Awkward was an understatement. Awkward’s kind of a funny word. Awkward implies something of a minor emotional and mental inconvenience. Awkward implies that things will get better in time. Awkward would be Fauna laughing it off and Scorpius grinning like an idiot and the three of us all being best-of-friends-forever again.
Awkward isn’t quite enough to convey the sudden, strange sensation of having feet that are somehow welded to the floor, of having limbs in binding splints, swallowing your tongue, ringing in your ears. Awkward doesn’t quite explain the speed with which Scorpius left the room and slammed the door so hard it ricocheted off the frame and swung open again – and it’ll never
equate to the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I looked from the door, to Fauna, to the door again.
When she tried to follow him, I somehow found the strength to shoot across the room and block the way.
‘Fauna, it’s not what you think-’
‘I don’t care!
I had to admit I was impressed she wasn’t crying, especially when I was such a wreck.
‘It was only once and it wasn’t my fault!’
‘Why didn’t you tell
‘I’m sorry, I swear I meant too!’
When the truth was I’d never wanted anyone to know about the fact I’d unwillingly been Scorpius’ first kiss – not her, not Albus, not even my mum or Willoughby
. Fauna, it seemed, had other plans. She put her hands on my shoulders and pushed – not too hard, but enough to set me off balance a bit.
‘Let me through!’
‘Don’t be such a bitch!’
‘You have to calm down!’
I stood there, impassive, as she beat her fists against my arms. It didn’t hurt; she wasn’t even trying.
‘No,’ her voice had gone a lot quieter, sounded a little bit choked. ‘You’re
the one that has to calm down. I just came here to have a bloody shower before dinner.’
I stood with my back to the door and barely even flinched. ‘I am calm.’
She wouldn’t meet my eyes. ‘Fuck you, fuck you
,’ she said, before tearing away and throwing herself down onto her bed.
I counted a minute’s silence by the clock on the wall.
‘Fauna?’ I said. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘No you’re not,’ she said into her pillow.
It occurred to me then that, no, I didn’t
feel sorry, but more because I didn’t feel anything. I was curiously calm and steady. My head felt clear. But I couldn’t look at her.
‘I really am,’ I lied.
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Because it didn’t mean anything.’
Her tearstained face lifted from the pillow, only half-visible behind her still soaking hair. ‘It’s a kiss, of course
it fucking means something!’
’ she exploded, then seemed to realise it was useless and slumped down on the pillow again.
‘There was a party here,’ I said. ‘In the common room. And they made us play spin the bottle-’
Fauna let out an agonised sort of groan.
‘I know, I know,’ I said, my voice starting to shake again. ‘I didn’t want to play, and when it came to my turn I refused and I left and…I was outside in the corridor and he came to find me and I swear
he only honestly meant to check I was okay but it just…happened.’
‘How can it just happen?
‘I didn’t know what was going on! He…he did it!’
‘Whatever,’ she said, in that same, choked voice. ‘Everyone knows he likes you better.’
‘That’s not true-’
‘Come on, it’s bloody obvious!
‘It – it’s not true at all!’
She just buried her head deeper into the pillow.
‘Look, F-Fauna,’ I said. ‘I…I didn’t want it to happen and I didn’t mean it and I don’t want anything to come between us, ever, not like this, you always have been and always will be my breast friend-’
There was a split second of silence before her shoulders started to shake. For a moment I thought she was crying, then I realised what an epic slip-up I’d made.
She lifted her head again to look at me, and although her face was still streaked with tears, she seemed to be laughing.
‘Breast friend?’ she said. ‘Sure.’
‘Slip of the tongue.’
‘Freudian slip,’ she choked. ‘I know what you’re really thinking.’
I guessed she’d calmed down enough to let me come within a metre of her, so I did my best attempt at a smirk and went to sit next to her on the bed.
‘I mean it,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry. And you really are my best friend.’
It wasn’t exactly a lie, because I think Scorpius had ceased to be my best friend some time ago – but it felt dishonest to say it all the same. The truth was that I didn’t exactly feel like spending time with either
of them. I wanted to be on my own for a bit.
‘Please don’t tell Albus,’ I added.
When she finally met my gaze, there was a mutinous look in her eyes, and I was scared for a moment that she would.
‘I won’t,’ she said. ‘That’s your problem.’
