On his very first day at Hogwarts, from the moment he had stepped foot inside the dormitory for first years in the Gryffindor Tower, even as a small and pathetic little boy, Joey Richter had understood that this place would be his solace no matter what came to be in his life going about the rest of the castle. He had been so convinced then that there was a mistake with his sorting he had spent the entire night clutching his bedsheets, eyes wide open and staring at the purring fireplace in case someone came to pick him from this house. He had missed his best friend. He still did not belong among the braves to this day, though he had gotten used to it. His boldness only brought him snickers and taunting from his peers, chivalry had not even crossed his mind until he had set his eyes on Vanessa for the first time, and he lacked the strength he saw in all his house mates. If not in Gryffindor, though, where else? He had never been cunning nor clever, and certainly he could not imagine himself handling the toil every Hufflepuff tackled with bright smiles and good cheer.
And still, even that first day, even tonight on the most important week of his life, this bed had soothed all his worries away like a bit of an embrace from home. Hadn’t his mum been a Gryffindor too, in her days? That night, he had fallen asleep despite himself in the deepest, most comforting slumber of his entire life, and the troubles had been behind him. For six years now, he had pretended to belong in here and the habit had become a bit of truth by force of it. And people didn’t bully him quite as much in this house, not the Gryffindors. Sometimes, they even defended him from the meanest Slytherins who picked on him. This place was as good as a second home and yet it was nothing to him when the girl of his dreams was in Ravenclaw.
“You’re as thick as a mountain troll,” his mirror told him when Joey confessed his fears to it that Saturday. “I told you, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
On his first Christmas, Sally and Joey had gone back to their London borough and Joey had confessed to his mum how strange he thought it that he had landed in Gryffindor, of all places. Wasn’t Hufflepuff the place where they took just about anyone who had no reason to be sent anywhere else? He thought he remembered having a cousin who had been a Hufflepuff and who was in most ways indistinguishable from a Squib. But his mum had held him dear in her arms, kissed his face a dozen times and promised him he belonged among the fiercest, most daring ones. The Sorting Hat never made mistakes, for it could read your heart. And who was Joey to cross his own mum?
For a present, among others, she had gifted him with a mirror that always told Joey the truth. It had a real nasty personality, though, and pushed him to do things Joey had no desire to do − except that, at his deepest, perhaps, he truly did. If the mirror had its way, Joey would always be putting himself out there like a proud peacock. It was insufferably prideful and it was also always, always a good listening ear − in as much as mirrors possessed such appendage to listen to anyone. For now, its shimmery silver surface was scolding him.
“Vanessa is the girl of my dreams,” Joey stated plainly. It was the simplest truth, as he had felt this way for years already. His mum had met his dad in Hogwarts, after all, facing each other as Chasers. It was the best place to meet your love. Not so much potions class, granted, but Quidditch was not his cup of tea and besides, neither was it Vanessa’s. “I’ve been in love with her for years. Don’t make me fuck this one up. You’re always coming up with crazy ideas, you are.”
The mirror sighed. It was lucky the Common Room was mostly empty on a Saturday like this, when Slytherin was facing Hufflepuff on the Quidditch field. Joey rooted for Hufflepuff, of course, but not to the point of caring enough to attend the match in the first place. He only hoped Professor MacNamara would not notice, who insisted on all Gryffindors being present for the pride of the house, whether they competed or not. Besides, when his dormitory was empty, he could have all the conversations he needed with his terrible fiendish mirror friend. He was a real dick about it all.
“Vanessa is never going to be yours,” it told Joey bluntly. “It’s never going to go down that way.”
“How would you even know? You’re just a mirror!”
On the glass surface, the mirror broke into a smug grin.
“I’m a mirror of truth, twat,” it replied. “Whatever I say goes. You don’t care about Vanessa, she’s too pretty. You’re in love with…”
“Oh, sod off!” Joey cried, terrified and furious. “You’re the twat!”
Without waiting for the mirror’s answer, Joey shoved it at the bottom of his trunk and hopped off the bed. He had a foot long of lines to practice he wanted to try on Vanessa. He had copied them last night from Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches and he was completely certain they would work on her the minute he uttered them. For Vanessa, he could be bold. He could be handsome and clever and everything she could ask for. And come the next potions class, he would be.
