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Chapter 4 : Loose Lips
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TRISTAN was trying to inhale properly, but Emily’s ranting kept making everyone laugh and cough.
“The miserable, slimy, greasy, know-nothing, nepotistic, Slytherin—” Emily paused momentarily, flushed, trying to think of another insult. “—Unethical bastard.” Emily finished to roaring laughter.
Emily was still fuming over Snape giving Tristan the credit for their perfect potion.
“Ouch,” teased Isobel. “You really know where to hit Snapey where it hurts: ethics.”
Because it was so rare, they always enjoyed seeing Emily get angry. Many might describe Emily as 'mousy,' what with her pointed noise and gentle nature, but Tristan knew her to posess a great depth of feeling. She was still pacing, the hems of her robes slapping the flagstone, and pulling deeply on her fag. Their books lay open on the ground, and occasionally someone would jot down a note, but they were making slow and interrupted progress on their homework. Isobel came the closest to actually studying, pushing her quill around the stone floor with a nonverbal spell. 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.
They’d discovered this private corner of the castle late in their second. So far, they had only ever been discovered by Sir Cadogan, a silly little knight whose portrait hung nearby. Cadogan sometimes took to entering the still life that hung in their sanctuary, and would entertain them by alternately dispensing ‘advice,’ and challenging them to duels.
They usually found him entertaining, but when high, the little knight tended to freak Tristan out. Retreating deeply into his own mind, he would wonder what it was like to be a painting. It seemed like the worst kind of curse to Tristan, as 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 tried not to think about it. While the others chatted on, hurling further abuses at the potions master, Tristan gazed down at the chapter that Professor Burbage—his new Muggle Studies professor—had assigned on the Industrial Revolution.
So far, she had proved to be far more competent professor than "Squirrel," who’d held the position the previous years, before transferring to the Defense Against the Dark Arts post and developing a persistent stammer. The professor had never quite gotten over the shock of having Tristan in his class.
Tristan was the first Slytherin to take Muggle Studies in as long as anyone could remember, and it was hardly a popular class among the other Houses, either. Most members of the magical population, Tristan thought, so often believed that muggle issues were black and white. On the one side were the tolerant, and on the other: Death Eaters. Tristan, instead, saw a wide spectrum of murky greys. Even those who supported muggle welfare and sovereignty—and held no stock in blood status—still considered muggle society to be at worst, backward, and at best, quaint.
And a population who still insist on using inkwells and quills should really reevaluate their definition of 'quaint,' Tristan thought.
But Professor Burbage had opened her first class by lecturing her students 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 reveal how noxiously prejudices invaded the social consciousness.
Tristan’s train of thought arrived at the same destination it always did: a pang like homesickness for the muggle world. Despite how he identified himself to his friends, Tristan had always been more spectator than member. His preoccupation with muggle society often felt like it came more from a place of rage than love. In the most private part of his mind, Tristan admitted to himself that its ultimate source was his own self-loathing. Overwhelmed with aggravation, he shoved his textbook across the flagstone tiles. The sudden outburst startled his friends, who dropped their conversation. Tristan ran his fingers through his hair, and reached for his tobacco.
“Indus-tral-zation getting you down?” Laurel asked, struggling to pronounce the word on his chapter title.
“What if I don’t want a job in the Ministry?” replied Tristan fiercely, and without context.
“Who said you have to work for the Ministry?” Isobel asked.
“There are only two types of jobs a wizard can have,” said Tristan, licking the adhesive strip on a rizla. “In the Ministry, or tangential to the Ministry.”
“That’s not true,” countered Isobel. “My sister’s studying to be a healer, that isn’t tangential to the Ministry at all.”
“What do you want to do?” Tristan pivoted, producing a flame from the tip of his ebony wand. It was clear that he was building up to a point, because he already knew Isobel’s plans after Hogwarts.
“Reform academics and law to end the bias against non-Western magic,” came Isobel’s well-rehearsed answer.
“And where,” asked Tristan, blowing on the cherry at the end of his fag to keep it aglow. “Would you carry out this reform?”
“At… Well yeah, the Ministry, but—” Isobel floundered.
“Tristan, just because Isobel wants to do something connected to the Ministry doesn’t mean that’s all there is,” added Emily. “I mean, Laurel wants to teach, right?”
“Maybe…” said Laurel.
“And you could write, or you could play music, or open a shop, or pour cider in a bloody pub,” Emily heatedly concluded.
“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!” cried Emily, throwing 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?!” Emily shot back. “You just sort of, open it.”
