandage methods in order to splint broken bones, and the basics to salve making. "Not that you'll ever find yourself making salves on the pitch, I don't think, but it never hurts, does it?" had been Pomfrey's parting words, accompanied with an incentive to practice Summoning charms. Eloise made a mental note to do as much then pushed the thought out of her mind – Hufflepuff had won the game, after all, and that could only mean one thing: party in the Common Room.
"Hey, love. What'll you be drinking?" All the sofas and armchairs had been pushed to the sides of the Common Room, clearing most of the space in a makeshift dance floor. Someone had enchanted a multitude of fire sparks to float across the ceiling in a decent impression of the Great Hall's starry sky. More lights glistened on the wall across from the entrance, shifting from the representation of a badger riding a broom to that of a giant Snitch embossed with the word Hufflepuff. Eloise gave the spellwork a moment of appreciation before turning back to the person behind the makeshift bar. It consisted of the table usually requisitioned by the seventh years to play Exploding Snap, but the floor underneath it was hidden behind a Hufflepuff flag pinned between two of its legs. Several bottles lined it surface; behind them, Caroline Hansen was using a crate of Butterbeer as an armrest. She had faint tracks of black and yellow paint across her cheeks and looked for all the world like the Kneazle who'd got the Jobberknoll. "We've got alcohol but you'll need to prove you're seventeen or older to get any of it, else it's juice or fizzy drinks for you."
"Can I get a Black Lake?"
"Hold your left hand out, please." Eloise did as she was bid. Caroline pulled out her wand, brought in perpendicularly to Eloise's wrist and let it drop so that it tapped at her pulse point once. Her skin glowed blue where the wand had touched it, and Caroline grinned. "One Black Lake for the lady, coming right up! Sorry for the zeal, you know how it is, especially when we've got kids from other houses coming by as well."
"Yeah? Who's been invited?"
"Anyone who wants to come, really, but years one through three have a curfew of nine p.m. and will be walked back to their respective dorms at quarter to. Years four and five are allowed to be out until half nine, six and seven until ten thirty. If the latter want to attempt sneaking around, I'll close my eyes on it, but I've a strict, zero tolerance policy for the others – the reason we throw good parties is because the teachers trust us to keep a hold on things so shit's not happening on my watch. Speaking of, come tell me if any Slytherins over fifteen make it, yeah? Hopefully they'll have the sense not to show up but if they do, I'll make sure to keep them in my sights." She slid a frothy blue drink over. "Your Black Lake."
"Thanks! And I'll keep an eye out for the Slytherins." And for a certain Gryffindor, but not for the same reason.
"Ta, love! Now go have fun, that's a direct order from a Prefect."
Careful not to splash her drink on anyone, Eloise retreated to the sofa Susan had laid claim to, the one blocking the access to the First Year's dorm. Her friend immediately leaned over, eyeing her drink with interest.
"Trade you for a sip?"
Eloise smiled and swapped glasses with her. She made a face at Susan's drink, but the feeling wasn't mutual: Susan stole another sip before handing the Black Lake back.
"Right, you don't like Hogsmeade Mules, I forgot. What d'you get? I'm getting that next."
"Black Lake, but you're not going to be able to get one just yet. House rules apply and you can't get drunk while the little ones are around, remember?"
"Shit, I forgot about that rule every time."
"Sue. It's been implemented for at least as long as we've been here."
"My memory's selective; I tend to forget things that don't suit me."
Eloise laughed. "Yes, I'm well aware." Susan stuck out her tongue at her, and Eloise was struck by a wave of affection. This is my person, she thought fiercely, setting down her drink to wrangle Susan into a hug. The brunette came easily, wrapping her arms around Eloise's middle to better allow her to rest her chin on top of her head. The process was made rather more complicated by the fact that they were both sitting down, but they made do. "Love you, Susie."
