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Latet Anguis in Herba by Slide
Chapter 2 : September 1st, 1994 - Fifth Year
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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Altair Ritter, handyman and bodyguard for Daedalus Cole and tutor to both of his daughters, had never before felt so uncertain on the day before a Hogwarts departure. He wasn’t entirely sure exactly why this was – there lingered no tangible threat as there had the year before; one of his charges would be out of the way of any harm that might befall the school, and his faith in Hogwarts to maintain a suitable level of security was quite intact. But the fact remained that he had never before been so unwilling to see Tanith leave.

He knocked slowly at the door to the bedroom, hearing the clunking from within which denoted that she was either packing, or was in a foul mood and destroying her possessions. Maybe both. But when she didn’t immediately shout abuse at him to go away, Ritter considered this to be a good enough sign to step into the room.

The Cole mansion was an old, draughty house which had seen a few too many years and ages of architecture to be cosy and comfortable. It was a house which looked impressive, spoke of years of breeding and sophistication, but wasn’t really a place to call home.

Tanith hadn’t even attempted to do so with her room. Most teenagers her age would have walls covered with posters of the Weird Sisters, or of Puddlemere United Quidditch team, or some such adolescent fascination. They wouldn’t live in a room which still had portraits of respected ancestors above the four-poster bed. But Tanith did. It was how the room had been at her birth, and hadn’t changed since.

In fact, the only note of personalisation in the bedroom was the vast amount of rubbish and random belongings strewn across the Persian carpet, and even that was in the process of being tidied as Tanith tore around the room, collecting it and throwing it into the large trunk in the corner which Ritter knew he’d have to carry to King’s Cross tomorrow. And he couldn’t even enjoy the luxury wizards could of using a lightening charm.

“Was the room blitzed in your absence, or do you always live in this sort of dedicated clutter?” Ritter asked dryly as he watched her go about her packing rampage. This, at least, had been the same year after year. His pupil had never been particularly good at preparing for the school year, and he could remember her indignation when she’d had to actually pack all of her own things for her first year at Hogwarts.

Tanith threw him the sort of respectful glower he fancied nobody else – barring Dumbledore or this Snape fellow he’d heard of – ever elicited from her. He knew it well. She was angry, ready to make a scathing comment, but didn’t quite dare.

“Not everyone is as obsessively neat around here as you, Altair,” she said as calmly and coolly as she could manage, fixing him with a look. He was quite proud of her – she hadn’t yet learnt that a glare with her ice-cold mask was far more effective than her ranting and raving, but she seemed on her way to realising it.

“Merlin, I’ll be glad when I can flick my wand and pack all this up here, like I can at Hogwarts,” the girl continued, rubbing her temples as if putting away a few books, knick-knacks and items of clothing was the most strenuous thing on Earth.

“I’ll be glad if you don’t bother,” Ritter replied, shrugging and keeping his hands clasped behind his back as he stood at the threshold to the room, not quite daring to interfere with Tanith’s mess. “Using magic as a tool for even the most simple and basic of chores leads to over-reliance, the downfall of many a wizard I have met.”

She paused, considering this as she stuffed her robes into the trunk, doubtless to emerge ridiculously creased some time later. “Yes, but I bet even you wouldn’t say no to being able to flick a wand and have something tiresome completed in the blink of an eye.”

Ritter managed to keep his expression emotionless. He knew her words had been intended as a simple comment, and so he staved off the slight pang they brought. “I would jump at the opportunity. I did not ask for my inability to cast even the simplest levitation charm.”

Tanith seemed to realise her gaffe, because she lowered her eyes and didn’t answer as she rummaged around in a drawer for something.

Ritter stepped forwards, pulling something from behind his back and holding it out to her. “You left your sketchbook out in the garden,” he said simply, then smiled a little as her eyes widened in apprehension. “No, I made sure that your parents did not find it. My summer could be better spent than listening to your father rant about wanting his daughter to be spending her time in a more worthwhile endeavour than art.” He shrugged. “Which I happen to think is very worthwhile.”

Tanith took the book, a little pink-cheeked, and slid it into her trunk – underneath, he noted, a rather large and hefty pile of Transfiguration textbooks. “Yes, well… that’s a conversation for another time. Besides, I don’t know why he’s so uptight about the idea of it; it’s a hobby, not a career wish.”

“It could be a career wish,” Ritter assured her. “It’s really very good. And I should know – Squibs spend their youth studying things other than Charms and Potions.”

“Yes, but I didn’t think art was on your curriculum.” Tanith glanced up brightly, a little concern shining in her eyes. “I suppose you’ll be returning to work, now that the summer’s over?” she asked.

“With the developments at the World Cup, your father wants me to keep my ear to the ground. I think he’ll be getting increasingly paranoid over the upcoming month, so I’d like to make sure that the fears remain as intangible as possible,” Ritter said.

“He has a right to worry. He’s not too popular with the Death Eaters.” Again, that concerned look. “You will make sure him and Mum aren’t in danger, won’t you.”

Ritter smiled slightly. “Of course. I’ve been doing it long enough to be quite competent at it indeed. I merely have the suspicion that the upcoming months will be interesting times for all of us. I expect to be away a lot.”

“Will you be back for Christmas?” Tanith prompted.

His smile became rueful. “That shall not make any difference to you. I sincerely doubt that you’ll be coming home for Christmas this year.”

Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Why not?” Over the many years, Tanith seemed to have worked out exactly when her tutor was hiding something, which was becoming very irritating indeed – even if he was quite proud of her for developing this skill. She couldn’t yet work out exactly what was going on, but her senses were enough that she could badger him very efficiently.

Ritter cast his eyes about the room, eventually glancing at the wardrobe. “Make sure you don’t forget your dress robes,” he said, not entirely evasively. “Your mother spent good money on them.”

