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An Inauspicious Start

“Do you think seventh years can petition to switch houses?” I asked aloud, looking down at my schedule in dismay. The rest of the world blurred, until all I could see was three words written in emerald ink, spelling out my doom. All around me, I could hear similar complaints as students bemoaned the new school year.

Rose lifted up her head from the list of her own classes, grinning slightly. “Do you have double potions with Noble?”

I nodded dismally. “Yes, and if I kill myself this year then that’s why.”

“It won’t be that bad, Laura,” Rose promised, neatly folding up the parchment and slipping it into her bag. Knowing her, she’d already memorized the schedule.

“That’s because you’re good at potions,” I moaned. “At least when Slughorn was teaching, he would ignore some of my ineptitude, but he had to go and retire.” The old man’s need for bribery might have been hard to tolerate, but I would have given him a house of crystallized pineapple if he could help me pass the potions NEWT.

Rose snorted and took a piece of toast off her plate. It was heaped with jam and butter that looked in danger of falling off the bread. “He was over a hundred. Even if he was genius at potions, his vision was going. No one mixes up unicorn horn and lacewings unless they’re blind.”

“But Noble?” I whinged at the choice of replacement. “It would be bad enough if we didn’t have her class with the Gryffindors.”

“I don’t mind them,” Rose said, absently eating her toast. I watched with fascination, because somehow, she wasn’t covered in jam yet. “It’s just Albus I can’t stand.”

I had to agree. Al Potter was without a doubt the most infuriating boy in seventh year. It didn’t matter that his father was famous, or that he was Rose’s cousin, that just made it worse because all the professors tolerated his madness. He also happened to be intelligent, so we had too many classes together.

“Why did Noble have to transfer?” I asked bleakly. “Why couldn’t she have stuck with Transfiguration? At least I’m good at that. At least she didn’t have that many reasons to humiliate me then...” I trailed off, not willing to continue as I contemplated how unbearable potions would be. Professor Viviane Noble was the most multitalented women I’d ever met. Not only was she qualified to teach four subjects at Hogwarts and had the highest percentage students passing the NEWTs since McGonagall but she had her own line of robes at Madame Malkins. And she hated me. She took every chance possible to humiliate me and remind me of my own ineptitude compared to her academic and social perfection.

“Enough,” Rose stood up, having finally finished the precarious piece of toast. “Switching houses won’t keep you out of Noble’s class. Now stop feeling sorry for yourself and come to class. I want to get there early so I can talk to Professor Callisto about the summer assignment. I read one of Mum’s old books and it seems to contradict what Newton says about prime numbers.”

It was at times like these when I wished that I wasn’t best friends with Hermione Weasley’s daughter. I may have been a Ravenclaw, but I had to cringe at Rose’s level of devotion to school. If I didn’t know that her family had vacationed in France with the Potters over the summer, I would have guessed that she had spent the summer reading all this year’s textbooks.

But, since I was her friend, and I had a fair amount of insanity of my own, I picked up my bag, heavy with books, and hurried after her, following her bushy red hair through the sea of students.

Arithmancy with Callisto was decent. Despite our early arrival to class, it seemed like the shortest one of the day. I was fond of the small, unassuming Professor, who never talked down to our tiny NEWT class. She, thankfully, spared us the lecture of how important this year was to our future, but she did assign a twenty inch essay without so much as a bat  of an eye.

After Arithmancy, things only got worse. In Charms, the lecture we received about the difficulty of the class made me think twice about signing up for it. I had done decently on the OWL, but it was obvious that NEWT Charms was much more difficult. To get a high mark would require an obscene amount of studying and practicing. Joy.

Though I had expected it, Potions was by far the worst. Professor Noble didn’t let us sit at first, keeping us standing along the damp stone walls as she called role and assigned partners to the pewter cauldrons arranged around the room.

