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Chapter 11 : A Mature Arrangement
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“Seth,” Katie said, a hint of exasperation in her voice, “Seth!” I could feel a burning pain on my arm where Katie had pinched me and jolted out of my pretence.
“Okay, okay. I’m listening,” I replied gruffly, rubbing the sore spot on my arm.
“Good,” she said, lowering her voice so that the handful of Ravenclaws that were sitting close to us, would not hear her. “Now, you know what you have to say.”
I nodded unenthusiastically, feeling a tight knot forming in my stomach.
“Good, good,” Katie said again, as though she was using the word as a mantra. “Now we just have to wait for-” She stopped talking so abruptly that her mouth was still opened in mid-sentence, staring at something behind my back.
“What is it?” I whispered, trying to turn around in my seat as subtly as possible, but Katie had already begun to push me from the bench.
“It’s him!” She hissed, never ceasing to prod me. “Go! Go, go, go!”
“But,” I said feebly, looking around the table for some counterargument. “But, my muesli. I haven’t finished my muesli!”
“No time for that!” She urged, giving me what probably was supposed to be an encouraging smile. “You can do this. Are you ready?”
“Good. Now, go!” She gave me a forceful nudge and I finally got up from the bench, feeling slightly nauseous.
“Okay,” I whispered, more to myself than to Katie. “Okay.” Taking a deep breath, I turned around and began to walk towards the small group of people that was standing in a circle near the Gryffindor table. My neck felt suddenly hot and sweaty underneath the thick layer of hair that fell over it, but I tried to ignore it and continued to move. I probably imagined it, but it felt like all eyes in the Great Hall were on me, watching me as I approached James Potter, who was leaning against the table, one arm around a pretty blonde, the other gesturing wildly, to the great amusement of his friends. And suddenly I realised that I wasn’t cut out for this. Not at all.
I couldn’t just walk up to James Potter, surrounded by his friends – half of whom had witnessed the embarrassing scene on the Quidditch pitch – and talk to him. Unfortunately, it was already too late to turn around now; I had come to a halt only a few inches from the laughing group, panic surging through my body.
I needed to act – now – before it got any weirder.
In a kneejerk reaction, I turned right, walking past the group, as though it had always been my intention to look at the weirdly coloured portrait that hung next to entrance. I remained in front of it for a moment, feeling incredibly stupid. What had I been thinking?
After I felt like I had been staring at the painting for long enough to make it look believable, I followed a chattering group of Slytherins out of the Great Hall, hoping that my embarrassing stunt had been unnoticed. I knew that I would have to try again; at least if I still wanted to help Sam.
It was ironic, really. Out of all the students at Hogwarts, my last resort just had to be James Potter, of course.
It was bucketing down and I could feel the water seep through my uniform as though it wasn’t even there. The bigger problem, however, was the gigantic winged horse that reared up in front of Katie, Bernice, and me, kicking its forelegs wildly.
“You need to hold them! Show’em who’s the boss!” Hagrid yelled over the rain, but it wasn’t much help. The Abraxan mare, which was twice the size of a regular horse, kept kicking out and flapping its enormous wings, making it impossible to approach it. Close to me, I could hear Morgana Evenberg cry out in panic as their stallion had advanced on her with flaring nostrils.
“They are lovable creatures, really,” Hagrid assured us, though he didn’t look very confident saying it, “just need a strong hand, that’s all.”
“I think it bit me!” Adina Singer screeched and the colour drained from Hagrid’s face as he marched across the clearing.
“It’s only a scratch,” he tried to comfort a sobbing Adina, “it didn’t bite you.” But the damage had been done: Most people had abandoned their attempts to restrain the horses and now scurried to bring as much distance in between them and the creatures as possible. Even Katie, who usually loved Care of Magical Creatures, had grabbed my arm and tugged on it furiously, trying to get me to budge.
“I don’t want to lose a limb just yet,” she said as I gave her a questioning look. However, before we could even move so much as an inch, our Abraxan mare reared up again so vigorously that we both, trying to avoid the painful impact of its dinner plate-sized hooves, slipped on the rain-sodden ground and fell into the mud.
