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Chapter 20 : An Abundance of Potters – Part One
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Anyway. I hope you enjoy the chapter
An Abundance of Potters – Part One
I forced myself to look at the untouched muesli in front of me, counting the once crispy clusters that had not yet sunken to the bottom of the bowl. The clamour in the Great Hall was unnaturally loud for breakfast, which was a sure sign of the approaching Christmas holidays; it had been a couple of stressful days for Hogwarts students and now everybody was looking forward to going home for a couple of weeks.
Everybody, except me.
Christmas at the Woodleys’ was not exactly a jolly affair and the mere thought of having to endure passive-aggressive side blows from my family for two entire weeks, really didn’t help much to put me in the mood.
“You look awful,” Katie said next to me as she basically scoffed her scrambled eggs like she was afraid they would run off if she slowed down.
“So would you if you had to spend two weeks with the Woodleys.”
Katie rolled her eyes in response, which was more due to the fact that her mouth was busy chewing the truckload of eggs she had just shoved into it. It was easy for her to talk; she would be spending Christmas with her lovely mother and adorable grandfather. It wasn’t hard to love something when you only had good memories to associate with it.
“Are you afraid of a hibernal food shortage?”
“What?” Katie somehow managed to speak despite her full mouth, heaping another generous helping of eggs and toast onto her plate. “I’m on a diet.”
I frowned as I watched her pile greasy sausages onto her already overflowing plate. “I’m not sure you know what a diet is.”
“I do know,” she sighed, giving me an exasperated look as though she had absolutely no patience for my ignorance. “I’m not eating anything three days before the party, so I have to eat ahead.”
“Kat, that’s completely illogical,” I told her as I watched her alternatingly eating marmalade toast and sausages. “You’re going to be sick.”
“I’ll be stunning at the Christmas party.”
“And most possibly unconscious.”
Katie simply shrugged, apparently not impressed by my arguments, and I turned towards Sam, who had been unnaturally quiet all morning.
“Sam, tell Katie that this is crazy,” I sighed, hoping that he would side with me, but he simply looked back and forth between us, a slightly panicky expression on his long face.
“Sam, tell Seth that she is being unsupportive,” Katie ordered, apparently not noticing the weird look on our friend’s face. It seemed like he hadn’t even been listening. “Sam?”
“I -” He started, his face draining of all colour. “There is something I need to tell you. Maybe this isn’t the right place, but-”
There was a clang as Bernice let herself fall onto the seat next to me, her plate already heaped with bacon and eggs and a tower of crispy pieces of toast that threatened to collapse any second.
“Can I sit with you lot?” She asked, piling up eggs on a piece of toast and taking a large bite off of it. “Ursula’s busy writing a letter to her boyfriend.” She snorted, spraying tiny pieces of egg all over her own hands, which made Katie cringe in disgust.
“The same one she brought to the Kick-Off?” I asked, trying not to look at the spatters of egg on her sleeves while Katie made a point of pushing away her plate very slowly.
“Yup. Same one,” Bernice replied, still chewing on the bite in her mouth. “Bit scrawny for my taste, but well - What’s new with you lot? I saw the ice-skating rink opens tonight?”
“What?” Katie seemed to have forgotten all about feeling disgusted as she leaned in, giving Sam and me a wide-eyed look.
“You guys didn’t tell me the rink opens tonight already!” Her voice was charged with excitement as she squeezed my upper arm so tightly, I was sure it would go numb eventually. There was a glint of madness in her eyes and I couldn’t blame Sam for looking slightly alarmed; he couldn’t possibly know what he had gotten himself into.
“And that’s exactly the reason why,” I said, pointing at her manic facial expression. “You look crazy.”
“Crazy talented,” she supplied, smoothing down her uniform blouse like she was wearing a glitzy evening robe. “I got the perfect costumes. We’ll look amazing.”
Bernice didn’t seem too weirded out by that announcement but Sam frowned, looking deeply bewildered. “Did she just say costumes?”
“Are you kidding?” I tried to look as serious as possible even though I was barely able to suppress a grin at Sam’s baffled expression. “Costumes are really half the fun.”
I had learned long ago that when it came to ice-skating with Katie, there was only one way to do it; her way. And that included frills, fringes and fluff.
