Clio spent a good part of the afternoon in her bathroom with Professor Sprout, pruning and fertilizing the small vertical jungle growing there. The exuberant voices of Elphaba + Her Boyfriends crashed through the radio over dueling waves of pianos and guitars.
"Most of these plants are very hardy. As long as they get a little water and food every now and then they'll do just fine," Pomona said.
"You say that now, but you don't know yet how awesomely bad I am at keeping plants alive. I think just my presence in the room may be enough to wipe them out."
Pomona laughed at this, and continued detailing the steps Clio would need to carry out each month to insure the plants' health. At least she only had to remember them once a month. She glanced down at her dirty jeans and then over to the cool, inviting tub.
"I should probably get cleaned up, and figure out what to wear."
Pomona giggled, "Oh don't worry dear, Minerva may not be the most overtly friendly person, but she doesn't dislike you. Certainly not just because of your attire. Look at me," she gestured to her own well-worn overalls, "I dress like this almost all of the time because I spend so much of it in the greenhouses." Clio nodded, not quite convinced.
"You won't be wearing muggle clothes to class, now will you?" she said.
"No, of course not."
"Well then, nothing to worry about. Let's take a look in your closet. We're pretty well finished in here." They cleaned up the stray dirt and plant trimmings with a few sweeps of their wands, and then returned to the bedroom to have a look in Clio's closet.
Clio showed her the two sets of formal robes she owned: the dark blue robes that she'd worn to her interview, and magenta dress robes she'd worn to a friend's wedding. She hadn't known where to wear them since, but thought they were too beautiful to only wear once. The low-cut bodice, sheer lace sleeves and body-skimming skirt made her think it was too sexy for school. Pomona clucked her tongue as she ran her finger over a lace sleeve.
"You should also wear those heels," she said, pointing to the one pair that Clio owned.
"Really, it's not too … much?"
Pomona nodded, "You and Charity will make quite a pair tonight."
Clio nodded, looking uncertainly at the dress robes while Professor Sprout patted Nox on the head and turned to go. "Wear your hair down," she added as she made her exit.
At a quarter to six, Clio began carefully making her way down the grand staircase in her heels. Her right hand held up her long skirt, so that it swished gracefully from side to side during her descent, instead of tangling around her shoes and tripping her. After what felt like an eternity she finally reached the ground floor. Charity was waiting for her near the entrance to the Hufflepuff dormitories, dressed in ice blue robes that, Clio was relieved to see, were cut similarly to hers. She let out a low whistle.
"You clean up well!" Charity said. "Let's go sit down before the students swarm in."
Just then, Professor McGonagall burst out of her office, "Have the students arrived yet?" she asked, looking them both up and down. "I've received an owl from Professor Lupin, there was a dementor on the train."
"With the students?" Clio blurted out. The older woman's lips pursed, and she nodded her head sharply.
"I need to go find Harry Potter, if he manages to sneak past me, then please send him to my office." The two younger witches nodded in unison.
"You look very nice this evening, Clio," she added, then turned and disappeared out the front doors. Just as she left, the students began arriving in their identical black robes.
"Too late, here they come," said Charity, hooking arms with Clio and steering her towards the hall.
"Feast's over here guys, not down there," she called over her shoulder to a pair of giggling Hufflepuffs who had changed course at the last second and headed down toward the Hufflepuff common room. "Slytherins, you'll have plenty of time to plot world domination, later," she said to another pair, shaking her head. "There's always a few couples who head toward their favorite make out spots instead of the feast." Clio snorted, then caught her breath as they entered the hall.
The four long house tables were filling quickly, and the buzz of numerous conversations filled the room. The normally dark ceiling was illuminated by thousands of twinkling candles. Clio uttered another low whistle.
"I know, it's all Flitwick's handiwork. Sick isn't it?" Charity murmured.
Clio nodded. They made their way up the length of the room to the staff table.
"Are those fireworks Weasley? Put them away!" Charity addressed this last order to burly twin redheads at the Gryffindor table who grinned broadly at the two witches, each stuffing a handful of fireworks back into the pockets of their robes.
"Helloooo Professor Burbage," said one.
"Have a good summer?" asked the other.
"Yes, thank you. Now sit down before I take points away."
"It wouldn't be right if we didn't start out the year with a deficit, now would it?" the first one answered, still smiling.
"They're not related to Bill Weasley, are they?" Clio whispered to Charity, as they continued on to the staff table.
