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07 June 2005 @ 09:35 pm
Chapter Two: Malice Aforethought  

Title: Asymmetric Perspective

Rating: Seeing as it's no longer hip -- or legal, or something -- to use film ratings, I'll use manga ones. OT. Swearing, slash, subtle insinuations -- the usual, in other words. Plus random House-bashing. :)

Betas: My precious coralia13 and my rareshipping partner in crime, spectacular.

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to JK; all that's mine is the fact that this sometimes keeps me sane. Other times it drives me round the twist. Opening lyrics by Amy Studt.

Summary: Terry Boot holds sole occupancy of an ivory tower and he likes it that way, thank you very much. The perpetual quest for esoteric knowledge kicks arse. People are just confusing and besides being a person himself, he doesn't have very much in common with them ...

Space restrictions required triple posting. :)

Chapter One is here.


Chapter Two: Malice Aforethought

There’s a little bit of devil in me I confess

Because you want to pick on me and not the rest

Terry was observing himself from an objective standpoint. It happened to be a foot away from the rust-spotted, toothpaste-splashed mirror in the Ravenclaw boys’ dormitory bathroom.

He didn’t often get the chance to indulge in an extensive bout of self-study. The bathroom, on weekday mornings, made Christmas Eve on Oxford Street look tame and civilised by comparison. With a little prior organisation, the whole ablutions routine could have run like clockwork, but that would have required the boys -- and Ravenclaws in general -- to abide by what clocks said. They were inclined to disbelieve them on principle; countless mornings in Terry’s dormitory had been greeted with variations on the theme of: “It’s half-past eight already? Impossible!”

Truth be told, Terry was as little enamoured with early rising as the rest of them. Events such as staying awake until ten past two in the morning to polish off the appendices to his Potions essay made subsequent occurrences -- such as opening his eyes seven hours later -- nothing short of inventive and highly specialised torture.

However, Terry was resolute. He got up fifteen minutes before the rest of the dorm was wont to do and, hence, had just enough time to change into his robes in the bathroom, instead of out in the dorm where any one of the other boys could see him. You weren’t supposed to do that. It was an unwritten rule that struggling into and out of entire outfits in the bathroom took up too much precious showering-time, and that towels were the only acceptable barrier between modesty and outright Bacchanalian nudity.

It was only a guideline, though; Terry was intelligent enough to work out a simple way of flouting it. His dorm-mates were too close to comatose for at least half-an-hour after waking to notice that, nowadays, Terry performed even less of his changing gymnastics around them, or that the most they saw of his naked skin was his feet. It worked, so long as Terry didn’t mind having drenched collars. He never had time to use the magical blast-dryer in the bathroom and water was always dripping from his hair on to his neck.

Saturday, though, was a different kettle of snoozing aquatic life. Terry was unique in that he had always arisen early on Saturdays -- or at half-past-nine, which was the same thing to a Ravenclaw. For the other boys, though, Saturday morning was a thing of myth; something they’d heard existed, but had never had the chance to see to believe.

Terry tugged at his lip, pulling it down so that he could see his lower gums. They looked healthy to him. Most Muggle things -- short-sleeved t-shirts, Nintendos, Penthouse Pets -- he had abandoned with equanimity. However, one thing he had as yet to find a wizardly equivalent for was dental tape. It seemed that, if a wizard suffered from gingivitis long enough for every tooth in his head to rot at the root and fall out, he would simply stick them back in by magic and to hell with actually curing the disease.

Terry, on the other hand, had an innate disgust for putrid things that made some aspects of Potions a peril only vanquished by a mental reminder of everything he would learn from touching the damn diced squid. By consequence, swollen gums and black teeth were things Terry would prefer to see only between the covers of a dentistry journal, preferably under the heading: “What we really shouldn’t do”.

Terry usually had to floss in bed, due to the time prohibitions in the bathroom. Today, however -- Saturday -- he’d been able to pass an enjoyable half-an-hour carefully excavating every nook and cranny of his teeth, using the mirror instead of his fingers to work out which bit should go where.

