Chapter 1 : The Wrong Sort of Ravenclaw
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that any Hogwarts student on the first morning of term must be in want of breakfast.
“No, no,” says Hen passionately as we disembark from the common room, still yanking a pocket-sized comb through her shoulder-length, blond hair and pulling on her blue and silver tie. “I completely disagree. If the Hufflepuff common room was in the dungeons the poor little buggers’d be too scared to go down there – it’s too dark for them. Or they’d get lost every night trying to find it.”
“Fine,” I tell her, stuffing a textbook and a handful of quills into my bag as I walk. “But I’m going to find it someday – mark my words.”
“Maybe it’s just me,” yawns Hen as we speed through the common room in a blur of tousled morning hair and messy clothing, “but I fail to see what’s so interesting about finding the Hufflepuff common room. And, you know, on second thought, it’s definitely not just me.”
“I s’pose it’s just my childlike sense of wonder and insatiable curiosity at work,” I reply lightly.
“More like insatiable stupidity,” says Hen.
I frown. “Wait. That was no good. That wasn’t even clever.”
Hen shrugs. “It’s morning. Hard to be clever in the morning – usually I wouldn’t even have got to sleep by this time.”
“But then, if you’d be awake anyway, doesn’t that mean you shouldn’t be tired?” I point out.
Hen narrows her large, blue eyes at me. “Look, don’t take this personally, Anise – but one day very soon I’m going to murder you.”
I guess you could say that Hen and I have a unique relationship. We met on the train to Hogwarts in our first year and were instant best friends. We definitely have our differences – for example, I’m a morning person, while Hen is most definitely not. But we have a lot of common ground: we both love Transfiguration, we both collect Chocolate Frog cards, and we both sport a mild disdain for those cheeky little blighters sometimes known as Marauders.
But more on that later.
We sit down to breakfast and begin to fork food into our mouths in an unprecedented whorl of teenage appetite. A group of first-years next to us stops eating to watch the unholy spectacle, looking slightly scared that the food will run out and we’ll try to eat them, too.
“Speaking of Hufflepuffs,” says Hen between mouthfuls, “I hear Davey Gudgeon broke up with that Lucinda girl over vacation.”
Davey Gudgeon is Hufflepuff House’s most wanted bachelor, a sixth year renowned for his cascades of glorious golden hair, which are just long enough to cover up the fact that his actual face isn’t terribly appealing. Along with his glorious locks are his Quidditch skills, good manners, and general boyish charm. Hen’s had her eye on him since third year, and she’s definitely not the only one.
“It’s true” says Mary MacDonald jubilantly as she sits down with us, joined by Lily Evans. They’re both in Gryffindor but their niche is with us. Mary’s refined and beautiful, with long brown hair and big doe eyes framed by lashes that any girl would kill for. If she weren’t one of my best friends, I’d probably hate her. Same goes for Lily, who has shiny, red hair and hypnotizing green eyes.
I roll my eyes at them. “I don’t see why everyone thinks he’s so bloody attractive – he looks like a sheepdog.”
“I like his hair,” says Mary in a wounded voice, serving herself strawberries with small, dainty movements, like a little bird.
“Sheepdog,” says Lily, nodding in agreement.
“Anyway, we can’t all have James Potters,” Mary says with a cheeky little smile, earning herself a glare from Lily.
“You know, I’ve never spoken to him before,” Hen muses. “Do you think he’s taking Potions again this year? Maybe I can sort of spill some ingredients as I walk by, so I’ll have an excuse to–”
“Silly little crumpet,” says James Potter, dropping casually in on our conversation. “There’s no need to go to such great lengths for my attention.”
“Did you just call me a crumpet?” says Hen, rather taken aback.
“We’re indifferent to you, Potter,” says Lily, taking a casual sip of pumpkin juice. Over the past two years of James-induced romantic torment, she’s become quite good at keeping cool on the outside when, on the inside, she’s boiling with rage. “Bother someone else.”
“Oho!” says James, a stupid grin spreading over his face. “But indifference is better than outright dislike!”