"They're brothers. Do you know Bill?"
"Through a friend of a friend, in Egypt."
"He's a hottie. If I had spent the last two years in Egypt I would have been all over that."
"He's got no shortage of admirers," Clio said. She'd seen him with a different girl attached to his arm at every one of Zain's parties, and Zain was fond of parties.
No sooner had they taken their seats when Hagrid arrived with the first years. They poured around him like black waves flowing around a hairy mountain island. Clio was struck by how young the boys looked, she would have guessed most were only 8 or 9 if she didn't know any better. Meanwhile, many of the girls wore makeup and a few could have passed for 15 or 16.
"I feel old," Clio muttered to Charity, who nodded.
"They get younger every year," she replied. "Hey there's Potter!" Charity pointed toward the front door. Clio just had time to catch a glimpse of tousled black hair and round spectacles reflecting the light from the floating candles before Professor McGonagall called him back out. He and another student, a girl with a lot of frizzy brown hair, turned and fought their way back against the tide of students and out into the hallway again.
"So that's the famous Harry Potter, huh?"
"Where's Harry?" asked Hagrid, scanning the room as he shuffled up.
"He just left, McGonagall wanted a word with him," Charity answered.
The giant man slumped into his chair, disappointed. "Can't wait to tell him I'm teachin' Care o' Magical Creatures."
The last of the first years were filing in along with a few older stragglers when he strode in as if he'd just found his way back to civilization after wandering for years in an apocalyptic wasteland; a rangy man who carried the weight of the whole world on his shoulders. He was clad in a lived-in cloak, his light brown hair was streaked with silver, and his pale gray eyes practically glowed as they roved over the hall.
"Who's that?" Clio asked.
"That's Remus Lupin," said Hagrid, "He's aged a bit, o' course, but I remember when he was a student here."
Clio watched Lupin stroll up to the staff table, as if in a dream, to an empty seat farther down next to Professor Flitwick's empty seat. The tiny wizard was currently carrying a stool and ratty old hat out to face the students.
"It's the sorting hat!" squealed Charity, clapping her hands and grinning at Clio with devilish glee. Clio listened with detached interest to the sorting hat's song. The sorting process was so strange to her that she imagined she were an anthropologist observing the coming-of-age rituals of a foreign culture. Flitwick unfurled a long scroll, and Clio was waiting for him to begin reading names when he shocked her, instead.
"Before we begin sorting the first-year students, I'd like to call our new ancient runes professor forward." He turned toward Clio, whose eyes widened slightly. "Professor Callimachus," he said, gesturing toward her with one tiny outstretched hand. Clio turned slowly toward Dumbledore, who smiled kindly at her from the center of the table, nodding for her to go forward.
She whipped around to Charity, who shooed her on. "You knew about this!" Clio hissed.
Flitwick continued to speak as she walked past Hagrid, who was grinning wide enough to split his face.
"As Professor Callimachus attended school in the United States, she has never been sorted into a Hogwarts house. She may not have attended Hogwarts as a student, but she is one of us, now. To welcome her to the school properly, she'll be sorted tonight."
Clio surveyed the students in the hall (they mostly seemed anxious for dinner) as she waited for further instructions.
"Go ahead and sit down, Professor, and place the hat on your head" Dumbledore spoke up from his seat at the table, "I assure you it won't bite." The entire student body laughed at this, and Clio's face flushed beneath her tan. She sat down and swept the hat over her head in one smooth motion, wishing for this ordeal to be over.
She waited, wondering if she would feel different, but nothing happened for what felt like a long time. She'd always assumed that if she'd gone to Hogwarts she'd be sorted into Ravenclaw like her father and grandmother. Surprisingly, the hat seemed indecisive. Clio felt certain that the hat was going to give up and declare that she couldn't be sorted.
"Hatstall," she heard a few people whisper, and wondered if it was because she was too old. Finally, after firing a number of bizarre questions at her:
What is your favorite instrument?
What kind of potion would you invent?
" … Beer."
it called out, "GRYFFINDOR!"
A spontaneous cheer rose up from the Gryffindor table, along with a stray wolf-whistle that Clio identified as one or both of the Weasley twins. A smile pulled at her mouth before she thought better of it and, in her best dead-pan, announced, "Five points from Gryffindor, Weasley." This earned her a low rumble of laughs from all around the room as she stood up.
