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Chapter 18 : staring into space
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“Forty seven?” said Aspen behind me, as I carved the twentieth line of the day on the wall in between our beds that afternoon. “It’s only been two days! How have that many people asked you about James?!”
“To be fair, I did just come back from double History of Magic with the Hufflepuff girls,” I said, blowing away the excess sawdust from my wand and admiring my handiwork. “You’d think Eve Feltham would have more important things on her mind, what with the semi finals this Saturday. Speaking of which, I have Quidditch practise.”
“Liam said Danny’s working your fingers to the bone.”
I nodded in agreement, as I stood up and turned to Aspen. We had been practising for hours every day after class, during lunches and before breakfast, and when Hufflepuff had booked the field, Danny would take us into an empty classroom to go over tactics.
“This match is the best thing that’s happened to me,” I said, tying my hair up in a ponytail. “I’m so continuously tired I don’t have time to think about James.”
“Oh really,” said Aspen, and I followed her gaze to James’ old shirt lying on my bed. She turned to me, and raised her eyebrow. “Effy.”
“What?” I said, sitting on the flannel and beaming at her.
“Come on. You have to talk about it some time,” she said, sitting on my bed with me.
“No I don’t,” I said brightly. “I”m totally fine. Fine, fine, fine.”
“Oscar says you’re going to explode from pent up feelings.”
“Well, Oscar’s wrong. Pass me my Quidditch kit, would you-”
“Effy!” said Aspen, looking up at me with her big, blue eyes. “Talk to me! You were crazy about James-"
"You're playing with your hair- are you trying to flirt with me?-"
"-And now you two’ve broken up-”
“Actually, we’re on a break,” I said brusquely, getting the kit from Aspen’s side of my bed for myself, and stuffing it into my bag. “Would love to talk, but I’ve got to go chase a golden ball for three hours. See you later, Spinelli.”
I could feel Aspen’s dirty look at the back of my head as I walked out of the door, closing it behind me. As I made the commute from the Ravenclaw tower to the Quidditch changing rooms, I made a mental note to add two more lines to my tally of Times Effy Has Been Asked About James, filing them under the curious category which was much larger than the concerned: that only had seven strokes.
“Hey Effy,” Lara chirped, as I walked into the girls’ changing rooms. “Guess who got asked out by Lysander Scamander to the next Hogsmeade weekend?”
“Oh my God!” I said, dropping my bag down and looking up excitedly. “No way! When?”
“Sunday,” Lara chattered, pulling up her navy knee-high socks. “We were in Potions and-”
“Wilderson!” boomed Danny, walking into our changing room. “Good, you’re here-”
“Danny!” I cried, as Lara looked scandalised. “You can’t come in here! I could have been naked!”
“But you’re not,” he said, crossing his arms. “Hurry up, girls. The rest of us are waiting outside.”
I watched him walk about, before turning to Lara. “Tell me about it later,” I said, and she nodded happily.
Quidditch practise was exhausting. I had been flying so much recently my thighs were starting to feel numb and the palms of my hands were blistering from the tight grip. Luckily it doesn’t really take a lot of muscle to fly fast and catch a ball the size of my palm, so I was exempt from the drills Danny put the other five players through.
“LAST ONE TO COMPLETE THIRTY PUSH UPS DOES FIVE EXTRA LAPS!” roared Danny as he marched up and down the line assembled by Lara, Mikey, Liam, Indigo and Josh.
“AND WILDERSON!” screeched Danny, turning around where I was stood, pulling faces at Mikey. “THE SNITCH HAS BEEN RELEASED! GO FUCKING FIND IT, YOU FUCKING-”
“Danny!” Liam cried, a look of mock outrage on his face as he pointed at little Lara Swift, who blushed bright pink.
It went on like that for the next three hours, and by the time Danny announced we had finished for the evening I almost fell off my broom with relief.
“I can’t walk,” I moaned, lying on the grass, looking up at the beginnings of a sunset. The sky was a soft lilac with vivid pink clouds, fading into orange to the left of me. A soft breeze flew through my hair, and I felt the grass ripple under my bare legs.
“You didn’t have to do fifty press ups,” said Mikey, standing over me, smirking at my pathetic face.
“I just broke up with James,” I offered.
“No,” he said, beginning to walk off.
“Mikeeeey,” I wailed. Above me, the pink clouds early summer sunset moved at a fast rate, and the breeze from before picked up. “Come on.”
I heard him return, and saw his head loom in front of my vision of the sky ahead. “On one condition.”
“We talk about you and James,” he said, and ignored my protest. “You can’t keep on pretending it didn’t happen, Eff. You haven’t spoken to Aspen or Oscar or Jasmine or Al. Speak to me.”
He crouched down beside me, and raised his eyebrows.
“Fine,” I said tiredly, and let my limp body be picked up my Mikey’s big arms, feeling like a doll as he flung me over his shoulders, my head colliding with the back of his torso. I felt his toned, muscular arms hold my legs as my head pattered against his Quidditch jersey, watching the ground, too tired to notice the mild uncomfort I was experiencing.
I watched his footsteps walk up the wooden stairs from the pitch to the seats, and he walked higher and higher until he gently put me down on a bench at the very top of the seats. I sat up, and watched the sunset from a different persepective.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, crossing my arms tightly across my chest as the breeze picked up again, this time colder as we were higher up.
“So why did you break up?” Mikey asked, looking at me. He didn’t sound curious at all, but concerned, and his tone was unusually soft for him.
“He told me he couldn’t come out to Hogsmeade last weekend because he had to spend the whole day working with Dahlia Moss,” I said. “But then he walks in with her-”
“I know, we all saw.”
