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A Boy Called Blunder by dumbling
Chapter 1: Mutant Kisses, Stubborn Crushes, and Other Things to Avoid in the Morning
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My sister and her boyfriend are eating each other’s faces.
At least, that’s what it looks like two tables away, from my angle.
And that’s how I’ve made it look in my sketchbook. Monstrous tentacles erupt from their mouths, each one wrapped around the other’s skull in a sticky, wet embrace.
In real life, they’re snogging, but in my drawing, it’s something closer to the truth.
Okay, so I’m being dramatic with the drawing. But they’ve made me lose my appetite. Which is no small feat, considering muffins are my actual life. A banana-walnut beauty sits neglected on my plate, with nary a crumb missing. I might actually cry.
It’s a bright morning, the Great Hall’s packed for breakfast, and I guess no one else minds the lip-murder going on in plain sight. Amanda Patil has her back to the action, finishing up a chart for Ancient Runes. I can tell she hasn’t gotten enough sleep last night. Or any sleep, for that matter. Her hair’s carefully arranged over her face to keep the sunlight out. Best not to disturb. I trace over a tentacle’s curving line.
When the last of the chart’s been filled in, Amanda promptly drops her head onto the table. Face-first. I imagine it’d hurt without the numbing of exhaustion.
“Finally,” I say. “Thought I saw smoke coming out of your ears.”
Her response is a muffled groan.
“Remind me why you’re taking the class again?”
“McGonagall wouldn’t let me have another free period.” She turns sideways, blowing hair away from her face. “Honestly, Ed, if I make it out of this class alive, I want ‘Survived Ancient Runes’ on my list of lifetime achievements.”
“Got it.” I shade in my sister’s eyes until they’re two black, soulless pits. “I wonder what’d go on mine?”
“You’ve put away more muffins than humanly possible. What else could possibly go on yours?” Her eyes meet my fake glare, and she smiles. It’s all front teeth and round cheeks, which she hates, but I love—have loved since we were eleven, when I first coaxed it from her, smacking myself with a broom handle during our first flying lesson with Madam Hooch.
At the sight of it, I get that awful gut-punch of nostalgia. Back then, things were so uncomplicated. Hogwarts was bold and new instead of a second home. Classes inspired nervous excitement instead of raging headaches.
Now we’re seventh-years, and there’s the Thunderous Threat of NEWTs to contend with, followed closely by the Paralyzing Prospect of Adulthood.
It’s so bad it’s got me alliterating. Bloody hell.
“I mean, Ancient Runes isn’t that bad,” Amanda continues. She hasn’t picked her head up from the table. I guess it’s comfortable down there. “I don’t completely hate it.”
“If it makes you feel any better, you’re probably doing better in it than I am in Potions.” I had to forfeit a free period to fit the class in, although I’m sure Professor Bainbridge would’ve loved to negotiate on my behalf with the Headmistress. Anything to keep me from mucking up his lessons. In his classroom, I can follow the recipes exactly (or close to exactly) and end up with something totally, totally wrong: a sulfurous, green fog one day, a miniature explosion the next. But nothing too damaging—yet. We’re lucky to still have the roof over our heads.
I feel most at ease when I’m drawing. My hands don’t tremble. I don’t spend minutes contemplating the next line stroke. Amanda tells me I’m brilliant, but it’s just something I do. Words have a way of fizzling out for me, and anyway it’s not like there’s anyone to listen. Even Amanda can get tired of my neurosis.
“Your sister and her boyfriend, is it?” Her gaze has landed on my opened sketchpad.
“Unfortunately.” A quick glance at the Ravenclaw table confirms they still haven’t come up for air, in the span of—what, five minutes? That’s concerning. Someone might pass out. “Must they perform their deadly snogging so early in the morning. I don’t think anyone’s paid to see cannibalism.”
“Oh, come on, Ed.” Amanda looks over her shoulder to observe the carnage, miraculously unfazed. “It’s not that bad.” Even more, she grabs my uneaten muffin, takes a bite, and swallows it. “I dare say it’s a little hot.”
“Gross. The Dementor’s Kiss has less suction,” I argue.
“Well, your sister is quite attractive. And Robbie, despite his terrible personality, is mega fit, so…” She shrugs. “Seeing them, it’s kind of like an ad for sex or something.”
Yes, Amanda. Despite his terrible personality, Robbie O’Connell is fit to everyone in this building. If he wanted, he could collect more pants than the house-elves on laundry service. Gryffindor’s Quidditch Captain and Head Boy, he could charm the pants off parents, too.