 Even in the Dungeons, the Slytherin Head of House looked pretty. While the greenish light made me look seasick, it somehow flattered her blonde hair and tanned skin. That was another thing I hated about Noble: the boys all drooled after her. I had seen Lorcan Scamander turn his brother Lysander, instead of the intended pincushion, into a hedgehog once because he was so busy staring at Noble. It was disgusting.

“Burke, Laura,” the professor called in her high voice—no doubt perfectly pitched for singing—and gave me a cruel smile.

“Here,” I said quietly. I had meant to speak louder but the word caught in my throat, which had grown dry from the harsh smell of bile that came from some flasks in the corner.

Noble glanced around in mock confusion. “Did Miss Burke decide to drop potions?” she asked innocently, despite having smiled at me a moment before.

“I’m here!” I shouted, this time too loud. My voice echoed off the cavernous walls, and sounded harsh in my ears. Compared to Noble’s angelic voice, I sounded like a shrieking Banshee with a head cold.

“Well then Miss Burke, why don’t you take that seat near the front. Then you won’t feel compelled to yell everything across the room when you wish to talk to me.” Giggles ran through the class and I felt myself blushing in fury. Already any fleeting hopes that she was going to take this year as a fresh start between us vanished.

I was, however, determined not to show her how furious I was, so I gritted my teeth to prevent a retort and stalked to the seat. Not only was it farthest from the storerooms, but it was also near enough to Noble that she could taunt my every mistake without even leaving her desk.

Noble continued down the list of students, pausing to humiliate a few others as well. I had thought that my presence would spare the others of her wrath but the Slytherin professor had a particular dislike for Gryffindors. In fact, she seemed to be trying to make the whole class as miserable as possible, placing friends far apart and enemies close together. I wondered if she was trying to instigate some sort of rebellion when she placed two of Dominique Weasley’s ex-boyfriends together.

As the number of students standing against the cold, stone walls decreased, I felt dread in the pit of my stomach. I was sure that I would be paired with Al Potter. He might have been Rose’s cousin, but all he shared with her were a few manic tendencies. He wasn’t quite attractive, but his heritage and his charisma made up for that. He and his mates fancied themselves the next generation of Marauders; the New Marauders, they called themselves. Such a creative name. And they had set out to become the most conspicuous set of troublemakers at Hogwarts since Fred and George Weasley. The thing was it was really only attention they sought. Their few pranks had been childish and simple to plan. I rather thought that the only reason they bothered with such nonsense was so that they had a reputation.

“Rao, Neel,” Noble called, and I jumped in my seat, banging my knee painfully against the desk.  That was it, Potter was next alphabetically and with only a few others left, most of them his relatives or friends, I would be the obvious choice for a partner.

But then the professor did something unexpected. “Go sit with Miss Burke,” she directed to Neel Rao.

I blinked in confusion, my eyes still smarting from the pain of hitting the desk. I wasn’t partners with Al? Had Noble gone soft? I didn’t know much about Rao, other than that he was a Gryffindor and not a New Marauder. He was probably the worst student, knowing Noble, but he looked somewhat intelligent, so I had hope. He was, after all, in NEWT level potions. Unless Rao’s parents were seriously famous, Slughorn wouldn’t have promoted an idiot to the NEWT levels.

“Hello,” Rao said as he took a seat beside me.

I nodded, and moved my bag off the table so it wouldn’t be in his way. It also gave me a chance to examine him. He was Indian, with short dark hair, dark eyes, and the scruffy sort of beard that boys tended to grow, just to show that they could.   Surprisingly, he didn’t have the arrogant set to his eyes that most Gryffindor boys did. In fact, he had an alarmingly friendly grin on his lips. I gave a little half smile that didn’t show my teeth. I wasn’t about to give him any ideas that we were going to be friends before I knew what he was like.

As Noble called the last of the names, I looked away from my partner quickly to watch. “Weasley, Rose,” was last and with horror, I saw that she was paired with Albus. Noble undoubtedly knew of the dislike between the cousins. Poor Rosie! She would be miserable, and now I would have to listen to all of her complaining.

