Chapter 5 : Discovery
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“NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE?”
“No, it’s not! Just... just don’t freak out, okay?”
“DON’T FREAK OUT?”
“It’s not that big of a deal!”
“NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL?”
“Okay, Aggs, you're going to have to stop repeating everything I say like that — It’s getting annoying.”
“IT’S GETTING ANNOY — ? ARGH!”
I glared at my brother with slitted eyes of fury, face burning red-hot from the angry blood churning to my skin's surface. This was — this was — terrible! Horrific! Inexcusable! No words could describe the atrocity that my brother had just unleashed by bringing this bag on to the Hogwarts Express. How could he do this? How could he be so stupid?
I tried to steady my voice, tried to stop my fists from shaking so much as I spoke in clipped words of barely suppressed anger. “Aidan,” I said through clenched teeth. “You are — This is — I can’t — ARGH!”
At this wonderful display of eloquence, my brother darted his blue gaze unsurely around the compartment, not knowing what to make of my stuttering.
“Agatha," he said to me, though his eyes were lingering wistfully on the compartment's exit. "Just please, for Merlin's sakes, calm down — “
“CALM DOWN?" That was the final straw. I threw my hands into the hair, immediately enraged by this ridiculous request. “AIDAN, YOU ARE TRYING TO SMUGGLE A GERBIL INTO OUR SCHOOL, AND YOU EXPECT ME TO CALM DOWN?!”
Dom gasped in wonder from where she was standing next to me, lips drawn into a round 'o' shape. “Oh my god, is that what’s in there?”
And unfortunately, I couldn't say no. Because she had heard all-too-correctly.
The little mystery item that was hiding in Aidan’s backpack? The one that had been causing all the current drama?
It was a gerbil. A bloody gerbil. My brother was attempting to smuggle a glorified rodent into Hogwarts, risking months-worth of detention, violating several key school rules, giving me an aneurysm in the process — simply because he wanted a pet.
Dom yanked the backpack roughly from my hands (which was, come to think of it, probably not the best for the animal inside) and peered into it, her light green eyes widening as she saw the furry critter.
“Eee! It’s so cute!” she squealed.
“CUTE?” I bellowed. “CUTE?” I snatched the backpack from Dom, leaning towards her with wide, maniacal eyes, and my bestfriend shirked away, looking somewhat chagrined.
“Do you people realize how much trouble we could get in if we're caught?" I cried, swiveling around to face the compartment's other occupants. I was met with blank faces and apathetic stares. "Only owls, frogs and cats are allowed at Hogwarts! Any other animal is illegal! Not to mention unheard of!"
“Agatha," Aidan said in an exclamation of mingled exasperation and fear. He looked at me beseechingly, face pulled into the customary Puppy Dog Look he always adopted whenever I caught him doing something wrong. "Please, please try to keep your voice down. We don't want anyone to know about this."
I gaped at him disbelievingly. If I were a cartoon character, right now would be the moment when my head started swelling in size and then promptly imploded on itself. "Of course you don't wouldn't want anyone to know," I hissed in barely-restrained anger. "Because it's SODDING ILLEGAL, YOU SODDING IDIOT!"
"Aggy!" Fred interjected, obviously trying to join in on the pacification effort. He took a half-step forward but, upon seeing my enraged gaze swivel in his direction, promptly fell back. Potter, meanwhile, had leaned nonchalantly on the compartment wall next to him, arms crossed over his chest, expression set somewhere between dark amusement and a know-it-all smirk.
"Aggy," Fred repeated somewhat fearfully, hands held out in the same soothing gesture one might use to tame a rabid dog. "This is really nothing for you to worry about. We have the situation under control."
"We?" My face darkened dangerously. Next to me, Dom rolled her eyes, muttering something along the lines of, "Here we go."
I advanced forward menacingly, heartbeat still thudding in my ears. "Did you know abou this, Fred? Was this your doing too?"
"Um," said Freddy.
But I didn't need the idiot's spoken confirmation — I already knew the answer. Where there was an ill-fated, harebrained, illegal scheme, there was usually my brother. And where there was my brother, there was usually Fred.
And where there was Fred...
I ripped my gaze to Potter, taking in his casual, carefree demeanor with slitted eyes. "And you," I seethed. "You took part in this?"
In a sorry excuse for a response, Potter — his lips crooked in a barely-there smirk — nudged one of his shoulders upwards for a calm, blithe half-shrug. My left eye twitched.
So Fred and Potter were in on it, too. Ugh, they were shameless, the lot of them! Not only did they have to embark on stupid pranks and ridiculous plans, but they had to do it all together, tripling their chances of messing up and getting caught! I couldn't believe them!
Well, actually I could.
"Honestly, Aggy, let's just leave it," Dom was murmuring unhelpfully into my ear, but I couldn't even look at her. I was too busy struggling with the pit of dread that was currently pushing against my stomach lining.