There was a long time when I didn’t really speak to Fauna or Scorpius much at all. In the case of the latter, it was pretty obvious, although I never really quite figured out for myself why Fauna was so keen to avoid me and hang out with Lucy and the others instead. I guess what I’d done had been too much of a betrayal for her, although I felt a bit slighted seeing as I hadn’t exactly been my fault and all. Although I was in the wrong for not telling her.
It didn’t matter too much. I had Albus to spend time with and, besides, exams were getting closer and closer, and Saturday apparition lessons didn’t exactly leave a lot of free time at the weekend. I had a lot on my mind, too. Not just exams and my persistent inability to apparate – not even just the fact that I rarely ever saw Scorpius and Fauna anymore.
Weird things started happening, and Albus wouldn’t explain them to me. And not like weird in a funny way – not like life suddenly got surreal and entertaining, because I really wish that’d happened. I mean, you expect a degree of weirdness when you go to a school for witches and wizards, but you don’t really expect that weirdness to suddenly be threatening.
I suppose it’s kind of wrong to say that too, because there’s plenty at Hogwarts that’s weird and seems threatening but, in the great scheme of things, is mostly harmless – like the stairs that keep moving, the living suits of armour, or the books in the library that scream when you open them. It’s all part of the territory, really. What you don’t
really expect is the threatening sort of weirdness when people start calling you names that don’t make sense to you, when they stick notes to the back of your chair and slip things into your schoolbag when you’re not looking, and your boyfriend won’t tell you what those names mean. Even when you get kind of mad at him and threaten violence.
Okay, I should explain, because no matter how tricky it is to think about, the stuff that happened at Hogwarts in that couple of months was pretty integral and, well, the whole business of the Easter holidays couldn’t have happened without it. That’s another reason why it’s tricky to think about. No matter how many times people tell me how I did the right thing and how lucky I am, I wish the whole business of the Easter holidays had never happened at all. And I wish all the stuff before hadn’t happened either.
The first time it happened was in a Potions lesson. I’d moved nearer the back so I could work with Albus, and I noticed Fauna and Scorpius had moved to different bits of the classroom too – Fauna had gone to work with the Slytherins, and Scorpius was in a new group with the Ravenclaws, not that they really ever paid him much attention. It was me, Lucy, Albus and Eustace Finch on our table, and I have to admit that since I’d switched my marks were better than ever.
Everything happened in a matter of minutes – I went up to get some more ingredients from the cupboard, and, when I got back, there was a bit of paper stuck to the back of my chair.
I remember thinking it was really weird at the time, because everyone was working pretty intently and the classroom was really quiet. I peeled the note off – it’d been gummed on with a bit of armadillo bile, which was pretty gross, but the note was almost unintelligible to me. No name, not even a dear Flora
. A single word in spiky black ink: ‘mudblood’.
I showed it to Albus, trying to laugh it off – it was more confusing than anything. But as soon as he read it, his face went totally white and he scrunched it up into a tiny ball before throwing it in the cauldron. A spark danced across the surface as the note dissolved into the potion.
‘Wow,’ I said.
‘Always wanted to…see how parchment reacts to a Crystallising Solution,’ he said, but his voice was hollower than a chocolate frog.
‘Okay. What did that word mean?’
‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry about it.’
Lucy and Eustace were staring at us by now. ‘Albus,’ I said, in an undertone. ‘What did it mean?’
‘Nothing,’ he shrugged, raising his eyebrows at me. ‘Woah, don’t get so touchy about it.’
I was a bit hurt and didn’t even think to ask Lucy or Eustace what it meant, and it had totally gone out of my mind by the end of the lesson, when I had to manoeuvre myself out of the classroom without making eye contact with either Fauna or Scorpius. I managed it alright, but I was halfway down the corridor when the word came back to me, by which point Albus had already gone to Defence Against the Dark Arts and I was totally alone.
Just to be sure I didn’t forget to ask, I wrote the word on the back of my hand as soon as I got to the Library – in blue ink, this time, so it didn’t look so malicious in my loopy handwriting. For a moment the word looked funny, like the name of a band Scorpius might listen to, but Albus’ reaction had been a sure-fire indication that it was anything but. I tried to put it out of my mind and get on with my History of Art homework.
