If I said sixth year was easier than our OWL year, I’d be lying. It was absolutely insane. The teachers were still of the opinion that two hours of homework per class was not in the least excessive. I was taking all of my O.W.L. subjects, with the exception of Care of Magical Creatures. Unfortunately, we were now NEWT level students and the classes were ridiculously difficult. Of course, they were also ridiculously tiny at fewer than fifteen students in each lesson, but that made the classes more intimate and in my opinion, more enjoyable.
September had passed into October fairly uneventfully. The weather had let go of the last whiff of summer that always permeated the grounds in the first weeks of September. Fiery goldenrods and tangerine oranges, titan reds and scarlets, deep yellow ochres and vibrant ruby shades dominated the landscape as the trees lost the verdant hue of the summer and turned to a more conflagrant palette. In the recent weeks, leaves had begun to float down from the trees and the sharp winds from the north whistled through the Forbidden Forest with increasing frequency. Overcast skies had turned the Black Lake a true ebony and it seemed impossible that the frigid water that lapped gently at the lakeshore was the same water we dangled our feet in during the warmer months.
The castle was as bitterly cold as ever despite the ample warming charms cast upon it, and the Potions dungeons had become practically unbearable. Our only source of heat was our cauldrons and on theory-only days, we emerged from the lesson certain that our toes were frostbitten. Gloomy drudgery was the sensation that pervaded the castle as we trudged from lesson to library and back.
However, the gloom had somewhat lessened recently. The past week had been one of some excitement as the students prepared for the upcoming Halloween Ball. The event had become a tradition only a few years ago when some of the prefects, at the request of the general population, asked Professor Thomas to let them host a ball. He had agreed, I heard, with reservation, but the thing had gone of splendidly and a new Hogwarts tradition was born. The ball was open to students fourth year and above, but students could invite a younger classmate if so desired. Apparently Professor Thomas modeled that restriction on the Yule Ball that had been held in his, Mum, and Dad’s fourth year.
Since the prefects were in charge of organizing and setting up the ball, my fellow prefects and I had been beyond busy. Just thinking about our last few meetings gave me a headache.
“What are you doing!?” Alina shrieked furiously at Jackson Lestrange. “We need to be working! We’ve got a bloody ball to organize, Jackson!” Her face was the vibrant shade of a ripe tomato as she berated he rather remiss fellow head-person.
“Put a lid on it, Alina,” Jackson groaned. “We’re magical. We don’t need to make paper chains by hand.” Alina looked like she was about to explode.
“Maybe he’s right, Alina,” I intervened just before steam poured out of her ears. She turned her look of utter wrath upon me. Thankfully, I’d had plenty of practice with Mum’s temper and didn’t quail. “I mean, as you’ve said, organizing the ball is a lot of work. If we just taught everyone to do the more time-consuming tasks by magic, we’d save a lot of time and maybe even end up with more uniform, neater decorations!” Neatness was Alina’s watchword, and I could tell that my proposal seemed fairly reasonable to her. She narrowed her eyes at me. I smiled unconvincingly.
“Fine. Jackson, Rose, you’re in charge of teaching everyone else to make paper chains by magic. Jump to it!” she barked, and everyone in the room physically jumped. Alina had a commanding personality, to say the least. Jackson and I rolled our eyes and began making paper chains.
That was the first of six two-hour long meetings that were spent entirely on making paper chains. They were terribly ugly, unfortunately, and I hoped we could somehow scrape the Great Hall into a decent looking dance floor. Alina was really more of a hindrance than anything, although we’d sooner befriend the giant squid than tell her that.
Mental head girls aside, the week passed quickly and before I knew it, it was the eve of the ball. I absolutely cannot resist a description of my appearance, so allow me my moment of vanity. I had bought a black dress made of a crepe fabric that fell elegantly to my knees. The straps of the dress were about an inch thick, thankfully, and the v-neck dipped rather farther down than I might have ideally chosen. It was an empire-waisted dress and a four-centimeter band of subtly sequined fabric cinched the waist. I had paired it with black high heels that boasted some rather pretty silvery designs and three glass stones, earrings and a matching necklace in a beautiful powder blue, and a silvery-blue shawl-like creation. Adara had been skeptical of the blue combined with my red hair, but it ended up bringing out my eyes, of which I was rather glad.
Sandra had gone with a vivacious green strapless dress, which looked completely adorable, and Adara was decked out in a black-and-white strapless dress that I would probably have called a shirt. She had pulled her hair back into a tight bun that made her forehead look a tad too large, but I wasn’t about to tell her that – she could be a bit touchy sometimes. Sandra had let her hair remain natural, which looked appealing on her since it tended to behave. I, on the other hand, had made liberal use of Sleakeazy’s Hair Potion and put my hair into a French twist. It would probably fall out in the course of the evening, but it would look nice until then.
