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Chapter 9 : tattered velvet carpeting
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“I’ve actually done quite a bit of work,” said Mikey.
“Oh yeah?” snorted Liam. “As if.”
“Well, I attended 82% of my classes, and if that isn’t the literal meaning of exceeding expectations then quite frankly, I don’t know what is.”
Excitable Christmas carols echoed through the hall, as we sat drinking hot chocolate in our Muggle apparel, our luggage waiting outside to be hauled onto the train. There was never a rush on the last day, but gradually the Hall started emptying out, and I walked down the icy slopes of the school grounds towards the thestrals in deep discussion with Al.
“Do you think Britain will join America and invade Russia?” I asked.
“Susan Bones doesn’t want to, but that’s because she grew up with my dad, you know, in the middle of a war. But others who didn’t experience the second wizarding war are all for it,” replied Al, crossing his arms in the cold.
The Russian Ministry, as we learned a week ago, had just passed some severe anti-Muggleborn laws, including the imprisonment of all Muggleborns and massacres of Muggle towns. The American Ministry proposed to invade on humanitarian grounds, we learnt this morning and the British Ministry, as per usual, was torn.
“Bones is the Foreign Affairs Minister though, and Newhart doesn’t agree with it,” I said, regarding our current Minister.
“But Newhart is weak, and the majority of the ministry want to invade,” said Al.
“What does your dad think about it?”
“I don’t know, he’s torn. He doesn’t want to risk any lives of British civilians, but he doesn’t want to not fight for freedom of Russian Muggleborns. It’s difficult,” said Al, grimacing. “It’s difficult for everyone.”
“I suppose it’s easy for the States to just go in, they aren’t still recovering from a war,” I said, as we climbed into the carriage. “But anyway- there are loads of American Aurors, but only a couple British ones.”
“They’d probably introduce drafting of wizards over the Hogwarts age.”
“Do you think?”
Al nodded. We spent the rest of the carriage journey in silence, until we approached the old scarlet train by the foot of the forest, stream curling and dancing and twirling around it, into the winter’s sunny sky.
“Al! Effy!” cried Scorpius, leaning out of a window. “In here!”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, stroking Al’s hand as we walked down the train corridor, amidst the usual shrieking and chatter as students clamoured into carriages. “I doubt they’ll join America. We’re too busy recovering from the past war, you know?”
Al turned to me, and smiled tiredly. “No, it’s not that, it’s just that-“
“Hold that thought,” I said, as we opened the carriage door. Inside was Scorpius, Aspen, Oscar and Mikey; Liam was being picked up by his older sister, a barmaid at the Three Broomsticks, and it was odd to see Mikey without Liam. Kind of like how it’s odd to see James without Freddie, but I pushed that thought aside.
“Did you see the Prophet today?” asked Scorpius, earnestly. “I can’t imagine-”
“Well then don’t,” said Oscar, crabbily. “If either of you boys says "war" just once again, I'll go in another carriage and slam the door.”
Scorpius sniggered, and Mikey rolled his eyes at Oscar's dramatics.
“I think it’s all so exciting,” said Aspen, as Scorpius wrapped his arm around her. “I know I shouldn’t, but still- are girls being enlisted?”
“Why wouldn’t we?” I asked, putting my feet up over Mikey’s lap. He gave me a dirty look and I raised my eyebrows, as if to dare him to take the matter further.
“Fighting a war in another country is different to a civil war,” pressed Albus. “Women generally tend to get treated worse when captured than men, and some would argue it’s not worth the risk.”
“Besides, we’re needed in the kitchens, Az!” I chirped brightly. “Raising the children and cooking the pies, doing the laundry and tending to the flowers.”
“Are you being sarcastic?”
“Duh!” cried Oscar. “Remember that one time when Effy didn’t stop mooing on about female goblin rights in Gringotts during fourth year?”
“I didn’t moo,” I snapped amidst the laughter of the others. “I peacefully protested.”
“You attached a banner to the end of your broomstick during the Ravenclaw final against Gryffindor,” said Mikey, dryly.
My mouth was full from a handful of crisps I had helped myself to from Scorpius’ open packet, so instead I jutted my face forwards, squinted my eyes and held out my palm.
“No regrets,” I said, spraying Aspen with crisps.
“Effy!” she cried, glaring up at me. "Please, no please, spray more crisps on my face."
Outside, the final whistle for the train went off, and I could feel the train vibrate from beneath our carriage. Professor Augustine opened our carriage door and took our names down, leaving us with a muttered happy holidays.
