Chance and the Alphabet
Will Lowby, Hufflepuff fifth year, wanted nothing more than to sleep. Sleep, sleep, sleep. He couldn't do that, though, as he had Quidditch practice directly after this lesson, and there was a miniscule chance that he'd be more alert if he stayed awake, rather than give in to the battle his eyelids were fighting. He needed to be alert, if he ever wanted to move beyond Reserve Keeper.
Professor Binn's dirge-like diction, in concert with the rhythmic snores of Juliana Magelby on the desk behind him, was not helping matters. Not at all. The autumn sun seemed in on the conspiracy as well. Its warmth filtered through the ancient windows of the History of Magic classroom and crept across Will's face, issuing a persistent invitation to nap, and nap well. It was almost succeeding, too – his head felt heavy, heavy, and heavier, but it gave a jolting bob as he finally succumbed, leaving him with a crick in his neck and the unpleasant reminder that thirty minutes still remained to the lesson.
Increasingly desperate, Will propped his head on both hands and decided to catalogue the worn surface of his desk yet another time. Sigh. A cartoon vampire, there in the corner, next to a few sets of initials. He ran his fingers into his brown hair, trying to rub out an emergent headache as he continued. Some carved confessions of love, and the logo of the Caerphilly Catapults, here in the middle. Someone knew his or her Quidditch– Caerphilly was having their best season in six years. He kept on… A broomstick joke that had long stopped being funny, a few words that would earn a detention if this desk was in Professor McGonagall's classroom, and a decent attempt at the Slytherin house crest, even though the symbol looked more like a bit of loo roll than a serpent. He checked his watch, only to moan in disappointment when he saw that all of two minutes had passed.
Professor Binns' desks were always more prone to defacement, Will noted, as he absently prodded the vampire with his wand, trying to see if it would do a jig. While ninety-five percent of the class could be counted asleep at any given time, those not in a stupor were certainly not paying attention. Something about extreme tedium brought out the artist in most anyone – as shown by the elaborate grapevine motif along this desk's bottom edge. Pity that Filch would likely sand off such craftsmanship over the weekend.
Giving up on the vampire, who bared his fangs and refused to budge, Will rubbed his eyes and stretched out his lanky frame. He shifted his legs to the right, then to the left, back to the right, and then tried to maneuver them under his chair, where they wedged together uncomfortably. Did dwarves build these desks? And had it really only been two hours since lunch? He really didn't need his stomach to begin another gastrointestinal serenade, although the fantastic rendition of "Duff the Magic Puffskein" it gave fifteen minutes ago had livened things up temporarily.
With a yawn, Will began to trace the Caerphilly logo with his own quill. They weren't the Falcons, but they were fourth in the league, and fast on the heels of the Montrose Magpies, who'd just fallen a place due to Puddlemere's wickedly fast Chasers, and who might lose their standing if their Keeper didn't recover from his latest concussion soon, and…drat! Why had he left his Quidditch Today in the dormitory? He'd received it in the post just that morning, and could be reading it right now…
Finally giving in to the lethargy, Will laid his head down on the desk. He winced at the "thunk". An hour and twenty minutes passed with lightening speed on the Quidditch pitch, and yet it seemed to span eternity here in History of Magic. And to think he'd once imagined that Professor Binns was improving with time. He'd once even thought that the old ghost harboured a sense of humour. Several times last year, Binns had tossed out a good "decapitate", "disembowel", or "dismember" into the most mind-numbing moments of his lectures. Students' heads had risen off their desks just long enough to register interest, but once they discovered that he'd returned to a dry recitation of goblin revolutionaries' birthdays, they thudded down once more.
But if a newly mesmerizing Professor Binns had been too much to hope for this year, other changes seemed to be cropping up with wild abandon. The girls, for example, with all that glittery stuff on their faces. And the way they'd been walking lately definitely made the boring school robes seem a lot less boring. They were acting differently, too, and it wasn't just in the way they went to the loo five at a time. They were acting differently toward him, and the attention still had his head spinning. That he'd managed to grow five inches in two months was a factor, he knew, and a summer spent under the sun didn't hurt either. Still, to receive approving looks from girls in the corridors (sixth and seventh years, even!) was weird. Welcome, but weird.