“Anyway, so he finds me in the owlery, and I’m pretty pissed off, but you know, not upset or anything- well, maybe I was, a little bit- James has this really weird knack for finding me, I mean, I never go to the owlery everyone knows I send my mail in the morning with my family owl when he comes down-”
“Sorry… And then we talked and he explained himself and I don’t know, I spent the whole of the past three years hearing stories of James cheating on girls and I know they’re all exaggerated for the most part but they don’t stem from nothing and I just realised how he’s not going to change for me, he snogged like ten girls throughout his relationship with Dahlia last year and that’s Dahlia Moss- I’m just some flat chested year below girl, for all I know he’s holding sex parties in his dormitory and laughing at the memory of me-”
“Effy,” repeated Mikey, putting his hand on my arm. “You’re not some flat chested year below girl.”
“-and,” I continued, not realising how not okay I was with the way things ended with James, “he said he was crazy about me and you know, I know he wouldn’t have lied to me on purpose about Hogsmeade and especially about Dahlia Moss, but I just don’t trust him. And he was right, he hadn’t done anything this year to prove otherwise- I suppose his Sixth Year scandals were just that- but I don’t know, I just don’t know.”
And by this time I couldn’t speak because I was crying, and I laughed through the tears, which only made me cry harder.
“And I just really liked him,” I said, wiping the wetness under my eyes. “I just didn’t trust him. I didn’t trust that he wasn’t seeing the countless other girls who were obsessed with him- this whole fucking school is so far up his arse no wonder everyone’s brown haired- and I just didn’t trust that he liked me, I mean, who am I-“
“Effy,” said Mikey, putting his arm around me, and I felt the warmth radiate off his skin. “Stop. You’re so good enough for him.”
“I’m barely scraping a pass in Defence, I’m annoying and useless at everything, I’m ugly as fuck-”
“Effy,” said Mikey sternly, looking at me. “Stop it.”
“Eff,” he said, gently. “You’re not ugly. And you’re- you’re- you’re clever, and funny, and independent. Strong. You’re right about annoying-” I laughed weakly- “but you’re so wrong about everything else. It’s not about whether you’re good enough for James, it’s about whether he’s good enough for you. And Effy, he’s not.”
I looked up at Mikey, surprised by my outburst and his tenderness.
“He’s unreliable and if you can’t trust him- well- it’s not your fault you can’t trust him!” said Mikey. “He had sex with somebody the hour after he broke up with a girl last year, and that was when he was our age.”
“People don’t change like that, Effy,” said Mikey, and his tone shifted from comforting to red hot angry. “I mean yeah, he’s good looking and funny and all of that. But you deserve so much better than somebody who doesn’t make you cry like this. I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen you cry before.”
I laughed, and rubbed my eyes. “You haven’t.”
“James Potter just isn’t worth it, Effy,” Mikey consoled.
“You’re right,” I said, as Mikey nodded earnestly. But I didn’t agree with him, I didn’t agree with him at all.
“Effy!” cried Aspen, and Mikey and I turned from each other to the bottom of the seats, where Aspen and Oscar were running up towards me. Aspen had her cardigan wrapped tightly around her, and Oscar was trying not to spill a full mug of what looked like hot chocolate.
“Darling, you’re not the one holding boiling milk-”
“Hey,” I said, smiling weakly at Aspen as she launched herself at me, hugging me tightly, her body warm against the cool evening’s air.
“Oh Effy,” said Aspen, stroking my hair and sitting on my lap. “Liam told us you were up here, I knew the lack of sleep and Quidditch hysteria would have come down to some massive tear fest.”
“But it looks like we’ve missed it,” said Oscar glumly, sitting on the back of the bench in front of us and passing me the hot mug of hot chocolate. I smiled gratefully, feeling the heat warm up my numb fingers and palms. I wanted to bathe in it, I was so numb from the practise and the cold Scottish breeze.
“We saw James at dinner,” said Aspen, as she wrapped an arm around me. “You know, he looked pretty hung up. Dahlia Moss went up to go to speak to him, and he left the hall looking really pissed.”
“Jasmine said she overheard Eve Chang and Annie Delta discuss how he had to leave Alfie’s birthday thing on Saturday night early,” Oscar offered.
“Yeah, she said- Jasmine I mean, not Annie Delta, she terrifies the fuck out of me- she said that Eve said James hadn’t been so withdrawn since Gryffindor lost the Cup last year.”
“But then again, it’s third hand gossip, so you know the rules. Take it with a pinch of salt,” said Oscar cheerfully, and then nodded at the mug I was cradling in my hands. “Drink.”
I obediently took a sip, and Oscar continued. “Danny Alton thinks James broke up with you to ruin your performance on Saturday.”
“We know,” Mikey and I chorused, and our unity made me laugh.
“What?” asked Oscar, looking curious.
Mikey turned to me, and I shrugged. “God, I’m exhausted,” I said, stifling a yawn. “I can’t believe I cried like that-”
“You never cry-”
“Well, she did just now,” said Mikey, and Oscar retorted, but I didn’t pay attention. Above me, the vivid pink sunset was slowly turning darker, and the breeze got colder, but I didn’t notice. It felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders- it felt like I didn’t even know I had that weight to begin with.
Whilst Aspen had highly enjoyed her day with Louis Weasley last Saturday, the two were never to go further in their relationship, which suited the two just fine, as Louis hadn’t been in a relationship since Third Year and Aspen didn’t want any boyfriend of hers to have better hair than she did.
“You know what,” chatted Louis in Herbology as the four of us- him, Ruddy Walcott, Poppy Atticus and me- embarked on even more group work. “I’m a commitmentphobe and proud. We should stop this discrimination against commitmentphobes as we are just innocent people.”
“Couldn’t agree more!” said Ruddy, looking enlightened.
“And besides, now I get to be friends with Aspen and still snog a variety of people,” said Louis brightly, before hastily adding, “by people, I mean girls.”
“Like you, Poppy,” said Ruddy, winking.
“Oh shove off,” she said tiredly, but not coldly.
“Why were you in the Hospital Wing, Atticus?” Louis asked curiously.