Sam cleared his throat. “I’m not exactly the - um - ice-skating type,” he said, just a little too quickly to sound casual, but Katie was too excited to pick up on the dread in his voice.
“Oh, you will be! Believe me! I’ll teach you.” She gave him a wide, toothy grin, before poking her elbow hard into my ribcage. “I taught Seth and now she loves it.”
I frowned. “I wouldn’t exactly say love -”
“Loves it,” Katie repeated, throwing her arm around my shoulders. “It’ll be great. You’ll see.”
“Oh - um - alright.” Sam sounded less than convinced, which I really couldn’t blame him for; while Katie was a terrific ice-skater, she was a mediocre teacher at best and the various fluffy bobbles she passionately attached to your shoes and clothes, didn’t exactly make it easier to not feel like a helpless klutz as you stumbled and bumped into approximately every single person on the rink, before falling face down onto the ice.
With the semester fading out and most of the teachers in a generous Christmas mood, the piles of homework were slowly dwindling and the library had become conveniently empty again as everybody was preparing for Slughorn’s party rather than for tests.
It was, thus, no surprise that the annual improvised ice-rink on the Black Lake, had brought almost the entire castle to the cold, snow-covered grounds, getting everybody to leave their cosy, warm common rooms, even though going outside implied the actual chance of freezing off a finger or too.
“Seth! Seth! Over here!” Katie waved her arms happily above her head before performing a graceful pirouette, accidentally slapping a bewildered first-year with her outstretched hand.
I waved back at her, abandoning the book in my lap for a moment, and gave her a thumbs-up.
“When are you finally done?” She asked as she glided over to my solitary wooden booth; behind her, Sam was struggling to keep up, moving forward only by a sort of awkward mixture between walking and skating, while flailing his arms wildly.
At least he had escaped the shiny leotard that Katie had picked out for him.
“Soon,” I replied, pulling back my woolly glove to check my watch. “Actually, Liesel should be here already.”
“That girl is always late,” Sam panted, completely out of breath as he finally reached the booth as well, holding on to the counter for balance. “I’m sorry, I really tried to get you out of this, but they were ruthless. You know how they get when someone is missing a meeting.”
“It’s no problem.” I shrugged. “I really don’t mind.” The fact that the other prefects had assigned me to the skates-rental during the ice rink opening, while I had been lying unconscious in the hospital wing, really hadn’t been all that surprising. It was the least wanted job, since it mostly consisted of sitting encased in a tiny wooden construction filled with smelly skates while everyone else arrived with their friends or dates.
In terms of Hogwarts social life, the ice-skating rink really was the prelude to Slughorn’s Christmas party; it was the perfect opportunity to see and be seen and usually also the last chance to score an invite. Naturally, the amount of times that two people ‘accidentally’ bumped into each other on the ice, would have made any outsider believe that all Hogwarts students were lumbering idiots.
“Just, join us as soon as you can,” Katie sighed, obviously eager to get back on the ice, “will you?”
I nodded and watched my two friends make their way back into the middle of the rink before slumping back down on the tiny uncomfortable stool in the corner, on which I had spent the entire evening already, reading.
I actually doubted that Liesel would show up; I had seen her skating along the rim of the ice field, holding hands with her boyfriend just ten minutes ago - it hadn’t exactly looked like she was eager to work.
“Oi! Customer service?”
I sighed and put away my book once more; I had failed to finish the same sentence for the fifth time already, which really didn’t make for a pleasurable reading experience.
“Hello there.” Freddie Weasley gave me a somewhat mischievous grin as I approached the counter, leaning casually against the booth. “I didn't expect to meet you here, pyjama girl.”
“What can I say.” I shrugged. “I’m a woman of many talents.”
Freddie chuckled, running his fingers through his dark hair. “That, I believe you.”
For a second, I could feel a slight blush colour my cheeks, but Freddie’s casual demeanour made it hard to feel embarrassed around him and I relaxed immediately.
“I need a pair of skates,” he continued, looking at the wall behind me, which was laden with differently sized skating shoes. “Preferably something fancy with lights and stuff. I don’t want to look like all the other dunces here, you know?”