The Tweedle Trio had a reputation at Hogwarts — one of pranks and mischief, of no-good trouble that anyone could tell you lived perfectly well up to the Weasley cousins' namesakes. The sheer presence of the boys alone had probably elevated McGonagall's blood pressure by 20 percent since they arrived at Hogwarts.
It was actually that, in her office, McGonagall had a dartboard with a photo of Fred's face on it. But no one had so far been able to verify the claim.
Regardless, Potter and Aidan and Fred collaborating together was never good news. Whenever they were involved, there was bound to be some sort of mayhem — whether it be Nostril Hair Growing Potions in the Slytherins' drinks at breakfasts, or the Prefect's baths mysteriously changing into ball-pits overnight. And while I had to admit that some of their pranks required pretty impressive magic and did make the students and even occasionally the professors laugh, I could never get behind them.
Because here was the thing: the idiots always got caught.
And who did Aidan come to whenever he was in trouble?
I darkly shook my head, more to myself than anyone else, as I stewed over these terrible new developments. "This is so idiotic," I muttered under my breath, before snapping my gaze back to Potter. "How can you be so blase about this? You're a Prefect this year! You're supposed to be stopping this kind of thing, not contributing to it!"
"I'm not contributing," Potter said innocently, though the corners of his lips were still twitching insufferably. "Think of me as... a passive participant. Minus the passive."
I bit back a growl.
"Okay, can we all just calm down?" Dom interjected quickly, sensing a brewing argument between Potter and I. "What's done is done, Aggy. How about we just let Aidan keep his gerbil and call it a day?"
"Rufus," my brother said quickly.
Dom blanched, her green eyes blinking in sudden bewilderment. "Pardon?"
"His name is Rufus. The gerbil's name is Rufus," Aidan corrected primly as he straightened to a dignified height, oblivious to the laughable absurdity of what he was saying.
"You named it?" I hissed disbelievingly, and I felt anger charge through me all over again.
"Of course," Fred piped up, though his perky demeanor quickly deflated as his lips tugged downwards in a pout. "Well, I personally thought we should call him Sir Cuddles, but that was quickly vetoed."
...They were so stupid, it was astounding. I couldn't even be angry anymore. I was simply too shocked by the spectacular display of human idiocy before me.
I took a deep breath, fingers clenching tighter around the backpack strap, and swiveled between my brother's pleading expression and Potter's defiant insolence, not knowing which was worse. “Where did you even find a gerbil, Aidan?” I finally said, injecting my tone with false calm.
“Well," Aidan began sheepishly, voice small. Good. At least the moron had the grace to act ashamed. "You know the pet shop down the road from our house?”
“Yessss." I dragged out the word warily, not liking where this was going at all.
“Well, I was in there one day, just looking around," Aidan began, voice and expression growing slightly heated as he continued on his rant. "When the owner told me that the shop was closing. For good! They were going out of business, and all the animals would be sent to the pound if they weren’t sold in the next day! And, well, I couldn’t stand the idea of some poor animal cooped up in a dingy pound! I had to do something, Aggy! I had to take action! I had to make a stand for animal rights!”
“So you bought a gerbil,” I said flatly.
“Yes!” Aidan exclaimed jubilantly, not noticing the are-you-an-idiot tone I was employing and the thin, unimpressed line of my mouth.
“Aidan,” I began slowly in an attempt at reason, trying my best to use my 'indoor voice' and not let my frustration get the best of me. “You can’t just smuggle in a gerbil and expect to get away with it! Where are you going to keep it? What if someone sees you? You’d get in so much trouble!”
“Please, Agatha," my brother pleaded. "We've worked out all the details, I swear. You don't have to have any part in it — just don't tell anyone."
I turned away from my brother's pitiful expression to Fred’s identical one and then, finally, to Potter, who was remaining resolutely silent. He stared at me, leaning against the wall with a look of pure, condescending amusement, as if my predicament was a particularly entertaining TV show. The prat.
"Come off it, Aggy," Dom entreated as she yawned in a languid, easy stretch next to me, evidently already bored with the matter and considering it finished. "Just let the morons do what they want. The gerbil's on the train already, there's nothing we can do."
I bit my lip and forced myself to finally peer into the open backpack, meeting the beady eyes of the critter that had been causing me so much stress over the past couple minutes. It peered back at me, a bundle of white and caramel fur, and I felt my resolve waver ever so slightly. Dom was right — the thing was pretty damn cute. I glanced into the backpack again. Black marble eyes stared up at me, curious and apprehensive.
And then, it twitched its tiny nose. Its tiny, little button nose... And that was what got me.
Maybe it would be okay to keep the thing. Just for a little while, that is, until we sorted out a sustainable solution to this mess. Like Dom said, there wasn't much we could do right now short of pawning the gerbil off on an unsuspecting first-year, and I don't think anyone would think that a viable option. We might as well take it with us into the castle. After all, how much harm could one tiny little gerbil inflict?