I turned to Poppy. “You were in the Hospital Wing?”
She opened her mouth to speak, before Longbottom interrupted with his wafting voice. “Persistence, Sixth Years, persistence… That’s the only skill necessary for charming these old buggers…”
I looked down at my pot of soil, and decided I had officially given up on massaging the mother glow-worm into an appearance.
Poppy nodded. “Potter sent me enchanted flowers-”
“Oh!” I said, suddenly. That was my idea. Albus and I had been brainstorming ideas on how to gently persuade Poppy that Albus was serious about her, and we created singing roses to be sent to her dormitory.
“I’m allergic to roses,” she said. “Ironic, I know, because my name’s Poppy… Anyway, I had to go to the Hospital Wing for a remedy.”
“Oh no,” I said, looking down at my pot of soil.
“Yeah, there was this massive syringe-”
“I’m sure he’s really sorry!” I half cried, half screamed. Poppy looked at me, taken aback, and across from us, Ruddy and Louis were sniggering.
We worked in a comfortable quiet for a while, the silence only punctured by small chatter from other tables and quiet murmurings between Dweedledum and Dweedledee. But said clowns couldn’t go five minutes without bothering Poppy or me.
“Wilderson,” said Ruddy, seriously. “You’re like the table enemy.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, as Poppy and I rolled our eyes at each other.
“Yeah, you’re actually kind of like the Herbology Voldemort. Except not as bad.”
“Why is Effy the the table enemy?” enquired Poppy. “I quite like Effy.”
“Thanks Poppy, I like you too-”
“Because,” said Louis in a charitably patient voice, “your house is playing Ravenclaw this weekend for a place in the Quidditch finals. We’re already there,” he added brightly, and fist-pumped Ruddy with a very dirty hand.
“So then surely we’re the enemies,” said Poppy, frowning. “Because after we beat Ravenclaw we go onto playing you…”
I was about to open my mouth when Ruddy beat me to it. “No offence, but Ravenclaw will probably win on Saturday.”
I looked at Poppy, who shrugged. “Whatever. I don’t even know if I can be bothered to go to the match. McGonagall finally let some Fifth Years set up SPEW and I’m more excited over that-”
“Hang on,” I said, taking my left hand out of the soil and holding up my palm as if to silence her. “McGonagall let Falmer and Macmillan set up SPEW?”
“Yeah, only the other day-”
“This means Eve and I can set up Feminist Society!” I crowed excitedly. Opposite me, the two idiots were making disgusted looks.
“Urgh,” said Ruddy, shaking his head. “Not my thing.”
“Good. You wouldn’t be invited,” I said half-heartedly, as my mind was frantic. McGonagall was quite strict on student clubs and such, but if she let SPEW go ahead- another activist society- there would be no argument against Feminist Society, especially if we got others involved. Eve and I could totally draft up an initial meeting of at least fifteen Hogwarts students in our year- perhaps not the year above, they were busy with their NEWTs…
“Will you provide food?” said Louis, asking the real questions. “Delilah Macmillan said SPEW would hand out tea and biscuits.”
“Tea and biscuits is what attracts you, Louis? Are you senile?”
“I don’t know why James liked you,” he huffed, his ego slightly dented. I suppose my tone was quite harsh as my mind ran crazy thinking of the first Hogwarts’ Feminist Society- I mean, fucking Beauxbatons had a Feminist Society, and they’re French- but hearing James’ name in such a tame context as Herbology class really took me by surprised. I blinked, my hands going limp.
“Louis!” said Poppy, annoyed, looking up from her pot indignantly. Poppy always looked indignant- most Hufflepuffs did, actually. They were quite an indignant house. “You know James Potter is on the list of things we don’t talk about-”
“Yeah dude,” said Ruddy, nodding earnestly, like a trained dog. “Period jokes, OWL results, joking about being gay and James Potter. What?” he said, as Poppy raised her eyebrow. “I’m clever! I got seven O’s in OWL! Oh wait. Sorry.”
The bell rang, and Longbottom walked through the tables as we packed up, overlooking each table’s work for the day.
“Disappointing, you four,” he said, shaking his head at our quartet. “You haven’t produced nearly enough turnover as the other tables. Three tables have even finished, and I don’t think you’re half way. If you don’t pick up the slack by next lesson, you might have to be kept back for an evening catch up session again.”
“Sorry sir,” Poppy and I chorused. Ruddy and Louis just nodded.
“And good luck for Saturday, Miss Wilderson!” said Longbottom, his tone brightening.
I thanked him and we walked out. Poppy, Ruddy and Louis all had lessons, but I had a free period, and as I walked through the corridors of the school, my mind was buzzing over with ideas for Feminist Society. Eve was Captain of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team so I assumed she would be very busy- and moreover, she was competition and Danny would crucify me for talking to her in the run up to the game. I knew several girls throughout the year were interested; some of Eve’s friends, a few Slytherins, Nancy Cameron-Scott and Liza Pacino in my dormitory. Jasmine adopted feminism like a religion after being the topic of the school one morning after being caught coming out of the Seventh Year Gryffindor boys’ dormitories, and knowing her, she would probably drag another Gryffindor girl down with her. Teddy Oliver and Declan Ainsley had expressed interest in the past, as had Albus and so by default, Scorpius.
I was so wrapped up in my thoughts I didn’t realise the corridors has emptied majorly. The Charms fifth floor corridor was cool, with a warm breeze drifting in through open windows.
I crossed my arms and looked up, and saw Alfie Ronson and James walk around the corridor. My breath caught in my throat as I looked away at the two of them chatting earnestly, and I looked around frantically for somewhere to hide before he noticed me.
It was a joke how little I was over him. How just seeing him in his white school shirt, the top button undone and his scarlet tie hanging lose made my throat thicken; how seeing his messy black hair, his smooth cheekbones, the sharpness of his jawline and the thickness of his eyebrows above his dark brown eyes, seeing James Sirius Potter in his full, Tuesday morning glory made my jaw clench and my heart beat irregular.