“Don’t move!” Hagrid’s voice hollered over the clearing, but Bernice had already taken a step towards the agitated horse, her eyes narrowed and her arms raised above her head.
“Calm down!” She yelled in a commanding voice, walking determinately straight towards the horse.
“Bernice!” I called out to her, although doubting that she would even hear me through the rushing of the rain. Next to me, Katie made a feeble screeching noise and buried her face in her hands as she mumbled: “I can’t watch this.”
It was going to be a catastrophe; the horse was going to rip Bernice apart like a ragdoll. I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the screams and the snapping of bones, yet it didn’t come. Instead, Hagrid’s booming voice echoed along the edge of the Forbidden Forest, flushing up a couple of birds.
“Twenty points to Ravenclaw!”
I opened my eyes again, feeling my mouth drop open at the unexpected scene; Bernice was actually padding the creature, which stood still like a statue, its large head bowed. Slowly the other horses gathered around her as well, looking positively harmless as they flicked their tails idly, queuing for their turn to be padded.
Mud was dripping from my uniform, leaving unsightly clumps on the corridor floor as I walked toward the door at the very end. Torches had been lit along the stone walls, yet they were not enough to stop me from shaking. The cold seemed to have seeped through my skin and right to my bones, and all I could think of at the moment, was a nice, hot bath.
I had just reached the statue of Boris the Bewildered, ready to give it the password for the Prefects bathroom, when, all of a sudden, it jumped open by itself and almost hit me in the face.
I quickly moved to the side, feeling my heart plummet to my stomach as the secret door revealed a barely dressed James Potter, wearing nothing but grey sweatpants. I hadn’t expected to meet anyone up here during dinner time, most of all not a half-naked guy. And, even worse, he didn’t just ignore me, as he would usually have done, but raised his eyebrows at me and gave me an appraising look.
“What the hell happened to you?”
It wasn’t exactly a charming remark, though I knew what he was referring to; I must have looked like a complete mess with wet hair plastered to my dirt-streaked face and clothes caked with mud. My arms sported a few fresh scratches and I could literally feel a lump of mud dripping from my earlobe. Of course, I just had to run into James Potter when I had horse manure in my hair.
“Care of Magical Creatures,” I replied, taking a step backwards so that he would not pick up the mixture of sweat and dung that oozed from my clothes.
“Right,” James chuckled. My misery obviously amused him and I could feel the familiar impulse again that told me to whack him with something. Maybe, if I shook my head hard enough, I could splatter him with a bit of dung.
“I know you insist that you’re not a stalker, but this is starting to get weird,” he said and I could feel the blood rush to my face, although more out of anger than of embarrassment. Only James Potter could be conceited enough to think that any girl he randomly ran into, had been stalking him.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” I finally said in a surprisingly cool tone, “I just wanted to take a bath.” As soon as I had said it, I wished I had skipped the bath-part. It sounded weird to talk to James about taking baths, most of all when he was giving me this unbearably cocky grin. Also, he still had not bothered to put on a shirt, which made me feel awkward on so many more levels than I had ever thought possible.
“You know, that’s actually quite a good cover story, Woodley.”
“What?” I tried to glare at him, but, fearing I would accidentally look at his torso, I somehow ended up staring at his hairline. “I am not stalking you. I- ugh, you know what, forget it.” I trailed off lamely, observing the gigantic picture of tiny mermaids, swimming in and out of the frame, right behind James’s right ear.
“Relax,” he laughed. “I’m joking. Although you were staring at me for ten minutes straight this morning without saying a word.”
“Oh,” I said before I could stop myself, feeling my cheeks heat up instantly. I hadn’t thought that anyone had noticed my embarrassing manoeuvre in the Great Hall, but apparently I had been wrong. As much as I disliked James, I had to admit that it did look weird if someone just stared at you for a while and then turned around and walked away without a word. There wasn’t even a plausible explanation; at least none that I could share with James Potter.
“I – um, I totally didn’t stare at you.” I tried to sound unimpressed, leaning casually against the corridor wall. Unfortunately, however, I had misjudged the distance and ended up crashing into the stone like a complete idiot. “I just wanted to tell you that I reconsidered tutoring you,” I said, and, in an attempt to pass my clumsy move off as completely intentional, I remained propped up against the wall in an awkward angle that was not only uncomfortable but also must have looked really stupid.