I sighed. “Okay, we can keep it — “
Fred and Aidan cheered at the news, pumped their fists into the air and then embarked on a celebratory round of idiotic macho chest-bumping. Potter kicked off the wall and straightened to a full stand, regarding me with mild surprise splayed across his expression, a smooth eyebrow cocked.
“— On a few conditions,” I added, and the cheering and chest-bumping and rampant stupidity came to an abrupt halt.
Potter stepped forwards. “What conditions?” he ventured cautiously, hazel eyes alight with intrigue. It was the first time he'd bothered to speak in a long while.
I shot Potter a particularly acidic glare before swivelling around to the other two gits, straightening imperiously as I did so.
“One: you guys have to take care of it," I demanded. "I’m not letting some poor, innocent creature die just because you lot don't know the meaning of responsibility. You need to find a place to keep it, a cage, and food.”
“Done, done, done,” Aidan said easily. “We are going to be the best gerbil caretakers ever, Aggs."
“Which leads me to my second condition,” I said, eyebrows arched warningly. “You guys can not suck Dom and me into this, okay? We are tired of having to bail you three out every time you get into trouble. Deal?”
Aidan looked between Fred, who nodded eagerly, and Potter, who shrugged in neutral assent. Finally, he swiveled to me, chest puffing with pride and barely-concealed satisfaction. “Deal,” my brother said, thrusting out his hand.
We shook on it. "I'm trusting you Aidan," I said seriously. "Don't mess this up."
“Agatha, stop worrying,” Fred soothed confidently. “When have we ever let you down?”
I had always been a cautious child.
From a very young age, I'd embraced my fear of risk, my love for responsibility, as being part of my nature. While Aidan and the other neighborhood kids would go to the local pool to do flips and dives of the board, I would be sitting on the deck, refusing to go into the water and meticulously applying my third layer of sunscreen. When the other kids ditched swimming for skateboards, I would stay inside — far from the hot sun and unforgiving concrete — and read a book instead.
I took the extra, unnecessary precautions many others ignored — seatbelts, antiseptic creams, erasable pencils instead of permanent markers. I refused to take chances, hating the queasy, nauseous feeling that came from such insecurity.
Aidan and my mother were the complete opposite — careless and constantly forgetful, they left it up to me to provide the logic and the sense. By the young age of nine, my role in our family had been cemented — I was The Practical One. It was my job to empty the dishwasher, fish the car-keys out of the potted plants (where they somehow, inexplicably, always ended up), even make dinner on the occasions my mum forgot.
Like my father, I preferred dry reason and rationality. I observed, I hypothesized, I analyzed and, as a child, I craved security. While Aidan had been the daring one, always willing to climb the tree or do the flip off his bicycle, I hated breaking rules. To this day, I still did.
Which is why, that night, I sat at the Slytherin table during the Hogwarts Sorting Ceremony with an especially uneasy feeling in my stomach. The anxiety and the disturbing jitters were a familiar sensation — the same one I always had when I intuitively felt like Aidan was about to make a big mistake.
...Which was, come to think of it, basically all the time.
The Great Hall looked majestic that night, with a deep cobalt ceiling peppered by silver, glinting stars, and candles bobbing merrily in the air. Yet I couldn't fully appreciate its winking splendor, to busy thinking about Aidan and the cursed purple backpack he was carrying.
In the hushed silence, I twisted my hands nervously as the first-years, one by one, stepped up to the Hat for the Ceremony, their frightened faces flickering in the amber glow of the overhead candle light. Excitement and anxiousness tingled in the atmosphere, somehow augmented by the stern, grave expressions of the professor's faces at the Staff Table.
Ever since the end of the War, Hogwarts had relaxed on its (admittedly somewhat apartheid-esque) seating system for the Great Hall. We were no longer required to sit by House, except during big ceremonies such as this one. Usually, Hufflepuffs, Gryffindors, Slytherins, Ravenclaws were free to mingle — though sometimes this created more problems than it solved.
Dom and I sat towards the end of the Slytherin table, duly clapping to welcome any new additions that had been sorted in our House. Dom looked perfectly relaxed — the excitement on the train already a faraway memory for her. I, on the other hand, was doing all I could not to betray the Classic Agatha Bennett Freak-Out raging inside me. I was unable to concentrate on McGonagall, on the Sorting Hat, on the petrified faces of the first-years. All I could do was clap automatically whenever someone was sorted into Slytherin, and even then, my hands moved mechanically on their own accord.
