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Chapter 6 : In Which Slughorn Makes A Choice
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Going running with Scor really, truly makes me want to kill myself. Or at least kill him. After running halfway round the lake my face was bright red, dripping with sweat, and I felt like someone had hit me with a well aimed jelly legs hex. I flopped onto the ground, resting my forehead on the frosty grass, welcoming the cold.
Scor kept running. Because he’s evil.
I lay still, slowly letting my breathing regulate itself. I was wearing black leggings and a loose white T-shirt that I think belongs to Cassie, and as I caught my breath I started to realise how cold it was. I shakily got to my feet, cursing Scorpius, and then promptly sat back down again. Moving felt like far too much effort.
After a (long) while Scor turned up again, having run around the whole lake since I gave up. The lake is massive. I don’t know how he does it. The boy’s a machine.
“I despise you,” I said, burying my head back in the grass.
Scor dropped down beside me. He’d run three times the distance I had and was hardly even out of breath.
“Come on, fatty. I want to have breakfast,” he said, poking my ribs.
I rolled over and glared at him. He grinned, flashing his irritatingly bright white teeth, and picked me up, draping me upside down over one of his shoulders.
“What are you doing? Put me down, Scor,” I whined, talking into his lower back where my head had ended up.
“I’m hungry,” Scor said, starting to jog back towards the castle without putting me down. “If I wait for you to regain the use of your legs we’ll miss breakfast.”
He didn’t listen to my complaints and I contented myself with pulling faces at his back.
When we got back to the castle I waited for Scor to put me down. He laughed and ran faster, heading straight for the Great Hall.
“SCORPIUS MALFOY. Put me down! I’m serious.”
I kicked his chest, swinging my legs to make carrying me more difficult, but he didn’t let me go until we reached the Slytherin Table, where he dropped me down onto a bench and sat next to me.
“Olivia, you look awful,” Clara Zabini said, raising one perfectly shaped eyebrow. She was carefully eating teaspoons full of pink grapefruit and didn’t look at all impressed by my entrance to the Hall.
“Well, someone made me go for a run and didn’t give me time to have a shower afterwards,” I said, elbowing Scor and taking a sausage from his plate.
“It’s good for you, Ollie,” Scor said with a shrug. “And it’s good for my team.”
I took another sausage.
Scor stuck out his bottom lip. “There’s literally a plate of sausages in front of you. Why take mine?”
“Tastes better.” I grinned.
“Whatever.” Scor refilled his plate and I took a piece of his toast.
“What do we have first today?”
“Potions in fifteen minutes,” Clara said, playing with her hair and watching Scorpius rather than me. “You should probably run and get dressed quickly.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I said with a yawn.
I took another piece of toast from Scor and ambled back to the Common Room, where a few late risers were still sitting, bathed in the slightly eerie green light from the lake. After the war there was some talk of moving us to another area of the Castle. Apparently our cold living area might have been a contributing factor to how many Slytherins felt angry with society. Anyway, the story goes that the other potential Common Rooms they considered put up a protest and disappeared as soon as they were suggested. The Castle doesn’t like change, so we’re stuck shivering together with the damp and the dark. Cassie says it’s a bonding experience.
The Dormitory was almost empty, with the exception of Amethyst Twine, who sat staring into space on the edge of her bed and didn’t acknowledge me. Her eyes were outlined with heavy black liner and her hair was greasy and unwashed. Esther and Clara were right. She was more strange than she’d been before sixth year. She used to just be quiet. Now she was quite creepy.
I rummaged in my trunk for my robes, having not unpacked properly the night before, and changed quickly without bothering to shower, instead pointing a quick hygiene charm at myself. I really don’t know how people live without magic.
It took me a while to find my potions textbook. I hadn’t bothered to bring it home over the holidays and had no idea where it had disappeared to. It eventually turned up underneath Cassie’s bed, beside a pair of discarded silver stilettos she’d borrowed from me several months ago and a crumpled packet of fake cigarettes from Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes.
I picked up the book and left the room, suppressing a sinking feeling when I looked at the collage of photographs above Cassie’s headboard that made if feel like she was here even though she still hadn’t turned up.
By this time I was late for Potions and had to run down the Dungeon corridor, which wasn’t easy after the morning’s run had made me incapable of properly using my legs.
