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Chapter 22 : The Epoch of Incredulity
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Do your best to forget it and if you don’t succeed, at least pretend to.
This is what happened next:
Well, this is pure conjecture, because I wasn’t the one kissing Snorky Scamander, but this is what I observed:
Tegan didn’t seem totally engaged in the kissing thing…she was half-heartedly pushing Snorky away, as a reflex or something. Snorky kept right on kissing her, looking like a fish that had swallowed too many Weasley Wizard Wheezes’ Terribly Tart Toffees for Truly Trying Twits. (A sickle a dozen—no better value when it comes to poisoning your enemies with bitter sweets!)
So Snorky’s face was all puckered and wrong and Tegan was just standing there. The little fragments of my heart, which were all that remained after the first time she broke it, would have exploded into dust if, after several excruciating seconds, Tegan hadn’t smacked Snorky’s nose with her forehead and sprinted out of the Great Hall.
Let’s evaluate this with the method advocated by Mr Occam and his razor: Snorky kissed Tegan, Tegan headbutted Snorky, Snorky lost his balance and fell on Coby Fünke (who was dancing the Hippogriff), and Tegan did a runner.
Nothing happened the next day. Literally. Dawlish taunted me a bit during the Defence lesson, but that was simply business as usual.
Then it was Thursday, the day of the tryouts. It was slightly more eventful than Wednesday.
And by “slightly,” I mean that Thursday was exponentially more exciting than the day prior. Here is why:
Firstily, it was the first time any of us Gryffies had flown since November, or done anything requiring hand-eye coordination or imposing stress on our respective cardiovascular systems. This might have proven problematic, or at least hilarious, but…
Secondivly, the temperature of the Scottish Highlands in February generally reaches somewhere around absolute zero. It is very, very cold and windy and children should not be allowed to practise Quidditch in such conditions, but we were, so we did. I was dumbfounded that nearly two dozen Gryffindors showed up to vie for the vacant Chaser position, but not so dumbfounded when all but four had given up after only one hour and retreated to the castle, likely for something so nefarious as hot chocolate. The four prospective Gryffies that remained after the hour of intensive drills were dressed in layers and layers of woolly hats and socks and jumpers and coats, like any sensible warm-blooded person would, and none of them were truly terrible at Chasing. Picking one to complete the New and Improved Gryffies should not have been an overwhelming task, but…
Triunally, one of my Beaters was on the verge of synaptic breakdown. One guess, and it wasn’t Freddie!
I sort of understood why J.D. went so doolally on us, but mostly I didn’t.
‘Not Number 3!’ he said as we six Gryffies thawed in the lads’ changing room while deciding which prospect we would select as our new Arlie Shacklebolt.
‘I liked Number 3,’ said Mattie Thomas, the Keeper with a heart of gold. ‘Didn’t get a good look at his face, but he certainly has the strongest arm.’
‘Ideally, I’d like a girl,’ I said, shaking the excess snow from my mittens.
Micah snorted lazily. I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but he did.
‘That is sooooooooo like you, Cap’n Potty,’ said Micah Horowitz. ‘You’re always been sooooooooo cruel and derogatory towards women. I know I’m frequently referred to as the Misogynistic Gryffie, but that—’
‘Number 3 is a girl, but we’re not picking her,’ said J.D., pacing back and forth.
‘How can you even tell?’ asked Fred. ‘We all look like polar bears on broomsticks.’
‘Well, Number 3 is a lady polar bear,’ J.D. said quickly, ‘and I vote nay.’
Tegan had icicles hanging from her eyelashes. ‘Is this the part where I interject and call you a sexist pig, and you pretend there’s some other reason you hate Chaser Number 3?’
‘—and I was under the impression that your kind, Poncey Potter,’ continued Micah, not at all discouraged that no one was listening to him, ‘preferred gentlemen to the ladyfolk, but perhaps you’d like to minimise sexual tension—’
‘Thank you, Tegan. Right on cue,’ said J.D. dryly. ‘To address your concerns: Yes, I am a sexist pig, woman, and yes, there is some other reason why I feel that Chaser Number 3 should not join our team.’