James is probably not number one on my list of favorite people. His moronic little round glasses scream stamp-collector, and he has this stupid habit of constantly messing up his dark hair that girls for some reason find endearing. He also happens to be mad about Lily, and has been sadly led to believe that randomly materializing in the middle of somebody’s conversation to harass them with bad pickup lines will make them like you. That being said, I feel a bit sorry for the bloke at times. Sure, he’s a shallow, arrogant bastard whose head will become a legitimate threat to the general population if it continues to swell at its current rate – but he really is head over heels for Lily. Watching Gryffindor’s so-called “golden boy” pathetically try again and again to win the heart of a girl who’s more interested in Potions sort of breaks my heart. Back at home I have a hamster named Winston, and when I watch him run in his little tiny wheel, spinning it around and around but never moving an inch, I get sort of the same feeling.
Lily turns away from James, her hair forming a shiny red curtain between them, as Professors Flitwick and McGonagall bustle by, handing out timetables. McGonagall’s become accustomed to the fact that Lily and Mary lodge here at the Ravenclaw table, but does a double take when she sees James there.
Lily scans over timetable, looking pleased. “Have we all got Charms first, and then Herbology?”
“Think so,” says Peter Pettigrew, who’s appeared out of nowhere and is sitting on Lily’s other side, accompanied by Remus Lupin.
“I wasn’t talking to you, Pettigrew,” snaps Lily.
Peter shrugs, stuffing his face with hot rolls. To nobody’s surprise, Peter is the only one of James’ little gang who doesn’t have an avid following of lustful teenage girls constantly on his trail. This is probably due to one of three unfortunate characteristics: (1) he has the face of a rodent, (2) he has the smell of a rodent, (3) he has the wit and charms of, you guessed it, a rodent.
It’s hard to believe that a person like Remus Lupin could be friends with Pettigrew – or any of the Marauders, for that matter. Lupin is handsome in a boyish way, with dirty blond hair and large thoughtful eyes. He’s a Prefect and seems good natured – but he must be evil on the inside, because he tags along with the rest of them like a lost puppy.
“I dropped Herbology,” I admit as Lily turns her attention away from the Marauders. “I couldn’t bring myself to give up Ancient Runes.”
“You’re joking,” groans Hen. “You know I got a P on the OWL?”
“I can’t help it if you’re terrible at everything,” I say, taking a large bite out of a pear, which Hen knocks out of my hand. It goes rolling off on the floor and stops at the shiny-shoed feet of Sirius Black, who looks haughty and unaffected – which, to his credit, isn’t easy to do this early in the morning.
Sirius is the subject of many a romantic fantasy here at Hogwarts. I’ve tried for years to figure out why any girl would possibly be attracted to him, and I’ve come up with a couple of explanations: (1) the fumes from Potions/Transfiguration are addling with their brains, (2) the House-Elves have gone mad and started lacing people’s food with love potions, (3) Sirius is offering a cash prize to whichever girl makes the most horrifically soppy face as he walks by.
It’s definitely one of the three.
“Gentlemen,” he greets his friends without looking twice at the rest of us. “Do mine eyes deceive me, or are you betraying yon noble Gryffindor house breakfast table?”
Remus and Peter retreat to the Gryffindor table with Sirius, but James lags behind, hoping to extract a few more words from Lily.
“Your hair’s grown a bit longer, right?” he says. “I like it.”
“You know, my dears,” says Lily conversationally, ignoring James. “Sometimes I sit back and think to myself, there really are a number of fine Slytherin bachelors who go overlooked in this castle.”
“Ah, yes,” I say with a grin. “Take Macnair for example.”
“A very dashing, if corpulent, young lad,” agrees Hen.
“Right,” says James, catching on. “Well, I’ll see you in Charms.”
It’s unusual for James to give up so easily, but who knows –maybe he’s trying out some kind of reverse psychology, or just stopped by as an excuse to lace Lily’s pumpkin juice with love potion. He somehow manages to catch up with his friends without breaking his usual slow, arrogant strut, and they sit down at their rightful House table.
