A/N: Sorry for the extremely long delay, and I'm pretty sure it won't happen again, provided the well-being of my computer holds up...
Disclaimer: JK Rowling, Abhorsen, blah blah blah, you get the picture.
Had St. Hedwig’s been a goby in the ocean of magical institutions, Hogwarts would’ve been a great white shark. It didn’t just look immense, it really was, and maybe even bigger than that. But the real problem didn’t lie with its size; the most difficult thing about navigating the castle was the layout. Shortcuts, longcuts, secret passageways, and those that weren’t so secret, portholes, sinkholes, trapdoors, fake doors, invisible walls, and, of course, Peeves all contributed to my confusion. It seemed, no matter how quickly I dashed down halls and up stairs, that all of these forces were conspiring against me for the simple purpose of making me late to every single class. Except History of Magic. For some Merlin-knows-why reason I was never late to History of Magic, which is a shame, seeing as that’s the only class in which my tardiness probably would’ve gone unnoticed by the teacher.
The worst things were the suits of armor. I ran into more of those in the first month than most students do in their entire seven years, I'm sure. It wouldn’t seem that easy to do, considering how they’re generally backed up against a wall, and well out of the path of people. But these suits of armor don’t stay that way for seventy-five percent of the time. They like to wander, and since I was needing to sprint to every class, I wasn’t really paying attention to anything that wasn’t in my immediate line of vision, including hyperactive suits of armor.
Which is why I didn’t see that one coming. These collisions usually ended with both parties on the ground, one in pieces. Those suits weren’t as sturdy as they liked to pretend they were.
“Hey, you! Get back here and show some chivalry!” it called angrily as I hopped up and kept running. By this time Filch was normally showing up and yelling at me about defacing school property, threatening me with detention if I didn’t aid the poor, defeated knight. I was just getting to thinking that maybe this was the dawn of a new day, but then, as I rounded another corner, I saw him wheezing down the corridor, flanked by his mangy cat. He was five seconds late. It really wasn’t like him.
I sighed, slowing to a stop and heading back to the horrible carnage I’d wrought in the hall before he’d even reached me.
“That’s right! Put ‘im back together! Can’t have riff-raff like you gettin’ off scot-free…” He continued to mumble as I handed the suit various scattered bits of himself.
The bell tolled for the next class to begin. It was the third time this week I’d been late to Transfiguration, and it would, in all likelihood, not be the last. I took off running again as the suit of armor attempted to make a rude gesture with his still-dismembered hand.
McGonagall’s going to dismember me when I get to class, I thought grimly.
“So you decided to join us after all, Ms. Firmin,” she said upon my rather abrupt intrusion of her classroom.
“I’m sorry, I–”
“Take your seat.”
I sighed, muttering something along the lines of, “Yes ma’am,” and “It won’t happen again,” the latter of which was a very probable untruth. Head bowed, allowing my hair to provide a barrier between myself and the stares of my classmates, I stepped with customary inelegance towards my customary seat next to Facetia. Though it hadn’t been apparent at first, it was rapidly becoming clear that different houses didn’t really see each other much, what with the separate dormitories, eating areas, and classes; McGonagall could preach about House Unity all she wanted, but the fact of the matter was that there was more than a little segregation going on. Because of all this, Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts were the only times I could talk to Tia, and then only if I was early, which I never was.
Having reached the front of the class, I peeked through my straggly curtain, only to find that my seat was occupied by none other than class cut-up, resident sex god, and Marauder extraordinaire, Sirius Black, also known as the Boy-Who-Is-Taking-Up-All-of-Facetia’s-Free-Time-by-Being-an-Annoying-Prick. This was why breakfast and lunch were out of the question for pleasant conversation. The two of them had been at it since he’d tripped her during the Sorting Ceremony, which, in my opinion, was not an acceptable reason to go all-out prank-war on each other. And they weren’t the only ones affected by this feud; yesterday, there’d been beetles in the soup, and I have never looked at noodles the same way since.
“-saving that seat,” I heard Facetia say authoritatively.
“For who?” Sirius retorted.