On Tuesday afternoon, after a tenuous lesson of Herbology with Madam Sylvia that left him covered with dirt from head to toes, Joey let hot water pour down himself for so long his toes and fingers were wrinkled long after he came out. His face was reddish and puffy but he got dressed, did his hair neatly with a twist of his wand just like Lady Holloway had taught them, and thought himself almost smart by the time he was done tweezing all stubble from his chin with the tip of his wand. The mirrors in the shared bathroom were not particularly magical, yet he thought he saw his reflection winking at him on his way out to the school library. His heart was pounding. Vanessa had said she would meet him there.
“Could I have a private table for two with flowers?” He asked the librarian who was counting books and flying them back to their spot on the shelves with spells she whispered in a soft voice.
She was the Headmaster’s wife, Joey knew, and kinder than most of the staff at school. She cocked his head at him, smiled gently. Another book went flying swiftly past Joey’s shoulder without touching him, though it was close.
“I didn’t realize I was running a romantic tea parlor, my dear,” Lady Sherrezade told him. “I believe the next weekend at Hogsmeade is in a fortnight. How about Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop?”
His cheeks burned up with embarrassment. He had not thought himself so obvious.
“I mean… a study spot… for studying…”
But out of nowhere nearby the two of them, hidden away behind tall, thick bookcases no one ever used, a narrow table had appeared he did not remember seeing there before. In fact, as he snapped his head back to Lady Sherrezade and found a teasing smile at her lips, he had the distinct notion that she could read his thoughts very well indeed and that she thought it worthwhile to indulge students from time to time. It was a wonder to him that such a powerful witch would choose to work at Hogwarts, but he supposed that there were times one had to follow their own heart before all.
“You’re looking in the wrong spot, dear,” she said quietly. “But what is life without a bit of dreaming?”
But as she walked past him to grab another pile of books to sort through, she whispered even lower, so softly he wondered if he had made it up at all, or misunderstood the words.
“You’ll find the left corridor on the seventh floor might grant you your heart’s desire, should you truly need it.”
Joey was fluffing out the bouquet on the table by the time Vanessa found him. She frowned at the sight and dropped her things next to him.
“Who put that there?” She asked. Picking it up, she placed it carefully on a window sill. “Here. Better.”
Joey gulped as she pulled out her books and laid them across the table open at the right chapter. Vanessa had this quality of always doing everything the way it was supposed to, of being so proper about everything, so elegant. She pushed back her long, straight hair past her shoulder and stared at the page. It seemed to Joey that she was trying not to look at him, but then he felt the soft tap of her foot close to his till their toes touched. His stomach twisted anxiously.
“Vanessa,” he mumbled, “I think…”
“Love potions,” she read from the page, “Also called love draughts, are mixtures brewed with the intent of awakening feelings of romantic interest or, more frequently, lust in the recipient of such drink.”
She was fidgeting a little as she read on and Joey stared at her, more nervous by the minute. How was he supposed to pull out his cheat sheet now that she sat here right next to him? Maybe Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop wasn’t such a bad idea after all…
“You’re very good,” he blurted out and Vanessa’s eyes snapped to him − which were dark and piercing. “At… at all of this…”
The chapter on compliments swirled blurred in his mind from the book he had read plenty of times in the hopes of one day sweeping Vanessa off her feet, and yet now that the moment had come, he could not remember a word of it.
“Reading?” She asked dubiously. “Joey, everyone can read…”
“I mean… You’re so clever, you know, and I’m so glad you asked me to be partners…”
Vanessa looked at him. Her mouth narrowed. She pulled back her foot and kept on reading, a little lower now. The library was such a quiet place.
“I mean, anything can happen during potions assignments…”
For some time, they researched Amortentia together. He tried flirting, but his wording was awkward and never came out the way he meant. Vanessa never seemed to listen, either.
“Were you thinking about going to Hogsmeade? There’s a weekend coming up soon and…”
“I can’t do this.”
The book slammed shut. Her gaze was icy cold as she spoke to him like she would a child.