“Now that we’ve sorted that out, turn to page one and prepare a Restorative Draught,” Noble ordered, before sitting down at her desk.

I glanced at Rose, across the room, trying to catch her eye, but she was already staring into her book, apparently trying to get a head start. With Al as her partner, she would need all the help she could get.

“Poor thing,” I muttered sympathetically, as a dug around in my bag for the book.

“Who?” Rao asked me.

I gestured over to where Rose sat. “My friend has to work with her cousin,” I explained. “She can’t stand him.” Rose’s dislike of Albus wasn’t news, so, I figured that I could be spared an “Al-Potter-is-God-how-dare-you-insult-him” lecture from this Gryffindor.

“I wouldn’t mind working with my cousin,” my partner said, surprisingly not even questioning Rose’s situation and sounding a bit bitter. Wonderful. I was stuck with someone who resented me about as much as I him.

“Who’s that?”

He pointed to a tiny, birdlike girl in the corner who was paired with Lorcan Scamander. I knew her, of course, but had had no idea she was related to Rao. “Shreya,” he said.

Shreya didn’t look much like her cousin; she had long curly hair and paler skin and was much shorter, but I supposed I could see the resemblance. Al hardly looked like the red-headed Rose, after all, with his nearly black hair.

Looking around, I noticed that most of the other groups had their cauldrons bubbling and started to read the recipe in the book with horror. The first one in a book was normally the easiest and this was a monster! “It says we need an hour to simmer!” I glanced at the clock. “We have maybe ten minutes to get the ingredients.”

“Not started yet, Mr. Rao, Miss Burke?” Noble appeared with her typically awful timing, and shook her head over us with mock sadness. “There isn’t time to waste chatting.” I wanted to slap that smirk off her face.

“We were hardly,” I began, before stopping myself.

“Of course you’re right, Professor,” Rao said, in a placating voice. “We’ll get working right away.”

As soon as she was gone, I groaned. “Don’t tell me you’re the type that thinks Viviane Noble is Merlin’s gift to Hogwarts males, Mr. Rao.”

“Neel,” he corrected, smiling a little. “And no.”

“Good,” I said. “Because I would have hit you had you said yes.”

By the end of the day, as I trudged up to the Common Room, Rose at my side, I was wondering if I really wanted to become a Healer after all. If I had only chosen an easier prospective profession, I wouldn’t be forced to take potions or many of my other classes for that matter.  Despite our best efforts, Neel and I hadn’t been able to finish the Restorative Draught on time, leaving me with what was bound to be my first failing grade of many. To add insult to poor marks, Noble had paraded our cauldron of sickly purple bile around as the example of what not to do, causing the few successful students to laugh and the fellow failures to cringe.

When I told Rose about my doubts about my potential career, she only scoffed. “I know how much you want to be a Healer, Laura. Don’t let Potions get to you. And if it helps, remember that you could have to work with Al Potter.”

She had a point at that.

After only a few hours of studying, we headed up to our dormitory, which we shared with three other seventh years. It was at the top of the tower, but by now, I was used to the stairs. I smiled nostalgically as I walked inside. It was my last first night at school ever. The dormitory had been home for six years, and now its features were as familiar as those in my own room at home. There were high ceilings and huge breezy curtains around the windows. The wall hangings were cheerfully blue and hung tastefully from bronze frames. The massive four poster beds were as inviting as always and surrounded by white curtains that matched those on the windows. The whole effect was beautiful and offered a calming respite from the stresses of schoolwork.

It was early to be going to sleep, but Rose and I had wanted to come up before any of the others girls arrived. Ever since second year, we had traditionally discussed, planned and foretold any romances in the coming year on the first night back. It had started out as a salacious joke but now, as we were older, was more serious. We had never accurately predicted a romance, but they seemed more possible than when we were third years gaping at seventh year blokes.

“So,” I began, sitting cross-legged across from Rose on her bed. “Who do you fancy?”