“I know; I heard Dad going on about it for weeks afterwards. Merlin knows why she bothered to fork out that much; Hogwarts isn’t exactly a formal dress sort of place,” Tanith sighed, heading for the wardrobe. Ritter noted that she hadn’t challenged him as to why she’d need the dress robes – he realised that she had probably understood that the reason for his vague comment was linked to them.

“They may come in handy.” He allowed himself a secretive smile – it would merely prompt her to become more curious about the whole thing, and as he wasn’t supposed to actually know about it, he wasn’t at liberty to tell her. But this didn’t mean he wouldn’t lay the clues down and try to get her to work it out for herself.

Tanith’s elder sister, Evadne, had been a resistant student. She had been of the opinion that Squibs, like Altair Ritter, were sub-human and not worth her attention. She had tolerated the basic lessons he’d taught – the reading and writing skills that would serve her later in life and would not crop up at Hogwarts – just as he had tolerated teaching her, but they had never progressed from there.

Tanith herself had been different. Although her father had been quick to imbue her with the prejudices against Muggles and Muggle-borns, she also had some of the Ravenclaw open-mindedness of her mother, which was enough to get her to listen to Altair – who had seemed like a wise and powerful man in her youth. She had been attentive through his basic lessons – so attentive that he’d decided that he’d imbue her with a bit more wisdom than her sister had left with.

As a result, she had what Muggles would probably call a ‘classical education’ – not to mention the fact that Ritter had been ready to work day and night so that she would develop her personal skills enough to be able to cope with what life threw at her… without magic. This was why he revelled in these games of clues and hints as he left titbits for her to mull over and evaluate. He himself had survived in the wizarding world for his whole life without magic, and he would be damned if any student – any attentive student – of his own wasn’t able to.

“I’m assuming that, apart from the World Cup, you spent your holiday fruitfully?” Ritter continued, moving down another path of conversation and knowing quite well that she was likely to have been busy most of the time doing absolutely nothing – and being happy about it.

“You could say that,” Tanith muttered, having now moved to clear the rubbish out from underneath her massive four-poster bed. She emerged triumphantly a few minutes later with a Remembrall, which was glowing red furiously, and a small model of Kirley Duke, the bassist for the Weird Sisters, who glowered furiously at Ritter.

“Looking forward to going back?” In her distracted state, conversation was a little harder than usual, as he tended to rely on the animated Tanith in keeping discussion active.

She shrugged. “As much as usual. It’ll be fun, I don’t doubt.” There was a pause, and she grimaced. “But this year we get to enjoy the wonders of the OWLs. Teachers will be breathing down our necks, deadlines will be ticking, students will be stressed, and Tobias Grey will be the most frantic fool anyone’s ever encountered.”

Ritter’s mouth twisted into a smirk as he remembered the studious boy he’d met in the summer of Tanith’s second year. He had seemed like the sort to get fairly frantic over something like the OWLs. “I’m sure you’ll manage to find some way to keep yourselves entertained.”

“I thought baiting a frantic Tobias Grey sounded quite entertaining myself,” Tanith mused wryly as she pushed down on her trunk to shove the contents in a bit more so that she could actually close the lid.

“Here; I’ll do that,” Ritter said, moving forwards and slamming the lid shut, holding it down with his weight as he fiddled with the latch. “We’ll need to be going in about a half-hour. I honestly don’t know why you leave your packing to the last minute.”

Tanith smiled a deceptively sweet smile that spoke of forgotten homework, misplaced quills and botched assignments. It was a smile he knew well. “After being away for a sizeable portion of the summer, I didn’t think it would be too unreasonable to want to spend the few evenings I’ve had at home with my family?”

Ritter snorted, smirking and shaking his head as he stood up. On some terms, he never expected to beat his pupil – like excuses that were all sweetness and light. “Have you said goodbye to the horses? It’s been a while since you’ve spent much time with them.”

Tanith did look a bit gloomy at this. “And about a year until I do, provided you’re not pulling my leg about Christmas.” She cast him a discreet sideways glance. “Well, there’s always Easter,” she continued, stepping towards the window in her bedroom, which gave a glorious view of the grounds of the Cole estate under the cool light of the morning. In the fields just beyond the extensive garden lay the stables, and beyond them the Aethonan winged horses her father bred frolicked freely behind a wall of Muggle-deflection charms. Flying mammals tended to cause a bit of anxiety amongst the local populace if not suitably hidden.

There was a long pause as they watched, the morning sun streaming in through the windows and making the now-barren bedroom look a lot fuller than it usually did. Altair knew how empty and devoid of life the room would look that evening – if he didn’t know better, he’d never believe that someone actually lived there.

“Maybe I should go down there,” Tanith said at last with a nod. “I’ve got half an hour, that’s plenty of time to… ah…” Her voice trailed off as her eyes fixed on the trunk slowly, and her expression sank a little.

Ritter smiled slightly, then moved to open up the trunk and – miraculously avoiding having to unpack everything else – extricated her sketch book, passing it to her quickly. “Go on. You’ll get frantic otherwise,” he said gently.

As she grinned back at him before hurrying out the door, Altair sighed to himself. That had probably been the longest conversation they’d had all summer – and such, all year. His pupil was growing up, and although he felt he’d prepared her for that, he wasn’t too sure he’d prepared himself.

The tutor, mentor, bodyguard and odd-job man for the Cole house shook his head wryly, knowing he was getting soft, and stepped lightly out of the room. Daedalus Cole would doubtless be expecting a report on the Ministry’s examination of the World Cup incident, and sources didn’t inform him without prodding.

