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Chapter 4 : saturdays
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Mikey Lancaster and Aspen Spinelli
chapter image; mintleaf @ tda
I can't quite describe what it is about autumn; perhaps the fast, inevitable lessening of daylight hours, the elongating of nightfall, the sense of impending winter, the manner in which memories of summer lose their freshness in one's mind, and start to accommodate a sort of haze, a sort of nostalgic lace to to them- that makes the days speed up, hours merging into hours and days quickly turning into weeks, one second it's a Sunday night, the night a Wednesday afternoon. Before I knew it, it was the Saturday of the Hogsmeade trip, my first date with Albus Potter.
The atmosphere of Hogwarts had changed considerably. Saturday mornings were usually excitable but today was different; everything was so rushed, so much louder. Girls giggled and shrieked and boys laughed and yelled and couples and groups were scattered around throughout the school in coats, scarves and boots. Usually, by this time in the season, students would float around in jeans from Common Room to Dining Hall, determined to stay in the warmth of Hogwarts but as soon as the Fair opened- 11am sharp- people were rushing about, giddy and intoxicated. It was the biggest social event after Halloween, Oscar would say.
“You are not wearing that,” said Aspen, pursing her lips as I turned around.
“Darling, I think you look wonderful-”
“You look half homeless!” Aspen interjected, cutting off Oscar with a wave off her left hand.
“Aspen,” said Oscar, turning around and shooting Aspen an Oscar Green trademarked glare, a nasty concoction of disdain, disgust and disgrace, all etched upon his face. "It is boho chic. Boho chic is cool." For I was wearing nothing special- grey knitted jumper, black jeans, brown boots and burgundy socks riding up just above the boots, my Ravenclaw scarf flung lazily around my neck, but I smiled along with Oscar, as if that had been the masterplan all along.
“You look flat-chested.”
“Aspen!” I cried. “I am flat-chested! The last time I wore a bra was this summer! And that was a bikini!”
“My mum says you’ll fill out soon, don’t worry,” she replied earnestly, and Oscar nodded in agreement.
“Well. Thank God for that.”
“Even if not,” retorted Oscar. "Body empowerment is so cool right now. They're all over it in Witch Weekly."
He could clearly see the indignance of my face, and smiled innocently up at me, as if to indicate he was joking. Witch Weekly had decided to embark on a campaign of body positivity, which sounded great, incredible, fantastic, until Eve Feltham pointed out the irony in printing their season's goodwill project right next to an advertisement for Octavia & Octavia's Weight Loss Potions- Lose A Stone in a Sip, Two Stone in a Swig!
Oscar, himself, was sneaking into London with Jasmine Azalea and Ophelia Nott, two of his other friends in the year. Aspen and I weren’t especially thrilled he had friends besides the two of us- but honestly, is anyone? Don’t we all harbour a secret wish that our friends didn’t have friends beyond ourselves? But that wasn’t possible with Oscar Green; he was adored throughout the year, especially by Jasmine and Ophelia, the former a Gryffindor girl and the latter a Hufflepuff.
I turned to Aspen, who was busy straightening her hair with her wand. She wasn’t meeting Scorpius for another hour, for Scorpius had Slytherin Quidditch training.
“Buh-bye," she said, sweetly, to our retreating backs. "Have fun."
We walked through the Common Room, through the corridors, the staircases, the halls and then finally to the student entrance, studded with students queuing up impatiently to get past Filch’s security measures.
“He gets stricter every year with this,” I commented, hearing my voice laced with annoyance, as we joined the back of the line. “It’s almost as bad as an American airport in here.”
Oscar snorted. “I just can’t wait to get intenselywasted. Like... To drinking Olympian standards.”
