VII. the hog's head
Cordelia wouldn’t be exaggerating if she said she would rather claw her eyes out than go to the meeting.
Winnie, on the other hand, was beaming as she carried her bags (many, many bags-- her bloody cousin had bought so much candy from Honeydukes and had also decided she needed a new tie and coat) out of the store, a licorice wand hanging from her mouth as she walked out into the cold air. “That was fun, wasn’t it? A well-needed shopping trip.”
"So fun!” replied Cordelia in a sarcastic tone of voice, prompting her cousin to frown. “What an amazing experience, I say!”
“Cordelia, just because you didn’t buy anything doesn’t mean you can shit on my parade!” Winnie retaliated, sticking out her tongue in a mocking manner. Her cousin simply snorted in amusement-- she adored making Winnie on edge, it was one of the few things she looked forward to every time she opened her eyes in the morning (this is a mostly sarcastic comment, but for the most part it’s true: Cordelia lives and breathes just to annoy Winnie Bulstrode).
“Am I not allowed to joke, Winnie?” she asked calmly, tugging on the collar of her jumper.
Winnie shot her a disgruntled look that made her smile in satisfaction as they stopped on the outside of the Hog’s Head pub. The windows were so dirty it was practically impossible to see through them without the need to squint. Cordelia scrunched up her nose and said, trying to keep her voice steady (it was shaking due to nerves, but she didn’t need Winnie knowing that she was nervous about stepping inside the room full of Gryffindors), “How many people are coming?”
Winnie waved her hand. “Oh, just a few people.”
The blue-eyed girl let out a sigh of relief as she watched Fred and George Weasley and Lee Jordan approach the door, their arms, unsurprisingly, full of Zonko’s Joke Shop merchandise. Winnie stepped forward to open the door for them, and George gave her a grateful nod as Lee looked at Cordelia with an odd look on his face. The two walked closely behind. Immediately the voices ceased as the eyes of those inside the room landed on Cordelia’s face.
As they stared, she noticed that unlike Winnie had said, there were not just a few people-- there had to be at least twenty (oh, the way she was going to yell at Winnie when this was over!)! Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley were standing in the back of the room closest to the bartender who was handing Cedric Diggory a butterbeer as he leaned against his crutches; Neville Longbottom was sitting in a chair beside Dean Thomas and Lavender (who’s last name was unknown to her, she only knew her first name because Zach had an enormous crush on her in the second year).
Parvati and her identical twin sister (Parvati waved eagerly at Winnie, who waved back with a grin on her face) were taking a seat in the far corner; Cathy Chang and her girlfriend were there, too; as was Luna Lovegood, who was looking so dreamy that Cordelia could’ve very well believed that she came into the pub on accident; then she caught sight of a few of the Gryffindor Quidditch team players she did not know the names of, two little Gryffindor boys (one of which had a large camera strapped to his side that he seemed quite attached to), some of Winnie’s other Ravenclaw friends Antony Goldstein, Michael Corner and his girlfriend Ginny Weasley, Terry Boot, and a few Hufflepuffs that she knew because of Zach (Ernie Macmillan, Hannah Abbott, and Susan Bones)-- and then, to her surprise and also to her displeasure, Zacharias Smith himself.
Why in the hell was he here? As if her day couldn’t get any worse. She elbowed Winnie in the gut. “A couple of people? And you didn’t think it was important to mention that he was coming?” She gestured at the blonde, who was talking in a low voice to Ernie.
Winnie simply shrugged in reply as they found two chairs, the silence of the room overwhelming as Cordelia took a seat next to Cathy Chang. Cathy gave her a small wave (she and Winnie were good friends, and her cousin had put in a good word for her). Cordelia rolled her eyes and glanced around the room, and seeing that everyone was still looking at her like she was about to hex everyone into oblivion, she said in a loud, grating voice, “Oh, for God’s sake, go stare at something else! I’m a Slytherin, not some fucking--”
Zacharias looked over in her direction, eyes widening, as Winnie jabbed her in the side and whispered loudly, “Don’t be so aggressive!”
“They were staring at me! It’s not my fault--”
“Behave yourself,” said Winnie, wagging a finger in her face. “Please.”
Cordelia made a face. “How do you expect me to ‘behave myself’ when he’s here and all these people are staring at me!” She discreetly pointed at Zach as he watched her, eyes flitting over her face, apparently not noticing her sharp finger directed at him.
