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Chapter 10 : The Potter Complication
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I was scribbling frantically on a piece of paper as I walked down the overcrowded corridor, regularly bumping into other people as I progressed. My parents probably wouldn’t be too happy with the sloppy reply letter, but, since I had had hall duty for most of my lunch break, I had barely found the time to finish it before my afternoon classes started.
“What are you doing?” Katie, who had been steering me through the crowd, asked, sounding somehow irritated. “Is that your Defence homework?” She laughed about her own joke but stopped immediately when I stalled, my mouth opened in shock.
“Oh no!” I slapped my hand against my forehead; in all this chaos two nights ago, I had completely forgotten to finish my Defence homework. Panic-fuelled, I dropped my bag to the ground and began to rummage for the book on shield charms and the half-finished essay. Maybe I could still add a couple of sentences before the class started.
“OK, stop that!” I heard Katie’s voice above me, “Seth, stop it!” I felt her hand grasp my elbow and with a strong pull, she had dragged me up from the floor. I tried to protest, but she didn’t listen and simply hauled me out of the corridor and into the nearest bathroom, closing the door behind us.
“What is going on?” She gave me a long, worried look. “The circles underneath your eyes grow darker every day and you have a bird’s nest in your hair that is the size of a saucer. You’ve been up before sunrise the past two days, yet you forget to do your homework. What is going on, Seth?”
I blinked, feeling my head ache as my sleep-deprived brain tried to cope with the task of inventing an answer. For two days already, I had been carrying around illegal potions ingredients, not wanting to leave them in the dorm room in case someone might find them. I still hadn’t had the heart to turn Sam in and I just could not involve anyone else in this mess; most of all not my best friend.
“Seth,” Katie said, somewhat calmer, after I had failed to come up with an answer. She looked actually concerned and I quickly averted my eyes; it felt wrong to not share this secret with her, yet I knew she was better off not knowing. “Are you going to talk to me at all?”
“Don’t worry, Kat. I’m alright.”
“Liar,” Katie said, fixating me with her gaze. She looked actually intimidating and I shifted uncomfortably under her knowing look.
“I can’t tell you,” I said finally, realising that there was no use in trying to deceive her, “you could get into trouble and I don’t want to pull you into this.”
Katie’s blue eyes widened and she took a step back. “Trouble? What trouble? Is it still because of James Potter?”
“No,” I sighed, shaking my head. I had known that Katie would not let go that easily. If anything, she looked more concerned than ever.
“Come on!” She urged, giving me a crooked grin. “Pull me into it!”
I couldn’t help smiling at that point, feeling warmth surging through my body, and as I retold the events of the last couple of days, it felt like a heavy weight dropped from my shoulders. I hadn’t even noticed how much energy it had cost me to keep all these secrets to myself until the moment I could share them with Katie.
“So,” she said, drawing out the last syllable, “basically you are in possession of incriminating objects, defy your duties as a prefect, protect the true culprit and his pregnant girlfriend and incidentally violate about a dozen school rules.”
I nodded, biting my bottom lip. “Yup. That about sums it up.”
Katie’s face lit up, a blazing look in her eyes as a broad smile curled her mouth. “This is so exciting. What are we going to do now?”
“Oh, um.” I shrugged my shoulders, hooking a chunk of hair behind my ear. I had asked myself the same question for two days now, not able to see any kind of solution. However, the moment Katie had asked, it seemed suddenly obvious that there had only ever been one thing to do. “I guess, I’ll try to brew the potion for Sam.”
I had never been more aware of my own movements than the moment I ambled up to Madame Pince’s desk, presenting her with a permission slip for the restricted section of the library, signed by Professor Flitwick. Katie, who had been trailing awkwardly in my wake, peered over my shoulder as the hawk-like librarian examined the piece of parchment against her table lamp as though she expected it to be a fake.
“This seems to be in order,” she finally said, albeit sounding rather wary, as she gave us an appraising look that oozed of mistrust. It was completely misplaced however; Flitwick had signed the permission form without even asking about the kind of books I was looking for or what project I was working on. It had almost been too easy.
“Good old Filius,” Katie sighed as she followed me to the very back of the vast library, her auburn curls flying out in all directions. Now that we had passed the last barrier, it suddenly seemed not only possible, but frighteningly easy to carry out our plan.