“Okay,” James said slowly, looking at me with one eyebrow raised as though he was contemplating my sanity. He didn’t comment or laugh, however, which I took as a sign that he really needed those tutoring lessons. “And what do you want in return?”
“Nothing.” I shrugged my shoulders and quickly looked down to the floor, where a small puddle of mud had pooled underneath my shoes. “I just – I get extra credits for it from Slughorn. That’s all.” Of course, this was a lie. I had never even heard of such a thing as extra credits at Hogwarts. Fortunately, James didn’t know me well enough to realise that my glowing red face would have given me away immediately.
“Okay, great.” He untied his arms and stuffed his hands into his pockets, exposing his bare torso once again. “When do we start?”
“Oh, um.” I had trained my eyes on his hairline again, unable to look anywhere else. “I was thinking the sooner the better. Maybe tonight?”
“Great!” I cut James off. “Seven o’ clock, Potions classroom. See you then! Bubbles,” I said to the statue of Boris the Bewildered, which sprang open immediately, revealing the entrance to the vast bathroom facilities. And, without looking back at James, I slipped through the secret door, enjoying this small moment of relief. I was far from having solved all of my problems, but this was a very good place to start.
“You look good,” Katie said as she watched me drag a brush through my wavy hair.
“It wasn’t my intention.” I replied, examining my reflection in the mirror; I actually didn’t want to look like I was trying to impress James. Because I really wasn’t. “Do I look too nice?” I tugged on my asymmetrical, white jumper, which kept sliding off my right shoulder.
Katie only rolled her eyes in response. She had been sitting on her bed, painting her toenails and asking for details on James’s stomach, which I couldn’t give her, of course, since I had put quite some effort into not looking at him.
“Are you ready?” She had walked over to me, careful to not let her toes touch the floor, and held out a stack of potion books for me. “Remember, the instructions are glued to the last page of Potions & Plants. Do you have the Caleria Roots and the Gravidas essence?”
“Yes,” I patted my bag, in which I had hidden the ingredients, and then took the pile of books from Katie. “I’m ready.”
I really wasn’t. At all. Not only was I about to brew a highly illegal potion, I also would have to come up with a plausible cover story for needing a fair amount of expensive ingredients from Slughorn’s cupboard and somehow hide everything from James Potter. The mere thought of the task ahead, gave me a queasy feeling.
The bad feeling stayed with me all the way down to the dungeons. By the time I had reached the potions classroom, I wasn’t at all sure anymore if I actually wanted to go through with the plan. I basically risked losing everything, just to help a classmate and his girlfriend. And, if it actually turned out that she was pregnant, it all would have been in vain anyway. There was so little to gain and so much to lose – I didn’t even want to think of what my family would say if they knew.
“Ah, Miss Woodley!” Professor Slughorn greeted me enthusiastically, as I entered the classroom. He was bending over a small, steaming pot that stood on his desk, apparently sniffing the scarlet red smoke that rose rapidly into the air. There was no sign of James anywhere, and I could feel my heart sinking to my stomach. Slughorn would hardly let me stay down here alone if Potter didn’t show up. And even if he did, how would I explain the missing ingredients?
“I will be gone in a second,” Slughorn said jovially. “Just wanted to prepare this little treat for my fourth years tomorrow.”
“Volatus?” I said, having identified the characteristic steam of the flying-potion.
“Correct!” Slughorn beamed at me. “It always makes for a memorable lesson. Ah, James, there you are!”
I turned my head as James approached the teacher’s desk, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans. By the looks of it, he hadn’t bothered to bring any books or ingredients, which – although really inconsiderate – I could actually use to my advantage.
“I’m sorry, I’m late,” he said politely as he reached the desk. The flickering candle light fell onto his face and I noticed that his lips were sloppily stained in a berry colour that looked a lot like lipstick. “I was busy with an essay for Charms.”
