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Chapter 5 : A Place To Belong
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“You’re going tomorrow anyway,” she said, and Ron noticed the waver in her voice. He turned away from her to throw a pair of socks into his battered trunk. Ron wasn’t entirely sure how he hadn’t managed to get a new one, because Bill and Charlie had both taken theirs with them, and Percy and the twins were still using theirs, but Mum had pulled this old one out of somewhere, and so Ron had a second-hand trunk to put his second-hand things into. “It shouldn’t matter if I’m in here at all!”
“I’m still here,” Ron pointed out. “And that means the rules are sti-”
“I’m going to come and stand in here all the time when you’re gone,” Ginny told him.
“No,” Ron said, “you’re not.”
“I am,” Ginny said, throwing herself down on his bed.
“Get off!” Ron said, shoving her. Ginny shoved him back.
“I’m going to come in here and jump on your bed, and look at your things, and-”
“I won’t write if you do that,” he said. Ginny’s bottom lip quivered, and her shoulders slumped. Ron felt instantly bad for upsetting her.
“You weren’t supposed to say that,” she said. Ron went to retrieve a book from his desk. It was Hogwarts: A History, and he didn’t think he’d ever seen it before in his life. Still, Ron certainly hadn’t read it, and it wasn’t a book he’d had for years... so, he reasoned, it could only be a Hogwarts book. He tossed it into his trunk. “You were supposed to say you were going to stay home to make sure I didn’t.” She sniffled and Ron turned around in time to see her wiping her eyes on the sleeve of her tshirt. “Why can’t I go this year?” Ginny asked piteously. “I could keep up,” she said. Ron said nothing. “I could! There’s not that much difference between ten and eleven! And Percy could help me if I needed it!”
“Perce’ll be doing his O.W.L.s,” Ron pointed out. “He won’t have time for anything else.” There was a pause as Ginny considered this, and then her lip trembled again.
“I’m going to have no one,” she said.
“I’ll write,” Ron said at once. “I promise.”
“It’s not the same,” she said, and Ron couldn’t help but agree. He and Ginny had been all each other had – aside from their parents, and they didn’t really count – for the past two years. She was his best friend, without a doubt, and, excited as he was to go to Hogwarts, he wished she could come with him. Harry would be there, but Ron didn’t know anyone else, and he couldn’t help but worry that no one would want to be his friend. Other than his brothers, Ginny, and occasionally someone like Luna or Harry, he hadn’t had much to do with other kids. What if no one liked him? He wasn’t smart, like Bill and Percy, wasn’t funny like the twins, or popular like Charlie. Ron didn’t really have anything to offer.
Why couldn’t we have been twins too? he wondered, looking at Ginny... who was still in his room, and on his bed... but Ron couldn’t bring himself to tell her to get out. He was leaving tomorrow, so it was a special occasion, he supposed. He could be lenient this time.
Ginny’s sad expression brightened at once, and Ron’s musing was overtaken with the thought that if he wanted to get under his bed before the twins arrived, he had about five seconds left to do so.
But Ginny would give me away... She was his best friend, but she was also his little sister, and Ron wasn’t about to make the mistake of forgetting that. His door, which was already open, flew backward and hit the wall, causing the Cannons players on a nearby poster to zoom out of sight. Mum shouted something from downstairs, and Percy’s irate voice added something into the silence that followed.
Ron grumbled as George invited himself into Ron’s room, wondering if his favourite pair of socks had ended up in Ron’s washing pile, and proceeded to rummage through his trunk to find them, undoing what little packing Ron had managed to get done. He rolled his eyes as Fred - never far from George – slouched in with bulges in his pockets that were very obviously dungbombs and casually dropped them into Ron’s trunk when he thought no one was looking. Fred started to whisper to Ginny, who, in turn, started to snigger.
Ron gave up and slouched out, leaving the room-invaders he called siblings in his room and went in search of food; there was no way that he’d be able to get anything done with the others upstairs.
“Fred, I told- Oh, Ron, dear,” Mum said, bustling past him with a last minute pile of washing. Ron spotted the socks George was looking for, and sighed. “All packed?”
“Uh, no,” Ron said. “I thought I’d just grab something to eat, and-”
Through the open laundry door, Mum told him - in no uncertain terms - that he wouldn’t be getting as much as a crumb until he’d finished packing, and shooed him back upstairs as soon as she re-emerged.
