.:continued from above post:.
“This is bloody pointless,” announced Michael, startling all of them. His hair fell in his eyes again and he rubbed it away with an impatient motion. “Whatever the bloody hell smell she’s got on, it’s bloody nauseating. I’m going to bed.”
“What’s wrong with you?” scoffed Anthony. “Got your period or something?”
Michael’s eyes narrowed to slits. Stephen made to say something but before he completed the articulation, Michael had turned around in a flurry of robes and slammed his way into the dormitory.
“Bet he’s just pissy because Hannah broke it off with him,” said Anthony, not bothering to lower his voice. Several faces in the common room turned to regard him in curiosity. At this, Stephen frowned and made shushing movements with his hands. Anthony rolled his eyes. He did it so often it was a wonder they didn’t rotate right out of their sockets.
When everyone else had lost interest -- and, given that they were Ravenclaws in a common room well-stocked with books, it didn’t take long -- Stephen leaned across to Anthony.
Terry had little to no interest in his classmates’ turbulent love-lives, but he was well and truly wedged into the corner of the sofa. Moving would create quite the disturbance. Besides, it was ten o’clock; Padma wouldn’t be back from patrolling for a while. Terry had finished his homework and for once had no extra study to be getting on with. There was nowhere else to go except into a dormitory with Michael, who was acting like a bear with a sore head, a hangover and veruccas tonight. Terry could think of more appealing alternatives -- such as a yurt in the Andes.
“If you can manage to say it without broadcasting it to Timbuktu -- what happened with Michael and Hannah?” asked Stephen. Kevin, for a change from gazing into the middle distance or glowering at Terry, cracked his knuckles.
“What do you think happened?” Anthony was bored. A bored Anthony meant an extra-concentrated-malicious, no-added-sugar Anthony. “They had a big argument, in the Entrance Hall no less because darling Michael does have this penchant for staging and she called him -- what was it? Oh, yes -- a flaming idiot. Vastly original, of course, but that’s Hufflepuffs for you.”
“How long were they going out, again?” said Stephen. “Oh, about a month, was it?”
“Yes.” Anthony yawned and stretched his long legs, almost toppling a small mahogany occasional table piled high with dusty textbooks. “They bonded over a game of Exploding Snap on the Hogwarts Express, apparently. Such uncommonly high standards does our Michael have.”
“Hannah’s quite pretty,” offered Kevin, using up one of his five daily comment slots.
“Looks aren’t everything,” said Anthony, a boy whose “No dogs or Irish” rule was infamous.
“No, it’s the only thing,” Stephen said, punching his friend in the arm. He was one of the very few people who could insult Anthony and not wake up the next morning with his balls hexed blue and green. “Speaking of girlfriends or lack thereof, what’s happening with you and Mandy, my son?”
Anthony grimaced. “She’s not speaking to me. I forgot some piddling anniversary and she blew a fuse.”
Stephen looked confused. “I thought you only got back together last week?”
“Yes, but Tuesday was the anniversary of our first -- look, girls have elephantine memories for crap, all right?”
“Terry doesn’t seem to encounter much trouble with them,” said Stephen. Terry -- who’d been lulled into a stupor by the warmth of the fire and the asinine conversation going on around him -- jerked into full, wary consciousness.
“What do you mean by that? I don’t have a girlfriend,” he pointed out.
“Yes, but you are best friends with a girl,” said Stephen. “Or has Padma slipped your memory?”
“That’s an entirely different scenario.” Terry was dismissive.
Anthony regarded him with over-bright eyes. “So you’ve never felt the urge to -- you know?” He described some suggestive motions in the air with his hands.
Terry was tempted to say, “No, we don’t go rowing together, actually,” but resisted the urge.He wasn’t going to give Anthony the satisfaction of a defensive denial. The only truthful answer to Anthony’s intrusive question was “Yes” and he didn’t care to have Anthony know that. Nor did he want Anthony to guess just how awkward and unpleasant those fourth-year experiments had been for both of them, how it had nearly destroyed their friendship. Or how relieved Terry had felt when Padma had decided that their relationship wasn’t designed to be anything more than platonic.
