Chapter 6 : Of Wands and Whispers
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of Wands and Whispers
In the morning, the girls showered again in the same stall. Morwena once more looked mortified. The other girls showed varying degrees of confidence or indifference, with Vanessa at the far extreme from Morwena. Sure of her beauty and flawless skin, Vanessa held her head high and let her aura fill the room.
Tess was determined to be civil with Vanessa this morning. If we'll be forced soon to take her in, we better start getting used to her. Vanessa's aura made her that much easier to speak with. Tess said, "I saw you chatting with Paul Hewson. What's he like?"
"Oh, he's very handsome, and quite funny."
"Has anyone given you flack about it? You know, consorting with the enemy?"
"Oh come on, Tess. It's not like we're dating exactly. We were just thrown together, and we made the best of it. The school looks favourably on that sort of thing, you know."
A perfectly appropriate, Slytherin answer, thought Tess.
"How about you?" asked Vanessa as she wrapped her hair in a towel. "Any boy out there caught your eye?"
"They are a rather scruffy bunch, on the whole," said Tess, not wanting to confess her heart to this girl.
"At eleven, that's to be expected. Still, a few of them are on their way, I would say, don't you think? Isn't there even one that caught your fancy?"
Vanessa's aura was strong now, as warm and palpable as the steam. No one came to her defense, so Tess played a card from her hand. "There is that Hufflepuff boy."
"Not Bendrix!" said Vanessa, with a laugh.
"No, the other one. He was last in line." She searched for his name, and grasped it. "Wren."
"Hmm. I didn't get a good look at that one."
At breakfast, Tess did as Rebecca had suggested, and watched Delia to see with whom her cousin interacted. Delia had cozied up to one of the Seventh Year girls, Helen Hellgate. She gazed fawningly up at the older, taller girl. What a lap dog she is, thought Tess.
Morwena was looking in the same direction. She turned to Tess, and the two shared a knowing look. "I have yet to see her say more than a few words to any of the Third Year girls," Morwena said softly. "All of her friends seem to be older than she is."
If Delia had, for whatever reason, alienated her peers, it was all the more imperative for her to win some younger acolytes. In a few years, all of her allies will have graduated.
After breakfast, the Slytherins walked as a group up to Professor Gregor's classroom. While they waited for class to start, Tess took another surreptitious look at Liam Wren. He was handsome and confident, clearly the leader of the Hufflepuff boys. He didn't look her way, and she couldn't tell, without staring too boldly at him, if another girl held his gaze.
Gregor began his class with a lecture on the properties of wands. "Wands have three distinct elements, and each contribute to the wand's potency. Who can tell me what those elements are?"
Several hands shot into the air. All were eager Ravenclaws. Gregor selected Calliope to answer. "The type of wood, the length, and the magical substance at the core," she said clearly, proudly.
"Very good, Miss Addleson. Can you tell me what are the elements of your wand?"
"Kingwood, nine and a quarter inches long, dragon hearstring."
"Excellent. Did you purchase that at Ollivanders?"
Addressing the class, Professor Gregor said, "I would like each of you now to tell me the elements of your wand. Let's go in alphabetical order, starting with Miss Ables."
Vanessa stood. "Teak, seven inches, unicorn hair. Short and sweet, just like me," she added cheekily.
Before Gregor could call on the next student, however, Wren stuck his hand in the air. ""Um, I forgot something in my common room. Something important. Can I go get it?"
"What, pray tell, did you forget?"
"Um, my wand."
This was an inexcusable mistake for a wizard to make. To Tess, it was inconcievable. She flushed deeply, angry at herself for confessing her fondness of Wren to Vanessa.
With a hand, Gregor silenced the sniggering that had rippled through the classroom. "I do recall you being towards the end of the alphabet."
"Go and get your wand. If you can make it back here before I call your name, you will escape punishment."
"Yes sir." Wren rushed from the room.
"Now," said Professor Gregor, "we were discussing wands. Unicorn hair, one of the three magical substances common to wands, evoke wisdom and purity." Tess could not help but snigger at these words being applied to Vanessa. "Who was next?"
Calais was the next Slytherin. He stood and said calmly, "Ebony, nine inches, unicorn hair."
Tess turn came soon after. "Rosewood, eleven and an eighth, unicorn hair," she said, demurely, and quickly took her seat again.
Like Calliope's, Morwena's had a dragon heartstring at its core. "Known for Power and Subtlety," said the Professor. That one fits, at least, thought Tess.
Kane had been boasting about his exotic wand for several days now. Tess was not eager to hear more about it. What on Earth was his father thinking, buying him a Stilgrevsen? However, even Kane, as dense and self-centered as he was, could see the game - get this activity over with before Wren got back, and Wren will be punished.