By the time I got to Ancient Runes later that morning the word was starting to smudge and rub off. I took my usual seat, got my books out, and did my best not to look at Scorpius, who was sitting next to me with his head on the desk. I thought he’d be trying to ignore me too, but after a minute or two he sat up and yelped: ‘why the hell would you write that on your hand?’
Taken aback, I forgot to hate him for a second. ‘I dunno,’ I shrugged. ‘Someone wrote it on the back of my chair in Potions, I didn’t know what it meant.’
‘Oh, god,’ he said, and went back to sitting with his head on the desk.
I didn’t say anything else to him, but I licked my finger and tried to rub the word off anyway. All I got was a pale blue blotch on my hand, the faintest traces of ‘mud’ showing from there the ink had been thicker.
By the time I got back to the common room that evening the word had been completely rubbed off and I’d forgotten all about it.
Another month passed before the word came up again, and it was as me and Albus were walking back from a History of Magic lesson at the end of the day. Seeing as the weather was nicer, we’d taken the scenic route back along the back of the school, going through the courtyard and skirting around the grounds. It was the longest route back, but we weren’t exactly in a rush, and it was almost completely deserted.
We were halfway up the steps to the courtyard when two second-year Slytherins passing the other way stopped for the briefest moment, sniggered, and one of them said ‘mudblood’ to me.
They hurried off again before me or Albus could react.
‘Idiots,’ I said. Albus had gone pale.
‘Bastards,’ he said. ‘If I was their prefect I’d dock fifty points for that.’
I frowned at him. ‘Fifty points is a bit excessive.’
‘It’s not excessive enough,’ he said. ‘But Prefects can’t take more than fifty points at a time. I wish we were allowed to duel in the corridors.’
‘Technically, we’re outside.’
‘Too late,’ he sighed. ‘God, if only…’
that word mean? Nobody’s told me.’
‘It doesn’t mean anything,’ he said. ‘Just ignore it.’
‘I can’t ignore it when it upsets you so much-’
I stopped where I was. ‘Albus, tell me.’
‘It’s nothing, just ignore it.’
‘I’ll…hit you, or something.’
‘Really,’ he said. ‘Ignore it.’
‘Fine. And I’ll ignore you too.’
I was pretty pissed off by that point, so I went storming up the stairs to the courtyard without him.
‘Flora?’ he called after me, and by the time I reached the top of the staircase and started walking down the covered pathway he’d caught up.
‘Why won’t anyone tell me!
‘It’s just a word!’
‘It’s a word that makes you want to duel second-years in the corridors – sure, just
‘I…sorry,’ he said.
‘Scorpius wouldn’t even tell me either! I don’t get it!’
‘Couldn’t help but notice,’ Albus said. ‘You’re not so chummy with him anymore.’
I gave my default answer without thinking. ‘He tortured my cat.’
‘Er, we fell out. And don’t change the subject!’
‘What a shame,’ Albus said.
We reached the archway in the centre of the path, where the ivy didn’t grow so thick and you could see out into the courtyard. Both of us stopped dead in our tracks.
‘Speak of the devil,’ Albus muttered.
I’d assumed Scorpius would be avoiding the courtyard ever since I’d found him there with his glasses all shattered on the floor, but evidently he’d decided to chance it this evening – or maybe this wasn’t the first time he’d dared to go the quiet way – and, in a typically Scorpius way, he’d not had the best of luck. It was a bit thick of him, really, to walk this way when he knew
it was quiet at this time of day, but after a moment I realised he might not have had a choice. He was standing in the middle of the courtyard with his backpack thrown behind him and his fists raised like he meant to fight, although he clearly had no chance against the three Slytherins facing him. The same ones who’d picked on me on the train, coincidentally.
It wasn’t even like there was a crowd gathered to goad them on or shout ‘fight!’ in a frenzied rhythm like there usually was – just me and Albus. And so I reckoned this was the sort of skirmish that went above and beyond your usual playground scrap, and it probably wasn’t the first time it’d happened.
I glanced across at Albus, who grimaced.
‘They’ll never leave him alone, will they?’ he whispered.
I didn’t respond, trying to figure out what Fletcher was saying to Scorpius. The two of them were talking in very low, almost inaudible voices – but Scorpius must’ve said something that stung, because Fletcher suddenly started forwards and his two Slytherin mates had to hold him back.