“For whom,” I corrected absentmindedly. Erroneous grammar was something for which I was willing to break my no-talking rule.
“For her,” she replied, jabbing a thumb in my direction.
“But she’s,” I braced myself for the inevitable, “a Slytherin,” he concluded.
I gave an almost inaudible sigh.
It was comforting to know that Facetia really didn’t care what house I was in, but I couldn’t help wondering if that was only because she’d known me for so long.
“And… and I was here first.”
His weak response was encouraging; he seemed to be losing the argument, and might have caved soon if McGonagall hadn’t spoken then.
“Ms. Firmin, you’re late enough already – please take a seat.”
I mumbled another half-hearted, “Yes ma’am,” and took the nearest available spot between Remus Lupin and some red-haired girl whose name eluded me. Leila? Lorelei? Eh.
Class passed by very slowly. On the plus side, I had a very nice view of Remus’s profile. Sure, I paid partial attention to the lesson, enough to take at least mediocre notes, but for the most part I was admiring the perfect curve of his jawline, how marvelously straight his nose was, how his eyes would move back and forth across his notes. His hair caught the sunlight streaming from the high windows and turned to fibrous gold, throwing tiny sparkles into my line of vision. It was remarkably easy to ignore the fact that it might be dandruff.
As I inattentively doodled small swirls and spikes on my parchment, I heard a minute scraping noise, indicating that I'd run out of ink. As I looked up to refill the quill, Sirius Black's annoyingly long-haired head leapt eagerly into my sight, and I saw it tilt ever so slightly to the left as he slipped an insignificant piece of parchment under his desk toward Facetia. I gazed on in abject horror as she accepted it without the slightest indication of irritation, and then proceeded to read it. My newly refilled quill was dripping impatiently onto my set of what passed for notes, and I appeased it by extracting a blank page from amidst the haphazard pile of papers and began to scribble wildly, my ordinarily less-than-legible penmanship becoming nigh impossible to comprehend in my haste and frustration. I didn't exactly focus on what I was writing, being rather more preoccupied than was necessary with the angle at which the tips of Sirius Black's hair flipped out at the ends; how he tucked part of it behind his left ear, cocking his head so subtly to the right I might have been imagining it, but with his head positioned that way he could probably hear the scratch of Facetia's quill as it raced across the rough paper, taking the diligent notes that I'd likely end up borrowing sooner or later.
Then, as I was folding my note into some semblance of a shape, she slid whatever she'd been writing over to his desk, not taking her eyes from the front of the room. My jaw may have dropped open; not only was she accepting notes from the boy with whom she'd been feuding for weeks, she was passing them back.
Discreetly removing my wand from my pocket, I sent my note traipsing across the floor with a will to kill, and watched with sadistic satisfaction as it attempted to catch her attention by sawing relentlessly at her ankle. I realized belatedly that I didn't have any idea what the message was about, and as I saw her, wincing, bend to pick up the note, I supposed it was probably something pointlessly insulting towards Sirius. Oddly enough, that didn't strike me as being particularly bad.
I imagined that I could feel her eyebrows knitting together idiosyncratically as she scanned the note. Her forehead would crease slightly to the left of the center, and she would run her thumbs slowly and laboriously along the sides of the paper, pondering her response. And indeed, within seconds I saw her snatch up her quill, and she began to write in a way that was only just too loose to be studious. She stopped and folded the note into something that vaguely resembled a stork, holding it behind her back and giving it a small, sharp tap with her wand. It leapt from her palm and skated across the floor, weaving between the legs of chairs, desks, and students, whereupon it began to gnaw bloodthirstily at my sock.
The murderous parchment creature snapped at my fingertips as I retrieved it, unfolding the thing as quickly as the convoluted pleating would allow. It read:
Rachie, I have no intention of writing unsolicited notes to Sirius Black. He wrote me first. Tia.
Facetia's handwriting was abnormally neat and curly. I could read it far better than I could my own, which might have bothered me if I weren't so miffed already. I looked up from the loops and coils of Facetia's note to attempt to burn a few holes in the back of her head with a well-placed glare or two, but instead saw Professor McGonagall slap a note of her own onto her desk.
