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Chapter 8 : An Educated Meltdown
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“It’s too early for physical activity,” she whined just loudly enough so that Professor Lupin, who had marched onto the pitch with a horde of unmanned broomsticks following him obediently, would not hear her. Today, his ever-changing hair was ice blue, almost white, and despite the long sleeves of his vest, it was possible to discern his muscular arms.
“That’s my Jack Frost daydreams come true right there,” Katie murmured and quickly adjusted her sequined hairband, which gleamed in the sunlight. She wasn’t the only one, either; at the sight of Professor Lupin, most of the good dozen girls that were huddled at the side-lines of the field, began to pull on their unflatteringly wide Hogwarts jerseys and vigorously fluffed up their hair. Their behaviour was quite understandable; Ted Lupin, a student teacher who had been entrusted with the unloved but compulsory subject of Physical Education, was barely older than us and undeniably handsome.
“Alright ladies!” He smiled dazzlingly, the broomsticks now hovering next to him like a swarm of bees. “Since we are blessed with great weather this morning, I thought a bit of flying practice would be fun.” He sounded chipper but at the sight of a dozen unenthusiastic faces, his expression faltered a little. “I promise, it is going to be fun, OK? Now everybody grab a broom.”
Almost immediately, the usual rush on the pile of broomsticks broke out, in which everyone struggled to get hold of one that was not yet dented or broken or a falling hazard. Katie and I hung back deliberately, watching Demeter Notte – who was particularly ruthless – jamming her elbow into Morgana Evenberg’s stomach when Lupin wasn’t looking.
“What are you going to tell Slughorn?” Katie asked quietly as the crowd around the broomsticks dispersed gradually and we were left to choose from the saddest bunch of brooms Hogwarts could offer.
“I don’t know yet,” I sighed, examining the pitiful excuse for a broomstick I had just picked up. The brushwood was rather thin and brittle and the handle, which was patched up with flaky pieces of Spellotape, had definitely seen better times as well. “Maybe he doesn’t ask.”
“You still have to say something.”
“I know,” I groaned as we returned to the side-lines, joining everybody else. I knew that Katie was right; I needed to tell Professor Slughorn that Potter had not shown up for the scheduled potions tutorial on Saturday but despite the fact that I did not care if James Potter got into trouble, I was not particularly keen on ratting him out either. It was quite the dilemma.
“OK, listen up, girls!” Lupin shouted loudly, silencing the chatting crowd, “We are going to play Capture the Flag, so I need two teams.” He made a kind of ploughing motion with his hands, dividing the group in the middle. There were a few unhappy protests of those who had been separated from their friends but Lupin ignored the complaints easily, continuing with his instructions. “You know the rules. The team that finds and captures the flag first, wins. No foul play! That means no hexing, no hitting, no spitting – yes, I am looking at you, Maude – and absolutely no hair pulling.”
“Um, Ted?” Demeter said in a sickly sweet voice, “I mean, Professor Lupin,” she giggled and looked around at her equally giggling girlfriends, “could you help me with my broomstick? I never know how to mount it properly.”
“Jesus,” Katie moaned and rolled her eyes at the sight of Demeter clinging to Lupin as he held down the broom for her to mount. It looked almost comical but, of course, no one dared to laugh and I quickly turned away, focusing instead on Hagrid’s hut, where thick clouds of smoke were billowing from the chimney.
“Have you heard from Albus?” Katie asked in a would-be casual voice, playing with a loose twig on her broom. I knew she had been dying to ask this question, yet she pretended as though it was absolutely random.
“Nope,” I replied, shrugging my shoulders. It wasn’t entirely true; I had actually caught a glimpse of him in the corridor yesterday, but, upon seeing me, he had abruptly changed direction and walked away without a word. I couldn’t even blame him. The image of me lamely patting his arm was quite vivid in my mind and it somehow seemed to get more embarrassing the more I thought about it.
“Well,” Katie sighed as nonchalantly as possible, giving me a small smile “whatever, right?”
“Yes,” I returned her smile thankfully, “whatever.”
The glitter particles that stuck to my teal quill glittered excitingly as I turned it in my hand absentmindedly. The Potions classroom was, as usual, filled with intriguing smoke but, having just returned from an emergency Prefect meeting, I had nothing to do but to stare at Katie’s slowly bubbling potion.
“Seriously?” She raised her eyebrows at me, her face hidden behind thin, pinkish wafts of smoke that smelled strongly of leather-bound books and dewy grass.
“Yes,” I replied under my breath to avoid being overheard, “but only the Prefects are supposed to know, so…”
“Sure.” Katie nodded enthusiastically. The news that a batch of dried Caleria roots and a flask with Gravida essence had been stolen from Slughorn’s personal cabinet, had demanded her full attention. Strictly speaking, the Prefect regulation prohibited the repetition of any of the topics that were discussed in our meetings – especially those that were as delicate as this – however, I knew I could trust Katie to not blab.
