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Chapter 6 : The Disadvantages of being a Nerd
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“Hermione Weasley has passed another Elf Labour Regulation Act. It’s the biggest one in magical history.”
“Oh stop it!” Katie pleaded as she tried to snatch the issue of the Daily Prophet out of my hands without success. She looked much better already than yesterday night; her lips had lost their orange tinge and the dim grin had faded as well after a while. Only her motor functions were still a little slow, which showed in her sloth-like attempts to rid me of my paper.
“OK. What do you want to hear then?” I put away the Daily Prophet and began to rummage through the stack of wrinkly Witch Weekly copies – the only sort of entertainment the Hogwarts hospital wing offered – that were piled on a small coffee table. I had read almost all of them, spending the night next to Katie’s bed, alternating between dozing off uncomfortably and reading articles on Celestina Warbeck’s 100th birthday.
“I think I’m ready to hear about yesterday night.” Katie looked at me quite seriously but I could detect a hint of fear in her light blue eyes. She couldn’t remember anything after taking a sip of the Crapula infused drink last night.
“Well, it wasn’t that bad, really,” I began carefully after checking again that we were quite alone in the room. Apparently, no one else had been tricked into drinking the intoxication potion.
“No, really! You just giggled a lot and called me a nerd and then Professor Longbottom came and brought you up here.” It was the truth, though not exactly all of it. It had taken quite some effort, to get Katie to leave the party; she had been exuberant, throwing everyone we passed kisses and waving like she was the queen herself.
“I know you’re lying,” Katie sighed, pulling the fluffy white blanket up to her chin as she watched Madame Pomfrey, the matron, bustling around the ward, fluffing up cushions, “and I really appreciate it.”
I only smiled in response, drawing my legs up to my chest. My back felt sore from spending the whole night on this bare wooden chair and my butt had fallen asleep about an hour ago. Madame Pomfrey, who had tried to send me away several times already, only shook her head at me as I caught her eye across the room. She hadn’t been too happy with me when I had insisted on staying up here with Katie but in the end, though grudgingly, she had given in.
“So, what did I miss? Did you meet Sam?” Katie inquired quietly after the matron had brought us two cups of steaming hot tea.
“Oh,” I bit my lip before smiling somewhat crookedly, “well, um, no – since he was busy snogging Felicity Bolder in a dark corner.” Sam’s attention had shifted fairly quickly when I hadn’t thrown myself into his arms immediately. I can’t say that it really bothered me, but the fact that Sam had lost interest in me so easily wasn’t exactly flattering either.
“That bloody prick!” Katie had abandoned her quiet voice, crying out indignantly. “What an idiot! You are way better than Felicity Bolder! She always smells of cabbage; that’s bloody weird!”
“Thanks, that’s such a comfort.” I took a sip of Madame Pomfrey’s tea before cradling the warm cup in my hands. A snuggly feeling immediately spread through my body and the tension in my shoulders began to recede. For a moment, it was pure bliss.
“Well, who needs Sam Henderson when you have Albus Potter, right?”
Katie grinned broadly as I stared at her a little dumbfounded. Of all the things she could have remembered, it had to be Albus Potter, of course. I wasn’t sure how, but her brain seemed to work in odd ways.
“What are you talking about?” I whispered, feeling Madame Pomfrey’s reproachful stare on my back. “He’s a year younger than me.”
Of all the arguments I could have come up with, this was certainly the lamest.
“Oh please,” Katie raised her eyebrows slowly, “You don’t turn sixteen before next week. And Albus is hot. Who cares if he is in fifth.”
I had started shaking my head so vigorously at the word ‘hot’ that bits of tea slopped over the edge of my cup and stained my white sweater. Katie was being ridiculous; I had absolutely no interest in Albus Potter, whatsoever. It hadn’t even occurred to me to look at him that way. And certainly he hadn’t either.
“Madame Pomfrey?” The door to the hospital ward had opened with a blast and a small group of people in muddied clothes entered, looking exhausted. Their clothes all were completely soaked and they seemed to be shaking heavily as they moved further into the room, leaving great, brown puddles of water in their wake.
“What is going on here?” The matron had appeared immediately, taking in the scene with a wary look on her usually friendly round face. “What happened?”