“What even consists of a girls night?" I wanted to know, turning from the queue to my skinny, olive-skinned friend in interest. "Especially as you’re not a girl… It’s a day and they won’t be providing alcohol-”
“Oh no, oh no we’re going down to London," he informed me, and I wasn't surprised, after six years of friendship, at his casual disregard for the school's rules and regulations. "And not Wizard London, God no, Muggle London, there's a new cocktail bar down in Soho Jas, 'Lia and I are obsessed to try out... Of course, Ophelia's old man isn't too happy- son of a Death Eater, do you blame him, but oh my gosh Eff, do you have to meet him, such a character, something out of... I don't know... Desperate Death Eaters, or something!” I listened to Oscar cackle at his own joke, and I smiled weakly in encouragement, by this time we were almost at the front and I was craning my neck to find Albus.
“Effy!” I turned around and saw Albus Potter, the boy himself, stroll up to me, his movements laced with enough confidence to be cool, but not enough to be arrogant. I felt almost breathless watching him leave his group of Slytherin friends congregated by the door; how did he do it, I wanted to know, how did he manage to appear so cool, so effortless, all the time? Without even being aware of it I smiled widely at him, and embraced his hug. I smelt aftershave and non-scented soap as my head collided with his neck.
“Bye Oscar,” I called, but Oscar was already emerged in a group of girls in the year below.
We walked out of the hall and into fresh sunlight. It was another beautiful Indian summer day; the sun was shining and whilst it was cold it made my cheeks tingle with warmth, and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. I felt a cool breeze under my hair, making it twirl, and the air smelt of pumpkins and spices and other exotic scents that I had spent summer, holidaying in the English countryside, deprived of.
“How are you?” Albus asked as we walked. I looked at him; he wasn’t that much taller than me, only an inch or so, and he was also quite pale. But that’s where our compatibilities ended; whilst I had long thick and dark brown hair, his hair was jet black and messy. His eyes were a vivid green, and his chin was triangular rather than square like his brother’s; his face was more round, I mused, and his eyebrows and lips were fuller. Albus was better looking, I concluded, but in a more of a boy next door way. His features weren’t dynamic and striking, they were nice and handsome.
“I’m good, thanks,” I said, crossing my arms and smiling. “You?”
“Pretty good,” he said, and laughed a bit. “So I heard that this upcoming Quidditch match- oh, hey JJ.” I looked from Albus to a figure approaching us. It was JJ Fletcher, and he was wearing baggy jeans, a grey jumper with SWAG printed on the front in bright orange and a backwards cap, also in fluorescent orange. And then, when he smiled, I noticed his teeth were gold.
“Yo yo yo, ma homies! Madman Al! Bitch like Effy, yeah, we murk it!”
“I’m not your bitch, JJ,” I said, shrugging his hand off my shoulder.
“Ahhhh, shit dawg, been spittin’ bare rhymed ‘bout you, you know, about you ‘n dis Potter bwoi!”
“Oh really,” said Albus, amused.
“Yeah, cause dawg, respect to your dad and dat, he my saviour, he’s a white version of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, innit, but you can’t be stealin’ manz girls like. Not cool.”
“Nelson what?” I said, frowning slightly. “Are they French?”
“Jheeze. Just because you’re white, Effy, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know ‘bout Mandela n Luther King!” He roared this, and I felt something wet touch my cheek. I exchanged eye contact with Al and I raised my eyebrow.
“Well, it was great chatting,” said Albus, “but we should go. Bye, JJ.”
“You gassed up, breh? Alright, bye den,” said JJ, walking back to the castle. We stood there, watching his figure retreat to a point where we were sure he wouldn’t hear us- and then we burst out laughing.
“I don’t know whether I like him or not,” I said, and Albus grinned in agreement.
“But we can agree he’s very annoying.”
“Shut up! In Seventh Year, it was alright for you, you were with the Gryffindors, but we were with the Hufflepuffs and he was unbearable, Al.”
“What did he do so bad?” he asked, interested. “We were all pains when we were eleven.”
And so I began telling him the various stories of JJ Fletcher that shaped my first year at Hogwarts. How JJ Fletcher started off our first Potions class calling Slughorn racist, how then a week later he tried organising the house elves to back up dance for his first rap video, how he would chase after Peeves- instead of it being the other way round- and how he tried seducing Jasmine Azalea with his braces, calling them the diamonds of his crown.