When the Professor came to Kane, however, he said, "I've heard about your wand already," and moved one without giving Kane a chance to speak.
Pauline and Rhiannon's wands both had phoenix feathers at their cores. "Owners of such wands are known to have endured staggering defeats only to rise again to magnificent heights."
The wands ticked by, and still, there was no Wren. Tess had no idea where the Hufflepuff common room was. She looked with some satisfaction at the worried faces of the other Hufflepuffs. He's got a long way to run. They don't think he's going to make it.
Sumner had a long wand, thirteen inches, made from Black Forest pine, with a dragon heartstring.
And then, there was Thompson. Wren is doomed. A Ravenclaw will not stall to save a Hufflepuff. She will say her peace and sit, and Wren will be caught.
But, Tess was wrong. Sadie stood, and with a nervous look at the Professor, began to ramble on about her wand. "Well, my wand is pretty unusual, as it was not made here in England. I bought it when I was living in California. It was made by a native shaman.
"It's made of redwood. It even has a reddish hue, as you can see." She held it aloft. "It's nine and seven eighth inches long. The wood came from the Santa Cruz mountains, a very spiritual, sacred place, full of magical energies. I spent the last two years there, while my father did research. A Shaman taught me. He made the wand, and he put a talisman at the core."
Outside in the hallway, Tess could hear the sound of scampering feet. The door burst open, and there was Wren.
Thompson blushed deeply, and her throat constricted, raising the pitch of her voice slightly. "Well, that's where I got my wand. It really is a beautiful place. If you ever go to the States, you should visit there." With a smile in Wren's direction, she sat.
Morwena leaned close to Tess and whispered, "Look! Cal is furious with her."
Tess nodded. While Wren bumbled through the description of his wand, Tess surveyed the faces of the girls. Cal, Mona, Trill and Sally were huddled together, whispering. The four seemed as united against Thompson as Tess' friends were against Vanessa. The four Hufflepuff girls seemed concerned at this new development, too.
So, Wren is Muggleborn. Pity. He is handsome, though a little absent-minded. Does he even realize Thompson saved him? Perhaps, but I wonder if he knows why . . . .
That question had stumped Morwena, and after class, the four girls gathered to discuss it. "Cal will get Thompson back for that. There'll be hell to pay when they get back to their common room. Why would Thompson take a risk like that for a boy she doesn't know?"
"She's in love with him," said Tess. Pauline nodded in agreement.
Morwena still seemed bewildered. "He's not that good looking."
Nothing of any particular interest occurred in Charms, except that all the girls got little flowers in their hair. By the time they were sitting in Transfiguration, Tess was beginning to get hungry. She had eaten only a little at breakfast, and now watched the clock impatiently, waiting for lunch.
Meadows was sweet natured and soft spoken. She seemed young for a teacher. Altogether, she seemed quite Hufflepuffish.
Morwena was quite unimpressed by her. "Thank goodness we have Gregor as our Head of House," she would say later, over lunch. "Meadows is hardly older than the Seventh Years."
An exaggeration, for sure, but not by much, thought Tess.
After the lecture, the class set about attempting their first assignment, turning a porcupine quill into a sewing needle. Tess gazed at the notes she had taken and tried with her wand to make a change to the quill. She seemed to be making no headway. Only, she was growing ever more hungry.
She bent over her desk, and focused intently on the task. Her hair was coming out of the clip, and brown wisps were falling down in front of her eyes. She removed the clip, pulled her hair back and secured it with a band from her pocket. Without bothering to check the finished look, she bent her head down again to look at her notes.
As she did so, she heard a mournful whisper. "Oh, Scott."
Tess looked up. Meadows had been quietly moving between the desks, watching the progress of her pupils. She was now looking straight at Tess. A flush came to Meadow's cheeks as she realized she had been overheard.
"I'm sorry to disturb your concentration," she said to Tess. "Please continue. I think you're really making good progress."
Did she just call me Scott? Do I look like a boy with my hair like this?
And the look on her face! She clearly hadn't meant me to hear.
Odd. Very odd.
At lunch, the girls sat two and two as before. Vanessa, squeezed between Umberto and Gordon, continued to flirt shamelessly with Balemoor. Tess' eyes flicked to her prefect. Rebecca was watching Balemoor with a look of great suspicion.
Delia slipped in beside Tess. "Hullo, cousin," she said, cheerfully. "How's class?"
"A Hufflepuff boy forgot to bring his wand to DADA."
"Professor Gregor made each of us tell about our wands. I apparently am wise and pure, because I have unicorn hair in my wand. But, so does Vanessa, so I'm not sure how predictive that is."