I tried to quell my queasiness, nodding faintly along to Dom occasional burst of whispered, under-the-breath commentary about the latest back-to-school gossip ("And did you see how short Missy O'Mara's skirt was? She might as well have just tied her House scarf around her waist and called it a day."). My gaze restlessly scanned the crowd and landed on Freddy, Potter and Aidan, all sitting at the Gryffindor table and looking various shades of bored. The purple backpack rested innocently in Aidan’s lap, unnoticed by all.
After Karen Zachary had finally been sorted into Gryffindor, Headmistress Vespertine stood to make her customary beginning of the year speech.
Vespertine has been Headmistress since Third Year, when McGonagall stepped down to teach Transfiguration full-time. Despite the downgrade in title, however, Mickey-G still retained her power as Head of Gryffindor, along with her fun little ability to instill terror into the depths of any student's heart. She was a tough one, having weathered two Wars and Freddy Weasley's self-descriebd Yodeling Phase. But I was pretty sure Mickey had a soft spot for me, seeing as I did well in her classes.
Vespertine, on the other hand, seemed to have a soft spot for nobody. She was a stern, very accomplished woman — a prominent member of the Wizengamont, a respected scholar and, at one point, had even been a candidate for Minister — er, Ministress — of Magic in 2018, following Kingsley Shacklebolt resignation. She lost the election however, which went to a man named Eros Humdudgeon, and instead got to settle for the wonderful deal of looking after a huge castle filled with young schoolchildren practicing magic. She was probably thrilled, natch.
As Vespertine took the podium, everyone in the Great Hall seemed to quiet down, straightening slightly with attention. She gazed benevolently at all of us, her bright steel eyes taking in our faces. Vespertine was one of those people whose physical features match unnervingly well with her personality — dark blue-black hair, a sharp nose and stick-straight posture. No one was sure how old she was, and her age was a popular topic of speculation for the students of Hogwarts. It could have been anywhere between 30 to 50.
“Hello and good evening everyone," Vespertine greeted firmly, her voice ringing through the cavernous Hall. "I hope your summers have been eventful, though not to the point where you've forgotten about your academics. I'm excited to embark on this new year with you at Hogwarts, and I hope to be offering guidance for you all throughout your career here." Her smile was terse and thin, but a smile nonetheless. "We have a great year ahead of us."
“Now, I know that you are hungry," Vespertine acknowledged, tilting her head at the empty plates arranged on the tables. "But I need to make clear a few special points before the feast begins.” A few miserable students groaned quietly, clutching their grumbling stomachs. “First off, the Forbidden Forest, as the name suggests, is forbidden. Any student caught there will immediately be faced with detention and possibly even expulsion.”
My eyes flitted over to where Potter, Aidan and Fred were sitting, and I could see that they were all wearing identical, Cheshire-like smirks that showed just how much they respected that rule. I rolled my eyes, and Vespertine continued on:
Secondly, Mr. Filch would like all students to know that any items purchased from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes are strictly prohibited at Hogwarts. Any student found with one will face punishment, and the item will be confiscated.” — The boys’ smirks grew considerably wider at this — “For a complete list of all The Prohibited Items here at Hogwarts, please see Filch.”
I sighed. Well, at least there'd been nothing mentioned about gerbils.
“Lastly, " Vespertine added, and the entire Hall seemed to fidget eagerly, ready for the end of the inane speech. "I am happy to announce that we have a new addition to our teaching staff this year. Please welcome our new Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, Theodore Nott.”
Whispers immediately rippled throughout the entire Hall as students turned to one other, tittering excitably.
My mouth fell open in surprise. Next to me, Dom choked on her own spit. Theodore Nott?
It was a pretty familiar name, Nott being a pretty notorious bloke. I stared up at the man who Vespertine was grandly gesturing towards. He was grim-looking, with dark blonde hair and a gaunt face. He looked old and weary, though I knew he couldn't have been more than fortyish. My ears hummed with the telltale buzz of the students chattering around me, already throwing out conjectures and speculations and new unnecessary fodder for Hogwarts' tireless rumor mill.
"Did she just say — "
" — Theodore Nott?"
"I heard the bloke was a Death Eater, back in the day."
"Yeah, big Voldy-supporter. Apparently he used to kill muggleborns with his bare hands — "
"— and then keep the remains in jars in his basement — "
"Well I heard he's reformed, and is now a professional singer-songwriter. He's got a record deal and everything."
"Yeah. He's pretty big in Japan."
Ignoring the students' chatter, I glanced at the Gryffindor Table to see Aidan’s reaction to all of this, noting his confused frown and the thoughtful glimmer in his navy eyes. Next to him, however, Potter and Fred were already half out of their seats in protest, complete outrage on their faces at the idea of someone like Nott, a well-known Slytherin Pureblood, teaching DADA. I snorted. Typical Gryffindor pride.
