In the great scheme of things, I got off lightly. It was never more than a note and a word that had been hissed at me across corridors and courtyards a few times. It never really hurt me because I never really got the meaning of the word, because I read the muggle newspapers and Scorpius and Albus never bothered to fill me in on current affairs – possibly for good reason. I tried to adopt the blunt approach: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.
Even if it had hurt me – even if that word had got under my skin like a thorn and worked its way into my bloodstream – I’d still have got off lightly. Definitely. I was one of the lucky ones. There was the girl that had her name written in lipstick on the bathroom mirrors so everyone knew she was a muggle-born, or the half-blood boy, raised by muggles, who had his textbooks chucked off North Tower with a whole crowd watching. Or the first year they found locked out after hours, shivering in the grounds – of course, on the surface, it just looked like any old mean prank, but everyone knew the kid was a muggle-born. I think the worst was when that really popular seventh-year in Gryffindor had her robes slashed to pieces in the changing rooms one night when she was out at Quidditch practice, and Albus told me the worst thing was that they didn’t even bother to stop when she came back and saw them. Although he told me as well that she didn’t dare fight back, and I don’t blame her.
It sounds like the Professors were all useless, and they kind of were, but you can’t really blame them. Half this stuff barely even made it out of common room gossiping. On one level, the victims were too scared to report things properly and, equally, people were too scared to grass – but at the same time, it felt like people wanted
to keep it quiet. Maybe they agreed, maybe they just didn’t want to believe it was really happening to the school again.
After years of being a social recluse, people finally knew my name. For all the wrong reasons.
I’d been four-eyes Flora before, I was muggle-born Flora now, or mudblood Flora – really depended on whoever it was chucking the name at me. I was pretty happy being four-eyes Flora, like I was happy when people still called Scorpius a loser and didn’t think it was cool to take cheap shots at his family all the time. And I was happy when Fauna wasn’t avoiding my eyes in the corridor like it was dumb to know who I really was or something. I missed her, even if I had been a pretty crap friend.
It was nice, I kept reassuring myself, that I still had my boys, although my relationship with Scorpius had been so all over the place that I didn’t know whether we’d still be friends from one day to the next. He was weirdly volatile, like one of those potion ingredients Professor Blair kept in special glass boxes behind her desk. But, for the most part, I had him. And I always had Albus, who was making a conscious effort to spend more time with me these days – to the point where it got kind of annoying.
We were in his common room one day in a free period, not really doing much, just chatting absolute rubbish as the rain came down outside. A conversation about whether it’d be cool to start wearing corduroys and cardigans like Myron Wagtail veered off course and back into normal territory. ‘What are you doing for Easter?’ he said.
‘Staying here,’ I said. ‘My mum’s going on a cruise with her sister and my dad’s been contracted out to the Shetlands for the month.’
He shook his head in disbelief. ‘With everything that’s happening here? You’d be better going home.’
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘My dad wants me home. He doesn’t think Hogwarts is the safest place to be anymore. Which is pretty depressing.’
The two of us glanced involuntarily over at the sofa by the fire, which had a golden plaque on it, much like you’d find on a bench, where you could read all about Harry Potter and his life in Gryffindor tower.
‘He says the same stuff’s happening at work. I mean, not in the same way, and not in his office, everyone there’s too smart for that. Like…snippy gossip by the tea urn. Stuff like that, he says. Someone in his department already quit. It’s madness,’ he shook his head again, letting out a low, whistling breath. ‘I suppose the Cannons have better chances of recovering than the economy does, but…this shouldn’t be happening.’
‘I should read the newspaper some time,’ I said. ‘The muggles are recovering from a recession, you know. Things are looking up out there.’
‘God, you don’t want to read the newspaper, it’s bloody miserable. Nine percent unemployment. Nine percent
. It’s never been this bad.’
‘It’s been worse in my world.’
‘Yeah – but now everyone’s blaming it on the fact the Ministry copied the muggle model, I know it’s bollocks but once people get hold of an idea…’
‘I can’t even be arsed to get involved in that sort of stuff. You know, have an opinion. People just shout at you.’
‘You’ve got to learn to shout back. Hey, do you want to stay with me this Easter?’
‘Actually,’ he looked sheepish. ‘I do really want you to stay, but my dad kind of told me to ask you. Like I said, he doesn’t think Hogwarts is too safe anymore. And it’d be really nice if you stayed anyway.’
‘I’d actually love that.’
‘Yeah. More than all the cake and Myron Wagtail in the world.’
