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2012 Writer's Duel: A Fresh Spin by HPFF United
Format: Short story collection
Chapter 2: An American In Hogwarts by TenthWeasley
The castle was cold, and drafty, and absolutely nothing like home. Ryan Timms slumped into a chair in the library, carefully avoiding the beady eyes of the beak-nosed librarian, who seemed to have taken a dislike to him from the first. His chin was nearly level with his knees, but even in this awkward sort of posture, he knew that the other students milling about wouldn’t be likely to spare him more than a glance. Besides, it was too comfortable to shift at the moment. This whole week – and, likely, the rest of this year – could not end soon enough.
If he hadn’t been expelled from the Salem Witches’ Institute (which, despite its rather misleading name, admitted males along with females), then none of this would have happened. He wouldn’t have been freezing to death inside a strange and rather austere library, not able to place a single face and not knowing what to do with his time, having finished all his homework before dinner. And that, if nothing else, truly revealed how extremely desperate his situation was.
And it wasn’t even his fault, really, because he definitely hadn’t been the only one to blow up that girls’ bathroom – it had been Kyle’s idea in the first place, and Matt had definitely helped. But in the end, Ryan had been the one who got caught, and Ryan had been the one sitting on the curb with his suitcase beside him, waiting to tell his dad that no, he would not be returning to school after the holidays. The closest magical school his dad could find had been Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in northern Scotland (the exact location wasn’t disclosed), and, although not terribly pleased at having Ryan so far from his watchful and strict eye, he found no other alternative but to send his son there.
And, right from the start, he had had no difficulty in feeling completely different from everyone else. Almost as soon as he had arrived at the school, having been taken up in carriages that were noticeably lacking in horses, he was whisked into a small broom cupboard next to a large hall, and something brown and floppy was plunked on his head without further ado.
To his immense surprise, the brown and floppy thing, which he had now taken to be a hat, had begun to talk to him in a very low voice, just inside his ear. It spoke in a very old and ancient voice, and this combined with the heavy English accent it had made it a bit difficult for him to understand it. The only thing that he understood (and it would have been hard to miss a screaming hat) was when it suddenly shouted out, “RAVENCLAW!”
The old and stern-looking woman who had steered Ryan into this cupboard nodded and marked something on a long roll of parchment clutched in her hands. “Your school House,” she said abruptly, glancing up and evidently taking the look on his face for confusion. “You may go and line up with the other first years –”
“What?” Ryan said, his mouth dropping open. “But I’m not a new –“
The woman pursed her lips in disapproval. “It is necessary for you to listen to the rules of our school along with our new students,” she said crisply, “being a new student yourself, no matter your age.”
“I’ll get someone to tell them to me,” he said desperately. He knew he was probably already stretching the rules of this place, being so rude, and the last thing he needed was to get expelled from yet another school, but sitting with a bunch of eleven-year-olds was not going to get his reputation off to a great start.
The woman stood looking down at him, lips still pursed, and finally snatched the hat off his head. “I will be making sure this is exactly what happens,” she said. “Now go and sit with your House. It’s the table with the blue and bronze decorations.” With this, she whisked back out into the hall, and Ryan found himself sitting alone in the cupboard, feeling rather foolish. This feeling did not go away upon entering the hall, where everyone at the table the woman had pointed out had shot him curious looks for the entire rest of the night. He supposed he was an oddity, but he wished they would at least stop staring.
The librarian – Ryan thought her name was Madam Pinch, or something close to it – poked her head around the corner at that moment, eyeing him suspiciously. “And what are you doing, boy?” she said without preamble.
Ryan blinked, confused. “I’m, uh, sitting?” He ended the phrase as though it were a question, not sure if that was the answer she was looking for or not. He could have sworn she hissed at him slightly before uttering her next sentence.
“Libraries are not for sitting,” she said waspishly. “One might assume you have studies to attend to, or something in which you can make yourself useful?” Ryan just blinked again, but she seemed to take this as an answer in the affirmative. Running a finger underneath the tight, high collar of her blouse, she gave a great sniff and stalked off between the stacks once more.
“Crazy,” Ryan muttered, nevertheless bending over and fishing a book out of his schoolbag. It was nothing like his old bag, back in the States – this one was stiff, and uncomfortable, and his books fit all wrong inside it. He took out one of his new books with difficulty and studied the front cover. Defensive Magical Theory, by Wilbert Slinkhard.
