Chapter 2 : September 1st, 1994 - Fifth Year
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Altair Ritter, handyman and bodyguard for Daedalus Cole and tutor to both of his daughters, had never felt so uncertain the day before a Hogwarts departure. He wasn’t sure what had changed – there was no tangible threat like the year before; one of his charges had left school, and his faith in Hogwarts’ security was intact. But he could not shake his discontent at seeing Tanith leave.
He knocked on the bedroom door. The clunking from inside echoed; either she was packing, or was in a foul enough mood to destroy her possessions. Both were possible, even at once. But when he didn’t receive a torrent of teenaged abuse, he ducked inside.
The Cole mansion was an old, draughty house which had seen too many centuries and too many demands of stern nobility to be cosy or comfortable. It was a house which looked impressive, spoke of generations of breeding and sophistication, but was not easily called home. Tanith hadn’t attempted to. Most girls her age would have walls covered with posters of the Weird Sisters, or Puddlemere United Quidditch players, or some other adolescent fascination. They wouldn’t have portraits of respected ancestors glaring down at the four-poster bed. But Tanith did. It was how the room had been at her birth, and hadn’t changed since.
The only personalisation was the rubbish and belongings strewn across the Persian rug, the room ripped apart as a prelude to packing. Tanith tore about the room, collecting what she fancied and tossing it into the large trunk in the corner. Ritter sighed, knowing he’d have to carry it to King’s Cross. Without charms.
‘Did someone drop a bomb while you were away, or do you always live like this?’ He folded his arms across his chest as he watched her rampage. This, at least, was the same as it had been last year, and the year before. His protégé always prepared for school at the last minute, and he remembered her indignation when she’d had to pack by herself, for herself before her first year.
Tanith threw him a glower tempered by a respect he fancied nobody else could elicit. He knew it well. ‘Not everyone is as obsessively neat as you, Altair,’ she said. Her voice calmed once she realised she couldn’t lash out, the glower simmering to an arch look. Pride rose in him; she hadn’t yet learnt a glare of ice was more effective than ranting and raving, but she was on her way. ‘At least I can unpack with just a wand-wave once I’m there.’ She said this as if putting away books, knick-knacks, and clothing was the most strenuous thing on Earth.
‘I’ll be glad if you don’t bother. Using magic for even the most simple of chores leads to over-reliance, the downfall of many a wizard.’
She was only half-paying attention, trying to stuff a set of robes into a small corner of the trunk regardless of how badly creased they would be later. ‘I bet even you wouldn’t say no to doing some things instantly.’
He kept his expression blank, knowing the stab of her words was not intentional. ‘I would jump at the opportunity.’ She hesitated at that, not looking up from the trunk, and he reached into his robes to pull something out. ‘You left your sketchbook in the garden. Don’t worry. They didn’t see it. My time’s better spent than listening to your father rant about wanting you to spend your time on something more worthwhile than art. Which I happen to think is very worthwhile.’
Tanith took the sketchbook, pink-cheeked, and slipped it into her trunk under a pile of Transfiguration textbooks. ‘One of many conversations for another time. At least this one isn’t a career wish.’
‘It could be, if you practiced,’ said Ritter. ‘You’ve got some talent. And I should know; I studied subjects other than Charms and Potions.’
‘I would rather do something more worthwhile. And Dad still won’t approve.’ She finally met his gaze, and concern shone in her dark eyes. ‘I suppose you’ll be back to work now summer’s over.’
‘Your father’s expecting rumblings in business with what happened at the World Cup. I’ll keep my ear to the ground, don’t you worry.’
‘I do worry. I know he never did anything with Death Eaters, but if they get angry at him about that… you will make sure he and Mum are safe, right?’
Ritter gave her as reassuring a smile as he could muster. It was a childish hope of hers that he, a Squib, could protect this house against angry dark wizards. He had taught Tanith since she was young, been the untouchable, immortal adult that her parents had never been. And he was not quite as defenceless as most would think. ‘We know what we’re doing, your father and I. Though I expect to be away a lot.’
‘Will you be back at Christmas?’
‘It’ll make no difference to you.’
Her eyes narrowed. ‘Why not?’
He cast his gaze around the room, finally looking to the wardrobe. ‘Make sure you don’t forget your dress robes. Your mother spent good money on them.’