In addition to his lineage and whatever alignment he may have had during the War, Nott was a controversial choice as DADA Professor for one other reason. A few years back, Nott's wife had gone missing in a criminal case that had Aurors stupefied and The Daily Prophet in conniptions for weeks. The prime suspect had been Nott himself, though every time the man was (quite publicly) brought in for questioning, the Aurors always said it was inconclusive. The irony of it all was that the Aurors hadn't even been able to use Veritaserum in their interrogations, seeing as how one of Nott's greater achievements in his academic career had been his famous essay, A Theorem on the Seven Preventative Antidotes to Resist Truth-Telling Serums. He'd have known how to resist any dosage of Veritaserum, and therefore nothing he'd said could be trusted.
So the intense investigations came and went, Eileen Nott was never found, and the case had been dropped with no charges pressed. But there were still grim whispers, suspicious glances, accusing fingers to this day... and they were all directed at Nott.
Personally, I didn’t have any objection to his appointment as DADA Professor. After all, there was no concrete proof that he'd actually been a Death Eater, nor any that he'd killed or harmed his wife. In fact, Theodore Nott was actually quite respected among the wizardring scholar community. He'd probably make for an astute teacher.
"Students, students!" Vespertine was calling over the general clamor of the Great Hall, but no one paid her any attention. Somewhat resignedly, she fell back and issued a hasty: "That's all for now, dinner is served!"
Right on cue, our meals appeared on the plates in front of us, bringing about the customary gasps from all the awed first-years. Students began to feast, chewing and gossiping at the same time, all topics of conversation revolving around the jarring news we'd just received.
“Can you believe it?” Dom was saying, eyes wide with excitement as she forcefully impaled a piece of chicken with her fork. “I mean, wow. Theodore Nott.”
I shrugged noncommittally, still more concerned about the rodent in Aidan’s backpack than a new DADA teacher. “I don’t see what the big deal is.”
“The big deal? The big deal? He was almost sent to Azkaban!”
“They couldn’t prove anything, Dom.”
“Still.” Dom’s eyes moved swiftly across the room until they found their target. She sat for a moment, staring in thoughtful silence before observing: “He’s kind of hot, actually, in the brooding, I-might-be-a-serial-killer kind of way. Don’t you think?”
I rolled my eyes in exasperation, too tired from the events of this entire sodding day to muster up the proper disgust. “You’re sick, Dom. He’s old enough to be your father."
My best friend’s eyes glittered in the candlelight, coquettish and sly, as she gestured vehemently in circles with her fork. The still-impaled chicken on it flopped up and down, waving dangerously close to my nose. "Don't pretend you're not into the bad boy shtick. Just because you go cuckoo for squeaky-clean blokes like Ryan Fisher — "
" — I'm not cuckoo for Ryan Fisher," I interjected hastily, but Dom only shot me a skeptical, sure-you-don't look in response.
"Regardless," she wriggled playfully in her seat, setting down her fork and swiping up her goblet of pumpkin juice. "I think I've found my new favorite subject for the year. I wonder if Nott has any opportunities for extra credit, if you know what I mean — "
"Ugh, Dom, gross."
"— I'm sure he's good with his wand."
"Now that's just poor taste."
Dom merely laughed her trademark snorting, ridiculously lady-like laugh, tilting her goblet in mock-cheers. "Mark my words, Aggy, this is about to be an interesting year."
I dug my spoon into my mashed potatoes, grimacing at my plate. "That's what I'm afraid of."
"Merlin I'm so full I could explode," Dom groaned dramatically, dropping her fork onto her now empty plate as she clutched her stomach. I nodded fiercely in agreement, which was just about all I physically could do at the moment, seeing as my body was already relinquishing itself to an inevitable food coma.
“Me too,” I agreed somewhat morosely. I always stuffed myself at the Welcome Back Feast, and always regretted it afterwards when my small intestines threatened to burst. "I think that last bit treacle tart did it for me. Look, I can't even finish it!" I gestured to my plate, where the half-demolished desert was crumbled rather pathetically.
“Don’t," Dom bit out warningly, thrusting a hand up as her expression clenched into a grimace. "Don't make me look at that. Or else the five slices of treacle tart I just had are going to turn into treacle vomit."
I snorted. "Thanks for the mental image."
"Five slices, Aggy. Five. Slices."
The earlier excitement of the Great Hall had died down considerably as the majority of students were now exhaustedly slumped in their seats, having admitted defeat to the all-you-can-eat carb extravaganza that was the Welcome Back Feast. Dom and I grumbled drowsily too each other, waiting on Vespertine to dismiss us so we could head to our Common Rooms.
I yawned — now that my belly was satisfied, I was looking forward to the long, restful sleep that awaited me in the Dungeons. Hopefully a solid eight-hours would help me forget the ordeals of the day.
Wait a second — my brow furrowed in hazy unease as some annoying memory began to niggle at the back of my brain. Dungeons... The word brought to mind a foggy, distant detail of the past that was stubbornly eluding me.