“Oh,” says Lily, surprised. “Didn’t think it’d be that easy.”
“Disappointed, are you?” says Hen slyly. “I always knew this day would come. Well, don’t worry, you can get him back – just pay him a visit in his dormitory tonight.”
“Maybe I’ll pay a visit to your dormitory, and bring along an Acromantula,” threatens Lily.
“Ho, ho,” I say, stuffing a few pastries into my bag for later. “Unfortunately you chivalric, lion-hearted folk stand no chance against the infamous Ravenclaw riddle challenge.”
“At least our ghost isn’t dead boring,” says Mary, who’s far prouder than she should be of her House considering she doesn’t speak to anyone in it besides Lily.
“At least our ghost doesn’t have an improperly severed head,” says Hen, shaking her head. “Really, nearly-headlessness is just another name for improper execution. Now, if it had been a Ravenclaw that’d killed him, they would’ve had much better form. Probably even drawn a little diagram before starting with any of the axe stuff.”
“Hmm, do you think then he’d be called Completely Headless Nick?” I wonder out loud. “It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.”
“But there is a quaint sort of a charm to the redundancy of it,” admits Hen.
“Okay, you lot,” says Lily, getting to her feet. “Up.”
Stashing one last croissant into my bag, I stand up and follow my friends out of the Great Hall. I’m not always sure if friends is the best term for our little group – we tend to tease each other a lot, and we don’t spend much time together aside from meals and classes. In my downtime, I’m usually in the library or roaming the castle. Mary and Lily stick tend to stick to the Gryffindor common room, and Hen’s usually busy with Quidditch business. What brought us together in the beginning was our shared Muggle parentage: Lily and I are Muggleborn, and Hen and Mary are both Half-bloods (though Mary was raised by a single Muggle mother). What’s kept us together is our shared cynicism and love of witty banter.
When we arrive at Charms, everyone’s standing up and milling about the room rather awkwardly. Marlene McKinnon of Ravenclaw informs us that, in a moronic fit of heartwarming inter-House sentiment probably inspired by the Sorting Hat’s speech, Flitwick’s ordered us to pair up with someone outside of our House.
“Oh, Flitwick,” sighs Hen. “Such a big heart, and such small stature.”
“Doesn’t seem like he thought this through, though,” I observe. No pairs seem to be forming – mostly, people are just shooting each other dodgy looks from across the room. “Doesn’t he realize the tensions between Houses are…well, tense?”
“Excuse me,” says a deep, melodic voice.
Davey Gudgeon, locks and all, has sidled up to Mary – who looks both terrified and awestruck – with his hands in his pockets. Even I have to admit that the smile he’s giving her is quite fetching.
“Would you like to partner up?” he asks her, and she nods, looking breathless. A few girls shoot Mary jealous looks as she and the sheepdog sit down together and set up shop. Davey seems to be trying to coax her into a conversation, which I’m guessing won’t go so well. Mary has always been notorious for her shyness to all members of the male gender, and things have only gotten worse since last year, when she was harassed repeatedly by Mulciber and Avery, two Slytherin blokes I often fantasize about strangling. She doesn’t talk about the incidents, except to Lily.
“Slim pickings,” I hear Sirius Black mutter behind me – the Marauders have finally decided to show up. I look around at the room, which is mostly filled with people I dislike, and can’t help but agree with him.
Hen pairs off with Remus, a good move on her part. Remus is the ideal Charms partner: he’s very intelligent, and he won’t try to explode anything for fun like James or Sirius might. Plus, he’s just attractive enough to sneak glances at, without being so absurdly gorgeous that you find yourself drooling all over your textbook. Lily takes off with Karel Friedman of Hufflepuff, to the obvious disappointment of both James and Severus Snape, who have been shooting fervent looks at her.
Hmmm, what if James paired up with Snape, his arch-nemesis? It would be interesting to see if they could get through class without breaking into a full-scale duel.
“You could ask Prescott – she’s a Ravenclaw,” says James in a low voice.