Even the title sounded strange and foreign. He flipped it open and scanned through it without taking in a single word on the page, his eyes blurring over, and not even a minute passed before he closed it again and returned it disgustedly to his bag.
Things might not have been so bad, he thought a bit glumly, if people had deigned to talk to him about more than how he liked his classes, or asking him questions about the States. It wasn’t that he necessarily needed these people to like him – and he didn’t, because he had his own friends back home – but being a fourteen-year-old boy in a strange school in a strange country was a bit lonesome, and everyone here already seemed to have their own groups of friends to talk to. There wasn’t an opening for him, certainly not among the other fourth-year Ravenclaws, as anything more than a homework buddy.
Although, he admitted, sitting alone in the library after dinner didn’t really make a strong case for himself as anything else.
At least they used the same sorts of spells here that they had used back in Salem – Ryan had been worried enough about other things to even think about that, and was relieved to find that out. But his wand hadn’t seemed to react well to the climate here, for even the simplest spells he’d attempted had always seemed to go wrong, and he couldn’t place his finger on the problem. In Salem, he had been among the top in his class – for all his joking around, he still had gotten good grades – but here he thought it would be a miracle to even pass some of his classes.
Furtively glancing to see that the librarian was still out of sight, Ryan bent over and fished around in his bag again, this time coming up with his wand. The odd-looking lamp over his head caught his eye, and he looked up at it, brushing his hair out of his eyes to see it properly. Pointing his wand at it, he whispered, “Lumos.”
With a sort of whoosh, the lamp flared up in an instant, and he jumped back in fright, nearly pitching backwards in the chair and thinking that he was surely going to be roasted alive. The lamp returned to normal, but it took a bit more time for his pulse to slow down, and he angrily shoved his wand back in his bag, scowling. Stupid.
“I don’t think your wand works very well.” A light, almost fluid voice sounded from somewhere to his left, and, turning his head, Ryan laid eyes on a girl perched on the edge of a severe-looking armchair, her silver-blue eyes trained up at the lamp that had nearly exploded.
“What?” he said dumbly, feeling heat creep into his cheeks knowing that that girl had just seen him do something very stupid. She looked a bit familiar, and, his eyes trailing to the emblem sewn onto the left side of her robes, he remembered that she was a Ravenclaw in his year.
“Your wand doesn’t seem to be working, does it?” said the girl lightly, pointing at the lamp. “I don’t think that was supposed to happen. Unless that’s what you meant to do, and then you did it very well.” She looked at him unblinkingly – Ryan wondered idly if she ever blinked – and shifted a bit in his chair. This girl was making him feel rather uncomfortable, and what was worse was he couldn’t tell if she was joking or not, so he still didn’t respond.
“I’ve seen you around,” she said. “You’re that boy who came here from the United States. You’re a fourth year, aren’t you?” Ryan nodded. “In Ravenclaw?” the girl pressed, and he nodded again. “I’ve seen you in my classes,” she said, and then looked back at the lamp, swinging her legs back and forth slightly. Ryan watched her, but she seemed in no hurry to move the conversation forward.
“So – you’re in fourth year too?” he ventured at last, having felt distinctly that he had to at least say something.
The girl blinked at him and her face suddenly split into a wide smile. “Your accent is funny,” she said, not bothering to answer the question. “But yes, I am a fourth year. I’m Luna Lovegood, although lots of people call me Looney. Not to my face, but I don’t think I’d mind if they did.” She tilted her head to the side and a lock of long hair, just as silvery as the rest of her, fell over her shoulder.
“Ryan Timms,” Ryan muttered back out of obligation, and tried to pretend as though he was looking for something in the bag at his feet – anything to get out of this rather awkward social obligation he now found himself in. He looked up, and visibly jumped to find that Luna had gotten up and crossed to stand in front of him.
“You sit alone a lot,” she said, tipping her head again.
“My friends are all back home,” Ryan said, although he didn’t really know why he felt he needed to explain himself to this girl. “I don’t need any new ones.” Luna twirled a lock of hair around her finger, studying him, and it was at this point that Ryan noticed that she was wearing what looked like orange radishes for earrings.
“But nobody should be sitting alone,” she reasoned. “I think we’d all like to get to know you better.” And for that, Ryan had no answer. He stood up instead, feeling vaguely uncomfortable, and slung the strap of his bag over his shoulder.
