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Chapter 3 : THREE: Matters of the Heart
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great ci by milominderbinder @tda!
THREE: MATTERS OF THE HEART
"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CAN YOU WATCH WHERE YOU'RE FU - er, I mean - I'm terribly sorry for walking into you. I don't know where on earth my mind has been today."
The second year Ravenclaw gave Dahlia a vaguely terrified look in response to the horrible grimace she tried to pass off as a genial smile. Mumbling something under his breath in response, he quickly darted off toward his table, allowing her to tranfigure her face into something that was less of an eyesore as she whipped around to glare at Nova.
"I swear to God, Hale," she began venomously.
Before she could go any further, however, Nova interrupted her with a gloating smirk. "Now, now, Dahlia. Remember the dare? No swearing or being rude to anyone for the next twenty four hours."
Dahlia gave her a look that clearly screamed all of the insults she was yelling in her mind. The horrid grimace returned. "Of course. But can I just say that once this day is over, I'll be glad to let you get to know my grandmother? She's currently having a great time. In heaven."
"Unlike that quite horrendous face of yours," Reagan threw out with a satisfied smirk, revelling in the fact that Dahlia couldn't respond properly. Of course, the effect was somewhat ruined by the fact that she had to sing the retort in a raspy croak that sounded like a frog was trapped in her throat.
The girls of Dormitory 2.6A were evil and well aware of it.
Grumbling under her breath, Dahlia led them to the nearest corner of the Hufflepuff table and began to load her plate with breakfast furiously. The others watched in mild amusement as she shoved half a slice of toast into her mouth in order to occupy it with something else; she really did spend too much of her time swearing.
Nova wasn't going to lie about it: seeing Dahlia in pain from having to be nice felt good. Ever since they'd agreed to back her into a corner and make her. . . flirt with Albus Potter, she had been feeling on edge. Having her friends suffer through their dares took her mind off such things.
Like now, for example. Jeremy Williams had just walked over and was now complimenting Cassidy on the "casual" look she was favouring this morning (part of her dare was to put no effort into her appearance all day; to simply roll out of bed, brush her teeth and change clothes and not even shower - something Cass detested since she had been brought up with the knowledge that appearances were everything. Needless to say, she had forgone the morning jog she had been planning to take.) and Cass could do nothing but ignore him, even though she had the firm opinion that Jeremy Williams had the nicest pair of lips in this castle.
And the nicest arse.
"Cassidy?" Williams was now saying rather weakly as she continued to stare down at her plate in grim determination. "C-Cassidy? Are you - are you seriously just going to ignore me? Oh my God, you actually are. You're actually ignoring me. I'm right next to you, you know!" When she said nothing, he spat a venomous "Fine," and stormed off.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Cass threw down her goblet and gave Nala the filthiest glare in her arsenal. "If you hadn't come up with that ridiculous dare, I would have been attached to a fine pair of lips by the end of this day!"
Unfortunately, Nala couldn't reply.
"How is it that he still finds you pretty when you haven't even got moisturiser on?" Reagan sang, her rasp still managing to convey her shock.
"It's part of my charm," she shot back, tossing her bed hair back. "The point is that I am now deprived of Jeremy Williams for a long time now. God knows how long the boy will take to nurse his ego."
"Hey, don't blame me!" Reagan cried, gesturing to Nova. "Blame her. She was the one who wanted everyone to do dares."
"Yeah, because you lot gave me one!" Nova said defensively, cheeks flushing pink in dread at the prospect of flirting with Albus Potter. For fuck's sake, she was going to be humiliated. "I wasn't going to be embarrassed on my own."
"So technically," Alice said with a mischievous smile, "it's all your fault that you're not going to be snogging Williams today, Cass."
Everyone but Cass broke out in laughter; even Dahlia managed a few snorts around the toast lodged in her throat. The Greengrass in question was unamused, however.
"Oh, yeah, laugh it up. But don't forget that you have your own dares to do. Dahlia, you have to be nice to everyone. Yes, everyone. And Reagan, you have to sing every single word in that horrid croak. Nala, you have to shut the fuck up for once-"
Nala gave her a friendly glare.
"And Alice, you have the honour of flirting with the one and only Damien Nott on this fine day."
Alice groaned, looking like she would much rather roll around in dirt for the rest of her life instead. She lowered her head miserably. "Don't remind me. Thanks to this dare, I might end up with an unwanted admirer."