Tanith watched him for a moment. As she’d got older, she’d got better at knowing when he was hiding things. So he turned it into a game, hiding more things so she was distracted by the mundane misdirection, instead of the lies that were for her benefit. ‘I know,’ she said at last, and he knew she was acting innocent even if she’d made the link. ‘Dad went on about it for weeks. Merlin knows why she bothered; Hogwarts isn’t exactly that formal.’
‘They may come in handy.’ His smile was a secret reassurance that she was right to be suspicious. Laying out clues to his evasion was no use if he didn’t reward her for success. Though this one, she would have to figure out for herself.
Tanith’s elder sister, Evadne, had been a reluctant student. Altair Ritter was a Squib, and so she hadn’t understood what he could teach her of value. She had indulged his basic lessons - reading, writing, arithmetic, the subjects neglected at Hogwarts - but they had never progressed beyond that. Tanith had been different. She’d been raised with the same prejudices against Muggles, but he’d managed to find a sliver of open-mindedness in her. When she’d listened to his basic lessons, he’d elaborated. The essentials had turned into a classical education, art, literature, history, and along the way Ritter had been keen to shape her personal skills so she could cope with what the world threw at her - without relying on magic. It was why he revelled in these games of evasion. He had survived in the wizarding world his whole life without magic, and he would be damned if an attentive student of his couldn’t do so, too.
‘You spent the summer fruitfully, aside from the World Cup? Lots of studying?’ He knew full well the real answer.
‘You could say that.’ Tanith was hunting for errant belongings under her bed, and emerged with a Remembrall, glowing a furious red, and a small model of Kirley Duke of the Weird Sisters, who glared at Ritter. ‘It’s going to get messy at school with OWLs. Teachers breathing down our necks, ticking deadlines, stressed students, and Tobias Grey will be the most frantic fool anyone ever met.’
Ritter’s mouth twisted into a smirk as he remembered the studious boy he’d met on occasion at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. ‘I’m sure you’ll find some way to stay entertained.’
‘Baiting a frantic Tobias Grey sounds entertaining.’ She slammed the trunk lid down, and had to sit on it to shut it.
Ritter crossed to the bookshelf and plucked a dusty tome. ‘You forgot this Astronomy textbook.’
Tanith made a face. ‘I don’t need it.’
‘You’ll need a good OWL in Astronomy if you’re going to take a NEWT in it.’ Their eyes met for a moment, silent until he put the book down. When he spoke, his voice was gentler. ‘Make sure you’re honest in that careers talk this year. And don’t worry. Rumour has it you’ve got someone good to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts.’
She paused. ‘You won’t tell Dad?’
‘If I reported on you to your father, you’d have heard his explosions by now.’
Tanith sighed and looked to the tall bedroom windows which granted a glorious view of the grounds of the Cole estate under the cool light of morning. In the fields beyond the extensive garden lay the stables, and beyond them the Aethonan winged horses her father bred, frolicking freely behind a wall of Muggle-deflection charms. ‘It’d be a reaction.’
‘Don’t make your choices to please him, or to get a reaction,’ Ritter reminded her, voice low. ‘But I promise you. You’ll be too busy this year to even think about that.’
‘Too busy,’ she echoed, and glanced back at him. ‘With OWLs. And a need for dress robes.’ Her eyes twinkled. ‘You’re not as subtle as you think you are, old man.’
Actually, he thought as he went to help her with her trunk, I’m exactly as subtle as I need to be. Better for you to worry about the mystery of the Triwizard Tournament than fussing about the World Cup, or the fact that I owe your father a report on how the Ministry handled it. But those were problems for later. For now he had to make sure his pupil left safely, as he knew, despite his anxiety, that Hogwarts was safer than anywhere else in Britain was threatening to be.
‘Where the hell is he?’ Tobias’ gaze swept the platform as he shifted from foot to foot. ‘It’s five to eleven. I know he likes to make dramatic arrivals but this is really taking -’
‘He’ll be here.’ Tanith swatted him on the arm. ‘Doyle may be a prat, but he won’t expect the Express to wait for him. It’s probably just another row with his father.’
‘But even his father wouldn’t stop him from getting here on time,’ Cal pointed out. ‘He’d just argue with him all the way. Probably run alongside the train to get the last word in.’ His arms were folded across his chest, dark eyes fixed on the entrance, unmoving as a vigilant statue as they waited. ‘But we better get on board. Or the train’s going to leave without us, too.’