When I reached the classroom I took my usual seat behind Scorpius and Joe’s table. The desk was empty - Cassie’s chair next to mine remaining unfilled - and I started to unpack my Potions equipment, resigned to spending the lesson working by myself. Slughorn was insistent that we stayed in the same seats all year so we kept the same partner.
I worked slowly on the ‘Silencing Solution’ Slughorn instructed us to make, chopping ingredients into uniformly sized chunks and keeping the flame the exact shade of indigo the textbook described. I like Potions. It feels almost like a kind of art.
The room was a hubbub of low chatter but I tried to ignore everything going on around me as I focussed on my potion. I was already at a disadvantage with twice as much work because my partner wasn’t there - not that Cassie’s much help anyway - and I didn’t want my grade in my best class to go down now that we were working towards NEWTs.
In front of me, Scorpius and Joe were tossing approximate quantities of different things into their cauldron and looking apprehensively at the thick black smoke belching out of their cauldron. Scor’s usually extremely methodical with his work but he’s never had much patience with Potions. Joe just likes to take any excuse to make mess. The smoke made my eyes water but I tried not to let it disturb my concentration.
“Albus, my lad, what’s going on here then?” Slughorn’s booming voice made my focus waver and I looked across the room.
Albus Potter was sitting in his usual seat next to Laura Brogan at the front of the class. He was shaking with anger, fists clenched over the desk, and Brogan had tears trickling down her cheeks.
“Come on now, Albus. Let’s resolve this before you mess up your potion. You two are my best Potioneers! Can’t have this lovers’s spat getting in the way of your work,” Slughorn said, patting Potter’s shoulder with a meaty hand.
I frowned. My potions are nearly always the best in the class after Rose Weasley’s, but Slughorn is adamant that Potter must have inherited his Father’s ‘natural, outstanding skill’ and is therefore the best in the class.
“I’m sorry, Horace,” Potter said, taking a deep breath.
All the Potter/Weasley clan are on first name terms with most of the teachers, and while the majority of the staff still insist that they are called ‘Professor’ during term time, Slughorn likes to see himself as their friend and enjoys their use of his first name. I suppose I can’t blame them for having famous parents who invite their old teachers round for dinner, but it’s somehow very irritating.
“I don’t think I can work with her,” Potter continued. He still looked furious. His voice was louder than was appropriate and his cheeks were flushed.
“Well, m’boy, I suppose we can do something to sort that out if you’re really sure,” Slughorn said, glancing around the room. “There’s a spare seat next to Miss Bell. Why don’t you move your things over there for today, hmm? Or maybe for the whole term. We don’t want your girl trouble interfering with your talent, now, do we?” Slughorn gave a loud laugh and shook his head, chuckling at his own words.
Potter nodded quickly and stood up, knocking his chair over behind him. He picked up his things and crossed the room, slamming his books onto the desk beside me and taking a seat. A copy of ‘Witch Weekly’ was visible beneath his textbook. The cover photo was a large picture of Potter’s face (complete with lipstick stain on one cheek and a sheepish grin) below the headline ‘Harry’s Son - Heartthrob or Harlot?’. Well, that explains what him and Brogan were arguing about then.
After a few moments the class went back to work, realising that the drama was over. Potter and I worked in silence but fell into a sort of rhythm that made the potion come together more quickly than I would have expected. He stirred while I chopped and added ingredients.
I hate to admit it but he makes a much better partner than Cass, who brings chaos with her as soon as she enters a room.
I was carefully adding banshee hair, the final ingredient, when Scor leaned his head back onto our desk.
“Alright, Ollie?” He’d obviously given up on his potion, which was now making sneezing noises while Joe poked it with his wand with a curious expression.
“Mmhmm.” I was concentrating on adding the hair at the right intervals while Potter stirred.
“Recovered from the run?”
“Not even slightly,” I said with a smile, adding the last of the hair.
“Potion going okay with this idiot as your partner?” He smirked.
“Nearly done,” I said, poking his forehead with a quill. “Go away. I can feel your potions incompetence sabotaging my work.”
Scor laughed and leaned further back to give me a huge, innocent grin before turning to Potter.
