“Why don’t you have a seat, Miss Briggs?”
As soon as the suggestion came rolling off his lips, I knew that no matter what he was about to share with me, it couldn’t be good. No good conversations started out with the words “why don’t you take a seat”. Most conversations that started out like that either ended with the person being directed to sit down bursting out in tears, for they had just lost someone dear to them or something equally tragic had happened to them or they were getting into a serious bit of trouble.
My stomach dropped at the possibilities that lay in store for me. Although, I was more than willing to bet that he was instructing me to sit down because he had some unwanted news he wanted to give me, something that he knew would upset me.
Oh joy, this was going to be lovely.
With a flick of his wand, a reasonably comfortable looking chair appeared out of thin air. Of course, I was expecting this, seeing as how most magical people did this sort of thing all the time. Most teachers, however, conjured up hard, wooden chairs that would leave splinters in your arse if you didn’t sit still. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell didn’t fancy splinters in my buttocks, thank you very much.
Casting the chair a cautious look, I slowly sat down and wondered what the professor of Potions and Head of Slytherin House had in store for me.
I heard the door to his office close behind him and I gulped. Why did he have to shut the door? That only made things more dramatic. Could the information he was about to give to me really be that grave that he had to shut the door to prevent anyone from hearing my wails of despair? An odd sensation bubbled in the pit of my stomach and I resisted the urge to vomit; I didn’t want to ruin the nice, rather expensive Persian rug beneath my feet.
That was something I never quite understood, though, why someone would pay so much money for a rug if they were just going to walk all over it. I mean, doesn’t that sort of deface or devalue said rug? And what was the point in buying it if it was just going to get dirty and lose it’s value. Didn’t make much sense to me, quite honestly. If anything, I would just leave the floor bare-.
“As you know, Miss Briggs, I’ve assigned partners for the remainder of this term,” Professor Slughorn said as he settled himself down in his lavish armchair behind his dark oak desk. He really knew how to appreciate the finer things in life, old Sluggy did. “While everyone seemed satisfied with their partner - were you satisfied being paired with Miss Evans?”
I nodded my head, several strands of hair falling into my eyes annoyingly. “Yes, I was glad that I was partnered with her. She’s one of the best Potions students in our year.”
“Second only to Mister Snape,” Slughorn said, smiling as he pulled a silver tin toward himself. “I can remember the first time I learnt that Miss Evans was a Muggleborn. Couldn’t believe it, quiet honestly, seeing as how she had all the skill of a pureblood.”
I took offense to that. Though I was a half-blood, my mother was still a Muggle and I always hated it when people spoke negatively about Muggleborns. Stupid, prejudice wanker! Just because their parents weren’t magical folk certainly didn’t mean they were any less talented. I fought hard to keep a scowl off my face as I adjusted my bag on my shoulder, the weight of my textbooks causing me to tip to the side in my chair.
Slughorn finally stopped rambling and turned his attention back to me. Not that I wanted his beady little eyes focused on me; I hated it when people stared at me. “Oh, I’ve seemed to have lost myself in old memories.” He chuckled good-naturedly and I forced a tight smile. “And I have seemed to have forgotten what we had been talking about, Miss Briggs.”
I uncrossed my ankles and itched the back of my left calf with the toe of my right shoe. “You were saying something about Potions partners.”
“Right you are, Miss Briggs,” Slughorn said, opening the tin and unwrapping what appeared to be a little piece of chocolate. “So, that being said…”
I tuned him out as I watched him pop the chocolaty morsel into his mouth and chew it viciously. It’s not like he needed anymore sugar, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. He’d probably get really cross with me and have my head for breakfast tomorrow morning…wait, did I really just suggest that old Slughorn was a cannibal? The thought of Slughorn munching on human fingers as a snack in between lessons was both amusing as well as disgusting. The idea of anyone eating human body parts was vaguely revolting, but since this was Slughorn I was thinking about, I just couldn’t help but laugh. Silently, of course, there was no way I was going to laugh in the middle of Slughorn’s office. You know, since the door was closed and he was nearly five times my weight.
“So,” Slughorn exclaimed loudly, causing me to snap out of my ridiculous, but highly amusing thoughts and give him my full attention. “What do you think about that? Do you agree or disagree?”
Shit, I should’ve paid attention. Why, oh why did I always pick the worst times to tune people out? He was obviously explaining something to me of great importance…okay, so maybe not great importance, but it was important, since he had pulled me aside and asked to talk to me privately. Teacher usually didn’t do that to me, seeing as how I didn’t really do anything to get in trouble, turned in all my homework on time, and answered questions whenever I was addressed.
“Um…,” I licked my lips and looked around the office helplessly, searching for anything to fix my eyes on. I decided on the rather odd looking…thing floating in the green liquid behind his shoulder on the shelf. That was interesting enough. “I agree?” I winced, hoping that was the right answer.
“I knew I could count on you, Miss Briggs!” Professor Slughorn beamed.