Annalise refused to let any of us look at her until she was one hundred percent ready, and our jaws all dropped when she walked into the room in a scarlet v-necked dress that dipped much lower than mine did. Her light blonde hair played in loose curls and the cheeky grin she wore suited her just as well as her outfit. “Ready?” she asked. Still speechless, we all nodded and set off down the staircase.
As I walked into the Great Hall that evening with Sandra, Adara, and Annalise, I gasped. Jackson had really done an incredible job with the lighting; in a rare show of initiative, he had insisted on putting the finishing touches on the decorations while the rest of us went to get ready for the grand event.
The entire hall was completely “jazzed up” and practically unrecognizable. Thankfully, there was not a paper chain to be seen, no thanks to Alina. Rich velvet orange curtains fell majestically around the large paneled windows, the black ruffles at the bottom cascading smoothly onto the normally stone floor, had been covered with a dance floor that had actively swirling orange and black patterns imprinted on it. Of course, the ceiling was covered in a magnificent array of stars, courtesy of the enchantment, and it gently illuminated the tops of people’s heads with a soft white glow.
Drinks, including a treat of butterbeer, had been set up in one corner along with some eatables courtesy of the house elves. Music was blaring from a raised dais on which we had a music player operated by our very own Frank. He was in his element and had a rather crazed grin on his face. The party atmosphere was infectious and everyone seemed to be dancing; thankfully, the Great Hall was more than large enough to accommodate our rather scanty student population. It always surprised me that we only had fewer than 300 students and such a huge castle with so many unused classrooms. What a small wizarding population Britain must have, I mused. These are most of the school-age magical kids, so… I snapped out of my calculations as Adara yanked me towards the dance floor, an excited smile on her face.
The teachers were distributed in strategic locations around the floor, all with pursed lips and looking as though they wished they could leave and never, ever come back. I couldn’t imagine how awkward it was for them to separate the students who were getting “too friendly.” Honestly, Annalise had just arrived and she and James were already doing some rather questionable dance moves. Sandra and Adara and I started dancing to the new song that had just started up, the newest creation of an adventurous band called the Hexing Lemons (Aunt Luna loved the shade of yellow they wore and always had their music on, so most Potter-Weasley kids were pretty familiar with the Hexing Lemons).
Who did Scorpius bring? The unsolicited thought popped into my head. He brought someone, because his friends were all saying he should ask before it gets too late. A second later I was scolding myself for remembering the chance occurrence (I wasn’t eavesdropping, I swear) that had told me he’d already moved on. I guess it hadn’t really sunk in because my jaw practically dropped when I found out whom he’d brought.
“Hi Jennifer!” Adara chirruped as she spotted the new girl who had apparently just moved to Hogwarts this year from some other place. Jennifer had settled in right away, judging from the number of people who already both knew and liked her. She was dressed in a tight sequined strapless number in some sort of cream-and-gold combination, but she was so thin that “tight” was just “fitted” on her. I suddenly felt very conscious of my own chest and stomach, neither of which could be described as “flat.”
“Hi Adara!” Jennifer gushed. Apparently, according to our late-night gossip, they were both part of some club or society and met frequently there. “Hi Sandra!” Sandra replied with a friendly greeting. “Rose, right? Hi!” I smiled politely. Her bubbliness was clearly a factor in her likeability, but it was just making me feel really awkward. “Oh my gosh, Scorpius just completely abandoned me!”
“Scorpius?” I half-choked.
“Yeah, he’s her date,” Adara informed me. I shot her a glare – she’d known and hadn’t told me?
“Oh, that’s…nice!” I told Jennifer in fake enthusiasm.
“It would be if he didn’t keep running away!” Jennifer giggled. “He keeps going back to his friends!” Merlin, how could anyone use so many exclamation points? Didn’t she run out of excitement?
“Ugh, that’s awful,” Sandra sympathized.
“It is, isn’t it?” Jennifer replied perkily. She didn’t look too cut up over it, I thought snidely. Merlin, snide? I was turning into a Malfoy! You wish, came my sly internal voice. I figuratively taped its mouth shut.
“Let’s dance, guys!” Adara cried. I rolled my eyes, but halfheartedly moved my arms. Adara, as was her wont, grabbed my hands and forced them to be more enthusiastic. A grin spread unbidden on my face and an unexpected laugh bubbled from my throat as I caught onto the excitement in the air. Soon my hips were moving along with my hands, and after a few minutes, my feet joined the party. We were all dancing crazily and laughing, bumping hips and high-fiving or mock-tango-ing, when a death knell rang out over the dance floor in the form of the dreaded slow song. I felt my smile slip from my face as the first notes thrummed from the dais. I shot Frank a glare before walking to the drinks. My unsmiling face frowned when I heard Jennifer’s animated voice inform Adara and Sandra that she was going to look for Scorpius. I rolled my eyes and huffed angrily as I reached the lemonade. Who even wants lemonade? Not me, that’s for sure, I grumbled to myself. Nonetheless, I poured myself a cup and turned to watch the dance floor, my curiosity getting the better of me.