“I’m going back to the common room,” he said abruptly, and he could feel those large eyes on him all the way out of the library and into the corridor. It was rather deserted, most of the other students already back in their own common rooms, and the loneliness Ryan hated to admit he felt seemed magnified a thousand times when walking in a large and dimly-lit corridor.
That girl in the library had been, without a doubt, one of the weirdest girls he had ever met, and he had known a girl in kindergarten who had eaten dirt almost on a daily basis. She hadn’t seemed bothered to ask him whatever she liked, either, and although this blunt aspect of her personality unnerved him considerably, he had a touch of admiration for it, too. She probably wouldn’t have had any trouble moving on from her old friends if she’d been in his position.
The library wasn’t very far from the tower where the Ravenclaw common room was – probably by design, Ryan thought, since he’d quickly learned that being called a Ravenclaw almost immediately meant being called smart, or nerdy, if you weren’t well-liked by whoever was calling you names. He trudged up the stairs a bit slowly, hoping to kill time so he could justify going straight to his room. However, when he reached the top of the stairs and found himself staring at the brass knocker he found there, he almost wished that Looney Lovegood had been with him.
Another thing he had quickly discovered was that the entrance to each House’s common room was secret, and to keep this one safe, each student who wanted to enter the common room had to answer a riddle. And Ryan realized rather quickly as he stood on the landing that he had never had to answer one by himself before, because he had always been with someone else upon reaching this point. The eagle on the knocker opened its beak, seeming not to care that a rather helpless and new American, who didn’t really want to answer riddles right now, stood before it.
“Before the sun I pass, and yet no shadow do I make. What am I?”
Ryan stuck his tongue between his teeth, concentrating. He knew he should have been able to answer the riddle, but one side of his forehead had begun to throb rather painfully, and concentration was difficult. He rubbed his head irritably.
“I don’t know – a leaf? A broomstick? What?”
“Incorrect,” trilled the knocker, and fell silent. Ryan waited for it to ask another riddle, but its beak did not open again.
“I – hey, wait! Open up!” he said, and, when the knocker stayed quiet, kicked the door in frustration. “Let me have another shot!”
“Ooh – have you been locked out?” Ryan jumped for the third time that evening as a voice spoke at his shoulder, and, turning around desperately, he saw –
“I’ve only been locked out once myself,” Luna said, smiling as though recalling a very fond memory. “In my first year – I have a knack for guessing these riddles. They are a bit tricky at first, but they’re a great way to get to know other people in your House,” she said sympathetically, and Ryan bristled at the condescension he imagined he detected in her voice. He wondered why she kept bringing up the rather annoying implication that he needed to find ways to meet the rest of his classmates.
“It’s the stupid thing, it won’t let me answer again,” he said, scowling and picking up his bag from where he’d dropped it on the landing.
“Well, then, I suppose I’ll have a go,” Luna said brightly, and the British-sounding phrase touched oddly on Ryan’s ears. She stepped up to the knocker and clasped her hands behind her back, waiting patiently. It spoke the same riddle again.
“Before the sun I pass, and yet no shadow do I make. What am I?”
“Ooh, that’s a good one,” Luna said, fiddling with the ends of her long blonde hair, and Ryan groaned aloud, slumping his head against the stone wall and closing his eyes. She stood there for a long moment, thinking, her head as always tipped to the side, and finally answered, “I would say the wind.”
“Well said,” cooed the eagle, and the door to the common room swung inward, allowing them in.
“Thanks,” Ryan said, turning desperately to Luna. She merely smiled placidly back at him and walked – no, walked wasn’t the right word, she drifted – into the common room. Still a bit nonplussed, and not at all sure about her sanity, but just grateful that he knew he wouldn’t be sleeping outside tonight, Ryan followed her inside.
A small cluster of boys was sitting off to the left around the fireplace, studiously reading in the straight-backed upholstered chairs. He recognized two of the boys from his dormitory; it appeared that they were undergoing a little study group of sorts. From nowhere, Luna’s words in the library floated through his brain.
“I think we’d all like to get to know you better.”
He swallowed, trying to channel Luna’s bluntness and matter-of-fact personality, and forced his feet to walk over to the study group. “Can I join you?” he ventured, mortified at the way his voice cracked in the middle of the sentence. Perhaps he should just leave while he still had the chance.
One of the boys looked up and smiled. “Yeah, sit down!” he said, moving his own bag to free up the last remaining chair. Ryan did so, pulling out Defensive Magical Theory again and trying not to appear too out of place.
Well. It appeared Looney Lovegood – or Luna, rather – had been right after all.