“Come off it, Anthony,” scoffed Stephen. “I’m sure if Terry had got his act together, we’d’ve been the first to know -- right, Terry?”
“Ri-ght.” Terry, not for the first time, was grateful that Stephen was so utterly impervious to sarcasm. He was insulted by the way Stephen just assumed Terry was too slow off the mark to ask Padma out, but at least it was better than the other option.
At that moment, some of the Ravenclaw seventh year girls entered the common room from outside. They were shepherded in by a frowning Padma. Seventh years had an extended curfew to ten o’clock, but it was surely half after now. Mandy and Lisa had always been notoriously bad time-keepers, however. At the sight of his would-be girlfriend, Anthony’s face lit up. She merely sent him a look that would have curdled milk from fifty yards and reduced the cow to a singed carcass, and swept to a wing-seat by the fire.
“Go and talk to her, moron,” hissed Stephen, standing up. “I’ll come with you -- for some moral support.”
“To chat up Lisa, you mean,” retorted Anthony, but he did as he was bid all the same. The three boys left without so much as a “Good night” in Terry’s direction. It didn’t bother him; he was used to it.
“God, I’m exhausted, Terry,” groaned Padma, sinking on to the sofa beside Terry and resting her head on his shoulder.
“Why, what happened?” Terry was sympathetic.
He began to stroke her hair, which she always found relaxing. He looked up and caught Anthony’s eye. It sported a calculating gleam, which was not reassuring in the least. After all, Anthony could make a smile look like an invitation to murder. Terry looked away and focused on Padma’s tale, which centred on some boisterous second-years, a Fanged Frisbee and what was now a decapitated suit of armour.
“Perhaps you should go to bed?” suggested Terry. “A good night’s sleep will be highly beneficial for your stress levels. I know you’ve been up late studying this past week.”
“Yes, but we’ve got that Transfig test coming up,” fretted Padma. “I want to do well -- McGonagall threatened to throw us out if we get below an Acceptable, you know!”
Terry declined to mention that he’d attended the class too, or the fact that Padma had never scored below an Acceptable in her life. Instead, he offered, “I could prep you on it tomorrow night. I covered Colour and Texture theory last year when I did that supplementary research.”
“Oh, would you?” Padma sighed in relief. “You are such a darling, Terry Boot. Or a saint. One or the other.”
Terry shook his head, raising his gaze to the ceiling. Padma had always been prone to hyperbolism -- one of the few things she shared with her twin sister.
“Right, then,” decided Padma. “I’ll go to bed. You should go too; you look wiped out.”
“Oh, thanks,” said Terry, making a face at being compared to a dishcloth or its ken. Padma just dug him in the arm and planted a kiss on his forehead.
“Night, Terry. See you in the morning,” she sang out as she headed for the girls’ dormitories.
“Good night, Padma,” replied Terry, retrieving his book from where it had burrowed down between his thigh and the arm of the sofa. For the first time that evening he had a chance to read more than four sentences together. Bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss.
People often claim that they get an odd feeling when someone is staring at them; a prickling, it is said, across the back of the neck. This is nothing but superstition. However, wizards have more acute sensory perceptions than Muggles, as a result of the heightened awareness that magic supplies. Terry -- like all witches and wizards -- could always sense when there were other people in the room, even with his eyes closed. It had to do with the disruption of air molecules, the intensity of emotion that all humans felt every single second of every day -- and the magical ability to pick up on both.
Terry knew that someone was staring at him, not as a result of a prickly neck, but because with his mind in the concentrated state required for reading, he could feel an antipathy directed solely towards him. He didn’t even have to look up to realise that Anthony was sneering hatefully at him. Due to Terry’s own intuition, he realised that it probably had to do with Padma’s tactile behaviour towards him when Anthony’s girlfriend had yet to even speak to him.
Deciding that if Michael was in a mood he might already have gone to sleep, Terry took the chance and went to bed as Padma had proposed.
In an Unplottable location somewhere in the Northern fens, a door opened.
Doors opened across Britain all of the time; but only the very foolhardy or those with a special dispensation would have dared to open this one when not invited to do so.
