The thick oaken door to the dungeon slammed loud and heavy behind the potions master to mark the start of class a moment too tardy. But for Sally, the arrival was met with a complete lack of acknowledgment from the rest of the sixth-years, who were nevertheless not particularly ill behaved if it weren’t for this lesson. At the moment, their chatter was deafening. The professor had never been taken much seriously by the students or indeed the teaching staff. She sat up straight, gave a polite smile, and waited for the class to begin. At her side, Joey was already leaning his face into his palm, bored. She nudged him quietly and he groaned, but did nothing to change the attitude.
“ALL RIGHT, LISTEN UP, YOU WEE FECKERS!” Professor Spankoffski vociferated upon noticing that his entrance was being largely ignored. “Order! Wind your necks in, this matters for once in your damned lives. Quiet now.”
This did little to calm down the rest of the class, and only the last resort of his banging his fist against the blackboard in a crashing sound turned every head to him, frowning. Theodore Spankoffski was only beloved by his students for the simple fact of him giving satisfactory marks to everyone who smiled at him more than once, who talked to him in sweet words. Whatever appreciation the class had for him in this single regard did not extend to respect for him otherwise, however, and it took some time for him to acquire the silence so ardently demanded. He passed his finger over his moustache, flattening it.
“My kindly Head of House has reminded me,” he said eventually in a slow voice weighing every word, “That practical assignments are required of sixth year students who wish to go on to earn a Potions N.E.W.T. next year.”
The class looked at one another. For two periods every Friday afternoon, the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors of the sixth year spent the end of their school week locked up in the damp, smelly dungeons of Hogwarts in the pursuit of the arts of potions. Mostly, this was considered an easy class and as such, most of the students did not care much for the lesson at all, knowing that Professor Spankoffski would inevitably let them pass. The next year, however, they would be graded not by the man they knew but by examiners from the Ministry of Magic. All too many of Sally’s classmates − especially, she had to admit, on the Gryffindor half of the classroom − had the dreadful habit of forgetting about the fact and letting knowledge slip them by without catching every opportunity to acquire it. Sally was as eager as could be to be taught everything that could be learned at Hogwarts. There were matters, however, that remained far beyond the scope of what her professors could teach her, no matter how many electives she picked.
“One wee flask of Amortentia,” their professor went on in a melancholic voice. “Recipe’s in the book, yada yada, takes yonks to make, I can’t help out, and you won’t be starting it today. I can’t bear the smell of the thing, not anymore…”
He sank onto his chair dramatically, hiding his face into his palm, shaken by sobs that Sally did not believe for one second to be genuine. Joey snickered ; Sally edged to the front of her seat to look more closely at the professor − she was, as always, sitting in the first row. On her other side at the table, she checked with her classmate Alice Woodward, whose father had been in Hogwarts with Professor Spankoffski and who knew him better than the rest of them. Alice, however, only shrugged, and went back to checking her nails for any spot that needed filing with the tip of her wand. Ever since Lady Holloway had taught them personal grooming charms, it was all the girls could do when whichever class they were attending bored them. Sally had never been bored in class, not once in her life.
“A whole potion just by ourselves?” Joey muttered nervously. “What’s it even for a potion?”
Professor Spankoffski came out of his trance to point a finger at him. The gesture was so accusatory that Joey startled and glanced around, looking for some offence he did not find.
“This fella’s asking the right questions,” Spankoffski said. “Now, what is it even we’re supposed to do in this class, you may ask…”
Grabbing a chunk of chalk from the tray, he wrote on the blackboard the name of the potion.
Sally cleared her throat slightly and Professor Spankoffski, alerted, reread his writing. With a quick twist of his wand, he erased the guilty letter.
“Amortentia,” the teacher read out loud, “is the most potent love draught in the world. Its smell is powerful enough to turn the heart of any girl or fella, anyone you’ve your sights on. And should they sip even a drop of it, then they will never, ever let you go… at least as long as the potion still works. After that, Merlin help you.”
Joey’s eyes snapped with great interest to where Sally’s classmate was sitting a few rows behind them. Vanessa was biting back a smile as Tiffany muttered something in her ear - surely something naughty, Sally reflected. She looked down at her hands, disenchanted. Of course, in Joey’s mind, the very meaning of love was embracing Vanessa and her pretty eyes, her lovely hair, her elegant manners. Why should she have expected otherwise?