She laughed at my bluntness. “No one, isn’t that the purpose of this all? To find us some lads?”

“True,” I said, grabbing a brush from the table and beginning to work the knots out of my brown hair. “So, any suggestions for me then? Who should I fancy this year?”

Rose thought for a moment, twirling a reddish curl around a finger. “What about one of the Scamander twins?”

I made a face, thinking of the two Hufflepuffs. “Which one?”


“Do you think that I should really date a boy who wears hot pink fingerless gloves around Hogwarts?” Lysander was the stranger of the twins. He was nearly always silent, but had a rather flamboyant way of dressing.

“Lorcan, then,” Rose giggled.

“Only slightly better.”

Rose pondered some more. “What do you think of younger men?”

I made a face at that. “How young are we talking about, because anyone less than a sixth year is too young.”

“Louis’s a fifth year,” Rose said indignantly. “And he’s my favourite cousin.”

“And part Veela,” I couldn’t help but add. “I’m glad you think I could date your favourite cousin, but no.”

A grin crept onto Rose’s lips. “There’s always Jeffrey.”                                          

I shook my head vehemently. “Not my cousin!”

“Second cousin,” Rose said dismissively. “And besides, not only does he play Quidditch, but he’s also fit.”

“You want him, go ahead,” I told her. I wasn't particularly fond of him, but could see why most girls found him attractive. “But Gran would have my head if she found out I was talking about Jeff like this.”

Rose flopped down on the bed. “You make this so difficult, Laura,” she said. “He’s too crazy, you say. Too gay, too straight, too young, too related. Why don’t you relax a little bit and indulge me. It’s not every day you let me play match maker.”

“You’ve had your time,” I told her. “Why don’t you let me know who you fancy, or despise, so we can get you a boyfriend.”

To my surprise, Rose blushed suddenly, her cheeks growing splotchy and red. Though she had answered the same question breezily before, I had caught her off guard this time.

“Who?” I asked eagerly, unable to imagine that Rose had kept this secret from me at all.

“Who what?”

I rolled my eyes. Rose was too smart a girl to pretend to be dense. “You know perfectly well who. Who’s the lucky bloke you fancy?”

Rose turned her head into a pillow and muttered something that sounded like, “Shmupus.”


She pulled the pillow away and I could see that she was blushing more now. “Scorpius.”

My jaw dropped open.“Malfoy? Scorpius Malfoy? The blond one? The one your father despises?” I paused to catch my breath. “We are talking about the same boy, right?” I had been expecting someone tame, like maybe one of the Scamanders or that Finnegan boy, but him

Rose nodded slowly. “I mean, he doesn’t know I exist, probably. And Dad would be furious if he found out, but yeah.”

“Oh Rosie!” I cried. “Your first real romantic drama. You’re growing up so fast!”

She shot me a look full of daggers. “You had better not tell a soul.”

“Oh I don’t know,” I began, grinning evilly. “I think I could find a few people who might be very interested to know such a thing. Hugo, Albus, Molly...”

Rose had her wand pointed at me so fast that I nearly fell off the bed trying to scramble away. “Laura Burke,” she began in a low, dangerous voice. “If you even so much as hint to any of my relatives about what I just told you, I will hex your face—”

“Stop,” I said, giggling. “I wouldn’t tell, you know that!”

“I do now.” Sometimes Rosie had no sense of humour.

I wanted to keep pestering Rose, but I figured that with her wand still pointed at me, I was in no place to tease. Rose’s temper was that of her father’s, hot and quick. “So, I’m sorry you’re potions partners with Al,” I said, lamely changing the subject.

Rose cursed loudly. “Did you have to remind me?”

I shrugged, it was better than her threatening to hex me. “I was so sure that Noble was going to pair me with him.”

“Who’d you end up with again?”

“Neel Rao,” I said, watching Rose’s expression to see if she reacted at all. “What do you know about him?” If there were gossip to be known about this Gryffindor, Rose would know. Practically her whole family was in Gryffindor.

