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Year Five by Roisin

Format: Novel
Chapters: 22
Word Count: 96,745

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Humor, Angst
Characters: Dumbledore, Sprout, Snape, Percy, Cedric, Draco, Fred, George, Luna, OC
Pairings: OC/OC

First Published: 02/22/2014
Last Chapter: 12/09/2015
Last Updated: 12/09/2015

2015 Dobby Winner, Best OC | Gryffindor Story of the Month, Oct 2014

amazing surprise by dust & decay @ TDA

Tristan and his mates don't have any Dark Wizards to fight, couldn't be bothered with Quidditch, and find the wild stories about 'The Boy Who Lived' patently absurd. Theirs is the realm of rumours, rebellion, and Recreational Magic.

Set in the periphery of Philosopher's Stone :: 100% Canon

Chapter 1: Prologue (1991): Dozens of Little Televisions
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all chapter images by me
Dozens of Little Televisions

Author's Warning: Sex is implied, drugs are prevalent, and Rock n' Roll is involved. Proceed accordingly!

SOPHIE had made the decision to slip out before dawn. It was a cold, callous thing to do—and that was precisely what she wanted. Two weeks prior she'd been chucked by her first boyfriend, Stuart, on the basis that (according to their interconnected network of friends) she'd been "needy." It had been with superior smirks that those friends closest to her relayed every detail they had heard. That she'd clung to him. That she'd rung too often. That she'd said, after only a fortnight of solid dating, that she loved him.

The humiliation of it still stung, and so she wanted nothing more now than to eschew her old self. To be rebranded as mature, aloof, and mysterious. It was with these dazzling images in mind then that Sophie had decided to creep out in the early hours, leaving that strange, sleeping boy to wake up alone.

The sky was already edging toward the deep electric blue that just proceeds first light and it was time to get moving. She’d slept an hour at most, if you could call it sleep. Mostly she’d stared at the collage of polaroids crusting the wall. They all seemed to have been taken in the same Highland meadow, possibly on the same day. One of three girls featured in every photo, each wearing the same odd, baggy black dress. Sophie’s eyes had retraced the smudged calligraphy beneath each picture a thousand times while the chest beside her rose and fell in tedious rhythm. Lying in a foreign room, in a foreign bed, beside an unfamiliar boy made it impossible for Sophie to relax. And the strangeness of the night and his behavior—really, of him—had kept her on edge.

It had been late when they’d gotten to Tristan’s house the night before and they'd spent at least two hours sharing a spliffs and listening to records with the volume turned way down before anything started. She’d resented how reluctant he’d seemed to make a move, and how much more interested he’d been in the nearly inaudible music. His dry mouth had tasted like stale lager and cigarettes.

Sophie stole a last look at Tristan, his dark hair rendered a mess of cowlicks, before disengaging herself from the tangled covers. It took several slow, halting movements before she was free in the bed. Then he began to stir. It was almost as if he’d felt her presence vanish. She held still until she was certain he would remain asleep.

Tristan wasn’t particularly good looking, she decided. He had a weak chin, small mouth, and round, feverish eyes. But he’d been witty, and a little dark—and getting off with a boy who went to school abroad was an ideal scenario. Sophie was already rehearsing the story she would tell her mates (a story that would, invariably, get back to Stuart). Yet, standing there in Tristan’s grey Joy Division t-shirt, still as a statue so as not to wake him, Sophie let herself admit that it had been a confusing night.

She glanced around the room he’d hastily cleaned only a few hours before hoping to spot some deodorant, but found none. Clothing appeared to have been torn off hangers and surfaces had been unceremoniously swept off into an over-sized, overstuffed, old fashioned looking trunk. He’d made her wait in the hall while he’d crashed around his room on (what Sophie had imagined) was a massive dirty-pants-and-dirty-books-hiding expedition. He’d even gone so far as to clear off entire bookshelves.

Even stranger, he’d tried to stop her from seeing any of his house when he first snuck her in. He'd insisted she close her eyes the whole time, which made it almost impossible to avoid making noise and being discovered by his parents (which he’d insisted would be disastrous). Yet, once inside his room, he produced a spliff and an overflowing ashtray. Sophie would never be so bold as to smoke in her bedroom.

Perhaps, she mused, his parents were drug addicts of some kind: junkies who didn’t care whether or not their kids smoked. That might explain why he was so adamant that she didn’t see any of his house. Maybe he’d been ashamed of the needles, or whatever other contraband addicts left lying around? The idea also gave some explanation for his brooding nature (a tendency she'd initially found alluring).