Ignoring the twisting in her stomach, Sally began to jot down the instructions Professor Spankoffski was dictating somewhat erratically, led by his whimsy memories he only periodically checked in the instructions book to keep himself on track. Every so often, she checked the very same to make sure he wasn’t too off. Between her book and the teacher, she had her mind busy enough and pushed down everything else that might have distracted her from Amortentia. It was better to focus on her studies than any hope that still lingered inside that one day, Joey would look at her the way she looked at him. Those hopes were always quelled eventually. She did not know why she kept hoping.
Sally and Joey had grown up in the outer edge of the Greater London only a few houses from one another. It was a quiet and uneventful neighbourhood they lived in, if for the very bizarre and special fact of several wizarding families filling up half of the little street unwittingly of the rest of the neighbours. In a world where their kind was invisible to the rest of the population, they would gather together, starting with teaching the children amidst their own outside of Muggle schools. Every morning, she would go to Joey’s mum with the rest of the little witches and wizards who were not yet of an age to go to Hogwarts. From dusty old books, she had taught them to read, to write, to count, and the basics of everything there was to know in the world, but especially the magical world. In the evening, Sally’s mum came back from her job at Flourish and Blotts and Sally would share with her the wonders she had learned about and how excited she was to be going to Hogwarts one day soon and learn so much more. Joey was her best friend and together they promised each other they would always share everything with one another, all the quirks that made the world just so magical. She had always imagined that, whatever would come to pass at Hogwarts, Joey would be right there with her.
The Sorting Hat had decided otherwise. At the feast of her sorting ceremony, she had only half-heartedly enjoyed the new company of her house mates and their fascinating conversations. She had been too busy staring a little way away at Joey Richter making new friends already at the Gryffindor table. Throughout the years, they met up as often as they could and worked on assignments together, but their separation had dug a ditch between the two of them whether she liked it or not. By the time infatuations had been added to the cauldron… From childhood, Sally had fancied Joey and imagined that when they grew up, they would be married. Now that Joey was older and desperately in love with Vanessa, she wasn’t so sure.
“You weans cannot understand,” Professor Spankoffski was whining, going off on a tangent about a presumably lost love from his youth, “How much it hurts to be rejected by the one you’re truly in love with… Aye, I tell you, if only I’d had the potion then…”
His first girlfriend, if Sally understood him well, had left him for a Squib and they had gone on to live amidst the Muggles. Muggles, he deplored, can you imagine? She bit the inside of her mouth, thinking sadly that, at least, if she was to be rejected for someone, it would be for someone utterly perfect and lovely. She could find no flaw in Vanessa, with whom she had shared almost every class since her first day at Hogwarts. Not even the fault of meanness − Vanessa was courteous to a fault and always a helping hand she offered to Sally and to everyone quite readily. It was no wonder Joey was in love with her. Anyone would prefer Vanessa over a plain, banal, uncomely sight such as Sally.
“Professor,” one of the girls asked. “Isn’t it like, illegal? I mean, there’s consent laws and everything…”
Spankoffski’s eyes widened and he stammered for a moment before producing an answer.
“Brewing it isn’t illegal at all,” he said, “Neither is offering it to someone, and really…” But he gave up, his hands in the air. “Oy, I’m not here to discuss legislation with anyone. Professor Cross reminded me that the assignment is compulsory for this year’s program. Consider yourselves reminded. You’ll pair up next week and make one flask and I’ll rate them. That’s as much as you need to know.”
Tiffany raised her hand.
“Ravenclaw-Gryffindor?” She asked. “For the pairings?”
He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly.
“Can’t say I give a hoot.”
Sally turned to Joey, strangely anxious to be making such a profoundly meaningful potion with him of all the brews they could have been assigned. The two of them always worked together − which usually had her doing most of the work and Joey signing his name at the top. This potion, though… She knew that Amortentia gave off the best scents in the world for whoever smelled it and that, once ingested, it created in the drinker an urgent adoration that had to be consumed and exhausted. And for that reason, she knew that she would never give Joey even a sip of it. Love spells, trinkets, and potions were a potent sort of magic that manipulated the very minds of witches and wizards. She had even heard stories of Muggles being made to drink them. In all stories she knew of, the victim of such artefacts always ended up resenting the person they had a mere moment ago adulated so intensely − and, Sally thought, for good reasons. This type of obsession, flattering as it might feel if Joey were to consume the draught at any point, was insincere. Even a bookish, lonely loser such as she would never resort to such lows in order to find love. Some feelings were just never meant to be reciprocated. Suddenly, she startled as her name was called from behind.