Ah. That would be me.
“Wrong sort of Ravenclaw,” says Sirius. “She’s not the type you want as your Charms partner; she’s the type that does crosswords for fun.”
James snickers, and I frown. Gits.
“Oi, Frank,” I say, turning to the small, innocent-eyed fifth-year. He’s a genius, so he skipped a year of Charms, but he’s socially awkward, so nobody’s claimed him as their partner. “Let’s make beautiful magic together, shall we?”
Frank’s face flushes with gratitude – he was probably worried he’d end up alone, poor bloke – and he scurries over to me. He’s always struck me as sort of timid, like a mouse, and he definitely doesn’t strike me as Gryffindor material. But I suppose the Sorting Hat works in mysterious ways. Or shares my ironic sense of humor. I guide Frank to a pair of seats directly in front of Mary’s and Davey’s, so I’ll be able to listen in on their conversation – because that’s what friends do. Unfortunately, this places me directly next to the charming pair of Sirius and James, who have stoutly refused to work with any Slytherin on account of “their dignity won’t allow it.”
“Black, Potter,” says Flitwick, bouncing over to them. “I requested that you work with someone outside of your own House this term.”
“Didn’t you know, sir?” says Potter in a very clearly fake tone of surprise. “Sirius here is a proud Hufflepuff – I bet you’d always wondered why he seemed afraid of fire.”
“I’m also afraid of the dark,” added Sirius in his usual low drawl, “and loud noises.”
Karel Friedman looks a bit put off as about half the class laughs at the insult to his House (the Hufflepuffs don’t laugh because they’re offended, and the Slytherins don’t laugh because they hate the Marauders). You’ve got to feel bad for the Hufflepuffs, but they really are asking to be ridiculed, with all of the fluff they spew about friendship and honesty and whatsit.
“Enough, enough,” says Flitwick. “Work together if you must – but I’ll have five points from Gryffindor for your failure to obey simple directions.”
I can practically feel Lily’s rage pulsating around the room. She takes the House Cup more seriously than anyone I’ve ever met or heard of in my life. Flitwick bustles on with his lesson, distributing one glass fishbowl plus one goldfish to each pair of students.
I fall in love with my goldfish instantly. He just looks so sweet an innocent as he drifts vapidly back and forth through the water.
“Frank, what do you think of your firstborn son?” I ask, poking at the fish with my wand.
“Don’t do that!” he says in a panicked voice, as if he expects me to accidentally cast a Cruciatus curse on it or something. He clearly thinks I’m some kind of a bumbling idiot, which is a completely unfair judgment as he doesn’t know me, and is only a half-truth anyway. But I suppose he’ll warm up to me.
“Ah, enter Frank’s paternal instincts,” I say. “Touching. Shall we name him?”
Frank just blinks at me, looking doubtful about my sanity.
Flitwick goes on to explain that we’ll be mastering the Aguamenti charm during the next few weeks. To pull of this feat, he’s devised a clever plan to psychologically torture us into learning. Each day when we walk into class, the water level in the fishbowl will be slightly lower than it was the last class. Each day, we’ll have to refill the fishbowl using the Aguamenti charm, or our adorable pets will die and we’ll all fail the class miserably. Frank keeps shooting me fervent looks throughout Flitwick’s description of this brilliant plan, as if he’s afraid I’m plotting to murder the fish as soon as he looks away. He’s starting to get on my nerves.
But then, when Flitwick finally pauses to take a breath, Frank mutters out of the corner of his mouth, “How about Merlin?”
I nod, and tap the fishbowl with my wand. “I dub thee Merlin Prescott-Longbottom.”
Flitwick continues onto a long lecture on the theory and execution of Aguamenti, which I do my best to listen to. It’s not easy considering the very distracting conversation that’s taking place in my right.
“Nah, Marlene’s too small,” says Sirius, barely even bothering to lower his voice though we’re in the middle of class and Marlene is sitting a few rows behind him. “Can you imagine? It’d be like snogging a third year.”