Even I’ll admit to having fallen for him in the past. Something about his shaped Beater’s torso scrambles the senses, and I’ve seen it plenty in our team’s Quidditch changing tent.
But that was before my no-crushing-on-straight-guys commitment. That just gets you trapped into a pathetic corner.
Also, I came to realize Robbie’s an arsehole.
And now that he’s started dating Margo, the whole situation’s become quite bothersome.
“I bet if that were you and You-Know-Who, you wouldn’t have a problem with it.” Amanda wiggles her thick brows at me over the frame of her coke bottle glasses.
“I’m not into Voldemort,” I say.
She smirks. “Oh, so you’d rather I say his name, then?”
“No, no,” I say quickly, “there’s no need. Considering I’m officially not into him anymore.”
“Right.” Amanda takes another bite of muffin, staring me down. “I’m thoroughly convinced.”
“As you should be.”
“Who even was it, then? I’m drawing a blank.”
“Really, there’s no point in trying to remember—”
“Ah, yes. James—”
In a split-second, I’ve got a hand over her mouth, practically without having thought about it.
So this is what having quick reflexes are like. My dad thinks I move like a sloth.
“Sorry,” Amanda says soberly, once I’ve let go. Then she takes a deep breath and nearly shouts, “James Pot—!”
“Seriously?!” I cast a wary eye at all of the nearby Gryffindors. Only a second-year has stopped chewing his bacon and eggs to give us a confused look. “Am I going to need tape?”
“Calm down, lover boy. I was under the impression you were officially not into him anymore.” And while on the subject of impressions, can I say that Amanda does an absolutely ace one of me? So good, I find my mouth hanging open slightly.
Perhaps it’s because she’s put up with my antics for so long. But who else is there? She’s my sounding board, my rock, and my source of wisdom on anything having to do with relationships and the like. She’s had an on-and-off-again boyfriend in the form of Isaiah Thomas, and it’s the only experience between us.
“I’m in the process, you know? I’m in mourning. Getting over someone takes time. Like with you and—”
She winces. “Don’t say his name.”
“I won’t, I won’t. But I can clearly see now the process takes a very, very long time.”
Merlin. If it’s taken this long for Amanda to get (somewhat) over Thomas, then what hope is there for me with Potter?
It’ll be three years soon.
Three years, and I haven’t done anything about it.
To be honest, I wasn’t planning on doing anything at all. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m the sort of person who doesn’t act on their attractions. I’m the sort who’d rather get eaten up by the impossibility of it, lying in bed and listening to old Weird Sisters songs. And who knows if James is into guys?
Not that I know for a fact he’s into girls.
James Potter has been Hogwarts’ most eligible bachelor since hormones gave him broad shoulders and the facial shape of an elven prince, sans the pointed ears. His actual ears stick out quite prominently, but it’s more cute than outright goofy. And blessedly, his cheeky smile remains intact, kept from his days as a young prankster who got the latest items from Weasley Wizard Wheezes to try out before they went on sale.
He doesn’t lack attention. Tons of witches’ names have been thrown around as his latest admirer, never wizards. But he doesn’t show any attention back to them.
And it’s in this slim space my hope lies.
But even if he weren’t straight, I’d still be hung-up about it.
Anything involving the name “Potter” guarantees you a spotlight. And I don’t want to make a fool of myself by letting my feelings be known and getting turned down and having all of Hogwarts know about it. This school has a strong backbone of gossip—everyone would know within the hour—and I’m too much of a loser to suffer that kind of blow. I’d rather get crushed by the Whomping Willow.
So, as you can see, it seems too one-sided and pointless to do anything about it.
Amanda believes I’m just prolonging my own despair. She’s the total opposite of me in that regard. Unrequited or not, she’d rather know than spend all that time drawing the person in a sketchbook. Which is what I do. Or did.
I wasn’t kidding about being not into him anymore. I mean, admittedly, I still kind of am. It’s just that the rest of me hasn’t caught up to my brain yet. I’ve got parts still waiting for the phone call saying, “Shut it down, shut it all down, the boy’s not in love anymore—there’s no reason to get fired up over that Potter bloke.”
Because with crushes and all that, it’s just a matter of will-power, right? If you want to get rid of one, it should be as easy as simply thinking, “No more.”
The thing is, I’ve been thinking “No more” since last September.
