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Chapter 7 : The Awkward Hug Incident
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Katie stalled in the middle of the narrow path, barely allowing the group of overly excited third years behind her to scuttle to a halt. They gave her quite reproachful glares as they flitted past but she didn’t even notice as she rummaged frantically through her blue sequined bag.
“Kat, I told you I have enough for both of us,” I said seriously, tugging on her sleeve to edge her on a little. We were blocking the entire path, but apparently my best friend didn’t care.
“No! It’s your birthday, Seth. I am not going to let you pay for everything.”
“But that’s ridiculous,” I groaned while trying to dodge a couple of small boys that ran past us, evidently racing each other to get to Hogsmeade. “It’s my parents’ money anyway.”
Katie only huffed in response, now digging even fiercer into her bag on the search for her wallet. Her cheeks had turned a glowing shade of pink and her auburn curls had been messed up by the strong wind, giving her the slight appearance of a particularly mad professor.
“OK, now stop violating your bag and look at me,” I said as seriously as possible while keeping my hair from whipping into my face. The thin parka failed miserably at keeping me warm and I quite regretted not having taken my snug woolly hat. “I will pay today. My birthday, my rules.”
Katie made to open her mouth in protest but before she could say anything, she was cut off by a wildly waving Tarquin Digby, who was running towards us down the sloping path.
“Hey girls!” He came to a halt in front of us, looking thoroughly windswept but with a broad grin on his slender face, “Whazz happenin?” He croaked feebly and I couldn’t help cringing inwardly at his awkwardness that only ever surfaced when he was talking to Katie.
“What?” She said rudely, the annoyance practically oozing from her voice.
“Um, where are you going?” I wasn’t sure if he only pretended to not have noticed Katie’s obvious lack of enthusiasm or if he actually hadn’t picked up on her less than friendly demeanour, but Tarquin was still grinning at her as though she was the most wonderful thing he had ever seen.
“Strip club,” Katie shrugged and I punched her shoulder reproachfully. Sure, it had been a rather stupid question but he clearly wasn’t in full command of his mental capacity.
“Actually, we were just heading to Hogsmeade. Do you want to join us?” This time it was Katie who jabbed her elbow into my ribs, hissing under her breath. I wasn’t sure what exactly she had planned for today but it certainly hadn’t involved Tarquin Digby.
“Yeah, sure!” He said happily, once again apparently oblivious to Katie’s theatrical eye rolls and overly loud groans, as he made to follow us down the narrow path.
“This thing,” Katie whispered, flourishing her index finger oddly in front of my face, “I mean, you inviting random strangers to join us, has to stop. Now.”
“Random strangers?” I raised my eyebrows in a mock-serious gesture and then linked my arm with hers. She complied, albeit slightly reluctantly, and let me pull her along after Tarquin, who was basically skipping down the narrow path, humming a cheerful melody.
The rain had set in again and cleared the usually busy streets of Hogsmeade. Only a few stray shoppers braved the downpour, holding their umbrellas close in front of their faces to keep them from being blown away. Naturally, the cold wind had driven everyone into the Three Broomsticks, which appeared to be busting at the seams. Almost every Hogwarts student who had ventured to leave the castle, seemed to be in here, shoving and pushing to get to the bar.
“This isn’t the way I planned it,” Katie moaned before giving Tarquin a nasty sidelong glance. It was hardly his fault that we were sitting in a remote corner, crammed around a table that would easily fit into a doll’s house, but she glared at him nonetheless. Tarquin, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy the lack of space between the two of them; his hand was resting remarkably close to hers and I had an odd feeling that he was going to take it.
“I’ll get something to drink!” Realising that I really did not want to whiteness this scene, I got up from my wobbly chair and left the table as quickly as possible. The crowd had swallowed me instantly and I suddenly felt like I was swimming against a strong current, constantly being pushed to the side as I tried to make my way to the bar. It had taken quite some elbowing skills to finally reach the oak counter and I clutched the wooden bar immediately to prevent being carried off into the crowd again.