“Honestly, Potter,” he said with a yawn. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. So she realised your surname’s the only thing you’ve got going for you…”
Potter’s jaw clenched and he started to stir our potion faster than the instructions said to. I frowned at him but didn’t say anything.
“Really,” Scor continued. “I’m surprised it took her so long. Everyone else already knew you don’t measure up to your parents.”
Potter took a deep breath and stirred more quickly, clearly unwilling to give Scorpius a response.
“It’s not like you can blame her for doing what she did. She wasted a hell of a long time in a relationship with you. Might as well make some money from it,” Scor said with a lazy grin.
“Potter, stop stirring,” I said, reaching a hand out towards the spoon. “It’s dangerous to over-mix it now the banshee hair’s gone in.”
He ignored me and Scor gave a cruel laugh, clearly enjoying the effect he was having on Potter.
“Stop it, Scor. It’s not funny anymore,” I said. “Potter, seriously, stop stirring…”
There was a bang and then an awful wail began to sound from our cauldron. The whole class had covered their ears within seconds, including Slughorn at the front. The look on Potter’s face suggested he’d had no idea this could happen. So much for Slughorn’s insistence that he has natural potions ability.
I forced myself to remove one of my hands from my ear to lift my wand, murmuring ‘Silencio’ again and again, but nothing happened.
I watched the cauldron in horror, the sound building until my head was ringing even with both my hands pressed tightly over my ears, and then the whole thing shattered, leaving Potter and I both covered in sticky purple potion, and the wailing stopped.
Slughorn slowly lumbered through the mess towards us.
“Oh ho,” he said with a chuckle. “Miss Bell has kindly demonstrated to the class the dangers of over-mixing potions containing banshee hair.”
I glared at Potter. Of course Slughorn was going to act like this was my mistake.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to give the two of you of you zero marks for your work today. I can’t give anything more without a potion to see,” Slughorn said, fingering his moustache with one hand. “Don’t worry, Albus. I’ll write a letter to your Dad letting him know this isn’t reflective of your performance as a whole. I haven’t heard from him in a while so it’s about time I sent him a note anyway.”
Potter muttered a thank you but his scowl suggested he wasn’t that grateful for Slughorn’s offer.
“Miss Bell, could you stay behind after class for a quick word?” Slughorn said.
I sighed and nodded.
“Good girl,” he continued. “The bell’s going to ring in a few minutes so I suggest you get this mess cleaned up. For homework you can both write me an essay on the uses and dangers of banshee hair.”
I glared at his back as he walked away.
Potter turned to me. “Bell, I’m really sorry.”
“I told you to stop stirring,” I said, pointing my wand at the gooey mess on my robes to clear it.
“I know. It’s completely my fault, I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said, messing up his hair with one hand. “I’ll buy you a new cauldron.”
“Forget it,” I said, clearing the mess of cauldron and potion off the floor with a sweep of my wand as the bell signified the end of class.
I packed my books up into my bag and resignedly made my way to the front of the class to speak to Slughorn. To my surprise, Potter followed me.
“Ah, yes, Miss Bell,” Slughorn said, sitting himself down in the leather armchair behind his desk to look at me.
“It wasn’t Bell’s fault, Horace,” Potter said, shuffling from foot to foot beside me. “The potion was perfect until I messed it up right at the end, and she did tell me to stop stirring. She deserves a high mark. It should be me who’s in trouble.”
I was surprised. I hadn’t expected him to bother sticking up for him.
“Always so noble and modest, taking the fall for your friends,” Slughorn said, shaking his head and smiling at Potter like he was a small child or some kind of pet. “Your Father was exactly the same. I’m sure if it was your mistake it was an accident, Albus. Nobody’s in trouble.”
“Oh. Right. Thanks,” Potter said. “We should probably go, then. We could use our free period to make a start on that essay.”
“That’s m’boy,” Slughorn said. “But I do still need to speak to Miss Bell about something else. Run along now, Albus. Make sure to drop by for tea after school some time this week.”
“Will do,” Potter said, but I noticed he looked unhappy about the offer.
Slughorn waited for him to leave the room before turning back to me.
“Now, Miss Bell. I trust you had a good Christmas?”
“It was alright,” I said, wondering where this was going.
“Yes, yes, of course. Good to see your parents? I taught them both when they were here, of course. Both lovely students, although I never would have imagined they’d get married!”
