QUILL PRO QUO
Romilda groaned as a blot of dark blue ink blossomed from the broken tip of her quill. She lifted the quill to her eyes and squinted at it – No, that won’t do, she reminded herself, and she held the quill an arm’s length away. I really must take care not to strain my eyes. It would be just too bad if she had to wear a horrid pair of glasses. Sunglasses were fine; they would definitely be in fashion come summer. She had a lovely pair that she could take out when the time came: sleek, shiny silver frames with dark lenses behind which she’d be able to scrutinise people without them noticing and giving her dirty looks in return (honestly, when had looking become such a crime?). And should a certain dark-haired boy walk past, she could always let them slide down her nose a little bit, revealing her eyes in that alluring stare that she had been practising …
Spectacles, on the other hand, were definitely taboo as far as fashion was concerned. Unless, of course, you were the Boy Who Lived, in which case the rules of la mode could be bent. Even so, Romilda decided that once he noticed her (and possibly asked her out), she would introduce him to the miracle of contact lenses. Romilda might be a pure-blood, but she certainly wasn’t above trying out Muggle inventions. Wendy Hepburn’s coloured contact lenses had been all the rage among the Gryffindor girls in her dormitory last year. Romilda herself had tried out green eyes, blue eyes, and even violet before Sarah Perry had lost two pairs of lenses and Wendy had refused to share them round any more.
Romilda thought she really would have to think about acquiring her own set. Would changing her eye colour help her to finally capture the attention of Harry Potter?
Wait – how had she got to thinking about eye colour? Oh … examining her quill. Still holding it at a safe distance from her face, she narrowed her eyes at it.
Bollo – no, no swearing! she mentally scolded herself. Refined, be refined.
‘Bother,’ she said, softly, since Madam Pince was probably lurking around nearby. The quill was broken – the nib had snapped off, and it looked to be beyond repair. Ink was seeping out of the end, forming a dark blue bubble which was likely to burst and drip soon …
Romilda let out a tiny yelp and hurled the quill away before its leaking ink could stain her robes. Even if the house-elves could get it out, she’d still have to spend at least an hour more in a stained school robe while she did her detention essay.
An essay, she realised suddenly, she wasn’t going to be able to finish without her quill.
Well, that’s what you get for not buying quality, a little voice sounding suspiciously like her mother berated her.
Heaving a great sigh, Romilda retrieved her broken quill, set it down on the table, and glared at her parchment, half the page covered in writing which (hopefully) covered the essential points of Cross Species Switches. Honestly, it was evil of Professor McGonagall (Romilda was considering labelling her ‘She Who Must Not Be Named’) to assign her detention on a Hogsmeade weekend. And to confine her to the library, of all places. All for the minor transgression of peeking at Witch Weekly during Transfiguration.
Really, it was too bad. She’d only taken a small peep, because it was the latest issue, the one with Harry Potter on the cover, and the delivery owl had arrived so late that morning that she hadn’t had time to properly peruse it before lessons.
Professor McGonagall ought to have put the owl in detention.
Of course, there was no use explaining this to McGonagall, who simply pursed her lips and said, ‘You need to learn to apply your mind to actual work, as opposed to frivolous pursuits, Miss Vane.’
Frivolous pursuits! Romilda had been shocked speechless by this, and her lack of words had been taken as a lack of argument.
Which brought her to where she was now, stuck in the library on a Hogsmeade weekend, with a broken quill (there, now, she’d have had a brand new one if tyrannical McGonagall had only allowed her into Hogsmeade) and no prospects of leaving. She’d be stuck with the musty old tomes all day, with only crabby old Pince for company …
Well, she’d just have to ask Madam Pince for a spare quill. Romilda didn’t particularly fancy approaching the irritable librarian for any favours, but it wasn’t as though she had a choice.
I’m a Gryffindor. I can face a nasty librarian! Sticking her chin out squarely, she scraped her chair back – earning her the evil eye from Pince – and strode as confidently as she could up to the librarian’s desk. Madam Pince continued to glare at her the entire time.
‘This is a library,’ said Pince sternly, ‘not a ghost’s symphony. There’s no need to make your chair screech like that.’
Romilda gaped at the librarian in annoyance. It was only a tiny squeak … and who was there in the library for her to disturb, anyway? What sane person would willingly spend time here, especially when they could be in Hogsmeade … or playing Gobstones or Exploding Snap in the common room even if they were below third year? Not that Romilda would ever be caught dead playing such childish games any more.
Well, reckoned Romilda, returning to the essential question of which crazy individual might be in the library of their own volition, Hermione Granger might. But the sixth-year girl was in Hogsmeade; Romilda had seen it with her own eyes, Hermione leaving the castle the company of Ron Weasley and – sigh – Harry Potter.