“Quidditch try-outs,” a thin girl with a bloody cut on her chin panted out of breath. Only now, as I followed Madame Pomfrey’s quizzical gaze, I noticed that two of them looked like they actually couldn’t stay upright by themselves, swaying oddly as they leaned on their companions’ shoulders.
“Quick, get them over here,” the matron ordered briskly, leading them to a section in the back. Katie and I craned our necks a little to follow the events but within seconds, Madame Pomfrey had strode back across the room, drawing the curtain next to Katie’s bed so that our view was blocked by a baby-blue piece of cloth.
“Quidditch. In this weather. Unbelievable,” she muttered angrily under her breath, stalking off again to tend to her new patients.
Katie gave me a long meaningful look before she whispered “Gryffindor”. I only nodded in response, having seen the hints of scarlet fabric showing through the layers of mud that clung to the uniforms. It really wasn’t the right weather for flying, let alone leaving the castle. The rain pelted even harder against the windows by now and a proper storm whipped the trees so violently, it looked like they were about to be unearthed. None of the other team captains would have held try-outs under such horrible conditions but, of course, James Potter didn’t care. He had a reputation for working the Gryffindor team quite hard, which most people thought was admirably fierce and brave. Never mind that he was a reckless, self-important git who gave a boggart’s arse about other people’s safety.
As September progressed, it seemed, the last traces of summer had vanished as well. A permanent cold wind swirled up the orange and gold leaves that had gathered underneath the towering trees at the edge of the Forbidden Forrest and the promise of rain loomed in the dark clouds that hung low over Hogwarts.
I wrapped my woolly scarf a little tighter around my neck as a particularly cold gust of wind swept along the edge of the forest, positively howling. Next to me, Adina Singer and Morgana Evenberg shivered, huddling up with their teeth clattering and their bare knees quivering. They hadn’t even bothered to put on a sweater over their uniforms, wearing nothing but thin blouses and their shortened uniform skirts, which earned them quite disapproving glances from Bernice, who was standing behind them.
“Alright!” Professor Hagrid had reappeared from his hut, carrying a wooden crate that was large enough to hold a small dragon, a broad grin lighting up his bearded face. “I got ya a real treat for today. Thought you might like ‘em.”
A few people exchanged nervous looks; many of them had not yet overcome the disastrous confrontation with the baby Pogrebin last year that had attempted to bite off Fergus Seelie’s arm. Hagrid was quite notorious for taking a liking to all sorts of dangerous creatures and bringing them to class; however, no one could argue that his lessons weren’t exciting.
“I’ve got enough for all of you!” He proclaimed as he set the box down in front of his feet. “Who can tell me what they are?”
Together with a few others, I moved in on the box, peering over its edge: Nestled in a layer of straw were tiny lizard-like creatures that shimmered in a striking silver-green colour.
“Mokes,” I whispered awestruck without taking my eyes off the thimble-sized reptiles that now craned their heads upwards quite curiously. I had read about them before but, like Hagrid had said, they were extremely rare and usually hard to spot.
“Exactly! Five points to Ravenclaw!” Hagrid cried out enthusiastically. “Clever little creatures, they are. Tricky to find since they can shrink themselves on the spot.”
By now, the rest of the class had dared to approach the Mokes as well and – after realising that they weren’t in immediate danger – longed heartily into the crate when Hagrid told us to pair up and get hold of one. This was harder than it sounded, however, since they kept shrinking and growing rapidly again, making it almost impossible to seize them as they dived into the straw.
“Wanna pair up?” Bernice appeared next to me just as I surfaced from the crate, clutching a struggling Moke in my hand that had already shrunken to minimum size. I could feel its tiny talons scraping my palm relentlessly.
“Sure,” I panted, dropping the reluctant Moke into the bucket Bernice was holding up. In its understandable struggle for freedom, the creature had left quite a few cuts on the inside of my hand, some of them already gushing blood.
“How is Katie?”
“Good,” I replied as I wiped my hand on my black tights for lack of a proper tissue. “She can leave the hospital wing tonight.”
Bernice nodded, prodding the Moke with the tip of her wand as though trying to get it to grow again. At the moment it was so miniscule that it was hard to draw even a fairly accurate sketch of its features. Many people around us seemed to have the same problem, squinting aimless into their buckets and sticking in their wands.
“Take one o’ these!” Hagrid shouted over the usual chatter, producing a good dozen of magnifying glasses from one of the countless pockets of his bulging cloak. It simplified the whole task immensely.
