Of Shrinking Solutions and Blueberry Scones
wonderful chapter image by Marit@tda
Adele and I were making our way down to our first N.E.W.T. Potions class with Professor Marmaduke. Sam and Zane were trailing behind us, engrossed in some heated debate about the merits of vomit Every-Flavour Beans.
“But the vomit ones are necessary to enhance the flavour of the good ones, like say, peach cobbler. There’s no sunlight without darkness.”
“But they taste like vomit, Sam, vomit. If I wanted to taste that, I could just do what one of those skinny Slytherin girls do. And 'no sunlight' my arse! That doesn’t even mean anything!”
“Eating disorders are never funny. Also, I’m right.”
“I give up. Oi, Shiv! Where’s the little princess?” He nudged my shoulder.
I replied, “Getting ready, as always. She ran back upstairs after breakfast to change her top. I don’t know why it even matters what top she’s wearing when we have to wear these big ole’ robes anyway.”
Adele shrugged. “Just ‘cos we wear uniforms doesn’t mean we can’t show our individuality. I mean, I’d never wear the mass-produced rubbish that she does, but she’s free to wear whatever she wants. Besides, you know what we have on underneath,” she said, winking.
“Something lacy, I hope?” Zane said, cutting in between us.
I rolled my eyes. “No, my foul-minded friend.” When we’d reached the Potions room I pulled Zane aside and stealthily lifted up my robe. Past the mandatory black shoes was a pair of purple and orange striped socks. I smiled and whispered, “Brightly-coloured knee-high socks. Me and Dele always wear them on the first day.”
Zane laughed, “You dirty little rebels!” He turned to tell Adele that he knew our little secret, but she was frozen. Sam was too, but his expression was more curious than anything. Adele, on the other hand, looked as if she’d just seen a Dementor. Her eyes were wide and her mouth was shaped like an egg and she was not moving at all. She looked so terrified and still that I thought someone had pulled a Petrificus Totalus on her. I whipped out my wand, ready to duel, but then she grabbed my arm and said softly, “Look in the room.” And so I did.
Pink, everywhere. And frills. And the occasional rooster. And if Zane had wanted lacy, well, here it was. We walked in to the room taking slow, ginger steps. The once bare floor was now covered in big, fluffy rugs that might’ve been made of Yeti fur. Close to the pink ceiling were a bunch of glittery things that looked like floating doilies. Frilly cushions sat on all the chairs. There was a large portrait of a rooster with a cowboy hat on the back wall, merrily clucking away. And at the front of all this madness sat the fabulous Miss Marm.
“Mornin’ my little chickadees!” she said brightly. “Please find your seats.”
Zane quickly obeyed, planting himself in the nearest chair. In no time, however, he was back on his feet.
“Ow! My chair just bit me!”
“Well then, it’s not your chair, is it darlin’?” replied Miss Marm, speaking as if she’d revealed some Great Truth. It was then we noticed the tiny name tags affixed to each desk.
“Name tags?” Adele whispered, “Who the hell does she think we are, Second Years?”
“It’s probably how they do it back on the home planet,” Sam shuddered, “but on a happier note, you’re next to me, Dele.”
So clearly the seats were in alphabetical order. Brilliant. That meant Dele and Sam and Iz and Zane could keep each other company while I wallowed in misery in the ‘P’ section. I found my chair and unhappily slumped into it, determined to be grumpy for the rest of class.
Iz chose this moment to rush into class and run towards me, seemingly oblivious to the gaudy décor and my unhappiness. “Shiv! I’m not late, am I? And why are you sitting by yourself?”
“No, you’re not, and it’s ‘cos I have to.”
Still panting, she sat in the chair next to me and had about the same reaction as Zane, except squealier.
“Ow! What the hell?!” She jumped up but stubbornly sat back down, albeit on the edge of the seat and away from the carnivorous cushion. “What just happened? Well anyway, I was late ‘cos I couldn’t choose between these two tops. One of them, the pink one, looks great with my skin tone, but the green one really brings out my eyes. The pink one says ‘fun and flirty’ but the green one says ‘sexy but serious.’ It was so hard to choose! Which one would you go with?”