“Hey,” said James, breaking off mid-sentence as I hurriedly walked by them. “Effy.”
I turned around. “Hi James,” I said, attempting a smile. “Alfie.”
He smiled at me. Unlike Freddie, Alfie and I had always gotten along quite well.
“Hey,” said James, looking at me. I noticed his hand was clutching the morning’s copy of Witch Weekly, which was obviously odd. He hated the magazine, could go on for hours about how trashy it was. “Good luck for the weekend.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, frowning.
“The Quidditch match…?”
“Oh! Oh, yeah. Thanks,” I said hurriedly, and walked around the corner before I could do anything drastic like cry or something.
The morning of the match was hot and humid, without a single breeze’s relief. The sky was a cloudless, vivid blue and the grass of the pitch glistened with the night’s dew. Josh Wood, to the left of me, ran his fingers through the grass and rubbed it on his forehead, sighing happily from the cool dampness.
“Wood,” barked Danny. “Get back inside.”
Josh retreated back inside the Quidditch stands, closing the thick drapes that separated us from the pitch outside. We were plunged in dimmed darkness yet again, and Danny spoke.
“We’ve worked hard,” he said, returning to his speech before Josh got bored and opened the curtain. “And hopefully it’ll show on the pitch today. If not…”
“Have fun?” I offered, forever the hopeful captain to be.
“What? No!” he cried, sounding horrified. “Have fun off my match, Wilderson!”
Mikey and Liam sniggered, just as Freddie Weasley’s voice boomed out from outside the stands. I suddenly felt violently light-headed, overcome with nerves, and my heartbeat fluttered with excitement.
“Good luck,” concluded Danny, as Freddie called us out by our surnames, and we walked onto the pitch.
My heart was thumping wildly in my chest. The sun glared almost obnoxiously in the clear, brilliant blue sky. The air was hot and sticky; Scotland wasn’t usually like this. Global warming, all that. Should probably give more money to environmental charities. No need thinking of it now.
I shook Teddy Oliver’s hand, as was the tradition. He looked just about as nervous as I felt, which was mildly assuring; Alfie Ronson and Scorpius always looked excited before a match.
Good luck, Teddy mouthed, and I beamed gratefully at him, feeling guilty. Teddy was such a nice guy, he probably did wish me luck. I hated that he was my competition. Eve Feltham and Danny Alton nodded at each other.
“I want a nice, clean game,” said Madame Hooch, eyeing Eve, and I knew she was referring to the mess of a match that was Hufflepuff against Slytherin last month. “From all of you.”
We mounted our brooms. The balls were released. She blew the whistle. And I was off.
“Time,” called Madame Hooch. Sweat had made my hair stick to my forehead and my skin glow almost red. I flew down to join the rest of my team.
“Wilderson,” snapped Danny. “We’ve been in the air for almost four hours now. It’s past lunch time. I’m hot. Where is the snitch?”
I glared at him, and tightened my ponytail. I was too worn out to be deliver a sarcastic response. “I can’t find it, Danny. I haven’t seen it all game.”
“Has anyone seen it?” Danny demanded. In the silence that followed, I could hear Eve ask her team a similar question. “Fuck. Fuck. Hogwarts matches are only meant to last an hour or two. This must be the longest match played all year.”
Madame Hooch came around with water bottles- I only realised how thirsty I was when I felt the water hit my lips. I finished the bottle within seconds, as Freddie Weasley entertained the restless crowd.
“You know what? Ravenclaw’s up two hundred and thirty points, and Hufflepuff’s got twenty points more. I reckon Alton and Feltham have conspired to keep this going on as long as possible to gain as many house points they can. It’s like the two irrelevant Houses- oh don’t boo, you know it’s true- came together to prove a point. Or something. Hey! They’re flying again! It’s all a conspiracy, basically. My girl Trelawney said so in Divination the other day. Did I just admit I take Divination? How embarrassing. Tell me, Professor, am I blushing? I feel rather hot- alright! So Hufflepuff have possession of the Quaffle- nice interception by Lancaster there!”
Mikey threw the Quaffle to Lara and Lara tried to score, but the Hufflepuff Keeper blocked it. He threw it back to Eve, who was about to throw it to another Chaser when Liam aimed the Bludger at her, and Danny caught the dropped Quaffle.
I flew around on my broom, desperately trying to spot that flicker of gold. Teddy was doing the same. It was around lunch time, and yet I wasn’t hungry at all. The longer the match went on for, the more anxious I became.
And then I saw it.
Flickering over by the Gryffindor stand. I flew faster than I had ever flown in my life. My heart wasn’t even pounding at this stage; I’m sure it had dropped onto the pitch below by now. Blood raced through my head. I gripped my broom so tight I couldn’t feel my hands either.
Teddy was behind me, he wasn’t an idiot, I didn’t even need to turn around to see him to know that.
The snitch was within my reach. It flickered, and flew away, closer to the pitch. I followed it desperately, flying like a crazy person.
Everything was silent. I only saw fluorescent green grass and a blindingly bright gold snitch.
I buckled my knees tighter against my broom to speed it up- I knew I was exceeding the recommended speed for unprofessional Quidditch, and the sound of whooshing air behind me confirmed that Teddy was, too.
I gripped my broom with my left hand, and felt the beating of the golden wings between my fingers.
“And Wilderson has caught the snitch! Ravenclaw wins the Quidditch semi-finals!”
I touched down on the ground, and immediately felt Liam engulf me in a massive hug, Josh Wood and Mikey joining seconds after, as my ears rang with chants of Ravenclaw! Ravenclaw! Ravenclaw!
The party in the Ravenclaw common room was particularly merry. I know victory parties are going to be of a happy atmosphere in general, but it was like everybody was buzzing on this shared delight. Everybody seemed to be pleasant and carefree, the common room full of big grins, dancing, excited chatter and laughter.
