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Chapter 30 : The Edge of Reason
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The Edge of Reason
Archie nibbled on my finger as I tied the letter to his leg, chipping off the plum nail polish Katie had insisted on applying this morning. While she had claimed that she had only wanted to see how the colour looked on me, I know that she had really done it to make me feel better.
It had been a nice gesture – even though a beauty treatment really wasn’t the soul-healing, therapeutic experience for me as it was for her – but after waking up this morning with my eyes red and burning and a glorious head cold that was responsible for the permanent ringing sound in my ears, it was hard to feel anything but defeated.
Even with fabulous plum fingernails.
“Don’t be so fidgety, Archie,” I mumbled as he lifted his leg once again, causing the ribbon to slide off for the third time in a row. “For Merlin’s sake, why are you so nervous?”
He hooted in response before sticking out his claw obediently, allowing me to retry attaching the letters I had penned in bed last night. Both of them were addressed to my family: one to my mum, and one to my grandfather.
Of course, I had skipped the part of me being accused of brewing illegal potions; the fact that my family hadn’t contacted me about the rumours that were flying around school yet, must have meant that Professor McGonagall had decided that the allegations against me weren’t substantial enough to inform my parents, and I was glad for it. The last thing I needed was the burden of causing yet another Woodley family scandal.
“Off you go, mate. Be careful.”
I watched Archie take off and – as he struggled to find his balance after a rather wobbly start – I was once again reminded why I had picked him all these years ago; like me he wasn’t very graceful, yet he was efficient.
I spun around at the sound of my name, only just supressing a small scream.
“Lucas?” Strands of hair had been tossed into my face as a strong gust of wind blew through the droughty Owlery, but I could still make out his slightly bent figure and the tousled blond hair. After what had happened the day before, I had been sure that I had seen the last of Lucas Gallagher.
“Um, yes?” He frowned as he took a few tentative steps towards me. “Who did you think it was?”
“What?” I asked, half- confused, half-annoyed at his odd behaviour; the last thing I wanted to do was to have small-talk with a boy who had pretended to like me because he thought I could supply him with illegal substances.
“It’s just – It almost sounded like you were expecting someone else.” He said it with a laugh – obviously trying to diffuse the tense situation – but I could feel a jolt in my stomach as I tried to keep my thoughts from wandering to James.
Of course I hadn’t really been expecting James Potter to show up in the Owlery on a Sunday morning, but the fact that his image had popped up so casually in my head in a situation like this disconcerted me more than I liked to admit to myself.
“What do you want?” I said as composedly as I could manage, just as another gust of cold wind swept through the room, swirling up bits of straw and feathers. There was something very odd about having this conversation whilst surrounded by hundreds of owls who seemed to be watching our every move.
“I need to talk to you,” he said, the humour suddenly gone from his voice. It was then that I realised that his presence wasn’t a coincidence; he must have followed me up here on purpose. I didn’t know what kind of potion he needed, but his persistence could only mean that he was quite desperate.
“I’ve already told you,” I sighed, “I don’t brew –“
“No!” He almost shouted, causing dozens of owls to flutter their wings and hoot indignantly. “I mean, that’s not – I wanted to apologise. To you.”
“Okay…” I frowned at him, not sure what to make of this unexpected turn of events. All I knew was that I was majorly uncomfortable and simply wanted to extract myself from this conversation. “Well then, I need to…” I gestured awkwardly towards the exit, but Lucas – seemingly in a flight of panic – threw out his arms and blocked the door.
“I want a second chance!”
I blinked, too perplex to react properly at first as Lucas’s words slowly sank in. “Are you serious?”
“I mean it,” he insisted, his arms still outstretched as he barred the only exit. It was definitely one of the weirder moments of this school year, which – considering that I was currently Hogwarts’ resident felon – did mean something.
“Yeah, so did I when I told you to stay away from me yesterday.” I had finally pushed past him, eager to get to the staircase and leave, but he called out after me.