"Love you too –" Susan began, only to be interrupted by a shout of "GROUP HUG!" Henry practically threw himself across both their laps, emitting an oomph of pain that Susan and Eloise mirrored. It was like a rallying cry: Rose followed her brother, leaping onto his back, and was followed by a veritable posse of what Susan liked to call "baby 'Puffs". They swarmed seemingly out of nowhere, abandoning drinks, games of Gobstones or of chess, and fell upon the puppy pile to increase its ranks. Stuck in the middle of a maelstrom of limbs, Eloise managed to catch Susan's eye and burst out laughing even as she extended an arm to better snuggle one of the children who'd attached himself to her side. Just as quickly as it had begun, the hug dissolved and everyone retreated to their previous positions, save for Henry who flopped onto the couch next to the girls.
"D'you know, even if we'd lost this morning's match, I wouldn't trade being a 'Puff for anything in the world."
Eloise picked her cocktail up, took a deep gulp, offered it to Henry. He took it without looking, eyes focused on his sister who was talking with Alfred Summerby and Richard Stebbins, both of whom had replaced Caroline behind the bar. Rose's chin barely reached the top of the table and, honestly, it was unlikely that what she was saying truly interested the two seventh year boys. That didn't stop them from listening intently or asking her questions. When Rose pulled out her wand, pointed it at one of the glasses on the table, and Transfigured it into a tiny flamingo, they both clapped, as did the students patiently waiting behind Rose to get a drink as well. She bowed before grabbing her glass, which Richard Charmed to emit flamingo-shaped bubbles. Henry was beaming, and Eloise couldn't help the smile that broke out on her own face. "Neither would I."
I've spoken to your father (don't get your wand in a knot, we met in Diagon Alley while the kids stayed at home). He said he was very disappointed in your flying during last Saturday's Quidditch match, that your teamwork skills were subpar, and that if you were going to drag the McLaggen name through the mud like that, you may as well quit Quidditch. I'm assuming that was your objective so I would say well done, but you told me in your last letter that you'd injured another student in the process – you'd better apologise if you haven't done so already; I raised you better than that. As much as I'm relieved that you've managed to get your father off your back (all our backs, really) on the issue of Quidditch, this is the last time you pull a stint of this scale to do so: no more purposely putting anyone in danger (including yourself). That the injury was an accident is of little importance; you of all people know that swinging a Beater's bat around during a game, especially if you're not a Beater yourself, is a disaster waiting to happen.
Your father also emitted concerns about your prospects for next year, and mentioned Professor McGonagall writing him about the meeting you'd had on the subject. Please, please, please give the subject some serious thought and try to find solutions on your own if you don't want to end up in an office with Tiberius in September (that appears to be the current plan). You spoke of going into MLE training over Christmas – talk to McGonagall about it, will you? Even if that's not what you choose to pursue, she can tell you about alternatives. If all that comes to is a Ministry internship, so be it: at least you'll be out of Tiberius' sight, hence out of your father's mind.
Speaking of, he – of course – asked after the boys; his interest was short-lived as they've yet to perform any magic. Any other progress isn't worthwhile in his eyes; never mind that the twins have started reading at four and a half. They definitely take after you and Aoibheann in that regard. Their teacher wrote me to tell me and reminded me to encourage their love of books, a task Ave has shouldered with the focused intensity that she's known for. Now I have three children who switch on their bedside lights as soon as I've kissed them goodnight and who continue reading under the covers well past their bedtimes. Keegan has also finally discovered how to hoist himself out of his crib and has taken to opening his bedroom door on his own, God knows how. I spent all of last week baby-proofing the house again and had to re-cast Cushioning charms on the stairs; your siblings have seized the opportunity to throw themselves (and one another) down the steps ever since because "mummy, look, we bounce off the wall!" Even Aoibheann has taken to joining in, either somersaulting into the wall or pushing the twins down the stairs in the round laundry basket from the upstairs bathroom. Sean finds this especially hilarious; Finlay prefers to use the basket to pretend to be a snail. He's taken to using it as a reading corner when it's not rolling down from one floor to the next; at this point, I may as well forfeit its original use.