Maybe he and Patrick could market farm work as a girl-attracting technique, he thought with a grin. Or good Quidditch training, at the least. Weeks of hauling hay bales and irrigation equipment had developed muscles in Will and his cousin that no spell ever could. Not a legal spell, anyway. Perhaps it was a good thing that he hadn't tagged along on the African safari his parents had taken to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. He'd begged to go – Runespoors and Tebos had always sounded wicked cool. He and his younger brothers had been quite persistent, too, until their dad laid aside his vague grumbling ("Bloody kids, never knocking…can't get Myra alone for two seconds…") and told them pointedly that this was a trip for two.
So, Evan and Hugh had ended up with Granny Miffle, and Will had gone to the McKinnons' farm in Cornwall. By the end of the summer, the fields were green and thriving, and the sight had brought Will a satisfaction he'd never known. Better yet, he and Patrick had socked enough away to attend a weeklong Quidditch training session sponsored by the Falcons, an easy Flooing distance away in Falmouth. The drills and scrimmages had worked them hard, but they'd returned home each evening sweaty, spent, and convinced that Quidditch was the best bloody sport on the planet.
With any luck, it would all help his standing on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, where he'd played reserve for two years now. In his few minutes of play last season, he'd succumbed to a fit of nerves and had barely saved more Quaffles than he missed. The Gryffindor Seeker had caught the Snitch twenty minutes into the match, sparing him further humiliation, but it hadn't been a pretty sight.
He was replaying the grim memory in his mind when a word from the front of the classroom caused him to lift his head a fraction. "Maim"? Had Professor Binns said "maim"? No…he was simply reading the attendance roster for the tribunal of Turg the Troll-Tickler, legendary goblin troublemaker.
Will stifled a groan as he looked at his watch again. He really wished Juliana would stop snoring already. He wished the cramp in his leg would go away. Fifteen more minutes, and the latest brilliant issue of Quidditch Today was still on his bedside table. He toyed, briefly, with the idea of Summoning it to him. He was no slouch at Charms, but he doubted he could count on a magazine to navigate through a dormitory and common room, let alone seven shifting staircases and three long corridors.
Bugger! Will ran his eyes over the desk still another time, searching for something, anything, to hold his attention. He really had to stay awake if he was going to fly his best. Margaret Monaco was a fierce Keeper, and while she was likely to start every Quidditch match this season, Will still had to prove his worth to the Hufflepuff team captain. His eyes continued to roam, finally stopping near a Golden Snitch that was roughly etched along the top. More specifically, they stopped on the neat braid of light brown hair that rested in front of that Snitch. Light sparked in Will's eyes. Oh, yeah. He could dwell on this, and happily.
He knew that braid well. Chance and the alphabet had placed Abby Loomis near him countless times over the past four years. They'd pruned Venomous Violets, transfigured water goblets, and stewed Murtlap livers together. She'd even been Sorted into Hufflepuff just minutes before him; he remembered, because he'd helped her up when the Sorting Hat startled her off the stool. He'd never minded having to stare at the back of her head, as there were worse people to sit behind (Dan Druffing, for example – now that had been a bad year). The problem now was thinking of something to say to her face…
As if on cue, Abby looked over her left shoulder, her green-blue eyes catching the clock at the back of the classroom. Will ducked his head quickly. She'd done that six or seven times already this lesson, but he couldn't blame her, not when History of Magic held as much excitement as watching porridge congeal. The time couldn't pass quickly enough for him, either. He wanted to try and catch her eye, but before he was close enough to move fully into her line of sight, she gave him a small, fleeting smile and turned around again. Encouraged, Will's mind resumed its pleasant wanderings.
Last night, Peeves the poltergeist had nicked Professor Tetley's "Wake the Dead" clock from the Divination classroom (the nifty little device was used mostly for séances, but its piercing ring was guaranteed to rouse even the soundest of sleepers). At 1:31 a.m., the clock went off in the Hufflepuff common room. If the shrill alarm wasn't enough to get the students out of bed, the visitors it soon invited were – within minutes, the walls shook with the sounds of murdered maidens, cackling counts, and a bevy of other specters.
