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Chapter Six: Potions Partners

It sounds melodramatic, but going running with Scorpius really, seriously makes me want to kill myself. Or at least kill him. After pathetically jogging halfway round the lake my face was bright red and dripping with sweat. The back of my T-shirt was damp and my hair was sticking to my forehead.

I flopped onto the ground and rested my forehead on the frosty grass, welcoming the cold. Scor kept running. Because he’s evil.

I lay still, slowly letting my ragged breathing slow back down. I was wearing black leggings and one of Cassie’s loose white T-shirts, and as I caught my breath I started to realise how cold it was. I shakily got to my feet and bent forwards to touch the ground, stretching my legs and cursing Scorpius before promptly sitting back down again. Moving felt like far too much effort.

After an unreasonably long time, Scor turned up again, having run around the whole lake since I’d given up. I don’t know how he does it. He says I lack sticking power but the lake is enormous. The boy’s a machine.

“I despise you,” I told him, burying my head back down into the grass.

Scor dropped down beside me and propped himself up on his elbows. He’d run three times the distance I had and was hardly even out of breath.

“Come on, lazus. I want breakfast,” he said, prodding my ribs.

I rolled over and glared at him. He grinned childishly and then picked me up, draping me over one of his shoulders.

“What are you doing? Put me down,” I whined, talking to his lower back where my head had ended up.

“I’m hungry,” Scor said, starting to jog back towards the castle without putting me down. “I didn’t want to have to wait for you to regain leg usage before we could eat.”

“You’re my least favourite human,” I told him.

He ignored me.

When we arrived back at the castle, Scor dropped me back on my feet and pushed me towards the Great Hall. I groaned and leaned back on him.

“Are you serious? You’re still not going to walk?” Scor sounded exasperated. “We’re about twelve feet away from delicious sausages and toast.”

“This is your fault,” I said. “You know what happens when you make me go running.”

He rolled his eyes and put one arm around me, propelling me through the doors into the Great Hall. I flopped my head back onto his shoulder and let him put in all the effort.

We sat down at Slytherin table and I immediately poured myself a large mug of coffee.

“Olivia, you look awful,” Titania Urquhart said, raising one perfectly shaped eyebrow. She was drinking green tea with a slice of lemon and didn’t look at all impressed by my entrance into the Hall.

“Well, someone made me go for a run and didn’t give me enough time to shower afterwards,” I said, elbowing Scor and taking a sausage from his plate.

Scor shrugged. “It’s for the good of the team.”

I took another one of his sausages.

Scor glared at me. “There’s an enormous plate of sausages literally right in front of you. Do you really have to take mine?”

“Yes.” I beamed.

Scor rolled his eyes and refilled his own plate. I helped myself to a piece of his toast.

“What do we have first today?” I asked Titania. “I left my timetable in the dorm.”

“Potions,” she said, pulling down one tightly woven curl of hair and watching Scorpius even though she was speaking to me. “You probably want to go and get dressed. Slughorn doesn’t like latecomers.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I yawned.

I took another piece of toast from Scor and ambled back to the Common Room, where a few late risers were still sitting, bathed in the eerie green light from the lake.

After the war there was talk of moving our Common Room. The theory goes that seven years living under the lake may have been a contributing factor towards the anger lots of Slytherins felt with magical society. But then all the other potential Common Rooms they considered protested and disappeared as soon as they were suggested. The castle apparently doesn’t like change, so us snakes have been left shivering down in the damp and the dark. Cass says it’s a bonding experience.

The dormitory was almost empty. Emilia Belby sat staring into space on the edge of her bed and didn’t acknowledge me. She wasn’t wearing any makeup and her hair was lank and unwashed. Titania and Alani were right: she was stranger than she’d been before this year. She was always quiet, but now there was something a little bit creepy about her.

I rummaged in my trunk for my robes, having not unpacked properly the night before, and then changed quickly without bothering to shower. I pointed a quick hygiene charm at myself instead of washing properly. I really can’t understand how anyone lives without magic.

It took me a little while to find my potions textbook, but I eventually dug it out from under Cassie’s bed where it was buried under metallic stilettos and empty packets of fake cigarettes from Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes.

I left the room, trying not to look at the collage of photographs above Cassie’s headboard that only made her absence harder to ignore.

I was late and had to run the last bit of the way to the dungeons, which shouldn’t have been hard but made my legs burn after the morning’s run.

When I reached the classroom I took my usual seat behind Scorpius and Kai. Cassie’s chair beside me remained unfilled and I quickly unpacked my things, resigned to spending the lesson working alone.

