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Chapter 37 : The Beginning (Again)
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The Beginning (Again)
Lovely image by alaska young at TDA.
The house is very neat, he notices. He feels a ridiculous urge to wipe his shoes on the daisy-colored doormat as the door closes quietly behind him. Dust mites float in the light, and the place smells like it has been closed up, like stale air.
He walks into the living room – neatly plumped cushions, a spotless fireplace, a rectangular rug aligning exactly with the lines of the floorboards. The walls and the shelves are covered with photographs of a plump, blond-haired boy, as a howling toddler, a pink-faced child, and finally, a very large young man with small, watery eyes. In some photographs the boy is joined by his parents – the broad, red-faced man with a moustache, and the pinch-faced woman, who even sandwiched between her husband and son has the appearance of looking down her very long nose at someone she considers far beneath her. The pictures are frozen and unmoving, which makes him snort slightly – primitive Muggles, indeed.
He moves through the house – the neat china teacups facing the same direction in the cupboard, the shining toilets, the cupboard beneath the stairs where, unbeknownst to the Death Eater, a little boy once slept surrounded by cobwebs and silence – the boy who would grow up to be the young man he is hunting. He takes out his wand and casts the necessary spells. As he suspected, nobody has set foot in this place for weeks.
In the yard next door, a dog is barking, sticking its nose through the fence. The bushes in the garden are starting to be overgrown, though the grass is brown and dry in patches. He raises his wand and considers silencing the dog – indeed, it would not attract the unwanted attention of the Muggles in the area if it were lying still on the ground! But he doesn’t have the heart for it, not truly – he always liked dogs. Amelia had a little dog which she used to fawn over, and it would sniff his hand and wag its tail and was always pleased to see him. So he will let this dog live, for now, in memory of that other little creature from all those years ago.
He moves outside, closing the door to the pristine, silent house behind him. Across the street, an old, stooped woman is hobbling by, her black dress covered in what looks like orange cat fur.
“Absolutely empty, and will stay that way, if they know what’s good for them,” he says to his houseguest later that day. “I’ve put up spells to alert me if any of the old residents returns to the house – we’ll keep an occasional lookout, but I think our energy is wasted in paying it too much attention.”
He doesn’t notice that his daughter is listening, a curious yet unreadable expression on her pale face.
For me, August passes in a nervous blur. My parents become more wary than ever, and the only time we are truly allowed to leave the property other than supervised walks around the local village is to go to Diagon Alley to pick up our school supplies. My mother explains that things are dangerous, to which Theo retorts that the Ministry has already fallen to the Death Eaters, so what danger are their children in? He says it with a certain bitterness in his tone, which my mother recognizes. She tells him to mind his tongue, but also that with resistance forces moving beneath the surface and dangerous wizards like Potter out there on the loose, one never knows when we might be targeted.
“I’ll feel so much better when you children are back at Hogwarts,” she keeps saying.
Meanwhile, I barely see my father or Mr. Nott as they are always venturing out on the Dark Lord’s business. My father has been promoted to a higher position in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, though his primary motives and duties are as yet unclear to me. However, both of them do take the day off to escort us to Diagon Alley, and my father is unusually attentive, in a way he hasn’t been in weeks. He offers to buy me a new set of expensive dress robes, even though I already have several pairs, and offers a beautiful ring set with white stones to match the trim on the robes. I’m quite taken with the ring, which I put on my ring finger on my right hand.
We have many new books for the new year, many which have to do with blood purity and the dangers of Muggles, darkly bound books from authors with old names like ‘Selwyn’ and ‘Black.’ Daphne meets up with Blaise Zabini in Flourish and Blotts, accompanied by his very haughty and very beautiful mother. Pyxis is almost too frightened of her to make eye contact, and he whispers something about his old theory of Blaise and his mother being Narcissists, which is quite laughable.
“What was it, that Narcissists’ partners always end up dying in some horrible way?” I whisper to him as we leaf through a collection of The Stolen Magic. “And oh, look, Pyx, this book is just horrible. I wonder which Professor assigned it – surely not any of the current ones.”