“So the poisoning wasn’t too bad?”
“No, thank god.” I sighed as I watched the Moke frantically skirting the inside of the metal bucket. According to Madame Pomfrey, Katie had been quite lucky; apparently there had been a lot of severe cases of Crapula poisoning last year, where people, in a spree of unreasonable exhilaration, had attempted to jump off towers or almost drowned themselves in the Black Lake. The sip Katie had taken from her drink had only contained a marginal amount of the potion and, when I had visited her this morning before breakfast, she had already seemed quite like her usual quirky self again, perusing a copy of the latest Marie-Claire issue.
“Lesson’s over! Just put your Mokes back in the crate!” Hagrid hadn’t even finished his sentence, when half of the class was already on their feet, making a great deal of noise as they emptied their buckets rather carelessly, sending their Mokes skidding down over the metal edges. It had started drizzling by now and everyone was eager to get back up to the castle, where it was warm and dry.
“Thank you, Seth,” Hagrid boomed as I began to collect the buckets that were strewn haphazardly across the lawn. I actually didn’t mind staying behind a little; for the last 40 minutes, Bernice had been elaborating on how Ravenclaw was going to beat Hufflepuff in the traditional kick-off friendly in October, which would have been fine, really, if I hadn’t heard it for the umpteenth time already. Since Katie hadn’t been there, I had somehow ended up eating my meals with Bernice and Rufina Pinkerton, the other Ravenclaw Beater, who took it upon them to educate me on various Quidditch tactics. And, while I liked Bernice, I just needed a little break from hearing about blagging and Bludger Backbeats.
By the time I had collected all the buckets, the Hogwarts grounds were positively forsaken. Tiny drops of rain spattered against my face as I climbed the slight upwards slope towards the castle, almost slipping twice on wet patches of grass. The sound of thunder that had been growling in the distance, seemed menacingly close by now and I picked up speed as the rain drops grew considerably larger.
“Seth!” Someone suddenly called behind me and I turned around to find Albus Potter jogging towards me, strands of damp black hair clinging to his forehead. “Care of Magical Creatures?”
“Yup,” I gave him a smile as he caught up, falling into step with me. We hadn’t talked since the party on Saturday and, honestly, I hadn’t expected us too. After all, we weren’t friends. In fact we barely knew each other. Nonetheless, there was a certain familiarity about Albus that made it surprisingly easy to talk to him. “You?”
“Herbology. Greenhouse three,” he retorted, indicating roughly the direction of the Hogwarts greenhouses. “How is your friend? I hope she feels better?”
“Oh, yeah,” I threw my arm out a little awkwardly in an attempt to make a nonchalant gesture, but instead caused half of my books to fall down onto the rain sodden ground. They landed on the grass with a squelch and I couldn’t help the tiny groan that escaped my mouth.
“Wait, let me help you.” Albus made to crouch down but I was quicker.
“It’s fine,” I sighed as I scooped my soggy books up with one swift movement, “that happens to me all of the time, really.”
“Maybe you should consider not carrying around so many books?” He gave me quite an adorable crooked smile as we continued to walk the last few meters to the castle. “I’ve never seen you without any.”
“Oh really? How often have you actually seen me?”
It was meant as a joke but, to my surprise, Albus’ cheeks suddenly turned slightly pink and his gaze shifted awkwardly towards the floor. I got the uneasy feeling that I had said something wrong, but when Albus looked up at me again, smiling unperturbed as usual, I discarded the thought immediately.
“Are you going to Hogsmeade this Saturday?”
“I think so, yes,” I said truthfully albeit leaving out that it was actually my birthday on Saturday and that Katie had planned a birthday pub crawl, which was totally not going to happen, of course.
“Cool.” He nodded, his hands stuffed firmly into the pockets of his dark grey uniform trousers. “So – um – maybe I see you there?”
“Um, yes, maybe,” I mimicked his nodding gesture, feeling weirdly awkward all of a sudden. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly it was that felt odd about the situation but it was definitely there, and it lingered even after Albus had left to join his friends for lunch in the Great Hall.