“That man is just not a happy man,” said Aspen.
“I wouldn’t be, if I was a professor,” snorted Scorpius. “Especially a Muggle Studies teacher.”
“Why would anyone take Muggle Studies?” demanded Mikey. “I didn’t like it when it was compulsory when we were in lower school, and I definitely wouldn’t like it now, the essays they set are ridiculous-”
“As opposed to Astronomy?”
“Shut up, you wish you could take Astronomy-”
“You’re such a loser, Mikey!”
“Effy! Stop flirting with me, I’m just not interested-”
“I thought Effy was seeing James Potter-”
“Wasn’t that really awkward for you, Al?” Aspen wanted to know. “Because Effy’s your friend and James is your brother?”
“There are people dying in the world,” Al replied comfortably.
“Oh my God. You sound like Effy.”
“No, Effy doesn’t care about dead people, she cares about dead goblins-”
“Female goblins, actually-”
“Goblin girls are potentially the ugliest creatures I’ve ever seen.”
“That’s so mean!”
“Well, it’s the truth-”
“Oh!” said Oscar, excitedly. “I forgot! Guess what I heard today?”
We all shut up.
“So the Fat Friar told me,” said Oscar, a proud smirk on his face from his success at turning attention, as per usual, towards him- “oh my God, this is so scandalous.”
“Well spit it out then,” said Scorpius, impatiently. With his leather jacket and aviator sunglasses (his school robes long disposed in a haste Albus confided just reflected his excitement to antagonise his father with his muggle clothing) he looked like a teddy boy from the 1950’s. I know he smoked too; does that make Aspen his Sandy Dee? I glanced at Aspen, and was examining the nutrition information of the crisp packet. Maybe not.
“They’re introducing compulsory Physical Education classes!” Oscar said, brightly.
I clamped my hand over my mouth, Al gasped and Mikey’s face was disgusted.
“What’s that?” asked Scorpius, confused. Aspen and Scorpius both had private wizarding schooling pre-Hogwarts, and they both looked equally as puzzled.
“We all went to Muggle primary schools,” said Al. “Every day we would have to put on gym shorts and a tee-shirt and do sports. It was introduced to tackle child obesity, I suppose.”
“Good one, Tommy Sullivan,” muttered Scorpius, referring to the fattest boy in our year, and winced as Aspen shoved him on his left shoulder.
“We only had to do it twice a week,” I said. “In the summer, we would play cricket and football, and in the winter we’d do inside sports. Like dancing and indoor hockey, and stuff.”
“What’s cricket?” asked Aspen, intrigued.
I told her it was a Muggle sport, whilst Mikey looked curious. “Would they make us do Muggle sports or Quidditch, do you think?”
“Quidditch is just flying,” said Al, his arm dangling over the carriage window. “We’d probably split into boys and girls- that’s what they do in Muggle secondary schools. The girls would do rounders and dance, the boys football and cricket.”
“Isn’t cricket an animal?” persisted Aspen.
“Yes,” I said tiredly.
“I always liked PE,” said Mikey. “I was the best at football, so everyone liked me. There was this one kid- he was a Muggle,” he added, at Oscar’s interested expression, “-called Sanjit Ladhani, and he was a wicked goalkeeper. All the girls wanted to dance with us during our Year 6 Disco.”
I had a sudden flashback of little Mikey Lancaster- the way I first met him, aged eleven, sat opposite me on the Ravenclaw table just after being Sorted- with gelled up hair, styled into three spikes, a toothy beam and a rather high pitched, excitable voice. And I smiled fondly at the memory, looking at the seventeen year old in front of me, who eyed me curiously.
“You alright?” he said, the corners of his mouth lifting.
“Just thinking about eleven year old Mikey,” I said, and his smile widened.
“A true bona fide heartbreaker from such an early age.”
“What if I’m not good at football?” asked Scorpius, looking mildly panicked. “Would people not like me?”
“Relax, mate,” said Albus. “I’ll teach you over the holidays.”
“Is this actually true, though?” I asked, and Oscar nodded earnestly.
“The Fat Friar swore on his life.”
Oscar waved his hand, as if to dismiss the subject.
The discussion turned from Physical Education to Quidditch, and from Quidditch to the leagues; from the leagues to celebrity gossip, and it flowed smoothly and lazily, occasionally breaking, but always starting up again. Mikey started doing Ministry impressions, and Aspen got upset when she incorrectly guessed his impression of Susan Bones to be Ron Weasley.
