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Bathing in Roses by Celestie

Format: Novel
Chapters: 20
Word Count: 119,806
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ginny, Albus, James (II), Lily (II), Rose, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing, OC/OC

First Published: 01/24/2011
Last Chapter: 08/26/2012
Last Updated: 09/28/2012

Summary:
Stellar banner by Contour | Sequel - "This Time With Us" is up!
 



June Bernard's life currently contains copious amounts of: badly written romance novels, poorly worded love letters, ill-timed earthquakes, a troupe of hyperactive friends, psychotic rants, and a barely functioning sociopath named Albus Potter. Growing up never did have so many occupational hazards. Half parody, half travesty.


Chapter 1: The Idiocy of the Time
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The Idiocy of the Time

It had been a long day for all those in the Hufflepuff Common Room.

There was a gaggle of fifth years looking sullenly at their spellbooks, muttering darkly about examinations between themselves, while scribbling frantically on parchment. Behind them was an infestation of first years, playing a loud game of Exploding Snap, their ignorance to the largely unspoken rules of etiquette that dominated the hierarchy of the Common Room indisputably obvious; many of their older counterparts were scowling over the tops of books, exchanging irritated glances with each other in turn that quietly said, first years, aren’t they the worst?

Somewhere, up a winding staircase, and two doors to the left, past an unflattering portrait of a witch brandishing a prominent nose, was the seventh year girls’ dormitory.

Even from outside the door, a shocked cry was audible.

“Oh, but you can’t! June, you can’t! You really can’t!”

Inside, a ring of four girls were sitting on the floor, the warmth of the four-poster beds abandoned.

 The other girls rang in similar protest.

“June, it’s not a very good idea…we all know how he is…he’s absolutely cruel!”

 “Just think about what you’re doing, will you?”

The black-haired girl sitting squatly in the center of the bedlam twisted her hands together. “You lot don’t have any confidence in me,” she said glumly.

The brunette on her right folded her arms. “It’s not that we don’t have confidence in you, it’s just that Al Potter is such a – a – ”

“He is not,” said June lightly, examining her nails. “I like him, Priscilla.”

The Priscilla in question – a Priscilla Fawcett - gave her a superbly annoyed look. As the daughter of a highly polished pureblood family, whose ancestry, as Priscilla habitually liked to remind them, wove back to the likes of Perpetua Fawcett, the look of disdain quite suited her clear features. Indeed, Priscilla was not Priscilla without her crisp robes, offensive tone, unfiltered diction, and aptness for the grandiose. “June Bernard, you’re hopeless. You really are.”

On her left, the two other girls – Lucy Weasley and Trista St. Clair were looking equally stunned.

“Not Albus Potter,” said Trista, raising an eyebrow. Having been sorted into a House only marginally known for its talents, the increasingly enigmatic Trista had surprised most of Hogwarts by being termed the next Gwenog Jones; she was a brilliant statistician and strategist on and off the Quidditch field. The distinguished pragmatist of the group, she often times injected the voice of reason that was often absent in the company of her peers. Where June was weakness, Priscilla was heated anger, and Lucy was softness, Trista was rational. So, she assumed the role again. “Have you forgotten what happened when Iris Bosworth tried to ask him out? He rejected her openly in front of the whole Astronomy class. He just doesn’t take to these kinds of things. The odds’re against you.”

“Iris Bosworth is a bit dim,” said Priscilla fairly. “Remember what happened during last year’s Apparition lessons? She splinched half of her body! How she managed that, I’ll never know. It takes a special kind of talent to be that stupid!”

“Poor Iris,” said Lucy sadly, “I’ve heard she’s still scared of Apparating.”

“I’ll ask him during lunch when everyone’s talking, so nobody overhears,” said June in her usual quiet way. “I don’t want to annoy him by attracting a lot of attention…and anyway, attention is the last thing I really fancy…and I’m sure he feels the same…”

“Be careful, will you?” This came from Lucy Weasley, whose round face was looking worried as she pondered her friend as though she had only really seen her for the first time. Lucy, who was half a Weasley courtesy of her father, and half-a-something-else-that-nobody-cared-to-remember through her mother’s side, was about as close to Albus as anyone in the Hufflepuff House was ever going to get.

“Al – Al doesn’t take kindly to strangers…especially not with little things like fancying people. He reckons it’s a waste of good time.”

Priscilla scowled. “He’s a waste of time. As far as I’m concerned, he can only do two things successfully: sulk and unfortunately, breathe. You’re too good for that self-centered, egomaniacal – ”

“Don’t say that about him,” said June. “I think he’s nice.”

“If by nice, you mean the head-in-his-arse type, then he’s bloody Dumbledore!”

“You’re just bitter that he beat you on all of last year’s examinations,” said Trista, exchanging a knowing glance with Lucy.

“Don’t you say that, St. Clair! You know that those exams are a fix! Last year’s curriculum was so weighted on History of Magic and we all know that class is about as educational as doxy droppings.”

“That doesn’t mean much coming from you,” said Trista, “you’re hardly ever awake in there. All you ever do is copy Ursula Urquhart’s notes.”

Having sufficiently delved into the subject of schoolwork, the two girls began squabbling at once, comparing grievances and attempting to shed light on the rumor that Headmistress Sprout’d really hired a vampire to replace Professor Whitby.

Lucy scooted closer to June and patted her comfortingly on the hand. “If it’s worth that much to you, June, I’ll support you. I’ll try putting in a good word about you to Al, if he’s willing to listen.”

“Really?” At this, June brightened considerably. “Lucy, you’re the best!”

“I know, dear. You’re not to worry about Albus when we’re here.”

The tone of her voice indicated that she had tired of the topic of Albus Potter. Soon enough, there was a rimming chime from the grandfather clock leaning against the wall. In harmony, all the lamps flickered to darkness, signaling the time to retire. June drew the curtains around her bed and watched the reflections of the stars dot the windowpane beside her bedside. A little distance away, she could still hear Priscilla and Trista arguing under their breaths.

*

For what it was worth, June Vivienne Bernard was passable.

Her soft features, coupled with pale skin and a heart-shaped face still lingered, at seventeen, in the awkward bounds of adolescence, even if only tangentially. She was depressingly short and the dreams of reaching her mother’s elegant frame were long quashed by the frustrating genetics of a father who was only tall enough to reach the middle cabinet in the kitchen.

Then, there were the various tics in her life: a myriad of insecurities regarding everything from her intelligence to the way she always seemed to whisper her words, and the ridiculous way she dressed. And it did not help that her circle of friends were as they were: Priscilla was rather foul-tempered and prone to fits, but it was agreed upon by the general populace that she was something of this generation’s Hermione Granger. Trista St. Clair had reached a rather odd level of popularity in the Hufflepuff House; despite being rather finicky, overly meticulous, and exclusive, in their fifth year, she had secured, for the first time in a century, the Quidditch Cup for their house.

Lucy was a Weasley, and therefore, popular, distinguished, and well set on all paths in a post-Hogwarts career.

And then, troublingly enough, there was Albus Potter.

And all she was, was twittering, air-headed June Bernard: well-intentioned, but usually wrong, nervous, overly whimsical, and so brilliant as not to scrape even a Poor in her last Arithmancy exam, no matter how much she’d tried and wept about it afterwards.

*

A few hours before the morning of, June arose and readied herself for the day. The floors all below were bustling with the sparks of an early morning symphony as fellow students everywhere awoke; there was a creak of bedsprings, the scrape of curtains, and the clack of the showers.

Trista was already up and about, having showered and packed for Quidditch practice in the afternoon (it seemed rather frivolous, June considered, since the Christmas holidays began tomorrow, but what did she know about Quidditch?); Trista waved as she ran down, her bag bulging with her strategy books.

So, with that, June considered herself with the small mirror by her bedside.

Her hair was…lackluster…not horribly frizzy, but with a slightly dead sort of quality. Not at all like Priscilla’s glossy brown -

There was a soft clang behind her and June jumped. “Oh, you scared me,” she said, her heart still pounding. “I – I’ve been thinking.”

Lucy sat down, her school robes draped over one arm. “Oh good. We’ve all been hoping you have.”

There was a muffled voice from a shape hidden in bedcovers. “Does this mean you haven’t lost your mind?”

June ignored this. “I need you to do me a favor.”

“What is it?” asked Lucy cautiously.

 “I want to write a letter to Albus – and I was wonder – wondering if you could give it to him for me. I – I don’t think I can bear to say it to Albus in person,” she muttered shame-facedly, going red. “I’d rather just watch his reaction…that way, neither of us will have to go through it…in person.”

“And in case he says yes, June? You can’t have a relationship if you’re afraid to look at him.”

“I’ll worry about it then. I’m going to run downstairs and get some breakfast.”

And she hurried out, leaving Lucy and Priscilla shaking their heads.

“She’s so dimwitted sometimes,” said Priscilla lamentably.

*

The first half of the day was a mellowed affair. June went from class to class, only half there (a usual sight), with Priscilla Fawcett at her heels, ranting endlessly on why confessing to Albus Potter was an idea dumb even for her.

“He’s like the human version of a dementor,” she said heatedly, as they made their way to Charms after breakfast. “He sucks happiness out of people and if you get too close – ” She flailed her arms above her head, and made a pathetic whooshing sound.

Lucy Weasley, even from three seats away, guessed what Priscilla was still on about and rolled her eyes.

June, who was still highly engrossed in her letter to Albus looked up idly. Anything would be better than listening to Priscilla rave about Albus – even if it meant she had to rave about something else. “How did you find the novel I lent you?”

Her obvious ploy to change the subject worked. Priscilla’s look of disgust deepened even further. “Honestly, when you were lending me a book, I was so surprised,” she said in hushed tones as Professor Flitwick marched by. “I didn’t really think you could read much.”

“And?” asked June.

“I was right,” said Priscilla baldly. “It was horrible. June, Love at Hogwarts, really? This’s what you get up to reading? This is where all your convoluted ideas on romance come from. There is no prince waiting under some tower. Those things don’t exist, never exist, and never will exist. You’ll be waiting forever for some queer idiot in tights.”

“Fifi LaFolle is a wonderful writer. I thought it was splendid,” said June earnestly. “And it was so funny, too – the scene by the Potions Dungeon – I really thought Harriet was so realistic and the way Daniel was around her was so sweet – ”

“It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever read. It shriveled up my brain to read! And the girl was just – what an airhead!”

“Harriet is not – ”

“Oh, look at me, I’m an awkward teenage girl, who randomly screams things to myself, is as clumsy as hell, runs into fit, half-naked boys in Quidditch changing rooms even though I don’t play Quidditch, and spends all my time drooling mindlessly after men even though I take about 50 NEWT’s. I’ve got some superficially profound internal issues that are somehow compromised after snogging someone, make ridiculously stupid plans to hook people up that miraculously work out, and at the same time, I have this horrible, ridiculously good looking male after me, who I hate for no real reason. And have I mentioned I’m clumsy?” Her voice had taken on a furious edge. “Because I’m clumsy! And awkward! I’m definitely awkward! My awkwardness bloody seethes!”

Priscilla exhaled irately, looking very much like an angry elephant.

“All right, girls, enough talking back there!” Professor Flitwick gave them a squeaky admonition. “Miss Fawcett, let’s see the charm, shall we?”

“Yes Professor,” said Priscilla, her voice turning suddenly sweet as she turned to the various glass objects placed in front of them. She pointed her wand to a glass frog. “Geminio!”

A perfect duplicate appeared at once. Satisfied, Flitwick wandered off.  Within a few minutes, Jelena Jorkins, waved her wand so eagerly at her glass kitten that it had imploded, showering half the class with glass shards.

As class ended, June left, picking glass out of her robes along the way, with Priscilla at her heels, still blathering murderously, in turns about Albus Potter and men in tights. It was time for lunch.

*

June walked down the long corridor, and down the marble steps that lead to the Great Hall, her hands shaking. As they had agreed, she saw Lucy outside the Great Hall, looking nervous herself. When she spotted June, she started up and run over.

“Oh, I don’t think this is such a good idea…”

“You agreed! You said you would!”

“Oh all right!” said Lucy, looking still more nervous; she seized the letter and stored it in her bag. “But not immediately, though. Let’s wait for a bit until the first years are on about something and it’s properly loud. Then I’ll go over. Come on, I see Trista. Let’s go eat first.”

June too could spot the outline of Trista’s blonde hair in the corner of the Hufflepuff table. Lucy held on to her arm tightly and they navigated past a rowdy group of fifth year boys and a third year girl who was sobbing ferociously. One of her friends was patting her back, saying genially, “Oh, don’t mind Matthew, you know he’s just rubbish…”

This did little to ease June’s nerves. Trista waved them over, before pressing a goblet of pumpkin juice into June’s hand with a reassuring, “Drink something, anything, alright? Just relax.”

The first half of lunch passed unbearably slowly. Trista was still laughing at something Justin Macmillan had said, Priscilla was staring angrily at her lunch as though it had done her a great personal injustice, and Lucy was looking as uncomfortable as June felt.

Finally, June elbowed Lucy, who gave a stiff nod and reached into her bag. Trista and Priscilla both stared at her as she arose and made her way over to the Gryffindor table.

And to the side, looking passably annoyed at the noise of the Great Hall, his book covering most of his face, was Albus Potter. He had the architecture of an old-world gentleman and perhaps that was why she fancied him so much. He reminded her of the swooping gait of medieval castles; their surety in their existence was mirrored precisely in his mannerisms. Or perhaps it was the green eyes and how intelligent everyone said he was. And how quiet…

Looking back, June realized precisely how many follies she’d singlehandedly managed to commit. 

The first of many mistakes was fancying without ever really knowing him. They’d had an odd Potions project together in their second year, but neither of them remembered this, as Albus simply had not cared enough to, and June had lived in a pre-Albus world. They’d left with distinctly polar impressions; to June, Albus Potter was decent, if reserved, and to Albus, she had been nothing more than an addition to an ever growing list of idiotic classmates he’d encountered. But since then, they’d shared a few classes without ever much coming in contact, and had passed each other through hallways, corridors, and Quidditch games without ever properly meeting.

The second was reading that book by Fifi LaFolle. It had done her in more than she could’ve ever imagined. One day, she’d looked up and noticed how very much Albus Potter resembled Daniel Whitman – the broad-shouldered, muscled Ravenclaw Quidditch Captain featured in Love at Hogwarts; much, much later, she would realize how utterly absurd and baseless the observation had been.

But, until then, Lucy was whispering to Albus, who was surveying her with a lack of interest. She slipped the letter beside his plate and he opened it.

June’s stomach rotated.

His eyes flickered back and forth as he read it. He looked up, saw Lucy hovering anxiously, and asked her something. To June’s intense horror, Lucy promptly pointed down the Hufflepuff table, towards her. June began choking on her pumpkin juice.

Albus looked up at her, and arose.

He made his way over the crowd, before arriving before her. Under his tall stature, she shrank back. Trista and Priscilla were watching incredulously.

“You sent this?” He held up the letter. He didn’t sound angry...it was a near miracle…maybe he would…

“Um…yes…”

At her reply, his eyebrows rose. Her friends were not the only ones watching now; a few sixth year girls had caught on to what was happening and had hushed the remainder of their Hufflepuff peers into silence, after much oohing, and pointing down the table.

June swallowed resolutely, blushing wildly. “Um, so…what did – what did you think of it?”

To her amazement, he laughed. Out of nervousness, she laughed back.

“Spelling. I recommend you work on yours.” He tossed the letter at her; she made a grope at the air, but it landed in her goblet of pumpkin juice, and she pulled it out hastily.

There was a moment of silence, before there was a burst of laughter in the back. June stared at her hands. They’d been right – her friends had been right…why hadn’t she listened?

He turned and began walking away.

“It is bad, isn’t it?” said June, giving a hollow laugh, her gaze still resolutely on her hands. She felt horrible on the inside – like everything was squirming – and her body was strangely heated. “But – um – what – what’s your reply?”

There was none. He kept walking.

*

In the girls’ dormitory, Priscilla emptied herself of every swear word she knew and a few June was inclined to think she had conjured for the occasion.

Lucy tossed Trista another Cauldron Cake. Obediently, Trista began opening the wrapping, before passing it to June, who took it with a watery smile.

“What an arsehole! Who says things like that to someone else?” Priscilla was still on about it. “Spelling. I recommend you work on yours. Dying. I recommend Albus Potter works on trying.”

“Yes, it was incredibly callous of him,” said Lucy, paling. “I wish he hadn’t gone about it that way, but June, it’s really for the better. You two wouldn’t have gotten along in the least. You’re lovely and you like simple things and he’s – ”

“ – as sensitive as molding bread,” offered Priscilla.

June said nothing. As soon as Albus had left the Great Hall, the Hufflepuff table had broken out into a web of whispers. She had shakily made as dignified of an exit as she could muster; she had grabbed her books, the accursed pumpkin juice stained letter, and ran out, her friends calling after her. As she left, she could hear someone saying, “What an idiot, doing it during lunch like that. It’s like she was begging to be put down in front of everybody.”

No doubt the news of what she had done had spread to her Gryffindor, Slytherin and Ravenclaw classmates, courtesy of her own table.

Trista put a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll be off for the holidays tomorrow and by the time we come back, everyone’ll have forgotten.”

“Right,” said Priscilla, “and who needs self-righteous pricks anyway? You’ve got us! We’re as good as it comes!”

“Absolutely,” said Trista. “We’re quite the collection.”

“We’ve got all kinds of specimen before us, ladies and gentlemen,” said Priscilla, in a boisterous tone. She arose and leapt on top of her bed, flourishing her wand like a cane and pointing it at Lucy. “I present to you, Lucy Amelia Weasley. Quite possibly the biggest prude sighted at Hufflepuff House in the past two centuries and without enough sleep, the resident ghoul of the group.”

“Thanks a lot,” said Lucy frowning.

“And then there’s this fine girl, June Vivienne Bernard, a notable ninny extraordinaire. But be careful of the creature, she’ll confess love to you in a letter lacking proper punctuation if you’re a surly enough twit!”

“Thanks, Priscilla,” said June, the corners of her mouth twitching. It helped slightly to know that Priscilla thought the whole matter was ridiculous enough to joke about it already. She threw the remainder of her Cauldron Cake at Priscilla, who ducked, and went on in the same brazen tone.

“Then there’s the group bint right here – Miss Trista Jeanne St. Clair - so ladies, hold your gentlemen back!”

“Me?” said Trista incredulously. “Why on earth am I the group bint?”

“Because every group needs to have one. And besides, unless you count June’s nonexistent relationship with the soon-to-be late Albus Potter, the painting of the witch with the ugly nose winking at Lucy, or my torrid affair with my Arithmancy book, you’re the only one who’s had a date in a good year.”

“Two dates with Duncan in a whole year and I’m the bint. Lovely. So, what does that make you?”

“I’m the most brilliant witch this house’s ever had.”

“The word to describe you is similar to witch, but not quite,” said Trista dryly.

“I think it should go something like this,” piped up June for the first time in the evening. Everyone shared a successful smile among them as she spoke. “The seventh year Hufflepuff girls dormitory is proud to present Miss Priscilla Marie Fawcett, who can rave, criticize, and be skeptical of any topic within ten and a half seconds.”

There was a collective laugh and June gave a small, sad sigh.

“Feeling better, June?” asked Lucy, giving her a hug.

“Yes. Thank you.”

As her friends returned to laughing, June surveyed the room dully. The night sky outside her window seemed so awfully empty.

*

The train ride home was quiet. Priscilla was engrossed in a book, while Trista and Lucy played Gobstones on the ground. Trista, perhaps out of habit or brilliance, was beating Lucy badly, who seemed only to be playing out of mild interest.

June watched the snow outside engulf the broad valleys outside; the soft boundaries of their side seemed to sink the whiteness. The azure sky was largely blocked by the flecks of snow falling mercilessly on the windowpanes and she traced small, transparent patterns on the glass.

Sometime later, she asked her friends in a wobbly voice, “Will you visit me over the holidays?”

“Of course,” said Lucy. There was a round of agreement.

“You’re moving into the new flat, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” said June, trying not to feel a small pang at the thought of moving into another cramped flat. This one, at least, was slightly bigger than the last…and her father had seemed so happy after he’d told her he’d purchased it… “Dad told me he’s been packing for the last two weeks. I’ve got nothing at all to do and we can’t afford to go anywhere, so come visit, alright?”

“Absolutely,” said Trista.

Priscilla was looking thoughtful; she lived in a large manor in France, so coming to visit was more complicated than a simple Apparition trip over. “I’ll have to get Papa to install an international Floo grate in our house. Either that or I’ll get a portkey, but I’ll make it over here. It’ll take more than an ocean to stop me!”

“Thank you,” said June, relieved.

Within a few minutes, the train came to an abrupt halt, billowing steam onto the teeming platform beside it. The glass on the compartment door shook as hordes of students piled out into the hallways, all in a mass squabble to locate trunks, owls, cats, books, and wands, as they made their way to the platform.

June passed the Head Boy, Baron Davies, on her way out, where he was bellowing himself hoarse at a group of fifth year Gryffindor boys who had attempted to set off forty consecutive Dungbombs placed around in various compartments as a joke. “YOU IDIOTS, DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU COULD’VE DONE? THE ENTIRE PLATFORM WOULD’VE REEKED! WE DON’T HAVE BARRIERS FOR SMELLS! WHAT WOULD’VE HAPPENED IF MUGGLES SMELLED IT PAST THE PLATFORM, EH?”

“Poor Baron,” said Lucy pityingly, hoisting up her trunk as she made it onto the platform. “Oh, I see Molly. I’ve got to go.” She gave each girl a hug, before walking towards a redhead who looked slightly older than her.

“Well, my mum’s here as well,” said Trista lightly. After eliciting a promise that everyone would write to her, she too was gone.

“Jacques’ll also be here soon,” said Priscilla, bracing herself against the slice of the mid-winter chill. “June, will you be alright on your own? June?”

She followed June’s line of sight, before gawking slightly at the masochistic characteristic of the action. A large group of redheads stood, around a large quantity of owls and trunks; even from the distance, the burst of noise and action was obvious.

June could recognize several of the Weasley and Potter clan. There was Rose Weasley – they’d sat together in Charms last year, a word barely passing between them; June was connected to Priscilla Fawcett, which, in the hierarchy of things, made June a once-removed enemy of Rose’s. Then there was Lily Potter, who June only knew from Trista’s tirades on the Gryffindor Quidditch Team. Then, slightly off to the side was Albus.

He looked up.

June flushed and looked away before he would notice her staring.

“Let it go, June. Just let it go. Don’t worry about it.”

“It’s hard to. I feel like a – like such a fool…everyone must be laughing at me…”

“Well, if it’s any comfort, I reckon it’s got to do with the idiocy of the time more than with you. It feels like all everyone cares about is who’s dating who and who did what and who wore what. It’s ridiculously shallow.” Priscilla rubbed her hands together and her breath came out in a puff of misty air. “It’s like the value of intelligence is weaning by the day.”

“I know…” Knowing this, however, did not help the cause.

“Jacques’s here,” said Priscilla. A man with an aged, powerful face approached. He gave Priscilla a small hug, and pulled up her trunk. “Alright June, this’s it. Write me if anything comes up and take care of yourself.”

With all of her friends gone, June found no viable reason to stay in the freeze of the winter winds. She pushed her trunk to a further set space and reached inside her robes for her wand. She still wished that, beyond anything, her father were here to walk her off, past the barrier as so many others were doing in front of her. But, it was a selfish and impractical wish. Apparition was so much easier than his old car and she had been the one to insist that there was no need for him to trouble himself.

So, with the flick of her wand, she left, with the azure sky rotating out of view, and the chill of the winds shifting.

 










Author's Note: So, another WIP is one I hardly need, I suppose, but I've had this one in my mind for a very long time now. 

Credit where credit is due: The plot of the story is loosely inspired by the concept of the manga 'Mischievous Kiss' by the late Tada Kaoru. While it borrows the general premise of 'Mischievious Kiss' - a rich boy, a poor, dimwitted girl and the plot point that put them under the same house - this story is not a pure retelling of it in any way and has most of my subplots. It features my own OC's, and works as a parody of 'Mischievious Kiss' and of the romantic comedy genre as a whole. 

I hope you've enjoyed this story thus far and it's very odd little cast. It's my goal to make a different and (hopefully) intelligent romance in a saturated genre with a saturated pairing. Please let me know how you felt that attempt was, along with any comments or thoughts. 

Thanks so much for reading!

Celeste


Chapter 2: A Matter of Great Irrelevance
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Dedicated to Gina (justonemorefic) for all the help and inspiration. Thank you and enjoy!




A Matter of Great Irrelevance

Within seconds, June found herself outside the door of a familiar, if largely unimportant, squalid flat.

Hesitantly, she opened the door. The inside, contrary to what was assured by the last of her father’s letters to her, was littered with the remains of the boxes that he had not yet managed to transport to the new flat. This, however, did little to phase her; the habits of the Bernard bloodline, procrastination and a largely ballooned sense of optimism were both part of a normal lifestyle.

“Dad?” she asked, closing the door behind her. “Dad, I’m home.”

She stepped gingerly over a large pile of books that she was quite certain her father had never read (only when moving out did one truly account for the various fluff items stocked throughout the house). She vaguely suspected he stocked them in the rare advent of a visitor’s arrival to better reflect the tendencies of a lifestyle spent in front of the television.

There was a loud snore from behind the wobbling pink sofa.

“Dad?”

A short, portly man lay sprawled across the sofa, snoring gently. June shook him and he awoke with a startled, “What – what’s going on?”

“I’m home.”

“What?”

“It’s me. I’m home.”

“Oh, hello dear,” said Mr. Bernard, wiping his brow. He sat up and gave her a small embrace. “Did you find the journey back alright?” Upon the disappearance of the grogginess of an unseemly and unannounced mid-morning nap, he looked up and properly took in the sight of his daughter. “You look so thin…are you alright?”

June set down her trunk. “No, no, I’m fine.” She took a look around and attempted to say without an accusatory tone, “You haven’t finished packing yet. We’re moving tomorrow.”

“Ah, yes, that,” said Mr. Bernard, looking more hassled at the thought of it, “well, I’ve been doing it all morning, June. There’s no end to it.”

“Do we really have to move so soon? This place isn’t so bad…”

It was not the entire truth, but for the sake of her father, June had long stopped offering the unfiltered truth. The flat that she stayed in was only through the holidays and the summer time, but it was incredibly stifling: two bedrooms and a tiny kitchen-esque space (it really would be offensive to other kitchens to liken it to one) always seemed to heighten unpleasant emotions.

“The new flat’s even better, I promise.” Mr. Bernard gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. “And it’s the last time we’ll be moving.”

“Really?”

“I don’t think we’ll be moving again,” he said happily. “It’s bigger and it’s got a decent kitchen at last and the roof doesn’t even leak! And it’s very inexpensive, June – we can actually, properly afford it this time.”

“Thank goodness,” said June, feeling an enormous sense of relief billow forward. Within the confines of the Bernard household, it had been habit to move every two or so years, undulating with the level of profits from Mr. Bernard’s tiny restaurant.

“Your mum would’ve been so happy.”

And there it was, like always. June deflated slightly at hearing the line once more. She didn’t need to face her father to know that he had swiped the family picture off the table beside him, and was currently pointing to it. It was a crinkled, age abused photograph of them: Mr. Bernard looking very much like he still did, with his weary smile and balding brown hair, a five-year-old June wearing a flowery dress, and a stately woman beside them, smiling happily, unaware that within a few years, the photograph would be one of the last things she’d leave behind. “Her dreams are all coming true, June, just like she’d said. We’ll be getting a proper home.”

Her throat suddenly feeling remarkably dry despite the cool air, June coughed. “I’m going to my room to check that everything’s packed.”

And with that, she skittered out, into her bedroom, where she spent a long time on her bed, sitting alone in the dim afternoon light and watching the mid-winter winds outside.

*

Things, as they always seemed to do, were finished on time. June and Mr. Bernard worked feverishly through the late evening and by the early morning, the disarray within the flat was gone. Boxes were piled neatly by the door; the windows and walls were stripped of curtains and pictures and June’s room, which had once been scattered with pieces of fabric she’d cut up and never put away, now stared blankly back at her.

It was a slightly disconcerting sight to see the flat as empty as it was when they had first arrived. Like nothing at all had changed in the last one and a half years.

And perhaps they hadn’t.

June had worried that she would’ve cried at leaving like she once had or that she would’ve left wishing that things hadn’t changed like they did. After all, she was June Bernard – prone to sentimentalism, highly unpractical, and annoyingly childish. There were a few things she would undoubtedly miss – the park nearby, the small dogs that she could see trotting by from her window, the landlord that had given them chocolates when they’d first moved in, the good looking twenty-something writer she’d harbored an idle infatuation for in the boredom of the summers, the elderly couple who lived two floors up and on occasion could be heard using highly colorful language as they bickered, and the girl on the other side of the wall who sang nasally while she showered. And if June was truly misfortunate, she might even miss the man who sometimes doused them with rousing melodies on his trumpet at three in the morning.

But the worries were for nothing.

Perhaps it was out of habit – there had been so many flats just like this one in the past few years – or perhaps she had at last grown up, but she surveyed the place for the last time numbly. Sunshine was pouring in through an open window, highlighting the cracks on the walls.

She picked up the last of her boxes, and shut the door behind her, following her father into the morning.

*

The next few days were relatively quiet. It was a depressing thought to imagine that her friends all had bustling families and large homes to return to, but at least her father had been partly right about the new flat. It was bigger and cleaner, with bright walls and a comfortingly distinct absence of a trumpet playing Scotsman.

Soon enough, June found herself looking forward to again seeing her friends; they had all assured her that they would be stopping by that Tuesday and it was with a heightened sense of vigor (the last few days largely spent alone in the flat while her father went off to work had made her feel more lonely than ever) that she awaited them.

Priscilla, whose lack of punctuality was now infamous among her peers, surprised most objects in existence by arriving a full hour before the arranged time.

June was curled up on the floor, rereading Love at Hogwarts for what was now surely the thousandth time; her eyes were barely skimming the page – she was reading to verify the words, not to absorb anything.

*

It was a little past noon when Priscilla arrived. The unused fireplace burst into emerald green flames and with a jarring twitch, June dropped her book, gaping at the sight of the flames licking the side.

Within seconds, girl with spiraling brown hair and haughty features whirled in. She fumbled out, coughing and breathing heavily, before stepping out and dusting off her robes.

“Priscilla? What’re you doing here? You’re really early…you’re not supposed to be here until one…”

“God, I loathe international Flooing!” Without a pause, Priscilla Fawcett made her way across, still dusting off her robes and lamenting at the top of her voice. “There’s like ten dozen grates that you have to pass by and it’s proper headache trying to tell them apart! And I won’t even start on that witch who I passed who was on the sofa  with her – god, never mind, it was downright traumatizing!”

“Er – why’re you here so early?”

“My mum,” said Priscilla simply. As with many things in her life, Priscilla Fawcett often used the excuse of Mrs. Fawcett in rather flexible ways - to explain away drunkenness, lack of interest in school, laziness, and the occasional bout of constipation.

“I see,” said June lightly; she had learned never to ask too much of Priscilla. Some things could never be emptied from one’s mind, even if the mind was already rather empty in the first place.

“D’you have any food, by chance? Maman tried cooking again and I only pretended to eat, but I made the cat eat it when she wasn’t looking. I’m absolutely dying.”

“I think there’s some bread on the table, but there’s not much else.”

Looking pacified, Priscilla reached for the slightly stale bread and began eating. “This tastes like a molding pumpkin.”

To this, June said nothing, and instead picked up her battered copy of Love at Hogwarts and resumed reading.

“What’re you doing?” came Priscilla’s voice. “You have an honored guest over, you know! You shouldn’t be ignoring them!”

“I’m reading,” said June.

Priscilla snorted derisively. “Not that Fifi LaFolle rubbish again, I hope.”

“It’s not rubbish!”

“If that’s not rubbish, then I’ll snog Flitwick. If I honestly had to read one more line like, ‘we waded into an endless pool of infinite love’…”

The threat of snogging anybody coming from Priscilla Fawcett was enough even to elicit a knowing smile from an unusually focused June. It was well known that of the Fawcett tendencies to indulge in publicized and amorous love affairs, to marry and remarry, and to occasionally have a spouse go missing at an acutely convenient time were all characteristics of a lineage seeped in a strange combination of ambition and an innate craving for attention; it was the spectacle of centuries, the stuff of housewives’ gossip for decades. Thereby, it was long predicted even before she had stepped into the institution of her forefathers that the Fawcett girl would follow in her parents’ footsteps.  

But, the spectacle came with two highly unattractive features for a woman: a mouth and strong opinions.

“You don’t believe in romance at all,” said June, pouting. “Romance is supposed to be deep and profound. You’re supposed to feel it in your heart!”

“I don’t really think I have a heart,” came the curt reply. “But I usually carry around chocolate instead and that’s about the same.”

“You do realize that’s why nobody asks you to Hogsmeade, right?” asked June earnestly, her eyes widening. “You act like you’d gouge their eyes out.”

“Fair enough. I probably would.” She took a large bite of her bread and watched June flop for words.

“And it’s not so bad to fancy someone. I – I know that they might not always fancy you back – ” at this, June’s voice rose a little like it always did when she was nervous “ - but it’s the experience that really matters. It’s the greatest feeling in the world when they look at you or notice you or talk to you. It’s like – like floating.” She clasped her hands together rapturously. “That’s why I like Fifi LaFolle so much. She understands.”

There was a pregnant pause.

“You know what frightens me? I think this bread might actually be more intelligent than you.”

June frowned. The usual jabs from Priscilla at her intelligence were quite enough; she was used to them enough to laugh alongside once in a while. But insulting FiFi LaFolle so much – it seemed absolutely heathen to do.

So, with Priscilla still sprawled on the ground, eating the bread with all the grace of a Blast-Ended Skrewt, June picked up her book, and out of spite, began reading aloud. Even June Bernard had her limitations with people like Priscilla.

Hi, my name is Harriet Aurora Henderson and this is my story of how I nearly died trying to survive seventh year.

But unless you wanna die, call me Hattie. Funny story on how I got that nickname actually. When I was little, I'd like to try on all my mum's hats when she bought them and I'd walk around all day in them. Alright, so maybe it wasn't very funny. But it shows you what kind of family I come from. My middle name – Aurora – comes from my mum thinking I’d be the light of her life when I was born. And then she actually met me.

“Are you reading that rubbish out loud?” asked Priscilla incredulously. “Did I wrong you in a past life or something?”

No, wait. That makes me sound almost normal. Better yet, I’m probably that slightly weird, incredibly awkward girl who lives near you who collects toads. You know the type. I’m socially disabled (Alcott calls me a freak of nature, but don’t mind him), so don’t try to get me to talk to you or anything.

“God, the quirky girl archetype! Being a complete buffoon is not attractive! Look at me, I’m quirky and rubbish and I’ve got all the intelligent thought and functionality of a cactus!

I might end up accidentally killing you when neither of us is looking. Also, gravity is one of my arch nemeses (more on the other later). Seriously, I can’t walk normally, much less run, without toppling half the earth. Mum says I’m vertically challenged. Oh ha ha ha. Shut up. Don’t laugh.

“I feel like I should say something deep about schizophrenia right about now. Maybe write a poem? God, but I can’t rhyme at all. Remember the poem I wrote for Anthony Boot?”

Distracted momentarily from her reading, June looked up. “You mean the one you wrote after he chucked Lucy?”

“The very one. It was a revelation in language.”

“You barely rhymed anything,” said June fairly. “And it was only two lines long.”

“Oi! I rhymed ‘shit’ with ‘dragon shit’! It was genius!”

"That's irrelevant," said June testily, holding up the book. "This is writing, not poems about wanting to hex people."

"I'm an irrelevant person,' said Priscilla irrelevantly. "Let's see...tangential, unrelated, containing irrelevance. Besides, I don't agree with this. All this rubbish romance. It can't exist."

"Just because you don't agree with it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You also don't agree with bald men, beards or parrots, but you'll find they exist all the same."

With that, June scoffed and went back to reading, ignoring the pained wail emitted by Priscilla that very much resembled the cry of a dying creature.

But anyway.

There’re two things you need to know about me if we’re ever planning to get along:

1) I collect toads. My favorite one’s name is Alcott. I smuggle him to Hogwarts inside my trunk, which is probably unnecessary since toads are allowed anyway. We talk a lot – it’s great, except that he gives me this really strange wide-eyed look all the time.

“Oh my god, she collects toads? I’d nearly forgotten! Why don’t you just drain the past few years of schooling from my head and call it a day?”

But don’t take his cuteness too seriously. He’s also rather rude. Even if I’m weeping my eyes out, he never bothers replying! UGH, ALCOTT, WHY??

“Why are girls such banshees in these kinds of stories? It’s always weeping their heads off about men or screaming their heads off about nonexistent men. When do they ever study? God, moreover, when do they ever use the toilet? Or maybe they go to the toilet and continue screaming? A visceral image of a girl near a toilet screaming, MY TOAD’S SUCH AN ARSEHOLE!” is coming to mind, honestly. Poor toad. Poor toilet.

Then it’s downright horrible and I get really close to Transfiguring him into a carpet or something (cue: awkward teenage girl), but then I don’t (cue: audience applause because I am, in fact, only sort of a creeper).

2) Daniel Whitman is the bane of my existence. THE BANE. (Sorry I yelled. I just had to. HE IS THE BANE OF IT. THE BANE. You’re probably covering your ears/eyes right now.) He’s probably the most idiotic person you’ll ever meet. Arrogance the size of Mars? Check.

“How big is Mars, precisely? Is it bigger than an ‘endless pool of infinite love’, do you suppose?”

Bloke who thinks that just because he can play Quidditch, he inherits the world? Check. Git who plays not-so-hilarious pranks usually involving a poor, spastic victim and her toad while most of Hogwarts laughs their arses off? Check. Idiot dating world’s biggest blonde bimbo who shrieks every twenty seconds and probably snogs a mirror in her spare time? Check.

“You know, writers are can be such pathetic people sometimes. Imagine being a frustrated housewife taking it all out on some poor blonde sod and writing about snogging it up with a guy half your age.”

Bloke with black hair and attractive blue eyes? Che – UGH WAIT – I never said that!!!

“And that’s the thing with writers anyway. They’re all a load of creepers when it comes down to it. They’re kind of mad stalkers, except that the people that they stalk will never be of any real significance.”

But as long as you keep Whitman out of the conversation and remember that I like toads, we’ll get along just fine, I’m sure.

“So in that sense, they’re kind of like fanatical maniacs. Except that they’re writers. But otherwise, definitely fanatical maniacs. I bet they’re all prudish and live with their mums and spend their time staring out the window and grunting.”

Before June could retaliate, there were two loud popping noises by the door. Giving Priscilla only a mildly annoyed glower, she went to answer. From the other side, she could her bickering.

“You’re sure this’s the right place, Lucy? June gave you the right address?”

“Oh, I think so,” said a familiar voice fretfully. “Imagine if it weren’t! We’d have to explain how we just happened to come outside a – ”

June pulled open the door to reveal a flushed Lucy Weasley and a slightly agitated Trista St. Clair.

“Thank Merlin it’s you!” said Trista, ushering Lucy in before her. “This one was going mad nagging me about it.”

“I was not,” said Lucy. She caught sight of Priscilla laying on the ground. “Oh, you’re here already?”

“She’s been here a while,” said June glumly. “Still on about Fifi LaFolle.”

Trista set down a package on the table and descended to the ground beside Priscilla and Lucy. “Well, that’s to be expected. Priscilla doesn’t believe in romance. Remember what she said after she finished Romeo and Juliet? ‘Thank God that stupid bint finally died!’”

“Priscilla also doesn’t believe in a lot of other things,” added Lucy deftly. “Like honesty, or hard work, or hard work or waking up on time, or hard work.”

“She also doesn’t believe much in me,” said June, sticking out her tongue.

“I’m going to the toilet to weep,” said Priscilla. “Don’t miss me while I’m gone.”

With that, she crossed the blank premises of the kitchen, navigated past a precariously perched tower of books, a globe of the world bought with dubious rationality, and an ugly puce robe. As Trista and Lucy began talking about the upcoming holiday and the snow, June could not quite rid her mind of the imagery of toads, toilets, and screaming banshees.

*

The afternoon, at first, seemed like it would pass with little incident.

Lucy spoke at some length on her sister and mother; Molly was having a row with her mum about her latest boyfriend, a rather dodgy addition she’d picked up on the streets of Diagon Alley. Mrs. Weasley thought he was just another shoddy boyfriend that attached on to anything Weasley to attract some attention. Didn’t Molly remember what happened to Roxanne last year?

Then Trista complained a bit about the Hufflepuff strategy this year for the upcoming game against Gryffindor. There was something about Beaters not being strong enough and the mention of someone named Spinnet, but the conversation comprised mostly of nodding on the parts of the others, who knew next to nothing on the subject. Then there was some ponderings on her elder brother’s girlfriend, something about her various other siblings, and within an hour, all four had thoroughly exhausted all conceivable topics that could be wandered upon in an empty flat with nothing to do.

The Muggle news reports would say that it happened at precisely 2:23 PM.

Trista had noticed first. June’s father’s old clock, which was leaning haphazardly, fell. Trista broke off what she was saying with a shriek.

“Oh my god! Look!”

The few sparse paintings on the walls were rattling violently.

“What’s going on?” asked Lucy, her eyes wide.

The table, which was some distance away, flew forwards, narrowly missing Priscilla, who jumped into June’s lap.

What the hell is going on?”

Both Trista and Lucy grabbed on to the table which had streaked past June; Lucy was still quivering when the last of the paintings hit the ground. Within seconds, the clock had smashed into them; fragments of wood flew everywhere.

From several floors above, June could hear similar grinding noises and screaming. Next to her, Priscilla was completely white.

The world was rotating out of view. It was a violent streak of incomprehensible colors and noises. June could feel her stomach twisting.

Trista was bleeding from a cut across the cheek and Lucy was holding her hands, whispering something frantically. Trista nodded feverishly, and Lucy pulled out her wand to Trista’s cheek.

The ceiling above them split with a cracking noise; within seconds, black webs had scattered across the once-white surface.

“June!” Priscilla nudged her frantically. “I – I just realized – I think I left my wand on the table when I went to eat bread. D’you have yours on you?”

“Yeah.”

Priscilla gave a sigh of relief. “Alright, good, because I think the ceiling’s going to be coming in any second now.”

Priscilla, as always, was right. The square of ceiling wall above them gave one final shudder.

“JUNE, DO SOMETHING!”

The wall was caving in – there was no time – no time –

“COME ON! DO SOMETHING!”

Protecto!” June said, desperately trying to remember the name of the spell, as she waved her wand, the feeling of horror strengthening. Why wasn’t it working?! What was she doing wrong? Protectogo! Protogo!”

ARE YOU MAD?! DO YOU WANT TO DIE?” With an angry swipe, Priscilla pulled June’s wand away. “Protego Totalum!”

The entire ceiling caved forwards. A mass of dust and wood fragments blew their way; June could feel her breaths residing and her skin shuddering under the sudden impact as debris blew past them. Priscilla’s arm was still tightly wound around her own.

And with that, there was a loud clamp of noise, some screaming, and darkness.

*

Protectogo, honestly, there’s never knowing with her…”

“Not so hard, Lucy. I’m still bleeding – it hurts like hell.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” There was the sound of muffled crying. “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe what just happened! What if she’s not alright?”

“She’ll be fine,” came a reassuring voice. “She’s been through worse. We’re just lucky Priscilla did what she did so fast. That was amazing.”

“You were really something yourself, you know. I can’t believe you blew up that table like that! I didn’t even see it coming. If you hadn’t seen it – if Priscilla hadn’t done what she had – ” More crying.

“Alright, enough with the crying. We’re all alive, which is the point. Let’s try moving June. The muggle doctors are supposed to be on their way and Trista’s sent a distress signal to the Ministry and they should be sending Healers. We’ll be fine.”

“I hope so, I really – I really can’t imagine – ”

Then, back to the darkness.

*

Within a few hours, June was discharged from St. Mungo’s and led downstairs by a matronly Healer who insisted on holding her hand the whole way downstairs. There were moderate cuts and slight head trauma, but she had come off well, said the Healer.

Still feeling a strange sort of numbness from the Sleeping Solution the Healers had put on her while they treated her, June walked near the exit of St. Mungo’s, and hazily past a girl who had sprouted antlers and wings. The world felt strangely distant, like it was from another time. The idea that it was the same afternoon that she had spent irritating Priscilla with a book seemed absurdly mundane…

It was night outside by now; there was a cool emptiness in the breeze as the winds washed past the star-strewn fabric of the sky. Outside, street lamps were flickering to the silence of the darkness.

“June!”

“She’s already downstairs! There she is!”

There was the thudding of rushed footfalls. In another place, perhaps the reunion would’ve been more poetic…more important…she didn’t know, she could barely understand what was happening…

Four familiar faces swam into view. Lucy was sporting incredibly dusty robes. The Lucy Amelia Weasley in her normal, non-delirious state would’ve disapproved of anything but the utmost cleanliness, but she looked entirely at peace. Priscilla and Trista both had bandages across their cheeks, but nobody of the group seemed to have fainted as she did.

“Are you alright?” asked Lucy anxiously. “We were so scared, June! You went out and you didn’t say a word and we didn’t know what we were supposed to do! I know that you’re not supposed to move an injured person, but we couldn’t just let you – ”

June nodded, feeling a burning sensation on the side of her head. “S’okay. I’m fine.”

Past the three worried girls was the figure of a short man peering over them. He had a round face, and kind, hassled eyes that were surveying her intently.

“Dad!”

“June!”

Mr. Bernard swept her into an embrace, which sent the sides of her back tingling. “You’re alright, thank God, if something had happened to you too, I don’t know what – ”

“What happened today?”

“There was an earthquake, dear,” he said, forcing her down on a chair. “But don’t worry about that. We can discuss that in the morning. You’ll need some rest and some – ”

“Are we going home?”

Before Mr. Bernard could say anything, Trista said, “You’ll be staying at the Leaky Cauldron tonight, actually.”

“Your friends have kindly helped me pay for a room for a few nights,” said Mr. Bernard, squeezing her shoulder. When she winced in pain, he offered an apologetic smile.

“Why can’t we just go home?” asked June. There had been some walls crumbling and the furniture was certainly gone past any hope of recovery, but even the idea of sleeping on the bare floor seemed strangely comforting, like a denial that anything wrong had happened. Back to the flat that her father had bought with so much hope, had assured her that it was the end to a long list of wanderings. It surely couldn’t have been gone – the rumbling was hardly -

“I’m sorry, dear,” Mr. Bernard murmured shame-facedly. “Perhaps in the morning…”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

There was a horrible sinking feeling. Everyone hastily exchanged glances, before looking away.

June looked at each in turn and they all gave her blank expressions. Finally, she reached Priscilla, whose arms were crossed protectively over her own chest. If Priscilla Fawcett could not be honest with her, then nobody ever could be.

“What happened?”

Priscilla hesitated for a moment.

“I’m going to find out eventually. Just tell me.”

There was a pause. She studied June carefully out of a bruised eye.

“Alright. You should know. The flat’s been destroyed. Half the building’s gone.”

 







Author's Note: Welcome again, beloved readers! 

I hope this chapter wasn't too much of a trial; the shift in tone from a rambling parody to the whole earthquake scene was hard to muster fluidity to write and I hope I did the concept at least some justice. This chapter's dedicated to Gina (justonemorefic) for her amazing support of this story when I was very, very close to tossing it and moving on, and her lovely support and capslock advertising. Check out her work if you haven't - she's a fabulous writer. :)

Also, my thanks to the legendary gubby (GubraithianFire) for help with the whole weird Love at Hogwarts excerpt concept and to the populace of the TGS c-box who faithfully vented a slew of frustrations with fanfiction which was translated to inspiration to Priscilla's rant for this chapter. I hope I portrayed some of your very justifiable anger well, TGS-ers!

So, no Albus, but he will return with all his Albus-ness soon. Let me know how you found the concept of the excerpt, any feedback on the parody, and the transition into the quake sub-plot. Thank you for reading! :D


Celeste


Chapter 3: Deus Ex Priscilla
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Dedicated to Gubby (GubraithianFire). Thanks for the help and enjoy!




Deus Ex Priscilla

Now, on the Leaky Cauldron at night, a fair many things could be said.

It was at best, a dingy establishment in the darkness. In the morning, the tables were crowded with a diverse crowd: witches gossiping about the latest Witch Weekly addition, old warlocks bellowing to each other and brandishing canes, a small group of house elves drinking Butterbeer, and occasionally, the entire Chudley Cannons team, flying in after games to drown their sorrows in drink. But by night, after the kindly landlady, a Mrs. Longbottom, had grown tired of trying to shutter the crowd and let them to their rancorous behavior, there was a good amount of cursing, yelling, and throwing.

But, to the black-haired girl sitting alone on a table dimly lit by a flickering light, it was now too late even for the drunken fools that hobbled through. Within an hour, dawn would be breaking over the horizon. June Bernard surveyed the emptiness of the parlor of the Leaky Cauldron with some relief; the silence, after the stresses of the past two days, was a welcome sight. She was still sipping the remnants of a flagon of Butterbeer, which had gone cold several hours ago.

They would be here soon.

Those outside the Leaky Cauldron at four in the morning would have heard a faint pop in the darkness, a sudden weight on the Cobblestone, followed by two similar noises, and the hissing of, “Watch it, will you? You stepped on my foot!”

There was a mumbled apology, and the three figures set off for the door. The red-haired girl in the middle was the most crisply dressed of the bunch, followed by a tall blonde on her right who was wearing loose trousers and an oversized Tutshill Tornadoes robe, appearing as though she had been woken from slumber, and a brunette, whose messy hair and thick traveling cloak suggested that she had undergone a long journey recently. All three were wearing identically weary expressions, testaments to the long night.

“Is she in there?” asked Lucy Weasley, peering past the grime of the door. “I hope she’s alright, oh, it’s so late…”

Priscilla Fawcett tugged on the door unsuccessfully thrice, before confronting it with the only solution she knew: cursing. “Damn it!”

“Let me,” said Trista St. Clair, yanking the door firmly, leaving Priscilla red-faced and muttering.

“June!” Lucy swept past, running towards June’s angled figure. “How are you? We’ve been so worried and you really haven’t – ” At the sight of June’s face, she looked taken aback. “You haven’t been sleeping?”

“I can’t,” said June, as the others seated themselves. “Every time I try, I only sleep for a while…it’s the shaking…it’s not worth it. I’d rather stay awake.”

“How’s the Leaky Cauldron been?” asked Trista. “Did I reserve the right room?”

“It’s alright…” said June, after a pause.

“Why, what’s wrong?”

“It’s my dad.”

“Is he not holding out?” asked Priscilla.

“He just doesn’t fit in with all the magic here. He doesn’t like it, I can tell.”

“But your mum was – ”

“I know, it used to scare him a lot then too, which was why she barely did any around him. I think it scared the life out of him when the letter came.” She was still staring at her drink in a deadpan stare. “We were eating dinner downstairs today and some wizards were arguing over there. They started arguing about something – I couldn’t hear what – and they started throwing jinxes at each other. One of them missed and hit Dad in the face.”

“What happened?”

“His face got all swollen and puffy. It was huge and horrible. He was so scared – he wouldn’t let me fix it at first and when I finally did, I made it worse! It got enormous! Hannah had to step in before he fell down from the weight!” She had lost count to how many times she had sounded near tears in the past two evenings. “I’m so useless! I’m pathetic! I’m good at absolutely nothing! I’m of no help at all – even in the earthquake and everything and I can’t even do a simple countercurse and – ”

There was silence at this. Lucy and Trista both patted her hand. Even Priscilla looked sorry enough to remain quiet.

Finally, it was Lucy who spoke first. “What happened after the jinx, June?”

June mopped her eyes with a dirty sleeve. “I got him upstairs after the whole bar was done laughing at the two of us and he was shaking and everything. I think the mirror telling him to straighten up was really the last bit of it he could take. He won’t come downstairs now. I had to take dinner up for him. We can’t stay here much longer. We’re going to have to find a new place to live. Another flat.”

“Can you afford it?” asked Lucy, “Because I thought – ”

“No,” said June baldly. “We can’t afford a thing. We’ve only got this room here because Priscilla paid for half of it. I have no idea what we’re going to do after this.”

“Weren’t those writers from The Prophet here a few days ago?” said Trista. “Maybe they’ll put up something and it’ll attract some attention and – ”

“They were here,” said June quietly. She had been pestered a few times by several writers on her way to the Leaky Cauldron days ago, but little had come of it. “They just asked me how it was, how it felt, and what I planned to do from here. They seemed sorry to hear about it, but honestly, I doubt they’ll care much. It’ll probably be a little piece mentioning the quake somewhere in the corner.”

There was a moment of tense silence, before Priscilla cleared her throat. “Don’t worry. I won’t let you be homeless or anything, if that’s what you’re afraid of. You can move in with us.”

“Oh, wouldn’t that be lovely, June – ” began Lucy.

“I can’t,” said June, who had already spent several days considering the possibility. “You live in France and my dad really can’t leave behind his restaurant.”

“You could sell it…” began Trista.

“You know he would never do that,” said June. “I think he’d rather try living in that horrible place than sell it. He’d never sell it because of my mum…” June looked sideways at Trista and Lucy.

She really couldn’t imagine Lucy’s family giving her dad more than a few days to stay. Her mum was alright, but her dad probably wouldn’t make the stay too hospitable. And there was always some kind of drama with the Weasleys these days and it wouldn’t do much for her dad to stay there of all places.

And Trista -

Trista caught on immediately and gave her a sad smile. “I’m so sorry, June. I really wish I could help you more.” Mrs. St. Clair was a muggle who had six children of her own to worry about and attempt to house. Two more visitors really wouldn’t be a welcome sight.

June squeezed her hands together nervously. Priscilla, in an uncharacteristic moment of sensitivity, put a hand on her shoulder. “Everything will be alright, June. We’ll figure this out.”

“My dad can be a handful sometimes,” said June, taking a sip of the cold Butterbeer. She shuddered at the dry taste. When June wasn’t looking, Lucy gingerly took away the flagon, walked over the counter and dumped it with some dirty glasses.

“Well, I certainly know what you mean,” said Lucy, sighing. “My mum and dad argue all the time and sometimes I think that he can be a bit unfair to her. He’s usually so busy and I think that bothers her. I wish he was around more.”

“Not me,” said Priscilla. “My dad’s more fun when he’s not got my mum around to worry him.” The misadventures of Mrs. Fawcett were now infamous. Priscilla was the byproduct of an extravagant and beautiful young woman’s union with a much older, much richer man, who had the position in life and the disposition to spare Mrs. Marchelle Fawcett large sums of Galleons and an even larger sum of patience, both of which were usually deposited in big manors and exorbitant parties.

“At least you’ve got your dad with you,” said Trista very quietly. “And he’s not around with some horrendous woman and their – ”

“Still not doing well on the stepmum front?” asked Priscilla warily. “It’s a shame, really. I get along with my dad’s first wife pretty well.”

No,” said Trista waspishly. “And she’s so irritating now that she’s pregnant! And you should see him around her, like he’s all eager to serve her. It’s disgusting. And he absolutely insisted on visiting us for the holidays and only God knows why because it’s clear that he really doesn’t care about us at all – “

She broke off in an angry huff. “Sorry. I shouldn’t get started on her again or I’ll never end.”

June, who had been rather glad to hear that somebody else had an equally horribly Christmas (it was a horrid, but comforting thought) gave a feeble smile.

“Well, at least school’ll be starting soon,” said Lucy, staring at the ceiling. “And then we can leave this whole mess behind us.”

“Not me,” said June, “as soon as I get back, everyone’ll be on about that letter I tried giving to Albus.”

“Not that this isn’t all your fault, of course, but if it’s of any comfort at all, I can’t wait to see what kind of raving that idiot Henry will get up to after this,” said Priscilla dismissively.

“Oh no, I hadn’t thought about Henry at all!” said June, horrified. “Oh, he’s going to be so angry, I’m sure of it!”

The thought of Henry Bates itself put a chill in her bones; the subsequent wrath that she would surely incur was tantamount to any fit or tantrum that the short life of June Bernard had ever been acquainted with. Both Lucy and Trista were giving her sympathetic smiles; Trista, because she had been in June’s position two years ago (it had been so much more humorous then, June reflected sadly), and Lucy, because such was her disposition. Priscilla was muffling laughter.

Every year or so, Henry Bates, a fellow Hufflepuff seventh year proclaimed a new love of his life. And, for several months, he unfailingly followed the poor girl in question. To be sure, there were embarrassing proclamations of life-long devotion, poems which failed to rhyme, and dozens of boxes of chocolate of questionable taste. Last year, he had followed around Jelena Jorkin unflinchingly; the year before that, Trista had faced a real obstacle in dodging him, as he had accompanied her to every Quidditch practice of the year.

And now, unfathomably, there was June.


*

After several more minutes of griping at length on the state of their respective families and ruminating on the possibility that Iris Bosworth would, in fact, hex Desdemona Hughes the day they returned to Hogwarts, the foursome tired of conversation and began to titter.

Finally, it was Lucy, who in a flash of sensibility, suggested they retire. “Not that there’s much of a night left, but we should go home and try and sleep.”

With much yawning and socially mandated apologies for a hasty goodbye, one by one, Lucy, Trista, and Priscilla made their way out the door. June, still reeling from the night and the coming of the day, trudged up the winding staircase and down three doors.

There was a musty, early morning feel from the pale yellow sky. From the other side of the door, she could hear her father snoring. She tentatively pushed it open. It gave way to an archaic wooden room littered with the few undamaged possessions they had managed to scavenge and repair in the aftermath of the quake: a large trunk containing her clothes (she thanked Merlin that she hadn’t had the sense to unpack upon arriving at the new flat), a smaller trunk stuffed with her fathers’, and a wooden box of her stray fabric swatches.

The slightly rumpled picture of her family from several years ago was still intact, resting carefully against the side of her trunk.

June gave it all one irritable stare. The entire room made her feel sorry for her own existence. Normally, she was inclined to say that she was hardly ungrateful; her entire life had been about watching everyone outshine her in every conceivable manner, but it had been alright all the same. She was mediocre, and there was very little to be said about being mediocre, really…it wasn’t so bad…after all, life was filled with a vast amount of mediocre people. There were those who acknowledged they were mediocre and spent their lives understanding it as a valuable lesson, and those who spent their lives trying to convince themselves they were not. 

But what was any of it worth, she wondered as she collapsed onto the sofa. Gratefulness and working hard and convincing people. What was any of it worth when it all always seemed to end up in one horrible mess?


*


Someone was pushing her.

“June…”

Her arms and legs were aching ferociously and even the lumps of the sofa seemed vastly more appealing than the dreadful prospect of awakening to discover just how uncomfortably she’d slept.

“June…wake up, dear...”

Another push.

“Oh my. I don’t know what to do. Should I feed you? Oh, but there’s nothing here to give to owls…”

Her eyes snapped open. She could see the hazy form of her father stooped over a small bird on the table. She rose, rubbing her eyes.

“What’s going on?”

“Good, you’re awake!” Mr. Bernard’s familiar form swam into view. He pointed to a tawny owl that was surveying him impatiently. “This just flew in through the window, dear. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do – he won’t seem to leave – I’ve tried everything I could – ”

The owl blinked and Mr. Bernard winced and moved backwards.

June sighed. “Maybe it’s from the Ministry. Or Hogwarts.”

She said it without hope; Priscilla had already informed her that the Ministry did not offer housing options and that the earthquake, which had broken down three flats in the radius, had been a natural occurrence and did not fall under the Obliviation Squad’s jurisdiction. There would be no way to repair the flat with magic.

And Hogwarts supplied money only for students to purchase books and materials strictly necessary for schooling. Whatever options were at hand were all useless.

The seal on the letter was an unfamiliar one. Frowning, June ripped it open.

Dear June,

I’m unsure of whether or not you remember me; it’s been a while since we met, I’m afraid. I’m one of your mum’s old friends from Hogwarts. I’ve read of your recent condition from your interview with the Prophet

June took a deep breath, steadying herself. Would it be too much to hope?

-  and would be happy to provide you and your father a place to stay for as long as you need. My husband and I live in London

It wasn’t so far away from her father’s restaurant! June’s breath was hitching still further. He might actually agree to this arrangement!

-  along with our two children. Please write back letting me know if this will work for you.

June set the letter down and sank into a chair, feeling close to tears. Her father, who had been preoccupied with the owl the entire time, gave her a worried look.

“What is it? What happened?”

Wordlessly, she handed him the letter. He skimmed it, holding the letter gingerly. “Oh yes, I do think I remember this woman…hmm, she was certainly at our wedding…Look, there’s a small photograph she attached.”

He pulled out a yellowed photo from the envelope and passed it to June. There was a picture of three girls, still in their Hogwarts uniforms, grinning beside the Black Lake. At the sight of June, they all waved.

“That one’s your mother,” said Mr. Bernard unnecessarily, pointing at a fresh-faced girl with brown hair and a nostalgic smile. Next to her, there was a red-haired girl with steely eyes. She looked…familiar somehow…The blonde on her mother’s left, however, June found completely unrecognizable.

The caption simply read: Victoria, Heather, Ginny, 1994.

“Who are these two girls?” asked June.

“Heather Fay. That’s the girl on her left – she was your mother’s Maid of Honor at our wedding.”

“Maid of Honor? What happened to her? Where is she now?”

“I’m not sure,” said Mr. Bernard, still watching June’s mother in the photograph with a grim expression.

“Then why is she writing us after so long? Not that I don’t want to go or anything – ” Any offer besides the cramped room in the Leaky Cauldron was enough to entice her. “ – but it’s rude that she hasn’t spoken to us for so many years…”

“Heather? Heather didn’t write this letter, dear,” said Mr. Bernard. “The other girl did. Didn’t you finish reading it?”

He handed the now crinkled letter back to June. She scanned the columns, until it led down to a loopy signature.

I hope to meet you as soon as possible. Write back letting me know a time and your availability.

Ginny Potter



*


“Ginny Potter?” asked Priscilla the next afternoon, her eyes positively bulging, “it can’t be!”

The now famed letter had been passed between them nearly a dozen times as its authenticity had been scrutinized to the highest possible degree a group of teenage girls could inflict upon it during an afternoon lunch at the Leaky Cauldron. After a long morning of sleeping in, the three girls that sat at the largely abandoned downstairs of the Cauldron were squabbling over a letter that had rapturously held their devotion for the last few minutes.

Priscilla had wondered at length if June was the victim of a rude joke. “No doubt it’s from one of those fangirls of Albus Potter’s. Those hideous underlings - they must think it’s some kind of horrible joke to send this to you. You’ll be all hopeful about it. Remember when they sent that horned toad to Iris Bosworth after she confessed?”

“That wasn’t from any girl,” said Trista dismissively, “that was from her brother, don’t you remember?” But even Trista had found the offer too suspiciously convenient. “A long lost friend? Isn’t that kind of …improbable?”

Not that June had really cared. By now, it hardly mattered that where Ginny Potter lived or how big her home was. June could possibly perhaps somehow inhabit the same house as Albus Potter (while still getting a house for her dad). But Albus Potter!

It had been enough for her to jump to the air in immature glee.

Whatever promises she’d made to Priscilla that she’d “forget his pompous arse”, to Trista that she’d be more reasonable, to Lucy that she would take care of herself more had flown out the window in the past twenty minutes.

“If she’s good enough to offer you a place to live, why didn’t she ever bother contacting you in the last few years?” asked Trista.

June shrugged, her head still floating. “Does it matter? She’s here now.”

But soon after, Lucy had arrived, flushed from the rushed Apparition. After apologies for her tardiness, a short story involving Molly and spilling juice that nobody really listened to, Lucy took one look at June’s letter and broke out into a relieved smile.

“Yes, that’s definitely Aunt Ginny’s handwriting. And the seal she uses. Thank Merlin, June, I’ve been so worried about you and this’ll be just perfect – you can visit me during the holidays if you’d like. Aunt Ginny doesn’t live too far away and she’s really lovely, you’ll just adore her – ”

“Excuse me,” said Priscilla in a monotone voice, “am I the only one who’s noticing the problem with this?”

“What?” asked Lucy.

“Has absolutely everyone forgotten that pompous, holier-than-thou, stick-up-his-arse, I’m-bloody-Leo-Tolstoy-in-my-spare-time fool? She’ll have to live with him! Live! Live!”

Lucy flushed, obviously having forgotten Albus altogether. “Yes…well…it’s the best that we can do at the moment, Priscilla. And June won’t have to worry about him – it’s just temporary and during the holidays anyway…and Aunt Ginny will take care of her. We don’t really have the luxury to complain.”

“Right, we’ll just have to be happy with what she’s offered,” said June, privately thrilled.

“It should be alright,” said Trista tentatively, “but only because there’s nothing else you can really do. Just avoid him as often as possible while you’re there and you won’t have to worry about him at school. And the Potters also have two other children.”

“Two others?” echoed June, thinking about the letter. In London with my husband and two children –

“James lives in his own flat,” said Lucy. “Lily…don’t worry too much about Lily.” There was something guilty in Lucy’s tone that June did not catch. “But definitely keep away from Albus. Don’t try doing that thing at school where you’d follow him around or stare at him. He didn’t notice much then, but if you’re to live together, even for only a bit, he’s sure to notice. It’ll irritate him thoroughly.”

“I won’t talk much to him,” said June, in a half-hearted attempt to be solemn.

 Priscilla, who had been toying with her food for much of the conversation finally set down her fork, jeering. “There’s a promise that we all know you can’t keep.”

“Why?” asked June.

“Don’t start anything, Priscilla,” said Lucy warningly. “We really – ”

Priscilla ignored this. “Why? Why? Obviously you know why!  You think he’s some kind of prince! June, this isn’t a fairytale!” She clasped her hands together in an embarrassingly apt impression of June. “Oh Priscilla, he looked at me today! I think he’s giving me permission to bear his spawn!”

“ I – ”

I think we’re going to end up repopulating the earth together! Between his huge ego and my big empty head, it’ll be easy! We’ll spend a lifetime looking into the pits of each others’ eyes and seeing nothing but oceans of love! Oceans! Love!”

 “Stop that – ”

And we’ll ride off into the sunset on flying camels and have two thousand and five children when nobody’s looking!”

“Priscilla,” began Trista slowly. “I think you should give June the benefit of the doubt…”

“The benefit of the doubt, ha! When haven’t I given her the benefit of the doubt? I mean, I tell her to study, but she ignores me! I tell her to stop reading that LaFolle garbage, but she ignores me, and it’s another two hours of, ‘And Daniel and I kissed and it was like the fiery fire of passionate, fiery, burning, amorous, flame-like love. Did I mention it was fiery? It was effing on FIRE! It was positively barbecued!”

June had thus far managed to ignore Priscilla and was instead contentedly eating. When Priscilla began, there was really no end to it. “Aren’t we being very positive today?”

“Yes, yes,” said Priscilla dismissively, “I know I’m a black hole of rage and anger and sarcasm and all that. No need to remind me. My mum used to tell me that every night before bed. She even wrote it on all my Christmas cards.”

“Why is this bothering you so much?” asked Lucy, looking obviously unimpressed. “Because it’ll increase your chances of having to see my cousin?”

“It’ll at best be small talk,” said June.

“But just imagine, every time I want to visit June, I’ll have to see his stupid face and pretend to be civil. I’ll be saying, “Happy Christmas, dearest Albus,” while thinking, “Can I stab your heart with spoons?” And they’ll be dirty spoons.” Her voice grew hushed. “Unwashed!”

“Clearly the highest form of revenge ever,” said Trista, her voice dripping sarcasm.

“But obviously, June’ll say, ‘Oh, Albus, let’s have ten thousand children, and name them all Albus after you!

Lucy let out a reluctant giggle. “Somehow I can imagine June saying that.”

June smiled reluctantly. Even being the center of all of Priscilla’s teasing was not enough to dim the happiness of meeting Ginny Potter within soon. “I probably would, wouldn’t I?”

“Assuming he’d let you,” said Trista.

“Not that that would stop me,” said June.

They burst out laughing.

“And what really bothers me about this,” said Priscilla, taking a deep sip of Butterbeer and looking very much like a crazed addict, “is how cliché it is. God, what’re the chances of this happening? Earthquake reigns down on girl with average competency of most breakfast items. Cosmic power chortles mildly. Prudish girl Lucy Amelia Weasley panics under shaking, openly cries several times, annoys shit of everyone in the radius in the process.”

Lucy had suddenly stopped laughing and was instead reddening. “Would you have some decency?”

“So-called most brilliant Quidditch captain of the last century ends up bleeding all over the place, and doesn’t clean up after herself. Five years of intensive training and nearly meets her end at the hands of the almighty – the crushing heathen that plows fear into the hearts of thousands – nimble as a spear - the illustrious and wildly decorated - ”

“That thing was coming right at me,” muttered Trista. “Stupid sadistic thing, it was.”

“ – and highly pointy coffee table.” Priscilla was now attracting the attention of the few left in the last floor of the Leaky Cauldron as she set down the Butterbeer in a huff. “Some witty remarks are provided free of cost by  – ”

“The resident soulless banshee,” said Trista dryly.

“And all was well.”

“I’m practically homeless!” said June, “How is all well at all?”

“All is well for me,” said Priscilla dismissively, “so it’s the same thing, really. But then your mum or her spirit or whatever has to haunt up Ginny Potter’s chimney and then Red-with-a-Temper has to play Mother Teresa and come screwing with the cosmos! And it’s so cliché – an absolute deus ex machina!”

“Which is what?” asked June.

“It’s Latin for you use it, and I kill you. And Mr. Cosmic Power here could really use a good kick in the arse! He should’ve let you become a rugged, homeless waif that traversed the countryside in the winter, and then you’d be all gritty and learn the meaning of life and all that. Then after that, you’d hurt your leg, limp all the way up to Russia, and become a one-eyed priestess with a cane!”

“Somehow I can’t see June limping all the way to Russia,” chimed in Trista unhelpfully. “That would involve some real work and she’s got no real physical stature. Maybe she’d seduce a pile of snow to help her or something.”

“Either way, a one-eyed, cane-wielding June who’d be jaded and toughened. She’d pace the courtyard angrily and yell at the children, but really have a heart of gold! None of this poorly written, shoddily plotted romantic rubbish! No floaty rubbish full of flowery crap either – no ‘the raindrops fell as soft as doves’ bullshit! Russians and nuns are the way to go!”

There was a silence at this, as the three sitting around her found they had no default reply to a proclamation on one-eyed nuns.

June glanced at the grandfather clock clanging behind Priscilla and felt a wave of panic. “It’s almost two o’clock! I said I’d meet Mrs. Potter at two fifteen at Fortescue’s! I’ve got to go!”

With that, she set down her tea and began slinging her bag over her shoulder.

“Take care, June,” said Lucy, “and don’t worry about Aunt Ginny. She’ll take good care of you, I promise.”

“Don’t be nervous and speak clearly,” said Trista. “Don’t do that stuttering thing you do when you’re nervous. You’re impossible to understand.”

As June made for the door, Priscilla’s voice floated over.

 “Get thee to a nunnery!



*


After a hasty run down Diagon Alley in which June elicited the self-righteous criticisms of a group of elderly witches she’d nearly knocked over in the process, the unflattering blotches of a run far past her physical capacities had now scattered all over her complexion.

She stood over the entrance of Fortescue’s ice cream parlor, squinting at the crowded outside tables for the red hair she’d known to look for.

June took a few steps towards a witch with short red hair reading the morning newspaper, but within seconds backed away, face flushing. The witch was not much older than her and was visibly pregnant.

Now lost among the colorful tables and the loud throng, she stood helplessly in the midst of it, wringing her hands nervously. She took a few steps backwards, despairing, when she felt her shoulder bump against a hard surface.

“Watch where you’re walking,” came a bored voice.

She wheeled around, apology at hand, but the sight of an unamused Albus Potter was enough to make her freeze. She stood, gawping at him.

“Um – I – um…sorry…”

From behind him emerged a woman with flaming red hair and eyes flashing a lifetime spent in rigid determination. She gave June an enigmatic smile before querying, “Are you June, dear?”

“Yes…” It came out as a terrified squeak. Still mortified, June was swiveling between Albus and Mrs. Potter, unsure of whom to pay attention to.

He spared her a disinterested gaze, before turning back to his mother. “She’s the one you’ve been on about?”

“Do you know each other, then?” asked Mrs. Potter, herding them towards an empty table.

“No,” said Albus abruptly, before June could open her mouth.

The afternoon sunshine was nearly unbearable. As she shuffled into a seat by Mrs. Potter, still blushing horribly, she could still hear Priscilla’s words ringing in her head.

June, this isn’t a fairytale!”
 





Author's Note: My apologies for the slow update and the sort of filler-ish chapter! But hopefully, that bit on nuns with one eyes and poking fun at overly dramatic stories (sort of) helped make up for it! The line quoted by Priscilla - 'Get thee to a nunnery' is from the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare in Act 3, scene 1, line 121. I obviously own no part of Hamlet. 


My gratitude goes to the brilliant Gubby (GubraithianFire) for a neverending stream of support and good ideas for this story. 

With that, I distinctly lack any clever things to say, so I ask you for reviews and feedback.

Much love,

Celeste
 


Chapter 4: Beginnings and Their Consequences
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Thank you to Gina (justonemorefic) for making the amazing new hipster banner to revive this story!




Beginnings and Their Consequences

Sitting near Albus induced the kind of awkwardness that June had read about. But it seemed so much more romantic when she wasn’t the victim.

Like that scene where Hattie and Daniel are chosen to be partners for Charms, June mused. They hated each other, but by the end of it, Daniel had saved her from accidentally hexing herself and then –

Nothing similar seemed to be happening. Mrs. Potter, who was as kind as Lucy had promised, was still in the middle of a story between what’d once happened when she and June’s mother had practiced Quidditch together. June was half-listening, contentedly staring at Albus, who was reading.

He’s so handsome – if only he’d look at me – I’d be so happy. He looks exactly like the Prince Charming girls always think about and he’s sitting right next to me! If he looked at me, I’d –

Albus looked up, then sideways at his mother, then at June. Her insides bubbled excitedly, but she contented herself with giving him a small smile.

He frowned. Then, still glaring, he went back to his reading.

“ – and Heather was nearly beside herself that we’d snuck out to go play Quidditch at midnight, but Vicky never cared about that.” At Mrs. Potter’s pause, June nodded politely. “Your mother was lovely, June. Very funny, very determined and pretty odd.”

“Everyone says that about her,” said June, who’d heard this description a tiresomely frequent amount of times. “Except the odd part.”

“That only I know,” said Mrs. Potter, eyes twinkling. “And Heather too, I suppose.”

“What happened to her?”

“Heather’s in Canada, I think. We’ve lost contact. That’s probably the only reason she hasn’t tried contacting you yet. I’m sure you’ve wondered.”

“Yeah,” said June blankly, still looking at Albus. What was he reading?

“Not that I blame her. You know, Vicky, Heather and I would always say that we would keep in touch after Hogwarts no matter what and for a while, we did. But of course, Victoria got married and there was so much trouble after that, and the war had just finished – there was just too much happening.” Mrs. Potter gave a strained, guilty smile that June didn’t return. “But I was there for your first two birthdays, though. You probably don’t remember – ”

“I don’t.”

“Albus and James were there too, of course, and Lily wasn’t yet born. Do you remember anything, Al?”

 “Why would I?” came the reply from behind the book. Mrs. Potter rolled her eyes.

“But I was going to have Lily and Heather transferred to Canada around that time and we all lost it, I suppose.”

“Thank you offering even though you don’t really know us so well,” said June.

Mrs. Potter gave a dismissive wave. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you’ll have to stay with us. I promised your mother I’d take care of you if anything happened. I know she’d have done the same for me.”