She nodded slowly. “Right, he’s Pavarti Patil’s son. And he has that annoying little mouse of a cousin, Shreya Ayala. She’s Padma’s girl.”

“Who are the Patils?” I asked, curious.

“They were twins, the same age as my mum and dad. I think that Dad and Uncle Harry took them to the Yule Ball.” She made a face at that prospect.

That was interesting to know. So these two women would have fought in the Battle of Hogwarts. Compared, to Rose, I knew who nobody’s parents were. My gran and granddad were too old to know any of them. And it wasn’t like my mother would be sharing much of anything with me either. And even then, she was a few years younger than Rose’s parents.

The name “Patil” sounded vaguely familiar, the more I thought of it, but I supposed that it was because there were some other students named that as well. Perhaps the twin girls had had a brother or something. My mind drifted off, trying to picture who the Patil might be, but I couldn’t place them. Maybe it was just a common wizarding name.

“This is boring,” I claimed at last, after we had been silent for a few minutes. “Will you at least tell me how long you’ve fancied Malfoy? And why I haven’t heard about this before?” What were best friends for if not for talking about boys?

Rose was blushing again. “Over the summer,” she whispered. “We were staying in the same village in France. Of course, Dad was furious about it. But I saw him around a lot. And he was so nice.”

I was gaping again. “Nice? He’s a Slytherin. They’re supposed to be cunning and manipulative and all that.”

“But he wasn’t,” Rose protested. “Laura, you wouldn’t believe it. He even came to Mum and apologized for how his father was antagonizing Dad.”

I found that hard to believe. The Scorpius I knew was an arrogant blond bloke. He wasn’t as bad as Al Potter, per say, but he was the old kind of rich that were privileged and knew it. I thought that he was the worst possible choice for someone as sweet and smart as Rose, but I knew better than to say so. “Did he? How sweet!” I said in a saccharine voice. “And then did he kiss your hand when he greeted you?”

“Stop!” Rose insisted, her skin darkening to an unattractive shade of red. “I said we didn’t talk. Stop being such a pig, Laura!”

I bit my lip to keep from snorting. “Someone’s got it bad,” I teased.

At that moment, another girl waltzed in through the doors, throwing her bag down on the bed. “Who is it, Rose?” Ella Tseng asked.

Ella was tall and athletic, a member of the Quidditch team. She was smart for Hogwarts as a whole but not smart for a Ravenclaw. To the shock of the Head of House, she was taking fewer NEWTs than most of us, instead hoping to get recruited to be a Chaser in some professional Quidditch league.

“No one,” Rose said, sending me another killing look. “Laura’s just fabricating things.”

I would have retorted, but I knew that Rose had gossip about me as well that I did not want anyone to know. “Hi, Ella. Hope you had a good summer.” I said instead, hoping she wouldn’t press Rose as I had. “You’re lucky you’re not taking potions this year. I think it’ll be the death of me.” School was always a guaranteed conversation starter with Ravenclaws. For all that we were clever and were supposed to adore school, we liked nothing better than complaining about classes.

“That bad?” Ella laughed, lounging on the bed. With her long legs stretched out in front of her, she took up most of the length of the bed.

I nodded. “I think I’m going to fail.” Especially since the first day had been anything but a success.

Ella scoffed. “You? Fail a class?”

I began to retell what had happened in potions, beginning with Noble’s cruel partnering and ending with my failed potion and horrible mark. “Like, I said, it’s a disaster already.”

“You could get a tutor, you know,” Ella suggested after a moment’s thought. “That’s how my Gryffindor brother got through Charms. And now he works for the Ministry.”

I looked at Rose, aghast. Her horrified expression matched my own. “Ella,” I said, shuddering at the very idea, “Ravenclaws do not get tutors.”

If you've read this far, thank you!  I appreciate you reading some of the insanity that is Failure.  Things will only get crazier (and hopefully better) from here on out.

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