“I’m going to the toilet,” I said, standing up and stretching.
“Ew,” said Aspen.
“You’re so mature,” Scorpius said to her, and she smiled innocently.
I walked out; even though we had the window open, our carriage was a lot warmer than the empty corridor. As I walked down, I glanced through the windows of other carriages, in the curious way that I do with everything. But then I walked past James Potter, Alfie Ronson and Freddie Weasley, the trio spread out luxuriously over the faded scarlet leather seats, discussing something with great enthusiasm- I turned my head away from the scene sharply, and walked quickly away.
“Effy- hold up!”
I froze, and after a short moment I turned around, knowing exactly who it was.
“Hey,” I said.
He smirked confidently at me, and ruffled the back of his hair. “You alright?”
“Been better,” he replied, lazily. “Got any plans for the winter?”
Behind me, a couple of girls burst out of their carriage, giggling, and James and I turned around to look at them. They noticed us, and mumbled apologies as they ran back inside.
“He’s so hot,” gushed one of the girls, before the carriage door shut.
I turned back to James, who was grinning in the most obnoxious manner ever and yet somehow, I was still totally and utterly attracted to him.
“We’re staying in Britain,” I said. “Al tells me you are too?”
“We were going to spend a week in Southern France,” James says lazily, “but decided against it, you know- Al and I have our NEWTs, Lily has her OWLS…”
“Oh yeah, how are they going?”
“I don’t know- ask her?”
“No,” I said. “Yours.”
He shrugged. “I got all O’s in my Mock NEWTS this term, so I’m not really fussed-”
“That’s so good!” I said, surprised.
“Elizabeth Wilderson,” he said, raising his left eyebrow. “Are you surprised at my academic achievements and my natural intellect?”
“Well, I always knew you were clever- those pranks you and Freddie pulled in the lower school obviously required some basis of intellect-”
“Now, Wilderson, you claimed that you never noticed Freddie and me during lower school?” he prompted, and I scowled.
“I didn’t idolise you, like everyone else,” I said. “But obviously I noticed the two of you. I’d have to be deaf, blind, dumb and at a convent in Italy, otherwise.”
He was still playing with the back of his hair, and I had just noticed how my fingers were twirling the ends of my hair. “What a riveting story.”
“You must have fancied me when we were younger,” he said confidently. “Everyone did.”
“I didn’t! And even if I did, I wasn’t allowed to-“
“Because Veronica Clearwater already put dibs on you in first year,” I said, grinning at the memory. “And she is scary as fuck. She threatened to send me a howler, and she does really good vocal impressions.”
“Come off it, Wilderson. You’re telling me you didn’t harbour a little crush on me? Not even when Freddie and I charmed the suits of armour to dance along to Hollaback Girl during the Halloween Feast?”
“What about when we set Nargles lose in the Hufflepuff common room for beating us-”
“No,” I pressed, and I tried to hide the smile forming on my lips.
James drew in even closer, until our bodies were touching.
“Well then,” he said quietly, brushing a lock of hair away from my face and delicately placing it behind my ear. “Do you fancy me now?”
“Not in the slightest.”
“Prove it how-”
He kissed me, right in the middle of the moving train, and every single vein in my body was buzzing. I was a euphoric mess- nothing more than concentrated stardust on tattered velvet carpeting.
His hands wove around my waist, clutching me to him, and my hands held his face. He smelt of fresh laundry, a summer’s evening, tobacco and something just totally, utterly indescribable.
“So do you still not fancy me, Wilderson?” he said, breaking apart.
“Not at all,” I said, smiling up at him.
“Well, you know what?”
“Yeah, probably- I am a Ravenclaw.”
I looked up at him. “Go on, then.”
“I don’t fancy you either,” he said, and his eyes glinted in the golden rays of sun that emitted from a window next to us.
I clicked my tongue against the roof of my mouth. “Then that’s us sorted, then.”
He grinned. “I suppose it is, yeah.”
I smiled at him for one last time before turning around to walk away, my heart beating furiously in my chest, when he muttered my name again.
“Yeah?” I said, turning around.
“See you around,” he said. He ruffled the back of his hair again and walked away.
“Hang on- James!”
We were a duo of broken conversations and constant turning around, each one trying to out-do the other with our stubborn personas. “Yeah?”
“What if, hypothetically speaking, I did fancy you?”