I was keeping an eye on Scorpius almost every day, but it was kind of hard to get him in the sort of situation where it’d be okay to talk to him beyond exchanging stupid, empty words about the weather and our homework. I wanted to have a meaningful chat with him, but it was hard when I only really ever saw him when he was surrounded by other students – and the rest of the time, I wondered constantly about where he was and whether Fletcher was beating him up or something.
I guess I was right some of the time. Eventually, I stumbled across him on the third floor about a week before the Easter holidays. It was probably just half an hour or so before curfew – which had been tightened ever since the incident with the cut-up robes in the changing rooms – and the evenings were getting lighter now, so the corridors weren’t so full of shadows. He was perched up in an alcove with his knees drawn up to his chest, staring out of the window with the utmost concentration.
I took a deep breath and clambered up next to him. Then I tried to work out, in my head, how many days it had been since the last incident – to put it that way – by the purplish-blue colour of the bruises under his left eye.
‘Hello,’ I said. ‘What’re you up to?’
‘Oh, just thinking about offing myself,’ he said. ‘You?’
I was so bothered by this that I turned away to the wall, lips pressed tightly together.
‘Sorry,’ he said, a little grudgingly. ‘That was a bit insensitive.’
‘Yeah, it really was. How did you get that bruise?’
‘Quidditch accident…apparently,’ he said. ‘I don’t think they even bothered to check if I was on the team or not.’
‘Did they tell you to say that?’
‘The first bit, yeah…told me to say hi to my dad and I said I hadn’t heard from him for weeks, they didn’t like that.’
‘Have you told your dad?’
‘No. I haven’t heard from him in weeks.’
‘Great, really, looks like I let him down again.’
He turned to face me. ‘Flora, I can’t even stick up for myself-’
‘I wouldn’t expect you to, you’re always outnumbered!’
‘Yeah…yeah,’ he turned back to the window, and sounded a bit choked up, like he had a cold. ‘I mean, wow. Don’t want to think about it. I hate this place. I wish I didn’t have to get up in the mornings, but they send a prefect to check if you don’t turn up for lessons. I hate it so much.’
‘Easter holidays soon!’
‘Yeah, but…I can’t go home if my dad’s not replying. I’d have to stay here.’
‘I’m sure he’ll reply.’
‘What if he doesn’t? What if I have to stay here? Oh, god…I’d just…I dunno.’
‘I don’t know either.’
‘I hate this place,’ he said again.
I couldn’t think of anything to say that would cheer him up because I actually kind of agreed with him, so, like him, I stared out at the grounds.
‘You know, it just…doesn’t make sense,’ he said, with a weak laugh. ‘None of it. I mean…no offence, Flora, but I’m pureblood. I mean, I know…okay, there was all the stuff with my dad and the war but…’
‘No offence taken, you’ve had it worse than me.’
‘Yeah, well…the weirdest thing was, after they gave me this,’ he pointed to the bruise below his eye. ‘They…you won’t believe this. They took a photo
of it. I mean, I thought…muggle technology, you know, they wouldn’t want to touch it. And I don’t get why they wanted a picture. Maybe they’re going to throw darts at it? Dunno.’
It was pretty weird, and I couldn’t figure it out either. ‘Probably just a joke.’
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I bet. Bastards.’
‘Are you going to come back to the common room now?’
He jerked his head from side to side. ‘What if they’re in the corridors?’
‘It’s nearly curfew. They’ll be heading back to the dungeons.’
‘Yeah, at the same time we’ll
be heading back to the basement.’
‘You won’t be on your own.’
He looked at me and laughed, then promptly shut up and stared back out at the grounds again.
‘Sorry,’ he said.
‘Come on,’ I said. ‘Let’s go back.’
Of course, it was only when I was back in the safety of the Hufflepuff common room that I realised how lucky I was and how, compared to most people in the same situation, I’d got off lightly. When stuff happened I tended to think the opposite. Like I said, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me – okay, words sting for a little bit. I mean, sticks and stones are surface wounds too. Words go a wee bit deeper.
Once it was when I was on my way to meet Albus late one evening, and the corridors were pretty deserted – you didn’t see as much people wandering about these days, either too scared to leave their common rooms or too busy pretending nothing was wrong with Hogwarts to walk through the corridors and have to witness the damage that’d been done to the schools. I mean, I’m not even talking about mean tricks and name-calling. It wasn’t just us ordinary living kids that got the stick, because some of the portraits had suffered too. Rude words printed on them in indelible ink, scraped frames – the caretaker was going mad. But there wasn’t much he would do, because the people involved (who, coincidentally, weren’t just the Slytherins) had parents in pretty high places and were more than used to wriggling their way out of trouble.