“I mean, Ed, it’s seventh-year,” says Amanda. “If you don’t do anything about it now, the chance may never come again. You know, missed opportunities and all that. Lots of tears shed, lots of bad poetry.”
“That’s super stellar advice, Amanda. Really, it is.” She rolls her eyes at me, sinks her teeth in the muffin. “But I just don’t need it. I’m totally over the whole thing.”
“Whatever.” Her voice is by a mouthful of banana-walnut. “Your sister’s summoning you.”
“Is she really? Or are you just trying to make me look at them again so I’ll turn to stone or something?”
But she’s right. Margo waves for me to join her, pointing at a letter in her other hand.
I notice Robbie’s looking over here, too. He gives me that noncommittal nod of the chin before turning to one of his mates. It’s the kind of greeting that says, “I’ve acknowledged you, peon.”
Gradually I rise from my seat, groaning all the way up. “I’ll be back,” I tell Amanda.
“If you don’t make it, I obviously get your sketchbook.”
“You most certainly do not get my sketchbook. I expect to get buried with it.”
“Can’t promise you anything.”
I drag my steps as I walk over.
My sister sits comfortably at the center of her friends. The lot of them are all talking and laughing, faintly glowing in the daylight. According to Amanda, her and Robbie look like an ad for sex, but the whole group looks like an ad out of Witch Weekly.
Approaching, I can feel my level of inadequacy turn up to eleven. I’m the grey cloud heading in on their sunny picnic.
You should know Margo and I are fraternal twins. Taking after our mother, she’s got Sphinx eyes and a long black curtain for hair. Today, it’s contained by a celestial headband that shows a moving image of the galaxy, all shooting stars and swirling galaxies.
As for me, I take after our father. Or rather, I’m doing him a disservice. I’m stubbornly scrawny, to where my wardrobe is entirely made up of long-sleeved shirts and baggy jeans to hide the lack of flesh. And I’m shorter than almost everyone, though I suspect first-years are being used as target practice for gorging spells.
Basically, I’m an asterisk to our tall, orderly, and presentable family. If you were to cut me out of one of our photos, my presence wouldn’t be missed. The way they are now, you’d think I’m part of another family portrait completely, cut out and stuck on sloppily with glue.
Pretty much the only Blundell I feel confident calling my relative is our Aunt Celeste. She’s a Magizoologist whose hair is never a natural color. She also believes the human body is a veritable canvas, so naturally almost every part of her has a tattoo of a magical creature. Mum only invites her round on holidays.
This past summer, she had acid-pink braids and was showing off a new Hungarian Horntail on her bicep when we’d gone to check out dragons in Romania. That’s our thing: nearly every summer, Aunt Celeste takes me with her to view creatures around the world. I have sketches in my pad from every trip. At the dragon camp, I was trying to get closer to the field to see more detail, and one of my sketchbook’s pages ended up singed when I’d gone too far past the safety barrier.
I also lost an eyebrow, but since then, it’s been growing back alright.
Merlin, that summer was brilliant. If I could place a song to it all, it’d be the Puking Pestal’s “Ghouls Just Want to Have Fun.”
Which is definitely not a song I’d place to any of the times Dad dragged me along to watch Quidditch matches with his Ministry pals. I’m not opposed to the game itself, but add a crew of middle-aged men drunk on firewhiskey, angrily shouting about the scores or a player’s performance. It’s not rain on my shirt when we get home; it’s froth and spittle.
“Edmund,” she says when I’m close enough. She calls me by my full name now, in a tone that sounds like Mum’s. As if the five-hour head start I got on being born doesn’t exist.
I love my sister, but since the beginning of seventh-year she’s become a completely different person. And that’s not even counting dating Robbie O’Connell. Which, for the record, is still the same out-of-nowhere shock it was about a month ago, when it became official.
First, she used to call me a bunch of nicknames. If it was morning, I was Bedhead Ed. To get on my nerves, she used Little Eddy. But in general, I was just Ed. Not Edmund.
Second, she rarely sat far away from each other at meal times, stealing potatoes, biscuits, and especially muffins whenever the other wasn’t looking.
And third. Well. She just hadn’t come off like such a grown-up. She would hide my inkwells and tell me I had stains on my shirts when I didn’t, just to flick the tip of my nose.
I miss that Margo.
Standing before her, I try looking for some sign of the old version. But she just holds out the letter rather perfunctorily and says, “Mum’s written you.” I see the envelope’s already been opened. “You get the fifth page.”
