Chapter 4 : Loose Lips
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TRISTAN tried to inhale properly but Emily’s rant kept making everyone laugh.
“The miserable, slimy, greasy, know-nothing, nepotistic, Slytherin—” she paused, flushed, trying to think of another insult. “—Unethical bastard.”
The Hufflepuff concluded her monologue and Tristan coughed, smoke burning in his throat. Isobel and Laurel doubled over and clutched their stomachs. It was so rare that Emily ever got angry that it was a joy to behold. Snape shouldn't have given Tristan the credit for their perfect potion, but if he hadn't, they wouldn't get to see her so spun up like this.
“Ouch,” Isobel teased. “You really know where to hit Snapey where it hurts: ethics.”
The hems of Emily’s robes slapped the flagstone while she paced but a brief smile flashed across her face.
It was after supper on Friday and they were holed up in a forgotten stretch of corridor near the North Tower. Tristan had cast a magical barrier to keep the smoke from wafting out like he had around his bedroom in London. Books lay open on the ground and occasionally someone would jot down the odd note, but the four of them were making slow and interrupted progress on their coursework. Isobel came the closest to actually studying, pushing her quill around the floor with a nonverbal spell.
They’d discovered this private corner of the castle late in their second year. So far they’d only ever been discovered by Sir Cadogan, a silly little knight whose portrait hung nearby. Cadogan sometimes visited the still life that hung in their sanctuary, entertaining them by alternately dispensing ‘advice’ and challenging them to duels.
They usually found him entertaining, but when Tristan was high, the little knight tended to freak him out. Retreating into his own mind, he would wonder what it was like to be a painting. It seemed like the worst kind of curse, the way portraits lived a kind of half-life, confined to two dimensions watching the world pass around them. There was nothing Tristan hated more than being confined.
He stubbed out his spliff and ran a hand through his hair. Heavy stone walls bounded their narrow passage, leaving a space that felt both too shallow and too wide. Restless and agitated, Tristan flipped open his Muggle Studies textbook.
Charity Burbage had so far proved much more competent than the last professor. ‘Squirrel’ had held the post the previous years before transferring to Defense, where he’d developed a persistent stammer and unfortunate affection for exotic headgear. A dithering, awkward man, Squirrel never had quite gotten over the shock of seeing Tristan in his class.
Tristan had been the first Slytherin in living memory to sign up for Muggle Studies. The other students in the course were all either well-meaning Hufflepuff purebloods or enterprising prefects gunning for twelve perfect O.W.L.s. Few believed the class to be anything more than a soft option. The problem, Tristan thought, was that most wizards saw muggle issues as black and white—on one side, the tolerant, and on the other: Death Eaters. Tristan instead saw the spectrum of murky greys and systemic prejudice. Even those who supported muggle welfare and sovereignty still considered non-magic society to be at worst, backward, and at best, quaint.
And population who still insist on using inkwells and quills should really reevaluate their definition of 'quaint.'
He’d been delighted when Burbage had opened her first class with a lecture on the incredible perseverance of the non-magical population. Her course promised to explore all the rhetorical devices that subtly reinforced notions of magical superiority, and to reveal how noxiously prejudices invaded the social consciousness.
The assigned chapter on the Industrial Revolution sat open in Tristan’s lap, but he failed to take in a word of it. His train of thought had arrived at the same destination it always did: a pang like homesickness for the muggle world. Despite how he identified himself to his friends, he’d always been more a spectator than a member. In the most private corner of his mind, he couldn’t help but suspect that his preoccupation had more to do with his hatred of wizarding society than his fascination with muggle culture.
Aggravated, he shoved his textbook across the flagstone tiles. The sudden outburst startled his friends and they dropped their conversation while Tristan rummaged for his tobacco.
“Indus-tral-zation getting you down?” Laurel struggled to pronounce the word on his chapter title.
“What if I don’t want a job in the Ministry?” he burst without a segue.
“Who said you have to work for the Ministry?” Isobel frowned at him.
“There are only two types of jobs a wizard can have.” Tristan said, licking the adhesive strip on a rizla. “In the Ministry, or tangential to the Ministry.”
“That’s not true,” Isobel countered. “My sister’s studying to be a healer, that isn’t tangential to the Ministry at all.”
“And what do you want to do?” He produced a flame from the end of his ebony wand.
“Reform academics and law to end the bias against non-Western magic,” came her well-rehearsed answer.
“And where,” Tristan blew on the of his fag to keep it aglow, “would you carry out this reform?”
“At… Well yeah, the Ministry, but—”
“Tristan, just because Isobel wants to do something connected to the Ministry doesn’t mean that’s all there is.” Emily sounded frustrated. “I mean, Laurel wants to teach, right?”