Will first awoke when a drowned damsel poked her head through his bed hangings and gave him an admiring once-over. When she batted her damp eyelashes and invited him to Sunday tea, he leapt out of bed and padded quickly downstairs. Most of the house was already there, he discovered, Abby among them. By now, he and his dorm mates were accustomed to occasional glimpses of dressing gowns, curlers, night cream, and fuzzy slippers. So he didn't given her petite figure a second thought until an inexplicable something pulled his eyes back, and wouldn't let them go.
She was wearing a girly sort of nightdress – loose white cotton, with poufy sleeves – and her hair, normally plaited or pulled back in barrettes, spilled all around her shoulders in messy waves. She stood there amidst the din with her mouth slightly open, and seemed as though she were concentrating very hard on not tipping over. She looked mussed, bewildered, half-awake, and…altogether very pretty.
The sight took Will so aback, he barely registered the damsel tugging at his sleeve, offering him Floo directions to her estate on the Thames. He stared blankly for what seemed like the longest ten seconds in Wizard-kind's history, but then he blinked, and the Abby Loomis he'd always known was there, laughing as she helped to fend off the duke in pantaloons who was proposing marriage to Philippa Sommers. But she was still wearing that nightdress, and he could imagine it easily, even now…
Abby in her nightdress, flying with him over the Quidditch pitch. Abby in her nightdress, eating dinner with him at the Hufflepuff table (he was still hungry). Abby in her nightdress, sharing a butterbeer with him at The Three Broomsticks. Yes, it all made for a most enjoyable distraction from Professor Binns' lecture.
Just as his mind began to conjure up more daring nightdress scenarios, Abby looked around again. Will felt his cheeks burn, glad she couldn't read his thoughts. She'd probably throw something large and lethal at him, if she could. But her eyes were on the clock, not him, and so he took the opportunity of sneaking a look. Her eyes sparkled, he thought abruptly, before he stifled an inward groan. What a poncey description – Patrick would be ruthless if he ever heard him use it. Still, it was true. Abby's eyes were lively and bright and…they were still looking at the clock.
With a surge of unexpected daring, Will eased himself over an inch or two on his chair. Calmly, nonchalantly, he lifted his face until it disrupted her vision. "Hey," he whispered, bemoaning the lack of witty and charming words at his command. It was all Binns' fault – after the torpor of his class, even the swotty Ravenclaws sounded like they were speaking Troll.
"Hi," Abby replied, a little startled.
"Still alive?" he continued, before his nerve failed him.
"Barely." She paused, gestured over his shoulder at Juliana, who was now trying to order fish and chips in her sleep, and grinned.
Will returned the grin, but before he could put together another sentence, Abby had whipped back around, where she stayed until the lesson was over. The remaining time passed rather quickly, Will found, now that he had this new development to mull over. Before he knew it, Professor Binns had floated back through the wall, and the other students were rising groggily from their desks. Will fiddled with his parchment, book, and quill, taking his time as he put them back into his bag. If he left the classroom first, he might have to think of something else to say to Abby, and truth be told, he kind of wanted to stay behind and watch her as she walked away.
His cheeks flushed at that last thought, and before he could tame them completely, Abby put a hand on the back of her seat and lifted herself up. A gleam of silver caught Will's eye; he only had a second to mark it, but what he saw was unmistakable. On her wrist was a perfectly functional wristwatch – moving hands, correct time and all.
"Bye," she said in a soft, shy voice.
Will walked to Quidditch practice that afternoon with a smile on his face.
Many thanks to alchemilla, for suggesting that I write this, to the ladies of the SQ Workshop, for their feedback, and to soupytwist, for not laughing at my occasional mangling of British English. ;) I started this story prior to OotP, and while I won't be chronicling Abby and Will's entire fifth year, I wanted to at least cover the beginning of their relationship. I anticipate three more short chapters like this.
Alkari gave me the idea of Abby falling off the Sorting stool, and Professor Tetley comes from her "A Most Unusual Student" universe.
Since several people have asked about the future of my fics, I thought I should say that although OotP has made it difficult for the "Interwoven" universe to continue, I won't be writing a Certain Event into the storyline, and I won't be taking anything offline. For the time being, I'm just going to leave everything as is. To those in denial of the aforementioned Certain Event, I'd like to suggest Alkari's lovely "Coming Home". Thanks also go to The Good Doctor Monaco, for this fabulous picture of Hubert, the Gladrags owl, and to Terra, for this sweet goodbye to Abby.