When he was done, he stood back a little and surveyed his reflection. His hair was dry for once, the curls bouncing up like slinky springs on speed. The heat of the small room had coerced him into shedding his pyjama shirt, so he stood in the bottoms only, feeling a little guilty for doing so. In reality, the only way someone could have seen his state of semi-undress, due to the lack of windows, was through the keyhole. Terry doubted that even Kevin was that desperate for kicks, but he couldn’t quell the shivering awareness that quite a lot of his skin was uncovered.

It was this feeling that had led him to do his best to avoid getting changed in the presence of the other boys. Terry couldn’t tell if they had become accustomed to this unnerving realization of nakedness, or if they just didn’t feel it at all. If it was the latter, he envied them. Terry’s discomfort at the fact had peaked with the odd episode with Michael and he had no desire to repeat that horrible experience.

Perhaps it was simply down to inadequacy. Terry wasn’t in the habit of using his body as a bargaining chip, because he’d never sought a girl on the basis of his physical charms. He’d never sought a girl at all, if it came to that. Padma really didn’t count, because she’d initiated that long-ago, disastrous experiment.

At the same time, Terry knew from unavoidable observation that if one were to compare his body with that of his dorm-mates, Terry’s would be so far down on the scale that he could mine for magma. Terry was the only one who didn’t play Quidditch, even for fun. Michael and Kevin were on the House team, Michael as a Chaser and Kevin as a Beater. Quidditch in and of itself did not bestow upon its players the muscles of a bouncer or a world wrestling champion, but it was a pursuit that lent itself to people who were by nature more active, and therefore “attractive”.

Kevin had been built like a walking brick from the start. He’d played rugby since he was old enough to have developed the hand-eye co-ordination to hold a ball steady for more than two seconds together. He still followed a rugby training schedule that would have put the Hitler Youth to shame. His penchant for dying his hair a different colour every week was something Terry had never divined the reason behind; he didn’t inquire, either.

This schedule had once consisted of Kevin chasing Terry -- and various other “wimpy weaklings” -- around the castle and, when he found them, using them for bench-presses. Added to Kevin’s bottomless appetite for junk food, it gave rise to a formidable physique: girder-like arms and legs and a pillow in place of a stomach. Kevin was an Everestian monument to both bodybuilding and the fat content of magical sweets.

Stephen was the tallest boy in the dorm, with the burly stature and rugged features of a fur-trapper from the Rockies in the early days of American settlement. He had sandy blonde hair which lay across his broad forehead like a wrung-out washcloth; his hands were large enough to crush glasses between them with one squeeze. He had always been first; first to get pimples, first to shave, first -- of three, including Kevin and Michael -- to get chest hair, first to have a girlfriend. First to come back, his eyes dazed and lipstick all down his neck, from a dalliance behind the greenhouses. There was little wonder Anthony looked up to him; Stephen had shared with him all he knew. Kevin didn’t want to know, preferring his own caveman methods of picking up “chicks”. Terry, of course, was not taken into account, and Michael had never needed to be taught.

Anthony was also well-muscled. The term “six-pack” had not been picked up by those of wizarding stock and even Terry was unsure as to where it originated. However, Anthony had one; Terry supposed it made up for the fact that Anthony was rather squat and had no neck to speak of. He was even shorter than Terry, which was yet another reason that Terry should be belittled at every opportunity, it seemed.

The thing about Anthony was that he was pugnacious; he watched his diet like a starved hawk and never allowed anything more epicurean than dry toast, unsweetened porridge and huge helpings of vegetables to pass his embittered lips. As a result, he was more muscle than lard -- which he otherwise would have been -- yet it didn’t seem to appease him. If anything, he was even more resentful because of the lengths to which he was forced to go to achieve it.

As for Michael …

Terry avoided his own eyes in the mirror and looked down at his pale hands, gripping the side of the sink. Michael was best described as “rangy” or “lanky” -- anything that ended in a “y” and, preferably, conjured up images of gamine racehorses. Of course, the incessant hair-shaking was pivotal to the analogy. Terry had often gone to the races in his native Cheltenham and the image of nervous horses -- sleek skin stretched over bone and knotty muscle, jerking against their bridles -- was one which Terry had secretly associated with Michael from the first time he’d seen him.