I honestly had no idea so much thought went into choosing a top. “Er… the um, green one. The one that does something to your eyes.”
“Brings them out, Shiv. And now that you mention it, I could definitely see you in that one. Remind me to give it you. But no, I went with— Ow! Do you mind? I’m having a conversation!”
That last bit was directed to a finger that jabbed her on the shoulder.
“Yeah, I do mind, considering you’re in my seat.” We both turned around to find the source of this deep voice. And, of course, ‘twas my old friend James.
“What d’you mean, it’s your seat? I don’t see your name on it!” Iz smiled that ‘what-can-you-possibly-say-after-that-brilliant-comment’ smile.
“I do,” I said, but I suddenly had a deep echo. Apparently, James had spoken at the same time I had, and our jinx moment made him notice my existence.
“Hi Shivani!” he said brightly. I just nodded. Two could play at the nodding game. He sort of frowned for a half-second before turning back to Iz. “It says my name right here. James Sirius Potter.” He said that slowly, as if he was trying to communicate with a gorilla.
Iz scowled and walked away, flipping her hair and gesturing wildly and cursing the Potter family for generations in rapid Italian. James sat down in his rightful chair and said, “She’s a complete nutter!”
“She’s not! She’s just--” Unfortunately, I was interrupted by another complete nutter.
“Welcome, my lil’ sponges of learning! It is a bee-yoo-tiful day for Potions! I’m Ms. Sylvia Marmaduke, but as you know, I’d be much obliged if you called me Miss Marm. I’ve got lots of fresh ideas to liven up your boring old Potions class. But first thing’s first: we’ve gotta figure out lab partners!” Everyone looked around at each other and mouthed, ‘What’s a lab partner?’ Miss Marm finally caught on. “Oh, I’m such a silly goose! I forgot I was in the land of tea and crumpets. Hmmm… let’s see here…” She rifled through what I imagined was a British-American translation dictionary. “Here it is! Okay, so what I meant was a practical partner. We need to get those figured out.”
James leaned over and whispered, “What’s a practical partner?”
I replied, “One that’s rational and doesn’t make hasty decisions.” He snickered, and I was shocked with myself! I was never that witty with blokes I barely knew!
Miss Marm continued, “To make this simple for everybody, I just went down the attendance sheet and put people together. Your name tags should find their own partner. If there are any problems, just let me know!” She waved her wand, and I saw my name tag move to the edge of my desk that was touching James’. His name tag did the same thing till our tags were just barely touching. I knew it was silly, but seeing them in such close contact like that felt like I was intruding on something strangely intimate.
Clearly, James didn’t feel the same way ‘cos he slapped me heartily on the back and said, “Howdy, partner!”
I smiled and said, “Hello to you too.” What I really wanted to do was yell “Howw-day!” and slap him right back. But I didn’t. Despite the warm greetings I’d received today, I still remembered that curt nod from the day before. I knew he was just trying to be polite and didn’t really want to be friends. So I didn’t want to look like an overly-eager puppy, desperate for James to like me. Our relationship was going to be strictly academic. Right. Absolutely.
This was getting ridiculous. Miss Marm had assigned each pair a simple potion to make to give us time to 'get to know each other.' James and I were given a really easy Shrinking Solution. And since I was brilliant at Potions and James was decent, we were done in no time. And now we had entered the Awkward Phase. The phase where both people sit quietly and try not to make eye contact, and any attempt at small talk only increases the awkwardness.
“Potions! I love Potions!” I think James wanted to get out of the Awkward Phase as quickly as I did.
I looked at him quizzically. “You… love Potions?”
“No, I guess not. But I do like it! Well, no I don’t. I s’pose I have a certain… fondness for the subject?”
I nodded seriously. “Yeah, you were just oozing with fondness whilst slicing the daisy root.”
“Hey! I cut that root in perfect 1-centimeter increments!”
“And they were the best increments I’ve ever seen! I can see why you’re in N.E.W.T. Potions.”