As expected, the restricted section was completely empty. In fact, it even looked much more gloomy and eerie than the rest of the library and I felt a cold shiver run down my back. I loved books, but something told me that there were some volumes in these shelves that even I would not want to pick up.
“Now what?” Katie whispered. “Is there a book on pregnancy tests?”
I shrugged, suddenly realising how clueless I was; we didn’t even know what we were supposed to be looking for. “Maybe we could search for books on healing?”
“Good idea,” Katie agreed and immediately began to browse the right shelf for suitable titles.
I dropped my bag and took on the opposite wall, running my finger over the fading leather spines as I went along. There was a strange humming sound that seemed to come from the books themselves; some of them seemed to be breathing clouds of dust, others felt unnaturally cold, and some even pulsated like living hearts.
As I had reached the end of the row, my finger had collected an admirable layer of dust and my initial hope abated. It was an impossible task; how were we supposed to find a book we didn’t even know among the unlabelled mass that filled the shelves of the restricted section.
“I got something! Ouch.” Katie was holding a ridiculously large book in her arms while sucking on her index finger. “It bit me.”
“Let’s see.” I helped her haul the monstrous book onto the wooden table in the middle of the room and swept the layer of dust from the cover. It was bound in thick, coarse leather that looked very much like dragon hide, with gilded embossed letters that glinted in the dim light.
“Ars Salvandi,” I murmured as I traced the sharp-edged letters with my fingers, “the art of healing.”
It was not easy to skim-read a book that was the size of a small kitchen table; most of all because the pages were unnaturally heavy and could only be turned with great effort. So far, we had discovered spells to feign a pregnancy, a potion that could influence the sex of a foetus, and multiple recipes to facilitate impregnation; however, the potion we were looking for, was nowhere to be found.
“This is pointless,” Katie moaned as she took a step back from the book, looking disgruntled. “Can’t we just use a spell?”
“I doubt that Accio pregnancy test potion instructions would work,” I said, leaning against the table and massaging my sore arms. I had meant it as a joke, but Katie’s eyes lit up.
“It’s worth a try,” she said as she snatched her wand from her bag and pointed it at the book. “Accio pregnancy test potion instructions!”
There was an unexpected dull plunk, but the book in front of us had remained motionless, not even so much as flinching at the spell.
“The corner,” Katie whispered, pointing at the far left corner of the restricted section, where a small but thick book had apparently fallen from the shelf, now lying open on the floor, its pages flipping rapidly as though moved by an invisible hand.
“That was unexpectedly easy,” I said, following Katie as she bent down over the ominous book. The page that had opened, showed the skilfully ornamented instructions for the Graviditas Potion.
“Look.” Katie pointed to the list of ingredients, which featured the dried Caleria roots and the Gravida essence; it was exactly the potion we had been looking for.
“This is it!” Katie gave me a triumphant smile and, for a moment, relief washed over me. This was actually going to work.
It was only when I read on that I realised, we had gotten our hopes up too soon. Besides the Gravida essence and the Caleria roots, the potion required other ingredients, which could hardly be found in a student’s potion supply. They weren’t needed in large quantities, but they were still vital to the brewing process. Even if we somehow managed to procure those ingredients – which was next to impossible with the extra security spells now placed on the potions cabinet – the potion still needed to be brewed over the course of almost three weeks. With all the teachers and prefects on their guards, there was absolutely no possible way to brew a potion that complex and keep it a secret.
“We’re screwed,” I sighed, leaning my back against the cold stone wall and let my body sink to the floor. Katie ran her hands over her curly hair, looking as frustrated as I felt.
A cold wind bit my cheeks as I crossed the courtyard, my thoughts still occupied with yesterday’s disappointment. Katie and I had stayed in the restricted section for hours, searching for alternatives for the Graviditas potion, until Madame Pince had shooed us away. Unfortunately, our attempts had been futile; there was absolutely nothing we could do.
“Elizabeth!” A voice suddenly broke through the howling wind, but I was too deep in thoughts to actually register that someone had been calling my name. After all, no one at Hogwarts actually called me Elizabeth; at least not the people I liked.