Emily had stumped him at every turn, but Tristan felt his original point was valid, even if he hadn’t communicated it exactly. Hogwarts seemed to expect only one thing out of a person and, to Tristan, teacher or healer or Ministry drone all seemed like different names for the exact same thing. While he did think owning a record shop would be cool, he didn’t quite have the words for what he really wanted to do.
Tristan hadn’t actually been arguing with Emily, just as she hadn’t really been arguing with him. She tended to get upset and combative whenever he gave voice to his misery, and seemed to think she could rationalize him into being happy. He would have been glad for her concern, except that he didn’t feel he could possibly deserve it. That knowledge lacerated the darker part of his mind.
Faint footsteps echoed from around the corner, and Tristan hastily stubbed out his roll-up.
“Suctus Fumigant,” incanted Isobel, using her wand like hoover on the smoke in the air.
“Scourgify,” came Emily’s spell, clearing the floor of any ash.
“Don’t tidy up on our accord,” rang the voice of George Weasley, and the twins appeared from around the bend. Tristan and his friends participated in a collective exhale.
“Yes, we love what you’ve done with the place,” agreed Fred.
“Isn’t it after hours for third years?” asked Isobel. The twins shared a confidential glance.
“Vee haff our vays,” replied George.
“And we were hoping you might take pity on us ickle thirdies, and spare some of your fine cannabis on us,” entreated Fred.
“We do beseech,” added George.
Emily broke up the green buds with her wand especially thoroughly, since the twins preferred she didn’t add tobacco. Fred dramatically fanned the air into his face and sniffed, like a cartoon character ushering an aroma.
“Ahhhhh, ‘a magic beyond all we do here,’” Fred said, appropriating a quote from Dumbledore’s start of term speech.
* * *
The first Hogsmeade trip couldn’t come fast enough for Tristan. September seemed to drag on infinitely, as if the twenty-eighth would never arrive. Despite Marcus and Terence’s best efforts, the thirty-one posters Tristan had magically fastened to the walls of their dormitory endured. He almost regretted this prank, since 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 on the ceiling above his bed; a constant reminder of his first trip to Hogsmeade.
It had been the beginning of his third year, and Tristan and Emily were determined to hear music again. They had crisscrossed the meadows beyond Hogsmeade carrying his stereo, listening carefully for changes in the static. Finally, they had found a sweet spot, and clapped with delight as the sound of David Bowie’s “Starman” stopped warbling and became crisp.
Tristan knew that he was increasingly angsty and despondent, and tried to stay in as light a mood as possible around his mates. With the exception of Muggle Studies, he grew withdrawn and aggressive in any class he didn’t share with Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. In double Herbology with the Gryffindors the week before, Tristan had jinxed Oliver Wood.
He had nothing personal against Wood, aside from general a annoyance with the loudness and self-satisfaction Tristan observed in most Quidditch players—Gryffindor players especially. It had been the last class before supper after a long day, and they were extracting pollen from fanged geraniums.
Wood had spent over two hours of the double lesson engaged in a rowdy conversation about their new seeker. Tristan was working one table behind, privy to the entire, repetitive, story. 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 in the second year or above. And Wood had leaked that the mystery player was a ‘he,’ cutting the pool of possibilities in half.
Wood had been, for the fourth time, acting out a blow-by-blow rendition of their last practice when he’d backed into Tristan’s workstation, nearly knocking over his geranium. Tristan hastened to keep it upright and the wicked blossom seized its opportunity, sinking hooked fangs into Tristan’s unprotected forearm. 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.
Tristan was dropping Essence of Dittany onto the bite when Wood rounded on him, blabbering accusations.
"What's happened here?" called Professor Sprout, as she strode across the greenhouse. "Your geranium's gone all shriveled! What have you done to it?"
"It... bit me," answered Tristan, lamely.
“Well what a surprise turn of events,” Sprout rolled her eyes.
Wood was adding his deafening, if incoherent, voice to the commotion.
“Finite,” Sprout cast absently, setting 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 briskly 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, and 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,” she said, a warm expression on her face. “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 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. Oliver Wood and three of his Gryffindor mates emerged from behind the green, cutting Tristan off.
“Hey Bryce,” Wood 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 had been closing in while he shouted, flanked by his cronies.
“You know, looking at you,” he said, giving Tristan a shove, “you’ve got that look about you. That Slytherin, inbred, pureblood look,” he seethed with another shove. “Just like your Slytherin friends and their so-called ‘reformed’ Death Eater parents.”
Wood shoved him one last time, hard, and Tristan lost his footing, tumbling to the damp grass. He clenched his jaw tight, fighting every impulse to brandish his wand.
“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, and shared a 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 say.