Well, I suppose detention ought to teach her not to pass notes during class, I thought hypocritically to myself. Class continued in a characteristically slow fashion until a loud bang was heard, and suddenly two boys on the opposite side of the classroom were each sporting their own pair of extra nostrils.
This incident might have remained unnoticed if it hadn’t been for the fact that neither pair of orifices had appeared on a nose.
McGonagall groaned mid-lecture and strode to where the two sat, seizing them roughly by their wrists and confiscating their wands all in one deft motion. She cleared her throat professionally, as though this happened often.
"I have to take the pair of them up to the Hospital Wing," she said, "to keep them from damaging each other more than they already have." Both of the boys glared up at her with equal disdain. She didn't appear to notice. "Stay here. Stay quiet. You're in charge, Ms. Evans."
She swept out of the room, dragging her living baggage behind her. The class, of course, rapidly did exactly what she'd told them not to do, and began talking animatedly with their friends, Facetia included.
"Hiya!" she said, clearing away a few books from my desk and seating herself upon the space.
"Hey," I said, feeling that she was rather enthused for someone having just been given detention, "why'd you send that rabid note to give me a wicked paper cut?"
"So we'd match," she countered wittily, holding out her left leg for demonstration. The guilt I might have felt at the small gash was dragged off into a dark forest and strangled by the twinge I still suffered in my own ankle.
"At least I didn't go for your jugular," she continued, further deflating any sympathy I might have spared.
"Why on Earth would you do that?"
"Because that wasn't a very nice thing you said about Sirius," she said like a judge delivering a guilty verdict, her arms crossed.
I was sorely tempted to ask what I'd said about Sirius, if only for the sake of curiosity. I restrained myself, choosing instead to point out the obvious.
"You've been fighting with him for the last two weeks."
She flushed, "Well… he said he was sorry. That's what his note said," she floundered as if that settled the matter.
"Oh, and you're going to believe that?" True, I had limited experience with Sirius Black, but thus far he looked to be three-hundred percent untrustworthy.
"Well, why not?"
I opened my mouth to explain precisely why she shouldn't when another, much louder, mouth opened to do it for me, and not quite in the way I'd intended.
"Because he's a blood traitor prat of a Gryffindor."
I groaned. Bellatrix had been ambushing me at every opportunity she had, which was not only annoying, but all too easy for her. She knew everyone, and everyone knew That Clumsy Transfer Girl, and they were uncannily willing to point her in the right direction. I knew that her attempts at befriending me had nothing to do with kindness or an actual interest in me, but with the fact that I was a novelty; Firmin the Freaky Foreigner or something like that. Arachnae, the Archetype of Aloof Americans, maybe. Regardless of how she saw me, I was sure she didn't actually see me.
"Um…" I avoided looking at either of them, averting my eyes towards a terribly interesting corner of my desk. "This is Bellatrix Black. Bellatr- Bella, meet Facetia White." I remembered at the last second that she'd asked me numerous times to call her by her nickname, a feat which had up until now eluded me.
"C'mon, Arachnae," she said quickly, even as Facetia was extending a polite hand for shaking, "This Gryffindor isn't worth your time." She said 'Gryffindor' as though it caused her physical pain.
She grabbed me by the elbow, and I was powerless to resist as she hauled me to the back of the room where she'd been sitting.
"Let go of me!" I hissed angrily when she finally stopped. She complied, but continued to hold me in place with her gaze.
"Honestly Arachnae, you shouldn't be hanging out with people like her," she nodded in Facetia's general direction, "You're too good for them."
"She's my friend," I retorted, my temper rising. I had my hand clenched around the wand in my pocket, and at that point was more likely to stick her with it than to actually cast a spell. "Which is more than I can say for y–"
"They won't be around much longer, though," she said, clearly not having heard a word of what I'd said. My irritation was quickly superseded by confusion.
Her eyes were far off, like she was seeing something hidden from the rest of the world, and she was smiling a very peculiar, almost sinister grin.
"Father says that soon the world will be put back into its natural order," her stare shifted from whatever she'd been seeing back to me, "You know, with people like us in control."
