“Thanks for that,” he said, with his back still to Michael. His hands fidgeted over his books in a semblance of tidying or severe muscle spasms. The net outcome was much the same, either way. “I’ll borrow Most Potente Potions from the library tomorrow, check it out.”
“You’ll need to get a teacher to sign for it,” Michael reminded him.
Terry bristled at the assumption of his ignorance of this crucial fact -- Terry, who had loaned more Restricted books than a generation of conniving Slytherins -- Terry, who in fifth year had gained permission from Snape to borrow the book.
Terry would very much liked to have informed Michael of all these cogent points, preferably at a volume of ten or so decibels. However, the fact that Michael was -- once more, and suddenly -- right behind Terry rendered him incapable of speech. Or at least, robbed Terry of the faculty of coherent speech -- what would have come out might well have been translatable by dogs or, at a pinch, the deeply insane.
“I’m sure I can prevail upon Professor Lovebright to supply me with one. Most love spells are classified as Dark Arts,” mumbled Terry, gripping the edge of the nightstand for some help and support. What it provided, in reality, was two palmfuls of ancient splinters, but in circumstances such as these one took what one was forced up against.
“I wonder why that is,” mused Michael. Terry wondered why, when Michael was taking no trouble to whisper, he felt the need to address his words to the back of Terry’s neck at the scant distance of four point two inches. “You’d think love would be the bloody lightest of all magics, wouldn’t you?”
“I wouldn’t,” countered Terry, with an effort. He decided that his bafflingly shaky legs probably required the prop of a bed beneath them and moved to accomplish this. “Forcing someone to love you is probably the most disgusting act you could perform with the aid of magic. Notwithstanding the torture curses, naturally.”
To Terry’s dismay, he noticed that Anthony had started to take an unwarranted interest in the proceedings between his friend and the Swot Laureate. Terry hoped that Michael was considering putting this essentially pointless and alarming conversation to bed sometime in the near future, so that Terry could put himself to bed and try to sweat out this sudden fever.
“I don’t know.” Michael actually sounded like he was in two minds over the matter. Terry stared at him. “It would solve a lot of bloody problems. All the angst for people who don’t fancy the people who fancy them, for starters, or fancy the wrong bloody people …”
“It wouldn’t be real,” spluttered Terry.
“What wouldn’t be real?” Anthony butted in. He had a remarkable turn of speed.
“Oh, water Transfigured into vodka,” lied Michael with ease. His gaze never left Terry’s face; after a beat, Terry nodded in reluctant agreement. To the deception, not to the statement; vodka, whether it had been distilled from root vegetables or reassembled via floating protein particles in the air, was one of the realest things in existence. The after-effects of drinking it were even more so.
“I didn’t think that’d be your particular area of expertise,” accused Anthony, prodding Terry in the chest.
Terry fumed at the intrusion, but his reply was even, almost dry. “You are absolutely correct; it’s not.”
“Right.” Anthony presented Terry with a sharp look -- honed on the shattered confidence of his enemies, Terry thought. “Well, if you do find a way to make it, do let us know, won’t you? I’ll be your guinea pig any day.” He let loose a snorting laugh that put Terry in mind a flatulent cow.
“Thank you.” Terry was the epitome of everything polite and distant. Being around Anthony at the best of times was like trying to run a track-and-field event over broken glass. Since his vicious outburst the night of the DA’s reinstatement, Terry had tread even more warily around him. The broken glass was now laid over landmines.
After a moment of obvious dithering -- because Michael still hadn’t said anything to his friend that would encourage the instigation of a pleasant bout of Terry-baiting -- Anthony clapped Michael on the shoulder and went to bed.
Assuming Michael would follow suit and grateful for it, Terry began to tug open the cord of his dressing-gown. He stifled an eye-watering yawn and wondered if he should approach Lovebright for a Restricted Section pass before or after class.
“I don’t agree.” Michael’s voice was soft, but it still made Terry choke down a yelp of alarm.
“What?” snapped Terry, his frayed nerves not disposed to make him any more agreeable to his dorm-mate than he already was, which was not very.