The person opening the door at the present moment was neither foolhardy nor possessing of a special dispensation. He was, however, an ornithological expert and moreover not a bad hand at Legilimency. It was for these reasons that he was not reduced to a heap of smouldering ashes at uttering the words, “Yeah? I take it you wanted something?”
The anger of a thousand prodded scorpions, a hundred bullied victims, fifty spoiled children was condensed into those two words. The door-opener did not appear in the least moved by them. This was because he was the scorpion tamer, the bully and the smacker of spoiled children. And because he had the hide of a rhinoceros.
“I am not yet sure. I have several possibilities on file but none of them correspond exactly with the circumstances. I will need further time to conduct investigations --”
“I have no time for your investigations,” spat the other voice. “Just -- repeat the exercise. Successfully, I suggest -- because it’s not just my arse on the line.”
“Right-o,” said the door-opener, the scorpion tamer, the bully and the smacker of spoiled children. He whistled on his way out, and failed to close the door properly. Air currents made the lock rattle long after he was gone.
The prodded scorpion, the bullied victim and the spoiled child sat in his chair and brooded. He did not close the door. That was for door-openers to do.
The deep blue curtains were rammed shut around Michael’s bed, so Terry had high hopes that he was in fact asleep. It wasn’t that he resented Michael any more than the rest of the boys. It was just that having the pleasure of a dormitory that was -- for all intents and purposes -- empty was one to be seized as if it were the last copy of a rare first edition and enjoyed to the fullest.
He saw no need to perform contortionist tricks to get changed under his dressing gown, as he did every other day. Disrobing in the bathroom was his preferred option, but with five boys competing for the use of the shower, bath, sink or toilet at the same time, it wasn’t a particularly viable one. Nor was trying to struggle into or out of his robes under the bedclothes, at least not since he’d had a growth spurt.
No; with Kevin, Stephen and Anthony otherwise occupied for at least the next hour and Michael ensconced in his own bed, Terry -- for once -- could get into his pyjamas in a normal way. That was, by divesting himself entirely of one layer of clothing and replacing it with another.
He was standing in his pyjama bottoms and tugging off the t-shirt he wore, for warmth and modesty, under his robes when a lock snicked. Terry froze, his t-shirt pulled up by the hem as far as his neck. With an effort, he directed his eyes towards the betraying bathroom door. As he feared, it was being pulled open -- and by who else than Michael, whom Terry had so foolishly assumed to be fast asleep in bed? Why hadn’t he checked? Why hadn’t he tried going into the bathroom first to change, for safety?
Why did all of this bother him so much?
Terry’s hands were still crossed over his shoulders, making him look as if he was about to break into a spot of set dancing, when Michael shambled out of the bathroom. He was wearing pyjamas too, or at least what passed for pyjamas in Michael’s universe -- grey boxers and a midnight blue dressing gown, which was untied and flapping about his knees. He caught sight of Terry, whose face felt like someone had poured oil all over it -- that would be the nervous sweat -- and then set it alight with the blush that was threatening a coup for the dictatorship of Terry’s entire epidermis. Michael’s eyes widened.
“Wotcher, Terry,” was all he said, however. His words unlocked something that had previously been clenched shut and Terry ripped his t-shirt over his head, turning his back on Michael to pick up his pyjama shirt. The amber bead containing the Redolence Charm knocked against his collarbones.
At all costs he must hide his embarrassment from Michael. His dorm-mates knew he had odd habits when it came to dressing, but he’d let them assume it was because he was shy, not because of -- whatever it was that had made him come over all funny like he just had. If Michael found out, he would tell Anthony and Anthony would tell the whole school, and --
-- and Michael was standing by Terry’s bed, leaning against the post as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
And he probably didn’t, at that, Terry thought furiously, his shirt slipping from suddenly numb and nerveless fingers.
“I was wondering, actually,” said Michael, jerking his head to toss his hair out of his eyes. Terry decided -- uncharitable in his discomfiture -- that it was a gesture which made him look rather like a rabid horse. “I was wondering, d’you know the German word for ‘bloody idiot’?”