‘Let’s look at the List and figure out who Chaser Number 3 actually is,’ I said, all cap’ny. ‘Llewellyn, if you will?’
I had barely spoken to Tegan since the…urgh, incident…despite her numerous attempts to confront me and offer an explanation or make penance or something. I simply did not want to hear it: She and Snorky Scamander could do as they wished, and any romantic trysts (ewwww!) were none of my business. But if Tegan admitted to the torrid affair, then how could I avoid acknowledging it?
‘Pardon?’ said Tegan, sitting on the floor by Freddie. ‘You have the List, James.’
I hesitated. ‘No, I believe you are mistaken.’
‘I believe you are a homosexual who commits hate crimes against Muggle-borns,’ said Micah.
‘I saw you put it in your pocket!’ said Tegan to me. ‘Right after you assigned numbers to all the Gryffie wannabes.’
‘Well, I’m 63 per cent certain that I don’t have the List,’ I said.
‘I’m 100 per cent certain that you don’t have a soul,’ said Micah.
‘Oi!’ said Freddie. ‘How counterproductive is this conversation? J.D., you must know who this mysterious Number 3 is, considering you hate her so much. Who is it, then?’
‘Come off it, James!’ said Tegan. ‘I hope you have temporary amnesia, cos the goddamn List is definitely in your pocket!’
Then she jumped up in a huff and sat beside me on the bench, and with a remarkable amount of audacity even for Tegan, stuck her hand in the pocket of my snowboarding trousers and began rummaging for the List.
I admittedly do not know what this “snowboarding” business is (I presume it’s similar to waterboarding), but my mummy bought these trousers for me so I wouldn’t die from hypothermia during February Quidditch. They are warm and water-resistant and puffy like a marshmallow and I love them, my snowboarding trousers. Snowboarding pantaloons, if you will.
Judging by Fred, J.D., Mattie, and Micah’s expressions, they were also unnerved when Tegan stuck her hand in my pocket.
‘Aha!’ exclaimed Tegan after a time, extracting a piece of folded parchment from my trousers and bouncing a few inches away from me. ‘You had it the whole time, did’nja Potter?’
‘I guess so?’ I said as she unfolded the List. ‘Not on purpose…I’m too tired right now, I honestly thought I’d given it to you…’
‘Too tired from your homosexual encounters?’ Micah interjected. ‘Exhausted from burning Muggle-born heroes like Colin Creevey in effigy as part of your campaign to resurrect blood prejudice in our society? Remembuary, remembuary the twelfth of February…I forget how the rest of it goes.’
‘Your homophobia is out of order, Michers,’ said J.D. ‘It’s harassment, plain and simple. But do keep up the militant Muggle-born rhetoric, cos it’s what J.S. deserves for calling you a you-know-what.’
‘Tegan,’ whinged Fred, his eyes barely open. ‘What does the frucking List say?’
Tegan peered at the parchment. ‘Shit, how did you even recognise her, J.D.? In her polar bear ensemble, I mean.’
J.D. sighed. ‘I could recognise her wearing twenty polar bear ensembles, unfortunately.’
‘WHO THE HELL IS CHASER NUMBER 3?’ me, Freddie, Mattie, and Micah shouted more or less in unison.
‘Rose,’ said Tegan and J.D. more or less in unison, though with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Then Fred asked the obvious question. ‘Rose who?’
‘Do you even have to ask?’ said Tegan.
‘I think he does, cos it’s a terribly common name,’ I said.
‘Rose Weasley,’ said J.D., utterly aghast.
Freddie and I just stared at each other for a while, communicating in our secret telepathic Weasley way. It’s something all blood Weasleys can do.
‘Hold on…Rose Weasley has been good at Quidditch for all this time?’ Mattie thought aloud.
‘Brilliant,’ said Micah with actual sincerity. ‘Having another Weasley couldn’t hurt, yeah? J.D., why so stroppy? Rosie’s your girlfriend! In theory, at least, you’re s’posed to like your girlfriend!’
J.D. rolled his eyes. ‘Course I like Rosie, it’s just…I dunno how to explain it, alright? She didn’t even tell me she was trying out for Quidditch or that she played at all, and then suddenly she’s there, on my pitch dressed like an arctic ursid, throttling Quaffles at Mattie and actually being good and ARGH! It’s just strange, comprende?’