“But that means,” she said in a hushed tone, stopping briefly as Professor Slughorn passed our table, “that means someone is trying to brew a pregnancy test?”
“Probably,” I confirmed, watching her stew the bubbling substance in her cauldron that now had taken on a beautiful mother-of-pearl sheen.
“Oh my god,” Katie whispered, barely able to keep the excitement out of her voice, “Who do you think it is?” She looked around the room expectantly as though she was hoping the possibly pregnant thief would somehow reveal herself to her.
“Honestly, I don’t even want to know,” I continued in a low voice, careful to not attract Slughorn’s attention, “McGonagall was livid. She instructed all the Prefects to keep their eyes and ears open and to report to her immediately if they hear anything.”
“Time is up!” Slughorn suddenly announced in his booming voice, interrupting our whispered conversation. “You know the drill: Fill a vial with a sample of your potion and bring it to my desk!”
I watched Katie ladle some of the fragrant potion into a small glass bottle and corking it carefully. “Have you decided what you are going to do?” She nodded towards Slughorn’s ample form, striding up and down in the front. “I mean, because of –“
“No,” I sighed, pushing around the leftover rose thorns next to Katie’s cauldron. My plan had been to just duck out of the class and hope that Slughorn would never mention James Potter again, but I seemed to be out of luck; even as Katie and I had prepared to leave, I bumped into something very soft, just to find a beaming Professor Slughorn blocking my only escape route.
“Miss Banks,” he addressed Katie good-naturedly, “May I borrow Miss Woodley for a moment? I promise it won’t take too long.”
“Um, sure.” Katie gave me a wide-eyed look before turning on the spot and filing out behind the other students. Slughorn waited until the room was completely empty before he finally cleared his throat and gave me a benevolent smile.
“Miss Woodley,” he began seriously and for a second I still nursed the tiny flicker of hope that he was just going to tell me I had to make up for this lesson, which I had missed because of the Prefect meeting. “I just wanted to ask how the tutoring lesson went.”
I shifted uncomfortably, trying to somehow delay my answer. I had not planned on telling on James Potter but I was surely not going to lie for him, either. I supposed that he usually got away with quite a lot, being surrounded by people who were eager to take the Bludger for him in the hopes of attracting his attention. It was quite pathetic and I had decided that I was not going to take any part in this.
“Well-“ I started bravely just to be immediately interrupted by Slughorn again.
“Of course, James told me how well you two got along.”
I blinked dumbfounded, only staring at the plump professor for a few seconds. “What?” I finally blurted out, hardly able to keep the surprise out of my voice.
“Oh yes,” Slughorn chortled, “it seems the two of you hit it off, haven’t you?”
My brain was wiped blank. Either Slughorn had had one too many of Rosmerta’s oak matured mead or – and this was much more likely – James Potter had lied. He had lied blatantly about attending a tutoring lesson he had never even shown up to and, what was worse, had recklessly dragged me into this as well. Did he just expect me – a random girl he had never even talked to – to blindly go along with this? I couldn’t do this; I was not going to lie for James Potter.
“Professor,” I said a little too quickly, feeling the nerves in my body tingle, “About that tutoring lesson-“
“Yes, yes. I greatly appreciate your effort, Miss Woodley. Of course, I knew you would be just perfect for the job,” Slughorn beamed at me again, “Have you arranged to meet again yet?”
“Oh, um, no we-“ I stammered helplessly just to be interrupted once again.
“Would Saturday morning suit you? Nine o’ clock after breakfast?”
“Nine o’clock?” I repeated lamely, struggling to regain composure. This whole situation was getting out of hand.
“Excellent!” Slughorn, who had obviously mistaken my lack of protest as some kind of approval, had pulled a scruffy diary and a swatted quill from his cloak pocket and began to scribble something in miniscule writing. “I will let James know to meet you here. Now, don’t let me keep you any longer, Miss Woodley,” he said, stuffing the book back into his cloak, “I see you tomorrow.”
For a moment, I could not move; I only stood there, watching Slughorn walk back to his desk to prepare for his next class. This could not be happening. I needed to say something; to clarify.
“Yes, my dear?” He had turned around, looking at me with a soft expression on his chubby face. I only stared at him for a moment, feeling my determination falter. I couldn’t do it after all.
“Oh, um, nothing. Sorry. I’ll just – I’ll go.” I turned on the spot and began to speed-walk towards the door, heat rising to my face. I might have inherited my family’s tendency to hold grudges but I surely lacked the Woodley bluntness; I wasn’t blunt or brave at all, I was a pathetic coward.