“Guess we’ll find out,” Pyxis mutters back, casting a nervous look over his shoulder. The bookshop is quite quiet today, despite September fast approaching, and what shoppers there are keep their heads down and don’t interact with one another. Only my family and the Notts strut about like they are at complete ease. My father is bartering over a book at the counter, and my mother has an arm around Daphne as they chat with the Zabinis – my mother and sister have identically pleasant expressions on their pale, pointed faces.
My father says no when we ask to go look around in Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, and he gives Pyxis and I a curious look, attempting to catch our eyes. I wonder if he is aware that we used Extendable Ears on the library when he and Mr. Nott were discussing important business, and where they came from. Pyxis tries to dodge off down towards Knockturn Alley, muttering something about seeing if his old supplier is still in business. I glare at him.
“I thought you quit that drug habit of yours.”
“Not so much quit as lost all access to the source,” he says quietly. I glance at Theo, remembering the accident at Christmas and how we were nearly arrested by the Muggle policeman before I urged Theo to enchant us out of the situation.
Throughout the whole trip, I find myself looking for a familiar face, as if he might be wandering around the Alley hoping for a glimpse of me, just as I am looking for him. But something is troubling me – my communication book with Terry has stayed empty for about a week, though I’ve written him long notes pleading for him to let me know he’s alright. I haven’t dared send him a letter by owl post, either. Worse is the quite clear sign that Muggleborns will not be permitted to return to Hogwarts this year – a strange action which gives me an unfamiliar feeling in the pit of my stomach, something I cannot quite identify. Perhaps it is a sort of pity… not only for myself and the loss of my own boyfriend, but for all the other students who will be affected by this change, by all the familiar, nameless faces who will be missing from the corridors this year.
As the days pass in quiet monotony and September first grows closer and closer, Theo seems to withdraw even more into himself. He’s always been a quiet person – he has to be in a certain mood to talk. We’ve grown apart over the past few months, and I know that his experiences with being scouted for the Death Eaters and my preoccupation with Terry, and even the incidents with Taurus and Demetria, have left him not quite knowing how to speak to me. I find myself looking back a year, where I fancied him so much and hated poor Christiana, just because she had held his attention when I could not get it in the first place, and almost laugh and squirm at the uncomfortable thought of it. I’ll always love Theo, in the same way I love Pyxis – as a playmate of the past, a friend, even a brother. But Terry is the boy who holds my thoughts, who lingers in my dreams, who is taken from me over and over again in my dreams and quiet moments of worry, still and pale as the form of the Boggart in the cellar at Malfoy Manor.
Pyxis and I muse a little about whether Draco Malfoy will be returning this year after his flight with Snape in September. I privately think that the professors and students would not stand for it, considering his possible involvement with the Death Eater infiltration and Dumbledore’s murder – yet it is hard to be sure. We both feel oddly uncomfortable asking our fathers about it. Somehow, Draco has crossed over from being an ordinary bloke to being Death Eater property, and talking to our fathers too much about their duties as servants of You-Know-Who – despite the promotions and the gold and the power – feels like crossing an invisible boundary.
The red of the Hogwarts express feels dimmer than last year, and quieter. Students shuffle about the platform, many already changed into their black robes, which is unusual. The usual September 1st excitement, as first years shake off crying younger siblings and jump about nervously as their parents load the trunks onto the train, is absent. And the platform is far less crowded than usual.
“A lot of kids’ parents have pulled them out of school,” Theo mutters in my ear. He glances around, a look of mild distaste on his face. “I suppose I should be patrolling, doing Head Boy duties. Perhaps offering assistance to the first years.”
“Did the school owl you about your responsibilities?”
“Only that we were to meet with the prefects in the very first compartment,” he replies sourly. “Just how I wanted to spend my seventh year. Keeping a load of useless Hufflepuffs in line.”
“And Pyxis,” I add, smirking slightly. Theo rolls his eyes, straightening the golden Head Boy badge, which is inlaid with green. Daphne’s is the same: apparently it’s relatively rare for the Head Boy and Girl to be chosen from the same House, and especially unusual for either Head to have not been a prefect before.
Suddenly, a tall, dark-haired figure draws my attention from across the platform. I squint, trying to make out the facial features against the red Hogwarts Express. Dark hair, crooked smile – my heart lurches into my throat, and my pulse thuds against my skin. Terry Boot, is it you?