‘No comprende, as a matter of fact,’ said Tegan. ‘You don’t want your girlfriend playing Quidditch, or just playing on your team?’
‘You’re twisting everything I said!’ said J.D. ‘I’m just surprised that Rosie didn’t tell me about her Quidditch aspirations. It’s something I’d obviously find relevant. She’s always going on about honesty and truth and not lying and I’d just like to know why she didn’t think that she could tell me that she was trying out for my Quiddith team!’
‘Great, then we can vote her on the team,’ said Mattie Thomas. ‘It’ll be nice to have another Gryffie my age.’
‘And Rose is a girl, which will meet James’s quota, or something,’ said Tegan.
‘Oi, Freddie and the Poofter!’ said Micah. ‘Stop the Weasley Telepathy so we can vote your cousin onto the team!’
Me and Fred nodded to each other and turned to face the others, when J.D. let out a resounding cry of ‘Nooooooo!’
‘Honestly, J.D., you’re acting more childish and incoherent than usual,’ said Tegan.
‘It has to be unanimous!’ J.D. quivered noticeably. ‘We can’t induct a new Gryffie without unanimously agreeing to it!’
‘Unless I’m mistaken, J.Diz, you’re the only one opposing the candidacy of Rose Weasley,’ I said. ‘Alfred and I just held a brief Weasley Family Conference, and we feel that adding another Weasley to the Gryffies is consistent with the national increase in Weasley population, informally known as “Weasley World Domination.”’
J.D. stared me down. ‘Obviously you haven’t considered the accusations of nepotism you’re sure to attract if you indeed allow Rosie onto the team.’
Freddie stared J.D. down. ‘There’s also the minor consideration of talent, which Rose has more of than any of the other monkeys we saw today.’
Micah stared me down. ‘Rose’s mum is a mudblood, yeah? Let’s discriminate against her cos of that. Innit the way sick bastards like you think, you sick bastard?’
‘Tegan, Number 2!’ said J.D., changing the subject as tactfully as a rhinoceros dancing the ballet. ‘Number 2 was half decent! Who are they, according to the List?’
There was a crinkling of the parchment as Tegan consulted it. ‘Azriel Williams, fourth year.’
‘Why are we even considering him?’ asked Mattie. ‘I saved every one of his shots.’
J.D. snorted. ‘I think it’s only fair to give fair consideration to each candidate, Matthew!’
‘He’s a slow flier,’ said Tegan.
‘I don’t like him,’ said Fred.
‘He’s not a girl,’ said I.
‘Fine, then,’ grumbled J.D. ‘We all vote nay for Number 2. Number 1?’
‘Emily Panache, seventh year,’ Tegan read from the List.
‘Ooh, sounds like a girl,’ I said.
‘Too old,’ said Freddie.
‘Friends with Madeleine,’ said Micah.
‘She’s left-handed, which is actually an advantage for a Chaser,’ said Mattie with all the wisdom in the world. ‘Confuses the Keeper, you see.’
‘You’re right, I s’pose,’ J.D. said, sighing. ‘There’s no point in training a Chaser who’ll only leave us in a few months. Tegan, Number 4, please.’
‘Joshua Toots, fourth year,’ Tegan read.
All five Gryffie men burst out laughing at exactly the same time.
‘Fine, that’s a unanimous nay for Number 4,’ said Tegan disapprovingly. ‘As it stands, Rose is the only candidate still in contention.’
Chortles subsiding, J.D. said, ‘Whaaa? No. There has to be someone else.’
‘Let’s put it to a vote,’ said Tegan, not skipping a beat.
‘Oh, is that my job?’ I asked. ‘As cap’n?’
‘I’m the assistant cap’n!’ said J.D. desperately. ‘I’ll conduct the vote!’
‘And disenfranchise everyone except for yourself?’ said Tegan. ‘No. James, I don’t care who calls for the vote, but I’m already talking so I’ll do it. Everyone in favour of selecting Rose Weasley for our new Chaser, please raise your hand!’
I did so, along with Mattie, Micah, Fred, and Tegan.