“Well, then, I suppose I’d probably ask you out on a date.”
“And where would we go?”
He paused for a second. “Madame Puddifoots-”
“I’m joking! We’d go out for dinner in London, Wilderson. Probably around, half past seven?”
“And what would I wear?”
“Oh, Wilderson,” said James, his eyes twinkling. “You could wear a potato sack and still look beautiful.”
“Your charm warms my heart,” I said.
“Doesn’t it? Pity this date is all hypothetical.”
“Fine,” I said, and he smirked. “Perhaps I fancy you a little.”
“You can do better than that.”
“I fancy you a sustainable amount.”
James shook his head.
“James Sirius Potter,” I snapped. “I fancy you!”
“Wasn’t so hard, was it?” he said, winking at me, and I scowled.
“See you on Sunday night, Effy,” he said, and this time we really did walk away from each other, my face split by my unrelenting grin.
My mother, Felicity Wilderson, looked a lot like me. We both had dark brown hair that was neither curly nor straight, but a wavy in-between; sometimes in the sunlight it would glimmer a rich golden colour, but almost all of the time it was a consistent chestnut shade. We also both had green eyes, slightly upturned noses and prominent cheekbones; but her mouth was pretty and full, whereas I inherited my dad’s thin lips. And her hair was shorter, ending above her collarbones, and always styled and straightened, whereas mine was thicker and longer.
She also wore glasses; black wayfarers that were the height of fashion at the moment, and a minimal amount of make-up, instead opting into expensive facial scrubs and masks to maintain a tanned, youthful complexion. She was also always smiling; even when she was angry, or upset, her curved lip and peaceful, pleasant expression meant that nobody could take her negative emotions seriously.
“Elizabeth,” she said, hugging me tightly. “We’ve missed you so much! How was the term?”
“Good, thanks,” I said, hugging her back. She smelt of her Marc Jacobs perfume and mint chewing gum. “How’re you? How’s dad?”
“Dad’s at the office,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Romilda and her new boyfriend are coming round for dinner tonight, by the way.”
I didn’t want to throw a hissy fit during the middle of the busy station; we were surrounded by students and parents alike, and a noisy, excitable buzz of chatter filled the narrow passage. I ducked as an owl came flying in my direction, and popped up again with a scowl on my face.
“Oh cut it out, Elizabeth! And we’re seeing the Jordans on Saturday- they’re coming round before the Daily Prophet Christmas Party- speaking of which, I’ve already purchased a dress for you, it’s very nice.”
I completely forgot about the Daily Prophet Christmas Party. My dad, being the Editor of the sports pages, was of course attending with the whole Wilderson family- I had been going since I was a little girl, and I was so over the exciting wow-this-is-so-glamorous phrase of it all.
“What’s the dress like?”
“Oh, you know-”
“Aspen!” cried my mother, beaming and embracing my blonde best friend. Aspen’s mum, a classy Norwegian woman who Aspen inherited her Veela heritage from, stood behind her, shaking hands with Professor Longbottom. “How are you, sweetheart?”
“I’m very good, thank you! How are you, Ms Wilderson?”
“Just delightful. How’s school going?”
I turned my head away from their conversation, and looked around me. It was always surreal, seeing those I saw every day; not necessary speaking to, but just passing in the corridor as unidentifiable faces with their families. Everybody was different around their parents- boys were less rowdy and girls were sweeter. I spotted Mikey with his arm around a woman I recognised as his mum, a witty woman called Janet- and discussing something earnestly with a bald, kind looking man I assumed to be his dad; Oscar was with a pretty, olive-skinned woman I knew to be his older sister, a Healer at St. Mungo’s; Jasmine Azalea was with her younger twin brothers, hugging a woman in a hijab I assumed, from pictures she had shown me, to be her mother, her dad standing behind her and shaking hands with Ophelia Nott’s mother.
I had a sudden urge of affection for everybody on the platform. Wasn’t it incredible, I thought, how Ophelia Nott’s mother, married to the son of a proud Death Eater, was beaming as she shook hands with a Muggleborn? Wasn’t it breath-taking, being surrounded by so many smiling people, ecstatic to be reunited with their loved ones?
My eyes travelled over to the Potter family, standing further away. Ginny Potter, a beautiful woman whose iconic dark red hair has graced both sporting, political and fashion magazines alike was cupping her equally as beautiful daughter’s face, and I watched Harry Potter- like, the Harry Potter- yelling at James, whilst James stood there with his arms crossed, looking amused.