Tobias kicked the ground. ‘He’s right. Snape would have our guts for garters if he had to arrange us a Portkey.’
‘Maybe yours. You’re the new prefects.’ Cal smirked. ‘So you should get to the carriage; I’ll grab us a compartment. Gabe will show, just you see. He’s always got to make a fuss about his arrival. All eyes on him.’
Tanith nodded, and tugged Tobias’ sleeve when he didn’t move. ‘Come on. We don’t want to give the idiots more reasons to give new Slytherin prefects hell.’ The train whistled, and her eyes widened. ‘And I’d rather not throw myself onto a moving train, if it’s all the same to you!’
Tobias did move at that, grabbing the handle of his heavy trunk and the small cage in which crouched Tiberius, his grey tabby. Tibs mewed and yowled, as if urging them to hurry. Cal went for the nearest door, and the two of them moved as close to the front of the train as they could before Tanith lunged on board.
‘Get my trunk, will you?’
Tobias grunted as he wrestled up two trunks and a rowdy cat’s cage, the doors swinging shut behind him only scant seconds after he’d collapsed against the wall from the mad dash and dead-lifting all of Tanith’s heavy and terrible packing. She took the handle of the trunk with only an acknowledging nod, as if it was his duty to wait on her hand and foot.
‘Come on,’ she said, and trundled down the aisle towards the prefects’ carriage, giving him no chance to do anything but grumble in her wake.
By sheer bad luck this carriage was occupied by what looked like every Gryffindor in the school, and definitely their year. He’d kept away from inter-house scraps for months, but Gabriel Doyle was always ready to make a snide comment at a Gryffindor, and Cal would back him up, make his jabs when he could, and never leave an insult unanswered. This got Tobias recognised, and while some ignored him, he still had to grit his teeth and watch his balance as sixth-year feet were pushed out to try to trip up a well-known Slytherin. Especially a well-known Slytherin prefect.
Tanith, of course, was untouched. She’d infamously hexed Nick Wilson into a babbling mess of boils and pus a year ago, which discouraged most. The worst she received was the sharp tongue of a few of the girls, but she gave as good as she got.
Halfway along, Tobias let Tibs out of his cage so he didn’t have to worry about bashing the cat about. Tibs’ grateful reaction was to lunge onto his shoulder and hiss at anyone making a hostile move at his master, which made progress easier but also got his collar-bone perforated. It was a relief to make it to the prefect’s carriage.
‘You need to learn to scare the hell out of them better,’ said Tanith, not without sympathy, as she steered him into the nearest empty compartment.
‘Easier said than done,’ he muttered. She was stressed from their tardiness, he knew, and despite her air of indifference, didn’t want to get off to a bad start as a prefect. He hefted her trunk into the luggage rack for her.
‘Do you know who the other prefects are?’ she asked once they were sat, tension finally flowing from them as the buildings of London raced by the windows, faster and faster.
‘It’s Everard and Riley for Gryffindor,’ he reeled off without having to check. ‘Ravenclaw is Sharpe and Chang. Hufflepuff is O’Neal and… Grahams.’ Tibs apologetically curled up in his lap once he was sat down, purring in satisfaction at a job well done, and he scratched behind the cat’s ear.
She tilted her head. ‘Could be a lot worse. Especially for the Gryffindors. I was afraid McGonagall would lose her wits and give it to McLaggen. But Riley’s so bloody uptight. Still, this might not be as hellish a job as I’d thought.’
‘I thought you were over the moon about getting to rule supreme, now you’ve been granted your rightful authority over everyone else?’ He smirked.
Her smile didn’t reach her eyes. ‘You know it won’t be easy. A badge on a Slytherin is a target for everyone else to aim for.’
Tobias gave a one-shouldered shrug, his gaze going to the window. ‘You think Gabriel’s showed up, or you reckon Cal’s stuck with Bletchley and the others right now?’
‘He’ll be fine. I mean both of them, but Cal’s the amiable one. They can talk Quidditch.’
‘Yeah. With Cal trying to ingratiate himself with Montague so he’s let back on the team. If Montague makes Captain. It might be Warrington. But neither will let him on, they’re too under Malfoy’s thumb. Even if a Beater spot should be his with Derrick and Bole gone. It won’t work.’
A head popped through the doorway, and they looked up to see the round, inquisitive face of Tom Everard. ‘Oh, good, it’s you two. I was afraid Snape would appoint Montague and Larkin, just to make our lives miserable.’