Hermione really didn’t know how lucky she was. Rumour even had it that she was sweet on Ron Weasley. Not that the lanky redhead wasn’t cute, of course, but the girl had to be insane to forgo Harry Potter. Now, if Romilda were in Hermione’s position, she’d have Harry wrapped around her finger so tightly that he’d never disentangle himself.
‘Aren’t you supposed to be in detention?’ continued Pince, breaking into Romilda’s fantasies in a nasty tone of voice. ‘Get back to work before I report you to Professor McGonagall. Go on.’
‘May I have a quill, then?’ Romilda quickly gathered her wits to demand.
‘None of your impertinence, girl.’ Pince sniffed and turned away. Feeling quite put out, Romilda decided that the only proper response was to stalk away with her head held high. Certainly she wasn’t going to bother explaining things to a horrid librarian with no compassion whatsoever. She’d let Professor McGonagall come back and see how unreasonable Pince was, and then maybe Pince would be in trouble, instead of her – poor, ill-used Romilda. Ha.
She was halfway back to her table when she noticed, through an aisle between two shelves of books, that she wasn’t quite as alone in the library as she had believed. Wondering if perhaps she might find solidarity with another student forced to spend time in this awful mausoleum, Romilda edged towards the shelves under the pretence of searching for a related reference for her essay.
When she emerged on the other end of the aisle and saw who her potential partner in misery was, she was sadly disappointed. The girl looked up as Romilda approached, fixing large, pale, protuberant eyes on her, and Romilda had to stifle a groan.
Loony Lovegood, of all people. The Ravenclaw girl was a year ahead of Romilda, but her reputation – dotty as a Doxy, everyone proclaimed – preceded her.
However, Romilda had seen her with Harry Potter on the Hogwarts Express. Barmy as the girl might be, she was still a step ahead of Romilda in terms of attracting the Chosen One’s attention, and it quite irked Romilda to know that.
‘Oh, hello,’ said Loony, smiling in her placid manner. ‘You’re Romilda Vane, aren’t you?’
Romilda blinked, momentarily nonplussed. ‘You know my name?’
‘Yes.’ Loony nodded serenely. ‘You returned the quill that Orla Quirke took from me last year.’
At the memory, Romilda felt her face redden. She and Sarah Perry had, in fact, aided and abetted Orla in … refining the quill somewhat before returning it.
Loony, however, didn’t seem very accusing about the matter. She put her hand to her chin and said thoughtfully, ‘It was a very clever spell.’
They’d charmed it to write ‘Loony Lovegood’ at the beginning of every line that Loony wrote. Romilda stared at Loony in disbelief. The girl really was mad as a hatter.
‘It faded quite quickly, though,’ continued Loony, as calmly as if she were talking about the weather. ‘The charm, I mean. The Hobgoblins must have uncharmed it.’
‘The … what?’
‘The Hobgoblins,’ explained Loony patiently. ‘The old band – it’s a conspiracy, you see; they’ve pretended to split up, but they’re actually still working together to try to uncharm all magical objects in their stand against You-Know-Who. You know, by making magical things more Muggle, since You-Know-Who is so set against Muggles.’
Romilda couldn’t find a reply to this outlandish pronouncement. She stood there, mouth gaping open, wondering if she was hearing Loony correctly.
‘You must have been listening to the Hobgoblins’ old records, they –’
‘No!’ said Romilda quickly. It would never do to have Loony Lovegood even hint that she enjoyed the Hobgoblins. The wizarding band had become passé before she’d even been born.
Never would she admit that she owned the Hobgoblins’ Gobbledegook album. She’d be laughed out of Hogwarts … out of Britain, possibly.
Loony eyed her with a disconcertingly perceptive look, very unlike her usual dreamy, not-quite-right-in-the-upper-storey expression. Romilda felt her face go hot again.
‘No, I expect you wouldn’t know about it. It’s in the latest issue of the Quibbler, and not many people have seen that issue yet. I could lend it to you, if you like.’
‘Er – no, thanks,’ said Romilda hurriedly. That was one publication she’d certainly never be caught dead with. ‘Actually, I only need to borrow a quill, if you’ve a spare …’
Loony gave her another unnervingly astute look before seeming to consider this. ‘I have …’ she said slowly. ‘Would you mind doing me a favour first, though?’
‘What’s that?’ Romilda said cautiously. It wouldn’t do to agree to some embarrassing promise … such as helping Loony on one of her wild-Diricawl chases, or wearing any of her atrocious accessories. Loony pushed her hair back behind her ears and Romilda noted with distaste that today there were a pair of cheese-shaped earrings dangling from them.
‘Could you help me find a book on Blibbering Humdingers?’
‘Blibbering Humdingers,’ she repeated.
‘Er … Loo – Luna,’ said Romilda, catching herself and using Loony’s proper name just in time, ‘I don’t think there’s any such thing …’
‘Well, of course, there is,’ said Loony. ‘I’m doing some research on them – I think Harry might find it very interesting.’