Michael didn’t diet and he didn’t work out; if Anthony hadn’t already been his friend, he probably would have detested him. Terry wondered if Anthony did, anyway. If you were Anthony, there were a lot of things to be jealous of.

Michael was simple. He had an easy way with everyone, even if he never seemed to instigate anything of his own devising, or hold any principles or morals to speak of. He got spots like everyone else, but he never suffered from Kevin’s acne, Terry’s perpetual blackheads or Anthony’s mountainous pustules, which came and went with the regularity of rain. Michael never seemed to worry about anything -- schoolwork, girls, marks. They either came to him with as little effort on his part as it was possible to achieve, or he let them pass without a hint of regret. He was tall. He was slender, without being weedy, like Terry.

Yes, there was much to resent, if you were Anthony.

Even if Terry hadn’t been up against them, there was still no getting away from the fact that if you got a ball of wet string, crumpled it up and then tied some knots in it, the end product would be, basically, Terry. Add some frayed wool for hair and a sapiency spell, and Terry had to speculate whether or not this was how he’d come into existence in the first place.

Except for the fact that his parents were both Muggles and, on one of the occasions when they’d both been in the same country and room, they’d made Terry. The other time, they’d made his sister, Violet. As far as Terry could tell, that marked the extent of their sexual interaction, at least with each other.

It should have come as a relief that his parents weren’t “doing it” left right and centre, as other people often complained of theirs doing. It was quite obvious to Terry that people over the age of thirty-five should quietly give up the pleasures of the flesh for those of knitting and gardening. Yet, Terry thought he might have preferred it if his parents were soppy and disgusting and drooling over one another in the kitchen. Terry rather favoured that scenario to the one in existence. The one wherein to his mother simpered down the phone to one of her many “gentleman callers” and his father left an endless stream of answering machine messages to say that he and one of his parade of petite blonde secretaries were “stranded in Zurich. I topped up the account, Charlotte. Adam.”

Whatever colour Charlotte Boot’s hair had been at birth, the public had never glimpsed it. Terry had once heard his mother tell his sister -- who was going through a Gothic, purple-haired stage -- that Charlotte had dyed her hair blonde since she was eleven. Terry had his mother’s nose, but on Charlotte it was sleek and made her look like an elegant greyhound. What it didn’t resemble was a nose someone seemed to have taken a razor to and sheared it away to a sharp point, as Terry’s did. Adam Boot’s close-cropped curls were striking and his spare frame was complemented by sharply-cut suits. Terry’s curls were too long, as were his robes, for him to look anything but absent-mindedly academic at best.

There were very few permanent appearance-altering spells. Terry, at thirteen, had spent three long, desperate months searching for one that would make his hair lie smooth and flat, make his skinny chest sprout proper muscles and accelerate the growth of his … feet. Anthony -- who had worn size ten shoes since he was twelve -- had delighted in crowing over the smallness of Terry’s feet. They had, eventually, grown to a decent, albeit un-staggering, size.

Terry’s search had turned up squat, but he had managed to keep out of Anthony’s way and, by proxy, Kevin’s too. Padma -- who, with her silky hair and smooth skin, had never had a moment of self-doubt in her life -- was baffled by Terry’s alternating despondency about and raging abhorrence for his appearance. She had told him that he looked “fine. Not bloody gorgeous, but okay. You have nice eyes. I don’t understand what your problem is, Terry!”

As usual when faced with human mystery, Padma tuned out, leaving Terry to battle through it on his own. The scars from that conflict weren’t visible, but Terry supposed he’d carry them to the day he died -- and the war wasn’t even over yet.

He transferred his gaze away from his protruding hipbones and almost-concave stomach, trying to banish the faint stirrings of revulsion. The only thing standing between him and a Third World famine victim was geography. His arms were pathetic -- any one of Ollivander’s stock would have had more definition.