‘Al, we have to do something,’ I hissed.
He just frowned. ‘I dunno, there’s not a lot we can do…’
‘You were ready to duel those second years a few minutes ago!’
‘Yeah, but take on Fletcher again? Are you having a laugh?’
I tugged on his sleeve. ‘Who else will help?’
‘I thought he tortured your cat?’
‘He didn’t torture my cat, Albus, he…’ I said, then realised I couldn’t finish that sentence.
We watched the unfolding drama for another few moments. Fletcher had calmed down a bit, but Scorpius was backing away a step at a time, and for a split second I felt how terrified he must be and realised I’d stopped hating him some time ago.
‘I can’t let this happen,’ I said, and stepped through the archway.
Okay, I’d gone about one step before I realised how stupid it was, and I wanted to turn around and go back to Albus, but unfortunately by that point Fletcher had already spotted me and I was pretty much toast.
He laughed, rolling his wand between his hands. ‘You joining in, four-eyes?’
I was too scared to say anything, so I just went and stood next to Scorpius. I say next to, more like I was sort of behind him, so he was a kind of human shield.
‘Flora, stay out of it,’ he hissed.
‘No,’ I said, although I didn’t sound defiant as I’d have liked. I sounded nothing short of terrified. And I felt a bit light-headed.
‘I was just telling your friend here what I think of his dad,’ Fletcher sneered. ‘I think you’d agree with me, four-eyes, haven’t you met him?’
‘Only once,’ I said, deserted of all witty comebacks.
‘I mean, what’s the house like? Oh, I forgot your dad’s too poor to have a house, Malfoy, how’s the cardboard box?’
‘I don’t live in a box-’
‘No wonder your mum copped it, couldn’t stand the shame!’
It was my turn to pin back Scorpius’ arms as he made a desperate lunge towards Fletcher.
Fletcher gave Scorpius an approving look. ‘Well done, Malfoy, you’ve got your mudblood trained well-’
I didn’t even have to react this time, because that was when a bolt of light shot across the courtyard and Fletcher’s wand went hurtling over my head.
‘Oi!’ Albus yelled behind me. ‘Fighting in the corridors or grounds is strictly
Fletcher and his mates didn’t exactly look scared, but at least they stepped back.
‘I’ll be reporting you all
to your heads of houses,’ Albus said brusquely, drawing up alongside me. ‘And I’ll be keeping this
for now,’ he held up Fletcher’s wand. ‘Confiscated until you learn some manners.’
‘And what gives you the right to steal my bloody wand?’
‘I’m a prefect, mate,’ Albus said. ‘Shove it.’
They sloped off with a surprising lack of protest. All we got was an earful about how poor Scorpius apparently was, how much of a bastard Albus apparently was and, finally, that word again. ‘Mudblood’.
‘You’re not really allowed to confiscate wands, Al,’ I said, once the Slytherins were out of earshot.
He was white, shaking a little with anger. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No, I’m not. But right now I don’t really give a shit. He was ready to hex you.’
I turned to Scorpius instead. He, too, was pale, shivering, a graze on his cheek standing out stark against the colourless skin.
‘I’m guessing neither of you are going to tell me what that word means,’ I said. ‘You could at least tell me why
people keep saying it to me.’
Albus shook his head. ‘Flora, really…’
That was when Scorpius cut across, and considering how terrified he looked, his voice was steady and deadly calm. ‘It’s an insult. You’re a muggleborn. That’s why they hate you.’
It felt like I really had
been punched by Fletcher. My heart raced. ‘But I didn’t do anything wrong.’
Scorpius looked me straight in the eye for the first time in weeks. ‘All you have to do is exist.’
: sorry this chapter was such a downer, especially after the long wait to post it! I'm sure I've mentioned before how this story takes a darker turn towards the end and, well, think of this as the indicator lights on the plotmobile flashing before it takes a sharp left into the dark woods. super creepy dark woods. I wouldn't go there alone if I was you, but I'm driving, so I've got to keep going. (what on earth that is the weirdest author's note ever).
anyhow. sorry for the delay, but I'm excited to be writing this again and delving more into the social politics and more dramatic drama of the dramallamas. I just hope you all don't hate me too much when you get to read the ending...
~enigmatic author's note over~