Ron stomped through the house, swearing under his breath, until Percy poked his head out of his room - with his Prefect badge and a polishing cloth in hand – and told him that he’d take House points if Ron carried on that way tomorrow. Percy can’t have his little brother embarrassing him, Ron thought, rolling his eyes.
“Sorry, Percy,” Ron muttered.
“That’s quite all right,” Percy said, putting his nose in the air.
“Yes, Ron, it’s quite all right,” Fred said pompously, coming up behind them. He stopped, eyes gleaming as they landed on Percy. Percy – as Ron would have done had he been the one Fred was looking at like that – took a step back through the doorway of his room. “Are you polishing your Charms Club badge?” Percy pursed his lips.
“It’s my Prefect badge,” he replied stiffly.
“Oh, that’s right,” Fred said, as if he’d just remembered. He turned to Ron. “Did you know Percy’s a Prefect this year?”
“He’s mentioned it,” Ron said wryly. Percy had mentioned it... just about every time he opened his mouth. Percy gave him a betrayed look. Ron shrugged in a vaguely apologetic way, but he wasn’t very sorry.
“Second one in the family,” Fred continued pompously, sticking his chest out the way Percy had when his school letter arrived a few weeks ago. “Bill left a rather large pair of shoes to fill, but they’ve got different styles, you see, and Bill was probably a bit too casual about the whole thing-” Ron snorted. “-while Perce will be taking a much more traditional approach to his leadership, and-”
Funny as it was to see Fred prancing around on the small landing outside Percy’s room, Ron had heard Percy’s plans for his Prefectship too many times to stay and watch; he started up the stairs again, passing George who was on the way down, no doubt to investigate the Fred and Percy situation.
“Your socks are downstairs,” Ron told him, and George nodded absently, his eyes already fixed on Percy.
“And if he plays it right,” Ron heard George say in a grand voice, “then Head Boy is a distinct possibility in the futu-”
“And there they go again,” Ginny announced, as Ron re-entered his room. Downstairs, Fred and George were cackling, and still trying to imitate Percy’s lofty voice, and Percy was shouting at them. “I’m glad they’re going with you.”
“No, you’re not,” Ron said. Ginny poked her tongue out at him. “But I am,” he said quietly.
* * *
Blaise sat alone, in a too-big-chair at a too-big-table in a too-big-dining-room in a too-big-and-too-expensive-house. He had bolognaise that he’d cooked himself – which had horrified Dolly the house elf, but Blaise didn’t care – and water – because Giovanna didn’t believe in juice, or flavoured milk – and he was about as happy as he could be, given the circumstances.
Tomorrow, he was getting out. Not home, to his father, where he wanted to be, but he would, at least, be away from Giovanna and Dolly. And that, in Blaise’s opinion, was the next best thing.
Blaise wasn’t sure what to expect of Hogwarts. He’d always liked school, and learning, so he expected that side of it would be okay, but wizards and witches were, in his opinion, the most bigoted, spoiled, self-centred lot he’d ever met. Blaise Zabini, of course, was one of them. Blaise had always been good at handling people, good at reading them so that he knew how to act to blend in, and good at playing the roles he needed to play.
The role Giovanna had given him was snotty heir, set to be Sorted into Slytherin, or less preferably, Ravenclaw. The other two Houses weren’t even up for consideration, so Blaise hadn’t given them much thought. He wasn’t sure which of his two potential Houses he was most likely to end up in; he’d always enjoyed study, and that was the only Ravenclaw trait anyone ever spoke about, but Slytherin... Slytherin, apparently, was all about cunning and ambition – or that was what everyone said – and Blaise rather thought he had both of those covered as well.
Blaise didn’t particularly want to be Minister for Magic, or own the largest vault at Gringotts, but he did have a goal, and that was protecting himself, and in doing so, protecting Dad. There was very little he wouldn’t do to achieve that, and every action he’d taken since he was introduced to Giovanna had been to further that protection.
He didn’t rate any of the other kids he’d met as overly intelligent – they were too self-centred to have any real perspective – but he thought it required a reasonably good bluff on his part to make them believe that he really was Blaise Zabini, and not Blaise Benson. Draco Malfoy had been with that lot for years, and even he wasn’t able to fit in as seamlessly as Blaise had. That, Blaise thought, took skill, and he wasn’t too modest to admit it.
