Chapter 23 : Christmas at the Emerald Club
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Christmas at the Emerald Club
It was Christmas Eve night. Morwena Felwich stood alone against the draperies in the ballroom of the Emerald Club. She watched as guests entered the ballroom in twos and threes. The hosts, a couple in their fifties, waited to shake hands and give brief, polite hugs.
The men wore tuxedoes, and some of the older men held black canes or gnarled wooden staffs. The women fluttered about in the most fashionable dresses, plucked from the runways of Paris and Milan. But, it wasn't their beauty or their elaborate gowns that were amazing - it was the fact that women were here at all. The Emerald Club had been, since its founding, males only.
Not just any men, either: Slytherin Men. To become a member, you must have once gone to Hogwarts and been in Slytherin. Slytherin boys gain membership automatically if their fathers were also Slytherins.
If that was not the case, they would have to be sponsored by another member and have their bloodlines verified by the Admittance Board. Those whose ancestry was found lacking could still join, but they would not be full voting members, and their range of functions and activities would be extremely limited.
Women could not join the Emerald Club even if they had been in Slytherin. Recently, amongst the Necessary Changes instituted within the last few years, wives of members had been allowed to join their husbands at the Christmas party. This evening, for the first time ever, the daughters of Slytherins were also made welcome.
That was why Morwena was here, standing against the draperies, waiting to see which of her peers made the journey that night. She stood strategically out of the line of sight of the newcomers. She wanted to see them before they saw her.
She felt dignified and pretty in her green velvet dress, trimmed with black and silver accents. The hem went down to her calf, proper for a girl who was still a few weeks from turning twelve. Her black pumps would have been pinching her feet terribly had she been a Muggle. The interior of the shoes, however, like the hall itself, had been magically enlarged.
Morwena had been obsessing over this moment for weeks. She had planned for every conceivable variation: who was likely to come; how to respond to overtures, both friendly and threatening. She was as ready as she could be; she just needed someone else to show up.
The first through the door were the Ables family. Victor Ables looked dapper in Ralph Lauren. His much younger wife wore a black dress that was too short at the hem and insubstantial about her chest as well. Vanessa Ables, a miniature version of her mother, wore a blue velvet number that covered her shoulders but was far too short for a girl so young.
Morwena buried her jealousy in indignation as she watched the men around the Ables witches turn and leer at them. That's what you get for dressing like tarts, she thought bitterly.
Vanessa had spotted her. Morwena quickly pushed her lips into a demur smile, then watched and waited as her rival saunter over to her. "Oh Morrie, thank god you're hear. I didn't want to be the only girl."
Morwena did not go by Morrie. Her father called her Winnie, but she made everyone else call her Morwena. At any other time, she would have retaliated against such a presumption.
But, tonight was not the time for a cat fight. A peace offering from Vanessa, even an awkward one, should be accepted. She and Tess had agreed on this. It would make the rest of the evening easier.
"It's good to see you, too," Morwena said, as honestly as she could, and gave the girl a brief hug.
Vanessa stood awkwardly on her high-heeled shoes. The extra two inches put her even with Morwena. "Where's the rest of the Coven?" she asked. Cliques of Slytherin witches were often referred to as covens, and Morwena had been quick to embrace the term when it was first applied to her and her friends.
"Tess's mother was a Slytherin," said Morwena, "but her father was in Ravenclaw."
"So, not a member."
"Rhiannon's mother was a Slytherin, but her father also was not." Vanessa did not ask for further details. Perhaps she already knew the shameful truth - Rhiannon's father had been a Gryffindor. He had stuck around just long enough to impregnate Rhiannon's mother before getting himself killed in the War.
"Of course, Pauline is not here," continued Vanessa idly. "Her family's French." This was the euphemism Morwena herself had developed to explain Pauline's heritage, to disguise the fact that she was Muggleborn. Vanessa knew the truth, of course. By drawing out this game, she was emphasizing the fact that Morwena did not have her any of her loyal allies with her tonight.
That's why Morwena was playing nice. She didn't have much of a choice.
Morwena was about to ask, "Is Umberto coming?" when he suddenly appeared at her side. He had snuck up on her when she was distracted by Vanessa.
"Ladies," he said smoothly, "you look lovely tonight."
"Thank you, Umberto," the girls said, in almost perfect unison. Slowly, Morwena was relaxing. Umberto had immediately picked up on the temporary truce between the two girls, and instead of trying to undermine it, was actually encouraging it.