“Right,” says James, screwing his face up in concentration. “Then, what about…er… Mary MacDonald?”
Sirius shakes his head. “Girl acts like a bloody field mouse. You know I think I’ve heard her speak a total of about eleven words in all these years?”
I bite my lip, feeling anger swell up in my chest.
“Well, if you’re going to be so choosy,” says James in exasperation, “you might as well just give up and take a vow of abstinence. And that’s a bleak life, as I’m sure Longbottom can tell you.”
Frank, who’s clearly been listening in on them as well, narrows his eyes. I give him a sympathetic, they’re-overstuffed-buffoons-who-will-probably-be-alone-forever-so-don’t-let-it-bother-you look.
James and Sirius are still snickering snidely as the bell rings.
“So, tell us, Longbottom,” says James as everyone packs up their things. “How excruciating exactly is a lifetime of–”
“Engorgio,” I say, making deliberate eye contact with James as I swish my wand in the direction of his goldfish, which quickly begins to inflate in its fishbowl. James and Sirius watch in horror as it swells up against the sides of the bowl and then shatters them, spilling water all over the desk. The fish continues to grow until it’s reached the size of a smallish watermelon, much to the amusement of the class at large.
James and Sirius stare up at me with unreadable expressions.
“You killed Godric…” says James.
“I slipped.” I say with a nonchalant shrug, and then high-tail it out of the room before either of them gets it into his head to seek revenge for the murder of young Godric. I might be imagining it, but as I leave the room I’m fairly sure I hear Sirius mutter something that sounds like “heartless bitch.”
Frank follows me eagerly out of the classroom, a new admiration gleaming in his eyes. “That was brilliant, Anise! They were really getting on my nerves!”
“What, by implying that you’ll be a virgin forever?” I say mildly. “Yes, I can see how that’d be a bit on the irritating side.”
“No,” says Frank, surprising me. “I mean the way they were talking about the girls in your year. They should realize that they’ll be lucky if their horrible personalities don’t repel every living creature to the other side of the Earth.”
I grin. “Too true, good man.”
“Well, I’ll see you next class!” says Frank.
I wave goodbye as we go our separate ways, feeling confused and a bit guilty for misjudging him. He seemed so put off by my overbearing wit and charm that I’d assumed he was a prissy little sniveling git – but it turns out he’s actually a decent bloke.
Well, he’ll be a nice Charms partner at any rate, I tell myself as I head off to Ancient Runes, eager for a James-and-Sirius-free class.
After Herbology I eat a quick lunch alone at the Ravenclaw table, and then go to the library to start my Ancient Runes homework.
I’ve stuffed a few tarts down my pockets and I nibble on them as I peruse the library shelves for something that might be useful – I definitely can’t get through this essay with the Spellman’s Syllabary alone. We’re supposed to have two rolls of parchment on ambivalent translations of early historical texts. It’s actually really interesting – the different ways that these things have been translated over the years have actually caused a lot of friction in the academic community. We’re supposed to pick two or more different translations of a single document or book, and compare and contrast them to decide whose is best. It’s a fascinating assignment, and I’d be thrilled about writing it if I had about three months to do it. But unfortunately, it’s due on Friday.
I make my way down shelves of old books, most of which look like they haven’t been opened in years. I love Ancient Runes because, in a way, it takes you back in time. I close my eyes and take in the feeling of standing here alone, surrounded by books, completely isolated from other people.
It feels great.
Eyes still closed, I reach into my pocket for another tart.
“What are you doing?”
My eyes snap open, and I swivel around to face my arch nemesis – Madam Pince, who looks about ready to explode with rage. Her dark hair is disheveled, half-covering her wrinkled, sagging face, and in the torchlight she bears a striking similarity to a Dementor.
Hmm, maybe I’m onto something there.
“Er, hello,” I stammer. “Had a nice vacation?”
“I’ve had enough of your blatant disregard for school rules,” hisses the insane librarian. “Eating is prohibited in the library!”