He liked to think he was a bit better than the little prats at the dinner parties Giovanna took him to. They were that way because they’d been taught from birth to behave a certain way, and never had the courage or curiosity to question it. He was playing along so that he’d get to write a letter to his dad once a month, and because Giovanna had made it clear that any missteps on his part would have dire consequences for his dad. He’d taken her seriously; the first time he’d met her, she’d put a wand to Dad’s throat, for crying out loud, and in the months since, he’d learned about her previous husbands, and where exactly the money that funded her enormous house and expensive tastes had come from.
He’d asked her, once, about three weeks in, why she hadn’t killed Dad like the rest of them. She’d told him that muggle teachers – which is what Dad had been back when he met Giovanna – didn’t make much money, and what little they did make was smaller again once it was converted to galleons... that, apparently, was what had deterred her initially, and once she’d found out she was pregnant with Blaise, she’d been forced to keep him alive out of convenience. It went without saying that – now that Blaise was off to Hogwarts - Dad was not as useful as he had been for the past eleven years, and so Blaise was being very careful to do what he was told.
He was blending in, lying, and wearing the same bored, haughty expression that everyone else in the magical world seemed to wear. And he was careful to never, ever, to reveal anything about his life that hadn’t happened in the past three months.
He twirled his fork – which was probably worth more than every piece of cutlery he and Dad owned at home – in his dinner and then stuffed it in his mouth. He smiled a little sadly – Dad’s bolognaise recipe always made him think of home – and wondered what Dad was up to now.
Probably getting ready for the new term to start, Blaise thought, sighing. He wondered if Dad was coping. He tended to get caught up in his work at the beginnings and ends of term, and Blaise usually helped out a bit more around the house during those times; he’d put through the occasional load of washing, or help make dinner, and he’d also help Dad relax by having some fun time, watching telly, or kicking the football around the back garden.
The first thing Blaise was going to do when he got to school, was get a moment alone so that he could write a letter to Dad. Giovanna had a lot of connections – he’d seen lots of them at the manor in the first month, and in the second and third months, once she was back at work, he’d heard a lot of discussions about cases, and co-workers, and clients between Dolly and Giovanna – but even she couldn’t have so many that she’d be able to stop the school’s post.
Blaise had another bite of his dinner, and glanced over as the kitchen door opened and Dolly stepped out, holding a plate of chicken and pumpkin something for Giovanna in her bony hands. She gave Blaise’s plate a disapproving look as she went past, and didn’t offer her usual ‘Master Zabini’.
They watched each other, until Dolly disappeared through another door, leaving Blaise alone again. He listened carefully, for the faint grind of the fork on the plate Dolly was holding so that he had a rough idea of where in the house she was. Blaise missed the everyday sounds of the television, or the washing machine, or the telephone, but he couldn’t deny that the complete and utter silence of Giovanna’s house had its advantages; it made it easier to avoid the other occupants, unless, of course, Dolly did her Apparition thing.
Blaise had another mouthful of his dinner, and then stirred in a few stray bits of parmesan. He then lifted his glass of water in a toast to the empty chairs around him.
“To Blaise Benson,” he said. “May he rest in peace until Christmas.”
* * *
“All packed, sweetheart?” Mum asked, coming to lean against the doorway.
“Almost,” Hermione said nervously. “I thought I’d keep these two-” She gestured to A Standard Book of Spells and Hogwarts: A History, which were lying on the mattress beside her. “-with me, so I can read them on the train.” She’d talk to people first – Harry, or Blaise, or anyone else she met on the train – but there was only so much that could be talked about, and she was sure that, by about halfway, they’d have run out of conversational topics. Harry would probably want to play Exploding Snap, which Hermione’d always been bad at, and so while he did that, she’d be able to retreat into her books.
Mum watched her for a few seconds, and then stepped into the room, looking around at the bare shelves, the empty wardrobe and the almost-overflowing trunk on the floor. A photograph of Hermione and her parents – taken recently, on their trip to America – lay on the very top, and Mum smiled sadly at it before turning back to Hermione.