“No!” I was surprised to hear that I had yelled at him; it was only now that I realised how angry I actually was; at this boy who had played me like an idiot and who had the nerve to demand a second chance. “I don’t like to be used, Lucas. How does that saying go? Fool me once?”
For a second it looked as though he wanted to say something, but I had already turned around, ending the conversation before it would get even more awkward. There was already enough on my plate without having to deal with Lucas Gallagher.
Gaudy streaks of gold and bright fuchsia flashed merrily above the slowly moving mass as it pushed through the corridor, voices soaring upwards to join the muffled bangs of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes’s glitter explosives. The castle had been in uproar for two days already; ever since the Valentine’s Dance lottery – which was quite a complicated process – had provided every boy in the castle from year four upwards with a random date for the upcoming ball. Needless to say, there were many things that were not only impracticable about the whole system, but straight out wrong, which led to an annual black market bidding war in which students ruthlessly haggled over desired dates as though they were in a bazar. Originally intended as a way to promote positive inter-house and –year relationships, the Valentine’s Dance had become a rather ingenious opportunity to force yourself on your crush.
“I hope Tarquin doesn’t forget to buy my ticket,” Katie shouted over the considerable noise. “It’s not going to be expensive anyway – Since I have a boyfriend, no one else will be interested in me.”
I couldn’t help smiling at the slightly bitter expression on my best friend’s face. “That’s the saddest thing I’ve heard this week.”
As usual, Katie ignored the sarcasm. “No, the saddest thing is you boycotting Valentine’s Day.”
I knew better than to respond to this and simply shook my head as we let the crowd push us through the broad doors into the Great Hall. I was not ‘boycotting’ Valentine’s Day; while I was neither opposed to, nor enthusiastic about the concept of it all, I had simply come to the conclusion that – regarding my current reputation – it would be best to sit out the festivities in my bed with a good book and a hot cup of tea.
To my defence, there was a feasible chance that my name would be among the few sad leftovers that ended up partnerless and forgotten on the bottom of the lottery pot anyway, once the bargaining had ceased.
“You need some fun in your life,” Katie insisted as we made our way to the Ravenclaw table. She had been quite adamant in her resolution to convince me to go to the dance ever since I had told her about my plans; almost as adamant as I had been about not going.
“The ABC of Alchemy is fun.”
“Sure.” She rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath that definitely contained the words ‘old funny lady’ and ‘cats’.
“Leave her alone, Katie,” Sam sighed as he had ploughed his way through the crowd, sitting down with us at our regular spot. “If Seth doesn’t want to go she doesn’t have to.”
“Thank you Sam.” I gave Katie a triumphant look which was answered by yet another eye roll.
“You’re welcome,” Sam said as he prodded his potatoes with his fork quite unenthusiastically. “I’m boycotting too. Stupid Valentine’s Dance.”
“Okay, first of all I’m not ‘boycotting’ anything,” I insisted, “and secondly, why aren’t you going? I thought you were excited about the ball.”
Sam shrugged as he pushed around a few lonely peas on his plate. “I’m just not in the mood,” he explained and, after a few seconds of contemplative silence, added, “Hector has just told me that he has bought Sarah Selwyn’s ticket. He made it sound like it was some sort of great romantic gesture. Even worse, he couldn’t even understand why that would make me mad.”
“Sam,” Katie said very slowly, her fork dangling in her hand in mid-air as she looked at him with raised eyebrows. “You do know that Sarah Selwyn has a girlfriend, right?”
“Sarah Selwyn is dating a seventh year girl from Gryffindor. She has been for a year.”
“Oh God!” Sam shouted, his cutlery clattering onto his plate as he jumped up from his seat, comprehension dawning on his face. “I need to find Hector!”
As he stormed out of the Great Hall, pushing people aside left and right, Katie and I exchanged meaningful glances; who would have thought that Hector Chang would come around eventually.