Tanith snorted. ‘Melanie Larkin would only do the job if she was fed a steady diet of one First Year a day to torment.’
‘And I’m just glad it’s not Wilson or McLaggen with your badge,’ Tobias said.
‘Well, no. I’m better than them.’ Everard glanced over his shoulder at the opposite compartment, when Jen Riley of Gryffindor sat with Connor O’Neal and Lisa Grahams. They didn’t seem to have heard him, so he leaned in conspiratorially. ‘Don’t tell Jen I said that. She and Wilson are a thing now.’
‘Really?’ Tobias said. ‘Riley? And Wilson? But she’s so… and he’s so…’
‘She’s uptight and he’s a loser, so apparently Riley likes a bit of rough trade.’ Tanith pulled out her copy of the Daily Prophet, affecting disinterest. Tobias knew she was, in truth, tucking this nugget of information away for safe-keeping. ‘At least now I know that if I mess with Wilson I’ll get a two-for-one on trouble, because he’ll go running to his girlfriend and she won’t resist the urge to stick her nose in.’
Everard wore the awkward expression of someone who didn’t strictly disagree, but whose loyalties demanded he did. Tobias wasn’t surprised. The boy had hero-worshipped the swaggering Nick Wilson for years, and he suspected he’d harboured at least a small crush on Jen Riley, so adoring worlds colliding couldn’t be fun. In the end, Everard shrugged. ‘Just a head’s up, anyway,’ he said, and beat a diplomatic withdrawal.
‘Well,’ said Tanith when he shut the door behind him. ‘Now I know two things. That Riley has terrible taste, and that there are arrogant prats in every house. Seems like Everard’s your counterpart, Grey.’
Tobias ignored the jibe, watching her. ‘What did you call Wilson? “Rough trade”?’
‘Yeah, you know. Messy and roguish.’
He ran a hand through his fastidious hair, and had to tidy it again after. ‘Girls like that?’
‘Apparently Riley does. I never credited Riley with good judgement.’ Tanith then gave him a beady look. ‘You’re not jealous -’
‘What? No! I don’t mind Riley. But I don’t -’ He lifted his hands for so frantic a denial that he disturbed Tibs. ‘No. Not her.’
‘Hm. Well. You should get yourself a girl, Grey. Might help you relax.’
‘You and Bletchley, as a pairing, was nothing resembling relaxing,’ he pointed out.
She made a face. ‘It doesn’t count. It wasn’t a proper anything. I have better standards these days.’
Tobias didn’t look at her as he soothed Tiberius back into a purring ball in his lap. ‘Like?’
But there was another interruption at the door, this one of the new Head Boy - a Ravenclaw named Bridges - who clutched a whole stack of planning papers and schedules and bubbling enthusiasm for paperwork. Tanith groaned as he went over schedules and responsibilities, and Tobias listened intently and took the papers and added his own notes, and by the time they emerged from the bubbling vortex of fussing, the subject was long, long gone.
Cal leaned in the open compartment doorway. ‘We’re coming up on Hogsmeade, guys.’
Adrian Pucey and Edmund Montague were still struggling into their robes. If one sliced some meat off Montague and slapped it on Pucey’s gangly form, there was a chance of getting two normal-sized fifteen year-olds; as it was, Montague’s robes strained at the shoulders and Pucey’s hung off him like a ghost’s shroud. Cal wasn’t the smallest fellow himself, but he would think twice before squaring off against Montague.
The Sorting Hat sometimes thought Slytherin was the house of brutes.
‘Bugger, this is going to need stitching,’ swore Montague as a seam finally burst in objection.
‘You need new robes,’ Cal said. Tobias and Tanith were off for their last prefects’ patrol before the train came in, so he’d got changed and gone to check in with the rest of his housemates. Bletchley was off flirting with the Slytherin girls, apparently his new mission in life, which left him with these two if he didn’t want to brave the dangerous world of female company. Most of them were of an age where they giggled a lot in his presence. It rattled him. At least he knew what Tanith was thinking when she laughed at him, however unkind it might be.
‘Too late,’ said Montague, and moved for the door. ‘Shift over, Brynmor, I’m going to see if Mel can do anything about this.’ Melanie Larkin probably did know how to do a charm to fix the robe. Whether she would was another question, and Cal privately observed how Montague didn’t ask him, even though Cal knew full well how to stitch up a rip. His foster father was not so flush with money that the slightest tear meant clothes got thrown out.