As I told the stories, Albus would laugh a really dry, throaty laugh. He was a good listener, and rarely interrupted. But I started feeling quite annoyed; was he going to let me talk the whole date? We slipped into a comfortable silence for a few minutes, and I was desperately trying to find a topic to talk about. Quidditch? He doesn’t play. School? God, what am I? Not politics- his dad’s Harry Potter- not the weather, how dreadful would it be to resort to discussing the weather?
“So are you going to be cheering for your brother or your house for the game next weekend?” I asked, as we approached the village. It was alive in the late summer’s sun; laughter, chat and music drifted through my ears and I had to raise my voice.
Albus grinned. “Are you supporting your sporting enemy or the team who, if they won, would seriously complicate your next match?”
“I never thought about it that way. Oh, God, I don’t know. I’ll probably just stand in the stalls talking to Oscar whilst Aspen cheers for Scorpius.”
“It’s odd,” said Albus, “hang on, can you keep a secret?”
I lust after secrets. “Of course.”
He turned around, and tossed his head side to side, and when satisfied nobody was within earshot- even though, by this time, we were in the hustle of the crowd of students on the streets of the Hogsmeade high street- lowered his voice and said, “Before Aspen and Scorpius had started seeing each other last year, I had always thought that Scorpius and my cousin, Rose- the one in Gryffindor- would end up together.”
My eyes widened. “Why?”
He shrugged. “At the end of the day, opposites are meant to attract, right? And whilst Aspen and Scorpius are so similar, Scorpius couldn’t be more different than Rose, yet- before he asked out Aspen- they got on so well. And he muttered about her in his sleep.”
“Oh wow… Why do they not speak now?”
We had walked away from the main body of people on the streets, and were waiting in line for a glass of hot butterbeer, being served at a stall next to a quill shop. We paused, for we were at the front of the line, and Albus gracefully offered to pay for me, but being the stubborn girl I am, politely declined, and he resumed his story once we had found a nearby bench to sit on.
“Rose doesn’t approve of Aspen,” he said. “Rose is stubborn in the way that when she makes first impressions, they are lasting impressions, and she sees Aspen as being an airheaded blonde with a love for public signs of affection.”
“Oh my God!” I cried, outraged. “That is so not true! Why is your cousin stereotyping my best friend like that? Aspen doesn’t think negatively of her-“
“Aspen is dating my best friend! I really like her, Effy, there’s no need to get so angry,” he replied, putting his hand on my arm and smiling gently. He was so handsome, Albus Potter. The way the sunlight hit his eyes made the vivid green irises dance, with specs of gold glimmering every so often. And when he laughed, like he was doing now, for I had told him a joke to change the subject, his laugh was this perfect throaty sound, which made his eyes crinkle and his mouth widen to show perfectly aligned white teeth.
We sat there, our butterbeers in our hands, and conversation flowed like water cascades down a river. We spoke about school and our futures- he wanted to be a Healer and I wanted to be a journalist- and we talked about music and interests and culture and exchanged stories and then also about life and the afterlife and I swear, I almost pissed myself when he told me a story about his Uncle Percy falling asleep at Christmas dinner last year and Professor Longbottom- the only adult there trained in first aid- having to give him mouth to mouth.
“Hey!” said a voice, and we both turned around and saw Aspen and Scorpius, Aspen running up to us beaming and Scorpius walking behind, flicking his hair back and strutting in such a fashion that only those who truly fancy themselves can pull off. But Scorpius was my friend and I was fond of him, and I also knew, from Aspen, he was sensitive, so I held myself back from pointing it out.
“I still can’t believe you went out like that,” said Aspen, giving me a disappointed look.
“I think she looks great,” said Albus, and I grinned at him. Aspen, on the other hand, was wearing a dark mossy green velvet dress which perfectly accented her narrow waist and her perky breasts, and her hair was perfectly curled, a green ribbon holding it up in a high ponytail. It was difficult, at first, to be friends with Aspen, for she was so the English rose, dark blonde and blue-eyed with pale pink lips, one of the most beautiful girls in the castle.