June was still staring at Albus from the corner of her eyes, though Mrs. Potter hadn’t yet seemed to catch on. He was so brilliant – always reading – and now she’d have the chance to live with him! It wasn’t permanently and only during the holidays, but the thought of it. It was like a happy, glorious butterfly had come to take residence in her -

“How long will she have to stay?” Albus’s voice sounded irritated.

She gave him a furious stare back. “As long as she’ll need to. That’s none of your business.”

“It’s our house, isn’t it? I happen to live there as well.”

“Don’t mind him, June.”

It was hard not to, June thought, but she gave Mrs. Potter a nervous smile all the same.

After Albus had gratified his seemingly insatiable thirst for subtle glares and pointed silences, nothing of particular circumstance occurred after (or so June thought). He effectively buried himself behind his tombstone of a book and his mother spoke for a little while longer. Soon after, there were hasty goodbyes as Mrs. Potter gave June an awkward hug and Albus hovered over her.

“Write as soon as possible so we can have you in with us and get everything sorted out,” said Mrs. Potter kindly. And with that, she gave June another one of her confident, ringing smiles, brushed the hair out of her face, and hastened into the early evening crowd.

Albus gave June one last irritated look, before following his mother and leaving her standing in the now emptied ice cream parlor.

*

June navigated mechanically back to the Leaky Cauldron, her head still pounding.

It hadn’t gone as well as she’d hoped.

She did have a place to stay now, but Albus hadn’t even bothered to smile at her!

Everything had been so much easier for Harriet! Daniel hadn’t been so awfully surly.

Well – there had been that incident on the Quidditch Pitch where he’d humiliated her, but really, that’d been out of affection, really -

But, June supposed, it added to the mystery. He seemed so tormented somehow – the dark genius, really -

“June, you idiot!” Next to her, Priscilla had jumped out of the way to avoid the impending collision between them.

“Hello,” said June airily, still reeling from the experience that was Albus. She took a seat beside the irritated beast that was Priscilla by evening. Priscilla was eyeing June warily. “Why’re you still here?”

“I waited for you. How’d it go?”

 “Oh, fine. Completely fine.”

“How’s Mrs. Potter?”

“Lovely. Completely lovely.”

“And Pothead?”

“Entrancing – completely en – don’t call him that! I’m going to be living with him now! What if he finds out?”

Priscilla snorted. “Oh, I’d be thrilled. Maybe it’d puncture that head of his.”

 “Stop saying that!”

“You’re right, that would never get through to his massive head. I’d need to have a go at him with an axe. I’d be Priscilla the sarcasm slinging mad axeman.”

“I’m going upstairs to pack,” said June waspishly; one could only take so much of Priscilla without feeling the overwhelming need to tear one’s hair out. “Thanks for waiting for me.”

“Anytime,” said Priscilla. “Although, June, all of my usual wittiness aside, I’d be careful if I were you. I know you think Pothead’s a prince, but he isn’t. He really isn’t and he hasn’t got much tolerance for your little daydreams. He’s an insensitive wart at the core of it. I know you’ve got big expectations for the idiot, but when he lets you down, I hope you’ll take the fall gently.”

“Why do you think you know so much about him?”

But Priscilla said nothing and instead gave June one last meaningful look before making for the fireplace to Floo home. Much later, after packing and listening to her father’s snores, June thought it was only because Priscilla was so very much like Albus, even if she would never admit it.

*

The early morning came with rudeness in its haste. After a largely nonexistent breakfast, June, Mr. Bernard, and a shamefully small amount of suitcases and boxes made their way to the Potter household. June Apparated there in several trips, each time feeling even more pathetic as she appeared with nothing but luggage as her companion. On the final trip, Mr. Bernard reluctantly gave her his hand, cringing all the while.

“You’re sure it’s safe? Absolutely safe?”

“Yes, Dad,” she said patiently. “It’s completely safe. I’ve Apparated loads of times.”

“What if we disappear from here but don’t appear there?”

“That isn’t going to happen,” said June, who had never thought enough to ponder the question. “I think…well, it’s never happened with me before.”

“We could just take the train – or even walk – walking’s excellent – “

“We’re not walking, Dad. All of our luggage’s there! What d’you suppose they’ll think if they find a pile of luggage outside their door and then we show up hours later?”

“Oh, if we must…” With that, Mr. Bernard passed her a sweaty palm and they disappeared into the brightness of the early morning.

*

When they arrived, the luggage was still leaning against the front of the gate where June had left it, though the doors had now opened to reveal a smiling redhead.

“Good, you’re here! I thought I saw you, but you were off again before I could get downstairs!”

“Hi Mrs. Potter,” said June, whose stomach was now growling unflatteringly.

Mr. Bernard, still huffing and looking quite green from the trip eyed Mrs. Potter, before smiling politely. “Ginny! Ginny Weasley!”

“Hello Albert,” said Mrs. Potter, smiling in return. “You look exactly the same as I remember.”

Mr. Bernard mopped sweat off his forehead. “Not quite, I’m afraid. Definitely gained a bit of weight here and there.”

“Oh, I can’t tell.”

“But you look just as you did eleven years ago! Doesn’t she, June?”

“Erm…I suppose so…” squeaked June, who was taken aback at having to remember a woman she had last seen when she six.

“Either way, let me get Albus to help you with your things. Harry’s away at the moment on assignment, so we’ll just have to do.” With that, she disappeared behind a large wooden door. They could hear her calling, “Albus! Get downstairs now!

Within seconds, June’s heart began beating exponentially faster.

Albus emerged sullenly, gave the sunlit surroundings a long suffering look, before his eyes finally rested on June.

“Hi,” said June. It came out even more idiotically than she’d imagined it – like a squeal.

He looked unimpressed.

“Albus, help her with her things while I get Mr. Bernard here settled upstairs.”

“Why do I have to carry – we can just levitate – “

Mrs. Potter had a conspirator-like waver in her voice. “Mr. Bernard’s looking a bit sick.  Better get him inside. You two can come later – whenever – take as long as you need. Motion sickness as always, Albert?”

“Afraid so,” wheezed Mr. Bernard, and Mrs. Potter marched him into the house, leaving a nervous June, an exasperated Albus, and the ever romantic cluster of luggage between them.

“We’d better begin,” said June as cheerfully as she could muster. “There’s a lot to do, I’m afraid and I’m not good at – “

She broke off at the sight of Albus’s green eyes narrowing.

“Look, let’s make this clear.”  He advanced towards her, then broke off as he reached the luggage, sparing the pile a contemptuous glare. “I don’t want you here. My house is not a charity case.”

June’s mouth was rapidly drying. “No – of course – ”

He held a palm up. She fell silent immediately.

“I know what my mum thinks she’s being discreet about, and frankly, I’d rather that neither of us get involved.”

“I – ”

“During your stay here, do whatever you want, but leave me alone. Don’t expect me to help you. Don’t expect us to interact. I don’t want any of the rubbish from Hogwarts happening here, understand?”

Possibly the most pregnant pause of June’s life was occurring.

Her cheeks were flaming.

What. A. Git.

“Fine,” she said coolly; it was a rare moment of clairvoyance. She surveyed him angrily. June Bernard was, admittedly, an idiot, but the territory did not come entirely devoid of a sense of dignity. “Fine. And I don’t need your help carrying all this in.”

The impassive, irked look on Albus’s face wiped off, to be replaced by an amused smirk. “I don’t see how.”

“I can do it.”

She threw a hopeful glance in his direction; maybe he’d leave her to her suffering. There really was no way she could manage to carry everything inside, but at least he didn’t need to see her struggle.

Instead, he took a step forward and crossed his arms across his chest. “Alright. Try.”

“Fine,” she huffed and made a beeline for a small trunk.

The utter lack of any muscle in her body was never as jarringly pronounced in her life as it was in that one, horrifying moment.

Absolutely nothing happened.

Albus was grinning even more.

She switched to an even smaller trunk and tugged.

Again, failure.

The nonexistent muscles in her arms were groaning.

 “Can you do it?”

“I’m trying,” she said through her teeth.

As she continued tugging, she heard him say, “I thought you said you didn’t need my help.”

“I don’t.”

“Right…”

“I can,” said June, blushing even more furiously.

There were two things to be derived from this situation:

1) Albus Potter was talking to her. The. He was handsome and brilliant and he was talking to her.

2) He was distinctly less of a Prince Charming and rather more like what Priscilla had described him to be. If only June had listened.

But June never listened.

“As fascinating as this is, I’d like to get inside sometime soon.” With that, Albus yanked the trunk out of June’s hands and began making a smooth path for the house.

June followed him, still burning with embarrassment.

Why – why – why do I have to keep embarrassing myself? Why does he hate me so much?

The inside of Mrs. Potter’s house was enormous. It shamed June to think that she had arrived from the mess of the Leaky Cauldron and before that, an ugly flat in a long line of other ugly flats.

Mrs. Potter was sitting patiently on top of a long set of staircase that winded upstairs. June looked resolutely at the stairs, determined not to absorb anything about the house beside her.

The more she saw it, the more she would feel like crying.

Albus had set down all the luggage beside the door and without a look at June, made his escape up the stairs, past his mother and down a corridor. June could hear a door slam.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“Oh, don’t worry about him,” said Mrs. Potter, sparing her son’s closed door an irritated glance. “He’s usually like that.” She arose and began walking down a long hallway of closed doors. “Your father’s lying down in the guest bedroom. Let me show you your room.”

“My room?” echoed June.

“Actually, it’s James’s old room,” said Mrs. Potter apologetically. “But I’ve removed his Quidditch posters and redecorated it a bit to make it livable. You’ll be in between Albus and your father. Lily’s room is the one on the far left. She and my husband are out right now, but you can meet Lily later in the evening.”

“Where are they?”

“Lily’s out with friends. Harry’s on assignment for a bit abroad.” Mrs. Potter stopped beside a large white door and gave it a sturdy push. “This’s your room.”

The first thought that enveloped June was that it was rather…pink for having been a boy’s room.

The walls were a light pink, with a large four-poster white bed at the center and a small lavender desk to the side. There was a large door on one wall that opened out to a balcony. It was, unquestionably, the most feminine room she had ever inhabited.

“This used to be James’s room?” asked June, wondering precisely what type of character Albus’s older brother was.

“I wanted to redecorate it,” said Mrs. Potter. “His room was an absolute mess most of the time he was living her and I wanted an excuse to buy new furniture. And I liked the color of the paint on – ” She broke off. “Do you not like it?”

But June smiled up at her and said, “Oh, no, it’s lovely.”

Better than any room in a flat, anyway.

Mrs. Potter gave her an approving smile. After Mrs. Potter left, June went downstairs, levitated her luggage up and slowly began unpacking, keeping as quiet as possible the whole while. The thought of who was sharing the wall with her was both unbelievable and intimidating.

*

After her clothes had been put away and the few surviving drawing materials had been tossed into the cornerside desk, June sat down on the bed; the mattress indented as she seated herself and stared blankly at the walls. She sighed deeply, before falling backwards into the mattress and closing her eyes.

What a day.

This was all becoming one long headache.

She could hear a tapping noise and jerked herself awake.

Her father and his motion sickness! She’d completely forgotten to look in on him!

She leapt off the bed and ruffled through her luggage until she found what she needed. With the small bottle of pills pressed into her palms, she dashed outside the room, opened the door to her immediate right and entered. She turned to close the door behind her.

“Dad, you forgot to take your medicine and you know what the doctor  – ”

As she turned to face the room, she broke off and reddened.

“Um, sorry, I didn’t mean to – ”

Albus was looking at her skeptically and she blinked. This was the first time she’d had any kind of even…vague personal contact. So this was what his room was like. A blue bed in the corner. Two large wooden bookshelves covered in books. A desk. A sofa in the corner, where he was currently seated, his eyes peering over the edge of yet another dictionary-sized book. The effect wasn’t wholly unpleasant.

“ – sorry. I’ll just go now…”

He stared pointedly at her until she fumbled for the doorknob, before going back to reading.

“Don’t come back here, understand?”

“Yes, fine. Sorry.”

With that, she slammed the door closed behind her and hurried to the guest room, two rooms to the left. After forcing the medicine onto her father, she returned to her own room and lay back down on the bed, exhausted with the whole venture until she was called down for dinner.

*

Dinner was quite possibly the most awkward affair June had ever sat through. Lily Potter was already sitting in a chair when June made her way downstairs, her brown eyes narrowed in premeditated disapproval. At June’s arrival, Mrs. Potter clapped her hands together.

“Alright, and that’s everyone. June, this is Lily. Lily dear, this is our new guest. Albus must’ve told you about her on the way in.”

“Oh yes,” said Lily, brushing her fingers through her hair. “He definitely did. So you’re June Bernard?”

“Um, yes. Hello.”

As soon as June was seated, she realized how oddly dressed Lily was. She was wearing a tattered black shirt over the baggiest trousers June had ever seen and her hair was tied up in a jumbled red mess. Beside her, Albus was getting closer and closer to resembling ice. And the other brother – James – was the apparent owner of a room that would embarrass a princess.

She was surrounded by lunatics.

Through dinner, a gaping, awkward silence ensued. Mr. Bernard and Mrs. Potter were fondly remembering memories that had no relevance to June, Lily or Albus, leaving the other three isolated in one corner of the table.

Albus was eating slowly while solidifying his position as the second coming of Voldemort. Lily was glaring at June after every mouthful, with seemingly no explanation, as if she was pondering doing the same.

Never in the short lifespan of June Vivienne Bernard had stabbing everyone in the vicinity with forks and running out the door screaming ever seemed so tempting.

Finally, as dinner quieted, Mrs. Potter scanned the table, beaming.

“Albert, why don’t you go rest for a while?”

“Oh, let me help you with all of these, Ginny,” said Mr. Bernard, motioning to the slew of empty plates around the table.

“No, don’t be ridiculous, go and rest. Al will help me, won’t you?”

“If I have to,” said Albus stiffly, seeming to be caught off guard. His eyes narrowed in suspicion at his mother. “Do I have to do all of these?”

“No, of course not. June, why don’t you help him?” The conspiratorial gleam had reappeared in Mrs. Potter’s eyes.

“Lily can help,” said Albus, after a pause. Lily looked up at him, frowning.

“Like hell I will! Don’t dump more work on me because you want to avoid her!”

“Upstairs now, Lily,” said Mrs. Potter, glaring.

Lily huffed, pulled her hair out of her face and pushed herself up. “Fine!”

As Lily stomped upstairs, Mrs. Potter rolled her eyes and then walked with Mr. Bernard back to his room.

That left the dining room in a miserable state: one Albus Potter, now looking between the pile of dirty plates and one horrified and clueless June Bernard as if deciding which one he ought to begrudge more. Finally, he carried half the plates to the sink and opened the tap, spilling water over them.

After a moment’s pause, June carried the other half to the side of the sink currently left unoccupied.

For a while, the only noise audible was the gush of water hitting the plates. June could feel her skin wrinkling slightly under the warmth of the foamy water. Albus worked beside her methodically, never once facing her.

June let the silence stretch and stretch. When did life become like this?

Two weeks ago, she was worried about moving into another flat. Two weeks ago, the biggest problem seemed to be whether she could be bothered to spend part of her holiday being bothered with the inconvenience of moving. Apparating from once place to another with boxes.

Why had that seemed so difficult?

And even the small rooms and ugly walls.  Why had they seemed so unattractive?

At least they would have been hers alone. At least she would have some peace of mind about it all and not worry about who didn’t want her there and who hated her for simply existing.

Priscilla had been right. Albus wasn’t much of anything. Lucy had been right. Coming here hadn’t been a good idea at all.

There had been many moments in her life when June had felt stupid - potions projects bungled, several test subjects nearly accidentally poisoned, one time when she hadn’t been paying much attention to the Blast-Ended Skrewt she was walking and it had nearly lit up Iris Bosworth up like a candle…but nothing seemed as idiotic as coming here with all the hopes in the world.

There were only a few more plates left.

As she reached for the dishcloth, she could feel Albus’s fingers accidentally graze over her own in the hot water. She retracted her hand and stared down at the small whirlpool of floating dinner scraps in the sink.

On the last plate, she murmured, mostly to herself, “I’m sorry about all of this.”

Albus seemed to stir with a start and stared crossly at his plate. “What?”

“Sorry for the trouble with me and my dad moving here.” She didn’t tear her gaze from her fingers. “I think we’ll be moving out as soon as possible. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Whether or not he had a reply seemed unnecessary to find out. She washed out the final plate and set it aside, before wringing her hands free of all the stresses of the day. She could feel Albus staring after her as she trudged exhaustedly upstairs, but the conflicted feelings all wavered and dimmed as she shut the door, grateful at last for the peace.




 

Author's Note: Please don't kill me for the long wait! I really don't have much of an excuse other than I've been horribly busy and I hope you'll all forgive me! 

Any thoughts on the new chapter and Albus/June? Al isn't exactly what she particularly expected. Please let me know by reviewing!

Celeste

 


Chapter 5: The Importance of Intelligence
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The Importance of Intelligence

By the next morning, June had nearly forgotten everything.

The earthquake, the problems, the new room, Mrs. Potter and the boy next door.

She woke up, her face still pressed into her pillow and stared dazedly around the room. The pinkness came in a blurry haze and she blinked, groaning as she forced herself awake.

When she opened the door, something very small and red collided with her in the hallway.

“Watch where you’re going, you bloody idiot!”

June stared down blearily. “Huh?”

“How stupid are you? Can’t you understand me?”

The face of Lily Potter swam into view, her small features scrunched into anger. June sighed.

There wasn’t time enough in the world to deal with people like this.

“…Sorry. I – I couldn’t really see – ”

“That much is obvious, stupid.” Lily pushed against her and stomped away, still murmuring something to herself.

June proceeded to the room to her left and opened the door. “Dad?”

Her father was sitting on his bed, reading. He looked up and smiled as she entered. “Hello June! Sleep well?”

“It was alright. Dad, when can we move out?”

He frowned. “Do you not like it here, dear?”

“No, no, it’s – ”

“Ginny’s already said that she wouldn’t mind us staying here, even after you go off to school. Then it’ll be just me!”

“But what about your work?”

“I can take a bus down to the café when I need to, so don’t worry.” He patted her shoulder. “It’s alright. We’ll be just fine here.”

There was a lit pattering of feet and suddenly, Mrs. Potter seemed to emerge from nowhere. “Oh you’re awake! Get downstairs as soon as you’re ready, dear. Someone’s just arrived for you and they’re waiting downstairs.”

Albus?

No, that sounded silly. But remember Harriet and Daniel, some small part of her squeaked.

So as she brushed and bathed in a hurry, the same scene replayed in her head.

Daniel, sopping wet, waiting for Harriet in a rainy day in Hogsmeade. She doesn’t make it for hours, but he still stands in the same spot, waiting –

She stepped out of the tub and splashed water over the ground.

- and he never gives up on her. He’s just pretending to hate her to stay as far away from Harriet as possible.

So she dried off, changed into comfortable clothes and ran downstairs with eagerness, her hair still wet.

“June!”

“Hi June! Priscilla, turn around. June’s here.”

The three girls seated on the sofa deflated June’s expectations a fair bit, but she smiled at them. “Hello!”

Lucy looked up, grinning. “You’re finally awake! We’ve been waiting fifteen minutes already!”

“Sorry, I didn’t know you lot were coming by.”

“Of course we were!” said Trista, “We had to look in on you!”

“All circumstances considered,” came from the corner currently inhabited by Priscilla Fawcett. She surveyed the grandeur of the house with obvious disdain. “I don’t know how you’ve survived a day here.”

Lucy frowned. “This is my aunt Ginny’s house.”

“Which is also inhabited by a pompous and – ”

“So, why did you come?” asked June, cutting cleanly across Priscilla. The last thing any of them needed at the moment was another one of Priscilla’s rants on how to murder and dispose of the body of Albus Potter. Especially when said person was still very much alive and could possibly overhear them.

“Well, we thought you might want to come out with us for a bit,” said Trista. “Since school’s starting again soon, we should go shopping in the muggle world while we still can!”

Priscilla’s face darkened. “I don’t see why we couldn’t just go to Diagon Alley, instead of wandering around muggle places – ”

“I think it’s fascinating,” said Lucy earnestly, “and besides, Trista’s muggle-born and June’s – ”

“I’m practically three-quarters muggle myself,” said June dully. “Might as well be a Squib.”

“Oh hush,” said Lucy airily, “and we’ll need you around anyway. You’re so good at picking clothes and Priscilla’s quite horrible.”

“I take offense at that,” said Priscilla.

“You tried picking a cardigan with a camel on it last time we went,” said Trista. “We practically had to wrestle it out of you and bin it.”

“It was a piece of art!”

You’re a piece of art! You wouldn’t look half as decent if you didn’t have June picking what you should wear every weekend!”

They all smiled back up at June innocently. She groaned.

“Alright, fine. But today? Right now?”

“Well, you’re all dressed!” said Lucy, “I already told Aunt Ginny and she thought it sounded fun, so off we go!”

“Off we go,” said Priscilla skeptically, pulling back a lacy white curtain to reveal the contents of the window: an ashen sky scattered with gray clouds welcomed them. “It’s still winter. It’s freezing outside. It looks like it might rain.”

“We’ve all got our coats,” said Lucy. “We can just Apparate right over to some crowded spot. Nobody’ll notice us come or go! We’ll be just like regular muggles.”

“Regular muggles don’t call themselves regular muggles,” said Trista, grinning. “They – ”

Another set of footsteps broke her off. Albus was standing at the foot of the steps, his eyebrows raised in obvious disapproval.

“Hey Al,” said Lucy. She got a nod of recognition in return.

“Aren’t we being a bit productive today?” he said as he descended. “Already covering up other people’s houses in trash and walking around like we own it. “

“Potter,” began Priscilla; she promptly stopped herself and received no reply in return.

“I told my mum we shouldn’t take in charity cases. First poor people. Then we’ll have dogs running around this place. What do we do now?”

June was flushing heatedly. “I didn’t invite them – ”

Lucy’s mouth was dropping in indignation. “How can you say something like that? June isn’t a charity case! She’s our friend! She’s your mum’s friend!”

Albus had already passed them by into the kitchen. Lucy stared after him.

“Wow, is he really like that?” said Trista.

“Not really,” said Lucy, frowning. “He’s never really been that rude before…”

June bit her lip. “He’s right, isn’t he? I really am a horrible person. I’m sitting in his house, in his sofa, and I do act like – ”

“This is Aunt Ginny’s house, not his!” said Lucy, positively agog, “You can’t think like that! You’re welcome here and you’re welcome anywhere we are.”

Trista squeezed June’s hand. “Everything will work out. You’ll see.”

The sounds of Albus pouring milk into a cup filtered through the kitchen. She had never before been this ashamed of existing, of just sitting in one place…not that she had ever really thought to be ashamed of those kinds of things before…but this seemed like a new low. Hated for just existing. A nuisance.

Meanwhile, Priscilla had descended into absolute silence.

The few times in her life that Priscilla had managed to maintain silence was marked by some ominous foretelling of death and destruction. This, fortunately, was not one of those times. She looked positively blue with holding her breath.

They rose and passed by the kitchen where Albus was now sitting alone with a newspaper in hand. Priscilla made an obscene hand gesture as she saw him, before saying as loudly as possible, “You know, I always thought gay men were supposed to be friendly!

*

“Did you have to call him gay? What if he thought I said it?”

“Please, you don’t have the guts to say it!” As Lucy and Trista appeared behind them with a faint pop, Priscilla held her head high. “Besides, he’s such a charlatan that one good kick to the arse is all – ”

They had arrived in a busy corner of muggle London. It was now lightly drizzling and the sky was darkening quickly, but Lucy looked keen to join into the crowd.  “Come on, let’s get in and go shopping! Just like regular muggle girls!”

With that pronouncement and the addition of several more profanities from Priscilla, they slipped into a small crowd that was shuffling into the first store they could find.

Lucy looked thrilled at the sight of trousers and skirts and frilly dresses until the eye could see. There were several mannequins propped at the front and Lucy gave one a tentative poke as she passed it by. Trista and June shared a bored look.

“I don’t know why I came. I can’t afford a thing,” said June baldly as she inspected the price tag of a bracelet. “I can’t even afford to look at this, never mind buy it.”

But Lucy had already disappeared into a throng of dresses.

Trista followed cautiously. “Maybe I can pick up something for my mum…” And with that, she too disappeared.

“Everything is so tawdry here,” said Priscilla, “this is why I prefer the magic world. There’re robes. And that’s about it. No complications.”

“I’d love to make clothes,” said June, her eyes sparkling at the sight of the unending rows of dresses. “Pretty and comfortable, but still affordable. Magical fashion doesn’t just have to be restricted to robes.”

As they weaved their way after Lucy and Trista, Priscilla called over a large pile of jewelry. “Then why don’t you?”

“Do what?”

“Make clothes? You draw a lot of them anyway.”

“Oh I couldn’t,” said June dismissively. “I’m not very good.”

“You can knit! You made every seventh year in our House scarves for Christmas. And you made Trista that jumper with all those Quaffles. And Lucy got a skirt for her birthday.” Priscilla was now out of her sight and June looked around hesitantly. There were still a few lingering shoppers around and it wouldn’t do to be caught yelling about quaffles and magic around them.

“I can’t go into design,” said June. “I need something more stable and besides, nobody’d want me.”

“Don’t be ridicu – ” There was a sound of a collision and a muffled falling noise.

A new, soft voice began apologizing. “Oh, I’m so sorry! I wasn’t watching where I was – ”

“You – you bloody turnip!” came Priscilla’s screech. “I should transfigure you into a lamp for that! Where the hell were you looking?”

This was going to be more exhausting than June had foreseen.

*

By late afternoon, Lucy had emerged with six or seven shopping bags laden with clothes. Trista had bought a small necklace and a skirt. Priscilla had pronounced everything beneath her taste. And June hadn’t been able to afford anything.

When they stepped back outside, they were greeted with a torrent of rain. There was enough water falling on them that June could barely see anything in front of her; her hair and clothing were beginning to stick to her skin.

“Damn it, how is it raining this much?” asked Priscilla, squinting past the onslaught of rainfall into the misty, abandoned streets beyond.

“My clothes are getting wet!” moaned Lucy. “Does anyone know an umbrella spell?”

Everyone promptly looked at Priscilla, who shrieked, “And just what the hell is an umbrella spell?”

“I thought you would know!”

“All right, I’m going home,” said Trista, feebly defending herself against the rain. “I’ll see you lot on the Platform!”

She twirled her wand, and with that, disappeared.

“Sounds like a good idea,” said Lucy, who was now protecting her clothing with her body. “I’m going home as well. Take care, Priscilla, June!”

Lucy too left, and it took Priscilla only a hasty farewell and a popping noise to leave June standing alone in the rain.

Well. There really was no point staying anymore, even if all she had to welcome her home was more yelling.

June shuffled to the side of the street as she pulled out her wand from a pocket. The rain was pouring hard enough that her fingers began slipping as she held the wand to eye level. For one brief moment, she fumbled with her wand. It dropped by her feet and promptly rolled into the drain with a horrifying clang as it slipped below.

June screamed as it disappeared. She was wet and cold enough that she was now shivering. “NO, no, no, no, no! Why does this keep happening me?!”

She sank onto her feet and groped at the drain. Tears were beginning to slowly slip down.

She waved her hands over the drain. “Accio! Accio wand!”

Nothing happened.

How could I be this stupid?

Everything anybody had ever said about her intelligence had been true. And it had all culminated to some godforsaken place next to the drain, plopped onto the ground.

June pondered briefly what her options were. She had no wand. She didn’t know anybody in the vicinity. She couldn’t write to anyone for help. She had almost no money. And the three people who had come with her had probably returned home and assumed she had as well.

Of course, Lucy must’ve told Mrs. Potter where they’d gone. But that could take hours before anybody came in search of her.

After a few moments of staring at the drain in desperation, she stumbled back up and wobbled to a shelter from the rain.

*

Three hours later, June was hunched over a chair in a crowded pub.

The few coins she’d brought had been spent on coffee that had already gone cold. At least the dripping had stopped, she reflected. There was now a small pool of water by her feet. The cold in her fingers had receded somewhat, but it was still raining outside.

The pub was something nondescript she had managed to walk into. There was a tittering crowd somewhere behind her of muggles, none of whom had given her a second look since she had taken her position in the corner.

Nothing of particular circumstance occurred until forty minutes later, when finally the cavalry arrived.

There had been no warning except the blurring background lights and the tilting footsteps. No warning, no sign of recognition. Someone tugged at her sleeve. “There you are.”

She looked up, still feeling soaked, before squinting into the light. “Albus?”

“Get up.” He yanked her off the seat and continued leading her out by pulling on her sleeve.

“Where’re we going?”

“You idiot, do you know how insane my mum’s gone looking for you?”

“I’m – I’m sorry, I – ”

“What happened?” They were out of the pub by now and nobody had noticed them enter or leave. There was still a slight downpour of water; the water began trailing off of June’s clothes.

“It was raining. I lost my wand. I couldn’t get back. What’re you doing here?”

He surveyed her with disdain for a moment, before saying in exasperation, “My family’s been looking for you. We’ve got to Apparate out of here. My mum’s down the other street with Lily.”

Behind them, the door to the pub opened and an older couple walked out, staring at the sight of June and Albus standing in the rain.

“Well, we can’t do it here.”

“Is there anywhere we could go?”

“I passed a telephone booth at the other end of the street – ”

That was enough to get Albus to regain a death-grip on her sleeve and all but race her to the end of a street, where they approached a dusty red telephone booth.

“Get inside,” said Albus.

“We can’t leave yet! My wand’s still in the drain!”

“You’re such a pain in the arse! I told my mum not to take in – ”

“I know,” said June miserably, “I know. But please help me. I won’t bother you anymore after this, I promise.”

“I find that unlikely,” said Albus, staring her down decisively. His eyes were…very green, noted June feebly. She blinked under the grazing look, feeling uncomfortably vulnerable. He finally gave a relenting sigh. “Where did you drop it?”

“Down this street, then take a right. There’s a drain on the very end. It fell in there.”

“Fine, I’ll go. You stay in here and wait, understand?”

June nodded meekly; Albus turned around before giving her an annoyed backwards glance as she stepped into the telephone booth.

For a moment, the backwards glance seemed odd. His permanently frowning mouth wavered into a thin, serious line.

Less annoyed and more…sympathetic?

But he turned and the brief semblance of relation vanished.

June waited in the cold edges of the booth with only the raindrops pitter-pattering against the glass for company. Finally, there was a yank against the door and he shuffled in towards her and shut the door behind them.

She would have jumped at the thought of closeness with Albus Potter two weeks ago. Now that it had happened, it was becoming more and more disconcerting.

“Here,” he said curtly, thrusting a grimy, wet wand into her hands. She bit her lip in slight disgust at the sight of it. “I did what I could.”

“Thank you.”

“Let’s Disapparate to my house before anybody else comes out. Then I can contact my mum and let her know. You can Apparate, can’t you?”

“I Apparated to get to your house, remember?”

“Whatever.”

“How are we supposed to Apparate in here? There’s no space for both of us to – ”

“Side-Along, I suppose.”

There was an awkward pause.

“I’m sorry about all of this – ”

“Would you shut up and stop apologizing? It’s beginning to irritate me. Why the hell did you have to show up on our doorstep two days after Christmas like a nightmare, I’ll never know.”

“I said I’d leave!” Spots of color began reappearing on the largely whitened complexion of June Bernard; she was, occasionally, known to acts of dignity. “What else could I do? We didn’t have anywhere else to go! I’m sorry for ruining your Christmas even though it already passed, but we had a bit of a distraction along the way. I don’t even remember what we did for Christmas this year!”

Admitting that she had forgotten Christmas seemed like a new low for June.

All she could vaguely remember was seeing a tree shunted in the corner of the Leaky Cauldron and some fruitcake of questionable origin. But most of it was spent haplessly glugging Butterbeer and forcing her father to eat.

And then Lucy and Priscilla and Trista had come; evidently, they had forgotten Christmas as well, because it seemed to have been so insignificant in the sudden scope of being homeless.

What a miserable thought.

What day was it?

December…twenty-eight.

Albus was still looking at her, apparently in a mixture of curiosity and the usual revulsion. June averted her gaze and attempted to move back a step in the cramped telephone booth, which led to nothing but nearly tripping over her feet.

She nearly began apologizing again, just out of habit. Being near him seemed to elicit an apology for almost everything she did, but he ignored her.

“Let’s just go.”

“Okay,” she said tentatively, vaguely tilting herself towards him. It was likely the most awkward Side-Along Apparition to ever occur to the likes of June. Apparating with her luggage had both been more comfortable and more romantic. Her luggage was never quick to judge her.

And her thoughts still pandering on luggage-related matters, she hesitantly clung on to Albus and they disappeared into the coming night.






 

Author's Note: Thank you so much for the reviews for last chapter - you guys are lovely. :) I hope you enjoyed this chapter as well, as Al's pratiness is still intact, June's dubious intelligence wavers and various sarcastic things were said. June's growing up, though, slowly, but surely.

Please don't forget to review telling me how you thought this chapter was! 

Celeste


Chapter 6: The Art of Iciness
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The Art of Iciness

Through the few remaining days of her holiday break, June found herself apologizing.

Apologizing for Mrs. Potter for managing to lose herself in London and prompting everyone to comb through the streets, looking for her.

Apologizing to Lily for the same reason. Who now managed to hate June even more.

And avoiding Albus. Conscientiously avoiding Albus ever since ‘the incident of the telephone booth whereupon they ended up Apparating on to the sofa in a big puddle’. Since then, June had been confined to her room, absent-mindedly drawing and to occasionally looking in on her father. Never, in recent memory, had she looked forward to returning to Hogwarts so much.

But in slightly more cheering news, it had begun to snow. The thought that weather-related news could be the only cheering thought she could muster sank June further into Potter-induced depression.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Potter seemed to be hosting some kind of New Years’ party for the Weasleys. And judging by the vast amount of gold streamers that were now floating around the house and the constant smell of something or the other baking (or burning), it seemed as though an embarrassingly large amount of people would be downstairs as June locked herself in her room.

Mrs. Potter announced her arrival into June’s room with a gentle knock.

“Hello, June! Will you be all ready for tonight?”

June set down a stubby piece of charcoal and smiled up at Mrs. Potter. “Am I supposed to come?”

“Well, of course you are. It’s New Years’ Eve, isn’t it? Are we supposed to hide you upstairs the whole time?”

“What should I do? Should I help with – ”

Mrs. Potter waved her aside. “It’s all almost ready. The last thing I have to do is buy Lily some proper clothes. All you need to worry about is having a nice time. Lucy’ll be there, of course, if that’s of any comfort.”

June exhaled in relief. “Oh, okay then. I’ll be down whenever you need me to. Will Mr. Potter be back?”

“Yes, he’ll be back for New Year’s. James will be dropping by as well.”

As soon as Mrs. Potter had smiled complacently and left, June hurried over to her father’s room.

“Dad! Dad!” She pushed the door open and walked in to the sight of Mr. Bernard surrounded in a sea of multicolored papers. “What’re you doing?”

“Looking over recipes,” said Mr. Bernard, squinting at a paper beside him. “I’ve memorized most of these – but still, if we reopen, it might be a good idea to have some new – ”

“When can we move out?”

Mr. Bernard set down the paper and smiled up at her. “Well, you’ll be off to school in a few days, won’t you? So you’ll have nothing to worry about.”

“Yes, but I don’t want to keep coming back here for the holidays.”

“Now, Ginny would feel hurt if she heard you – ”

“She’d understand,” said June tersely, “she’s absolutely lovely, though.”

“She said she likes having us here, June. Gets too quiet without her husband around.”

June sighed. “Moving – ”

“Ah, yes, yes, alright, let’s see. Well, we’ve got the restaurant boarded up a fair bit, so it’ll take me a few days to remove everything and get it all swept and neat again. And I’ll have to get a loan for some new plates, since the ones we kept at home are all gone.”

“Why don’t you hire help?”

“Help,” said Mr. Bernard, slightly agog. “Heavens, I’ve never really hired help before. Other than the cleaning – and that was only once in six months – I did everything on my own, you know.”

“I know. But maybe it’d help us, expand, Dad. We could get some more profits.”

“It’s a family business, June! I can’t just get other people in it. What would Victoria say?”

“Mum would be happy, honestly – ”

“It’s called Victoria’s Corner, isn’t it? And we said when we opened it that we’d run it between each other until you grew up and handed it to you. It’s a Bernard business.”

 “Yes, I know.” Though between her and her dad, it could hardly be called a business. “At least hire someone to come in and clean twice a week. And maybe some waitresses or something too could help.”

There was no way that June would ever allow anyone to dump Victoria’s Corner on her. There were only a few times in her life in which she had been allowed to cook and many of them had ended with something (and once, someone) on fire.

She cleared her throat, sat down on the ground among the papers and began putting them into a pile absentmindedly. Her mother and father’s handwriting were scribbled all over them; there were lines where there were large eraser markings and entire sentences had been crossed out. Some of them were yellowed and others were past saving. A familiar scent of irises and freesia wafted off them, and in the background, June could smell cooking oil and hear pots and pans clanging.

This was her childhood. Summers spent cleaning, taking orders, reading Fifi LaFolle when nobody came in. She turned over a recipe for something that vaguely looked Italian.

“Dad, didn’t mum ever miss magic?”

There was a pause. Mr. Bernard began shuffling through papers.

“Your mother made many sacrifices for us, June.”

“So she lived like a muggle?”

“Not always. Sometimes she still had that wand of hers around, but she – ”

“I don’t remember her doing any magic,” said June, frowning. “I didn’t even know she was a witch until you told me.”

“Well, there was a chance that you wouldn’t be…like her, you see. Like me, instead. In case that moment came, she never wanted you to feel like you had anything less than a normal life. Or that you’d disappointed anyone.”

June sighed. “I wish she’d told me.”

Mr. Bernard patted her hand. After another long silence, he smiled at her. “Well, let me get back to looking through this, alright? We’ll have the place opened in a few weeks’ time.” Clearly growing uncomfortable with the nostalgic talk, Mr. Bernard squinted out the window.  “Oh look, it’s snowing! Isn’t that nice? You always did like snow.”

“Thanks Dad.”

She gave her father a smile, and tip-toed out of the room.

*

June had less than a few minutes’ peace before Mrs. Potter reentered.

“June, dear, just letting you know that I’m taking Lily out for a bit of shopping. We’ll be back in an hour or so.” Mrs. Potter smiled placidly as a howl of protest emerged from beyond the door.

“I’M NOT COMING. MUM, I’M NOT COMING.”

Mrs. Potter continued smiling as she gave the noise beyond the door an annoyed glare. “I don’t care what you say! You can’t dress like that in the evening!”

“I LOOK FINE.”

“We’re buying a dress and that’s final!” Mrs. Potter gave an exhausted sigh. “I wanted a girl so badly, you know. I thought it’d be a lot of fun. And it was very lovely at first having Lily. And I was fully supportive of her Quidditch and everything I did at her age, but she’s turning out to be a complete boy. Imagine her turning up in her tattered little trousers for a party in front of her whole family. Really, she’s just something else…”

Unable to help herself, June blurted out, “And what was Albus like growing up?”

To her amazement, Mrs. Potter began grinning.

“Albus was really quite strange! You know, when he was about two or three years old, he got it into his head that he was actually a girl.”

“A – a girl?” said June, flabbergasted.

“Well, he thought he was anyway. Just for a bit. It was probably my fault for not discouraging him, but he looked very cute in little dresses! He was only two, anyway, so what was the harm? He obviously grew out of it, but it was fun putting him in dresses while it lasted. I did want a girl...” She put her hand over her mouth. “But I probably shouldn’t’ve told you. He doesn’t like it when I mention it to – ”

“Oh no, I’ll keep quiet,” said June, wide-eyed and stifling a grin.

 “We’ve got photos downstairs on the bookshelf if you’re curious!”

There was a final annoyed cry of “MUM, I’M NOT COMING.”

Mrs. Potter gave June a small wave and shut the door. From the other side, she could hear Mrs. Potter bellowing, “We’re leaving right now, Lily Luna!”

This family was beginning to give her a headache.

*

June spent the afternoon in solitude in her room, drawing and staring out the window. The ground outside was now covered in a thick layer of white. The frosted, wintry feel of the world outside her window was calming and silent.

Finally, when she heard no noise from downstairs, she began creeping downwards.

There was a bookshelf by the living room sofa that nearly reached the ceiling. She scanned the titles tentatively; most of them seemed to be about Defense Against the Dark Arts, a subject June was apt to know almost nothing about. There was an accumulation of spellbooks from the past few years at Hogwarts, some manuals on Quidditch – they had probably once been James’s – an entire three rows of medical journals (who on earth read these?), before finally –

June let out a small “Aha!” of success upon reaching the Potter family’s photo albums. There were at least five or six of them. With newfound gusto, she removed three and sat down on the ground with them propped open.

This felt slightly creepy. And possibly illegal.

But Mrs. Potter told me that there were photographs, mused June, so she must’ve thought it was okay for me to look.

And besides, this was one of the most famous Wizarding families in England. Anybody would be curious.

The entire first album was of a younger-looking Mr. and Mrs. Potter at their wedding. Pre-Albus time. The second was even further back: Mrs. Potter looked not over eleven in some of the pictures as she waved up to June. As June flipped through Ginny Potter’s years growing up, she felt a slight pang as she reached her Hogwarts life.

There were almost a dozen pictures with her mum in it, beaming up as she stood beside Ginny on different places – beside the Quidditch pitch, in a dungeon, by the Charms classroom, at the Great Hall. June ran her fingers over the varying captions on the yellowed pages as her mum continued waving.

Ginny and Victoria; Quidditch Game, Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff, 1993.

Heather, Beatrice, Ginny, Jacqueline, Victoria – Gryffindor Girls dormitory, 1994-5.

She finally reached a picture where her mum was sitting alone on the grass, looking preoccupied with the large spellbook propped by her arms. June stared vacantly at the picture for a long moment, unsure of how to feel at the black-haired girl who thought she was still alive, who had yet to graduate or marry or have a daughter or leave her behind. It was a picture of a girl reading studiously, for a future she wouldn’t have.

June took out her wand from her pocket and pointed it at the photograph. “Geminio.

As a duplicate of the photograph appeared, she took it out and slipped it into her pocket.

This was getting more depressing than she’d intended.

The next photo album became more cheering. She passed columns of a toddler James scampering over the floor as Mr. Potter ran after him. There were several with a baby Albus looking like a small, blanketed grape. As June turned to the next page, she quickly stifled her laughter.

There he was!

For a moment, she thought that the round face and big eyes poking out of a flowery dress belonged to Lily. But Lily had her mum’s red hair and brown eyes. This baby had black hair and green eyes and was currently wearing a pink, flower patterned dress and ballet slippers.

In the next picture, the girl – boy? – had grown longer hair that was now in a miniscule braid. And was outfitted in robes that were too feminine even for June’s taste.

June bit down on her lip furiously. Albus was still just upstairs…and she’d have absolutely no explanation if he saw her rifling through pictures. Small tears sprung to the corners of her eyes and she aired away her laughter.

This would grow up into the boy that she’d fallen so much in love with?

At the last picture of the girl Albus, she stopped herself to breathe. He was in braids again, with a small skirt and a thin top, pouting up at the camera with his tongue stuck out and a flower in his hair.

And a flower in his hair. A flower was in Albus Severus Potter’s hair.

Oh God. Priscilla hadn’t been right, had she? He wasn’t gay?

She almost wanted to howl at the flower-clad Albus. “You’re supposed to be MANLY. Stop wearing flowers!” It was slightly humiliating that he had been prettier as a child than she had been.

When Daniel had met Harriet, he had been a boy. A boyish boy. Who played Quidditch, swore, failed classes, had the occasional bout of sensitivity, and wrote poetry. June’s current love interest was: most definitely a sociopath, apparently lacked compassion, grew up as a girl…

June could almost hear Priscilla’s voice in the background, positively screaming to see the picture.

She pointed her wand at the pouty Albus-girl. “Geminio.”

With the most satisfaction she had felt in a long time, she pocketed it.

There was a thump of footsteps. Her heart started frantically pounding as she shut the book and put the photo albums back in place.

Albus was lingering near the middle of the staircase. “What’re you doing?”

“N – nothing – um – ” She blushed furiously, racking herself for an explanation. “I was just looking at a book.”

“A book?” His skepticism was quickly rising. “Don’t pretend you can read.”

June closed her eyes and nodded. As if in retaliation for her snooping, the cosmos seemed to intervene with the usual dose of bad luck and horrible timing: one of the photo albums she had been rifling through fell over onto another book.

Albus’s eyes were narrowed. He began descending down the stairs. “I saw you waving your wand over something. What did you do?”

“Nothing, I swear! I really wasn’t doing anything!”

“You closed one of those books over there when you thought I was coming.” He had reached the foot of the stairs; June remained frozen, horrified.

“No,” she squeaked feebly.

He stooped down beside her, his face leering into hers. “Show me. Right now.”

“I didn’t do anything. You can check the pictures. I didn’t take anything.”

“You duplicated something.”

“I didn’t! I really didn’t!”

His voice was climbing. “Enough rubbish. Do you really think you can come into my house and start nicking things that don’t belong to you? What were you planning to do – sell some family photos to somebody and make some easy money? You’re just as bad as those idiots that follow me around school.”

“No, I wasn’t!” I was only planning on keeping your childhood picture. Forever. While prowling around your house. I might show it to my friends, though.

The truth didn’t sound much better.

 “Empty your pocket. I saw you put it in there. Take it out and show me.”

“Or what?”

“I can do it myself.”

June waved her wand in front of herself. “I could stop you!”

“Oh please,” he said derisively, before knocking her wand out of her hand. It landed by his feet and he kicked it away. “You’re stupid enough that I don’t need Expelliarmus to disarm you. Go on, now. Take it out.”

June took a deep breath before her eyes widened with sudden insight. “Alright. Fine. I did take duplicate a picture.”

His eyes flashed in success. “I knew it. Show me, then I’ll tear it up before you can sell - ”

She reached into her pocket and unfolded a slightly crinkled picture. She took another breath and flushed as he stared at it, dumbfounded. The black-haired girl in the photo looked up curiously from her spellbook.

“Who’s this?” He turned it over as the caption glinted: Victoria Frobisher, 1995.

“My mum,” she said, letting an edge into her voice. “My mum and your mum were friends, so she has pictures of her. I don’t have many, so I duplicated this one.”

She pressed it into his hands as he continued to stare at it. “Alright, go on. You said you wanted to tear it up, didn’t you?”

“Er – ” He held the photo gingerly as if afraid of touching it.

“Go on. Tear it up.”

He sighed and held it out to her. “Here.”

“No, you wouldn’t want me to sell it.”

“Just take it.”

“I don’t want it. It’s your family’s, after all. I have no right to – ”

He gripped her hand and turned it over before forcibly placing the picture back in her hand. There was a rough brush of skin as he retracted. He stared at the ground and then his hand. “Enough, alright? I didn’t know.”

After he had ascended the stairs again and left her alone, she opened out the picture of Albus and dissolved into silent giggles. He had almost kind of neared an apology and he hadn’t taken the picture!

June Bernard, as dim as she could be at times (which involved Potions cauldrons, accidentally Transfiguring a Professor, losing her wand, and being unable to remember many a simple spell), did have her moments.

*

After Mrs. Potter’s return with Lily (who was sporting a massively irritated expression) and after the usual party preparations wherein food was laid out and streamers were floating around, the Weasley family began to arrive later into the evening. And they arrived and arrived in a seemingly neverending parade of redheads and their offspring. June cowered for a while in her room with the door shut as she could hear feet pounding downstairs. There were some loud bursts of laughter and her floor shook with the noise.

“Oh Audrey, it’s been ages! – ”

“And then Fred decided to –”

Having already eaten dinner early, June was content to think that she had been forgotten and was left alone in peace.

But not long passed before Mrs. Potter peeked in.

“June, why don’t you come downstairs? Come on, your father’s waiting for you and Lucy’s here.” At June’s slightly queasy expression, Mrs. Potter walked around the bed and took her hand. “You’ll be fine. Just enjoy yourself.”

“I won’t know anyone,” squeaked June as they descended the stairs, “And – ”

She was promptly cut off by the fireplace burning with emerald flames as more people Flooed in. The living room was swimming in redheads, with the occasional displaced blonde among the masses. A dark-haired man climbed out of the fireplace and scrambled on to the floor. Everybody quieted as he adjusted his glasses. Mrs. Potter all but leapt into him.

“Harry, you came!”

He untangled himself from her before kissing her on the cheek. “Hello Ginny.”

“How long can you stay? Can you stay the week? Because you still have to meet – ”

“Not too long,” he said, and Mrs. Potter’s smile flickered briefly. “Just today and tonight.”

“But you’ll be back permanently next month, right Dad?” piped up Lily from the side.

He grinned before going to embrace her. Albus also emerged between two Weasley cousins and walked straight towards his father. 

June took a few steps backward and gave the staircase a longing look. The Potters were talking amicably and hugging. This was quickly becoming very awkward. The sea of Weasleys did not look any more navigable than the Potters. And her room was too out of reach for her to make a mad run for it.

“June?” Yet another redhead was pushing her way through the crowd; Lucy emerged blushing spectacularly. “Oh thank God. It really is you!”

She wrung June’s hand with mixed concern and familiarity. “How’ve you been? Did you get home alright? Because Aunt Ginny told me that the other day – ”

“Good,” said June loudly over Lucy’s chatter, before idly walking to a corner and sitting down on a chair.

Lucy looked at her, puzzled. “Well, you look really pretty.”

June shrugged; the word pretty bounced off her. It was never a word she could take seriously when applied to her. It was for…other girls. She twirled a hand through the mid-length dark blue dress. “It’s just cotton though. Not much.”

“Better than what Lily had to wear. Did you see her yet?”

“A bit.”

“Aunt Ginny made her wear this bright pink dress. It looks like a punishment.”

“Oh,” said June tonelessly. She gave an empty stare to the people around her, all clad in fancy dresses or richly cut robes. Wineglasses circled the air as still more people emerged from the fireplace. Another dark-haired boy climbed out of the fireplace, joined by a girl whom he soon held hands with.

“James! Christine!” said Lucy excitedly as the Potters clambered around James Potter. June turned to see that Lucy had disappeared to flock around him as well as he grinned to stave away the attention.

Spending the evening alone was getting tiring.

Some drunken Weasley uncle stumbled on the ground as June stood up and grabbed her shoulder for support. She pushed up off, slightly repulsed and he tipped over into another Weasley cousin as she made a beeline for Mrs. Potter.

Some company would be better than sitting alone on New Year’s Eve.

Mr. Bernard was now drinking wine with Mr. and Mrs. Potter as they talked to each other, smiling. Lily, James and Albus were grinning besides Lucy.

“So out of curiousity, what does my room look like now?” asked James. “Did mum completely destroy it?”

“You don’t want to see it,” said Lily, “you won’t believe what that girl’s done to the place.”

June bit her lip and began to retreat, before she wobbily walked sideways into Lucy and Albus. Lucy put an arm around her immediately as Albus fell into a trademark frown of disapproval.

“James, this is June.”

June had never before seen James Potter; he looked similar to Albus, but taller and with a kinder face. “So you’re the new girl, eh? How’s my room faring?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“And this is James’s girlfriend Christine.”

“I’m – I’m going to go out for a bit. I’m not feeling well,” said June, her voice quavering without meeting anybody’s eyes. She side-stepped Lucy’s concerned face and yet another Weasley relative. Her room was an enticing possibility, but it was likely that somebody or the other would follow her up.

So she walked back into the crowd and left them behind: James confused and wondering if he had offended her, Lucy apologizing to James’ girlfriend, Lily rolling her eyes and Albus staring after her.

As soon as June reached the door, she nearly leapt out into the snow and slammed the door shut. The clunk and the newfound silence were breathtakingly tranquil. She sat on the doorstep and watched the outline of people move about in the window.

Outside, the houses were quiet and the streets empty. The hardened snow under her feet and the fresh snow softly falling into her eyes slowly began lifting June’s headache.

New Year’s Eve was always difficult. It was like this every year on Christmas and New Year’s – occasions that were supposed to celebrate families but only reminded her what hers could never be. Of course there was her father and he was the only person she knew who she could say shared her blood. But he’d always loved her without understanding her; it was one of the many shortcomings of growing up without a mum. Her mum had had her own family – the Frobishers – and June idly wondered if she could have had a house full of cousins and drunken uncles, but that was all gone for her mum once she’d gone and married a muggle. There had been a few nice times though, with her mum and her dad on New Year’s Eve when she was a child.

Her thoughts wandered to the photograph of her mum she had duplicated that was now sitting on top of her sketchbook.

Sitting with all the other people inside enjoying the luxuries of a family seemed more painful than it was worth. There were too many awkward pauses and shared jokes and backstories that she could never understand or be a part of.

The sound of the door opening startled her out of her nostalgia. A trail of light fell across the snow and the door closed with a click.

“Typical of you to be sitting outside when it’s this cold.” June looked up into Albus’s exasperated expression. He was avoiding looking at her and was instead musing to the snow. “Don’t know why I’m surprised that you lack basic common sense.”

“I don’t want to go back inside,” she said quietly.

“My mum’s wondering where you are. She thought you might be hiding in James’s room again.”

“Oh.”

“He saw what you’d done to it, by the way. He didn’t like it.”

“That’s great,” said June airily, barely able to hear him.

He frowned down at her as he slowly shuffled into an awkward leaning position against the door. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing. Do you even care?”

“No,” he said, shrugging. “Just curious, actually. What do you think you’ll achieve by freezing to death outside?”

“I’m not cold,” said June half-heartedly.

There was a long moment of silence as the snowflakes fell and fell, tumbling into her hair and obscuring her eyes. The wetness on her skin made her feel clean and blank.

And very, very quietly, Albus said, “I’m sorry about today, if that’s what it is.”

“It isn’t. Not really.”

“You might as well come in. They’ll be missing you.”

“It’s your family, not mine,” said June, her voice climbing higher.

Albus’s eyebrows rose. “I see. Well, you’re quite pathetic, aren’t you?”

“I guess so.” She gave a shaky laugh. “My fault. Go inside, please. You don’t want to sit outside alone when the New Year comes.”

“You’re going to?”

“I usually do.”

He rolled his eyes. “How melodramatic.”

“If it’s so melodramatic, you go inside then.”

“Maybe I will.” But he stood there nonetheless.

As soon as June rubbed her hands together in a shiver, he went back to frowning.

From inside, there was a loud explosion of noise. Albus gave the house a curious house a look, as if he suddenly found himself unable to understand the lights and laughter. Someone from inside shouted, “Three minutes left!” and there was an outburst of cheering at this news.

“You have a really nice family,” said June. “You should feel lucky.”

“Suppose so. Go in.”

A small smile was appearing on June’s face at his iciness.  “Why? Everyone probably hates me anyway. Lily hates me, and your brother probably does after seeing his room. I brushed off his girlfriend and I ran off from Lucy and I ignored your mum and my dad. And I stepped all over some drunk. I think his wife was probably angry.”

He gave a huff in exasperation. “Uncle Rolf. Of course.”

“And you hate me. So I think I’m better of outside.”

One minute left!”

“Both probably true,” said Albus, nodding. June’s smile slipped. “Either way, come on.”

“And it’ll be awkward. Everyone’ll drink and – ”

 “Alright, I gave you a chance.” Albus gruffly pulled on her sleeve and June rose unwillingly, fighting backwards.

Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight – ”

“Stop it – ”  The snow under her feet on the step was slipping as he yanked her up. “Stop, I don’t want to come! I have my reasons, alright?”

“Did I say you had a choice in the matter?

“When I was younger, me and my mum and dad would wait until midnight on this bridge outside of our old flat. It feels…strange being inside.”

He let go of her sleeve. “Fine. Stay here then.”

Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen –

Relieved, she sat back down on the doorstep and waited for him to leave. Instead, he stooped down and sat on the step above hers.

Seven, six, five, four – ” The noise inside was climbing in excitement. “ – three, two, ONE!

She looked up at Albus. “Happy New Year’s.”

There was no smile on his face, but he nodded. “Happy New Year’s.”

And there it was: the end of her winter holiday. It had begun with a pumpkin juice stained letter, various Priscilla rants on June’s lack of a love-life, an earthquake in which she had lost everything, a Christmas of nothingness, a makeshift new home, muggle shopping, drains and rain and telephone booths. And it had ended with spending the first moments of the New Year with the same boy who’d set off her holiday.

It hasn’t been so bad after all, thought June, as the door opened and Mrs. Potter ushered them in to the sounds of the party and the warmth of the fire.




Author's Note: So, this was a long chapter, eh? But hopefully June developed a lot and had time to get her character properly explored. Any thoughts on June/Albus as a possibliity so far? Even with Albus's somewhat dodgy past as a girl, I mean. Every icy bad-boy needs to have had a mysterious, yet traumatizing past after all!

Thanks for all the support so far and please don't forget to review! :)

Celeste

 


Chapter 7: The Splendid Return
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The Splendid Return

After a fair amount of chaos over the next day, the return to Hogwarts began.

The platform was already laden with activity; there were parents and owls and trunks seemingly spewing from every corner. The Hogwarts Express was parked complacently as students were opening doors and levitating in their trunks. There was enough shouting and movement that June all but jostled her way to a door.

Behind her, Mrs. Potter was reprimanding Lily and Albus.

“And Lily, you will remember to spend more time studying, won’t you? I don’t want to hear any more of your Quidditch excuses.”

“Yes, mum,” said Lily mechanically.

“And Albus, look after your sister.”

June stayed a few steps behind them. It was odd being with the Potters; every other moment, she felt like she was intruding on some personal matters.

“Yes mum.”

Mrs. Potter looked distractedly around herself. “Oh and where’s June? June!”

“Mrs. Potter, I’m right here.”

“Good. Albus, look after June as well. Help her around, won’t you?”

For a moment, June’s heart beat faster. New Year’s had been…different, somehow. Perhaps -

Albus gave his mother an uninterested look. “What for? She’s been going to school for seven years too, hasn’t she?”

Well, a girl could dream.

Before Mrs. Potter could retort, a clock clanged and steam billowed onto the platform. June stepped on to the train, her trunk floating beside her and waved briefly to Mrs. Potter.

This was it. She wouldn’t see the Potters much until Easter break.

Lily passed her in the hallway, taking care to step on June’s feet as she did. June stared after her, speechless.

A voice snaked up behind her. “I want to make something clear.”

Startled, June jumped a little and promptly sent her trunk sailing forward until it hit a gaggle of third years. Red-faced, she levitated it back and turned to face a perpetually disapproving Albus.

“What is it?”

“I don’t care what my mum told you, alright? I have no interest in seeing you until I have to during break. Don’t bother me about it.” He took a step forward and instinctively, June retreated. “And do not tell anyone about your current living arrangements.”

“I have no intention to,” said June coolly.

“Good.” He passed her in the hallway without a backwards glance.

 June stared after him for a moment, before two Ravenclaw girls noticed him passing them by and began making a small fuss.

*

As soon as June located the right compartment, she walked in on the sight of Lucy and Trista already beginning a game of Gobstones. Priscilla was seated in the corner, wolfing down a cauldron cake with her usual lack of grace.

“Have a good holiday?” asked Lucy distractedly as green slime squirted on to her robes. “Oh, Merlin, I really thought I was going to win…”

“As if,” said Trista, rolling her eyes. “How’d New Years’ go with Albus, June?”

Lucy and June shared a look, before June hesitantly said, “Fine,” in an unusually high voice and seated herself beside Priscilla.

“’Ow you?” said Priscilla, her mouth still full and spilling crumbs.

“You’re so ladylike,” said June, moving out of the spray vicinity. “I don’t know how you do it. Why’re you eating already?”

“I’m starving. As soon as we get to Hogwarts, I’m stuffing myself. My mum visited us again and she tried cooking. I haven’t had a proper meal in days.”

“I just want to get everything unpacked and put away,” said Lucy fretfully. “Oh, I’m really in no mood to get back to studying again. The holidays are so much more relaxing.”

Trista cracked her knuckles. “I can’t wait to see the team again. Everyone promised me they’d practice over break.”

“Trista – we haven’t even – ”

“The first match of the season is Hufflepuff versus Gryffindor, alright? We’re not losing. We can’t! I can’t remember the last time our House won the Quidditch Cup two years in a row.”

“Tris – ”

“And if I Lily Potter tries throwing me off my broomstick one more time, I swear I’m putting the Quaffle down her big mouth.”

“Oi, shut up!” said Priscilla, throwing a cauldron cake at Trista; it bounced off and Trista looked up indignantly.

“We also have our meetings with our Head of House,” said Lucy.

June squirmed nervously in her seat. “That seems so unnecessary.”

“It’s career consultation and we’re seventh years. Of course it’s necessary.” Lucy’s voice took on a slightly more patronizing tone. “You still haven’t figured out what you’d like to go into? Professor Aubrey will be furious, June!”

“What was all that fodder on going into the Apothecary business at the beginning of the year, then?” asked Priscilla.

“I don’t know, I was just making it up. She didn’t notice that she had a poster about Apothecaries right behind her on the wall. I was just reading off it,” said June helplessly. “She can’t really believe I’d want to go into a field like that, right?”

“Not when you’ve blown up Merlin knows how many potions,” said Priscilla.

“It’s not my fault everyone else already knows what they want to do.”

“Everyone knows what they want to do because they researched it like they were supposed to, you lazy ninny!”

“You’ll do Magical Law Enforcement, right, Priscilla? And Trista’s already on reserves for the Wasps  – ”

“Am not,” said Trista, “I’m still deciding between the Wimbourne Wasps and the Appleby Arrows. Personally, I think the Arrows’ve got a – ”

“Nobody cares,” deadpanned Priscilla. “You open your mouth about Quidditch and nobody knows what the hell you’re on about.”

“I’m still a bit unsure,” said Lucy, “but Professor Aubrey suggested the idea of going into magical remedies and I do like that.”

By then however, before the conversation could progress to any more topics that could potentially hurt the miniscule self-esteem of June Bernard, the train came to a halt. Luggage was moved, wands were stowed away, owls screeched, second years were stepped on, and there was a large groan of movement off the train. A slightly nauseating, motion-sickness inducing carriage ride later, Hogwarts castle swam into view. The home to June where there was none.

*

Over dinner, the loud chatter of the four aligned tables filled the Great Hall. The aged and tiny Headmistress Sprout made an attempt at a welcoming speech, but the badly timed appearance of food cut her off promptly.

Priscilla all but sprang on to the table as the food appeared. “God, finally!”

The familiar sight of the twinkling night sky in the ceiling, the stone walls, and the feel of dozens of elbows scraping the table made June feel comfortable and warm.

“Wow Priscilla, you’re going to eat the table at this rate.” A new voice to the left emerged. Priscilla stopped halfway, a chicken leg hanging partway to her mouth.

A boy with a cheery, round face was smiling at her.

“Shut up, Podmore.” Priscilla returned to eating.

“Hello Duncan,” said Lucy more warmly, having the proper manners to address a fellow seventh-year of the same House. As always, Lucy Weasley had the impeccable manners of a placid housewife. Priscilla’s were more akin to a feral hippogriff’s. “How was your holiday?”

“Nothing much happened. One of my brothers set the house on fire during Christmas Eve. Nearly frightened my mum out of her mind. Had to set it out before it killed us all. Same old thing.” He shrugged noncommittally. “Hey Trista, June.”

Another voice clanged in behind Duncan and the irksome face of one Nicholas Corner – brown-haired, medium build, annoyingly large grin - appeared. “If it isn’t Tris, Pris, Ju and Lu!”

The said brown-haired boy and the bearer of the annoyingly large grin immediately received a lukewarm frown in response.

“When will you ever drop that stupid nickname?” asked Duncan placidly, continuing to eat. He reached across the table to grab an apple, before biting into it. Trista’s eyes grew huge.

“Is that an apple?” she asked blankly, staring at him. “Is that an apple?!”

Duncan looked at her as though just noticing her arrival. “Er – Trista – ”

“Duncan Podmore, you’re eating an apple!”

“I can explain!” he said, holding out his palms in front of him. He retreated as her hands began twitching. “I can explain, I swear! If you’ll just listen – ”

“DAMN IT, AFTER I TOLD YOU THAT YOU’VE GOT TO REDUCE YOUR INTAKE OF SUGAR.”

“But it’s an apple! It’s – it’s healthy!”

“IT’S STILL SUGAR.” Trista grabbed it out of his hands and held it between her fingers, at a length from her face. “You’ve got no self-control! I’ve told you that you need to increase your muscle density if we’ve got any chance of you staying a half-way decent Keeper!”

“It’s the holidays, come on!”

In response, she flung it at his head. It bounced off lightly and rolled onto the ground. “Do I need to remind you of precisely how much Lily Potter and Lorcan Scamander humiliated us last time? Because you couldn’t do your job! We’ve got a game coming up in a matter of weeks and there’s a representative from the Tornadoes coming and you’re not going to – ”

The rest of Trista’s tirade was blended into a simultaneous moan of Quidditch talk as Duncan cowered under her.

Meanwhile, Nicholas was attempting to explain his latest painting to Priscilla. “It’s abstract, you see…the purple is supposed to represent war. The pink is love.

“The way you describe it, I expect it’ll look like cat vomit.”

“It’s artistic. I don’t expect the proletariat to understand me,” said Nicholas, puffing his chest out. Every holiday, the conversation fell into the same routine: within a few moments, he would be irritating somebody or the other with neverending details about the next of his paintings while two to three members of the table would be plotting his painful death.

“You wouldn’t know artistic if it bludgeoned you in the head,” said Priscilla.

 “Don’t get us too hopeful,” said Trista under her breath, and the two broke out in grins.

The remaining two of the Hufflepuff boys were staring at Nicholas in exasperation: Desmond Jordan, and last and least, Henry Bates. The girls had grown up alongside them, sat dozens of exams and blew up Potion cauldrons through the years and there was a comfortable familiarity surrounding their conversation.

Of Desmond Jordan who was currently two seats to the left of Nicholas, a fair few things could be said: he wore the same black robe every day and owned the majority share of the Hogwarts black market.

“How was your holiday, Desmond?” asked Lucy, keen to swerve away from Nicholas who was now coercing anybody who would listen of the finer points of painting with unicorn hair.

Desmond smiled as he took off an imaginary hat in salute; he exuded the personality of a debonair old man, satisfied with his work for the day. “Got myself a good picking when we went to France for holiday.”

“Anything we should know about?” asked June.

“June! You wouldn’t even – ” began Lucy.

Desmond smiled even more widely. “And this’s why I love you, Bernard. Alright, let me see. I’ve got a powdered dragon claw. You’ll pass any test, guaranteed.”

“How well would I score?”

“You see Bernard, ‘well’ is kind of a relative term. Everyone’s got different standards.”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “Meaning you can’t guarantee any actual results. Not that you should even be selling this kind of thing. Any dragon subproduct’s been restricted ever since they’ve been hunted – ”

“And that’s why I love you, Weasley. You understand the business.” He waved airily. “I’ve also got half a dozen fact-checking quills, banned in Hogwarts of course, but you’ll find they’re nearly impossible to tell apart from a real quill. Quite popular in Beauxbatons, understandably. Lucky that I’ve managed to sneak a few in one way or another.”

“You managed to find all this in France?” asked June, amazed. “How?”

“I’ve got sources. I write to them, they send me things. Can’t tell you much unless you actually give me some money.”

“You’re horrid.”

“I need money and this’s a lucrative business. I’m getting an early start, you see. Not waiting for a Ministry job and all that rubbish. This’s the smart way to do it.”

“What do your mum and dad think you’re doing when you go to buy all this?”

“My dad’s alright with it, actually. I’m inclined to think he did worse during his stay here. My mum on the other hand – I just tell her that I’m going to be off in a corner for a bit, writing to my girlfriend.”

“You haven’t got a girlfriend,” said Lucy.

“Exactly. Funny how it all works out, eh?”

As Lucy began ranting on the importance of working without cheating to a highly bored Desmond, beside her, Priscilla broke a personal record by comparing Nicholas’s art to medieval torture devices in thirty-five different ways. Unfortunately for June, she had no such luck and was instead facing one Henry Bates – creeper extraordinaire and creator of many awkward situations.

Henry was smiling rapturously at June, who was making any and all attempts to divert her gaze. The speediest solution she could muster was staring at her fork.

“June! How’ve you been?”

June resisted the urge to sink under the table; his greeting had come off as a near-shout and had attracted a small gaggle of grinning on-lookers, who were all too familiar with the situation.

“Oh, fine,” said June in a small voice.

“I’ve heard that there’s a Hogsmeade weekend coming up soon, June – ”

“Leave her alone Bates,” said Duncan, to June’s immense relief. “It’s too early in the evening to watch you get shot down again.”

Henry’s mouth dropped open. “You stay out of this!” He reached across the table to take her hand; a few girls across in the Ravenclaw table had stopped eating and were now pointing and laughing. “June, you will come, won’t you?”

“Bates,” said Nicholas wearily. “Stop. Come on, you know she isn’t going to say – ”

“Ah, back to the usual fodder, I see,” said Desmond.

“You lot don’t understand my love!” said Henry, still hanging on to June’s hand.

June was turning a horrifying shade of scarlet as she attempted to free herself. “Um, Henry, if you’ll…”

“You understand me though, right June?”

His hand was sweaty – it was sweaty!

Beside Priscilla, Desmond was solemnly saying, “I’ve got products that work wonders my dears, but there’s nothing in the world that can cure pure stupidity.”

On the table next to them, a group of Ravenclaw fourth year girls were all grinning as they broke out into loud whispers. “That one’s the one I was talking about.”

“That’s the idiot who tried to ask out Albus Potter?”

“Afraid so.”

“Can’t blame him. He’s got standards too.”

Henry’s smile wavered as he turned around, attempting to locate the source of gossip. “You know, June, I did hear something disturbing about that. I’m sure it’s a rumor of course–-not that you would ever stoop to such bad taste--even in rumors, horrifying things-“

Before June could respond, Priscilla said with a satisfied smile, “You know Bates, it’s all true.”

“It is?” said Desmond. “Surprised at you, Bernard. I didn’t know you had it in you?”

Nicholas, with the sensitivity of a mad axeman, leaned over. “Did he really reject you outright, June? I heard he tore up the letter and then you broke out crying.”

“I did not!” said June, indignantly. “He didn’t tear up anything and I didn’t – it didn’t happen that way at all!”

“But it did happen?” asked Desmond swiftly.

 At Lucy’s nod, Henry broke out in an anguished cry and returned to grab June’s hand with a death grip.

“June! How could you do this to me? When you knew how I felt?”

“Henry – let go – ”

“That cad Potter must’ve made you do it!” said Henry, now holding up their joint hands to the ceiling. “I can’t believe he made you cry!”

“June didn’t cry,” began Trista, before Henry promptly yelled over her.

“Never mind him. You’ll have my love always, June!”

Nicholas, Duncan and Lucy shared an exasperated look.

“We’ve got to stop him before he does something completely mental again,” said Duncan.

“Remember when he attacked George Sloper for fancying Victoria Bosworth two years ago?” said Lucy. “Oh goodness, that was a mess.”

“The most mental part was that he fancied Victoria in the first place. He hasn’t got eyes, I think,” said Nicholas. The latter part of his pronouncement was cut off as Henry stood up in the midst of the Hufflepuff table, his hand yanking June up in the process.

Henry looked around the contents of the Gryffindor table before spotting his newest target. “Aha!”

“Henry, don’t,” said June, mortified, “please don’t. It wasn’t his fault, really –”

“Don’t be silly, June. No need to protect him,” said Henry, tucking June’s hand into his elbow and promptly dragging her to the Gryffindor table.

“Should we stop them?” asked Trista.

“Let’s see what he does first,” said Priscilla. “The idiot might be entertaining. For what it’s worth.”

Henry marched to the Gryffindor table, with June flailing like a ragdoll beside him. She gave the entire Hufflepuff table a helpless look. Priscilla mouthed, “Good luck!”

A few people looked up in mild interested when Henry stopped in front of the Gryffindor table. At the sight of June, some began nudging each other and grinning. Further down the table, June could see Lily Potter look up. Her mouth dropped open in irritation. Some distance from Lily sat –

“Albus Potter!” Upon sighting him, Henry continued the forward march. In desperation, June stepped firmly on his foot. But being of a small stature, this did nothing to Henry.

Albus looked up as if just noticing the noise.

June hadn’t been close to the Gryffindor table since the Incident several weeks ago.

It was different than the Hufflepuff table – louder, messier. Still, Albus managed to remain aloof and uninterested even when surrounded with people he’d grown up with. He saw Henry, then his eyes fell on June. The disapproving frown that he reserved for her reappeared.

“Do I know you?”

Henry staggered back in outrage. “Of course you do!”

“Do I?”

“We’re in the same year! I’m from Hufflepuff, same as June here!”

Albus narrowed his eyes at June. “Who?”

Henry thrust June forward. “How dare you ask who? After you force her and then humiliate her? Don’t you know who this is?”

“I don’t have time for this. Nor the appetite, frankly.” Albus arose from the table and swung his bag around his shoulders.

His sudden removal caused titters in the crowd as several girls called, “Albus! Why’re you going?”

The seventh year Gryffindor girls rolled their eyes in unison as he got up. One of them  began to rise. “I’m going to go as well.”

“Cora, you’ve barely eaten!”

She twirled a strand of long, blonde hair behind her and smiled. “I’m fine.”

“Don’t follow me around,” said Albus, without looking backwards and she sank back in her seat.

“Why’re we even here?” whispered June to Henry, who nodded fervently.

“This’s just a public statement!” said Henry to Albus’s retreating back. “Stay away from June! June, you do your best to avoid him, alright? I’ll take care of the rest, I swear.”

When he’d marched her back to the Hufflepuff table, June released herself with a sigh. “Albus’ll be back to hating me, I know it.”

“Who cares what he thinks?” said Henry, staring into her face. “June, I promise I’ll always be here! I’ll hex that idiot first thing if you want – in fact, I can do it right now, let me just find my wand– ”

Everyone in the table shared an apprehensive look.

“Alright, I think that’s gone far enough,” said Lucy sideways to Priscilla. “Desmond, Nicholas, get ready. Priscilla, you can do the honors.”

“With pleasure.” Priscilla grinned as Henry continued to search his pockets cluelessly. “Time to say good night, Bates.”

She struck her wand over the side of Henry’s head. His eyes immediately went blank as he fell face forward into the treacle tart.

Nicholas and Desmond stood up and began hoisting him up with their wands.

“Next time I say we pelt him with doxy eggs. I’ve got a new stock,” grunted Desmond.

“Nothing says welcome like levitating Bates back to the dormitory before he kills himself,” said Nicholas, steadying his wand as Henry began emitting a loud snore. “God, we need to start getting paid for this.”

*

June spent the first night of her return to Hogwarts playing with her pillow and thinking of her holiday.

Everything had changed. The house, the Potters, the holiday, New Year’s.

And nothing really had. She’d come back to school and everything had been the same as before she had left. Same dinners, same friends, same clueless Henry, and…same Albus.

Of course he still hated her.

Nothing she had done had particularly given him a reason to like her or even take her seriously, much less fancy her back. He treated her like he’d treated the girl at the table. They were all the same.

In that sense, she was just as foolish as Henry always was, chasing after somebody or the other who would never care. She fancied Albus because he was all the things she wasn’t – well-liked, intelligent, rich, good looking, important. They weren’t very good reasons to fancy someone, but they were reasons nonetheless.

Maybe if I changed, she told herself sleepily, I’ll show him.

*

The next morning, the Hufflepuff seventh years were huddled around a sign posted outside the Hufflepuff Common Room, groaning in unison.

All seventh years will report to their Heads of House over the following week.

Thursday, January Eighth:

Bates, Henry

Bernard, June

Corner, Nicholas

Fawcett, Priscilla

Friday, January Ninth:

Jordan, Desmond

The list continued.

June frowned. “But that’s only two days away! I haven’t thought of anything to tell her yet!”

“Not a problem,” said Desmond, shrugging. “I dunno what I’m going to tell her either. I reckon saying that you’re planning to disappear and go underground to supplement a black market doesn’t sound too good.”