With all these factors to fret over, Terry had never had much energy to spare for his face, which was, as Padma had opined, “okay”. Nothing particularly memorable, and his nose and jaw were too sharp. However, even Anthony -- who had a squashed nose like a spiteful boxer and eyebrows that were the same thickness as a constipated gorilla’s -- could find little to disparage in it. Terry’s eyes were light brown, the exact same shade as his hair. His eyelashes were the only thing about him that could be said to be bulky; they were thick and long and curled upwards in a way that Padma coveted, often and loudly.

That said, his eyelashes were nothing more nor less than girly and, with a body like Terry’s, that was really the last thing he needed. When he was younger, he’d wished that he could swap them for visible pectoral muscles even more than for his own Potions laboratory.

Terry sighed, trying to divert his flood-like train of thought into more peaceful channels. The first session of the new DA was beginning in the afternoon.

His hand, reaching for his comb, stalled. No, that wasn’t a peaceful thought; his ever-obliging brain substituted in “intense, nerve-wracking public display”. That wouldn’t do. His potions session, then. His hand relaxed and his fingers curled around the handle of the comb. Yes -- stirring, mixing, measuring, recording data, testing, repeat as necessary. Peaceful and edifying. Terry loved Potions.

The usual pain of getting the teeth of a comb through his twisting curls without the aid of periodic surgical retrieval soon distracted him, so much so that when a rapping of knuckles came at the door, he hardly registered it. There was a click as the opening mechanism disengaged.

Terry realised with a jolt -- of stupidity, coming home to roost -- that he hadn’t, in fact, locked the door. He’d just closed it, assuming he’d be finished showering long before anyone else had even opened their bleary eyes and cursed the coming of day. Then, it had been so warm and he was revelling in the chance to dry his hair and to floss. He’d taken off his pyjama shirt. He’d never put on his robes --

“It’s occupied!” he called, wincing as his voice cracked in the middle of the defensive statement.

“Shit, sorry!” Michael’s voice. Terry’s heart sank. “You decent?”

Michael entered without waiting for an affirmative reply, although with one hand covering his eyes. Terry grabbed his pyjama shirt from the tiled floor, where it had slithered from the toilet seat. He winced as the striped fabric left a film of damp on his fingers. As usual, his shirt had gravitated towards the puddles of water that were the inevitable consequence of putting centuries-old plumbing and messy boys in close proximity. It was now so wet that if Terry put it on, he’d look like he’d gone for a shower fully clothed. Even for him, that was a bit much.

Terry compromised by holding up the shirt like a towel -- his had already gone into the laundry-basket provided by the house-elves, worse luck -- but not letting the cold sodden material touch him. It required some ingenuity and much strain on his upper arms -- little wonder he had no bloody muscles -- and took up a lot of his attention. Not to mention he looked moderately odd, but that was okay. Terry was “moderately odd”, according to most sources who weren’t Terry. At least he was somewhat less half-naked, anyway.

“Sorry for bloody barging in on you like this, mate,” said Michael, smiling his easy smile under his hand. “But will you be finished soon? I need to get ready.”

“Oh, uh, I am. I mean, I will be.” Flustered, Terry began to pick up his toothbrush, toothpaste, dental tape and spot cleansing cream, but only succeeded in dropping all of them, plus his pyjama shirt, into the sink.

“Cool.” Possibly working on the assumption that Terry would be decent now, if he hadn’t been before, Michael took his hand away from his eyes. He used it to hoist a second towel -- the first was wrapped around his waist, under his untied dressing gown -- over his shoulder, presumably so he’d look daring and debonair. He shook his head; strands of black hair flew away from his eyes, but back again in the blink of an eye. Terry, feeling both nervous and annoyed and displeased because of it, wanted to roll his eyes and suggest a haircut.

Terry turned his attention back to his dropped items, his hands shaking a little because he badly wanted to wrap his robes -- or his dressing gown, so usefully situated, at that moment, on his bed -- around himself, but hindered in doing so by the necessity of gathering his things and getting far away as soon as possible. Fortunately, Michael was absorbed in testing the water temperature of the notoriously temperamental shower, so at least Terry didn’t have to worry about being the focus of attention on top of everything else.