I struggled to smile as convincingly as I could, but somehow, I just couldn’t get the left side of my mouth to cooperated. It probably looked like I was having a stroke or something, or at least a heart attack. Not that wizards knew what those were…or did they? I never knew of a wizard having a heart attack before. I wondered if it ever happened.
Slughorn cleared his throat and I, once again, snapped myself out of my pointless thoughts.
“I suppose you’d like to get going to dinner now, wouldn’t you?” he said, chuckling. “You’re free to go, Briggs.”
Heaving a heavy, mental sigh of relief, I rose from my seat, which disappeared with a sharp crack almost as soon as my butt had left the chair. I jumped slightly and made my way toward the door, trying to shrug off the odd sensation that I had just missed something incredibly important. Although, it obviously wasn’t an odd sensation, but a notion I should have, considering I didn’t catch a word of what Slughorn had said to me.
As I opened the door, I turned to Slughorn. “Thank you, Professor.”
“Oh no,” Professor Slughorn replied as he rose from his chair and came to stand beside me, holding the door open for me. “Thank you, Miss Briggs. If it wasn’t for you, Mister Black would be without a partner.”
My jaw unhinged itself from my face and fell to the floor with a loud crash, shattering into a hundred pieces.
Okay, so maybe that precise thing didn’t happen, but my jaw did drop wide open.
“You’ve looked like you’ve just seen a ghost,” chuckled Slughorn, giving me a friendly pat on the shoulder before not-so-discreetly nudging me out of his office and closing the door with a tight snap.
I stood by the door for Merlin only knows how long. Professor Slughorn had long since left the classroom before I finally came to my senses - and it was only because my stomach gave a great growl. Shaking my head to myself and hoping that this was just another part of this spiraling-out-of-control nightmare, I left the dungeons in exchange for the Great Hall.
X - X - X
I barely ate anything before I headed up to the common room, where an alarming amount of people were clustered around various tables, end chairs, and the singular couch. There were bodies strewn across the floor - live ones, mind you - and laughter all around me. It finally made sense as to why it had been so easy for me to find an empty space at the Gryffindor table.
I was much too awake to even think about going to sleep. So, as a substitute for rest, I pulled out the morning’s copy of The Daily Prophet and flipped to the crossword that was always on the second to last page. I had already read the funnies at breakfast and never mind that the Evening Prophet had already been issued. I honestly didn’t care. I picked an armchair quite a good deal away from all the commotion of the common room and sank down into it, sighing in content as the muscles in my shoulders finally began to relax.
Honestly, I was going to die of a coronary soon if I didn’t get things settled sooner or later. All this mounting stress couldn’t be good for one girl, could it? I might not be incredibly tiny like Alice Harper, but I certainly wasn’t big. I was average, I guess you could say, stuck right in the middle. Like everything else in this world. I rolled my eyes to myself as I pulled a quill out of my bag and adjusted the paper on my knees.
I was really good at crossword puzzles. Sometimes, it took no longer than five minutes to figure out the entire thing and other times, it would take me the entire day. I never gave up because it would either eat away at me until I finished it or I was just that determined to finish the damn thing that everything finally clicked and I got the last clue. They weren’t as fun as the Muggle puzzles my dad used to solve in his office when I was younger…oh, what where they called?
Brain teasers! That’s it. Merlin, I used to love those things. I remembered sitting on his lap and trying to help him solve the riddles. Sometimes, I would get it right and he was praise me, kissing me on the top of my brunette head and giving me a Tootsie Roll, those delicious Muggle chocolates that even Chocolate Frogs couldn’t seem to beat - and I was obsessed with Chocolate Frogs.
I sighed to myself, momentarily revisiting my childhood and trying not to get too absorbed with my past. That was always one of the negatives things about reminiscing. I dipped my quill in my inkwell and poised it above the paper, reading the first clue off to the side.
I was about to write the answer to the ridiculously easy question ( What is the position on a Quidditch team that uses a bat to beat the Bludgers? ) when someone tapped me on my shoulder. Halfway frozen in between shock and frustration, seeing as how the ink was now dripping off the tip of my quill and soaking through the paper, I looked up from my crossword puzzle to find Lily Evans standing a foot in front of me, a bright smile on her face.
“Hi!” she greeted.
“Hello.” I replied, folding up the paper and placing it beside me on the armchair.
We stared at each other for a few moments, trapped in that awkward silence that always followed a friendly, but over exaggerated greeting.
“Did you enjoy dinner?” Lily asked, sitting down on the arm chair next to me.
I shrugged. “More or less. Why?”
“Oh…nothing, just wondering what took you so long to get into the Great Hall, is all.”
Whoa, wait. Someone actually noticed that I wasn’t at the first fifteen minutes dinner? Alert the Daily Prophet, for this was some seriously breaking, headline worthy news! Of course, it wasn’t a piece of juicy gossip or a mass murder of Muggles, but it was still pretty flashy, I guess you could say. Do people even use that word anymore; flashy, I mean?
“I was late because Professor Slughorn kept me after class.” I said, knowing that she was going to ask what had delayed me.
“Why did he keep you after class? You’re not failing, are you?” she inquired curiously.