I like Potions. It feels a bit like painting, blending together different components until they form something new and special. I worked slowly on the Silencing Solution Slughorn had asked us to make, chopping ingredients into uniform cubes and keeping the flame the exact shade of indigo the textbook required.

The room was a hubbub of low chatter but I tried to ignore the noise. I had twice as much work as everyone else because I didn’t have a partner, and I didn’t want my predicted NEWT grade to drop just because Cassie was late back to school.

In front of me, Scorpius and Kai were chucking approximate quantities of various ingredients into their potion and looking apprehensively and the thick cloud of black smoke belching out of their cauldron. Scor’s usually extremely methodical in his school work but he’s never had much patience with Potions. Kai just delights in the chaos and relishes the opportunity to make a mess. The smoke made my eyes water.

“Albus, my lad, what’s going on here then?” Slughorn’s booming voice made my focus waver and I looked across the room.

Albus Potter was in his usual seat at the front of the room, next to Lavinia Buchanan. He was shaking with anger, or possibly distress, fists clenched at his desk. Buchanan had tears in her eyes.

“Come on now, my boy. You two are my best Potioneers! We can’t have this lovers’ spat getting in the way of your work.”

Slughorn patted baby Potter’s shoulder with a meaty hand.

I frowned. My potions are nearly always the best in the class after Rose Weasley’s. Professor Clearwater, our usual teacher, always recognises this and offers me extra tutorials outside timetabled lessons. But when Slughorn took over to cover her maternity leave he immediately declared that Potter must have inherited his father’s ‘natural, outstanding skill’, and he never bothered paying any attention to the rest of us.

“I’m sorry, Horace,” Potter said with a grimace.

The whole Potter/Weasley clan are on first name terms with most of the teachers. The kids usually have the decency to pretend this isn’t the case, at least during class, but Slughorn has insisted that ‘Professor’ is too formal. I suppose I can’t blame Potter for having famous parents who invite their old teachers round for dinner, but I can’t help but find it a little bit sickening.

“I don’t think I can work with her,” Potter continued quietly. He still looked furious.

I could see Slughorn’s mood brighten at the prospect of showing Potter what a good friend he was and helping him through a difficult time. His bulging eyes flickered around the room and rested on me. He smacked his lips together in a satisfied smirk and turned back to Potter.

“Well, m’boy, we can’t have you feeling like that,” he said. “There’s a spare seat over next to Miss Bell. Why don’t you move your things over there, hmm? Can’t have your girl trouble interfering with your talent, now, can we?”

Slughorn laughed loudly and shook his head, chuckling to himself.

Potter nodded and knocked his chair over as he clambered to his feet. He slammed his books onto the desk beside me and sat down. A copy of ‘Witch Weekly’ was visible beneath his textbook. The cover picture was a large photograph of Potter anxiously rubbing a lipstick smear from his cheek, below the headline ‘Harry’s Son - Heartthrob or Harlot?’. I snorted with laughter and hurriedly tried to hide the sound beneath a cough.

A few minutes later, the class had settled back into work, realising that the drama was over. Potter and I didn’t talk but managed to fall into an easy rhythm of working that helped the potion come together more quickly than I could have managed by myself. Potter stirred while I chopped and added ingredients.

I’d never admit it to her, but Potter’s a much better partner than Cass, who brings havoc in with her as soon as she enters a room.

I was carefully adding banshee hair, the final ingredient, when Scor leaned his head back onto our desk and grinned up at me.

“Alright, Ollie?” He’d obviously given up on his own potion, which was now making sneezing noises while Kai poked it hopefully with his wand.

“Mmhmm.” I was concentrating on adding precisely three hairs at once at the right intervals while Potter stirred.

“Recovered from the run?”

“Not even slightly,” I said with a smile, adding the last three hairs.

“Potions going okay with this idiot as your new partner?” He sneered.

“Nearly done.” I prodded his forehead with a quill, leaving a black spot above his very blonde eyebrow. “Go away. I’m worried that your Potions ineptitude might be contagious.”

Scor laughed and rocked his chair on its back legs, leaning further back to give me a wide, innocent grin before turning to Potter.

“Honestly, Potter,” he yawned. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. So she finally realised your surname’s the only thing you’ve got going for you…”

Potter’s jaw clenched and his stirring sped up. The potion bubbled ominously around his spoon. I frowned at him but chose not to say anything.

“Really,” Scor continued. “I’m just surprised it took her so long. Everyone else already knew you didn’t measure up to your parents.”