Later, I would learn that Ruddy and Louis had cast cheering charms in an attempt to see Ravenclaw house high, but at the time I stood in the corner of the party, showered in compliments and yet feeling unexplainably uneasy.
“Such magnificent flying,” gushed a year above girl, and her friend nodded.
I smiled. “Thank you-”
“And that dive- amazing-”
“Thanks,” I said, to a Gryffindor boy in my year. “I’m sure Teddy played just as well.”
“Yes, but he didn’t win.”
“True. Excuse me,” I said, leaving my fan club for the small scene gathering by the grand windows, relieved to be reunited with my friends again.
“Don’t leave me,” I whined to Mikey, who put a drunken arm around my shoulder. “Everyone’s being so annoying.”
“Well,” said Scorpius, smirking at me. “You are the man of the match.”
“You usually love compliments,” said Albus, raising his eyebrows at me in suspicion, and the dark haired boy between him and Scorpius snorted, looking away from his conversation with Aspen. I held eye contact with him for an elongated moment, and the corners of his lips twitched.
“Only when given in a good variety,” I said, returning back to Albus, determined to impress this blue-eyed stranger, who had returned back to chatting to Aspen. “I’ve only been down for a half hour and I’ve been promised a great career in the sport by at least ten Fifth Years.”
“Well Danny’s not down here,” Mikey reasoned, tapping on his bottle of firewhiskey thoughtfully. “So I suppose you’re the representative of the team.”
“What? Where’s Danny?” I asked, scanning the room.
“Probably working,” said Albus. “James, Freddie and Alfie’ve spent the whole day in the library practising for their NEWTs.”
I stopped thinking about Aspen’s dark haired, blue-eyed friend the second Albus said James. “Were they not at the game?”
“No, they were, they just left the second it finished-”
“Lena!” cried Aspen excitedly, squeezing my hand and promising to find me soon before running off into the crowd, leaving me alone with the four boys. I slowly realised in my drunken haze that the striking stranger was Heath Tomlinson, a Slytherin friend of Al and Scor’s. As Aspen left, he turned back to the conversation, a cigarette in his hand.
I was so done with boys and their smoking. I was so done with boys and messy dark hair. My initial attraction to Heath decreased when I realised he reminded me of James, and it collapsed when Albus so basically said to his brother’s name.
“Anyway,” said Albus, turning to Heath. “What were you saying? Earlier.”
“Ridiculous,” said Mikey, opinionated as usual. “You deserve what you work for.”
“Exactly,” said Heath, and his voice was low and gravelly, his sharp accent Scottish. “The effort you put in is what one should be able to take out.”
“Of course it’s not. Capitalism has the workers grinding their bones from sunrise to sunset for a minimum wage whilst their employers take long holidays, luxury weekends, private schooling for their children to continue the family privilege. It’s not fair, it’s not equality.”
“The work of the classes differ,” Mikey argued. “Anyone can build or clean. Our society is dependent upon those who create and orchestrate. We have to value the jobs we’re more dependent on.”
“Exactly,” said Heath earnestly. “We need nurses, teachers, builders. We don’t need big brand corporations or multi millionaire actors. We’re distributing wealth all wrong-”
“So if you were to pay a cleaner the same as a banker,” said Mikey, crossing his arms, “who would want to be a banker when they’ll get the same wage as a cleaner?”
“You’re underestimating job satisfaction and personal ambition,” said Heath. Scorpius was beginning to look bored, but Albus was watching the debate with a thoughtful expression.
“What do you think, Effy?” Mikey said, turning to me. Mikey and I usually stood on the same page for pretty much everything, but for the first time ever, I disagreed with him.
“Heath’s right,” I said, brushing my hair over my shoulder. “But what both of you have forgotten to mention is the impact of capitalism on women. It’s the twenty-first century, and women are still seen as a threat to business because of their womb. The Ministry can’t claim full equality until women are given maternity leave with pay, and the guarantee that they won’t lose their job in the process. Until then, witches are being forced to choose between a career and a family, whilst men are, yet again, forced into the workplace and out of the home with the Ministry’s shocking paternity leave rates.”
Albus nodded pensively, and Heath tilted his head as he gazed at me.
“Aren’t we all?”
He snorted, and Mikey rolled his eyes. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Aspen beckon me over on the dance floor, and I brushed down my skirt.
“See you later,” I said, walking over to Aspen. I was almost there, when I heard footsteps pacing after me. I turned around and saw Heath run a hand through his hair.
“Hey,” he said, and in the fluorescent lighting of the party raging around us the slight sweat of his cheekbones and temple shone. “I know you’re probably not in the mood for more compliments.”
“Oh, no, I just meant-”
“I get it,” he said, smirking slightly. “But it’s not a Quidditch compliment, don’t worry. I just really admired what you said about women’s rights.”
“Oh,” I said, pleasantly taken by surprise. “Thank you.”
I waited for him on the outskirts of the dance floor to ask if I wanted to get a drink, or maybe see me tomorrow, but he just smiled and walked away, leaving me absolutely stunned.
“Hey,” roared Aspen, as I found her right in the midst of the dancing. Her great blonde hair was stuck to her forehead with sweat, and boys around her looked her up and down with grins on their faces, her beautiful body clothed in tight shorts and a crop top.
“Hey,” I yelled back. “How’s the party?”
“You’re the Quidditch superstar! You tell me!”
I laughed, as bodies brushed up against me. “You seen Jasmine?”
“I was just about to ask you that,” she screamed, dancing along to the heavy electro. “Ophelia hasn’t seen her all night either, but her dorm mates said she definitely came down with them.”
“She’s definitely not here?” I asked.
