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Night Terrors by Karaley Dargen

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If I could just learn everything in my sleep, imagine what I could do with the rest of my time. This is my last year at Hogwarts, and I'm sure I don't know half the secret passages and rooms yet. Or I could just snatch some food from the kitchens and have a chat with a portrait or a ghost. And when it gets a bit warmer outside, I could spend all my time flying around, and not worry about a thing.

The dancing trolls, Andrew, and his miracle magic. If only it could all be true.

I'm torn right out of my daydreams of effortless success when I hear footsteps behind me.

–Come on, Tonks,” someone says. I quickly crumple up the leaflet and look up to see that two other students from my year, Martha and Edmund, have entered. –Never despair,” Ed says and sits down next to me. Martha takes a seat on the other side of the small table and sets her bag down.

–I tell you,” she starts, –Astronomy is mad.”

–Actually, I think it’s just Professor Sinistra that is,” Ed replies.

–Why, what do you have to do?” They have Astronomy twice a week at night, and usually have a short theoretical lesson at some point during the day before that.

Martha slams a heavy book from her bag on the table. –She wants us to plot an observation study by tonight,” she says. –And we still have Herbology later.”

–Can you skip?” I ask. –I know I’m tempted...”

For a moment, Martha frowns at the table. –I can’t,” she finally mumbles. It’s like I can see the priorities fighting behind her forehead.

–I’m going if you’re going,” Ed says, tilting his chair backwards. –I wouldn’t fret too much about the study outline either. It’s more about what we make out of it tonight.”

–Easy for you to say,” Martha retorts, and I’m slightly taken aback by the edge in her tone. –You’re only taking three NEWTs, and it’s not like they matter anyway.”

–Wow Martha, thanks a lot,” Ed says, slamming the four legs of his chair back down on the ground.

I think I can see tears welling up in Martha’s eyes, but it’s hard to say, since she’s staring at the book in front of her again. –I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that,” I say, but Ed has already opened a book and started leafing through it. He doesn’t spare Martha another glance.

We sit in silence for a while, and it’s becoming really uncomfortable. I try to focus on my Transfiguration books, but the tension between the other two makes it impossible to concentrate. Ed comes from a wealthy family, and his father is fairly high up in the Ministry. He passed his OWLs with flying colours, and was offered a job by his father’s department -- Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures -- right away, the only prerequisite being that he pass his Care of Magical Creatures NEWT. Though he was studious before, he reverted to a more casual attitude last year. He only takes Astronomy because it interests him, and he’s always had a knack for that, and Herbology because it’s part of our Hufflepuff honour to do that. Martha’s right in that his NEWTs won’t matter for his job, but there was no need to throw it at him like that.

I look up and almost decide to say something, but I see Martha looking at the pages of her Astronomy book with her lips pressed together, and Ed frowning as he fixates the same spot on the page as he has five minutes ago, and quickly change my mind. Instead, I pull out a new page of parchment and resolve to start on my Potions essay. At least, this one shouldn’t be all that hard -- it’s about the practical application of our Burn Healing paste, so I just have to write a bit about how Aurors get hit by stinging hexes a lot, or something.

I’m about eight inches into the required twenty when Martha closes her book and gets up.

–I’m going to head to the library for another book,” she says when she catches my eye. Then she gathers up her things and heads out without a word to Ed.

When she’s gone, Ed puts his book down on the table and sighs.

–She’s just been really stressed lately,” I try to explain. –It’s not easy for her.”

–I know,” Ed says, –but it’s hard to keep calm all the time. She was fine all day, and then she just suddenly snaps like that -- I know she’s got it tough, but she can’t expect us to put up with her mood swings permanently.”

There’s silence between us for a moment. Neither of us can really relate to Martha’s situation. I take five NEWTs as well, but my parents are not breathing down my neck like hers are.

–It’s not like my NEWTs don’t matter at all, you know.” Ed shuts his book and looks at me. –I do have to pass Care of Magical Creatures, and it’s actually not that easy at NEWT level.”

I’ve heard this before from Charlie. A lot of people take Care of Magical Creatures because they think it’ll be an easy NEWT, and then have to drop it because the subject gets far more complicated -- not to mention dangerous -- at that stage.

–And just-- the thing is, it matters to me,” he finally bursts out. –Yeah, I’m only taking three NEWTs, but I want to do well in them. It’s not my fault that a large part of all three is practical, and I don’t have to sit in the library and lug books around every waking hour. But that doesn’t change that they’re difficult, and that I have to work to get good results.”

