James and I go to Care of Magical creatures. He likes to joke that he took it for a laugh, but the truth is he’s actually quite good at it. We wander down to the edge of the forest where Professor Kettleburn is standing with several large buckets surrounding him. I spot Hagrid peering out from his window with a wistful look on his face, as if wishing he could be outside with us. An idea hits me like a bullet, or a hex. “James,” I excitedly say. “What if we give Hagrid lessons? Care of Magical Creatures lessons? He would love it. Come on! We have to! It would make him so happy.”
His face cracks into a grin. “Yes! He would love us forever,”
“Never mind that we would be doing something nice for somebody.” I reply sternly.
“Yeah, yeah that’s obvious though.”
“Jessica Persephone Braddock.”
I stick my tongue out at him and we join our class, standing in front of a bucket. Inside are slabs of meat, crawling with maggots. I wrinkle my nose up at them- I’ve never been one for slime. Kettleburn claps his hands and we fall into a hush of quiet. “Right. So, today is very important, it’s the start of your coursework part of the NEWT. These worms -”
“Don’t tell me we’re looking after maggots for the next three months.” Andrew Madden groans behind me and I can’t help but sympathise. We’re all of age, we should be allowed to deal with actually dangerous, and interesting, creatures by now. James rolls his eyes. Professor Kettleburn continues. “No, I do have a little faith in some of you. The maggots need to be cleaned off of the food for what you will be studying. A Three Headed Dog.” I gasp, then blush before realising that I’m not the only one to do this. I exchange an excited glance with James, who whispers to me “The monster from all our games come to reality.”
When we were children, James would come to my house for days at a time in the summer and we would always play the same game. It started in the sea. We would swim to shore pretending that we had just survived a shipwreck and crawl onto the sand, letting the grains land uncomfortably down our swim suits. James would always complain about that, but I insisted that it was more authentic. We would pretend that we had landed on an island, inhabited only with magical creatures; Phoenixes flying above us, Centaurs looking down from the clifftop and a thousand other beings. But first we had to climb the cliff. We dodged imaginary fire crabs, and occasionally one of us would scream and fall, having just been hit with their fire and we would run back to the water to soothe the pretend burn, before starting out again. We would pass the hippogriff with a bow of respect, but, at the top of the steps carved into the cliff would be a three headed dog. We had no idea how to tame it and so would have to do battle. James would take one head and I another- for some reason we didn’t consider the third head until we’d chopped the others off- and after we had killed it we would run to my house, which we imagined to be a castle and stuff our faces with a picnic mum had prepared. Finally, we would learn how to tame a three headed dog without murdering it.
“Right. Settle down. I see that I have your attention. We have six lessons a week, but for the next 2 months, you will split into groups and only come down for two, in order for you to have more one to one time with the creature. So…” Kettleburn looks around at us. “Potter, Braddock, Munday and Parkinson.” James and I groan. If anything I’d rather have Parinson in our group than Mandy Munday. Kettleburn chooses the other two groups and then picks one at random. “Group three. You get the first look. Group 2, you can come in our 2 singles, and Group one, our Friday afternoon double.”
Davey Parkinson wraps his arm around Mandy. She’s a tall Hufflepuff girl who looks a bit like a pug. She giggles at something he says that apparently is really amusing. We pass Hagrid’s hut and wave back at him. “We do need to see him soon.” I tell James and he agrees.
“-that sqib baby who got it last night.” My hand flies to my wand in an instant as I catch a snippet of Parkinson’s conversation. “Say that again.” I demand. “Say that again Parkinson, I dare you.”
He squirms, then regains his cocky façade. “I said those maggots looked like that dead sqib brat.”
“Right.” I hiss, move my wand and send him onto all fours with trotters appearing on his hands and feet and the word pig erupting in pimples on his face. “What are you doing?” Mandy screeches, bending down and hugging Parkinson. “You’re insane.” She stands up, lip twitching unattractively.
“You heard what he said! As soon as he learns his lesson I’ll change him back.”
I stow my wand away and let James have his turn. I suddenly double over and start coughing. Blood starts dripping from my lips. I too fall to the ground. “What the fuck have you done?” James growls. I feel his arms on my shoulders. There’s a pause in which all there is, is the sound of my retching, the dripping of blood and the occasional grunts of a pig. I’ve gone too far. I shouldn’t have acted like that. Where was the chivalry which is so important to being a Gryffindor? It wasn’t brave, or clever, or chivalrous. Then I can stand and the pain in my gut stops. I stand, spit out the remaining blood onto the ground and stretch my neck. James smiles, I can tell that he’s missed this, persecuting deatheater wannabes, and I can understand why. They make my skin crawl. And I loathe Mandy right now. “I’m Head Boy,” James says, with such arrogance that I cringe slightly and rub my throat. “Do you know what that means?” He continues. “It means I can give you detention. Every Saturday this month, all day.”
He oinks in response and Mandy nods. James raises his wand and a jet of light expels itself from his wand. The pig-human hybrid that is Davey Parkinson is hoisted into the air by one trotter. Levicorpus. “So Saturday detention?” James asks gleefully. There’s a glint of anger in his eye that informs me I should stay out of it. He’s angry on my behalf. More than angry. I don’t pay that look any attention. “James…” I say hesitantly and reverse my own spells. “James, isn’t this going a little too far?”
“They almost killed you.” He spits.