“Just try, okay? Now, shut up.”
“Winnie, come on--”
The clearing of a throat brought her attention back to her surroundings. Granger had gotten to her feet and she was standing awkwardly at the front of the room. Cordelia let her gaze fall upon Potter, who was sitting in a chair beside Weasley, as his fingers twisted nervously in his lap. His cheeks were flushed pink and his glasses kept sliding down his nose as he watched his friend. “Well, um... hi.”
Everyone looked back to Granger, but Cordelia was still eyeing Potter warily as she spoke. “You, erm, know why you’re here... Erm, well, Harry here had the idea--” she paused for a split second as Potter threw her a look, “--I mean, I had the idea, that it might be good for people who wanted to study Defense Against the Dark Arts-- and I mean, really study it, you know, not the rubbish that Umbridge is teaching us--” (Cordelia noticed that her voice had suddenly become more secure, as it stopped wavering) “--because nobody could call that Defense Against the Dark Arts, and I, well, thought it might be good if we, um, took matters into our own hands.”
Cordelia saw the girl’s cheeks redden as Fred Weasley raised his butterbeer bottle and said, “Hear, hear!” Then she shot a sideways glance at Potter and then went on: “And by that, I mean learning how to defend ourselves properly, not just theory but the real spells--”
“You want to pass your Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. too, I bet?” interrupted Terry Boot as he watched her.
Of course, she does, thought Cordelia, just as Granger said at once, “Of course I do! But I want more than that. I want to be properly trained in Defense because... because...” She sucked in a breath and then said, as if hesitating, “Because Lord Voldemort’s back.”
The reaction of everyone in the room was as Cordelia expected-- Winnie’s whole body twitched and slopped butterbeer down her front, Cathy Chang’s girlfriend let out a little shriek, and Neville Longbottom yelped but managed to turn it into a cough; she, however, stayed perfectly still, because this was not news to her-- she, in fact, had seen the Dark Lord himself. She pushed the memory aside as Hermione continued.
“That’s the plan, anyway,” she said. “If you want to join us, we need to decide how we’re going to--”
“Where’s the proof that You-Know-Who’s back?” interrupted a voice from her right, and Cordelia turned to see Zach just as he shut his mouth. Immediately her body tensed and her hand-formed into a fist that she concealed in her lap.
“Well, Dumbledore believes it--” Hermione Granger began.
“You mean, Dumbledore believes him,” said Zach, nodding in Harry’s direction.
“Who are you?” Ron Weasley said rather rudely, jabbing a finger in the blond’s direction.
“Zacharias Smith,” he replied, “and I think we’ve got the right to know exactly what makes him say You-Know-Who’s back.”
Cordelia couldn’t keep her mouth shut any longer, and started to speak just as Granger opened her mouth to reply. “Zach, shut up and let Granger talk! I wasn’t dragged here to listen to you--”
“You can’t tell me what to do anymore, Cordelia,” Zach’s head snapped in her direction. “We’ve broken up, remember?”
“And you cheated on her, remember?” Winnie hissed, standing up and crossing her arms over her chest aggressively as Zacharias’s face paled and Ernie Macmillan shot a glare at him. “Now, do us all a favor and shut your mouth before I hex you!” She sat back down, crossed her legs, took a long swig of butterbeer, and then focused her attention back on Granger as Zach stood there, dumbfounded. Cordelia gave her an odd look that sat somewhere in between an appreciative smile and an annoyed, ‘why would you say that’ glare.
“Look,” Granger said, intervening swiftly and giving her a look, “That’s not really what this is supposed to be about--”
“It’s okay, Hermione,” said Potter, now getting to his feet. His eyes fell upon Cordelia’s face for a moment (her cheeks warmed slightly at this) before setting on Zach’s, staring at him so intently that the blond (who was taller than he was) seemed to cower under his faze. “What makes me say You-Know-Who’s back? I saw him But Dumbledore told the whole school what happened last year, and if you don’t believe him, you don’t believe me, and I’m not wasting a Saturday trying to convince anyone.”