Michael had assumed his preferred pose, leaning against a bed post with his arms crossed over his chest. His head was tilted forward a little, so that his hair hung in a black sheet in front of his eyes. So focused was he upon his subject -- or so Terry assumed -- that he hadn’t even resorted to a customary hair-toss.
“That love potions are all that bloody bad,” Michael was saying. “If they could just … enhance people’s attractions, or make other people see them in a positive light …”
I can’t believe I’m having a debate with Michael Corner over love potions. Terry felt light-headed enough to stunt-double for a balloon. However, he was adamant.
“It still isn’t real. Some things -- love -- are difficult by design. Nothing in life worth having ever comes with great ease.”
Michael scratched his calf with the heel of his other, nude foot. There were wisps of dark hair on his big toes. Terry resolved that Michael must be impervious to cold -- he was forever prancing about barefoot.
“First of all, it exists, it’s there. A potion, I mean,” said Michael. “How can it not be real? And, secondly, from what I’ve come across, love potions are among the most complex to bloody create, so there’s your “no great ease”.”
Terry sighed. He felt terribly weary all of a sudden. “I wasn’t talking about the corporeal potion. Of course that’s a tangible, real object. Look -- if you can’t love someone for who they are, or for who you think they are, unaided and unabetted, all a potion will give you is a false sensation.” This time, the yawn engulfed him.
“Sometimes, I think false sensations might be the bloody right ones.” As the candles snuffed out, one by one, odd-angled shadows were cast across Michael’s hair-shielded face.
Terry longed for the precious oblivion of sleep. At least in his dreams, the most confusing thing that happened was Potions blowing up for no discernable reason.
“That, I fear, is exactly the dilemma,” he said. “You think that; but would the potential recipient of the potion be of like mind? After all, they are the ones whose feelings are in doubt. People are very … attached to their own feelings and opinions and things, you realise. They don’t often care to have them trifled with and, if you do so, you’re treating them as little more than breathing dolls. To convince them in theory that a magical change of heart would be advantageous -- it would be a gargantuan undertaking.”
Michael scuffed the floor with his bare toe. Terry could see it, creeping into the edge of his line of sight. “The point is -- would you even tell them?”
Terry’s face contorted. “You refer to administering an illegal potion to someone without their prior knowledge and consent? That’s terrifically unethical!”
“You could say that the use of Memory Charms on Muggles is also bloody unethical,” countered Michael.
“That’s completely different.” Terry’s voice was clipped, dismissive. “You’re talking about the protection versus the sacrificing of the safety of the entire wizarding society, as opposed to the capricious whims of just one person.”
“You call love a capricious whim?” Terry couldn’t tell if Michael was amused or affronted.
“Certainly by that comparison.” Terry’s hot hands were hovering, impatient, over the knot of his dressing-gown cord. “Now, if you’ll excuse me …”
Michael glanced down at his wristwatch, his shock of sliding hair resembling nothing so much as a Cossack hat. “Christ, it’s a quarter past bloody twelve.” He looked up with a brilliant smile; Terry attempted to focus on the less dazzling zit right at the corner of his mouth, where his curling lips joined. “Sorry I kept you talking for so bloody long. It’s just -- interesting stuff.”
Terry thought that it clearly wasn’t interesting enough to talk in public, in daytime, where people might hear Michael talking about it. Aloud, he said, “Sadly, you do not seem convinced of the moral bankruptcy inherent in love magic.” Michael seemed to have no reply to that.
Exhaustion and impatience for a wonder won the battle against modesty -- although the war was far from over, not to speak of won -- and Terry shucked off his dressing gown, tugging down the hem of his pyjama top before the gown was even fully off. He still felt uncomfortable baring skin around Michael, despite the fact that Michael had seen more of than anyone except Terry’s mother and Terry himself. However, the room was in almost complete darkness by now and Terry had a layer of shadow on his side for the few seconds his stomach was exposed.
He reached up to adjust his Redolence Charm, which tended to prefer the view from the back of his neck as opposed to the front.
“I got mine finished,” volunteered Michael. Terry regarded the other boy, a little apprehensive, as he delved into the collar of his robes and fished out his Charm, which was suspended on a fine silver snake chain.