But Cal stepped to one side without a word, and Montague moved into the corridor - just in time for a figure to come streaking down the train to crash right into him. They both staggered, Cal reached out to steady Montague, but the much smaller boy who’d thudded into him bounced into the wall.
‘Oi!’ Montague ripped himself free of Cal’s grip within a heartbeat, expression twisting with indignation.
Richard Keating, Gryffindor in their year and a stringy young fellow Cal recognised as one of the eggheads sometimes civil to Tobias, steadied himself. His robes hung half-off him, his hair was wild, but he looked like he knew to regret this clumsiness. ‘Sorry,’ he blurted. ‘I was just -’
‘Running around like a bloody idiot.’ Montague hauled Keating up with one meaty hand. ‘Watch where you’re going. I’ve already got a rip on these robes, I don’t need mud on them either.’
Cal’s breath caught. Behind him, Pucey watched with an uninterested air, but they were by the compartment door where Bletchley, Larkin, and Ariane Drake sat, the rest of their year of Slytherins. They’d all heard Montague, and though Muggle-born Keating had turned a sudden shade of pink through anger and fear, none of them batted an eyelid at the exchange.
Montague’s a shoo-in for Quidditch captain, came the blazing reminder, and Cal’s mouth clamped shut.
‘Hey! Montague!’ That was a new voice, and for a heartbeat Cal worried it was Keating’s Gryffindor friends, here to escalate the situation. He wasn’t much reassured to see Tobias storming down the corridor towards them, Tanith in his wake, his expression a tense mask. ‘I heard that!’
Montague was bright enough to know now was the time to let go of Keating. But there was nothing contrite in his expression as he turned on the two prefects. ‘What? I’m just saying I don’t want to get my robes dirty.’
Cal watched as Tobias and Keating eyeballed each other for a silent heartbeat, a wordless assessment and confirmation of the situation, before Tobias’ gaze snapped back to Montague. ‘And how, exactly, were your robes in danger of getting dirty while we’re all still on the train?’
Montague didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘It was raining in London. A bit.’
Tobias’ arms were folded across his chest, Montague was unwavering, and it was Tanith who broke the tension by looking between them and saying, ‘Beat it, Keating.’ Cal knew the tale would be told that Tanith Cole was the prefect who didn’t care what had happened. From where he stood, she was the prefect diffusing the explosive situation.
‘Did I do something wrong, Prefect Grey?’ Montague carried on after Keating did an impressive vanishing trick. ‘I’d hate to upset you on your first day on the job.’
‘I’m not an idiot, Montague. And you’re not subtle.’
‘I just care about my general hygiene, Grey. Like all good Slytherins should.’
‘Hey, Ed, it’s day one,’ said Tanith, stepping between them. ‘It’s a little early for pushing it. I don’t mean with us, but what if it had been Riley here, huh? Or O’Neal?’
Montague looked like he couldn’t give less of a damn what Jen Riley or Connor O’Neal, the pair of them insufferable do-gooders in Cal’s eyes, might have thought of him throwing slurs at Richard Keating. Then the floor jerked beneath them, and Cal stepped up to plant his hands on the shoulders of Montague and Tobias. ‘Looks like we’re coming up on Hogsmeade. Guess we better move along!’
Montague didn’t budge, flinty gaze still locked on Tobias, but Tanith grabbed Tobias’ other arm and tugged. ‘Yeah!’ she said. ‘We want to get a good… er… carriage.’
Tobias was tall and stubborn and Tanith wouldn’t move him on her own, but between her and Cal they could frog-march him down the corridor and away from the defiant eyes of their Slytherin housemates. Cal saw a muscle working in the corner of Tobias’ jaw as they went, but they’d made it to the train door, waiting for it to come to a full halt so they could disembark, before he spoke. ‘What do you think you were doing?’
Cal braced himself for the criticism - then winced as he saw Tobias had rounded on Tanith, not him, and he squinted in confusion.
Tanith didn’t bat an eyelid any more than Montague had, chin tilting up an inch. ‘Getting Keating out of there before we got into a pitched battle in the middle of the train. Stopped Montague from thinking you were jumping down his throat on day one.’
