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“The castle’s on fire, the castle’s on fire!”

I jolted up. “What? Fire? Where?”

Loud peals of laughter erupted around me.

Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I glanced around wildly. “Where’s the fire?”

“You’ve been ignoring your alarm for the past ten minutes and none of us can figure out how to turn it off. We were forced to take dramatic action.” Alex’s face twisted into a pleased grin.

“Well don’t pretend you didn’t enjoy it,” I grumbled. “And why, may I ask, is it so imperative I get to breakfast at such an early hour?”

“Not breakfast, mate, the sale,” Luke reminded me, lounging in his bed.

“Ah, bloody hell. I forgot about that.” I raked a hand through my hair. Monday morning could hardly get worse, but it just had. Spending hours with Nott and Kat. Shudder.

Eddie emerged from the loo, his dark hair dripping. “Come on, Junior, we gotta book it downstairs if we want to keep our organs firmly in our bodies.”

I groaned and flopped out of bed, landing in an uncomfortable pile on the floor. “I don’t want to.”

“I am aware you don’t want to.” Eddie ambled over and yanked me up. “Unfortunately, I don’t care. And neither does Nott. So go get in the shower. Now.”

“You sound like you’re turning into Minnie,” I muttered on my way to the shower. “Rather frightening, actually.”

~~~

Ten minutes later, Ed and I were staircase hopping, dodging first years on their way back from breakfast.

“If we’re late, he’s gonna have a hissy fit,” I yelled, trying to keep my voice at a normal pitch.

Eddie glanced at his watch and ran straight into a puny Hufflepuff. “Oh, I’m so sorry, excuse me! We’ve got a whole minute, run!”

We arrived, huffing and puffing, before our glowering Potions master, just as the front hall clock chimed eight.

“Hm, you’re here.” Nott’s voice sounded distinctly unhappy. No doubt he was disappointed we were on time, robbing him of the chance to give us more detention. Bloody git.

“And a good morning to you, too!” Eddie chirped, giving Nott a salute.

“None of your cheek this morning, Mr. Bryant,” Nott warned, turning and surveying the hall. “Miss Willoughby arrived early to set up.”

“Of course she did,” I muttered to myself.

“I will be downstairs in my office,” Nott continued, “but rest assured, if you try anything – and I mean anything – I will know. Is that understood?”

“Sir, yes, sir!” I exclaimed, giving him my best “I understand you completely” look.

His beady eyes got even smaller, if that’s possible. “Wonderful.” He whirled around and stomped off to the dungeon, black cloak sweeping along behind him.

“Glad we’re rid of him. What a Debbie Downer.” Eddie shook his head.

People were already beginning to filter in from the Great Hall, picking through tables of stuff. “I’m gonna go ask Kat what we can do. And hope she doesn’t bite my head off.”

Eddie gave me a wink. “Good luck, mate. And don’t forget, you’re trying to make up with her over that whole bet thing.”

I groaned. “Right. Thanks for the reminder.” And Monday morning gets even worse. I sauntered over to the long table where Kat stood, putting on my best “I’m really not a prat” smile. “Morning, Kat.” If she was going to call me by my last name, let her, but I was going in for the kill. That’s right. First names. What can I say, I’m just a daring guy.

“Morning, Potter.”

See what I mean about the last name? It just kills the vibe, really. “Thanks for coming down early and getting things set up.”

“No trouble.” She wasn’t looking at me.

LOOK ME IN THE EYE, KATHERINE WILLOUGHBY. Nope, still nothing. Mind control isn’t really my forte, I suppose. “So-” Pause. “Are you looking forward to-” I caught myself. I had just been about to ask if she was looking forward to Quidditch tryouts. How stupid can I get? That was how I got into trouble before. There was just something about this girl that made my brain freeze and my tongue go crazy.

“Looking forward to what?”

Well, at least she was looking at me now. Maybe like I had two heads. But still. It was something. “Erm.” I gulped. “The sale, I meant.”

Her dark brows rose skeptically, and she looked as if a derisive comment was on the tip of her tongue. “Oh. Yeah, I guess so.”

Thank Merlin, she took pity on me and my sad, sad inability to speak.

“Excuth me?” My eyes snapped over to a lisping Hufflepuff who stood pawing the lost and found articles.

The ingrained jerk in me wanted to snap “What do you want?” but the new, nice part of me I had only recently discovered reined me in. “How can I help you?”

“Um, may you pleath tell me how mucth thith cothts?” Her over-long teeth poked out over her bottom lip and her bright eyes looked up at me hopefully.

“Three sickels,” I replied, finding that I wasn’t even faking when I smiled down at her.

“Oh. Thankth.”

“No problem.” I turned back to face Kat. “You were saying?” There you go again, James! She wasn’t saying anything! She was pretending you weren’t an idiot for asking if she was looking forward to the sale!

“I was just saying, er-” Her eyes snapped away from my face and focused on something behind me.

I turned and glanced over my shoulder. “What is it?” It was Eddie. He had taken four of the Quaffles from the sports pile and was in the process of attempting to juggle them. “What the bloody hell is he doing?” I glanced over at the entrance to the Great Hall. “Oh. That’s what.”