As he did so, the last candle quenched with a faint pop. The room was suddenly bathed in moonlight slanting in from the high-set, Romanesque windows. The light caught the hidden facets of the moonstone, so that what looked opaque in daylight now held glittering hints of iridescence. It was mesmerising.
“Glad you didn’t use the granite, after all?’ suggested Terry, his hand clenching on the slick material of his bedspread.
“Thanks again,” said Michael. He seemed on the verge of saying something more, but at that moment an extra-loud snuffle emanated from Kevin’s bed and a garbled protest against all the noise came from Anthony’s. “Good night,” added Michael in a whisper, and he padded away into the grey dimness.
Terry climbed into bed, feeling the Michael-induced fever recede as fast as it had appeared, leaving him shivering and pulling his blankets closer.
Ginny Weasley, he remembered with a jerk. Ginny had been the first girl Michael had asked out.
Despite his leaden eyes, it was a long time before Terry fell asleep.
The following morning, Terry sat on his trunk, browsing through Hermione’s book and taking down the page numbers wherein mention was made of the “Potione of the Hearte”. All around him, his dorm-mates groused at the unfairness of life in general and the necessity of early rising for school in particular. Terry himself could barely keep his eyes open, but he’d still risen fifteen minutes early. There was no sense in abandoning a workable scheme, even if unforeseen events -- read: Michael’s unanticipated propensity for happening upon Terry when he’d no shirt on -- had rendered it all but obsolete. In the end, if a more rested state was dependant upon parading around in long johns, as Stephen was doing, then Terry would take chronic exhaustion any day.
Michael had actually wished him a “Good morning“. It was the first time in Terry’s memory that he had done so. This occurrence elicited a scowl from the grouchy Anthony. Whether this scowl were destined for Terry -- for the usual crime of being too clever for his own good -- or at Michael, for acknowledging the Anthony-baptised social leper, Terry wasn’t sure.
He hoped Michael wasn’t planning to make a habit of it -- like the hair thing, or biting half of his nails. Anthony was hardly going to upbraid his friend for displaying common courtesy -- no matter how uncommon from him -- but he’d make Terry pay for the fact that nothing, including civility, came for free.
Needless to say, Terry had returned the greeting, albeit in more muted tones. Anthony’s eyes were daring him to do otherwise and suffer the consequences of it. Terry did not, after all, have a death wish.
Terry stroked his quill along his chin, as he was wont to do whilst following a map of thought. Terry was never lost in thought -- that was for disorganised people, otherwise known as the rest of the world.
It became clearer and clearer, even as he only thumbed through the book, that the majority of it was in fact devoted to this Hearte Potione and others in the same mould. These included references and textbook chapters on “Excitable Humours”, Ignition Charms and “Transports of Colour Joye”. These Terry had taken to be an archaic form of panic attacks or depression, fire lighters and alternative methods of transportation.
Read another way, however, and they became spells for lust and arousal -- and, Terry was forced to suppose, love. The more he considered it, the more throwaway remarks in the text bounced into the tennis court of sense. The frequent owl references, for example. Terry had taken them to be a birdwatcher’s harmless idiosyncrasies. Viewed in a different light, owls were shown to be a source of feathers for potions that required “an uplifting of the senses akin to the flighte of a birde”. Terry had come across bird feather use in other potions, the most prominent being Pepper-Up, Cheering and Temporary Flight.
However, the bird in question in those potions was never an owl. Perhaps they had been the only birds available at the time of the book’s writing, but that was not a very satisfactory answer. Potions experts and experimenters were supposed have every possible material on hand. Then again, this had been in -- or appeared to have been in -- the fifteenth century. It was not a time best noted for the mass production and distribution of consumer items.
The oddest thing of all, though, was that Terry was indebted to Michael for all these insights.
A sharp rap came at the dormitory door.
Teachers were the only ones who knocked. Terry’s head sprang up and he performed a rapid-fire mental itinerary to ensure that, e.g., his laces weren’t untied. Dormitory checks occurred as often as Filch swore goodwill to all men, but they were generally occasions for exceptional stringency upon the subjects of hygiene and neatness on the part of the teacher conducting it.