The heap of scrambled eggs on my plate looked positively disgusting after I had pushed it around for a good half-hour, unable to take even a small bite. Around me, the Great Hall was bustling with people and the clinking of dishes rose into the coffee-scented air. Usually, Saturday mornings were my absolute favourites at Hogwarts but today all I really wanted to do was to crawl back into my bed, pull the blanket over my head and stay there until the day was over.
“OK that’s enough.” Katie had reached out, taking away my scrambled eggs so that my fork stabbed the wooden table instead. “Has your mother never told you to not play with your food?”
I looked up at my best friend, my fork still hovering pointlessly above the table. “Are you kidding me? I wasn’t even allowed to move my lips too much during meals. My grandmother called it useless fidgeting. You try chewing without moving your lips!”
“OK, let’s forget about your weirdo family and focus on your foul mood,” Katie said business like, snatching the fork out of my hand. “Just do yourself a favour and don’t overthink; just this once, please.”
“I don’t overthink,” I protested immediately, feeling profoundly misunderstood, “I just don’t want to spend half of my Saturday with stinking Potter, that’s all.” It was the truth; I really did not want to see James Potter; most of all because I had no idea how I was supposed to act. Did I confront him with the lie he had told to Slughorn? Did I just pretend that nothing had happened? And what if Slughorn realised I had been lying about that tutoring lesson?
“Seth, I can literally hear your synapses humming,” Katie interrupted my train of thoughts, staring at me with raised eyebrows. “Just stop it, OK?”
“Fine,” I mumbled listlessly, grabbing my enormous book-filled cotton bag from the floor, “I have to go anyway. In case I don’t return I have probably been expelled.”
“OK,” Katie sang cheerfully, buttering a fresh scone before waving her knife in a farewell gesture, “have fun!”
“Sure,” I grumbled unenthusiastically and then followed a group of tiny boys out of the Great Hall. I still had not made up my mind about what I was going to say to James Potter – or if I was going to say anything – but this lie I had slithered into, gave me quite an uneasy feeling, making my stomach ache.
Lost in thoughts, I turned the corner of the daylight flooded corridor, not expecting to meet anyone on my way down to the dungeons on a Saturday morning. However, after I had walked a few steps, a girly giggle suddenly echoed from the high walls, mingled with a squelching sound, and as I looked up to see where the noises had come from, I realised that I had just walked in on a vigorously snogging couple: Tightly wrapped as though melted together, Albus Potter was leaning against one of the tall Gothic windows, holding a petite brunette in his arms. They both stared at me like startled deer, obviously not having expected to be disturbed in this secluded spot, and I suddenly felt like an intruder.
“Oh, um, sorry – I – I didn’t - ,“ I began to stammer helplessly, racking my brain for the right words to say, but they just wouldn’t come.
“Seth,” Albus finally managed to say in an odd voice, detangling himself a little from the girl he had just been snogging a few seconds ago. The entire situation felt absurd and uncomfortable; why on earth did I have to walk in on this?
“You know each other?” The girl asked perkily and gave me a bright smile. She was very pretty with her olive complexion and smooth brown hair that contrasted well with her cream-coloured dress. Somehow I couldn’t help feeling a little shabby in my loose black T-shirt, which I had tucked sloppily into my high waisted skinny jeans this morning.
“Um, yes, we have met. Briefly,” I answered, feeling idiotic all of a sudden, “I’ll just – I’ll go.” I gestured vaguely down the corridor behind me, trying to muster a smile. I wasn’t sure if it had worked, however, since my facial muscles felt oddly frozen. This was really uncomfortable.
“Seth,” Albus started again in a tone that made me feel quite pathetic, though I wasn’t sure why. Probably because I was still standing there lamely, staring at them like a creep.
“Well, I guess I see you around,” I said in an unnaturally random voice, “or, well, not. You know, whatever.” I shrugged unnecessarily and gave them the most nonchalant wave I could produce, before turning on the spot and quickly walking away. I was fully aware that I was walking into the opposite direction of where I should be headed, yet I did not slow down until I had reached a forsaken side corridor, which I sometimes used as a shortcut to get to Ancient Runes.
My cheeks were glowing as I climbed down a narrow staircase, feeling the cool air from the dungeons tingling on my hot skin. I wasn’t entirely sure why I had run off like this, most of all into the wrong direction. I was already late for the tutoring lesson and now I had to take a different, longer route to the potions classroom, which would delay me even further.
I began to jog down one of the torch-lit corridors, feeling the strap of my heavy bag cutting unpleasantly into my shoulder. My awkward encounter with Albus had somehow caught me off guard and I had completely forgotten to worry about James and tutoring and Slughorn for a moment. Now, however, as I was nearing the potions classroom, I felt the tension crawling back up my spine like a spindly beetle. If there was one thing I absolutely did not need right now, it was definitely James Potter.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I muttered to myself as I pushed open the classroom door; it was pitch black and, by the looks of it, completely empty.