“Tor, give us a hand,” my mother snaps. Distracted, the moment breaks, and the dark-haired boy has faded back into the crowd. I swallow, hard: my throat has gone very dry.
My parents help us load our trunks onto the train. Mr. Nott said his goodbyes back at the house, since he’s technically still supposed to be in Azkaban – not that the Prophet has reported anything about the breakout last month. A few wizards and witches nod to my father as they walk by with their children, though I notice that some are without any. Perhaps the Ministry sent them to ensure no trouble was started on the platform.
Daphne hugs my parents goodbye, smiling graciously as they offer their congratulations to her one more time, then leads the boys in the direction of the front of the train. I watch their three dark heads bobbing through the steam and the piles of people. It’s a cold day, and the autumn breezes wisp through the open train station.
“Well, I suppose this is it. Have a nice term, darling, and be sure to behave,” Mum says. She kisses me on the top of my head. My father pulls me in for a hug.
“I second everything your mother says. And… I hope you’re not upset about not making prefect, dear. We tried, but there’s only so much we could do.”
My heart thuds in my throat. “What do you mean… you tried? Who is the prefect for Slytherin, then? Amaris?”
My parents glance at one another. “It doesn’t mean anything, now go and find yourself a compartment,” my father says. There is no hesitation in his voice: I am dismissed. I force a smile at them and climb onto the train, not bothering to look behind me. Last year creeps into my head: how my father pulled us aside to warn us to stay away from Malfoy. Even then, he knew the trouble Draco was in. He knew about the infiltration of Hogwarts and the plot to kill Dumbledore. I squeeze past a couple of students and enter my compartment, glancing out the window at my parents, who wave. My father has his arm around my mother, and they are speaking about something, their heads bent very close together. It is hard to believe that they could knowingly plot murder.
The dampness in the London air and the exertion of fiddling with my trunk has caused my hair to feel thick and heavy on the back of my neck, and I pull it up into a lopsided bun on top of my head. Sitting alone in the compartment, I wave at my parents as the train begins to slowly pull away from the station, the floor rushing beneath my feet.
I spend the next half hour minutes or so shifting uncomfortably on the seats, trying to read one of the new school books, and even picking at my nails. I have a slightly chipped layer of pale pink polish from the witches’ products store in Diagon Alley, and distract myself by trying to scratch it off with my other nails and teeth. Spitting out a little flake of polish and wiping my hands on the seat, I decide that enough is enough. Just in case, I need to find out if Terry is on this train.
Decisively, I move into the corridor which runs between the sets of compartments, stepping silently on the thick red carpet which is already stained with footprints. Idly, I wonder what happens to the Hogwarts Express during the long months between taking students back and forth to school: I’m quite sure it returns to London, since I’ve never seen it sitting in the Hogsmeade station during the year. Is there a driver who only has a job six times a year? I glance into the compartment across from me: empty.
Moving down the train, more and more compartments are either empty or inhabited by one or two lone students. The greatest excitement is when I let myself into one where the blinds have been drawn, and walk in one a couple snogging on the seat, practically half undressed. I mutter a quick apology and scurry out down the corridor in case they come to investigate, feeling my face glow a hot and uncharacteristic pink. It’s been a long time since I had a good snog, I whine to myself.
I pass by Christiana, Theo’s ex-girlfriend, who waves a little confusedly as she sees me peeking inside the compartment where she’s sat with a few sixth years, and a couple of now-fourth years whom I recognize as having helped my old friends and I with the prank we pulled against Griz Goyle last year. It feels very long ago, but the memory still brings a slight smile to my lips. With the terms I parted on with the other Slytherins, I should really be expecting to be the brunt of such vicious jokes, though hopefully everybody has bigger things on their minds this year.
Squeezing by a brawny boy showing off his new Beater bat to a compartment of Hufflepuffs, and ducking into an empty compartment to make room for the trolley lady to pass by with her tasty wares, I finally, in the last carriage, find the people I’m looking for. Michael Corner and Anthony Goldstein are sitting with a girl with black, sleek hair held in a tight bun at the back of her head. She has her hands folded in her lap and is leaning forward slightly, frowning and looking at Michael. The fourth member of their party is the one I recognize as Cadmus Scamander, who Terry liked to laugh about due to his eccentric habits and obsessive interest in magical creatures.