“I still haven’t decided between the Wasps and the Arrows. And I’ve still got a scout from the Tornadoes coming,” Trista was saying worriedly to Duncan, who was nodding.

“You’ll be fine.”

“Easy for you to say! You’re already sure you’ll be going into Falcons! You’ve got connections!”

Henry, who had just arrived, bobbed his head over the crowd, struggling to read the sign. “I’m before you, June! I’ll wait for you and we could go together!”

“Bates, this is an individual session. Leave the poor girl alone,” said Duncan, to June’s relief.

“Time to go to class,” said Lucy, “it’s eight-thirty.”

There was a collective moan as they shuffled their way to morning classes.

*

The rest of the day was spent uneventfully. They had Transfiguration with the Ravenclaws, wherein June and one Iris Bosworth both attempted to conjure something using the wrong end of their wands and ended up exploding a row of desks. In Charms, Professor Flitwick flitted through the aisles, passing back the essay June had written before the winter holiday. She vaguely remembered she had put more effort into it than usual, but the sight of the red marks and the letter circled at the top sprang tears to her eyes.

But she bit her lip and sighed as she swatted them away.

It was so difficult being useless, June reflected, before falling into silence.

During lunch, Henry attempted to ask June to Hogsmeade for what was surely the thousandth time as she nodded to herself; Priscilla cast a Silencing charm on him halfway through his usual speech, but he kept talking, quite oblivious to the fact that no sound was being emitted. After Double Transfiguration with the Slytherins that they all slept through, Lucy, Henry, and Duncan trudged off to Care of Magical Creatures, while Priscilla, Nicholas and Desmond left for Ancient Runes.

The Common Room was suddenly disproportionately empty with the exception of Trista seated in a lone corner.

 June watched their retreating backs dully. “I’m jealous. I heard they’re working with baby dragons and I’ve got nothing to do.”

Trista looked up from her tattered copy of Quidditch Today. “Oh, don’t be. I’m sure you would’ve caught on fire by now, so it’s really for the best.”

“Everyone takes more NEWTs than me,” said June dully. “If Transfiguration and Charms and Potions weren’t all required, I’d have next to no NEWTs at all. I hate that.”

“You know they did that after the Second Wizarding War – after loads of students died here. Everyone has to be able to protect themselves. And besides, you got Divination on your own.”

There was a pregnant pause.

“I’m failing Charms,” June said quietly. “I have to get at least an E on the next paper we right or I’ll have to do extra lessons just to pass.”

“I wish I could help,” said Trista, “I’m hopeless at Charms myself. Try Priscilla, maybe?”

“Oh, Priscilla’s a horrible teacher. She gets so impatient if I don’t understand by the first try and then five minutes in, she’s screaming about transfiguring me to a plant or something.”

“Find another tutor? Somebody smart that you wouldn’t mind spending a few hours with every week. You could ask Lucy, maybe. She isn’t very good either.”

June’s eyes grew huge.

“I also heard that Jelena Jorkins is willing to - ” Trista stopped herself as June grinned. “What?”

“I’ve got an idea!” said June, leaping out of her chair. “I could ask – but no, that would never – unless –

She stopped and ran up the stairs to the dormitory. She rummaged through her trunk before she found a folded photograph. She smiled as she waved her wand over it repeatedly. “Geminio. Geminio. Geminio. Geminio.

 As four separate copies appeared on her bed, she folded one into her pocket and stowed the rest carefully away under her pillow. Just in case anything happened.

Still beaming, she descended down the stairs, muttered a hasty goodbye to a bemused Trista and all but skipped out of the Common Room.

*

Having done her fair share of stalking through the last few months, it took June one look at the clock to realize where he would be: in ten minutes, the Gryffindors and Slytherins would be done with Arithmancy for the day.

She flew up several staircases and landed in front of a classroom she hadn’t entered in several years.

Within moments, there was a shuffle of feet and a steady line of students began pouring out. She lingered to the side, lost in the throng of black robes before Albus stepped out. A small group of girls were whispering frantically after him, wide-eyed when he grimaced in their direction.

June dove under the swishing black robes in an attempt to edge her way towards him.

I’ll be discrete – he won’t know I’m –

Her face collided hard with someone’s arm. She looked up as he frowned down at her.

“A – Albus,” she began.

He started to walk away.

June ran slightly to keep up. “I – I wanted to talk to you about something – ”

“Do I know you?”

“Look, I just wanted to – ”

He ignored her until they’d rounded a corner and found themselves in front of an empty staircase. He wheeled around angrily. “I told you not to talk to me in school.”

“I know, but – ”

“If you know, then go away. Stop following me around. It’s pathetic.”

June’s mouth dropped open. “I am not following you around!”

“Then what do you call this?”

“I needed your help with something!”

His green eyes flashed. “Take your incompetence to someone else.”

“It’s just that I’m – I’m failing Charms and I’d love it if you could tutor me.” Her voice faded as a small, angry smile fell into his face. “It wouldn’t be much, I promise! Maybe once or twice a week, just for an hour – ”

“Why should I help you?”

“Your mum told you to take care of me!”

The angry smile grew wider and June took a defensive step backwards as he leered over her. “Take care of you? That’s stupid even for you. Why should I take care of you? I barely know you. You’ve been nothing but bad luck. Every time I see you, it gets worse. You send me some idiotic letter, you move into my house, I can hear you right next to my room, you get lost and I get sent to look for you in the rain, you decide to try to freeze yourself to death and I - ”

Two large spots of color appeared on June’s cheeks. “I am not bad luck!”

“God, please. Just yesterday at dinner, your boyfriend – ”

“Henry is not my – I don’t feel that way about him at all!”

Albus snorted. “Well, that’s just his good luck, then. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with you. Now, I’ll be going.”

June took a hold of his robe sleeve before he could turn away. “You wanted to know why you should help me, right? I have a good reason!”

When she saw Albus begin to laugh, she shoved her hand in her robe pocket and opened out the picture in front of him. He froze mid-sneer and his green eyes grew wide. Within a second, he made a hasty attempt at nonchalance.

“What’s that supposed to be?”

“Funny, I thought you’d recognize it considering it’s you!”

“I look nothing like that.”

“I found it in your house after your mum told me about it!” His eyes flashed with anger and he took another step forward. “And I know it’s you, so don’t bother to deny it!”

Albus’s voice grew to an irritated whisper. “Well, congratulations. You proved exactly why I knew you’d be a complete waste of my mum’s generosity – you’ve got no decency, you idiotic  – ”

“I might be an idiot,” said June, her voice quavering. “But you’re going to do what I tell you!”

“Nobody’ll believe that’s me, even if you’re right. I’d just say it was Lily.”

“Of course they will,” said June coolly. “For one thing, it has to be you. Lily has red hair. And you can see your dad in the background if you look hard enough. And it’s your garden. You still live there.”

And indeed, there the proof was: a clueless Mr. Potter standing in the background, beside some bushes. He was barely in the picture, shunted to the side by the pouting, dress-adorned Albus, but he was Harry Potter and one scan was enough to prove it. The hair, the lightning-shaped blur on his head, the round glasses.

Albus’s face grew white. But he took a step forward and snatched it out of June’s hand, tearing the picture with a resounding rip. The scraps floated to the ground. “There. Now what?”

“Nothing. I made some copies and I kept them.” At his dumb-founded look, she beamed. “You really didn’t think I only made one copy, did you?”

“You’re joking,” he said, his expression blank. “You couldn’t have. You’re an idiot, you couldn’t have possibly – ”

“You’re so worried about your reputation that you don’t even want to be seen with me, but you’re fine with completely ruining mine. You’re that protective about what people think about you. I imagine it wouldn’t go too well if they found out about you as a girl.”

“I was three! I don’t remember anything!”

“They’d probably think you’re still at it. You might lose everything, you know. All the girls that follow you might stop. Your Professors can’t take you seriously. And your brother and your cousins – ”

His knuckles whitened as he slammed his hand in front of her. The distance had closed between them and she stared up at him, suddenly feeling very warm and flustered.

 “If you tell anybody, you’re done.”

A door opened beside them and a few girls walked out, talking amongst themselves. At the sight of Albus and June, they broke out into a nervous conversation.

June cleared her throat. She wasn’t about to blackmail Albus Potter. Not really. Blackmail sounded so unpleasant. This was just forced persuasion.

She stared up at him. “No problem. I’ll see you here tomorrow after dinner.”

 




Author's Note: Longest chapter yet! It's all thanks to the absolutely amazing reviews you guys gave me last chapter! I got the plot rolling as a thanks for the incredible support. Hopefully you liked all the new characters as well. 

And since everyone seemed to like the idea of Al in a dress, I promise that there will be a scene with the grown up Al in a dress sometime in the future! 

I'd love to know your thoughts on June/Albus, the characters or anything in general, so please don't forget to leave a review!

Celeste


Chapter 8: Cinderella and a Matter of Pumpkins
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Cinderella and a Matter of Pumpkins

After dinner and a decent amount of dawdling the next night, June positively fled out of the Common Room.

Behind her, the rest of the Hufflepuff seventh years were staring after her.

“Where’re you going?” Lucy called.

“Studying for a bit!”

“I didn’t know Bernard could study,” said Desmond in a loud whisper.

“She can’t,” said Trista, staring after her, open-mouthed. “I mean, I’ve never seen her actually try!”

“June, it’s after curfew!” Lucy said.

“I’ll be fine,” said June, clambering out of the round portrait hole. The circular, still life painting of a bowl of grapes closed behind her.

“What is she up to?” said Priscilla, narrowing her eyes.

*

June skipped to the corridor before the Arithmancy room and waited outside, bouncing on her feet. She turned around at every whisper of noise. On the first occasion, it was a giggling gaggle of first years. On the second, it was the Fat Friar floating serenely along. He waved to June as he passed through the wall and floated through the ceiling towards the Astronomy tower.

They’re really not doing much about staying up after hours anymore, thought June.

Finally, there was an impatient clack of footsteps. From the harsh sound against the noise, June could already tell Albus was approaching quickly. She straightened her robes out as he rounded the corner in a huff.

Her face brightened. “Hi,” she said, managing a smile.

His eyebrows rose at her smile. “Alright, we’re getting this over with right now. Have you got the time?”

June craned her head to peek at the grandfather clock around the corner. “Ten-twenty.”

“We’ve got half an hour, then. I’ve got Astronomy at eleven. Remind me when it’s ten-fifty.”

“You take a NEWT in Astronomy? Is class really that late at night?”

“Stop wasting my time. We’re getting started.”

“Okay,” said June, beginning to empty her robe pockets.

“Are you mad?” he hissed, taking grab of her hand before she could extract her wand. “Not here. Anybody could see us.”

“What if they do?” she said, frowning. “I could just say you were helping – ”

“Nobody can know about this. I don’t want to be seen around you.” He yanked her robe sleeve as he pulled her around the corner; the gruff movement against her skin seeped through her robes and irritated her skin, but it left her feeling warm. “There’s an empty Potions dungeon a few doors down. We can use that.”

“Nobody’ll see us?” she asked, grinning.

Suddenly, the thought of being left alone with Al uninterrupted didn’t seem so unpleasant.

“It hasn’t been used in years.”

He was still yanking on her sleeve until they reached the front of the door. There was an awkward moment when he was still holding onto her, but staring angrily at the door that made June cough.

“Er…” she squeaked, staring at the death grip he had around her wrist.

He recoiled immediately, looking irritated. Soundlessly, he waved his wand over the door and it opened, revealing the dusty contents of a long abandoned classroom.

“Dungeon ten. One of the first at Hogwarts,” said Albus to nobody in particular. He passed her on the way in, leaving her hesitating over the threshold.

There were a few dozen musty, wooden desks and chairs scattered around the room, blanketed in a fine layer of grainy dust. Besides the grimy window, cobwebs and the lone broken lamp by the teachers’ desk, the room was also crawling with the occasional spider.

“It – it doesn’t look so nice,” said June lamely.

Albus pulled a chair from the corner of the class and took a seat on it, looking unimpressed. “Sorry it isn’t exactly hospitable, but you don’t really have a choice.”

She took a cautious step in. A spider scuttled for cover from the light splaying across and June all but ran towards Albus.

“Spiders! I hate spiders!” she said, shuddering. “Why does every creepy place like this have spiders?”

“Let’s just get this over with. What exactly do you need help with?”

June extracted her wand. “Charms.”

“What, specifically?”

“I’m failing.”

Specifically. You don’t expect me to teach you every – ” At June’s blank expression, he broke off. “You’re joking.”

“I don’t really know what I’m doing in class.”

“There’s no way you can be that stupid. Not even you. What Charm can you do then?”

A smug smile crept across June’s face. “Geminio.”

Albus flushed angrily. “Fine, show me.”

June pointed to the broken lamp. “Geminio.”

Its duplicate appeared by its side. Albus’s expression hardened.

“So you can do it.”

“We wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t.”

“Fine, then. Let’s try something more difficult. How did you do on the essay from last month?”

June began a deadpan stare at the wall. “Not well.”

“How badly?”

“Badly.”

“You’re wasting my time.” He got up from his chair. “I’m leaving. If you’re going to be this cryptic about how – ”

“No, stop!” said June, side-stepping him to block the door. “You can’t! I’m going to fail without you!”

“Ask somebody else. This time, you won’t even need to blackmail them.”

“I wanted you to help me!”

“That makes absolutely no sense! You don’t even know me!”

Both their voices had reached a shouting level. June stared up at him defiantly, crossing her arms.

“I want you to help me! Sit down again! Or do you really want me to start spreading that picture?”

There was a long pause.

The chair ground against the dungeon floor as Albus sat back down, looking venomous. “Why’d you fail the last essay?”

“I – I don’t know much about Conjuring charms. I thought they’d be easy…”

Albus shook his head in exasperation. “You idiot, Conjuring charms require an advanced knowledge of Charms and Transfiguration. It’s NEWT level, after all.”

“I’m…not doing so well in Transfiguration, either. We’ve got a second essay due in two weeks on Conjuring charms. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Now there’s a confession,” muttered Albus to himself. “Alright, tell me what you know about them.”

 June shuffled her feet, desperately attempting to recount a lecture that had passed nearly a month ago. Memories of passing notes with Priscilla surfaced as Professor Flitwick squeaked over them in his corner. “Um…you visualize what you want to conjure. And then you – ” June made a circling motion with her wand.

Albus let out a sigh. “That doesn’t make an iota of sense, Bernard.”

“Why not?”

“You don’t just visualize something and expect it to appear, do you? Even magic has its limitations. You can’t make something out of nothing.”

“I’ve seen people do it all the time!” said June, “During class, Professor Flitwick made a goblet appear!”

Albus pointed his wand at the floor. A quill materialized alongside a sheaf of parchment. “Pick it up and start writing what I say.”

“I had some in my bag,” mumbled June as she stooped to the floor and took a seat beside him. He rolled his eyes.

“Okay, look. It isn’t so difficult to understand. It’s impossible to create something – magical or not – without giving up something of equal value.”

“Um…”

“It isn’t so hard to understand!” said Albus in frustration. “This is one of the basic rules of magic. We learned it in second year. How do you not know?”

“I…forgot.”

“It’s the law of equivalent exchange in magic. You compensate the changes you make to the outside world with your raw magical potential. Simple spells like reparo or a color changing spell won’t take much out of you because they’re small physical changes – easily compensated for. Conjuring something out of mid-air is different. You’re pulling it out of nonexistence by putting enough magic into it. You have to visualize it and push aside a large amount from your magical reserve. The right wand motion makes this process faster.”

“Like this?” June swiped the air with her wand.

“Too big. You’re scattering magic everywhere, what’ll that do? Make it concise and sharp. Like this.” He gave the air an annoyed jab. Another quill clattered on the floor.

When June attempted to mimic him, nothing happened.

“You’re not pushing hard enough. Come on, it’s just a quill! It’s not hard!”

Spots of color appeared on June’s face as she jabbed the air again.

“More. Stop wasting my time. You’re not trying hard enough.”

After a half dozen tries, Albus sat back in his chair, lazily closing one eye. “This is a gigantic waste of time. You’re hopeless – ”

With one last, desperate burst of effort that sprung tears to her eyes, June bit her lip and channeled all of her miniscule concentration into her wand hand. She could feel something tingling as it slid down her arm into her fingertips and into her wand and it burst forth with a warmth.

A lone white feather floated to the ground.

June wiped the drops of perspiration off her forehead as Albus opened his eye and stared at the ground.

“So much for the law of equal exchange. That’s kind of pathetic.”

He bent down, picked it up and held it to June. She stared at him for a moment, still reeling in exhaustion.

“That was a lot harder than I thought it would be.” She accepted the feather from him, thinking it something of a peace offering. “Do you think I could get an O on the next practical examination?”

“Seeing as it’s in a week, no.”

“I could!” said June, flushing. “How many people get O’s in our class anyway?”

“Four, maybe five. And besides, it’s a practical examination. That means you can’t just make up things and hope it works out. You’ve got to know the principles behind it and actually get results.”

“I can!”

“You really have no idea where you stand, do you?” Albus flicked his wand lazily and the quill and parchment floated out of June’s hands towards him. He drew a line at the top of the page. “This would be me.”

June stared at the line, lost. “You’re…a line?”

“No, you idiot! The lines show the class ranking. Not just counting your House or mine – all the Houses.”

“You’d still be first?”

“Yes,” said Albus simply. “Second would probably be your friend Fawcett. Third would be Rose.”

“Your cousin?”

“Stop asking stupid questions. How many Roses are there in our year? Fourth would be Archie Twycross. Do you know what this means?”

“No,” said June after some silence.

Albus sighed in exasperation. “We can approximate there are maybe forty people across all four Houses in our year. And since a NEWT in Charms is now required for graduation, all of these people would be in it. So there’s a ranking of forty. Everyone in the top four ranking has achieved it because of natural aptitude. Whether or not they work hard is almost completely irrelevant. Everyone from five to twenty has a combination of both in varying levels.” From the line he drew at the top, he left a large space and drew a second line.

“Well, that makes no sense!” said June, “You study all the time! You’re always reading!”

“Not for this. And stop interrupting. Everyone from twenty to thirty has to work hard to compensate for less natural ability. I suppose Lucy would be in that category.” An even larger space preceded the third line.

“I suppose me too,” said June, staring at the vacancy between the line at the top and the one he’d just drawn.

“Don’t flatter yourself. Between thirty and forty would be the idiots of every house. The Magical Maintenance workers of tomorrow.” A line near the bottom of the page appeared. “Complete lack of natural ability and lack of hard work. You’d be down here somewhere, Bernard. If there are around forty people – thirty-eight, most likely – in our House, you’d be around thirty-eight.”

“I wouldn’t!”

“Of course you would,” said Albus breezily. “Behind you would be that ape Bates and the biggest waste of oxygen to prowl Hogwarts – Iris Bosworth.”

“You don’t know everything. Henry isn’t so bad – and Iris’s a nice girl! I can score just as well as anybody in our class can!”

“Don’t kid yourself.”

“I can get into your precious top ten if I want to!”

“Right,” said Albus, another of his typical sneers spreading on his face. “I know I’m a decent teacher, but nobody can get you that good that fast.”

“I can!” When Albus began laughing, June shouted over him, “I’m going to!”

“It’s in a week, you idiot.”

“If I do it, what’ll you do for me?”

“Nothing. I’m not agreeing to anything stupid.”

“Ooh, I know. You can carry me around the school!”

Albus’s mouth opened in outrage. “I’m not agreeing to that.”

“You will if I do well next week,” said June smugly. “And besides, why do you think you know so much about our class anyway?”

“We’ve all been in the same year for seven years. It’s only a handful of people. You notice things after a while.”

“You noticed things about me?” said June, dropping the indignation from her voice and smiling.

“Don’t get the wrong idea. Everyone is bound to notice things about you. God knows how many things you’ve exploded. In forth year, we had to evacuate the Potions dungeon during our final exams because your sleeping draught ended up releasing poisonous gas and you nearly killed Professor Tugwood.”

“Everyone says I’m the reason he retired,” said June in a small voice. “He used to work for the Auror Department and he said that I got closer than any Dark wizard to doing him off.”

“And you set Greenhouse five on fire during our OWLs.”

“You were there? How do you remember?”

“You fool, there was a stampede out, don’t you remember? Half of us got second-degree burns! I needed treatment for three days!”

“You got burned as well?”

“I was standing right next to you,” said Albus stiffly. “You clearly don’t remember absolutely anything other than yourself.”

“You’ve got photographic memory!” said June. “That’s incredible you remember! No wonder you score so well!”

Albus snorted derisively, but June continued over him, beaming. “And you remember me. You don’t know what a lovely thing that is for you to say!”

“Oi, I don’t remember you, I remember all the horrible things you – ”

“I don’t care what Priscilla says about you,” said June happily. “I don’t think you’re gay at all!”

*

They walked out of the class in an awkward silence.

Outside, the torches had dimmed somewhat as the mandated bedtime approached, overcasting the long hallway in shadows. They still had a trip that lasted several staircases down before the June could branch off to the Hufflepuff Common Room.

As they walked down, June mumbled, “Thanks for today.”

“For what?”

“You helped me.”

“Don’t interpret that the wrong way. You made me help you. I didn’t do it because I wanted to.”

June shrugged. “Either way.”

“I’ve never seen someone learn as slowly as you, Bernard.”

“As long as I learn it in the end, it doesn’t matter.” As their footsteps reverberated off the walls, June said, “You don’t have to call me Bernard all the time. Do you even know my first name?”

“I wasn’t under the impression we were on first name terms.”

“I’ve called you Albus before,” said June. Mostly in my head, though. While I was dreaming about you coming up a tower to see me.

“Er…you have?”

“You don’t remember?”

“No. And I don’t remember letting you, either.”

“I didn’t know I needed permission. It’s just your name. Plenty of girls call you Albus.”

“Most of them are related to me.”

“But the other ones, too! The ones that follow you around.”

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, them. Yeah, they do. Those idiots.”

“That’s a horrible thing to say,” said June coldly, abruptly stopping.

He kept walking. “Rich coming from you. You’re blackmailing me.”

She began jogging to keep up with him as they descended the first flight of stairs. “Doesn’t matter, though. I’m not insulting you.”

“You’re lowering me to the position of teaching you. It’s more than an insult, believe me.”

There was a long, uncomfortable silence. “All you did was keep repeating ‘law of equal exchange’ every five minutes.”

“I wouldn’t have to if you understood what I was telling you!”

“I did my best, Albus!”

“I’d prefer if you just called me Potter.”

“There’s like fifty Potters running around,” said June, smirking. “So, no, I won’t.”

“Only me and Lily.”

Their conversation was dwindling as they walked down the stairs. In the silence, there was a large ding as a clock chimed and echoed through the halls.

Albus stopped, mid-step and jerked around in surprise. “Damn it, I completely forgot! What’s the time?”

“I don’t know!”

“I told you I had Astronomy at eleven! Why didn’t you remind me?”

“You were the one going on about your memory! I thought you’d remember!”

He gave June a frustrated scowl before racing down the stairs.

Why are you running so fast?!” said June, panting behind him. “It’s only one class!”

“I have a test today!”

“Why didn’t you say so?”

“Why didn’t you remind me?”

At the foot of the stairs, he broke off, breathing deeply and staring in disbelief at the clock swinging from the wall. June descended behind him, struggling to keep her book bag slung over her shoulders. “What hap – ” At the sight of the clock, she stopped herself. Midnight. How on earth was it that late already?

“How the hell is it midnight?!” said Al, in front of her. She didn’t dare herself to peek at his face. “That means even if I run there, I’ll have maybe half an hour left to fill up three star charts!”

“I’m sorry,” she began feebly, “I didn’t know I’d kept you that long – ”

But he had already begun to run. He sprinted down several flights of stairs, turned left and was out of her sight. She stood there, still staring at the clock, unsure of what to do.

Of course, he’d be furious at her tomorrow.

That wouldn’t stop her from making him come anyway.

After all, the exam was only a week away.

She began making her way back to the Common Room, sighing sadly to herself as she did so. At least he’d been civil for some time.

But all the same, it didn’t go quite as she’d hoped.

Imagine if they’d kissed under the stars?

With him, even that dingy old Potions dungeon would’ve seemed romantic – cobwebs and all.

But so much for him being anything at all like Prince Charming.

Prince Charming was kind-hearted and understanding and not the least bit cynical. She couldn’t think of a Prince Charming in existence that would’ve called his Cinderella stupid.

Not that Albus and June were anything at all like Prince Charming or Cinderella. Cinderella probably remembered important things.

If anything, watching Albus yelp about it being midnight and watching him race down the stairs, he was closer to being like Cinderella than June would ever be.

*

The next night, June spent most of dinner staring at Albus.

He was in half-grin at the antics of one of the other Gryffindor boys. As soon as he locked eyes with June, it slid off his face.

Priscilla was watching June more carefully as June stared absent-mindedly at Albus. “Why do you keep looking at him?”

“Nothing more than the usual Albus Potter stalking tendencies, I see,” said Trista, before June could retort.

“Your habit of desiring chauvinist pigs needs to change,” said Priscilla. “If I got near Albus Potter, I’d hex – ”

“Not this speech again,” groaned Trista. She arose from the table and began walking down the Hufflepuff table, calling out names. “Podmore, Sloper, Robbins, Macmillan, Jorkins, Bones. I’ll see you on the Quidditch field in fifteen minutes.”

There was a collective groan from the table, the loudest of which emerged from Duncan. “Trista, I can’t – I’ve got so much homework tonight.”

Trista gave him a murderous look, and wordlessly marched to the other side of the table. Duncan shrunk as she approached. “Er, Trista, what’re you – ”

She grabbed hold of his collar and yanked him out of his seat. Most of the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw students were now watching in amusement as she proceeded to drag him along the floor unrelentingly before bellowing, “NO EXCEPTIONS, UNDERSTOOD?”

The rest of the team nodded meekly.

“I’m sorry, Trista, I – ”

“You shut up!” She shook Duncan and his head bobbed. “We’ve got our match coming up and we can’t practice without a Keeper! Then how will the Chasers practice?! Now’s not the time to be selfish!”

“But – Transfig – ”

“And why do you even need Transfiguration in the first place? You’re going professional, aren’t you? Precisely when during your matches d’you think you’ll need to be transfiguring toads? I’d love to know!” In the same screeching voice, Trista pushed Duncan to his feet and marched him out of the Great Hall.

“Grateful every day that I didn’t make the Quidditch team,” said Nicholas. “Quidditch is such a brutish sport. Disgusting how everyone’s going at one another, sweating and grunting.”

“I’ll be sure to tell Trista you said that,” said Priscilla swiftly.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” said Nicholas, going green.

“Speaking of Quidditch, anybody interested in essence of chomping cabbage?” Desmond pulled out a small green vial from his robes as the Hufflepuff Quidditch team arose and made to leave the Great Hall, their heads bent as though attending a funeral. “Only ten sickles! Known to improve reflexes!”

When he got no response, he muttered angrily, “Nobody’s got any good taste anymore.”

“Does it really improve reflexes?” said Lucy, snatching the vial out of his hand and eyeing it. “It looks a rather lot like Flobberworm slime…you know, for being essence of chomping cabbage.

“I don’t know what you’re insinuating!”

Priscilla reached over and gave the vial a shake. “You do know that essence of chomping cabbage is extremely rare, don’t you? They try to bite your hands off when you try injecting them.”

“Hence the price, Fawcett. Don’t insult my intelligence. I know my products.”

“Really? And do you know that real essence of chomping cabbage is actually violet?” She threw the vial back at Desmond, who caught it with one hand, looking extremely sheepish.

June interrupted their conversation with a dreamy sigh as Albus began to laugh.

He was laughing!

Not at anything she’d said. He probably didn’t know she was still watching him, but he was laughing at something some Gryffindor boys were doing.

From the Great Hall, Henry Bates scampered in, looking around wildly, before spotting June and making his way towards her, waving. “June! June, sorry I’m late! I know you must’ve waited, but I’m here for you know!” He took a seat in front of her, blocking her view of Albus, as he promptly started a chronicle of his day. “I was late because of Care of Magical Creatures, you know. Professor Hagrid kept me back – ”

June shifted her position until she could see Albus again and sighed non-committally every few minutes. Henry, evidently satisfied at the attention she was now giving the space above his shoulder, grinned.

Nicholas Corner took a look around the table – at June in some Albus Potter-induced trance, Henry with his usual cluelessness, Lucy lecturing a bored Desmond, who was now attempting to convince some first years that the Flobberworm slime was dragon blood and Priscilla who was egging the first years on.

“It really is dragon blood, really – ”

 “Of all the obnoxious, irresponsible things to – ”

“You should try tasting some,” Priscilla was saying over them, “it does wonders for your skin, trust me.”

“And June, you’ll never believe – “

Meanwhile, Trista was probably leading most of the Hufflepuff team through some torturous exercises under the rain with the usual insanity. Duncan was likely shrieking and diving for cover every few minutes.

“And people think Hufflepuffs are dull, honestly,” said Nicholas to himself as the first year who had sampled some of the Flobberworm slime erupted in boils. Priscilla and Desmond burst out in laughter, drowning out June’s sighs, Henry’s blather and Lucy’s angry shriek.

*

The following two nightly sessions with Albus passed fast. He was usually aggrieved to have to visit June every single night, but the threat of releasing the incriminating photographs put everything in perspective.

June was not faring much better on the Conjuring front.

Her newfound sense of focus, however, was largely led on by Albus and his cynicism. He sat in the same creaky chair and had the same remarks every time.

“You can’t, Bernard. You really can’t.”

The first session – after two sweaty hours of trial and impatience – produced a half dozen quills, most disfigured. Albus kicked away quill after quill, looking unimpressed. “You do know that we’ve got no idea what we’re supposed to Conjure, don’t you?”

June ran a sweaty palm on her forehead. “Yes. So?”

“So, you should try practicing making something other than feathers. Try parchment.”

Then came the ordeal of Conjuring parchment. For the first half an hour, June managed nothing. Forty minutes in (Albus had given up at that point and was blatantly working on homework while June struggled), her wand went off with a loud bang and enveloped the entire dungeon with smoke.

June coughed through the green haze. “Albus?!”

She could hear Albus, but he sounded a great distance away. “Bernard, what did you do?

“I was just trying to – “ she stopped herself and began coughing loudly. Her hacking coughs echoed through the dungeon.

“Get out of there right now!”

“I can’t see you!” wheezed June. Her eyes were beginning to itch frantically and she closed them, suddenly feeling very warm and irritated.

There was a loud clunk as she walked into the wall and tears sprung to her eyes. The urge to scratch at her skin was overwhelming.

“Bernard, you’re impossible!” She could feel Albus’s hand grab her shoulder and impatiently jostle her out of the room. Once they were bathed in the light of hallway, she hesitantly opened her eyes.

Ow.”

“What is it?”

“My eyes are itching.”

“Well, obviously. They’re irritated. Take a look at your arms.”

June opened her eyes again carefully and squinted at her arm. A long line of angry welts had emerged along her palms and snaked up her arm. The hand where she was still holding on to her wand was covered in red stripes; her wand was still emitting small clouds of green smoke. She recoiled and the wand clattered to the ground. The need to dig her nails into her skin and scratch at the redness emerged again.

Albus picked up her wand and tapped his own over it. It immediately stopped smoking.

“That was noxious gas,” said Albus, with no expression. “I don’t know how you manage it. You were trying to conjure something as simple as parchment – ”

June bowed her head wordlessly. “Could you get angry at me later? This hurts…”

“You’re impossible.”

When she reached out her hand for her wand, he frowned and pocketed it. “No, not yet.”

“Why?”

“We’re going to the Hospital Wing.”

Why?

“Er – because you look horrible. And we’ll need some Essence of Dittany to get rid of these.” He held his own arm up and June could see the same trail of welts.

 He turned on his heel and began walking down the hallway. After a long moment’s pause, June followed him, her eyes still half-closed from the irritation.

“Albus, I’m so – ”

“Don’t bother apologizing.”

“No, I really mean – ”

“You’re some kind of statistical anomaly, Bernard. And don’t take that as flattery. You’re incredibly unlucky.”

As they descended down the stairs, June frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve been watching you try to do magic and you’re horrible. It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

“What?”

“Your wand. It doesn’t like you much.”

“It chose me,” said June indignantly. “How can it not like me?”

“How else can you explain it spewing poisonous gas all over you?”

There was a long stretching silence as they climbed down the second flight of stairs. They were attracting curious gazes from some girls on the Ancient Runes floor, but Albus ignored it and June was lost in a rare bout of thought.

“So, have you reached any conclusions about the wand yet?” asked Albus, after a pause.

June spluttered. I can’t tell him. I’ll just say something that sounds reasonable and he’ll believe me. “Erm…because I nearly broke it once and since then, it’s hated me?”

“That’s a rubbish explanation.”

“It makes perfect – ” In her discrete umbrage, June forgot the vanishing step in the staircase and in one moment of horror, felt her feet fly through nothingness and she fell forwards. She landed squarely against Albus’s back.

She threw her hands around his robes, trashing as she attempted to regain balance. She could feel something snapping inside her left leg and she gave a small yelp of pain.

“Get off me!”

“My ankle hurts!”

“I don’t care!” He gave a violent push backwards, but June moved her hands from around her robes to around his neck. “Stop that!”

“I told you my ankle hurts!”

“And I told you I don’t care!

While he attempted to fight her off, June found a better footing and put her feet on top of his own.

“We’re almost at the Hospital Wing, just take me there!”

“I’m not carrying you down! You look ridiculous, get off!”

A few moments ago, a more docile June Bernard might have stepped down. Instead, she breathed deeply. “I’m telling everyone about the picture, then!”

“I don’t care what you say, I’m still not – ”

“I’ll also tell everyone you fancy James’s girlfriend!”

There was another long pause.

“Where did that come from?” said Albus, craning his head to get a look at her; he had another supremely annoyed expression on his face.

“I have friends who’ll believe me! I’ll tell Iris Bosworth tomorrow in Charms and the whole school’ll know by lunch that you fancy your brother’s girlfriend!”

Parading the photograph had been one thing. Now she supposed she really was slipping into the world of blackmail. But the welts were spreading and her ankle was twitching and now was not a time for much integrity.

“Bosworth’s a complete – ”

“Iris may be dim, but she can help me! And I’ll show the picture to Priscilla and she’ll probably have it sent to Witch Weekly!

There it was.

The look of fear.

Threatening Albus Severus Potter wasn’t as hard as it supposed. It just took one accident prone Hufflepuff with a plan, her angry best friend who probably lacked a soul and enjoyed tormenting young children and the threat of an even more brainless Gryffindor.

“You know, Witch Weekly writes about you a lot! They’ll probably have a lovely time with this!”

There was a pregnant pause.

“Get on,” said Albus grudgingly.

June beamed and scooted closer to him. “Thank you.

Once he’d managed to bend down and she’d scrambled onto his back, there was a short walk down to the Hospital Wing. They managed to attract a few stares from passing Prefects as they went down the last flight of stairs.  It was odd being that close to him, but he was resolutely looking forward with an expressionless face and she looked behind him.

Was this really how the great love stories of the time worked out?

Had Juliet ever blackmailed Romeo? Had Isolde stumbled upon deeply incriminating photographs of Tristan then threatened to send them to a magazine?

So much for Cinderella and her prince. Prince Charming was supposed to wait for her as she daintily arrived at the palace, dressed in finery and looking graceful. This particular Cinderella had rashes breaking out over her, two bleary eyes and a mess of hair. She gave Albus a furtive glance.

Prince Charming had never given Cinderella a ride…had he?

So, what would that make Albus right now?

He…he wouldn’t be the pumpkin would he? Cinderella had rode in on a pumpkin – or something like that. A pumpkin with a bad temperament and black hair, probably went around insulting Cinderella, making her late for the Ball, and questioning the nice Fairy lady who'd helped her -

After threatening Albus with a version of him as a girl, falling on him, imagining him as a pumpkin stretched the boundaries of her imagination.

“Sorry about this,” said June in a small voice, after some thought.

I probably shouldn’t keep threatening him. Hattie never threatened Daniel half as much as I’ve threatened him.

Making him do whatever she wanted was also becoming slightly addicting.

“Whatever.”

Near the entrance of the Hospital Wing, he bent back down and she all but fell back onto the floor. He gave a shadowy half-smile when she plopped on the stone and emerged, groaning.

“Why’re you smiling?” she asked.

“I was just thinking – you’re ridiculously annoying. I mean, it’s enough to send anyone tottering to insanity. Your level of incompetence is stupendous.”

“Thanks,” said June grudgingly, massaging her ankle.

“You’re kind of amazing, though. You must be happy.”

“What?” said June, looking up at him in nervous shock. He isn’t about to jinx me or anything, is he?

“I mean, for all that stupidity, you still somehow managed to make me carry you through the school. And you didn’t even have to take any test to make me do it.”

“Yes, but – I mean, that was – that was an acci – ” Blushing horribly, June stopped herself. When he started to walk away, taking the same, strange shadowy half-smile, June called out, “Where’re you going?”

“We’re done here, aren’t we? I’m going back to my Common Room.”

“But – but didn’t you get hurt too?”

He called backwards. “I’ve got some Essence of Dittany in my dormitory.”

He had already turned the corner and was up a flight of stairs. June was still sitting on the floor, feeling the pain in her arms, her eyes, her ankle, but most of all her confusion.

If he had some in his room -

She turned to the door of the Hospital Wing, half whispering to herself. “Then why did you bother coming all the way here with me?”






Author's Note: And there it is, Junebus is off the road and on the beginning of a journey!
Thank you all so much for reviewing and to make up for the lack of Al in the last chapter, I put plenty of him here! I promise I'll get to responding soon. I adore reading your reviews and I'd love to know what you thought of Albus and June in this chapter? Cinderella and her pumpkin (according to June), genius and idiot (according to Albus) or chauvinist pig and airhead (according to Priscilla). I'd love to know your thoughts. :) Also, Romeo and Juliet are the property of William Shakespeare'and Tristan and Isolde are the property of Gottfried von Strassburg's. Neither are mine and neither is Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother or Prince Charming, who all derive from a folklore that's recurred throughout storytales from ancient times, from Greece to Korea to China to Egypt. No particular retelling is referenced, so there's no author I know to credit. 

Also, random trivia of the chapter: Priscilla is related to one of the important characters in the coming chapters! 


Thanks,
Celeste
 


Chapter 9: It Started With
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It Started With

After receiving a few drops of Essence of Dittany from Madame Lucinda, June sleepwalked back to the dormitory. The Common Room was thankfully empty and she clambered up the stairs and fell into bed, relieved that the day had come to a close.

By the next morning, things were not faring much better.

She rushed through breakfast and all but ran up to Professor Aubrey’s office. She could still hear an echo of Lucy reprimanding her, “Please don’t tell me you forgot you’re supposed to see Professor Aubrey. Career consultation? Don’t you remember? It’s already Thursday! Henry’s with her right now, so you should get ready.”

With that, June came to an abrupt stop in front of a large, wooden door, a small bubble of anxiety growing inside of her. What am I going to tell her when she asks me? I still don’t know anything about Apothecaries!

She had less than a minute to think before the door swung open. Henry Bates confidently strolled out, swinging his bag in rhythm with his steps. He caught sight of June huddled beside the door and broke out in a large smile. “June! You’re here!”

“Hello,” said June weakly, suddenly hoping that she would be called in soon. “How’d it go, Henry?”

“Well!” He ran a hand through his oiled brown hair and stood on the tips of his feet. “I think she’s convinced!”

“What did she ask?”

“Oh, nothing much.” He made an obvious attempt at looking casual; he folded his arms and leaned against the wall, winking at June. “You know. I’m good with these kinds of things.”

“Um, okay…”

He reached out an arm and leaned across June and his face swam closer in sight: the oily hair, large, protruding noise, and happy grin. June wiggled under his gaze, feeling distinctly warm and uncomfortable. She found staring at her shoes was suddenly very fascinating.

“So, I was thinking…about that Hogsmeade weekend. You know it’s on Sunday. D’you think you’d like to – ”

The door swung open behind him, hitting him on the back of his leg. He yelped and flung himself at June, who abruptly moved sideways to avoid him. He collided against the wall, but threw one arm around June’s shoulder.

“I wasn’t aware I was interrupting anything,” came a cool, feminine voice, sounding unimpressed.  A willowy thirty-something brunette stepped out, frowning as Henry rubbed his leg.

When Henry opened his mouth to retort, June quickly spoke over him. “You weren’t!”

“Very well then,” said Professor Aubrey with a curt nod. “Off you go, Mr. Bates.”

She stepped aside for June to enter her office. Henry was still saying hopefully behind her, “I’ll wait for you, June, I’ll – ”

Professor Aubrey shut the door in his face.

For a moment, June looked at her with mild apprehension. Professor Aubrey looked the same as she always did – the messy brown hair scrunched in a bun, loose smile, rectangular glasses. When Professor Aubrey grinned back, June sighed in relief.

“Thanks, Helen.”

 “No problem,” said Professor Aubrey with a sigh. She removed her glasses and tossed them onto her desk as an afterthought. “He’s such an arse. Is he still after you?”

“Yes,” said June, taking a seat across Professor Aubrey’s desk.

“Fancy some tea? I can make some if you want.” She took out a grimy, chipped teacup.

“No thank you!”

Most of Professor Aubrey’s teacups had been used as vials for potions at some point of time and were, like the rest of the room, probably never washed. The last time June had taken a sip of Professor Aubrey’s tea, she had been a first year and had promptly sprouted feathers.

“It’s probably for the best, you know. I was really hoping Bates would try some. I think the last thing I mixed in here was Swelling Solution.” Professor Aubrey took a seat directly on her desk and put her feet up on the chair. There was a vast amount of clutter around the room: balls of scrunched parchment on the desk, towers of scrappy journals, and more vials and cauldrons than June could care to count. But the laboratory-office of Professor Aubrey was something June had been used to for years. “So, June, let’s talk.”

“Er…”

“Have you thought at all about what I told you in the beginning of the year? About getting your NEWTs in order and picking something to do?” Professor Aubrey swept her hands in her hair and picked up her glasses again. “You said something about going into Apothecaries, right?”

“Erm…”

“Well, how’re you doing in your classes?”

“Alright, I suppose.”

Professor Aubrey looked around her desk, drawing out a long piece of parchment from the clutter. “Well, let’s see. You’re taking Transfiguration, Charms, Potions and Divination. You’re doing excellently in Divination.”

“Thanks,” said June in a small voice.

“Professor Trelawney’s thoroughly impressed with you. She thinks you might have a future in fortune telling.” Before June could say anything, Professor Aubrey rolled her eyes. “That blithering old hag. She’s unbelievably creepy. During lunch yesterday, she managed to sneak up on Professor Vector and tell her she’ll be hacked to death by parrots from Guam.”

It was one of the many advantages of having Priscilla’s cousin as their Head of House: the fact that June had secretly called her by her first name since their first meeting and that Professor Aubrey was now currently rambling about parrots.

She came to a pause, flustered. “I could go on about that bat for hours. But anyway, it looks like you’re barely scraping an Acceptable in Transfiguration. And I know you’re not exactly passing Potions since the last Sleeping Solution you tried brewing was a lot closer to being a Draught of Death than putting someone to sleep. You nearly killed me!”

She gave June a half-grin. June instead deflated and Professor Aubrey cleared her throat.

“Look, if you can’t brew even a Sleeping Solution, I don’t know how you’re going to be an Apothecary, June. It looks like you might end up getting a Dreadful in Charms as well. You’re not going to be able to enter an Apothecary program like that.”

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“So,” said Professor Aubrey, with a short sigh, “I suppose I’ll have to tell you then.” She dived back into her desk and withdrew a folded piece of parchment. “This came when we were on holiday break from Prissy.”

“Priscilla sent you something about me?”

“Yes, it says here that she’s been talking to you about entering magical design as a course of study, but you’ve been too hesitant.” Professor Aubrey looked up skeptically. “Well, that would certainly explain the Apothecary bit. You’re obviously too shy to come to terms with it.”

“Er – ”

“Is it parental pressure by any chance? Does your father prefer you do something else? Because I’ve got some leaflets – ” She began opening a desk drawer.

“No leaflets!” said June quickly, who was all too accustomed to Professor Aubrey and her vast array of leaflets; her leaflets were usually encyclopedia-sized and occasionally carried an incurable disease or two. Professor Aubrey stopped mid-way in disappointment. “I don’t think my father really thinks much about what I’ll do.”

“It got me thinking, though. You’d be wonderful at it.”

“I don’t know two things about art.”

“But you sow! You make things! I’ve got a scarf somewhere under this – ” She gestured to the mountains of parchment and research journals. “ – from last Christmas! It had little Potion cauldrons on it! You could make money selling those!”

“I don’t know…” said June, “nobody’d buy them and I’m not very good – ”

Anyway, Prissy warned me that you’d protested when she told you about it, so we both did a bit of research on the side.” She grinned in self-satisfaction, reached into a drawer and slapped a bright piece of parchment into June’s hand. “So, to help make up your mind a bit, I found this!”

It was a ferociously purple sign that read, Madame Malkin’s – hiring new graduates this summer, details below – followed by a long paragraph.

June squinted at it hesitantly. “What is it?”

“A competition deciding who’ll work at Madame Malkin’s. Wouldn’t it be perfect?”

June’s squint deepened into a frown. “But, Helen…look…they want five wedding gowns sent to them! I can’t sow gowns! I can barely make scarves!”

“But that’s the challenge, though! Isn’t it exciting! They hire five graduated students from around Europe and bring them here.”

“And each person has to have a theme…” June groaned, before pushing the parchment back to Professor Aubrey. “I couldn’t, I really couldn’t.”

Professor Aubrey’s nostrils flared. “You’re taking it with you! It doesn’t make a bit of sense to let you go on deluded that you can work in an Apothecary! My uncle Charles always told me that if you go into something you love, the chances you’ll succeed are much higher. Everyone in the family wanted me to go into Magical Law Enforcement, but I took a chance and here I am!” She swiped her arm around her desk and a dozen wads of parchment fell to the floor. “Completely satisfied!”

There was a light knock on the door and a call of, “Professor Aubrey? Er – it’s Nicholas Corner. I’ve been waiting outside for twenty minutes already and – ”

“Damn it,” said Professor Aubrey, ramming her glasses back on. “The talentless hack is here. I bet he’ll be on about his paintings again.”

“Priscilla thinks they look like catsick,” said June, slinging her bag onto her shoulders.

“Prissy’s kind of thick herself, but she’s got a point. If I’ve got to see one more abstract painting about bathtubs, I’m turning him into a pigeon.” She held the door for June open as she walked out. Nicholas gave her a nod and she waved to him as he walked inside.

June was halfway down the hallway lost in thought, the folded parchment in her bag still niggling away at the back of her mind. It was either trying this…or what? She couldn’t really consider Apothecaries or anything of the sort, could –

“There she is! Grab her!”

There was a frantic rush of footsteps and June turned to find herself suddenly flanked.

Three girls in Gryffindor ties were staring down at her from an uncomfortably close distance.

June blinked and took a step backwards. “Erm – ”

“Ooh, she looks nervous,” said a petite, nervous-looking brunette with large blue eyes. “Hi, June!”

“Iris,” said June, breathing a sigh of relief, “you scared me.”

Iris Bosworth gave a smile. “Oh – um, I’m sorry, then – it’s just that Cora wanted to talk to you and I said I’d show her - ”

A blonde girl with an upturned nose and a nasally voice took a step forward. “So this’s Bernard. Funny, I thought she’d be better looking.”

“Do I know you?” asked June, stepping backwards into the wall.

“I’m Cora.” At June’s blank look, her eyes narrowed. “Cora Livingston. We’re in the same year. We’ve had Transfiguration together for the past four years.”

When no sign of recognition came into June’s face, she gave an exasperated sigh, “How do you not know who I am?!”

“Cora, you’re breathing down her face,” quipped a third voice. A rail-thin girl with a long braided black hair waved at June, balancing several large tomes on one arm as she did so. “Hey Bernard.”

“Nikita?”

“Indeed. I’m impressed you noticed, considering the circumstances. Cora looks like she’s going to eat you.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t’ve brought her,” said Iris fretfully from the side, nervously squirming her hands together. “Oh, but she asked me and I didn’t know what to do and – and I told her you’d be up here because everyone has their meetings and Lucy told me you’d be here and I told Cora!” She looked on the verge of tears. “I’m a horrible person, aren’t I?”

“Oh shut up,” snapped Cora, “and stop whimpering, it’s disgusting. We’re here to discuss something important.”

“I feel like a member of the mafia,” said Nikita gleefully. “I love intimidating people – no offense, Bernard – reminds me a bit of the Velvet Revolution, actually – kind of a peaceful student demonstration, if you will, against the unrighteousness of – ”

“You shut up too, Patil! I’ll be talking here!”

Nikita rolled her eyes.

“What’s going on?” said June in confusion.

When Iris opened her mouth, Cora screeched over her, “This is an interrogation.”

“A what?”

“We’re going to ask you some questions,” said Nikita, sounding apologetic. “Just routine, I’m sure you’ll understand.”

“About what?” June looked among them and they stared down at her. “I haven’t done anything – ”

They all shared a look. Nikita reached into her pocket and retrieved a monocle and a notepad; she hovered the monocle over her eye and began reading.

“Yesterday night, you were noticed leaving somewhere with Albus Potter. We’ve got several sources that confirm you were kind of – kind of leaning on him – down several flights of stairs at a – what time of night was it, Bosworth?”

“Around eleven-thirty,” chimed in Iris, looking much less flustered now that the topic had switched to Albus. The anxious flush and quivering eyes were set with newfound determination and she had stopped apologizing under her breath. “Some fourth years that were doing detention on the third floor saw them coming downstairs.”

“And the night before that, you were seen in yet another compromising position with said Potter. According to eyewitnesses who were probably eavesdropping on the scene, you were coming downstairs yet again. You were mumbling something and Potter was responding. At some point, he ran off on you. I paid off Ruth Chambers and she told me everything, Bernard.”

“He had Astronomy at midnight that night,” said Cora. “I would know – I sit three seats behind him! He knows who I am!”

“I…don’t know what you’re talking about,” said June, feeling her heart beat faster. Albus told me not to tell anybody or he won’t help me anymore.

“She’s denying all charges,” said Nikita, “oh the poor thing. She doesn’t have a chance.”

Iris’s large blue eyes were popping with excitement. “June, you wouldn’t lie to us, would you? You wouldn’t, right? We’ve known each other for like five years!”

“Seven, actually,” said Nikita, looking at Iris with amusement.

Cora unpocketed her wand and pushed it into June’s cheek. “I don’t know what you think you’re playing at, Bertrand – ”

“Bernard,” deadpanned Nikita from the side. “Fairly sure the fright value of threats decreases if you come off like a blubbering tool, Livingston.”

Cora ignored Nikita and instead pushed the wand closer into June’s cheek. “Look, all I’m saying is, leave Albus alone. You must think you’re so bloody wonderful because he walked around with you once or twice, but it doesn’t mean anything, understand?”

The heat was flooding to June’s cheeks.

“I hope you understand, June. I’m sorry about this,” lamented Iris. June had known Iris Bosworth all through their Hogwarts years; they looked, sounded and sometimes acted the same, sharing a lamentably small frame, brown hair and an anxious voice. Iris, like June, had a great affinity for exploding cauldrons, occasionally poisoning classrooms and destroying everything in the vicinity.

So, it was no surprise that on matters regarding Albus Potter, both of them had the same tenacity.

From the side, Nikita Patil was looking a mixture of amused and serious, with no regret dotting her features. She was well known in Hogwarts for making Desmond Jordan’s booming black market an underground trade; her cloaking charms were strong enough to smuggle even the most illicit substance under Filch’s rather long and protruding nose. Bottles of prohibited potions smelled like perfume, powdered dragon claw resembled a box of chocolates and spell-check quills looked enough like sugar quills that there had been several cases of students digesting the feathers. It was an ability for which she charged a twenty percent commission fee from Desmond’s share (something he often complained about).

 “No offense taken, right Bernard? I know you’d have done the same in our situation,” said Nikita. “And you have, as a matter of fact.”

That much was true; June, Nikita and Iris had bonded over Transfiguration sessions as they stared at Albus Potter’s perfect face, perfect body and just about perfect everything else. Iris wanted him for his looks (“He’s just so beautiful!”). Nikita wanted his status (“If I became a Potter, I’d be able to rule the goddamn world! No more scrounging for Galleons! I’d be as rich as God!”). June wanted his love.

The end result had led to them more or less stalking him for three months, chronicling every sidelong glance he gave to a girl, occasionally following him into Hogsmeade or watching him behind library shelves and trading notes.

With the three of them bearing down on her, June felt trapped within the gazes of the questionably sane women. Cora’s wand was still stabbing her cheek.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she squeaked again, “I really don’t!”

“I’m going to marry Albus!” said Iris, frowning over June, “so please don’t get in the way, June! I won’t let you! Tell us the truth! You’re his girlfriend aren’t you? Why else would he carry you to the Hospital Wing?!”

“I got hurt, it doesn’t mean – ”

“I’m in love with him! He’s my one true – ”

“Albus fancies me, so stop distracting him!” said Cora. “He’s going to ask me to Hogsmeade any day now!”

“Fat chance,” sneered Nikita under Cora. “He’s been scared of you ever since you tried stalking him into the Prefect bath and passing it off as a coincidence that he was half-naked!”

Blots of color appeared on Cora’s cheeks. “At least I didn’t try writing love poems to him in Polish and leaving them in the boys’ toilet!”

“It makes sense to put them there!” roared Nikita over her, “He’d have to use the toilet eventually and then he’d see it! I didn’t just leave it lying around – I left it in his stall. I know the one he uses and it’s practical! And for your information you uncultured cow, it was in Russian. Why would I write something in Polish? That would just be strange.”

“Oh yes, writing it in Russian isn’t completely mental at all!”

“It was a metaphor us being like the Russian tsardom – they’re always nice and contradictory in their policies – ”

“Don’t argue!” said Iris, slapping her hands over her ears. “I’m marrying Albus! June can’t have him! That’s what we’re here for!”

“Albus marrying her,” said Cora, smirking. She twirled a strand of June’s hair with her wand. “Look at her, she’s so plain and ugly. He wouldn’t look twice at her.”

“I’m not ugly!” said June, finally catching on to the conversation.

“Oh please,” said Cora, “Look here, you stupid bitch – you’re hideous. You look like a starved horse. Look at your face, look at the rest of you. What’ve you got at all that anybody wouldn’t find in a dead hippogriff? Leave Albus alone! He doesn’t need you following him around! Leave him to the people who actually have a chance!”

“That’s kind of low, Livingston,” said Nikita, “even for you. June, don’t - ”

“I don’t care! Just stay away from Albus!”

Cora retracted her wand without waiting for June’s reply and in a swish of blonde hair, she was gone. Iris followed her, sparing June a pitying, but not very apologetic look.

Only Nikita Patil hovered, still awkwardly balancing the books on one arm. “I’m sorry about what she said. I think perhaps we overdid it.”

“No,” said June, her voice quavering, “no, I’m fine, I’m fine. Just go, okay?”

“We’ll catch up some other time then,” said Nikita and with that, she too raced down the hallway, leaving June alone and shaking.

*

June trudged back to the Hufflepuff Common Room slowly, still reeling from the morning.

As soon as the portrait opened, it revealed a thankfully empty Common Room. Everyone was still in their morning classes save for June, who had Charms in half an hour but who was having less of an inclination to go with every passing minute. She sighed and made her way up to the dormitory, flopped onto her bed and drew the curtains around her bed, closing herself in comforting darkness.

Was she really that ugly?

It was a depressing, sinking thought.

It didn’t bother her much that they’d said that Albus would never look at a girl like her twice. She’d known that since she’d met him.

She knew she wasn’t conventionally pretty like some of the other girls in her year – the Ravenclaw girls with shiny, glossy hair or like Trista with her perfectly toned Quidditch body. Lucy was a little plump but she had the nicest smile and biggest eyes that June had seen. And Priscilla was oddly beautiful in a way – she had aristocratic, old world features and high cheekbones.

And that left June alone.

She’d been teased about it before, but she’d let herself forget it over the years. All girls had their insecurities and this would always be one of hers.

June sighed and made a beeline for the toilet. The sound of silence wafted from all the dormitories and probably from the entire Common Room; it was peaceful, knowing that she was alone.

She stared at her reflection in the grimy mirror for a long moment. There was a lone shard that was missing and in that moment, she thought she understood more than anything what it felt like to be completely unnecessary.

She had nothing that was special about her. Nobody really needed – or wanted – her. There was not anything about her that even she liked when she saw herself.

Same petite height, lack of a figure, pale face, stick-thin arms, and boring brown eyes.

Maybe I really am ugly.

It seemed to explain too many things to be untrue. Why she had never had many friends or been very happy or why she always felt all alone.

*

The next few days passed in a blur.

In between them, June stopped looking for Albus through every class and during every meal. She stopped attending their late-night tutoring sessions without giving him any notice. Sometimes she wondered if he’d waited for her at all on that night.

But of course, he probably hadn’t. He probably thought she’d given up on passing or finally lost that stupid photograph.

Either way, he was finally free of her. He’ll be happy, she thought bitterly. And so will all the other girls.

And so it was. Classes passed and life was the same for everyone else. Desmond was expanding his black market, Nicholas was sulking after Professor Aubrey told him if he didn’t start studying more, he’d fail Potions, Priscilla was busy tormenting Nicholas, Lucy was being a diligent Prefect and Trista had thrown herself completely into Quidditch and nobody noticed June.

She began to learn what it was like to be completely alone even when surrounded by friends. They wouldn’t understand. They’d try, but they wouldn’t understand.

She had given up studying entirely. Feeling completely defeated by somebody did horrible things to anyone’s determination. There was an odd moment in Transfiguration when Albus caught her eye and stared at her blankly, but she looked away, unwilling to give any explanations.

Her face was wane after only three days and she spent the weekend in bed, swaddled in sheets and feeling lonely. Every girl had her problems. June just seemed to have more.

She had never thought beauty was particularly important. People had beautiful lives without being beautiful. But this – this was something new. This idea that she wouldn’t be enough just being herself was suddenly what made her feel the ugliest – not the face or the hair or the brown eyes.

So she stopped looking in mirrors and hopped over puddles and didn’t see herself for the next few days. It didn’t matter much because there was hardly anything to see, but as long as she didn’t look, she would never have to admit that everyone else had been right. And she let the next few days pass, feeling as though she was losing herself more and more.

*

On Monday after a particularly dull day of class, June returned to her dormitories alone. It was blissfully quiet again and she began unpacking mechanically, wondering idly whether or not she should skip dinner.

There was a thundering footfall and Priscilla stormed in, tossing her bag off angrily and kicking it when it hit the floor.

Ugh, that idiot Corner’s been begging me to start tutoring him with Potions, can you believe that? After Helen told him he has to do Remedial Potions, he comes running to me! It was a bit funny at first, honestly, but now he won’t stop following me – ” she broke off at the sight of June. “Is something wrong?”

“Oh, nothing,” said June, mustering as much fake cheer as she could; it was slowly becoming more and more exhausting.

Priscilla’s eyes narrowed and she took a seat on the bed facing June’s. “You know, you’ve been acting very strange lately.”

“Have I?”

“You spent half of last week sneaking out and you wouldn’t tell anyone where you’ve been going. And then you went to see Helen and that all stopped. But you’ve been moping around since then.”

“I haven’t been moping. I’ve just been…busy.”

“With what? You haven’t been doing anything. I’ve been keeping an eye on you.” Priscilla bounced on the bed. “So, are you ready to tell me what’s wrong yet?”

June had never fully expected herself to the events of last week a secret; she knew there would eventually be a time when she would be telling one of her friends. Of course, she had assumed that it would be Lucy. “Nothing’s wrong.”

 Priscilla grabbed the first pillow she could find and promptly sent it sailing at June. “Talk.”

“It’s nothing, really. It’s very stupid. I don’t want to – ”

“Look, I know we don’t do this very often, but you know I’m always here when you need me, right June?”

June sighed. “Yes.”

“Right. So either you talk or I’ll use some spell or the other and make you talk.”

“It’s just…”

“It’s Potter, isn’t it?” said Priscilla immediately, her nostrils flaring. “I’m going to hack him to pieces – is he who you’ve been sneaking out to visit?”

“Erm…maybe,” said June after a considerable pause. It didn’t really matter anymore now that that was all over with and behind her, so it probably wouldn’t hurt to tell Priscilla.

“Why?!”

“He’s been helping me with Charms.”

Priscilla was struggling under the weight of her open jaw. “He’s been helping you?! What did you do, Confound him?”

“I didn’t Confound him,” said June, indignant at the accusation. And then, in a small voice, she added, “I blackmailed him.”

“With what?!”

June reached into her trunk, pulled out one of the photographs and slid it to Priscilla, who merely looked at it in confusion. “And what’s this supposed to be?”

“It’s him.”

“What?”

“It’s him. When he was younger, he used to fancy dressing up as a little girl.” June shrugged. “I found it in his house and I took it and I told him he had to help me or I’d show it to everyone.”

There was a huge silence as Priscilla stared at the picture, then June, looking thunderstruck. Then an expression of rapturous joy spread across her face: she might have just been told she was going to survive a terminal disease.

Oh my GOD. He IS gay, isn’t he?!” she screeched, seizing the picture and positively leaping up in joy. “I KNEW IT, I KNEW IT. June, you brilliant little ninny, let’s mail this off to Witch Weekly right now! They’ll pay us enough to cover any cost we can think of! So much for the most eligible bachelor in England! All the disappointed fangirls’ll murder him and I’ll spend the rest of my life poking his dead body with a stick! Come on, let’s – ” At June’s vacant expression, she stopped herself. “Why do you look so sad, then?”

“I…some girls stopped me this morning…and...” She hadn’t intended to say more, but Priscilla’s familiar, intense eyes brought out everything that had happened in the past few days. She had never kept secrets before and she had known it was a matter of time before she had told somebody.

“They really said that to you?” said Priscilla slowly, sounding as though she were chewing her words.

“D’you think I’m – you know – ugly – ”

“Oh you fantastic idiot,” said Priscilla with a sigh, reaching across the bed and hugging June. “Is that why you’ve been so sad? Why do you even bother yourself with them?”

“Are they right though?”

“Only if you think they are. They’re incompetent buffoons.”

Tears were sparkling in June’s eyes again. “That’s easy for you to say!”

“What do you mean?” said Priscilla, taken aback.

“Well – you’re perfect, aren’t you? You’re pretty, Priscilla, and you’re rich and you’re smart, you’ve got a big famous family – and I’m none of those things. I’m completely poor, I’m ugly, everyone thinks I’m stupid – ” The tears dripped down June’s cheeks and onto the sheets and her mouth went dry.

“Who thinks that? I don’t think any of those things about you.”

“You call me an idiot all the time!”

“That only means I love you!” Priscilla laughed, clearly resisting the temptation to add ‘you idiot’ at the end. “I don’t think you’re stupid. I just think you make some dumb choices sometimes, but nobody’s really innately stupid, if you think about it. It’s all just the choices they make. There’s no such thing as intelligence or stupidity because in the end, it doesn’t make you who you are.”

June’s mouth hung open. “Are you really saying that?”                                                                        

“Why do you think I wasn’t sorted in Ravenclaw? Because I think the whole idea of that House – ‘wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure’ is shit. It’s just an excuse for people there to feel like they’re better than other people. That’s why I hate Potter. Being intelligent is worth less than the air you breathe if you don’t put it to some meaningful use. Being intelligent for intelligence’s sake means very little.”

“But I fail like everything,” mumbled June to herself, “and Charms and Potions – ”

“Everyone has their intelligent days and their stupid days. You don’t have to be born brilliant. I think the point is that you try to get there at some point one way or another, no matter what it is you choose to do.” Priscilla bit her lip. “I can’t believe they said you were ugly.”

“And I am, aren’t I? I have these days where I feel like I’m ugly and that’s why I have all these problems. Beautiful people never seem to have problems.”

“You shouldn’t think like that about yourself, you know.”

“I can’t help it.”

“Do you ever wonder if maybe the reason why some girls are pretty is because they are happy and they come off that way? Maybe the happiness comes and then it’s the beauty, in that order? Sadness isn’t exactly attractive on anyone. Try being happy first and then see how it works out.” Priscilla smiled at June and took a deep breath, falling backwards onto June’s bed. “In the end, nobody has a perfect life. And if they do, it won’t last forever.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better.”

“What I mean is that you can choose to just see the bad parts of yourself and make yourself miserable. Or you can realize that just because not everyone loves you, it isn’t an excuse to actually go and agree with them. You might as well feel happy because feeling sad doesn’t do a thing.”

June gave a half-smile. “When did you get so smart?”

Priscilla scoffed. “Oh please. I’m a blessing bestowed on all of mankind. Feel free to kneel and kiss my feet.”

“Priscilla,” said June, “what if Al never fancies me back? What if I just fancy him forever and then nothing happens?”

“Well, so what?” said Priscilla. “This’s the problem with the stupid, melodramatic stories you read. You expect an amazing happy ending with the first swine that walks your way. If he’s a horrible person, girls think they can change him because he’s broken or some idiotic thing like that. If he’s rude or arrogant or anything, everything suddenly becomes okay as long as he’s attractive or rich. Everyone’s too busy shoving their fantasies on somebody to see them for what they are.”

“But – ”

“If things don’t work out, they don’t work out. It’s not like you’ll keel over and die. You’ll move on, find somebody else, or maybe you won’t, but what’s the big deal? Why do people act like if you don’t end up with someone, it’s like you’ve lost some battle or you’re not good enough?” Priscilla shrugged. “We live in such shallow times.”

June cracked a hesitant smile. “Okay, now you’re just showing off.”

Priscilla nudged her with her foot and her voice took its usual caustic tone. “Do you really fancy Albus, June? Like honestly, truly?”

“Honestly, truly,” said June, “why?”

“It’s just that what that Livingston girl said is bothering me. And I’ve got a plan.”

*

The next morning during breakfast, June and Priscilla made their way down to the Hufflepuff table. Priscilla had a determined expression on her face, but June was shaking nervously beside her.

“Do you really think this is a good idea?” she whispered urgently.

“You said you fancied Potter and I believed you and we’re going through with this!” hissed Priscilla.

“But I’m too nervous and I don’t think it’ll work – ”

“Look, Lucy said she’ll help us, okay? She’s probably already getting ready, so it’s too late to do anything about it!”

“You told Lucy?” yelped June, “She’s a prefect, she’d never help us!”

“I can be very persuasive when I want to,” said Priscilla gravely. “And either way, she doesn’t know about the second part of the plan, so she doesn’t know we’re doing anything against the rules…you know, yet. Trista should be in place as well.”

As soon as they entered the Great Hall, nothing of particular circumstance had occurred. Everybody was still eating breakfast and a loud amount of chatter was circulating. June squinted over the crowd to see Lucy approaching the Gryffindor table with a set expression on her face.

Priscilla steered June into their usual seats as June watched Lucy carefully, her stomach bursting with butterflies.

Lucy was gesticulating ardently and Albus seemed to be arguing back, shaking his head in refusal.

“What’s going on?” she whispered to Priscilla.

“Alright, right about now, Lucy should be coming up with an excuse to bring him over here. You see, he has to come here. If you go there, you’ll just look like some crazed stalker. If he comes here, it looks like he wanted to see you.”

Spots of red appeared high on June’s cheeks. “Oh, I don’t know – maybe this won’t work – ”

Priscilla wheeled around. “Look, you said you fancied him, right? You might as well show those arses that you do in style!” Her tirade was promptly cut off when she spotted Trista moving across the Great Hall. Albus and Lucy were still arguing. “Look, Trista’s on the move!”

Trista walked by the other side of the Gryffindor table where the girls were sitting; she was holding a goblet of pumpkin juice and obviously trying to look very casual about where she was going. For a moment, she turned around and looked at Priscilla in confusion.

“The blonde one!” Priscilla mouthed furiously, “The blonde one and Bosworth if you can!”

Trista nodded and went back to walking. She halted in front of Cora Livingston and Iris Bosworth and pretended to fall over her own feet and launched the goblet of pumpkin juice above their heads. Both of them were drenched in juice and they turned around, squealing in horror.

JUST LOOK AT WHAT YOU DID TO MY ROBES!”

“My hair!” Iris was moaning, “My hair’s all sticky! Cora, my hair!”

“I’m so sorry!” Trista was saying over them, “It was an accident! I’m so clumsy, you’ll have to forgive me! I didn’t see where I was going!”

“You cow!” snapped Cora, “Do you know how expensive these robes are?! I can’t walk around like this all day!”

“My hair!” Iris wailed.

“Okay, now she makes up an excuse to bring them over here,” whispered Priscilla, watching them intently.

“Well, I’ve got my wand in my bag over there,” said Trista innocently. “I feel so horrible at doing this. I can Scourgify your hair.”

“What about my robes?” shrieked Cora. “Not that you would now – dumb Hufflepuff – all idiots – ”

“I’ve got some money, I can pay to get them cleaned. If you’ll just come with me…”

Cora and Iris shared a look, with Cora looking deliberately more murderous. Finally, Iris stood up and began to follow Trista. After a tense moment, so did Cora, still mumbling to herself about dumb Hufflepuffs.

“Always knew she had it in her, that one,” said Priscilla beaming. “Okay, now for Lucy.”

Albus still hadn’t moved. A bit of their conversation was audible over the noise.

“I can’t see why I can’t help you after breakfast,” Albus was saying.

Because it’s due right after breakfast, Al!” Lucy was doing an excellent job of sounding urgent.

“I’m surprised. You always do your homework on time. Why’re you coming to me all of a sudden?”

Lucy ran her hand through her hair. “You know how busy I’ve been. I just forgot. Please help me, Albus. Please.”

“Come on, fall for the trap, you prat,” muttered Priscilla.

Albus sighed and put back his toast. “Fine. Only this time and I won’t help you finish.”

“Thank you!” said Lucy, grinning. She began to walk towards the Hufflepuff table with Albus trudging reluctantly behind her.

“They’re almost both here!” said June, fighting an overwhelming urge to run and hide. From one side of the table, Trista was leading an angry Cora; from the other Lucy was stringing along a clueless Albus.

Priscilla pushed June to her feet.  “The moment’s almost here, June. You can do it!”

Trista, Cora and Iris arrived first. Iris was still on about her hair, but Cora stopped in her tracks at the sight of June and her eyes narrowed. “What is she doing here? You’re not still talking to – ”

From the other side, Lucy had brought Albus in. He was looking as aloof as ever, but his eyebrows rose at the sight of June.

At Albus’s arrival, Iris gave a shriek and he looked at her, distracted by the noise. She made a frightened attempt to smile and flatten her sticky hair, looking mortified. Behind her, Cora had no such reaction; she pushed past Iris and Trista and wrung out her robes, giving Albus a glimmering smile.

“Hello, Albus! Fancy seeing you here!”

From the side, away from June and the others, Priscilla steadied her hand and narrowed her eyes in concentration. She pointed her wand as Cora continued to talk.

“It’s a lovely day, isn’t it? I was just wondering whether or not we’d be having class again together this evening, you know, after – ”

Priscilla closed her eyes and released a spell; a spark flew from the end of her wand soundlessly and snaked around Lucy and June to hit Cora.

Nobody had yet to notice.

Cora kept talking. “ – Professor Vector canceled class last time. And did you get around to finishing that essay on – ” She continued her speech, but feathers slowly began drifting down from her arms. Her face was shrinking slightly and her nose was growing.

Priscilla flicked her wand and feathers began dropping more quickly. Cora broke off and stared at herself in confusion. Iris’s eyes had widened to the size of saucepans.

“What’s going on?!” Cora shrieked. She looked up as Albus stared at her in confusion and her body began being engulfed in feathers. She turned to the others. “DO SOMETHING!”

Iris stared back at her. “Cora – your – your nose!”

Cora looked down and there it was: her nose was suddenly protruding, her legs shrinking rapidly, her arms gaining more and more feathers. The entire Great Hall, including the teachers were looking on in utter confusion as Cora shrunk and shrunk. She gave one last scream until she had finally shrunk down into her final form.

A small chicken clucked around where Cora had stood seconds ago, looking bemused.

Several tables burst into raucous laughter, jeering openly.

Iris was swaying in place, looking as though she would faint. When the Cora-chicken realized what had happened, it gave a furious cluck and began running towards Iris. At the sight of the Cora-chicken, Iris screamed in alarm and ran out the Great Hall, the chicken following frantically behind her.

The teacher’s table broke into whispers and Professor Aubrey began to walk down, obviously struggling to not burst into laughter. Priscilla leaned back with the most self-satisfied expression she had given yet.

But June had no time for the laughter.

She had no time to see the teachers or anyone coming closer or ponder the state of the Cora chicken.

She looked up at Albus, who was saying something to Lucy, a smile on his face.

She didn’t know how long the smile would last. She didn’t know much about whether or not she was even the least bit pretty. She was not doing this because nobody liked her and she needed somebody, but because she liked him and someday, she’d make him need her.

Priscilla could be skeptical, he could be rude, Cora could call her ugly, but in that moment, June learned what it meant not to care. She was going to do something very stupid and have no regrets.

In the end, she wasn’t doing it for him. She was doing it for herself.

She took three calm steps forward.

With the entirety of the Great Hall watching, she put one hand on his shoulder, the other on his tie, yanked him forward and kissed him.








Author's Note: It Started With...A Kiss.

The chapter title is an homage to the TV show/story that inspired this story; at this point onwards, Bathing in Roses and it will no longer reflect the same storyline and BIR will become more of my own story.

So, I apologize for the length of this chapter, but it had a lot of obstacles, new characters and revelations. I'd love to know your thoughts on June, the difficulties she encounters, her friendship with Priscilla, and of course, what you thought of the ending! 

Celeste


Chapter 10: Trivial Contrivances
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Trivial Contrivances

There was one splendid moment before everything split into chaos.

She was on the tip of her toes, pulling herself to her full height, dragging Albus down to meet her lips. He had no time to react and at her yank, his face whipped forward, and she kissed him without thinking about any thought. A spark of heat ran through her in the brief few seconds their lips touched and she pressed herself forward as hard as she could to cover the distance. His lips were softer than she’d imagined.

But his eyes widened in shock as he realized what she had done.

Behind her, a few wails and catcalls broke out. She knew she had no more time left, so she released him and he staggered backwards into Lucy, who was gaping, open-mouthed. It hadn’t been much of a kiss, but she’d begun it.

As soon as she saw Professor Aubrey nearing, she turned on her heel and ran out the Great Hall, feeling the stares trailing her as she left. The Hall had broken into groups of whispering and pointing and she felt herself reddening more as she walked back to the Hufflepuff Common Room, feeling unsteady.

She only managed to wobble down the first staircase before she heard someone shouting after her. “June! Stop!”

She paused mid-step. “Lucy?”

Lucy Weasley appeared around the corner, looking as though she had run to catch up. She stared at June, her eyes wide in surprise. “What just happened?”

“Um – ”

“Priscilla told me you wanted to apologize to Albus! That’s why I brought him over.”

Typical Lucy. And even more typical Priscilla.

“June, why did you do that? Do you know what he’s going to do to you? He’ll be horrible! Oh, June, I wish you thought before you did such – such stupid things. And in front of the whole school, honestly! And turning that girl into poultry! Between you and Priscilla, I’d be surprised if you shared half a brain!” Lucy ended on a near-shout, her hair frizzing around her.

June arched an eyebrow, taken aback. “Well, I’m not sorry.”

“Of course you’re not, not after that ridiculous display you put on! Albus hates that kind of thing! He’ll murder you!”

“I thought it was lovely,” said June coldly. “And if he hated it so much, he can tell me himself. I don’t need you telling me.”

Lucy’s mouth dropped. “I’m trying to help you!”

“Don’t!”

June ran up the stairs and stalked back to the Common Room, not looking backwards at Lucy, who was still standing alone.