 

§

 

“Where in Hades is he?” Tobias demanded, looking anxiously around Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, shifting his feet uncomfortably and almost hopping up and down from worry. “It’s five to eleven. I know he likes to make a dramatic appearance, but this is really taking the…”

“He’ll be here,” Tanith assured him calmly, swatting him lightly on the arm. “Doyle may be a prat, but he’s not enough of a fool to think that the Express is actually going to wait for him. He probably just got stuck in another argument with his father.”

“Sounds like Gabe. But even his father wouldn’t keep him from getting to the station on time. He’d just argue with him all the way, running alongside the leaving train to get the last word in,” Cal pointed out, sounding reassuring yet worried at the same time. His arms were folded across his chest, and his eyes flickered from the station to the train to the clock. “We’d better get on board, otherwise the train’s going to be leaving without us, either.”

“He’s right,” Tobias said unhappily. “It wouldn’t be a good start to the year to need to get a Portkey up north. Besides, Professor Snape would have our guts for garters if he had to arrange alternate transport…”

“Especially for his two new prefects,” Cal said wryly, smirking a little. “You’d better get up to the Prefects’ carriage, anyway. I’ll grab a seat; Gabe will turn up, just you see. He’s always got to make a fuss about his arrival. Needs to have all eyes on him.”

Tanith nodded, yanking Tobias’s sleeve as he failed to react and continued to stare at the entrance to the platform, as if he could make Gabriel appear through sheer force of will. “He’s right. Come on; we don’t want to give the idiots any more of reasons to mock Slytherins, and being late will be one.” The train gave a whistle, and her eyes widened. “Plus, I’d rather not have to throw myself onto a moving train, if that’s all the same to you!”

Tobias moved hurriedly, yanking along his heavy trunk and the small cage his cat, Tiberius, was trapped in. Tibs was mewing and yowling incessantly, as if knowing that he was running late and trying to encourage him to hurry up. They found their way to one of the doors up on to the train, and hefted their luggage up after them, Tobias given the extra challenge of hefting Tanith’s trunk along with his own and an irate cat.

Tanith was looking around intently as he almost collapsed onto a heap in the floor after lugging what felt like twenty stone onto the train, even as the train gave another whistle and began to move. “See? Move quicker,” she chastised him, swatting him lightly around the head as she took her trunk and set off in a direction towards the front of the train, hardly waiting for him as he dealt with what felt like a hernia.

“Will you stop hitting me?” Tobias said, exasperated as he tugged his only slightly lighter load after her and tried to not knock the cat cage into any walls or passing students. Couldn’t they wait in their compartments whilst people were moving around? Did they all have to be so damned inconsiderate?

He regretted that Tanith had chosen this particular route through the train, as it seemed to take them right in the middle of where what appeared to be every Gryffindor in the school was congregated. Being the friend of the noticeable and not particularly amiable Gabriel Doyle definitely meant that Tobias was recognised by some of the older students, and whilst the more reasonable, like fifth year Richard Keating, nodded at him in a non-hostile way, he found himself forced to grit his teeth and watch his balance as sixth year feet were pushed in his way in an attempt to trip up a well-known Slytherin.

Tanith, of course, was untouched. Ever since she’d hexed Nick Wilson into a babbling mess of boils and pus two years ago, the Gryffindors knew not to mess with her. The worst she ever got was the sharp tongue of a few of the Gryffindor fifth year girls, but everyone knew that in a battle of words she could quite easily hold her own – and indeed, tended to conquer all in the process.

Eventually, they pushed their way through the crowd, Tobias having opened Tiberius’ cage along the way to make his moving about easier. The small grey and black tabby had leapt up to his shoulder, hissing at anyone who made a hostile move towards his master, but also sinking his claws into Tobias’s skin in the process. So he was very glad when they finally reached the prefect’s carriage, wincing and stumbling and looking already a bit of a mess, but still in one piece.

Tanith glanced over to give him an impatient look. “Come on, Tobias. Do you always have to keep messing around like this? We’re just going to make fools of ourselves,” she said, grabbing him by the shoulder Tibs hadn’t settled onto and yanking him into the nearest empty compartment.

“Yes, Mistress,” Tobias mumbled, wondering for a long moment how he’d managed to find anything appealing in Tanith when she bossed him around and manhandled him like that. She was the only person who’d ever got away with such treatment of him, and whilst he dealt with it resentfully, he knew he didn’t actually stop her.

As they reached the seats and Tanith waited as he hefted their luggage onto the overhead racks – for the first time, Tobias wishing he hadn’t been made a prefect, as she usually got the stronger Gabriel and Cal to do these bits – then sat down, she glanced around a little impatiently. “Do you know who the other prefects in the year are?” she asked, having the sense to be a little discreet as she spoke.

Tobias paused, casting his memory back to what had been written on the piece of paper stowed in his trunk he had no intention of getting out right then. “In Gryffindor… it’s Everard and Riley. Ravenclaw… Sharpe and Chang. Hufflepuff… O’Neal and Grahams,” he said at last, concentrating hard for a few seconds as he remembered, reaching out with a hand to stroke Tiberius as the cat lunged for his lap and sat down.

Tanith nodded, considering this. “So… the least bastard-y people of the year. And the least annoying Gryffindors. Someone made the right decision when it came to the assignments. This might not be as hellish a job as I’d thought.”

Tobias raised an eyebrow at her. “I thought you were over the moon about this and looking forward to ruling supreme now you have been given all of the authority you had ever deserved; now you are in your rightful position above others?” he said dryly, smirking slightly.

She gave him a long, tempering look, and he subsided a little – still smirking. “I just mean that we might have a hard time of things,” she elaborated vaguely. “Like with how we had a hard time just moving through the Gryffindor carriage…” He looked at her sternly, and she rolled her eyes. “Alright, you had a hard time moving through the Gryffindor carriage. We might have been given the jobs as the least objectionable Slytherins in the year, but you know what the rest of the house thinks of us.”