“Three Butterbeers, please!” I shouted over the impressive noise level, still clinging to the counter like my life depended on it. I couldn’t tell if anyone behind the bar had heard me; the two barmaids seemed completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of orders as they ran from one end of the long bar to the other.
“Hey,” someone suddenly breathed into my ear and I instinctively jumped to the side, letting out a small scream. Albus Potter smiled at me sheepishly, a slightly bemused expression on his face.
“Sorry,” he said, ruffling the black hair on the back of his head, “did I scare you?”
“No. I mean, yes. A little, maybe.” I stammered clumsily, my left arm still clutching the counter like a lifeboat.
Albus grinned apologetically as he leaned against the bar. There was a certain glint to his eyes and I guessed that he had had more than one Butterbeer already. “I saw you fighting your way through the crowd. Quite impressive.”
“Yeah,” I shrugged laughing, “I’ve got a mean elbow.”
Albus didn’t laugh; instead I found him staring quite obviously at my chest, his eyebrows furrowed with concentration. It was not like there was a lot to see; nonetheless, it wasn’t a very gentlemanly thing to do.
“It’s your birthday?” He said quite unexpectedly, looking up into my face again.
Right. I had forgotten about that. Albus had not been staring at my chest but at the unproportionally large badge Katie had stuck to my cropped jumper this morning. It was a fluorescent pink colour and flashed the words ‘Super Seth’s Super Sweet Sixteen’.
“You should have said something! Happy birthday!” Albus grinned a little too brightly again and suddenly I found myself enveloped in a hearty hug. Over his shoulder, I noticed some people in the closer vicinity casting curious glances in our direction and I felt my cheeks blush.
“Oh, um, thank you,” I stammered lamely after Albus had released me and, not exactly sure how I was supposed to act, I gave him an awkward pat on his arm.
Great. That wasn’t weird at all.
“Here is your Butterbeer,” a busty waitress slammed down three bottles on the counter, looking extraordinarily bored as she watched me fumble with my wallet, scattering a couple of Sickles.
“Thank you.” I took all three bottles at once, balancing them quite shakily in my arms. There was a big chance I was going to smash at least one of them but I didn’t care; people around us were still staring blatantly and I just wanted to get away.
“Should I help you?” Albus offered, already extending his hands to take the bottles out of my arms but I shook my head quickly.
“No, it’s fine. Really. I should – I should get back to my gang, you know?” Even as I had said it, I realised that I sounded like a middle-class wannabe gangster rapper. Who the hell called their friends a gang? I was really on form today.
“Okay, um,” Albus looked at me weirdly, probably deciding if I was crazy or just odd, and I simply made a tiny waving gesture before turning on the spot and diving back into the crowd.
“Why didn’t you ask him to join us?” Katie plopped down onto her bed, eyeing me with a mixture of excitement and indignity. She was eating chocolate frogs out of the massive box she had given me for my birthday while watching me rummage through my wardrobe.
“I thought I wasn’t allowed to invite random strangers,” I said as I surfaced from the mess that was my closet; its untidy state would have probably given my grandmother a heart attack if she had ever seen it.
“That doesn’t apply to Albus Potter,” Katie replied, dropping the frog she had just picked up, back into the box again. “Maybe he’ll ask you out soon. We’ll be invited to parties and everything; oh god, I need new clothes.”
“OK, Queen Mum, how about you help me look for my copy of The Advanced Potioneer.” I was slightly stressed, having tried to locate the book for the last fifteen minutes while Katie was indulging into unrealistic scenarios. She didn’t seem to want to pay attention to such mundane things as school books, however, and simply stretched cat-like on her bed.
“Where do you think he will take you on your first date?”