Terry abandoned his pyjama shirt to the laundry basket with a sense of deep regret. He supposed it was out of the question to ask Michael to leave again for five minutes, so that Terry could put on his robes, which were hanging from a hook on the door, in privacy. After all, Michael hadn’t really asked before entering, even, and he simply would not understand such a question.

Terry had just managed to bundle up his things in his robes, while still keeping the robes neat and un-creased, when Michael spoke again. Terry swore mentally; Michael, who was a social animal if ever there was one, had most likely decided that Terry was hanging around because he was desirous of conversation with Michael. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Well -- Terry, the epitome of fairness, had to reconsider -- some things were, like “Terry’s secret ambition is to become a pole-dancer” or “Anthony’s really a nice person underneath it all”. However, “Terry remaining in a bathroom with Michael Corner whilst half-dressed” had to rate at least in the Furthest From The Truth Top Ten Hits.

“You’re up early, Terry,” was what Michael said.

Terry noticed that his comb was still on the sink and scowled. He’d have to undo his bundle to put it in, that or stick it in the waistband of his pyjamas. He didn’t want to risk the bundle coming undone because of carelessness in carrying it in one hand.

And Michael seemed to think he’d said something that could spark off a conversation, because he was looking at Terry with an expectant expression, his hand still under the running tap.

“Yeah,” said Terry, after scratching about in the bare yard of the “Idle Conversation” sector of his brain and coming up trumps. What did Michael expect him to say -- honestly? “Ooh, no, it’s actually the middle of the night -- hadn’t you noticed?” Or maybe: “What’s it to you, punk?”

“Going to the library again, are you?” Michael grinned; Terry stared. How had Michael known that?

“Yeah,” repeated Terry, imagining the Muses of Chatter tearing out their hair at his less-than-sparkling-repartee brand of replies. “Um.”

Terry clutched his bundle to his chest, becoming increasingly conscious that Michael could -- if that was his idea of a good time -- see quite a lot of Terry’s chest and left hipbone, and that his pyjama bottoms, which were loose to begin with, were slipping. He could feel his face heating faster than a smouldering cigarette butt in a Californian forest.

Michael wiped his hand on his second towel and pulled off his dressing gown. Terry, wild in the realisation that Michael was getting undressed for his shower but still hadn’t ended the conversation, eyed the door and wondered if Michael would think him stranger than he already did if Terry just bolted, right now. Probably not. For some reason, Terry didn’t want to risk it, though.

“Still got that Redolence Charm, eh?” Michael waved a hand at Terry’s neck or the general vicinity thereof. Half of his fingernails were bitten down and the other half were normal lengths. Terry wondered if Michael was perhaps schizophrenic or just plain odd, but in unremarkable ways that wouldn’t come to the eye of the average bully.

Terry looked down at the amber stone nestling in the deep hollow between his collarbones. He had never had many tête-à-têtes with Michael in the past, but if he always went about pointing out the bloody obvious like he was doing now, it was amazing that people were willing to keep holding conversations with him.

“Yep,” said Terry, for a change of confirmations.

“I was wondering,” said Michael, running his hand through his hair to push it back. Terry looked at the comb on the sink with a fixed gaze last seen in a morgue -- anything not to look at Michael’s skin moving as he moved. “Would you have the time to show me how to make one, later? I have bloody Quidditch practice now, but --”

“Now?” Terry’s incredulity made him look back into Michael’s face. “I thought Quidditch practices were always just before lunch.” Because the likelihood of the team members being awake and functioning before then was as great as bananas blossoming in Iceland, he added mentally.

“Oh, well, not now -- in a few hours -- but I wanted to do a few jogging laps on the pitch beforehand.” Michael’s eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. His eyes were blue.

They’d always been blue, Terry’s mind snapped, answer his goddamn question and get out of there! His mind and that of an army sergeant were sometimes indistinguishable. Terry was grateful for it. Usually.

“I’d be able to instruct you in the initial construction of a Redolence Charm, yes,” said Terry, slipping one hand into the waistband of his pyjamas and yanking them up. One hip covered was better than none, he had to admit. “However, it will have to be -- um -- after lunch. I’m, ah, busy before then. And, well, you need a keystone.”