DeAndra Wilkes was leaving the Great Hall, her book bag slung casually over her shoulder. She looked like a dream, as per usual. Explained Eddie’s suddenly deranged state, at least.

Kat was surveying the scene with a distasteful look, as if a fly had zoomed into her mouth and made a lodging there. Truth be told, I kind of agreed with the look. But as I watched Eddie make a fool of himself, I felt the gears begin to turn in my head. Something would have to be done to rid us of Schaffer and leave DeAndra open for the kill.

“He has a thing for her, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, he most certainly-” Wait just a second? Was that Kat who had just inquired of me whether or not Eddie liked DeAndra? What on earth was the wizarding world coming to? I whirled to face her, trying not to exclaim my shock in her face. “Does,” I finished, my tone calm.

To my surprise, not only did she not proclaim her disgust for love and romance, she smiled. Actually smiled! “I think they’d be great together.”

While part of me was tempted to holler, ‘who the bloody hell are you, and what have you done with Kat,’ the more reasonable part of me managed to squelch the urge and simply nod. “I think so, too.” And then, like a lightning bolt thwacking the Whomping Willow, it hit me. “Hey!”

“Hey what?” Kat replied, taking a Sickel from a midget 1st year.

Though I was shocked she played along properly with the ‘hey’ and ‘hey what’ exchange, I somehow was able to convey my idea. “Why don’t you help me?”

Her blue eyes took on a puzzled glaze. “Yes, I am helping you. Haven’t got much of a choice now, have I, since I was roped into your little scheme yesterday.”

“No, no! Not with this, although I’m quite pleased you’re helping with this, too.” Oh dear, where did that sappy nonsense come from? That stuff’s supposed to stay locked inside my head forever…

“Well then with what?”

Crash! I whirled around from the table to see as Eddie collapsed, juggled Quaffles and all, into a heap beneath a pile of ancient armor.

I could tell DeAndra was trying to stifle a full-out guffaw as she sprinted over to help him. My poor best mate jumped to his feet, face flaming red, trying to sort out the pile of metal and plastic around him.

I shook my head dejectedly and turned back to Kat, leaning against the front of the table with what I’d like to think was nonchalant grace. “I meant help me with my master plan. I want to get Eddie and DeAndra over there together.”

Kat’s eyes sparkled – literally sparkled! – and she nodded. “Sure, I’d love to. I guess I act disdainful, but I’ve honestly always wanted to be in on one of your little plans.”

My stomach twisted with joy at her words. “She could really do a lot better than that Schaffer prick, that’s for sure.”

The smile dropped from Kat’s face instantly and she turned away.

“What? What’d I say?”

“Hi there, can I help you with something?” Kat asked a Ravenclaw who was poking at a stack of ratty old shoes.

I threw my hands in the air and uttered a prolonged groan. “Come on, Kat! Are we going to do this all year? What the bloody hell is the matter now?”

She whirled on me, eyes sparkling with anger, rather than the pleasant, excited sparkling I had seen just moments earlier. Somehow the angry sparkling was just as beautiful as the happy kind, although I couldn’t help fearing for my life when I realized the anger was directed at me. “First of all, do not curse. There are little children around here,” she hissed.

“Done,” I replied quickly, crossing my heart to show my sincerity.

All I got for my trouble was an eye roll. “Second, how dare you call Schaff- someone a,” her voice lowered, “prick. Of all the rude, conceited, horrible things to say!”

I shrugged. “Okay so it wasn’t very polite of me, I’ll give you that. And I won’t swear anymore, I promise. My dad always says I shouldn’t curse in front of ladies, guess he was right.”

“That’s not the point, Potter.”

“What is the point then?” I spread my hands wide, giving her my best imploring look.

Rather than address my perfectly logical inquiry, however, she simply gave a pained groan and turned away.

“The silent treatment, really? We’re 7th years, Kat, alright? Let’s both grow up a little. It’s been seven bloo- I mean seven years of this! And I still have no idea why you hate me so much.” I scurried around the end of the table and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Don’t shut me out.”

For a second, I thought I had finally done it, finally broken through her crusty, ridiculous, obstinate exterior. Those wonderful blue eyes flicked up and met mine, with the most unguarded, open look I had ever seen.

But then she tore out of my grasp and the moment was gone. “Just leave me alone, Potter.”

“Fine. Okay, fine. That’s it, I’m done with this.” And I meant it, too.

I was done with Kat Willoughby and nothing – I repeat, nothing – was going to change that.



Author's Note: Oh dear. I hope you all don't hate me for abandoning this poor story for months. I won't bore you with the many reasons for said abandonment, but suffice it to say, I'm back! I can't promise quick updates, but I can promise that I'm not abandoning this story, and I have wonderful plans for its future. It would mean the world to me if you would leave a quick review, just so I know there are still people out there who want to read it. I love all of you who've been waiting for me to get my act together :)

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