*

For the next two days, June’s life was supplemented by awkward stares, the occasional jeering and once, an odd run-in with several sobbing second year Gryffindors. With her class schedule diverting her to Divination and Potions, she found herself free of Albus. And it was probably for the best.

So she contented with sitting on the cushions in Divination, coughing under the stifling heat and the overpowering scent of dust and flowers. Professor Trelawney passed them every few minutes, staring down through her huge glasses and saying utterly useless things like, “Watch harder, my dears,” or, “Let the Inner Eye lead you.”

June’s lack of luck seemed even more pronounced; she had been assigned to a table of cynical Ravenclaws, all of whom were making caustic observations every time Professor Trelawney walked by, trailing her shawls and beads and reeking of mothballs. The Ravenclaws reminded June of an angry nest of birds, throwing vague literary allusions and using indecipherable words whenever Professor Trelawney entered their vicinity.

“ – mental institute, honestly – acerbic old bat – ”

“ – waste of my life, thirty minutes gone, another thirty to go – only took it because my mum made me.”

There was a lone candle placed on their table and they were all staring blankly at it as it melted, the wax forming rings on the table.

“Remember, the study of ceromancy is an honored art,” whispered Professor Trelawney from the corner, “and you must treat it as such. With reverence. Look at the rings and allow them to tell you the truth of all things…the past…the present…”

“The present,” snorted another Ravenclaw, “that doesn’t even make sense!”

“The candles…know all. The Fates grow more weary. Winters bode ill times…take turns, predict each others’ fortunes.” As Professor Trelawney blinked her glasses to stare at their table, the Ravenclaws turned to June. “Which one of you’ll go first, my dears?”

“We’ll use her,” said Jelena Jorkins brightly, pointing to June.

“M – me?” stuttered June as the three girls grinned unabashedly.

“Come on,” said another girl June recognized with a sinking feeling: Victoria Bosworth, sister to the girl June had sent screaming out of the Great Hall. The redhead beside her was an unimpressed Rose Weasley.

“It seems the Fates have volunteered you for the cause,” said Professor Trelawney in an attempt to sound mystical.

“Fine,” said June hesitantly, after a long sigh. The three girls descended over the candle, all wearing identical conspiratorial grins.

“Look Professor,” began Jelena, “the candle wax’s falling in a wide ring.”

“And it’s January,” offered Rose, “the weather’s cold outside.”

“Indeed, indeed,” said Professor Trelawney, as though it was of any relevance at all.

“Wide rings foretell unhappiness, don’t they, Professor?” said Rose, convincingly attempting to rifle through her spellbook. “Unhappiness, infertility, tragedy…”

“January’s particularly a bad time for relationships, you know,” said Victoria, steely-eyed. “Look, the circles are falling into smaller circles. That means that you’re not meant to have children together.”

 As Professor Trelawney nodded in approval, June sighed and plopped her head onto her hands. The motion sent more wax dripping onto the table, which began another tirade on the many possibilities of death by drowning that June would face next spring. Somehow, she had gone from amassing disapproval from Cora and the Gryffindors to finding enemies at every corner.

*

“Oh, ignore them,” said Priscilla dismissively as they prepared for bed that evening. “Jealous idiots, the lot of them.”

“Why was Rose there, though?” said Trista. “A bit creepy, isn’t it?”

“Rose Weasley is the most pathetic excuse for a human being I’ve ever encountered!” said Priscilla. “I swear it!”

“That changes like every week,” muttered Trista, “and what else is new?” She dodged the pillow that Priscilla threw her way. “I’ve heard that Rose’s been trying to set up Albus with that Victoria Bosworth girl for ages now. That’s probably why, though. Everyone in Ravenclaw’s a bit addled that way. Must be all the reading they do.”

“They’re very cynical,” said June miserably. “It’s confusing talking to them.”

“They’re impossible snobs. I tried talking to Eve Chang last week. She’s convinced everything’s a metaphor. I wanted to hex the life out of her,” said Priscilla. “Maybe she’ll stop talking about metaphors when she gets boils all over her – ”

“Eve’s nice,” mumbled June.

“Gryffindors are worse,” said Priscilla. “Have you seen them? They collect mental disorders in their spare time. Superiority complexes, stalking, schizophrenia, spontaneous transformations into poultry.” A large grin was appearing on her face. “They don’t smell too good either. It must be the idiocy.”

“Slytherins are alright,” said Trista, “They hold up most of our black market, so I think they make Desmond happy.”

“Are you kidding? All they do is grunt and consume my precious oxygen. Most of them’ll end up either in jail or asking me if I want any dessert with my dinner.” Priscilla tossed her hair over her shoulder imperiously. “Hufflepuff’s the best house.”

She turned back to June, clearly expecting some kind of response. Instead, June sat rooted, a faraway look in her eye. She started with a jump when Priscilla squinted at her.

“Thinking about Albus Potter again, are you?”

“Yes,” admitted June, “I have Charms tomorrow. I’ll see him in class. Oh, Priscilla, he’ll be so angry at me.”

“Didn’t Lucy warn you?” said Trista, settling into her sheets. “June, I wish you’d picked a nicer bloke to fancy. Anyone, really. Even Henry. Just someone who wouldn’t end up making you worry so much.”

*

Getting ready for Charms the next morning nearly sent June spiraling into complete nervousness.

So much for being confident, she thought haplessly as they trudged to class, kissing him was supposed to be for me.

And it had been. It had been the most wonderful twenty seconds of her life, rigid and awkward as their kiss had been. It had made her feel warm and perfect – the center of attention for once – and she had caught him unawares after all the rude things he always said about her intelligence.

The second she entered the dungeon, she made a mad dash for her seat, scrambling over several chairs and nearly knocking Trista off her feet.

“Smooth,” snorted Priscilla.

The Gryffindors filed in a neat row into the back seats, several rows behind where the Hufflepuffs sat clustered together. So far, Lucy had maintained a cool distance from June; when she entered, she took a seat between Duncan and Nicholas, and didn’t look back even when Trista waved. After the Ravenclaws came in (Rose and Victoria were smiling sourly at June as they passed by), Professor Flitwick came in, squeaking loudly about the weather and Conjuring Charms. “The practical exam’s next week, please remember to prepare!”

June nearly buried her head into her robes out of desperation.

“You may pair off – begin practicing. Please attempt to conjure any objects from last week’s lecture.” He flourished his words with a wave and the class broke out into chatter as people found partners.

“Ready?” said Priscilla, swiveling to face June, looking mildly apprehensive. “You know how to Conjure, right?”

“A bit.”

They were both abruptly distracted by the sight of Victoria Bosworth loudly proclaiming, “Oh Rose, it’s perfect. I don’t know how you did it.”

Behind them, Cora Livingston was prodding on another Gryffindor girl, hurriedly muttering, “Look, Bosworth’s getting all the attention – come on, you ninny – ”

“Idiots,” pronounced Priscilla flatly, turning back to June. “Alright, so you’ve got a few choices on what you can try and Conjure. There’s a glass frog, a vase, or an inkwell. Obviously, the frog’s out of question. I’d try the vase if I were you.”

“Vase,” repeated June cluelessly.

“Right. Vase. It’s not that hard. Look, Potter and Weasley’ve both got their frogs done.” Priscilla scowled and tapped her wand on her desk. A white liquid squirted out of the end of her wand, immediately hardening and twisting until a shining glass frog sat squatly on her desk. “Your turn.”

For the first time in the past few days, she could feel Albus’s eyes on her back. She turned once to check the suspicion and there he was – staring her down, a ghost of a grimace already forming. A Gryffindor boy beside him was trying to get his attention, but his eyes narrowed instead as he met June’s gaze.

Terrified, she turned back to Priscilla, breaking into a light sweat. “Urm – Conjuring – um – it’s – it’s – ”

“Visualize,” said Priscilla impatiently. There was a small pop beside them as Trista handed Lucy the inkwell she’d made. June’s sweating increased. “Close your eyes, think of what you want it to look like…”

June peeked a look backwards again; Albus was swatting away one of the Gryffindor girls, his gaze on her back not wavering. His expression, for once, was entirely inscrutable.

Horrified, she frantically shut her eyes. Visualize, visualize.

He’d said something she couldn’t remember about Conjuring the last time they’d met – something about equal exchange – most if it’d just sounded rather angry. And she’d said something about him not being gay and then there had been a bit about pumpkins…

She bit her lip and tried to imagine a vase.

The image of it kept changing in her mind – it was green, then blue, then red, then blue again, then long and shaped like a cone…

She waved her wand, her mind still stuck between a stout blue vase and a tall red.

“Concentrate on one vase,” came Priscilla’s nudge from the side. “Don’t just let your mind fluctuate.”

This time, the image came to mind perfectly: a yellow vase, lean and towering. It had rested on their mantle all through her childhood – it’d been her mother’s favorite thing in their first flat. Her father had bought it for her mother some Christmas – it had been one of June’s earliest memories, watching her mother rip through the wrapping paper.

But the image of the vase slipped from her mind. The yellow grew paler and she couldn’t quite remember what flower it was shaped like. Instead, she could see the bright red wrapping paper, the floor surrounded by ornaments, and her mother ripping it open, saying happily, “Oh Albert, you shouldn’t have! It’s gorgeous!”

And she had smiled up then, still only five years old. Her mother had immediately pressed the vase into June’s hand. “Doesn’t it look lovely, darling?”

She let the feeling of warmth she had had that Christmas fill her. She thought of cinnamon and snow and warm milk and the freesia scent of her mother: all the things she would never be able to share again with her mother. A slow, cold feeling trickled down her fingers to the ends of her wand – it seemed to react instinctively and on its own, paying no heed to her own wandering mind.

Something landed on the desk with a clunk.

 “June! LOOK.” Priscilla let out a small, flailing screech before grabbing June’s shoulders. “Open your eyes! Look!”

Half expecting a puddle of yellow, June reluctantly opened her eyes. Her mouth dropped immediately. “Priscilla!”

“I know!”

And there it was: the yellow vase from her childhood. Shaped like a tulip, edges folded perfectly up.

“I can’t believe you did it!” said Priscilla, seizing the vase and staring at it like she was expecting it to grow teeth. “I thought for sure you’d melt something again this time.”

Priscilla’s screech had attracted attention. The other Hufflepuff seventh years were staring at them, perplexed. June froze when Professor Flitwick passed them, nodding approvingly (for what was possibly the very first time in seven years) at her. “Well done, Miss Bernard, well done – good workmanship on it – the swishing movement, in particular – ”

Petrified, June ventured a backwards glance at Albus.

He wasn’t in his seat.

She breathed a sigh of relief.

Meanwhile, Priscilla had overturned the vase and was staring at the bottom of it. “Hang on, there’s something written here. I think it says – I can’t tell - ”

Trista leaned over her, squinting. “It’s To Victoria.”

“Yeah, it was my mum’s Christmas present,” said June distractedly. “My dad wrote that.”

“You remembered the details?” Priscilla and Trista exchanged a look of disbelief. “How did you do that?”

“It’s not hard, is it?”

“Not particularly for anyone else. But for you, yes,” came a snide voice from the right. They all turned to see Albus hovering over Rose’s seat one row before them, both of them wearing the same irritated smirk.

June turned red and immediately latched on to Priscilla’s shoulder.

“We weren’t talking to you, Potter,” said Trista defensively. From the side, Lucy gave them a guilty look, obviously uncomfortable. “This doesn’t involve you.”

“Funny, I think you asked more than enough with that stunt before,” said Rose, wearing the usual haughty expression. She was eyeing Priscilla with disgust. “Honestly, Albus, you’ve got my sympathy…being forced to put up with all of this.”

As Rose gave a dramatic sigh, Priscilla said over her to June, “Remember what I said about mental disorders? Case in point.”

“It’s revolting how girls throw themselves at people like us. I recall James had the same problem and of course, Fred and – ”

“I bet you never did,” said Priscilla, “looking at you induces vomiting in most people.”

“ – no respect, like Victoria was telling me, it takes a decent, intelligent girl – ” Rose raised her voice over Priscilla, though splotches of red appeared on her face. “Not that you can find any of those in this House, of course, but – ”

Rose’s glass frog suddenly hopped off the edge of the table, smashing onto the ground and into shards. As Rose scrambled to pick it up, June looked at Priscilla, who looked back, equally surprised.

Beside them, Lucy stowed away her wand surreptitiously.

 “Stop saying that about us,” stammered June, “we aren’t like that.”

She stared at Rose defiantly, before shifting her gaze to Albus. He looked back, the same unreadable expression on his blank face. “You’re a waste of my time.”

“Don’t say that about me!”

“What d’you expect me to say? What the hell’s wrong with you? How could you do that – made both of us look like blithering fools in front of everyone – ” His voice had lowered to a dangerous whisper.

“I’m not a fool! Stop calling me that!” shouted June back; this time, she properly attracted the attention of the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs beside her. She could see Duncan and Desmond attempt to look subtle while leaning in; two Slytherin girls were pointing and rolling their eyes. Priscilla and Rose were looking equally shameless about eavesdropping.

“Stop fancying me! Stop following me around, stop wasting my time on you – don’t come to my house during holiday – don’t exist, damn it – stop obsessing – ”

“I do not obsess over you!” said June, thoroughly irritated. Beside her, Rose was nodding in agreement, saying, “That’s the problem with these types.” Further irked, she half-shouted at Albus, “I don’t even fancy you!”

“Enough chatter over there!” said Professor Flitwick from the other side of the class, “Really, Miss Weasley, Mr. Potter, I expected better of you…”

“I love how he doesn’t mention us,” said Priscilla, “stupid old codger.”

Rose said something that sounded vaguely like, “Not my fault…”

Albus pulled his seat closer to June’s, still looking incensed. “Stop saying idiotic things.”

“I don’t fancy you! Priscilla was right!” Her voice was escalating until still more people had dropped pretense of Conjuring and were instead simply staring. “You’re horrible! All this time I’ve been thinking you’re some kind of Prince Charming, but – but you’re the furthest thing from him!”

“Thank God,” mumbled Priscilla.

“You’re rude to me and you always act like you’re better than me! I don’t fancy you!”

“Why the hell did you stalk me then?”

“I didn’t stalk you!” Spots of color appeared high on June’s cheeks. “I don’t stalk people and I don’t fancy you!”

There was a long pause. Professor Flitwick rounded the corner and passed them, staring disapprovingly.

“Oh really,” said Albus, whispering furiously. “Then you won’t mind if I said that I think you’re a ridiculous idiot.”

“Well, I don’t care!”

“I don’t care if you don’t care!”

“I’m surrounded by idiots,” said Priscilla gloomily.

“I think Priscilla was right after all! You are gay!”

He sputtered backwards. “What?

“You’re gay, aren’t you? I know you are!”

The Gryffindor and Ravenclaw girls merged into one large group, all audibly whispering. “No, but what if he is – ” “Do you think she’s lying?” “If he is, I think I’m going to cry.” There was an especially loud wail of¸ “But Albus is supposed to marry me!”

“What?!”

“Just admit it!” said June triumphantly.

“That – ” he was visibly struggling for words. “ – that doesn’t even make sense!”

One of the girls behind him began softly crying. He wheeled around backwards to find the class staring blankly at him. Even his friends were gaping, obviously having overheard June.

“Well, really!” squeaked Professor Flitwick, “Please concentrate! That means you too, Davies, come now.”

He was promptly ignored by Albus, who was reddening. He had bypassed the usual grimace-frown-grimace routine and was turning very red. His expression grew alarmingly calm, until he stared at June and began reciting mechanically in a high voice, “Dear Albus, I haven’t known you for very long…”

June stared at him in horror. He inched closer, his eyes boring into hers.

In fact, I’ve never actually spoken to you, but I’ve been watching you for ages. I watch you sometimes when you’re studying in the library.”

“Stop,” she whispered, mortified.

Victoria Bosworth and Rose Weasley exchanged incredulous glances. Jelena Jorkins was beginning to dissolve into a fit of giggles. From the Gryffindor side, Cora Livingston and Iris Bosworth were both leaning across the table to hear them better.

“I’m deeply in love with you. I think you and I are meant to get married someday. I feel like I’ve known you all my life.

“My God, Albus,” grinned Rose, “you poor thing! What you have to put up with these days!”

He ignored her and continued in the same high pitch in an obvious attempt of June’s voice. “My friends said I shouldn’t write this letter, but I’m convinced you’ll see me for what I am.”

June sat still, words failing her. Albus’s Gryffindor friends broke out into raucous laughter.

For once, even Priscilla seemed speechless. Beside her, Trista was looking as if someone had hit her over the head.

Desmond was the first to try to speak. “Hey Bernard, are you – ”

June put her hand, shushing him. His last words fell away.

“Well, now really,” began Professor Flitwick, tottering their way, “I’ve had quite enough of these distractions for one day!”

June took a deep breath, and turned to face Albus. He was smirking, his green eyes glimmering in self-satisfaction. “How could you?”

“How could I what?” he drawled, leaning back lazily. “I’ve got perfect memory unfortunately, and I remember things after reading them only – ”

“No, I mean, how could you?”

“They were your words, not mine.”

“But I wrote them to you! How could you just – just  - ”

“Not going to cry, are we?” said Rose, from the side.

“Shut up, you soulless worm,” snapped Priscilla.

“No,” said June expressionlessly. “No, I don’t feel like crying at all.”

For the first time, she felt nothing staring at Albus. None of the embarrassment, the butterflies, the excitement, the self-consciousness, the occasional sadness, the feelings of inferiority…it was a new emotion. Red-hot and unfamiliar to her skin.

She felt angry.

“You’re pathetic,” she snapped, making no effort to conceal her voice. It echoed around the dungeon. She had never been as thankful for Professor Flitwick’s partial deafness as she was when the echo reverberated. “I think you’re the idiot!”

“What?” the self-satisfied smirk slipped off his face.

“I said I think you’re the idiot! I’m sorry I kissed you! That was a complete waste of my life too!” Trista attempted tugging at her arm to make her stop, but June swatted her away. “You’re rude to me – you think you’re so much better than me!”

“It isn’t hard, believe me,” he began to snort.

She stood up, glaring at him. “Shut up!”

“What did you say?”

“I told you to shut your fat mouth!”

“Really, Miss Bernard, that’s quite enough,” began Professor Flitwick.

“You’re revolting! Why any girl would fancy you is beyond me! I don’t care if you’re rich or whatever! You made a complete joke out of me!” She could see Albus’s expression hardening. “And you keep telling me that I’m a waste of your time. You’re a waste of mine too!”

“Are you done?” he said, looking disdainful. “Well, that certainly was educational, wasn’t it? I don’t particularly care what people think, least of all you, who can barely do so in the first place…”

The same smirk reappeared. June gripped her wand harder, feeling the sweat slide down from her palms. She gritted her teeth; she couldn’t remember the last time anybody or anything had made her more furious than watching him sit back and stare at her coldly did.

All the feelings she’d had for him. The months she’d spent watching him, pretending that any of this had been real or worthwhile – convinced that someday, this would work out…all that time and happiness and bubbly feelings…spent on him when he didn’t respect her even a little.

She could see Professor Flitwick frowning as he walked towards her. He was in hearing distance now – partial deafness or not – but it hardly mattered anymore. She looked down at him, repulsion overwhelming her.

“You’re an arsehole. Go burn in hell where you belong.”

It took two seconds for her to knock over her chair and send it clattering onto the floor. It took three for the others to process what she had said. It took ten seconds for Professor Flitwick to give her a week’s worth of detention.

It took thirty seconds for her to cross across the dungeon, wrench the door open and leave.

*

She stomped back to the Hufflepuff Common Room, half-expecting Priscilla or Trista to follow her.

Instead, she walked back alone, opened the Portrait Hole and ran up the staircase into the dormitories. She stopped at the foot of her bed, still flushed and opened her trunk, rifling through the contents inside. She threw out everything onto the floor – robes, shoes, some quills – until she found what she was looking for.

She sat among the small sea of her school things and stared at it, willing herself to do what she had promised herself she would.

There it was.

A crumpled letter stuffed in an envelope stained with pumpkin juice. She had clumsily written To: Albus S. Potter on the cover before she had given it to him that day before their winter holiday.

She didn’t need to open it again. He had recited the contents of it perfectly not ten minutes ago.

What a miserable travesty all of it had become.

Somewhere along this whole process, Fifi LaFolle had lied to her. Lied splendidly. Constructed an entire façade about Hogwarts; she had made it seem like all the magnificent things that had happened to Harriet and Daniel were possible with June.

How idiotic. How tragic.

Feeling utterly exhausted, June balled the letter up in her hand. It was a confusing conclusion to the events that happened since winter – the confession, the earthquake, moving into the Potter house, New Years’, blackmailing him, and finally kissing him. All of it to come to this kind of a conclusion.

She didn’t think she could ever read Fifi LaFolle again – not without wanting to strangle Daniel Whitman, the dreamy Gryffindor Quidditch captain the girls swooned after. There was nothing particularly swoon-worthy about him anymore. He was as arrogant as Albus was, he ridiculed Harriet, argued with her, held himself above everyone else…somehow, her enchantment with him had broken. Not after she had lived it and felt the backlash.

Sitting alone on the floor, June decided that there were many things she needed.

She needed to pass Charms practical examination next week. She needed to bring up her marks in Potions. She needed to decide on some sort of career before the year ended. She needed to find a job and pay for a flat for her father and move him out of Mrs. Potter’s home.

There were many things June needed, but she no longer needed Albus.

She dangled the letter in front of her and extracted her wand from her pocket.

She could still smell the pumpkin juice from that day; she held her wand tip to the center of the letter.

“Incendio.”

She watched it burn, feeling far less regretful than she’d thought she’d be. The next week promised difficulties: the examination, a weeklong detention with Madame Lucinda, cleaning bedpans in the Hospital Wing…and no doubt, she’d have even more of Albus’s fangirls after her head.

It didn’t matter, she decided as she flushed the letter’s ashes down the toilet.

Her life was beginning to seem very strange, but she slowly and surely, she was growing up.






Author's Note: Urm...so, please don't kill me for this chapter. I know I'm kind of a horrible person for doing this to June and for taking so long to update. A lot of you were perceptive about it last chapter, so I am impressed. Things are looking bleak for Junebus, but both of them obviously have some growing up left to do. I'd say June's got a head start, though, and she'll keep growing as we proceed. I'd love to know your thoughts on this chapter and on her reaction in the Charms dungeon. :D

My thanks go to Gina (justonemorefic) for helping me and listening to me rant about this story late at night. Also, a quick shoutout to JessicaLily on the forums for nominating this story for a Best Quote Dobby. Thanks so much, love! It made my day to see!

And of course, my thanks go to you guys, for helping me pass the 100 review mark and for keeping 'Bathing' afloat for so long. Updates will be less frequent from now, since I'm entering college, but I promise to keep updating! 

Celeste


Chapter 11: The End of an Enchantment
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The End of an Enchantment

The first one to return to the Hufflepuff dormitory that fateful evening was a girl with blonde hair swishing around her shoulders.

“Long day?” asked Trista, a rueful smile on her lips.

“Yeah,” said June, who had spent most of the afternoon curled in bed. “You?”

“Oh, you know.” Trista shrugged noncommittally, peeling off her shoes. “We’re probably going to lose to Gryffindor, ending my chance of getting scouted. No big deal or anything.”

“I’m sorry, Trista.”

“Nobody played well today,” she said. “You know, as Chasers, Robbins, Sloper and I – we lack the chemistry the Gryffindors do. It’s disheartening, but they’ve got a good team. And I’m getting suspicious that Duncan’s been sneaking pastries again. If I catch him with as much as a biscuit, I’m beheading him.”

“You sound like Priscilla,” said June, her head still buried in her pillow.

“I don’t care! We’ve got to win this. What’ll I do if we lose? I’ve got to get scouted! We’re not that different, you know,” said Trista. “Both muggleborn – ”

“I’m not muggleborn,” June reminded her. “My mum was a witch.”

“Fine, we both grew up like muggles anyway. And we’ve both got people to support. I’ve got five  siblings and a bum of a father. My brother’s trying to help, but it’s up to me. I can tell.” She gave along sigh. “So I’ve got to get scouted, get into one league or another. Get a steady pay and then I can help my mum with money. It’s a pain in the arse having some magical siblings and then some muggle ones too. You’ve got to worry about muggle money and Galleons and there’s never enough of either when you need it.”

“Why couldn’t we be a Weasley?” said June. “Life’s easier when you’re rich.”

“I’d rather be Priscilla myself. Do you know how much land her father owns? Apparently, he’s got several castles in Belgium. It’s almost obscene how rich they are.”

“Life’s so unfair…”

“No point thinking about it unless you plan to do something about it,” said Trista, flopping onto her bed. She emptied the contents of her bag on her bed and a dogeared strategy book and several quills fell out. She flipped through the book, a set expression on her face. “We win this game and we can go to the finals against Slytherin. I can get into a good Quidditch team and everything’ll work out.”

*

That evening, June reluctantly made her way to the Hospital Wing, groaning the whole while at the prospect of cleaning bedpans.

At the entrance of the Hospital Wing was Madame Lucinda, a middle-aged witch with haughty features and black hair twisted into a severe knot. “Oh, here you are. Come in now, Bernard. I’ve been told to expect you.”

She ushered June in, closing the door behind them. “As you can see, we’ve got a lot of bedpans to clean.”

“Okay,” said June nervously.

“Professor Flitwick insisted you’re not to leave until I give you at least two hours of manual labor a day, so if you finish that, clean the floor too. Make sure you don’t disturb anyone.”

“Right.”

“Come to my office if you need anything.” She sighed impatiently. “Please don’t need anything.”

After a long hour of emptying bedpans in the eerie silence of a nearly empty Hospital Wing, June felt her arms aching and the skin of her palms reddening in irritation. Beside the occasional tossing and moaning from the sole bed occupied by an ailing third year, she could feel the utter solace of the Hospital Wing slowly envelop her: perhaps it was the warmth of the room, or the sound of her washing off vomit from the bedpans, but it was oddly peaceful.

There was no Albus, no Cora, no Priscilla, no anybody. For the first time since she could remember, she was alone, but not lonely. The presence of herself filled up the room (save for the third year currently hacking up a lung). It was…different. Though not unpleasant.

Her mind was still pandering now and then to Albus’s expression when she had stormed out. She couldn’t remember what it had been. Anger? Confusion?

She emptied the last of the bedpan slop (there was no better term for it, really) into a bucket and scrubbed at the bedpan. It didn’t matter, she decided. Albus, or his confusion or his anger or his anything else. It all drifted back to her like a vague headache. A large, embarrassing headache, with all the details blurred.

What a proper fool she’d made of herself.

But there was always a time for new beginnings. And this would be hers.

For the past four years, since she had turned thirteen, she had always had somebody. She’d occasionally rotated them as the years passed – Baron Davies, Evan Sloper, Gregory Thomas. She’d gone so far as to write Baron Davies a letter, confessing everything in her fifth year (common sense had intervened and Priscilla had thrown it away before June could show him). Albus had been largely a seventh year infatuation; if she thought too much about it, she could never identify why she’d particularly fancied him. He was good-looking. That was all the criteria she’d ever had. Good-looking.

But now, seventh year was in its latter half and she had gone in and out of Hogwarts, accomplishing very little along the way. People had done great things in Hogwarts; she’d grown accustomed to the many disappointments of her life. But disappointments only came because depended on other people so often.

She stared out of a window high on the wall, watching the clouds sail lazily through the deep night. The oblong strips swam through the black-blue sky and past the stars and she felt warm and pleasantly sleepy.

It was time to let go of all the expectations she’d had.

It was time to go into the world – independently.

Outside the window, the world was beginning to thaw in preparation for February and eventually, for spring. She would spend this Valentine’s Day alone and perhaps the next one as well, but it didn’t matter anymore. She would learn to be happy by herself, no matter how strange it would be.

Madame Lucinda wandered out of her office when she heard the end to the scrubbing noise.

“Done, Bernard?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, you’re required here again tomorrow evening at the same time.” She gave June a patronizing look, to which June beamed.

Her hands were hurting and pulsating from the strenuous labor, but she felt newly purified as she wandered out the Hospital Wing.

*

As she stood outside, she could hear the stillness of the evening reverberate. Downstairs, most of the students were making their way to dinner and the occasional bursts of distant laughter punctuated the silence as she walked up the stairs, still lost in thought. She forgot to jump up at the trick step on the third floor and bumped into an indignant Slytherin as she pondered her options repeatedly.

Finally, she found herself standing in front of the destination she hadn’t quite planned on reaching.

She stared up at the long, wooden door, a small frown appearing on her face. I don’t know if this’s a good idea…

But she took a deep breath and knocked.

By her third knock, the door opened and Professor Aubrey was peering over, looking incredulous.

“June?”

“Hi Helen.”

“Why aren’t you at dinner?”

“I wanted to ask you something.”

Professor Aubrey swung the door open and ushered June in with a beckoning wave. “Of course. Come in.”

When June had taken a seat by the usual mountains of crumpled balls of parchment, Professor Aubrey took sat on her desk, blinking down at June. “So, what did you want to talk about?”

But before June could open her mouth, Professor Aubrey pushed her glasses up her nose and frowned down at her. “So, is this about the boy I’ve been hearing so much about?”

“What? No, that isn’t it – ”

“Because, June, as your Head of House, I’m willing to talk to you about anything.” Professor Aubrey clapped her hands together, entirely oblivious to June’s annoyance. “Albus Potter, huh? Well, you always have high expectations. I heard about the incident in Filius’s classroom and I admit, I was surprised.”

“I’m not talking about him at all,” said June crossly.

“What?”

A breeze wafted through the open window, feeling refreshing and new.

“I was wondering if Hogwarts has any jobs for students.”

Professor Aubrey was looking agog. “Jobs?

“I need some money.” June wrung her hands together, but watched Professor Aubrey expectantly. “So I was wondering if Hogwarts has any job opportunities.”

Professor Aubrey was still staring at her in surprise. But when June’s frown deepened, she blinked and resurfaced. “Yes, I think I’ve got some pamphlets somewhere.”

She burrowed her hands through several mounds of parchment, lifted up a cauldron that had been smoking on her desk and began opening drawers. “I won’t pretend I’m not surprised, June. Why the new interest?”

“I’d like to get a flat for my dad as soon as I graduate,” said June.

“Have you thought at all about what I told you earlier?”

“About Madame Malkin’s? Not much.”

“Well, you should. It’d suit you, now that you’ve begun to get more serious about life after Hogwarts.”

“I’ve got no materials.”

“I can arrange something or the other. Oh here.” Professor Aubrey flicked several brightly colored pamphlets at June, who picked them up gingerly, and blew off the dust.

“This’s from ten years ago!”

“Is it?” said Professor Aubrey airily, “Has it been so long?”

“I can’t use these!” said June, “Look, a Greenhouse assistant? This Greenhouse doesn’t even exist anymore.”

There was a long silence as June wiped the dust off her fingers.

“You’re entirely serious about this?” asked Professor Aubrey, twirling her glasses with her fingers.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” June looked up, surprised, as she saw Professor Aubrey watching her wordlessly, a curiously mixed expression flitting across her features. It was an odd mixture of a smile and a fluctuating anxiousness.

“Okay, then. Well, that’s decided. You can go down to dinner now, June.” She put her glasses back on and began rifling through her desk.

“What?” asked June blankly. “But you haven’t told me anything yet!”

“I’ll let you know soon. I’ve got to ask a few Professors first if they need help with anything.” She smiled. “Now, go on, go eat something.”

*

When June wobbled into the Great Hall, the noise of dinner had reached a peak.

She maneuvered her way to the Hufflepuff table, earning a few gawks in the process and a bit of pointing, but she felt nothing as she took a seat between Trista and Priscilla.

“How was the Hospital Wing?” asked Trista.

“Fine. Did you get your Quidditch thing worked out?”

“Not yet,” said Trista, frowning.

Beside her, Priscilla was attacking a chicken leg with her face. “Did you have fun cleaning up vomit?”

“It wasn’t too bad,” said June, shrugging as she helped herself to dinner.

Priscilla and Trista were both raising their eyebrows.

“Something’s gotten into you,” said Trista.

“Maybe she swallowed the Essence of Insanity again,” said Priscilla in a loud, audible whisper.

“I did not!” said June, indignantly. “That was only once and it was ages ago! I’m perfectly sane this time!”

Behind them, Lucy, Desmond Jordan and Nicholas Corner were bent over a vial that was bubbling away.

“So it’s not dangerous?” Lucy was asking.

“Not at all,” said Desmond breezily, “Might lead to a few warts here and there – but let’s face it, they’re fifth years, they’ll have them anyway.”

“What is it?” asked Nicholas, leaning away quickly. “It smells like rotten eggs.”

“That, my dear Corner, is the quintessential question. It’s the liquefied eye of a bicorn.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“On the contrary, it’s known to have more than a dozen magical properties.”

“I’m still not letting you sell it,” said Lucy severely, “not until you know the real side-effects.” Before Desmond could protest, she snatched the vial and pocketed it.

“It’s perfectly safe!”

“You’re not allowed to sell it and that’s final!”

“Well, I’m sorry, mum, I’ll go up to my room, then.” He swung his bag over his shoulder and left in a huff, leaving Lucy staring angrily after him, huffing.

“Oh, he’s impossible! It isn’t my fault!” Lucy broke off when she caught June staring at her and reddened. “Hello, June.”

“Hi.”

Lucy dropped her gaze. “I’ve been meaning to apologize, actually, about before – I think what you did was – ”

“It’s all right,” said June, with a smile.

“You were quite right, I went beyond what I should’ve – ”

“You were just trying to look out for me. It’s okay.”

Lucy bit her lip quaveringly. “Oh, June, I’m so glad you think so! I’ve missed you and it hasn’t been the same at all with Desmond or Nicholas!”

“Thanks,” said Nicholas snidely as Lucy threw her arms around June.

“I’ve missed you too,” said June, hugging her back as Lucy sniffed happily.

“Sentimental idiots,” said Priscilla, rolling her eyes. But she was smiling.

*

“So, has June really forgotten about Albus?” said Priscilla casually, as she strolled out of the loo. The sound of June showering echoed through the dormitory.

“Did she say so?” said Lucy. “I’m happy. I’ve told her from the beginning it wouldn’t work out.”

“I think she has,” said Trista, still bent over her Quidditch books, frustration plastered over her face. “It’s about time, don’t you think?”

“We’re not very romantic, are we?” said Priscilla, after several moments passed in silence.

“What makes you say that?” said Lucy.

“Oh please,” snorted Priscilla, “when was the last time any of us fancied anyone?”

“Er…”

“I’ve always rather thought that you fancied Duncan, Trista,” supplied Lucy.

“I do not!”

“You went on two dates with him,” said Priscilla.

“The first one wasn’t much of a date, considering all three of you tagged along. And the second time, everyone knows he wanted to ask out that Cora Livingston girl first and she rejected him, so he begged me to come to save face.”

“Poultry girl?” asked Priscilla speculatively. “Podmore must’ve taken some impact during Quidditch, if you know what I mean.”

“Anyway, it doesn’t really count. Besides, you fancy Desmond, don’t you Lucy?”

Lucy colored considerably. “What?

“You’re always with him, bothering him about something or the other.”

“That’s different!” blubbered Lucy, “I’m preventing him from poisoning half the school! I’m a Prefect, it’s my job!”

“Whatever you say,” said Priscilla, rolling her eyes. “Well, as things go, I rather like you with Desmond, Lucy. You suit each other.”

“Stop saying silly things!”

“They do, don’t they?” said Trista, over Lucy. “You know, in an odd sort of way, I hoped Potter and June would work out.”

“I didn’t,” said Lucy, testily, “I told her – ”

“I did too,” said Priscilla. At the incredulous stares she received, she amended herself. “Just a bit. A tiny bit.”

“But still,” said Trista, “you of all people – you keep wishing him a violent death every time we see him.”

“I still do,” said Priscilla placidly. “But it would’ve been entertaining in a twisted sort of way, you know.”

“That’s a horrible thing to say,” said Lucy.

“Is it? I don’t know – it’s been rather entertaining so far, idiocy and all. And there’s been a lot of idiocy at that. But I’ve enjoyed it, as stupid as its all been.”

“I know what you mean,” said Trista thoughtfully, setting aside her quill. “It seems perfect, doesn’t it? In a very strange way, it is. Rich bloke, normal girl, misunderstandings – ”

“ –earthquakes– who knew natural disasters could be so well-timed?” added Priscilla.

“It was a bit strange,” ventured Lucy, “but stranger things’ve happened.”

“Of course, Albus should’ve started fancying June weeks ago if this was going to be a proper romance,” said Trista, “all they’ve done is argue.”

“She kissed him, so that kind of counts,” said Priscilla.

“No, he didn’t kiss her back. So it doesn’t,” said Trista.

“I feel uncomfortable with this,” said Lucy, lingering from the side.

“They do look nice together, don’t they?”

“Well…in a way…” said Priscilla reluctantly. She frowned from thought, squinting at nothing in particular as she fluffed a pillow. “Oh, God, they kind of do. How revolting.”

“You’re such a cynic,” scoffed Trista.

“I’m just allergic to romance. It makes me break out in hives at the thought. Stuck with a mindless member of the male gender for the rest of my life? No thank you.”

“Melodramatic as always,” said Lucy. “You just said you liked June with Albus.”

“Because they look nice together and I feel bad for her,” said Priscilla. “Like I would ever have bad enough bad taste to actually go after something like that myself…please.”

“June’ll be out soon,” said Lucy, “you better not say something like that around her. You’ll upset her.”

“She’s over him, she wouldn’t care,” said Priscilla.

*

June spent the next few days locked away in the library. Between double Divination and Potions, the last of the weekdays faded into the weekend. She would normally be inclined to laze through Saturday – sleep in and read some Fifi LaFolle when she wanted to.

But that Saturday, she woke up early, blinking sleep out of her eyes. Beside her, Priscilla was flopped sideways on her bed, her mouth gaping open as she slept. Lucy was daintily tucked in and Trista was hidden under her covers. She slipped out, shivering slightly in the cold, and after a shower, she made her way down to the library.

She pried the door open and found it abandoned. Even Madame Pince was nowhere to be seen.

Sighing to herself, she spread her bag over an empty table and began pulling books from shelves until she stacked a column of them on the desk: Charms for Beginners, Intermediate Charms, Magical Theory, Properties of Equivalent Exchange…

She had a long morning ahead of her.

*

Her head was hurting magnificently later that afternoon when she knocked once more on Professor Aubrey’s door. Phrases like ‘the ardency of the user’s wand must be potent enough to compensate for paucity of magical affinity’ had brought about the third headache of the morning.

“Professor – “

The door opened and she heard a hiss of, “Come in!”

“Is something wrong?” said June wonderingly, as she stepped over the usual clutter.

“Oh, nothing,” said Professor Aubrey crossly, ramming her glasses back on her nose. “The pewter won’t turn to gold when I – but it doesn’t matter – sit down, sit down. What can I do for you?”

“I came to ask about the job. You said you’d written…” June trailed off as Professor Aubrey gave the smoking cauldron on her desk another glare. “Er, is everything alright?”

Professor Aubrey looked up distractedly. “Right. You came for your job…thing…”

“Yeah,” said June, feeling less assured.

“Well, I talked to a few Professors recently. I think Septima – that’s Professor Vector to you – needs an assistant to help with remedial Arithmancy.”

“No thank you,” said June, “I practically needed to be in remedial Arithmancy myself when I took it.”

“And Professor Hagrid – ”

No.”

“You’re not exactly making this easy on me,” said Professor Aubrey with a huff. “Fine, here’s something easy. Professor Longbottom usually has a few helpers taking care of his Greenhouses. They’re mostly first and second years and they aren’t paid – ”

“I’ve got to be paid,” said June.

“ – but I’m sure I can ask Headmistress Sprout for an exemption. A small salary wouldn’t be too hard, I warrant, Professors get some money to spend on research materials if they ask and I could request something for you. And Neville could easily do so himself – I think he will – he’s quite fair about it.”

“I haven’t taken Herbology since fifth year,” said June nervously.

“Neither have the second years, so I don’t see how it’d matter. It’s just cleaning and watering plants. There’re a lot of them and so of course, he’d need help.”

“Plants?” said June, “Okay…”

It didn’t sound entirely unwelcoming. Watering plants was something simple enough even for her.

“Good,” said Professor Aubrey, beaming. “I’ll let Neville know, then. You can start on Monday.”

*

The third week of January saw one June Bernard venturing tentatively (very tentatively, for that matter) into Greenhouse Three, where she had been informed of the whereabouts of one Professor Longbottom. After a long weekend of studying and confusing herself with Charms terms and long nights of practicing Conjuring, she was understandably unenthusiastic from yet another exhausting adventure.

She peered anxiously into the Greenhouse and after several minutes of shuddering in the cold, entered.

The inside was almost exactly as how she remembered it – there were several dozen rows of potted plants, each which carried several bright purple flowers. The sudden field of green dazed her.

Professor Longbottom was still nowhere in sight. However, past the fifth row of the plant, a second year looked up at her. A small blonde boy brandished a watering can as he pointed and said to the empty room. “Look, it’s a girl.”

Another boy with identical features popped out from below a table, looking agog. “What?”

“I said it’s a girl!”

The second boy turned to gawk at her. “Yeah, guess so! How strange!”

“I’m looking for Professor Longbottom,” began June.

The first boy interrupted her, a concerned look spreading over his face “Are you lost? Do you need help?”

“What year are you?” offered the second one.

“Seventh,” said June, still perplexed. “I’m looking for – ”

“We’re both second years,” said one boy, puffing out his chest. “I’m a Gryffindor!”

“What’s your name?”

“June.”

“June!” hooted the Gryffindor boy (at this point, both of them were blurring into the same person), “Well, I like it!”

“Thanks.”

“I’m Lorcan, in case you were wondering.” His large blue eyes popped excitedly at her.

“I’m Lysander,” said the other one, setting down the watering can and making his way to her, giving her a warm smile. “I’m a Hufflepuff too. Just like you.”

Lysander grabbed her hand and Lorcan grabbed the other and they both pulled her forward.

“Where’re we going?” asked June.

“To see the Professor, of course!” said Lysander with a shy grin. “Didn’t you want to see him?”

“Of course she did,” said Lorcan, tugging June forward more, “that’s why she asked, idiot.”

“Don’t call me an idiot,” said Lysandere patiently, “it’s not very nice.”

They reached the other end of the Greenhouse where the stopped in front of an enormous gaping hole in the dirt. As June stared at it, bemused, Lorcan bent his head over it and yelled, “Professor Longbottom! Someone’s here to see you!”

There was a heavy clunking noise and rather like a mole burrowing out of the dirt, Professor Longbottom emerged covered in dirt. He pulled the goggles off his eyes and a smile appeared on his face. He had the same round face and happy brown eyes that she had last seen in her fifth year. “Ah, hello there! You must be Helen’s girl!”

“Um…” Never having addressed a man who had just appeared out of a hole in the ground, June stood at an awkward standstill. “Yes…”

“I was just watering the Manticore Lily. It’s a bud, so it has to be buried deep underground for it to properly flower or it’ll spray noxious fumes everywhere,” he said kindly, obviously answering the unspoken question on her lips. “But I can’t promise you much of a pay.”

“You’re getting paid?!” said Lorcan excitedly, bouncing up and down with her hand still entwined with his.

“Helen told me about your – er – circumstances. It’s unusual, but certainly not unheard of, so I can say Hogwarts can compensate your work for five Galleons an hour. It isn’t much – ”

“I’ll take it,” she said immediately.

A broader grin spread on his face. “Great! Well, Lysander here – ”

“I’m Lorcan!” squeaked Lorcan indignantly.

“ – can show you around. It isn’t too hard and they come three times a week for two hours.”

“We like it!” said Lysander earnestly, “We like the plants!”

“And we don’t even ask for money,” said Lorcan.

“You two get to work,” said Professor Longbottom, raising an eyebrow at Lorcan. “And make sure you help Miss Bernard.”

“Yes, sir,” said Lysander, bowing his head. Lorcan instead shot June a suspicious look, before grabbing hold of her hand again and racing through the rows of plants.

“Where’re you taking me?” she said, struggling back as he relentlessly pushed forward.

“Well, we’re nearly done here, so we’re going to Greenhouse four!”

“Maybe you shouldn’t pull so hard,” said Lysander placidly from the side, “you might pull her arm off.”

When Lorcan had all but dragged her into the next Greenhouse, they stood facing another dozen rows of the same plant with the same purple flowers.

“Rosemallow,” said Lysander gently, when June looked his way. “You’re supposed to water them for eight weeks, then when they’re done blooming, you pick the flowers and make them into a powder. They’re good to fight common illnesses.”

“We make them for the Hospital Wing,” said Lorcan, nodding. “You’ll be helping us!”

 One of them turned and pushed a watering can into her hands. When she looked at it blankly, Lysander smiled. “You’ve got to water them, but make sure not too much. You can only do a bit.”

“And they’re paying me for this?” wondered June aloud.

“Only paying you,” said Lorcan sourly. “But it’s harder than it looks. Sometimes the flowers try to bite your fingers if you water too much and they aren’t easy to reattach.”

“I lost my thumb once,” said Lysander, holding up his left thumb. “Had to get it reattached.”

“And whatever you do, don’t try digging them out  – ”

“And you’ve got to put some dirt on the roots after you’re done watering – ”

“Don’t get scared if they make any noises – that’s normal – ”

After they were done shouting advice over each other, they gave her equally expectant looks.

“Good luck!” said Lorcan, walking away further into the rows.

She held the watering can shakily and began pouring into each pot and throwing dirt when she was done. Occasionally, one of the large purple flowers would bristle and unfold its petals and she would back away quickly before anything could happen.

Within ten minutes, both Lorcan and Lysander were staring at her in surprise. “Wow,” said Lorcan, goggling. “You didn’t get bitten!”

He sounded disappointed. Lysander grinned instead. “They like you!”

“They do?” asked June, who had never had a natural talent for anything, much less Herbology.

“Professor Longbottom did say they liked girls more though,” said Lorcan, scoffing. “That’s probably why he agreed to take you on.”

The way he said it was almost dismissive, but Lysander was still staring at her with his eyes shining eagerly and she smiled, moving on to the next row, feeling a strange mixture of peace and confidence.

*

The days got even busier. Class was in the early morning – where June was now avoiding Albus at all costs – Conjuring practice came after lunch, which was then followed by more classes. Hogwarts was suddenly more chaotic and exhausting than it had ever been before. Every night had bedpan duty that week and her hands were bruised and red from scrubbing the floor. On Monday and Wednesday, June trooped stoically down to the Greenhouses where she spent an hour and a half watering plants. They liked her more than they seemed to like either of the Scamander twins and it was oddly gratifying walking among the rows of purple flowers and hearing the calming silence.

It was a new feeling. In her seven years at Hogwarts, June had felt varying shades of humiliation, sadness, frustration and the occasional embarrassment. But this was more than simply being busy. This was a challenge.

Conjuring was as every bit as difficult as Albus had told her it would be.

There were several times in the early mornings of that Tuesday where she nearly set herself on fire. On her first attempt at Conjuring a scroll of parchment, she’d waved her wand overenthusiastically and the tip sprouted flowers instead. Her second produced only a wisp of parchment that promptly evaporated into the air. An hour later came several inches.

By the end of her third day at the Greenhouse – that Wednesday – Professor Longbottom assured her that she had completed her first five hours at the Greenhouse and pressed a small pouch into her hands. She ran back to the Common Room and dumped the contents of it on her bed, squealing happily at the sight of the round, gold Galleons shining back at her.

“Look, I made money!” she said, nearly bouncing on her feet, “It’s all mine!”

“Spend it wisely,” said Lucy sagely.

“Buy something nice for yourself,” said Trista.

And finally, Priscilla said, “Why didn’t you just ask me for money? If you needed it, I would’ve given it.”

“Because it’s mine, not yours!” said June triumphantly, shaking the Galleons under Priscilla’s nose. “Mine! I earned it! I did something right!”

Lucy and Trista laughed and Priscilla playfully pushed June backwards into her bed.

That Thursday evening, she saw Albus for the first time that week.

It began simply enough. She made her way down to the Hospital Wing and resumed emptying the bedpans of the day. She had dirt from the Greenhouses and vomit from the bedpans on her hands, but the urge to begin singing in the floor of the Hospital Wing with nothing but a broom as her dance partner was tempting. But she contended herself with smiling.

The Charms practical examination was the next day and after the hours in the library, she was beginning to understand that things were only as hard as she feared them to be.

He came in then, when she was still musing about Charms. She didn’t notice much of the entrance, but she could hear an argument reverberating from the open door.

“- I don’t want to! – ”

“You’ve dislocated a shoulder – we’re not arguing about this - ”

“I don’t need to come to the bloody Hospital Wing!”

There was a final push and he appeared, pushing the door open, holding a squirming redhead under his arm. Lily Potter was giving him a murderous look, splattered in mud and still brandishing her Quidditch broom. She was holding her arm in an oddly twisted angle and it flailed around on its own when she attempted to writhe away.

“I shouldn’t’ve told you,” she muttered, “one Bludger hit – honestly, like it doesn’t happen all the time – ”

“Get it set first and we won’t argue anymore,” he said coldly. “And stop being so childish.”

“I’m not – ” Lily’s eyes fell on June, who was crouched on the ground, a bedpan in her lap. “What’s she doing her? Did you arrange this?”

She wheeled around suspiciously at Albus, who said expressionlessly, pushing her forward with one hand, “Go find Madame Lucinda. Her office’s straight ahead.”

“But – ” Lily closed the distance between June and herself with her eyes. “You, you didn’t arrange this? Because from what I’ve heard – ”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Go find Madame Lucinda.”

“But – ”

Go.

He glared down at his sister, who mumbled venomously, but made a beeline for Madame Lucinda’s office, throwing June a glare in the process. June tucked the bedpan back under the bed and stood up, clutching the broom for support.

At this time in the evening, the Hospital Wing was nearly empty, save for the few people still asleep on beds overnight. But she looked at Albus and felt strangely uncaring that they were as close to being alone as they would ever be.

He immediately averted his gaze from her and stuffed his hands into his pockets.

After several long moments of silence, with only the voices of Lily and Madame Lucinda buzzing in the background, he finally cleared his throat. “What’re you doing here? Volunteer work?”

It came out as a derisive snort.

“Detention, actually,” she said lightly. “You of all people should know why.”

He scoffed at this. “Whatever.”

“I’m not going to apologize or anything.”

“Did I ask you to?”

“You seemed like it.”

“I wasn’t.”

“Okay,” she said, beginning to sweep a corner from her side. “Well, I’m not sorry, you know.”

For a minute, she wondered whether he’d make another sarcastic remark. Instead, he asked, “Why?”

She kept sweeping. “Er – I suppose it’s because I don’t care.”

“You don’t care?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Looking at him, she felt strangely proud of how far she had come. Where he had once been a goal, she had long passed him by and done it in the space of days.

“Why?” he said it in the same toneless voice as if he had heard something distasteful.

She began sweeping the rings of dirt from around him. “You’re not that important to me, you know.” When he didn’t reply and instead began a deadpan stare at the door of Madame Lucinda’s office, she said lightly, “I got a job. I’m going to get my father out of your house.”

There was no reply.

“It isn’t much money, but if I keep working, I think I can move out by Easter. Or at least by summer.”

Silence.

“Aren’t you glad, though? You hated having us there. I won’t bother you anymore. Not here at Hogwarts, anyway.”

“That would be too much to hope for.”

“I mean it,” she said calmly, “I really mean it. If I’ve bothered you before, I don’t care enough to anymore. I won’t need your help anymore with anything. I’ll get rid of that photograph of yours.” Before he could begin rolling his eyes, she interrupted him with, “And if I can move my dad out, it’ll really just be goodbye.”

Suddenly, the possibility of not seeing Albus again floated into her mind.

She could almost shrug it off. Not just yet – not just yet with him standing there, his frown slipping off his face with enough speed that it could hit the floor. Not tonight – not with all the busyness of life and pressures of tomorrow. Not tonight, but someday soon. A someday that was fast approaching into tomorrow. And perhaps he could understand it.

“Is that what you want?” he snapped. “Want me to congratulate you for it?”

The office door opened and Madame Lucinda appeared, ushering a bad tempered Lily after her.

“Now, Miss Potter, I can’t have you back here another time this week. Five Quidditch injuries from the Gryffindor team itself! What the Headmistress’ll say of this, I don’t know.”

Lily was cursing under her breath. When she reached Albus, she irritably brushed against him on her way out. He turned after giving June a last waspish look.

Madame Lucinda watched them leave, saying apparently to herself. “Such a strange family.”

“Yeah, they are,” said June.

“It’s nearly nine, Bernard. You should be on your way.”

When June wandered into the Great Hall for dinner, most of the tables were empty with scant little left for dinner. Across, in a lone side of the Gryffindor corner, Albus was taking a drink out of a goblet of pumpkin juice. June slung her bag more tightly around her shoulders, made her way across the Hall, aware that he was watching her take a seat in the Hufflepuff table.

She could’ve said or done something, but she instead helped herself to what was left of dinner.

Because it almost didn’t matter anyway.






Author's Note: So, I kind of wrote this in a rush between all the college chaos. I apologize if it sounds abrupt - I didn't get much of a chance to edit and I really wanted to get this chapter up.

June's really growing up a lot; I'd love to know what you think of it and of Albus resurfacing now and then just to confuse her. Is Junebus doomed forever? ;)

Thank you guys so much for the amazing support for the last few chapters! I'm so lucky to have such lovely, generous (and feminist) readers! I'll try to update soon!

Celeste


Chapter 12: Crash
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Crash

“Stop being so nervous,” said Lucy calmly.

“And stop clinging on me,” said Priscilla, swatting off June’s grip on her arm. “It’s annoying.”

“I can’t help it,” June whined, “I’m scared to death!”

“No point being nervous,” said Trista, as Lucy nodded fervently. “That’s the key to success, really. To feel nervous beforehand so you’re not nervous when it matters.”

“And for God’s sake, don’t get over anxious and randomly start waving your wand – ” said Priscilla.        

“Don’t say the spells backwards,” came from Lucy. Advice began flying from the three girls surrounding June until their voices began melding into one.

“ – don’t faint – ”

“ – explosions aren’t good for anyone’s mental health – ”

“Please don’t send Professor Flitwick flying through the air again. He landed on me last time. It got pretty awkward.”

“ – wand motion – ”

“ – falling over – ”

“Stop!” said June, frowning at them. They all broke off, and finally Lucy said, “June, there’s no point worrying. We’ve only got a few minutes before class. We might as well just relax.”

“Think of nice things,” piped up Trista.

June’s mind went entirely blank.

There was a scuffle of feet as Desmond and Nicholas arrived, having barreled past a group of Ravenclaws who were now glaring angrily at them.

“Hey there Bernard,” said Desmond in an attempt to be casual, stuffing something into his pockets. “Studied much?”

“Yes,” said June, “you?”

“Nah. I figure I’ll just wave my wand and see what falls out. It’s usually something interesting.”

“Or disgusting,” said Nicholas, looking disdainful.

“Did you study?” asked Priscilla suspiciously.

“Er – not – not exactly,” said Nicholas feebly as Priscilla glowered over him.

“You idiot, you’re just going to fail again!”

“You don’t know that! Besides, why do I even need a NEWT in Charms? I’m going into magical portraiture, aren’t I?”

“You can’t paint!”

“It’s abstract, you don’t understand it!”

“Neither do you!”

As Priscilla and Nicholas huffed angrily at each other, they had attracted the attention of the Ravenclaw girls, who were all grinning and whispering. June caught Rose Weasley’s eyes and when Rose’s smile widened, she immediately looked away. Staring at the redhead wouldn’t do much for her confidence.

“Ignore them,” murmured Lucy under her breath and June nodded stiffly.

The classroom door opened and Professor Flitwick began ushering them. June followed the Ravenclaw group listlessly, half hoping that something horrible would happen that would prevent her from making a fool of herself in front of everybody. Perhaps the roof would cave in and kill them all.

That would probably be too much to hope for.

“Bags and books away, wands up!” wheezed Professor Flitwick and there was a mass synchronization of chaos as everyone rifled through their bags and pockets for their wands. “When I call your name, step forward. I will hand you a piece of parchment labeled with the object you are to Conjure.”

Professor Flitwick pushed his glasses up his nose and began reading names. June could feel the sweat sliding from her palms onto her wand. The Hufflepuffs were situated in the second row, which left only the Ravenclaws and a few odd Slytherins in front of them.

It would only be a matter of minutes.

Clearing his throat, Professor Flitwick began reading. “Davies, step forward.”

Baron Davies struggled out of his chair, breathing deeply. The Head Boy badge glimmering on the front of his robes as he faced Professor Flitwick, who pressed a piece of parchment into his hand. Baron’s face went white as he read it.

“Are you ready, Mr. Davies?”

Baron nodded, holding his wand perfectly straight.

“You may begin.”

He swished the wand through the air, closing his eyes in concentration. A blurry line began materializing for a second before an ornate chandelier fell into his hands. The Ravenclaws burst out into applause.

Professor Flitwick inspected it carefully. “Slightly asymmetric. The wand movement could use more definition. Next, next!”

June’s panic increased as the line of Ravenclaws began shuffling forward. As expected, most of them did rather well, usually receiving a curt nod of approval from Professor Flitwick and the occasional note for improvement. To June’s disappointment, Rose managed to Conjure a nearly perfect parakeet cage, eliciting several swear words from Priscilla.

Only until one of the Slytherins accidentally his desk on fire did anything happen. It left Desmond and Nicholas howling with laughter, but it left June pale faced: she was next.

“Miss Bernard, if you will,” squeaked Professor Flitwick, smoke still furling in wisps around him.

She looked backwards as Professor Flitwick beckoned her and she could see the class staring at her. The Ravenclaw boys looked bored and the Ravenclaw girls were all watching her in pity. Lucy and Trista were whispering anxiously to each other. Priscilla made a nudging gesture.

She caught the eye of one of the Gryffindors as she accepted the parchment from Professor Flitwick. Perhaps out of idiocy or familiarity, she turned over her shoulder and searched for Albus. He, along with most of the class, was already watching her, but he looked almost – almost worried? irritated? perplexed? – but she turned back to Professor Flitwick and breathed deeply.

“You may begin.”

She opened the parchment and immediately paled as she read it in horror.

A table.

The biggest thing she had been able to Conjure in those lonely hours in the library was a goblet. She closed her eyes, and bits and pieces of phrases from various books flew in.

Constant concentration for large objects –

Visualize properly – it often helps to recreate something familiar or meaningful –

Familiar or meaningful.

Familiar.

Meaningful.

Only one thing came to mind. Only one table in her recent memory even vaguely struck her as meaningful. She pushed as much emotion into herself as she could, thinking of the many summers she had spent passing it, walking past the crude heart carved into the side. Everything about it was warm and bittersweet and thinking about it brought a splurge of new memories: hot Augusts, stifling early mornings, the smell of bread baking, dust flying into the air. Her mother was near the very beginning, her face obscured by time by lovely anyway. She would flit in between the aisles of the tables methodically, a perfect smile on her features.

Her father had let June climb over the table when she was younger, she had done homework on it as summers had become Septembers and in her father’s café, it had been the first table they had ever bought when Mr. and Mrs. Bernard first opened for business.

Conjuring wasn’t like the last time.

She had let her wand do the work then. She had let it instinctively take over and warm her over as it intuited what she asked of it.

But she felt filled with purpose when the tip of her wand set off with a bang. Something heavy thudded to the ground and she heard a few shrieks; hesitantly, she opened her eyes.

There it was.

Long and lean and weathered, with cracks and ridges over it, but magnificent in its own aged way. Big enough to seat six. It was a deep, rich mahogany with all the grace of a piano unraveled onto the wood.

“Excellent!” squeaked Professor Flitwick, “Well done, well done indeed!”

Wordlessly, she nodded, feeling the thrill of triumph sweep through her. There was one moment where she stood in front of the class as she turned to walk and saw the confused, perplexed faces.

For the past seven years, she had never felt the perfection of victory in this classroom. She had felt nearly every other emotion, but as she made her way back to her seat, she had wondered why she had never bothered studying all this time.

She beamed at Lucy and Trista, who were gaping. Priscilla looked like she had been clubbed.

“How’d I do?” she said, with a happy grin.

Behind her, the Gryffindor girls broke out in whispers. As Professor Flitwick Vanished the table and called up Iris Bosworth, June turned and stared directly at Albus. He looked back at her expressionlessly and she gave him a half-smirk as she waved away Lucy’s congratulations.

*

How did you do that?” Priscilla demanded, seizing June’s wand and inspecting it suspiciously. “It just isn’t possible.”

“Thanks,” said June dryly.

“You know we don’t mean it like that,” said Trista, frowning at Priscilla.

 “I’m honestly bloody surprised you didn’t pull a Bosworth over us and conjure a stool with one leg,” said Priscilla.

“I for one thought it was very nice that it all turned out well,” said Lucy, beaming.

“Yeah, did you see Potter’s face?” giggled Priscilla, “He looked like you’d smacked him. Oh, I wish you had – properly, not just figuratively – a nice smack up the – ”

“Shh!” hushed Lucy, waving away Priscilla’s last words as the Slytherins struggled out of the packed classroom.

June had already earned a few looks from the Ravenclaw girls, who had held their heads high as the marched out uniformly. Nicholas and Desmond both emerged behind the door, equal grins on their face.

“I reckon I at least got an E,” Desmond was saying.

“Don’t be stupid, your crystal ball wasn’t even clear!”

When Desmond saw June, he stopped mid-retort and began with a rousing, “Bernard, you genius! You bloody genius! Did you see the size of that table of yours?”

June went scarlet as Desmond threw an arm over her shoulder and Nicholas hovered over her and Priscilla, peeking in to say, “Yeah, congratulations June!”

“You did well too,” she said earnestly.

“Nah, I probably got a Dreadful again.” He shrugged it off. “Whatever, when’ll I ever need to Conjure a chair in real life anyway?”

In response, Priscilla pushed him to the ground.

Priscilla!” came Lucy’s shocked cry.

“Damn it,” he said, struggling up. “Why can’t you ever be normal?”

“You asked a question,” she said. “And I answered it for you.”

Trista pulled him to his feet as he made a face at her over Trista’s shoulder. “Psychopath.”

“Future homeless person.”

“Harpy.”

“Future dead person.”

“Ooh, scary Fawcett,” said Desmond, twisting his features. His arm was still around June’s shoulder and she smiled at him.

“Thanks Desmond,” said June, still feeling warm and happy.

He spared a moment from teasing Nicholas to look down at her, looking surprised at her seriousness. “Yeah, of course.”

There was a cluster of Slytherin girls who shuffled off, whispering excitedly among each other.

“Did you hear about Megara?”

“I think I got an Acceptable! Do you reckon I did?”

“I hate Charms, I hate it, I just – ”

Past the Slytherins came the Gryffindor girls who were walking in silence. Nikita Patil waved at June as she passed. Finally, the Gryffindor boys stepped out, two of them arguing vehemently about something. Albus was shunted to the side of them, looking the usual shade of irritation.

“Stop it, will you?” he snapped, brushing past them and making his way to the stairs. He turned slightly as he stalked past June and she thought for a brief moment that his eyes lingered on Desmond’s arm around her shoulder.

She smiled as he disappeared downstairs.

This was her victory.

Not even he could take it away from her.

*

“When will these things actually bloom?” asked June, gently tilting the watering can towards a purple bud.

“A few weeks, maybe,” said Lysander. “They’re here all year, though, because they’re so useful.”

He smiled toothily up at her when she thanked him.

“You don’t know two things about Herbology and you’re getting paid,” said Lorcan, making a face from several rows down.

In the late afternoon light, the dancing purple buds of the Rosemallow paired with the glimmering roots and mounds of dirt dispersed a fresh, earthy smell into the air. It smelled of the coming spring, even though winter raged outside the windows.

“You’re very bitter for being so small,” said June serenely as Lorcan looked on in outrage.

“I am not small!”

“You are.” She indicated a height near her shoulder. “See, you’re only that tall. That’s considered short. Every girl your year must be taller than you.”

Lysander grinned as Lorcan went red. “They are.”

“You shut it!” said Lorcan.

“That’s why Cathy Pomfrey won’t look at him,” said Lysander sagely.

Lorcan’s red set into an even deeper magenta. “You – you – I’m going to kill you!”

“That’s adorable,” said June, smiling as Lorcan approached Lysander threateningly and grabbed him by the shoulders.

“You’re not any better!” screeched Lorcan over June, “You fancy that – that Hufflepuff Quidditch girl!”

“Quidditch girl?” interjected June as Lysander turned red to match Lorcan.

“A Hufflepuff,” said Lorcan, shaking Lysander, “she plays Quidditch or something and she’s kind of old.”

“She doesn’t just play Quidditch,” said Lysander, appalled, “she’s the best Quidditch player our House’s had in decades!”

“She’s still too old for you! She wouldn’t look twice at you!”

“It’s only five years!” said Lysander with the air of someone who had clearly thought the calculation through.

“Five years?” mused June. Hufflepuff…Quidditch player. “Hang on, do you mean Trista St. Clair?”

Lorcan stopped, mid-shove. “Yeah, you know her?”

“She’s one of my friends, actually,” said June.

Lysander looked up at her, his blue eyes popping excitedly. “You know her?! She’s brilliant, isn’t she? Did you see the last game against Ravenclaw? They throttled their Beaters, if you saw – and they say she wants to play for England – but of course, she could, she’s – she’s – ”

“Here it comes,” murmured Lorcan, looking exasperated. Ignoring Lysander’s raving, he contented himself with staring out the transparent glass of the greenhouse.

“ – magnificent, don’t you think?” Lysander dreamily poured the rest of the water on a bud. “Her plays are some of the most original ones in Hogwarts history.” Quite abruptly, the dreamy look retracted from his face, replaced by a new shyness. “Do you think you could introduce me?”

“Why?” snorted Lorcan, still watching the glass, “So you can blubber all over her?”

“I wouldn’t blubber, I’d write her a poem! About how much I fancy her!”

“Hey look,” said Lorcan, in a different voice, pointing outside “I can see Rose from here!”

“Rose?” repeated Lysander, stopping himself and staring out the glass. “Where?”

As June peeked over their heads, Lorcan pointed at a distance in the snowy grounds. “Near Hagrid’s Hut. Look, Lucy’s with her.”

“She’s a Hufflepuff too!” said Lysander proudly.

“I know,” said June, smiling. “I’ve known her for the last seven years.”

Lorcan rolled his eyes. “Oh, there’s Roxanne.”

A small, dark-haired girl popped out in the snow, giggling and waving goodbye. June stared at her, never having seen the youngest Weasley before. But the figure that ambled out after her was too uncomfortably familiar to her.

“And there’s Albus,” said Lysander.

“Everyone went to visit!” said Lorcan indignantly, “How come Hagrid never invites us?”

“Probably because you tried slipping  his flobberworms a Swelling Solution last time he did,” said Lysander. “And then one of them nearly ate me.”

In response, Lorcan grabbed Lysander, who instead fell back into June.

“Will you two stop fighting?” she said, pulling Lysander back to his feet.

Before Lysander could retort, a head of bright red hair peeked over the mound of snow, shortly followed by Lucy’s familiar plump frame.

“Look, Rose and Lucy,” said Lysander, apparently forgetting that not a few seconds ago, his brother had attempted throttling him. “Let’s say hello!”

He leapt to the edge of the greenhouse and seized open the door, letting a flurry of minute snowflakes blanket the ground. “Lucy, Rose, Roxanne! Hi!

As he waved enthusiastically, Lorcan groaned, “Oh, not Rose. Please don’t – ”

“Don’t be rude,” hissed Lysander, pushing Lorcan forward. “Say hello! You too, June! You said you knew Lucy, right?”

June stood rooted in place. “Er, no thanks. I’ll talk to her some other time.”

“You’re a lunatic,” muttered Lorcan.

But as Lysander persisted calling, “Lucy! Roxanne!” it became apparent that they heard him. They stopped near a small mountain of snow and instead of walking straight towards the castle, Lucy stopped Rose, saying something and gesturing towards Lysander.

This would be the worst timing to date of Lucy’s kind intentions.

Rose seemed to be disagreeing; it was the first time in memory that June was praying that Rose would succeed in something.

Roxanne caught up to the two of them, jumping up excitedly and racing forward towards the Greenhouse. The others lingered for a moment before following.

Within seconds, Roxanne flew through the open door and directly into Lysander. He seemed to reverberate off of her as he landed on the floor. “Hi Lys! I saw you waving outside!”

“Roxie, you’re a bloody maniac,” said Lorcan, eyeing her with caution.

She turned to face him; of all the Weasley girls that June had seen, it became apparent that even as a second year, she was the prettiest. She had large blue eyes and brown toned skin and hair that was cut bluntly to frame her eyes. “Hi Lorc!”

“Don’t call me that,” said Lorcan, taking two steps backwards, his palms held in front of him. “And for Merlin’s sake, don’t get any closer.”

“Ignore him, Roxie,” said Lysander, nursing his head as he picked himself off the floor. “He doesn’t understand Hufflepuffs.”

She nodded, her grin widening even more. “That’s alright! I don’t mind! I saw you there, Lys, and I had to visit, I knew I just had to!”

“You only saw him this morning,” said Lorcan.

“Yes, but he’s my best friend and that’s an eternity away!” she bubbled, floating again towards Lysander, her eyes huge and unblinking. “Why did you wave? You did want to see me, didn’t you?” Her lip wavered. “Or didn’t you? Maybe you didn’t and then – then, that means you didn’t want me and that means – ”

“No, I did,” said Lysander weakly, looking alarmed at her sudden sadness.

She cheered up immediately, the huge smile reappearing. “Really?! I wanted to see you too! That’s why I came!”

The door reopened as Rose, Lucy and Albus clambered in, bringing another shower of snow. Albus shut the door behind him as Rose burst into an exclamation of, “Really, this is just a ridiculous idea! It’s freezing outside and I’d like to get back to the castle and instead, we’re dawdling here!”

“I wanted to say hello!” said Roxanne, wringing Lysander’s hand and shaking it so forcefully that his whole arm swung up and down.

“It’s cold outside and Roxanne wanted to say hello, so I thought it would be good to stop for a break,” said Lucy placidly.

“Look Lucy, June says she knows you!” said Lysander, pointing to June with his free arm as the other one continued to be thrown up and down.

“June?” Lucy turned in surprise, “Why would she – June?

She caught sight of June squatting under a table.

It wasn’t much of an attempt at hiding, but it was a valiant one nonetheless.

Still, there was only so much a girl could do with a table and a watering can that didn’t involve hiding under it and holding the watering can over her face.

June emerged, blooming red. “Um. Hello…”

“What’re you doing here?” asked Lucy.

“Working,” said June in a small voice, hoping desperately that neither Rose nor Albus had overheard her; Roxanne was not much of a problem, seeing that she was speaking almost unintelligibly to Lysander, who had resorted to merely nodding.

Oh,” said Lucy, flushing herself as she realized the obvious. “Of course, I’m so sorry.”

Working?” said Rose, pushing back her red hair and watching June with wide eyes, “Oh, I’ve heard that Uncle Neville gets help around here. I always thought they were little children – or, you know – house elves­ – but I guess it’s all the same in the end. It must be so hard to be working here. Menial labor and all.”

She earned the glares of Lorcan and June as she smirked.

“It isn’t very hard,” said June as coldly as she could muster when her complexion was flaming. “It’s quite nice.”

“Oh, I imagine so,” said Rose.

“June earns money,” said Lucy defensively. “I think it’s quite smart myself.”

“Money?” goggled Rose gleefully, “Aren’t there better ways of earning money?”

“I like it here,” said June tersely. “And Professor Longbottom’s very kind to me and I need the money.” She set down the watering can. “I’m going to go now.”

“You’re leaving?” asked Lysander, who was now slightly blue from Roxanne’s chokehold on him.

“I’ll see you in a bit,” said June, peeling off the protective gloves. She ignored Lucy’s inquisitive stare, dodged Roxanne and Lysander, dodged Rose and made a reach for the door that was promptly blocked by Albus’s right hand.

She recoiled, staring hard at the ground; she could almost feel the disapproving glare wafting off from Albus. “What?”

“It’s cold outside,” he said. “Go through the other Greenhouses and up to the castle.”

“Mind your own business.”

His hand was still firmly blocking the door. “Go through the other door.”

“Oh, let her go out, Albus,” said Rose. “If she’s got no common sense, that’s her problem.”

“I don’t want to go through the other greenhouses,” said June, finally tilting her head upwards to stare defiantly at him.

Going through the other greenhouses was probably a better idea than freezing through the snow.

But since he’d been the one to suggest it, June supposed she’d rather take the cold inconvenience of the wintertime than admit anything to him.

“Don’t be stubborn.” He removed his hand and for a moment, June thought that he was letting her go. As she took a long step forwards, he blocked her by walking into her.

She could feel heat sweeping through her as she skidded against his shoulder. “Move.”

“No.”

“Fine,” she said, frowning at him in frustration. He looked back at her, frowning. “Fine, don’t move then!” She sidestepped him, ducked under his arm and flung the door open as she ran onto the grounds.

She could hear the door closing behind her as she trudged angrily into the snow.

It really was freezing.

Her breath came up in a fog as her feet squelched in the snow. The wetness was seeping into her shoes and her cheeks were quickly flushing in a mixture of the cold and her own embarrassment.

First Rose was being typically Rose, then Albus was trying to boss her again…like nothing had changed between them in the time she’d yelled at him and marched away. Like all she had told herself about forgetting him and all the work she had done since didn’t matter to him at all and he was Albus Severus Potter – everybody had to like him.

The day had started normally enough.

And somewhere between it, she had ended here – freezing, alone, the wind biting furiously into her face and the wetness in her feet.

When she heard footsteps behind her, she stopped, not daring herself to turn around. “Lucy?”

“I told you it was cold.”

Balling her hands into fists, she kept walking forward, ignoring him.

“You’ve got to be stubborn about everything, don’t you?”

She could hear the smirk in his voice.

“Does it ever occur to you to stop making stupid decisions?”

At that, she whirled at him. “Why are you following me?”

And there he was, the smile she had predicted slapped on his face. It looked childish, misplaced on him – smiling at her, here of all places. He never smiled at her for the right reasons, only when it was time to belittle her or win some imaginary battle that she was tired of fighting.

“I’m not,” he said curtly. “Lucy wanted me to – ”

“Lucy wouldn’tve asked,” she said, irked. “If Lucy wanted anything, she would’ve come after me herself.”

At the surprise plastered on his face, she clutched her fists harder. “See? I’m not stupid anymore, am I?”

“I never – ”

“Don’t,” she said venomously, “I don’t want to know.”

She turned on her heel and began making her way up the winding path. One of the castle’s towers came looming into view.

After a long moment, she could Albus’s voice snaking from behind her. “How did you do that today?”

When she didn’t respond, he walked faster until he’d managed to cover the distance between them, stuffing his hands in his pockets. In the cold, his skin looked paler, his hair darker, his eyes greener. He was still handsome, even if she’d stopped fancying him…cold and distant, a star shining far, far past her. He looked more like the Albus that was once the figment of her imagination. “Are you going to answer me?”

She darted her eyes away from him. “No.”

He smirked. “You just did.”

Somehow, this was all part of one of the inane fantasies she’d conjured in the months past. The snow, them together, alone in the wintertime. He’d say something, she’d retort…it had all been so pleasant then. Instead, June felt nauseous at the thought of it.

“I don’t care,” she huffed.

“Tell me.”

“Why do you care?” she snapped.

There was a long silence. A gale blew more snow in between them.

“I don’t.”

“Good.”

“Now, tell me.”

She turned backwards, unaware of how much he’d managed to catch up, until he nearly stepped on her feet.

At his expressionless face, she said simply, “Because I tried. And I didn’t need you to do it.”

“You tried?”

“I didn’t need you. I did it myself.”

For a brief, heart-stopping moment, she thought he would yell at her, and she prepared herself to yell back again. Instead, he stepped forward and she stepped backward. “You made me help you, don’t you remember?”