And then, I remembered:
"Bollocks!" I suddenly exclaimed, realizing unpleasantly that my role as a Prefect entailed herding the first-years to the dorms. "I have to show the first-years to the Dungeons. Damn it, that's the last thing I want to do right now..."
Dom smirked, though she was too exhausted to put the full effort into her smugness. "Sucker."
"Thanks for the support, best friend," I snapped back, though my consternation quickly melted away as I remembered the one saving grace of this blasted Prefect's duty: Ryan Fisher. At least this would give me the opportunity to spend some quality time with him.
Soon enough, Ryan "Insert Dreamy Sigh Here" Fisher, with his blonde and stormy eyes, had me drifting off into hormonal day-dreaming, my face glazing over with a distant expression —
"I know that look," Dom said shrewdly, and I snapped back into focus to see her peering triumphantly at me. "You're thinking about Ryan right now, aren't you?"
“No, of course not!” I denied shiftily.
Dom simply shook her head, lips curling into a lewd smile. “You want to jump his bones.”
I inhaled sharply at the vulgarity. “I do not!”
“Don’t deny it, Aggy," Dom sing-songed maddeningly, waggling an obnoxious finger in my face. "You want to get your freak on.”
I leveled her with a flat glare. “Okay, firstly: Never again. Secondly: I only think of Ryan in a purely platonic way. We’re just acquaintances, is all!”
“Yeah, and McGonagall favorite hobby is roller disco-ing.” Dom snorted, stretching her arms languidly over her head. “Face it, you just really want to — “
“Attention, students!” Before I could find out what I just "really wanted to" do, however, Headmistress Vespertine was standing up at the Staff Table and mercifully cutting Dom shot. The barely-stirring Great Hall roused to attention at our Head's clear voice. "You may now retire to your dorms for the evening. Make sure to get in a good rest for lessons tomorrow! Goodnight."
Professor Vespertine sat back down, and immediately the hall was filled with the clamor of screeching benches and clapping footsteps as students lumbered to a stand. Dom clamped her mouth shut, but the glimmer in her eyes promised that this argument wasn't over.
I sighed, steeling myself for what was to come next and trying to put on my best professional face.
“Dom, I’m going to go find the first —“ I was interrupted by a gentle tap tap on my shoulder, and I twisted my torso around to come face-to-face with Ryan Fisher, who was looking very distressed and not at all like his usual affable self.
"Ryan, what's — oh," I said, already half-way out of my seat as my gaze landed on the small first-year, currently leaning sickly into Ryan's side, his face an unpleasant shade of green.
My eyes widened slightly. "What's wrong?"
“Hey, Agatha." Ryan managed a weak smile, nodding amicably at Dom before swiveling to face me matter-of-factly. "This first-year's feeling a little sick. Something about having too many treacle tarts — " at this, Dom groaned in agony and slumped across the table — “So I’m going to have to take him to the Hospital Wing. Do you think you can handle the other first-years by yourself?”
My heart sank at the prospect, but I forced a smile on my face nevertheless. “Sure, Ryan," I chirped, knowing I would probably have agreed to go spelunking in a lava pit if he asked. "No problem.”
“Thanks a million,” he said appreciatively, flashing a grin that made my legs turn gooey. The first-year groaned loudly and sagged to the floor. “Ah, crap. I better get a move on before he starts vom — er, nevermind. I’ll talk to you later!"
“Bye,“ I said wistfully after Ryan's retreating form, watching him walk in the direction of the exit, the poor child dragging limply alongside him.
“You love him." Dom raised her head briefly from the table to sing-song obnoxiously, and my face twisted into a scowl.
She cackled — and yes, it actually did sound like a cackle — and stood to go, swinging her leg over the bench in a surprisingly graceful fashion. “Alright, time to get some sleep. I’ll meet you back at the dorm, Aggs. Good luck with the munchkin people!” With that and a finger-wiggling wave, she flounced off, merging into the sea of students already filtering out the exit.
I heaved a sigh, now left to my own devices to grapple with what came next. Well, I'd better get this over with.
“First-years!” I called down the long table somewhat reluctantly, waving a half-hearted arm in the air. “First-years, over here please!”
But no one seemed to have heard me over the chatter and footsteps of the student mass exodus. Exhaling gutsily, I gritted my teeth together in irritation and tried again.
“First-years!” I said louder this time — bollocks, maybe the Prefect business was harder than I thought. “First-years, gather 'round!"
I growled at the lack of response, my patience wearing thin. I mean, come on. I was tired and it was overwhelmingly crowded and I just wanted to sleep, for Merlin's sake.
“First-years! First-years — OI!” I shrieked, finally losing all self-control. “YOU LOT! OVER HERE! NOW!"
It was amazing how quickly they appeared. As if in a demented human version of Whac-a-Mole, a scrawny cluster of first-years began to pop into view, one moment nowhere to be seen and the next — poof! — sprouting suddenly out the ground, eyes frightened and blinking in the light.