“See, the magic of Valentine’s is already bringing people together.” Katie gave me a long look, as though she had just presented a failsafe argument, to which I simply responded with a nonchalant shrug.
“I’d rather do homework.”
“You’re going to miss something,” she sang in that suit-yourself-tone that she regularly adopted whenever she felt I was being unreasonably stubborn.
“I don’t think so,” I replied in that same annoying singing voice and began to pack up my bag, ignoring the fact that afternoon classes wouldn’t be starting before half-an-hour. While my best friend had been exceptionally annoying the past few days, I couldn’t help feeling like a traitor.
Of course, it was true that the events of the last few weeks made it hard to get into a party mood, but the truth was that that wasn’t all there was to it; the looming advent of Valentine’s Day had brought on involuntary yet deeply disturbing thoughts about James Potter, which I was not prepared to share with anybody, let alone deal with.
“Hey, something fell out of your Charms book,” Katie said despite the half-chewed potatoes in her mouth and leaned forwards to pick up a neatly folded piece of paper that had landed on my empty plate.
I watched her fumble to unfold it with dread. “Oh don’t open it. It’s probably just another request for a ridiculous potion that doesn’t even exist.”
There had been dozens of them, stuffed somewhere in between my personal belongings, asking for prices and modalities concerning various potions or even just magical solutions to a wealth of problems ranging mostly from body-improvement issues to illegal study aids.
Katie, however, had already unfurled the small note, her eyebrows furrowing as she stared at it.
“What?” I urged, feeling a quite familiar pressure building in my chest as I observed the odd expression on her face. “Do I even want to know?”
Without words, Katie simply passed me the slip and I took it, my fingers suddenly tingling as I read the message it carried.
WE NEED TO TALK
The words stared at me; boldly, daunting, taunting. The handwriting was tidy yet leaning slightly to the right as though wanting to convey an urgency that surpassed that of any exclamation mark. Above the message, scrawled into the corner like a negligible afterthought, were the words ‘Entrance Hall’ and ‘11:00pm’.
“It could have been in that book for weeks.”
“What?” Katie peered over the edge of my wardrobe, her auburn curls fuzzy from the fitting marathon she had been performing for the last thirty minutes.
I discarded the slip of paper on my nightstand and sat up straight in my bed, willing to move past the mysterious note. “I said it could have been in my book for a long time already.”
“Possibly,” Katie said, stepping out of the closet, a sheer, pink strappy top pressed to her chest. “Can I borrow this?”
I nodded and, with a groan, picked up the note once more, unable to redirect my thoughts. It was true that there was no indication for it being dropped into my bag today; there was no date on it, nor any other clue as to when or by whom it could have been written, yet, something about it intrigued me.
“Well, you’re not going to find out anyway, right?”
“What?” I was still staring at the capitalized letters, only half listening to Katie as she made her way towards me, stepping over discarded clothes that littered the floor like colourful casualties.
“The note,” she said impatiently. “You’re not going to meet up with that person.”
“Of course not,” I snorted; maybe a little too loudly, as Katie raised her eyebrows momentarily, looking scandalized.
“I said I wouldn’t.” I crumpled up the note in my hand to underline my statement; I certainly was not going to meet up with a stranger who had dropped a note into my purse.
Katie seemed to relax again as she watched me transform the note into a tiny ball of rubbish. “You don’t know what sort of lunatic is behind this.”
“I know,” I mumbled as I let the paper ball roll around in my palm. Katie was right, of course; anyone could have written the note. Yet – and I felt embarrassed to even let my thoughts wander that way again – the enigmatic message and the way it had found me carried the excitement and thrill I had inevitably come to associate with James Potter.
“Damn,” Katie cried out, forcing my train of thoughts to a crashing halt as she leapt from my bed. “I said I’d meet Tarquin ten minutes ago.”