“You didn’t help at all. You weren’t trying to help me. You were too busy thinking you were too good for me – and hating – hating me for – ”

Her voice cracked and she hated herself for it.

“ – making me feel bad for existing, making me feel like I was always stupid – I didn’t have a lot in the first place and now I don’t need you anymore either – ”

“Made you feel bad for existing?” he echoed tonelessly.

“You never noticed?” she hissed back, “And now I’m trying to live my life in peace and you won’t let me and – ”

It was the closest to tears she had been near him.

But she would never let herself cry in front of him – or because of him – again.

His eyes were wide and green and for the first time, he looked like he had an emotion other than disapproval on his face. “I didn’t mean to.”

“You didn’t mean to?” she said incredulously, more red flushing into her face. “Oh, that’s funny!”

“Stop laughing at me,” he snapped, “I’m trying to – ”

“I know what you’re trying to do. I’m not giving you enough attention and now you’re badgering me because I don’t feel like worshipping you.”

He grimaced. “This is what I get for trying to see that you don’t freeze to death?”

“You should’ve let me!”

“That much is obvious.”

“And you’ll finally be alone and you can be a perfect arsehole all by yourself – ”

“Stop calling me that!”

“Stop giving me reasons to!”

Another violent wind blew over them, rattling the tree branches laden with snow above them. The branches quivered, before sweeping the snow they held onto the ground.

As the snow fell over her head, June could feel the cold infiltrating her fingers; they felt bloodless, frozen, and she rubbed them together furiously. “I’m tired of this. I’m tired of this conversation, I’m tired of you.”

“Stop saying stupid things.”

She began walking again, rubbing her hands as she went. “I’m sorry for fancying you. I regret it. There. I said it. Are you happy now?”

“I was trying to say something,” he said, sounding annoyed, “but you’re talking over me again.”

“I don’t want to listen, that’s why!”

“That’s very fair of you,” he huffed.

“When have you ever been fair to me?”

Once again, he had managed to walk and cover the distance between them. Instead of stopping, he kept walking fast and she could see his shoulders pass her by through the whiteness of the snow.

“I don’t have to be fair to you.”

She heard it through the wind and narrowed her eyes at his back, willing her anger to pierce through. “Then why do I have to be fair to you? Because you’re so brilliant, so famous, so bloody perfect”

He glanced over his shoulder. “Because you fancy me.”

“I did.” She’d expected herself to shout at him, but it came out softly. “I did. But that doesn’t really matter, does it?”

When he gave no response, she let the conversation fall into an icy silence. They passed the outline of the Astronomy tower, cloaked by snowflakes, and the distant lines of the Quidditch Pitch. A few feet from the Hogwarts entrance, Albus stopped.

June kept walking. As she began to near him, she heard him say, “Why do you always have to be so thick?”

Don’t call me that!” she rounded on him. “Don’t keep acting like I’m completely worthless because I’ve stopped caring what you think!”

“When have I ever acted like that?”

He genuinely sounded perplexed. It irritated her how confused he seemed.

“Every time you talk to me!”

“Stop inferring things that aren’t there and throwing a fit about it.”

She turned scarlet. “I’m telling the truth.”

“You’re flattering yourself again.”

“Say what you want.” She stared up at him. “I’m going inside. This’s a waste of my time. You’re a waste of my time. I hate having this conversation over and over.”

“So that’s it?” he asked, before she could maneuver herself away from him.

“I told you I don’t care about you.”

“Funny way of phrasing that you basically got rejected and now, you’ve given up and you’re whining about it.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re trying to get a rise out of me again.”

“Am I?” he sounded amused.

“Yeah.” Her face slowly began to light up with illumination; everything made sense...somehow. Slowly, it was falling together. Any other girl might have caught it before, but she was June Bernard and this realization somehow had taken months to achieve. “You like making me feel bad. It makes you feel more important. Lucy told me that you’re not really like how you are. And I used to fancy you, so I know. You love rejecting girls. Iris, Cora, Nikita, Victoria, half the girls in our year…does it make you feel like you actually earned the fame you have?”

When he said nothing, she continued triumphantly. “You’ve got some kind of complex about all of this. Feeling famous and brilliant and me fancying you and you always saying horrid things – that helped, didn’t it?”

“Did it?” he said carelessly.

“Well, now I don’t need you anymore and eventually, nobody else will either. Because your dad’s the famous one and not you. Everyone’ll forget you just like I did. So you can stop pretending now.” Her breath came out in a cloud. “See? I’ve won.”

“You won?” he said.  

 “You’re not complicated or mysterious at all,” she said, willing him to contradict her. “You’re just kind of pathetic.”

When she broke off huffing, he was back to his deadpan, unimpressed stare. “So you won because you think you’ve forgotten me? According to you, you mean?”

“Yes and I – ”

He took a step forward, grasping her right hand in his. She stared at him, rooted in confusion, her mouth beginning to form words.

He interlaced their fingers. His skin was as cold and hard as hers had become, but a small warmth was trickling up her hand.

“Stop,” she said, attempting to pull away.

“Feeling uncomfortable, are we?” he gripped on more tightly, his fingers pushing her whole arm forward.

Stop.

“I will if you stop struggling and listen,” he said calmly. His entire manner seemed to change as she ceased her yanking; he had a half-smile on his face…but for once, it wasn’t a prelude to his mocking. He leaned in closer, his breath fogging near her cheeks. “Would you be happy if I said I was sorry for the trouble I’ve given you?”

When his arms began encircling her shoulders and he pushed her forward once more until she was finally face to face with him and his confusing green eyes. He was waiting for her…to say something, to forgive him once more, so they could begin all of this again. So they could walk in circles…

She stared blankly at him, feeling a whirlpool of emotions flood through her, clashing for vocalization. “It’s too late for that now,” she managed.

He was still holding her hand vacantly, his eyes slowly widening.

Her heart threatening to thud out of her chest, she stomped on his foot. Taken by surprise, he released her hand and she raced past him, up the castle steps and through the open door. She could hear him cursing alone on the snow, but the world was suddenly too full of her heartbeats for him to matter.

After she had sped up her first flight of stairs, she stopped, staring at the trail of watery footsteps she’d left behind herself. Somewhere ahead of her lay all the answers to a new beginning without him.





Author's Note: I'm alive! I've survived my first few weeks of college and I've finally updated! College has been chaos so far: homework, getting lost (several times), hearing drunk people late at night, not eating, not sleeping, and lots and lots of reading Thoreau and Poe. I've managed an update after staying up until 2AM  writing and juggling studying and Junebus. But here it is!

What did you guys think of this chapter? June being June? Albus being...whatever the heck he is, really. I think he defies classification. He might be a new species.

Also, last thing! I don't know if you guys've been following the Dobby Awards on the forums, but I'd really like to thank all of you who nominated my crazy Victoire/Victoire "Hourglass Tilting" and my Alice one-shot "Crown" and moved them to finalists for Best One-shot and for those who supported Rose in "Some Kind of Beauty". It means the world, so thank you so much for the nominations and votes. If you'd like to, please check them out! :D They're very different from the fluff/humor genre of 'BIR', but everyone's support and votes has made me feel so lucky and loved. ♥ 

Celeste


Chapter 13: Denouement
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Denouement

“You’ve been really quiet lately,” said Lucy, wrapping a scarf around her neck. “Is anything wrong?”

“No,” said June placidly, not looking up from her Divination homework. She drew a steady line between Neptune and Pluto.

Priscilla strolled out of the loo, her hair still damp from showering. She sat on her bed and began tugging on a pair of shoes.

Lucy was still frowning at June. “Why aren’t you getting ready?”

“For what?” asked June aimlessly.

Lucy and Priscilla shared a stunned look.

“Are you mad?” said Priscilla. “The Quidditch game, of course! Trista’s only been going on about it for two bloody months!”

“When is it again?”

“In twenty minutes,” said Lucy, her frown deepening. “Honestly June, Trista’s been gone all morning! Haven’t you noticed?”

“Not really.”

Before Lucy or Priscilla could say anything more, June turned over on her side and began dotting in Neptune’s moons.

“Have you gone completely insane?” said Priscilla, eyeing her more carefully. “You haven’t been yourself since – “

“Since when?” snapped June back.

“Since you walked in here, half frozen to death, dripping water all over everything,” said Priscilla, not looking the least bit intimidated by June’s waspish glare. “Then you nearly ended up crying over Corner when he asked you for a spare quill.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

“You looked like a lunatic,” snorted Priscilla. “Corner, that idiot, blubbering around with you sobbing on him. Go on, get ready.”

She tossed a Hufflepuff scarf at June, who stared it as it landed beside her. “Do I have to?”

“Oh, I don’t understand it!” Lucy threw her hands up in exasperation. “You won’t tell us what’s wrong and you still expect us to believe you’re feeling all right! We’ve got no time June! We’ve got to leave!”

Fine.” June heaved herself up, and began pulling her shoes back on grudgingly.

It wasn’t so much the idea of seeing the Quidditch game that annoyed her.

Quidditch could be confusing and sometimes boring, but she had sat through it many times before.

It was the almost sure possibility of seeing the Gryffindors. After the events of the past few days, it made her queasy to think about. It was the semi-finals to the Quidditch Cup. Of course he would be there. Nearly everybody would.

“Why’re you so eager to go early?” asked June crossly. “Twenty minutes – we’ll find seats  anyway – ”

“I have been wondering about that,” said Lucy, staring at Priscilla. “Normally we’ve got to drag you out so you’ll be on time.”

“I’m not saying anything,” said Priscilla mysteriously, descending down the stairs. At the bottom of the staircase, Nicholas and Desmond were waiting, along with –

“June!” crowed Henry Bates, pouncing at her and throwing an arm around her shoulders. “How’ve you been? I haven’t seen you in days!”

“Erm, fine,” said June, attempting to shuffle away to no avail. “How’re you, Henry?”

Beside her, Nicholas gave a barely restrained snicker as Desmond rolled his eyes. Priscilla squinted at the clock. “Alright, we should be on our way.”

“I still don’t understand why you’re so eager all of a sudden,” called Lucy as she descended from the stairs. “You’ve never shown interest before.”

“That’s right,” piped up Nicholas. “I thought you said Quidditch was a game for brutes?”

“Supporting St. Clair are we, Fawcett?” said Henry.

“Oh, that’s not it at all,” said Desmond with a smug grin. “Fawcett and I are…partaking in the festivities, as they say.”

“What does that mean?” said Lucy, looking wary.

“Nothing to worry your Prefect badge about, Weasley,” said Desmond smoothly as Lucy continued to glare suspiciously.

“Is it illegal?

“Didn’t I just tell you not to worry?”

“We’re going to be late at this rate!” screeched Priscilla, pointing at the Common Room door and shepherding them out.

Most of the school seemed to be on its way to the Quidditch field; the stairs and halls were crowded with shuffling feet and clashing House colors. They passed a large group of Ravenclaws waving Gryffindor flags, Rose Weasley stalking past in the forefront.

“Ravenclaw’s supporting Gryffindor?” said Lucy, “I thought they’d support us…”

“After the trashing we gave them last time?” snorted Desmond. “Unlikely. I saw a couple of Slytherins with Hufflepuff flags, though.”

“They always treat us better than the Gryffindors do,” noted Nicholas.

“Only because we give them all the potions they’ll need to pass their classes,” muttered Desmond.

“Either way, their support won’t last. They’ll be against us soon enough during the finals.”

The talk descended into indecipherable Quidditch mumble soon after. Meanwhile, Henry had delved into vigorously detailing his last week to June, whose eyes were threatening to glaze over.

Only when they exited the castle and June felt the coldness in the air did she interrupt Henry. “It’s snowing!”

“Not much, they’ll still be able to play,” was Priscilla’s curt reply as she continued plowing determinedly through the light layer of snow that had nestled over the grass.

The Stadium came looming in sight, and they began stumbling up to their seats, navigating around a group of fifth year Gryffindors, who began jeering at the sight of their Hufflepuff flags.

“Idiots,” murmured Nicholas.

Henry cut between Nicholas and Lucy to sit between June, pushing an annoyed looking Gryffindor to the side in the process. As Henry attempted to casually lean back, June looked to her side. Priscilla hadn’t sat down and was instead wandering down the rows towards the commentator’s box, Desmond shuffling behind her.

“Where’re you two going?” June called.

“Somewhere,” said Priscilla, a wry smile twisting on her face.

“Lost something, Desmond?” said Henry.

“No, not exactly,” said Desmond, waggling an eyebrow. “Fawcett and I’ve got a job to do, you see.”

“What?” asked Lucy.

As Priscilla trod on the feet of a group of Ravenclaws in attempt to navigate, Desmond said, “You’re looking at the co-commentators of the semi-finals, ladies.”

Priscilla?” said Lucy incredulously.

“I thought Sylvie Davies usually commentated!” said June, who rarely attended Quidditch matches.

“She does,” said Henry, attempting to sling an arm around her shoulders again. She ignored him as he flashed a large, dimpled smile her way.

“She got sick last week, remember? They needed a spare commentator. Aubrey asked me, I passed the word on to Fawcett. She agreed to help.”

“She agreed to help?” spluttered Lucy. “Desmond, have you got any idea at all what she’ll say? Priscilla isn’t – isn’t the type of person that ought to have a megaphone – ”

But they were both out of hearing distance as Lucy blubbered behind them. They watched as Desmond and Priscilla leapt lithely between the rows, aggravating rows of Ravenclaws and Gryffindors who called angrily after them. Finally, they weaved their way into a commentator’s box to meet Professor Aubrey.

“Oh no,” groaned Lucy.

“Well, this should be interesting,” said Nicholas lightly.

“They’re going to ruin everything!”

“Why?” prodded June.

“Don’t you see? They’ll upstage Trista – or they’ll upset her – oh, I don’t know. Remember Duncan said that there’d be a scout from some team coming to watch? What if they embarrass her? She’d murder them. She really would.”

“Makes it even more interesting,” said Nicholas.

June heard nothing more that Nicholas said; instead, she was watching the very last of the rows being filled with Gryffindors and Slytherins. Anybody else she wouldn’t’ve noticed among the rows of black robes and clashing scarves. There was too much noise and shuffling and pushing.

But she saw him. Seven rows down. All she needed to recognize him was the black hair.

She stared for a long moment as the other Gryffindor boys sat down. One of them was laughing, speaking boisterously to him. Beside them, several Slytherin seventh years gave them dirty looks.

A feeling of dread swooped through her as Albus talked.

An uncomfortable heat flushed through her, making her feel raw and pinched.

Beside her, nobody seemed to have noticed anything until Henry followed her stare.

His brown eyes got wider. “Is that – that Albus Potter fellow, June?”

She darted her eyes away. “Who?”

“That one.” He pointed. “Down there. The Gryffindor.”

“Which one?” she asked in what she hoped was a confused tone. Lucy broke off talking and followed Henry’s finger.

“What about Albus?” asked Lucy.

“Nothing,” said June innocently.

“Strange bloke,” contributed Nicholas.

“How do you know him?” asked Lucy.

“We had Care of Magical Creatures together last year. We had to raise our Skrewts together.”

“What’d you think of him?” demanded Henry, still staring between June and Albus.

“He was nice enough, I suppose. Didn’t talk that much, but he was all right.” A smug grin crept onto Nicholas’s face. “But I’ve heard otherwise regarding Bernard here.”

June went red. “That was a long time ago.”

“June’s left that behind,” agreed Lucy.

Henry squinted one last time at the blur that was Albus. “Don’t waste your time on him, June. I’m here for you.”

“Erm. Thank you.” June leaned away from Henry as Nicholas began grinning.

“I’ve heard a few things about you and him,” admitted Henry. “I didn’t want to believe it, but…”

Before Henry could finish, there was a loud burst of cheering.

Quiet, everyone!” Professor Aubrey’s voice reverberated through the Quidditch stadium. A hush quickly ensued. “Welcome to the semifinals of the Quidditch cup! Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff!”

The cheering that spiraled was nearly deafening. From where June sat, the stadium looked like a ripping sea of black and yellow clashing with gold and red. The row of fourth years in front of them began unfurling a large banner, revealing an enormous painted badger.

“Your co-commentators for this match will be Desmond Jordan and Priscilla Fawcett, both from Hufflepuff!” Professor Aubrey craned the megaphone forward, ushering in Desmond and Priscilla to sit.

There was a large outpouring of boos from the Gryffindor side.

“Oh shut up, you uncultured arses!”

Priscilla’s voice echoed through the stadium. It was met with cheers from the Hufflepuffs.

Lucy buried her head into her hands, muttering, “Of all the people – ”

“No worries, Pris,” said Desmond coolly, “they’re only Gryffindors. They’re like lower life forms.”

Priscilla snorted. “Intelligent as toilets?”

“Now you’re just being rude.”

“Am I?”

“I’ll have you know my toilet can do maths and breathe at the same time.”

“That’s one more thing than any Gryffindor can do!” said Priscilla, feigning surprise. “And one more than what they should do, frankly.”

“The point is that the toilet analogy – unfair, Fawcett.”

“Fine. Lamps?”

“Nah. Lamps’re kind of useful.”

“Pumpkins?”

“Too orange. By Merlin’s fifth finger, you’ve got no talent at this sort of thing.”

“I think the real question is, why we’re bothering to debate their intelligence. The question of the hour is obviously ‘what intelligence?’

She drew more boos from the Gryffindors; a few of them hurled their flags her way. She ducked as the Slytherins burst out in appreciative laughter.

June could hear Desmond waving away Professor Flitwick. “ – no bias, I swear, Professor. Just a bit of inter-house fun, you must know what I mean – ”

A large swell of applause and screams drowned out the rest of his explanation as seven scarlet-clad blurs entered the Quidditch field.

“And the Gryffindors’re out!” said Desmond, “Do you remember any of their names by any chance, Fawcett?”

“No, but how hard can it be? We can always make some up.”

“Exactly the sort of attitude to have,” said Desmond approvingly. “Right, so there’s a ginger. Let’s call him a Weasley for sanity’s sake.”

“I think that one might be Louis Weasley. Or maybe Hugo.”

“Louis or possibly Hugo Weasley, ladies and gentlemen!” The redhead turned and glared at the commentator’s box. “Alright, let’s have a look at that Beater over there.”

“Beater?” snorted Priscilla. “I always thought Beaters weren’t supposed to be shaped like the thing they were hitting.”

“Rightly so. Er – this piece of paper says that that’s Abraxas Flint. Unfortunate name, really. His mum must really hate him. No wonder he’s a Gryffindor.”

That’s Captain Xavier Wood,” said Priscilla brightly. “Nearly failed Potions last year.”

“Did he?” asked Desmond, “And there’s two other blokes there that I frankly can’t be bothered to name. Ooh, look, another ginger. Anybody surprised? Must be breeding season again.”

“Another Weasley?” asked Priscilla.

“Only if you round up. That there’s the youngest female Seeker in twenty-two years.”

“Presenting Lily ‘No, not that one’ Potter, ladies, gentlemen and Gryffindors!”

As the cheers and jeers reached a deafening loudness, Desmond gave a barely perceptible shout of, “And here’s the best team of the last decade or so – Hufflepuff!”

June craned past Henry, hoping to catch a glimpse of Trista. All she could make out was Trista’s blonde hair tied back as she determinedly crossed the field, the rest of the team following behind her.

“Led by the captain – Trista St. Clair, Chaser – ”

“ – a damn good one, too!” added Priscilla; it earned a grateful wave from Trista. “Podmore – otherwise known as the slave – ”

“Weren’t they dating at some point?” asked Desmond, dramatically cupping his hand around his ear.

“Don’t interrupt me, I’m trying to remember their damn names! That’s Sloper and Robbins – the other Chasers – Macmillian and Bones, Beaters, Jorkins’s the Seeker.”

“Now St. Clair’s shaking hands with the Gryffindor captain – whatshisname – probably closest he’s got to a girl in a while by the look of him – ”

From her seat, she could see the Bludgers flying into the air. Screams followed the snitch’s flight and finally, the referee threw the Quaffle up.

And they’re off!” screeched Priscilla. “The Quaffle’s off, the Bludger’s are going – ”

“Hit Weasley, hit him – damn it!” said Desmond as Louis/Hugo Weasley went reeling away from a Bludger.

“Sloper’s got the Quaffle, pass to Robbins, pass back to Sloper, pass to St. Clair – come on Trista, come on – ” Trista was a tiny glint in the sky, expertly poised as she lunged forward, the Quaffle flying out of her hands. The Gryffindor Keeper thrashed uselessly as it went sailing past him.

“YES, YES, EAT THAT YOU DAMN – ”

“10-0 Hufflepuff!” said Priscilla as the scoreboards changed themselves.

“They’re very taken by it, aren’t they?” muttered Nicholas.

All June heard over the screams was Lucy’s murmur of “abuse of power” as Henry once again slung an arm around her shoulder.

One of the Gryffindor chasers had gotten hold of the Quaffle; it went sideways between two burly boys and flew through the air. A small girl in Hufflepuff robes deftly intercepted it.

“Anna Robbins with the Quaffle! Robbins with the Quaffle!” Desmond sounded like he was bouncing up and down. “Come on, Robbins – ”

The rest of his plea was interrupted as a Bludger went whooshing through the air towards Anna Robbins, who twirled upside down and promptly dropped the Quaffle. A flash of red streaked through the air.

Gryffindor in possession – DUNCAN, GROW SOME – ”

But Lily Potter quickly closed the distance between the field and the Hufflepuff hoops. Duncan Podmore hovered by the hoops, his Keeper bat ready. She darted to the right, then left, and finally launched the Quaffle. Duncan flailed in the air, but it flew past his shoulder.

The cheers of the Gryffindors nearly drowned out Desmond’s woebegone, “NOOOOO.”

“10-10,” said Priscilla in a sickly sweet tone, “scored by Lily Evans – no, Weasley – oh, I can’t believe I completely forgot her name. Oh silly me.

The rest of the game began repeating itself. For every point the Hufflepuffs made, it was soon enclosed by the speed of the Gryffindor Chasers and Lily Potter’s ability to loop through the sky with impossible ease. Bludgers whizzed up and down, at one point getting dangerously close to Trista, which sent Desmond once again dancing with the megaphone, cursing at Louis/Hugo Weasley.

Priscilla was exacting her revenge on Lily Potter by pretending to forget her name every time she brought her up. As a result, all sorts of strange combinations had sprouted out: Lily Lovegood, Lily Longbottom, Lily Scamander, Lily Snape…

Having never understood Quidditch, the match soon dissolved into a slew of flying dots and numbers to June. Exhausted with trying to keep up with them, she turned to Lucy, who had seemingly given up watching.

“I wish they wouldn’t talk about Lily like that,” said Lucy fretfully. “Lily doesn’t take these kinds of things well.”

“Trista and Potter’re going head to head,” said Nicholas in awe. “Look at them! They’re practically going at each other’s throats!”

“June? Can I ask you something?” asked Henry, turning to face her. “I’ve been thinking about you a lot.” He reached for her hand and she retracted nervously.

“Have you?” she asked uncomfortably.

“Do you still fancy that Albus Potter?”

“Why’re you asking?” she muttered.

“I – I know you think I’m stupid, but June, I swear, I’m not! I know you’ve been avoiding me because you can’t face me!” He scrunched his eyes and bent his head down. “I told you, I’ve heard some things!”

June blinked in surprise. “Like what?”

With his eyes still closed, he began pressing his hands. “I’ve heard that you kissed him. Once.”

“Oh. That.”

“I didn’t believe it, June, I swear I didn’t! I know you wouldn’t do such a thing! Potter must’ve forced you!”

“Henry.” She put a hand on his shoulder and he looked up, opening his eyes reluctantly. “I did.”

His mouth fell into a quivering line. “So it’s true.”

“But that was a while ago. So it’s different now.” June turned back to face the Quidditch match.

Henry seized her hand, turning her back to face him. “You’re serious, June? Absolutely?”

His large brown eyes stared down at her. She looked away, instead focusing her gaze down the few rows that separated her and the Gryffindor boys.

“Absolutely.”

He broke out in a relieved smile. “Thank Merlin. I couldn’t fancy you knowing you fancied somebody else.”

“I’m sorry, Henry.” He looked at her in surprise and she managed a weak smile. “I must’ve put you through a lot.”

“I’ll wait for you.”

“What?” she asked, taken aback. “Um. Why?”

“Because you’re the only girl that hasn’t made fun of me,” he said simply. “Every girl I’ve ever fancied treats me horribly. But you never have. So I’ll fancy you forever.”

“Henry…”

“No, really.” He gave his usual grin. “I will. I’m not like everyone else. Not as smart – or – or – but you’ve never treated me that way. You don’t laugh at me or anything. So I’ll always be here for you.”

June stared at him speechlessly.

“Thank you, Henry.”

 “60-50, Hufflepuff leading!” barked Desmond in the distance, “Lunge for it, Sloper, c’mon!”

Cheers erupted. Desmond groaned. “Blocked by Louis or perhaps Hugo!”

Priscilla snatched the megaphone from his hands, howling, “Lily Dumbledore in possession!”

“God damn it, Sloper, don’t you know how to block?!”

Whatever Henry said afterwards was drained out by Priscilla’s cry of, “St. Clair’s got the Quaffle from Flint – passes to Robbins – ”

Anna Robbins flung the Quaffle in the air; a Gryffindor Chaser lunged blindly for it, drawing laughs from the audience. Trista expertly sliced through the air, whirling in a haze and barely catching the Quaffle by the tips of her fingers. She blurred past a Bludger that sent Desmond cursing, cut past Lily Potter and threw the Quaffle as hard as she could.

It grazed the shoulder of Xavier Wood before flying through the hoop.

“70-50 HUFFLEPUFF!” Desmond’s cry of exhilaration was cut short as the Gryffindor Seeker began diving, “Damn it, damn it, Smith’s seen the Snitch! Jorkins’s seen it too! GO, MILA, GO!”

“June?” Henry turned to her, evidently looking to resume their conversation.

“What?” she asked warily.

“Since you’ve stopped fancying Albus Potter…do you think you could give us a chance?”

Normally, she would’ve been swift to respond with an emphatic ‘I’m sorry’. But there was no Albus and no Henry and nothing was making sense as he looked at her. She didn’t feel any of the feelings she had used to for Albus when she looked at Henry. But perhaps that didn’t matter.

“I’m…I don’t know if I’m ready…” The rest of her reply fell away.

She looked at him, almost sure that he would see the usual disappointment.

But he smiled, seeming to take her lack of a ‘no’ as reassuring. He leaned over, briefly kissing her on the cheek.

“That’s all right. I said I’d wait.”

Her stomach squirmed uncomfortably and she felt a flush of heat as she edged away. Henry pulled off, grinning as though nothing had happened.

There was a large clash in the sky as the Hufflepuff Seeker went reeling into the Gryffindor Seeker. Both of them collided magnificently as they went plummeting straight down towards the ground.

“Holy hell!” yelped Desmond, “They’re both going down!”

Neither of them pulled away and instead became a twirling blur of robes as they plunged onto the earth. Smith leaned on his broom, shifting his weight to the front as he reached out his arm. Mila Jorkins, a small structured brunette dot in the sky burst forward, cutting him off.

“They’ll crash right into us!” said Lucy.

Instead they fell in a long line onto the dirt, spewing a large cloud of dust around them while the two teams stood frozen in the air, agape. As dust wafted onto the stands, several rows in front of June rose, standing on tip toe. Henry pranced around her, calling, “What happened?”

“Impossible to tell,” said Nicholas. “We can’t see a thing from up here.”

“Are they alright?” Desmond’s voice was still audible. “D’you reckon we’ll need to call over Madame Lucinda?”

Priscilla abruptly stopped him. “Look, someone’s moving!”

There was a lone figure that was slowly rising in the dirt. It shook as it began walking to the edge of the Pitch.

“It’s – ”

The rest of Desmond’s sentence was silenced by the victorious screams. Mila Jorkins emerged, looking exhausted and covered in dirt, but with the Snitch closed firmly in her grasp.

“HUFFLEPUFF WINS!” bellowed Priscilla into the megaphone as Desmond began proposing marriage to Mila Jorkins. “Hufflepuff is proceeding to finals! Congrats, Trista!”

Trista looked dumbfounded as she flew down, nearly crashing in the process as she ran to her Seeker. The rest of the team flew into a chaotic, happy mess as they embraced, all shouting over the other.

“After party in the Hufflepuff Common Room!” Desmond was saying, shouting over the chaos, “All Houses invited!”

*

When they managed to return to the Hufflepuff Common Room, it was positively exploding with people. The usual squashy armchairs were filled with students lounging, eating and yelling over each other. A large banner in Hufflepuff colors was draped on each wall featuring a growling badger, courtesy of Nicholas. Desmond and Priscilla turned up after a brief fifteen minute absence, ladling a few dozen bottles of Butterbeer and several bags of candies. First years had been turned into a virtual serving staff, forced to carry around platters of food and drinks.

The Common Room floor was filled with older Hufflepuffs, several Slytherins and the odd gaggle of Ravenclaws, all yelling over the commotion and happily downing Butterbeer.

“I hate these parties,” said Lucy, “it’s just an excuse to drink Butterbeer and all the other Houses come when they’re not supposed to – and using first and second years to give us food – it’s not right.”

“Loosen up, Weasley!” said Nicholas. “The midgets’ve got to earn their stay.”

As Lucy retorted, June sank into an empty armchair, feeling tired and conflicted.

The entire day had been a haze of confusion. She’d hoped for some silence to think, but there was no chance of escaping upstairs without someone pulling her back down.

Henry wasn’t doing much to help. While he’d stopped hovering over her, she didn’t forget his presence a few feet away, the spot in her cheek still burning furiously. It wasn’t so much Henry that did it, but the world suddenly seemed large and strange. The Portrait opened and another long line of people crept in, making their way towards the drinks.

Behind June, Trista was currently being serenaded drunkenly by one of the Beaters, who was slurring his words as he sang “A Cauldron of Hot Strong Love.”

“ – and darling, you and I –

“Stop it Sloper,” said Trista, laughing giddily and pushing him away. “You sound drunk.”

“That’s the third chorus,” noted Priscilla warily, “the idiot’s going to tip over at any point now. I’m not cleaning up after him.”

“He’s just happy. He did a fabulous job defending me and Mila – that one time when Flint got too close – ”

“We know, we were there,” said Priscilla.

“What did you think of it?” asked Trista eagerly, facing June. “Do you think I’ve got a chance with the Tornadoes scout, June?”

June snapped out of her reverie. “Yeah…of course.”

Trista smiled gratefully. Desmond chose that moment to burst in between them, holding a mostly emptied flagon of Firewhiskey.

Lucy nearly had a conniption at the sight of it. “Is that – is that what I think it is?!”

“Keep your hair on, I’m of age. The other seventh years’re drinking a bit too.”

The others?” coughed Lucy, “I didn’t see you bring any in!”

“Yeah,” he said, grinning, “I hid them, actually. Right under your nose, too.” He pointed down his front to what looked like a protruding belly. “Surprisingly enough, the Ravenclaws can hold their drink down pretty well. Rose Weasley showed up a - ”

Rose’s here?’ said Lucy in disbelief. “But – but she was supporting Gryffindor! Why would she be here?”

“I dunno. Mila Jorkins invited them. Her sister’s a Ravenclaw or something. Anyway, your cousin’s been sitting in a corner over there, drinking and moaning about some bloke who won’t love her back.”

They all looked incredulously over to where Desmond was pointing. In a corner of the Common Room sat Rose Weasley, perched on an armchair, rocking back and forth and glugging down the remainder of a large bottle of Firewhiskey as her friends hovered over her.

– he told me – he told me to stop following him around – I think he’s been hiding from – ” The rest of her sentence was drowned out in a wail.

“I think that’s enough for one night, Rose,” said Jelena Jorkins tentatively, wrestling the bottle away from Rose.

“He is in love with me, I tell you! He just doesn’t know it yet!

“Utter loons, the whole lot of them,” said Desmond cheerfully, before turning around to the entire room. “Anyone up for visiting the Gryffindors?”

“Ooh, are we going to jinx them like last time?” asked Priscilla, already searching her robes for her wand. “Because I’ve learned this excellent one that can grow fungus all over your – ”

“I’ll come too!” said Trista, still hiccupping slightly from her Butterbeer. “I didn’t get a proper sight of Lily Potter and I’d love to rub it in.”

“Desmond, Priscilla, you wouldn’t,” began Lucy feebly.

“I’m in,” chimed in Nicholas. A few of the sixth year Slytherins seemed to be nodding together over Desmond. A web of whispers broke out over the other Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws.

“Sounds like fun!”

“Jordan always overdoes these things, honestly…”

“Maybe Fawcett’ll throw something again!”

Henry’s head bobbed over several heads towards June. “Come with me, June?”

Before June could protest, Priscilla had already said, “Of course she’s coming,” and Trista had replied with, “You’ll come right, June?”

June sighed, her head throbbing furiously. “I guess so.”

“Good,” beamed Henry as Desmond and Nicholas opened the Portrait door. He held out his hand expectantly as June began clambering out and she stared at it blankly for a moment. Finally, she took it and he gently pulled her out.

Nobody else seemed to have noticed as a pack of Slytherins emerged behind June. Henry took her hand and tucked her arm under his own as they descended.

When their renegade team comprised of the seventh and sixth year Hufflepuffs, fifth year Slytherins and three Ravenclaws arrived at the front of the Gryffindor Common Room. The portrait of a portly woman stared down suspiciously at them.

“Now what?” someone asked. “They’ve got a password!”

“We wait,” said Priscilla determinedly.

Surely enough, within a moment, the portrait opened as a first year climbed out. At the sight of the small mob in front of her, she squeaked.

CHARGE!” yelled Nicholas, and they all ran forward frantically, fending off the Fat Lady’s attempts to close the hole.

June floundered as she felt people stepping over her feet as they ran in; it was Henry’s iron grip that kept her from falling over herself as she walked in to the Common Room. She could hear people screaming on the other side.

Inside, the Gryffindor Common Room didn’t look very different from Hufflepuff’s, save for a larger fireplace and a few scarlet and gold banners. The lights immediately went off.

What the hell’s going – ”

“God damn it, they’re back!”

“Not again!”

The Slytherins immediately set to toppling several tables, which sent columns of books crashing to the ground. June could hear Priscilla’s fiendish laughter over the yelling. The scarlet and gold banners around them immediately turned yellow and black. The Ravenclaws had set off something with a bang that was now furiously rotating around the room and smoking, whizzing towards people randomly as they screamed and ran for cover.

June had lost sight of Lucy and Trista in the madness; Desmond was reaching into his robes and produced something gleefully that he gleefully set on a group of Gryffindors currently hiding under a table. At the sight of him, they overturned the table like a fort and began whimpering loudly. Something furry darted between June’s legs and scurried towards them.

Meanwhile, Priscilla had pushed over a sofa and was standing on it, busily adding a mustache to a giant portrait of a roaring lion.

“You’re not bad,” said Nicholas approvingly.

“Wait till I’m done with this,” said Priscilla, grinning. “I’m adding one on the Fat Lady next.”

The doors of the dormitories were thrown open as the Slytherins charged upstairs. They could hear panicked shrieks echoing down from the girls’ dormitories.

“June, get down!” Henry pushed June to the floor as one of the Ravenclaw rockets flew by. As they crouched by a fallen sofa, Henry wove her fingers through his again. For a brief second, June felt a strange pang reverberating in her like an empty spark.

The sound of someone descending the stairs echoed.

“QUIET!”

The lights were promptly returned and June looked around, still crouched, blinking in the brightness. Several of the Slytherins near the door promptly ran out, the Ravenclaws tagging behind them. Priscilla and Nicholas both fell over from the upturned sofa, landing on top of each other in the panic. Much of the Common Room was somehow now drenched in yellow and black paint.

“Stay down,” warned Henry.

There were a few relieved cries from the Gryffindors. Two of the Gryffindor seventh year boys emerged at the foot of the staircase, wrestling Desmond to the ground. Desmond’s hands seemed to be bound with something and he was spewing obscenities as he fell down.

There was a loud bang behind them and the last of the sixth year Hufflepuff boys went running out, nearly leaping through the Portrait Hole.

“It’s a mutiny! Traitors, all of you!” Desmond shouted after them.

From the girls’ dormitories emerged Nikita Patil, with her hair singed and smoking. Iris Bosworth and Cora Livingston peered behind her, both having sprouted fur behind their ears. They pushed out Trista and Lucy, who fell down the stairs together and landed at the bottom, groaning.

“Utterly unacceptable, I’ve had it with these idiotic little jokes,” Cora was saying.

“Your fault,” began Priscilla as the others began protesting.

Enough.” A calm new voice cut through the noise and there was silence. Albus descended down the stairs, surveying the damage and paint with a neutral expression. He stepped over Desmond and finally turned to stare at the remaining Hufflepuffs. “Everyone here’s getting detention.”

“You can’t – ” began Nicholas.

“I am.” He retrieved something from the inside of his robes and flashed it towards the room. “I’m a Prefect.”

“Big deal, so’s Lucy – you can’t put us in detention. Only Professors can do – ”

“Would you rather I get Professor Longbottom to deal with you, then?”

Nicholas fell silent.

Albus waved his wand over the Common Room. The yellow and black banners immediately returned to their scarlet and gold. The rocket that was whizzing towards him fell to the ground, dead. The tables began picking themselves up.

When the Common Room had returned to its usual state, he turned to face the Hufflepuffs, not lowering his wand. “Anyone from another house, get up.”

“Albus, don’t,” began Lucy.

He pointed his wand at her. She fell silent, dusting herself off and helping Trista up.

Lily Potter peeked over Albus’s shoulder. Her hair had been turned black and someone had drawn a lightning shaped scar on her head and two large circles around her eyes. “That’s the one,” she said, pointing at Priscilla.

“Fine,” he said, brushing her aside. He began walking towards Priscilla.

Nicholas drew his arm out, blocking Priscilla from view. “Don’t try anything, Potter.”

“Don’t delude yourself.” Albus flicked his wand lazily. Nicholas’s arms were bound together and he fell, landing on Priscilla. “Detention, Corner. You’ll be helping Hagrid clean the Flobberworm excrement five times a week. Three weeks.”

“You pompous arse,” said Priscilla, clearly not going anywhere without a fight. She withdrew her wand and pointed it Albus. He looked unfazed.

“Try anything on me and I’m taking three hundred points from Hufflepuff right here.”

Priscilla gaped openly. For a long moment, she seemed to be struggling, the temptation of hexing Albus nearly overwhelming her. But she cast a gaze at Trista and after a long moment, dropped her wand.

“Good.” Albus smirked. “You’ve got a month cleaning dirty toilets. Four days a week. Enjoy yourself.”

A few of the Gryffindor girls burst out cheering. Nicholas swore as Albus began walking towards Trista and Lucy.

Trista had a determined expression on her face. Lucy looked near tears, her eyes watering over as he continued to look disdainful. “Albus, I’m – I tried to stop them – I don’t know what got into me – I shouldn’t’ve – I know I’m a Prefect – ”

“Two weeks.” He said baldly. “You’ll be doing extra rounds every night around the school.”

Lucy took her punishment wordlessly, her tears slipping down her cheeks. Desmond struggled, thrashing against the ground. “It’s not her fault! She didn’t want to come – we made her – ”

“You.” Albus didn’t bother turning to face Desmond. “A month helping Filch clean the castle.”

June felt a cold shock as Albus proceeded towards Trista. “Three weeks reorganizing files for Flitwick.”

What if he finds us, she thought frantically, I didn’t even do anything – I didn’t go anywhere – he wouldn’t.

She was still crouched behind a sofa, Henry beside her. She watched Albus out of the corner in disbelief, never having seen him so righteously angry before. The rest of the Common Room was watching with bated breath.

June’s hands began shaking, her face flustering.

Henry seemed to understand what she was thinking. He gave a small smile and leaned over her, whispering, “We’ll be okay, June.”

When she gave no reply, he took her hand again, squeezing it gently.

Albus had heard Henry’s whisper. He looked towards their corner, pointing his wand at the sofa. “Get out where I can see you.”

Henry took a deep breath. “Ready?”

She nodded stiffly.

They both stood up at the same time and stepped out of the shadows. Henry’s hand was still firmly grasping hers. The brightness of the Common Room hovered before June’s eyes and she blinked at the sight of Albus’s wand aimed straight towards them.

His smug iciness wavered for a brief moment as she stared at him.

Henry stepped between them protectively, swinging out his entwined hand in the process. Albus’s eyes slipped down to it. After a pause, he addressed Henry coldly. “Five weeks. Helping the House Elves.”

Five weeks?” said Priscilla in amazement, “Are you completely mad? Bates didn’t do anything!”

“You even gave us less!” said Desmond gallantly.

Albus took several long steps to where Henry and June stood together.

“Move,” he said to Henry.

“What’re you going to do?” asked Henry warily.

“I told you to move,” snapped Albus. “Ten points from Hufflepuff.”

June quickly untangled her fingers from Henry’s as Albus loomed over her. She stared determinedly up at him, willing herself not to feel anything.

Her heart beating frantically, she said, “I didn’t do anything.”

“Didn’t you?” Albus gave her a shadowy half-smile. “You’re here, aren’t you?”

“She’s acting as an accomplice,” offered Iris Bosworth.

“Make her feed the Giant Squid,” said Cora gleefully. “Maybe she’ll fall in.”

Albus stared at June, folding his arms. “Three weeks. You’ll be doing my Prefect rounds with me.”

As June felt her heart sink to her feet, Henry said in outrage, “How can you ask her to do something like that?”

“June isn’t a Prefect!” said Priscilla, “She’s got no reason to help you with your rounds, you lazy – ”

“It’ll help remedy a distinct disrespect for authority,” said Albus smoothly. “Now get out, all of you.”

Leaving them gaping after him, Albus turned and walked up the stairs. June felt rooted where she stood, her head spinning. Nothing made sense anymore.





Author's Note: Sorry for the wait! College has been a lot of work thusfar and I've had next to no time to write. Mid-terms, essays, boring lectures and such are all standard fare in the life of your average college student. And so is no time to write. :(

But I managed a long update! A big thank you to everyone who reviewed last chapter! I squeed so much when I saw how many reviews you guys left! I'll be answering them soon, but I figured an update would make you happier. :D So, I've never really written a Quidditch scene before or managed so many characters at once. Thoughts? And what about bossy Albus? 

As always, thanks so much for your support! I hope you review letting me know what you thought! ^__^

Celeste


Chapter 14: Valentines and Vendettas
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Valentines and Vendettas

The rest of that weekend passed miserably, the predicament of detentions clouding over the Hufflepuff Common Room. The second week of February promised nothing more than glumness.

After a long day of classes that Monday – double Charms followed by double Divination – June trudged back to the Common Room. It was thankfully empty inside except for the small ring of Hufflepuff seventh years occupying the armchairs by the fireplace.

When June slung her bag off her shoulders and tossed it on the ground, Desmond and Nicholas shifted, making a place for her in their conspiratorial circle.

“How was your day?” asked Lucy, sounding tired.

“Horrible,” said June, massaging her forehead. “Professor Trelawney went on about how Venus and Mars are going to be aligned in my orbit.”

“Typical,” said Desmond darkly.

At his scowl, June looked at him, surprised. “Did something happen?”

No,” he said irritably.

“No shame in it, Jordan,” said Nicholas, slapping him on the shoulder. “Gryffindors’ve been pelting us with dungbombs all day. One of them tried putting my robes on fire. Pris put it out in time, though. She’s amazing with that kind of thing.”

“You idiot,” said Priscilla.

“You are, though.” He patted her hand and she gave a strange mix of a grimace and a smile.

“I’ve talked to Aubrey about these detentions of ours,” said Desmond. “There’s no way in hell I’m bloody helping Filch.”

“Better than cleaning toilets,” mumbled Priscilla.

“You don’t know the half of it. Filch’s hated me since my second year.”

“Why?”

“I let Peeves into his office.” Desmond shrugged. “Makes no sense, does it?”

“Clearly,” said Lucy, looking exasperated. “What’d Professor Aubrey say?”

“She’s talked to Professor Longbottom. He’s agreed to cut everyone’s detentions down by a week. That still leaves me three damn weeks with Filch!”

“Two weeks cleaning the loo,” shuddered Priscilla.

“Big deal, all you’ve got to do is wave your wand and you’ll be done!” said Desmond.

“I’m helping Hagrid,” said Nicholas glumly. “That bit about cleaning flobberworm excrement was a load of waffle – his flobberworms died before the winter started. I’ve still got to help him with a Grindylow infestation, though.”

“I think we earned our punishments,” said Lucy earnestly, getting glares from everyone else.

“Except for Bates,” said Nicholas. “Five weeks – a month now, I guess – with the house elves. Potter went barking mad. And Bernard – ” He exchanged a look with Priscilla. 

“Your punishment doesn’t even make sense,” said Priscilla. “Prefects don’t need help with their rounds! That’s why there’s a male and a female prefect! And prefects come from fifth, sixth and seventh years. Potter doesn’t need help!”

The Portrait Hole opened and Trista climbed in, Duncan Podmore at her heels. At the sight of them, she sighed and flopped into an armchair, Duncan hovering over her.

“What’re we talking about?” asked Duncan brightly.

“Our detentions,” said Desmond curtly. “Which you didn’t get because you didn’t bother showing up to the Gryffindor Common Room with us.”

“Erm,” began Duncan.

“Yeah, I have been wondering about that, actually,” said Trista, frowning at him. “Because when Albus Potter looked like he was about to try something on Priscillla, she had Nicholas. And Desmond stuck up for Lucy – and June at least had someone with her, even if it was Bates.”

“Err,” he wavered, staring at the stairs, obviously pondering whether a mad dash would be worth it. Trista continued glowering. “I – er – I had a bit too much to drink and I might’ve – ”

“You passed out?” said Trista, making a move to whack him. “Duncan, you didn’t even drink Firewhiskey! You drank Butterbeer!”

He defended himself feebly. “I know, I know, but I was tired after playing for so long and I – ”

“Oh forget it,” said Desmond crabbily, heaving himself off his chair. “Corner and I’ve got to leave anyway.”

“Good luck!” said Lucy as he left.

“I’ve got to go in two hours,” said June dully. “I’m in no mood.”

After Nicholas and Desmond left, Duncan took it as his queue to run up the stairs to safety.

 “It isn’t fair, is it?” sighed Trista, staring after him ruefully.

“What isn’t?”

“It’s Valentine’s Day on Wednesday!”

“Is it?” said June, exchanging a surprised look with Priscilla.

“Nobody really cares,” said Priscilla.

“We’re the only ones who never do anything for Valentine’s Day,” said Trista moodily.

“That’s because nobody’s asked us to go anywhere on Valentine’s Day in – oh – ” Priscilla feigned counting on her fingers. “Ever. Let me think, though. The last time a boy asked you out, St. Clair, you told him you had Quidditch practice every night for the next eight months. Maybe Lucy’d have a chance if every male in the Weasley clan wasn’t breathing down her neck.” She pointed to June. “Nobody’s going to bother with the property of Henry Bates over here. Nobody’s worth the amount of crazy that comes with all the people June knows. Us being the least of that package.”

“And let’s face it,” said June, frowning. “You’re probably going to end up a serial killer, Priscilla.”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t under the impression this was particularly important to any of you.”

“I just think it would be nice if we did something other than sit around and eat chocolates we nick from third years,” said Trista. “Even third years get chocolates and flowers! Third years!”

“Jealous of third years,” observed Priscilla, “your life’s hit a new low. Besides, those little beasts get excellent chocolates. And we get them for free!”

“Because you steal them,” said Lucy. She looked outside the window of the Common Room wistfully. “Though I hardly think it’s worth the fuss this year. It’s still snowing horribly and we’ve all got homework to do and those detentions to take care of…”

“We’re going to be alone forever,” said Trista grumpily.

*

After a mostly lonely evening of completing homework and listening to Trista and Priscilla complain in turns, the hours passed. Priscilla left at six o’clock, cursing all the way down the stairs to report for cleaning loos. Trista left soon at eight and after dinner, Lucy tapped June awake from her studying stupor.

“What is it?” asked June, pushing her Charms homework to the side and feeling slightly cross-eyed.

“It’s nearly ten,” said Lucy. “Prefect rounds start soon.”

When they walked downstairs, they found Duncan waiting for Lucy by the entrance to the Common Room. There were two pairs of younger Prefects from the fifth and sixth years and they all gave June a curious look, but said nothing.

“Baron wants us to meet on the third floor this week,” said Duncan cheerfully. Lucy stoically nodded and they set off, all of their Prefect badges pinned neatly to their robes save for June, who felt awkward between them.

“Where’re we going?” whispered June to Lucy.

“Duncan said the third floor. The Head Boy and Girl’ll give us our rounds for the evening,” said Lucy.

A small crowd awaited them on the foot of the stairs at the third floor. The awkwardness increased immediately for June; the Prefects all seemed to know each other, save for her. June stood between Lucy and Duncan, hoping that Duncan’s height would shroud her from sight. The dimness of the torchlight overcast everything in a melancholy, flickering orange.

Maybe Albus wouldn’t show up and then

“Quiet!” said a voice from the front. June peeked over Duncan to see Baron Davies unfurling a scroll of parchment, the Head Boy badge on his robes glimmering in the torchlight. “Is everyone here?”

There was a general sound of agreement.

June heard a whisper of, “Bernard? Is that you?”

She turned to see two girls, one in Gryffindor robes and the other in Ravenclaw staring.

“Hi,” she managed, blushing spectacularly.

The Ravenclaw with long black hair shook her fringe out of her eyes. “You know this is the Prefect’s meeting, right?”

“This’s a special circumstance,” whispered Nikita Patil to Eve Chang. “Didn’t you hear about the incident in our Common Room last week?”

Before Eve could reply, there was a small commotion as Rose Weasley appeared, her brown hair frizzing spectacularly around her face. She seemed to have been racing after someone and she stopped in front of the Slytherin Prefects as a streak of blonde dashed out of view. Rose’s face was red and she stopped, panting before breathlessly shrieking. “You do fancy me, all right?! You just don’t know it yet!

Everyone’s stares were interrupted when a willowy girl with dark red hair passed by, taking attendance.

“Wow, she’s pretty,” murmured June to Lucy.

“That’s Megara Vaisey. Head Girl,” said Duncan, staring openly after her as she walked by.

“I don’t know her,” said June.

“She’s a Slytherin,” said Lucy, as if that explained it.

Finally, when the Head Girl passed between them, Duncan nearly leapt out of the way to give her space.

“Podmore, Weasley, Patil, Chang.” Megara Vaisey noted it down, giving them a smile. Duncan went bright red. At the sight of June, she stopped. “I don’t know you.”

“Special circumstance, Meg,” said Baron, swooping in to rescue June’s floundering response. “Potter assigned her detention with us.”

“We’re detention, are we?” she said, grinning. “Well, I suppose that’s that. You can help the Hufflepuff Prefects, then.”

She walked away, most of the male Prefects staring after her.

“Thank goodness,” said Lucy, exhaling in relief. “She said you can help us. You won’t need to help Albus after all. You can do your rounds with me and Duncan!”

“I thought you were supposed to help Potter specifically,” said Nikita from the side. “I was there when he assigned you all the detentions – ”

“You’re no help,” snapped Lucy. “June doesn’t need to help Albus specifically, she just needs to serve her detention with any Prefect – and besides, she’s a Hufflepuff, why would she do rounds with you Gryffindors?”

Nikita seemed to be affronted by Lucy’s sudden waspishness and disappeared within a throng of black robes.

“Maybe I was too straightforward,” said Lucy apologetically, after a moment. “I just really don’t want you stuck with Albus for two hours, June – it wouldn’t do any of you good – and he’s been so strange lately.”

“Thank you,” said June sincerely.

The less time she spent with him the better. The last few weeks after she’d decided to give up on him, she’d spent in quiet studying and with her friends. It was peaceful enough whenever he wasn’t near, confusing her and making strange feelings surface. Nothing made sense when he was near, busy contradicting himself.

Meanwhile, Nikita had returned, her face turned to somebody behind her. “ – so I told her you meant specifically us, not just any  house – ”

“I did,” came the terse reply.

Lucy glowered as Albus appeared, the other Gryffindor prefects behind him. “Albus, that isn’t fair.”

“It’s perfectly fair.” He didn’t bother looking at June. “I assigned the detention, I can choose the terms.”

As Lucy began arguing with him, Baron’s loud voice called over them, “All right, we’ve passed out your rounds for the night and taken attendance. Get started!”

Feeling overwhelmed, June interrupted Lucy as the crowd dispersed, all laughing and yelling. “Where am I supposed to go?”

Lucy looked a mixture of humiliated and furious. But being Lucy, she finally bowed her head and sighed. “With Albus, I suppose.”

She gave June an apologetic look as Duncan shepherded his group upstairs. “Good luck. I’m sorry I couldn’t change his mind.”

“It isn’t your fault,” June muttered as Lucy passed her by.

June waited until the last Hufflepuff scrambled upstairs, before turning to face the Gryffindors. I’m not going to panic, I won’t say anything -

“Yay!” said Nikita, hopping over and grabbing June by the elbow. “Sorry I was so stubborn about it, Bernard, but there’s absolutely nobody I’ve got to talk to during the rounds and I saw you and went right for it.”

June nodded mutely.

Albus stood at the head of the group, busily ushering them upstairs. June lagged near the back as they climbed to the fifth floor, Nikita chattering incessantly the entire time. Thankfully enough there were four other Gryffindor Prefects and excluding Albus’s silence, most of them seemed to be busy talking to each other.

Finally, at the top of the stairs to the fifth floor, Albus stopped beside a painting of several fat priests. Nikita stopped midway about a story involving her homework and turned around, addressing the others in a bossy tone. “Thomas, Undine, you two can take the third and fourth floor. Be back in an hour. Ester, Francis, patrol the Astronomy Tower, you know how the snogging Ravenclaws can get.”

To June’s horror, she watched them all nod in agreement before they set off in their own way. Nikita turned back to June, beaming. “Excellent. Anyway, like I was saying – ”

“Patil,” said Albus from over his shoulder. “Go with them to the Astronomy Tower.”

Her mouth fell open. “What? Why?”

“I don’t trust them to do their rounds.”

“They’ll do fine! They’re responsible! Besides,” said Nikita, grabbing June’s arm, “I’m here for Bernard.”

Go.

With that, he set off down the hallway by himself, leaving June and Nikita exchanging confused looks.

“I’m a fellow Prefect, he can’t tell me what to do,” mumbled Nikita.

“Stay,” said June, nodding. “I want you around.”

“Still…” Nikita gave Albus a cautious glance. “Well, there’s really no telling with Potter if you don’t listen to him. He’s probably got a reason.”

Before June could protest further, Nikita began walking, giving June a halfhearted wave.

And very suddenly, June found herself in an empty hallway with Albus. She stared at her feet for a long moment, feeling an unpleasant tingling settling itself over her. The slowly flickering torches bathed everything in a strange, still light.

He turned and began walking ahead of her. “Come on.”

After a moment, she cleared her throat, still feeling stuffy and warm and followed him silently down the hallway. She hoped that he wouldn’t say anything for the remainder of their hour together; even the awkward silence was better than talking.

He stopped somewhere ahead of her, waiting for her to catch up. But she passed him by and began to ascend the stairs to the next floor.

He cleared his throat, making her freeze on the third step. “Hang on.”

“Don’t,” she snapped immediately.

“What?” he said defensively.

“You know what.”

“Do I?”

“Did you have to talk to Lucy like that? She was trying to help.”

“She was in the way,” he said dismissively. His words echoed in the emptiness.

“And you had to put all of us in detention like that—”

“You earned them.” He crossed his arms and she glowered down at him.

“Lucy – you nearly made her cry – she’s your cousin, how could you be so – ”

He sighed. “Is it too much to ask for you to be quiet?”

She fell silent immediately and climbed back down the stairs. She brushed past him, wobbling slightly as she stalked into the corridor.

Albus frowned after her. “Where’re you going?”

“Back,” she said tersely.

He was walking fast to catch up, mumbling angrily. “Did you forget you have detention?’

“Would you just stop?” she wheeled around. “Could you please just leave me alone?”

“You’re in detention because it’s your fault,” he said coldly.

“Stop treating me like I’m stupid,” she hissed. “You know I didn’t do anything.”

“Do I?”

“And you know Henry didn’t do anything, but you gave him a month!”

“Why do you care?” he scoffed, “It’s not like it’s you – ”

“Are you completely insane? Henry’s my friend! You put all of my friends in detention! What do you want me to tell you?”

“They earned it.”

The self-satisfaction in his voice made her want to slap him. Instead, she contented herself with digging her nails in her palm. “You were horrible to them.”

“They were running around in our Common Room, what do you expect? I don’t think I’ve ever seen something look as pathetic as they did.” He laughed.

In response, she continued walking back. Albus skittered somewhere in the distance. “Stop acting like so self-entitled.”

June stopped, angry heat flushing through her face, combined with the usual uneasy dropping in her stomach. “Stop insulting me all the time.” She paused, feeling the words rise out of her before she could stop them. “You’ve got no right. You don’t even know me.”

“Yeah, and you know me?”

She turned to face him and he was looking disapproving yet again.

“Better than you know me,” she said quietly.

“Stalking doesn’t constitute knowing somebody, last time I checked.”

“At least I gave you a chance.”

He crossed his arms. “You don’t get it, do you? I don’t care what you thought about me because you aren’t right. You aren’t right about me at all because I’m not that stupid.”

“And I am?”

“That’s not what I meant – you know that’s not what – ”

“Whatever,” she scoffed. She walked past a portrait of a sleeping nun and stared out the window. Outside, the grounds were littered with snow. “It’s still snowing,” she mumbled to herself.

“So?”

“Well, it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow.”

There was another “So?”

“People have plans,” said June lightly.

“You have plans?”

Resting her hand on the banister, she slid down to sit on a step. “Maybe.”

He lurked on a step below her, looking up. “Really?”

After a long pause, June pondered whether lying would be worth the effort. ”I’m not sure.”

“Not surprised.”

“Thanks,” she said with a grimace. “I don’t understand why you bothered making me come with you if all you’re going to do is insult me.”

“That wasn’t an insult, all I said was that I wasn’t surprised! And besides, I didn’t make you, you deserved it – ”

“You don’t have plans either,” said June.

“How do you know?”

“Reading doesn’t count. And neither does insulting people or giving out detentions or – ”

“I don’t exclusively pursue activities that cause people pain,” he folded his arms, looking like a petulant child.

“You’re a saint. Girls’ll be really busy pelting you with chocolates, I’m sure,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Maybe they will,” he said. “Would it matter to you?”

“No,” she said irritably, feeling his satisfaction wafting her way. “You aren’t worth it. You’ll probably yell at them.”

“Probably,” he said.

His pronouncement was followed by an uncomfortable silence that left June fuming. Finally, she frowned at him, a more productive realization taking root. “So. Rounds.”

“Right,” he said hastily. “I forgot.”

“You forgot,” she repeated blankly.

“Don’t sound so happy,” he remarked, beginning to ascend the stairs as she grinned to herself. “We’ve got to cover four floors.”

“So all you do is walk around?” said June. Somehow it seemed less glamorous than she’d imagined, but she trudged behind him quietly.

After reaching the top of the stairs, they proceeded to walk down an empty hallway with June lingering behind him. Torchlight reflected off the metallic suits of armor, casting the hall in burnt orange. The few portraits on the floor were already asleep, punctuating the air with small snores.

They continued in silence for two more floors, June dragging her feet and Albus casting occasional backwards glances. As they neared stairs for the third time, he turned to face her, motioning upstairs.

“One more floor?” she asked.

“The last one. You can go after that.”

“Thank goodness,” she mumbled.

He looked strangely uncomfortable. “So, you might be wondering why I made you come.”

“I already know that answer,” said June irritably, “you enjoy ruining people’s lives.”

“I’m going to ignore that,” he scoffed. “I don’t value you enough to try and ruin your life, sorry. I thought this would be an opportune time to discuss Easter. That way, you could serve your detention and we could get this over with without anybody seeing us.”

“Easter?” repeated June blankly. “What about Easter?”

Albus’s eyes flickered to the empty hallway. “I assumed you’d be returning so I thought we should establish a few things.”

“You mean – back to your house?”

He gave an irritated grimace at that and June sighed. “I almost forgot that I had to go back to your house. Since being back, I haven’t really thought about where I’d live at all. My dad’s doing all right with your mum, right?”

“Oh, they’re both fine,” said Albus disdainfully. “My mum writes to me in detail about them wasting time together. They’re trying to renovate your dad’s restaurant thing and they’re both wasting time and money in the process.”

“My dad’s trying to reopen the café?”

“Doesn’t he write to you?”

“He doesn’t understand how magical post works. And he’s scared of owls.”

“How typical.”

“And anyway, I don’t think you’ve got anything to worry about. I’ve been working, so I’ve got a bit of money.”

“I saw. I don’t think that the greenhouse pays much.”

“It doesn’t,” admitted June. “But by now to Easter, I might be able to save enough for the first month’s rent in some shabby flat in Diagon Alley so my dad can stay there between April and May. After that, I’ll graduate and move back and start working full time to keep up our rent.”

“You’re – ”

“Anyway, in case my savings aren’t enough for even month, Priscilla’s agreed to loan me some money until the summer. So as soon as we leave for Easter break, I’ll start looking for flats and we’ll move out before break is over and we’ll never bother you again.”

She stared at her hands as she finished speaking, feeling the heat rising to her face. It felt like something new and confident being spoken aloud for the first time.

“So you’ve thought this through,” he said in a different voice.

“Yeah.” She shrugged. “I didn’t like the idea of bothering your mum for so long.”

“Whatever. She likes it.”

“And your sister.”

“Everything bothers her.”

“And your dad.”

“You haven’t even met him,” he said, grinning.

“And you.”

“Thanks then,” he said, stepping away, still smiling. “I appreciate it.”

“Appreciate what?”

“You thinking things through. I’m surprised. I didn’t know you had the capacity to try.”

As they ascended the last staircase June replied, “You should be surprised. I’ve been through a lot.”

“What, is that my fault?”

“Sometimes.”

“Like when?”

“Like you being deliberately awful to me sometimes.”

“I lose my temper occasionally,” he conceded.

Occasionally,” said June, rolling her eyes. “Do you remember how you responded to that letter I tried giving you?”

“Can you blame me?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” said June.

He turned, making a disgusted expression at her. “But come on, your grammar – ”

“Try and treat the girls who fancy you with a bit more respect. Even if you think they’re annoying, they’ve got feelings.”

“Does that still include you?” he said, giving another smirk. “As I recall, you tried calling yourself my soulmate or something and then you followed me around - ”

“No, I don’t,” she said firmly, though heat burned in her face. “Unfortunately, I’ve actually gotten to know you since then, so that’s gone away.”

“That’s reassuring,” he said with something between a laugh and a scoff.

As they walked down the hallway, they heard a soft clatter followed by whispers and giggling. Albus took a few steps forward, cutting her off as he approached the suit of armor at the end of the corridor. The whispers grew audible. He pushed back the suit of armor and it clanked as it hit the ground, revealing two people sitting in the shadows.

“Back again, Gibbons, Smith?” he said with distaste. A boy and a girl emerged in Hufflepuff ties, looking redfaced and sheepish. 

“Um – did we do something wrong?” stammered the girl.

“Well, let me think,” sneered Albus, “it’s rather past your bedtime.”

“We just lost track of time, honest,” said the boy.

“Consider investing in a watch, then.”

Before he could finish, they both scrambled to their feet and hastened down the stairs. Albus stared after them. “Ten points from – ”

“Oh, don’t,” said June.

“What?” he said, stopping himself.

“Don’t take points away from them.”

“Just because they were from your house – ”

“It isn’t that. They both looked maybe thirteen. So they were out after hours.”

“Which is against the rules.”

“I know,” said June calmly, “but it isn’t a big deal. They were just snogging, not trying to kill people.”

“It’s my job to dock points,” he frowned.

“It’s your job to watch over students. Frightening some third years isn’t that impressive.”

“Fine, whatever,” he said reluctantly. Behind him, the clock’s ring echoed. “Eleven-thirty. You’re done here. I’ll walk you back to your common room.”

“No thanks,” said June. “I know my way around. Good night.”

“Good night,” he echoed back, still standing near the stairs. She smiled once and walked downstairs, swerving out of sight.

*

The next morning, something nudged June awake. Priscilla’s wand came into view.

“Go on, wake up already. It’s eight-fifteen.”

“All right, all right,” said June grumpily, flailing in her sheets in an attempt to fight back Priscilla.

“Don’t punish me because you sleep too much,” muttered Priscilla, moving on to prod Trista awake.

 The usual chaos ensued as the four of them readied themselves, throwing clothes over their unmade beds and searching the dormitory for their books.

Lucy emerged from the loo, already dressed and drying her wet hair with her wand. “You lot should go shower now. And look nice, it’s Valentine’s Day.”

“Who cares?” said Priscilla. “Who needs to look nice to nick chocolates?”

After a morning full of listening to Professor Trelawney informing Rose Weasley that she would marry young and have twenty children and attempting a Dream Draught in Potions, June trudged down to the Great Hall for lunch, Trista and Priscilla at her heels – Trista groaning about something in Quidditch language and Priscilla clearly on the lookout for prey.

A few minutes after they seated themselves at the Hufflepuff table, Desmond, Nicholas, Duncan and Lucy wandered their way. Before anything substantial was said, a commotion erupted at the Ravenclaw table followed by squealing. One of the fifth year boys had presented a girl with a harp that floated around her, stringing itself.

“A harp, honestly, this school’s getting filled with lunatics,” said Desmond in disbelief.

“I think a harp’s very nice,” said Trista stiffly, staring at Duncan, who promptly took another swig of pumpkin juice to occupy himself.

“I heard that Elliot Vaisey asked Jelena Jorkins to be his girlfriend this morning,” said Lucy.

“What’d she say?” asked June eagerly.

“Maybe she told him to bugger off,” said Priscilla.

“Don’t sound too happy for her,” said Lucy dryly. “And she said yes! It was during Herbology and he charmed some roses up for her and everything!”

“I think roses are nice too,” said Trista, staring at Duncan with an intensity that hinted at something between bludgeoning and maiming.

“And of course, there’s loads of people who are already couples who’re doing things.”

“Valentine’s Day is like the parade of the obnoxious people,” said Priscilla.

“And crazy girls who expect way too much,” said Nicholas. “Why’ve we got to buy roses and chocolates and bloody harps? When do girls ever buy things like that for us?”

“Are you in the market for a harp, then?” began Demsond, “Because, incidentally – ”    

“Girls do things for boys,” said June, “just not for you.”

“That stings, Bernard,” said Nicholas. “What do you think, Priscilla?”

But Priscilla wasn’t paying attention, instead craning her head to the entrance. “Look, Potter’s here!” They all peered over at the Gryffindor table as another Albus walked towards it.

“Oh, this should be good,” said Nicholas.

“Anybody think any of them’ll cry this time?” asked Desmond.

“Oh you’re all horrible,” said Lucy crossly. They all watched as a small Ravenclaw girl sprung from her seat and made her way determinedly to Albus, her friends watching from behind her. She offered him something rectangular and pink and he stared at it, before accepting it and walking away.

“He took it,” said Nicholas in amazement.

“Didn’t think little second years were his type,” said Desmond, looking disappointed. “Too bad. I really wanted a repeat of that girl who cried and then tried beating him up with her chocolate box.”

“Good times,” said Nicholas wistfully.

“I like chocolates too,” said Trista from the side.

Duncan finally lowered his goblet with a relieved smile. “Yeah, so do I. Just maybe not girls who beat blokes up with chocolate boxes, but chocolates taste good, I guess.”

Trista’s smile twitched murderously.

As they continued eating, another girl from the Gryffindor table wandered towards Albus.

“My God, they just never learn, do they?” said Priscilla, shaking her head.

“They’ll learn,” said June quietly. Everybody avoided looking at her.

*

Most of dinner that day was spent brightened by a few, last minute Valentine’s Day gestures. More chocolate boxes were given to Albus, a badly rhymed poem was read to a Slytherin girl, and several fourth years a few feet away wondered at length where their chocolates had disappeared to while Priscilla ate away in the background and Desmond bragged about the sales of his love potions.

Her head pounding, she rose and left the Great Hall, leaving Priscilla and Nicholas comparing notes about how many chocolates they’d stolen and Lucy tutting over Desmond.

She navigated haphazardly back to the Hufflepuff Common Room, but the still life painting of grapes swung open before she said anything and a flock of first years filed out. The audience of the Common Room seemed to be dwindling; she fell into a chair, prepared to hide there for a few minutes before her  detention.

Within a few seconds, there was a thunk and a clambering noise and a cry of “June! I’ve been looking for you!”

Henry Bates appeared at the foot of the stairs, something large and protruding hidden behind his back.

June’s eyes widened. Of course. It was Valentine’s Day, after all. The novelty of having somebody actually trying to do something for her struck her.

Nobody’s ever actually given me anything on Valentine’s Day, she mused. Albus didn’t pay me any attention last year and before that, neither did Baron or any other guy. It was a new and strange thought and it took considerable self-control to suppress the succeeding groan. But why did it have to be Henry of all people?

“Hello Henry,” she said dully.

“So…” began Henry, still awkwardly lingering near the stairs. “Well, I’ll go right out and say it, then. It’s Valentine’s Day, June.”

“Oh…urm, yeah, I guess it – ”

“And I decided that I should do something for you this year. To show my true feelings for you,” he said, giving her a nod.

There was a pause.

“Oh – well – you really didn’t need to – ”

“But I had to!” he said earnestly.

“No, you didn’t, believe me – ”

“This is why you’re so different, June! You’re so modest.”

“I don’t think it’s really that,” she said weakly, as he sprang across the room.

He gave her a crooked smile and dropped a wrapped, oddly shaped white package in her lap. She stared at it for a long moment, wondering whether or not it would be rude to refuse it once more. It smelled like something decaying, which already promised Henry’s handiwork.

“Go on, open it!”

She tentatively prodded the side of the package before tearing the paper off.

“Now open the box,” he said, looming over her.

“All right…” Once the box had been opened, she stared, taken aback at its contents. “Henry, you really didn’t need to.”

In her lap sat a large, badly compiled bouquet of several dozen red roses. Some had lost most of their petals and others were strangely lumpy and seemed more pink than red.

“I Conjured them myself,” he said proudly. “Do you like them?”

“They’re – um - lovely,” she said. She looked at the bouquet, panicking. What do I do with these? I can’t possibly put them in the dormitory. They’ll wilt and make the whole room smell strange. And Priscilla’ll tease the life out of me. “Well, it’s nearly time for my detention, so I’ve got to go.”

“Are you taking them with you?” asked Henry, smiling.

“Yes,” she said, trying not to sound resentful. She stood up, balancing her bag on her shoulder and the extravagant mess of wrapping paper and flowers in the other hand. “Thank you again.”

She heard a faint cry of “You’re welcome!” as the painting shut behind her. She exhaled in relief, pondering what to do with the flowers as she walked to Charms. Binning them once I get to Charms would be the best option. Or I could ask Lucy to help me Vanish them.

The idea of throwing away the only flowers she’d ever received depressed her slightly, even if they’d come from Henry. But it wasn’t really of much significance. He always attempted this sort of thing every Valentine’s Day for whatever poor girl he fancied. He’d baked Victoria Bosworth a cake two years ago, which ended up giving the all of the Ravenclaw girls in her year food poisoning.

So it’s probably for the best I throw these away, she reasoned, before they come alive and try to attack me in the middle of the night or something.

So she wrestled them into her bag and walked to the third floor for the Prefect rounds. The Prefects had already conglomerated and June slipped in between Lucy and Duncan as Megara Vaisey walked around, taking attendance.

“Where were you?” whispered Lucy.

“Common Room. I wanted to sleep for a bit.”

Before Lucy could reply with her usual sympathy, Baron Davies’s bark of, “All right, move along! You’ve got your assignments, so go on!”

The Prefects dispersed into smaller groups, leaving June staring after them.

“Ready, Bernard?” came a squeaky voice behind her; Nikita Patil bounced into view, looking sour. “You’ll be with Potter again. He’s sending me off with Thomas and Undine again. I’ve got to patrol the Astronomy tower! The Astronomy tower! All I’ve got to look forward to is either the Bloody Baron or cliché snogging couples for the next hour!”

“Sorry,” was all that June could manage before Nikita stalked past, looking contemptuous.

“Let’s go,” came Albus’s voice behind her.

“Same place?”

“Yeah, upstairs.”

They walked in silence for a while, before the awkward discomfort became tangible.

“So,” began June, “did…you have a nice day?”

He gave her a disbelieving look. “What do you think?”

“I saw that you got a lot of chocolates.”

“Yeah, I know that much.” He stopped. “I’ve been wondering this for the past ten minutes, but what the hell is that smell? Is it you?”

Me?” June’s mouth dropped.

“It smells like a dead animal.” He took a step closer. “It is you.”

“Excuse me, I don’t usually walk around with dead animals – ” She broke off, stuttering. It was her. Henry’s bouquet was still in her bag.

“Go on, take it out. There’s something in there, isn’t there?” He motioned at her bag. “I can’t deal with this for the rest of the night.”

Feeling mortified, she opened her bag, revealing the bouquet swaddled messily in wrapping paper.

Albus’s eyebrows rose. “What’s that supposed to be?”

“They’re roses…”

“And what’re you going to do with that many?”

“I don’t know,” she said defensively. “Don’t laugh at them. I think they’re nice. I could put them in a vase or give some to somebody or - ” As his grin grew, she said more wildly. “ – or put them in the Common Room or pluck all the petals and bathe in them!”

Bathe in them?” He scoffed. “You were planning to bin them, weren’t you?”

His amusement left her slightly defeated. “Yes.”

“Who gave them to you?”

“Henry. Henry Bates. He Conjured them for me.”

“How typical. They look like they’re rotting.”

“They do smell strange,” she admitted. “But I thought it was – you know – sweet. Just like how you got all those chocolates.”

“But they don’t mean anything.”

“I don’t think that’s for you to decide.”

“Of course it is,” he said dismissively. “Because none of these things are actually genuine. It’s all very extravagant but meaningless. They come from random people who think you’re something else on a day when all this stupidity is idealized. And we just have to pretend to be gracious about it.”

To this, June stuttered. “When have you ever been gracious?”

Albus opened his bag, revealing what looked like five or so boxes crammed inside. “I decided for a new course of action this time. Instead of yelling or the usual, that is. I’ve been giving these away all day.”

“To who?”

“I sent a box each for my aunts and one for my mum. And Roxanne and Rose and Dominique’ve been eating some all day, but I’ve still got these left. I tried giving one to Lucy, but she refused like it was some kind of ethical dilemma.”

“Why don’t you eat them?”

“I hate chocolate. Tastes disgusting.”

“Oh.”

“Here, take this one.” He pushed an especially pink box tied up with a frilly large bow at her. “You know, to match your equally ugly flowers.”

She stared dumbfounded as he pushed the box into her bag and turned red. “Um – thank you, but I’d rather…”

“You might as well take it. I’ll only throw it away.” At her perplexed expression, he said, “I already threw away the ones that were laced with love potion. You might want to keep your friend Jordan in check. He’s going to get himself expelled one day.”

“He doesn’t really care.” She shifted the roses from one hand to the other, dropping a few in the process. “Oops, that was stupid – ”

Albus extracted his wand from his pocket and flicked it first at the ground and then at her hands. The bouquet vanished immediately, leaving her hands feeling strangely empty.

“Thanks,” she said.

They proceeded down the hallway in silence. Finally, Albus said, “So, I’ve been thinking about these detentions. You don’t have to do them anymore.”

“What?”

“Three weeks is a waste of both of our time. Frankly, it’s not very useful having you here and you’ve already got things planned for your Herbology job.” He cleared his throat, avoiding her eyes. “So, you’re done after today.”

Her head throbbing slightly, June managed a strained smile. “Thanks, Albus.”

“Whatever. You can go back now.”

“I suppose this means I won’t really be seeing you around, then.”

He shrugged.

“Well, thanks for the help,” she said, beginning to walk towards the stairs. “I’ll see you during Easter break.”