“Sure.” I nodded, looking around the wooden booth, which was just big enough for the approximately thousand pairs of skates and my pathetic little stool. “Let’s see. We have white with a few scratches and - oh, yes, white with even more scratches. What will it be?”
Freddie laughed as he examined the pair of scruffy skates I had put onto the counter in front of him. “Thanks a lot.”
“No problem.” I pushed the shoes towards him. “Have fun.”
“I will.” He smiled and took the skates but, instead of walking away, he remained stationary, giving me a weird, long look. “Hey, um, can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I replied, putting down my book again; he seemed unnaturally serious all of a sudden and it was quite unsettling.
“Well, um.” He stepped closer to the counter and leaned in a little, his voice low. “What happened between you and James?”
I couldn’t be entirely sure, but, for a moment, it felt like my heart had stopped and someone had pulled the rug out from right under my feet.
Considering everything Freddie could have asked me, this was really the last thing I had expected. It was also the last thing I wanted to talk about.
Not because I cared about James Potter.
Because I didn’t.
He was simply an arrogant clodpole, who didn’t deserve even a second of my attention.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I finally managed to say in a moderately casual voice and - for the sake of occupying my hands - began to cram individual skates into random shelves. “He needed my help with potions - then he didn’t. That’s it, really.”
“Come on,” Freddie said, watching me patiently as I jammed yet another odd pair into a small nook. “That’s not - I mean, it wasn’t just that. He really -” He rumpled his hair with both hands and let out a frustrated groan. “Forget it.”
“I already have,” I replied stubbornly, ignoring that one of the skates I had just violently pushed into the shelf, had catapulted itself to the opposite wall, leaving a blade-shaped cut in the wood.
“Well - okay then.” Freddie sounded disappointed but he managed a smile nonetheless; it just seemed to be in his nature. “I’ll let you get back to - um - work. Thanks for the shoes.”
I tried to reciprocate the smile, hoping to convey that I hadn’t meant to be rude to him. After all, Freddie seemed like a nice bloke, who couldn’t be held responsible for having a complete git for a best friend.
In the end, Liesel had turned up; about an hour too late, but she had come and - albeit grudgingly - taken over the skates-rental. Apparently, she hadn’t been so eager to hold her boyfriend’s hand anymore after he had shamelessly tried to flirt with her best friend, while she was still standing next to him.
Needless to say, Katie was thrilled.
“I love this time of the year,” she sighed as she turned to face me and Sam, gliding backwards so smoothly as though it was the easiest thing in the world. “The air is pregnant with unhealthy relationship drama.”
She twirled in a flawless motion, making the glitter particles in her purple tutu sparkle, even in the dim light. She had tried to talk me into wearing the same one in mint green, but after an intense discussion, I had managed to convince her, that the shiny nylon leggings and the fluffy pink bobbles, dangling from both my skates and my hat were ‘bedazzlement’ enough.
“Talking about drama,” Sam said, holding on to my shoulder for balance as he was about to trip for the upteenth time. “There is actually something I wanted to - Katie!”
The moment Sam had shouted her name, something white had lashed against Katie’s legs and her feet lost contact with the ground as she fell backwards, hitting the ice with a painful crack.
“Katie!” I fell down to my knees, ignoring the sharp jolt of pain that coursed through my kneecaps as they made contact with the ice. “Are you okay?”
She groaned, her left hand clasping her forehead. “Is my skull split? It feels like it’s split.”
“No,” I said, taking a deep breath after I had examined her head for eventual cracks or pools of blood. “But you hit your head quite hard. Can you move?”
“I’ll get help!” Sam, who had been crouching next to us, his face slowly turning a mixture of white and green, pointed vaguely towards the bank of the frozen lake where a group of house elves stood huddled together against the cold. “I’ll be right back.” He fought to get up, wobbling dangerously on his skates, and skated off as quickly as he could manage without tripping.
“Here, take my arm,” I offered, as Katie attempted to sit up, her hand still pressed against her head; her curly pigtails were lopsided and a couple of glittery pink pompoms had detached themselves from her puffy jacket, now lying scattered around her like weirdly fluffy rocks. “We better get you to the hospital wing.”