Torrential rain lashed against the tall windows that had fogged up from the hot wafts of steam, curling lazily above the half-dozen cauldrons. My hair too had absorbed the thick humidity that hung in the classroom air, frizzing it so that it looked like a wheat blonde halo around my head. I didn’t care much however, seeing that the Calming Draught I had carefully stirred for the last half-hour, had turned the exact shade of ink blue that was described as ideal result in my Advanced Potions Book. Of all subjects, Potions was probably my favourite; unlike most things in this world, it was guided by sheer rules of logic and, hence, wonderfully predictable. That was, if you got the instructions right, of course.
“Alright now; time is up!” Professor Slughorn’s voice carried over the hissing and clinking that filled the classroom. “Bottle up a sample of your work and bring it to my desk, please!”
The reaction was immediate; chairs scraped on the stone floor and the volume rose threefold as everyone hastened to join the beeline for the teacher’s desk. It was the last lesson for today and most people were probably eager to get to dinner.
“Ah, another Outstanding, I suppose,” Slughorn said amicably as he examined the small flask I had just handed in. He watched the thick blue liquid swirl idly as he surveyed it against the candlelight on his desk, when suddenly he knitted his eyebrows musingly. “Miss Woodley, would you mind staying behind a minute? There is something I need to discuss with you.”
For I moment I was too perplexed to respond. Judging by the sudden serious note in Slughorn’s voice it almost sounded as though I was in trouble. I had never been in trouble before and the prospect positively mortified me. Also, the whispered ‘uuuhs’ behind my back didn’t help much either.
“Oh, OK. Sure,” I finally managed to say, before trailing somewhat awkwardly to the side of the teacher’s desk. The few people that were still queuing to submit their samples, gave me appraising looks but I simply turned away, pretending to study the tall Georgian windows. Considering that the Potions classroom traditionally was in the dungeons of the castle, the windows were indeed a strange sight; the classroom was somewhere underground, yet the windows made it look like there was a vast sky just outside the room.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” Slughorn’s deep voice boomed lazily as soon as the last pair of students had cleared out. He stroked his enormous walrus moustache and I couldn’t help thinking that it looked a little like a very furry, very chubby caterpillar. “Bewitched them myself, of course. Reflect the weather outside, just like the ceiling in the Great Hall.”
He had gotten up from his chair and walked around the desk, one hand twirling the tips of his moustache as he studied me for a moment. “Miss Woodley, you are quite a natural at Potions. Of course, you are aware of that, I dare say?” His booming laughter echoed from the walls and I felt myself relax a little; maybe I wasn’t in trouble after all.
“I guess I am quite OK, Sir,” I replied meekly, still not quite sure where this conversation was headed. I knew I was good at Potions, but this fact alone didn’t seem to justify the talk I was just having.
“OK?” Slughorn yelled loudly, amusement crossing his plump face as he looked at me quite intently. “Miss Woodley, I have, in fact, a favour to ask you. I have a student – a particular favourite of mine, I have to admit – who, well, does not perform as well as he ought to in Potions, I’m afraid.” He paused for a moment, apparently contemplating how to continue before clearing his throat. “You see, James is a smart boy but there are, well,” he chuckled jovially, “other things on his mind. I don’t blame him, mind you.”
He laughed again and I suddenly felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. I had finally realised what this conversation was about; or rather who it was about. “Sir-“
“I know, I know,” Slughorn cut off my attempt to wriggle out of this sticky situation, “tutoring is not part of your Prefect duties and it is a most unusual favour to ask. But I assure you, I would not do so if it wasn’t for my complete trust in your profound skills, Miss Woodley.”
I hesitated for a second, not sure how to respond. There was no doubt that this James, Slughorn was talking about, was James Potter. After all, it was commonly known that he had a soft spot for the Potter kids; the famous offspring of the saviour of the entire wizarding world.
“But, isn’t James Potter one year above me, Sir? Shouldn’t he be tutored by another seventh year?” I asked rather hopelessly, feeling that a trifle like this would not really impress Professor Slughorn. He merely chuckled again, holding his great belly that protruded underneath his emerald green robes.
“Oh no, Miss Woodley. Like I said, I have absolute faith in you. And besides, I need someone, who puts academics fist, if you know what I mean.” He winked quite obviously and I had to refrain from groaning loudly. Whatever ‘putting academics first’ meant, I was sure that it couldn’t be anything good.
A/N: Hello wonderful reader who made it to the end of this really long chapter! I hope you enjoyed it! As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions :). Thank you for reading!
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