“Yeah. Good night.”

She waved goodnight and walked downstairs into the darkness, feeling lightheaded.

Within the next few weeks, she saw Albus considerably less and less – occasionally in passing, but she never attempted to say anything. She heard no news about him and concluded that it was probably for the best. Life continued as it always had for her in the following month. There was the usual montony of homework and exams. Desmond was expanding his business to include Durmstrang. Nicholas and Priscilla were planning a small-scale invasion of the Slytherin Common Room andTrista, Duncan and the Hufflepuff Quidditch team began practicing manically for the final match against Slytherin in May. June continued working at the greenhouses, listening to Lysander and Lorcan Scamander argue feverishly on every topic from chess to the Chudley Cannons.

February and most of March passed in a familiar haze. Nearly a month and a half came and went with little incident; Easter break somehow managed to loom around the corner.




Author's Note: I'm so sorry for the wait! No, I didn't die or abandon this story, but college's eaten my life. Thanks to everybody who reviewed the past few chapters - I've been reading your reviews and it's what motivated me to finally sit down and write this chapter. I hope it doesn't sound too bumpy; I haven't written June or Albus in a while and I didn't really edit this chapter after I wrote it.

With that said, I do hope you enjoyed this chapter. There's going to be a bit of a time skip to Easter break in the next few chapters. ;) I'd love to know your thoughts on June and Albus's prefect rounds or the chapter in general.

Thanks for all the support in the past few months! I'll try and update sooner this time!

Celeste


Chapter 15: Circles
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Circles

Sometime near the end of March, the dormitory of the seventh year Hufflepuff girls was in chaos. Near noon, a hysterical cry could be heard to all those in the Hufflepuff common room.

Have you seen my broom?!

Upstairs, what looked like a small mountain of clothes was lying on one bed. Beside the mess, a blonde haired girl was upturning her trunk frantically.

“Calm down, you lunatic,” drawled a brunette sitting beside the hill of clothes. “Why d’you need it anyway? You can’t take it with you!”

“I have to make sure it’s put away properly! What if I lost it?” retorted Trista St. Clair.

Lucy Weasley strolled out of the loo and tossed in the remainder of her things into a neat pile beside her trunk. “It’s under your bed, remember?”

Trista swooped down below and emerged, looking relieved. “Oh thank Merlin.”

“And Priscilla, precisely when are you planning to pack?” asked Lucy, eyeing the pile apprehensively. “You know the train leaves in an hour.”

“Ah, whatever,” said Priscilla, falling backwards into the pile.

“You too, June,” said Lucy warningly.

June gave a lazy nod. “I’m almost done.”

She heaved the last of her school books into her trunk and rifled through some loose papers before slamming the lid shut and sighing. “I can’t believe it came up so fast,” she said gloomily.

Priscilla opened one eye to peer in her direction. “You don’t want to go home?”

“You mean back to the Potter house? Not really. This place feels more like home.”

“You can see your dad again,” Trista said. “You haven’t seen him since January. That’ll be nice.”

“I suppose,” said June. “I feel a bit bad, though. I haven’t written or talked to him in months.”

“You don’t miss him?” asked Lucy.

“No, I do. It’s just that I’ve got to take care of him some times and it can be a bit hard.”

“I don’t see what you’re so glum about,” said Priscilla with the usual tactlessness. “I already said I’ll come down soon and we can look at new flats together. You’ve got some money from Professor Longbottom, right?”

“Some,” said June. “I didn’t work at all last week because of exams, so I’ve got nothing from that. But I’ve got about 160 Galleons.”

“That’s not much,” said Priscilla.

“I don’t get paid much,” said June grumpily. “But it’s better than nothing. Five Galleons an hour, two hours a day, twice a week. And it’s been about two months – ”

“We get the point, you’re poor,” said Priscilla with a grin. “That’s fine, I already said I could help pay.”

“And I’ll come visit when you plan to go flat hunting,” said Lucy.

“So will I,” said Trista. “I’m dreading going home, to be honest.”

“Stepmum visiting again?” asked Lucy.

“Yeah, my dad and her are picking me up from King’s Cross, if you can imagine that,” said Trista moodily. “I already told him not to come. My brother’s been picking me up for years. But my dad told me that she wants to see me again, which I think is rubbish. My mum’s got enough to worry about with me and my brothers without her nosing in.”

“She is your stepmum,” said Lucy gently. “She’s probably just trying to get to know you. You can’t avoid them forever – she’s going to have a baby, isn’t she? What’re you going to do if you have another brother or sister?”

“I don’t care!” Trista snapped. “Let her have her baby and leave us alone!”

There was a pronounced silence.

June and Priscilla exchanged looks as Lucy hovered over Trista uncertainly.

“Well, now seems like a good time to start packing,” said Priscilla, attempting to divert the new awkwardness.

It seemed to work. “Yes, let me help,” said Lucy, leaving Trista alone and digging into the mountain of clothes.

“Me too,” began June, before Lucy waved her away.

“Go see if the boys are packed, will you? I’ve got an inkling Desmond hasn’t even begun.”

“Fine,” she said, feeling reluctant, but eager to escape the tension.

She descended the stairs to the Common Room and took the stairs to the right, walking past a few doors to the boys’ dormitory. A door opened somewhere along the way and a second year passed her by, giving her a strange look. She avoided this place out of principle. There was no telling what disgusting and potentially dangerous things took place here.

She paused in front of a familiar door and knocked loudly.

There was a grunt, a falling noise, laughter and a cry of, “Damn it,Weasley!”

Nicholas Corner opened the door, still grinning. “Hey – oh. Hey June.”

“Expecting Priscilla?” asked June. “Or Lucy?”

“Who knows? Didn’t think it was you, though.”

“Why did you think it’d be a girl?”

“Only girls knock,” he said, moving aside to let her in. “Why’d you come?”

“Lucy wanted to make sure everyone was packed.”

“Of course,” he said. “Well, I’ve been packed since last night.”

Beside a bed that had several paintings hung on the wall stood a neatly arranged trunk. Beside the trunk sat Henry, looking perplexed as he held up two socks amidst a small array of colorful socks.

“Bates is trying to pair them by color,” whispered Nicholas, muffling laughter.

And on the other side of Henry lay Desmond, flat on his face on the ground and trying to struggle free of the sheets wrapped around him.

“You scared the daylights out of him when you knocked,” said Nicholas.

“It’s eleven!”

“That’s still too early to be up on a Saturday,” said Desmond grumpily. “Did Weasley send you?”

“Yeah. Have you packed?”

“Yes, mum,” Desmond sneered.

“Don’t mind him,” said Duncan from his bed, “He’s always like this after he gets up.”

Duncan was folding the remainder of his clothes neatly into his trunk and smiled serenely at June.

“Did something good happen?” asked June.

“Oh nothing,” he said in the same blissful tone.

June turned back at Nicholas, who grinned. “He’s been planning something for today.”

Duncan turned beet-red. “Don’t tell her!”

“Tell me what?”

“He’s asking out some girl today,” said Desmond. “You should’ve heard him over the last week. He’s practically been bouncing up and down. He looks like he had his trainers on too tight.”

“He’s planning to confess to her on the train or something stupid like that. He’s basically turned into Bates,” murmured Nicholas.

“That’s scary,” muttered June.

“Yeah, exactly.”

“Trista’s not going to be happy…”

This seemed to snap Duncan out of his rapture and he paled. “Oh no.”

“You didn’t guess as much?” said Desmond. “You idiot, she’s going to murder you and drown your body in the Black Lake. Your parents’ll get a letter sometime tomorrow saying that you got killed off by a girl!”

Duncan froze. “You think she’ll be mad?” He asked June.

“Probably,” said June. “You know she fancies you, right? She just has a strange way of showing it.”

“I know,” said Duncan with a sigh. “She’s nice and all. I think she’s a good friend. But it’s just – ”  

“You don’t fancy her back,” said June with a nod. “I know how that feels.”

“You’re talking about Potter?” asked Nicholas.

“That was all a while ago.”

“Do you really think Trista’ll kill me?” said Duncan.

This is why I don’t like having girls who aren’t Fawcett over. Everything bloody turns into girl talk,” said Desmond, rising with his sheets still swanking him. He struggled against them for a second and gave up, instead hopping to the loo looking like a giant white worm with as much dignity as he could muster.

“I can talk to her for you,” said June.

Duncan looked relieved. “Thanks.”

Henry chose that moment to interrupt. “Aha!” He held up two socks triumphantly. “That’s the last pair!”

“Congratulations,” said Nicholas.

Henry looked up and caught June’s eye and bound up. “June! When did you come by?”

“Oh, just now,” said June weakly.

“I just finished packing,” said Henry. “Do you want to see?”

“Er, since Desmond’s getting ready, I should probably go and – um, check on Priscilla,” said June. “I’ll see you on the train.”

*

By the next hour, the noise and clamor near the Hogwarts Express was deafening. June could feel her feet being stepped on and elbows seemed to protrude out of nowhere to prod her. She yanked her trunk from the platform, and nearly staggered backwards as she attempted to get on the train, knocking the wind out of Priscilla.

“Watch it!” she screeched, pushing June forward.

Luckily, Desmond stopped and grabbed on to her slipping trunk and pulled her on the train with a grumpy Priscilla following afterwards.

“Anyone found a compartment yet?” called Nicholas from the back.

“Over here!” came a yell from Lucy. “Henry’s found two empty ones!”

Desmond nearly trampled over several terrified looking Gryffindor first years as he plowed to the front, leaving June to follow gingerly after him.

The boys separated into one of the compartments, leaving the girls to shuffle past them.

“Here, here,” shepherded Lucy, ushering them inside.

Trista sat by the window, looking forlorn.

“What is it?” asked June.

“She just saw Duncan walk out with flowers,” whispered Lucy. “He went down the corridor towards the Slytherins.”

“The Slytherins? With flowers? Is he mad?” asked Priscilla.

“He fancies Megara Vaisey,” said Lucy in a low whisper to Priscilla. It echoed around the room.

Trista snapped up at this. “The Head Girl? How do you know?”

“He told me,” said Lucy, looking guilty. “And he stares after her every time we do our Prefect rounds.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Trista.

“I thought you already knew.”

“I didn’t!”

“Why do you fancy that idiot anyway? He’s just another stupid boy,” said Priscilla.

The train began chugging along, spilling smoke into the platform. They watched the station whirl past into hills before Trista finally replied.

“Oh, I don’t even know. I’ve fancied him for three years now. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t even remember why. It’s just a habit.”

“A stupid one,” chided Priscilla.

“I know. I feel stupid chasing after him all the time.”

“It isn’t worth it,” June piped up. They all stared at her. “Trust me, I know how it feels. It isn’t worth it in the least running after him if he doesn’t feel the same way about you. You’ll just be wasting your time and making yourself feel awful.”

“Did you ever fancy someone before Duncan?” asked Lucy. “You must’ve forgotten him, right? All these things will change. People move on.”

“I suppose I should make a confession now,” said Trista, looking nervous. “I’ve never really talked about this before.”

Everyone watched her.

“Go on,” Lucy eased.

“Before I fancied Duncan, I fancied…a girl…”

There was a long pause. Lucy’s eyes widened and she fell back against her seat. June frowned at Trista. Priscilla looked like she’d been hit with a blunt object.

Finally, it was June who said. “What?!”

“I know, I know, it sounds really strange,” said Trista apologetically. “I’ve fancied a girl, I’ve fancied boys, it doesn’t really mean anything – ”

“No, no, don’t say that,” said Lucy, “We don’t think it’s strange at all! It’s just…surprising. You’ve never mentioned it before.”

“Well, an occasion hasn’t really popped up, has it?” She looked nervously at June and Priscilla. “You two haven’t really said anything.”

June swallowed slowly, wondering if she had missed any signs along the way. She’d known Trista for almost seven years. “So you’re…bisexual?”

“I guess,” said Trista. “I haven’t really thought about it much. I haven’t fancied anyone since Duncan then, but who knows? How do you feel about it?

“A bit strange,” said June. “But I understand.”

Trista smiled and looked at Priscilla. “Pris, say something, please?”

Priscilla looked up, her face oddly blank, before she launched a Cauldron Cake at Trista. “You ninny, why didn’t you ever tell us?!”

Trista swatted it away with a pout. “I don’t know, I couldn’t think of a way too!”

Lucy laughed and June still felt the surprise trickling over her. She sighed and stared at her friends, a sense of relief replacing the surprise. As Priscilla began attacking Trista with questions, June smiled at them. They could get past anything together.

*

At the platform, they all embraced before parting ways.

“Thanks for not making a big deal about it,” murmured Trista. “But don’t tell anyone, though.”

“There was nothing to make a big deal about,” said Lucy warmly. “Well, Molly’s here. I’ll see you all in a few days.”

Within a few moments, both Trista and Priscilla said their goodbyes and left, leaving June alone on the platform as she waited. She hovered by the train for a few minutes, watching as Nicholas, Desmond and Duncan unloaded their trunks from the train. Nicholas seemed to be consoling a crestfallen Duncan who was limply holding on to a bouquet. Apparently, asking out Megara Vaisey hadn’t gone well.

Desmond was looking mildly disgusted until out of thin air, two little girls materialized and flung themselves around him with a cry of, “Dessie!”

He fought them off desperately. “Annie – Jane – ouch, get off!” – ”

“There she is.”

It was a familiar, grumpy voice that she hadn’t heard in a few months. Lily Potter came from behind her, looking the same as she did when they’d parted in January. Her red hair was flying in the wind and she was wearing the same irritated expression at the sight of June.

Albus came up from behind her, pushing his own trolley. “Hey.”

“Hello,” said June reluctantly out of politeness. It felt awkward standing beside him again after a month and a half of no contact, though nothing seemed to have changed. Three months without Lily had been a nice change.

They stood together until they heard a cry of, “Lily! Albus!”

June followed them to their mother, who embraced them both. She stood slightly apart, yet again feeling like the third wheel.

“Hello June,” said Mrs. Potter, leaning in for a hug.

“Hi Mrs. Potter.”

“Ready to go home? Your father’s been missing you.”

“Yeah,” said June. “I’ve missed him too.”

As they neared the car, Albus took her trunk and began loading it in the back, alongside Lily’s.

Lily gave June a glare and took the seat beside her mother in the front, leaving Albus and June in the back.

The car ride was spent mostly listening to Mrs. Potter talk about her father’s renovated café and about wallpaper and furniture. Neither Lily nor Albus did anything but look out their windows.

As they pulled up to the Potter home, June felt a sense of dread overcoming her. She was back here again.

*

She strode up the room that had been hers without a glance backwards and shoved her trunk in, shutting the door behind her. Everything was as pink and pristine as when she had left it.

She flopped on to the ground despairingly.

The door opened with a cry of “June!”

“Dad!” She scrambled up to embrace her father. He felt warm and smelled familiar – like coffee and cinnamon and something she could never identify but always recognized. “How’ve you been?”

Mr. Bernard stood before her, looking happier and plumper than she had seen him in a while. “Oh, very well!” he said, “How’ve you been, dear? How was school?”

“I’ve been doing well,” she smiled. “Well, better than before.”

“Albus tells me that you’ve been studying more,” he said.

“He has? How?”

“He mentioned you in his letter to Ginny and she told me,” said Mr. Bernard with a shrug. He embraced her once more. “I’ve missed you so much!”

“I’ve missed you so much, Dad. I really have. How’s the café going?”

“Wonderfully!” He sat on her bed as she began unpacking, launching into a twenty minute detailing on all of the renovations in Victoria’s Corner; there was new flooring and new curtains and a new table.

By the time he’d finished, June had filed most of her things away. “So, how’re we paying for all this?” she asked casually.

His face waned. “Well, look here, June – ”

Dad…” she began warningly.

“I may have taken a loan. But these kinds of things will pay themselves you see, when we get reopen the café…”

Dad!” she said it so loudly he winced. “You know what happened last time you took a loan from one of those dodgy places!”

“I know,” he said glumly. “But this time’s different – it’s a proper bank and it isn’t too much – ”

“How’re we supposed to move out and pay this loan of yours?”

“M – move out?” he stammered.

“You’re not expecting to stay here forever, are you? We’ve got to get a place of our own.”

“Ginny said we could stay until you were done with school,” he mumbled.

“You mean until the summer? I don’t want to be homeless until the summer! I want a flat for us now!”

 “Now let’s not be unreasonable, darling,” he began.

“Look Dad, I’m getting a flat for us by the end of this week. You can come with me if you want to or stay here. Either way, I’m not coming to live here after graduation.”

There was a knock on the door before it opened.

“My mum wants you down for lunch,” said Albus.

“Albus, my boy, that’s an excellent idea!” said Mr. Bernard, springing up. “No use arguing when we’re both hungry, eh, June?”

He all but ran out of the room, leaving June flushed and staring angrily after him.

“Next time try arguing louder,” said Albus. “I’m sure there was someone down the street who didn’t hear you.”

“He doesn’t want to move out,” said June.

“I heard. We share a wall, unfortunately,” said Albus dryly. “Anyway, you probably don’t want to bring it up with my mum. She’ll go insane.”

June looked up at him petulantly. “She’ll understand, won’t she?”

“Don’t ask me. She’ll cling on.”

“I have to move out,” she repeated.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because this isn’t our house. This is your house. I need a place that’s mine.” He didn’t respond, so June continued stubbornly. “I don’t want to keep feeling like I’m intruding every time I come to visit my dad. And where am I supposed to live after graduation? Here – forever?”

“Do whatever you want.” He turned and closed the door behind him.

Frustrated, June rose and flopped into the bed, feeling exhausted even though it was barely past 2’oclock.  She closed her eyes, feeling a headache coming and reminding herself that she would have to start flat hunting soon.

*

The next thing June knew, she felt a sharp pressure against her hand and a distinct cry of, “WHAT THE HELL – ” and she woke up with her head throbbing.

The room was dark, though somebody was fumbling on the ground and finally turned a lamp on.

She opened her eyes groggily, feeling sour and stiff. Jet black hair protruded into view.

“Albus?” she asked, trying to sit up.

“Not exactly,” said the hair.

She blinked and saw the hair blurring into a face; someone was staring nervously at her. He looked a lot like Albus, regardless of what he said.

“Go away, Albus,” she moaned, burying herself back in her sheets.

“I told you, I’m not Al,” he said, sounding amused. “And this is my room, actually.”

June sat back up and he grinned. “I’m James.”

“I’m June,” she said, feeling slightly mortified at the thought of how she must look.

He shook her hand. “Sorry I tried sitting on you, by the way. I forgot you were in here these days.” He looked around the pink room with distaste. “I can’t believe what my mum’s done to this place. I can’t even recognize it.”

She looked around the room and saw that it was already dark.

“Why is it dark?” she asked.

“It’s night. You see, night tends to do that.”

She frowned and began getting up. “Why didn’t anyone wake me up?”

“They’re having dinner downstairs right now. My mum said you looked tired and we shouldn’t disturb you. But I forgot you were in here anyway.”

“I’ve got things to do –“ she stumbled over James and groped towards the door. “ – and I have to write to someone – ”

“You might want to eat first, though,” he said, holding the door open for her and grabbed onto her shoulder. “Come on, I’ll help you downstairs. You’re walking like a one-legged dwarf.”

“Thanks,” she said sarcastically.

As they proceeded downstairs, she could see the table was laid out and everyone else was already eating. Mr. Potter and Mrs. Potter were deep in discussion about something, while Lily, Albus and Mr. Bernard were eating quietly.

“Mum, look what the nargles dragged out!” said James, by way of introduction.

Mrs. Potter abruptly broke off talking. “James! I told you not to disturb June!”

“I didn’t disturb her,” he said, his eyebrows waggling. “She woke up on her own.”

Mrs. Potter flicked her wand and a plate and silverware appeared for June. June took a seat between James and Albus, feeling awkward. She kept silent as they ate and chatted, with James recounting a recent Quidditch game boisterously.

What a tragedy, she lamented, that she had wasted so much time on Albus.

*

The next morning, June woke up early and ran downstairs, past Mr. Potter reading the newspaper. While they’d never really had a formal introduction, he smiled at her.

“Hello, Mr. Potter.”

“Hi,” he said, holding up his glass of pumpkin juice like a salute. “So you’re Albert’s daughter. Sorry we haven’t met before. I’ve been busy.”

“Oh, I understand,” she said, returning a smile and taking a seat at the table.

He asked a few casual questions about how school was going and how Albus and Lily had been doing and she gave a few simple responses, keeping her eye on the clock behind him, waiting for nine o’clock.  As they were speaking, a loud snore from the sofa cut off Mr. Potter and he set down his newspaper and walked over to give the sofa a prod.

Wassgoinon – “

“You,” said Mr. Potter curtly, “are managing to be very loud and annoying even when you’re asleep.”

James’s head popped up, his dark hair sticking in every direction. “What time is it?”

“Eight fifty.”

Eight fifty,” groaned James, diving back to the sofa. “Dad, your only son comes home for the weekend and you make him sleep on the sofa and you wake him up at bloody eight fifty – ”

“You’re not my only son, you idiot,” said Mr. Potter.

“At this time of the morning, I am,” said James crossly. “Would you leave me alone? Everyone else in the house is probably asleep.”

“I’m awake,” chirped June.

“And your brother’s been awake for the last hour,” said Mr. Potter. “And Lily just got – ”

“Enough already,” moaned James.

“Albus is already awake?” said June, staring up at the stairs. She hadn’t heard a sound from his room all morning.

“He’s in my study,” said Mr. Potter with a nod towards a door down the hall.

June wandered down the corridor to the door and opened it, peeking inside. The bookshelf lined walls seemed austere and uninviting. Albus was in a corner, hunched over a desk, writing something. He turned when the door opened, staring at her.

“What is it?”

“Oh, nothing,” she muttered, red-faced. Why had she bothered coming all the way down here?

As she closed the door behind her, it wrenched back open in a minute.

“What did you want?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she said, even more flushed. The lack of a conversation between them for a good month had managed to make everything awkward all over again.

The fireplace exploding into emerald flames thankfully managed to save her.

“Hey!” said James from his corner, greeting whoever had clambered in. “Long time, no see!”

“Hello James,” said Lucy, dusting off the ash from her robes. “Hello Uncle Harry, Albus. Ready to go, June? Almost everyone’s ready.”

“Yeah,” said June, turning away from Albus.

“Where’re you going?” asked Albus.

“Flat hunting,” said Lucy, earning a questioning look from Albus and Mr. Potter.

“Flat hunting?” asked Mr. Potter. “For who?”

Lucy gave June a helpless look as June glared at her. “Um…a friend. June and I are helping her.”

Albus smirked. "Really, who?"

“Priscilla,” said June immediately, frowning at him. Was he being deliberately annoying? “She lives in France and she’s gotten bored of Flooing around all the time, so she’s thinking of moving nearby.”

Albus looked like he was going to retort, but Lucy grabbed June’s hand and dragged her to the fireplace. “Well, we’ll be back in the evening. June’s going to eat dinner with us and I’ll see her back. Have a nice day, Uncle Harry!”

With that, they climbed into the fireplace one by one and Flooed away.

*

June was unsure of where they were arriving until she climbed out of another fireplace, coughing.

“Finally!” said Priscilla, “I was getting bored of waiting!”

“We’ve only been here five minutes,” said Trista, rolling her eyes. “Hey, Lucy, June.”

“Where are we?” asked June.

“The first prospect,” said Priscilla crisply. “An all wizarding building near Diagon Alley. Mostly occupied by Ministry workers who couldn’t find flats in Diagon Alley and had to settle for muggle London.”

 “It looks nice,” said Lucy hesitantly, staring up at the building.

And it did look nice; the building was large and relatively new looking, not in the least like her crumbling old flat. A few elderly witches shuffled past them inside the door as the four of them looked on.

“Let’s go inside. I’ve arranged for them to give us a key to the empty flats.”

Before they’d stepped in, a short, balding man nearly bowled over Trista and June to reach Priscilla. “Miss Fawcett, Miss Fawcett!” He offered her a sweaty palm which Priscilla refused. “I’m Langdon, miss. You asked me to – ”

“I know what I asked for,” said Priscilla coldly and he broke off with a smile. He spotted Lucy beside Priscilla and gave a cry.

“You’re Miss Lucy Weasley!”

“Oh – yeah, I  - ” was all Lucy could manage before he seized her hand and shook her whole arm in a handshake.

“You’re with Miss Fawcett, of course!”

“We’re classmates, actually – ”

“Good company, good company indeed!” he grinned.

In the corner where he had pushed June and Trista, Trista muttered to June, “Typical. We’re ignored, as always.”

June cleared her throat. “Excuse me? So can we see an actual flat?”

“I’m afraid this’s only for certain parties,” he said coldly.

“You idiot, I’m doing this for her!” said Priscilla, nearly stomping on his foot.

He yelped. “My apologies, my apologies! Here’re the keys!” He threw the keys at Trista who deftly caught them. “And this has the room numbers and price estimates. We’ll begin at – ”

We?” said Priscilla, eyeing him angrily. “You’ll be staying here.”

The first flat was too large: three bedrooms and a sprawling kitchen. The next proved even larger. By the fourth flat, June interrupted Priscilla before they could enter. “I really don’t think we can afford any of this.”

“Not even if I pay?” asked Priscilla.

“I don’t need such a big flat for just me and my dad,” said June, rolling her eyes. “And I don’t want to live off of your money.”

“Nothing wrong with borrowing,” said Priscilla.

“I’d never be able to pay you back at that rate.”

“Don’t be stubborn!”

“I’m not being stubborn, I just want to – ”

“Oh, it’s getting late,” fretted Lucy. “We should be heading back.”

“Fine,” said June grumpily. Priscilla was still looking put-off. They both frowned at each other.

“Enough for today,” said Trista. “Before we bite each others’ heads off.”

*

That evening, when June returned, she heard Mrs. Potter’s distraught voice echoing from the kitchen. As she dusted the Floo powder off her robes, she could hear James comforting her.

“Mum...calm down.

“How can I calm down?” she snapped, “I’ve got one son that’s practically antisocial! I’ve got a daughter that yells at me every time I tell her to do something!”

“You’ve got me,” he said hopefully.

You,” she said, incensed. “You can’t keep a single girlfriend for more than a month!”

He groaned. “Not this again! Who are you, Nana Molly? I’m only twenty!”

“I don’t like how you treat those girls. Watch yourself, James,” said Mrs. Potter.

“Big deal,” said James lazily, “Besides, why’re you nagging me? What about Al?”

“What about Al?” said Mrs. Potter. “Albus, what’ve you been up to?”

“Ignore him,” cut in a voice. June stopped brushing herself abruptly, wondering if Albus had been with his mother and brother all along. “He always tries to do this to me every time he comes. Remember what he said about me buying illegal broomsticks last time?”

“But this time is real, though. Lily told me all about that you and that June girl.”

“June? What about June?” Mrs. Potter’s voice was climbing. “I’ve told you to treat her nicely, Albus – ”

“Oh, it’s more about how nicely she’s been treating him. Something about the Great Hall – ”

“Stop.”

Feeling mortified, June stopped brushing herself off and froze.

“ – oh come on, Al, I’m helping you finally get a sense of humor – ”

“Yeah, no thanks. Not about this,” intercut Albus’s voice.

“She’s nice enough.”

“If she’s that nice, you go snog her.”

“Is that what happened?” said Mrs. Potter keenly, “Albus, is it?”

No.

“James?”

James laughed. “Nothing that scandalous, Mum. Don’t get so eager. You finally going to get yourself a girlfriend, Al?”

June felt herself getting heated. She turned and quickly ran up the stairs to her room, not caring enough to be discreet as she stumbled over herself and slammed the door shut after her. She flopped into bed, the thought of the conversation she’d overheard making her groan. She hadn’t heard Albus’s answer, even though she knew what it would have been.

 A few minutes later, she rose from her bed, feeling more collected and opened the door to the balcony. Outside, the cool night air blew towards her and she took a step outside, her eyes closed.

“Hey.”

She jumped a little at the sudden sound and turned around to find Albus seated in a chair in the balcony beside her own. The door leading to his room was open and she craned her head slightly, wondering if she had ever seen his room before.

She gave no response and propped her elbows on the balcony edge, closing her eyes again.

“Find a flat?” he asked.

“It went fine,” she said, her voice coming out slightly angrier than she’d expected.

“So when’re you moving out?”

“Summer.”

“So you’ve got time.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Wind blew between them, letting June forget all the wearying memories of the last three months. She turned to him, half expecting him to be reading another book, but he was leaning out, watching the empty street.

“How’ve you been?” drifted in his voice from the left.

June still wasn’t looking at him. “What?”

“This last month, I mean.”

“Fine,” she said. “You?”

“Yeah, fine.”

She kept staring out at the street, feeling the spring wind calm her down slightly. A car whizzed by on the road, breaking the silence between them.

“I’m sorry for the trouble,” she said at last. “I think your mum might be catching on about me trying to leave.”

“That’s bound to happen.”

“Will she be offended?”

“Maybe. Probably not. But maybe.”

 She sighed. “I’d feel awful if she was angry. She’s the only one in this house that likes me.”

“What’d my dad ever do to you?” he said dryly.

June laughed. “Your dad doesn’t count. He only met me this morning.”

“My brother?”

“I don’t think he likes me all that much,” said June, remembering their conversation.

“James is James,” said Albus. “He’s an idiot.”

“Still better than Lily, though.”

“Lily’s not that bad.”

“She keeps looking at me like she wants to kill me.”

“That’s just her face, though,” said Albus, leaning against the balcony. “She looks at everybody like that. It’s another one of her phases. Mum hates it.”

“I’m sorry,” June blurted out.

He looked confused, uncrossing his arms. “About what?”

“I heard James teasing you about me. I’m sorry about before – you know– that.” The thought of the incident in the Great Hall made her blush all over again. It had seemed so perfect and reasonable at the time. Looking back, her stomach churned that she had actually kissed Albus in public. His expression changed; he looked mildly uneasy.  “If Henry did something like that to me in front of everyone, I might’ve died from embarrassment.”

“It was stupid of you,” he said. “And you got mad at me when I told you as much.”

“I know. I’m an idiot. And anyway, I’m sorry that stuff still gets brought up. But I’m – um – past all of it now. It really doesn’t matter anymore. I thought I should apologize to you before I left.”

He gave one of his usual surly nods. “Whatever. Don’t waste your time apologizing.”

“Thanks,” she said. “I’ll be going in, then. Good night.”

“Good night,” he echoed.

She returned to her room and shut the balcony door behind her, smiling. In the balcony beside her, Albus stared for a moment at the street below, looking vaguely like he was smiling as well.

*

The next morning, when June ventured downstairs, she found the house empty.

She stared at the clock and groaned. Noon. How was it noon already?

“Hello?” she called to the empty house.

There was no response. She tried the kitchen and then the living room, yelling. “Mrs. Potter? Dad?” Finally, tentatively, she called out, “Albus?”

A door opened.

“How long do you plan to keep yelling?”

“Where is everyone?”

Albus propped the door to the study open. “My mum and dad went to visit James’s flat. Lily’s gone out with friends. Your dad went to visit his café or something.”

“Everyone had plans,” said June wonderingly.

“Yeah, except us, obviously.”

“I didn’t mean to bother you – I can leave – ”

In response, he opened the door. “You can come in. I don’t really care.”

June stepped inside, brushing past him to see the inside of Mr. Potter’s study. There were several large bookshelves covering two walls and a dark wooden desk in the center of it all. Albus had piled a small mountain of books on it.

“Reading again?”

“Yeah.”

“Why do you read so much?” she asked.

He shrugged. “What else is there to do?”

“But what is it for?”

He gave a strange half-grin again, looking as though he’d been waiting for her to ask. “I don’t read for no reason.”

She squinted at one of the books. “Intermediate Healing Principles,” she read aloud. “Advances in Magical Medicine. These are all Healing books!”

“Brilliant deduction,” he said wryly.

“So those Healing books I saw ages ago were yours?” she asked, remembering a bookshelf of them in the living room.

“Who else?”

“I don’t know – your dad’s?”

“My dad couldn’t be a Healer if his life depended on it. For one, you have to be able to brew potions and he brews like a first year.”

June rolled her eyes. “Don’t say that, he’s Harry Potter after all.”

As she browsed the study, she could hear him say, “He’s my dad, I can say what I want.”

“So…you want to be a Healer?” she said. She found an empty spot on the table and leaned against it.

“Obviously. And you?”

“I don’t know,” she said glumly. “Professor Aubrey – that’s our Head of House – wants me to do Magical Design, but I don’t know if I’d be any good.”

“You might as well. You wouldn’t be good at anything else, would you?”

When she looked indignant, he amended, “How’d Charms work out for you? After you tried blackmailing me, I mean.”

“I have an Acceptable so far,” she said, holding her head up high.

“That’s not bad,” he said.

She flushed. “Thank you. But as long as I keep until we graduate, I should be okay.”

He simply stared neutrally at her, giving no response. She looked away uncomfortably, before starting again with, “Everyone’s really excited about graduation. Henry’s going abroad or something to celebrate. He even asked me to come with him.”

“Don’t go anywhere with that idiot.”

“He’s not that bad.”

Albus grimaced. “Oh come on.”

“Don’t say anything bad about my friends,” she said, hopping off the table. She started to leave, but she could hear Albus’s voice calling after her.

“Hey, are you hungry?”

“A little.”

“My mum didn’t make us any lunch or anything.” He frowned again. “She told me I had to make something myself or go out and buy something.”

“Can you cook?”

“No,” he said, following her out of the study, “can you?”

“My dad owns a café, after all,” she said, smiling.

Once they were in the kitchen, she began opening cabinets. In the first one she opened, she found a pair of old pans that she slid out.

“What’re you looking for?” he asked.

“Something to cook, obviously. Where does your mum keep stuff?”

“I…don’t know,” he said slowly. “I know where the spoons are.”

When she stared blankly at him, he added defensively, “What? I’ve never had to cook, alright? We used to have a house elf for all of this.”

“So I’m supposed to cook for you too?” asked June.

He stood there unresponsively, arms crossed.

She sighed. “Fine. Just help me find something.”

As he began opening cabinets, he said, “You could always help your dad with his place after graduation.”

“No thanks,” said June, peering into a jar. It was empty.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know, I don’t really want to be stuck there forever.” Distractedly, she peered into another cabinet. “Why don’t you have any food in here? Everything’s empty.”

“James,” said Albus matter-of-factly. “This always happens when he stays over. He decimates whatever food we have.” He opened the refrigerator. “Here, I found this.”

He held out three eggs and a squashed tomato.

“Eggs?” said June. “Anything else?”

He held the fridge door open for her; there was nothing inside.

“Fine,” she sighed. “Crack the eggs. We can make omelets.”

“I don’t know how to,” he said.

“You don’t know how to crack eggs?” she asked wonderingly. “And you were on about me not knowing anything?”

“That’s different – ” he began retorting angrily.

Sighing, she took the eggs from him. She cracked them against the tap, easily sliding the egg yolk onto a pan.

“Now what?”

“Normally, I’d cook it over a stove or something, but it’s easier by magic.” She took out her wand and waved it under the pan. “Incendio.”

He watched in amazement as the egg yolk shifted, puffing out. Within seconds, it had changed from liquid form to a wide, yellow circle.

“Quick, give me a plate,” said June, balancing the wandtip and the pan carefully.

He held a plate in front of her and she slid the omelet on.

“Eat up,” she said, turning to crack an egg for herself.

As she made another, she watched him eat. He finished within a few bites.

“Still hungry?” she asked, sitting down to join him. She extinguished her wandtip. “Can I have a fork?”

He passed her a fork, his hands brushing against her fingers. It made her finger run cold for a few seconds.

He watched her, looking puzzled. “You’ve changed.”

“Not really,” she said.

“No, I think you have.” He grinned at her.

Feeling uneasy, she took a bite. He never smiled at her. The omelet tasted plain. How had he managed to eat it so fast? “Well, a lot of things change…my whole life’s changed…”

He looked at her for a long moment, then pushed his chair back and stood up. Leaving his plate behind, he casually looked away. “So, thanks. For the food.”

“That was nothing,” said June dismissively. “It didn’t even taste good. You should ring your mum and ask her to bring some food home.”

“Better than starving.”

“I guess.”

“We should eat together sometime.” He said, looking uneasy again. He was staring resolutely at the tap. He cleared his throat. “Or something.”

She flushed pink, then burned red. “Um – are you – ”

Albus cut her off, his green eyes narrowing into a steely expression. “It’s not a big deal, is it?”

“No…”

“Good. Tomorrow night, then,” he said. He uncrossed his arms and walked away, leaving her staring after him.

She took a long sigh and fell forward, resting her head against the table. June could feel a headache coming. She gave a soft groan. What was he up to, being so nice suddenly?

Every time. Every time, it’s Albus. Like one big circle. No matter how many times I tell myself that I don’t fancy him, it comes back to this. 




Author's Note:  Hello my lovely readers! Refrain from throwing eggs my way! I've been really busy with school during these last few months. I've also been struck by writer's block every  time I tried to start on this chapter. So many Junebus moments! It had me reeling with fear, haha. I apologize if this chapter sounds disjointed; it was written over several months. Special thanks to all of you who badgered me to get writing via Formspring and asked so many funny hypothetical questions.

Anyway, a lot of things happened this chapter. I'm sorry you guys didn't get to see as much of Priscilla, Lucy or of the boys, but they'll be in the background for a bit as Junebus develops in the next few chapters. I'd love to know what you thought of the chapter! Thank you for the continued support!

Celeste


Chapter 16: Love at Hogwarts
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Author's Note: An author's note straight in the beginning? That can't be good news, guys. ;)

Anyway, as usual, I'm sorry for taking ages to update - college, laziness, etc were all contributing factors. Also, special thanks to Contour (at the Dark Arts) for the lovely new banner and to Aiedail and justonemorefic for always cheering this fic on even when they're offering totally crazy ideas. 

So I had to make a lot of decisions when writing this chapter which is why it took so long to finally get here. Hopefully, I made the right ones. I think that this story is winding down and I forsee only a few more chapters after this one. This chapter will make that pretty obvious. With that being said, I've enjoyed writing this story tremendously and thank you to all my lovely readers and reviewers. I hope you all stick around for the last few chapters as well.

I also hope you guys enjoy this chapter! Sorry for the length, but do let me know what you think of it!

Celeste






Love at Hogwarts

Long after Albus left, June waited in the kitchen.

Soon, her father returned, yawning and complaining about a long day at the café. Mrs. Potter followed soon after, carrying an armful of parchment, mumbling to herself about new columns to write and the Kenmare Kestrals. Mr. Potter arrived last, looking exhausted and complaining about the state of James’s flat. He was greeted by Mrs. Potter kissing him on the cheek. He put his arm around her shoulder and after lingering around June, they too went upstairs.

Finally. The house was quiet and dark.

Sighing in relief, June all but ran to the phone. Now…who to call?

She couldn’t call Priscilla. Priscilla would probably spend the whole time laughing at June and not helping. Now it was between Trista and Lucy. She closed her eyes and began dialing.

She waited as the phone rang. One. Two. Three.

There was a tired, “Hello?”

“Hello?” June whispered urgently.

June?” Trista’s voice floated to the other side.

“Yes, it’s me. I’m sorry if I woke you up.”

“I wasn’t sleeping. It’s only eleven o’clock, after all. I’m kind of glad you called, actually. My dad and my stepmum’ve been arguing. But never mind that. Did something bad happen?”

“Why do you think something bad happened?”

“You only call me when something bad happens. I think the last time you called me when our OWL results came and you failed Arithmancy.”

“Fine, you’re right. Something bad did happen,” exhaled June, going red once more. Trista waited as June stumbled over her sentences, attempting to recount the events of the evening. “Um – and then he made it sound like we had plans or something the next evening. I might’ve misheard him or been wrong or misunderstood – “

“Sounded fairly straightforward to me. You’ve got a dinner date.”

“No, I haven’t,” said June, nearly upshot with horror.  A dinner date? That sounded impossible. And horrible – like something straight out of a dream turned nightmare. “I’m sure he was joking. I mean, we’ve been on better terms – I think? – but there’s absolutely no way – “

“Look,” said Trista, impatience filtering into her voice.  “I know you’ve always got Priscilla on one end harping on about sharpening axes and Lucy on the other, convinced that Potter’s part of some grand conspiracy theory to ruin your life, but you know what I think? That he’s a seventeen year old bloke. Like every other idiot in our year. Ever considered that?”

When June was silent, Trista continued, static blurring her words. “I’m sorry if I sound crabby. But I’ve heard enough about Albus Potter from you for a lifetime. He sounds like an insensitive idiot, but if you fancy him and he fancies you - ”

“He doesn’t and I don’t!” said June, her grip now vicelike on the phone. That would ruin everything. It would make everything confusing again and difficult. And anyway, he was Albus Potter and she was June Bernard.

“Merlin, okay. See, this is why it never bothered me too much that I didn’t really date in Hogwarts. Everyone our age’s an idiot.”

“You fancied Duncan.”

“Yeah, so? I’m an idiot too. And so’s he, by the way. I heard from Nicholas that he spent the entire of our Easter holidays sulking that Megara Vaisey turned him down. I can’t believe I fancied that idiot.”

“And I don’t fancy Albus Potter. He might be nicer now and we might not be yelling at each other, but he always does that.”

“Does what?”

“He’s suddenly nice and then right when I get used to it, he goes back to being awful.” She shook her head. “Just because we’re not arguing any more doesn’t mean he’s suddenly going to ask me for dates. Anyway, he’s never even felt sorry for the loads of awful things he’s done to me.”

“Like?”

“I ended up having to clean bedpans because of him, remember? And I yelled at him in Charms once after he read that letter out loud? And then I called him an arsehole and I ended up with a whole week’s worth of detentions again and - “

“Yes, I remember,” came Trista’s voice. “So you think he’s awful.”

June clutched at the phone, huffing and now at a loss. She inhaled and stood firm. The memories of their time spent together had brought on a new conclusion. I’m not going to change my mind on Albus anymore. He can’t be both horrible and nice. There’s only one.  “Yes, I think so.”

“I mean, I don’t blame you. He is terrible in loads of ways. But you haven’t exactly made things easy for him.”

“So you’re saying I deserved all the awful – ” began June, incensed. “Just because I fancied him! And embarrassed him a little!”

“No,” said Trista calmly. “All I’m saying is that so far, all three of us’ve only been looking at your perspective.”

“Well, you are my friend.”

“Yes, I know. Ooh, it’s so hard to try and explain this to you. Okay, let’s try looking at things from his point of view. He’s been kind of an awful person to you. He’s made fun of you, called you stupid, apparently finds you unattractive, gets your friends in trouble, lands you in detention, publicly humiliates you by reading your letter in class, doesn’t want to be seen with you around in Hogwarts - ”

“Check,” muttered June darkly.

“Right. Awful person on the whole. But why, though?”

There was a long moment of silence.

“What’d you mean why?” hissed June. “You just said so yourself! He’s made fun of me and said all these terrible – “

“No, I mean, people aren’t exactly born that awful. He has friends, doesn’t he?”

“I…suppose. I’ve never really talked to them before.” Many sessions of stealthily (and not so stealthily) watching Albus Potter came to mind. He did have friends. Most of the Gryffindor boys in his year seemed to get along well with him. Other than at the library, he wasn’t really alone. He always seemed to have partners for projects in the classes they’d shared. “And lots of girls fancy him.”

“Yeah, we all know that.” June could hear Trista’s eyeroll in her voice. “His reputation’s kind of bad among the girls that do fancy him. But what about with the guys?”

“…They don’t really seem to care…”

“Right, probably because he isn’t in a permanent state of being awful to them. This is what I mean by saying you haven’t really made things easy for him.”

“What?” asked June defensively. “Except for that one time in the Great Hall and I already apologized to him for it!” Her head pounding, she put the phone down. “And this comes just when I’m all done and moved on!”

Trista’s voice echoed. “What I mean is, you and every other girl in his creepy fanclub’ve stalked the life out of him. I mean you and Iris Bosworth and Nikita Patil and Cora Livingston and Ursula Parkinson and – “

“How?”

How?” repeated Trista incredulously. “Everyone knows how! Nikita Patil kept stealing his spellbooks and slipping in love letters all of last year! Iris Bosworth intercepted his mail for two bloody months before she was caught! Cora Livingston signed up for Ancient Runes so she’d have more classes with him. And do you know how bad James Potter and Fred Weasley had it?”

“What?”

“We were in second year then. I didn’t think you’d remember, but they were pretty famous for it. About ten sixth years all dyed their hair red because they were absolutely convinced that because his mum’s a redhead and since the first James Potter married a redhead, he’d only be after a redhead too! And then he started getting all these letters from girls who all called themselves ‘Lily’. Mad, they were. And three years ago, Fred Weasley - ”

“Something about his broom, right?” said June, massaging her head.

“Right. His broom kept getting stolen and he got ransom notes telling him where to come and pick it up. Coincidentally, it’d always only be on Hogsmeade weekends. Imagine getting blackmailed for dates again and again.”

“But I never did any of that stuff!”

“Didn’t you and Nikita Patil used to follow him around, though? Like every Thursday or something? I’d always see you two coming out of the library after I was done with Quidditch practice. You must’ve been there for hours. But I don’t completely blame you.” Trista gave a long sigh. “Sometimes I don’t think people realize how hard it is to be our age. We overthink everything. It’s confusing and it’s awful and all these stupid little things that feel like the end of the world.”

“I know,” said June. “Back when I fancied him, I mean. If he even looked at me, my whole day was made. The sad thing is, I don’t think any of it was really real. But it felt so real. I didn’t even know him.”

“Nobody fancies the Potters or Weasleys for their personalities. At least James Potter was decent looking and Fred Weasley was talented at Quidditch. I always thought Albus Potter looked twelve. And have you even seen Hugo Weasley? So ordinary looking, but all the fifth years in our House are busy fainting over him.”

June stared at the phone thoughtfully, suddenly feeling a rush of gratitude that she had the sense to call Trista instead of Lucy.

Trista’s voice brought her out of her reverie. “Hey, it’s nearly midnight. I should go soon. Let me know tomorrow if your date goes well.”

“It’s not a date,” said June immediately. “Dates are for people who fancy each other!”

“Yet here we are,” said Trista, sounding extremely smug. “We just spent an hour on the phone analyzing every minute you’ve ever spent with Albus Potter and it’s bloody midnight on a Thursday. Call me tomorrow.”

She hung up, leaving June still clutching the phone, sitting alone in the dark.

*

June promptly spent the next morning and afternoon hiding in her room. When Mrs. Potter came knocking, she feigned a headache and remained in the room, pretending to read but not absorbing anything. After a quick lunch in which she managed to deflect the stares of everyone, she returned back to the room.

Nothing happened until the late afternoon, when a majestic, ferocious looking black owl came swooping through her open window, making her jump with a start. It landed on her bed, blinking its large yellow eyes slowly and staring at her, looking as though she had said something offensive.

It offered her its leg reluctantly. She took the scroll of parchment and it blinked once more.

“Should I give you some money?” she asked tentatively.

It looked further offended and took off into the air with a squawk.

June unrolled the parchment.

Bernard,

St. Clair told me and Weasley everything.

June sighed in exasperation.

So, what’s Potter up to? Listen, don’t do anything. Pretend to fall somewhere and just say you’ve got amnesia. Then, when Potter’s trying to help you up, do the Bat Bogey Hex or a nice Jelly Legs Jinx. Then do the Full Body Bind. When you’ve got him nice and paralyzed, kick him in the face. Then send me a letter. I’m making our house elves set up another international Floo grate and I’ll be over as soon as I get it. My father’s got an excellent collection of medieval swords.

Or, at the very least, avoid him. We both know that he can’t be up to anything good with something that reeks so obviously of a trap. But do try the Body Bind.

P. S: The family owl probably won’t like you much if he suspects you’re lower class. Beware.

It was signed with a very ornate P.M. Fawcett

June had barely managed an exasperated, “Priscilla…” before a second owl came flying into her room.

This one, at least, was a small, pudgy tawny. It shifted its head restlessly as she untied the letter and took off with an amiable hoot.

Dear June, the letter began.

Trista called me a few hours ago and informed me about everything that apparently happened yesterday. I suspect Priscilla might try writing or Flooing you soon as well.

Anyway, I think you shouldn’t go. If you’re in need of an excuse, let him know you’re flat hunting again and you can come over to my house. You’re planning to move out soon and I don’t think spending any more time with him is good for anyone. Let me know soon.

Love,

Lucy

With a groan, she fell back into bed.

*

That evening, she stared into her mirror.

Her reflection stared back, looking as it usually did – utterly ordinary. Her black hair looked less messy than ordinary and she seemed less tired.

If anything, it only convinced her more that this was all going to go badly.

After a few minutes, there was a light knock on her door. Mortified, she crept to the other side of the door and waited. There was another knock.

She opened it. Albus Potter was on the other side, his hands in his pockets and looking restless. “Ready?” he asked.

“Okay,” was all she managed to choke out before she wanted to smack herself. What kind of response was ‘okay’?

But he evidently didn’t think much of it. He gave one of his usual surly nods and turned away to go downstairs. As she followed him, she could hear Mrs. Potter ask, “Where’re you going?”

“Out,” was the terse reply he gave.

“Out?” his father echoed.

“Out,” he repeated. “And she’s coming along.”

“June?” asked Mr. Bernard, exchanging a look with Mrs. Potter.

Mr. Potter frowned. “You can’t just go off like this without telling us first. When’ll you be – ”

As Albus opened the door and June followed after him, she could hear Mrs. Potter pouncing to hush him.

“Harry, shut up! Don’t you see?

“See what?” he asked, bewildered.

“Oh, stop acting like Ron. Are you daft?” With stars in her eyes, Mrs. Potter grasped her hands together. “She’s just like I was in my fourth year!”

As June and Albus walked away, they could hear Mr. Potter’s clueless, “What?”

*

The evening was slightly chilly as June ran after Albus. He was waiting in front of her as she closed the door behind her.

“My parents,” he began, with exasperation.

“It’s okay,” she said, still not able to meet his eyes.

There was a long moment of silence.

“So…” he started again. “I want to go to Diagon Alley.”

“Okay,” she said.

Looking uncomfortable once more, he extended his arm. “Side-Along,” he said by way of explanation.

She took his sleeve gingerly, taking as much care not to actually touch him as possible. Before she could prepare herself, they had blurred away into the night.

When they reappeared, it was in Diagon Alley in the center of a large crowd.

“This way,” he said, pulling on her arm.

She followed, jostling between groups of older witches who were shopping.

“Where are we going?” she rasped over the crowd.

“This one place.”

“The Leaky?” she asked.

He stopped in his tracks. “Am I that predictable?”

She shrugged. “Where else can we go? It’s Diagon Alley.”

“Yeah, fine,” he said, still sounding put out that she had guessed.

Soon after, they stopped in front of the Leaky Cauldron.

 “Come on,” he said, pushing open the door.

The inside was nearly full; most of the tables seemed to be occupied. After navigating past a small group of goblins, a loud family and a pair of hags, Albus found a table and gestured June towards him. Behind the counter in front of them, there was one aged man who was wiping a dirty plate with an even dirtier cloth. A small girl was bouncing near him, chattering inaudibly. She looked up at the sound of Albus’s voice and launched herself towards him.  

“Granddad! Granddad, look! Albie!”

He let her cling on to his hand as she went on. “Albie, I’ve missed you – you never come visit any more. You’ve been off at school and – “ She broke off, her eyes huge. “Who’s this?”

Albus turned to look at June, his silence indicating that she would have to introduce herself. “I’m June,” she said at last, feeling the small girl’s scrutinizing gaze. “…I’m his friend from school.”

There was a beat of silence, before she sprang up and grabbed June’s hand. “Yay! Nice to meet you! I’m Albie’s friend too!”

“Who is she?” whispered June to Albus.

“Augusta Longbottom. Professor Neville’s daughter.”

“Kind of early for dinner, aren’t you?” grunted the old man, placing two glasses of water before them.

“Not really,” said June, “it’s nearly six.”

“I wasn’t talking to you, girlie,” he grunted, staring at her with one bleary red eye. Taken aback, she looked at Albus. “Back at last, eh, Potter?”

“Augusta, could you get your mum?” asked Albus, ignoring the old man.

She giggled at him and bounced away with the old man in tow with an “Come on, Granddad! Let’s go find Mummy!”

When both the old man and little girl had turned away, Albus exhaled.

“How do you know them?” asked June.

“The old man’s Hannah Longbottom’s father. My family’s known the Longbottoms since we were born. I used to come here a lot when I was younger.”

As his words fell away, he seemed to be more aware that they were alone.

He coughed to mask the silence. June felt herself go red once more.

“We should go back by eight,” she began, “so your parents don’t – ”

“My parents can babysit each other for a few hours. I don’t really care.”

She let his grumbling pander out to silence. They stared away from each other for a few seconds – Albus at the air and June at her hands. Finally, to have something to do, June took a large gulp of water.

Albus took the moment to begin talking again.

“So…” he said. “You like Fifi LaFolle.”

She choked on her water. He was looking increasingly uncomfortable. “No – um – I don’t. Not anymore.” Turning a shade of red that she did not know was possible, she asked, “How – how did you even know?”

“Oh. Lucy told me.”

“Oh.”

“How’s Charms going?”

“Fine,” she squeaked.

He seemed to be scratching his head for every bit of information he had ever gathered about her. “So. How’ve your friends been?”

Mortified, she exhaled. This had been going even worse than even she could’ve guessed. After one long, withering look at him, June stood up. “Look, this isn’t – this isn’t working out – ”

“Hang on,” he began defensively.

There was a new cry of “Albus!” and a woman rushed towards them. She had a kind, round face and was smiling at him, obviously having recognized him.

“Hi, Aunt Hannah.”

As Hannah Longbottom fluttered about, gushing over seeing him again, June began to worm herself out of her seat and walked away.

She could hear their conversation behind her. “ – and James’s been all right?”

“Yeah, he’s been fine. Listen, Aunt Hannah – “

“And your sister’s been okay too? And tell Ginny to drop by sometime! Augusta’s been missing her – “

His response disappeared into the general din of the Leaky Cauldron as she walked away.

Outside, the crowds had thinned considerably. She lingered in front of the doorway, unsure of what to do. Did I just walk away from a dinner with Albus Potter?

She could practically hear Lucy applauding her in the subconscious of her mind.

But now what?

If she Apparated to his home, he’d surely follow. She couldn’t pop up at Lucy’s place uninvited and pray to be hidden there until the term restarted. Even at Hogwarts, where almost everyone knew each other, it would be impossible to hide forever.

The door flung open, hitting her sharply on her side.

“Ow!”

“There you are,” he huffed, sounding angry. “Why the hell did you leave? I was trying to tell you not to!”

“Well, what was I supposed to do?” she retorted, feeling helpless.

“I don’t know – not leave?”

“No, I mean, what’s the point? Look, you don’t like me very much and – I mean – I wasn’t even going to come because I thought you were awful and this isn’t going well - ”

“You think I’m awful?” he said impatiently. “Thanks. Yeah, this isn’t going well.”

“When you asked me to come, all I could think was that maybe you were doing one of your horrible – horrible things.

“Horrible things?” he asked. “What horrible things?”

“Like the time you read my letter aloud,” she said softly. “Or made me clean bedpans or – ”

He gave another exasperated sigh and crossed his arms, facing away from her. “Yeah, like you didn’t deserve half those things. I only read your letter out loud because you made a fool of me in the Great Hall that day. I wouldn’t’ve done it otherwise.”

“I already apologized!”

“I know! Why’re you even bringing these things up anymore?”

She stopped midway to her response. “I…I’m not sure. Maybe I think that every time you do something nice, you’re just going to suddenly change and do something horrid again.”

When she was silent – partly glowering at him and partly lost in thought, he looked at her venomously. “I thought asking you to come here was pretty obvious. You’re making me explain?”

“I’d like an explanation, yeah.” She crossed her arms, mirroring his posture. “Because until you asked me to come, I thought things were going okay and as usual, you had to come and mess everything up again!”

His face spotted with color. “Fine, but actually let me talk this time and don’t step on my feet like you did the last time I tried explaining.”

When she gave no response, he scoffed. “I mean it. I couldn’t walk at all the next morning.”

“The cold did that, not me.”

“The cold doesn’t leave egg-sized bruises, you – ”

She whirled on him. “Going to say idiot?”

No,” he said angrily, “and you said you were going to let me talk!”

“Well you are and I’m not liking any of it,” she said coldly. “Go on.”

There was a long moment of silence.

“I wasn’t going to call you an idiot,” he said at last. “And I don’t think you’re dumb.”

“Really?” she said, skeptical.

He leaned against the wall of the Leaky Cauldron. A few children ran past him, followed by their mother. He watched them and retreated further into the darkness. “You’re angry because I’ve been rude, is that it?” he said, sounding annoyed.

She wasn’t feeling any better having heard his rambling. “Yes!”

“You’re going to listen to me this time, then,” he said. “Because last time, you kept cutting me off.”

“No, I was listening, you were just being – “

“Let me finish!”

“Fine, finish!”

He took a deep breath. “Okay. Remember how you and Patil and Bosworth kept following me to the library?

Feeling slightly pertrified, she turned away. “You noticed?”

“Of course I noticed! You three were there every bloody week, laughing and making all this noise and never letting me work in peace. I know all the stupid girls who follow me around.”

“You do?”

“Yes,” he seethed. “Stupid girls who follow my family around thinking that if me or my brother get their notes or ridiculous chocolate or whatever, we’ll run off with them. Like we don’t already deal with enough from the Prophet writing rubbish. Now we get you lot too who’re off either following me around or trying to harass Dominique so they’ll get a chance with Louis. We get people looking through James’s rubbish bins. How am I supposed to be nice to these girls?”

“I’m not saying you have to be nice, but you aren’t exactly – “

“And you, Bernard,” he said, cutting over her, “you are exceptional. You’re by far the best of the lot.”

 She blinked. “What?”

“You somehow managed to get where nobody has before. One minute, you’re just part of some dumb group that won’t leave me alone in the library. You’ve already got one of my cousins on your side – Lucy – which is bad enough for me already. I suppose she’s been helping you along all this time?”

“No, not really. Why did you have to make fun of me like that by rejecting me in public?”

“I do that to everyone,” he said. “I do it so that maybe the ones after you would get an inkling. Although I was pretty irritated that you used Lucy like a messenger. I hate people who use my family against me.”

“Okay, finish,” she said.

Fine,” he went on. “Anyway, I thought that was the end of you. A few days later, my mum’s telling me she has an old friend she wants to move in with us. I assume it’s some middle-aged witch and suddenly, you end up on our front door, ready to move in. I can’t escape you lot at school, but one of your kind somehow just made it all the way inside my house and right next to my room. And at every holiday, it feels like you’re always there.”

“I came after Christmas. It’s only been New Year’s and Easter.”

“So? I can never avoid you when you’re there, if you’ve noticed. We have all our meals together, you’re right there. I can’t argue with my mum in peace because you overhear. I was so bloody paranoid for the first month. I was convinced some pictures or something were going to show up on the front of Witch Weekly or some editorial about ‘My Week with the Potters’. You have no idea how hard it is for my mum and dad to escape that stuff in their jobs with people always trying to find something wrong with them. Why do you think Lily and I hated you so much? Why do you think Rose still hates you? Because I told her about you! We don’t go around like that to people we actually like.”

“You all thought I was after you?” she asked wonderingly. “My house broke down! Everyone knows that!”

“Yeah, so? Even then, it’s not like we had any assurance that you wouldn’t go crazy. It’s not like you had a great record of not stalking me or anything. Do you know how many times my brother’s flat’s been broken into until my dad added security charms? Fred’s girlfriend got loads of anonymous Howlers the second they went public. She still gets them now and then. We deal with this all the time.” He shook his head.  “I couldn’t wait for you to leave and the next thing I know, my mum’s forcing me to Floo to London to go look for you and she’s convinced you’ve been kidnapped by Death Eaters or something. And then you sit all through New Year’s sulking and I’ve got to babysit you even though I can’t wait for you to leave because I knew it was only a matter of time with you. When I found you looking through our pictures that one day, I was this close to making my parents throw you out because I thought you were after us. You had a good enough excuse at the time.”

“The picture of my mum,” said June, nodding.

“Yeah, which made me feel all bad thinking I’d been suspecting you all this time for no reason and maybe you really just were my mum’s friend. Of course, the second we got back to Hogwarts, you proved me right by pulling out the worst possible thing you could’ve.”

 “That picture of you in a dress?”

Yes,” he said, his face burning. “I don’t know how you did it. There must’ve been hundreds of totally harmless pictures and you manage to go straight for the last one I’d ever want anyone to find. Do you know what could’ve happened if you spread that picture around?”

“Priscilla wanted it sent straight to Witch Weekly,” said June. As an afterthought, her subconscious added, Maybe I should’ve let her.

He grimaced. “See? Exactly! But of course, you used it instead to make me help you with bloody Charms the second we got back to school even though I told you not to bug me. I told you not to bug me because I didn’t want people getting an idea and spreading even more rubbish.”

“Not that blackmailing you helped much,” said June with a frown, “all you did was yell at me and call me names and go on about the Equal principle.”

“It’s the law of equivalence,” he said through gritted teeth. “It’s a law, not a principle. In magical theory, there’s a difference. The law of equivalence states that in all magic that causes physical changes, an equivalent amount from your own magical reserve needs to be exchanged. There’s no such thing as pulling out of nonexistence. And a principle – “

“What does this have to do with anything?” she hissed.

“It’s the foundation of all magic,” he said heatedly, “all magical laws and precepts are based on this one concept and I spent ages trying to teach it to you and you still don’t understand it! The idea that something can’t come out of nothing and everything has to be exchanged for something equal - ”

“No,” she said, stopping him once more, “what does that have to do with this?

He paused, clearly just realizing how much he had derailed himself. Coughing, he hastily retorted, “Well. You can’t blame me for getting mad. That table you Conjured was luck.”

“It wasn’t. But whatever, go on,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Anyway,” he went on, “you were suddenly everywhere. It was a complete nightmare trying to avoid you. You kept demanding these lessons, you made me late for Astronomy, you made me carry you to the Hospital Wing even though all I could think was how much I hated you. Plus it didn’t help that Bates kept showing up in random places trying to threaten me.”

“He did that?” she marveled, “I just remember he yelled at you once or twice in the Great Hall.”

“He kept trying to knick my bag so he could sneak a Dungbomb in it, the idiot. When I started avoiding him, he followed my sister around one afternoon, convinced he’d be able to sneak into the Gryffindor Common Room through her.” He smirked. “But Lily was more than a match for him. She led him straight to the abandoned girl’s loo and locked him in a stall. Moaning Myrtle wasn’t too pleased. I was still fighting off random girls who’d decided to follow me and Louis to every class we’re in. Meanwhile, you and your friends came parading into our Common Room after that Quidditch match.”

“That wasn’t my idea,” said June. “I didn’t think they were going to – ”

“Spare me,” he said, “they’ve done it loads of times before. Fawcett and Corner came in during our match with Slytherin and Conjured live snakes while everyone was sleeping. Me and the other Prefects spent ages cleaning. Last year, Jordan and Podmore snuck in Swelling Solution in our entire House’s pumpkin juice. This’s happened loads of times but they’ve been careful not to get seen or caught. That one time was the first time a Gryffindor Prefect was actually able to catch them.”

He sighed. “Then Valentine’s Day. Your friend Jordan was nearly the death of me.”

“Desmond?”

“He sold love potions to every damn girl who came his way. I know how to check for love potions but Hugo doesn’t. That idiot eats all the chocolates he gets and he got one spiked with love potion from some Ravenclaw fifth year.  He nearly killed himself trying to climb up their tower to impress her. Family tradition, I guess.”

There was a long stretch of silence.

“So, what you’re saying is that I’ve been very irritating to you,” said June quietly. “Then why did you even bother asking me to come here? So you could tell me all of this?”

How do you not understand something this simple?” he snapped in irritation. “No. What I’m saying is if that I’ve been – as you said ‘horrid’ – it’s been because of something. You get angry because I’ve treated you badly, but I treat you badly because you’ve made me angry.”

“Well,” she said, meeting his eyes at last, “why’ve you been so confusing? Why’re you nice sometimes and suddenly rude others?”

I’m confusing?” he said, sounding surprised. “I was still trying to figure out whether or not you were some insane fangirl! Sometimes you didn’t seem like it and sometimes you did! And I’m confusing? You’re the confusing one!”

Me? How?”

“You,” he said, taking a step backwards, “are the one who bloody kissed me in the Great Hall one day and called me an arsehole in front of everyone the next. You are the one who’s been following me around since last year, moved into my bloody house and then suddenly started pretending this was all my fault and that I didn’t exist.” He broke off. “I tried telling you that one time that you’re overthinking everything and you ran off. One minute, I think you’re being quiet and reasonable. Next thing, you’re yelling at me. Sometimes I feel like I actually know you and other times, you make no sense.”

At the back of her head, she could hear Trista’s voice saying, “It’s hard being our age. We overthink everything.”

“Okay,” said June quietly, having processed the majority of his rambling. “Okay. Now what?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted.

“Why dinner? Why any of this?” she asked, feeling herself spiraling into yet another Albus Potter induced crisis. “Why did you give Henry more detention? Why did you make me do patrols with you? And the Valentine’s Day chocolate – ”

“At first I thought it was because I like black hair,” he said.

She stopped. “What?”

“Yeah, at first I thought that. I mean, I couldn’t think of a reason that made any more sense.” He shrugged. “But er – I mean – and then I thought it was because my mum was forcing me to be around you. We were spending loads more time together because you were living in my house and you were making me help you.” Sounding extremely surprised at himself, he said slowly, “It was nice. Sometimes. The bits where we weren’t yelling at each other.”

“Yeah,” said June tentatively. “I suppose they were.”

The conversation outside at New Year’s, making him carry her to the Hospital Wing, their few conversations watching the street, the dinner of eggs, the patrols together where he seemed less irritable…

“And I thought you weren’t that bad. When you were being yourself and not some mad girl, I mean.”

“You’re not that bad when you aren’t constantly insulting me,” said June. “But it’s really rare.”

“It took a while, but I got more convinced you weren’t in my house to take advantage of us,” he said slowly. “And you weren’t there because you just wanted to irritate me or because you fancied me or whatever dumb reason.”

“What convinced you?” she asked, feeling cynical.

“You yelling at me,” he said matter-of-factly, “None of those girls’ve yelled at me before. I like people who have the capacity change. I like people who stand up for themselves. I thought you were kind of interesting. Unpredictable. You were proving me wrong in your own ridiculous way. So I wanted to know more. How you were doing it. I was curious. I guess that’s where it began.”

As he moved forward, she rhythmically took a step away. “I did it because I had to. It’s called growing up.”

He blinked and stopped in his path. “So yeah. There. Now you know everything.”

“I still don’t know why you called me here.”

Red blotted his cheeks. “I refuse.”

“Refuse what?” she asked defensively.

 “I’m not saying it first,” he said, crossing his arms once more. With his slightly too large shirt, messy hair and strange pose, he looked like a petulant child. “I still have my dignity, thanks. I refuse to say anything.”

“Say what?” she asked, her annoyance mounting.

“Why’ve just been out here for the last two hours,” he said, aggrieved. “Look, Diagon Alley’s nearly empty.”

For the first time, she looked away from him. The crowds on the cobblestone streets had thinned; a few straggling clusters were left.

She turned back to him. “Is it late?”

“Nearly eight,” he said, checking his watch.

“Eight?” she echoed, “We haven’t even eaten anything! Our parents must be worried!”

“Hang on,” he said, “Let’s just finish this up and we can go.”

“Finish what up?” she asked, her annoyance building up once more. “You’ve been at it with your entire life story because I asked one question. I’m hungry and cold and tired. I want to go back.”

He sighed. “Look. Do you still fancy me?”

If there was any question she had been expecting, it was not that one. June felt a new wave of heat flush through her body. “What?!”

“Do you still fancy me?” he repeated slowly.

She wanted an automatic “no” to emerge, but nothing came.

Because this was Albus Potter and she had fancied him for over a year. He reminded her of bad romance novels, of a certain book with a bright pink cover that had a curly script that read Love at Hogwarts. That book was missing for months now, probably chucked underneath her bed at Hogwarts or crushed to nothingness at the bottom of some trunk. It reminded her of libraries and books and a Ravenclaw Captain named Daniel Whitman and a girl named Hattie Henderson. Names she had not bothered to remember in what felt like a long time.

It reminded her of a botched Valentine’s Day. Of bedpans. Of a nice, large home with Mr. Potter perpetually buried behind his collection of newspapers and Mrs. Potter busying herself by either yelling at Lily or James. It reminded her of the worst feelings – feeling stupid or feeling bad. It reminded her of the best feelings. That one kiss in the Great Hall that had restarted this whole mess.

“I don’t fancy you,” she said, feeling the words come out slowly. “But I don’t not fancy you.”

He looked at her blankly. “It doesn’t work like that. Remember what I said about the law of equivalence? You have to tell me exactly how much you don’t not fancy me.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Everything – everything has to be equal!” he said. For the first time, she saw him turn red. “That’s how the entire physical magical world works! If I don’t not fancy you, you have to not not fancy me back just as much!”

“You – you - ?” The words came out a lot more calmly than she had suspected they would. Inside, June felt her stomach go flat, then rebound and go flat once more. Then suddenly, before she could help herself, she felt her hand pushing him back. “You idiot! You’re such an idiot!”

She plowed forward, a new glare in her eyes. She pushed him back until he hit the wall of the Leaky Cauldron and he cowered helplessly. “Ouch, ouch, what – what’re you doing?!”

“I can’t believe how stupid you are!” she said, hysteria creeping into her voice. “If you fancied me – even a little - why didn’t you tell me? Don’t you know how much I wanted you to know I existed six months ago?”

“I’m sorry,” he said, feebly defending himself as she attacked him once more. “But how could you blame me? And I don’t blame you for hating me too – ”

“I didn’t hate you, I just thought you hated me so I hated you! I hated you for not fancying me back!” She stopped for a moment, her hand hanging in mid-air. “But I’m glad you didn’t. I grew up a lot because you didn’t fancy me. I think I changed for good.”

“I know,” he said, trying to back away. “I changed too, didn’t I? I haven’t called you an idiot in – ”

When her hand rose again, he amended hastily, “I never thought you were an idiot. I just thought you were a bit dim. But you’re not.”

She put her hand down. Albus stood back up, readjusting his position. “I don’t know what I’m doing and I think you don’t know what you’re doing either,” he said frankly. “I dated one girl once in fourth year and that was a disaster. Ended with her setting live animals on me and then trying to put me on fire. I have no idea if this will go anywhere at all. But I asked my dad and he said that Potters go one way or another: it’s either arch enemies like with my grandmum or crazy fangirls turned normal like with my mum. And since you were a bit of both, I suppose it’s worth a shot. I’m curious to see how this’ll turn out and that’s kind of a start, isn’t it? Come to Hogsmeade with me when school starts?”

June stared at him. He shrank slightly under her gaze until finally, she reluctantly said, “Maybe.”

He grinned. “Good.”

“Can we go back to your house now?” she asked. “I’m starving and the Leaky’s closing.”

 “Okay,” he said, pulling out his wand. He took her hand. She could feel a glow of warmth spreading through it.

A year ago, the thought of Albus holding her hand after asking her to Hogsmeade was enough to send her into a happy spiral. She might’ve fainted if he’d done as much. After all, he was Albus Severus Potter and she was just June Bernard. Though the boy who was beside her felt much less like Albus Severus Potter now and much more like Albus.



He didn't seem very icy Prince Charming anymore. Perhaps, in her own way, she had been icy too. He also didn't seem very far away. The boy beside her seemed very much sheepish and seventeen.

Perhaps, she reflected, he had never been that mysterious boy she had fallen for so arbitarily. There was no mystery about him now - not because he'd finally said the things he'd had to - but because there had never been any mystery in the first place.

“For your sake, I hope Hogsmeade turns out better than this,” she said as they began to Apparate away.

His voice came over the blur. “What? You didn’t have a good time?”

“Are you kidding? This was horrible. All that happened was you talked for two hours and I didn’t even get any food. Some dinner.”

For the first time, Albus laughed. They blurred away into the night. 


Chapter 17: On Sugar Quills
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On Sugar Quills

The rest of their Easter holidays passed with no incident. With everything different and yet the same with Albus, June thought she was finally enjoying her last few days at the Potter house before the term restarted. Mr. Potter and Mr. Bernard were both still as good natured but as clueless as ever. Lily was still much the same – huffing and puffing whenever she went near June, though her glares slowly began subsidizing when Albus glared back at her.

It was Mrs. Potter, however, who seemed to be all of a sudden happier. She went around the house, a conspiratorial twinkle in her eye, constantly nagging Albus to help June with her packing.

But soon enough, it was Sunday and it was time to return to King’s Cross. As the shuffled out of the car and into the platform, Mrs. Potter was busy lecturing Lily. “Now that your Quidditch season’s over, I expect to see better marks, Lily. No more ‘Acceptables’, I want ‘Exceeds Expectations’ in everything!”

Mum,” Lily trilled, “for the last time. I’ve got one Acceptable and it’s in bloody Potions. When am I never going to need Potions in my life?”

“That’s not the point,” said Mrs. Potter. “Harry, please, tell her she needs to do better.”

“You need to do better,” Mr. Potter faithfully repeated. As soon as Mrs. Potter turned to Albus, June could hear him whispering to Lily, “You never do need Potions though. I nearly failed Potions in school.”

Lily laughed. “Thanks, Dad.”

Mr. Bernard, for the first time in many years, had accompanied June to Platform 9 ¾. Normally, the thought of all the witches and wizards in a crowd, along with the owls and cats and toads that would be hopping around was enough to turn him green and he would insist on June entering the barrier alone. “You didn’t need to come, Dad,” June was saying. “Really.”

“Nonsense,” he said, “This’s the last time you’ll be sent off. I wanted to come inside and see the place.”

His eyes grew huge as the scarlet train billowed steam onto the platform. There was a massive struggle as most of the Hogwarts population shuffled on board.

June gave her father a quick kiss. “Bye Dad. See you in June.”

“See you, darling,” he said, hugging her.

“All right, go on, go on,” said Lily, pushing her forward crabbily. “Like we’ve got enough time to be saying – ”

“Goodbye Lily, goodbye Albus! Behave yourself, Lily!” Mrs. Potter yelled, attracting stares.

Turning a bright red, Lily leapt onto the train and out of sight.

In front of June, Albus was eyeing his mother with disapproval. As June attempted to clamber on with one trunk, he pulled the trunk out of her hand and pulled her on.

“Thanks,” she said, out of breath.

“Sure,” he said.

There was a long moment of silence as they considered each other. Several small Slytherins went running past them, treading on her toes in the process.

“Thanks again,” she said at last. “You know. For everything, this year.”

“Don’t thank me,” he said, looking expressionless again. Finally, he managed a small smile. “I’ll see you around.”

“See you,” she echoed, before turning away to look for her friends.

*

Several doors down, June finally found the Hufflepuff seventh years all crammed into one compartment.

“Bernard!” she heard a voice shout, “Well, now the party’s full.”

The door opened and a wave of red hair fluttered in her face as she felt two arms embrace her. “Oh June! I was so worried! How’ve you been? How were your holidays? I didn’t get to see you – ”

“Weasley,” came Desmond Jordan’s voice, “let her breathe.”

When he pried Lucy away, June got a full view of the compartment. Trista St. Clair and Nicholas Corner were grinning at her, both sitting on the floor engaged in a game of Exploding Snap; one look told her that Nicholas was already losing badly. Duncan Podmore peeked over his small stack of Cauldron Cakes and Priscilla looked up airily from a book she was holding.

“Hello,” June began meekly.

“How were your holidays?” asked Nicholas.

“Fine,” she said, taking a seat opposite Trista. Duncan held out his Cauldron cakes and she took one, staring at it to avoid their gazes.

“So…” said Desmond. He exchanged a weighty gaze with Priscilla, who passed it on to Lucy.