“Hang on,” said Michael, holding up one finger before dropping to his knees and rummaging in his dressing gown pocket. He’d shoved the dressing-gown into a corner near the sink; Terry was vindicated to observe that it sported spreading patches of moisture. He quickly averted his gaze to the mould along the cornicing, because Michael’s bare back, with its hollowed shoulders, had obscured his vision and there was a dip at the base of his spine --

Terry felt hypersensitive to the eddies of cool air whispering in from beneath the door, which set him to shivering. It was unsettling. It was weird. It bespoke the idea that Terry should never get undressed again, that he should be buried in whatever clothing he next donned, so as to avoid ever re-experiencing this unsettling feeling.

A few seconds later -- Terry could hear every tick, slamming into his brain via his wristwatch -- Michael got to his feet again, holding out a pale rock for inspection.

Despite his uncomfortably acute senses, Terry’s interest was piqued. “Is that a moonstone? Where’d you get it?”

Michael grinned and flicked his hair out of his eyes. “From Snape’s potion store, of course.” At Terry’s frown, he added, “I’ll replace it, soon as I bloody visit Hogsmeade. So? Will it do?”

“It’s ideal.” Terry was distracted. “You were carrying that around in your dressing gown?”

Michael shrugged. “I don’t see much of you in the common room -- you’re always in the bloody library -- so I figured I could get hold of you in the dormitory.” He grinned, his eyes flashing. “Then I kept forgetting to mention it, or you were already bloody asleep --”

Reading by wand light, with the curtains closed, Terry corrected him in his head. Even Anthony didn’t bother to torment people who were “asleep”.

“Oh, well,” Terry cut Michael off, spotting a way to end the conversation and grasping it with both hands, “say, twelve o’clock, in the common room?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Michael. Terry saw, as his brain froze in horror, that Michael’s hands were dancing perilously near to where one end of the towel around his waist was tucked into the other.

“Great, see you then,” squeaked Terry, and whirled for the door.

“Hang on -- is this comb yours?” asked Michael. Terry almost groaned -- he wanted to be gone, five minutes ago. He couldn’t very well deny that the damn item belonged to him, though, not with T.B. carved into the handle -- or pick it up with his eyes closed, more was the pity.

“Oh, yeah,” muttered Terry.

His toes slid on the slick tiles as he advanced. Michael, thankfully -- for the sake of Terry’s mental health, which was already as poor as a church mouse -- had kept his towel where nature intended, which was around his waist.

Michael turned to smile -- again -- at Terry as he grabbed up the comb, his inner army sergeant refusing to let him fumble for it. The sergeant was powerless to prevent Terry’s bare shoulder from skimming Michael’s bare shoulder as he did so, though. He was useless when the chips were down, Terry though sourly.

“S’later, Terry,” said Michael. Terry really, really wished he couldn’t see the reflection of Michael’s nipples in the mirror.

“Yeah,” he mumbled. He made it to the door without slipping -- something he had never done in his life, but which incident seemed imminent right now -- and yanked up his pyjama bottoms.

Stupid world. Stupid pyjama manufacturers who made everything for people who were larger than Terry. Stupid comb. Stupid life. Stupid Terry.

Terry threw his robe -- still wrapped around his things -- into his trunk in a fit of inexplicable temper. He crawled on to his bed and threw the tossed sheets and blanket around his shoulders. After a while, he heard his dorm-mates rousing and scrambled out of his stupor to tug the curtains shut around his bed. He felt fatigued for some reason; he couldn’t summon up the impetus to get dressed and go to the library, even though there were few things he liked doing more. At ten o’clock, he realised he’d missed the quiet time when the library was deserted and, with a sigh, burrowed his head into the pillow.

In his sleep, he still heard the bathroom door opening and the flow of water against his shoulders -- only they weren’t his shoulders, they were --

Potions, said the army sergeant, with more haste than finesse. Let’s dream about Potions, eh?

.:continued in part ii:.

Current Mood: confusedconfused
Current Music: "Jerk It Out", the Caesars -- just that good