Terry wasn’t the only one taken on the hop. Stephen had leapt behind his bed curtain and evidently stubbed his toe on his trunk, judging by his blasphemous exclamations of pain. Anthony was slapping Kevin about the face in a violent effort to awaken him. Kevin was obliging him with a sonata of protesting moans, scored for elephant. A bolt of sudden autumnal sunshine threw the sfumato room into sharply delineated areas of chiaroscuro. Michael emerged from the bathroom half-dressed, towelling his drenched hair. Water ran in rivulets down his naked chest.
Terry blinked the aftershocks from his eyes, feeling something lurch in his stomach. Perhaps his odd fever of the night before had been indicative of an impending illness.
A scarce ten seconds later, the door opened and swung inwards on a graceful trajectory. Padma stuck her head around it and smiled in greeting, although her expression soon broadened into a lascivious grin at the state of discomposure exhibited by the room’s inmates.
Terry couldn’t imagine what she was doing there. Every weekday mornings she waited for him in the common room so that they could go down to breakfast together. Often this entailed Terry trailing her as she discussed matters of vital importance with Mandy, Lisa and Morag, such as Depilatory Charms and new make-up ranges from Chic Witch.
On weekends, Padma liked to indulge in a grass-matinee followed by sessions of what was to self-pampering what the Koh-i-noor was to Christmas cracker engagement rings. Terry preferred paying an extended visit to the gorgeously deserted library. Ergo, coming into the Ravenclaw boys’ domain was out of character for Padma; she’d claimed to be able to smell it from the common room at least forty thousand times.
“Morning, Terry,” she chirped, venturing further inside. “Morning, all.”
“Morning, Padma,” Terry echoed the rest. One voice came from inside a rolled-up bed curtain, another from beneath a pillow.
“What are you doing here?” asked Michael. At the jarring note of … affection in his voice, Terry looked up so sharply he nearly snapped his neck.
His skin prickled with both heat and cold as Padma’s face took on a cast of flirtatious charm. Michael -- shirtless, robe-less, wearing pyjama bottoms for some reason; Terry hadn’t known he even owned such an item -- his chest wet, met Padma in the middle of the floor, tilted her chin up with a damp hand and kissed her.
Terry’s mind slowed, the better to take it in.
His frozen face made him think for a moment he’d Apparated to the top of an Artic mountain. His skin was bulging with goosebumps, although his body heat fluctuated from boiling to gelid more quickly than a bipolar thermometer. He was definitely ill, he decided. Very ill indeed.
There was a chorus of “Ooh-er!”s and the addition of a flung pillow, smelling of boiled sweets, to the morning snogathon. Anthony was soon breaking up the kiss in order to, as it turned out, to congratulate the newly-minted couple.
“ -- finally making your move --” Terry heard Anthony say, over the noise of his chattering teeth.
Stephen had made a dash for the vacated bathroom and Kevin had fallen back asleep. Terry dragged his strewn notes into a bundle, not noticing how many page edges he bent, and groped for the door. He was sure he was going to be sick. Michael playfully swatted Anthony aside to take Padma’s face in both his hands and smile down at her. As Terry turned back just before he slipped out, Michael’s mouth was on hers once more.
No one noticed Terry leave; but then again, no one ever did.
Terry gave one last glance at his whey-faced person in the mirror. He’d headed for the boys’ toilets in East Passage, in case he was going to throw up. So far, though, all he’d got was a residual taste of gall in the back of his throat. It refused to be banished even after Terry Transfigured some tap water into strawberry-flavoured mouthwash. Now his mouth just retained the zest of sour strawberries.
“Had a bit of a shock, did we, love?” asked the mirror, sounding sympathetic.
“No, no -- just felt sick,” whispered Terry, fearing to speak louder in case his bones would shatter like the china he felt them to be.
“Get to the hospital wing, best thing for you,” advised the mirror. Terry nodded woodenly and made for the door.
He did entertain a vague thought of calling in to Madame Pomfrey and requesting an antacid potion. His stomach was roiling like a boiling kettle. There was a great likelihood, though, that she would make him stay in for observation. She was under the mistaken impression that he was “delicate”.