“Don’t worry, my dear boy!” Slughorn, who apparently hadn’t noticed the lipstick on James’ face, clapped him on the shoulder, beaming like I had never seen him beam before. “You are just on time. I will leave you both to it, then. James, you could not wish for a better tutor than Miss Woodley here.” He gave me a broad smile, putting his other hand on my shoulder and pulling me closer to him and James. “She is the most talented potion-maker I have taught since your father, actually.”
James seemed to supress a grin and I narrowed my eyes at him. If he didn’t think I was good at potions, why did he even bother at all? Maybe this had all been a stupid idea.
“Let me just lock the cupboard before I leave.” Slughorn had dug an old-fashioned key from his leather bag, making for the large wooden cabinet in the back of the room.
“No!” I had cried out before I could stop myself, making Slughorn stop dead in his tracks. “I mean, could you maybe leave it open for us, Sir? We might need some ingredients.”
“Oh.” I could almost see Slughorn’s brain working as he looked at me, his eyes narrowed as he considered his answer. “Well,” he said appraisingly, his small eyes traveling back and forth between me and James. Finally, however, his face lightened and I could detect a smile underneath his walrus moustache. “Of course, of course, Miss Woodley.” He removed the cupboard key from the chain and held it out to me. “Just make sure to lock it when you are done. But don’t tell anyone, will you. The headmistress would be most unhappy if she knew I let students use the ingredients in the cupboard unsupervised.”
“Of course, Sir.” My fingers tingled as I grabbed the key and pocketed it, hardly believing my luck. So far, things were working out perfectly.
“Okay,” James sighed as soon as the door had closed behind Slughorn, leaning against the teacher’s desk like he owned it, “where do we start?”
Thick, silver smoke hung above the cauldron, seemingly too heavy to rise any higher. The fumes had seeped into my hair, turning it into a bushy, wheat-blonde afro, but what bothered me more, was the sour smell that burned in my nose. I had already pulled up my jumper as a barrier, breathing into the soft cotton, but the effect was only marginally helpful.
“That can’t be right!” James exclaimed, moving away from the now vibrating cauldron.
“Well, it isn’t!” I called back, mimicking his move and taking a couple of steps backwards. I didn’t think the potion would explode, but the smoke was getting denser and the smell more acidic.
“I thought you were a potions genius!” James had to yell as the kettle was now whistling in a high-pitched tone. “Shouldn’t you have noticed that something was wrong?”
“I did!” I yelled back indignantly. “You already screwed up your calculations!”
“What? Why the hell didn’t you tell me that?”
There was a loud pouf as a
black cloud exploded above the cauldron, which ceased to vibrate at once, looking perfectly harmless again.
“Hephadore’s theorem is easier to understand if you make a mistake,” I explained, walking back to the desk with the kettle, where the smoke had almost evaporated completely again. “If you find out where you went wrong, you’ll know how to do it right.”
James looked at me with raised eyebrows, his arms knotted tightly in front of his chest. “And you couldn’t have told me that before this thing almost exploded, could you?”
“Well, if I had, you wouldn’t have tried to make the potion in the first place, would you?” I fired back, feeling thoroughly wrong-footed. “And it wouldn’t have exploded!”
“Oh, that’s reassuring,” James said mockingly, “coming from someone who looks like a crazy professor!”
“At least I’m not wearing Ravishing Raspberry on my lips! It’s really not your colour.” I knew this had been quite a low blow, but making fun of my frizzed up hair wasn’t much better.
James wiped the lipstick into the back of his hand, examining the purplish-red stains with mild interest. “Thanks for telling me right away.”
I rolled my eyes and began to clean up the mess of unused ingredients that littered the desk around the cauldron. I was completely exhausted and I still hadn’t started with the Graviditas potion, which would probably take me at least another hour.
“Can we just – Let’s just call it a day,” I sighed, feeling too tired to come up with a clever retort.
“Good idea,” James said coldly and, after grabbing his notes, simply left the potions classroom without a word, slamming the door shut behind him.
A/N: So that’s another chapter. I hope you enjoyed it and I would love to hear your thoughts on it!!! What did you think of James’s and Seth’s interaction? I’m super excited about every little comment! :)
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