I watched her grabble for her jacket among the assortment of rejected tops on the floor – some of which were mine – and struggle to pull it on as she made her way to the door. Before she had even opened it, however, she had turned around, a mildly worried look on her face.
“Are you going to be fine?”
“Yes! Go!” I made a shooing gesture with my arms. “Your boyfriend is waiting to sweep you off your feet.”
“Yeah.” She rolled her eyes, yet a smile had appeared on her dark red lips. “He’s probably going to make a big fuss over it.”
“As he should.”
Katie’s grin conveyed a sort of giddiness that I had rarely seen on her before and, despite being sincerely happy for her, I suddenly felt inexplicably lonely; a sensation that lingered as I sat in my bed, surrounded by a half-finished essay and an assortment of books on human transfiguration, staring at the door that had just closed behind my best friend.
There was a quite intriguing pattern adorning the vaulted ceiling of our dormitory: swirls of blue, interlacing with bold bronze, running towards the centre where they melted into a beautiful eagle, wings spread wide as though it was about to take off. It felt as though – after having stared at it for so long – I knew each line and flourish by heart.
My eyes watered and I blinked, just as a loud snore rattled the room; two beds away, Bernice turned noisily, her bed creaking as she settled into another sleeping position. I sighed and rolled over to look at my watch on the nightstand; it was five to eleven. Katie was still on her date with Tarquin, but she wasn’t the only one who had not returned to Dormitory 24 tonight; Ursula’s bed was empty too, which was a rather strange occurrence considering that – besides her Muggle boyfriend and Bernice – she didn’t really seem to hang out with other people.
Bernice let out another snore and I dropped the watch, my eyes wandering automatically to the small paper ball that lay next to it like a discarded gum wrapper. Strangely it was then, as I stared at the piece of paper, thinking about the message I knew it contained, that I could feel a faint pop above my collarbone; the dainty moonstone I wore around my neck had dislodged itself from the patch of skin it had been stuck to and now dangled merrily on the thin chain, catching the silver moonlight that poured through the windows.
I looked at it for a moment, thinking of the other Elizabeth Woodley as I had come to imagine her in my head – a daring smile on her face and permanently wind-swept hair. There was no doubt in my mind that she would have followed the mysterious invitation in a heartbeat, taking every chance to indulge in an adventure, however small.
A sharp knock resounded in the dark room and I snapped out of my thoughts momentarily, sitting up a little straighter. There was a quite possible chance that Bernice had hit her head on her bedpost while tossing violently in her bed, yet, the sound had been almost too precise to be random.
Very slowly, I drew back the curtains around my bed, just as the door creaked and slowly opened, allowing a sliver of warm, orange light to crawl into the moonlit room.
Katie, I thought with relief, feeling the urge to laugh about my own silliness, but as a head appeared in the door crack, I realised that something was wrong.
“Seth.” Her voice was barely a whisper, but I immediately recognised the visitor as Mona Williamsburg, the Ravenclaw Headgirl. “Are you awake?”
“Yes,” I whispered, adrenaline pumping through my body as my eyes adjusted to the change in lighting. I couldn’t see her face in detail, but her presence in my room at this late hour was enough to make my stomach twist.
“You need to come with me,” she said, a strange quiver in her voice, “McGonagall called an emergency Prefect meeting.”
I had pulled on the first pair of jeans that I had come across on the clothes-strewn floor of our dormitory, only noticing that they were Katie’s when I had almost reached the Headmistress’s office. The waistband kept sliding down to reveal the checked flannel of my pyjama shorts and I needed to hold on to one of the belt loops as I ran along the dark corridor to not lose them altogether.
“What do you think happened?” Sam whispered as we rounded the corner, the midnight blue cloak he had thrown over his pyjamas flapping wildly as it billowed out behind him.
I shook my head, my lungs burning as we finally met the monstrous guards to McGonagall’s tower office, which sprang aside without even requesting a password. Too many thoughts seemed to be filling my head, crashing like waves as they tried to push to the surface, only just to be reeled back into the depth of my mind as another thought attempted to emerge from the sea of jumbled words.