Hesitantly, I rap my knuckles on the glass of the compartment door. The Ravenclaws look up in surprise, then Anthony leans over to slide open the door, smiling up at me.
“Tor, what a nice surprise,” he says softly, always the gentleman. “Come and sit with us – this is Padma Patil, and Cadmus Scamander. Guys, this is…Tor. She’s a Slytherin who Terry was tutoring last year.” I smile back, shyly, and perch on the seat next to Padma. In comparison to her tidy appearance, I must look a mess, with my shirt sticking to my skin and my heat-frizzed hair falling out of its bun. Crossing my legs, I shift away from the door, hoping one of the Slytherins won’t glance in and wonder why I’m hanging out with a bunch of older Ravenclaws.
“How was your summer?” Michael asks. He’s drumming a rhythm on the leg of his jeans, and Anthony is tapping his foot. The whole compartment has an air of tension, and I wonder what I’ve just walked into. The only person who doesn’t seem bothered is Cadmus, who has some sort of dark, furry creature in a cage which he’s glancing at with fond looks.
“Erm, it was okay, thanks. Sorry, what is that?”
“Cadmus’ new pet,” Padma says, wrinkling her nose and edging slightly away. “A flesh-eating bat from Argentina he picked up in Knockturn Alley…”
“Flesh-eating?” I stare at the animal, which looks pretty drowsy. On closer examination, I realize the creature is hanging upside-down, large furry ears brushing the floor of the cage.
“Yeah, I’m pretty thrilled to share a dormitory with it this year.”
“Silas is his name,” Cadmus cuts in. He smiles fondly. “And he doesn’t necessarilyeat living flesh. Chicken or beef from the kitchens will do him nicely.”
Anthony shudders slightly. “Cadmus, it’s heroic and everything how you saved it….erm, Silas, from becoming a stuffed ornament in some old pureblood family’s house, but can’t you send him to your brother to take care of? I really don’t trust the charms you put on the cage, with all due respect, mate. And it seems cruel to keep him cooped up in that cage.”
“I intended to let him out to fly at night, like an owl,” Cadmus says mildly. Silas twitches.
“What?” Michael cries out. Anthony catches his eye and shakes his head slightly, mouthing a word which looks like, McGonagall.
“Sorry, Tor. Can we help you with anything? I mean, you’re welcome to sit with us, of course. But I think you can see that Terry isn’t here,” Anthony says kindly. “Muggleborns aren’t allowed to come back to Hogwarts, as I’m sure you know.”
“I thought so, but I couldn’t be sure,” I tell him. “My parents… they mentioned something.”
Padma snorts. “Typical Slytherins, not knowing what’s going on even if it’s happening right under their noses,” she says, pulling out a book. Anthony gives her a warning look, and I bite my lip. She smiles slightly to herself: perhaps lashing out at me is a small victory.
“It’s just because I thought I… might have seen Terry on the platform. That’s why I asked,” I tell the boys. “Well, I just wanted to know if I had to find a new, erm, tutor for the year. Nothing else.”
“Tor, wait,” Anthony cuts in as I begin to stand up. “Do you not know about the… the commission?” He glances at Padma. “What? Perhaps her parents didn’t want her to know. It’s not hard to censor your children’s media intake when you live out in the country and don’t have contact with many people – Terry told me a few things,” he adds, slightly sheepishly. I shake my head, unsure what he’s talking about.
“They’re rounding up the Muggleborns,” Michael says flatly. He sighs, running a hand through his dark hair and then leaning his head against the window. “Checking blood status, snapping their wands. Kids who are of Hogwarts age have to come to school, it’s mandatory attendance now, though some – like our other dorm mate, Bentley – have somehow gotten out of it.” Padma tenses beside me. “And Muggleborns, if they can’t prove their magical status in front of representatives from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, have their wands snapped and are rounded up into prison. And God bloody knows what else.”