“Scorpius is going to win me a giant bear,” said Aspen, and Scorpius rolled his eyes.
“Aspen, babe, I said I’d try…”
“Are you a wizard or what?”
“Above all I’m human, and I’ve told you, they’re totally fixed-”
“Oh, come on-”
“I’ll bloody make you a bear if you want one so much-”
“That’s not the point- wait, could you really?”
I turned to Albus, who looked at me, and we both rose from the bench totally in sync. I followed him through the crowds and then I thought I somebody say my name so I turned around, and when I looked back I saw Albus ahead, talking to James and another girl I vaguely recognised.
“Hey,” I said, walking up to Albus and he turned around and grinned at me.
“Effy, this is James and his date, Jennifer. James and Jennifer, this is Effy.”
I looked at the girl, and then I realised who she was. She was Gryffindor in the year above, a Californian transfer student from Ilvermorny, and we don't get a lot of transfer students- is it even a surprise? Hogwarts was built up in the Scottish highlands, our idea of good weather is when it doesn't snow- and her name, her face, was known across the school years, across the houses. She was American, she was pretty, she was wildly popular, she was on a date with James Potter. Oh, obviously.
And for some reason, staring at the aesthetically compatible couple annoyed me. A flash of resentment ran through my veins, disappearing as soon as it came.
“Hey Effy,” said Jennifer, grinning. Her teeth were shockingly bright. “Neat name. Is it legit?”
“No, it’s short for Elizabeth,” I said. And then realised how rude I must have sounded, so tried to conclude my sentence with a lopsided grin I had seen Albus give me several times that afternoon, except in retrospect I believe I looked almost banshee-eqsue.
“That’s so British. I love it,” she chirped. “Don’t you, James?”
“James is a British name too,” he replied, bored.
“That’s such a coincidence!” she said, brightly.
“Yeah, you don’t find many Brits with British names. We’re a rare breed,” I said, and Albus laughed. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw James smile, but when I looked at him he was as bored as before. “So why did you move to Hogwarts, Jennifer?”
She dramatically flicked her hair over her left shoulder, as I’ve seen Aspen do many times. “Oh my God. Don't even get me started. Like, Ilvermorny's great and all- I miss it so much, oh my god- but my parents hated the curriculum, hated the teachers. But they had both studied at Hogwarts, so, you know, total bias, right? Like, I could have gone to the Alaskan school as an alternative- but I'm from LA! I can't handle damp climates!"
“Good thing you moved to Scotland then,” I said warmly, and this time I definitely saw James chuckle, even if he was trying to hold it in.
“We’re going to the Three Broomsticks for dinner,” said Albus, and I recalled Aspen briefly mentioning to me that Albus had asked her the night before if it was alright. “Are you going to join us?”
“I dunno, mate, I’m meant to be meeting Fred and Alfie tonight, but that’s not until seven.” Fred Weasley was his cousin and Alfie Ronson was their best friend, all Gryffindor seventh years that threw the coolest parties, slept with the prettiest girls and passionate about Quidditch; Fred was the commentator, James was the captain and Alfie was their seeker, my toughest competition.
“What time are you going?” continued James.
“Six,” I said, answering for him.
“Sounds fine,” said James, not looking at me. “Have you booked a table?”
“No, but Madame Hannah is around.” James laughed, and ruffled his brother’s hair.
Albus was about to say something when I heard a loud guitar start to play. I turned around excitedly to Albus. “Al, they’re starting up the Ahern dance.”
“The what?” asked Lillian, brightly.
I was about to answer her, but James got in before me. “Ahern, which is Celtic for lord of the horses, is a British Wizarding folk festival to celebrate the friendship between centaurs and wizards. It’s been danced around autumn since King Arthur, really. I’m surprised you haven’t come across it before.”
“They don’t have that in America,” she said.