“Heath Tomlinson was just telling me he saw her leave with Seth Corner,” she said, and the smile dropped off my face. “That’s why I’m worried, Eff. He said she could barely walk, but you know, she is really drunk…”
We pushed ourselves outside the dancing, and Aspen looked anxious as she continued. “She’s really drunk, and you know, she probably thought it would be a good idea to get back at Freddie or something…”
“Oh fuck,” I hissed, and Aspen nodded in agreement.
Seth Corner was a Gryffindor in the year above, but there was nothing brave or chivalrous about him. He was terrifying, and I knew James hated him more than anyone else. He was misogynistic, homophobic, racist- terribly entitled, and incredibly arrogant.
He had fancied Jasmine for ages, long before Aspen and I became friends with her, but Jasmine was adamant in having nothing to do with him. And Seth Corner wasn’t the type to be turned down often; somehow, despite his characteristics, he was never really seen without a girl, and rumours of his sex life lined the school corridors.
“He’s graduating this year,” I said to Aspen, who hugged herself. “He would always vow to James that he would have sex with Jasmine one way or another before he leaves school.”
“I mean, maybe she went of her own accord-”
“This is Jasmine,” I said, a million thoughts racing through my head. I was suddenly incredibly sober, and felt ridiculous in my party clothes. “If she wanted to get back at Freddie, she’d try it with Alfie, not Seth Corner.”
“Oh my God,” said Aspen. “Fuck. You’re so right. We have to do something.”
Panic rose in my throat like nausea, and I scanned the room wildly for somebody, anybody.
“Al and Scor are here,” she said. “We could ask them-”
“How would we get into the common room?” I said. “Unless we woke up the professors-”
“No,” she said. “Where’s Louis? Or Ruddy?”
I scanned the room for one of the two Gryffindor boys. They loved Jasmine like a sister, but they would act irrationally when sober, let alone when drunk. I saw Ruddy sleeping on an armchair that Oscar liked to do his homework on surrounded by girls, and I couldn’t see Louis.
Freddie, Alfie and James are in the library, they’ve been working all day…
“Go find Louis if you can,” I said. “If you can’t, then wake up Ruddy, and go to the Gryffindor common room.”
“What will you do?”
“Albus said James was in the library working,” I said.
“Eff,” said Aspen, rubbing her hand on my arm. “Are you sure-”
“Even if you go down with Louis and Ruddy, we both know James is the only one to properly deal with Seth Corner,” I said, feeling too much to think about James. My nerves were on fire, my heart was beating in my chest. That bad feeling I had at the beginning of the party was rising within me, a concoction of anger and anxiety, fury and devastation. “We both know what Seth Corner’s like- what Jasmine’s like-”
“See you soon,” said Aspen, and I slipped out of my common room.
The corridors were dark, save little pools of moonlight from open windows on the walls and floor. I ran through the castle, ran faster than I think I’ve ever run in my whole life. The Ravenclaw common room was only a minute away from the library, and it was still open by the time I arrived. Of course. The library was always open during exam period.
“James,” I said, running into the library.
“Excuse me, young lady! No shouting in the library, no running in the library-”
“Effy?” asked James incredulously, looking up from his table of parchment and textbooks. He stood up, and looked at me with a concerned look. I must have looked like a maniac. Eve Chang and Alfie Ronson, who were with James, looked up too.
“It’s Jasmine,” I said, panting slightly. “She’s with Seth Corner-”
“And young lady! That is not appropriate attire for the library-”
“What do you mean?” James asked, his eyebrows furrowing.
“I can’t explain right now- Aspen and I think he forced her up there- Heath Tomlinson said she could barely walk when she left the party-”
“Oh my God,” cried Eve, looking upset. “James-”
But he was one step ahead of her. His navy sweater was rolled up at the elbows and his hair was messier than ever, but he had a look in his eyes that made me even feel slightly scared, slightly awed. He reached for his wand, and nodded at Alfie.
“Eve, go wake Longbottom. Alfie, go to the Room of Requirement, he may be in there.”
I ran after him as he stormed out of the library, and Alfie and Eve rose to their feet, grabbing their wands too.
“Seth Corner,” said James, gritting his teeth together, “has been telling the whole dormitory about how he’s going to fuck Azalea before his first NEWT exam whether she wants to or not. Our first exam is next Tuesday.”
“Despite any motives she may have to get Freddie’s attention, I know Azalea well enough to know she would never go near Corner.” He was walking so quickly I had to run to catch up with him. “I’m scared he’s one step ahead of us and has taken her somewhere else.”
We finally reached the Gryffindor common room. The portrait that guarded their Tower was about to open her mouth, but saw James’ anger and my anxiety, and then closed it.
“Serendipity,” he muttered, and the door swung open.
He ran up the stairs to the boys’ dormitories, five steps at a time, and I ran after him.
“Corner!” He roared, slamming on the shut door of the Seventh Year boys’ dormitory. “Corner!”
I could hear something crash inside the room.
“Alohamora,” he muttered furiously, stabbing his wand at the door, but it didn’t open.
“He would have locked it magically,” I said, and suddenly remembered something I learned from Mikey and Liam in Third Year. “You have to open it physically-”
“I can’t go down to Filch for a key now-”
I pushed him aside and ran up to the door, throwing my full weight against it. The weak wooden door that guarded every dormitory in the school collapsed under me, and I thought fleetingly about Hogwarts’ habit of undermining physical strength against magic.
James marched over me as I picked myself off the floor. Behind me there were footsteps, and I looked up to see Aspen arrive at the top of the staircase with both Louis and Ruddy.
“Effy,” said Aspen, helping me up, and my left shoulder felt incredibly painful.
“You awful, disgusting little rapist,” James spat, holding Seth Corner by the throat, the latter pinned up against the wall beside a bed. “You-”
“Oh my God- Jasmine-”
“-don’t even deserve Azkaban, scum like you deserve-”
“-fucking little cock tease got what she was asking for-”
“-are you hurt?”