“Maybe…” Laurel shrugged.
“And you could write, or you could play music, or open a shop, or pour bloody cider in a bloody pub.” A flush rose in Emily’s cheeks as she worked herself up.
“And what if I want a muggle job? What if I want to open my own record shop, instead of some poxy apothecary?”
“Then get a muggle job!” She threw up her arms.
“Em, in the muggle world, I have no education past primary school. You can’t exactly put your O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s on a muggle CV.”
“Since when do you need a CV to open a record shop?” she shot back. “You just sort of, open it.”
Emily had stumped him at every turn, but he still felt his original point was valid even if he couldn’t put it into words. Hogwarts seemed to expect only one thing out of a person and to Tristan, teacher or healer or Ministry drone all sounded like different names for the exact same thing. While he did think owning a record shop would be cool, he didn’t quite have a name for what he really wanted to do.
While it hadn’t been a proper argument, silence still hung in the corridor. Emily always got upset when Tristan voiced his more miserable thoughts, as though she could simply rationalize him into being happy.
“Listen,” he said, keen to apologize after making a scene, but Emily hushed him.
It was a moment before he heard the faint footsteps echoing in the distance. Tristan hastily stubbed out his roll-up.
“Suctus Fumigant.” Isobel used her wand like hoover on the smoke in the air.
“Scourgify.” Emily’s spell cleared the floor of ash.
“Don’t tidy up on our accord,” George Weasley called as the twins emerged around the bend. Tristan and his friends participated in a collective exhale.
“Yes, we love what you’ve done with the place.” Fred nodded.
“Isn’t it after hours for third years?” Isobel asked.
The twins shared a confidential glance but didn’t reply.
“We were hoping you might take pity on us ickle thirdies,” Fred said. “And spare some of your fine cannabis for us.”
“We do beseech,” added George.
Emily took extra care grinding the green buds with the end of her wand as the twins preferred she didn’t add tobacco.
“Ahhhhh, ‘a magic beyond all we do here,’” Fred said, appropriating a quote from Dumbledore’s start of term speech as he exhaled a balloon of heady smoke.
September dragged, as if stubborn, and it felt to Tristan like the twenty-eighth would never arrive. He’d been counting down the days to the first Hogsmeade trip since the start of term.
Despite his roommates’ best efforts, the thirty-one posters he’d magically fastened to the walls of their dormitory endured. Tristan almost regretted the prank. The faces and album covers of his most beloved musicians only made him more aware of his deprivation. He'd affixed the Ziggy Stardust poster to the ceiling above his bed, where it now acted as an unrelenting reminder of his first trip to Hogsmeade.
It had been the beginning of his third year. He and Emily were determined to hear music again. They crisscrossed the meadows beyond the village carrying his stereo, paying careful attention to any changes in the static. Finally, they found a sweet spot, and clapped with delight as the sound of Ziggy Stardust's “Starman” stopped warbling and became crisp.
Let the children lose it / Let the children use it / Let all the children boogie.
Tristan resented having such naff lyrics stuck in his head as he whiled away the days until his next weekend away from the castle. While he tried to keep a light mood around his mates, he’d grown withdrawn and aggressive in any class he didn’t share with Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff.
Tuesday evening found him extracting pollen from fanged geraniums alongside the Gryffindors. It was his last class of the day before supper, and his patience felt taut. Oliver Wood had spent the last two hours of the double lesson engaged in a rowdy conversation about their new seeker.
Tristan had nothing personal against Wood aside from a general annoyance with the loudness and self-satisfaction he observed in most Quidditch players—Gryffindor players especially. But as he was sat one table behind, he’d been privy to the entire, repetitive discussion. So far he’d gathered that the new player was some sort of 'savant' with 'Quidditch in his blood’; that the team was keeping the news under wraps as a 'secret weapon’; and that everyone 'absolutely wouldn’t believe it' when they found out who he was. It all seemed rather daft to Tristan, since there were only so many Gryffindors above second year.
For the fourth time, Wood reenacted a blow-by-blow rendition of their last practice and Tristan grit his teeth. The Gryffindor Captain jumped and lunged, narrating as he mimed each of the players’ movements. Then, just as he dove for his imaginary snitch, he crashed into Tristan’s workstation. The geranium toppled off the end up the table. Tristan threw out his hands and caught the porcelain pot, but the wicked blossom seized its opportunity just as he’d righted it. Two hooked fangs sunk into his unprotected forums.
Without thinking, he cast a nonverbal Loose Lips jinx on Wood, and cursed his geranium out of retribution. The plant withered and Wood lost control of the mouth he’d been running.