“The rest of the house thinks we’re decent people who are good alternatives to the more… noticeable idiots in the year,” Tobias said, blinking and shrugging a bit. “We won’t have any trouble in our own house.”

“Except for with those idiots.”

“A few detentions and some docked points should sort them out. And if you find me beaten up in a broom closet on the third floor, I’m sure you can guess that it’ll be Ed Montague’s fault, so make sure you avenge me, okay?”

Tanith rolled her eyes. “So you’re saying that we won’t have any trouble with the people in our house who don’t make trouble in the first place? Great reasoning there. We’ll have some work to do to keep Slytherins in line.”

“And the rest of the school. After all, we are Slytherins, and thus Evil Incarnate,” Tobias agreed, rolling his eyes. There was a long silence as he thought for a few seconds, scratching his chin. “You think that Gabriel’s turned up, or is Cal right now being forced to sit with Bletchley, Pucey and Montague?”

Tanith shrugged. “He’ll be fine. He always was the amiable one. They can talk about Quidditch.”

Tobias grimaced. “Yeah… you know, with Cal trying to ingratiate himself with Montague so as he’s let back on the team.” He rolled his eyes. “You know that Welshman has all the subtlety of an ox.”

“As opposed to your good self, of course, Grey,” Tanith mused dryly, the corners of her mouth twitching as she tried – and failed – to remain deadpan.

“Of course.” Tobias winked at her. “No, he’ll probably be fine if Gabriel’s not there. He’ll just find himself with a lifelong ban from the Slytherin Quidditch team from trying to ingratiate himself too much.”

Tanith sagged. “He’ll then be whining at us forever, won’t he? About how he’ll never get to play professionally if he’s not on a house team, about how it’s all political… God, it’s enough to make me want to start my own team just so he can play and will shut up,” she groaned, rubbing her eyes.

“Just blackmail Montague onto letting him on the team. Or Warrington. It’s going to be one of those two who ends up as captain,” Tobias said with certainty. “And he has a similar chance – i.e. nil – on getting on the team with either one of them. Now, if it was Bletchley, who’s a whole lot more reasonable and doesn’t actually like that prat Malfoy, Cal would probably now be a shoo-in with Boyle and Derrick gone.”

Tanith snorted. “It all comes down to Draco, doesn’t it. If Cal hadn’t given Flint that ultimatum after Draco’s first crap game…”

“What did he expect? For the team, it wasn’t a question of ‘him or Malfoy’, it was ‘him or these excellent new brooms’. Flint may be a bastard, but he’s not an idiot.” Tobias rolled his eyes. “Cal’s problem is that he tries to have it both ways. He tries to keep the peace on all sides. He tries to be a decent Slytherin whilst being friendly with the prats. It just doesn’t work.”

“Unless your name’s Gabriel Doyle,” Tanith pointed out.

Tobias’s face twitched a little. “Somewhat. But even Gabe… well, he rather defies definition in the Slytherin social structure. Neither side has or wants him. He is a man unto himself.”

A head popped through the doorway, and they both jumped suddenly to see Tom Everard looking at them inquisitively. “Ah-hah. Good, it’s you two. I was afraid Snape would appoint Montague and Larkin, just to make our lives miserable,” the new Gryffindor prefect declared, with a touch of relief.

Tanith snorted derisively. “Melanie Larkin couldn’t prefect her way out of a paper bag, and Montague’s little more than a thug.”

Tobias looked at her. “’Prefect’ isn’t a verb,” he pointed out slowly.

“It’s an expression, Grey!”

“No, you just made it up on the spot…”

Everard blinked. “I see. Well, you two obviously have issues… maybe I should leave you to it,” he said hesitantly, drawing back a little to the compartment opposite, where Jennifer Riley of Gryffindor and Connor O’Neal and Lisa Grahams of Hufflepuff were sitting.

“No, wait.” Tobias half-rose. “How come Wilson or McLaggen didn’t get the prefect position?” he asked. Nick Wilson and Cormac McLaggen were other Gryffindor boys, and had for two years been the Slytherins’ effective nemeses until they’d come to a vague understanding – now they just generally disliked each other.

Everard blinked. “Because I’m better than them,” he explained simply, shrugging and smirking before he returned to his compartment, nodding in a vaguely friendly way as he disappeared from sight and returned to his conversation.

Tanith was grinning as Tobias looked back at her. “See? The Houses aren’t as different as we’d been thinking. There are the arrogant prats in every single house; you’ve just met your counterpart, Grey,” she said smugly.

Tobias rolled his eyes at her. “You’re such a delightful, thoughtful friend, aren’t you, Tanith?” he said, looking amused and a little put out all at once.

“I know, I’m wonderful,” she replied easily, waving a hand dismissively. “Aren’t you so glad to have me?” She grinned as Tobias made a vague, non-committal grunt, and sat up straight. “I’m starving. This trip’s always far too bloody long.”

“We’ve got a long way to go. Apparently. For all we know, Hogwarts could be in Sussex and we just go round in circles for six hours,” Tobias said, glancing out the window. He knew that in a few hours they’d be passing hills and fields which would speak more of the Peak District and Derbyshire than Southern England. Most theories placed Hogwarts in Scotland, but these theories had never been proven.

“Just waiting for the cart,” Tanith replied, throwing him a scathing look. “I have an intense desire for some chocolate, very soon.”

“Uh-oh…” Tobias grinned, then threw himself to the side, raising his arms over his head protectively. “Chocolate cravings… never a good sign. Just waiting for the mood-swings next, then it’s Armageddon…”

She swatted him on the knee as he sat up normally, smirking his usual smirk, and rolled her eyes. “Have you ever not had this annoying sense of humour? It’s even bloody worse than when you get all sarcastic.”