He didn’t wait for me to answer.
“Well, Miss Bell, I wanted to talk to you about Miss Selwyn.”
“About Cass? What about her?”
Slughorn reached a pudgy hand across his desk and took a piece of crystallised pineapple from a box in front of him, dropping it onto his tongue. He didn’t speak again until he’d swallowed it.
“As your Head of House, I am responsible for the well being of Slytherin students. I was wondering if you knew where Miss Selwyn might be? She hasn’t given us any reason for her absence,” Slughorn said, licking his lips between words.
“Um, I’m not sure,” I said hesitantly.
“Don’t be afraid to tell us. You’re only doing it to look out for her. We’ve been in touch with her Mother and she doesn’t have any idea where she might be. It’s very important that we know her whereabouts so we can make sure she’s safe.”
“I really don’t know. She doesn’t live with her Mum though. You should ask her brother, Andreas. He might know,” I said.
“Ah yes, I remember Andreas. He was one of my favourites during his time here,” Slughorn said with a smile. “I’ll drop him a line to see if he has any ideas.”
He looked like he was waiting for me to speak but I didn’t know what to say so just nodded.
“Miss Selwyn is still underage,” Slughorn eventually continued. “So it is really in her interest for us to know where she is. If you know where she might be or why she’s not here you really do need to tell us. If we can’t find her soon then we’ll have to treat it as a missing persons case, which is a very serious business. Can you think of any reason she might not have returned to school?”
“I really don’t know, Sir,” I said, chewing on my lip. “I’ve written to her to ask where she is but she hasn’t replied.”
“I see,” Slughorn said slowly. “Well, do let us know if you hear from her. She’s a lovely girl and an asset to Slytherin house.”
“I will,” I said, knowing that if Cassie didn’t want to come back to Hogwarts there was no way I’d make her.
“Now, there is the matter of Miss Selwyn’s prefect duties. Until she returns, I think it’s best if you take over from her.”
I looked at him with a frown. “Me? Is that a joke?”
Slughorn laughed loudly. “No, Miss Bell. It is not a joke. There’s a meeting with the Head Boy and Head Girl this evening in the prefect common room. They’ll explain your duties to you.”
“But…why would you want me to do it?”
“I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t,” Slughorn said. “You might not have grades as high as Miss Selwyn’s, but your marks in Potions and Charms are consistently good, and you’ve been a valuable member of the House Quidditch team. I think you’ll perform admirably in the role of prefect.”
“Do I have to?” I wrinkled my nose, thinking of what Scor would say. We’d always laughed at Cassie for being made prefect.
“Yes, I rather think you do,” Slughorn said, smiling. He had icing sugar from his crystallised pineapple caught in the whiskery hairs of his moustache. It made me feel a bit sick.
“Okay. So…there’s a meeting tonight?”
“Yes, in the prefect Common Room. If you don’t know where to find it, ask one of the other prefects. Albus will be able to show you. Him and Rose are the Gryffindor sixth year prefects. Or Mr Montague from your own House.” Slughorn reached for another piece of pineapple and I could see he was waiting for me to leave.
“Right. Okay. Thanks, Professor,” I said, unsure what I was thanking him for. I didn’t want to be a prefect, and I was still annoyed with him for blaming me for the exploding potion.
He continued to eat crystallised pineapple without looking at me, and it was very clear that I was dismissed.
Not going to reply to my very thoughtful and loving letter?
Not like I wanted to hear from you anyway…
Seriously Cass, where are you? Are you coming back? I know it’s only really been a day, but it doesn’t feel right being here without you.
I had to work with Smaller Potter in Potions today. Do you feel guilty about leaving me here yet? No? That’s alright, I know guilt’s something you try not to associate with yourself…but he did explode my new cauldron and got me zero marks for the lesson.
Please come back soon. I need my Potions partner and best friend back! Plus Sluggy’s making me take over your prefect duties while you’re not here. I can pretty much hear you laughing at me. Stop it.
He asked where you were. Sluggy, I mean. I think the teachers might be worried. I’m not worried…yet…but it would be good to hear from you just to know that you’re okay.
Anyway, I have to go to Charms now so I can’t make this a long letter. That doesn’t mean I’m not expecting a proper reply!
Miss you and love you,
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