My mouth went dry despite the fact that the lemonade was still on my tongue. He was holding her close to his chest, and her head rested on his chest about half a foot beneath his shoulder. He’s grown, I noted. And she’s really short, I added spitefully. Her arms were interlocked around his neck and he was looking at her with adoration in his eyes. He didn’t look at me when we were dancing, I thought miserably. He looked over my shoulder because I was too tall. Or maybe he just hated my eyes.
She tilted her head to look up at him, her perfect blonde hair and perky face probably appearing like perfection to Scorpius. She was tiny (and I hadn’t been, and wasn’t even now) and looked like she fit well into his lanky frame (I wasn’t as thin as he was), her petite body so unlike my own. I looked away. Why am I not over him when he’s already left me behind? I turned my face up to the ceiling, willing the tears that were pricking my eyes not to fall. I spent ages trying to look pretty tonight. I put the cup of lemonade down. Who am I kidding? Pretty? Next to her? Involuntarily, I abandoned my view of the ceiling to look straight ahead for a moment, just in time to see his lips meet hers.
I turned back to the drinks as my glass heart shattered into a thousand pieces and stabbed the inside of my chest with a plethora of sharp fragments. I hastily brushed away the tear that ran down my cheek and pulled the wrap on my shoulders tighter around me. I turned back once, unable to resist, and saw the two of them walking out to the grounds, hand in hand. The music trailed off, the song complete, and if it had been a movie, the lights would have faded on Scorpius and Jennifer’s perfection and the credits would have begun to play. If it had been a movie, the camera would never have landed on me. It never did, and as the couple was swallowed up by the darkness outside, I thought that it might as well have been a movie. I wished it were.
I knew I wasn’t supposed to feel bad about it anymore, but I still did, and that made me feel guilty on top of feeling lonely and forgotten. It had been about half a year since Scorpius and I had “broken up,” which was the same day we started “going out.” According to everyone else, I should be well over it by now. After all, how long does a girl need to get over one night, especially when she has the benefit of a full summer to forget him? If you recall, we danced, he told me he loved me, and then refused to acknowledge my existence. What a fairy-tale ending. Jennifer Payton just had to be perky and sweet and pretty and liked by everybody, doesn’t she? Oh, and smart and successful in extracurricular activities, like being editor of Hogwarts’ school newspaper. Couldn’t forget that.
And, of course, Professor Clearwater had to pair Scorpius and I for Arithmancy progression charts in class. She stopped pairing people at the beginning of the year, and then she stuck me with bloody-freaking-Scorpius. I didn’t like the bloke anymore, but no one believed me when I said that. Of course I still cared – he was the first to like me back and the first one I really genuinely cared about. I couldn’t just stop caring. I didn’t miss him the way I did at first, but I still cared, and anyone would. And in Arithmancy, I, of course, did all the work since he and his best friend, Alex, were just so great at being unproductive. In all honesty, Alex was actually fairly nice, but he had a tendency to get distracted when Scorpius was around.
Scorpius was a completely different story. He wouldn’t look at me and answered to Alex if I said anything. Then, all of a sudden, he would just make eye contact with me for a few seconds. Forgive me for getting rattled. When he handed me a marker (Professor Clearwater was a fan of Muggle stationery), he’d make sure to touch my hand, and I knew it was on purpose because he looked at me when he did (don’t tell me how cheesy that sentence sounds, I’m already gagging). When I was writing and he stood close by, I’d have to move to write across the chart and he wouldn’t move so I ended up sort of tucked into his chest by mistake. His hands were just as warm as I remembered, and the markers were all toasty when he put them into my own ice-like fingers. Then, he’d turn around and do something like write his and Alex’s names on the chart but not mine. I’d admit that made me mad. It was such a juvenile thing to do, a pre-Hogwarts-age kind of revenge (for what, I don’t know). “Scorpius, don’t I get my name on the chart?”
“I, um, got tired,” he answered, looking anywhere but my furious eyes, “It’ s a lot of work to switch colors every letter.”
“Oh, you poor thing, writing ten letters must be so taxing,” I snapped, my tone frigid. I took a black marker, as unlike his multiple colors as possible, and wrote my name under his in my script-like writing. There was the contrast I wanted. And then he was off at the other end of the room, deliberately not doing work, the same way he did before and it irked me to no end, like it did last year when he’d be super friendly in Transfiguration and ignored me in other classes. I should have known then, I suppose.