“Joey,” she said firmly, “Tiffany wanted me to do this potion with you because she thinks it’s weird I haven’t fancied any bloke ever since I came to Hogwarts. I thought she would like that. But I don’t like that and I’d much rather be doing it with her like I always do. Do you understand?”
Joey’s mouth opened and closed. He wanted to cry. Slowly, he nodded. Vanessa sighed out.
“It’s not you,” she said. “You’re… well, you’re an odd ball, aren’t you, but it’s not… I’m not looking for that kind of…”
But she rolled her eyes at her own self and opened the book again to contemplate the same chapter she had been reading from.
“The ideal color of the brew should be very light and volatile…”
At night, Joey threw himself in bed and all the tears in the world drenched his pillow as he sobbed heavily. He hadn’t even closed the curtains of his four-poster bed and his roommates looked at him with curiosity. Bug gently patted his back.
“Oh, Joey’s crying again?”
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” Joey cried and pulled the curtains tightly around him while he hugged his pillow. It was the worst thing that could ever have happened to him. “I’M CRYING!”
Suddenly taken by an urge to hate himself, he grabbed his mirror from his trunk at the bottom of his bed. It was staring back at him with a knowing smirk.
“What did I say, exactly?” It taunted. “It’s Sally you should look at. Vanessa won’t tell you the time of day.”
But in this, the mirror couldn’t be right. For some time already, it had had the idea that Joey should be interested in Sally Beatty, his best friend, his only friend. It was so far-fetched and ridiculous that Joey had considered many times getting rid of the mirror altogether, but then what would he tell his mum when she asked what had happened to her gift? There was a tiny part of Joey that didn’t mind hearing the lie − if only it didn’t hurt so much at the moment.
“She doesn’t give a shit about me,” he whimpered. “It’s all for Tiffany…”
He could hear that the other boys in the room were pretending to make conversations together so as to ignore him. He did not know if that was sweet of them or a reminder that nobody cared. There wasn’t a single person in the world who gave a shit about…
“Sally cares,” the mirror told him. “Sally has always been there for you.”
“And what do you know?!” Joey retorted. “You’re just a dumb shitty mirror!”
And he hid it underneath his pillow as he started crying all the harder.
He dragged himself through the rest of the week until finally, dreadfully, Friday came back around and he headed with heavy feet down the old stone staircases towards the potions class. Other students were already pairing up for the assignment and he saw that Tiffany was sitting next to Sally in his usual spot. He wanted to barf, but said nothing and sat next to Vanessa quietly. She did not so much as glance his way. Joey stared at his own hands and sighed heavily. He wanted to cry some more, but his eyes had dried out the tears that had poured all week. He waited for the instructions to come.
“Open books,” Professor Spankoffski was saying. “We don’t want explosions in this wee room, do we?”
Cautiously, everyone started to get their ingredients ready as they followed along the instructions one line at a time. Vanessa and Joey only addressed each other in whispers pertaining to the potion − he wondered if they would ever talk again after today. The potion was starting to take shape and he couldn’t stop glancing over at Sally and Tiffany. Sally was doing most of the work, he could see, but then when was she not? She was the cleverest witch in their year.
“Merlin, this smells good,” Vanessa let out in a tiny whisper she had uttered by mistake. Her hand plastered on her mouth and she stared at the potion now bubbling in a pale, clear color. “… Doesn’t it?”
Little by little, the cauldrons began emitting all sorts of smells. Some of his classmates surely must have dosed something wrong, he knew, for not all brews were letting off the same scents as the one he was making with Vanessa, but when he hovered over the surface for too long, it was becoming intoxicating.
The smell of pastry hit him first. He closed his eyes for but a second and could feel himself in his mum’s kitchen as she baked spotted dick for pudding, the gentle touch of her hands as she guided his on the baking roll. The smile on his dad’s face when they had a taste. How content he felt in his family’s home, no matter how often apart.
