When Deucalion stepped out from the fireplace onto Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, he couldn’t help but think his mother would be extremely proud. Or maybe she would just be very relieved. It was sometimes hard to tell with parents.
He and Ivan had spent the night by themselves above the Leaky Cauldron and had still managed to arrive in front of the Hogwarts Express with their school trunks and owls still in tow. While Deucalion was certain he had probably forgotten something at home (last year, it was every single pair of socks), at least it was good to know that most of his things were on time. In fact, he was positively early compared to most years when he and his father had to jog behind the moving train and heave his trunk onboard.
For the first time since Deucalion had started school, March Wilcott couldn’t see him off this year. His father had always cleared his schedule to take him to the train, but he could not avoid being summoned to the Japan Cup, one the biggest Quidditch tournaments in Asia. Easily Deucalion’s biggest disappointment during the holidays was learning that his father was not going to be present for his second-to-last trip to school.
“Hurry up, Duke! It looks like it’ll start raining at any moment,” Ivan said as he glanced at the darkening clouds above. The two began dragging their belongs quickly towards the scarlet train, squeezing between a mass of squealing younger girls who were hugging as if they hadn’t seen each other in years.
The other students seemed to be getting smaller every year. One boy, perhaps a second year, pointed and shouted, “The Duke’s here!” Instantly, four or five heads turned at the announcement, looking around wildly until all their eyes were focused on Deucalion, who had long since grown used to this behavior from pretty much everyone at school.
It was as if Deucalion had whipped out his wand and performed a Summoning Charm. The boys, mostly younger Slytherin students by the looks of them, had suddenly dropped their trunks and gravitated around him, each trying to win his favor. He recognized one of them as Grindan Keddle, a third year who stood some chance of making the team as a Keeper. Another boy was Gilderoy Lockhart, a rosey-faced second year who was absolutely horrendous at Quidditch tryouts last fall. As for the rest, Deucalion had a short memory for people he rarely paid attention to on the school grounds. After all, who even notices first years after the Sorting?
They pressed closer and began asking questions that grew increasingly bizarre and unlikely, which made Deucalion suspect that they’d been rehearsing this conversation for months.
“Did you have a good holiday? I bet you were perfecting you signature shot.”
“What does the Duke need to work on? His game is perfect!”
“Is it true you flew for the junior national team during the holidays?”
“I heard you flew in the real World Cup! That’s true, isn’t it, Duke?”
“Someone on the train told me you were dating the Seeker for the Holyhead Harpies!”
“Excellent, Duke! You should introduce her to me!”
“Only part of that is true — mainly the part about practicing this summer,” Deucalion said with his usual jovial tone, although he finished his sentence with a wince. One of the boys had gotten so close that he’d accidently stepped on Deucalion’s foot. “I did play a bit with the junior national team. I can’t say I’ve ever met the Holyhead Harpies’ Seeker, but she looks rather attractive on her collector cards, doesn’t she?”
The boys all laughed, as if laughing would make Deucalion be more inclined to become their friend.
“Can we take your trunk for you, Duke? We’ll find a compartment, just you wait!”
“Well, okay,” Deucalion said. He shot a glance over at Ivan, who looked torn between whether to smile at Deucalion’s discomfort or surrender his face to the Berdahl frown at the behavior of the young Slytherins.
They seemed so unrealistically eager to please. Just like house-elves, Decualion thought, but without the poor grammar and outfits made of outdated pillow covers. Keddle and another boy fought over the right to carry Deucalion’s trunk before agreeing that they could — and should — share the load. One boy started walking off with his owl cage, but Deucalion put a stop to that. He’d lost a pet rat on his first Hogwarts trip, and the memory still haunted him.
As soon as they had arrived, the boys had vanished with almost all of his belongings, leaving Deucalion holding the cage of a reddish barn owl he’d named Quaffle. None of them had offered to cart away Ivan’s things, so the two of them bent down to carry his trunk onto the train.
“Don’t you ever get tired of that?” Ivan asked.
Deucalion laughed. “If the younger students want to treat me as king, so be it. I’m certainly not going to stop that behavior . . . mostly because I enjoy it. Of course, we have to bear in mind that they’re only doing it in hopes that it gets them a better chance at making the squad.”
“Sometimes, I get the feeling that they’re too sincere about their devotion,” Ivan said. “Little worshipful things, aren’t they? It’s unbecoming of a Slytherin — though I’m not sure all those boys were from our house, mind you.”
“Oh, come off it, Ivan,” Deucalion said, grunting as he pushed the front end of the trunk upwards. He now regretted insisting on carrying Quaffle because using only one hand to carry Ivan’s belongings was becoming rather difficult. “Would you like some of that — what does Mother call it — ‘unjustified adoration?’”
Ivan shook his head. “Not a chance! You can take all the attention you can stand, Duke. It would feel too weird to have everyone wanting to please me all the time.”