𝕮ordelia could see his hand trembling as the whole group fell so silent that one could clearly hear a pin drop. Cedric Diggory, who was sitting to Potter’s left, had suddenly gone a deathly white at the mention of the man (was he really a man? She had seen him and he definitely didn’t look like one) who had injured him so badly that he was on the verge of death. She felt pity for him, watching the blood drain from his face-- he had been so carefree and happy just a year before. What could have happened in that maze (or graveyard?) that was so terrible it made him look like a ghost every time someone mentioned the Triwizard Tournament?
Zach spoke up again, his eyes not leaving Potter’s face and lingering for a moment on the lightning bolt scar. “All Dumbledore told us last year was that Cedric’s injuries--” he cast a look at the older boy, who was watching him with a look she could not figure out, “were caused by You-Know-Who and that you brought him back to Hogwarts. He didn’t give us any details, he didn’t tell us exactly how it happened, and I think we’d all like to know--”
Potter interrupted him, much to Cordelia’s delight: she was getting quite irritated with her ex-boyfriend’s temper and the way he needed to know every little detail. That was something that often got them into fights when they were still together, and, if she was being honest, she was glad to have that aspect out of her life. “If you’ve come to hear exactly what it looks like when Voldemort tries to kill someone, then I can’t help you,” he said, clearly annoyed, but his green eyes didn’t leave Zacharias’s face. “I don’t want to talk about it, okay? So if that’s what you’re here for, you might as well clear out.”
Cordelia expected for a few people to come to their senses and exit the pub, but, to her surprise, no one budged-- in fact, not a single person even bothered to shift in their seat; they were too enthralled by Harry Potter (and, not that she would admit it, but so was she).
“So,” said Granger, her voice lacking the confidence it had previously had, “Like I was saying... if you want to learn some defense, then we need to work out how we’re going to do it, and where--”
“Is it true,” interrupted Susan Bones, making Granger shoot her a look of dismay. “That you can produce a Patronus?”
Cordelia’s mouth fell open in shock as the others in the room murmured in interest. She leaned over to whisper to Winnie, “He can produce a Patronus?”
“Yeah,” she whispered back as Potter rubbed his neck sheepishly and gave a weak nod in reply to Susan’s question. “Hermione told me.”
“A corporeal Patronus?” Susan asked, swinging her long braid over her shoulder.
“Er-- you don’t know Madam Bones, do you?”
“She’s my auntie,” the Hufflepuff answered, her eyes sparkling. “She told me you can make a stag Patronus?”
“Yes,” said Potter. Cordelia thought he seemed rather bored, but she, however, was entranced by the boy-- an odd feeling had emerged in the pit of her stomach, one that she hadn’t felt since the first time she laid eyes on Zacharias Smith.
“Blimey, Harry!” Lee Jordan was looking deeply impressed, and so was she, although it would take the burns of a thousand fires on her skin to make her confess to it. The only stellar branch of magic she could do at the moment was Occlumency (having learned it because of her father) but she didn’t think it would be any use (at least right then) and she knew that producing a Patronus could be a skill worth learning (especially if Potter was teaching it) and it would be something that could very well save her life one day-- Occlumency, however, would not. It was just her father’s way of making sure no one could see their family secrets.
“Mum told Ron not to spread it around,” Fred grinned at Potter. “She said you get enough attention as it is.”
“She’s not wrong,” Potter mumbled, making a couple of people laugh and Cordelia snort, but she managed to quickly conceal it as a sneeze.
“And did you kill a basilisk with that sword in Dumbledore’s office?” Terry Boot piped up. “One of the portraits on the wall told me when I was there last year.”
“Er-- yeah, I did,” said Harry. Justin Finch-Fletchley whistled, Zacharias and Ernie exchanged awestruck looks (not that Cordelia was watching him or anything) and Winnie said “wow” under her breath, an amazed look on her face.
“And in our first year,” said Neville, sitting up straighter. “He saved that Sorcerous stone--”
“Sorcerer’s,” Granger hissed.
“Yes, that, from You-Know-Who!” Neville finished.
Cordelia’s eyes widened slightly. Harry Potter did all that when he was eleven? And she thought she was brave at that age, after not screaming when she found a snake in her yard. But Potter fought You-Know-Who (Voldemort-- she needed to get used to the name) when he was that age! All the more reason for her to (privately) admire him.
“And that’s not to mention,” said Cedric, shifting in his chair. His face had partially returned to its normal color, but it was still noticeably white. “All the tasks you had to complete in the Tournament last year-- they were insanely difficult. Oh, and getting me out of that... that maze alive. I reckon I wouldn’t even be here without you.”