Loud voices echoed from the twisted walls as we began our ascent, indicating that other Prefects must have already arrived for the meeting; the tone was that of uneasiness and dread, which resonated with the unpleasant heaviness that had settled in my stomach. Emergency Prefect meetings never meant good news and the fact that this one couldn’t even wait until morning did not bode well.
The end of the winding staircase came unexpectedly and the bright light blinded me as I stumbled into the large, round office, my head still spinning from running up the stairs. Quite abruptly – as though muted by a spell – the chatter faded to low humming before ebbing away entirely: The room had fallen silent as I walked in, Sam trailing along behind me, his floor-length cloak making awkward sweeping noises as he moved. A dozen pair of apprehensive eyes were watching us and I pulled once more self-consciously on the sliding pair of jeans which – and I just realised this in the well-lit office – sparkled with silver glitter.
“Well then,” McGonagall’s curt voice cut through the silence and naturally commanded everyone’s attention, eyes shifting from Sam and me to the headmistress’s tall, willowy frame as she entered from a door behind her desk. Behind her, the Heads of Houses filed into the room, all of them looking frighteningly serious as they scanned the assembled crowd.
“It is late so I will get to the point.” She talked in her usual brisk manner, but there was something about her face – the deep lines on her forehead – that betrayed concern.
“There has been… an incident. Another student has come to harm through the use of an unauthorised substance; this time administered by choice yet, in its effect, almost fatal.”
The headmistress seemed unperturbed by the shocked whispers that erupted all over the room, yet it was hard to ignore the tight knot in my stomach as more and more faces turned away from her and, under pretence of looking around the room, covertly landed on me. Even Professor Longbottom, whom I had always liked as a teacher, had lost the morose expression on his face in favour of staring at me, a dark look crossing his face.
Heat crawled up my neck and I shifted in my chair, feeling ridiculously flamboyant in Katie’s sparkly jeans. The immediate urge to scream ‘it wasn’t me’ was pounding in the back of my head, but I willed myself to stay calm as I focused my gaze on McGonagall, blocking out my surroundings.
“I am very sorry to inform you that a Ravenclaw student has been injured during an attempt to jump from the second-floor railing in the Entrance Hall under the influence of Euphoria.”
Gasps filled the room, eyes still boring into me from all sides – not concealed behind timid looks any longer but open; hostile – yet, I hardly noticed as dread trickled down my spine like ice water, all other concerns wiped from my mind as only one thought consumed every single fibre of my body: Katie.
I glanced at Sam but he simply looked politely shocked and curious like the rest of the assembled Prefects; he didn’t know, of course. He couldn’t know that Katie had not returned from her date with Tarquin.
“I urge you all to be alert and cautious at all times. All incidences whatsoever must be reported directly to me.” McGonagall’s voice cut through the conspiratorial whispers like a knife. “It goes without saying that such spineless law-breaking will not be tolerated at Hogwarts and that the culprit will be removed from this school without delay.” She paused, looking around the room, her eyes resting on me for a little too long to be casual. “Very well, you may return to your dormitories.”
There was supressed uproar as movement swept through the crowd, a unanimous mass pushing towards the exit, eager to evacuate the office and indulge in the steaming serving of gossip that had just been delivered to them by an infallible source.
It was going to spread like wildfire, there was no doubt about it.
“Sam,” I whispered as we abandoned our chairs to follow the crowd of Prefects. I wasn’t eager to leave too close to the group considering the looks I had just received, yet it was hard to not be consumed by complete panic.
I turned my head at the sharp sound of my name – as did a couple of others – meeting Professor McGonagall’s eye. “A word, please.”