‘He said -’
‘I know what he said.’ Tanith’s voice was flat. ‘You want to be able to be a prefect, Grey? Don’t make an enemy of our entire House on the very first day. Pick your battles.’
‘Picking my battles and letting things slide because it’s judicious,’ said Tobias, jaw still tight, ‘is exactly how behaviour like his gets tolerated. I like Keating. He’s a good sort. He’s also ten times the wizard Montague is, and I don’t care if he’s -’
‘Stop preaching to the converted, Grey, you know I’m with you on this. But if we stand firm and tell Montague to sod off and give him detentions and dock House points, we’re going to get no further than Riley and O’Neal and the others do. We’ll get less far, because we’ll be ten times more open to retaliation.’
Cal frowned out the foggy window of the train door, the rain lashing against the glass, as the sight of Hogsmeade station slowed to a halt on the other side. He remained silent throughout the exchange, heart thudding with a mixture of relief at not being called on and guilt at getting away with it. He hadn’t challenged Montague like Tobias did, he didn’t handle and diffuse the situation like Tanith. He’d kept his trap shut, because Montague would never make him a Beater if he pissed him off.
‘It could be worse,’ he said, because even if he couldn’t handle Montague, he could handle two of his best friends, and distract himself from guilt. The train door swung open with a gust of wind and rain, a torrential downpour lashing on the platform, the train, already in their faces. ‘We could have to go out in that. Oh, wait.’
The rain washed away their tensions, or at least replaced them with a whole new set. Tobias glowered and hissed, ‘Bugger,’ before they all hopped onto the platform and hot-footed it with the gathering masses of Hogwarts students for where the carriages sat to take them rattling along the path to school.
‘I’d hate to be the First Years, crossing the lake in this weather,’ said Cal as he hopped into the nearest carriage, extending hands to help haul his friends up after him.
‘It’s about as bad as it was for us,’ said Tanith, wiping rainwater from her face and sinking onto the bench.
Cal sniggered and elbowed Tobias in the ribs. ‘The wind howling, spray in our faces, Gabriel acting all dignified like there was nothing to it, you panicking as if death was on the horizon…’
‘Death wasn’t on the horizon, death was in our faces, and you were whooping like a crazed loon,’ said Tobias haughtily. ‘And now I will take morbid pleasure in a new batch of children having to suffer as we suffered. It builds character.’
‘Still no sign of Doyle?’ said Tanith.
Cal shook his head. ‘Not a sausage. If he wanted a late arrival, this has entered the realms of melodrama. Nobody likes a ham actor, and this just takes the cake.’
She glared. ‘You’re making me hungry. Thank God Dumbledore lets us eat before the big speeches. But we still have to sit through the Sorting. They should do it on the boats.’
‘Yeah, great idea in this weather,’ Tobias said. ‘Howling wind to deafen everyone, people throwing up over the side, and the giant squid to sing along in harmony with the Sorting Hat.’ They chuckled. ‘We’ll have to induct the Slytherin fresh blood. Stop them from becoming as gigantic arses as Montague, Warrington, Malfoy.’
The topic was always going to come full circle, Cal realised with a sigh. ‘Sure,’ he said, and tried to keep his voice light. ‘Snape can set the fine example on how to be a shiny, happy, decent human being.’
Tobias waved a hand. ‘I know, I know. You two think I’m naive. I just want to avoid us all being labelled evil incarnate. I don’t need 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 winked at Cal. ‘McLaggen and Wilson will snuff it before they’re twenty.’
‘For once,’ said Tobias, carrying on like she hadn’t spoken, ‘I’d like to have a Quidditch season where the Hufflepuffs and the Ravenclaws weren’t all supporting Gryffindor because they’d rather see anyone win but us. I’d like to not get tripped on the train just because I’m a Slytherin, and a Slytherin prefect. I’d like -’
‘A million galleons!’ Cal tried to grin to take the sting out of his words, but he couldn’t deny he wanted to take the wind out of Tobias’ sails. It was for his own good. But it was enough to make Tobias subside into a sulky silence, and he exchanged a concerned glance with Tanith, worrying he’d gone too far.
He didn’t have long to reflect, as soon enough the carriage swept to a halt in front of the stairs leading up to the main doors. Rain lashed down at the carriage, thudded against the courtyard paving, turned the steps into a slippery, dangerous fountain, but there was no other way to dryness and safety. Cal pushed the door open. ‘Ugh. On the count of three, we dash?’ They wrinkled their noses, but nodded, and he drew a deep breath. ‘One.’