“Dummer Tor,” translated Terry automatically. His mental dictionary was still functioning even though he was standing there with no shirt on and Michael was standing across from him with no shirt on and Terry felt cold and hot at the same time and Michael’s nipples were brown but Terry’s, Terry’s were pink --
“No, that’s not it,” Michael was mumbling. “She used English for that anyhow … what about ‘plonker’?”
“Uh -- dussel.” Terry’s reaction time was slower because Michael was scratching his stomach while lost in thought and the movement was, for some reason, adversely affecting Terry’s rational brain.
“Nope, nope. ‘Tosser’?”
Terry swallowed, trying to summon up some saliva for his dry mouth. African droughts had nothing on it. “Wichser,” he croaked.
Michael looked pleased. “Yeah, that’s the one.” He shook his hair out of his eyes. “Hannah,” he confided. “Swears in German the whole bloody time because she thinks it’s rude to do it in English and her grandma’s German. So -- she called me a tosser and a bit of an idiot.” He grinned at Terry. His bad humour from earlier in the evening seemed to have dissipated.
“Um. Really?” Terry tried. He was battling with an insane urge to cross his arms across himself, but he realised how unspeakably wet that would look.
“I’ve had worse,” sighed Michael. “Still, she tended to waffle on a bit, even if she was an all right kisser. I’m well shot of her, to be bloody honest.”
“That’s -- great.” Terry wished Michael would bugger off with his emotional angst and leave Terry to put on a shirt. And get the image of a shirtless Michael out of his head. He also wanted to ask Michael how he failed to die of frostbite during the freezing winter nights, but that would have brought attention to the fact that Terry had noticed Michael’s severe lack of clothing.
Terry’s head was whirling. His temples throbbed. He felt like he was going mad.
“Right. Well, I’m off to bed. G’night, Terry,” said Michael. “Oh -- nice necklace, by the way.” He winked at Terry and flapped away to his bed.
Terry crawled on to his own bed and tried to calm his racing heart. Why on earth had Michael decided to talk to him, after years of almost complete silence? Well, he had wanted German translations, his common sense pointed out.
That made two in one day. Why oh why did Michael have to ask for them just then? Why could not some random vagary of fate have kept him in the bathroom for just two minutes longer? Then Terry would have been decently garbed when Michael strolled over with his requests and Terry would have been able to ignore Michael’s semi-naked appearance, just like every other time.
Terry groaned and punched his pillow. Two beds down, he heard Michael’s voice whispering a Silencing Charm, which could only mean one thing.
Terry was never going to be able to sleep again.
Terry had not had much occasion in his life to make solemn vows.
There’d been the Wardrobe Incident during which a six-year-old playmate of Terry’s sister had dragged an eight-year-old Terry into a wardrobe and “married” him. She had made use of such coercion tactics as were available to her in light of his Action Man’s kidnapping. Then, he’d had to solemnly swear to “love, honour and opley” her and endure a hideous sloppy kiss which still traumatised him.
There’d also been the time in first year when he’d pledged never to bring himself to Kevin’s direct attention again if he could possibly help it. That vow he’d stuck to with a fervour that would have put Islamic fundamentalists to shame.
On the day after his impromptu tutoring of both Zacharias and Michael, he made two.
Despite a restless night -- during which his stubborn body informed him that the air was positively gelid but his brain insisted that he was hot and fevered and kick off the blankets, god damn it! -- Terry awoke early. He didn’t feel in the least refreshed. The snatches of dreams that he could recall were lurid, coruscating things which left him with a residual sense of unease.
He was certain that there was no way in which you could hear skin, but overnight he seemed to have picked up the idea that this was the case.
Deep breathing was coming from three beds and grunting snores from the forth. Stephen’s snoring put Terry in mind of the mating call of a Flobberworm with laryngitis -- he had had countless chances to study the sound over the years. It greeted him almost every morning, a less melodious alternative to the dawn chorus. Not that Terry had faced the dawn with anything except the visage of slumber for many a year; like most Ravenclaws, he was a night owl.