Then came the smell of his mum’s old books, except they weren’t just her mum’s anymore. It wasn’t just memories of childhood classes with the other little wizards of the neighbourhood. He had loved those teachings with all his heart, but most of all he had loved the excitement between him and Sally when they learned of something particularly fascinating, how struck with joy she could get. Why had he stopped caring about that at all? His first night at Hogwarts, he had hoped to be transported to Ravenclaw, and yet here he was and many days a week, he spent studying and chatting and bickering with Sally as she read her ancient tomes. It wasn’t just about the books. It was hardly about them at all.
And that third scent…
Several heads turned to him with mocking smirks and Joey felt himself become very small and very stupid. He couldn’t place the exact smell − was it perfume? Anything from a spell? Or perhaps just soap? − only that he knew it very, very well. And that it came only from Sally. And that it was the loveliest of all smells he had ever known. His heart suddenly started to pulse as the realization dawned on him and he groaned, hunching over and resting his face on the table.
He blinked and his head turned to the side to look at Vanessa eyeing him critically. She was frowning.
“Are you alright?”
He shook his head slowly.
“There’s this girl I like…” Vanessa winced and he corrected himself, sitting right back up again. “Not you! It’s… someone else… and my potion smells just like her and I don’t know how to tell her…”
Vanessa’s eyes widened. Awkwardly, she patted his shoulder.
“My potion also smells like someone,” she said. “It’s… very nice.”
“But I don’t have the guts to tell her and… Ugh, this sucks!”
He could see she was deep in thought. She poured another ingredient into the pot. Eventually, she spoke again.
“You’re a Gryffindor,” she sighed. “Isn’t that what you do? I could never be as bold as you…”
“Bold?” Joey retorted. “I’m not… I’m a complete twat, in case you haven’t noticed. I’m not brave at all. I’ve never understood why the hat put me in this place. I wish…”
Vanessa touched his hand. The contact would have been so exhilarating only moments ago and yet in this instant, he was merely grateful to receive the blessing of a friend.
“If you keep wishing,” she told him, “You’ll end up like Professor Spankoffski in twenty years.”
Professor Spankoffski was slouching on his chair with his feet on his desk, reading an old book and flipping the pages with his wand rather than his fingers for the sake of laziness. Joey stared for a moment. His heart throbbed and he made his decision right then and there. So abruptly that his stool fell to the ground with a clatter, he stood to his feet, away from the cauldron, away from the lies he had told himself. Sally was sitting in the front row as always and the potion brewing in front of her let out the sweetest scents he had ever smelled in his entire life. It smelled exactly of her. It smelled perfect.
“SALLY!” He shouted across the classroom. “I LOVE YOU!”
At first, Sally froze into place and showed little reaction and Joey was terrified he had made the biggest mistake of his life. Students around him were snickering teasingly, meanly, and Tiffany was already whispering with the other people around and pointing. Very slowly, Sally turned around. Her eyes were glinting with a rare hope and her lip quivered. From his desk, Professor Spankoffski was eyeing them suspiciously.
“I love that you smell like books and flowers and… and… I should have made this potion with you, and I’m sorry, because I’m in love with you!”
“Merlin’s balls…” Tiffany muttered.
With confident long strides, Joey crossed the dungeon under the stares of every classmate. He did not care. He was a Gryffindor, dammit, and he would dare it all. He sank to his knees in front of her and grabbed her hands in his. They were shaking, but stilled under his touch.
“Sally, you’ve always been here for me,” he admitted. “And I’ve been so blind, but you’re actually very pretty and smart, and I don’t think I give a hoot about anyone else in the world now, and…”
A hand clasped Joey’s shoulder firmly and pulled him back to his feet. He groaned and massaged the shoulder so brutally hurt. Professor Spankoffski was not happy.
“Master Richter,” he told him in a cold, unfeeling voice. “As delighted as we all are by that wee confession, this is a potions class. Get back to your seat, you wee gobshite. You’ve a brew to finish.”
“I love you too!” Sally cried out before Joey was completely out of reach. “My potion smells just like you too!”
Suddenly, Joey heard commotion behind him as Vanessa’s stool pushed back and racked the floor. Her voice shook with emotion but the words managed out.
“And mine smells like your bubblegum, Tiff,” she said, less grandiose than Joey’s declaration but public nonetheless. “I… think I love you too.”