My skin feels very cold, despite the slight sheen of sweat lingering upon it. Again, like when I thought I saw Terry on the platform, my heart seems to rise up slowly inside my throat, my head feeling very heavy. The Ravenclaws won’t know this, but my father is the new head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. This means that these new rules are under his jurisdiction, his control. My father is the one hunting the boy I care about, and the thought sends a sickening lurch through my stomach. I’ve never been sick in public before, and my gaze darts around frantically for somewhere to throw up, if necessary. Silas’ cage is the only contained area, but being sick over a flesh-eating bat doesn’t seem like the best way to be subtle.
I was foolish not to figure this out, I realize. Blind to what I did not want to see. Of course, the Muggleborns would be punished, now that the Dark Lord has taken over the Ministry.
“Is she okay?” Michael says uncertainly. Anthony swears and pulls out a bottle of water, taking off the cap and handing it to me. I take a sip, and gurgle slightly as my throat attempts to retch. Forcing it back down and taking another drink, I take a deep, shattering breath.
“Hey, hey, Tor, it’s alright,” Anthony says. “Are you feeling motion sick? Here, come over and sit by the window, so you’re facing the direction which the train is going. It’s easier that way.” He helps me move to the window, where green fields are rushing past. He pats my back gently. Padma glances over, concern on her stern features, then turns back to her book. Anthony leans in a little closer to my ear. “Terry owled me two weeks ago. He’s gone on the run,” he whispers. I glance at Padma and Cadmus: neither really appear to be paying attention. “That’s all I know, but I’m going to tell you right away if I hear anything, okay? Don’t worry. Terry can take care of himself. Tons of Muggleborns have gone abroad, or are in hiding. He’ll team up with someone and be fine.”
“I know. It’s just… I feel bad, for being so naďve,” I whisper back, and hold out the bottle. Anthony shakes his head: clearly, the bottle is now mine to keep. I take another sip, and let the water swirl around in my mouth. So, Terry Boot is not coming back to Hogwarts. So, he’s on the run.
“You can sit with us for as long as you like, okay?” Anthony says, smiling. I thank him quietly. He really is the nicest bloke, like Terry told me. I find myself wondering if Terry forgot to pack out communications notebook, or if he just left in such a hurry that there was no time to bring anything besides a wand. Are his family in danger as well? I glance at Anthony: he’s staring at the ground, mouth in a thin, hard line. Perhaps he’s thinking similar thoughts.
We are all surprised when, a few minutes later, the train seems to be slowing. Outside, the roofs of a small town come into focus, and I catch a glimpse of a couple children waving at the train. It continues to slow, until we are paused in front of a field of cows. It’s raining outside in this part of England, and the cows are all huddled together, persistently chewing up grass.
“Don’t reckon there’s more Dementors, eh?” Michael whispers. Anthony rolls his eyes, though Cadmus looks a little terrified and pats the top of Silas’ cage. Silas curls his head a little closer to his furry chest. Without the moving of the engines, the place is eerily silent. Padma stands up, and peers out the compartment door.
“Great, here comes that Slytherin cow,” she whispers, shoving her nose back inside her book. “She’s checking the compartments with some bloke.”
“Erm, how close are they?” I ask. Padma shrugs. I pull down my hair so it’s hiding the side of my face and turn towards the window, hoping that it will obscure my identity. One of the cows outside raises its head and looks at me, chewing methodically.
The compartment door slides open. “Tor? What are you doing here?” Scowling, I turn to face my sister, flanked by a tall young man wearing a black cloak. It takes me a few minutes to recognize him – his name is Christian Haynes, and he was at the Ball at Malfoy Manor at New Year’s, speaking to Theo. If my memory serves, he recruits people for the Dark Lord’s cause – whether they want to join or not.
“I was just getting some help with Charms,” I murmur. Daphne glances around with distaste: after all, these are her year mates, though I certainly don’t know all the Ravenclaws in my own year.
“Well, get back to our compartment,” she says frostily. “I have some valuable things in my trunk and I want you there to keep an eye while I’m patrolling. Christian, check the rest of the compartments.” My sister glares at Anthony. “No, don’t look all excited, Goldstein. Nothing that somebody like you would know what to do with.” She purses her lips.
Anthony shrugs, a confused frown on his face. Michael, however, who has been quite quiet for my time in the Ravenclaws’ compartment, stands up angrily. “I don’t know who you think you are, Greengrass, to barge in and speak so rudely to my friends,” he says. “Tor doesn’t have to go watch over your precious little trinkets – she’s fine here with us. And Anthony wouldn’t touch you – or your things – with a ten foot pole.” He puts one hand on his hips, but I notice the other is touching the tip of his wand which is sticking out of his pocket.