That's the game tonight, thought Morwena. Make nice and be friends. Unite against the common threat.
She turned to Umberto and asked, "Is that Pierre Cardin?"
He looked behind him, an exaggerated look of confusion on his face. "Oh, you mean my tux?" he said slyly. "You'll have to check the tag."
"Of course it is, you goof," said Vanessa playfully. "You picked it out yourself."
"Only on your recommendation," he said. "I really don't pay attention to such things."
Morwena did not believe a word of this. Umberto was exacting in his attention to detail. He knew the designer brand that he was wearing. He simply didn't want Morwena to know that he knew.
Vanessa touched Morwena's arm and said, "Umberto had the funniest joke the other day. Do you want to hear it?" Morwena nodded. Vanessa looked to Umberto. "Can I tell it?"
"Of course," he said.
Vanessa grinned and steadied herself on her high heeled shoes. "Okay, so there's three couples sitting by the fire on a winter's night: the two Slytherins CONspire; the two Ravenclaws INspire; the two Gryffindors PERspire."
Morwena smiled indulgently. "What about the Hufflepuffs?"
"They're in the kitchen, baking cookies," said Vanessa, nastily.
"Look who's here." Umberto nodded his head in the direction of the ballroom doors. There was the Kane family - a tall, thin father, a short, plump mother, both blonds, and short blond Cyrus trailing behind. Cyrus clung to his parents side until his father pointed out Umberto and the others, still standing by the wall. Reluctantly, Cyrus slouched over to them.
He said sullenly to Umberto, "Why are the girls here?"
Morwena bit her lip to keep from shouting, "Do you want to see my invitation?"
"New ways for new times, Cy," said Umberto smoothly.
"Some people think the old ways are best."
Umberto shrugged. "I'm glad they're here."
Morwena tried to redirect the conversation onto safer grounds. "Where's your friend Spencer, tonight, Cy? Is he coming?"
"No. Of course, his father is a member, but they're traveling and couldn't make it." Cyrus turned back to Umberto and said, "No question why your friend isn't here."
What's the matter with him? thought Morwena. Can't he see we're playing nice?
Umberto responded smoothly, "When I become a full member, I'll sponsor Gordon."
Cyrus gave his trademarked 'offended huff.' "Father said Progs like you are ruining this country."
Vanessa merely rolled her eyes. Umberto made no response to this, but gave Cyrus a serene look that sent chills up Morena's spine. They were expecting something like this from Cyrus, thought Morwena. He better watch himself around these two.
There were four Slytherin First Years Boys, and they had quickly split into opposing factions. Cyrus and Spencer had joined the Conservatives, while Umberto and Gordon had signed on with "the Progs," the Progressives. The two groups mirrored the larger factions within the Wizarding Community.
The two main points of contention between the two groups were their attitude towards Muggles and Muggleborns, and their attitudes towards the fallen Dark Lord, Voldemort.
Conservatives held out that Voldemort had a lot of good ideas, but went a bit too far in implementing them. They despised Muggles, and felt that Muggleborns and Half-Bloods should be kept as second-class citizens within the Wizarding World.
Progressives, meanwhile, felt that Voldemort had betrayed Slytherin values. Being a Half-Blood himself, he didn't crack down on Muggleborns and Half-Bloods out of any beliefs in lineage and the purity of blood. He simply recognized the strengths of these two groups. His attacks on them were an attempt to stamp out any potential rivals.
(As everybody knows, this proved to be correct. For, it was Harry Potter, whose mother was Muggleborn, who rose up to defeat Voldemort).
Progressives recognize the power of Half-Bloods and Muggleborns, and rather than trying to exclude or destroy them, seek to mentor and guide them. Umberto embodied this philosophy by openly engaging Gordon and acting as the other boy's guide through the Magical World.
This was also what Morwena was doing with Pauline, though Morwena's actions were much more surreptitious. She tried to keep Pauline's heritage a secret for as long as she could. (Once Pauline was ordered to join Gordon at the Statute of Secrecy Meeting, the game was up).
Within the larger Wizarding Community, and amongst the Slytherin community particularly, there had been heated disputes between Conservatives and Progressives. The silent majority waited in the wings, talking out of both sides of their mouths and waiting to see which side would prevail.