All right. I hear shuffling upstairs – my moment of peace, as always, has come to an end, despite it being near midnight and well past the time where any of the kids should be up. It's probably Fin – he's taken to patrolling the corridor again, ever since I met up with your father – so I'd best go tuck him back in before he wakes Sean up by crawling into his bed to sleep with him. On the topic of sleep problems, Sean has been sleeping particularly badly too, waking up easily and having lots of nightmares (despite lullaby enchantments). He asks for you a lot, they all do; now that they can read mostly on their own it'd be nice for them to get letters from you, if you've the time?
Love from all five of us,
Sorry for not writing back earlier. Please tell Susan that she may not storm the Ministry and set it on fire, but that I appreciate the offer. If she's willing to go this far for your brother, I fear the day she has reason to hate them for something they've done to you – or maybe she really hates them that much and any excuse is good enough. From the tone of your last letter, it seems to be more of the latter, so please tell her this from me (and mum and dad, whom I shared Susan's pyromaniac urges with): be careful. I only put what comes next in writing because our letters are coded; even so, I strongly advise you to burn this parchment when you're done reading it.
Things at the Ministry have taken a turn – not for the worse, not exactly, but there's been a definite change in atmosphere. The key word, more than ever, is productivity. My being fired is a sure sign of it: why now, when my hearing has slowly been coming back (more on that later)? Mum and dad feel it too – I don't know if you've been able to run into dad at the end of one of your Apparition lessons and if he was able to tell you so himself, but they've increased the number of hours he's required to put in. Mum and her desk job are slightly safer, but she comes home in the evenings looking more exhausted than I can remember seeing her. She says there's been an increase in paperwork concerning improper uses of magic, linked to an increase in cases. Most of those affected are Muggles, which the Daily Prophet has of course hardly been picking up on.
This is my second warning: don't put blind faith in the press. This should hardly need mentioning, not after last year's fiasco where Dumbledore and Potter were constantly portrayed as off their rocker when they were telling the truth all along. I'll repeat what I said then, when it was easier to get information directly from the source (Amelia Bones, peace be with her, was an invaluable asset): cross your sources and trust your gut. It is, unfortunately, much more difficult now to know things even within the Ministry: everyone is either too exhausted or too distrustful to share anything that might get them on the Minister's bad side. I had to go process some of my redundancy paperwork in person a couple of weeks ago (end of March, maybe?) and never before had the atmosphere felt so oppressive. Lord knows it's never been a particularly fun place to be, but for shit's sake – people are quiet and wary. That the Atrium still hasn't been fully renovated doesn't help: it's the best reminder of the Ministry's shortcomings. They couldn't better stick people's noses into their own shit if they tried.
Okay, government worries aside, good news! I saw Healer Majumdar again yesterday. She's cautiously optimistic about me getting at least 60% of my hearing back in my right ear. She's also agreed to go on a date with me once I'm no longer her patient, and I didn't think I'd ever hope I'd stop making progress towards getting my hearing back, yet here we are. I can see you rolling your eyes at me from here; it's entirely justified and I have nothing to say for my case.
What about youuu? How are things on the romance front? How are your friends? How are your classes? Tell me about your life, I beg of you – I'm starting to go stir-crazy from boredom here. I do have a project in the works, but it's going very slowly. I'll tell you all about it when there are more than maybes to it.
Love you, babycakes!
PS: GO SHOW THEM WHAT YOU'RE CAPABLE OF ON YOUR APPARITION TESTING TOMORROW!
PPS: I also ignored Twycross' "destination, determination, deliberation" shtick and followed dad's advice of determination first and got my licence the first time around. You'll be fine doing the same.
remember to feed the muse with a review in the little grey box below please and thank you!
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