The universe really had a rubbish sense of humour.
So he had done it again. Prick. Seriously, how could someone actually be that inconsiderate? Against my better judgement, I had waited for almost half an hour for Potter to show up – again – only to feel like a complete idiot for actually thinking he might. He was probably laughing his arse off with his super-cool friends at this very moment, joking about that stupid 6th year that had once again dragged ten pounds worth of books down to the dungeons through the entire castle.
“Hey, Seth!” Bernice’s strong hand clapped my shoulder and for a moment I thought I would collapse from the sheer force. She had streamed out of the Great Hall with a couple of other Ravenclaw players, some of them wearing parts of their Quidditch attire. “Where did you come from?”
“Oh, um, library,” I lied to avoid lengthy explanations; unfortunately my face didn’t want to play along and turned pink immediately. “Where are you headed?” I asked quickly, trying to steer the conversation as far away from me as possible. “Quidditch practice?”
Bernice snorted, along with a few others. “We wish. The pitch has been booked for the entire day.” She exchanged knowing looks with her teammates. “Potter’s got some special treatment again, of course.”
“Wait, what?” I stopped walking immediately, causing Bernice to bump into me. “Did you say Potter?”
“Um, yes?” Bernice looked perplexed. “Why?”
My mind failed to register her question; instead, I felt a soft ping somewhere close to my temples and something seemed to snap. “I’m sorry, there is something I have to do,” I mumbled quickly as I turned on the spot, leaving Bernice and her confused-looking friends behind. They probably thought I was a nutcase but at that moment I could not care less.
As I left the castle, my thoughts were whirring, white-hot anger burning in my stomach. Who the hell did Potter think he was? Did he think this was funny? Determinedly, I marched down towards the Quidditch pitch, ignoring the unpleasant feeling of soggy earth seeping into my shoes through the cut-out bits in my Chelsea boots. I had no idea what I was doing, neither did I have a plan; yet I couldn’t stop. The dislike I felt for Potter seemed to blank out every ounce of reason or caution in my body, propelling me forwards so that I suddenly found myself right at the edge of the pitch; and before I could stop myself, I had opened my mouth:
“Oi, Potter!” I yelled as I marched directly towards the small group of people in the middle of the field. Most of them were staring at me by now, but for the first time in my life, I actually didn’t care.
“Uh-oh,” Freddie Weasley said with a smirk on his face, putting a hand on James’ shoulder, “looks like you forgot to call someone after last night, mate.”
James shook his head, though with an undeniably amused expression on his face. “I swear, I don’t even know who that is.”
“Well, you wouldn’t, wouldn’t you?” I heard myself speak but my voice sounded foreign and far away, as though I was listening to an entirely different person.
Potter simply smiled wryly, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Yeah, listen. Whoever you are, this is going way too far. You’re not the first one who has some weird obsession with me so just go find the others and, I don’t know, start a club or something.”
Everyone around me began to laugh and I could feel the heat rising to my cheeks. The anger I felt at Potter’s smug arrogance, however, easily overpowered the feeling of humiliation that was pushing against the surface.
“You think I’m stalking you?” I asked in disbelieve, ignoring the continued sniggering around me.
“Nooo,” Freddie said very slowly and in a tone that suggested he was talking to a mentally unstable toddler, “You are his girlfriend, right?” Everyone exploded with laughter again and I felt angry tears stinging in the corners of my eyes.
I could not start to cry. Not now. Not in front of James Potter.
Pulling myself together, I straightened up and looked at Potter with as much defiance as I could muster. “Here!” I had slid my cotton bag that was bursting with books, from my shoulder and thrust it directly into his hands. He gasped, probably from the unexpected impact of the ten-pound-bag, but grabbed it nonetheless, apparently too nonplussed to react any other way. The others had taken a few steps backwards, probably thinking I was going to run amok.
“Knock yourself out,” I said, unexpectedly aloof, “and tell Professor Slughorn to find you another idiot to help you with potions.”
A sliver of comprehension seemed to appear on Potter’s face, but I didn’t even care anymore. Holding my head high, I turned around and walked off the pitch, trying not to listen to the hail of catcalls and teasing ‘meows’ that followed me even after I had left the stadium.
As soon as I was sure to be out of sight, I broke into a light jog, which immediatelly turned into a genuine run. What the hell had got into me? This wasn’t me. At all. Yet I had just publicly humiliated myself in front of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. By tonight I was probably going to be the laughingstock of the entire school.
Out of breath and weak-kneed, I finally collapsed behind greenhouse four, an abundance of thoughts chasing each other in my head. At least I could be sure now that I would never have to lie for James Potter again.
A/N: Soooh what do you think? I am eternally grateful for every review, comment, word, emoji, or letter you leave me! AND thanks to all the wonderful people who have taken the time to review my last chapters! Every single comment seriously made my day! :)
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