“Well I painted,” said Nicholas. “Painted loads and loads, actually. I got this great portrait of Hesper the Horrible nearly done – my mum said I should open my own place after school’s done and that’s what going the idea going. My own portraiture shop. Cornerside Portraiture, I’m thinking of calling it. Nice name, I think – especially the ‘Corner’ part of it.”

“Won’t that be expensive?” asked Lucy.

“Not at all,” said Nicholas, “my dad easily covered the cost of it. We got a nice place, by the way. Just right across Potage’s Cauldron shop and right beside Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment. In case any of you are interested.”

“We won’t be,” said Priscilla, ignoring him and still staring pointedly at June.

“What did you do, Desmond?” said June, looking away.

“Oh, the same,” he said. “Imported a few things from Russia. I got caught by my mum, incidentally, as I was opening a new vial of Dragon’s blood. She knows everything about my – erm – hobby in Hogwarts.”

“You got caught?” asked Lucy, apparently distracted enough to look away from June. “What happened?”

“She thought I was brilliant,” he grinned. “Wanted to know why Dad and I hadn’t told her earlier. Said she’s got all kinds of great contacts. I got a job offer too, actually, until I get enough money to put my own business together.”

“Where?” asked Priscilla, still not looking away from June.

“Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.” When they all stared at him, looking awed, he shrugged. “Dad’s best friend from school is George Weasley. And they don’t care about how many OWLs or NEWTs I have or anything. Your uncle said he’d knew some of my work thanks to you, Lucy. Apparently you complain about me a lot.”

As the others congratulated him, Lucy looked at a cross between pained and happy. Finally, she breathed and relented. “Congratulations. You’ll do really well with Uncle George and Fred.”

“Oh sure,” he said breezily, “they already want me to come up with my fake essence of Chomping Cabbage. Fred Weasley thinks it’ll be a great prank. Looks like innocuous slime but bursts you out in boils all over. We might even disguise it as lipstick, market it to the ten year olds boys who like to bug their sisters. I start mid-June.”

“Duncan?” asked June. “What about you?”

“I signed on with the Falmouth Falcons’ reserve team back in February as their Keeper, remember?” he said, holding a Cauldron cake aloft. “I start in August.”

“Duncan’s known for ages where he’s going,” said Trista. “I got my letter too, actually, from the Tutshill Tornadoes. Just this morning.” From the inside of her pocket, she pulled out a letter with a seal that was peeling off the parchment.

And?” asked Desmond. “You can’t keep us in the dark, St. Clair!”

Grimacing slightly, Trista said, “I’m not joining the Tornadoes.”

“What?!” asked Priscilla, finally tearing her gaze away from June. “But you’re brilliant! You can do loads better than any other Quidditch captain we’ve had in ages! Hufflepuff hadn’t won a Cup in decades until you came!”

“I know,” said Trista, looking strangely calm. “Actually, I got a better offer than the Tornadoes. I’m going to be joining the Kenmare Kestrals as their Chaser.”

“Chaser? Don’t you mean reserve Chaser?” said Duncan, eyes widening.

“No,” said Trista with a grin. “Actually, I’m on their team and not on reserve. You can start seeing me in their games once their season starts in September.”

 As the others cheered, the compartment door opened. Henry Bates stood aloof, looking lost.

“Aha!” he said, “There you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you lot! Nearly got lost – ended up sitting with some Slytherins - ”

“Bates!” said Nicholas, rising to usher in Henry. “Haven’t seen you in ages. What’ve you been up to?”

“Oh not much,” he said happily, taking a seat beside Duncan.  “Spent my holidays helping my sister with her children.”

“You, Priscilla,” said Desmond, “what’re you going to be doing?”

“Magical Law Enforcement,” said Priscilla promptly. “Oh, I’ve been accepted to the Ministry’s training program for ages now. You all know that already, though.”

“Lucy?”

“I’ve been thinking about working in the Ministry,” said Lucy. As everyone stared at her, she blushed. “I mean, I’ve talked to my aunt Hermione and I think I’d like to work in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Of course, we’ve come a long way with house elf rights, but there’s still merpeople and goblins and a few other things like that I want to help with.”

“That’s perfect for you,” said Trista to general nodding. “You’ll be amazing at it.”

“I’m going to be working in Diagon Alley too,” piped up Henry, attracting general stares.

“For what?” asked Desmond. “Stuck cleaning tables in Fortescue’s, are you?”

“I’m going to be an assistant in the Magical Menagerie,” said Henry, puffing out his chest proudly. “Professor Hagrid says he thinks I’ll get an ‘O’ in my Care of Magical Creatures NEWT.”

As the congratulations went around the compartment once more, June felt something in her deflating.

“What about you, June?” asked Henry, surveying her happily with wide eyes.

“I…don’t know…” she trailed off, now entirely aware of how much they were staring at her. Trista looked sympathetic, Priscilla outraged. Lucy merely seemed disappointed in June. June once more felt the uncomfortable feeling in her stomach that wormed around whenever the subject was brought up.

Thankfully, before anything else could be said, there was a loud whistle from the inside of the train and the last of the green hills went rolling past. They had arrived at Hogwarts.

*

Finally, when they shuffled their way up to the dormitories and the girls had bid goodbye to the Hufflepuff boys, they began unpacking.

As June leapt on her bed, she could hear Priscilla’s voice saying snidely, “You know what we’re all wondering, June.”

“Oh yes,” said Lucy immediately, stealing a glance with Priscilla. “Your dinner with Albus.”

Feeling her face burning, June looked at Trista who shook her head very slowly.

“I…didn’t go,” she said at last.

Lucy exhaled and beamed. “I’m so glad, June! Oh, I’m so glad. I thought you would’ve insisted and it  would’ve been a huge disaster. But I’m so glad you decided to be sensible about this. See? Everything turned out okay.”

“Right,” said June gloomily.

Priscilla too looked equally ecstatic. “Oh, perfect. Thank god you grew a brain and decided not to spend any more time with that idiot Potter. Well, now that May’s around the corner, I guess it’s time that we wind this year down.”

“Yeah,” said Trista. “June, you never told us what you were planning to do. You know, back in the train.”

Suddenly, June became hyper aware at the narrow stares being thrown her way.

“Yes,” said Lucy, suddenly business-like, “What are you going to be doing?”

“I…”

“Because nearly everyone’s got a plan. It’s April, June. Even Henry’s got a plan.”

“I’m still not sure,” said June at last.

Priscilla gave a small shriek. “I thought Helen made you pick something! What happened to Apothecaries?”

“You know that was just a farce,” said Trista. “Just to get Professor Aubrey off her back.”

“That turned out perfectly,” said Priscilla. “I know you haven’t got the highest marks. Frankly, they’re probably a bit less than decent. But you’ve got an Acceptable NEWT in Charms, Transfiguration and Defense, right? And you’ve got an Exceeds Expectations in Divination.”

“Well, you can’t really go anywhere with just an Acceptable in anything,” said Lucy sensibly. “You’ve got to get at least a minimum of an Exceeds Expectations if you’re planning to do further education.”

“I’m not,” said June. “At least I’m sure that I absolutely won’t be doing anything at all in Transfiguration or Charms or Defense.”

“You worked in the greenhouses for a bit to help Professor Longbottom,” said Trista.

“Yeah, but I don’t have a NEWT in Herbology, remember? Besides, I don’t do much. I pick things. Lorcan and Lysander Scamander do a better job than me and they’re so small.”

“You got an Exceeds Expectations in Divination,” said Lucy. She began rummaging through her trunk. “Look, I got these pamphlets at the beginning of the year. Divination – divination – ooh, it says with divination, you could go into crystal ball gazing, ceromancy, reading tarot cards, palmistry, a dream interpreter. Maybe you could work in the Department of Mysteries – apparently they require at least an – ”

“Are you mad?!” said Priscilla, snatching away the pamphlet from Lucy. “June Bernard working in the Department of Mysteries? Do you want her to accidentally kill most of the wizarding world?”

“I think you’ve got a point,” said June. “And I don’t even know what I’m doing when it comes to Divination, so…”

“What happened to that thing Helen mentioned?” said Priscilla suddenly. “Madame Malkins’ – you know. That dress thing.”

“I don’t want to do Applied Magical Design,” said June, pushing her pillow in her face. “I’d be awful – ”

“It can’t possibly be more awful than everything else we’ve been suggesting,” said Lucy, looking determined. Suddenly, she began rummaging through June’s trunk.

June shot up. “Hey! That’s mine! You can’t just look through my stuff!”

“I can,” said Lucy bossily. She pushed around clothes and spellbooks until her hand reached the bottom of the trunk. She yanked out something, success flitting across her face.

It was a crumpled purple pamphlet. One June had stuffed into her trunk several months ago and had not looked at since.

“Professor Aubrey’s going to be so disappointed,” said Lucy with a frown. She straightened out the pamphlet and showed it to Priscilla and Trista. “Look, the deadline’s already passed. It was in early April.”

Now what’re you going to do?” asked Priscilla.

“I don’t want to talk about this,” said June burying herself again in her bed. “I’m just going to think about getting through the next week of classes and there’s Hogsmeade weekend after that.”

As she drifted to sleep, she could hear Priscilla saying quizzically, “What’s Hogsmeade got to do with anything?”

*

For the next week, June successfully managed to get through her classes and avoid the occasional questioning gazes Priscilla threw her.

Nothing happened until Friday, when she found herself cornered after Transfiguration with Professor Lee. The class dispersed, still grumbling about the length of their next essay – “ten inches and it’s due on Tuesday!” – and June followed, grateful that the week had somehow stumbled to an end.

“Yeah, that’s her,” came a low voice she didn’t recognize. Suddenly, she found herself flanked on both sides.

Two Gryffindor boys were grinning at her, their heads something like a foot above her own; one tall Black boy and a stout sandy-haired boy beside him had managed to appear out of nowhere.

“Hello there,” the first began smoothly, “you must be June. I’m Al’s friend Vincent. This’s Colin.” He pointed to the embarrassed looking sandy-haired boy beside him.

“See, normally, I would find myself above such menial tasks,” Vincent continued, brushing his hand through his hair like a peacock preening himself. “Unfortunately, Al got me out of a bit of a spot last month with Ancient Runes, so here I am.”

“I just came because I was curious,” piped up Colin. He held out his hand. “Colin Creevey. Nice to meet you.”

June took the hand thrust in her face gingerly and shook it once. “Um – I don’t understand – ”

“You see, neither do I,” continued Vincent jovially. “Walk with us, won’t you, June? Colin here was pretty convinced most of this year that you were a made up person.”

“What?”

“Al hasn’t had a girlfriend in – how long has it been, Vince?” asked Colin.

“Ages. Ever since that one loony bin set him on fire.”

“We’ve been bugging him about you for a while now,” went on Colin, now looking red-faced. “Erm – so I guess we owe him an apology. You know, for being convinced you weren’t real and all. Everyone else in our year has a girlfriend so we tease him a lot about it. So when he told us about you, it sounded so far fetched I thought it had to be made up.” He sighed. “Though how can you blame me? Some girl becoming his mum’s long lost friend and moving into his house and chasing him around London? Sounds like some trashy story my sister might read.”

“I don’t owe him anything,” said Vincent. “I believed him when he said there’d be someone here.”

“You – you did?” asked June, staring up at him.

“Course I did. He can’t spend the rest of his life snogging his spellbooks, can he? Although to be honest, I was expecting you to be a bloke.”

When June began coughing hastily, Vincent added a defensive, “What?”

“Since we were coming down here anyway, Albus wanted to tell you to meet him in Hogsmeade outside the Three Broomsticks at noon.” Colin’s large eyes widened. “Wow, this actually sounds real.”

“Well, our job here’s done,” said Vincent. “See you around, June.”

With that, they both took off down the stairs. She could hear them howling with laughter.

*

“Tomorrow?” said Trista, pulling out her broom from under her bed. “Really?”

“Yeah,” said June, feeling a sense of foreboding doom in her future.

It had been a pure accident that she had found Trista alone in their dormitory for the first time that week. It had been nearly impossible to find Trista without Lucy, Priscilla or someone from the Quidditch team stuck to her side.

“Well, I mean, if you think he’s going to behave himself, you might have a nice time. Though I don’t know what excuse you’re going to give Priscilla and Lucy. We haven’t gone to a Hogsmeade weekend in months. They get boring after a while, don’t they?”

“I already thought about that,” piped up June. “I’m going to say I’ve got to see Professor Lee for Remedial Transfiguration lessons for a few hours.”

“Remedial Transfiguration,” said Trista, looking thoughtful. “Oh, they’d definitely believe you.”

“Exactly,” said June.

“I’m going to go to practice now,” said Trista. “Got to get ready to make Slytherin sorry they were born in the Quidditch finals, you know. I’ll see you around.”

*

“Remedial Transfiguration?” asked Lucy, skepticism knitting across her brows. “I thought you said you had an Acceptable in Transfiguration.”

“Oh,” said June, already slinking out the door of the Common Room. “I didn’t do so well on that last thing we had to. Transfiguring a niffler into a vase.”

“Trista and Duncan are off practicing again and you’re taking Remedial lessons and Priscilla ran off with Nicholas saying something about working on an essay,” said Lucy, throwing up her arms. “I’ve got no idea where Desmond is and I think Henry’s still asleep. Everyone’s off doing something but me!”

“I’m sorry,” said June hastily. “Bye!”

She all but ran out of the Hufflepuff Common Room, her bag slinging around her shoulders. Outside, it was slowly becoming sunnier, despite the last few days of overhanging clouds. The walk to Hogsmeade was quicker than she could’ve hoped for. As she neared the Three Broomsticks, June became hyperaware that she was surrounded by couples. Grimacing, she proceeded down with as much bravado as she could muster.

Couples. At a time like this.

Hogsmeade village looked bright and comfortable in the spring sunshine. As she walked through the town, she could see a few familiar faces through the crowd. Victoria and Iris Bosworth were strolling out of the post office, each carrying a tawny owl on their arms.

“Mum’s going to be furious we haven’t been writing,” said Victoria as June passed.

Outside Madame Puddifoot’s, a cluster of third year Gryffindor girls seemed to be in a panic.

“Louis Weasley! Can you believe it?” one was saying to her friend. “Louis Weasley just came by! Do you think he was with someone?”

“He’s so handsome,” gushed another.

“Ridiculous, isn’t it, Lily? So many girls after Louis. Clearly they’ve never actually met him,” came a snide voice as Rose Weasley stalked past them, Lily Potter at her heels.

“Not as ridiculous as any of them fancying Hugo,” said Lily, throwing the girls a dirty look. “I heard all the Slytherin second years were after him before the holidays, trying to get him to ask them to Hogsmeade.”

Rose gave an appreciative laugh. “Why do you sound so surprised? Is Hugo that bad? I always thought it made no sense how anybody could fancy James. He bathes like once a week.”

“You’re one to be talking. You fancy that slimy blond – “

As June walked by, they both broke off and stared. Not disapprovingly and not with a glare as June expected. It was a simple, inquisitive stare. Then, they exchanged a look with each other and took off.

As June neared The Three Broomsticks, she quickly hid behind the sea of students when she saw a familiar, tall boy emerge from Zonko’s.

“Good start, I should think,” Desmond Jordan was saying, carrying four bulging bags. “Fireworks, some self-destructing rubber wands, a few hats that beat you around the ears…”

Why do you insist on dragging me along for these excursions?” Nikita Patil spat. “You always say we’ll go for lunch and then all we end up doing is going shopping!”

“Business partners stick together, Patil,” he reminded her and slung his arm around her shoulders as she continued to look irritated.

Once June neared the Three Broomsticks, she waited outside, trying to seem as casual as she could. Albus was nowhere in sight. Sighing, she leaned against the door.

It proved to be a bad idea.

Within a few seconds, the door hit her back as someone came out. Again, it was a familiar voice.

Why was everyone she ever knew clustered together here on the one day where she didn’t want to see them?

“Enjoying yourself?” Nicholas Corner said.

“Enough,” said Priscilla Fawcett, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, the way you made it sound, I thought we were going on a magic carpet or something, not coming to the Three Broomsticks.”

Scrambling, June quickly hid behind an older lady in front of her.

“Darling, I am magical,” said Nicholas.

Priscilla pushed him. “Idiot. Now what?”

He took her hand and kissed her on the cheek. “Now to Honeydukes.”

“Chocolate!” she said, not looking at all bothered that he was holding her hand. Instead, she looked quite content to be walking beside Nicholas and they set off down High Street together.

As they left, June stared at them in shock. How long had that been going on without anyone realizing?

However, she didn’t get too much time after to ponder.

Albus chose that moment to materialize, grinning at the sight of her. “Hey.”

“Hi,” she said, snapping out of her reverie.

“Something wrong?” he asked.

“Er – no, I don’t think so. I’m not sure. I just saw Priscilla with Nicholas Corner.”

Albus gave a noncommittal “Oh. Is that a big deal?”

“I suppose not,” she said, opening the door of the Three Broomsticks.

He stopped her. “Hold on. Don’t go in.”

“Why not?”

“Half of our year’s in there. This could turn out badly if someone spots us.”

“Okay,” she acquiesced, letting the door close. “Then where do we go?”

“We can walk around. We’ll be harder to spot in the crowd. Come on,” he said, taking her hand and walking into the crowd.

“Is the plan just to walk around the whole day?” said June, feeling him tugging her through the jostling crowd.

“Do you want to go anywhere in particular?”

“Honeydukes,” said June, lighting up. “But we’re going to have to be careful.”

“Okay. Why?”

With that, they set off down High Street and made a turn. Albus seemed careful to talk to her with his head bowed so it didn’t seem as though they were there together. She made it a point to look away now and then as they continued.

“Priscilla and Nicholas are in there. I just want to pop in to have a look.”

He looked skeptical but didn’t argue the point. “Well, I’m a bit relieved. I thought you were going to drag me into Madam Puddifoot’s or something.”

“Would you have gone?”

He scoffed in response.

June grinned. He was still holding her hand. It was a nice, warm feeling even under the spring sunshine.

“Fine, we can go to Honeydukes. But I want to go to Scrivenshaft’s after. I need new quills,” he said.

“New quills. How exciting.”

Soon enough, they found themselves in front of Honeydukes. Albus let go of her hand and opened the door for her. She went in, careful to seem as though they had entered together on a coincidence. He stared at her as she wandered off to the other side of the store. A flock of Ravenclaws and Gryffindor girls had noticed Albus’s entrance and excited whispers broke out.

“Albus – ”

“Potter here, I wonder why – “

The walls, as usual, were lined with hundreds of chocolates and toffees, all of which reminded June that sometimes, Honeydukes looked like an edible wonderland. She positioned herself behind a large barrel of Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum.

Pretending to inspect some Blood Lollipops, June bent over the counter, her eyes narrowing in on a brunette clad in a Hufflepuff scarf several feet away.  Was that Priscilla? And why was she alone?

“Pepper Imps, Mr. Flume,” she was calling over the counter. “And one large bag of Ice Mice.”

When she turned, it became evident that she wasn’t Priscilla at all. June closed her eyes and heard a familiar voice over the clamor.

“All right, have at it,” came Nicholas’s voice from the other side of the store.

Looking gleeful, Priscilla called over to the owner in a shrill voice. “Ambrosius! Chocoballs, Fizzing Whizbees, one bag of Chocolate Frogs, and some Liquorice Wands.”

As Nicholas paid, Priscilla clung to his arm, already unwrapping a Chocoball.

“Well,” came a voice from behind her, “they look like they’re together.”

June jumped in the air and turned to see a large box of Toothflossing Stringmints talking to her.

“Albus?” she hissed.

He set down the Toothflossing Stringmints sheepishly. “What? I thought I was being subtle.”

“No, you weren’t.”

“Anyway, I got bored of waiting, so I bought some sugar quills and some coconut ice. Here.” He handed her a bag.

“Sugar quills?” said June. “How do you like sugar quills? They taste awful.”

At the sound of her voice, Priscilla perked up and began turning around.

June leapt behind Albus. “Come on. Let’s go.”

He moved stiffly out, still holding the Toothflossing Stringmints in front of his face as he opened the door.

“Perfect,” she said as they exited. “Now where?”

“Scrivenshaft’s,” he reminded her.

At Scrivenshaft’s, he spent the next fifteen minutes inspecting quills, bothering her with questions. Owl or Hippogriff feather? Sturdy or lean?

“Look,” he said, holding a peacock feather aloft. “How does it look? Funny, isn’t it?”

“It looks silly,” she said, wondering how she had ever found a boy who thought peacock feathers funny mysterious in any form.

He made a face and bought the two owl feathers, finally letting them leave.

“Now where?”

“I want to sit for some time,” she complained.

“Anywhere but Puddifoot’s,” he said. “And the Three Broomsticks’s always crowded. What about the Hog’s Head?”

“Wherever,” was all she managed before he grabbed her hand and began jostling down High Street once more.

The Hog’s Head was as grimy and empty as June remembered it. Even the new management had done little to change the place. The usual inch of dust carpeted the floors and tables. It was still as seedy a pub as June remembered it; the few people there were all looking away from each other, having covered their faces in some form or another.

They found a table as far in the back as possible.

“Funny how this place can help save Hogwarts but is still as ugly as ever,” said Albus. “Well, no one’ll ever disturb us here.”

When June was lost in thought, he waved the Toothflossing Stringmints in her face, looking anxious. “Am I boring you?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “I was just thinking,”

“About?”

“I don’t know,” she said doubtfully.

“Tell me,” he said, waving the Toothflossing Stringmints in her face once more.

She took the box away from him with a scowl. “Enough with the mints! I was just thinking…you have a plan after Hogwarts, right?”

“Of course,” he said, puffing himself out. “Healing school. St. Mungo’s trainee program. I told you I wanted to be a Healer. I had an exam back in March. That’s why I was always reading around you all the time. I was studying.”

“And you passed?”

“Obviously. School starts for me in September as usual.

“Why a Healer though?”

“Well, I’m no good at Quidditch like my mum. And I don’t fancy being an Auror like my dad. I always thought medicine was kind of interesting and I’m good at school work.”

“Priscilla’s going to do Magical Law,” said June. “And Trista’s going professional with Quiddtich. Desmond and Nicholas are both working in Diagon Alley and doing their own business things. Even Henry’s got a plan! Everyone has something!”

“Everyone except you,” he said gently.

“Yes,” she said at last, slumping down. “I’ve got no plans. I’m no good at anything. I can’t play Quidditch, I’m not good with studies, I’ve got no talent in absolutely anything. I think I’ll be stuck working in Potage’s, scrubbing cauldrons for the rest of my life and getting paid three Galleons an hour!”

“You get paid per cauldron not per hour,” he said. When she looked dejected, he added a hasty, “Sorry. No, you won’t get stuck working in Potage’s.”

“Professor Aubrey wanted me to try entering for some program in Madam Malkin’s because she thinks I can do Applied Magical Design. All I can do is sew a bit. Little things like scarves.”

“It’s worth a try, isn’t it?”

“The deadline passed,” she said gloomily. “And you’ve got no idea. They wanted gowns. The biggest thing I’ve ever made is a pillow case.”

“There’s other places than just Madam Malkin’s. And anyway, who cares about Madam Malkin’s? The only thing anyone ever goes there for is school robes. The old bat’s going senile if she thinks anyone’ll buy bloody wedding gowns from her. It’s called Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, isn’t it? Not wedding gowns.”

“I know,” June sniffed. “I know they haven’t exactly been doing well. I’ve been reading in the Prophet that everyone’s been switching over to Galleria’s these days and they’re desperate to branch out.”

“Right,” said Albus. “There’s other places like that. Galleria’s. Give Gladrags Wizardwear a try. They’ve been around for ages and they’re pretty famous, aren’t they?”

“They’ve got branches in London, Paris and Milan,” said June, feeling a little more cheerful. “But they wouldn’t have me.”

“So?” said Albus. “Try more places! You can’t just have one look at Madam Malkin’s and give up! There’s Twilfit and Tattings, isn’t there? Do you want to make school robes?”

 “No,” said June. “I’ve been thinking. School robes are so…limiting. And all we wear is robes. Have you tried muggle clothing on these days? It’s so much more comfortable.”

“You want to design muggle clothing?” said Albus, looking awed.

“No, of course not. I want to design regular wizard’s robes but ones that don’t all just look like each other.”

“No one’s going to let you in,” said Albus. “We’ve been dressing the same way for the past five hundred years. You’re mad if you think any place’ll let you come in and change everything.”

“Just because we’ve been doing it for five hundred years doesn’t mean it couldn’t use a few changes!” said June, enflamed. “For one thing, why are dress robes so ugly? And why are work robes so plain and boring?”

As they eyed each other across the table, it was Albus who finally relented. Something seemed to fly across his face and he stood up abruptly. “Come on. I’ve got an idea.”

“What?”

“I want to go to the post office,” he said. “I need to send an owl.”

Grabbing a hold of her arm, he tugged. “Come on. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”

“Fine,” said June grumpily, following him out of the Hog’s Head. “Why can’t you wait until we get back to Hogwarts?”

“I don’t want to forget,” he said simply, walking several steps ahead of her. “Sometimes my family’s the most annoying one on the planet. Someone’s always arguing or yelling or having children. It’s exhausting.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Like last Christmas,” he continued, plainly ignoring her. “Roxanne kept annoying Lorcan. Teddy kept putting mistletoe everywhere so he’d have an excuse to snog Victoire publicly. Disgusting, really. Molly and Fred thought it would be hilarious to put alcohol in all the Butterbeers and got Rose really, really drunk. And then Rose kept wailing about some bloke she was waiting for. My mum and Lucy’s mum and Aunt Fleur got in a big row about who’d be cooking dinner even though my mum can’t cook to save her life. My dad kept insisting on playing chess with Uncle Ron even though everyone knows he loses every single time. And Uncle Percy kept badgering me about applying to the Ministry instead and how he had all these great contacts.”

As he’d kept ranting, they arrived in front of the post office. They crept in slowly, taking care to avoid eye contact. On every wall, hundreds of owls were perched, hooting softly and watching them with large, pensive eyes.

“What was the point of that?” June whispered as she leaned in towards a screech owl.

“The point is,” he whispered back. “Sometimes I forget how brilliant they all really are. I forget I’ve got contacts too.”

He paid for a scroll of parchment and began writing. June wandered around the post office, still puzzled. She avoided the inquisitive gazes of Jelena and Mila Jorkins and busied herself with pretending to look for an owl.

When she returned, Albus was tying the scroll to the leg of a small tawny. It took off into the sky.

As they left, she asked, “Are you going to tell me what all that was about?”

“I wrote to my cousin Victoire.”

June’s eyes widened. “Victoire Weasley? Do you know who she is?

Grabbing his arm, she dragged him behind the post office into an empty alley. 

“She’s my cousin, yeah, so I think I do. And technically she’s Victoire Lupin now.”

“Albus,” said June, mortified. “Did you – ”

“Maybe,” he grinned.

When she turned bright red, he asked, “What? Did I do something wrong?”

“You tell me,” she hissed. “Did you really write to Victoire Weasley about me? Do you know that she owns one of the most high end boutiques in Europe?”



Memories came back to June of sitting on her bed through lazy summers, flicking through fancy light blue catelogues filled with luxurious looking silk robes, frilly bows, and pages and pages of shoes.

“Yes?” he responded back, looking more lost as she narrowed her eyes.

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done? I’m not good enough to work for her!”

“Look, I think you’re taking things a bit far,” he said. “She just owns some small fancy French place on the edge of London.”

“Some small fancy French place?” repeated June, feeling more and more terrified. “She’s brilliant! Back in second year, I’d go through the Mademoiselle catalogues and dream of owning half that stuff.”

“So it’s settled then?” he asked. When she continued to look uncertain, he sighed. “If she says yes, she says yes, all right? She might not even do as much so relax.”

He took her hand again. The same warm feeling began creeping up her whole arm.

She took a slow breath. “Okay. You’re right.”

It was strange to think that she was walking through Hogsmeade with Albus Potter holding her hand and soothing her about a job she probably wouldn’t get.

 “So,” he said after a long moment, “I think we should head back to the castle now.”

She let go of his hand. “Oh. Okay.”

“Yeah,” he said, “you should probably go back first. I’ll follow ten minutes later. Just in case.”

He pointed down the nearby alleyway, indicating the crowd of students already shuffling their way to the castle.

“Um. Okay,” she said, feeling a new sense of awkwardness. She held out the Honeydukes bag. “I can’t take this. Lucy would notice if I went off to Remedial Transfiguration and came back with Honeydukes sweets.”

“Okay,” he said, acting with the same new stiffness. “Well. Get back safely then.”

“Yeah,” she echoed. “Thanks for the coconut ice.”

“No problem,” he said, thrusting his hands in his pockets. “It wasn’t a big deal. You know. Since I like coconut and all.”

“Right.”

“And sugar quills,” he continued, still sounding stiff and strange. “I also like sugar quills.”

“Yeah, I remember. And I told you they taste awful.” She took a step back. “I should go. Bye, Albus.”

“Bye Bernard,” he said, now sounding annoyed.

“Have you ever called me by my name?” she wondered aloud. “Do you even know what my name is?”

“Of course I do,” he spluttered. “How can you say that? Haven’t you been living at my house for the last five months? Hasn’t it been my mum yelling your name every two minutes?”

“Okay,” she said, crossing her arms and taking another step away. “Well, you’ve never called me by my name. It’s always been either ‘you’ or ‘hey’ or maybe if I’m lucky ‘Bernard’.”

“Bye,” he said, making a strange face.

“Bye what?”

“Bye. June.” He exhaled out her name.

She smiled. “See? Was that so hard? It sounded a bit strange finally hearing it from you. Only took a whole year.”

He was still grimacing and looking irritable.

“Are you annoyed now?” she said as he continued pouting. He crossed his arms and looked away petulantly. “Is it because I said I didn’t want to carry the coconut ice? Because it would take Lucy and Priscilla about a minute to figure out that I was in Hogsmeade.” When he gave an irritated jerk of his head, she said, “Or was it the sugar quills? It’s not my fault they taste like shoeboxes – mmph! – “

He took a step forward and pressed his lips against hers.

She froze in place, her eyes wide and fearful. His eyes were closed, though his lips were twitching in a smile. Finally, she relaxed and closed her eyes, feeling a large swoop of adrenaline fly through her again and again. His hand was gently pushing her face forward.

So this was why.

Stupid Albus. Stupid coconut ice. Stupid sugar quills.

When she finally pulled away, she took a large breath and stared at him, dumbfounded.

“Ha,” he grinned. “I’ve been wanting to do that for the past hour. Of course, you had to go and make everything all hard, but still.”

“That was…nice,” she said breathlessly. “So…what was this, then? A date?”

“Sure, let’s call it that,” he said lazily. “It turned out a lot better than my last one. You didn’t even set me on fire or anything.”

“Who was that?” she asked, perking up. “Your friends mentioned it too. What girl did you take for your first date in fourth year?”

Suddenly, he looked embarrassed. “What? You haven’t realized?”

“No,” she said slowly. “How am I supposed to know who set you on fire?”

“There’s not a lot of girls in this school who’d set live animals on a bloke and then try setting him on fire, okay? Just think.”

As she was about to respond that she couldn’t think of anything, something clicked in place. Her eyes grew saucer sized. “You didn’t! Oh goodness, I don’t know who I feel more sorry for!”

“Match made in hell as James always put it,” said Albus, nodding solemnly.

“What did you even do for her to set you on fire? Normally she’d just beat you around the head a bit and be done.”

“I – not much – I mean, certainly nothing warranting being put on fire!” he said defensively. “I might’ve made fun of the girls in your House a bit – I thought it was funny at the time – you know, girls like blokes who are a bit funny and arrogant – ”

“No they don’t,” said June immediately. “No girl fancies a bloke who fancies himself more than he likes her! Is that why you behaved like that with me?”

“It wasn’t my fault! Someone gave me that advice!”

“Who?”

After a pause, he reluctantly said, “My uncle Ron. He gave me this book called Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches when I turned thirteen. And James too.”

“No wonder she set you on fire.”

“Anyway,” he continued, “I was just joking around a bit about how Hufflepuff is usually the dimmest house and how I’ve always beaten her on tests and - and then suddenly, she sets birds loose on me out of nowhere! And next thing I know, I’ve got Incendio cast on my robes and I’m just left there to die in the middle of Pudifoot’s!”

“Poor Priscilla.”

 “You feel bad for her?” he said indignantly.

“If all she did was set you on fire, she really contained herself. She never told me she went on a date with you in fourth year.”

“I told her not to tell anyone,” said Albus. “I don’t exactly fancy a small army of girls marching into Pudifoot’s to execute me. I didn’t imagine she would try, though. She’s hated me since then.”

“And I don’t blame her,” said June sincerely. When he frowned again, she smiled. “At least you’ve come a long way. But I should really go now. Lucy’ll wonder.”

“Okay. I’ll come looking for you later, though. Bye.”

“Bye,” she echoed, taking off down the alleyway. He was standing there alone, looking quite dejected with only his sugar quills for company.

*

When she returned to Hogwarts, she deflected Lucy’s questions about Remedial Transfiguration and flopped into bed. Priscilla came back a few minutes later and fell into her bed in much the same way.

“How was your essay?” asked Lucy. “Get much done with Nicholas?”

“We got loads done,” said Priscilla, her face buried in a pillow.

It was strange, June marveled. They were only a week from May. With May passing meant June. And with June, the year ended. With June, it meant that all of the eight Hufflepuffs who had spent the last seven years together would be going their separate ways. They could never be together in the same way again. Even the four of them – June, Priscilla, Trista and Lucy – would have to leave home and find their own ways.

Evidently, Priscilla seemed to be thinking the same thing. When Trista entered from Quidditch practice, looking as exhausted as she usually did, Priscilla piped up, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you three about what happens after we’re done with school.”

Lucy and Trista exchanged a wary glance. “What happens after school?” Lucy repeated.

“Where do you lot plan to live?”

“I’m hoping to find a flat this summer,” said Lucy tentatively. “I’d really like to move out, especially if I’m going to be working after the summer.”

“I’m stuck at home,” said Trista. “I can’t afford my own place.”

“Me too,” said June. “I’d like to move out, but we haven’t been able to find anything, so I’m probably stuck with the Potter’s.”

“I’ve been thinking,” said Priscilla slowly, “all of us’ll probably be in London, right? Or at least in that part of England. Nobody’s planning to make a run for it to Spain, are we? I’m going to have to stay near the Ministry anyway. I can’t possibly Floo internationally every day.”

At their blank stares, she continued, “Why don’t we move in together? I can easily get us as flat in London.”

“What about rent?” asked Trista.

“Don’t worry about rent,” said Priscilla. “My dad can easily buy me a nice flat near Diagon Alley. We can charm it and add some more rooms if we need to.”

“I would be fine with it,” said Trista. “If money isn’t an issue, I’d love to.”

“You, June?”

“I’d love to live with you, Priscilla,” said June.

“It would be lovely if we could stay together,” said Lucy, still sounding suspicious. “Fine. All right. I’ll ask my parents.”

“So it’s decided, then,” said Priscilla.

June breathed a sigh of relief. The year, in its own strange way, seemed to be concluding of its own accord.








A/N: An update within a week and a half? I think that might've been my fastest. I'm looking forward to writing the next few chapters. I think there'll probably be at least three more and the story witll be ending with the seventh years' graduation. 

So a lot happened in this chapter! Any thoughts on their "date", Priscilla and Nicholas, sugar quills or even Albus's poor catastrophic first date? ;)

 


Chapter 18: Out With a Bang
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Out With a Bang

The week after Hogsmeade began to pass fleetingly. Soon enough, June was once more sitting through Double Divination on Thursday, her eyes half closing in the heat. The strong smell of old sofas gave the classroom a stifling feel, leaving everyone tossing restlessly on the ground.

June found herself staring across the table, eavesdropping on the Ravenclaws and Slytherins in an attempt to keep herself awake. It was a shame that she found herself stuck with them so often, but she was the only Hufflepuff in her year who’d been allowed to take a NEWT in Divination. At least they were better than the Gryffindors.

Professor Trelawney glid past, blanketed in her shawls and looking like an ornate moth. “Remember my dears, thus far this year, we’ve covered crystal ball gazing, Ceromancy, Dream interpretation and Astrology. Which only leaves Ovomancy before your final exam.”

Her attempt at sounding mystical was promptly ignored by the class.

“I hate this,” said a bored Slytherin sitting across June. She eyed her friend. “Megara, you said this class would be easy. All we’ve been doing this year’s been predicting our own deaths.

Her friend scoffed. The Head Girl badge sitting on her robes glimmered. “You only signed up because you couldn’t get any other NEWT. Don’t blame it on me, Viola.”

There was a groan from the other side as Jelena Jorkins shook the girl beside her. “Victoria, wake up. Treloony’s walking by and she won’t fancy hearing you snoring like last time.”

Victoria Bosworth woke up with a jump. “Wha – “

“Class,” said Professor Trelawney once more. “I trust you’ve all done your reading and now how to proceed with the materials on the table. Pair up and observe your findings. I will retire to my inner chambers.”

“Probably to take a nap again,” came from one of the Slytherin boys.

“My Inner Eye will, no doubt, alert me when you have completed your work.” With that, she stepped away, leaving the class blinking in confusion at the materials on their table.

Finally, it was a Ravenclaw boy who said baldly, “Does anyone here know what to do?”

There was much head shaking that ensued. As June looked at her table, she found a pair of eggs and a candle sitting at the center.

“Ovomancy,” came Rose Weasley’s haughty voice from the Ravenclaw side, “is the process of using eggs to study our futures. Of course, there’s no real factual basis to it but it’s said that cracking open the eggs and observing which way they fall can act as a medium for Divining the future.”

“So we’re supposed to crack these open?” said the Slytherin sitting across from June. She shrugged. “Let’s have at it, I suppose.”

As June turned around, most of the class seemed to have found partners. She gingerly took an egg, staring across the tables and feeling at a loss what to do.

Finally, there was a sigh from the Ravenclaw side.

“Victoria, tell Bernard to come to our side,” came Rose’s voice.

There was a tap on June’s shoulder and she turned to find the Ravenclaws watching her expectantly.

Mostly puzzled but desperate, June arose and seated herself across Rose. Rose was holding her egg aloft, a victorious expression.

“Hello there, Bernard. I’m sure you’re very surprised as to why we called you here, but that’ll have to wait for a little while. Have a look, will you?” She held her cracked egg in the air and let the yolk fall on to the table.

There was much oohing from her friends as they clustered around.

“So girls, what do you see?”

“Well, it’s really yellow,” said Jelena, reading from her book. “That means you should anticipate good luck.”

“The spellbook says that if it doesn’t drip much as it falls, it’s supposed to indicate fluidity in your life,” said Victoria.

Rose smirked. They all looked at June.

She blushed and began stammering, trying desperately to remember what she’d read a few nights ago. “Um – well – the yolk has a piece of the shell in it – doesn’t that mean conflict?”

To June’s utter amazement, Rose broke out in a fresh wail. “I knew it! I knew it!”

Both Jelena and Victoria glared at June. “Don’t worry about her, Rose,” said Victoria, patting Rose’s hand. “She probably has no idea what she said.”

“No,” said Rose, now sniffing, “she’s right, though. The shell means conflict! He’s never going to fancy me!”

“Of course he does,” said Jelena. “You’ve been after him for ages.”

“But you know,” Rose blubbered, “he still tries hiding in broom closets whenever he sees me. He’s terrified of me. I tried asking him to Hogsmeade during Transfiguration and he pretended someone had cast a Silencing Charm on me and that he couldn’t hear me! And haven’t you heard what the Slytherins’ve been saying? I asked Megara Vaisey about him and she said that he’s already got a girlfriend!”

“He doesn’t,” said Victoria, awed.

“Some Slytherin girl. Some Parkinson something.”

“Must be Julietta Parkinson,” said Jelena. “I’ve got Charms with her. She’s quite all right.” At Rose’s glare, Jelena broke off. “Nothing on you, of course. You’re Rose Weasley, after all.”

“Who is he?” blurted out June. As all three girls turned to glare at her, she coughed hastily.

“Scorpius Malfoy,” said Rose reluctantly, watching June very closely. “I asked you here, Bernard, because I wanted to know how you did it.”

“Did what?”

“Won Albus over to your side. So tell me.”

“Hang on,” said Victoria slowly. “You don’t mean Potter and Bernard are – ”

“How did you know?” asked June.

“Albus told me to deliver you a message so what else can it mean?” said Rose, making a face. “He thinks it might be a good idea for you to visit the greenhouses again and quit. Whatever that means. Come on, tell me.”

“I really didn’t do anything,” said June.

“I don’t believe you. What was it? An Entrancing Enchantment? Love Potion number eight? Did that Jordan fellow mix something up for you?” She leaned forward eagerly. “Think your friend Fawcett could perform a nice jinx on this Julietta Parkinson for me?”

“I didn’t mix a love potion or anything,” said June, now inspecting her own egg. “Really. If you want him to fancy you, you should probably just act like yourself around him.”

Rose sat back, looking perplexed. “But I’ve done that too.”

“Well, if he doesn’t fancy you for yourself, then there’s just no point, is there? Who else can you be? I mean, it’s not really very important. The year’s almost over and we’ll all leave anyway. He’s just another bloke.”

Victoria and Jelena exchanged a glance. “Rose…” Jelena began.

Rose sighed. “You know, I’ve asked my mum about him. She said practically the same thing. I’ve already tried every love potion under the sun. What if he just never fancies me?”

As the two girls began to comfort her and assure her otherwise, June looked away, feeling slightly uncomfortable. She cracked open her egg. The bright yellow yolk fell on the table in one swoop. Two small pieces of the shell floated in the puddle of yellow.

*

When she trudged back into the dormitory, she found it empty. Priscilla was off to Ancient Runes and Lucy was in Transfiguration and Trista in Potions. June had barely peeled off her bag when a large owl swooped through the window.

She stared at it, utterly lost. Had she been expecting a letter…?

As she untied the letter from the owl’s leg, it took off with a hoot. There was a fancy blue seal on the letter. V.W.

She felt her mouth go dry. Victoire Weasley. Victoire Weasley had written to her instead of Albus.

She sat on her bed, feeling nauseous and began reading.

Dear JB,

So you must be Albus’s girlfriend. The whole family’s been wondering about you ever since we heard you moved in with my aunt Ginny. Al says you’re in need of a job after graduation. Frankly, your list of qualifications isn’t all that impressive. I haven’t seen any of your work and apparently, you’ve got just average marks in all your classes.

June felt her hands go wobbly. She’d told him! She’d told him there was no point!

 But still, Al assures me that you’re smart and capable and my aunt Ginny did the same. With that said, Mademoiselle is the premiere wizard robe provider of London. I can’t have you starting as a designer or any high position like that because you lack experience. However, our store is in need of a few girls who’ll be restocking shelves and folding clothes and helping our buyers. If you’re good, we’ll see if you can work your way up.

The pay is 5 Galleons per hour. Not much, but it’s what you get for folding clothes. You start on Monday, June 25th.

Victoire

 June stared at the letter, feeling a mix of excitement and joy rush through her. It wasn’t much, but it was a job! It was pay! Even if it was just folding clothes – nothing exciting like Law Enforcement or playing on a Quidditch team – but she’d be working for Victoire Weasley.

Elated, she folded the letter carefully and hid it under her pillow.

*

It was after what seemed like weeks that June found herself lingering around the Herbology greenhouses once more. She hadn’t returned there since the end of the Easter holidays.

From inside, she heard two excited voices.

“Grind it, crush it!”

“Stop shoving, let me see!”

There was a low, “Now boys, please – “

As she carefully opened the Greenhouse door, two small blond heads came bobbing into sight.

“Woah,” said one of the blond boys. “Is that you, Jane?”

“It’s June,” said Lysander Scamander to his brother. “Not Jane.”

“That’s what I said,” said Lorcan with a pout.

“Hello,” she said sheepishly; they both abandoned their positions by the flowers and came to wring her hands.

“Where’ve you been?” asked Lysander shyly. “We haven’t seen you in weeks.”

“Busy with classes and – ” an image of Albus waving the Toothflossing Stringments in her face came to mind. “ – other things.”

“Not that I’ve missed you,” said Lorcan. “But have a look at the flowers! The Rosemallow’s ready to be crushed. We’re getting to work for the Hospital Wing!”

She looked around the Greenhouse; the small purple flowers that she had watered weeks ago had now bloomed.

“So,” asked Lysander, eyes shining, “have you come back to help us?”

“No…” said June slowly. “I’ve got a job after graduation.”

“You don’t need the money anymore, eh?” said Lorcan, giving her a dirty look. “Well, we’re not here for the money! We just like the Rosemallow! And it likes us!” One of the flowers promptly leaned in his face, attempting to take a bite. He leapt back. “Or at least it did yesterday. Bloody flowers.”

“I wanted to see Professor Longbottom,” said June.

“He’s in the next Greenhouse,” said Lorcan.

“So this is goodbye?” asked Lysander.

“Probably,” said June with an apologetic smile. “It’s been fun. I’m sure I’ll see you two around. Take care.”

“Take care,” echoed Lysander as she left.

She could hear Lorcan saying bad temperedly, “Girls.

In the next Greenhouse, she found Professor Longbottom folding seeds into large piles of dirt he’d dug.

When she entered cautiously, he looked up. “You can come in. I’m just planting Mandrake seeds. And don’t worry, they won’t do anything to you. Yet.”

“Professor,” she began. “I’m June Bernard. Professor Aubrey sent me to help with Greenhouse Four a few months ago.”

“I remember you,” he said briskly. “So what happened?”

“I haven’t really been able to come for the last few weeks,” she admitted. “And final exams are coming up so soon.”

“Quitting?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m sorry if you need help.”

He waved at her dismissively. “The Scamanders can manage just fine on their own. The Rosemallow’s been all watered and bloomed and that’s what we needed help for anyway. They’re having a fine time grinding it down.”

“Thank you, Professor,” she said. “For letting me help. And for paying me.”

“Thank you for helping,” he said with a smile.

“Goodbye.” She stepped away, closing the door behind her. So the goodbyes had already begun.

*

“Thank you,” June whispered to the spellbook she was holding in front of her face. “You have no idea what this means to me.”

“I didn’t do much,” came from the other side of the bookcase.

“You did everything.”

That evening after dinner, June found herself in the library, standing alone in the Potions section and holding up an Encyclopedia of Toadstools in front of her face. From the other side of the bookshelf, in the Transfiguration side, Albus’s voice floated by, his face blocked by a book on hieroglyphics.

The library was hardly romantic or solitary. But it would have to do for now. She had met him here entirely on accident.

“So, why’re you here?” asked Albus.

“I came to work on Transfiguration but - but then I saw you. So I had to thank you.”

“Now what?”

“Now we go back to studying.”

She could hear him making a space between two large books. His hand slid through to the other side, grabbing her fingers.

“I don’t want to.”

“Too bad,” she said, untangling herself. “What if we get seen here?”

“So what?”

“So what? I don’t fancy being killed in my sleep, thank you.”

“No, I mean, we’ve only got twenty minutes before curfew. I saw Madam Pince sleeping at her desk. And there’s barely anyone here. Come on.”

He gave a tug. The warmth of his fingers around her wrist reminded her of Hogsmeade and that warm feeling when he kissed her.

She sighed. “Fine.”

She walked to the other side, still hiding her face with the book and found him leaning against the bookshelf.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hi.”

“Have a seat.”

When she did so, he leaned forward. “So. Now you don’t have to worry about what to do after school anymore.”

She smiled at him. “Thanks to you.”

There was a faint shuffling noise behind them. June looked over her shoulder, paranoid, but saw nothing. She turned to find him leaning even more forward.

“Don’t – ” she began.

“There’s no one here,” he reminded her. He pulled her hand and she moved forward, feeling less and less reluctant the more she remembered Hogsmeade. Stupid Albus and his stupid nervousness and his stupid everything else –

“SNOGGING IN MY LIBRARY!

There was a yell and both Albus and June jumped, stopping abruptly. June turned around to see Madam Pince on the other side of the library, dragging two people behind her.

“Hooligans – rascals – the impropriety, indignity – snogging in the biographies! A desecration to the great witches and wizards of our time!”

“Maybe if you had a good snog once in a century, you wouldn’t be so wound up, you old bat,” came a familiar voice.

Madam Pince’s voice threatened to bulge out of her head. “Twenty-five points from Hufflepuff!”

There was a hiss of “Nicholas, shut up!”

Madam Pince burst into view, holding Nicholas Corner and Priscilla Fawcett in a vicelike grip, her wandpoint facing them.

June stared as Nicholas struggled, throwing his hand to prevent the wand from facing Priscilla.

Priscilla, however, stopped tossing abruptly, her eyes immediately flying to June.

June?” she shrieked. “Nicholas, stop, look – “

Priscilla pointed to June. Even Nicholas stopped his writhing, now looking dumbfounded.

But it took Priscilla only a second to realize who was sitting across from June, still holding her hand and whose face was merely inches away from her own.

There was a final shriek of “Potter?!” from Priscilla before Madam Pince ejected them from the library and closed the door behind them.

*

When the library closed for the night, June was still trailing behind Albus. “I knew it was a bad idea, but you didn’t listen.”

“I know,” he said apologetically for the umpteenth time that night. “I’m sorry.”

“I can never go back to our Common Room again. I’m dead. I’ll walk in there and they’ll probably kill me.”

“I’d take you to Gryffindor with me but there’s nowhere for you to spend the night.”

Glumly, she deflated. “I know.”

“Will you be okay on your own? If you want, I can come with you. Make up some story about how I was threatening to put you in detention.”

“While holding my hand?”

“Guess not,” he said reluctantly.

“I have to go,” she said, indicating the stairs that would take her downstairs to the Hufflepuff Common Room. He was still staring at her, looking lost and sorry.  He took one step forward, putting his hand near her face.

“I’m sorry, not right now,” she said softly, taking a step back and fleeing down the stairs.

She trudged down the Common Room. The barrels behind which the Common Room was hidden appeared more quickly than she’d expected. She tapped the barrels and waited as the passageway to the Common Room opened. She clambered in and was welcomed by the usual sight of the low ceilinged room, covered in squashy black and yellow armchairs. Instead of being welcoming, she felt frightened at the sight of it.

The usual cluster of students were crowded around. She briefly caught sight of Duncan Podmore and Henry Bates talking before she flew up the stairs into her dormitory and shut the door behind her.

“So. There you are.” Priscilla’s voice came behind her.

Terrified, she turned slowly. “Priscilla…”

Lucy appeared behind her, her arms crossed and her eyebrows raised. “Hello June.”

Trista was sitting on her bed, looking apprehensively between Lucy and Priscilla. “Hi June.”

“Hello,” June squeaked.

“So I saw something funny while I was in the library,” said Priscilla softly. “You and Potter sitting across from each other. Holding hands. Can you imagine that?”

“Is It true, June?” blurted out Lucy. “Is it really true that you’ve been seeing Albus Potter even after Priscilla and I expressly warned you about him?”

“It’s not – um – I mean, it was just an – he’s not that bad,” said June. “Not anywhere as bad as – “

She broke off when both Priscilla and Lucy loomed over her.

“Not that bad? Do you forget how many times he’s made you cry?” said Lucy. “And taken you for granted or treated you awfully?”

“He’s a bloody idiot! Haven’t I told you?” said Priscilla. “So tell us why you’ve been wandering around with him?”

“He fancies me,” she squeaked.

“Fancies you?” said Priscilla. “He does not! He doesn’t fancy anyone but himself!”

“Look, I know your date with him didn’t work out, Priscilla, but that doesn’t mean he’s a Death Eater or something.”

Priscilla went red. “What?!

“He told me about it!”

“You and Albus went on a date?” asked Trista incredulously. “When?”

“Fourth year!” said June over Priscilla, “She never told us about it, but apparently she set him on fire and everything.”

Although Lucy was eyeing Priscilla with amazement, she said, “Well, that’s besides the point. That’s in the past now, isn’t it? You should be here in the present.”

“You need to trust me,” said June defiantly, “I’m not twelve years old and you’re not my mum, Lucy. I know what I’m doing.”

“Then why’d you keep it a secret?” said Lucy. “Oh, I can only wonder how long you’ve been going behind our backs!”

“Me?” said June. She gave Priscilla a look.  “I’m not the only one!”

Trista turned to Priscilla. “You too, Pris?”

“What? You what?” asked Lucy.

Priscilla turned red. “If I tell you, will you tell us?”

After a long moment, June sighed. “Okay. You first.”

Priscilla glared at everyone. “I’m…I’ve been…I’m seeing Nicholas.”

There was a shriek from Trista who had leaned forward to hug Priscilla. “How long?! Why didn’t you tell us?”

“It happened right before our Easter holidays,” said Priscilla, crossing her arms.

“Nicholas’s fancied you for ages,” said Trista, now looking starry-eyed. “Oooh, this’s perfect. At least you and Nicholas worked out, even if Duncan and I didn’t and Lucy and Desmond didn’t.”

“I do not and never did and never will fancy Desmond,” said Lucy, looking exasperated. “And I’m happy you for, Priscilla.”

“I didn’t tell you lot because I knew you’d tease me,” she said, flushing.

“How’d it happen?” asked June.

“Oh, we went for a walk around the Black Lake and he told me. I was furious he’d waited so long. I ended up pushing him into the lake and everything.” She shook her head. “What an idiot. I’m embarrassed to fancy such an idiot. I used to have big ambitions, you know, about this sort of thing. I always thought I’d end up with some great wizard. Someone brilliant like Potter or someone with all the right connections like Baron Davies. Or someone really, really handsome at the very least. Maybe Louis Weasley. My dad would joke about how I’d probably end up being a Minister’s wife. Everyone in my family only marries these sorts of people.”

“Rich or famous,” said Trista, nodding.

“Yeah, or at least well-educated or ambitious or influential.” Priscilla sighed. “And Nicholas is…well, his family’s well to do, I think. He’s only got a few NEWTs. Nowhere near as much as me. And he’s got this insane idea for his little portraiture shop in Diagon Alley. Imagine me telling my family I’m dating a shopkeeper! They’re not going to accept him very easily.”

“But you like him?” asked Lucy gently.

Priscilla groaned. “He’s so irritating and strange. He thinks he’s really charming but he’s so foolish at times. But yeah. I fancy him. I’m an idiot too.” She turned to June. “So there. I said my bit. Your turn.”

“Albus and I went to Hogsmeade last weekend.” As Lucy and Priscilla stared, she shrugged. “It was really nice. We’ve known each other for a few months now so it wasn’t that awkward. And our families already get along. It was just…nice. Really nice.”

“So he didn’t give you a speech on how all Hufflepuffs are dim and how badgers are the stupidest animals next to anteaters?” asked Priscilla skeptically.

“No. He was nice, actually.”

“Well, I can’t say I’m not surprised,” said Lucy slowly.

“He’s your cousin, Lucy. Maybe you should trust him more,” said June. Blushing, she said, “Actually, he’s been loads of help. He’s helped me with Charms before. His family’s letting my dad stay with them. And he got me a job yesterday.”

“A job?” asked Trista.

“I’m going to working for your cousin Victoire, Lucy. She owns that high end place in – ”

“Mademoiselle’s,” said Lucy, her eyes now the size of small plates. “i…I don’t know why I didn’t suggest that to you. Maybe because it’s all very fancy and I didn’t know if you’d like it and – ”

“It’s okay,” said June. “I’ve got a plan now. And we’re going to be staying in a flat together so I’ve got a place to live too.

“And you’ve got a boyfriend,” said Trista wryly.

“Everything worked out somehow,” said June, ignoring her. “The worst year of my life’s somehow turned out to be the best one too.”

*

“And need I remind you that your NEWT examinations are just around the corner!” Professor Flitwick squeaked from his high perch on a tower of books. “You have a mere four weeks left!”

“I hate this,” murmured Trista beside June, massaging her forehead. “All my Professors’ve been on about this. You should’ve heard Professor Vector…she makes it sound like we’re going to be dying soon or something.”

“As it is already almost the second week of May,” said Professor Flitwick, “we have very little material left to cover. You will remember, of course, that you will be expected to know all of the spells and incantations we’ve covered this year. That would include Conjuring Charms, Coloring Charms…”

He went on.

“Great,” said June dully. “More to study.”

“Better be prepared for it, Bernard,” said Desmond beside her. He winked. “The end’s nearly here, but it’s not going to be all sad and dim, you see.”

“What do you mean?” asked Lucy, already growing suspicious.

Desmond pointed to the table behind him where Priscilla and Nicholas were sitting; Priscilla was writing and Nicholas’s eyes seemed glazed over with boredom. “The year’s already seen a fair amount of excitement, that’s all,” said Desmond, trying to sound innocent. “That’s all, Weasley.”

When Lucy turned away to take notes, he leaned into June and Trista. “See, Corner, Podmore, Bates and I’ve got a plan. Emphasis on the I. I for intelligence.”

“A plan?” asked June. “A plan for what?”

“Our end of the year prank. Not really just end of the year prank – more like end of education. Carrying on the great tradition of Fred and George Weasley.”

“What’re you planning to do?” whispered Trista.

“See, it has to be something great. Because last year, Ravenclaw had to be bloody show offs and steal the Sorting Hat. The year before that, Gryffindor became legends thanks to James Potter and Fred Weasley.”

“I…vaguely remember that,” said June. Only an image of Professor Sprout yelling herself hoarse in the middle of the Great Hall came to mind. “I never found out what they did, though.”

“Oh, they did something, all right,” said Desmond mysteriously, shaking his head. “The people who were supposed to know about it found out. Anyway, Hufflepuff hasn’t done anything brilliant in a good decade. The last class that tried anything got themselves ratted out by Slytherins and ended up in detention for a month. We’re going to be brilliant.”

“Why?” asked Trista, looking impressed.

“You see,” he said, leaning in closer, “it’s because it’s nearly always blokes pulling this thing off in Hufflepuff. We always think we can handle this all on our own. But we know that isn’t going to get us anywhere other than Sprout’s office. But this year, we’ve got a weapon. It’s you four.”

Us?” asked June, taken aback.

“Yeah,” said Desmond smugly. “Think about it, Bernard. You’re excellent at blowing things up, even if it’s unintentional most of the time. Fawcett’s got a natural aptitude for this kind of thing. And St. Clair here’s got the leadership. And Weasley’s the last person anyone would ever suspect with this kind of thing.”

Trista and June exchanged a look.

“So,” said Desmond, "are you going to help or not? The year's not over yet. And we're going out with a bang."

*

“Prank?” asked Albus quietly.

June waved her wand dully at the book in front of her. It went zooming off the table and into her hands. At least she could still do the Summoning Charm.

“Yes, I was wondering if Gryffindor had a prank in mind for this year.”

“Maybe,” said Albus, arms crossed. “Maybe not.”

“You’re a prefect, you have to know this kind of thing.”

“I do know. But I’m not telling you if you’re not going to tell me anything.”

“We haven’t planned anything,” said June, trying to seem as innocent as possible.

They were standing in an empty dungeon, still practicing for their NEWTs. Albus had a large cauldron in front of him that was now bubbling contentedly. He looked over it skeptically, adding a vial of something golden into the potion.

“Right,” he said. “Jordan hasn’t gotten anything planned. I completely believe you.”

“It’s true,” she said, hoping she was a convincing liar.

He raised an eyebrow. “You know, I do know how to brew Veritaserum.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I won’t. Unless you make me,” he grinned, sitting down the now empty vial. He began stirring counter-clockwise. A small puff of steam began enveloping the room. “Okay, go on. We’ve got the Cheering Charm, Color change Charms. Let’s try Conjuring. I could use a few more vials.”

June closed her eyes and flicked her wand in Albus’s direction. Three empty vials appeared near his hand.

“Nice job,” he said, looking impressed. “Okay. Something harder. Try an Extension Charm on one of these vials. Inverbally.”

“I hate those,” she said dully. He handed her a vial.

She pointed her wand at it, feeling herself frown in concentration. After a long moment, she looked up. “I hate inverbal spells.”

“Better get used to it. Nobody’ll take you seriously if you’ve got to say the incantation during NEWTs.” He took the vial from her and began sliding some of the potion into it. Half the cauldron was emptied into the small vial before it came to a stop. “Looks like you’ll still need some practice. My aunt Hermione could make things bottomless. What you’ve done is just engorged it.”

Sighing, she sat down. “Okay. Enough Charms.”

“You want to try some Defense?”

“It’s mostly jinxes and hexes. I can do those. It’s just this kind of impossible thing that confuses me.”

“Really?” he smirked. “You want to try dueling me?”

He stood up and faced her. They began walking to the other side of the room and slowly turned. June could feel herself breaking in a nervous sweat.

“I’m not bowing to you,” she called over her shoulder.

He grinned. “It doesn’t have to be so formal. I’ll count to three. One, two, three – ”

Something yellow went whizzing past her. Aiming slightly to the side of Albus, she swished her wand. He leapt out of the way, staring incredulously as the chair next to him caught on fire. “Hey!” He extinguished it indignantly. “I didn’t think you were taking this so seriously!”

You were the one who was trying to hex me!”

“That wasn’t a hex!” he said glumly. “It was a Body Bind – I was just hoping to  - oh, nevermind.” He sat back down, looking put out and went back to stirring. A new scent filled the room. It smelled like her mother’s perfume – a smell June thought she’d nearly forgotten. A few new spirals of gas bubbled out of the potion. Now it began smelling like the clean sheets of her bed in the Hufflepuff dormitory and like éclairs and pudding. After a long moment of the room smelling of rainwater, it transitioned to a new and familiar smell. Like old books and fancy robes. It smelled like Albus.

“What is that?” she asked, staring wonderingly at it.

“Just some potion,” he said as she hovered over his shoulder. “What does it smell like?”

“My mum. And food I like. And my bed. And you.”

“It smells like me?” he asked, surprised. Then a smile briefly flitted across his face. “Oh. I see.”

“Why? What did you put in it? What does it smell like for you?”

“The Hogwarts library, my grandmum’s cooking and flowers.”

“Flowers?” she asked.

But all he obliged her with was a half-smile before turning away. “Yeah. Flowers. Hey, it’s getting late. I need to go do rounds. You should head back before you end up breaking curfew.”

“Okay,” she said, stuffing her wand in her pocket.

He put one arm around her shoulder and gingerly kissed her. She froze in place before relaxing and accepting it, turning towards him and kissing back. It was a long, warm moment. Her hands slid to his face and he leaned in still closer, somehow closing more and more distance.

Finally, when she broke away, it was with a gasp for breath. She blinked.

“Third time’s the charm,” he grinned.

*

It was back to the Hufflepuff Common Room yet again. It was mid-May now; NEWT exams were around the corner.

June found Priscilla perched alone on her bed one night, half perusing her Transfiguration book. When June entered, she looked up. “Off on a little snogging adventure once again?”

“Maybe,” said June curtly. “Been kicked out of any libraries lately?”

“Touché,” said Priscilla.

“Where’s everyone else?”

“Trista’s been training like mad for the match against Slytherin since that’s only a week away. Lucy’s got her rounds with Podmore and all the other Prefects. I’ve got to go now, actually.”

“Go? It’s nearly ten o’clock. Where’re you going?”

“I’ve got a meeting with Desmond and Nicholas in some abandoned dungeon,” she said, rolling her eyes. “To discuss details for our little end of the year…celebration. Anyway, Nicholas absolutely insisted our first meeting has to be somewhere appropriately theatrical instead of just doing it in their dormitory.” Grabbing a spellbook, she began to leave.

June gloomily followed her downstairs. “So I’m alone now?”

“Oh, I’m sure there’s someone around…” said Priscilla, making a beeline for the door.

There was a cry of “June!” and someone popped out of a sofa and into her face.

“See? I said there’d be someone,” smirked Priscilla as she zoomed away.

“Hello Henry,” said June, attempting to free herself from the pair of arms now flailing in her face.

The rather large face of Henry Bates soared into view. He was hovering over her, looking his usual mixture of concerned, delighted and slightly confused. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever!”

Probably because I’ve been avoiding you, thought June ruefully before coughing. “Really? We’ve both been busy, I suppose.”

“Must be it,” he said. “NEWTs and all. I’ve been studying so much for Care of Magical Creatures and Transfiguration and Charms.”

“I’m sure you’ll do well,” said June.

There was a long beat of dead silence.

“June?” he began tentatively. “Would you – there’s a Hogsmeade weekend coming up, I think, the last of the year – ”

His already large brown eyes widened in hesitation.

“I can’t, Henry.”

He deflated in front of her. “Oh. Well. I see.”

Feeling a strange mixture of pity and guilt, June watched him. He wavered in front of her, looking hesitant.

Of course I’m stuck alone on Friday night with Henry.

She took a seat on the sofa and gave the Common Room a cursory glance. It was mostly empty, save a small group of second years whispering on the other side. Maybe it was finally time to get things said and done.

“Sit down, Henry,” she said.

“Maybe I’ll go for a walk,” he said, trying his best to sound cheerful. “Don’t mind me, June – I was just leaving – ”

“Sit.”

He sat down beside her obediently. She stared at Henry out of the corner of her eye. He was looking straight ahead into the fireplace, where a small flame was now crackling.

“So,” he began.

“Henry, do you think you fancy me?”

Even under the rosy glow of the room, he looked as though he had turned red. He turned and gave her an apologetic smile. “Of course I do, June.”

She looked at him and took a deep breath. Here it was. A year of avoiding him and it had inevitably come to this. “I’m so sorry.”

His expression faltered before fixing itself. His large brown eyes looked even wider. “Ah. No, no. Don’t apologize.”

“You knew?”

He gave a small laugh. “Of course I knew. I’ve only asked you to Hogsmeade a million times.”

She relaxed a little in her sofa. “Then why – ”

He shrugged. “Maybe just to see if you’d ever say yes.”

“I’m sorry.”

Henry gave a dismissive sort of wave, before going back to stare at the fire.

In truth, June barely knew Henry as anything other than the slightly creepy bloke who’d fancied her this year. In the years before, she didn’t remember him much. He had been the quiet boy who was always a little away from the three other boys in his year. Duncan, Nicholas and Desmond had always been friends and Henry seemed to have walked into their group by coincidence.

Of course, the jokes had run amuck in Hogwarts since their fourth year when Henry first fancied Jelena Jorkins and gave her a perfume that sent her to the Hospital Wing. Then a rather unfortunate incident involving Victoria Bosworth and cake and his stalking of Trista through all her Quidditch practices last year cumulated with June. Perhaps that was why she had never been flattered that Henry had fancied her; she was a last choice in a long list.

“How come you always fancy someone?” she asked, voicing a question she’d wondered for years.

He gave a strange sort of smile. “Didn’t you, too? It just seems to happen, doesn’t it?”

Marveling, June turned to him. “I…I guess I did. Evan Sloper was the first boy I fancied back in third year.”

“Evan Sloper? Who’s that?”

“He’s on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, remember? Then Gregory Thomas in fourth. Then Baron Davies in fifth. Then Mark Finch. Then – “

“Yeah,” said Henry with a head bob. “We’re kind of the same, aren’t we?”

A moment of horror surged through her. No wonder Albus hated me in the beginning. “I…it’s not worth it, Henry. You’ll find someone, I promise. When you stop looking so hard.”

“Is it a nice feeling?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said, sitting back again.

He grinned, understanding spreading on his features. 

“So,” started June once more. “You’ve never told me much about your family or anything.”

“Well. I live with my sister and her husband. They’ve got two kids.”

“Why d’you live with her?”

“My mum died a few years back. I never knew my dad.”

“I’m sorry,” said June, watching the flames in the fire die down. “My mum died when I was younger too.”

He looked at her and then at the flames. “The sympathy. It isn’t enough, is it?”

“No, it isn’t,” she said softly.

He smiled weakly. “It’s okay. My sister manages for all of us. I’ve got a good life with them. But I’m muggleborn like Trista, so that makes life a bit hard in the summers when I can’t use any magic. And especially not around my nieces.”

“But you’ll be leaving soon, right?”

“Right,” he said. “Duncan and I’ve found a flat above Diagon Alley, so I’ll be moving out next month.”

“That’s great.”

“Thanks.” After a pause, he said wonderingly, “Do you think we fancy people so often because we’re both looking for more people to love? Like we don’t have enough in our lives?”

She froze. Then breathed slowly. “I’m not sure about you, but I fancied boys because I was stupid.”

He laughed.

“And,” she continued, “we’ve both got people in our lives. Not just our families, however small and strange they are. I’ve only got one person and that’s my dad. But we’ve also got our friends. And Hogwarts.”

“Yeah,” he said, looking relieved. “We do. There’s always Hogwarts.”

“Hogwarts is our home. It always will be. Leaving won’t change that,” said June.

“I’m not leaving for good. I’d like to be a Professor one day for Care of Magical Creatures,” he blurted out.

“That sounds amazing,” said June. “But Henry, you must promise me one thing.”

“What?”

“If you do become a Professor, you’ve got to defend our house’s honor and throw Gryffindors in detention when they call us the dimmest house. And you absolutely must become Head of House.”

“Sure,” he laughed. “If Professor Aubrey isn’t still around, trying to poison me with her leaflets. It’s a promise.”

“You’re lucky you’ll be coming back.”

“Even if I come back, it won’t be the same,” Henry shrugged. “Not with everyone gone.”

“Do you…do you think it’ll be hard to leave?” June scanned the nearly empty Common Room. Over the years, the sight of the rugs, the Hufflepuff banners, the portrait of Helga Huffepuff that blinked and smiled, the kitchen that was just a few doors away, the room in which she had met her best friends had molded into her imagination of home. A constant home between all the flats she had spent her summers in. “I can’t imagine leaving in just two and a half weeks and just being done.”

“But it’s been almost seven years,” said Henry. “Maybe it’s time. We can’t sit around here forever.”

“I know…and everyone’ll grow up and get jobs and have to move away…”

“But what’s so bad about that?” asked Henry. “It sounds pretty good. We’ll be leading our own lives. And we might not see each other every day, but we’ll still be friends.”

And for a moment, June thought that perhaps not all goodbyes would have to be sad. The separation was inevitable, but there was a bit of bittersweet hope in them – the hope that they would be grown up and successful and happy and meet again someday.








A/N: Two more chapters to go! And as Desmond promised, they're not done yet. Hopefully this chapter didn't feel too fillery and you guys liked the Junebus bits. The next chapter has the final Quidditch match and the schemes for the prank begin! 

As always, thanks for reading! 

Celeste


Chapter 19: Honour Among Hufflepuffs
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Honour Among Hufflepuffs

It was suddenly the third week of May; despite the slow, boring Transfiguration lessons and the days she almost fell asleep in Charms, it was a bright blue afternoon and Desmond Jordan’s voice flew through the air on the megaphone.

“Welcome, witches, wizards and Slytherins! Today’s the day Hogwarts’s been waiting for!”

June strained her eyes against the sun; she could see Desmond hopping about excitedly in a separate podium near the front of the Quidditch field. She was sitting between Lucy and Henry, watching the sea of yellow and black in front of her.

“Good crowd,” said Nicholas approvingly. “Bigger than last year’s, I think.”

“Oh, I wish we didn’t have to meet Slytherin in the finale. I don’t even know much about Quidditch, but they’ve been the only House that’s been nice to us,” said Lucy. “I liked when they supported us against the Gryffindors.”

“They’re only nice when they need us,” said Nicholas. “Need I remind you that they hate the Gryffindors more than they hate us which is the only reason they supported us.”

Desmond’s voice boomed over them. “Excellent day for flying, ideal conditions. I’ll be joined one last time by guest commentator Prisicilla Fawcett of Hufflepuff – ”

A large number of boos emerged from the Gryffindors followed by a shrill, “Keep your manes on, you brutes!” from Priscilla.

“I’ll never understand how they’re still allowed to commentate after last time,” said June.

“Connections on both their sides,” said Nicholas, his eyes twinkling. “Desmond’s dad is legendary as a commentator, so naturally, Desmond’s been at it for years. I’ve heard it pays pretty well too. And as for Priscilla, being related to a Head of House doesn’t hurt. And of course, I’ve heard Headmistress Sprout’s eager for us to win again. Hufflepuff hasn’t had a winning spree like this in centuries. It’s always the bloody Gryffindors being showoffs.”

“And the Slytherins are out,” said Desmond. “I’ve been required to actually read their names this time as opposed to just sneezing like I did in the notable Hufflepuff-Slytherin match of ’22.” He pulled out a scroll of parchment and began reading blandly. Blurs of green and silver shot out from one end of the field into the sky, eliciting roars and cheers. “Urquhart, Flint, Smith, Parkinson, Zabini, Makehay, Chen. Courtesy of Professor Bulstrode for threatening me.”

“If you ask me, you should’ve just sneezed,” said Priscilla. “What awful names. Makehay, honestly.”

A boy on his broom stopped in mid-air and made an obscene hand gesture at Priscilla.

Before Priscilla could return it, Desmond stopped her. “Well, wasn’t that just lovely. On that note, we introduce the Hufflepuffs! Captain Trista St. Clair, who’ll be joining the Kenmare Kestrals come September, followed by future Falmouth minion Duncan Podmore, two Chasers – Sloper and Robbins, two Beaters - Macmillan and Bones and the Seeker and my future wife, Mila Jorkins!”

“Desmond,” said Lucy, rolling her eyes.

“Captains are shaking hands – that would be Alexander Zabini and Trista St. Clair – ” said Priscilla. “Urgh  Trista, I hope you wash your hands. He looks he hasn’t bathed in a good month!”

“So no surprises then?” quipped Desmond. “Aaand they’re off!

All fourteen blurs kicked off the field and shot up. The Quaffle and two Bludgers followed shortly after.

“The Snitch’s up!” said Priscilla. “And it’s disappeared. Fantastic.”

As the Quaffle went in the air, one of the Hufflepuff Chasers snatched it mid-air and began flying furiously forward.

“Anna Robbins with the Quaffle, speeding forward! Pass to Sloper, pass back to Robbins – come on, come on,” said Desmond.

A Bludger went flying from the Slytherin side and Evan Sloper dropped the Quaffle. It was quickly reclaimed by one of the Slytherins.

“Duncan, come on!” said Desmond, now dancing with the megaphone in hand. “COME ON.”

But before the Slytherin could aim, Trista had pushed it out of his hands and sped back across the field.

Desmond gave a whoop of joy. “St. Clair with the Quaffle, passing to Sloper, passing to Robbins, pass back to St. Clair – come on, Trista – ”

June squinted as Trista whirled frantically in the air, dodging two Bludgers that the Slytherin Beaters sent her way. One of the Slytherin Chasers slammed headfirst into her and Trista went flying off in the opposite direction, the Quaffle now dropped.

“DID YOU SEE THAT?!” Desmond roared. “THAT WAS BLATCHING. BLATANT BLATCHING. DID YOU SEE WHAT THOSE CHEATING, NO GOOD ARSE – ”

“That has to be a penalty,” said Priscilla.

Apparently, Madame Hooch seemed to agree. She angrily signaled and blew her whistle; the Quaffle was tossed back into Trista’s hands. Trista stared down the Slytherin Keeper – the Makehay Priscilla had insulted – and threw the Quaffle as hard as she could. He sprung for it.

It grazed his fingertips as it landed in.

“TRISTA, TRISTA, 10 FOR HUFFLEPUFF. 10-0,” danced Desmond as the scoreboards changed.

Trista thrust her hand in the air as boos emerged from the Slytherin side.

“And the Quaffle’s back in play,” shouted Desmond as the Quaffle was shot back to the center of the field. A tall, black-haired Slytherin girl caught the Quaffle in mid-air and began swooping beneath the Bludgers being pummeled her way. “Chen in possession of the Quaffle! Too bad she ended up a Slytherin and all – very fit girl – ”

“Eyes on the match,” said Priscilla, yanking the megaphone from him. “Elle Chen with the Quaffle, doesn’t look she’s passing at all – come on, Bones, aim the bloody Bludger or I swear I’m never helping you with Charms homework again!”

“Evelyn Bones aiming the Bludger,” said Desmond. There was much oohing as the Slytherin Chaser slipped underneath the Bludger and hurtled towards the Hufflepuff end. “Aaand that didn’t go anywhere. And looks like the other Beater – that’d be Justin Macmillan – is going to continue aiming like a one-armed flobberworm – great, lovely.”