“Oh,” I said stupidly, staring at the meek youngsters huddled before me. I hadn't expected my vehement shouting to actually work and, now that I had nine, snivelly, first-year faces staring up at me, I wasn't quite sure what to do. I cleared my throat. "Er, yes. My name is Agatha Bennett, and I'm a fifth-year Prefect. I'm going to show you where you'll be living for the next year. Doesn't that sound exciting?"
They stared, faces blank.
"Okay," I said hastily. "Let's just get a move on then. Form a line behind me, please." The first-years shuffled into something resembling an arranged line, and I towered over them, feeling somewhat mortified. Surely I hadn't been that small when I was a firstie, right?
Straightening, I began to lead the silent, nervous group out of the Great Hall, making sure they were all following behind. The crowds had really thinned out — everyone already on their way to their respective dorms — and there was no one in the corridors except for one or two stragglers and the occasional chatty portrait. We marched down moving staircases, through winding alleys and across chilly courtyards in our solemn line.
“So,” I announced suddenly as we neared the Dungeons, feeling an inexplicable urge to fill the silence. "Just so you guys know, it's a Hogwarts rule that, since I'm your Prefect, you have to refer to me as Commander Cool at all times.”
No response to my witty bit of humor. The first-years stared some more.
“Joke," I said lamely by way of explanation. "That was a joke. You don't really have to call me that — okay, nevermind."
I cleared my throat. Alright, time to switch tactics. “Yes. Anyways, we'll just make a quick left here and then take these stairs down to the Dungeons. Try to keep in mind at least a vague idea of where in the castle we are, just so you know for the future — oh, watch out for that trick step, those are nasty buggers — "
We shuffled down the deserted corridor, me prattling inanely on as the first-years nodded mutely, until we neared the stone wall that hid the Common Room's entrance. I was just about to step forward and give the password when, all of a sudden I abruptly halted in my tracks. One of the first-years, obviously not looking where he was going, bumped in to my back with a squeaky “oof!” of surprise.
I paid him no heed, however, too busy staring straight ahead, my gaze transfixed, at something that immediately made my blood run cold and my heart stop beating.
“Peeves,” I hissed under my breath, the way someone might utter a particularly nasty curse word.
And there he was, bobbing merrily as he floated through the stone wall and into sight, dressed in his usual get-up of a ridiculous purple tuxedo with a polka-dotted flower pinned to the lapel. When his gaze landed on us, he came to an immediate halt right in front of the Common Room entrance. His face took on a rakish quality, malicious smile widening as he eyed the first-years before him like they were a batch of freshly-baked cookies.
My face paled, heart sinking down to my knees. Peeves was intolerable enough as it was, but throw in the opportunity to terrorize a few first-years, and you had a very difficult poltergeist on your hands. So much for a good night’s sleep...
“Well, well, well," Peeves drawled, and I stifled an eye-roll. He always opened with that. "What do we have here?" He suddenly swooped down in a hair-pin dive, grazing the tops of the first-years heads and making them shirk away, some shrieking, others whimpering. “Ickle firsties? How fun!”
“Peeves,” I bit out warningly, trying to sound more authoritative than I actually felt. “This is not a good time. Leave us alone or else I'll have to report you to the professors."
But Peeves only cackled, impervious to the threat as he circled the air above us like a hungry shark. Dismayed, I could only watch as he swerved and weaved around my terrified little first-years, gleefully screeching out a nasty limerick.
“Awe, the ickle wee prefect's not up for some fun
In fact she’s getting upset,
Methinks it's time for a proper Peeves welcome,
First-years, prepare to get wet!”
And with that, Peeves pulled out a strange, neon-colored gadget from his tuxedo — a gadget that, squinting, I belatedly identified to be a water-gun. He aimed its orange nozzle directly at me, pulled the trigger... And sprayed me in the face.
All hell broke loose.
Immediately, the first-years began running around like chickens with their heads cut loose, screaming and shrieking as Peeves, doing back-flips and somersaults in the air, showered everything in sight with water. I sputtered the wet hair out of my face, blurry vision barely able to identify Peeves taking out a second water-gun and, one weapon in each hand, beginning to walls, paintings and first-years with his icy-cold ammo.
It was chaos, pandemonium. I slipped and skidded across the wet stone floor, spewing out strangled expletives as I tried to wrangle my first-years together. But it was like trying to wrangle wet kittens. Everyone was too terrified by the poltergeist ahead to even stop and behave calmly for a moment.
"No! Stay calm, please — it's alright, just — " I felt panic around my chest like a hot, metal cord, making it impossible to breathe. "PEEVES! STOP IT OR SO HELP ME — !"