The twins looked at each other and said, "She knows our name!" in unison.
Feeding off of the laughter, she placed the hat on the chair, performed a mock-serious bow, and walked back to her place at the table. A majority of the staff applauded politely, but she noticed that Snape's arms were crossed, and (more interestingly) he was glaring furiously down the length of the table at Lupin, who's tired face was graced by a small smile. His silvery eyes met hers for an instant, and Clio felt an unexpected heat wave roll up from her stomach to throat.
"I thought ya' might be a Gryffindor," Hagrid said, positively beaming.
Clio flushed, and pretended to be completely absorbed by the sorting of the students. The Slytherins made a hissing sound whenever a new Gryffindor was announced. They didn't do it for the other two houses.
"Why do they do that?" Clio asked Charity, nodding toward the Slytherin table.
She grimaced before answering. "The rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor is … intense."
The sorting had finally ended, and Flitwick removed the chair and hat. Professor McGonagall was making her way, at last, up the hall to her seat. Clio noticed Potter and the bushy-haired girl making their way to the Gryffindor table. Dumbledore rose to speak, introducing Hagrid and Lupin.
Clio considered Charity's words, leaning forward slightly to look down the table toward where Snape sat in stony silence. His eyes bore furiously toward the middle of the table; it was a wonder Lupin's head hadn't burst into flame. One corner of her mouth quirked upward in a sly half-smile. Snape's cold eyes shifted abruptly to hers, then narrowed shrewdly before turning away. She thought she'd left silly house rivalries behind when she'd left Salem.
Finally, the feast began. Pork chops, lamb shanks, whole chickens, enormous hams: almost all the plates around her were laden with meat. Clio stuck to the potatoes, filling her plate with mashed, broiled, and fried. Everyone was eating now, except for Professor Binns, who moaned about how good everything looked while reminiscing about all the glorious feasts he'd experienced in the past. Really, she thought, why did he bother coming to meals?
By the end of the dessert, Clio had consumed so much chocolate cake and lemon tart that she felt she might burst.
"How do you not all weigh 500 pounds?" she moaned.
Charity laughed. "Don't worry, you'll burn it off on all the stairs. The food's also not this good every night."
By now the feast was officially over, and teachers and students were milling about and talking. Potter and two friends, the bushy-haired girl and a tall red-haired boy who resembled a gawkier version of Bill, came up to congratulate Hagrid. Clio and Charity gave them their space until McGonagall came to shoo the trio away.
"Party in the staffroom?" Charity asked, as soon as the students were out of ear shot.
McGonagall looked down her nose at her rather sternly. "Meeting in the staffroom, yes."
"Yes, right 'meeting'," Charity said to Clio with a wink. "I'm bringing wine. Do you have the projector?"
"Yep," Clio answered, patting at an invisible pocket where the small box was concealed. If standing up in front of the whole school and putting a moldy old hat on her head was the very last thing she planned to do the night before classes began, then crushing hard on one of her colleagues was second to last. Getting wasted didn't come as quite such a shock, but she hadn't planned on it, either.
The staffroom was already quite animated when they arrived a few minutes later. Lupin was recounting the story of the dementor on the train to a rapt audience – all except for Snape, Clio noticed. He sulked in a low armchair in the corner. McGonagall was outraged that the dementors had boarded the train, and demanded that Dumbledore file an official complaint with the Ministry. Lupin seemed most concerned with Harry Potter's reaction to it.
"It affected him more strongly than anyone. I've never seen anything quite like it."
"Did it attack him?" Flitwick asked.
"No, it approached him but came just as close to several other students. It's normal for reactions to vary from person to person, but not for someone to faint just from their presence."
Clio thought about her own encounter with the dementor. How close had she been to fainting?
"Perhaps Potter is just weaker than most people care to admit," Snape sneered.
Several heads shook at the insult, and Lupin frowned. "I think it has to do with his history," he said sadly. The room fell quiet for a moment as everyone considered this, heads nodding. Thinking a change of subject was in order, Clio asked the question that had flickered through her head periodically throughout the feast.
"What's a hatstall?"
The staff became animated once again. Professors McGonagall and Flitwick had both been hatstalls, it turned out. Either one could have ended up in Ravenclaw or Gryffindor.
"The sorting hat was on my head for over 5 minutes," said Professor McGonagall proudly, then laughed her rusty laugh. Clio was surprised that her own sorting had lasted just over two minutes; it had felt like an eternity.