Tobias’s eyes widened. “Sarcastic? Me? Never!”

Tanith nodded, still seeming amused but also with a slightly more serious look behind her eyes. “Yes, you. You’re sarcastic, you’re arrogant, and it would take a thousand and one hexes – or a near-death situation – for you to open up to anyone.”

He stopped, looking less amused as he regarded her. “That’s a bit hypocritical of you. You’re hardly the most forthcoming person ever,” he said soberly, seeming a bit put-out and even indignant by her accusation.

“Never as bad as you,” she countered. “There are times, in four years, when it seems like I hardly know you.”

Tobias blinked, surprised. “Really?” He’d had no idea she felt like that. “No, I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve like Cal, but when standing next to Gabriel I’m sure I look positively outgoing and candid!”

Tanith paused, considering this. “Yes… but there are times when Doyle is a law unto himself. And times when I consider him to be more of an acquaintance than a friend,” she said delicately. “You’re a friend, always.”

“I can’t say I usually expect you to be this frank,” Tobias said, a little evasively. He knew he could be a bit… secretive. But only to the extent that he didn’t feel the need to tell the world of every little thought or consideration he ever had – he didn’t think this made him as clammed up as Gabriel.

Tanith looked at him for a long moment, then shook her head and raised her hands. “You know what? Forget it,” she said, seeming fairly resolute.

“What? No, you’re blathering… what do you mean?”

Tanith seemed torn for a few moments, evidently approaching a subject which could possibly be fairly difficult to discuss with him, but not seeming to know how to deflect the situation. “Never mind… it’s just…”

“Just what?” Tobias asked sharply.

“Grey? Cole?” The new Head Boy, a Ravenclaw named Bridges, had suddenly appeared at the door to their compartment, apparently quite aware that he’d interrupted something. He shuffled the papers in his hands quite nervously, and cleared his throat. “I have… your directions for your new jobs here.” He smiled a watery smile, scratching at his slightly overly large nose. “You’ll have to… you know, do the usual stuff; escort first years to the dorms when we get there, patrol the corridors along the way…”

Tobias sagged, and did his best to not glare at Bridges when the Head Boy passed him the sheets of paper he’d been clutching. No doubt Tanith would after this drag him into a conversation about something else entirely and he’d never be able to discuss this slightly worrying subject again unless she brought it up. Whatever the hell was going on.

 

§

 

Cal rested his head against the window of the compartment, raising a hand to his eyes to try to block the reflection of the bright inside of the train as he peered through the darkness ahead of them. “I think I see Hogwarts,” he declared delightedly at last.

Adrian Pucey and Edmund Montague looked up from where they were still struggling into their robes, those of the broad-shouldered Montague particularly tight around his increasingly bulky frame and those of the short, skinny and gaunt Pucey hanging off his lanky form.

“Really?” Montague grunted. Although Cal himself was particularly well-built, the fact that Slytherin seemed to be the House of Thugs meant that his physique wasn’t all that particular, and all he had to pride himself on was the fact that he didn’t look like an oversized gorilla as a result.

“No, I’m sure he’s lying, Monty,” Pucey sighed, rolling his slightly large eyes in a way that made him look more crazy than exasperated. “Or hallucinating.” He peered at Cal. “You did have an awfully large number of those purple Beanie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, and you know what they’re like…” He tapped the side of his head, smirking. “Make you see things, they do…”

“Uh… sure, yeah. Whatever,” Cal replied casually shrugging. He was used to these two. “But I’m not hallucinating. Castle’s right over there, see?” he said as Pucey went to the window and stuck his head out, as if wanting to make sure that the Welshman’s ranting wasn’t the result of Bean Poisoning.

“He’s right, you know, Monty,” Pucey said, glancing over at Montague, who had started to crack his knuckles impatiently. Cal supposed that he was restless after being forced to make conversation with the intellectually superior – in his opinion – Cal and the slightly eccentric Pucey. Especially with prefects patrolling the corridors

Montague grunted. “Guess you’ll be free of us soon, then,” he said, raising his bushy eyebrows to fix Cal with his rather Neanderthal-like gaze. “Get to go back to your two poncy friends… and where is Doyle, anyway?”

Cal shrugged, not passing comment on Montague’s insulting of Tobias and Tanith. He knew what fights to pick, and fights with people Montague’s size – especially people Montague’s size who were liable to be the next Quidditch team captains and should get him a place – weren’t a good idea.

“Dunno, mate,” he said instead, yawning and tugging slightly at his robes to straighten them up. “You know Gabe, mind. He likes to be dramatic. He’ll probably turn up halfway through dinner on a flying train, or something…”

“You don’t get flying trains,” Pucey said absently from where he was still standing by the window, as if he could will the train to reach Hogwarts sooner by staring at the castle constantly. “But he might have got a flying carpet… I always wanted one of those… pity they’re illegal…”

“Hey, his dad’s head of the Department of Magical Transportation. You’re telling me he can’t get himself a magic carpet?” Cal said, grinning.

“He could get me one,” Pucey mumbled. “I could fly on a magic carpet… to see the king of the potato people…”

Montague rolled his eyes. “Christ, don’t get him started,” he groaned, standing and yanking Pucey down into his seat. “Snap out of it, you daft wizard,” he said, swatting his companion solidly around the ear.

Cal blinked, but wasn’t too surprised. Adrian Pucey had been fairly weird ever since his third year at Hogwarts, when he’d got himself whacked around the head by the Whomping Willow at a Quidditch practice. It was, Cal claimed, a testament to Flint’s stupidity that he’d fly a crazy person over a perfectly sane one, and all on the instructions of that little rat Draco Malfoy.