“That’s because it’s a British folk tradition. Look,” said Albus, “See the people dancing?” She craned her neck and we watched various students, mainly older, dance in the clearing of the streets, to the beat of the guitars and drums and flute. The Ahern Dance has a sweet and fast melody, which is easy enough to play, and is usually accompanied by the stomping of feet and the clapping of hands of those who aren’t dancing. The dancing, as well, is easy enough to dance, for it is a simple rhythm and a simple structure and the best part about it is the woman being passed around from man to man every sixteen beats.
“When I was a little girl, my dad would take me twenty miles north to our closest Wizarding town every Autumn just to dance the Ahern Dance,” I said, reminiscing. “Come on, Al, let’s dance.”
I took his hand and we ran down to the clearing, and then with the sun on my face and the music loudly beating in my ears, we danced the Ahern Dance. We held hands and he didn’t seem to know the dance as well as I did, so I lead, which disappointed me for I was used to Mikey Lancaster, my older brothers and my dad dancing in perfect harmony to me, but I didn’t mind. We spun in and out and he laughed and I grinned and then we swapped partners, and I found myself with a tall boy in Hufflepuff in the year below.
“I’m Steven,” he roared over the music and dancing.
“I’m Effy,” I yelled back. He was a good dancer, but not very graceful, and we grinned at each other as we danced the Ahern Dance. He spun me under his left arm and then after the sixteenth beat passed me to another man- and to my pleasant surprise, it was Mikey.
“Mikey!” I yelled, totally ecstatic. He seemed just as happy to see me. Oh, it was such an improvement to have a good dancer to dance with. I could never marry a bad dancer. He was graceful and his hands were firm, the left on my waist and the right entwined with my fingers, and we stepped lightly and gracefully around the circle in time to the music.
“I’m not letting you go,” he screamed. “You’re too good a dancer.”
“Cheers,” I screamed back, and he threw his head back laughing, and we danced, danced, danced, ignoring the sixteenth beat. I grew up in Kent, south east England, but Mikey was born and raised in a beach village in Cornwall, an area renowned throughout Wizarding Britain for being the best at the Ahern Dance. It was a massive part of his town’s culture, and has been since King Arthur’s age.
We danced, danced, danced, Mikey and me, until I noticed a small crowd of people clapping just for us, and Mikey laughed even more and blew them all kisses. But then India Knightley, Mikey’s date to the Fair today, came up and asked to dance with Mikey and I couldn’t say no, could I?
But then suddenly I felt a hand on my waist, and I turned around. For a split second I thought it was Al but it was the complete opposite, it was James, and I was utterly shocked.
“Mikey Lancaster is a good dancer,” murmured James into my ear. “But I’m better.” And he put his right hand out for me to hold, and my left hand steadied on his shoulder, and we began dancing.
One of the biggest regrets I have of this fair, when I look back, is not wearing a skirt. For James was right. He was a better dancer than Mikey. His feet were graceful to the point they almost never touched the ground, and his moves were swift and totally in time to the beat, to the point where I was struggling to keep up. And if I had worn a skirt, like one is meant to during a Ahern Dance, to pace out the woman’s movements and to add extra felinity to her moves, I would have perhaps have matched his dancing.
We danced until I could no longer hear the music. He didn’t laugh, like Mikey did, but his eyes were forever on mine, and mine were on his, and when I spun out and had to break eye contact his eyes were always there.
A massive flash went off to my left. I broke eye contact and turned around, and saw a photographer.
“Every year the Daily Prophet does an article about the Hogsmeade Student Halloween Fair,” he explained. “This is a perfect picture for it.”
But I didn’t care. James hadn’t even looked at the photographer. And we just danced and I felt everything slip away until the only thing I was sure of was his heartbeat racing through our hands and the melody of the flute in the background.
I spun and my feet swept the ground, and my hair twirled in poor replacement for a skirt, and I gracefully jumped above James, his two hands firmly gripping my waist. And he drew me up close to him, until I could smell the tobacco and a summer’s evening scent of his breathe, and then guided me away, only for him to spin me, or to twirl me under him, and as we danced the moves got more and more complicated but I was determined to match him. His dark brown eyes, which, when I looked into them, were a kaleidoscope of various shades of the browns, and occasionally when the sun hit him, flickers of gold and amber, were cold and I recognised determination in him that I recognised in Danny Alton. It wasn’t a dance, but a competition. He was taking our Quidditch rivalry onto the cobbles of Hogsmeade.