Tanith elbowed Tobias out of the way as she bolted, lunging out the door and dashing up the stairs, not just ahead of them, but of the main crowd of students, most of whom were just as apprehensive to head out into the rain.
‘Cheat.’ Cal rolled his eyes. ‘Two, thr-’
Tobias grabbed the back of his collar to yank him out the way before he made his own break for it. Cal staggered and croaked but followed, thudding after his friend, and the two of them jostled their way up the stairs. The rain poured down, Tobias’ robes were slippery in his grip, but they fell into the entrance hall together, breathless from the effort and the laughter.
Tanith sniffed as she brushed mere droplets of water from her robes. ‘Foolish boys. You haven’t learnt yet to break the rules?’
Tobias grinned. ‘I bent them.’
‘You nearly throttled me,’ Cal said, ‘but at least we -’
Got out of the rain, were the unfinished words before a bright blue balloon dropped, burst on impact, and drenched him through. Peeves cackled manically as he soared overhead, and Cal realised with a dripping feeling that he should have noticed the poltergeist when they got in - he was not the first victim.
‘Run,’ said Tanith, and she and Tobias grabbed Cal by the elbows to hurtle for the Great Hall. They couldn’t help but laugh as the group behind them, the Gryffindor girls of their year, exploded into shrieks at the next volley from Peeves, more tightly-packed and greater in number and thus a more tempting target.
The Great Hall, at least, was warm and dry and they were amongst the first to arrive. Cal squelched with every step, and tried to wring water out of his robes as they headed for the Slytherin table. ‘I didn’t think I could get any wetter. Bloody Peeves. And I’m still hungry. You think they’ll hurry up with the Sorting?’
‘It shouldn’t take long,’ said Tanith as she sat down. ‘I mean, the lake, this weather - I bet half of them drowned.’
Soon the Great Hall had filled up, and the room was just beginning to buzz with impatience when the doors were thrown open again, and in stalked Professor McGonagall with a gaggle of First Years at her heels. If Cal was soaked, then the eleven year-olds were inundated.
‘Yeah, yeah, they’re short, they’ve got traits, get on with it,’ Tanith mumbled.
Cal’s stomach growled its agreement. He watched McGonagall get the Sorting Hat, then fixed his eyes on his plate. He didn’t care about this. He was cold, he was wet, he was hungry, and there was still no sign of Gabe. This was not the return to Hogwarts he’d looked forward to. So the Hat’s song drifted by him without much fanfare and certainly with no care, though he did glance up to see Tobias listening with his usual quiet, attentive thoughtfulness. If the Hat had an interesting point, he, Cal, couldn’t find it - but then, Tobias thought History of Magic was interesting. His tastes were odd.
Tanith, next to him, had switched off. This was about the time Gabriel would have made a perfectly apt sarcastic comment, and worry wormed further into Cal’s gut along with the hunger. Missing the train was one thing, but the Express had left hours ago. What had happened that stopped Gabriel even from getting a Portkey arranged in that time?
Cal raised his head, jerked from his reverie, as the first child of the new year became a Ravenclaw. He gave perfunctory applause.
His next clap was much more genuine as Slytherin House won its first new student. Cheers broke out around him, too, but Cal spotted Tobias stiffen. ‘What is it?’
Tobias spoke so quietly they both had to lean in to hear. ‘The Gryffindors.’
‘Pulling faces? Being general gits?’ Tanith sounded calm, but Cal knew she’d spotted Tobias was genuinely disquieted, and would defend him against whatever slight had been offered.
‘Not that. Baddock.’ Tobias glanced down the table where the First Year was being clapped on the back by Nott and Zabini.
Cal applauded more out of Welsh solidarity than caring before his attention snapped back. ‘What about it?’
Tobias scowled. ‘They booed him.’
‘Gryffindor!’ The table at the far end exploded into raucous cheering. Cal watched Tobias’ lip curl.
‘They’ll boo all Slytherins,’ pointed out Tanith.
‘It’s just -’ But the Sorting continued, as did the clapping, and Tobias shrugged. ‘I’ll explain in a minute.’ They sat through the rest of the Sorting in silence, save Tobias’ muttering as he glared at the Gryffindor table with every Slytherin Sorted, and Cal’s growling stomach. Finally, as Kevin Whitby became a Hufflepuff, McGonagall removed the Hat and Dumbledore stepped up.