Terry snatched clean robes and underwear from his trunk, but not before wrapping his dressing-gown almost twice around himself. As the bathroom door locked with a satisfying click, Terry made his first vow: no matter the circumstances, he was not changing in the dormitory again. He wasn’t running the risk of rehashing the previous night’s severe mortification, even if it meant he had to get up at five in the morning and go to bed at two.
He set his wand to a five-minute shower alarm and took off his Redolence Charm. The thong was leather and he didn’t want to get it wet. Just as he made to step into the shower, he heard the rustling of sheets emanating from the dormitory. In his haste to perform his ablutions before the other boys started beating the door down, he slipped on the slick tiles and came within two and a half inches of cracking his head open.
His wash bore the same relation to cleansing that pterodactyls did to door-to-door insurance salesmen, but Terry was in too much of a rush to care. He exited the steaming bathroom with his curls heavy with water and his robes sticking to his damp skin, but comforted by the fact that his plan had succeeded thus far.
As he rummaged in his bookshelf -- every Ravenclaw had a personal one -- for his texts, Anthony shoved past, his robes only part-way closed. Terry averted his eyes in hopes of sparing himself the reactionary blush.
Anthony was muttering something about being in a hurry and meeting Mandy for breakfast. Terry wondered how the two statements could be related; Anthony would be lucky if Mandy arrived before the toast had gone stone cold and the sausages congealed.
With a thrill of white-hot fear that rocketed straight to the pit of his belly, Terry became aware that his Redolence Charm was no longer around his neck.There was that unmistakable, horrible perception that something was gone that should be present. Shuddering, he realised that the worst was yet to come. Anthony, pulling his robes straight, was making a beeline for the bathroom and there was no way in hell, heaven or a hospital waiting room that Terry could get there before him. Even if he did manage it, there’d be a hue and cry against him for daring to hog the bathroom twice during the busy pre-breakfast period.
His heart thumping in anguish, Terry clenched his fists and tried to resign himself to the loss of the Charm. Two weeks’ work down the drain, not to mention that the amber bead had been a gift from Professor Lovebright. He wouldn’t be able to lay his hands on another at least until the next Hogsmeade visit and maybe not even then. Raw, semi-precious stones were not exactly in demand amongst a remote wizarding community.
At best, Anthony would find the charm and ask who it belonged to, whilst laughing at the shameful vanity of it all. Then Terry would have to keep mum and Anthony would probably chuck it out.
At worst … at worst, Anthony would recognise it for what it was, confront Terry and use the new, added leverage to make Terry’s life hell or something like it -- a hospital waiting room sprung to mind -- for the next week or so.
Anthony wasn’t stupid. He could be thoughtless and unobservant, though. Terry was banking on that, combined with his focus on his impending “date” with Mandy, to prevent him from noticing the Charm. Even though because Terry had recklessly, so recklessly, left it right on the edge of the sink, that was a slim, verging on anorexic, chance at best.
Either way, if Terry was to retain any hope of retrieving it, he’d have to stay put for the moment. Training his eyes on the neat lines of titles on the bookshelf before him, Terry blocked out the snappish exchanges of conversation between his dorm-mates, none of whom were morning people. This personality trait combined with chronic late nights went fist in gut rather than hand in hand.
Kevin was still asleep. He rarely made it up in time for breakfast, subsisting instead on his seemingly perpetual supply of Honeyduke’s chocolate until he struggled to lunch. This also tended to consist of things that were too sugary and chocolate-dominated to be considered as “nourishing food,” at least not when “hark at the toll of clanging arteries” could be used instead.
Terry felt his gut coiling in a most unpleasant and cobra-like manner as Anthony clattered out of the bathroom. He didn’t have a word to throw a dog -- not even Terry. He jerked his head at Stephen, who was pulling on his shoes in between jaw-cracking yawns. Within seconds both of them had left, leaving the door banging in the wind. Asking Anthony if he had been born in a barn was a useless method of getting him to close doors behind him; he always shot back the retort that no, he’d been born in a hospital with swinging doors.