"What's happened here?" Professor Sprout strode across the greenhouse. "Your geranium's gone all shriveled! What have you done to it?"
"It... bit me," Tristan answered lamely.
“Well what a surprise turn of events.” Sprout rolled her eyes.
Wood rounded on Tristan and and added his deafening, if incoherent, voice to the commotion.
“Finite.” Sprout cast absently and set him right again. She looked at the plant, then at Wood’s livid face, and then at the rapidly swelling punctures on Tristan’s arm. “Ten points from Slytherin,” she concluded before marching off.
The following Thursday, and two days before the first Hogsmeade trip, Tristan took a table as far from Wood as possible and completed his work in silence. He was quick to finish, and rather than dawdling in his free time, requested extra tasks from Professor Sprout so he could keep busy. The ninety minutes passed without incident and Tristan lingered—washing his hands, packing his books, re-shelving various tools—in order to be the last to leave. As he exited the greenhouse, Professor Sprout looked up from her desk.
“Thank you for your extra work today, Mr. Bryce. You know, if you ever want to talk, I have my drop-in hours posted in Greenhouse One.”
“Erm, thanks,” Tristan muttered, not knowing what to say. Sprout also acted as the Hogwarts guidance counselor.
“And a point to Slytherin, for your help cleaning up,” she said before returning to the sheaths of parchment on her desk.
The sun was almost set as Tristan walked alone back to the castle for dinner. Shadows of jumbled towers stretched long across the grass. In the distance, he heard merry voices ring out from the Great Hall. Then, urgent whispers. He turned around in time to see four silhouettes emerging from behind the last greenhouse.
Oliver Wood and his Gryffindor mates made quick work of surrounding Tristan.
“Hey Bryce,” he called. “You know, I was wrong about you. I see you go around with that Hufflepuff slag and your Ravenclaw friends, and my beaters seem to think you’re all right, but you’re just another Slytherin wanker. Being a Hex Head doesn’t change that.”
Wood closed in while he shouted, flanked by his cronies. Beads of sweat on his forehead and upper lip glowed blue in the twilight. He’d rolled up his sleeves.
“You know, looking at you,” he gave Tristan a shove while the others circled, “you’ve got that look about you. That Slytherin, inbred look. Just like your Slytherin friends and their so-called ‘reformed’ Death Eater parents.”
Wood pushed him again, harder, and Tristan lost his footing, tumbling down to the damp grass. He clenched his jaw tight, fighting every impulse to brandish his wand. The leering faces of the Gryffindors looked eerie in the half-light.
“Now you listen to me, Bryce: jinx me, or any Gryffindor again, and you’ll have the whole House on you faster than I can snap. Got it?”
Tristan stayed down, sharing the tense silence with Wood. After a long pause, the four Gryffindors turned back and tramped away toward the castle.
“Fucking Slytherin,” Tristan heard one of them scoff.
It was fully dark when Tristan finally approached the Entrance Hall. To the side of the doors, in the shadows between the stone wall and column, he saw a burning cigarette ember bouncing in the dark.
“Laurel?” he called, recognizing her posture and the outline of the messy bun she always wore at the back of her head.
“Yeah.” Her voice cracked and she wiped one eye with the pad of her palm.
“Should I bugger off?” he asked—he’d never been much good with crying girls.
“Nah, s’alright. Just had a shite day.” She looked fidgety and anxious. "Mum wrote me—talked a load of rubbish about how she'd disown me if I didn't manage to outdo Izzy in our O.W.L.s."
Tristan shifted his weight uncomfortably. He'd never met Ms. Braithwaite but she sounded like a right bitch. “Well, I’ve apparently become persona non grata as far as Gryffindor House is concerned,” he confided.
“Fuck Gryffindor,” she said. “Self satisfied twats; think the sun shines out their arseholes.”
Tristan managed a half-hearted chuckle and Laurel passed him her roll-up. She had her arms crossed tight across her chest and shivered despite the relatively warm September air.
“Listen,” she lowered her voice. “Wanna have a Cheer? I could use one, and it seems like you could too.”
“M—yeah,” Tristan croaked, inhaling a long drag. After passing back the remainder of the fag he pulled out his wand. Laurel finished her cigarette and clumsily stubbed it out against the castle wall.
As with every Friday, the night before the Hogsmeade trip found Tristan and his mates sat up in Cadogan’s Corridor. The arrival of the Weasley twins made him go quiet. It was a while before the twins demanded what was 'buggering his bum' and he finally confessed about jinxing Wood in Herbology.
“Listen, mate, we’ve wanted to jinx him for ages,” Fred laughed to Tristan’s surprise. “Trust.”