As June squinted, she could see the Quaffle passing through the Hufflepuff hoops.

Desmond groaned. “Great! 10-10. Trista, we better win this!”

Trista looked up at him irritably.

As the minutes passed, June began closing her eyes out of sleepiness, with snippets of Desmond and Priscilla’s commentary floating over, occasionally punctuated by moans or cheers.

“ST. CLAIR SCORES, 30-20, HUFFLEPUFF, WE’RE BACK IN THE LEAD.”

“ – Podmore saves the goal! We’re still at 50-40, Hufflepuff!”

As June began slowly nodding off in stifling heat, she could hear Nicholas saying to Lucy, “Trista’s doing pretty well, but they’re all evenly matched. Makehay’s really a decent Keeper. It’s a damn shame.”

It didn’t seem like much time at all had passed before someone was shaking June awake. As she blinked furiously against the bright sunlight, she could hear Henry’s concerned voice. “I really don’t think you should be waking her up like that.”

“I’m awake,” croaked June, looking around wildly.

Nicholas was staring down at her, frowning. “Had to wake you up, Bernard. The game’s getting intense. You don’t want to miss the last game of Hogwarts by sleeping, do you?”

“No,” said June reluctantly, sitting up.

“Boys and their Quidditch,” tsked Lucy. “I’d rather like a nap myself.”

Whatever Nicholas’s outraged response was going to be, June never heard. There was a massive roar of, “GO, BONES, GO,” from Priscilla. They looked up to see a Hufflepuff Beater aim the Bludger; it spun, hitting a Slytherin Chaser squarely in the broom. The edge of her broom snapped off and she swerved down, forced to land.

“Julietta Parkinson’s down,” said Desmond. “Thanks to Evelyn Bones, she’ll have to sit out the rest of the game. No broom. Brilliant shot. That leaves us with one less problem.”

There was a cry of, “That had to be a penalty!” from the Slytherin Captain. He stopped in mid-air, crossing his arms. The rest of the team looked defiantly on.

“That was a fair shot and they know it,” said Priscilla, once again earning dirty looks. Madam Hooch seemed to agree; there was a whistle, a few angry shouts and the game proceeded.

“80-60 Hufflepuff,” said Desmond. “Hufflepuff still hasn’t lost the lead, though Slytherin’s not being as cooperative as it should be – “

Suddenly, there was a huge shouting noise from the air. The Slytherins began closing in, all shouting unintelligibly over each other, bolting up to a certain spot in the sky.

“Wha – what’s happening?” said Priscilla, turning to Desmond. “I can’t see a thing, the sun’s right in my face!”

“I’ve got no idea,” said Desmond. “Looks like someone’s seen something and they’re all running towards it. But the Quaffle’s still with Robbins, so does that mean - ”

Both the Slytherin Beaters frantically sent Bludgers hurrying towards a small dot in the sky.

“Hang on,” said Desmond, sounding weak. “Is that who I think it is?”

The dot streaked faster, whirling underneath the two Chasers who went flying towards her. Balancing precariously, the Hufflepuff Seeker stuck one foot out, attempting to kick one of the Bludgers coming her way.

“Watch your speed, Mila,” called Desmond.

Mila Jorkins ignored him. She was speeding faster and higher.

“If she falls from there, that could be serious,” said Priscilla.

“She knows that,” said Desmond. “And she hasn’t got much time. Look, that Makehay fellow’s coming towards her. And Zabini’s sending another Bludger!”

Mila Jorkins swooped through the air once more, avoiding the Bludger, though she wobbled considerably. She was spiraling higher and higher into the sky.

“I can’t watch,” groaned Desmond, covering his eyes. “I fancy her too much to. Wake me up when it’s over.”

“Go higher!” roared the Slytherin Captain. “I want everyone following her!”

“Zabini’s yelling for more elevation and it looks like most of the team’s listening,” said Priscilla. “She is the Seeker, after all. I suppose he thinks she’s seen the Snitch! But she looks like a speck from down here. I’ve really got no idea how above the stadium she’s planning to fly.”

More darts flew as the Slytherin players again attempted aiming Bludgers towards her. Mila Jorkins swerved once more. As she sped faster, she put one foot onto her broom precariously, barely managing to balance herself. She put the other foot up and began trying to stand. She began groping desperately at the air.

“Bloody hell, Mila, is this really the time to be trying stupid things?” yelped Desmond. “You’re 300 feet in the air!”

As she stood, more of the Slytherins began flying towards her; both the Beaters had the Beater’s bats out.

“Trista, DO SOMETHING,” yelled Priscilla. “You can’t just let your Seeker fall to her death!”

Trista, however, seemed to be staring upwards where Mila was flying. Instead of following her Seeker up in the air, she began moving down the field, far below where everyone else was. The rest of the Hufflepuff team was staring incredulously after her. Looking up now and then, she flew across to the center, hovering.

“What should we do?” one of the Chasers asked Duncan. “Trista! What should we do?”

Duncan stared at Trista. “Trista, say something! You’re our Captain!”

Trista ignored them, still trying to position herself.

Duncan frowned. “Forget it. Forget it, Trista's being useless. I’ll take charge.”

“Mutiny from Podmore?” said Priscilla. “So much for loyalty, Duncan!”

“Listen up,” roared Duncan. “I want Robbins and Sloper up there by Mila. Try taking out Makehay if you can, you two. I need Macmillan to get the Bludger out of Zabini’s hands.”

“It’s no use,” said Desmond. “I’m never going to forgive you for this, St. Clair.”

Mila Jorkins, still standing on her broom, lunged forward.

“BLOODY HELL,” yelled Desmond.

She thrashed through the air, something clenched in one closed fist. Her other hand feebly flailed for her broom, but missed. Screams came from all sides of Quidditch podium.

She fell, her robes ballooning under the air. Most of the Hufflepuff team began racing towards her, though she was now falling too fast.

As she hurtled beneath them, there was one lone dot on the field, positioned exactly below her, waiting for her. As Mila passed by her in mid-air, Trista grabbed by the arm and yanked her on to her broom.

There was a moment of stunned silence in the Quidditch field.

Priscilla looked, for once in her life, speechless.

Even Desmond seemed to be lost for words.

The first noise in the Quidditch stadium came from Trista. Laughing breathlessly, she took Mila’s hand and Mila slowly unclenched her fist. The Snitch whizzed into the air.

There was a roar from the Hufflepuff side.

“I can’t believe that just happened,” said Priscilla.

“TRISTA, YOU MAD GENIUS,” said Desmond, yanking away the megaphone. “BELIEVE IT OR NOT, IT REALLY HAPPENED, LADIES AND GENTS. HUFFLEPUFF GOT THE SNITCH. HUFFLEPUFF WINS.”

As the rest of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team began bolting towards them, Trista flew towards the ground, setting Mila Jorkins down gently. She thrust her hands into the air, waving madly.

Desmond’s yelling was barely audible over the cheers. “HUFFLEPUFF WINS. 230-60. EAT THAT, YOU DIRTY SNAKES.”

As Lucy and June clapped, Nicholas seemed half beside himself. Turning around, he grabbed onto Henry frantically, shaking Henry so hard his head bobbed. “Holy Hufflepuff, I can’t believe it! That lunatic St. Clair planned it out! We won!

*

The afterparty was thrown in an abandoned dungeon and it proved a splendid sight. All four houses – even a few disgruntled Slytherins – had made an appearance. The butterbeers that Desmond had no doubt snuck in from The Three Broomsticks were sitting on tables along with what looked like half of Honeydukes.

The Hufflepuff Quidditch team was attracting cheers and handshakes as they swept past. June squeezed in through two Ravenclaws to find herself in the middle of a large crowd of Hufflepuffs, all attempting to jostle each other through to see the team.

“I can’t see anything,” she called to Priscilla.

“Stupid crowds,” said Priscilla with a scowl. “And who invited the Gryffindors? Why the hell did they think anyone wanted to see them?

“Maybe they’re glad we won,” said June.

“Oh please,” Priscilla replied. “Everyone’s here for the free Butterbeer.”

Priscilla managed to step on the feet of several Hufflepuffs in front of her, causing them to wince and move away. Finally, she thrust her arm in and pulled someone out.

“Trista, we’re so glad you won,” said Lucy earnestly. “It was brilliant, it really was.”

“Thanks,” said Trista, still laughing. “I feel amazing. I can’t believe we pulled that off.”

“Congratulations,” echoed June. “Now you’re practically one of Hufflepuff’s most famous captains.”

“Only Melania Macmillian won more Quidditch matches than I did as Hufflepuff captain and that was centuries ago,” said Trista, eyes twinkling. “I’m really proud of everyone. We did an amazing job.”

“As you should be,” came another voice. Desmond emerged into the throng, holding butterbeer.“Hello, ladies. “Nice little trick you had up your sleeve there, St. Clair. Had it all planned ahead of time, did you?”

“Maybe,” said Trista, eyes glinting. “Or it might’ve just been a big coincidence that she got all the Slytherins on her tail and just jumped off and they looked stupid just watching her fall. Either way, I’m just lucky Mila trusted me to catch her.”

“I guess it’ll have to be a trade secret. Of course I understand. Anyway, how do you like the arrangements?” He swept his arm around the chaos around him; students were now mingling around the desks and even more people were attempting to cram through the door. “My doing, of course.”

“With some help from me,” piped up Nicholas.

“With minimal help from Corner,” Desmond amended.

“Oh, it’s lovely,” said Trista breathlessly.

“Now where’s Podmore?” asked Desmond. Before waiting for an answer, he peered into the crowd, thrust his hand in much like Priscilla did and yanked. A girl emerged from the other end, looking confused. “Whoops. Sorry Robbins. Looking for Podmore.”

He released and tried again. After his third try, Duncan emerged, spilling Butterbeer on himself.

“Excellent,” said Nicholas. “And I remembered to bring Bates.”

“For what?” asked Lucy and Duncan in unison.

“A little celebration and a little planning,” said Desmond. “I’m sure you lot have been very curious as to exactly what our year end prank will be?”

“I thought we already planned it,” said Duncan. He was silenced by the quelling look Nicholas shot at him.

“Don’t ruin it Podmoron,” said Priscilla. “We’ve got most of it thought out, but we still need to tell everyone who doesn’t know. After all, everyone’s got their part to play.”

Prank?” spluttered Lucy. “What prank?”

“Why’re we discussing it here?” piped up Henry. “Won’t we be overheard?”

A few screams burst out from the Ravenclaw side and drowned him out. “I hope that answers your question,” said Nicholas tersely. “Yeah, anyway. There’re some bits we have to get done tonight so we thought we might as well let everyone know. And that mostly consists of St. Clair, Bernard and Weasley.”

Lucy still seemed to be processing what Desmond had said. “What prank?” she demanded once more. “There isn’t going to be one!”

“Look here, Weasley,” said Desmond looming over her. “I’ve been waiting my entire Hogwarts career for this. Every house pranks at the end of the year. You know that.”

“I’m a Prefect,” she hissed, jabbing at her badge. “Of course I know. Headmistress Sprout told us specially to report anything that involved pranking. After what the Ravenclaws did last year – ”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to be a royal stick in the mud about being a prefect. D’you honestly think that the prefects’ll do as they’re told? I’ve heard Baron Davies is helping the Ravenclaws with their prank and he’s bloody Head Boy,” said Desmond coolly. “Listen, we won’t break anything. All I’m saying is that we need to make a name for ourselves. A legacy, if you will. You can try stopping us, but Corner here knows some excellent Memory Charms that’ll make you forget the last few minutes. Or, for once in your life, you could try joining us, get some glory for your house and maybe having some fun while you’re at it.

Lucy faltered. At the stares she was receiving, she finally blinked and sighed. “You’re probably right about the other prefects. I already heard one of the Goyles talking this afternoon. Apparently, they’re planning on sneaking in Chinese Chomping Cabbages into our breakfast. But the Head Girl – Megara Vaisey – said she’d tell the Headmistress herself. Only I don’t think she really did.”

“Chomping Cabbages?” said Duncan, exchanging a glance with Priscilla and the other boys. “Really? That’s it?”

“I think we should keep an eye on Gryffindor,” said Henry. “Especially after last year.”

Desmond nodded. “Already on that. So here’s our plan.” He looked over his shoulder and began walking outside the dungeon, gesturing them to follow. When they left, he stopped in the hallway. “Alright,” he said, reducing his voice to a whisper. “We’re not going to do something idiotic like stealing the Sorting Hat or putting cabbages in people’s food. That sounds way too easy for me. All you’ve got to do is disguise the cabbages like chocolates and have them flown in by owl. And to get the Sorting Hat, you’ve just got to stand outside on the grounds and try Summoning it. We’re going to do something legendary.

“Like?” said June.

“Like,” began Priscilla, “making our mark on all the other houses.”

“How?” asked Trista.

“The pranks always occur after we’re done with our final exams. We’re usually done with exams in the evening and the next morning, all hell breaks loose,” said Desmond. “Like the Slytherins planning the cabbage bit, for example. It’s during breakfast. Only we’ll let all three houses go first. That’ll make it look like we’ve got nothing planned. Then, when they head back to their Common Rooms, they’ll see exactly what we’ve done.”

“Which is?” asked Lucy.

“Replacing all their house decorations with ours,” said Nicholas, grinning. “You know, no outsider’s entered Ravenclaw’s Common Room for something like five hundred years. And no outsider’s entered Hufflepuff’s for a thousand.”

“What about those people who show up when we throw afterparties?” asked June.

“Those don’t count,” said Desmond dismissively. “We invite them. I mean, no intruders. Of course, Gryffindor’s got nothing to brag about. We broke into their Common Room just a few months back.”

“But there’s’ll be the hardest, won’t it?” said Duncan. “I mean, they’ve got that stupid portrait of some fat lady. Last time, we got lucky she didn’t scream her head off. And we had Ravenclaws and Slytherins with us. We don’t know if we can pull it off with just the eight of us.”

“We have to,” said Henry. “I always thought Slytherin’s might be the hardest. Nobody knows their password at all.”

“Working on it,” said Desmond. “Ravenclaw’s should be easy. Fawcett’s promised me she can answer the door’s question.”

“Easily,” said Priscilla.

“Okay, that leaves Gryffindor and Slytherin,” said Desmond. “Nicholas and I’ve got an idea for Slytherin. A certain charming fourth year, a Mr. Flint, is pretty desperate for one of my brain enhancing potions.”

“Those are just dragon droppings,” said Lucy with outrage. “I thought I threw all those away!”

“Alleged dragon droppings. And regardless,” said Desmond, “he thinks he’ll fail out of Transfiguration without them. Turns out he’s desperate enough that I might be able to persuade him that I’ll sell my very last bottle for a price.”

“The password,” said Trista.

“Right,” said Nicholas, smiling. “Those self-preserving, ambitious Slytherins and all that. They’ll sell each other out.”

“At least we wouldn’t do that to each other,” said Henry. “We’re Hufflepuffs.”

“Which only leaves Gryffindor,” said Desmond.

Suddenly, June became aware that almost everyone was staring at her. Even Lucy and Trista, following the others’ gazes, landed on her.

“What?” she began defensively. “What?”

“You’re involved with Albus Potter,” said Desmond.

“I am not,” said June.

“You can drop the act Bernard,” said Corner. “Priscilla already told us. Normally, we’d see this as an act of high treason against the honour of our house. But since this might actually work to our advantage, we’re letting the matter go.”

“Advantage?” squeaked June.

“Right,” said Desmond. “Even I’ll admit that we only got into Gryffindor’s Common Room last time out of luck. Some little first year came out and we all ran in. But that’s not going to work this time since we’ll need their Common Room to be empty when we go in. We need their password ahead of time. And you’ve got connections.”

“Albus?”

Yes,” said Priscilla. “Just get him to take you in once and you’ll remember the password and tell us. Once we’ve got that, all we have to do is put some Gryffindor ties on and the Fat Lady’ll let us right in. She won’t suspect a thing.”

“I can try,” said June. “Albus’ll be suspicious, though. I think he might already know we’re planning something. And by the sound of it, it seems like they’ve got something thought up too.”

“They’re planning to make a giant lion flag drop in on us during breakfast,” said Desmond. “Hardly worth blinking over.”

“And just where did you get that information from?” asked Lucy.

“I chatted up Iris Bosworth and she sung like a nightingale,” said Nicholas. “Only even she wasn’t dim enough to give up the password. A shame. And I don’t know any other Gryffindors so that possibility’s out.”

Desmond, Nicholas and Priscilla all stared down at June. “Okay, Bernard,” continued Nicholas. “Get Potter to let you in to the Gryffindor Common Room.”

“I could ask Albus,” began Lucy uncertainly.

“I’ve got something else for you to do, Weasley,” said Desmond, grinning. “You’ve taken Care of Magical Creatures, haven’t you?”

“It’s one of my NEWT classes, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

“Oh, you’ll see,” said Desmond. “You and Bates are going to care for some special friends of mine.”

*

Another week of studying passed. Between Transfiguration, Defense, Charms and Divination, June could begin to convince herself that perhaps Desmond’s mental plan had been left behind.

On Wednesday, however, she found herself being cornered by Nicholas and Priscilla.

“June,” Priscilla began, a determined expression on her face. “I know you’ve been avoiding this, but you’ve got to ask Potter soon. It’s going to be June tomorrow. We’ve only got a week of classes left! We’ve got to tie up loose ends before it’s time.”

“Right,” said Nicholas, “Desmond managed to get the Slytherin password out of Flint. That only leaves Gryffindor’s.”

“I know you’re meeting with Potter tonight, so you’ve got to ask him,” said Priscilla. “And be subtle about it, will you?”

At both the faces staring her down, June shrank back. “I can try…”

“Good,” said Nicholas. “Just make it seem natural.”

“I…have an idea,” said June.

*

“You’ve got to work on your motion,” said Albus, pulling her wrist through the air. “Up and out. You’re flicking down.”

She tried once more, feeling his hand pressed on hers.

“Nice,” said Albus approvingly. “You’ve gotten much better at Disillusioning.”

It seemed so. The cauldron in front of him now appeared nearly invisible.

“So that’ll be it for today,” he continued, adding more ingredients into his cauldron. It bubbled and frothed in front of him.

“What is that?” asked June. “It’s been making that noise for the past hour.”

“Oh, it needs time to finish boiling.” Looking frustrated, he began stirring. “It’s supposed to be pearl white in color by now, but it’s still a bit more grey than white.”

She took a seat beside him, peering at it. “What is it?”

“Draught of the Sleeping Dead,” said Albus. “Healers need to know how to brew it.”

“What does it do?”

“It induces comas. Good for medical operations and all. Of course, those comas become permanent if you don’t know how to brew the solution.”

She edged away when she caught a sniff of it. “I liked the Amortentia more. This smells awful.”

He laughed. “Yeah, well, that’ll be the bicorn horn and the crushed beetles. It’s supposed to smell a bit like a graveyard, apparently. Doesn’t exactly make the whole room smell like roses like Amortentia does, does it?”

“Roses?” she said. “So those were the flowers you smelled?”

“Maybe,” was all he would agree to, before he went back to stirring.

“Why the mystery?”

“A little bit of mystery isn’t so bad.”

“Roses,” she said. “Roses…what smells like roses?”

“Er – ” Sneaking a peek at her, he cleared his throat. “Oh. Lily.”

“Lily?”

“My sister. Yeah.”

“Lily smells like roses?” she asked skeptically. “She spends most of her time playing Quidditch and she smells like roses?”

“She has this hair thing – shampoo. It smells nice.”

“It smells nice,” she repeated, still looking disbelieving.

He went back to stirring.

“I don’t believe you at all. You’re not a very good liar.”

“Fine. I’ll tell you if you tell me something that I’ve wanted to know for ages.”

“Okay,” said June. “What is it?”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he said, suddenly looking hesitant. “I feel like an idiot for asking. You really don’t have to answer.”

“Just tell me.”

“What…happened to your mum?” he asked.

June froze for a moment.

He seemed to realize and immediately began apologizing. “See, I told you I’m an idiot. Ignore me. Just forget it.”

“No,” she said slowly. “No, that’s all right. I don’t talk about her much, do I?”

“Not really,” said Albus. “Except for that one time you showed me her photograph. I tried asking my mum once. All I know is that they were friends. So what happened?”

“She died,” said June curtly. “When I was about eight. I don’t remember her too well, to be honest. I remember that she was very pretty. My dad would say often that she was too beautiful to have ended up with a man like him.” She gave Albus a sad smile. “Which is kind of true. I don’t really look much like my mum, though. She was much taller and pretty thin. I don’t really even look like my dad.”

“What about your mum’s family?” asked Albus gently.

“Oh, I’ve never met them. The Frobishers. They were some old pureblood family. After the Second Wizarding War, they were still very strict about what they believed in, apparently. My mum ran off with my dad when she was eighteen. They abandoned her and I never met any of them.”

After a moment of silence, Albus took her hand. “I’m sorry.”

“Well, they’re not really worth talking much about. They’re still around. I think there’s even a Frobisher a few years below us. But they’re not my family. They’ve got no idea I even exist. And my dad was an only child raised by his grandmum. And she died before I was even born, so there’s nothing on the Bernard side. My dad’s my family.”

“You’ve got my family now too.”

June smiled. “What?”

“My mum already adores you. And my dad gets along brilliantly with your dad. You’ve got to see them in the mornings when they’re on about the papers. My sister’s come around. And James never had a problem with you, even if he thinks your name is Jane. And if you haven’t noticed, I like you a fair bit too.”

“Just a bit? I’m glad,” she laughed. Looking steadily at Albus, she said. “When I was eight years old, my mum died in a bus accident. She was on her way home. It skidded off a road and flipped over and she died. I used to be really upset about it when I was younger – I still am, in a way - but you learn to live with that sadness, I suppose. I might not remember everything about her, but when she was here, I know I really loved her loads and she loved me. It was wonderful having a mum. It felt like a family. Then she was gone and all I had to remember her by was old photographs. And how we used to have an old table together. Or how we’d stand over this bridge during New Year’s. Things were really bad for a few years after that. My dad’s café became a mess and we had to hop from flat to flat when we couldn’t afford the rent. Then that ridiculous earthquake went and ruined everything and I ended up here with you.”

At his concerned expression, she added. “Don’t worry. I’m fine. You asked, so I told you. And it’s strange, but I feel the most connected to my mum when I’m using magic. You asked me a few months ago why my wand doesn’t like me so much. I never really went to Ollivander’s for my own wand. Since I was eight, I knew just which wand I wanted to use once I could do magic.” She yanked out the wand from her pockets. “This used to be my mum’s wand.”

“You never got your own wand?” he asked incredulously.

“I never really wanted to. My mum was my one connection to magic. She was the reason I’m even a witch, so I knew I wanted to use it. But it hated me for ages. That’s why I’d always be botching up spells and blowing things up.”

He took it from her, inspecting it. “Yeah, I see why. Wands don't work like that. They're not all just interchangeable. You've got to win them over. This’s spruce. Unyielding. Ten inches. It’s said that spruce doesn’t work well with nervous natures. And it’s positively dangerous in the wrong hands.”

“It hated me in the beginning, I know it did,” said June. “I always felt like I had to force the magic out of it. It’s strange, but after I stopped following you around so much and got properly mad at myself for being such an idiot, it started working better. I started doing okay in classes. I studied more, I worked more and I think it liked me more. We got along better, I suppose.”

“It works well for bold and intelligent people.”

“Like my mum. I think I must’ve changed for the better in some way if it thinks I’ve become more like my mum. More bold or intelligent.”

“You did. Maybe you were just more unyielding than it was.” He took her hands in his and kissed her lightly on the forehead. “Thank you. For telling me.”

“You asked,” she said, shrugging.

“It’s strange,” said Albus, marveling. “Even your wand approves of you. I'm sorry to say this, but we should leave soon. It’ll be curfew in ten minutes.”

“Okay,” she said, beginning to pack. As she stuffed her spellbooks into her bag, she watched carefully as he bent over his cauldron, still looking thoughtful.

Suddenly, a chill ran through her as she remembered Priscilla’s words. They were depending on her.

Feeling dread sinking in, she swallowed. As quietly as she could, she grabbed his Potions spellbook and stuffed it into her bag before putting the rest of his things into his bag.

“I packed your things for you,” she said, holding his bag up.

“Thank you,” he said, accepting the bag. “Well, that’ll be good night, then.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Good night.”

There was a long, awkward moment as they stared at each other, wondering who would be the first to leave.

Finally, June said, “You should go.”

“Okay. Good night.”

*

She waited in the dungeon a few minutes after he left. This would have to be timed right. She’d have to catch him before he entered his Common Room but have it seem plausible.

After a few minutes, she set off in the direction of the Gryffindor Common Room. As she reached the stairs, she could see Albus walking a few flights down. Inhaling, she sped downstairs and down the corridor that led to their Common Room. To her relief, she found the corridor was empty.

There he was, walking right in front of the Fat Lady.

“Albus!”

He stopped and turned back, looking surprised.

Trying to huff, she ran up to him, hoping she looked appropriately tired. “Sorry,  I – ”

“What is it?”

“I accidentally packed one of your spellbooks in my bag,” she breathed out at once. She pulled it out and handed it to him. “Sorry.”

“Oh,” he said, accepting it from her without looking entirely convinced. “Right. Thanks.”

He stood in place, still looking as though he was suspicious.

Feeling nervous, June stood on tip toe and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Sorry about that. Good night.”

His cloudy expression cleared and he smiled. “That’s okay,” he called as she began to walk away.

She could hear him as he turned to the Fat Lady and said under his breath, “Mermaid scales.”

*

“Mermaid scales?” said Desmond skeptically, noting it down on his parchment. “You’re sure? Mermaid scales?”

“I’m positive,” said June gloomily. “I feel awful.  I feel like I used him.”

“You didn’t,” said Priscilla, clapping a hand on her shoulder. “You did your house a great service. Besides, I know Potter would’ve done the same.”

“So that’s mermaid scales for Gryffindor and Phineas Nigellus for Slytherin,” said Desmond. “And Fawcett can cover Ravenclaw. That’s it, then. We’re ready.”

The seventh were all ushered around the mostly empty Hufflepuff Common Room.

“I feel like I’ve betrayed him,” said June again.

Desmond frowned down at her, nearly jabbing her in the face with his quill as he gestured. “Look, you didn’t betray anyone. You just happened to arrange a useful time to walk past him. That’s all. And anyway, this really comes down to a matter of two fat ladies in portraits.”

“What?” asked Henry. “Two fat ladies?”

“Right,” said Desmond. “It’s your choice, Bernard.  It’s either the Fat Lady in Gryffindor who’s going to be mad at you or the fat lady in our Common Room.” He pointed to the portrait of Helga Hufflepuff behind him. “This’s for the honour of Helga Hufflepuff and Hufflepuffs everywhere, understand?”

June sighed.

From her position on the ground, Trista called out, “We need to start planning this out. It’s not like we’ve got loads of time left. There’s only a week left of classes.”

“And then we strike,” said Duncan, his fist flying in the air.

“I don’t know how long Lucy and I can hold out,” said Henry, exchanging a worried glance with Lucy. “They get restless this time of night and they make lots of noise.”

“And Desmond, they smell,” said Lucy. “I bathe them twice a day and everything, but it isn’t doing much.”

“If I can deal with it, so can you,” said Desmond. “For your house, Weasley.” With an ornate flourish, he pointed his quill once more at the portrait of Helga Hufflepuff that hung above the fireplace. “What would Lady Hufflepuff do?”

“Not this again,” said Lucy, fuming. “She’d probably throw everyone a very nice feast and see they’re all happy and well fed!”

“So I’m assuming you’re perfectly fine with Gryffindor getting all the glory, then? Or do you perhaps prefer Ravenclaw?” said Desmond. “Or the cabbages?”

Lucy fell silent. “Fine. But I’ll have you know, I’ve been feeling very guilty about all of this. I’ve been having nightmares and anything. I think I don’t deserve my post as a prefect for condoning this. I had a dream last night where Professor Sprout was telling me that I’m the greatest failure as a prefect she’s ever had and it was no wonder I didn’t make Head Girl.”

Everyone rolled their eyes.

“Moving on,” said Desmond. “Since the fated hour is close at hand, Fawcett, and I’ve been planning how we’ll be splitting up.”

“Splitting up?” said Nicholas. “I thought – “

“Though I’d’ve liked to do all of it together, we only have a one hour window when everyone’s off to breakfast” said Desmond. “It’s best if we work apart. So we’ve been debating the most efficient way to split into groups. We’ll be split into two groups.”

“There’s three houses,” Nicholas reminded him.

“I know,” Desmond said, waving him away. “We’ll be in two teams and we’ll have to take down two houses on our own. Then we reunite for the third.”

“How’re we splitting up?” asked Trista.

“Boys and girls,” offered Henry.

“No, we’ve got to distribute it so we’ve got a good mix of talents,” said Priscilla. “And we already know that Lucy and Henry’ve got to be in different groups because they’re in charge of our little friends.”

Lucy groaned. Everyone ignored her.

“So here’s how it’s going to be,” said Priscilla. “Group 1. Me, Jordan, Weasley and St. Clair. We’re taking down Gryffindor. Group 2.  Nicholas, June, Podmore and Bates. You’re going to have to handle Slytherin.”

“Are you mad?” asked Nicholas incredulously. “I can’t just waltz into Slytherin with these three!” She swept her hands to where June, Duncan and Henry sat, ogling each other cluelessly. “We’ll be caught in seconds! As if anyone, even those dim idiots, would believe Bates could pass as a Slytherin.”

“Look,” said Desmond, incensed. “We split it up into what we thought was the best. You four’ve got a much better chance sneaking into Slytherin than we four do. Every bloody Slytherin knows who I am, considering my potions’re the reason half of them even passed their OWLs. Lucy’s got a bullseye on her back – she’s a Weasley, after all and looks like one too.  Priscilla just commentated their last match and insulted the hell out of them. And Trista just beat them in the Quidditch final. The four of us’ve got no chance of getting in there without being stopped.”

“Polyjuice Potion,” said Nicholas, throwing up his hands. “I dunno – some Concealment spells – Priscilla, you’ve got to know some – ”

“We don’t have time for Polyjuice Potion,” said Priscilla. “And as far as disguises go, we’re planning some. Just some basic things. They definitely won’t be enough for us to just prance into Slytherin if they know who we are.” She put her hand on Nicholas’s cheek. “Look, you’ve got June, Henry and Duncan. I chose these arrangements for a reason and you’re just going to have to trust me. I know you can handle it. But remember you’ve only got half an hour in Slytherin’s Common Room. We’ll have the same time for Gryffindor’s.” She turned to the rest of the group. “And when Gryffindor and Slytherin are down, we go in for Ravenclaw.”

“But I’ve got something that’s been bothering me about all of this,” said Henry slowly. “How do we even know we’ll be left alone in these Common Rooms for a whole hour? What if someone just walks in on us?”

“That’s where my arrangements come in handy,” said Priscilla. “And NEWT Charms. Both Nicholas and I know some excellent repelling spells. Once we get in, we just hang around until a few people leave for breakfast and the Common Room’s empty. Then we use a repelling spell to secure the premise for a set amount of time.”

“Won’t a huge barrier around a Common Room be obvious?” said Lucy.

“You have no faith in me,” said Priscilla. “And it doesn’t work like that. There’s no giant physical barrier. It’s an invisible line. If you’re upstairs and try coming downstairs, if you pass the barrier, you’ll forget why you were coming down, feel very tired and go back up to sleep again.”

“It might be worth it to cast a simple Sleeping Charm on everyone first so no one walks in on us,” said Desmond. “And as you can see, this’s all well thought out. Or most of it is. Get ready. Get packed, study for your exams, tell your mummy you live her and brush your teeth twice a day. Because it’s all about to begin very soon."




Author's Note: And there it is! We're one chapter away from the end, everyone!

Thank you so, so much for sticking with me this far. Hopefully this chapter has been a good one. The next chapter features the Hufflepuffs taking their exams, pranking the three houses and leaving Hogwarts (and you). I hope some of the backstory on June's mum and her wand were interesting. Much love to you if you stuck out with me this far. One chapter to go. I'll update soon, I promise.

Celeste


Chapter 20: Bathing in Roses
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Bathing in Roses

It had been a long day for all those in the Hufflepuff Common Room.

There was a gaggle of fifth years looking sullenly at their spellbooks, muttering darkly about examinations between themselves, while scribbling frantically on parchment. Behind them was an infestation of first years, playing a loud game of Exploding Snap, their ignorance to the largely unspoken rules of etiquette that dominated the hierarchy of the Common Room indisputably obvious; many of their older counterparts were scowling over the tops of books, exchanging irritated glances with each other in turn that quietly said, first years, aren’t they the worst?

Somewhere, up a winding staircase, and two doors to the left, past an unflattering portrait of a witch brandishing a prominent nose, was the seventh year girls’ dormitory.

Even from outside the door, a shocked cry was audible.

“Oh, but you can’t! June, you can’t! You really can’t!”

Inside, a ring of four girls were sitting on the floor, the warmth of the four-poster beds abandoned.

The other girls rang in similar protest.

“You’re going to the library again?

“But you just finished studying for Charms!”

“You’re not really going to try breaking curfew just to go the library, are you?”

The black-haired girl sitting squatly in the center of the bedlam twisted her hands together. “You lot don’t have any confidence in me,” she said glumly. “I can handle myself. And besides, I can never study much in the Common Room. You saw the first years down there. They’re playing Exploding Snap!”

The brunette on her right folded her arms. “Any more studying and you might as well put on some feathers and call yourself a Ravenclaw,” said Priscilla.

“Don’t blame me,” said June. “I’ve just barely finished reviewing all of Charms. I’m halfway through Transfiguration and I’m almost done with Defense. And I’m just not going to study for Divination. I’ve only got four days left, after all.”

“Speaking of,” said Lucy, her eyes darting around the room, “I think I’m going to be very relieved when this whole prank fiasco’s over. Maybe then the nightmares’ll stop.”

The last few days had gone by slowly and a little miserably. The entire seventh year populace of Hogwarts had been holed up in their respective Common Rooms, in the library, in old dungeons and outside to study. Everywhere June looked, there was a reminder that NEWT exams were only a few days away.

“I hate this,” said June. “I can’t believe we’re nearly done!”

“I’m just jealous you’re done with Charms,” said Lucy. “Oh, I’ve still got loads of reading for Care of Magical Creatures and Muggle Studies.”

“I’ve barely started on History of Magic,” said Priscilla. “I’ve already finished studying for Potions, Defense, Arithmancy, Ancient Runes and Transfiguration.”

“How you’re even taking History of Magic is beyond me,” said Trista. “I’ve got to start on Ghoul Studies, even if it’s not a NEWT.”

“You think I’m stupid for taking History of Magic but you go ahead and take Ghoul Studies,” said Priscilla.

“I thought it sounded interesting!”

“I’ll tell you all you ever needed to know about Ghouls right now!” Priscilla threw up her hands and made a whoooo noise. “There. Oh, and they smell like old plumbing and bubotuber pus. That’s all you’ll ever need to know.”

As Priscilla and Trista continued arguing, June pulled out her Defense spellbook, groaning.

This was never going to end.

*

“Henry, Lucy, are my friends holding up well?” Desmond asked them over breakfast. Beside them, June was buried again in her spellbook.

“They’re okay,” said Henry nervously, holding up a few bandaged fingers. “But they still bite a bit. I think we might have to put a Sleeping spell on them before we take them anywhere or they might make noise.”

 “Podmore, St. Clair,” Desmond continued, “can you do what I asked?”

Duncan and Trista exchanged a glance. “Yeah,” said Trista. “It isn’t very hard.”

“Great,” said Desmond. “So here’s how it’ll work. In each team, Lucy and Bates are responsible for Silencing and transporting our little friends in safely. Podmore and St. Clair are going to act as crowd control with the help of a drowsing spell just in case anyone tries walking in on us. Fawcett and Corner and responsible for casting strong repelling charms. Bernard and I will be responsible for getting started on the change in decorations.”

June resurfaced. “What?”

“Relax, it’s just some simple Conjuring Charms. You can do it, right?”

She gave an annoyed nod. “Oh, I suppose.”

“It’s just going to be some banners and stuff. Just change a few things around.”

Fine,” she said and returned to reading.

*

The first exam was on Monday of that week. After a long, mind-numbing two hour written examination for Transfiguration and an even more irksome one hour practical examination, June returned to her Common Room. Most of it was deserted, save for Duncan and Lucy sitting in a lone corner.

“Where is everyone?” called June.

“It’s twelve-thirty, so they’re either taking their NEWTs or in classes,” said Lucy.

“I feel exhausted,” said June, collapsing on a sofa.

“Did it go well?” asked Duncan.

“Oh, it was alright. I think I might’ve passed, but there were loads of those annoying trick questions on the written part.  And I’ve got Defense tomorrow,” said June frantically, jumping up once more. “Once I’m done with that, I can take a break.”

By the next morning, she marched off to her assigned dungeon, and waited in the corridor with the rest of the seventh years. She peered over the crowd and caught Albus’s eye. He mimed a thumbs up, mouthing, “Good luck!”

Three hours later, she found herself waving her wand at her unimpressed examiner.

“Thief’s Downfall!” she fumed to Priscilla. “The old lady wanted me to cast Thief’s Downfall! We didn’t even study that!”

“Charms’ll be better,” said Priscilla.

And it was.

As she wrote on Colouring Charms and demonstrated Disillusioning, all she could think of was Albus. The way he hovered over her, frowning when her Disillusionment was weak and visible and cheering when it wasn’t. And the dozens of times he had spat ‘Law of Magical Equivalence’ at her. Or whatever it was.

Feeling cheerful, she wandered back.

Last came Divination.  For which she had never bothered studying. But after a lot of woolly guesswork about crystal balls, it too was over. June found herself alone when she returned to the Hufflepuff Common Room.

She stared at the portrait of Helga Hufflepuff for a long moment, feeling at a loss.

She was still exhausted from the long hours of studying and from all the anxiety she’d built into it. But the feeling struck her now slowly. She was done.

After seven long and mostly happy years. There’d be no more wandering inside the Common Room and looking for her friends. There’d be no more frantically finishing homework at four am. There’d be no more nodding off as Professor Flitwick walked by and no more of Lucy’s speeches for Desmond. No more of Priscilla trilling “You idiot!” to Nicholas, no more of Trista dragging Duncan off for Quidditch as he protested, no more love declarations from Henry.

Tears pricked at her eyes as she stared at the Common Room. There was just today and tomorrow morning. And it’d be all gone.

For the last seven years of her life, Hogwarts had been a constant. Her life was lived in school years and summers; there was always class to return to in September, secondhand books to buy, robes to mend. But without Hogwarts, time afterwards seemed daunting and open.

School was almost done. The rest of it was just…life.

Helga Hufflepuff continued watching her and smiling. She never spoke, though she made a friendly wave. Memories surged back as she took a seat alone in the Hufflepuff Common Room.

“I’ve never tried talking to you,” she told the portrait, her voice wobbling. “You know, in the beginning, I was terrified to come here. I’d never really had any friends before that. And my mum was gone, so I had barely a family too. I almost didn’t want to come to Hogwarts in the beginning. Then I got on that train and I was so scared. I had a whole year with strangers. I sat next to Iris Bosworth and two other girls on the train. I’ll never forget. I guess they told me about the Houses then. I wanted to be in Gryffindor because everyone said it was the most amazing house.”

Helga Hufflepuff had stood up and begun walking closer. She sat on a rather ornate looking golden chair in the distance, among hills and flowers. But she seemed as though she was trying to listen.

“I heard that all the good witches and wizards were usually in Gryffindor. Like Harry Potter and Dumbledore. And I knew I wouldn’t be much of a Ravenclaw because I didn’t care too much about books or studying. And I definitely wasn’t much of a Slytherin. I remember standing in line and that was when I met Lucy. She was pretty positive she’d end up a Gryffindor too. She was a Weasley, after all, and most of that lot ends up in Gryffindor one way or another. It’s strange to think what everyone was so young. But I remember Priscilla was standing way behind me, but I could hear her going on about how she’d never want to be a Ravenclaw and who cared about sitting around and reading. I remember she got into a big argument with Rose Weasley in line and they’ve hated each other since.”

The portrait was smiling and nodding. June stood up and began walking closer to it.

“Can you really hear me?”

Helga Hufflepuff nodded.

“Really?”

As June squinted, she saw that Helga Hufflepuff was smiling wider. She looked as she always did; a little round faced and plump, but elegant and quite pretty. She had long red hair and was dressed in a deep green gown.

“Was Slytherin really as nasty as everyone said? I always imagine him looking like a creepy old man. And Gryffindor must’ve been pretty overrated. And there’s no way Ravenclaw was as brilliant as everyone said. She couldn’t even keep track of a crown. How hard is that?”

Helga Hufflepuff threw back her head, laughing in silent mirth.

“So you see, I didn’t exactly want to be a…Hufflepuff. Everyone acts like we’re the dimmest house or something. But I guess I’ve come to realize what we stand for over the years. I begged the Sorting Hat to put me in Gryffindor and it told me that Hufflepuff had what I was looking for. I was so disappointed at the time. Who wants to go into the house that’ll take you just because you’re not brave, smart or ambitious? I felt awful about it. But I get it now. Hufflepuff had a family for me. Three sisters and four very annoying brothers. That’s what you wanted for is, isn’t it? Not for us to just be smart or ambitious or something. You wanted Hufflepuff House to be Hufflepuff home.

She swept her face as more tears pricked. “You mustn’t think I’m always this emotional. I can be, except I’m really properly leaving tomorrow so it’s a big deal. I don’t really want to go, but I know I’ve got to. I know I’ve got to go and live my life. But it would be nice if I could stay here forever and always feel this safe.”

More tears pricked. She mopped at her face. “I’m really glad I got put in Hufflepuff. We’ve got some pretty amazing people here, after all. Being here’s taught me lots about growing up the right way and working hard and being loyal to your friends.”

June could feel the soft dirt under her feet. It was something that she’d grown to love about her Common Room – that it was built directly on the ground, with only the earth as a floor.

 How many people had tapped the barrels over the years to come into the Common Room? How many people had found great homes here in this small room with its dim lighting and badger holes?

Their ghosts were still here. Their footsteps were still in the same earth that June was now on, stepped over and retraced and molded by the generations after them. And it would happen for generations to come. Even after she and her friends were long gone, the Common Room would still be here. And it would remember. It would remember their laughter, their happiness, their mistakes, their fights, their sacrifices. It would remember the things they’d accomplished, the places they’d go, the memories they’d made and the things they’d left behind. It would memorize them in their youth.

Here, they would be forever seventeen.

Feeling tired and quiet, she looked up at Helga Hufflepuff. Hufflepuff was still standing there, looking inquisitive.

“So I suppose what I was trying to say all along was…thank you. Thank you for everything.”

Though it was still early afternoon, June felt the long day of exams had exerted her. Stifling a yawn, she turned around and began climbing up the stairs.

From behind her, June could hear a new voice. One that startled her so that she nearly fell and that made her turn around to stare at the Common Room and blink, only to find it was still empty.

It was one she’d never heard before, despite her seven years here. It was low and throaty, with a musical quality.

“You’re very welcome.”

*

“But she never talks!” said Nicholas. “I’ve tried making old Hufflepuff say a word or two, but she’s a stubborn old cow. I even threatened to draw a mustache on her once if she didn’t talk and all she did was walk off her frame. She’s hated me since.”

“You’re sure you weren’t hallucinating?” probed Priscilla over dinner.

“Positive,” said June. “She had a Welsh accent. She was from ‘the valley broad’, remember? I can’t just hallucinate up a Welsh accent. It sounded really beautiful. And the odd thing was, when I ran back, she wasn’t in her portrait anymore. She’s been gone all day since.”

“I didn’t even know she could talk,” said Henry.

“Oh, I’ve heard rumours here and there,” said Nicholas. “I heard that a few decades back, she once told a fifth year that Gryffindor didn’t fancy bathing very often. It’s very rare and she’s very selective about who she talks to. She only talks to the most loyal, whatever that means. It’s not exactly fair, is it? Gryffindor bloody well goes and leaves his students a sword in the hat to defend themselves. Ravenclaw has some magical diadem thing lying around that’s supposed to make you really intelligent. Slytherin leaves an entire secret chamber and a giant monster for his heir. And all we get is a burnt cup and a portrait that says a line twice a century.”

Before Nicholas could finish grumbling, there was a shout. They all turned to see Desmond marching down, looking furious. The rest of the Great Hall stared as he yelled, “DO YOU LOT KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS? IT IS EIGHT-THIRTY. BED. NOW.”

*

The next morning, they met downstairs in the empty Common Room. Priscilla was still grumbling under her breath about “A godforsaken time in the morning, I can’t believe we just woke up at five in the morning!”

“Breakfast’s at seven,” said Desmond. “If you’re going to complain to anyone, go complain to the house elves.”

“It’s not even five by the way,” said Nicholas. “It took a while for everyone to get ready. It’s actually six ten.”

There were footsteps down the boys’ dormitory as Duncan and Henry walked downstairs, carrying what looked like two large sacks.

“So they’re ready then?”

“Oh, please be careful,” said Lucy to Duncan. “They’re still sleepy, but they bite a bit.”

“I know,” said Duncan. “They had a go at Henry’s face a few minutes back.”

 “Ahem,” said Priscilla, calling attention. She was shivering in the early morning chill. “Okay, now that those creatures are here, it’s time we drowse them.”

“They’ll be all right, won’t they?” asked Henry. “Is it strong enough?”

“Perfectly fine. It’s just a Sleeping Spell – they’re animal friendly,” said Lucy. “Take them out and set them on the floor gently, will you? They’re still groggy.”

Duncan and Henry both reached into their sacks and emerged with a small animal in each hand.

“Is that – is that what I think it is?” asked Trista incredulously. “Where’d you even find one?”

Desmond grinned. “D’you like it? Has just the right symbolism, doesn’t it? I got them from the Magical Menagerie’s Hogsmeade branch and snuck them in through one of the secret entrances. They’ve been living quite contentedly on the Hogwarts grounds since. And Henry and Lucy take good care of them.”

The rest of them seemed to be staring in awe as the small creatures were set on the floor. They snuffled around lazily.

June craned over Trista to see. “Those are badgers!”

“Brilliant, Bernard,” said Desmond. “I had no idea.”

“What’re we doing with them?”

“We’ve got six of them,” said Desmond. “We’re going to have our little friends here roam around the other Common Rooms. We’ll be leaving some treats there so they’re comfortable.”

“Yes, but how do we get them out?”

Desmond shrugged. “They’ll know their way back here. There’re tons of badger holes that run through Hogwarts. They’ve been having loads of fun digging holes from our Common Room to wherever they want to go. Smart little creatures. I appreciate that we’re badgers now. Not something as useless as a snake.”

“Incidentally, some badgers are known to eat snakes,” said Nicholas. “The African honey badger, for instance.”

“Enough about the badgers,” hissed Priscilla. She waved her wand over them and they promptly shut their eyes. “We’ve only got an hour to get this all ready. Does everyone remember what I told you last night?”

“Me, Duncan, Henry and Nicholas are together,” said June. “And we’re heading into Slytherin’s Common Room at seven thirty. Duncan runs upstairs to make sure everyone stays asleep. Henry lets out the badgers and gives them badger treats. Nicholas’s supposed to do all the repelling charms. And I put up all the decorations.”

“And we meet back at eight,” said Duncan. “And after that, we head to Ravenclaw tower together where we do the same thing over again.”

“We rendezvous at the statue of Ragnok the Pigeon-Toed on the fifth floor,” said Desmond. “Don’t forget. And now, for disguises.” He opened his bag and began handing out name tags “These aren’t real names or anything, but there is a chance someone might notice that we look out of place.” He passed on four Slytherin ties and badges to Duncan, June, Henry and Nicholas.

“Johann Jorkins,” read Henry. “Err…do I look like a Johann?”

“I’m Pollux Crabbe,” said Nicholas. “God, I want to punch myself for having such a pretentious name.”

Duncan became Charlus Goyle. June pinned on her name tag. Isla Burke.

“I’m Louisa…Weasley?” asked Lucy. “Why am I still a Weasley?”

 “Thought it might be useful as there’re millions of you,” said Desmond. “Nobody’ll notice. Trista’s going to be Andrea Weasley and Priscilla’s Octavia.”

Then came the disguises. They sat around and waited as Priscilla waved her wand over them. Henry’s nose became a few inches long and decidedly more sinister looking. Duncan’s skin grew paler and his hair became a dark brown; his eyebrows blurred into one. Nicholas’s skin grew darker and his eyes became a bright blue instead of their usual brown. When June looked into the mirror, she saw –

“I’m blonde? Why am I blonde? I don’t look at all like me.”

She could hardly recognize the blonde hair and larger lips.  

 “That’s the point,” said Trista, who now had red hair and blue eyes; beside Lucy, she could’ve passed as a perfect Weasley cousin.

Priscilla’s brown hair was also red now and her eyes green. “Look, I don’t like this anymore than you do, but let’s get on with it.”

Desmond peered out under thick glasses and protruding mole on his chin. “Yes, we absolutely have to be off. Hang on to the potion I gave you, Podmore. And remember your password. Phineas Nigellus.

Henry scooped up three of the now sleeping badgers into his sack and stowed them away into his bag.   

“Remember,” said Desmond. “Eight o’clock. Ragnok the Pidgeon-Toed. Good luck.”

*

The four of them - June, Duncan, Nicholas, and Henry – began walking downstairs.

“Do we even know where we’re going?” whispered June. “I have no idea where the Slytherin Common Room is.”

“It’s under the Black Lake,” said Nicholas.

Henry was balancing the bag carrying the now asleep badgers in his hands. “Sounds strange.”

“Slytherins and all,” was all Nicholas said in response. As a few minutes passed, more and more students began emerging from various places, all making their way downstairs to the Great Hall for breakfast.

So they walked in silence, descending more stairs.

“I know this place,” said Duncan. “We’ve gotten really low. We’re near the dungeons.”

“Amazing deduction,” said Nicholas. “What tipped you off? The dungeons everywhere or the fact that the Slytherin Common Room’s called the Slytherin dungeon?”

Suddenly, Nicholas stopped squarely in front of a cellar wall. Narrowing his eyes, he began inspecting it.

“We’re here,” he announced.

Here?” said Duncan. “This’s just a wall!”

“Well, you don’t expect a big door with Slytherin Common Room scribbled on it, do you?” asked Nicholas. “Should it say ‘Beware of skulls and Goyle’s body odour’?”

“It would be helpful, yeah,” said Duncan irritably.

“Just say the password,” said June nervously. “We’ve already lost five minutes getting here. Let’s just hope there’s no one inside.”

“Phineas Nigellus,” Nicholas announced. The wall opened, revealing a darkly lit passage. They followed it to the end and found themselves in a large room. It was a dungeon-like room with low lighting; everything seemed to be tinted a dark green. There were old, stern chairs awaiting them. Everywhere there looked, there seemed to be old furniture made of dark wood.

“Look,” whispered Henry, pointing to a cabinet that was adorned with a large emerald skull.

“Great,” said Nicholas. “Now we’re going to walk right in. Don’t look surprised, don’t stare, and just act natural. Let’s hope there’s no one there.”

They walked in, taking care to seem normal.

It looked empty.

“Thank Merlin,” began Nicholas.

“You lot. Over there,” came a new, low voice. One of the wooden chairs swiveled, revealing a boy sitting there, a cross expression on his face. A prefect badge glimmered on his robes. “What’re you doing here? I was told to send everyone to breakfast.”

“We already ate,” said Nicholas.

“Breakfast’s only been open ten minutes,” said the Prefect. He stood up. “Come to think of it, I’ve never seen you around before.”

“Well, I should hope not,” said Nicholas. “We’re not in the habit of wasting our time chit-chatting with fifth years like you.”

“So you’re sixth years, then?” said the Prefect. “I know all of them.”

“No, we’re seventh years,” blurted out Duncan.

“Are you?” said the Prefect. “What’re your names?”

“I’m Pollux Crabbe,” said Nicholas. “And that’s Charlus Goyle and that there’s Johann Jorkins.”

“And you are?” said the Prefect, motioning to June.

“This’s my girlfriend,” scowled Nicholas. “Isla Burke. Are you done asking questions or what?”

“Fine,” said the Prefect. “I’m Septimus Bulstrode.”

He took a seat, returning to his books.

“We’ve got get him out of here,” whispered Nicholas urgently. “I’ve got an idea, June, just play along.”

“Okay,” she whispered.

He took her hand and walked her to a sofa near the Prefect’s seat. Looking over his shoulder, he announced loudly, “You know, Isla my dear, we just can’t find a good snogging spot these days, can we?”

Mortified, June hissed, “What?!”

“Play along!” he pantomimed back.

“Y – yes, we really can’t, can we?” said June.

“And no thanks to my bloody friends,” said Nicholas. “Charlus, Johann, get out of here. Go find our other friends, why don’t you? I’d like a good, quiet snog with my girlfriend!”

Duncan and Henry looked dumbfounded, but followed Nicholas’s frantic gestures. Doubtfully, they disappeared down the passageway they’d entered through.

“Hold on just a minute,” popped up the Prefect’s voice, “you can’t just waltz in here and start snogging in public.”

“This isn’t public,” said Nicholas pointedly. “And by the way, shouldn’t you be off to breakfast too? I recall you were trying to shoo us off just a minute ago.”

The Prefect colored. “I will not be asked to leave my own Common Room by the likes of you!”

“That’s a shame,” said Nicholas. “Guess we’d better just get to snogging, then.”

“I promise we’ll be as loud as possible,” said June sweetly. “And it’s not like there’re absolutely no places to read in Hogwarts or anything. So you could just…leave. And spare yourself the trouble.”

“What’d you say your name was?” said Nicholas. “I know the Head Girl quite well. We’re cousins, you see. I’ll just pass along your name because you’re being deliberately uncooperative. You’ll never get to being Head Boy at this rate.”

“Fine!” said the Prefect bad-temperedly. “I don’t want to sit around and see your disgusting snogging anyway. I’m going to breakfast.”

In a huff, he grabbed his things and left.

They stared after him in disbelief.

“I can’t believe that worked,” said Nicholas.

Duncan and Henry emerged from the passageway.

“Neither can I,” said Duncan, shaking his head. “Anyway, we’ve got to get started. We’ve only got fifteen minutes left! Does everyone remember what they’re supposed to do?”

They all nodded. Duncan was the first to leave; he took his wand out of his pocket and began aiming at the dormitory doors above him.

“What’re you doing?” asked June as he aimed at the first doorknob. His wand ejected a green light that hit the doorknob.

“Desmond’s idea,” said Duncan. “A strong drowsing spell on the doorknobs. If anyone tries getting up and coming downstairs, they’ll touch the doorknob and walk back to bed to sleep.”

Meanwhile, Nicholas was waving his own wand through the Common Room, muttering. “Repello. Totallo Repellum. Salvio Hexia.

Something like a faint breeze rippled through the room. The dungeon windows that opened out to the Black Lake cast an eerie green glow about them.

“We’re secure,” said Nicholas, as Duncan continued to aim and hit the doorknobs. “Your turn, Bernard. I’ll help.”

Nodding, June set to work. She waved her wand over the bleak walls, trying to picture the Hufflepuff Common Room as well as she could. Several black and yellow banners Conjured out of thin air, pinning themselves to the wall, covering the dark green. Nicholas aimed at the chairs; they began changing into the familiar squashy sofas of their own Common Room. The windows were soon covered by the same Hufflepuff banners.

When Duncan had finished his spells on the doorknobs, he turned to see the Common Room and whistled. “Wow. June, Nicholas. You’ve done a great job.”

“Thanks,” said June, wiping off a few beads of sweat. “I’ve never Conjured this much before.”

“We’ve got to keep going,” panted Nicholas, turning a large goblet made of onyx into a wooden badger.

Duncan took aim at one of the few remaining windows and began scribbling.

“Are you lot done?” asked Henry, peeping from the passageway. “I’m ready.”

“Yes, come in,” said Nicholas, who was now sweating visibly. “Get the badgers ready.”

Henry gently set his bag on a table. He pushed it open and pulled out two of the sleeping badgers. “They look cute when they’re asleep.”

“Wake them up,” said June.

Henry waved his wand. They both woke up with small screeches and took to sniffing around on the floor. “Calm down,” said Henry. “It’s all right, Phyllis. You too, Bathsheba.” He pulled out a few pieces of fruit from his bag and set them on the sofa beside the badgers.

“We’re all done, then,” said Nicholas. “I can’t believe we actually did it – bloody hell, Podmore!”

Duncan turned, grinning. “Like it?”

There was a crude scrawl on the wall about bodily hygiene followed by a stick figure of Salazar Slytherin brandishing a twisted beard that was twice the length of his body.

As June stared in exasperation, Henry said, “I think it’s time we leave. It’s almost seven thirty.”

“All right,” said Nicholas. “I think it’s risky to just leave like this in case someone tries walking in as we get out. Everyone Disillusion yourselves. Let’s hope for the best.”

They Disillusioned themselves. June could feel the odd trickling sensation Disillusionment brought about, as though someone had run her under a cold tap. They swept out, taking care to be quiet.

It was only on the fifth floor they stopped running and made themselves visible again. At a particularly ugly statue of a small, angry goblin, Nicholas stopped them. “We’re here. This’s Ragnok the Pidgeon-Toed. Where are they?”

“It’s still only seven twenty five,” said Henry. “Now, we just have to wait.”

*

Twenty-five minutes earlier, the remaining four Hufflepuffs had made their way to Gryffindor Tower.

 Priscilla was mumbling angrily about feeling like a traitor under the Gryffindor tie and badge, but was quelled with an angry “Shut up!” sent her way by Desmond. “If you complain one more time about the hair or the tie, I’m Silencing you! I’ve got mole hair for God’s sake!”

 Desmond looked barely recognizable under the reading glasses and the large mole.

They stopped in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady.

“Mermaid scales,” said Trista, her voice quivering slightly. She cleared her throat and tried louder. “Mermaid scales.”

The Fat Lady glanced down at them; she was in an ostentatious pink ball gown, perched in a garden of sorts and staring thoughtfully at a crystal goblet in her hand. “Is it?”

“What d’you mean is it?” growled Desmond angrily. “Mermaid scales! Open up, will you?”

“I was told to be on guard for intruders,” said the Fat Lady disdainfully. “Even after our last break in, we’re to expect another. One of the Prefects warned me just yesterday to keep an eye for you. The state this house’s gotten into…”

“Look here, you round flamingo,” began Desmond. He was cut off by Lucy.

“Why do you think we’re intruders?” she asked, hugging her bag to her chest.

The Fat Lady gave them a twisted little smile. “You see, I’ve been here all year for many years. I do not recall seeing any of you even once. You’d be surprised what us portraits can see, what we can hear, what we can speak.”

“You speak too much,” said Desmond.

“So tell me,” said the Fat Lady, “precisely why I’m to believe you are not intruders.”

Her voice steady, Lucy stepped forward. “My name is Louisa Weasley.”

“Weasley?” said the Fat Lady. “Weasley…”

“I’ve got loads of cousins. Surely you’ve seen them around. There’s my cousin Roxanne.”

“Yes, I know her,” said the Fat Lady irritably.

“Oh, you’re not letting me finish,” said Lucy. “Then there’s Victoire, you see. Dominique. Louis. Fred. You must know Fred. Molly. Lucy, who’s my favorite. Rose, who’s Hermione Granger’s daughter. Hugo, Hermione’s son. James, Albus and Lily. I’m not sure if you remember all of them, but they’re all my relatives,” said Lucy. “And if you can, you’re quite brave. We can barely keep track.”

Doubt seemed to be flickering into the Fat Lady’s face. She began with a slow, “Yes, well…”

“Of course, those are just all on my great-uncle Arthur’s side. I’m their second cousin, actually. They’re just the more well known Weasleys. We’re all over the place. We’ve practically got Weasley conventions. My great-uncle Arthur had an older brother. That’s my granddad Bilius who married my grandmum Cassandra. They had three sons and – ”

“Mermaid scales!” yelped Desmond over Lucy. “Just let us in and she’ll shut up!”

The Fat Lady blinked.

Then she swung open, revealing a large hole behind her portrait.

As they clambered in, Desmond sighed to Lucy, “Weasley, you’re a genius.”

“Thank you,” said Lucy, glowing. “And she thought she could outsmart me!”

They set to work transforming the Gryffindor Common Room much the same way they usually did when they broke in after Quidditch games; it was after Lucy set the badgers loose that they set back.

“We’re done,” said Desmond triumphantly. “Everyone, Disillusion yourselves. Next stop’s Ragnok the Pidgeon-Toed.”

*

“What happens if someone tries getting into the Slytherin Common Room after we left?” asked June.

“It’s sealed,” said Nicholas. “They try getting in and they’ll hit the invisible barrier and forget what they’re looking for. It’s only going to hold up for another thirty minutes until - ”

There was a faint cry and Nicholas broke off, looking worried.

From around the corner came Priscilla, Lucy, Trista and Desmond. Priscilla was furiously whacking Desmond on the arm, Trista was nursing what looked like a bruised cheek and Lucy was saying, “Stop it, stop it you two!”

“What happened?” asked June.

“Nothing much,” said Priscilla. “This idiot fell on the stairs and nearly sent us all toppling down. But we all got out fine. Gryffindor’s done.”

“That only leaves Ravenclaw, then,” said Nicholas.

Priscilla began pulling out new ties and badges out of her bag. “Everyone, put these on. And here’re some name tags. Find one and put it on.”

 “What if we get in trouble after all of this?” fretted Lucy. “I can’t imagine what Professor Aubrey’d do to us!”

“Relax,” said Desmond. “Nothing’ll happen.”

“Easy for you to say,” muttered Nicholas. “We nearly got caught by some Slytherin Prefect.”

“And the Fat Lady was definitely on to us,” said Priscilla. “Some Prefect tipped her off to keep a look out for us. I’m betting it was Potter.”

“Just trust me,” said Desmond.

*

They infiltrated the Ravenclaw Common Room much more quickly than June had anticipated.

Priscilla answered the door knocker’s question promptly. (“What is the foundation of magical philosophy?”)

“Reason above all,” she said. The bronze eagle door knocker unlocked the door and they swept into a spacious, airy room surrounded by long windows. The domed ceiling, blue carpeting and silky curtains elicited a sigh from all of them.

They stared enviously for a moment at the beautiful views of the Hogwarts grounds in front of them; everything from the large marble statue of Rowena Ravenclaw that towered over them to the rich furniture seemed elegant.

“Wow,” said Henry, “we’ve been missing out.”

“Like I said,” said Nicholas, “bloody Hufflepuff barely left us a thing. We’ve been slumming it compared to this!”

When Desmond shushed them, they set to work, casting their spells and waving their wands, transforming the room. Lucy and Henry once again set the badgers out; Priscilla and Desmond worked to give the marble Ravenclaw a long, flowing beard and a mustache that curled at the ends.

As they snuck out and back into the Hufflepuff Common Room, Desmond sighed and fell back into a sofa. “Ladies and gents, that’s it. Seventh year’s over. Hogwarts’s done.”

“So now what?” asked Lucy nervously. “We’ve made a mess of all their Common Rooms. Won’t the professors be after us now?”

Desmond’s eyes twinkled. “No. Nobody’s going to be after us.”

“And just how do you think that’ll happen?” asked Nicholas.

“Because nobody in any of those houses is going to tell their Heads,” said Desmond smugly. “Or each other. It’s a matter of house pride. It’ll be a huge disgrace on all of them if it comes out that four little Hufflepuffs managed to break in, outpranked them and spoiled a thousand year old tradition all in one go. You think they’ll let word get out? They’ll clean up the mess we made themselves and never breathe a word. But they know. And we know.”

“A toast then?” said Priscilla, flicking her wand. “Accio Butterbeer.”

The portrait hole opened as eight Butterbeers floated in from the kitchen next door. She grabbed a flagon and held it in the air. “To seventh year!”

*

As they stood in their dormitory, packing their trunks, June found something under her bed. It was badly dog-eared and bent in strange place. How many months had it been since she had tossed it away?

It was her now old and yellowed copy of Love at Hogwarts. Fifi LaFolle’s romance novel with the brainless protagonist Harriet Henderson and her often shirtless love interest, Daniel Whitman, had never seemed more faraway than it did now.

For sentiment’s sake, she opened it to a page she knew well and began rereading the familiar words.

You know, Daniel Whitman is absolutely the WORST. He follows me around, he torments me.  I hate him. Utterly loathe him. Damn Daniel Whitman and his perfect face.

June groaned. “Did I really used to like this?” she asked aloud, feeling embarrassed for herself. “Did I really quote this to Albus?”

Ugh. And anyone who thinks he’s handsome or smart or anything is delusional. I don’t want anything to do with him. I just want to meet someone who sees me as I truly am. Someone who is handsome and kind and buys me lots of things.

At this, June snorted aloud.

I just want the simple things. Is that so hard? Like some new velvet dressrobes. Or nice earrings. The kind with real diamonds. Or some really romantic flowers like roses. Enough roses that I can smell them anytime. Just imagine a bloke giving me a dozen bouquets! Enough roses to bathe in! That’s all I want. A simple romance.

And yes, that’s what I’ll call it. ‘Bathing in roses’ syndrome. A grandiose name for that feeling. I absolutely must be loved by somebody. Somebody who makes me feel worthwhile. Someone who always makes me feel like I’m bathing in roses.

It was amazing what a stupid little story had done to her. How many idiotic things she’d blurted out because of it.

And that dumb phrase. Bathing in roses. It had set her on this whole obsessive search for a bloke in the first place. A boy who'd make her feel loved and worthwhile...

Stories were complicated in their own sort of way. This one came with a twisted little plotline, a dumb girl who thought she could yell her way into romance. Stories had their own strange power and they existed in their own untouchable universe and sometimes they could teach lessons.

And this one had too, but not in the way it had expected. This one hadn’t been much like reality. In reality, there weren’t many swoon-worthy Quidditch captains. There were long nights of homework and feeling desolate and alone. There were friends who got her into all kinds of strange adventures. There were no blokes who scaled towers for her or gave her roses and she did not think she ever needed them. But there was a bloke who overcomplicated things and liked making strange metaphors. And there was lots of growing up. And that was good enough.

She shut the book and tossed it back underneath her bed.

*

Later in the afternoon, they found themselves in Hogsmeade station, watching the scarlet train draw into the station for the very last time.

“I’m feeling a bit sad at the thought leaving,” confessed Lucy, looking melancholy as Trista comforted her. “I can’t believe we’re really not coming back.”

“Don’t look at me, I got all my crying done already,” said June.

“We’ll be back someday,” said Priscilla.

Lucy looked at her gratefully and they began boarding on the train, filing through its narrow corridors. They earned a few dirty, pointed glares from the other seventh years.

“Desmond was right,” whispered Priscilla. “They’re not saying anything because they don’t want to admit it. We’ve just gotten away with one of the best pranks ever. Nicholas and I snuck in for breakfast. Turns out the Slytherins got in trouble for putting cabbages after a few people got hurt. The Gryffindors’ plan to have a giant banner fall down worked, but nobody was too impressed.”

“And the Ravenclaws?” asked Trista.

“Oh, they sent some eagles flying around. Some of them went on the breakfast, apparently.”

At last, they found one empty compartment on the other side of the train. They quickly ran in and the train began to leave.

June stared out wistfully as the train began moving. They all stood silently pressed against the window, watching Hogwarts. The whole castle and its many towers were visible at first. Then the Quidditch stadium disappeared behind a hill, followed bit by bit by Hogwarts itself until it was out of sight.

“Goodbye, Hogwarts,” said June quietly.

Someone rapped on the door and they turned around. Duncan, Nicholas, Henry and Desmond jostled each other for entrance, nearly falling over the door as they did so.

“Found a compartment, did you?” said Desmond approvingly. “There’s absolutely no space left. Thought we’d have to share with the Slytherins and you know how we feel about that.”

“Slytherins and Hufflepuffs were never meant to mix,” agreed Nicholas.

“Actually,” said Lucy, her voice quavering, “they’re not Slytherins anymore. And we’re not Hufflepuffs anymore either.” She slipped her hand around her Hufflepuff tie and yanked it off. “Now we’re all just witches and wizards.”

There was a moment of silence as they all looked away thoughtfully.

“So, Weasley had to be the one to dampen the mood,” said Desmond, heaving a sigh. “Well, I suppose it’s true. It’s been a good seven years with you lot. I remember when I used to think you seven weren’t fit for too much. And look at how far we’ve come.”

“I remember when I still used to argue with Priscilla,” said Lucy, her voice sounding watery. She and Priscilla exchanged fond glances.

“I remember trying to argue with Professor Aubrey about trying out for the Quidditch team as a first year and she absolutely refused,” said Trista, grinning.

“I remember you dragging me off to play in the rain and me getting a massive headache the next day,” said Duncan.

June laughed. “So we’ve had some good memories, then?”

“The best,” amended Trista. “But I guess that part of our life’s over now, isn’t it? Even if we’re living together again, it’s not exactly going to stay the same. Even that’ll change once everyone starts getting married off or moves away.”

“Life has to go on,” said Henry fairly.

“Being sentimental, aren’t we?” said Nicholas.

“People are always sentimental near the end,” said Henry, nodding his head sagely. Desmond rolled his eyes.

There was another rapping on the door. Duncan opened it, his eyes widening at who was waiting on the other side.

“Potter?” he exhaled.

 June stood up. “Albus?”

Her friends clustered protectively around each other as Albus and his Gryffindor friends entered. Albus wasn’t looking angry…which June supposed was a good sign…

“So I was right,” he said, crossing his arms and staring at June. “You were planning something when you came to give me my book.”

“My idea,” said Desmond. “I sent you and your whole house my regards.”

“Are you angry?” asked June.

Albus sighed and uncrossed his arms. “No. Everything’s in the past now.” He pointed to his friend behind him. “Vincent was sure you’d plan something bigger than what we had in mind, but I didn’t listen.”

“Jordan, eh?” asked Albus’s friend Vincent. “I’ve admired your work for years.”

“Have you?” Desmond cracked a smile. “You must be Vincent Thomas. You did a decent job forging those star charts last year.”

“Thanks,” he grinned back, taking a seat beside Desmond. They began talking excitedly, admiring each others’ past exploits.

“St. Clair,” said Albus’s other friend, holding out his hand. “I’m Xavier Wood. I played against you in the semifinals.”

“I remember you,” said Trista. “You were the Captain. You did well.”

“Not as well as you, apparently. Your win against Slytherin was brilliant.” He gestured to his friend behind him. “You should’ve seen Colin. He nearly fainted by the time you caught that girl.”

“It was all in the aim,” she said, making space beside her. “Want to sit?”

It was strange, June thought, watching Albus’s friends blend into her own. But Lucy had been right. There were no more boundaries any more. They weren’t rivals or enemies anymore - just witches and wizards who had grown up together.

Suddenly, arms slid around her shoulder, pulling her away. She laughed as Albus pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Are you all right?”

“Fine,” she said. “Really happy, actually. A lot’s happened this year.”

He took her hand. “Yeah, it has.”

They kissed again, feeling at ease together. June smiled up at Albus.

Suddenly, there was a chorus of catcalls and wolf whistles.

Albus frowned over at his friends and at hers.

“Save it for somewhere else, Potter,” said Priscilla. “I feel like I need to gouge my eyes out.”

“Agreed,” said Albus’s friend Colin. “Why did you do that to us Albus, why?

June peered over Trista to stare at Henry, wondering how he would react. But he was merely laughing at what Vincent and Desmond were talking about. He caught June’s eye and smiled.

 Some things really had changed.

Albus took her hand and guided her over the crowd of people sitting on the ground to a space beside the window. They sat there together, watching the hills roll past.

June turned and watched her friends fondly. They were all busy engaged in conversation or arguing or smiling.

What a journey it had been together.

*

As the train pulled up at the station, the crowd milled from inside the compartments to the corridors. There was hardly any room to move without risking stepping into someone else.

“There you are,” came another voice to Albus. “I was wondering where you went.”

June and Albus turned to see Rose Weasley and Lily Potter. Before they could respond, Priscilla spat out, “Weasley.

“Fawcett,” Rose returned. After a staredown at each other, Rose blinked. “I suppose if Albus is going to involved with Bernard, we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”

“I suppose so,” said Priscilla grudgingly, turning away. It would be as much of a compromise as they’d ever have.

June watched as Lucy hugged Isolde Dunham, just barely managing to keep the excitable Gryffindor girl from bouncing off the walls. Priscilla was busy passive-aggressively talking to Clemence Fitzgerald, both smiling and bidding goodbye but also looking as though they were sizing each other up in a duel.

“So this is goodbye, Fawcett,” said Clemence.

Priscilla laughed. “It’s not goodbye, Fitzgerald. It’s ‘until next time’.”

“Then until next time.” They shook hands on it, like it was a promise.

“You’ve come far,” said a girl beside June. Nikita Patil and Iris Bosworth were peering over Lily. Nikita was staring at June holding Albus’s hand.

June blushed. “I suppose so.”

“So there really is something in stalking people in libraries,” said Nikita.

“What’re your plans after Hogwarts?” asked Iris.

“I’m moving in with friends and I’ve got a job that starts next week,” said June. As soon as they clambered out of the train, it would time to Apparate to the flat Priscilla had picked for them. And then, they would have to unpack their things and prepare for the rest of their lives.

As Iris and Nikita moved on, June looked at Albus, half-smiling. “Iris and Nikita haven’t changed a bit. In that book I used to like, the main character had something she called ‘bathing in roses’ syndrome. It was where she expected loads and loads from the guy she fancied. They’ve still got that, I think.”

He looked confounded. “Does this have anything to do with that one time you said you’d pluck off all the petals from Bates’s bouquet and – ”

Yes,” she said shushing him and heating up. “Be quiet, it’s embarrassing, all right? But I suppose I’ve learned that there’s never going to be a bloke who’ll give a girl diamond earrings or enough roses to bathe in.”

“Not that you ever needed any,” said Albus. “Your shampoo smells like roses anyway.”

“Does it?” she asked, surprised. Something clicked into place. “I was right about the Amortentia!”

“Shut up,” he said, laughing. “Maybe.”

“So I’ve been literally bathing in roses this whole bloody time and I just didn’t know?” she said, smiling. “And here I thought I needed you for that.”

He squeezed her hand in response.

They watched as the crowd in front of them finally began walking out the train doors. June turned around and caught Priscilla’s eyes. Priscilla tapped Trista and Lucy on their shoulders and they all looked at each other for a long moment. June smiled at them before looking outside into the sunshine where the train station awaited them.

“Ready?” asked Albus, beginning to walk forward.

She was. 

Fin.








Dear wonderful readers,

Thank you so much for sticking with June, Albus and everyone else throughout this whole story. Thank you also to those of you who've been reviewing each and every chapter - you've got no idea how much that means to me. I can safely say that I would've never finished this story (or gotten very far at all) without your kind and encouraging words.

I also owe my special thanks to Gina (justonemorefic) for sticking with this story from literally the first review. Clemence Fitzgerald is her property, not mine, but I wanted to pop her in BIR as a cameo at some point. And Isolde Dunham belongs to gubby (GubraithianFire), someone I also owe a lot to.

I hope the prank and the ending proved satisfactory. For those of you who asked me about the meaning of the title early on, I hope it makes more sense now. It's literally just a phrase that describes June's attraction to Albus early on; this need to be recognized and loved. In the end, she realizes that having him was not necessary to having these feelings at all. But he's a nice bonus that comes with growing up and being more understanding :) It's supposed to reiterate the central idea I had for BIR - that it is a story about friendship, adventure and growing up with some romance as opposed to a romance story.

I've also been asked about writing a sequel and yes, there will be one. It's a short story sit six years in the future and will follow many of these characters. It will, however, be much shorter than this story was. I don't expect to have it up for at least a few more weeks.

Thanks for riding out this 2 year journey with me! As Priscilla said, "It's never goodbye. It's ''until next time'!" 

Much love,

Celeste


http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com