“-get your hands off me, Potter-”
“Jasmine! Answer me-”
“You’re eighteen, Corner, you’ll be tried as an adult for rape and drugging of a minor-”
I heard the sound of bone crunching, as I cradled Jasmine’s head in my lap. I would later learn that Ruddy was the one that had punched Seth Corner in the face whilst Louis dove into his two cousins’ trunks for emergency remedials for Jasmine.
“I can’t find anything,” Louis said frantically, looking up from James’ trunk.
“Ruddy, get off Corner,” I said sharply. “Aspen, go help Louis. Ruddy, you have to massage Jasmine’s lungs to get air circulating again. She’s breathing, but it’s not regular.”
Ruddy came to join me on the bed. I forgot all about Seth Corner and James in the corner of the room.
“Every dormitory should have an emergency first aid kit-”
“Their’s is all used up-”
“Go get the one from your dormitory then, Louis. Ruddy, don’t massage as hard. If she’s not breathing regularly in a minute…”
I was, for the first time that night, at a loss for words.
“What?” asked Ruddy, tensely.
“I don’t know,” I admitted.
I looked from Jasmine to Ruddy to James, and saw that he was looking right at me, before turning his head towards Jasmine’s limp figure over my legs.
“Wilderson, you should-”
“What on earth is going on in here?”
My head shot up towards the door. Eve Chang had returned with Professor Longbottom and Madame Pomfrey, the latter immediately rushing to Jasmine. I could smell the clean, lilac, lavender smell of the Hospital Ward on her uniform as she bent over me, touching Jasmine’s wrist, dangling something small in her open mouth.
“Mr Corner,” said Longbottom. “Are you hurt?”
James looked ready to explode, and Ruddy and Louis didn’t look much different.
“Professor!” screamed James. “He was about to-”
“He is a student, Mr Potter, and above all, he is hurt,” Longbottom said calmly. Corner staggered up from where he was on the floor, his face pretty bloodied up. James was breathing heavily, looking at Corner with so much hate it almost destroyed his face.
“Miss Azalea is breathing, but most definitely under the influence of something,” said Madame Pomfrey. In my party shorts and summer crop top, I suddenly felt cold for the first time that night. Shivers ran up and down my body. I looked at Jasmine’s closed eyelids, her pouty lips, the crackling of the make-up on her skin.
Madame Pomfrey and Longbottom spoke, and James repeatedly tried to interject. Madame Pomfrey summoned two house-elves to side-apparate Corner and Jasmine to the Hospital Wing with her. I didn’t know why she didn’t just summon two floating mattresses like I had seen before.
I was still staring into my lap, long after Jasmine had departed.
I looked up, and saw Longbottom and James look at me. Ruddy, Louis, Aspen and Eve were all gone. It was just us three alone in the lit Gryffindor dormitory.
“Sorry,” I said, standing up. “Where’s everyone gone?”
“Towards Professor Sinatra’s study, I would hope,” said Longbottom. “That’s where I sent them. You’ve been sitting like that for the past five minutes.”
“If she’s not up for talking about it, she doesn’t have to,” James said to Longbottom.
“No, I am,” I said. “Sorry, I must have blanked out a bit there. Let’s go.”
We were about to make our way down the staircase and out of the room- I don’t think I’d ever be able to see the room in the same way again- until James called my name, still in the room.
“Yeah?” I asked, turning around. He shut the door behind him.
“You’re freezing,” he said, throwing me a sweatshirt. And he walked on down the staircase to go join Longbottom, before I could even thank him. He had this coldness in his attitude towards me- this indifference, a nonchalance that hurt more than anything else he could have done. Because even when we were arguing- and we always were- I knew I mattered to him, even if in a negative way. But this neutrality was disgusting. I felt violently, excruciatingly sad, and kind of numb, as I followed the two down the stairs of the deserted Gryffindor common room.
By the time Professor Sinatra called me into her office, the night was ending. I was sat opposite a large, almost majestic window overlooking the Hogwarts grounds by her office, and the navy, star-studded sky was slowly turning lighter, the first glimmers of sunrise making their hesitant appearance just over the horizon.
Corner was in the Hospital Wing, as was Jasmine. Longbottom had told us that she had woken up, but Madame Pomfrey wanted to keep her in overnight, just in case.
By the time James and I had gotten to her office on the top floor of the school, Aspen, Louis, Ruddy and Eve were already sat there, sitting in silence. Sinatra had called us in in alphabetical order- Eve went first, then James, then Aspen, and then Ruddy and Louis. For some reason- perhaps she wasn’t satisfied with James’ answer, or wanted to hear more- James had stayed sat outside her office even after he left the room, as opposed to Eve who had left straight for her dormitory, shortly followed by Aspen.
There was something terrifyingly grave, sombre about the atmosphere, the air heavy with the actions of the night. Aspen had fallen asleep on Ruddy’s shoulder and Louis on his cousin, but the three of them had left, leaving me alone with James, waiting for Louis to leave her office.
James was sat totally still, just two seats down from me. I could smell him from where I was curled up, tired but not sleepy, not sleepy at all. His eyes were wide open, but looked kind of glazed over, and he had been staring into space since Louis was summoned into her office. I couldn’t work out if I passionately hated him or if I pathetically loved him. I was too tired to decide. All I knew was that he held his head like some sort of hero on a history book page, and that the in the dusky corridor lighting, his messy hair framed his face almost like he was wearing a crown. Something like that.
Louis walked out, and James’ head turned to him.
“Fuck, man,” said Louis, rubbing his jaw. “They’re not expelling Corner.”
“They wouldn’t,” said James, as he yawned. “Exams start in a fortnight.” Louis nodded sleepily, confetti and glitter from the night’s party still plastered on his face. I wondered if it was on mine.
“See you tomorrow,” said Louis, and James nodded.