It was fully dark when Tristan approached the Entrance Hall. To the side of the doors, in the shadows, he saw a figure—only distinguishable as a person because of a burning cigarette ember bouncing in the dark.
“Laurel?” Tristan called, approaching her. He recognized her posture and her silhouette, made distinctive by the messy bun she always wore at the back of her head.
“Yeah,” she responded in a cracked voice. As he got closer, she wiped one eye with the pad of her palm and sniffed.
“Should I bugger off?” Tristan 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 this year."
Tristan shifted his weight uncomfortably. He'd never met Ms. Braithewait, but she sounded like a mean sort of woman. “Well, I’ve apparently become persona non grata as far as Gryffindor House is concerned,” he finally confided.
“Fuck Gryffindor,” Laurel replied. “Self satisfied twats; think the sun shines out their arseholes.”
Tristan managed a half-hearted chuckle. Laurel passed him her roll-up, which he took. She crossed her arms tightly, shivering slightly despite the relatively warm September air.
“Listen,” she said. “Wanna have a Cheer? I could use it, 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.
* * *
Late on Friday, the night before their Hogsmeade trip, Tristan thought more about the incident with Wood. As with every Friday, they’d all met up in Cadogan’s Corridor to spend the hours between dinner and curfew. The Weasley twins had stopped by for a bit, and Tristan went silent with shame.
When the twins finally asked what was 'buggering his bum,' Tristan confessed about jinxing Wood in Herbology.
But they’d just laughed, not thinking much of it. Apparently, Wood hadn’t mentioned the altercation to anyone.
“Listen, mate, we’ve wanted to jinx him for ages,” said Fred. “Trust.”
“I love the bloke and all, but the prat had it coming,” agreed George. “if not from you, from the team.”
“And Loose Lips? brilliant!” said Fred.
“We may take a leaf out of your book, mate. Be sure and teach me it some time,” George added.
According to the twins, their new seeker was none other than baby-superstar, Harry Potter. The news made Tristan feel like a tosser for his presumption the previous Tuesday. It was rather a good surprise. Had Tristan cared about Quidditch even remotely, he’d surely think it quite a big deal, as 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? You really should see this kid fly,” insisted George.
“Ehhhhhh,” came the unanimous and unenthusiastic reply.
“Your loss,” remarked Fred before dragging the spliff. He made a good show of exhaling a gluttonous balloon of smoke, only to suck it back up again.
Tristan and his friends usually enjoyed taking advantage of the empty castle and grounds during Quidditch matches. Every faculty member, save for Filch, was usually drawn away to the stadium, leaving the four friends free to roam Hogwarts at their leisure.
“Maybe we could watch a bit from the tower, it has a pretty good view of the pitch,” suggested Emily. The others made non-committal noises.
Luckily, the twins didn’t mind their friends’ lack of interest in the game. 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.
After the twins left, Tristan and the rest hung round the Corridor for another hour before removing it of smoke and other clandestine residue, and making their way back to their respective dormitories in time for curfew. Tristan had the furthest to go; Slytherin dorms were deep in the dungeons below the lake.
He dawdled, ambivalently, on his way down the stairs after saying goodbye to Emily in the Entrance Hall. On the one hand, he wanted to postpone facing Slytherin common room, but he’d stayed up in Cadogan’s as long as possible and would hate to be caught out of bed by Filch. He almost wished for a run-in with Peeves, which would give him a good excuse if he lingered above ground too long.
Tristan’s 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 Tristan. While still generally disliked by the Slytherins at large, Tristan was appalled when Reece started making an effort to include him. It seemed to Pritchard like Tuesday’s incident was the first sign of some untapped potential. 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,” Reece explained.
“I doubt it,” responded Tristan. “My father’s parents were from the North Country, I think.”
“Definitely no relation?” tried Reece.
Tristan was sure he’d mentioned, several times, that his father was a landscaper—but it occurred to him that Slytherins might not know what the word meant.
“He’s a gardener in London,” responded Tristan, dryly.
“Half-blood, I see,” chuckled Reece, recovering. “What of your mother’s people?”
“Not half. Mud,” corrected Tristan. “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,” Tristan seethed before storming up to his bed and closing the hangings around him.
End Note: Isobel Manar Doge-Mostafa is the great niece of Elphias Doge, and niece of Hassan Mostafa—referee at the 1994 Quidditch World Cup.
End Note 2: “Starman” is a track off David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album.
End Note 3: 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.”
End Note 4: "A magic beyond all we do here" is a quote from Philosopher's Stone—Dumbledore was referring to music.
End Note 5: Did you know there are exactly two google hits for the phrase "conceptual art terminology"? Yes, I googled that while researching this chapter.
End Note 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.
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