Terry decided right then that there had to be a god after all. The continued existence of Kevin and boiled cabbage had given him some doubts on that score. Not only had Anthony not brought Terry to heel for what he’d term “pansy habits” -- these encompassed everything from piercings to wearing the colour purple to having a funny squint -- he didn’t even appear to have noticed the Charm.
The adrenaline draining away, Terry rejoiced and closed his satchel. As he made to dash for the bathroom, however, he was halted by the sight of something unexpected. Or rather, someone unexpected.
To be precise, Michael.
Inside his head, Terry cursed. Why was he always leaving Michael out of his calculations? Even though he was undeniably a bit of an idiot, he was a bit of an idiot by Ravenclaw standards, which made him approximately a bit of a wunderkind from anywhere else.
Michael had a very odd method of dressing himself, Terry noticed quite against his will. Michael was perched on the edge of his bed, absorbed in pulling on a sock. His other foot was already shod. Imagine sitting in your boxers putting on your shoes before your robes, even!
For some reason, this made Terry angry. He couldn’t bring himself to saunter into the bathroom to fetch his Charm with the other boy there, even though Michael had got a front-row view of it the night before and hadn’t slated him for it then. For either the same, unspecified reason or another one -- also unspecified -- this incapacity incensed Terry even more.
“Oh, Boot,” yawned Michael, hopping to his feet and taking his weight off the one which only sported a sock. This gave him the lopsided appearance made popular by the Hunchback of Notre Dame. “Found this in the bathroom. It’s yours, I think.”
Terry couldn’t speak -- could barely breathe -- as Michael lurched forward, using only the toes of his sock-less foot to walk. It made sense to do that in small, limited terms, as the flagstones were achingly cold. If that was so, however, why was Michael wandering about in only his boxers? Why didn’t he put both his shoes on instead of one sock, one shoe, one sock, one shoe? Terry’s logical side was both perplexed and enraged by these questions, which his brain was shooting out at a rate of Gordian knots.
Michael came to a halt a foot or so away from Terry and dangled the Redolence Charm between his fingers. When Terry made no move to retrieve it -- Michael, of course, couldn’t know that Terry had as little control over his appendages as did a man with a giant grasshopper on a lead -- he grabbed Terry’s wrist and trickled the leather strap into it, bead first.
Some of the electric jolts resulting from this unwanted, unpleasant contact must have hotwired Terry’s brain, for his voice finally decided to re-enter the realm of rational thought. “Thanks,” he managed. Emboldened by his success, he added, “I thought -- Anthony --”
“No, I was in there after you.” Michael flashed him a brief smile. If the secret to Anthony’s success with girlswas squandering a small fortune in the Magical Scents Emporium every Hogsmeade visit, then Michael’s must be his smile, Terry decided. His mind seemed to have turned to soup; chicken and vegetable, probably, with mushy bits of thought bobbing to the surface every now and then.
“Needed a bloody piss, even Anthony can’t argue with that.” Michael was full of enlightenment; for once, Terry was chary of lapping it up.
“Ah.” Terry nodded, as if this would somehow make him seem witty and winning in the way his conversational skills most emphatically did not.
“That charm’s pretty nifty, I must say.” Michael flipped his hair out of his eyes. “Citrus, is it? Nice. Better than Lovebright’s bloody roses, anyway. I must get you to show it to me sometime.”
“Sure,” gasped Terry. “Although I believe Professor Lovebright herself -- there’s a fine explanation in -- class, must go. Breakfast.”
He turned and nearly tripped over his satchel. He snatched it up and hurried to the door.
“Terry?” Michael sounded amused. “Were you planning to finish any of those sentences?”
Terry thought about it.
“No,” he said, and fled.
Anthony looked like a child whose lollipop had been used for testing toxic waste and then handed back to him. Mandy was nowhere in sight, which Terry guessed was the root and cause -- or the impacting air molecules -- of his thunderous expression. Terry didn’t want to be anywhere nearby when that particular storm broke, so he took a seat at the end of the table that was closest to the door.