“She couldn’t have written me my own letter?” Brow raised, I take out the Ministry stationary.
Margo shrugs. “She only had one thing to say. A sentence, really.”
And the sentence? P.S. Tell Edmund he’s left a pile of underwear in his room. Those are the only words on page five.They straddle the very top line, right before Mum’s extravagant sign-off, the carved shape of her mouth printed in lipstick.
It feels lovely to be an afterthought. But an afterthought to what? I look through the other pages, her dense writing taking up every inch of space. Words jump out: Ministry, department, application. Thrilled.
I hand the letter back to Margo. “It looks like she’s written you a novel.”
“Hardly. It’s just some information about interning. I told you I’m applying at the Ministry, right? After we’ve finished the NEWTs?”
“I don’t remember.” Because she hadn’t told me. In fact, when Mum brought up the internship at dinner one night, I distinctly remember making the vomit-gesture and Margo biting her cheek to keep from guffawing.
“Maybe I didn’t.” She takes a sip of orange juice. “You were with Aunt Celeste, so I guess there wasn’t any chance to mention it.”
“I guess so.”
Robbie clears his throat, cutting through unexpectedly.
His voice has a deepness that contrasts my high-pitched squawking. It’s like a distinguished announcer coming on after my performance of a bird. Dad always tells me to insert more bass, as if I willingly lack it. His eyes will crinkle as though I’m the Fat Lady trying to reach that dreaded high note.
Whenever he tells me that, I just stop talking altogether.
“So Edward,” Robbie says, “looking forward to practice later?”
“You bet.” This is partly true. I’m not looking forward to the practice itself, in which I have the worst role to play. But I am looking forward to being in close proximity to James Potter, Gryffindor’s Seeker and second-in-command, after Robbie himself. “Oh, and it’s Edmund, by the way—”
He overlaps me. “I’ve got some new moves to try out.” Leaning back with a self-confident grin, he slips an arm around Margo’s shoulder. I think of the tentacles in my drawing. “Some darting turns, a kick-pass, and a backwards save. Gonna be wicked.”
“Great. Definitely can’t wait to see them all.” Fortunately, he’s oblivious to my sarcasm. But Margo, having lived with it since we shared an embryo, shoots a look at me. Innocently, I mouth “What?” before sliding away.
And that’s when I nearly crash into James Potter.
Stepping back, his dark brown hair and hazel eyes come into clear focus, like I’m viewing his face at the highest definition. I can see the whiskers above his upper-lip, the curl of his eyelashes and the scar on his chin from when he somersaulted off his broom.
Is there some sort of contract that says all Potter boys must have a jagged mark on their face?
Seeing him, it’s not enough to say I can feel myself turning red. It’s more like my blood is glowing. I suspect I look volatile.
“S—sorry,” I manage to get out.
James laughs. “You’re perfectly fine, mate.” The sun hits his eyes; flints of green report in the light, all mixed up with the brown—they look just like marbles, his eyes. “Nothing like almost knocking heads to wake you up in the morning, eh?”
Totally not the kind of line you die over. A polite chuckle would more than suffice. But I go overboard and unleash an unholy sound, something close to a dying mule. It gets the attention of every person in a thirty-foot radius, and James’s smile fades to a look of alarm, as if he’s worried I might in fact be choking.
Why is it so impossible to be cool and collected around him? Just knowing he’s in the same room trips up my normality camouflage.
I manage to clear my throat. “Well, uh—” Nope, not totally clear. “I’ll just—” There we go. “I’ll get going, then.” Determined to leave, I step to my right. At the same time, James steps to his left, blocking me.
We spend about a minute trying to get past each other, incessantly mumbling sorry, until James clasps my arms and waddles us in a half-circle. “Something I learned from Mum,” he says, and punctuates it with a friendly wink. On our desired sides now, we’re clear to go. I pay extra-close attention to his hands leaving me.
Walking away, I assess the moment: just a casual human error, diplomatically resolved. Nothing—absolutely nothing more than that.
Still, the feeling of his touch lingers for a good while after, as if my skin is sand and his fingers left their indents.
Dammit, Potter. I thought I was well-past the bloody poetry phase.
Author’s note: The idea for this story’s been sitting around in my head for so long, taking all kinds of shape, and I’m happy to have finally gotten it in some acceptable form. Thanks a ton for reading, and I hope you stick around for more Edmund.