Am I really that horrible at Potions that she automatically assumes that, just because Slughorn kept me after class, I’m failing? That was a low blow, I must admit, but I quickly recovered. Well, sort of.
I didn’t exactly want to break the news to her that Black was my partner now, which not only meant that I was confirming this wasn’t a dream, but actually a true, horribly painful reality that I couldn’t, but it was also mean that I would have to inform her that Potter was her partner.
Oh vey, this didn’t look good for me either way. You know, I could just make something up, or just go along with what she was saying about me failing Potions. But then, if I was failing, why would Slughorn have accept me into his N.E.W.T class? Or I could go along my favorite route and just play stupid! That wasn’t exactly the hardest feat to accomplish, but then again, as my conscious reminded me, it wasn’t very nice to lie…even though I wasn’t lying, per say, I was just fibbing to a certain extent. And yes, there is a difference between lying and fibbing, in case you were wondering, and it is quite astronomical.
“I…uh…,” I trailed off, my mouth suddenly going dry. I couldn’t lie to Lily! She may not have been my best mate, but I considered her a close acquaintance. You know, one of those people you called your friend in your head, but acknowledged them as something more than an acquaintance, but not quite a friend in public?
Yeah, maybe it’s just me.
“If you’re failing,” began Lily, her tone suddenly becoming very serious. “You could’ve always come to me for help. I would’ve been more than glad to assist you with some of the more complicated potions. I mean, I may not be the best brewer in our year, but I’m-.”
“Right after Snape,” I finished for her, smiling tightly and shaking my hair out of my eyes, as it was a great annoyance to me. “I know. Professor Slughorn let me know that in his office.”
“So…I’m taking it that you aren’t failing.”
“Thankfully, no, I’m not failing. I actually got an ‘E’ on my last essay,” I informed her. Of course, she had probably gotten an ‘O’, but now wasn’t exactly the time to let the little green monster known as jealous get the better of me, now was it?
“Well, that’s good," she said, cheerfully. Much to my surprise, her cheerfulness was genuine.
“Yeah,” I replied, a small smile forming at the corners of my lips. “I guess it is.”
Lily casually tossed her curtain of long, dark auburn locks over her shoulder and I felt a way of resentment surge through me. I wish I could toss my hair, but no, mine was much too thick, not to mention up in a ponytail at the moment, to do such a thing. And she looked so casual doing it. Most girls looked like little haughty, slightly deranged Barbie dolls when they tossed their hair over their shoulders. Not to mention, their facial expression was usually arranged in such a way, it looked like there was a nastily large pile of dung under their noses.
Aha! It had finally reached that awkward stage, yet again. I knew she was dying to ask me why I had been kept after class, but she wasn’t sure it was in the lines of our friendship, if that’s what you could call it, to ask me.
With a sigh, I finally squelched her need to know. “If you really want to know why Slughorn kept me after class, it’s because,” I paused, gathering my wits about me, should she go ballistic on me and starting hexing and cursing me, “well, Slughorn assigned me a new partner.”
A look of shock swept briefly over her freckled features and her emerald green eyes flashed with momentary hurt.
“Oh no!” I said quickly, holding up my hands. “It’s not because I wanted a new partner. Not at all. You’re my…,” I trailed off, not sure what word I was looking for. Should I go the extra mile in my attempt to convince her and say that she was a friend, or should I just stick with classmate? I took a deep breath and went for it. “You’re my friend, Lily. Besides, with you as a partner, I would’ve surely gotten an ‘O’ on our project.”
She stared at me for a few more seconds, as though I was about to explode and tell her the truth, but once she saw that I was actually telling the truth, much to my own apparent surprise, a small smile crept onto her face and she blushed. “Well…yeah.” Lily tucked a strand of brilliant red hair behind her ear and her brow furrowed. “If you didn’t ask for a new partner…then why did you get one?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I honestly don’t know why I got a new one. He just pulled me aside and asked if I would take on a new partner. Of course, I wasn’t listening to what he was saying, as he tends to ramble on and on unnecessarily about things I don’t care about, but I, unfortunately, agreed without knowing what I was agreeing to.”
Lily sent me a look of pity. She licked her lips and shifted so she was sitting on the edge of her armchair. “So…if I’m no longer your partner…then who is?”
Oh no. This was it. The moment I admitted to myself that this was a harsh, cruel reality and I had the worst luck in the world. The moment where I acknowledged the fact that I was no longer as invisible as I once believed myself to be. The moment where I actually came face to face with the idea that Lucinda Matthews was keeping an sharp and weather eye on me, which slightly gave me the creeps.
I took a deep breath before I closed my eyes and exhaled. “Sirius Black.”
There was a prolonged moment of silence in which I watched, transfixed, as Lily turned an abnormal shade of red. Then, at the top of her lungs, Lily screamed, “I’M GOING TO MURDER YOU, POTTER!”
And, without so much as a goodbye, she flung herself out of her armchair in her anger and stormed off, no doubt going to find James and give him a good tongue lashing. I knew one thing was for sure, though it may suck to be me at this point in time, I sure as hell didn’t want to be James Potter.
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