I couldn’t help the frustrated groan that escaped my mouth. “Nowhere. Katie, I’m serious,” I gave her a long, exasperated look, trying to somehow convey that I felt extremely uncomfortable talking about this topic. I didn’t believe that Albus Potter fancied me – most of all after what had happened at the Three Broomsticks earlier – and I didn’t want to, either. “I just want to find my damn book, OK?”
Maybe it was the slightly pathetic whiney tone in my voice that did the trick; Katie huffed somewhat discontented and, stuffing an entire chocolate frog into her mouth, she said “Unger ge beg”.
“Oh, thanks.” I had bent down to find a rather thick book lying carelessly underneath my bed. It must have fallen off my nightstand, which was overflowing with books and pieces of paper and parchment. I picked it up and replaced it carefully on the already impressive pile I had assembled on the top of the old-fashioned wooden chest at the foot of my bed.
“OK,” I sighed less than enthusiastically, “I think I should go.”
“Wait, what?” Katie sat up so quickly it looked like she had been on the receiving end of a stinging hex. “You are not going like that?!”
Bewildered, I looked down on me, somehow expecting to find a large coffee stain on my cropped jumper, but it was perfectly white and clean.
“Seth, seriously,” Katie had gotten up from her bed and crawled over mine to get to my closet, “skinny jeans and a jumper may be fine for Hogsmeade, but you are going to meet with James Potter, so you’ll need to step up your game, if you know what I mean.”
“No, actually I don’t,” I spoke to Katie’s butt, which was the only part of her that was not immersed in the depths of my closet. She had started throwing around tops and dresses, apparently not hearing any of my attempts to protest, until she finally emerged again, holding up my pair of skinny leather-look trousers and a frilly top I could not remember buying for the life of me.
“No,” I simply said, shaking my head fiercely, “just no. I am not going to change clothes.”
“Don’t be so stubborn,” Katie pleaded but I was still shaking my head so vigorously that my top-knot had loosened and was bobbing oddly on top of my head.
“Fine,” she huffed, throwing the clothes she had picked out back into my wardrobe, “but at least do your hair, OK?”
“No,” I insisted firmly, quite aware that I sounded like a three-year-old, “it’s bad enough that I have to spend the evening of my birthday with James Potter. I am not going to dress up for that git. Never.”
Katie rolled her eyes in that annoying older-sisterly manner and plopped down onto my bed as though she owned it. “Seriously, Seth – you don’t even know James.”
“Oh,” I said heatedly, feeling the colour rise to my face, “I do know him, believe me.” The image of a brown-haired boy, laughing gleefully as I crawled on the floor, collecting pens and paper that lay strewn across the corridor, surfaced in front of my eyes.
“Just because he tripped you up that one time doesn’t mean you actually know him,” Katie said calmly, albeit with an air of exasperation in her voice, “That was five years ago. You can’t still be mad about this.”
“I’m not!” I said a little too quickly and practically hurled the neatly stacked pile of books into my bag.
“Yes you are.” Katie spoke unbearably patiently, like she was talking to a raging toddler, who was about to have a screaming-fit in the toy section of Walmart. “You hold grudges like only a Woodley can.”
For a moment I was too perplex to reply and only stared at my best friend, my mouth hanging open in disbelieve. “You take that back!”
Katie only shook her head, her arms placed firmly on her hips. She looked intimidating, even in her pink unicorn pyjamas. “No. You know it’s true.”
Again, I was reduced to staring at her, failing to come up with a plausible counter argument. Luckily the arrival of Bernice and Ursula saved me from having to give an answer. “I have to go,” I said curtly and, after picking up my bag, I left the dormitory.
“Don’t be mad, okay?” I could hear Katie’s voice shouting after me as I paced down the stairs. “Remember that I love you! And don’t be grudgy, okay?”
“That’s not even a real word!” I yelled back and then pushed open the door to the bustling Ravenclaw Common room.