“We’ve been dancing for ages now.”
“Does that mean the dance is over?”
“I’m not giving up," I retorted, and I could feel the snap in my tone of voice.
“Oh, Elizabeth,” said James, smirking, “this isn’t a game. This is just dancing.” And with that, he elegantly released my hands from his grip, and he bowed down to me, as is the custom of the man when he has finished the Ahern Dance.
“Where’s Albus?” I asked hollowly, the two of us pushed together in the throng of the dancers around us.
“I don’t know,” said James, ruffling the back of his scruffy hair with his hand. “I’m not his babysitter, am I-”
“I don’t care!” I snapped, finding it impossible to keep my distance from his figure as people around us danced on. I felt increasingly pushed into him, and for the first time in my life, resented the Ahern dance. “You’re just his rude older brother who I thought may have an idea where he is.”
“And is that what you think of me, Wilderson?” he smiled, drawing me into him by the crook of my right elbow. I was closer to him than I had been during the dance; he had curled me right inside his arm, and I was forced to look up to him, for whilst Albus was pretty much my height, James was half a head taller.
“You don’t charm me,” I breathed. “You’re obnoxious and your sarcastic jabs at people who you consider to be below you are unnecessary.”
“Oh, Wilderson, I don’t consider you to be below me.”
“You treat everyone like they're below you."
"How?!" And he sounded half curious, half offended.
"Don’t be rude to me on the Quidditch pitch, don’t look at me like I’m a peasant and you’re some outdated king and don’t,” I concluded, snatching my elbow out of his hand, “call me Wilderson.”
I spun around, and saw Aspen. Aspen. In the intensity of the dance and our conversation, I had forgotten other people apart from James had existed. And then I looked around, and saw we were, in fact, now right in the centre of the throng of students, yet I had only seen James.
“Aspen,” I said. “Where’s Al?”
“He’s in the pub with Scorpius,” she said darkly.
“Are we going to join them?” I asked, but then I noticed her face.
“No,” she said. “I told Albus that you’ll see him tomorrow, because we are going to London. We are meeting up with Oscar, Jasmine and Ophelia. And we’re getting fucking shit-faced.”
I blinked at her, and then noticed James had left. Had that conversation even happened, or was it just my imagination? Did I really smell that exotic, almost intoxicating scent of his breathe, a combination of tobacco, a summer’s evening and something else that I couldn’t quite figure out? Did I really snap at him and- I was sure it was my imagination- was he starring into my eyes and biting his lip when I was in his arms as if he wanted to kiss me? For boys have wanted to kiss me before and I knew the signs. But James was arrogant, and calculating, and yet also charismatic and totally charming; he was like the moon, for half of him was always hidden. And I was pretty, but not the prettiest; clever, but not the most intelligent; witty, but no comedian. I was a warm bath on a winter’s night and he was a meteor, shooting through the galaxy, and if one drew too close, they’d burn.
“Fuck yes,” I said to Aspen. “Fuck yes!”
“We’re the girls,” sang Aspen, linking arms with me as we walked up to Hogwarts.
“We’re not just bloody girls, Aspen,” I concluded. “We’re women. We’re strong, intelligent and…” I struggled to think of a third adjective, but Aspen nodded on my behalf, and smirked slightly.
I'm sooooo sorry for the delay in posting this! It was a chapter that I wanted to get absolutely perfect, and I still have my doubts. I'd love to hear your views and predictions- what do you think of Aspen and Scorpius's relationship? What do you think of James and Effy, and then Albus and Effy? What do you think of Mikey (my babe pls don't criticise I will probably cry) and of course, Oscar?
I don't own anything you recognise, as always, including Katniss Everdeen, which belongs to Suzanne Collins. Cooooooool xxxx
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