Daphne rolls her eyes, but her face is a little pink. Across the corridor, Christian Haynes is talking to the other compartment, but he glances around curiously, to see how Daphne will handle this.
“Go scurry back to the filth you came from, Corner,” Daphne says haughtily, as if she cannot be bothered. Only I notice the slight trembling in her lip. She’s nervous, and stressed, and doesn’t want to deal with this right now. I can tell. But Christian is watching, and Michael has brought out his wand, pointing it casually at the ground in front of her. “Tor, come on.”
“It’s fine,” I tell the Ravenclaws, and stand up to squeeze past Michael. But as Daphne turns around to leave the compartment, Michael’s wand twitches, and she goes sprawling across the corridor, her robes tugging up around her waist and revealing a flash of her blue knickers underneath her tights. Anthony puts his head in his hands, but in a moment, Haynes’ wand flick a spell at Michael and the younger boy goes flying back into the air, bumping into me so I stumble backwards, and hitting his head on the glass window, and tumbling down like a rag doll.
“Keep your hexes to yourself around your betters,” Haynes says in a light, cordial voice. He helps my sister up, and she quickly adjusts her skirt, hair slightly skewed. Hurriedly, my shoulder aching a little from where Michael was thrown into it, I move into the corridor, glancing guiltily behind me. Cadmus clutches Silas’ cage to his chest, murmuring comforting words to the chattering bat who has finally been awoken from his slumber. Padma and Anthony are crouching by Michael, whose robes are crumpled beneath him and has an expression of pure loathing which he directs at the three of us.
“Daphne, let it alone. It’s a tough day for a lot of people…” I whisper in a low voice, but Daphne shoves me, none too gently, out of the way.
“Corner, you will have detention every day this week, starting tomorrow,” she says, and clears her throat. “Also, erm, forty points will be taken from Ravenclaw for attacking the Head Girl.”
“What about what that bully did to him? All he did was trip you – no harm done!” Padma says indignantly. Cadmus’ eyes are wrinkling, like he’s about to cry.
“A note will arrive sometime tomorrow to arrange the terms of your detention,” Daphne adds. She takes out her wand and points it at the compartment. In an awful moment, I’m afraid she’s going to hex them again, but instead the compartment door slides closed, enclosing Terry’s friends within it. “Foolish blood traitors,” she mutters, and then glares at me. “And you. I… you are lucky I do not write to our parents this instant. What are you doing, hanging about with such…low class students?” She flips her long, dark hair over her shoulder.
“Don’t you think calling them blood traitors is a little excessive?” I ask, weakly. “I mean, how can you tell?”
“From the stench, of course!” Haynes says, and smirks down at Daphne. “But we really must continue searching this carriage, and then report back to the others. You can deal with your little Head Girl problems after we make sure Potter – or any other undesirables – aren’t cowering under a seat cushion.”
“Back to our compartment, Tor,” my sister says without looking at me. “We will discuss this later.”
After returning to my original compartment, I spend the time sitting alone and playing with Lancelot the Pygmy Puff, who hums excitedly. I apologize to him for leaving him alone with Guinevere, who is curled up in the corner with her head tucked into her tail – the picture of innocence. Gently petting Lance on the top of his little head, I stare out the window as the sun slowly sets, the train’s continuous lull strangely comforting. Pyxis walks by once, presumably on his first prefect patrol, and shoots me an irritated glance over the shoulder of his companion, a sandy-haired girl who I recognize as being in our year – she’s either a Hufflepuff or Gryffindor.
Soon, a darkness descends from the sky and envelops the train as we draw into the station, the shallow roofs of the village lit by torches in the streets. Saying goodbye to my pets, then reprimanding myself for speaking out loud to animals (the scolding voice in my head sounds strangely like Daphne’s), I make my way to the horseless carriages and climb aboard. This year, there are far more carriages than students, and the first years being ushered away seem like they’ll only fill a handful of the boats which will lead them to the castle.