McGonagall turned sharply toward Clio, "I hear you are a Griffyndor, now."
"I suppose I am," said Clio, squirming under her scrutiny. "Does it actually count, though, or was this just for fun?"
"Of course it counts," she said. "You're a bit late getting here, but you've always been welcome."
"Oh," Clio considered this for a moment. "What do you mean, I've 'always been welcome'?"
McGonagall looked at her curiously, "You were born in Britain, so your name appeared on the Hogwarts list when you were born. I sent a letter to your house in America when you turned eleven."
"I got a letter from Hogwarts?" Clio tried to downplay her shock at this revelation.
"Why, yes, didn't you know?" Now Professor McGonagall looked shocked. "Your father wrote back that you'd be attending Salem, instead."
"Oh," Clio said. Her father had never mentioned a letter from Hogwarts, and her mother never talked about anything having to do with magic.
"Both you and your sister, Calliope, had the option of coming to Hogwarts," Now Professor McGonagall spoke in a slightly softer, almost sympathetic tone.
Clio stared at the floor, hands on hips. She didn't know whether to feel angry that she'd been denied a choice, or grateful for everything she'd gained from Salem and happy that she'd get to work at Hogwarts. When she looked up again, there were several pairs of eyes on her, most looking concerned, like Charity's and Lupin's. Her eyes fled from his. Snape's were as inscrutable as ever.
She shrugged and downed the glass of wine that she was holding in one swig. Her glass was refilled instantly by some anonymous benefactor.
"So, where's the squid?" Pomona demanded with a clap of her hands. Glad for the distraction, Clio pulled the box, two and a half inches square with a hinged lid just large enough to admit the film roll, from her robes. She tapped it with her wand, and beams of light shot out from tiny holes on four sides. The box hung in mid-air, and the beams of light broadened until they enveloped it in a shining globe. She pointed her wand at it and it began to revolve, the light growing until it filled the center of the room.
Now everyone could see the giant squid hovering in the lake, tentacles waving, skin color shifting and eyes blinking. Her camera had caught it from all angles, providing a three-dimensional view. A tiny Pomona Sprout appeared, dwarfed by the squid, and waved to everyone in turn. There were a few appreciative "oohs" that morphed into a mixture of gasps and guffaws when the final shot of the mermen appeared.
"Oops, forgot that was there," Clio said, hurriedly extinguishing the light and returning the box to her pocket.
"Oh, that's just another way they have of saying 'hello'," said Dumbledore, right before firing up the phonograph.
Clio found her wine glass filled for a third time. The music grew louder and the lights brighter as the wine made its way through her blood. She lost track of the hour, the glasses she emptied, the jumbled thoughts whirling in her head; everything but the beat of the music.
She eventually found herself half participating in a conversation with Charity, Aurora, Flitwick, Lupin and Hagrid; and half humming along to the music. She mainly contributed to the conversation by chuckling at everything that struck her as funny, like the words "erecto" and "snitch."
Now and then she caught a glimpse of Snape glowering at Lupin from where he'd attached himself to Dumbledore's side. By the time it occurred to her that if there was ever a safe time to taunt him for keeping the Slytherin-Gryffindor rivalry alive this was it, he was gone. Filch and Pince also disappeared before the party finally broke up.
At some point she, Charity and Hagrid burst spontaneously into song, Clio's raspy contralto harmonizing in an oddly appealing way with his booming bass and her lilting soprano. They finished the night with a bawdy ballad about a wizard with nine wands and just as many lovers that gradually devolved into an argument about the order of the verses.
"I swear it's the birch wand that goes with Molly the farmer's daughter, and then the ash wand that goes with Janet the fairy princess," Charity insisted.
"No, no the fairy princess goes with oak and she comes first," Hagrid argued back, redfaced.
"All right, then. I think that's enough for tonight," McGonagall said, bringing the party to an end.
Clio clung dizzily to Hagrid's arm as they walked outside to call their dogs. Nox had been permitted to spend the evening snuffling through the school grounds with Fang, rather than staying cooped up in her room in the castle. They both laughed as the dogs came charging up the lawn to them, covered in mud. Clio charmed it off of Nox before allowing her to come in to the castle, but when she offered to clean Fang, as well, Hagrid waved her off.
"Naw, it's okay if he stays dirty. He'll shake it off once he dries."