"Don't lie, Alice." Nova laughed. "You want him more than anything you've ever thought of. The need for him burns in your soul."
"You mean, just like your love for Al?" she fired back. Lifting her head up from the table, her eyes swivelled around to the doors to the Great Hall where they settled upon someone and lit up in triumph. Irate since she was now condemned to flirting with Nott, she said in a sing-song tone, "Would you look at that? It seems that he's at the door."
Instantly, five heads whipped around to confirm this statement. At the sight of the Slytherin, Nova's heart sped up, beating so fast that she was half convinced it would eventually rip out of her chest and into his hands, wishing that he would fill the empty space it would leave with his own heart. She couldn't fathom how just a glance at his wiry figure as he leaned against the frame of the door could make her feel this way.
"What was the saying again? Speak of the devil and he shall appear." Cassidy smirked, patting the table impatiently. "Go on. Up you get. Go and flirt your way into his bed."
"Cass!" Alice admonished.
"Or his arms," she amended with a wolfish smile. "The deed can be done anywhere."
Nova nodded, her throat suddenly dry. Her hands braced against the surface of the table, ready to push her up, but for some reason, she remained in her seat. She was frozen in her anxiety, unable to face the dangerous task of flirting.
"What are you doing?" Dahlia's ever so dulcet tones reached her ears.
"Yes, um, I have a question. Um. Do I really need to do it at this mo-"
"Fuck off, Nova!" came their chorus.
Knowing that there was literally no way around this, she reluctantly pushed herself off the bench and stepped over it, smoothing down the front of her robes in order to give her hands something to do. As she walked, her thoughts ran at a hundred miles an hour, trying to remember everything that Cass did whenever she was coming onto someone.
For fuck's sake, how was she supposed to do this? She had never flirted with someone, she didn't know the first thing about it! She should've practiced this in the mirror or gotten some tips off the girls or have been more discreet about her goddamn crush on him or else she wouldn't be walking up to him at this very moment, panicking about the fact that she was walking up to him and -
"Hey." His voice, warm and pleasant, cut through her internal monologue.
She blinked, suddenly realising that she was there in front of Albus Potter and about to flirt with him. Abruptly, her mouth felt as if it was full of sawdust, as if it had been deprived of water for decades. Her tongue slid out to lick her lips moister.
"Er. Hey," was all she could think of saying.
His mouth spread into an amused smile. Over her shoulder, he nodded at his companion - a Slytherin she was sure went by the name of Elijah Burke - to leave which he did with nothing more than a knowing smirk that frayed her nerves even more, if that was at all possible. Albus turned back to her.
"So. Are you here about the History of Magic project?" he asked curiously, peering down at her.
She could almost kiss him.
Without knowing it, he had given her a lifeline, an excuse to cling onto to explain away why she was here, speaking to him. As soon as she realised it, Nova couldn't help the broad smile that lit up her face in her relief, one that caused him to blink, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing.
"Yes," she said, trying not to speak too quickly. "Yes, I am."
"We never did get to cross reference those pages, did we?"
"No, no, we didn't."
She felt like groaning inside. This wasn't flirting. This was discussing an academic subject, one that was known to be the most boring of them all. She was being pathetic, but she couldn't think of anything else to talk about.
And then it hit her like a lightning bolt. A lot of the time when Cass flirted in front of them, the conversation she had with the boy she was after usually stemmed from something completely mundane. But he realised that she was interested in something else entirely from her body language. What did she do again? Oh yes, she stood quite close, tilted her head to one side to expose her neck and spoke in a throatier voice.
How did one speak in a throatier voice, exactly?
Willing herself to put her self-doubt to one side, Nova took a step forward and rested her hand on one of Albus' arms. He glanced down at it and back up again at her face, betraying no sign of what he felt about it.
"Would you like-" Scratch that. Her throaty voice made her sound like a dying man. Coughing delicately to cover up the heat that flushed into her cheeks, she tried again, this time in her usual tone, just a little softer than usual. Her heart beat furiously in her chest, as if it knew its captor was close. "I'm free later. Since we still have a lot of work to do, we could meet up in the library?"
He considered her words, blinking furiously. "Er, yeah, I can do that. Er, I have Quidditch practice at five, but we can meet up after dinner? I think Rosie and Scorpius have Prefect rounds then, though."