I linger in front of a suit of armor, pretending to be inspecting it, before finally entering the Great Hall, waiting until a good portion of my housemates have taken their seats so I can choose some dining mates. The idea that the other Slytherins might still hold a grudge against me for allegedly snitching about the first year hazing incident last year pokes at the back of my mind. But to my surprise, when I walk in, Amaris waves at me from down the table, her blond ponytail bobbing slightly against the sea of black robes and pointed hats which are customary for special school occasions.
Pretending I don’t notice Amaris, I am relieved to find that Pyxis has saved me a seat, his gleaming prefect badge in sharp contrast to the grouchy scowl decorating his delicate features. I slide into the place across to him, smiling hesitantly at Phin Flix, so that I am facing the two boys like facing a panel. Phin asks me how my summer was, and I respond something noncommittal – though I can’t be sure if Phin has a direct problem with me, I can’t escape the memories of his steady face when he taunted and cursed the first years, or when he didn’t stand up to defend Taurus, his former best friend, when other Slytherins were being cruel to him. Phin is just another person who has let me down.
“Prefect duty is the worst, Tor,” Pyxis grumbles. “I have no bloody interest in telling little kids to…to… fork over their dung bombs and, erm, not do magic in the corridors or some rubbish. Daphne and Theo are being pricks, too. Power. Fucking. Trip.” He taps his fork against the golden stem of his empty goblet in a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm.
I frown, deciding just this once not to bother telling him off for swearing. “Erm, okay.” My gaze dances around the hall. I sense that at least a third of the students are missing, though the Slytherin table is the most replenished. At the Gryffindor table, I pick out the bright head of Ginny Weasley bent across the table, muttering with a round-faced boy with very red cheeks. At the far end of the hall, Anthony Goldstein slides into a seat at the Ravenclaw table, his eyes fixed on the high table. Wincing as I remember the sharp crack as Michael’s head hit the window in the train after Christian cursed him, I turn my attention back to the Slytherins.
“Have you guys seen Taurus?” Phin looks away, and Pyxis shakes his head slightly. “I haven’t heard from him all summer. Perhaps his parents didn’t want him to return.”
Pyxis frowns. “Yeah, perhaps that’s it.” He raises his voice, enunciating his words. “It’s nice that you’re still concerned about him after you two broke up, Tor.”
With all the activity around my home and the worry over Terry, I had forgotten about Taurus and the fact that Slytherin thought we had been dating for a few weeks. If anybody actually believed that was genuine and not just a ploy to get the others off his back. I stare idly as McGonagall steps briskly into the Great Hall, sidestepping the Gryffindor house ghost who is floating in the aisle way and leading the small group of first years down towards the front of the Great Hall.
“Ickle munchkins look well spooked,” Phin sniggers, nudging Pyxis, who shrugs, non-committal.
“None of the Muggleborns are here,” I tell them. “Did you notice? About time the school was purged of them, I reckon.” I add this last bit, the words feeling dry in my mouth. Pyxis rolls his eyes, while Phin chuckles and says that he’s glad I’m seeing sense. Two students are sorted into Hufflepuff and one into Slytherin, and I clap dutifully along with the rest of our house.
I trace the patterns in the table with my fingers, delaying looking up at the head table and being forced to witness the lack of a white-bearded figure smiling out merrily at the students. As we are sitting at the back of the hall, the teachers’ table is mostly obscured by students, though I can see the large, scraggly-haired figure of Hagrid rising up out of the sea of heads. Pyxis taps his fork against his plate impatiently, but the Sorting floods by quickly, offering Slytherin house nine new pint-sized students.
My mind drifts to Terry again, and I wonder what he is doing now, and if he is thinking about me. The most skilled Legilimens, like my father, can sometimes send their minds to travel across distances and inspect the surface thoughts of others: indeed, this was how my father first discovered my own affinity for the arts of the mind. But I am not practiced enough to attempt something like this, which requires great discipline and concentration. Terry’s face dances in my mind, fading in and out of focus. Two months have passed since we last spoke, and to conjure a face in my head is difficult. It helps to concentrate on a specific moment, such as when I visited him in the hospital wing after the greenhouse incident, his dark hair mussed, his head tipped back against the headboard of the bed.