My tongue was on fire with thirty million questions, but I didn't get to ask any of them, because a seemingly disembodied voice yelled something or another, and the class erupted in laughter. I looked around wildly for the source of this hilarity, and it didn't take me long to find it. Facetia was hovering upside-down about six inches above Remus's desk, her skirt dangling in a similar fashion somewhere around her shoulders. Sirius had his wand pointed directly at her, and was roaring with mirth right along with the rest of them.
Finally, the skirt gave up the ghost and drifted past her head and to the floor like an oversized, grey leaf. I was torn between feeling horribly about it, and laughing hysterically like everyone else, and despite my attempts at fighting it, a small giggle escaped from between my lips. She was wearing her Superman boxer shorts. It would have taken an extraordinary amount of willpower not to laugh.
The perpetrator stepped very close to his victim, and whispered something I didn't catch. As he turned to leave, Facetia whispered something back, which seemed to incense him to the point of fury.
"NEVER, EVER CALL ME THAT! THIS THING IS FINISHED!"
I nearly breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, no more pranks. No more insect-infested pasta dishes. Perhaps life at Hogwarts was looking up.
"Yes, it is," said a voice that was neither Facetia's nor Sirius's, but one that held all the terrible authority of an angry Transfiguration teacher. McGonagall was back, and she had come bearing detention notices, I'm quite sure, with a vengeance. Luckily the bell chose that perfect moment to toll, and I was out of there faster than you could say, "Deus ex Machina."
So, not all that fast, really.
I caught up with Facetia later outside McGonagall's office.
"You're back, I see," she said in a tone she normally reserved for people she was very annoyed with.
"I am," I replied, trying to muster all of the counter-annoyance I possessed, "You've got to understand that Bellatrix practically dragged me away…"
She nodded, apparently appeased by my alibi. "Good. Well, that's over, then." I didn't think it would be over for long, though, given that Bella was always on the prowl.
“Want to walk with me to the Great Hall for lunch?”
I nodded, as though the answer wasn’t as obvious as the Pope’s religion.
I sat at the Gryffindor table that day, partly to avoid Bellatrix, but mostly so I could enjoy Facetia’s full attention for the first time in weeks. It became sort of a tradition, my hanging out on the red side of the Hall for meals. Only Facetia and I were particularly happy about the arrangement, though. The Gryffindors hated me for my house, and the Slytherins hated me for associating with the enemy. I didn’t try to be pessimistic, but at the time it seemed like Hogwarts was going to exactly like St. Hedwig’s had been, only with ten times the amount of Queens. Which would mean more pent-up frustration, more grudges, more opportunities to exercise my imagination in concocting slow and painful deaths. More time spent asking Facetia how much trouble I’d be in if I used such-and-such hex on so-and-so, and would you please give me a good reason not to. More of her eye-rolls, more snapping books shut when I ‘ought to be socializing,’ more smiles and laughs and inside jokes. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed as though I would thrive on the prejudices and stereotypes so prevalent between Gryffindor and Slytherin. By being despised, I would have only the best protection from my best friend, who would share every iota of my contempt for both houses.
What actually ended up happening was far less idyllic. Facetia is dead, as you well know, and I’m at the top of the Ministry’s ‘Most Wanted’ list.
I wonder often if I ought to just turn myself in, and what stops me from doing so is the question of whether it would be out of strength or weakness. On the one hand, handing myself over to the Aurors might finally make up for everything else I’ve done, and failed to do. By forcing myself into confinement, I would be, in a roundabout way, admitting that I was wrong and asking for absolution. Hiding out here and relieving my addictions on some poor Muggle every night shows an astonishing lack of willpower, if anything.
But then there’s the other view. Perhaps going to prison again would be the weaker course of action. For what’s weaker than admitting that I can’t do it myself? If I need to be forcibly restrained to solve my own problems, what does that say about me? By sloughing myself off on somebody, I’m just refusing to face this bizarre function of the Id that has me under its thumb, and would prefer to sit back and relax while it suffers the awful pining.
Maybe I’m just making excuses for myself.
Merlin knows I’ve done enough self-serving things like that in my lifetime.