"It'll be fine," Nova said quickly. "They were the ones who distracted us in the first place anyway." She ended with a small, nervous laugh and he followed suit.
"I should get breakfast," he said after a moment, gesturing toward the Slytherin table.
She nodded understandingly with a small smile. Stepping back and removing her hand from his arm somehow both eased and disappointed her, but she continued to walk backwards. "I'll see you later then."
As she turned away from him, her chest relaxed and she took in a deep breath, walking towards her friends with all the nonchalance in the world. She passed her former roommates with nothing more than a cursory glance in their direction and sat down at her seat, trying not to smile triumphantly.
"I'm proud of you," came Reagan's enthusiastic warble.
Giving up completely, Nova grinned at her. "I did it."
Despite the fact that the six were cattier than usual today, all of them began congratulating her - even Dahlia's comment wasn't dripping with sarcasm and it wasn't because of her dare. After Nala had happily patted her on the back, Cass leaned forward with a determined glint in her dark eyes.
"So, are you meeting up with him later?"
"Yeah. After dinner, we're meeting in the library."
"Ah. Going to get kinky in the Restricted Section, are you?"
If someone ever asked her whether she loved her friends, Nova would confirm that she did without hesitation. They had been there for her through thick and thin, brightening up her day, helping her brush off any snide comments and just making her feel at home for years now. She was grateful for that and would probably do anything in the world for them.
The same sentiment did not extend to letting them accompany her to the library.
"No. Absolutely not," she said flatly.
"Oh, come on!" Alice exclaimed, falling at her feet with her hands clasped together. "It's the least you can do for me after I had to flirt with Damien Nott. I can still feel the grease in my fingers from when I stroked his hair."
Dahlia snorted in laughter.
"You deserve that pain," Nova said. When Alice looked at her, scandalised, she amended, "Okay, maybe you don't. But it doesn't change anything - you're not dropping me off to the library."
"Why not?" came Cass' lazy question. She looked up from her Defence notes, her perfectly plucked right eyebrow raised high. "I mean, we can keep an eye on things, see whether they're going right from his body language and give you tips if they're not."
"I've been doing fine so far!"
Fair enough, she hadn't had much chance to flirt with him as of yet. History of Magic wasn't on their schedules today and they sat apart in most of their lessons, but they'd had an interactive lesson in Transfiguration in which she'd snatched a few minutes with him and had even (somewhat) playfully turned his hair a bizarre shade of pink. In their other lessons, their eyes had clashed a few times and she had made sure to smile at him, something that had been surprisingly easy considering she usually found it hard to smile at people unless she was genuinely amused.
But then again, he was Albus Potter.
He made her smile all the time
"But now you're going to be with him for longer than a couple of minutes," Cass reasoned. "You're out of your element."
"I've had conversations with him before."
"Honey," she said with a little laugh, "if you're going to complete this dare, it won't just be a conversation."
Reagan thought it best to interrupt with a falsetto. "A kiss?" she screeched in surprise, shattering their eardrums.
"Please follow Nala's lead and be quiet," Dahlia said in a sugary tone. "It'll help both us and you."
Reagan flipped her the finger.
Meanwhile, Nova was fixed on more important things. Kissing? Kissing? She couldn't kiss him! The only person she'd ever kissed was Reagan and that was because they'd both been incredibly drunk and had thought it'd be best that her first kiss was done by someone she could stand. Reagan still liked to joke about it to annoy Nova.
"I can't kiss him," she cried in panic. "I've never - I've never kissed anyone."
"Reagan, you don't count! The point is that there will be no kissing going on. Strictly flirting. Over a History of Magic textbook."
"How scandalous," Alice commented dryly.
It was scandalous enough for her. The dare had simply said to flirt with Albus Potter, not to kiss Albus Potter. Therefore, a conversation was all that was going to take place between her and the Slytherin or else her heart might actually combust. Smoothing down the front of her robes, she convinced herself that it was okay to just leave it at that, that being a prude didn't really matter in this case since there was little to no chance that he liked her back anyway. She wasn't Cass, she could be satisfied with just this little bit.
"What I meant was that it won't just be a normal conversation. You have to leave him wanting you. Wanting the kiss."
Nova was getting sick and tired of this. She was just glad Nala wasn't here to help Cass out on this and had gone off to the Owlery instead, something that wasn't an uncommon occurence recently since she'd been making an effort to write home more. With or without a voice, Nala Soyinka knew how to get something if she was determined enough.