“You can’t just charm all of the tiles in the girls toilets to bear your face, James!”
“And Freddie’s! Not Alfie’s, though…”
“Yeah, because he’s a sensible young man- you know, going places-”
“I am going plenty of places.”
“The only place you’re going is Azkaban, at this rate.” But Harry Potter grinned at his eldest son as he delivered this line, and ruffled James’ hair. “Neville told me about the Quidditch. I’m so proud of you.”
“We didn’t even win, dad!”
“Doesn’t mean you’re not one of the best Quidditch captains to grace the grounds of Hogwarts, James…”
“Effy, darling,” purred Oscar, engulfing me in a hug. “Me, you and Aspen. Breakfast tomorrow morning, yah?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Where’s your sister gone?”
“To say hi to Victoire,” he said, dismissing the conversation with a wave of his hand. Vivienne Green, Oscar’s older sister, and Victoire Weasley were best friends at Hogwarts, and I saw the two girls chat eagerly a few feet away from us.
“Where we going for breakfast?”
“This brunch bar in Kensington. Very nice. How exciting…”
To my left, I noticed Aspen hug my mum goodbye and run after her own mum, and my mum raised her eyebrow at me impatiently.
“Hurry up, Effy,” she called. “Tight schedule. Pip pip.”
I rolled my eyes. “See you tomorrow, Oscar.”
“Alright, bye darling!”
I followed my mum out of the Platform and into the regular, Muggle world. The air was cold and refreshing compared to the warm, claustrophobic atmosphere of Platform 9¾, and we walked in a comfortable silence until we reached the car park.
I slid into the passenger seat, and fastened my seat belt as my mum turned on the engine.
“So now I’ve got you cornered,” she said, her hands gripping the wheel, “tell me everything.”
“There’s nothing to tell,” I protested, but she cut me off.
“Elizabeth! Aspen told me about the Potter boy.”
My eyes widened. Aspen Spinelli was going to be throttled tomorrow morning at breakfast. “It’s just a small date-”
“She told me you and Albus broke up!” exclaimed my mum. “But still, Albus Potter! Lovely boy, I had to deliver papers to the Potter house on behalf of your dad this summer and he came to the door, we spoke for a bit. But I didn’t know you were dating again!”
“We’re not,” I said, and then added brightly, “I’m seeing him on Friday night to help him out with his birthday party details.”
“Well, isn’t that nice, darling. But still- you dated a Potter! You dated in general! Romilda will be impressed.”
The drive from Central London to our house in a small town in Kent went on like that. My mum’s lovely, and she has good intentions, but she’s very much in her own little world. A world of fashion, gossip, boys, drama and scandals- I was past the age of idolising her and I was eager to see my dad again. My dad was loud, witty, passionate and driven- he didn’t care for my mum’s excitements, but indulged her at the breakfast table when I grew up, pretending to be interested in her natterings.
My dad was very much into Quidditch, but was also an intellect, and it would be interesting to hear his stance on the upcoming war- if there was going to be a war, anyway.
“Oh, that Russia scandal?” said my mum. “Absolutely dreadful, but it’s not Britain’s place to fight. We can’t afford to fight, anyway, darling. America will sort out their Ministry, don’t worry.”
“But still, America needs Britain’s support-”
“You know what? All anyone will talk about at the Christmas Party on Saturday night will be war. They’re like characters out of a pre-World War Two soap opera, Eff. Lee Jordan, Jeremy Egerton, Daniel O’Hara… They just go up to your dad’s study and discuss war! So boring.”
I turned to my mum, who was nodding her head along to some song on the radio. “Love you, mum.”
She turned to me, and smiled sweetly. “Love you too, sweetheart.”
Okay, yeah, so my updating is absolutely appalling. Totally inexcusable. I am so, so sorry! Exams and summer in general has just been so hectic, I rushed through this chapter to get it into the queue after the staff holiday so I'm not too sure if it reads well or not? I'd love some constructive criticism if you pick up on anything!
I don't own anything you recognise, including- “If either of you boys says "war" just once again, I'll go in another carriage and slam the door."- which is actually adapted from Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. And the lyrics from the chapter description is, of course, Winter Winds from Mumford & Sons.
All the reviews and the favourites make my day. It's totally encouraged my to go into writing as opposed to public relations and the media safter school, so thank you all so much! You guys honestly mean the world to me, even if I do show it through slow updating and hideous rates of replying to reviews. I love you all. xx
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