There was a murmur of an impressed agreement around the table, and Potter looked like he was fighting a mental battle. “Look,” he said, making everyone fall silent. “I... I don’t want to sound like I’m being modest or anything, but I had a lot of help with that stuff...”
“Not with the dragon, you didn’t,” said Michael Corner, gripping onto Ginny Weasley’s hand. “That was a seriously cool bit of flying.”
“Yeah, well--” Harry began, but Winnie interrupted him.
“And nobody helped you get rid of those dementors last summer,” she said.
“No,” he said. “No, okay, I know I did some of those things without help, but the point I’m trying to make is--”
“Are you trying to weasel out of showing us any of this stuff?” Zach snapped, his arms crossed over his chest. Cordelia noticed the stupid, smug, fake look of confidence he had on his face and fought the urge to burst into laughter.
“Here’s an idea,” said Ron Weasley loudly. “How about you shut your mouth?”
Now Cordelia giggled a little, earning a reproachful look from Zacharias. She didn’t care, though. Not this time. His face had flushed a deep red, and he retorted, “Well, we’ve all turned up to learn from him, and now he’s telling us he really can’t do any of it.”
“That’s not what he said,” Fred Weasley snarled.
“Would you like us to clean out your ears for you?” asked George innocently, pulling a long, deadly looking metal stick out of his Zonko’s bag. Lee Jordan giggled silently from beside them.
“Or any part of your body, really, we’re not fussy where we stick this,” said Fred.
“Yes, well,” said Hermione, hastily interrupting George and Fred’s attempts at giving Zacharias the bad end of the stick. “Moving on... the point is, are we agreed we want to take lessons from Harry?”
The sound of a general agreement rang throughout the room. Zach said nothing and continued eyeing the large instrument (Cordelia couldn’t help but wonder what that even was) in George’s hands. Or Fred’s. Honestly, she couldn’t tell them apart. But she nodded in agreement as well, her own eyes drifting over to Potter’s face, and, much to her amusement, when his green eyes met her blue ones, he immediately broke eye contact and seemed like he was trying so hard to not look at her again. Interesting.
“Right,” Granger said, relief washing over her and visibly relaxing her body, “The next question is how often we do it. I really don’t think there’s much point in meeting less than once a week--”
“Hang on,” Angelina Johnson spoke up. “We need to make sure this doesn’t clash with our Quidditch practice.”
“No,” Cathy Chang said, twisting a lock of her black hair between her fingers. “Nor with ours.”
“Or ours!” Zach added rather aggressively, making Cordelia roll her eyes and focus her attention away from the boy.
“I’m sure we can find a night that suits everyone,” Granger replied, slightly impatiently, as evidenced by the way she cast a rather annoyed look in the directions of the Quidditch players. “But you know, this is rather important, we’re talking about learning to defend ourselves about V-Voldemort’s Death Eaters!”
She took in a breath before continuing. “We also think that the reason Umbridge doesn’t want us trained in Defense Against the Dark Arts is that she’s got some... some mad idea that Dumbledore could use the students in the school as a private army, and go against the Ministry.”
Everyone looked stunned at the news, except for Cordelia, Winnie, and, surprisingly, Luna Lovegood, who said brightly, “Well, that makes sense. After all, Cornelius Fudge has got his own private army of heliopaths.”
She and Granger argued for a moment about whether or not heliopaths really existed or not (Cordelia wouldn’t be surprised if they did, but she was on Hermione Granger’s side for this one) before Ginny Weasley made such a good impression of Professor Umbridge that she and a few others looked wide-eyed to the door, her stomach sinking as she thought their attempt had been thwarted before it even began. Ginny said, “Weren’t we trying to decide how often we’re going to meet?”
“Yes,” Granger said. “You’re right, you’re right...”
“Once a week sounds cool,” suggested Lee Jordan.
“Great!” Granger clapped her hands together in excitement. “Now, the other thing to decide is where we’re going to meet.”
Winnie cleared her throat. “I doubt that we would be able to use an empty classroom or the library. Madam Pince wouldn’t take well to us using defensive spells and ruining her precious books, would she?”