The leather of the chair squeaked awkwardly as I moved, echoing from the tall ceiling in the otherwise silent room. Katie’s jeans had slid down the moment I had taken a seat, revealing the bright blue flannel of my pyjama bottoms which seemed to mock the excessive glitter that covered my thighs.
I could hardly stand to look up at the intimidating display behind the desk: The four Heads of Houses and the headmistress, all focusing on me, now that the last student had left the office, closing the door with a thud.
Professor Flitwick caught my eye and gave me a weak but friendly smile. It was only a small gesture, but it gave me hope; maybe it wasn’t as bad as it looked right now.
“Miss Woodley,” McGonagall said, her voice slightly softer than before. “Have you noticed the absence of one of your roommates tonight?”
I shifted in the chair once more, holding on to the seat with my clammy hands as the room began to spin. Katie had been hurt. My best friend had been hurt and I needed to be with her.
“Is she OK? Can I see her?” I was flooded with blind panic, the sensation overpowering any other reasonable thought I might have had. My outburst was met with blank stares, however, and McGonagall and Flitwick exchanged a brief, albeit mildly confused look.
“Miss Mussegross will be fine. A little bedrest and she’ll be on her feet again.”
I blinked, taking in the small form of Professor Flitwick as he stood wedged between ample Horace Slughorn and the towering Professor Longbottom, allowing his words to roll around in my head. A sudden sense of relief washed over me, yet it was overshadowed by the twinge of guilt I felt on behalf of Ursula; the mere thought of her turning to drugs seemed simply outrageous.
“Which,” McGonagall said in an unmistakably trenchant tone which tore into my thoughts, “does not render the circumstances any less severe.” She put a long, slender finger to her temple and began to massage it by drawing small circles.
I watched her for a moment and, as the fog of wild panic lifted and allowed my mind to operate properly again, I suddenly saw this gathering for what it really was; I hadn’t been held back to discuss anyone’s welfare or give information on my dorm mates’ whereabouts; I had been asked – or rather made – to stay not because I was a witness but because I was the prime suspect.
“I am sorry to say that – considering recent events – the school had to take appropriate actions.”
There wasn’t much time to ponder the implication of McGonagall’s statement. As if on cue, the idly crackling fireplace had lit up, emerald flames licking the mantelpiece as though they were trying to escape their confines. Within seconds, a large lump had settled in the pit of my stomach, and I wrapped my clammy hands around the armrests of my chair as I stared at the revolving mass that had appeared in the green fire.
They had told my family.
For a moment, I imagined them – all of them – striding out of the flames, looking haughty and dignified; a united front against the girl who had once again managed to single-handedly shame the entire family. But as the revolving particles materialized, I realised that it was only one person who stepped into the round office:
“Mrs Woodley.” McGonagall greeted her with a stiff nod, motioning for her to come in. It was a superfluous gesture since my mother had already entered the office, looking impeccable as usual in a sleek, all-black outfit, dark red painted lips, and her blond hair pinned up in a smooth chignon. Even when I had been little I had understood that – to outsiders – she had the sort of look that screamed money and class at once and I was not surprised to see the Heads of Houses shrink a little in her presence.
“Headmistress,” she replied in an equally formal fashion and I noticed that she was holding a folded piece of parchment in her hand, filled with familiar green writing.
“I see you have received my letter.”
“Apparently.” She leaned slightly against the mantelpiece, not losing her elegant posture as she met McGonagall’s gaze, crossing her slender arms in front of her torso. It almost looked as though she was bored to be here, which probably wasn’t the kind of reaction the headmistress had expected from a parent whose only child stood accused of running an illegal potions ring.
However, being an expert at reading Woodley code, I knew that aloof coolness was my family’s way of screaming at the top of their lungs.
McGonagall frowned; she looked strained – even exhausted – yet intimidating in her dark, ornament-free robes that made her seem even taller than usual.
“Very well then,” she said, turning back to me without paying my mother any more attention. “Miss Woodley, is there anything you want to tell us?”