The train whistled, and Cal stood, glad to escape Montague and the clearly slightly odd Pucey as soon as possible. He idly wondered if it was a good idea to keep hitting someone who was already a bit dodgy, but assumed Montague hadn’t quite thought all of this through.

He stood quickly and stepped out of the compartment, seeing some of his housemates also hurrying towards the door. Ariane Drake and Melanie Larkin, the final two Slytherins in his year, stepped out of the adjacent compartment. They’d popped by a few times during the trip along with Miles Bletchley, mostly to talk to Montague and Pucey rather than him, but seeing Cal on his own seemed to knock them into a fit of giggles which just left the Welshman shaking his head and rolling his eyes as he neatly hopped off the train. Girls. At least Tanith didn’t lose the capacity for thought and laugh at him randomly like that – well, if she did, she was probably sniggering at something stupid he or Tobias had done. He could see why she had boys for best friends.

“Speak of the devil,” he mumbled under his breath as he spotted his two prefect friends descending from their carriage, Tanith ranting at Tobias for something he’d either done or hadn’t done – whichever; it was easy to irritate Tanith – and heading for a nearby horseless carriage to take them up to the castle. It was raining ridiculously heavily, though neither of his friends seemed to notice this; Tobias was doubtless too harassed, and Tanith was too busy harassing.

Cal glanced around, unconsciously still searching for Gabriel – he’d need some sort of moral support now the other two would be doing prefect things together – but the endless pouring rain and a shout behind from Pucey (“Montague! You are so aggravating!”) galvanised him into action, and he strode along, dragging his trunk behind him and almost knocking people over with it as he moved.

“Wouldn’t like to be the first-years, crossing the lake in this weather, hey?” Cal said jovially as he hopped onto the carriage the other two had settled in, lugging his trunk behind him and settling down next to Tobias.

Tanith chuckled. “God, reminds me of our first year. The weather’s just as bad,” she sighed, glancing out the window to where that oversized groundskeeper, Hagrid, was herding the first-years along.

Cal sniggered, and elbowed Tobias. “The wind howling around our ears, spray in our faces, Gabriel whooping like an idiot and this prat here screaming as if his death was looming on the horizon…”

Tobias fixed him with an evil glare. “In case you didn’t notice, Cal, death was looming on the horizon. That was an absolutely insane trip, and the only reason I’m not going to argue with you is because I’ll get to make myself feel better about the whole thing by yelling at first-years who’ll be just as traumatised as I was.” He smirked. “Builds character.”

Cal leant forwards towards Tanith. “He’s not going to argue with me because he knows I’m right,” he stage whispered, and Tanith laughed out loud, prompting Tobias to make a large, derisive sniff and stare out the window at the castle. Cal wasn’t too concerned – he wouldn’t be really offended, just messing around.

True enough, Tobias looked up after a few minutes, seeming concerned. “Still no sign of Gabe?” he asked, frowning.

Cal shook his head, equally worried. “Not a sausage. If he wants to be dramatic, then he’s looking to be really dramatic. It might even be overkill. Nobody likes a ham actor, and this just takes the cake.”

Tanith glared at him. “Shut up… you’re making me hungry,” she groaned. “Thank God Dumbledore lets us eat before we get the big speeches… but we have to wait through the bloody Sorting all over again. I swear, they should do that on the boats…”

“Yeah, with the wind whistling in their hair, people throwing up over the side and the giant squid to sing along in harmony with the Sorting Hat,” Tobias retorted dryly, and they spent a few seconds chuckling over this mental image.

“There’ll be fresh blood for Slytherin,” Tobias continued eventually, still smirking at this bit. “We’ll have to induct them properly. You know…”

Tanith sighed. “Grey, you cannot convert an entire year of Slytherins into not being bastards when they’re going to have constant contact with the likes of Montague, Warrington and Pucey day after day.”

“Pucey isn’t a bastard,” Cal said, shaking his head. “He’s just slightly weird.”

“Yeah. Like Lucius Malfoy is slightly rich,” Tanith retorted.

Tobias leant forwards. “But don’t you get it, Tanith? This is our chance to… change things. We have the new authority, new respect, new chances to make Slytherin house something… great…”

Cal glanced at Tanith. “He was like this all on the train, wasn’t he…”

She nodded. “Yep. And just as annoying.”

Tobias glared. “I’m still here, you know.”

Tanith smirked at him. “Well, so you are!” As he sighed with frustration, she sat up and fixed him with a look. “Grey, I sympathise with you, I really do. God knows I agree with you. But with people far more influential than us who don’t have our… God, though I hate to say it, morals… we can’t do much.”

Cal nodded, shrugging. “Hate to say it, mate, but she’s right. I mean, face it, Snape’s head of our house, and he’s hardly the paragon of virtue and justice and all that crap. Hardly a good sort of impression.”

Tobias waved his hands in the air irritably. “I don’t want us to be the paragons of virtue and justice, fighting evil for goodness, honour, and small fluffy puppies. It sounds like a crappy deal. Only the good die young.”

“Which is why we should tolerate the Gryffindors,” Tanith interrupted, winking at Cal. “They’ll snuff it by the time they’re twenty.”

Tobias glared at them. “I just… you know, I’d like it if, for once, we could have a Quidditch season where the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws weren’t all supporting Gryffindor, because they’d rather see anyone win but us. I’d like to not get tripped over on the train just because I’m a Slytherin, and a Slytherin prefect to boot – therefore I must be a gimp. I’d like…”

“A million Galleons!” Cal chuckled, shaking his head. Although he sympathised with his friend, he didn’t take it too seriously. Tobias was an idealist, a dreamer, who wanted the impossible and was stupid enough to fight for it.