Potter took a deep breath and stirred more quickly, clearly unwilling to give Scorpius the satisfaction of getting a reaction.

“It’s not like you can really blame her,” Scor said with a lazy grin. “She wasted a hell of a lot of time going out with you. She might as well get some money for it.”

“Potter,” I said sharply. “It’s dangerous to over-mix it now the banshee hair’s gone in.”

Potter didn’t seem to even hear me, and definitely didn’t slow down his stirring. I reached a hand out towards the spoon.

Scor gave a cruel laugh, obviously enjoying the effect he was having.

“Maybe she’ll start talking about your sex life next,” he cackled. “I mean, I doubt there’s much to tell, but anything with the Potter name on it sells well in the press.”

“Stop it, Scor,” I snapped. “It’s not funny anymore. Potter, seriously, stop stirring…”

There was an air-shattering bang and then an awful wail began to sound from our cauldron. The whole class had covered their ears within seconds, including Professor Slughorn at the front. The look on Potter’s face suggested that he hadn’t had any idea that this was something that could happen. So much for Slughorn’s insistence that he has ‘natural, outstanding skill’.

I forced myself to remove one trembling hand from my ear to lift my wand, murmuring ‘Silencio’ again and again, but nothing happened. Potter noticed what I was doing and lifted his own hand to grab mine and force it back to my ear, presumably worried that I was going to deafen myself.

I watched the cauldron in horror, the screeching building up and driving through my whole body until my ears and my whole head were ringing even with both hands pressed tightly over my ears, and then the whole thing shattered, leaving Potter and I covered in a sticky purple potion, and the wailing stopped.

Slughorn slowly lumbered through the mess towards us.

“Oh ho,” he chuckled. “Miss Bell has kindly demonstrated to the class the dangers of over-mixing potions containing banshee hair.”

I glared at Potter through the purple stickiness caught in my eyelashes. Of course Slughorn would assume this was my mistake.

“I’m sorry to say it’ll be zero marks for you both today. I can’t give anything more without a potion to see. And I think an essay from you both on the risks of working with banshee hair,” Slughorn said, fingering his moustache with one hand. “Don’t worry, Albus. I’ll write to your dad and let him know this isn’t reflective of your overall performance. I haven’t heard from him in a while so it’s about time I set him a note anyway.”

Potter murmured a thank you but his scowl implied he wasn’t particularly grateful for the offer.

The bell rang and Slughorn jumped and turned to dismiss the class.

Potter looked at me. “Bell, I’m so sorry.”

“I told you to stop stirring,” I said flatly, looking down sadly at my robes.

Potter flicked his wand and the gooey mess vanished from both our clothes.

“I know. It’s completely my fault. I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “I mean, well, I clearly wasn’t thinking. I’ll buy you a new cauldron.”

“Forget it,” I said, clearing the mess of exploded cauldron and potion on the floor with a sweep of my wand and turning to leave the room.

“One moment, Miss Bell,” Slughorn called across the room. “I’d like a quick word.”

I sighed a shot Potter a venomous glare, but I picked up my books and resignedly made my way to the front of the room to speak to Slughorn. To my surprise, Potter followed me.

Slughorn plonked himself down into the velvet armchair behind his desk to look at me with a patronising smile that made me want to be sick.

“It wasn’t Bell’s fault, Horace,” Potter said, shuffling from foot to foot beside me. “The potion was perfect until I messed it up right at the end, and she kept telling me to stop stirring. She deserves a high mark. It should be me who’s in trouble.”

I was surprised. I hadn’t expected him to bother sticking up for me. If our situations had been reversed, I definitely wouldn’t have seen the point in speaking on his behalf.

“Always so honourable, taking the fall for your friends,” Slughorn said with a proud smile. “Your father was exactly the same. I’m sure if it was your mistake it was an accident, Albus. No harm done.”

“Oh. Right. Thanks,” Potter said. “We should get going, then. We could use our free period to make a start on that essay.”

“That’s m’boy,” Slughorn said. “But I do still need to speak to Miss Bell about something else. Run along now, Albus. Make sure to drop by for tea after school some time this week.”

“Will do,” Potter said, looking unhappy about the offer. “See you later, Bell.”

Slughorn waited for him to leave the room before twirling his moustache and looking back at me.

“Now, Miss Bell. I trust that you had a good christmas?”

“It was okay,” I muttered, hoping he’d let me go soon.

“Good to see your parents? I taught them both when they were here, of course. Both lovely students, both in my House, although I would never have imagined they’d end up married!”