“And us doing all that stuff in an empty classroom might be seen as a little too... rebellious, for a ‘study’ group,” said Potter, nodding in agreement to Winnie’s statement.
“Well, we’ll find somewhere,” Granger said. She pulled her bag into her lap and began rummaging through it, pulling out a piece of parchment and a quill. “I think everyone should write their name down, just so we know who was here. But I also think,” she let out a sigh, “That we all ought to agree not to shout about what we’re doing. So if you sign, you’re agreeing to not tell Umbridge-- or anyone-- what we’re up to.”
Fred immediately reached out for the parchment and signed, George following his lead, but not everyone was as keen to put their signature down as they were. Winnie was one of the few who gladly put her name down, scrawling Winifred Bulstrode on the parchment neatly and setting the quill down beside it, lining it up neatly with the paper. Cedric Diggory went next, his hand visibly shaking as he hesitantly wrote his own name down under Winnie’s.
Cordelia, like Cedric Diggory, was uncertain about placing her own name down. Her mind was a jumbled mess of wanting to do it and also not wanting to do it, trying to stay as far out of trouble as she could (she knew that if her parents found out about this, it would not be good for her, and if Umbridge found out? She would be in deep shit). She was able to think about her decision as she surveyed those signing themselves, and took in a deep breath as the only two (three including her) people who were left were Ernie and Zacharias, both looking extremely conflicted.
“I’m sure Ernie will tell me when the next meeting is, won’t you, Ern?” Zach said, elbowing his friend in the shoulder.
Ernie grimaced. “I... er, we’re prefects,” he burst out, eyeing the parchment warily as Granger raised her eyebrows at him. “And if this list was found... you said it yourself, Hermione, if Umbridge finds out...”
“Do you really think Hermione would leave the list lying around for anyone to see?” Harry retorted, pushing his glasses up his slender nose.;
“No... no, of course not,” He suddenly looked a lot less anxious. “Yeah, I will... sign....” He took the quill, scribbled his name down, and then handed it over to Zacharias, who took it and did the same.
As he wrote Zacharias Smith down on the paper, Cordelia pushed herself to the commotion, waiting beside him for him to hand her the quill (she had, ultimately, decided she was going to join: it wasn’t every day when she could do something to spite her parents), startling herself when she got a whiff of his familiar scent that made her insides boil with both rage and heartbreak. She swallowed, her throat suddenly becoming very dry, and took the quill from his hands without so much as looking up at him. He cleared his throat, and said in a low voice just loud enough for her to hear, “Cordelia.”
She didn’t reply, she just simply wrote her name down in her messy handwriting and handed the quill back over to Granger, who took it and offered her a weak smile. It was as if the girl didn’t know whether or not to like or dislike Cordelia Flint, but that didn’t bother her much. What did bother her, however, was Zach’s hand reaching over to grab her wrist. “Can we talk?”
The feel of his cold skin was too overwhelming for her, and she wrenched her arm out of his grasp. “Don’t touch me,” she spat, as Granger told everyone that the meeting was over and she would tell them when and where to meet next.
“Please, Cordelia...” he pleaded, his eyes becoming glossy-- he was always the faker, and she wasn’t going to let him get his way. She turned on her heel without a goodbye (like she would say goodbye to that idiot!) and left the pub, waiting for Winnie to come out of the dirty, dusty room.
Winnie Bulstrode joined her mere seconds after she had slammed the door shut behind her, leaving Zacharias standing alone with Ernie as he picked up his belongings back inside the pub. “What was that about?” she asked, looping her free arm through Cordelia’s as they walked back towards the castle.
“He wanted to talk,” Cordelia said, her voice breaking a little, but not enough for Winnie to notice. The girl simply nodded.
“Do you know why?”
Cordelia shook her head. “No. And I don’t care to find out, either. It’s a waste of my time.”
“You’re right,” said Winnie, readjusting her grip on the bags in her right hand. “But I did notice something, though, while we were inside.”
“Harry Potter couldn’t keep his eyes off you, could he?” When Cordelia looked over to her cousin after the words came out of her mouth, the eldest Bulstrode’s eyes were gleaming with pure joy.
Harry Potter, staring at her? Just the thought of it made her cheeks warm with disgust (or was it desire?) and her eyes avert to the closest shop windows, having never more appreciated how beautiful the shops during this time of year.
She pretended to not see Winnie’s grin of triumph.