"Thanks for the advice." Nova rolled her eyes. She slung her school bag onto her shoulder and headed toward the dormitory door, calling, "You're still not coming with me."
The door shut on Alice's cry of "DAMN IT!", making Nova breathe a sigh of relief as she smiled in amusement. Though it was nice to have her friends' support, she didn't want to be pushed into doing something she didn't want to do. She knew her place and it wasn't by Albus Potter's side. It was somewhere where she could admire him from a distance.
It was surprising how quickly she seemed to arrive at the library. She double-checked her watch to make sure that was indeed the time and then pushed open the door, feeling her heart speed up in her chest at the prospect of spending a good chunk of her time with him. A quick scan of the room told her he wasn't here yet, however. Feeling her spirits sink in disappointment, she turned to return a book to Pince while she waited. And then promptly walked into him.
"Shit!" she exclaimed as the top of her head smashed into his chin, hard. She felt her face turn beet red in embarrassment. What an absolutely lovely way to make a good impression with him. Clapping a hand to her mouth, she said, "Oh my God, I'm so sorry - I didn't - I didn't realise you were behind me!"
Albus was rubbing his chin, his brilliant eyes flashing in amusement. His mouth curled in that delicious half-smile of his. "It was an honest mistake to make. You want to grab a table before one of us is knocked out?"
Grasping on the opportunity to recover her cool, she turned away from him first and headed towards an empty table toward the back, far away from the librarian currently glaring a hole into her back for her outcry. By the time they were sitting down with her book out in front of them, she was mostly back to normal.
She cleared her throat. "So, um. . . Mad Eye Moody, huh?"
"Interesting bloke," he commented with a wry grin. He shifted in his seat to move closer to her and leaned forward, peering at the book. "My dad said he had a glass eye that would move independent of his real eye and could see through things."
Nova was trying really hard not to get distracted by how nice he smelt. "That sounds - terrifying."
"Well, we know how he got his nickname at least."
They poured over the textbook, making small talk about their presentation. While it was nice, Nova couldn't help the panic that was rising in her throat. All she could think about was how Cassidy said she had to leave him wanting for a kiss and that all this would do was ensure that he would never want speak to her again for the rest of his life.
Eventually, he seemed to realise that her mind wasn't quite with them. "You seem a little distracted," he said suddenly. "Are you okay? If you're not, we could always do this another time. If you want."
Fuck, he was bored. "No, I'm fine," she said, trying not to throw her words out too quickly. "I'm sorry for day dreaming; I promise I'll focus from now on. Nothing will sway my attention."
"Not even your friends?"
She snapped her eyes to Albus in alarm, knowing that she hadn't misheard him. At the sight of this, an almost wolfish smile curled the corners of his mouth, one she hadn't ever seen before, one that was going to be the death of her if he continued to sport it. He leaned closer to her, so close she could see that he had a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose and his cheeks. Tilting his head, he moved to murmur in her ear.
"Don't make a scene, but I'm pretty sure that two of them are behind that bookshelf and two of them are underneath the table next to the potted plant."
Nova wasn't sure whether she wanted to turn bright red or kiss him. She settled for a groan of embarrassment instead. "You're lying, right?"
He pulled back a little to hit her with that smirk again. "No."
"I'm really sorry about that. I didn't know that they were going to do that - I mean, a table? Really? I'll go and tell them to stop being creepy."
"There's no point. I gave them what they wanted."
Something about the way he said it, casual as it was, told her that he wasn't completely comfortable with that. Without even thinking about it, she put a hand on his arm placatingly, drawing his attention back to her face.
"They didn't do it because you're a Potter. They did it because I don't really interact with anyone outside of our dormitory and apparently it's groundbreaking for me to. Enough to hide under a bloody table for in any case." She grimaced.
He laughed a deep breathless laugh that made every nerve in her body tingle in anticipation. "Well, I'm honoured then."
Her chest was easing up now. Now that they were out of the danger zone and he wasn't sitting so close that a small turn of her head would've placed her lips on his, she found that she could relax. An odd calmness was settling in her.
She offered him a smile and playfully tossed back her dark hair. "As you should be. I don't speak to just anyone, you know. I have very high standards."
"And I meet all of them, huh? Proudest moment of my life."