He didn’t wait for me to answer.

“I wanted to ask you about Miss Selwyn.”

“About Cass? Why?”

Slughorn reached a pudgy hand across his desk and took a piece of crystallised pineapple from a large purple box in front of him, dropping it down onto his tongue and groaning with pleasure. He didn’t speak again until he’d swallowed it. It was a revolting sight.

“As your Head of House, I am responsible for the wellbeing of Slytherin students. Miss Selwyn has not yet returned to school and has not given us any reason for her absence. I’m aware of your close friendship and wondered if you knew where she might be?” Slughorn asked, licking the sugar off his lips between each word.

“I’m not sure,” I said hesitantly.

“Now, now,” he said with what he obviously thought was a kind smile. “Don’t be worried about telling us. You’re only doing it to look after her. We’ve been in touch with her mother and she doesn’t seem to know where she might be. It’s very important that we know her whereabouts so we can make sure she’s safe.”

“I really don’t know,” I confessed. “She doesn’t live with her mum, though. You could ask her brother Andreas. He might know.”

“Ah yes, I remember Andreas. He was one of my favourites during his time here,” Slughorn said conspiratorially. “I’ll drop him a line.”

He looked like he was waiting for a reply from me but I didn’t have anything to say. I just stood there quietly and waited to be dismissed.

“Miss Selwyn is still underage,” Slughorn eventually continued. “So it really is in her best interest for us to know where she is. If you do have any information about her you really do need to tell us. If we don’t find her soon it’ll have to be submitted as a missing persons case, which is a very serious business. Can you think of any reason she might not have returned to school?”

“I really don’t know, Sir,” I said, chewing my lip. “I wrote to her to ask where she was but she didn’t reply.”

“I see,” Slughorn said slowly. “Well, do let us know if you hear from her. She’s an asset to Slytherin house.”

“I will,” I said, knowing full well that if Cass didn’t want to come back to Hogwarts there was no way I’d be part of making her.

“Now,” Slughorn continued. “There is also the matter of Miss Selwyn’s prefect duties. Until she returns, I think it’s best if you take over from her.”

I frowned. “Me? Is that a joke?”

Slughorn laughed loudly. “No, Miss Bell. It is not a joke. There’s a meeting with the Head Boy and Head Girl this evening in the prefect common room. They’ll be able to explain your duties.”

“But...why would you want me to do it?”

“I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t,” Slughorn said. “Your grades might not be as high as Miss Selwyn and Miss Montague’s, but your marks in Potions and Charms are consistently good and you’re a valuable member of the House Quidditch team. I think you’ll perform admirably in this role.

“Do I have to?” I wrinkled my nose, thinking of what Scor would say. We’d always laughed at Cassie for being made prefect.

“Yes, I rather think you do,” Slughorn said, smiling. He had icing sugar from his crystallised pineapple caught in the whiskery hairs of his moustache. It made me feel a bit sick.

“Okay. So…there’s a meeting tonight?”

“Yes, in the prefect Common Room. If you don’t know where to find it, ask one of the other prefects. Albus will be able to show you. Him and Rose are the Gryffindor sixth year prefects. Or Mr Montague from your own House.” Slughorn reached for another piece of pineapple and I could see he was waiting for me to leave.

“Right. Okay. Thanks, Professor,” I said, unsure what I was thanking him for. I didn’t want to be a prefect, and I was still annoyed with him for blaming me for the exploding potion.

He continued to eat crystallised pineapple without looking at me and it was very clear that I was dismissed.

Dear Cassie,

Not going to reply to my very thoughtful and loving letter? That’s fine. Not like I wanted to hear from you anyway…

Seriously Cass, where are you? Are you coming back? I know it’s only really been a day, but it doesn’t feel right being here without you.

I had to work with Smaller Potter in Potions today. Do you feel guilty about leaving me here yet? No? That’s alright, I know guilt’s something you try not to associate with yourself…but he did explode my new cauldron and got me zero marks for the lesson.

Please come back soon. I need my Potions partner and best friend back! Plus Sluggy’s making me take over your prefect duties while you’re not here. I can pretty much hear you laughing at me. Stop it.

He asked where you were. Sluggy, I mean. I think the teachers might be worried. I’m not worried…yet…but it would be good to hear from you just to know that you’re okay.

Anyway, I have to go to Charms now so I can’t make this a long letter. That doesn’t mean I’m not expecting a proper reply!

Miss you and love you,

Ollie xxxx

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