“Hmm, true,” I say, frowning thoughtfully and taking a bite of tart. “But then, on a metaphorical level, reading is really a kind of eating, isn’t it? Sure, you’re consuming knowledge and wisdom rather than tangible food, but it still seems a bit hypocritical to ban one and not–”
“Turn out your pockets,” snaps Pince, who’s clearly not having any of it.
Sheepishly, I dig my hands into my pockets and remove three raspberry tarts.
“Three, plus the one you’re eating…” says Pince, her mouth twisting into a cruel smile which I know foreshadows punishment. “That’s four. Four nights in detention.”
“I wasn’t going to eat all of them,” I complain. “Besides, it’s the first day of term!”
“You will report to Arg – I mean, Mr. Filch this evening,” says Pince sharply. “I’m sure he’ll be able to come up with something productive for you to do – more productive than besmirching my library, at any rate.”
“Your library?” I say skeptically. “I don’t think the noble founders of our fine school would be pleased to hear you talking about centuries of knowledge as if it all belonged to – okay, I’m going, I’m going.”
I leave the library huffily, Madam Pince’s fiery glare boring a hole into my back.
“And then he insisted on being my Potions partner!” sighed Mary over dinner, serving herself shepherd’s pie. It isn’t easy to look delicate and graceful while serving oneself shepherd’s pie, but Mary manages. I feel a slight twinge of jealousy, because I know that during any interaction with food I tend to look like a slovenly oaf. “It’s all too perfect!”
“Yes, we’re all very happy for you,” says Hen through gritted teeth, glaring at Mary, who’s now taking tiny little dainty bites of pie.
Apparently, Davey Gudgeon’s been following Mary around all day like a little blond puppy. Sheepdog jokes aside, the idea of Mary finally getting some attention from a well-intentioned, respectable young lad sort of warms my heart. Unfortunately, I dropped Potions this year in favor of Care of Magical Creatures – I have a soft spot for dangerous creatures, and for Professor Kettleburn, who I suppose is a dangerous creature in his own right – so I didn’t get to see the adorable action unfold.
“Seems very sudden,” I comment between bites of spinach. “I mean, no offense, but since when does he know you exist?”
“He said he’s always thought I seemed interesting, and he wanted to get to know me better,” said Mary, and her cheeks flush with color so that she looks even more like a doll with a perfect, painted face.
“More like, he always thought you had a nice arse, and now that he’s single he decided–”
“Play nice, Hen,” interrupts Lily, frowning. Hen’s has a rough sense of humor which tends to prey on Mary’s innocence. I’m always content to sit back and watch the show, but Lily usually intervenes before Mary’s feelings get hurt.
“Fine.” Hen rolls her eyes. “Well, Anise, you’ll be pleased to hear that you earned Black and Potter each a week’s detentions with that little goldfish dipsy-doodle of yours, which I think we can all agree was an act of pure genius.”
Lily wrinkles her nose. “It was disturbing.”
I raise an eyebrow. “I’m sorry - this from the girl who has vivid dreams about drowning Potter?”
“That’s different,” says Lily, “I was drowning him in pudding.”
“Pudding or no pudding, Lil, it’s still a bit on the unsettling side,” says Hen.
“Anyway, how’d they get detentions?” I ask. “I blew up their fish after Flitwick had left the room.”
“Well, he’d forgotten a textbook or something,” explains Hen, “and he came back to get it right after you’d stalked out, and of course by then the fish was about the size of a melon, and Potter was levitating it around the room, crashing it into people at random. So as you can imagine, Wicky wasn’t too pleased about that. Gave them a whole lecture about respecting their elders and taking assignments seriously and whatsit.”
“That’s lovely,” I say dreamily, imagining the scene. “It must feel so insulting to be lectured by someone half your height. Anyway, it explains why Black was glaring at me all through Care of Magical Creatures.”
We spend the rest of dinner talking about Davey Gudgeon and debating whose goldfish will live the longest. Then Lily heads off to a Prefects’ meeting, Hen and Mary retire to their respective common rooms, and I’m left to face my first detention of the year.