Anyway, words go deeper than any of that. I mean, I’m pretty sensitive and a bit miserable, but I’ve always thought I had a thick skin when it came to name-calling after years of being ‘four-eyes Flora’ at my muggle primary school and
at Hogwarts. But the whole ‘mudblood’ thing got to me even more, because that wasn’t just some stupid nickname, it was a proper offensive word that, I found out, they’d even campaigned to have removed from books. I mean, they could call me four-eyes all they liked, because my glasses really were a bit daft, but there was nothing I could do about being a muggle-born.
Thing is, when it came to the name-calling, people didn’t even think up justifications or anything. You would pass them in the corridor, they’d shoot a cursory ‘mudblood’ at you, and, unless you were brave (or stupid) enough to fight back, you just went on with your day. You let the name brand you invisibly and then you moved on and tried to forget it, and that’s what I did most of the time.
This one time, though, I don’t know what was up with me – maybe I was really hormonal or moody or something. I mean, it had
been a hard day, seeing as we’d started all our mock exam preparation and I’d managed to set fire to three different things in Charms because I was so stressed about it. I don’t remember feeling especially naff at the time, but when I passed this third-year Ravenclaw in the corridor and he said ‘mudblood’ at me before heading on his way, it got to me so much I swear I nearly cried, right there, right outside the Transfiguration classrooms.
As I walked on towards where I’d promised to meet Albus, a ton of different things were going through my head. I had all these different scenarios playing. In one, I whipped around with wand in hand and cursed the little bastard’s arse all the way to Potions – in another, I broke down in hysterics in front of the same little bastard before delivering a heartwarming yet ultimately tragic speech about how upset it had made me, which resulted in him realising the errors of his ways and atoning for his sins by fetching me cake from the kitchens. Both equally unrealistic, you know. And there was another scenario where I kept going, and kept going, and kept going until there were more of us walking down the corridors, and together we sparked some sort of uprising that got rid of the hate once and for all – except I hadn’t quite figured out how to go about doing that.
There was another scenario when I imagined I was Scorpius, because he really was one of the ones who would fight back (although he was more stupid than brave when it came to this). He knew enough about the second war and the parents of those Slytherins to have a damning comeback or two up his sleeve, which usually ended up in him getting thumped and me giving him plasters out my bag. A scenario where I turned back and spat something equally hateful at the Ravenclaw – and ended up in the hospital wing. And somehow I thought that was the most realistic, but the worst, of all the scenarios I imagined.
See, a proper little monologue was going through my mind as I walked, eyes all blurred with tears and hands trembling a little. I can’t help the way I was born. I shouldn’t have to make excuses for you. I’m proud to be a muggle-born. You can’t hurt me.
It all sounded great in my head, but I knew it would be trash on my tongue.
I was so caught up in these thoughts that I didn’t even have time to compose myself before I met Albus, which meant he saw me in all my miserable glory, sniffing, eyes leaking, dragging my feet on the ground.
‘What’s up?’ he said.
Everything in my head felt
like trash on my tongue. I struggled to speak for several seconds, then finally gasped out this piece of shuddering anguish: ‘oh, Al, how do you disappear?’
What I meant was that I wanted the earth to swallow me whole, and what I really
wanted was for him to hug me like he usually did and tell me everything would be okay in time. Instead, his face lit up and he swung his backpack off his shoulder.
‘I have just the thing,’ he said.
I watched him, still sniffing, a little disappointed, as he rummaged around in the bag for a bit. Then he took out a folded piece of rich, silky fabric.
For a moment I stupidly thought he was trying to cheer me up by giving me clothes or something, and I wanted to tell him I wasn’t that kind of girl. But then he unfolded the fabric, shook it out, and held it aloft. It was a cloak.
‘Like this,’ he said, sweeping it about himself and vanishing entirely from view.
: back into the swing of updating! sorry for giving you a really depressing chapter followed by a short, filler-y one. I couldn't make this any longer, really. I'm pleased to announce that the end is within sight now! I mean, I have a fair few chapters left to write, but we're moving into the final third of the story - only a scene or two left in Hogwarts before it all switches to the Easter holidays and the matter of What Happened Then. I'd be interested to know what you think might happen in the rest of this story after the sudden change in tone.
I listened to 'temptation' by new order and 'seasick, yet still docked' by morrissey a lot when writing this. also, by the way, if you haven't seen the film of 'the perks of being a wallflower' yet, evaluate your life choices and go and see it immediately.