“My bobbles,” she moaned as Sam and a group of house elves heaved her onto a stretcher, preparing to carry her off the skating rink. “I can’t-”
“I’ll get them. Don’t worry,” I told her, patting her arm for comfort. It seemed to somehow soothe her, as she simply closed her eyes and nodded, allowing the house elves to take her away, Sam struggling to follow in their wake.
Taking a deep breath, I turned back around to where Katie had fallen; but not to pick up her bobbles. Right there, unnoticed by anyone else the entire time, stood the reason why she had tripped in the first place - and he looked as though he was going to vomit any second.
“I - I didn’t mean to - I just wanted to - and then I got way too fast and -” Tarquin stammered, his face red and blotchy in the dim glow of the Christmas lights; it looked like he was breaking out in a nervous rash and I untied my arms, giving him a small smile.
“Quin, I appreciate that you try to get closer to Katie again. - it’s time you lot sorted things out - but it’d be really nice of you if you could not kill my best friend in the process. I’m quite fond of her, you know.”
He nodded, a kind of droopy expression on his thin, long face that was only emphasized by the wildly patterned earflap hat. “I know, I’m sorry. I just don’t know how,” he shrugged his shoulders helplessly. “I like her, Seth. I really do. A lot, actually.”
“I know,” I sighed, studying his sad face for a moment. “I think you should tell her. Tell her that you like her instead of asking a random girl to go to Slughorn’s party with you.”
“Yeah, that was stupid.” Tarquin jabbed the tip of his blade at the already napped ice; the skates somehow added to his gangly appearance, making him look like an overgrown, sad puppy. “And you think this will work? Telling her, I mean.”
I shrugged, not exactly sure what to say; I was convinced that Katie liked him, but I couldn’t guarantee that she was ready to admit it to herself.
“It might work,” I told him. “The important thing is that, no matter what happens, you don’t ever have to regret not trying.”
Tarquin nodded and, for an uncomfortable moment, I thought he was going to cry; then, however, he gave me a wonky smile. “Thanks Seth.”
As soon as Tarquin had turned around, I made to pick up Katie’s bobbles that still marked the scene of the accident. I knew that she would kill me if she ever found out that I had just advised Tarquin to confess his love to her, but I felt that, in this particular situation, it had been okay to go behind her back.
Still deeply immersed in my thoughts and too many pink pompoms in my hands, I made my way through the crowd towards the bank, barely noticing what was happening around me. It was only when a particularly high-pitched laugh sounded close to me that I snapped out of my trance and looked up, just to find a couple of people staring at me, laughing into their palms.
Fern Sterling stood among a group of friends, leading them in a chorus of laughter as she pointed directly at me. Close to her, I could make out James and Freddie, who didn’t seem to be laughing, but were staring at me nonetheless, probably too cool to actually join in on the fun.
“Oh my God, have you ever seen something that ridiculous?” Fern cried loudly enough for everyone around us to hear, causing another round of giggles.
“It’s pathetic,” another girl spat. “And have you seen her friend? In a tutu?”
I balled my fists, squeezing the fluffy bobbles I was still holding in my hands; for a moment, I felt the overwhelming urge to throw them at James and his girlfriend and tell them where they could stick them, but I didn’t.
I didn’t want to stoop to their level.
I didn’t even want to be mad at Potter or his new girlfriend, for that matter; being mad implied that I cared - and I didn’t.
So, instead of falling apart, I simply continued to skate towards the bank and, as I passed them by, took a deep bow - the kind that professional figure skaters do after their performance - my hands outstretched and head low, but my eyes trained directly on Fern, who had stopped laughing meanwhile, looking utterly perplexed.
I might have not done it as smoothly or elegantly as Katie would have, but at least I didn’t trip and, as I went back into a regular skating movement, I held my head up high with pride.
“That girl’s a freak.” I heard someone say behind me, but all it did was make me smile.
I was wearing shiny silver leggings with pink legwarmers and more pompoms attached to my clothing than any sane person should have, but, at that moment, I couldn’t have cared less.
The upbeat rhythm of Hey Hey Hippogriff filled the dorm room, which was heavy with a mixture of perfume and hairspray, inducing a kind of woozy stupor that soaked my brain as I stood there, staring at my favourite pair of cut-out Chelsea boots. Somewhere behind me, I could hear Katie singing along to the lyrics and replacing every second word by indistinguishable humming sounds as she tried to keep up with the fast-paced beat.