After we finished the charts, we had a bit of free time and we all began teasing Alex about his dancing at the ball with our very own Sandra. They were so awkwardly cute. They’d liked each other for absolute ages by the time Alex asked her to the ball, and they stood around blushing like a pair of strawberries all night. Ah, Nerd Romance. Of course, our good-natured bantering wasn’t meant to last. It was rudely ground to a halt when, just to put the icing on my “Scorpius is annoying the hell out of me” cake, dear old Lisabeth Connor, who happens to be one of Jennifer’s “best buddies,” (of course, everyone was Jennifer’s best buddy), piped in with a “So, Scorpius, I saw you and Jennifer sneaking outside during the ball.” Scorpius’ cheeks turned a bright crimson color, quite an achievement given the sickly pallor of his skin. “What were you doing?” Lisabeth continued, obviously under the impression that she was some sort of master of subtle conversation.
Scorpius, having progressed to a marvelous shade of magenta, muttered something about how they should keep talking about Alex and Sandra’s date. I, of course, concurred, and Alex took his turn to display a lovely hue of scarlet.
Adara and Sandra keep telling me that Scorpius wasn’t worth it, that he was a bad person and I was better off without him. Logically, I agreed. I’d written to mum, and she’d said basically the same. She understood, though, and told me that no matter what I did, it would hurt. It couldn’t be avoided. She told me to try and think of Molly’s breakup, and perhaps I could feel better by thinking of mitigating her pain (it was a bit of a stretch, considering they broke up ages ago and Molly seemed fine now). She told me that Scorpius would hurt Jennifer too and that he didn’t deserve any girl, let alone me. As it turned out, he didn’t even speak to her after the ball (or so I’d heard from Adara) and they definitely were not in a relationship. It made my feel a bit better in a twisted, selfish way, but feeling better was feeling better.
It was comforting for mum to know, to be able to tell her, but I couldn’t make the pain go away. I couldn’t stop thinking of Jennifer wrapped in Scorpius’ arms, his chin resting on top of her head. I couldn’t stop myself from cringing when someone mentions how he and Jennifer had gone missing for about half an hour and been spotted coming in from the gardens. I couldn’t stop myself from glaring at him, and I couldn’t stop myself from wishing, just a little, for him to love me again. I couldn’t stop myself from being angry with myself for being so affected by someone who didn’t care, by someone who was gone. Mum was completely right. It was silly to try and be involved in relationships at such a young age, when the “love” didn’t last and pain from breakups did. The pain of rejection, every day, and its being rubbed in my face by Melody, with her snide, ‘Oh, even Scorpius won’t give it to you, Rose. Going to pick Scorpius for your team? Scorpius would like to, I bet.’”
Clearly, I wasn’t going to win Scorpius back, and I wasn’t going to be able to make him feel at all bad since he didn’t even acknowledge my presence. It was time for Plan B: get the hell over him and forget that he ever existed. I was so lonely, especially in light of all the couples that had sprung up after the Halloween Ball. Our hallways were completely stuffed with people in love, romantically holding hands and giggling together. My prefect patrols were full of pulling amorous teenagers out of broom closets, which meant my evenings were full of bad moods and loneliness.
Sandra and Alex hadn’t gotten together; it was as though they just had to get it out of their systems or something. Maybe it had been like that with Scorpius – maybe he had just needed to get me out of his system. Maybe he had never actually wanted me – he’d just wanted to feel validated. Of course, by the time my snide mental voice was finished, I was feeling so low that my head was usually touching my knees. How could I get over Scorpius? Everyone said, “just forget him.” It wasn’t so easy when he was so conscious of it all the time, deliberately avoiding me. It made things so much more awkward when we could both just have acted like normal acquaintances, not really taking note of each other.
It proved he still cared, the fact that he put so much effort into ignoring and avoiding me. Whenever I thought that, my poor little heart started beating a little faster and I had to remind it that he’d left. It didn’t help that my heart squeaked back that he’d done the same thing to Jennifer, too, even though it wasn’t summer, and that he didn’t like her much more than he had liked me.
I tried to lose myself in schoolbooks and avoid a particular table in the library, tried to ignore him, tried to ignore Jennifer, tried to hang out with Sandra, Adara, and Annalise, and ignore Melody. Melody had, of course, been completely horrible in classes, always pointing out the awkwardness between Scorpius and I, trying to highlight the fact that he had left me. At least she wasn’t too bad in the dorm, considering four of us didn’t really like her. It was odd for me, considering that I had been in that position for a few years. Thinking of her lack of friends in the dormitory brought an evil (and completely justified) smile to my face.
All of this probably contributed to my insane idea of trying to force myself to have a crush on someone else. Namely shy, quiet Thomas Finnegan who had had a crush on me back in the beginning of fifth year. I was really hoping he still did.
A/N: Hi everyone! Sorry for the long wait, I’ve been insanely busy the past few weeks and only just finished the chapter J How is Rose’s “Thomas Finnegan” escapade going to go? Is she completely crazy? Tell me what you think!
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