It sounded as though she was expecting an apology – a confession even – and I felt a surge of reckless anger burn in my chest. Every bad thing that had happened to me this year; every outrageous accusation, every humiliation seemed to suddenly melt into one gigantic lump of rage that pulsated in the back of my head, waiting to explode. Hogwarts – the place I had called home for almost six years – had turned against me.
I wanted to scream. A number of expletives had popped into my head, queuing for the mental breakdown that seemed inevitable at this point but, before I could act on the irresponsible impulse, it suddenly hit me.
“That’s not the effect of Euphoria.”
There was a stifled murmur coming from the shadowed walls; behind an indignant Professor McGonagall, the four professors shuffled their feet uncomfortably at my bluntness, but I was too wound up to care.
“Euphoria makes you giddy and binged up - not reckless, let alone suicidal. No amount of Euphoria would ever cause someone to deliberately jump from a balcony, unless…”
McGonagall’s lips transformed into a thin, straight line as she seemed to consider her answer, but comprehension dawned on me long before she finally spoke.
“It seems the potion was not brewed correctly.” She glanced at Slughorn before regaining her icy composure. “I don’t see how that matters, however.”
For a moment, my heart sank. She was right, of course. It hardly seemed to matter whether the potion had been contaminated; if anything, it only made the situation worse and I realised that this was never going to be over. It was never going to stop. After tonight, not only the entire school would be buzzing with yet another rumour about that loony Woodley girl who dealt with illegal potions, but also my family would have heard. And if – by some miracle – I was not suspended or, worse, expelled tonight – there was no way the Woodleys would forgive me this time. Because even though I had underestimated them before, there was only so much shame this family could take.
“Is this a joke?” My mother’s voice suddenly rung out loud and clear, commanding the room’s attention like a spell. I stared at her, my heart beating in my ears as I watched the dancing flames casting intriguing patterns onto her black trousers, making it even harder to look away. “Elizabeth could brew Euphoria in her third year at Hogwarts. Perfectly so. Horace?”
“Oh yes!” Slughorn agreed without skipping a beat, ignoring the disapproving glare of Professor Longbottom. “She did indeed, I remember. Quite impressive at that age but, of course, only a trifle for someone as talented as Miss Woodley.” He winked at me; almost as though we were in the middle of a rather challenging Potions lesson and I had answered a difficult question.
“So basically,” my mother continued, walking slowly into the room until she stood next to me, her hand finding my shoulder, “you are accusing my daughter – who has managed to make a potion which most seven years fail to accomplish, at the age of twelve – of brewing and dealing with illegal substances that are obviously made by someone who has only a vague grasp of what they are doing. Excuse me, but this is simply ridiculous.”
The silence that followed my mother’s words felt heavy yet charged; I could feel her fingers digging into my shoulder – almost as though she was holding on to me for support – but the expression on her face was as relaxed and cool as ever. She could have been welcoming guests at one of her charity events, really.
“Mrs Woodley has a point, Minerva,” Professor Flitwick said, breaking the buzzing silence. “And as her Head of House I have to say that it seems very unlikely that Miss Woodley would ever do such a thing.”
“Well said, old chap!” Professor Slughorn gave Flitwick a jovial pat on the back that almost sent the tiny wizard to the floor. “Well said!” He beamed as though he was at a party, ready to crack open a fine bottle of Odgen’s Old Firewhisky and I felt a surge of appreciation for the two teachers.
“Well then,” my mother sighed, her tone once again akin to boredom as she addressed McGonagall for the last time, “if this is all, I would ask you to let my daughter return to her dormitory, which, incidentally, our family has supplied with generous funds among many other institutions at Hogwarts. She has a long school day ahead of her and needs her sleep.”
The door to the hidden stairwell sealed itself behind us with a dull rumble and my lungs expanded as I let the cold air of the droughty castle stream through my body. It felt as though I had been holding my breath for the past hour and I salvaged the prickling feeling in my chest as I inhaled the cold.