I rose from my seat. The sunrise was slowly, but steadily, creeping up. I had never been to Sinatra’s office before, and she had a window even grander than the one outside, the rest of the wall space decked in bookshelves.
“Take a seat,” she said, and I sat down on a chair opposite her, beside her polished mahogany desk.
“Sorry for my attire,” I began.
“You know what, Miss Wilderson,” she began, flexing her fingers together, “Some professors would feel uncomfortable with their students dressed so… Well. With so much skin out. But it is my personal belief that we should be encouraging the growth of Muggle culture in wizarding youth today, whether it be technology, music or clothing. Wouldn’t you agree?”
And I did, and she smiled.
Sinatra began by telling me that Hogwarts will not be expelling Corner, even though his actions deserved it, and I interrupted the Deputy Headmaster by telling her I had already heard it from Louis, and she said good.
She asked me to tell her the sequence of events from my persepective, and I did, fatigue and excitement clouding over some parts of the night. She asked if alcohol had been served in my common room, and I paused, reluctant to say the wrong thing.
“Miss Wilderson, I was once a student too. Nobody will get in any trouble, we just need to know.”
“There was drinking, yeah, Professor.”
She was patient and understanding, and for the first time, I really appreciated her as a Deputy Headmaster. She wanted to know how I put two and two together, what made me reach out to James, wanted to know what Jasmine and Corner’s relationship was like.
“I’m obviously a Ravenclaw, so I don’t see their common room interactions,” I said, and she nodded. “When she spoke about him, she would either use him as a joke, I suppose- like, he’s such a creep, maybe he’s friends with Seth Corner- or she would complain about his harassment.”
“Would you know why she hadn’t formally complained about his behaviour prior to tonight?”
“She’s not the type, Professor. It’s not that she doesn’t have faith in the teachers here- or she was intimidated into silence by him- it just probably didn’t occur to her.”
We spoke for ten minutes after that, until she told the quill beside her to stop note-taking our conversation, and rose from her seat.
“Several of your peers told me of your actions tonight, Miss Wilderson,” she said. “I think Rudolph Walcott in particular was impressed by your leadership and quick impulse.”
“It was really nothing-”
“Perhaps, Miss Wilderson, perhaps not.” She walked to the door, and I followed her. “I would advise you to go straight to bed. I summoned an elf to fetch Miss Chang a calming draught, although I don’t think it would be necessary for you. Word will get out and rumours will, as is always the case in this school, escalate. I would very much appreciate it if you could not speak of this night’s events unless you have too.”
“Thank you, Miss Wilderson.”
She smiled at me, and I smiled back, as I walked out of her office and she beckoned James in with a crook of her finger and a raised eyebrow. I know she had advised to go straight to bed but I didn’t want to, not in the slightest. Sleep was the last thing on my mind, really.
I walked to the Hospital Wing. It was almost four in the morning, and the windows outside proved that the day was going to be as sunny as the day before, the small wisps of purple and pink from earlier now fully formed in the sky, the beginnings of a beautiful sunrise taking shape.
Madame Pomfrey was at her desk at the back of the Hospital Wing, but when she looked up and saw me, she didn’t tell me to leave like I thought she would. There were four bodies in the Wings, and Jasmine was lying on a bed in between two windows and two desks scattered with bottles various potions and brew ups. There were three chairs around her bed, and Louis was sat down at one of them.
He was fast asleep when I approached, but one of the chairs smelt like Aspen, so I assumed she had been down here too. I sat down, and watched Jasmine’s face as she slept, the emerging rays of golden pink light from the sunrise outside casting her face in a spectrum of colours. She breathed heavily and evenly through her slightly parted mouth, and the repetitive rhythm of it was almost soothing.
I looked up, and James was walking over to the spare seat beside me. We were inches apart, and I noticed the ink stains on his left hand, the shadow of stubble emerging on his jaw, the dark circles under his eyes.
We sat in silence watching Jasmine, the air suddenly heaving under the weight of words left unsaid. The room was cool, but the rising sun warmed the side of my face by the window in a way that made me feel almost drowsy.
“Good catch yesterday.”
“Thank you,” I said, my words blurred with a yawn that stretched out my mouth completely.
He turned to me, and I looked at him. There was so much I wanted to say. We argued a lot, but we never ran out of things to talk about.
“And- you know. Thanks for being there,” I blurted. “Like, you know. Coming up when I came to you about Jasmine. I know you were working-”
“Don’t be an idiot,” he said sharply, his eyebrows furrowing. “Obviously.”
“Well,” I said indignantly, pushing myself off the chair and standing up. “I think I’m going to go to bed-”
“No, Wilderson,” he said, his tone gentler, his cool fingers grazing my arm, and then grasping slightly tighter when I didn’t sit back down. “Stay. You should stay.”
I looked at him, and he looked exhausted. I think he just wanted company beside the sleeping victim, Ruddy Walcott and the rising sun between us. He looked, suddenly, quite vulnerable and yet world-weary, despite his eighteen years.
“Please,” he said.
“Okay,” I said, and I sat back down.
I don't own Tweedledum nor Tweedledee (Alice and Wonderland, Lewis Carroll) and 'I want a nice, clean game... from all of you' is a direct quote from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, page 98. I also don't own "he held his head like a hero on a history book page," another direct quote, from Taylor Swift's Long Live (Big Machine records), a song that really, I think, captures an element of the relationship between Effy and James,
This was such an intense chapter! To not only write, but to read over and edit, and I'm quite nervous over what you'll think of it. Easily the most dramatic, angsty- and just longest chapter so far. Please let me know what you think! I think it was a bit of a risk to delve into the depths of substance abuse and attempted rape, but I went into writing Fluorescent Adolescent on the pretext of covering a plethora of aspects of teenage life- not only the shiny pretty parts- and hopefully in the second half of the story, I'm starting to get more into it. Thanks again for all the insane reviews you've been leaving, you know how much they mean to me. All my love !!
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