He lowers him to the ground, and we glare at each other for a moment. Then a silent agreement is reached: we won’t speak of this.
Ingrid hands me a Halloween invitation at lunch, she does so rather too forcefully and her smile reminds me of that of a snake- vicious. “This year we’re being quite exclusive,” She remarks. “You can only come if you have a date.”
I smile at her sweetly. “Not a problem.” I assure her as my stomach sinks. Typical. But there's not much I can do, I made friends with them in first year and now I'm stuck with them until I die, I'm not being dramatic, I'm being realistic. ‘Friends’. I unfold the black paper and scrawled across it in bronze pen is the time and date along with the cordial line: 'You are invited to Ingrid’s Halloween couples party… An exclusive affair which promises to be the best of evenings.' Lily and James get a joint invitation. When she hands Sirius his, it’s with a long, sliding movement of the eyes towards Sophia. Remus gets one too, but not Peter. That’s just mean.
We have Transfiguration next and Lily decides she wants to go early which means we all have to leave five minutes before the bell. As we parade down the corridors I make sure to hang back so that I fall into step with Peter. “Are you alright?” I ask. He shrugs his shoulders in a movement I can only imagine he thinks is nonchalant and is anything but. “Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”
I pause for a minute. Because you’ve been singled out by somebody as not being good enough to go to a stupid party, because somebody has insulted you, because you’re not as ‘cool’ as your friends. “Because Ingrid is a mean bitch.” I say. “I don’t like her.”
I’ve admitted it. Said it out loud. I don’t like her. “But she’s beautiful.” Peter squeaks.
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean she’s nice Peter.”
“Wormtail.” He says.
“I’m… I’m not one of you lot,” I flounder.
“Yeah, you are.” He smiles at me. It’s pathetic, it’s like I want to cry. “You have a nickname too, but I’ll have to call a meeting to see if we can call you that.”
“Okay, I have an idea. Who wants to go to a stuffy couples party anyway- I don’t. We’ll have our own party. Any ideas?”
“Loads.” He grins.
Peter is a genius. An actual genius. I look around to admire our handiwork. Cobwebs, blood smeared on the walls, everything is perfect. “How did you know how to get in? It’s meant to be the most…”
“Most haunted building in Britain? Yeah, I know that it’s not.” He tells me.
I fill another few punch bowls and then start the music. Before long, there’s a knock on the formerly boarded up door.
I have never seen anywhere so packed. Peter throws an amazing party. And so do I. “So what made you think of the shrieking shack?” I ask him.
“Oh, no reason. Just something I’ve always wanted to do. Oh good! Moony’s come.”
Remus is looking lost, confused and amazed as Peter scurries over towards him. “What do you think?” He asks.
“How did they get in?”
“The front door. Look they love it Moony!”
“But the blood….”
“So that wasn’t me?” He said in a quiet voice.
“Unless Jess nicked your blood, no. Everyone’s enjoying themselves Moony… I just thought that if you saw people having a good time here then the place wouldn’t seem so bad in the future.”
Out of the corner of my eye I see Remus well up. He’s so touched by his friend’s action that he is close to tears. Everyone thinks Peter is the useless one, now I realise he’s the one that holds them together. The glue. I saunter over to join them, acting as though I didn’t overhear their brief conversation. “Remus!” I hand him a drink which he takes obligingly. “So you didn’t feel like Ingrid’s intimate gathering?”
He shakes his head and takes a sip of the murky brown liquid in the plastic cup I gave him. “Not at all. Entirely dull affair.”
“Knew it would be.”
“Are the others joining us?” Wormtail asks. Remus shakes his head. “Padfoot got a date?”
“Sophia.” Remus says.
“That makes sense.” I reply with a smile that I’m not entirely sure is genuine. I'm disgusted with myself. It's 1977, I need to stop being such Stepford Wife material. Pull yourself together Jess. “But you’re here! Let’s face it, we are the best of the lot.”
Peter raises a glass. “To us lot.” He grins.
“Fuck yes!” Remus knocks his plastic cup against ours and we drink.
“Oh shit,” I hiss, under my breath as I see the tall figure of Matthew Sebbins swaggering towards me after what I know to be his fourth drink. Wormtail and Remus exchange a chuckle and leave me to deal with the impending awkward situation. “Hi Matt.” I say and take another swig. “How are you?”
He beams. “Great. This is an awesome party!”
“So, Jess. Jessica. Jessie,” I cringe at the ‘-ie’. “Look I was thinking… do you want to go out with me some time, like, to Hogsmeade or something?”
My mind goes blank. No. Sorry, but I can’t. It wouldn’t be fair to you because I don’t feel the same way about you. NO. “Yes.” What? Am I insane?
“Yeah, why not?”
“Great. So tomorrow? At ten outside the Three Broomsticks?”
“In the morning?”
“That’s so early.”
“See you tomorrow then.”
As he leaves there is a bounce in his step and my heart sinks. I’m a bitch. A cold-hearted bitch. The boys appear either side of me. “What happened there then?” Remus asks with a smirk.
“I have a date.”
“You could try looking happier about it.” Wormtail suggests.
“I thought I was.”
“You need to become a better actress.”
“I think you’re right… Come on. Let’s go dance.”
I pull them into an old room which had a gramophone where everyone is swaying in time to the music. Muggle music, which is far better than any of the magical crap I’ve heard recently.