“Are you sure about this, Hermione?” Hermione nodded. “It’s not too late to go to a nice, local scho-”
“Mum, I’m going,” Hermione said, not sure whether her mother’s concern came from the fact that she was moving out, at age eleven – almost twelve - or whether it was because she was moving out to study magic. “This is a fantastic opportunity, and I can’t pass it up. I’ll learn all sort of new things-” Hermione didn’t miss the way Mum’s eyes flicked to the wand that lay beside the books on her bed. “-and make new friends-”
“You could make friends here,” Mum said gently.
“No one here ever wanted to be my friend.”
“You met Harry, and Bla-”
“And they’re both wizards,” Hermione pointed out. “They’re different too.” Mum watched her sadly. Hermione wondered whether it was the use of the word ‘different’ or something else. “I’m going to Hogwarts, Mum,” she said earnestly. “I’m a witch, and that’s where I belong.”
“I know,” Mum said, tearing up a bit. “I know, I know... just... if you don’t like it – if it’s too much, or if you change your mind - promise you’ll come home. Okay?”
“Okay,” Hermione said, crossing her fingers behind her back.
She had Harry, and Blaise, but otherwise it would be just like every other time she’d moved school. She’d be starting at the bottom again, knowing hardly anyone, and this time, she wouldn’t even be able to go home at the end of the day, because her school was going to be her home... for seven whole years. If she didn’t like it, she’d be stuck, because, regardless of what she’d said to Mum, she wasn’t just going to give up and leave.
She was going to find a place for herself – she didn’t care where, just somewhere – in the magical world, the way she’d never managed to do in the muggle one. She was a witch, and so Hogwarts was where she belonged... and she just had to keep telling herself that until she believed it.
* * *
“-and unless you want to lose it, you’ll do no such thing,” Mother said. Draco’d already reconciled himself with the idea of leaving his broomstick behind, and, while he didn’t like it, he certainly wasn’t as devastated as Hydrus seemed to be.
“Father,” Hydrus whined. Draco rolled his eyes.
“Narcissa,” Father began, looking at Mother, “surely-”
“No,” Mother said, buttering a slice of bread. She hadn’t even looked up. She’d been odd for the last few days; she’d been avoiding the rest of the family, had snapped at Dobby twice, had been talking to herself, and on Mother’s birthday the day before, she hadn’t gone to see Aunt Bella, which she always did... Draco hadn’t thought it was possible, but he’d spent enough time watching people that he knew Mother was feeling nervous, or guilty... or maybe both. Draco had worked out that she was going to miss them, when they left for Hogwarts tomorrow.
He was sure Father had noticed, but Father’s method of dealing with Mother when she was in a mood, tended to be to give her space. Hydrus was so caught up in the injustice of not being able to take his broomstick that he probably hadn’t even noticed, and so it fell to Draco to do something about it.
He had his chance, after dinner. Father and Hydrus went flying, and Mother retreated up to the library to hide behind History Of The Houses. He knocked on the doorframe, not wanting to startle her too much – she’d been distant, lately, too – and she twitched and looked up. Her forehead creased when she saw that it was Draco.
“Mother,” he said, “can I come in?”
“Of course,” she said, and then buried her head in her book again. Draco came in and sat down on the armchair closest to hers, and he knew she wasn’t as oblivious as she seemed; he noticed her shoulders had stiffened, and her fingers tightened around the cover of the book she was holding.
“It’ll be all right,” he said.
“Pardon?” Mother asked, stiffening again. Draco glanced out the library window, and could still see Father and Hydrus soaring around the grounds, so he stood. He hesitated for the briefest moment – Mother hadn’t hugged him for a long time – and then wrapped his arms around her shoulders. She made a small sound, and then pulled him into her lap and tightened her hold on him. “Oh, Draco,” she whispered, and he felt her tremble, and then heard a soft sniff.
“Mother?” he asked, uncertain. He’d seen her cry before – once – but not for a long time; it was something Mother just didn’t do.
“You’ll take care of yourself, won’t you?” Draco gave the top of her head – her face was pressed against his shoulder – an odd look.
“Obviously,” he drawled, and then patted Mother’s shoulder carefully. “Mother, you don’t need to worry about me, or about Hydrus. We’ve been preparing for Hogwarts forever.” It was true; they’d been surrounded by their future House-group since birth, and Mother had taught them the spells and theories that they would need to settle into lessons. Mother, though, sobbed when Draco said ‘preparing’. “We’ll write, I promise. Or I will, and I’ll remind Hydrus if he doesn’t, but we’ll have all of our classes together, so it won’t matter if he doesn’t, because we’ll have all the same news.”