These memories are interrupted when a cool, oily voice spreads over the Great Hall, and silence falls among the rows of straight-backed students. A voice which is very familiar, and very disconcerting. I look up, squinting at the front of the room at the figure at its head, whom everybody else has already noticed. I chew on my lip, and catch Pyxis’ eye, who is raising an eyebrow at me.
“…you will no doubt remark on some…changes…here at Hogwarts,” the voice of the headmaster drawls. At the head of the room, pale skin and dark, greasy hair rise above the sea of faces. I squint, shocked. Along the table, the faces of other teachers can be made out, and I notice that McGonagall’s tall, pointed hat is flanked by two dumpy figures with a broad, rocky faces, staring forward at Snape’s back. I narrow my eyes in an attempt to squint farther.
Snape – that is, the new Headmaster of Hogwarts, reiterates the rules: avoid the Forbidden Forest, no magic in the corridors. He stands up to introduce the new staff members, who I take to be the two new figures at the table. Their names travel past very quickly and I do not quite catch them. Phin is smirking, and the other Slytherins are whispering excitedly. Glancing across the hall, I see Anthony Goldstein is sitting straight ahead, his hands folded in front of him and his face expressionless. Michael is still not accounted for.
The feast is quick and without incident. I toy with my food, pushing it around my plate. The smells of the dishes feel muted, as if they’re missing an essential pinch of salt or hint of spirit. Instead, I drink several glasses of pumpkin juice, listening to the mindless small talk as the boys catch up on the events of the summer. When the feast is over, Pyxis tells me the password for the common room and I slip down before the great crowds of students leave the Great Hall. In my wake, the sounds of Pyxis calling the first years to follow him soars out after me.
A year has passed, but so much has changed.
When I get to my dormitory, I let Guinevere and Lancelot out of their cages and feed them their dinners, then change out of my robes and into a loose pair of pajamas which I dig out from my trunk. The dormitory hasn’t changed much: all four beds are still laid out with their dark green curtains, and Griz’s large and realistic portrait of her family has been put into place, the four Goyle faces grimacing and sneering horribly across the room. I open up my trunk and put away the new lesson books in the shelf, then hang up a few pairs of robes.
When the animals have finished eating, I secure Lance in his cage again and I gather up Guinevere and her things in my arms, heading down the stairs to the common room. The cat protests, pushing against my shoulder with her dainty, dark paws.
“Oh, behave, you,” I mutter to her, hoisting her bag of kibble a little higher in my arms. She cranes her head to sniff at it. Squeezing past a pair of whispering girls, I step into the common room, which is far busier than expected. Students are crowded in, on the sofas and the carpets, and even perched on the desks. The typical dim, greenish light spreads across the room – I remember my brief visit last year to the Ravenclaw common room with Terry, with the bright light spreading through the curtains, and the warm wooden shelves full of books. In comparison, although it has been my home for the past four years, the Slytherin common room doesn’t really encourage a climate of warmth and acceptance.
I spot Pyxis’ curly head, and stride over to him, Guinevere wriggling in my arms. To my dismay, I notice the broad shoulders of one of his companions. Griz hasn’t changed much over the summer, and neither has her brother, unless their eyes have grown a little smaller and piggier, or their scowls a little dumber. Nodding tightly in their direction, I accost Pyxis and shove my cat into his arms.
“You can still take her this year, right?” It’s a redundant question, since Pyxis already agreed over the summer. He nods, and to my irritation Guinevere quiets in his arms.
“The kitty can sleep on O’Halloran’s bed, since he ain’t coming back this year,” Goyle says roughly, then snorts to himself. I roll my eyes, wondering how Goyle has information about Taurus’ schooling while I’m left in the dark.
“Thanks, Pyxis. I don’t want my poor cat exposed to the likes of trolls,” I say pointedly, glancing at Griz. She turns from her conversation with a dark-haired girl and squints her eyes at me, and with a nasty shock, I realize who her companion is. Her hair is quite long, and she’s holding her wand in her hands – I wonder if it’s a new one, since after her expulsion last year I suspected her original wand would have been snapped. The girl catches my eye, and smiles coyly, twinkling a couple fingers through the air in a casually dangerous wave.
Through some incalculable bad luck, Demetria Avery is back – and a golden prefect’s badge is shining from her chest.
I suppose that explains some things.
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