J.D. just pouted in the corner. ‘Allow me to remind you bitches about the Clause of Unanimity: No one can become a Gryffie if any one of us disagrees!’
‘Oh please!’ said Tegan, exasperated. ‘The act was cute for, well, never, but whatever threat to your masculinity a Quidditch-playing Rose might pose, it doesn’t change the fact that we need her! We have no chance of winning the Quidditch Cup without a good Chaser, and if we don’t win the Quidditch Cup we’ll just be a group of jackasses with broomsticks. I, for one, could not live with that.’
‘Transcend your sodding pride!’ said Micah. ‘Who gives a shizzle if your woman plays for the same Quidditch team that you do?’
‘This feels like coercion,’ said J.D.
‘Sorry mate, but I think you’re being a right knobber about this,’ said Fred.
‘Without Rose, we will lose our next match against Hufflepuff,’ Mattie said. ‘If Hufflepuff win, all the kittens in the world will die.’
‘Stop with the guilt!’ J.D. cried.
I stared intently at him, and very solemnly said, ‘Please, Johnny Nott. You’re our only hope.’
Then J.D. let out a bizarre screech, and we were all kind of scared that we’d broken his brain or something, but then he stopped and everything was okay again.
‘Fine,’ J.D. whimpered. ‘I vote yea. Rosie is on the squad.’
And that was how I solved my Chaser Deficiency Problem, but created my J.D.’s Insecurity About His Masculinity In Our Modern World Problem.
Neither of those was anywhere near as serious as my Naked Problem, but that was another issue entirely. This is how it came to be:
After lighting the figurative white smoke signals after our Secular Conclave of Fun, we decided that we’d start planning Rosie’s initiation on the morrow. I know that ragging, fagging, and most other aggings are “frowned upon” by the teachers and school governors, but public humiliation is a crucial camaraderie-building exercise for any association such as ours. Every Gryffie for the past ten years has suffered through the initiation process, and you don’t put an end to that kind of tradition just because it’s “cruel” or “emotionally abusive” or just “really, really mean.”
Anyways, we all decided that showering and restoring our core body temperatures would be more prudent than devising outrageous ways to induct Rose into our distinguished Gryffie brotherhood (or sisterhood…or cousinhood…), so that’s what we did. I took such a long time in the shower that my fingers were all wrinkled and the other lads had left for the castle and dinner, and so once again, I found myself to be very, very alone.
But I was fine with that. Back when I was Silly Ol’ Jamesie, before Tegan’s rejection destroyed my psyche, I hated being alone and avoided it whenever possible. If I needed to use the toilet, I’d do my best to trick my mates into coming with me. (Which is actually quite a challenge, considering the stereotype that only girls visit the loo in gaggles and how J.D. and the lot are constantly trying to prove their masculinity.) Somehow, I felt that by constantly surrounding myself with friends and conversation, I could drown out whatever sad thoughts might flitter about my conscience that day. We all have sad thoughts sometimes.
In contrast, Jimmy Potter (or whatever you’d like to call the post-Tegan me) didn’t mind a bit of quiet now and then. He could sit in the Quidditch changing room and rub coconut foot cream onto his dry, blistered feet in silence without feeling utterly insecure. Jimmy almost liked the independence: The universal and inherent triviality of teenage life is a bit much to bear sometimes, and everyone needs an escape now and then.
So I covered my feet in the organic coconut moisturiser and put on clean socks, before standing up and catching a glimpse of myself in the old and nearly floor-length (it stopped at my knees) mirror. The glass itself was a bit blurred around the edges but otherwise completely functional, showing a thin, tallish boy with dark, untidy hair. I was frowning at myself and dressed only in the towel wrapped ‘round my waist, a bit disappointed that my ribs stuck out the way they always did. Unfortunately, I had not developed rippling abdominal muscles overnight, and the “skeleton look” was starting to grow old.
No! I shouted in my head, still staring at my reflection. That’s not how we cultivate self-esteem, by insulting our body! You are a beautiful creature, James Potter: your bright, soulful Weasley eyes, your lean, graceful figure, your long, toned legs. You are a magnificent, gorgeous young man with the proportions of an ancient Greek statue and if any Welsh girls can’t see that, then they are defective and/or completely mad.