Rhiannon chimed in with, "Professor Gregor seems to think Pauline and I are due for a big fall, because we have phoenix feathers in our wands."
"I think the MacDougals have already risen from the ashes," remarked Delia. Tess was sure this was meant as a complement, but Rhiannon didn't interpret it as such. She drew back her orange curly hair and gave Delia a cold stare.
To break the standoff, Tess said the next thing that was on her mind. "Professor Meadows called me 'Scott' today."
Morwena, who had been brooding, lost in thought, turned her head sharply. "When was this?"
"During the practical."
Rhiannon, too, seemed puzzled by the remark. Delia, however, had a shrewd expression on her face. "Scott, eh? How interesting."
"Do we know anyone by that name?" Tess asked Delia.
Morwena answered. "It's a common enough name."
Delia: "I wonder. I might know. I would have to see. Are you asking for help?"
Help. It was a loaded word. Morwena asserted herself immediately. She gripped Tess' arm and leaned forward to make eye contact with Delia. "No, we are not asking for help. If we must know why Meadows said that name, we shall ask her ourselves."
"If she'll tell you," Delia snapped back. "You'll never get a straight answer from a teacher."
"If we can't trust our teachers, who can we trust?" asked Morwena haughtily. "Besides, Meadows is a Hufflepuff. She can't help but be truthful."
The message to Tess, and to anyone else who might be eavesdropping, was clear: the girls would accept no help from Delia. They would do without, even if it made their road harder, but Delia would not be their Mistress.
In the delicate social fabric of the Slytherins, this was just short of a declaration of war. Tess felt like a tiny province pinched tight by two warring nations. Both Delia and Morwena were demanding her absolute loyalty. There was no middle ground for her.
There was no Friday afternoon class for the First Years. Tess and her friends quickly completed the bits of homework they had to do. They spent the afternoon making a circuit of the castle, along a cobblestone path. The air was fresh from the rain, and warmed with a last breath of summer.
As they approached the Great Hall for dinner, they saw Calliope waiting for them. "Hullo all," she said. "Having a little party tomorrow. Hope you don't have plans already." Each girl got a yellow envelope of soft, velvety paper. "Love to have you all come."
Calliope left with a wave, entered the Great Hall and went straight to her table. Morwena held back; Tess and the others waited for her.
Morwena carefully opened the envelope and drew out the card. The print was blue, in a script font that was small and narrow. She held it close to her face to read it.
"It says we are cordially invited to a tea party, tomorrow at two. Meet in the Entrance Hall. Wear your nicest dress."
"Must we go?" asked Rhiannon, with a sigh. "I never liked that girl, and I never got the impression that she liked me."
"She gave you an invite, so you're invited," answered Morwena. "We should go. The theme this year is 'Inter-House Cooperation.' I won't have Vanessa be our standard bearer on that count."
The four girls entered the Great Hall and sat at the table. Vanessa was already there. Engaged with her doting entourage of boys, she did not seem to notice the four matching yellow envelopes.
Some of the older girls at the table did take note of it, however, including Rebecca and Delia. "Delia is watching us," whispered Tess to Morwena. "If Cal has snubbed Vanessa, that's just the sort of thing Delia might use against us."
"But, it's not our party. It says 'By Invitation Only'," countered Morwena.
"Still, we shouldn't keep it a secret from her."
"You tell her, then," said Morwena.
Tess opened her envelope and read the invite for herself. Then she called out, "Oh, Vanessa, did you get one of these?"
"No. What is it?"
Tess handed her the invite. "I'm sure it was just an oversight," she said. "If you want to come, we'll tell Cal to put out an extra plate."
"Who all is going to this shindig?"
"Us and them. Cal, Mona and their friends, plus us. I'm sure there won't be any Gyffindors or Hufflepuffs there."
"I seriously doubt it. Can't imagine Ronald Reuel and that lot at something like this."
Vanessa turned to Umberto and asked, "Did you get an invite to Calliope's party?"
"No," he answered with a sly smile. "Like Tess said, I'm sure it was an oversight. She must have run out envelopes."
This elicited a harsh cackle from Vanessa. She pushed the invite back over to Tess. "I think I'll pass. Doesn't sound like my sort of thing. Thanks for thinking of me, though."
That was pointless, thought Tess. Glad we didn't bother Cal about it first.
Morwena gave Tess a pat on the knee, and a pleased smile. "Well done. That was the bset outcome we could have hoped for. We made the offer and she declined. We're not excluding Vanessa. She's making different choices."
A good answer, thought Tess, with a quick look back at her cousin. Delia was tight against one of the older girls. Just then, they both looked in Tess' direction.
Is it good enough to stand up to whatever they are going to throw at us?
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