“I’ll admit it’s hard to live up to their high expectations,” Deucalion said, edging his way into the carriage that one of the young Slytherins, Lockhart, was pointing out. Deucalion muttered a few words of appreciation and shoved the back end of the trunk inside.
“If you need anything, Captain, just give the word!” Lockhart had popped his head into the doorway. He was bouncing energetically on the balls of his feet. “Um, I thought you might want something on the trolley or maybe —”
“I think I’ll be all right, thank you,” Deucalion interrupted. He could only stand so much adulation; namely, he could only accept it if people were actively doing favors for him. Luckily, all of them had vanished except for Lockhart; more than likely, everyone else found other friends to distract them. Deucalion’s admirers, being mostly twelve- and thirteen-year-olds, had very short attention spans.
A loud commotion was coming from outside the train, and Ivan hurriedly pressed his face against the window before whirling back around with a look of frustration.
“Oh, wouldn’t you believe it!” Ivan said angrily. “I’ve left Nimbus out there!”
Deucalion did his best to suppress a smile that was creeping onto his face as he looked out the compartment window. A very irritated eagle owl was rattling loudly around in its cage, screeching loudly enough that students nearby were covering their ears. One boy was shouting at the owl, as if that would make it shut up. Deucalion looked back at Quaffle, who cocked her head to the side and was looking very amused at the whole situation.
Ivan began pulling his robes from his trunk. “Stupid owl! How could we have forgotten him?”
“You might be better off without him, you know?” Deucalion said.
“True, but I doubt my parents would be pleased,” Ivan said, pulling his robe quickly over his head. He removed his green prefect badge from his pocket and pinned it on, observing his reflection in the window for a moment. “Say, I’ve got to run to my meeting . . . the new Head Boy is very particular about being on time from what I’ve heard. Would you mind getting Nimbus for me?”
“Sure, but I still say it’d be better to leave Nimbus behind . . . or maybe hand him off to some unsuspecting first year,” Deucalion said darkly as he followed Ivan out of their compartment, edging past Lockhart, who was left standing in the doorway.
Getting out of the train proved more difficult than entering, since Deucalion was now fighting against the students trying to get aboard, each of them dragging huge trunks onboard. After twisting himself free of the traffic, he trotted across the platform to Nimbus, who was still creating a racket.
Deucalion scooped up the cage and began rushing back to the Hogwarts Express. He felt a few large drops of rain on his head and shoulders, which caused him to almost start sprinting, knowing Nimbus would only get louder if he got wet. Deucalion skidded a few times on the platform but kept running until he had climbed back on the train; once inside, Nimbus almost immediately grew calm again.
“Stupid owl,” Deucalion echoed Ivan’s sentiments as he set the cage down in the compartment.
Nimbus, technically “Nimbus the Second,” would win any contest for the most worst pet at school and was a horrible replacement for Ivan’s first owl. From a distance, Nimbus certainly looked like the perfect owl, but he had a severe downside: he rarely delivered post. Often, he’d refuse and hide for ages in the Owlery, or he would disappear for weeks with a letter tied to his leg and return with the same tattered message still attached.
Ivan had no choice but to keep Nimbus, figuring an unpleasant, irresponsible owl was better than no owl at all. His parents bought him Nimbus the Second last year to replace the old one, an excellent pet that he and Deucalion had affectionately named “Nimbus the First,” whose unfortunate end had occurred during their fourth year in what had become known as the “Bludger Incident.”
After a minute of two of waiting, the Hogwarts Express began pulling out of the station. Deucalion leaned back in his seat and winced in pain. He reached back felt a knot that had developed on his head, suddenly remembering what he had done the night before at the Leaky Cauldron. He had been so desperate to try out the Super Eagle that he had actually decided to try it out in his tiny room.
He had only meant to lift off the ground a few feet, just to see if the balance was a good as advertised. However, his new broomstick was more sensitive than he had expected, and once Deucalion kicked off, he flew straight into the ceiling and bashed against a side wall before falling down on his bed with a loud crash. Luckily, he did not break anything in the room, though a few chips of paint had fluttered down to the floor. A witch with anti-age potion smeared all across her face and wearing a lurid purple nightgown appeared at Deucalion’s door several minutes later to tell him to stop “bouncing off the walls,” which was precisely what he had been doing.
Deucalion chuckled to himself and began looking for his notes from the Quidditch match. Try as he might, he could never get rid of what he called the “inner idiot.” A small injury was worth the discovery that his new broom had no problem ascending quickly.
A few minutes later, the compartment door slid open, and Ivan’s older sister, Sigrid, entered the room carrying a large box, grunting in a most unladylike way under the weight. Deucalion found the scene quite funny since Sigrid was one of the most beautiful girls in school. She had elegant features, bright eyes, and a long braid of blonde hair; she was also, unfortunately, completely uninterested in him as anything beyond a second brother.
“Look at you, Duke, all alone in here,” Sigrid tutted playfully as she unloaded the box into Deucalion’s arms. “What happened to all your little followers?”