“For Joey,” someone whispered as they tapped her shoulder.
Sally glanced over and saw that the student behind her was passing her a small square of parchment. It was folded two times over, so that she could not read a word of it even with the bleeding of the ink through the parchment, and the front side of it read the name of Joey Richter. It was a neat and curvy handwriting which she thought she recognised. Her heartbeat picked up with dread, yet she was not brave enough to throw away the parchment, to toss it to the fire and forget all about it. Reluctantly, she slid it towards Joey on the table and looked away. If she had been, then the Sorting Hat might have placed her in Gryffindor and she would have shared every day with the boy she loved. Joey picked up the parchment from her fingers. He unfolded it, read it, and for the rest of the lesson could not utter a word, too stunned to speak. It wasn’t until the end of the class that she addressed him.
She knew she did not want to prod. After giving the assignment, Professor Spankoffski had gone in lengths first about his lost girlfriend and what he thought of his replacement, then about the actual topic of the day which had been diuretic and laxatives potions. At any given time, Sally would have expected Joey to snicker and nudge her to make crude jokes, yet he sat there silent in a class soon filling with laughter. Many were whispering between themselves, wondering if Spankoffski had taken his last revenge on this Squib with the means at his disposal as a potions prodigy. Even now that the class was over and they were facing another weekend, he didn’t let out his usual sigh of relief as they left the dungeon.
“Should we go outside?” She asked. “It’s sunny, should be nice and warm, I think.”
He was eyeing every student who had left the classroom before them and, finding no one waiting for him as he seemed to have hoped, turned back to Sally. He shrugged.
“Come along, then.”
The sun was shining outside as they found their way to the long stretches of grass surrounding the castle of Hogwarts. The lake was particularly black today, rippling around with lazy soft waves, and the forest was rustling with a faint, easy breeze in the distance. All around, the lawns were dotted with groups of students enjoying the first rays of the weekend before dinner.
“Sally, you won’t believe it,” he told her in a low, excited voice. “The most miraculous thing has happened. This is… magical! It’s impossible!”
His eyes were glinting with something ecstatic and for a moment, she wondered if without her knowing, Joey had been given a lick of Amortentia surreptitiously. There was such adoration in his gaze she could have been fooled. She tried to smile, but it was hard even for her to hide her confusion as he handed her the small piece of parchment he had spent the entire lesson staring at. Out of privacy, she had not dared to sneak a peek at it, but now that he was shoving it in her face to have a read, she wished she had never learned of its content at all.
Let’s pair up together for the assignment and get to know each other
Her heart shattered into pieces. She wanted to cry. Behind her, she felt the familiar poking of her cat who had come to find her outside the castle and now rubbed her head against Sally’s back. She pulled Fanny to her lap to pet her. The cat always had a sense of when Sally needed her and a fierce independence that made her take a stroll outside of the Ravenclaw Common Room whenever she pleased.
“I mean, I’ve fancied her since third year!” Joey cried out. “That’s basically forever, you know! I’ve never felt that way about any other girls in my life, she’s the girl of my dreams, and she wants to make a love potion with me?!”
Fanny’s teeth nibbled on Sally’s wrist to try to make her say something, but Sally only held her hand to her heart instead, away from her pet, and nodded.
“That’s… really great, Joey.”
He beamed at her as bright as the sun in the sky and Sally fell in love all over again, much like every other time he’d smiled at her since childhood. Joey Richter was the most interesting, the most clever, the funniest, most endearing wizard she knew of and she was lucky enough to be his best friend. Anything more than that, she was unworthy of, and it seemed that Joey knew that just as well as she did. She should be so happy for him for finally making slight progress on his quest to seduce Vanessa. She handed him back the piece of parchment.
“Yes,” she heard Tiffany say from behind, who was in Joey’s house and had disliked Sally for just as long as they had been in school. Sally was used to people not caring for her. It did not faze her anymore. “Assignments are really important, you know. You can’t mess them up.”
She and Vanessa had materialized so quickly next to them Sally would have been duped to think they had Apparated if she didn’t know any better, as Apparition was impossible on the Hogwarts school grounds. Tiffany was loudly chewing multicoloured blowing gum from Honeydukes.
“Yes,” Vanessa said in a voice that inspired confidence. “I hope you got my note, Joey.”