It was slightly uncanny to sit in the candlelit Potions classroom all by myself, with only the light, steady tapping of rain on the windows to keep me company. Somewhere in the closer distance I could hear the rattling of chains that sounded much like the Bloody Baron was haunting the dungeons again and I felt a slight uneasiness at the thought of the terrifying ghost. After more than five years at Hogwarts, I was not particularly scared of the resident ghosts anymore but I also did not need them to bother me when I was quite alone in a dimly lit classroom.
I glanced at my watch for what felt like the hundredth time, tracing the second hand that seemed to drag itself across the dial. It had been almost an hour already that I had been waiting for James Potter, yet there was no sign of him. The fire I had lit underneath my cauldron was dying slowly and the ingredients, which I had prepared and lain out neatly on a white cloth, were untouched. The whole setup looked a little like a scorned dinner invitation and I suddenly felt immensely stupid for coming early and preparing everything; even more so, now that it had become apparent that James Potter had stood me up.
Nonetheless, I waited another ten minutes before finally deciding that it was time to pack up and leave the forsaken Potions classroom behind. I had no idea what I was going to tell Professor Slughorn if he asked me about tonight, but for now, I was somehow glad that James Potter had not shown up, mostly because I had been slightly nervous. I would never admit this to anyone, of course, but the prospect of spending my evening alone with Hogwarts’ most eligible bachelor had greatly intimidated me.
I had reached the first floor, still deeply in thoughts, when suddenly there was a bang, followed by heaps of giggles and I stopped dead in my tracks. A few hushed whispers floated along the dimly lit corridor, interspersed with fits of snorting laughter, and there a black, multi-limbed mass stumbled around the closest corner. On first sight, I thought that some spidery creature from the forest had strayed into the castle but as it moved closer, I realised that the swaying spider was actually a tightly knit group of scarcely dressed girls. Their high heels clacked loudly on the marble floor as they proceeded along the corridor, striking up the chorus of the latest Miley Cyrus song.
“Where did you say the party was?” I heard one of the girls shout over the chant, who was immediately shushed by her friends.
“You be quiet!” She protested even louder with a definite slur in her squeaky voice, “I’m sure she,“ at that word, she had stretched out her arm sloppily, pointing directly at me, “is going to the party too, right?”
“No. She is not,” drawled a quite familiar voice before I even had the chance to open my mouth. Vala entangled herself from the group, her hands perched on her hips as she surveyed me through squinting eyes. Her dark brown hair was pin-straight and fell almost to her waist, covering parts of the cherry red barely-there dress that clung to her body like a second skin.
“Hello, cousin,” she smiled drily at me. It was quite an odd situation; mostly because we usually ignored each other when we were at school. We weren’t in the same houses and, obviously, our social circles couldn’t be further apart.
“Hi,” I replied somewhat lamely and, after an uncomfortable pause, added “Well, see you around, I guess.” I had already turned halfway towards the stairs, when suddenly a different, perkier voice piped up.
“Aren’t you the girl who was hugging Albus Potter in the Three Broomsticks today?” Demeter Notte flipped back her long blonde tresses as she frowned at me. The other girls in the group immediately broke out in curious whispers, except for Vala, who simply rolled her eyes with an air of annoyance.
“Yes, um, listen,” I gestured awkwardly towards the stairs, “I really should go. I have to-“
“Have we met?” Demeter squinted a little unflatteringly, twirling a strand of hair around her index finger. The image of her screaming into my face in the girls’ bathroom came to my mind but I simply shook my head.
“Um, no.” I cast another longing glance towards the staircase, having a vague idea about what was going to happen next. “We haven’t.”
Demeter blinked, her head tilted to the side as though she was trying to solve a difficult Arithmancy problem. “Are you shagging Albus?”
For a moment it felt like someone had muted the entire scene. I had not expected this. At all. What kind of question was that? Who on earth asked other people if they were ‘shagging’ someone, and with such casualness?