In any case, his decision was made for him. He took a wrong turning through a tapestry which he’d thought was a shortcut to the hospital wing and found himself, instead, in the sunny Defence Against the Dark Arts corridor. Professor Lovebright was standing by the classroom door, juggling the levitation of a tall stack of books with jingling through a bulky bunch of keys that was more sparkly key chains than unlocking devices.
Terry hadn’t thought that he’d made a great deal of noise emerging through the second tapestry, which lay across the bottom of the hidden flight of stairs. All the same, Lovebright whirled around like a drunken ballerina, the disturbance of the spell sending the top three books skittering down the hall floor.
“Oh, Terry,” she said, as if she’d been expecting a slavering three-headed monster. Her face -- which for a moment had borne what almost looked like an hostile expression beneath all the make-up -- relaxed. “I totally didn’t see anyone coming down the corridor.”
“I came through the tapestry,” said Terry, gesturing. He brushed some dust from his robes.
“Really?” Lovebright let her books drop on to the floor with a careless thunk. Terry winced. “OH MY GOD, I never knew there was a passageway there!”
“Neither did I,” said Terry, “I thought I was going to the hospital wing.”
Lovebright paused in running her hands over the faded skeins of the tapestry to bestow upon him a probing look. “You are totally pale, Terry,” she pronounced. She extracted her wand -- about fourteen inches, coco bolo wood -- and, before he could object, held it to his temple.
A second later, a series of luminous pink numbers started chugging out of the wand tip. They hung in the air, coruscating a little, before evaporating. Lovebright studied them with a small frown.
“Well, your temperature is normal,” she said, after a minute, “as is your blood pressure. Your heart rate is pretty high, though.” She eyed him closely; Terry, squirming under the scrutiny, looked away. “Have you had breakfast?” she asked.
“Wasn’t hungry,” mumbled Terry, although in fact he hadn’t thought about food at all.
“Here.” Lovebright sashayed over to where she’d dumped her things. Terry observed that they included a shapeless, knitted bag in rainbow shades of shimmering wool.
She rummaged in it, turfing out an impossible number of articles. Terry recognised several feathery objects as half-dissected Muggle dream catchers. They lay amongst debris which incorporated five or six pots of coloured unguents, a spare wand wrapped in ribbons, a purple Sneakoscope and a cosmetic factory’s worth of lip gloss.
“Eat up,” said Lovebright, presenting Terry with some broken chocolate in pink metallic foil. “Always keep some chocolate in your bag. That’s, like, my motto.”
Terry put a small piece in his mouth. It turned out to have a smooth toffee filling which caused Terry to work his jaws rapidly in order to keep his teeth from being glued together. “As a remedy against potential Dementor attacks?”
Lovebright gave what Terry thought might be described as a “silvery” laugh, although in her case “pinky” would be far more apt. “OH MY GOD, yeah. But actually I meant in case you had to skip a meal and got the nibbles.”
She sent him another sharp look, which, coming from her pretty, blank face, was as unnerving as a talking banana. “You probably still have time to get down to the Great Hall for, like, toast or something.”
Terry crammed some more chocolate in to his mouth. It melted and tingled on his tongue and was, in fact, quite addictive. “No, no,” he found himself saying after a pause, “my friend won’t miss me.”
Lovebright raised her eyebrows, but forbore to comment on this statement. Terry blushed at his own audacity, but the sudden feeling of bitterness was as overwhelming as the discovery of an untouched pyramid in the Valley of Kings would be to an amateur Egyptologist. He couldn’t help feeling that Padma could at least have hinted that she had feelings for Michael. After all, Terry was supposed to be her best friend. Not to mention that she, of all people, knew how vile Anthony and his chums really were, yet she still chose to slobber all over Michael.
Slobber was exactly the word, Terry thought in fury, his fists clenching in his pockets. Padma had displayed about as much dignity as a bitch in heat; Michael was no better. Terry had seen his tongue.
“You could help me with some cataloguing,” Lovebright was saying in her typical bright tones. “There’s about three-quarters of an hour until class starts.”
“Sure,” said Terry, and he trotted down the corridor in pursuit of some of Lovebright’s escapee books. One of them had propped itself up on its covers and was trying to sidle out of sight like a square crab. Chasing it down and capturing it provided a welcome, air-conditioned diversion from Terry’s red-hot thoughts.