“I love the bloke and all, but the prat had it coming,” George agreed. “If not from you, from the team.”
“And Loose Lips? Brilliant!” Fred grinned.
“We may take a leaf out of your book, mate. Be sure and teach us that some time.
According to the twins, the new seeker was none other than baby-superstar, Harry Potter. The news made Tristan feel like a tosser; it was rather a good surprise. Had Tristan cared about Quidditch even remotely, he’d surely think it quite a big deal. Even he knew that first years never made the House team. Reputation aside, Fred and George insisted that the new seeker was, indeed, something of a ‘savant.’
“First game’s in November, sure we can’t persuade you lot to turn-coat and come support Gryffindor?” George tried. “You really should see this kid fly.”
“Ehhhhhh,” came the unanimous and unenthusiastic reply. Tristan and his friends usually enjoyed taking advantage of the empty castle and grounds during Quidditch matches. Every faculty member would be at the stadium leaving the four of them free to roam Hogwarts at their leisure.
“Your loss.” Fred shrugged before dragging the spliff. He made a good show of exhaling a gluttonous cloud of smoke only to suck it back up again.
“Maybe we could watch a bit from the tower,” Emily suggested. “It has a pretty good view of the pitch.”
The others made noncommittal noises. Luckily, the twins didn’t mind their lack of interest in sport. Even Isobel didn’t care for Quidditch, and it was huge in her family. Her parents had dragged her to matches all her life, and her uncle had even played for Egypt professionally when he was young.
Curfew loomed, so they hastily cleaned the Corridor of smoke and other clandestine residue. Tristan dawdled on his way down to the dungeons and almost wished for a run-in with Peeves. It would at least give him an excuse if he was caught out of bed.
His attack on Oliver Wood during Herbology had unfortunately raised his esteem in the eyes of his House, undoing four years of hard work establishing himself as a pariah. Reece Pritchard, new Slytherin prefect, had started taking a maddening interest in him. It seemed like Pritchard took Tuesday’s incident as the first sign of some untapped potential. Every night since Tuesday, the prefect had made an extra effort to include him. Tristan was sure he would rather eat slugs than participate in whatever it was Slytherins did for fun.
“Ah, Brycey,” Reece called from an armchair as soon as Tristan edged into the Common Room. The prefect was mid-discussion with an exceptionally pale first-year and his troll-faced entourage. “We were just discussing lineages.”
Of course you were, thought Tristan.
“Are you, by any chance, connected to the Chicago Bryces? Old family out stateside, young Malfoy here tells me.”
“I doubt it,” he said. “My father’s parents were from the North Country, I think.”
“Definitely no relation?”
Tristan was sure he’d mentioned that his father was a landscaper, but then Slytherins might not know what the word meant.
“He’s a gardener in London,” he said instead.
“Half-blood, I see,” Reece chuckled, recovering. “What of your mother’s people?”
“Not half. Mud,” Tristan corrected. “My mother’s ‘people’ worked in a factory. In Ireland. She was first in her family to go to Hogwarts. So I’m not a ‘Chicago Bryce’ or a ‘Bombay MacDonald’ or anything else.”
The other Slytherins just sat, mouths agape, as he stormed up to his bed and closed the hangings around him.
1. Isobel is the great niece of Elphias Doge and niece of Hassan Mostafa—referee at the 1994 Quidditch World Cup.
2. “Starman” is a track off David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album.
3. The Chapter text is another lyric from "Tristan" by Patrick Wolf. (All lyrics on the CIs are of the correct era, except for this song--but it's just too appropriate not to include!)
4. Tristan’s wand is Ebony with Dragon Heartstring, 9.86 (or pi squared) inches, and dense. According to Pottermore, ebony wands are well suited to combative magic and Transfiguration. They work best for wizards with “the courage to be themselves,” and frequently belong to people who are “non-conformist, highly individual or comfortable with the status of outsider.” Ebony wand holders tend to stick to their beliefs, and don’t easily change their minds. Dragon heartstring wands are considered the most powerful, and the “easiest to turn to the Dark Arts.”
5. "A magic beyond all we do here" is a quote from Philosopher's Stone—Dumbledore was referring to music.
6. And some people have felt confused by Tristan identifying as a 'mudblood.' In the eyes of blood purists, having a muggle father and muggle-born muggle would still render him such (hence Harry being a 'half-blood', because his mum was a muggle-born). Tristan probably could identify as a half-blood if he wanted, but he's 'comfortable with the status of outsider.'
A/N: Special thanks to Marauderfan for the "reevaulating definition of quaint" line, and to Pixileanin for being the bestest beta.
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