It had the added advantage of being within spitting distance of an escape route, even if he did have to put up with the high-pitched prattling of the first-years whose usual quarter it was. They shot him curious looks, but just seemed to assume that he was carrying out a survey on sound waves in different parts of the room or something. That was the sort of thing Ravenclaws did in their spare time. It was also a useful means of explaining away the multitudinous eccentricities of the House members.
As a result, Terry was well-placed to overhear the exchange that caused him to undertake his second vow in as many hours.
The hum of familiar voices was enough to make him look up from the task his buttering his toast to an even consistency. Harry and Ron Weasley were walking through the door, dissecting Quidditch.
Or at least, Terry imagined that was what they were discussing. He didn’t suppose either of them would look so benevolent if they were talking about Ron’s massive, embarrassingly obvious crush on Hermione Granger, or Harry’s associations with Voldemort. As far as Terry was concerned, those three subjects were the only ones they had to talk about, given the glazed sheen that had come over Ron’s eyes the one time Terry had publicly put forth his own opinions on the links between complex Transfiguration and Apparating. At least Ron’s palpable lack of interest had spared Terry having to expound further before an audience, albeit of half-a-dozen chatting DA members.
Caught up in observing them, as Padma and Anthony were not around -- the former to distract him from and the latter to reprimand him for it -- Terry noticed just how skinny Harry had become lately. He’d never been well-fleshed, but now he was positively cadaverous. His eyes were huge in his drawn face and the smile that stretched his hollow cheeks looked more like a skeleton’s rictus.
All the same, he seemed cheery enough, although Terry had to suppress an urge to stuff his neatly cut toast into Harry’s mouth. Ron had clearly said something that passed for amusing in the mind of a Gryffindor and he, too, looked pleased at making his friend laugh. Terry thought that Harry probably didn’t do that as often as he should.
Reflecting after the event, Terry came to the conclusion that there was most likely a lot more bad blood between Harry and Zacharias than he’d hitherto realised. Terry based his hypothesis on the expression that came across Harry’s face at the Hufflepuff’s approach. Granted, a grinning and smug-looking Zacharias would have been enough to raise anyone’s hackles, but Harry had looked almost -- grim. As if he were aware that Zacharias had not come to throw down the gauntlet, but to remind him that the gauntlet had been gathering dust on the ground between them for a long, long time.
Later, Padma informed him that she’d heard from Parvati that Harry and Zacharias had crossed swords numerous times before in their combined NEWTs Transfiguration class, which Terry appropriated as further proof.
Zacharias addressed something to Harry. Terry wasn’t quite certain what he said. The clatter of hundreds of students applying themselves to their morning meal with gusto was more like a foreground event than a background noise. However, the sneers on both their faces, their undisguised malignity for each other and most of all Harry’s radiating enmity -- something Terry had never seen him exude for anyone bar Draco Malfoy -- caught Terry’s attention. Hermione, who had trotted in the door at that moment laden down with books, also seemed to have registered it. Her face turned an unappetising shade of milk-white and she hurried over, bushy hair streaming out behind her due to extreme velocity.
“Harry, don’t --” Terry heard her warn.
It was too late; even Terry, sitting removed and ignorant of the real situation, realised that. Harry’s face had a twisted cast to it that suggested it wasn’t going to un-twist until he’d done -- or at least promised to do -- something nasty through the business end of his wand.
“ -- je pense que tu es le plus grand couillon partout dans le monde.”
Terry’s heart sank like a stone that had encountered terminal issues with gravity. Some uncouth part of his brain was moaning, “Ooh, shit.” Terry hadn’t thought that Zacharias had wanted to call someone a dickhead in any sort of friendly fashion, even to the naturally rude French. But to use it against Harry Potter in the Great Hall … and it was Terry’s fault! Not only that, the only other French-speaker in Harry’s year-- Hermione -- would never in a million light-years have tendered that phrase so carelessly, so everyone would know where to lay the blame.
Terry chanced a look at Hermione. Both Ron and Harry seemed to realise that Zacharias had said something insulting -- perhaps more because of the way he said it than because of an innate understanding of French -- but only Hermione would know what it was exactly.