It was understandable, in that light, for Cyrus and Umberto to be rivals. But, this was a night for temporary truces. Morwena knew she had to convince Cyrus to get with the program.
Vanessa turned to Umberto and said, "Fetch me a drink, will you dear?"
"Of course. Do you want anything, Morwena?"
"Not at the moment, thank you." With a nod, Umberto slipped away.
Morwena looked back to Cyrus, standing with his hands in his pockets. "Is that a Calvin Klein tux?" she asked him. He shrugged. "It looks nice."
This was his chance to say, "Thanks. You look nice too, by the way," but he didn't take the hint. He said nothing at all.
"Your tie is a little crooked," she told him. It was perfectly straight, in fact, but at her prompting, Cyrus grabbed it and knocked it badly askew.
"Here," she said in her big sister voice, "let me help you." She gently put his tie right, then gazed into his eyes and said softly, "You should be nicer to Umberto. You can disagree without being his enemy."
Cyrus gave another huff, but said nothing. "Listen to me, Cyrus!" she whispered. "The men will question you tonight. Watch what you say to them! Don't boast and brag like you usually do. Answer their questions as quickly as you can and then stop talking. And stop provoking Umberto!"
He pulled away from her abruptly. "I don't need a girl to tell me what to do."
As he turned away, she said, "Yes you do."
She was visibly fuming. Her face was flushed and her jaw clenched tight. Vanessa was watching her, amused. "Let it go, Morrie," she said. "Cy's an idiot. 'Berto says it's because he's so young."
"He's as old as the rest of us," countered Morwena.
"No, 'Berto's already twelve. You and I are turning twelve next month. Cy didn't turn eleven until August. He barely made the cut-off. Eight, nine months, it means a lot, especially for boys. That's what my mum says, and she studied Child Psychology at the University."
In between lovers, thought Morwena nastily. But, she kept quiet, respecting the truce. Besides, what Vanessa said made sense.
Umberto returned with two glasses of red punch. He handed one of the glasses to Vanessa before saying, "You sure I can't get you anything, Morwena? Punch, ginger ale?"
"Yes please," she said with a sigh and a smile. "Some ginger ale would be lovely."
The two girls passed the time making snide comments on the fashion choices of the women in the room. Umberto stood by, as silent and attentive as a butler. Cyrus returned with a drink, but kept his distance from the other three.
At quarter 'til eight, the real butler of the Emerald Club approached the four students. He was old and very tall. "Children," he said, "the Governors will be greeting you soon. You should . . . prepare yourselves."
Vanessa lightly touched Morwena's hand, and the two girls nodded to each other. "Excuse us, please, 'Berto," said Vanessa. "We'll be right back."
The two girls went out of the ballroom and followed two women to the Ladies Lounge. The room had been converted to this purpose especially for this event. (Since no women were allowed in the Emerald Club, typically, there was no need for a Women's loo.) The room, whatever it was before, was magically enlarged, and several toilets stalls had been added.
The two girls brushed their hair. Vanessa checked her makeup in the mirror, while Morwena refreshed her lip gloss.
"I don't know why I'm so nervous," said Morwena. "They probably won't even speak to us girls."
"We'll find out," said Vanessa. "You don't have anything to worry about. You're tops in most of our classes, anyway."
When they were ready, they rejoined the boys in the ballroom and waited for their summons.
This was why the children were at the Emerald Club in the first place. Every year, the Governors, the most senior members of the Club invited the new crop of Slytherins to appear before them. (That is, assuming their fathers were already members.)
For Slytherins, reputation and social connections are valued beyond price. If the Governors had a favourable first impression of the children, it would be a considerable boost to their standing within Slytherin House. But to fail, to embarrass yourself, would be a catastrophe. It would take years of hard work and alliance-building to repair the damage. All the more reason to make peace and show a united front of well bred, well dressed children.
When he saw that they had re-assembled, the butler returned and gave the children instructions. Then, he led them out of the ballroom to a quiet study which smelled strongly of cigar smoke. Sitting in plush leather chairs were three old men. One was tall and thin, while the other two were portly. One of the fat men had a white beard.
Morwena gave a shiver as the three men gazed eagerly at her and the others. They're staring at us like we're a plate of truffles, she thought to herself.
Cyrus and Umberto stood side by side, with the girls a step behind. Morwena stood to Cyrus' left, while Vanessa stood to Umberto's right.