He exchanged a concerned glance with Tanith as Tobias scowled and returned his attention to the blustery outdoors. Tanith would agree with Tobias – as she often did on the serious things, just as she tended to agree with Cal on the more superficial matters – but wouldn’t take his ranting to heart. She tended to pity him a bit for it, just as Cal laughed at it.

There wasn’t much time for Tobias to keep up his mock-sulking, however, as the carriages soon came to a quick halt in front of the main doors leading to the castle. They would abandon their luggage here for it to be taken to their dormitories – and in the meantime, try to dash through the pouring rain into the school and avoid a soaking, now they had dried off slightly under the cover of the carriages.

Cal pushed the door open. “Ugh. Merlin, just look at it out there,” he groaned, glancing at his two friends, who looked just as unenthused. “Right, right… on the count of three, we make a dash for it.”

There was a pause as they all inspected the weather and the slippery stairs, looking dubious.

“One…” Tanith elbowed Tobias, then grinned evilly and lunged out of the carriage, hurtling pell-mell up the stairs towards the doors, just ahead of everyone else.

Cal cursed and rolled his eyes. “Impatient woman. “Two, three.” He hadn’t expected Tobias to grab him by the back of the neck, pull him away from the door, and leap out himself, but his lanky friend did, making a similar path to Tanith through the rain.

Cal swore again, hopping out after him, his speedy legs catching up with Tobias’ longer ones, and they jostled each other up the stairs, almost knocking some second years over, before hurtling into the entrance hall, glaring at each other in a way which was probably friendly.

Tanith sniffed derisively, looking surprisingly dry. “Foolish boys. You haven’t learnt yet to break the rules?”

Tobias grinned. “I bent them.”

“You nearly throttled me,” Cal mumbled sulkily, but didn’t have much of a chance to complain more elaborately, as he was then rudely interrupted by a bright blue balloon dropping from above his head and landing to drench him in water,

Peeves cackled manically as he soared over head, and Cal realised with a dripping feeling that he should have noticed the poltergeist’s actions when he’d first arrived – he had obviously not been the first victim.

Tanith and Tobias both grabbed him by the elbow and hurried towards the door, the former laughing loudly as a group of Gryffindor girls – led by Jennifer Riley, the fifth year prefect – were hit by one of Peeves’ attacks. It would be best to withdraw to a warm Great Hall, rather than linger and suffer the poltergeist’s water bombs.

“Ugh,” Cal mumbled as they finally erupted into the Great Hall, amongst the first to be there. “I didn’t think it was possible for me to get any wetter… evidently, I was wrong… bloody Peeves…”

“At least he got the Gryffindors,” Tanith commented brightly, directing the other two towards the Slytherin table with her. “Can’t criticise him for that.”

“I think he can when Peeves doesn’t discriminate in whom he torments,” Tobias observed wryly. While Cal was absolutely soaking wet, Tobias was merely a little damp, courtesy of the rain. In contrast, Tanith was inexplicably bone dry, and looked more as if she’d just had a casual wander through the sunny grounds rather then hurtled pell-mell in the rain and then been forced to dodge a poltergeist’s water balloons.

“And I’m hungry,” Cal said dolefully, looking at the empty plate as the rest of the Great Hall began to fill up. “You think they’ll hurry up with the Sorting?”

“Probably,” Tanith said. “I mean, going across the lake in this weather… how many first-years do you think drowned?”

“Enough to reduce the number needed to be Sorted,” Tobias said hopefully, pouring himself a goblet of water from one of the pitchers on the table – the only food or drink available. For some odd reason, Cal didn’t rather feel like having any more water in sight.

Cal’s disinclination to see water was rather rudely ignored as the doors to the Great Hall were then thrown open, and Professor McGonagall strode in with a horde of first-years at her heels. If Cal was soaked, then the eleven year-olds were inundated.

“Yeah, yeah, they’re short, they belong in houses, get on with it,” Tanith mumbled under her breath next to him, and Cal, his stomach rumbling, was more than slightly inclined to agree with her.

He watched as McGonagall moved off to get the Sorting Hat, and fixed his eyes on his plate. He didn’t care about this. Right then, all he could think about was how cold, wet, hungry and absolutely bloody miserable he was. This was not the return to Hogwarts he had hoped and dreamt of.

Cal was vaguely aware of the Sorting Hat having started its song, but he had more to keep his attention right then. Tobias, he could see, was listening with the same sort of quiet thoughtfulness he regarded everything around him with – annoying at the time, occasionally useful if something was needed to be recalled. Tanith was resting her head in her hand and looked about as occupied with the Sorting as Adrian Pucey generally was with his mental health.

And Gabriel Doyle was nowhere to be found. Cal had a rather sick sense of déjà vu. The last time Gabe had missed the train and a Sorting Ceremony, he’d been trying to get out of being expelled. What if he’d stepped over the line again? What if he’d been stupid enough to drop himself in trouble, with no favours to pull him out again? Gabriel was quite capable of doing so…

“Ackerley, Stewart!”

Cal raised his head, jerked out of his reverie, as the first child of the new year became a Ravenclaw. He applauded politely with the rest, not really paying attention.

“Baddock, Malcolm!”

This was a cause for him to become more attentive, as the Baddock boy was declared the first Slytherin of the new year. As his house-mates broke out into even louder applause, Cal joined them, hearing Montague let out a loud, bright cheer of support. For some reason, Tobias’s expression stiffened as he stared across the hall.

“What is it?” Cal asked discreetly, leaning forwards. Tanith seemed to have also noticed Tobias’s look, and shifted forwards too.

“The Gryffindors,” Tobias explained quietly.

“What about them? Pulling faces? Being general gits?” Tanith said with her usual casualness – but there was a tightening of her jaw that meant she was ready to put stock in whatever Tobias said.

“Cauldwell, Owen!”