“If you weren’t so nice and smart, I’d be really offended by your sarcasm. Even Quidditch players have feelings. But you’re right, it’s a wonder I’m even in this class. My dad was rubbish at Potions.”
“What?” I gasped, “Harry Potter the Great wasn’t good at Potions?!”
“No. I don’t really want to talk about him, though. Being the son of the Wizarding World’s saviour isn’t as exciting as it sounds. He’s never happy with whatever I do.”
I didn’t ask anymore about that. I knew all about parental pressures, even if mine weren’t saviours. “So, James Potter, what do you want to talk about?”
I was practically skipping back to the Ravenclaw Common Room at the end of the day. This had been, by far, the best first day ever. I was the only one who had known how to use a Conjuring Spell in Transfiguration. Adele and Isabella hadn’t wanted their blueberry scones at lunch, so I got three. And best of all, I had one more reason to look forward to Potions. I leapt into the Common Room, expecting to share my joy with my beloved friends. But I only saw Sam, hunched over a desk and scribbling furiously.
“Samuel! My dear friend! Where is everyone and what are you writing?”
Still writing, he replied, “It’s a poem about chicken. Zane’s at band practice, Isabella’s up in the Tower at her Stargazer’s Meeting, and Adele’s at the Dragon Captivity Awareness Club.”
Damn my friends and their extracurricular activities, although I shouldn’t have been surprised at Adele’s absence. She was a member of, and usually the Head of, about 15 clubs and societies. Dragon Captivity Awareness was her latest cause. Personally, I thought keeping vicious, man-eating monsters away from people was genius. But Dele found it barbaric and thought they should be able to roam free in their natural habitats, even that habitat included a village or two. Adele was a bit stupid, but I admired her conviction.
“Well, Samuel, if you could pull yourself away from your thoughts on chicken for just a moment, I’d really like to tell you about my fabulous day.”
Sam turned to face me. “I know eating three blueberry scones is great, but even I wouldn’t say it’s fabulous. I’m just surprised you digested all that.”
“I have a high metabolism. And it wasn’t just the scones. You know I was paired with James in Potions, yeah? Well, I never told you what he said at the end of class! He said, ‘I’m really glad you’re my partner, Shivani.’”
Instead of the wonderful response I was hoping for, Sam just stared at me. “…And?”
“And… that’s it! Aren’t you listening? He’s glad I’m his partner.”
“Anyone would be glad to be your partner. They could just sit there and not do anything and still get top marks.”
I frowned. “That’s now what he meant.” But now I wasn’t so sure. It was true that I was an expert Potion-maker. It was also true that I had done most of the work when making the Shrinking Solution. But I didn’t believe it. James wasn’t the sharpest quill in the box, but he wasn’t mean. He wouldn’t just take advantage of me. “But we talked for like, half the class! And about everything: school, parents, Quidditch--”
“Quidditch?” Sam interrupted, “You don’t know anything about Quidditch.”
He was right. My knowledge of Quidditch was limited to knowing that various balls get thrown about and people occasionally get knocked off their brooms. “Okay, so that part of the conversation was a bit one-sided. But still, I talked to a bloke I didn’t know for more than 5 minutes without freezing up. You know how hard that is for me.”
Sam stared at me with that look that made so uncomfortable ‘cos he was looking into me, like right at my soul. “You can talk to, and be friends with, whoever you want. Just don’t get… carried away. Don’t let this one conversation mean way more to you than it actually does. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
I laughed. “Oh Krishna, please don’t worry about me, just focus on your chicken. What, you think I’m going to start daydreaming about our wedding? I’m not Isabella. And the only wedding I ever think about is the one in The Plan, complete with elephants.”
Sam was intrigued. “Elephants? What’s their function?”
Sam listened attentively as I explained the finer points of Indian weddings well into the evening. And a certain Potions partner never once crossed my mind.
A/N: so there's Chapter #3! i don't know if i need to cite this, but Brave New World is a book by Aldous Huxley and i used the title in the summary. please let me know what you think; i can only improve if you tell me how to. the grammar should be much better now, but feel free to call me out if you see mistakes! :)
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