“Or we can sit down in the common room and write one together,” Draco said quickly, not sure why she was still upset. “It’ll all be fine, Mother, I promise.”
Mother was silent for several long seconds, and Draco could almost feel her gathering resolve.
“Yes,” Mother said. Her voice was very subdued but it didn’t shake, and when she lifted her head, only a single tear remained. “Yes, you’re right.” The tear slid down her pale cheek, and Mother wiped its track away with her sleeve. She shifted, and Draco stood up, so that Mother could get to her feet. She clasped her hands in front of her, nodded, smiled, and said, “It’ll all be fine.”
Then she picked up her book and swept out, leaving Draco standing warily in the middle of the library:
Lie, his head told him.
* * *
Harry woke up to Padfoot’s freezing nose in his ear, and hot, doggy breath in his face. He laughed, pulled Padfoot out of the way by his collar so that he could sit up, and then batted his godfather away with his pillow.
Padfoot just caught the end of it – gently - between his sharp teeth, and gave Harry a silly, tongue-lolling grin. Harry gave up on trying to wrest it away, and pushing him – and the pillow – off the bed.
Padfoot bounced back up almost instantly, and Harry just knew he was going to lose the scuffle that would come next, so he did the only thing he could do.
“Is Moony awake yet?” Padfoot paused mid-bound, and his ears perked up. Harry put on his glasses, grabbed his wand, and with a grin, hopped out of bed.
Padfoot made an impatient noise, and Harry laughed again and ran after him.
After such an eventful morning, it was hard to imagine breakfast being anything but subdued by comparison, but it wasn't; Kreacher had outdone himself and cooked all of Harry's favourite things - even things like treacle tart, which wasn't a breakfast food - and Moony and Padfoot were in good spirits, reminiscing about their own Hogwarts days, and getting louder and louder as they tried to talk over each other to remind Harry about a place or painting that he had to visit as soon as he got the chance.
"The forbidden forest's always fun," Padfoot said. "But I wouldn't recommend it until you've managed to transform, or you're likely to get lost, or attacked by something." Harry arched an eyebrow and glanced between them.
"Or both," Moony said, and his mouth twitched and then spread up into rueful smile. "Remember that game we-?”
“Yes; poor Hagrid,” was Moony’s way of acknowledging that he did. He turned to Harry who was waiting patiently for an explanation. “Back in school,” Moony explained, “we used to spend our frees messing around in the forest.”
“Hide and seek,” Padfoot supplied, “Prongs and I would wrestle and Pe-” He cleared his throat loudly. “-Moony would bet on who would win.”
“The forest was – and still is, I imagine - out of bounds, though; the centaurs aren’t always friendly and there are all sorts of other creatures living in there.”
“Remember the spider?” Padfoot asked wistfully. Moony nodded, and Padfoot turned to Harry. “It was about as big as a cat and it tried to eat Wormtail one full moon.”
“But Hagrid,” Moony said, getting back onto topic, “once he worked out where we were going in our spare time, tried to stop us when he could.”
“Used to sit out in front of his hut and shout at us if we got too close to the trees,” Padfoot supplied. “And if we went in, he had to come and get us, and take us back to the school – part of his gamekeeperly duties, obviously...”
“Sirius and James-”
“And you,” Padfoot added. Moony hesitated and then sighed and then grinned, apparently unable to help himself.
“The three of us, then, thought it was a fantastic game. There was a big old tree, and we used to race – see who could get there before Hagrid caught them and carried us – literally – back to the school.” Harry - who’d met Hagrid a few times now - was well able to picture him with a Marauder or two draped over each shoulder, and laughed.
“You should show him the tree...” Padfoot said excitedly. “See if we can get the second generation playing-”
“I'm already putting Dumbledore in a tricky position by being what I am," Moony said, biting his lip. "I'm not sure that I should be encouraging-"
"If Dumbledore wanted a well behaved teacher, he wouldn't have hired a Marauder," Padfoot said, with conviction. Harry sniggered. Moony opened his mouth, closed it, and then shook his head.
"No," he agreed wryly, "probably not."
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