The tall thin man spoke first. He directed his question at Cyrus. "You're Rudolpho's boy, aren't you?" Cyrus nodded. "How's the new crop?"
"Yes, tell us," said the man with the beard. "How does your class hold up? What have we got to look forward to?"
Cyrus gave a dismissive huff. "There's nobody in our class that's a match for me. They're afraid of me, most of them. With good reason, too."
Morwena bit her lip. She wanted to kick him. Cyrus was nowhere near the top of the class, and to suggest that anyone outside of a few sickly Ravenclaw boys were afraid of him was absurd. "A weak group, on the whole, then?" said the man with the beard.
"What's your opinion of McGonagall?" asked the tall man.
As compared to whom? thought Morwena. Snape? Dumbledore? How are we to answer that question? We're First Years!
Cyrus may have been feeling the same, for he faltered. Umberto had a ready answer. "None of us have been in so much trouble that we were sent to the Headmistress, sir."
Encouraged by their kindly smiles, he continued. "Professor Gregor keeps good tabs on us, though. He's a grand Head of House."
The third man spoke, "Do you share your peers feelings that this is a weak class, over all?"
"He may be overstating things a bit," said Umberto, smoothly.
"Who are the Gryffs this year?" the man continued.
"Well, there's a McLaggen," said Umberto. "His spellwork is solid, particularly in defense. Bit of a brute though. Not doing so well in the Academic courses."
The men nodded knowingly. There were generations of McLaggens. They were all in Gryffindor, and they were all dull and brutish. "Who else?" asked the man again. "Anyone we know?"
"Don't think you'd know the other Gryff boys," said Umberto. "They're all Irish. There's another Roycester, a girl." The men nodded. They knew this name, too.
As gently as he could, Umberto set his baited hook. "Then, there's Wren."
Morwena should have kicked Cyrus this time. She should have drawn her wand and hexed him. Anything to keep him from saying what he said. "Wren's nothing!"
"He beat you in a duel," answered Umberto, coolly.
"That was luck!"
"But, he's done it twice now, hasn't he?"
Ten seconds was all it took. Cyrus had blown passed his last chance to save himself, and now he was doomed. "Who's this fellow?" asked the tall man. "One of the Gryff boys?"
"Oh no," said Umberto, "Wren's in Hufflepuff."
"I see," said the tall man, gravely. The old men were all from long lines of Slytherins. To them, Hufflepuffs were barely more than squibs. They gazed disapprovingly at Cyrus. But Morwena knew Cyrus hadn't thrown the hook yet. Worse was coming.
"Wren, did you say?" asked the man with the beard. "The ones from Tottenham, are they? Or, the Yorkshire Wrens?"
"I don't think you'd know this family," answered Umberto, calmly. "They're all Muggles, as far as I know."
Cyrus could say nothing, now. The haughty son of an Arch Conservative had been beaten, twice, by Mudblood from Hufflepuff. Cyrus had dug his own grave, and Umberto had pushed him into it.
Morwena spared a quick look at Vanessa. She smiled slyly back at her. They had planned this, thought Morwena. They were ready to destroy Cyrus tonight, if he didn't play along.
Umberto, now holding court, took pains to praise Morwena as one of their year's top students. Soon, the children were dismissed, and the butler brought them back to the ballroom.
Vanessa quickly excused herself and went to the loo. Morwena this time did not join her, but stayed in the ballroom, watching the two boys.
Cyrus sulked, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed tight against his chest. He was muttering to himself, "I'll get that filthy Mudblood yet. They'll see." Umberto stood watching, a discreet distance away, a light of triumph on his face.
A chill came over Morwena as she gazed at Umberto. Cy's still in the trap, she thought. He's still acting exactly as Umberto wants him to act.
What is this accomplishing? she wondered. Is he trying to get Cy in trouble with Gregor, too? What punishment could be worse than what Umberto just did?
There was something she was missing. Umberto, as usual, was a few moves ahead of her. She quickly reviewed her first impressions of the Hufflepuff Liam Wren. Tess had initially deemed him handsome, but once they learned Wren was Muggleborn, they decreed him unsuitable. The Coven hadn't given Wren another thought until the night of Caroling, when they had seen Sadie Thompson flirting with him.
Umberto will not tell us what he finds so special about Liam Wren, reasoned Morwena. But, perhaps Sadie Thompson could be convinced . . . .
For that, Morwena would need a plan. She must speak with Tess, tonight if possible . . .
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