“Oh, I suppose they got caught up in the excitement of being on the train, but at least they carried in all my things before distraction set in,” Deucalion said, peeking into the box. He noticed a few pairs of socks, several new quills, and a worn, old-looking book entitled Ancient Lore of Wandmaking sticking out the top.
“Those are all Ivan’s things that he left at home,” Sigrid answered, although Deucalion had never actually posed the question. She turned to leave.
“Oh, don’t leave yet!” Deucalion said quickly.
“But what am I supposed to tell my friends?” Sigrid chided. “All of my friends in Ravenclaw will think I’m ignoring them. Besides, it looks like you’re busying working on, well, what is that? Arithmancy? Surely not!”
Deucalion showed her Sigrid his charts from the Wasps match. The pages were covered in scribbled formations with notes scrawled to the sides, and once he was in his room last night at the Leaky Cauldron, he’d written a few additional pages of observations. The project probably would have lasted well into the night had he not decided to try out his new broomstick.
Every chronicled nuance, every sign of of his Quidditch obsession was now in the hands of Sigrid, who’d unconsciously sat down on the bench across from him. Deucalion was glad she’d decided to stay but squirmed uncomfortably nevertheless. He’d long since learned it was impossible to impress girls by displaying his knowledge of broomsticks or the rules of Quidditch. Then again, Sigrid knew him well enough to understand his preoccupation with the game.
“Well, you spared no detail, did you?” Sigrid said, her face at once both judgmental and fascinated. “I can’t imagine you explored your Potions textbook with as much gusto. You and Ivan certainly didn’t study for them like I did when I was a fifth year. I almost never saw Ivan even enter the library, but he got ten O.W.L.s. Ten of them! I can only imagine what he’d do if he actually applied himself instead of knocking Bludgers around all day.”
“You want to see my O.W.L. scores, right?” Deucalion asked, unable to ignore the hopefulness in his voice.
“Maybe,” Sigrid said sheepishly as she handed back the Quidditch notes.
“You might be surprised to find out that I’m not half stupid,” Deucalion said, pulling an official-looking envelope from the top of his trunk and presenting it with a proud flourish to Sigrid.
Silence took over the compartment as Sigrid studied the paper briefly; her right eyebrow arched so high in concentration that Deucalion was certain it was about to become lost in her hair. She fell into an Ivan-like thoughtful state before whistling in amazement.
“Nine!” Sigrid said breathlessly. “When did you find the time, Duke? You can’t get an ‘Outstanding’ in Transfiguration by sheer luck.”
“It’s simple: I can’t stand when other people are better than me,” Deucalion said casually. “Even though school is terribly boring at times, I can’t imagine being anything less than the best if I can help it.”
“But Ivan —”
“Now, Ivan is a special case,” Deucalion admitted truthfully. “He’s brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!”
Sigrid’s face flushed with pride, her pale cheeks glowing an attractive, rosy pink. “Ivan’s amazing, isn’t he? He does stuff with wands I can’t even hope to do. Mother and Father have high expectations.”
As if on cue, Ivan re-entered the compartment, and Sigrid leapt up and threw her arms around his broad shoulders. Ivan looked positively bewildered but hugged her back just the same. Without explanation, she left, clearly headed to rejoin her friends.
“What was that about?” Ivan asked as he crouched down in front Nimbus, who immediately began to hiss in disapproval. Clearly, the owl had not quickly forgotten being left outside.
“We were talking about your academic brilliance,” Deucalion said, feeling a little put out. Sigrid had not seemed at all interested in the fact that he was one of the top sixth-year students as well.
“Oh,” Ivan said.
Deucalion began straightening his robes, using a spell from a book his mother had given him. The spell was taking a bit longer since his robes had been wadded in a tiny bag overnight. He paused for a moment, lowering his want to his side before finally asking, “Is there any use trying to impress your sister?”
Ivan sighed because Deucalion had posed the question dozens of times, but he then began grinning because the two of them had long-since turned “Why Doesn’t Sigrid Like You?” into a sort of game. It was always Ivan’s job to come up with a new, ridiculous reason.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but she doesn’t think you’re attractive enough,” Ivan said teasingly, trying to act serious but barely able to contain his laugh. “We Berdahls have exceedingly high standards for personal appearance. Oh, and you probably shouldn’t have dumped porridge in her hair or stuffed dungbombs in her closet when you were twelve.”
“Is that so?” Deucalion said in his most mock-scandalized voice. “I shall work day and night to become the most handsome man alive!”
Even though Ivan was only joking (for no one could fathom the selective mind of Sigrid), Deucalion still stole a glance at his reflection in the dark window. He had long ago admitted he would never have become popular at school because of his looks alone; he wore the awkward sort of features that would look well-proportioned when he got older. At least that’s what his mother always reassured him.
Still, Deucalion resolved, people loved him on the Quidditch pitch because there was no one better. He could have a have a face like a Doxy’s, and people would probably adore him. Popularity was a strange thing indeed.