–I know,” I say, and feel lame because it’s the only thing I can think of. But it’s the truth. –Like I said, I’m sure she doesn’t mean it -- honestly.”

Ed shrugs, and he looks just miserable. Neither of us really has anything more to say though, so we both return to our respective coursework, occasionally exchanging curses about our professors -- me more so than Ed. After a while, we decide to go upstairs for lunch. As we pack up our things, I notice that the crumpled up leaflet has disappeared. It's definitely not on the table anymore, and I can't see it on the floor either.

"Did you lose something?" Ed asks when I emerge from under a chair.

"Nah," I say, hoping that I don't look guilty. "I just wanted to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything."

When Ed turns to leave, I scan the room again. Nothing. Maybe one of the house-elves took it without me noticing - though they don't usually work during the day - or the plants made a joke of tossing it into the fire. They sometimes do that with stray pieces of parchment. Either way, it's gone, and that's for the best. It's not like I was going to make use of it anyway. I'm not that dumb or desperate.

By the time we're walking up the stairs, the leaflet is pushed out of my mind as we’re verbally abusing Snape wildly, and reminiscing about all the terrible things he’s done to his students over the years. Ed dropped the class after he got his OWL, but he still has more than his fair share of dreadful memories.

I’ve almost forgotten about Martha’s outburst when we enter the Great Hall, and only remember it because she’s not there. I wonder whether she’s already had lunch or whether she’s not having any at all. Just to be on the safe side, I wrap a baked potato in a napkin and take it with me when we head down to Herbology.

It’s a beautiful day outside, and my first thought is that I hope it holds for our Quidditch practice the next day. It’s not hot, but comfortably warm for early March, and there’s a perfect light breeze that carries the scents of the grass and the flowers and the trees. I look over at Ed, and I see that he’s smiling.

–Can’t wait for tomorrow,” he says. Ed’s one of our Chasers, and he’s become bloody brilliant in the past year. Sure, he has more time to practise than most of us others do, but it's not just that. He's got real talent. –Too bad that the Gryffindors get this weather today, though.” We both laugh. There’s no real enmity between the Hufflepuff and Gryffindor teams, though I feel like the Gryffindor captain sees everyone as his enemy. Of course, everyone wants to win, and we are rivals, but both teams have made an early peace with the fact that the cup will be decided between Ravenclaw and Slytherin this year.

We’re among the first to arrive at the greenhouse, but Professor Sprout is already there and lets us in. While I’m the only Hufflepuff in Potions, there are enough of us in Herbology to form two groups. Ed and I go to our usual table - Martha isn’t there yet, which is quite unlike her - and start setting up. A few tables ahead, I spot Charlie among the small group of Gryffindors. He smiles and waves at me, and I can see the bright orange shining under a thick bandage on his left arm.

I mouth, –What have you done?” at him, and he mimes something that I can’t understand at all, but looks absolutely hilarious. Possibly he means that he fell over with his hands full of Ashwinder eggs, but it’s really hard to tell. I’m glad now that he took the paste, anyway.

There’s a steady stream of students trickling in, and shortly before the lesson starts, Martha appears too. She stands in the doorway for a moment, glancing over at us uncertainly, and I can feel Ed stiffening beside me as he spots her. I wave her over -- there’s no reason for anyone to hold a grudge, and if they both have to be uncomfortable for two hours to reconcile, then that’s what’s going to happen. Martha bobs to and fro for another bit, but finally decides to join us.

When she reaches her spot at our table, I busy myself with filling a larger set of pots with loose soil and pretend to not hear them.

–I’m sorry,” Martha mumbles.

Ed makes an indistinguishable sound, then, after a pause, says, –As long as you don’t keep doing it...”

It’s not the perfect resolution, but it’s going to do. We work more or less in silence on our plants, except for the occasional polite –can you pass this” or –are you done with that” or –watch out for the Venomous Tentacula”.

Everyone is working on a personal project. For our seventh year, each of us has their own small patch in greenhouse eight, and we’re supposed to cultivate it. At the start of the year, we picked a variety of plants from a NEWT standard list, and started growing them. The first plants have already been transferred from their pots to the ground. Ed has grown his own variety of an impressive slug-repelling salad, which, as Professor Sprout has informed him, Hagrid has been eyeing with some interest. We’re both currently working on separating some Valerians while Martha has her hands full with some Wriggling Wisteria. Once I’m done putting the Valerians in their individual pots, I want to set up the stalks for my Sopophorous Beans. Half of our practical NEWT will be based on a presentation and inspection of our individual patches, so everyone has an incentive to be focussed. Rumours spread by older students in the past years about destroyed patches have also lead to the last ten minutes of each lesson being dedicated to everyone casting their own protection charms around their plants -- even if Professor Sprout assures us that no one can enter Greenhouse Eight without her expressed permission.