In all the years since their arriving at Hogwarts, this was probably the most she had spoken directly to Joey outside of classes. He gulped and the parchment dropped from his fingers. Frantically, he tried to pick it up, but the breeze had caught it and on it went with the wind like a lost dream. When Vanessa took a step towards him, he scooted back a little. Sally could have heard his heart pounding from over here. She saw a drop of sweat pearl at his brows.
He gestured to try and demonstrate that he had got the note, to no avail, as the wind had already sent it flying far.
“Vanessa sooo wants to be your assignment partner on this one, Joey,” Tiffany said. “It’s really, really important to her.”
Joey’s hands clasped together twice, thrice, which was delightfully clumsy and Sally would have found very endearing if she weren’t feeling so pathetic at the moment. She had thought she would be a third wheel to Joey’s adventures some day, but she had not expected it to be this day.
“So…” Vanessa said, looking down at her feet and trying in the process to avoid looking at Joey who was sitting in front of her standing there. “Meet me at the library next week to revise the instructions?”
“Yes, good,” he replied.
“It’s just, I know they’re in the book, but it never hurts to do some more research and…”
Tiffany held her arm as if to urge her to stop talking. Her chin rested on the round of her friend’s shoulder and they both stared at Joey.
“Yes, good,” he said once more on the same tone.
Tiffany nodded approvingly. The two girls were about to leave when she turned back to give Sally a disdainful glance over.
“Oh, and you and I will be teaming up,” she stated. “You’re like super clever, right?”
“I mean, maybe someone else asked me already and…”
But Tiffany rolled her eyes. She spat out her gum, which filled up like a balloon all of its own and flew away into the spring sky.
“No, they didn’t,” she said, which was true yet hurtful and Sally’s lip quivered. “I’ll see you in class. Joey, don’t forget to meet up with Nessa.”
It was only after they were at a safe distance out of ear range that Joey gained back countenance over himself. His face turned to Sally and she saw on it the most handsome, the happiest smile she had ever seen. It was Christmas come a second round, if Christmas took the shape of a particularly attractive and delightful Ravenclaw girl who wasn’t Sally.
“That’s brilliant!” He cried out. “It’s incredible! I can’t… Can you believe this, Sally?!”
Fanny planted her claws into her arm and Sally gently pushed her away, pretending it was nothing.
“Oh, shit, I have to tell someone about this… Do you think Professor Spankoffski would like this? I mean, that’s the meaning of the potion…”
“You’re not thinking about making her drink it?”
Joey stared at her quizzically, then his face broke into understanding and he rummaged through his bag hastily without looking at her.
“Not making her,” he said. “I’m not a creep. I just thought… That’s a lovely young lady, innit, and if I offered her to have a taste of our hard work… Things could happen…”
Having found the note he was looking for, he pulled it out victoriously. Sally saw that it was the page on grooming charms Lady Holloway had taught them. She shuddered.
“Tada! Now, I’ve to get ready for this one and only chance, in the history of chances. Oh, Sally, thank you so much for not doing this one with me! It’s such an important potion, I think I should really be making it with the girl I’m in love with.”
He hugged her. Sally gasped, startled, but took the rare embrace. She could have lived in this moment for good, being held by Joey Richter, feeling for once that he cared about her a fraction of how he cared for Vanessa…
“No problem, Joey,” she said and patted his back. “Anything for you…”
At night, Sally held her Fanny close to her and pressed her face into her fuzzy fur to try and forget all about the misery that haunted her. She wanted to cry, but she was afraid that others might hear. A few beds over, Vanessa was sleeping already and she could hear her soft, quiet breathing. Sally rubbed her eyes.
On her nightstand, the picture of herself and Joey was staring back at her. They had taken it in Hogsmeade, as they had spent every outing to Hogsmeade together since their third year. Even on the picture, Joey was looking distracted and was turning away from the camera, while Sally smiled at it and waved. The real Sally flattened the frame to the surface of the nightstand and rolled over to the other side where Alice was silently writing a long page at candlelight, as she liked to do in the evening. Slowly, she closed her eyes.
Fanny tapped her little paw against Sally’s face and Sally knew she was being a coward. She knew she should speak her mind, her heart, and let Joey know how she felt about him. She knew that seeing him love another was excruciating − but then, the punch of rejection would be every bit as painful. She kept her eyes closed. There was a time for admitting defeat and this time, the other Ravenclaw had won. She could only wish her and Joey a lot of happiness.