Her face was a picture -- of the sort produced by people in art therapy dealing with their massive rage problems. She looked quite ready to haul off and smack Zacharias in his smirking mug and Terry was pretty sure that she would have done it, too, if it weren’t for what happened next.
Terry was sitting at an angle that presented him with an almost perfect view of both Harry and Zacharias’ faces as Harry stepped in close to the other boy. The people sitting near Terry were looking around in mild fascination, mostly because anything concerning Harry Potter was certain to tender at least minimum entertainment value.
Terry spared a glance for his contemporaries on the other tables. Zacharias’ group of friends, among whom Susan Bones and Justin Finch-Fletchley were the most prominent, were watching him with weary expressions. On the Gryffindor table, Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas were standing up to get a better look. Of the Slytherins, only Draco deigned to show an interest and that was because he seemed to regard Harry as a cross between his mortal enemy and a mobile piñata.
At first Harry and Zacharias seemed to intend only to engage in a fierce, if immature, staring contest. Terry thought Zacharias might very well win that one. Harry was not used to keeping his emotions in check, whereas Zacharias’ unremitting expression of superiority gave nothing away.
Whether or not Harry realised his disadvantage Terry didn’t know, but he doubted it. He also doubted that Harry had planned to say what he did, but that was because Harry’s greatest failing was an inability to think ahead. In this case it had no more dire consequences than making a greater adversary of Zacharias than he already was, but all the same the principle of the thing endured.
Harry’s voice was low, but it carried far enough. Terry was certain his own shock was mirrored on Hermione’s face, but for different reasons.
After all, Harry hadn’t come to him -- so how had he found out?
“Zacharias,” said Harry, enunciating every syllable as though measuring the one-word horsepower of vitriol, “putain de merde.”
A low sigh swept across the considerable number of listeners. There was, after all, something universal about real, down-low-and-dirty swearing that defied the need for translation. Hermione now looked like she wanted to slap Harry.
“Harry?” came Ron’s hesitant voice. “What -- what did you just say?”
“Me?” Harry seemed to snap out of trance. He turned his back on Zacharias as if he were a stranger he had passed on the street. “Just giving some friendly advice.”
“Harry Potter!” spluttered Hermione. “How on earth did you know --”
That was precisely what Terry desired to find out, but between Zacharias turning on his heel and storming off and a flock of noisy third-year Hufflepuffs thronging through the door, the end of her question and the answer to it were obscured by inane babble.
“Holy hell, what was that?” Anthony sounded disapproving.
Terry closed his eyes and thought about dragons’ blood. However, the only use he could come up with was “is highly inflammatory” and he wasn’t even sure if that were a use -- it sounded more like a property and, moreover, one that didn’t apply to dragons’ blood at all.
“I think Zacharias and Harry had a slanging match. In -- French,” he mumbled.
“I caught the tail-end. Did you orchestrate it?” Michael’s voice was brimming with laughter. Terry looked down and realised his fist was planted in the middle of his buttered toast. With distaste he noticed his sticky fingers, to which crumbs were now, in essence, glued.
Funny, he didn’t even remember his hand jerking.
“You are the only one who knows French.” Anthony sounded like he’d swallowed nails. Michael’s amusement at the episode seemed to have gone down as well with him as a sackful of them.
“Well, Zacharias did request that I execute some translations for him,” muttered Terry, wondering why his heartbeat had suddenly picked up pace. It appeared to have decided that Terry was hanging upside down from a broom twenty feet in the air -- as had happened in first year -- and reacted accordingly.
“Ha! Brilliant,” approved Michael, clapping Terry on the back and moving down the table to fetch some porridge.
Terry’s skin felt like it was on fire.
He looked up into Anthony’s narrowed eyes and felt much like a small insignificant planet might when faced with a whopping meteorite winging through deep space like a bat out of hell. Or a hospital waiting room.
“Perhaps,” said Anthony, “you might consider not sharing everything you know, in future.”
Terry mumbled something that could be taken as acquiescence or a stomach complaint. Anthony seemed satisfied, because he turned away and spotted his tardy girlfriend.
Loath as he was to take on board anything Anthony said, Terry felt that the alternative was to pour nitric oxide on the decks. He made his second vow.