Some of the first-years, now dripping head to toe, were starting to cry. Noises — screams, cries for mercy, Peeve's cackling and the telltale hiss of water on stone — echoed through the corridor in a cacophonous manner. Puddles were starting to form on the ground. Merlin, how did Peeves have this much water to spray? This was like Hogwarts meets the Niagara Falls! This was like a fieldtrip to SeaWorld gone horribly, horribly wrong.
I sprinted clumsily to a sobbing, sodden first-year who was currently huddled in the corner, my hands extended in a weak pacifying gesture. ”Oh, don’t cry, it'll all be alright — Ow! Bloody hell!" My efforts at doing my job were cut short as I slipped on a puddle of water, landing on the cold stone floor with a painful thud.
For a moment I just stared at the ceiling in a daze, Peeves' evil laughter and the screams of first-year terror ringing around me. Why? Why me? Of all the corridors in this blasted corridor, Peeves just had to choose this one to super-soak. And on my first day too — just my sodding luck.
I bet Potter wasn't having this much difficulty right now. I bet his first-years were all tucked into bed right now, safe and sound and decidedly not getting terrorized by an unhinged poltergeist with a penchant for water-works.
Speak of the devil: Peeves swooped down to hover over my head, leering at me as he squirted me with small, tiny bullets of water. I flinched at each spurt hitting my face, helpless and unable to react.
“Aggy slipped and fell,
and now she’s on her bum,
Look at her, she seems so sad
And also kind of dumb! ”
“What is going on here?” A foreign voice, so blood-chilling and eerie that it sent shivers down my spine, suddenly sounded from behind.
Immediately, the entire corridor seemed to freeze — Peeves with his water-guns poised in front of my nose, the first-years in various contorted positions of terror. I snapped my mouth shut and scrambled to a slippery stand, turning to come face to face with the translucent form of the Bloody Baron.
I felt goosebumps begin to flutter over my skin. Even the first-years, by some innate instinct, were staring awestruck at the Bloody Baron, knowing not to speak or make any sudden movements, held in place by the terrifying chill that the ghost's presence brought everywhere he went.
"I said," The Bloody Baron hissed, voice barely a slither of sound. "What is going on?"
Peeves immediately dropped both water-guns, allowing them to clatter to the ground, as he swopped into a ridiculously low bow. "Oh, Mr. Bloody Baron sir! Long time no see! Lovely weather we've been having, isn't it? Not too warm, not too chilly either — "
The Bloody Baron’s gruesome face betrayed no emotion or reaction to Peeve's nervous rambling. He looked bored, almost, as he regarded the situation with blank eyes. "What are you doing, Peeves?" he said flatly.
“Oh, nothing at all, your Bloodiness,” Peeves replied, hands fluttering about. “Nothing of any importance. We were just having a bit of fun with the first-years! That's right, fun! Right, kiddies?"
No one replied.
The Bloody Baron’s pale gaze moved slowly from Peeves to the water guns and then to the shivering figures of the first-years, who were now dripping wet and clinging to each other in a miserable fashion.
“Fun,” The Baron repeated duly. “I see.”
He angled himself to me, the ghostly hem of his tattered clothes almost grazing the stone floor, and I felt a cold, indescribable feeling wrap around my heart. Even though the Bloody Baron had been the Slytherin patron for the past four years, I was still afraid of him.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Bloody Baron, his gaze never straying away from me, commanded: “Go make a nuisance of yourself somewhere else, Peeves. Leave these people in peace.” His voice was raspy, terrifying.
“Oh yes, of course, your Bloodiness, sir! Absolutely” Peeves stuttered, obviously flustered. He bowed so low his nose was practically brushing his shoes, and then, in a blink of an eye was gone, zooming down the corridor.
A long silence stretched out as the Bloody Baron hovered in the air before me, and the first-years gaped stupidly. I was surprised none of them had tried to escape yet. In their (very wet) shoes, I would have run off screaming like a madwoman as soon as I had gotten the chance.
“Er, thank you. Mr. Bloody Baron,” I finally managed, trying as hard as possible to look anywhere besides the blood on his robes, or the chains dangling from his silver arms.
The ghost didn’t say anything. Just looked at me, eyes deadened and unreadable, and then turned around to melt into the nearest wall and disappear.
I closed my eyes, my heart thudding in my chest. That hadn't just happened. None of this was real. This entire day had to be some kind of bizarre dream. First the gerbil — then the strange Feast — and Peeves with a water-gun —
“Er, excuse me?” I was jerked out of my reverie by the squeak of a small voice and a timid tug on my shirtsleeve. Snapping open my eyes, I glanced down to see a tiny first-year boy, eyes wide, hair dripping with water.
“Commander Cool, can you please show us to our dorms now?"
“Er, yeah,” I said, not bothering to correct him on the nickname. Of course — this was real life. This was my reality, and no wishful thinking could ever reverse that.
Therapy was starting to sound like a really good idea right about now.
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