“You look really good,” said Bernice, who was sitting on her bed in a large Ravenclaw Quidditch T-shirt, an issue of Which Broomstick lying open in her lap. Her hair was tied together in a short ponytail with random chunks of brown hair sticking out all around her head and her pyjama bottoms were faded and saggy.
I had never envied her so much as I did in this moment.
All week, I had actually been looking forward to Slughorn’s party; the food would be amazing and I was excited to see Hey Hey Hippogriff, but somehow, my anticipation had evaporated, now that the evening of the party had arrived. I didn’t know why, but I felt slightly nauseous at the mere thought of tonight.
“Thanks, Bernice,” I replied, running my hands along the silky cloth of my dress; underneath all the frilly tassels and bows that Katie and I had magicked off, it had turned out to be a deep anthracite grey slip dress; it was quite short, but the loose fit somehow compensated for the length.
“OK, I’m done!” Katie announced as she stepped out of the bathroom, a wide, red-lipped smile on her perfectly made-up face; she looked stunning in her pale pink tulle dress and her auburn curls tied loosely in the nape of her neck, held together by a white flower pin.
“You look amazing,” I told her as she twirled in the middle of the room, getting even Ursula to look up from her boyfriend’s latest love letter.
“And you - look at you.” she gave me a sappy smile as she scanned my appearance from head to toe, stopping abruptly when she had reached my feet. “You’re not wearing shoes. Why are you not wearing shoes?”
“Oh, yeah right.” I glanced at my boots, which still stood in front of the floor length mirror. “Let me just-”
“No!” Katie had thrown up her arm to block me from moving forwards, her eyes wide as she shook her head at me. “No way, Seth. There is absolutely no way I’d let you walk around like the generic sulky protagonist in every bad teen film. The world has seen enough of the ‘I’m so cool and special, I wear Chucks with my ball gown’ type of girl, really.”
I frowned at her. “I don’t even own Chucks.”
“That’s not the point.” She waved her hand impatiently and pushed me towards her wardrobe, where she began to pull out several pairs of shoes, practically throwing them at me.
It was with some delay that Katie, Sam and I finally made our way through the torch-lit castle towards Professor Slughorn’s office; unlike us, the other guests all seemed to have been punctual, and so we found ourselves quite alone in the dimly lit corridors. Also, the fact that I constantly tripped over my own feet in the silver strappy sandals I had borrowed from Katie, slowed us down considerably and wasn’t helped by Peeves floating above my head, cackling loudly every time I stumbled.
“Will you shut up!” I shouted at the poltergeist as I grabbed Sam’s shoulder for balance; my nerves were quite raw by now and I already felt stupid enough without the constant reminder that I was not exactly the epitome of elegance.
“Ignore him,” said Sam as he put his arm around my back for more support. “You look absolutely stunning.”
“Yeah,” Katie agreed as she led us around the corner, where loud music was clearly audible from behind the door at the very end of the corridor. “I bet James kicks his arse if he sees you tonight.”
There was a slight lurch in my stomach, which I deliberately ignored. “I have actually planned on not seeing him at all.”
Katie exchanged a quick yet meaningful glance with Sam, which I couldn’t even have missed if I had tried. “Hmm, interesting. I thought you didn’t care about James?”
“Well, I don’t,” I said, sounding unnaturally snappy even to my own ears. After my glorious performance on the ice-skating rink a couple of days ago, I had been fortunate enough to avoid any further run-ins with Potter or his girlfriend, which I was glad about. The less I had to deal with those people, the better - and I was determined to keep it that way.
Horace Slughorn might have been many things - pompous and slightly overpowering definitely were among the many adjectives to describe his personality - but he certainly wasn’t cheap. The minute we had stepped into his office, it felt like we had entered a completely different location altogether; the room itself was wide and spacious, far bigger than his regular office, and, in addition to the huge chandelier in the centre of the room, countless balls of light now hovered underneath the vaulted ceiling, dipping everything into a vague glow.
House elves bustled around, holding trays of food and drink above their heads, serving well-dressed people - some of whom were wearing gowns and suits, others dress robes - chatting loudly over the sounds of upbeat music. On the far right of the vast room, I could make out a quite impressive looking stage, which was still empty except for a lonely drum set and a large banner, bearing Hey Hey Hippogriff’s logo.