Tiffany’s mouth dropped wide open and, for once in her life, she fell silent as her cheeks turned vermillion.
“Shite,” she muttered, “I’ve never thought of it that way… You’re right, I could fancy you too…”
“POTIONS!” Professor Spankoffski bellowed. “NOW!”
The rest of the class burst into frantic whispers about the confessions and not a single person in the room didn’t periodically glance back between Joey and Sally. He could not stop staring at Sally, so much so that it took Vanessa’s cauldron overflowing before he realized the fire was burning too hot underneath and he ought to pay more attention to what he was doing. Sally, clever and hardworking and ever so perfect Sally was being perfectly attentive to her cauldron, but with great difficulty. Every so often, she glimpsed back at him with the most beautiful smile in the world at the corner of her lips, and Joey was awestruck once more.
“One flask per pair of students,” the professor instructed once the potions were reaching maturity around the rest of the room. “Marked with your names and the date. To be placed on my desk now.”
Joey might have seized the ladle to pour the liquid into a flask, only Vanessa seized it from his hands and beat him to it. Without hesitation, she made the way to Professor Spankoffski’s desk to hand him their work. She was joined, he could see, with Tiffany who put a hand at her arm and whispered into her ear. Whatever she had said, he would never know, but the two of them were smiling so bright they could have lit up the damp, dark, gloomy dungeon with their joy. He looked at Sally.
He was as fearless as a lion as he offered her his hand. He kissed the back of hers and Sally’s knees trembled with delight as he wrapped an arm around her waist to keep her close to him. He never wanted to let her go again.
“NOT IN MY CLASSROOM!”
Under the thunderous voice of Professor Theodore Spankoffski, they dashed out of the room.
Their first kiss was hasty and messy and filled with all the passion he had ever felt in his life, for her or for others. It was full of tongue and teeth and the softest chapped lips he could have hoped for and Sally groaned when his hand cupped the back of her head to better taste her. She had trapped him against an old stone wall in the long corridor that led back up to the first story of the castle and the rest of the class ignored them politely as they made their way around. Whatever Tiffany and Vanessa were doing now, he did not know. He would have to enquire at another time.
“I love you,” he repeated. “I’ve just realized I love you so much.”
“I’ve always loved you, Joey,” Sally told him timidly.
She looked as though she was terrified he would be changing his mind soon. She didn’t need to. Joey was completely certain he would never close his eyes again, now that they had opened to the truth of his love for her. She was very cute, actually, and so intelligent and inspiring. He was lucky that she reciprocated his feelings at all.
“I know a place,” he said.
On the seventh floor, in the left corridor in front of a tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, Joey and Sally found a door most surprising, considering the fact that it had not been there mere moments earlier when they had walked across the corridor in the first place.
“Oh, Joey Richter,” Sally cooed, “That is exactly what we needed.”
From her pocket, he produced a small flask of Amortentia and the smell got to his head when she popped it open. The room was small, cozy, but richly decorated. At the end of it, there was the most comfortable bed in the world. And when one student was in Ravenclaw and the other in Gryffindor, where else could they possibly go?
“I love you, Joey,” she whispered yearningly as she took a sip he offered.
She passed the flask back to him.
“I love you, Sally,” he replied and gulped down a thick sip, too.
All evening, they remained in that bed and his body was almost sore and chafing by the time they came out again, disheveled but happier than they had ever been. The potion was still making him feel swollen and floating on love, but he thought there was a lot of it that wasn’t the potion at all.
At night, after sappy and endless goodbyes at a crossing of corridors, Joey had to take the way back to the Gryffindor Common Room when Sally was headed for the Ravenclaw Tower. They kissed one last time and promised each other they would spend the next day together − and the day after that, and all the remaining days as long as they could.
“So what did I say?”
Joey grinned at his mirror as his head hit the pillow comfortably. He was feeling pleasantly warm, as if already plunged in a good dream before even falling asleep. He knew without a doubt that he would be dreaming of his Sally all night. Today, he was exactly where he needed to be, bold and chivalrous and so utterly in love with his best friend. And this too made him feel a little bit more at home.