“Elizabeth! Elizabeth Woodley!”
I turned on the spot, scanning the few people that had ventured out into the courtyard in such a weather, and immediately saw the tall figure that was jogging towards me, carrying a bulging cotton bag. I was none other than James Potter.
“Great,” I mumbled to myself and, without really thinking about what I was doing, I turned around again and took up speed as I walked towards the castle entrance. Maybe I could still pretend I hadn’t heard him.
“Hey! Woodley!” He called out again, much closer this time. “Are you running away from me?” James Potter had cut off my escape route, coming to a halt right in front of me. His chest was heaving slightly and his dark brown hair was ruffled like he had just gotten out of bed. Even though classes weren’t over yet, he had rolled up the sleeves of his white uniform shirt and the red tie dangled limply around his loosened collar.
I bit the inside of my lip, suddenly awkwardly aware of my limbs. How was I ever going to get out of this without making a complete fool of myself; again.
“Are you not talking to me? You seemed rather chatty when you were yelling at me on the Quidditch pitch last week.” James raised his eyebrows and examined me with vague interest for a moment, before finally holding out the cotton bag to me. “I thought you might want your books back.”
“My books,” I said relieved, talking more to the cotton bag than to James. Maybe he wasn’t a complete jerk after all. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he stuffed his hands into his grey uniform trousers and I noticed a group of girls giggling ostentatiously as they walked past him. “Are you free tonight?”
“What?” I almost dropped my bag from shock as I stared at James, who simply grinned.
“The tutoring. For potions, remember?”
For a moment I only stared at him, thinking he was pulling my leg. He couldn’t actually be serious about this after standing me up twice and calling me a stalker in front of his friends.
“You’re kidding me,” I said, before being able to stop myself, “that is a joke, right?”
“Actually, no.” He gave me a crooked smile that had probably worked on many girls before. “I failed the last test and I can’t risk being banned from Quidditch, so…”
“No,” I said so quickly, I surprised myself. “No way. I’m sure there are plenty of others who can help you -“
“Probably,” James interrupted me as another gust of wind swept across the courtyard. A few people had abandoned their conversations to watch, not exactly trying to be subtle about their eavesdropping. I doubted they could hear anything over the howling storm, yet I felt thoroughly uncomfortable. “Unfortunately, I have been telling Sluggy how well we both worked together and now I can’t just ask for another tutor.”
“That’s hardly my problem,” I said in a lofty tone that was very unlike myself; in fact, it had shockingly reminded me of my grandmother and I quickly cleared my throat.
“Well, maybe not,” James said calmly, a small smile playing on his lips. He looked like someone, who had been challenged to a game and he was determined to win. “If you don’t mind the entire school knowing that you are the crazy stalker girl that tried to throw herself at me.”
“I did not!” I said indignantly, feeling a burst of anger in my stomach. My face felt hot and I knew I must have looked like a ripe tomato, but at that moment, I didn’t care. “You know I didn’t stalk you!”
James shrugged, his hands still in his pockets as he smiled at me, looking insufferably arrogant. For the fraction of a second, I felt the strong urge to throw my books at him, but I resisted the temptation; mostly because I would have felt sorry for my books.
The smug look on his face left no doubt that he thought he had hit a sore spot; weirdly, however, he hadn’t. As much as I had dreaded people talking about me last week, it had suddenly become absolutely meaningless. Maybe it was the anger I felt at Potter’s obnoxiousness, or the fact that there were so many other things on my mind, but at that moment, I couldn’t have cared less about school gossip.
“You know what?” I said, feeling a definite surge of pride at not letting Potter get to me. “I really don’t have time for this.”
“No, wait!” James said quickly, just as I made to walk away. The smug expression had been wiped from his face and he looked suddenly sincere. “Look, we both could profit from this situation.”
Against my better judgment, I stopped in mid-turn, frowning at him; this conversation had gone from weird to simply ridiculous. “Look, I really don’t-”
“Just, hear me out,” James pleaded, albeit still sounding rather smug. “You help me with potions and, in return, I’ll greet you in the corridors.”
I was still frowning when he had finished, looking at me like he had just offered me a very special treat. Either he was making fun of me, or he was having a stroke. “Just out of curiosity; in how far would this ‘arrangement’ be profitable to me?”