“Not that. Their reaction to Baddock,” Tobias said, glancing down the table at where the first-year was being clapped on the back by Theodore Nott and Blaise Zabini, of the fourth year.

Hufflepuff!”

Cal applauded, probably in a move of Welsh solidarity, then fixed Tobias with a glare. “What about their reaction to Baddock?” he asked testily. Tobias was quite capable of drawing things out.

“Creevey, Dennis!”

Tobias shifted uncomfortably. “They… well… they bood him.”

Gryffindor!”

The table at the far end that was the cause of their attention and consternation exploded into raucous cheering. Cal watched as Tobias’s lip curled in disdain.

“That’s normal, isn’t it?” Tanith said, shrugging. “They boo all Slytherins.”

“It just…” Tobias looked pained briefly. “Never mind. I’ll explain in a minute,” he hissed, as McGonagall turned her icy glare towards them.

They sat through the rest of the Sorting in silence, the only interruption being Tobias’s muttering as he glared at the Gryffindor table with every Slytherin appointed, and Cal’s growling stomach. Finally, as “Whitby, Kevin!” became a Hufflepuff, McGonagall took away the Sorting Hat and Dumbledore stood up.

“He’d better not talk for long, or I’ll end up eating him,” a hungry Cal mumbled to Tanith, squirming in his seat. She swatted him to stay quiet.

“I have only two words to say to you,” Dumbledore declared, eyes twinkling as his gaze took in the entire Great Hall. “Tuck in.”

“Thank Merlin,” Cal sighed, groaning in ecstasy as the dishes before them loaded up with food and almost upending the entire dishful of roast pork onto his plate. “I’m absolutely starving.”

“Really. You don’t say,” Tobias commented dryly, neatly helping himself to the roast potatoes. “I don’t think I heard you go on about it the last million times.”

Tanith gave them both impatient glares, then fixed her eyes on Tobias. “Grey, stop being clever. What were you rambling about during the Sorting? Gryffindors being their usual open and cheerful selves?”

“Yeah,” Cal said, looking up from his plate, which was now swimming in gravy. “Since when was Gryffindor booing Slytherins anything new? We do the same to them.”

“But booing a first-year Slytherin, who’s just been Sorted?” Tobias challenged. “Yes, I’m sure he’s bullied them for years. I’m sure he’s a junior Death Eater in training. I’m sure he’s evil incarnate.” He leant towards his two friends. “Five minutes ago, they would have looked at that kid the same way they would have looked at the kid that just became a Gryffindor. And now, he’s scum. Because a hat decided he was cunning and driven.” He picked at his Yorkshire Pudding unhappily.

“Oh, don’t now go on hunger strike as a result, Grey,” Tanith groaned, rolling her eyes. “I somehow doubt it will encourage the Gryffindors to stop bullying Slytherins.”

Tobias smiled ruefully, and shoved a forkful of food into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed quickly, then nodded. “I suppose. And the Slytherins can take care of themselves. The Gryffindors emerge worse off.” He sighed. “It’s just… he’s a kid. He’s a first-year, who was no different to any of them a few minutes ago. I bet some of them sat in the same compartment as him, and shared their pumpkin pasties with him. Now he’s a Slytherin, none of those Gryffindors are going to become chummy, are they.”

“I don’t know,” Cal said, shrugging. “You’re mates with Keating, aren’t you?”

“We’re not mates,” Tobias replied, frowning with slight consternation. “We’re acquaintances. We chat occasionally, and don’t kill each other when a face-off occurs. I keep my wrath for Wilson and McLaggen.” He smiled thinly. “Besides, Tanith here would kill me if I were friends with a Gryffindor.”

“Nope,” Tanith said, shaking her head. “I wouldn’t. I’d just look at you and tell you that you could do better than being friendly with those rabid fools. And glare a bit.” She smirked and winked at him, popping a roast potato in his mouth.

Tobias shifted a little, and seemed to be stopped mid-way through his rant. Cal sighed with relief – Tobias’s Great Causes never seemed to go anywhere fast, and Tanith was usually the only one who could stop him.

Cal was fortunately able to then shift the topics to their OWLs – which was only easier to cope with because Tobias would ramble and he and Tanith were free to snooze – and, hardly noticing that for once Tanith was paying attention to Tobias’s every study-crazed word, Cal allowed his mind to wander.

It was only when Dumbledore stood up again that Cal tuned in, and then only half-heartedly. He could talk to Montague easily… express with certainty that he had no personal issues with Malfoy anymore – that he didn’t care how the brat played, just as long as he, Cal, could get on a broom and fly on the Quidditch pitch once more… Derrick and Bole were long gone. There was nobody he could replace them with. He just had to play Quidditch again…

“Quidditch…”

Cal was jerked out of his reverie as the word on his mind was spoken by Dumbledore, and for some reason it had triggered a sort of mute horror around the room. He blinked, and quickly tried to replay the last few seconds where he hadn’t been paying attention.

It is also my painful duty to inform you that the inter-house Quidditch Cup will not take place this year.”

And suddenly, all of Cal’s carefully-laid plans imploded as his eyes widened and the words sank in. He turned to Tanith. “He… didn’t just say… what I thought he said, did he? I imagined it… it’s lack of food followed by then stuffing your face…”

Tanith shook her head. “No… he said it.” Even Tobias, who didn’t care about Quidditch, looked stunned.

“This is due to an event that will be starting in October,” Dumbledore continued, even though Cal didn’t feel to inclined to listen to him, “and continuing throughout the school year, taking up much of the teachers’ time and energy – but I am sure you will all enjoy it immensely. I have great pleasure in announcing that this year at Hogwarts –“

Then the door to the Great Hall was thrown open, and Quidditch, food, Gryffindors, and Dumbledore flew from Cal’s attention with the arrival of Mad-Eye Moody.

 


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