‘I am a statuesque beauty,’ I said aloud, flexing my arm muscles a bit. I wasn’t half bad, really…nowhere near as handsome as J.D. or even Freddie, but still moderately attractive.
I started making faces in the mirror and trying new poses, flexing my muscles and making grrrr sounds every so often. It was vain and a bit weird, but fun.
I kept right on going even as I heard the door to the boys’ changing room open and close. I was actually in the middle of a roundhouse kick when I spied a girl standing in the corner.
‘Ahhhhhh,’ I said as I stumbled a bit and almost fell to the floor, but recovered and faced Tegan. She stared at me, wide-eyed, and I shot her a this-is-absolutely-not-out-of-the-ordinary glance back.
A few seconds passed before Tegan said anything. ‘You lost your towel there, sensei.’
I looked down and discovered that my towel lay on the floor beside my feet. I was completely naked, except for my socks. Not that the socks were much help.
Tegan’s face had turned an embarrassed shade of purple. ‘Look, I’m going to leave and come back in, but this time I’m going to knock on the door. Then we pretend that this never happened.’
Then she popped out and I scrambled to dress. I could analyse this later…no time to worry that she didn’t seem all that impressed with, er, you know. Me.
I was tying my tie when I heard a knock at the door. ‘Who is it?’ I called, my voice shaking.
‘It’s Tegan!’ she said. ‘Are you decent? I wouldn’t want to create an awkward situation by bursting in and neglecting to knock first!’
‘Yes, I am fully clothed!’ I replied.
I heard the creaking of the door and saw Tegan tiptoe in, her face having subsided to a lovely shade of red. According to the mirror, my face was a similar colour (though less lovely).
Tegan stopped at the far end of the changing room and stood there. ‘So, you’re the only one still down here?’
‘I suppose,’ I said, concentrating on putting my shoes on. ‘I think all the others left for the Great Hall.’
‘Oh, yeah,’ she said. ‘I hear there’s supposed to be Cornish pasties tonight.’
‘Right, it’s Ethnic Night,’ I said. ‘Well, that’s what J.D. calls it. Cornwall is about as ethnic as the house elves get.’
Tegan folded her arms and nodded. ‘That’s enough chitchat, yeah? James, I actually need to talk to you about something.’
‘Sorry, but I’m a bit short on time right now,’ I said. ‘Need to find Rosie and tell her that she made the team…congratulate her, you know.’
‘I saw her not ten minutes ago,’ said Tegan. ‘She’s quite pleased, naturally. And don’t worry, I didn’t let slip anything about her initiation. Not that we have the details worked out yet.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Er, I’ve got to—’
‘I know you’ve been avoiding me,’ she interrupted. ‘Please, James. Just give me five minutes to explain everything.’
I gulped. ‘I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re hinting at.’
‘You’re a terrible liar,’ she said dryly. ‘The Snorky fiasco? The day before yesterday?’
‘It was quite a nice day. We got Quidditch back.’
‘You’re also terrible at feigning daftness,’ said Tegan. ‘You know what the hell I’m talking about.’
I paused for a long moment. ‘Snorky Scamander proclaimed his affections for you. It was mildly endearing.’
‘The wanker outright kissed me!’
‘Yeah, I saw.’
She stared at me with her pretty, pretty eyes. ‘Considering our, erm, history, I thought you might be…conflicted about that.’
‘Tegan!’ I said, summoning joviality from out of nothing. ‘Are you trying to get me to talk about my feelings?’
‘Oh my giddy aunt!’ I marvelled. ‘It used to be me who always tried to convince you to talk about your feelings, but look at how the tide has turned!’
‘Shut it before I show you my own Muay Thai roundhouse kick,’ said Tegan. ‘I need to know if seeing Snorky Scamander kiss me bothered you in any way.’
To deflect, I said, ‘The real question is: Did being kissed by Snorky Scamander bother you in any way?’
‘No, I think the real question is about you.’
I smiled sideways – not a real sort of smile, but when you pull your lips to the side in a very non-threatening way. ‘Come sit by me,’ I said gently. ‘You’re too far away for an Important Conversation, which apparently is what this is turning out to be.’