“People will think we’re hanging out, of course.” James raised his eyebrows at me, as though this should have been obvious.
“Why would I want that?”
“Oh, come on.” He smirked smugly, obviously very sure of himself. “Who wouldn’t want that?”
I blinked, unable to react for a moment. This couldn’t actually be happening. James Potter was officially the cockiest, most self-absorbed git I had ever met; and, being a Woodley, that meant something.
“Right,” I said, adjusting the straps of the heavy cotton bag on my shoulder, “good bye.” And with that, I simply turned around and walked away, leaving James Potter to stare after me as I left the courtyard.
“You did not!” Katie stared at me, her eyes wide with admiration.
“I did,” I said before stuffing a sticky biscuit into my mouth. Katie had just received a care package from her mother and we had spread the entire contents, which consisted of mostly sweets, on her bed, eating our way through the different kinds. “I don’t know how, though,” I managed to produce in between bites, “I never talk like that to anyone. Except for my family,” I added as an afterthought, grabbing a chocolate covered square of fudge.
“Interesting, though, how he seems to bring out that side of you,” Katie mused, popping an ominous-looking, green tartlet into her mouth.
I only shrugged, still chewing on the fudge that seemed to grow bigger in my mouth. “He’s just so urgh.” There was no other way to describe the effect James Potter had on me; everything about him, from his arrogant grin to his stupid messy hair, made me infinitely mad.
“I know what you mean,” Katie sighed, though she sounded rather dreamy than annoyed, “that jawline and that body –“
“Ew,” I said drily, making Katie throw a raisin biscuit at me in mock-indignation.
“Ew?” she said laughing, “You can’t tell me that you don’t think he is handsome.”
“I don’t.” I shrugged, picking another plain biscuit out of the shrinking pile.
“Liar!” Katie threw another biscuit but missed by several inches, hitting the window instead.
“I’m serious,” I said, leaning back against her bedpost. I could obviously tell that James Potter wasn’t exactly ugly, but that was it. “He’s just not my type.”
Katie raised one eyebrow, giving me a disbelieving look. “Are you kidding me? James Potter is everybody’s type.”
I shook my head laughing, before stretching my arms above my head. My neck was still sore and I felt exhausted; the last couple of days had been tiring and my body was yearning for a good night’s sleep. “Let’s forget about Potter,” I sighed, picking a weirdly shaped chocolate out of the pile. “What are we going to do about the ingredients?”
“I suppose we couldn’t just get rid of them?” Katie suggested hopefully, but I shook my head, dropping the chocolate back onto the bed.
I had considered this option before, of course, but the risk of being caught was simply too high. We couldn’t just throw them away; not with everybody still looking for the ingredients. Flitwick had placed regurgitating charms on all the toilets, bewitching them to chuck out everything that was not supposed to be flushed down, and I was sure that similar measures, regarding the grounds and the lake, had been taken as well.
“I guess that’s it huh?” Katie sighed, playing with a silver wrapper that she had peeled from a bonbon. I watched her for a second, the terrible thought that had bothered me for days already, pushing to the surface.
“What if I’ve made it a lot worse for Sam because I have kept it to myself for so long?”
“Hey, it’s not your fault, OK?” Katie said fiercely as she grabbed my hand. “You only wanted to help.”
I nodded, albeit half-heartedly, and pulled my legs to my torso, staring at the scattered pile of sweets and wrappers that littered Katie’s bed. The fact that I had failed so miserably, made me feel sick to my stomach. I had wanted to help Sam, but all I had done, was to make things worse for him and his girlfriend.
“Wait a moment!” Katie cried out so suddenly that I almost lost balance. She was kneeling on her matrass, her eyes wide as she stared at me with her arms outstretched in front of her, as though she was holding an invisible tray. “Wait. A. Moment.”
“What?” I said, staring at her empty hands. “What?”
A/N: So, finally James entered the scene again J I hope you enjoyed this chapter and, as always, I would love to hear your thoughts, feelings, complaints, etc. on it! I also want to thank all the awesome people who took the time to comment on my last chapter! You are all amazing and made me really, really happy.
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