‘He better not talk for long,’ Cal mumbled, ‘or I’ll eat him.’
‘I only have two words to say to you.’ Dumbledore’s voice rolled across the Hall in a deep, sonorous echo. ‘Tuck in.’
‘I always liked Dumbledore,’ Cal lied as the dishes before them loaded up with food, and he started by almost upending an entire roast pig onto his plate. ‘Toby, if you want to explain yourself, you’ll have to do it through the sound of my munching.’
‘Like that’s new,’ said Tanith, shovelling mashed potato like there was about to be a shortage. ‘Grey, Gryffindors are always arses to Slytherins.’
‘But booing a First Year, who’s just been Sorted?’ Tobias was only picking at greens, which made Cal really begin to worry. ‘He’s not bullied them for years. He’s not a junior Death Eater in training. I bet he’s not evil incarnate. Five minutes ago, they looked at him the same way they looked at any of those new Gryffindors. And now, he’s scum. Because a Hat decided he was cunning and driven.’
Cal passed him the Yorkshire Pudding. It seemed the best way to help.
‘Don’t go on hunger strike, Grey,’ Tanith agreed. ‘It won’t change their minds.’
Tobias reluctantly tucked in, as of course a hot meal after a cold journey was impossible to resist even through righteous indignation. ‘I know, we Slytherins can take care of ourselves. And Gryffindors end up worse off. It’s just - he’s a kid. I bet some of them sat in the same compartment as him, shared their pumpkin pasties with him. Now he’s a Slytherin, none of those Gryffindors will get chummy, will they.’
‘I don’t know,’ Cal said, trying to kill his roast pork anew by drowning it in gravy, just so it would feel how he, soaked to the bone, felt before it nourished and warmed him. ‘You’re mates with Riley and Everard, aren’t you?’
‘We’re not friends. We’re acquaintances. We have civil chats and don’t kill each other when a face-off happens. I keep my wrath for Wilson and McLaggen.’ Tobias managed a smile at last. ‘Besides, Tanith would kill me if I were friends with a Gryffindor.’
‘It’s true. I would summon the death glare and kill you stone dead for your poor judgement.’
But the bulk of Tobias’ righteous anger had faded, much to Cal’s relief. He never knew how to handle it, never cared quite as much as his friend did, and that was fine by him - he didn’t understand, often, how Tobias could get anything done with this cause or that cause. Tanith was the only one who could stop him. So Cal changed the topic to OWLs, because he knew he could get Tobias to ramble, and he would have been surprised that Tanith was, for once, joining in on the study-crazed words if he wasn’t far, far more focused on dinner.
Even when Dumbledore stood again he only half-listened, until the key word was uttered: Quidditch.
Cal swallowed a roast potato whole. ‘What did he say?’ he hissed, trying to replay the words he’d only been half-paying attention to.
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 to identify the next Quidditch captain and sway them to his cause - namely, reestablishing him as Beater - shattered into a million pieces. ‘He didn’t just - did he just say what I thought he said?’ But the whole Hall was buzzing with discontent. Tanith had to give Cal a sympathetic look confirming he wasn’t going mad, and even Tobias, who indulged rather than cared about Quidditch, looked stunned.
‘This is due to an event that will be starting in October,’ Dumbledore carried on, ‘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.
A/N: Do you returning readers remember that Tanith used to be an artist? She stopped that somewhere down the line, huh. Though we now have references to her looming career wishes, whilst in the original story it was just not mentioned until all of a sudden she had a controversial ambition. This chapter originally also had the odd inference that Tanith knew about Altair’s real line of work, which has been scrubbed here.
I was struck in this chapter by how little happened originally. Altair’s introduction was the most dramatic thing. Otherwise, Tanith was a more of a bitch to Tobias than anyone would really put up with from a friend, Tobias got indignant about the Sorting, and they were Characters Existing While Canon Happened. I suppose this was made the first chapter because it’s not a bad introduction at all to our trio, without too many diversions.
Additions were simple. Tom Everard’s cameo was expanded, considering he and Jen Riley became more relevant characters, and the Riley/Wilson relationship is introduced. The clash between Tobias and Montague is the major thing, though - I was struck on my re-read how much my characters talked about being a bit of outcasts for their beliefs, but it was very rarely shown on-screen. So it seemed an apt change.