Repotting the Valerians ends up taking me all of the lesson, because there’s a mischievous Brazilian Maracuja growing behind me, which keeps stealing my pots and gloves and shovel. We have a voluntary extra lesson each Friday afternoon though, and that will be soon enough for the beanstalks.

When we’ve washed our tools and hands, I catch Charlie, and we arrange to meet up after dinner so that we can write our Potions essays together. I'm sure he’ll nag me about Transfiguration, which is a good thing, since Professor McGonagall is probably going to stick us with an essay for the weekend and I don’t want to run into that completely unprepared.

I do manage to work a bit in the library, but in the end, I can’t bear to look at the shelves around me anymore and take flight to the Great Hall for an early dinner. None of the Hufflepuffs from my year are there yet, so I don’t hang around, but move to the Entrance Hall to wait for Charlie. There’s a stream of students trickling into the Great Hall, so I get out of the way and sit on the base of the statue of some troll.

When Charlie does arrive, I almost don’t notice him at first, because there’s no joke or quip about me sitting there and pretending to study.

–Oi,” I say when I look up. –You all right?”

–Mh? Oh, yeah,” he replies. He has his hands in the pockets of his robes, and the frown seems to be permanently etched into his forehead. –It’s just that we had training earlier, and Alexandra didn’t show up. Turns out no one’s really seen her since Monday.”

–Are you rescheduling the match then?” The moment the question is out of my mouth, I want to slap myself. Alexandra is in Charlie’s year; they might well be friendly. We don't actually talk about the people in our houses that much. –Sorry,” I add quickly. –Any idea where she might be?”

He shrugs. –Oliver thinks we should ask McGonagall. But I’m not sure -- what if she’s gone for, you know, personal reasons? I don’t want to be the one sending the watchdogs after her.”

I remember vaguely that Alexandra used to have a boyfriend who passed his NEWTs two or three years ago. –You mean she’s run off or something?”

–Maybe she just needed a break,” Charlie says.

–Thing is though,” I say, and stop myself from biting my lip, –if she’s really gone, they’re going to know tomorrow. And if you want to reschedule...”

–We do have reserve Chasers,” Charlie argues. –So we wouldn’t reschedule anyway. But you’re probably right, McGonagall wouldn’t just let this go if we told her Alexandra had an upset stomach or something. She knows how much Alex wants to win.” He sighs and cracks his neck. –I’d better head to McGonagall’s office then. Wood said I should do it, being the senior player and all. Frankly, I think he’s still a bit scared of her.”

I pick up my stack of books and ask, –Do you want me to wait?”

–I’d hate to make you,” he says, and I realise that he looks quite miserable. –I have no idea how long I’ll be.”

–Right,” I reply quickly, –I should probably head to bed soon anyway. We have our big final Quidditch practise tomorrow, and then there’s Transfiguration..”

We say good night, and as soon as I’ve set foot on the steps down to our den, I’m having trouble not slapping myself. Head to bed soon? It’s barely eight! What am I, five years old? Seeing Charlie uncertain like that just completely threw me off track, and apparently made me lose half my brain. Part of the reason why we’re so close is that he’s usually reasonable and chipper, and never wallows. I haven’t seen him genuinely worried in a while, and I’m not sure I really know how to handle it. Or maybe it's not knowing why exactly he is worried like that that bothers me.

I sit on my own in the common room for a while; Martha and Ed are probably already at their Astronomy practical lesson, and I’m a bit glad they’re not around. I don’t think I could stand their arguing, or even a tense silence. And by the time I head to bed, I feel like I’m as prepared for the next day’s Transfiguration lesson as I’m ever going to be. I’m also really annoyed with myself for some reason. Maybe it's because I didn't have the right words for Charlie when he needed a friend. I was just surprised by him and Alex being close, that's all. It does make sense, of course, seeing how they are in the same year and play Quidditch together. I just never gave it much thought.

As I'm drifting off to sleep, I'm trying desperately to remember Alexandra's boyfriend, and when I last heard that they were still together.

Chapter Endnotes: Apologies to anyone who clicked on this before. The archives for some reason swallowed this chapter about an hour after I'd posted it.

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