"I don't blame you for thinking that. Having my stamp of approval is worth more than an Order of Merlin, I heard."
"Ah, my life is complete. I'll die happily, knowing I have the Nova Hale stamp of approval. There's nothing more I could ever want."
At the beginning, Nova had been more nervous that she had been for a while. Doing stuff like this was completely out of her comfort range and the thought of spending more than those twenty minutes in History of Magic with Albus Potter and flirting with him had been enough to make her knees weak and not necessarily in a good way. She wasn't great at social situations and preferred the back wings where she could sip her Butterbeers in comfortable anonymity.
But this wasn't so bad. She was able to carry a conversation with him that didn't centre around schoolwork and, though she was far from an expert in it, she didn't want to run and hide from what flirting she did do. She was comfortable and even having fun.
"Are Rose and Scorpius really that bad?" she asked a while later with a small laugh. "I mean, from what I've seen they do flirt a bit -"
"A bit? A bit? That's more than an understatement, love! I swear to God, they flirt so much, it's like I'm not even in the room. Just imagine how bad they get. I have half a mind to think that they do it just to make me uncomfortable."
"Mission accomplished, then?"
His response was a shudder. After a moment, he added, "I don't hate them, though. It's bloody disgusting to watch, but - I don't know. They love each other, I guess. They're probably going to get married on a beach somewhere one day and finally get a room of their own and have a million children or something."
"Really?" Nova said in surprise. "I knew they were serious about each other, but I didn't know it was like that. I thought guys didn't think about marriage."
When he smiled, it had the same effect on her as always. She didn't think there would a single time that it wouldn't make her feel all warm inside; there was something about it that made her feel like it was especially for her, almost like a little secret.
"I'll be honest, most don't, but purebloods are always raised to think about it. It's natural for him."
Albus simply shrugged. "Maybe if I met the right girl."
It was nearing curfew when Nova finally pushed open the door to Dormitory 2.6A. She had spent a surprisingly long time in the library with Albus, talking in a way she would never have dreamt of a couple of weeks ago. Something about it had been so natural, so easy that they'd forgotten to do what they'd agreed to meet up for in the first place. Not surprisingly, she didn't mind one bit.
A small smile slipped onto her face as she walked in, but it was quickly replaced by a high shriek when four girls launched across the room to accost her. There was a blur of noise as Reagan, Cass and Alice fought to dominate the conversation and Nala stuck to shaking her in frantic joy.
"You did it, you did it, you did it!" Alice's squeal was the first thing that she registered. She drew Nova into a hug. "Oh, I'm so proud of you. At least one good thing came out of today."
The next five minutes was a flurry of noise and movement, everyone jostling to congratulate her and Dahlia watching it all with a sort of disgusted fascination. Before long, however, they were all sitting cross-legged in a circle on the ground, eager to discuss what had gone on.
"It was nothing too big," Nova was saying, playing with the frayed bottom of her nightie top. Her eyes remained transfixed to the mustard thread, trying to will herself to stop fucking blushing. "I mean, we just talked."
"About?" Reagan pressed.
"About anything, really. Family. Class. Quidditch. It wasn't - I don't know, we just went with the flow of conversation. It was - it was really nice."
Alice cooed, clasping her hands together. "Aw, you're blushing. That's so cute."
In response, Nova flashed her the finger.
"So," Cassidy said.
She no longer seemed like a challenger, someone that was ready to strike like a snake when she saw the opportunity. There was pride lighting up her eyes, a smile lifting her rounded cheeks in genuine happiness for her friend. An unspoken understanding passed between them that this had all been for Nova's benefit, just another thing the girls did as good and loyal friends, even if it had been in the strangest way possible and had cost Cass a snog with the hottest pair of lips in the school.
"So," Nova repeated.
Cass grinned. "So, now comes the next step in the plan. You, my dear Nova Hale, are going to steal Albus Potter's heart."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Aaah, I can't put a long note here because my laptop is about to die and I NEED TO PUT THIS IN THE QUEUE so I'm just going to say thank you for all the lovely reviews, please do keep them coming to let me know what you're thinking and do enjoy this.
This chapter is dedicated to TearsIMustConceal/Vicki and oldershouldknowbetter/Andrew for nominating/seconding Dormitory 2.6A for the Quoth the Raven diadem! How insane is that! Make sure to check out their fics, guys
07.04.16: ci added.
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