“Can we just go?” Vala had stomped her foot on the floor, not unlike a grumpy toddler, her hands knotted tightly in front of her chest. “I’m freezing.”
“Oh don’t be such a cry-baby,” Demeter moaned before turning back to me, her eyes moving rapidly from my buckled Chelsea boots to the messy, slightly askew knot atop my head as thought she was trying to take a mental picture of my entire appearance. Then, with a sudden indifference on her perfectly made-up face, she shrugged, linked arms with Vala and another girl, and they strode past me as though they had never noticed me in the first place.
I exhaled deeply, not exactly sure what had just happened. Somewhere in the distance the girls had resumed their wobbly interpretation of Wrecking Ball, which reverberated from the stone walls, and I quickly began to climb the stairs before they could change their minds and come back.
When I entered the Ravenclaw common room, it took me a while to find Katie, sitting hunched over a thick book and a heap of metallic pieces that looked a lot like they belonged to some electrical device. Even though the room was fairly packed, she had managed to secure a spot next to one of the idly crackling fireplaces. Just like the number of dorm rooms that had multiplied with every new year, the castle had adapted to the greater number of students by expanding the common rooms to entire areas, allowing for more secluded niches and cosy spots.
“What in Merlin’s name are you doing?” I plopped into the overly stuffed armchair next to Katie’s and let my bag drop carelessly to the floor. She looked up startled, apparently not having expected me to be back so early.
“What are you doing here already?” She asked curiously, pulling on the hem of her slouchy knitted jumper; just above the collar I could see the pink unicorn patterned cloth of her pyjama top protruding.
“Oh, well,” I sighed, pulling up my legs and resting my head on top of my knees, “I told Potter to piss off and then threw my books at him.”
Katie’s eyes had widened with shock, her mouth hanging open a little as she stared at me with such horror that I had to focus hard on maintaining a straight face. “You – you are joking, right? Tell me you are joking!”
“Of course,” I grinned at my best friend, “but I should have done it if he had bothered shown up.”
“He didn’t show up?” Katie’s facial expression changed from anxious to enraged within seconds. “That git! Who does he think he is?”
I laughed, shaking my head slightly. “Whatever. Let’s just forget about James Potter.”
Katie nodded but did not say anything for a while. She only stared at the shiny metal pieces in her lap, prodding them with her fingers, before finally looking up at me again.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, “for what I said before.”
“Don’t be,” I assured her quickly, “you’re right. I might tend to hold grudges a little too long sometimes.”
“A little?” Katie had raised her eyebrows but she was grinning broadly. “You still haven’t forgiven me for losing your fluffy, glittery teal quill in our first year.”
“Because it was super awesome!” I protested in mock-indignation. “I’ve never found another one like it.”
“Yeah, because you would still use it!” Katie chortled, the book and the metal pieces, which I had identified to be mobile phone parts, sliding from her lap unnoticed.
“I totally would!” I insisted firmly, yet unable to keep the laughter out of my voice. It somehow felt like all the tension and uneasiness that had bothered me just a few minutes ago had simply been washed away.
“OK, well that’s good to know,” Katie said cheerfully and pulled a neatly wrapped package from underneath her jumper, holding it out to me. “Happy birthday, Seth.”
Curiously, I took the thin, long parcel and, as I opened the lid, I found a bright turquoise quill, glittering in the dim light of the common room. It looked illegally fluffy, even as it lay embedded in the black velvet cloth.
“I do expect you to use it,” Katie said with a smirk. “Everyday.”
I grinned back at my best friend, feeling a comfortable warmth permeating throughout my entire body. “Oh, trust me, I will.”
A/N: Hello lovely reader! Thank you for reading this chapter! I hope you enjoyed it and will come back for more J. I would love to hear your thoughts, wishes, complaints, etc. so please feel free to comment or review! I also want to thank everyone who has taken the time to review my story so far! I really really appreciate your kind words and your comments make my day! You are awesome! Thank you!
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