Tegan shrugged her shoulders and sideways-smiled back, before walking over and sitting on my bench. ‘I’m sorry for asking, if this is exceedingly awkward, but I need to…want to know.’
‘Fair enough,’ I said, buying myself a bit more time to think. What the hell was I supposed to say to that? If I lied and said that a Snorkegan relationship (ewwww!) was fine by me, then I’d be lying and I might actually have to see Tegan and…ugh, I can’t even say his name…together on a regular basis and even snogging occasionally. If I told the truth and said that I wanted to hex Snorky the Dorky all the way to New Zealand just for thinking about Tegan, then she might interpret this the wrong way and get a restraining order against me, or something.
What was I supposed to do??
‘I want you to be happy,’ I finally said. ‘We’re friends, yeah? It’ll take a lot more than a broken relationship to stop us from being friends. And friends want friends to be happy, or so the philosopher Beetle teaches all young witches and wizards. So, what I’m trying to say is…seeing Snorky Scamander kiss you didn’t bother me. Much.’
‘Oh,’ said Tegan. ‘Alright.’
Why? Why did I have to pretend that I didn’t want to send an Unforgivable Curse at Snorky?
‘So,’ I said, ‘you fancy our Mr Scamander, then?’
Tegan, who had been staring at her feet, gave a quick laugh. ‘Are you mental? Snorky looks like a fish crossed with an…I dunno, a platypus? Plus he’s shorter than me…I don’t mean to sound shallow, and if I liked the guy I could probably overlook his height, but I find his obsession with disestablishmentarianism off-putting.’
‘Well, that’s a relief!’ I said. ‘I mean, as long as you’re happy.’
She looked off in thought for a moment. ‘He did ask me to Hogsmeade, though, after he apologised for the stunt in the Great Hall. He said I could think it over for a while, too. That’s courteous, I suppose. And I don’t know, sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t hurt to go on one stupid date with the guy…let him pay for everything cos it’s not like I care about him thinking that I’m a strong and independent woman, and he is quite clever, albeit in the evil supervillain sort of way, but we always have interesting conversations. And this is going to sound pathetic, but it’s just nice to have someone care for you, you know? Ideally you fancy the bugger back, but unrequited love is certainly flattering when you’re on the receiving end. And things will be awkward between me and Snorky whether I turn him down now or after our hypothetical date, so I don’t exactly have anything to lose, yeah?’
Tegan smiled faintly at me and I wanted to cry. Of course, I didn’t cry, because Jimmy Potter never cries, even when it’s completely excusable.
‘Thanks for being such a great friend, James,’ said Tegan, patting my knee. ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re an even more remarkable person than people give you credit for. You’ve no shortage of moral fibre, kid.’
She stood up and started towards the door. ‘Coming?’
‘Go on without me,’ I croaked. ‘I’ll be along in a few minutes.’
Tegan shrugged and stepped out into the night, the frigid February wind shutting the door closed behind her. I sat completely still, either unable or unwilling to move.
Why did I have to have no shortage of moral fibre? I didn’t want any sodding moral fibre! I wanted to destroy Snorky Scamander’s face with a variety of blunt instruments, then decapitate him via guillotine, and then put a number of terrible curses on his corpse! I did not want my Tegan to go out with Snorkack Murgatroyd Scamander!
I don’t think that’s Snorky’s real middle name, but I believe I made my point clear.
But what was I supposed to do? I’d already proven myself to be this “great friend” with “moral fibre” up the wazoo! How was I supposed to right this heinous wrong that I indirectly and dishonestly approved of?
And then it all became clear, what I always did to break up couples who gallivanted around without my blessing: I had to devise a Plan.
A/N: Just to let all you hep cats know, I rushed to finish this chapter before November because I am attempting NaNoWriMo. To that end, I hope to revise this chapter eventually. Since I probably will not succeed at writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days and will possibly give up halfway through, you might get a new WG chapter before December. But there’s no way I can write Ch. 23 & NaNo at the same time, capiche?
Also, thank you for all your review-a-thon reviews! I am slowly but surely catching up on responding to them. And heck, if you’d like to leave a review right now, that would fall somewhere in the realm of awesome. =D
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