“Oh my Merlin, someone bite me!” Katie’s voice quivered as she grabbed my arm and practically yanked me towards her. “It’s them.”
Unabashed, she was pointing at a group of twenty-something boys in casual, dark clothes and ripped jeans, who were positively mobbed by a bunch of overly excited girls.
“I can’t believe they are actually here,” she gushed, thrusting her hand into her tiny purse and rummaging wildly until she produced a folded piece of paper and a pen. “Let’s go talk to them!”
She made to pull Sam and me along, but I stalled quickly, feeling suddenly nauseous; the air in the room was hot and heavy and I already regretted having eaten nothing for dinner. “You know, I think I need a glass of water - or chicken wings. You two go ahead, okay?”
For a second, Katie looked like she was going to protest, her eyes darting back and forth between me and the boys of Hey Hey Hippogriff. When she finally nodded and let go of my arm, it was only reluctantly. “Well, okay. But you come join us the minute you’re done.”
“Sure,” I told her before watching her drag a slightly helpless looking Sam along as she ploughed her way through the crowd.
Immediately, I started into the opposite direction, where I had just seen a house elf with a huge plate of cheese and grapes vanish into the mass of people; I really needed something to eat, quickly, otherwise I was sure I would collapse on the spot.
“Ah, Miss Woodley!” A deep voice suddenly boomed next to my ear and, before I even knew what was happening, a pudgy hand had grabbed my shoulder and I was sucked into the crowd like a boat into the maelstrom.
“I have been looking for you,” said Professor Slughorn jovially, snatching a glass of champagne from a passing elf’s tray and trusting it into my hand. “Harry, this is the young lady I have been telling you about.”
It was only now that I realised what I had actually been dragged into: right there next to Slughorn, holding a Butterbeer, was a tall man with glasses and rather unruly black hair, giving me a polite smile. On his forehead, a thin scar shaped like a lightning bolt was half-visible underneath a shock of hair.
“It’s nice to meet you,” he said and shook my hand.
“Um, hi,” I replied awkwardly. Apparently talking to Harry Potter on an empty stomach had reduced my otherwise overly productive mind to approximately three brain cells.
“Let me tell you, Harry; without Miss Woodley, James - where is that boy?” Slughorn scanned the crowd around, his face suddenly lighting up. “Ah there you are!” As if on cue, he had thrown out his free hand and, to my great horror, pulled none other than a very puzzled looking James Potter into the conversation.
“I was just telling your father what a great idea it was to bring you and Miss Woodley together.”
James didn’t respond for a moment, but his eyes met mine as he finally nodded. “Yes. Great.”
I suppressed the urge to ask him what his bloody problem was and, instead, took a large sip of champagne to down the swelling anger in my stomach.
Slughorn laughed, apparently not aware of the awkward atmosphere that suddenly enveloped us. “Although, considering your grades, one might suspect that the two of you have been neglecting Potions for a while now.”
He winked at James for Merlin knew what reason and I gulped down the rest of my champagne, feeling my stomach rumble in protest. There was absolutely nothing in my body to buffer the rapid consumption of bubbly alcohol and it all went straight to my head.
“Well, I really think there is nothing I can do for James anymore,” I said to Slughorn, albeit never taking my eyes off of James, who had buried his hands in the pockets of his slim-fit suit. I would have expected him to throw some stroppy, arrogant retort at me, but he simply continued to look at me, an unreadable expression on his face. Next to him, Mr Potter frowned at his son, apparently not quite sure what to make of this weird situation.
“If you would excuse me,” I said, finally breaking the eye contact with James. As much as I hated to admit it, it bothered me to be this close to him. My head was pulsing from the alcohol and, with my heart hammering against my chest, I conceded defeat.
I had to get out of here.
“I really have to find my friends. It was nice to meet you, Mr. Potter. Professor.” I nodded at them and, without even so much as glancing at James, I turned on the spot and dived aimlessly into the crowd.
A/N: I really hope you liked this chapter and, as always, let me know what you think. I enjoy all of your feedback and also your theories as to what is going to happen… it really makes my day. You lot are amazing.
Potterheads are the best.
Much love to all of you!
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