‘Yes, him.’ Romilda had to roll her eyes at this. Loony obviously wasn’t worth the Chosen One’s time, if she could speak of him in such a disrespectful manner. ‘It’s quite the secret, actually.’ Loony’s voice dropped to a confidential tone. ‘You-Know-Who uses the Humdingers to clear up evidence when he attacks, that’s why no one can ever trace him.’
OK, this is getting out of hand. ‘Luna,’ said Romilda slowly, ‘I don’t really know where to look for such a book.’
‘Oh,’ Luna waved her hand towards the shelves, ‘in the Magizoology section, of course. Would you go look, please? I’d be grateful – I really want to get this research done as soon as possible. The quicker I can show Harry, the sooner it can help him.’ She held up a page of notes, which looked far too complex.
Deciding that she might as well pretend to search, Romilda set off towards the shelves. She hadn’t any inkling where the Magizoology section would be found – well, obviously, she had never bothered to familiarise herself with the library’s shelving plan – but surely a book about such a weird creature (if it even existed) would be easy enough to spot, right?
She tried to consider the possibility that Loony might actually be correct about the … what was it again? Bibbing Hummer? Loony had, after all, mentioned Harry Potter, albeit a little dismissively, and she actually was on speaking terms with the Boy Who Lived, whether she deserved it or not.
After several minutes of wandering around the bookshelves, randomly running her finger along the spines of some of the less dusty books, Romilda returned to Loony’s table, having completely forgotten the name of the creature she was supposed to be looking for a reference on.
‘Did you find it?’
‘No,’ shrugged Romilda. ‘It wasn’t on the shelves.’
Loony looked disappointed. ‘Oh dear,’ she said. ‘I shall have to pay a visit to Scrivenshaft’s after all.’
‘I hope it won’t hinder Harry,’ said Romilda casually. ‘I don’t suppose I ought to mention it to him …’ She couldn’t help smirking, sure that Loony would be caught in her incredible fib here. Surely she’d urge Romilda to keep quiet, to preserve her inexplicable friendship with Harry Potter – wouldn’ Harry be angry to discover Loony’s insinuation that he would be interested in imaginary creatures!
Loony, however, didn’t even bat an eyelid. She cocked her head to one side and gazed at Romilda for a moment before saying, ‘Oh, Harry doesn’t know yet, but you’re quite welcome to tell him. You mustn’t be too loose with the information, though –’ Loony lowered her voice again, ‘it wouldn’t do for word to get to You-Know-Who that we know what he’s doing.’
Godric’s gizzards! Either the girl had completely gone round the twist … or maybe … Romilda wondered suddenly if Loony were a spy. Perhaps her dreamy manner was a ruse, to throw people’s suspicions off. In which case, it was somewhat exciting to be included in a secret involving the Chosen One. Romilda dared to hope that she might be able to help him on his heroic adventures in the near future.
‘Here you are,’ said Loony, and Romilda stared at her in surprise. She was holding out a plain, pigeon-feathered quill. Nothing remarkable – a cheap, low-quality quill, but nevertheless a quill.
‘Thank you.’ Romilda accepted the quill and headed back towards her own table, her thoughts still full of Harry Potter and what it would be like to be the woman behind him, supporting him as he battled evil Dark wizards.
‘I always think of you, darling Romilda,’ he’d say. ‘You’re the one I long to come home to.’
Professor McGonagall returned late in the evening, her face tight and her mouth drawn in a stern line. Romilda wondered what on earth had happened to make her look so forbidding, but didn’t think it was a good idea to ask. McGonagall looked ready to bite her head off if she said the wrong thing.
‘I trust a day was enough time for you to apply your mind to Transfiguration?’ said McGonagall sharply.
‘Yes, Professor,’ Romilda said meekly, and handed up her parchment. She’d written an inch longer than required, which she hoped would be enough to appease McGonagall.
McGonagall scanned through the essay wordlessly. Then, most unexpectedly, her lips twitched.
‘There is sufficient content in the body of the essay, Miss Vane; however, I certainly do not recall asking you for your opinion on wizarding music.’
Romilda was baffled. Wizarding music?
‘I’ll want this rewritten and handed in before lessons tomorrow, without the praise of your favourite band,’ said McGonagall, handing the parchment back to Romilda. She turned to leave, but before exiting the library, she added, ‘I did quite like the Hobgoblins myself when I was a girl, though.’
Alarmed, Romilda held the parchment to the light to find the offending statement that had slipped out – how on earth could she have let her most closely-guarded secret slip?
She didn’t have to look far. Every sentence she had written began with the words, Hobgoblins are my heroes!
‘Bollocks,’ cursed Romilda.
A/N: Thanks to silvercrackle for pre-betaing, and the wonderful Birgit with her fine-tooth comb! Also, I’m very grateful to Bren for her Broken Quill challenge at Fiction Alley, which was the inspiration for this story. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as I did writing it! Reviews are most welcome!