“So… you know everything?” I glanced at my mother and noticed that her chignon had loosened, allowing a few stray strands of blond hair to escape the once tight up-do. She looked exhausted and I felt like the most horrible daughter in the world. Once again I had proven just how much of a disgrace I was to our family.
“I do.” She combed her hair back with her fingers before giving me a small smile. “I don’t think anyone else has to, however.”
I watched her for a moment, not sure what to say; there was a lump swelling in my throat, constricting my airways. I wanted to tell my mother that I hadn’t done any of the terrible things I had been accused of tonight; instead, I let myself slump against the cold stone wall, crumpling like parchment in the fire.
“I don’t know if I can do this any longer.” I swallowed in an attempt to ease the pressure that had built in my throat; it felt like it had been there for months, hanging around my neck like a noose, tightening slowly until I would suffocate.
“Elizabeth.” Her voice was soft, like it had been the day Cinnamon the tote had vanished from our pond, and I knew what she was going to say; that I was a Woodley and that I had to be strong.
But I didn’t want to hear any of it.
“I know, a Woodley never quits and all that, but I’m not – I’m not like that.” I shook my head, blinking as my eyes watered, and quickly brushed the tears off my face, feeling even more inadequate. “Don’t tell grandma that I cried, please.”
It grew silent for a moment in which I frantically tried to stop myself from dissolving into tears, which, oddly, only seemed to make it worse. The mixture of being both angry and self-pitying at the same time apparently didn’t exactly help to bring out the best in me.
“I was nineteen when I married your father,” my mother suddenly said, leaning against the wall next to me. “We knew each other from Hogwarts, of course. Our families had been pushing us together since we had been fourteen. It never would have occurred to me to rebel against my parents, against tradition. I was happy about marrying into such a good family, about having a husband and being a wife.”
“Mum,” I sighed as I realised where this conversation was going. “We’ve talked about this, I-“
“No,” She looked up. “You don’t understand. I might not say this enough but I am so proud of you. Of the way you stand up for yourself. Of everything you do.” She smiled. “Well, maybe except for kissing the Potter boy in the Ministry phone booth.”
I grimaced, hoping that the colour on my cheeks wouldn’t show in the dim light of the corridor. “Yeah, that wasn’t my greatest moment.”
“Well, he is quite handsome.”
I could feel my mother’s eyes on me, scrutinizing me as I stared at my shoes like they were something marvellous. “Some might think so, I guess.”
“So… you’re not…?”
“No. Definitely not. He is…” I bit my lip as I tried to ban the image of a smirking James Potter from my mind, “…not my type.”
My mother nodded, although I couldn’t tell if it was because she believed me or because she didn’t. When she spoke again, however, it wasn’t about James Potter.
“The Woodleys aren’t perfect. We have our flaws as does any family. But if we did something wrong, we own it. And if we didn’t, we fight.”
I turned my head to look at her and couldn’t help but smile at the fierce look on her face. “Why can’t we be a little less dramatic? You know, a little mollycoddling would be nice for a change.”
“Wrong family, I’m afraid.” She laughed and pushed herself off the wall, holding her hand out to me. “Come on, you need some sleep.”
I wanted to protest, but the moment my mother had mentioned the word sleep, my body suddenly seemed to realise that it was indeed aching for some rest, and so I took her hand and let her pull me to my feet, fully aware that I would leave a smudge of glitter on the wall.
There really was no way around it; I was going to fight.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait. Writer's block is not my friend :). I hope you enjoyed the chapter despite the lack of a certain J.P. but I promise he will feature prominently in the upcoming chapter which takes us the annual Hogwarts Valentine's Dance.
As always I want to emphazise how much your reviews mean to me. They are my motivation to write on days when I get home from work and feel like doing nothing but watching Netflix. You guys are amazing and the reason I am still writing this story. I seriously couldn't do it without you! :)
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