But Sophie wasn’t convinced by this explanation. What sorts of junkies sent their children to prestigious schools in Switzerland? And Tristan appeared far too well cared for. The snacks he’d brought up from his kitchen (on a trip downstairs he’d forbidden her from joining) suggested his parents kept a well-stocked pantry. From what little glimpses she had stolen of his house, it appeared tidy and typically lower middle-class. Hardly a den of squalid inequity like the ones in the BBC specials she'd seen on addiction.

The sky was getting lighter and Sophie's parched lips were screaming for water. Regardless of Tristan’s domestic situation, she definitely wanted to escape this house before his mysterious parents rose. She dressed in a hurry; uncomfortably aware of how much her clothes reeked of smoke and how much she needed a shower. Perhaps, she thought, she could lift a bit of his mum's deodorant if it was on display in the loo. That would at least partially abate her shame as she walked back to Amy's house.

With as much delicacy as she could muster, Sophie unlatched Tristan’s door, turned the knob, and pushed—careful not to let it creak. She dared open it only enough to let herself out, and after checking she had all of her things, closed it with as much care. A wave of fresh air from the other side of the door came as a shock. The mingling tobacco and cannabis stink from last night seemed not to want to cross the threshold.

Tristan’s room was just off the stairs and his short hall ended with an open door leading to a study, sporting a state of the art Macintosh. Definitely not junkies, then. The hall turned a corner to the left, beyond which was the probable location of the toilet, as well as the danger zone of his parents’ bedroom. Slipping her ankle boots back off, she padded down the hall as quiet as she could.

She turned the corner and flinched. Just beyond the bend was a riot of motion.

The way other families would hang family portraits in clusters along their halls, Tristan’s parents had installed dozens of little televisions. They seemed to be playing loops of people just waving, or standing around and smiling, but all the small movements added up to a stunning overall effect.

Sophie’s mind went into overdrive trying to figure this new piece of information into the mystery. Were they artists? Incredibly wealthy? Engineers of some kind? As her thoughts flitted helplessly from explanation to explanation, she started to notice how strange the technology truly was. The little screens looked nothing like televisions, and seemed to hang flat against the wall like no telly or computer she’d ever seen. Having completely forgotten about her need for water and her fear of waking Tristan’s parents, Sophie approached one of the devices playing a (very boring) video. It looked like Tristan, maybe six years old and sullen. He did little more than tug at his clothes and half-heartedly play with flecks of lint on the carpet.

The object seemed just like a framed photograph, only the subject was moving. Sophie found that with incredible ease she could remove it from the wall. It wasn’t wired in or anything, just hanging on a nail! The back even looked like any normal picture frame she’d ever seen, down to the metal prongs to hold the photo in its cardboard backing. She turned the thing over to examine its front again, then released it out of shock. The image was still moving.

Sophie heard the glass shatter and then her own startled voice. Other noises followed—scraping and clamoring—but she was engrossed in the strange thing she’d just dropped. The video of young-Tristan had fallen face up. It looked startled, blinking up at her from the floor as though noticing it had been dropped.


Sophie’s head jerked up as she traded stunned expressions with Tristan’s mother. Still in her nightdress and without a robe, she looked about mid-thirties. Her face was still young and pretty, if rumpled by sleep, but her mousy hair was prematurely grayed. She had the wild-looking eyes of the suddenly woken and terrified, which darted rapidly between Sophie and the wreckage on the hall carpet.

“Tell me." The woman took short, measured breaths. “Tell me you’re not—tell me you go to school with Tristan.”

Sophie was taken aback. Rather than consider what the woman’s request might mean, her eyes drifted back down to child-Tristan on the floor. Whatever was playing the still-moving image had slipped partially out of the shattered glass. It was as thin as paper, otherwise indistinguishable from an ordinary photograph.

“I—” Sophie avoided the woman’s blood-shot eyes. “I go to school here in London with Amy, and Amy… Amy went to primary school with Tristan, yeah? I know Tristan… through Amy?”

“Eddie!” the woman called, appearing more scared than angry. “Eddie! Tristan!"

Tristan’s mother stepped over the shards of glass and took Sophie’s arm in a gentle hand, leading her back down the hall and around the corner.

“I’m sorry,” she continued, her voice firm yet kind as she took control. “I don’t mean to frighten you and you aren’t in any trouble it’s just… it’s just Tristan hadn’t told us anyone was staying over.”

As they approached the stairway she rapped on his door and gestured for Sophie to proceed down the steps. Tristan’s groggy face emerged before growing somber at once. His mother said nothing and continued to lead Sophie down the stairs. Glancing up she saw ‘Eddie’ turn the corner in a bathrobe, his light hair a mess from sleep and a mask of confusion on what appeared an otherwise friendly face.

Tristan’s mother steered Sophie into a sitting room that appeared equal parts average and bizarre, as though someone from the middle-ages had decorated with an Ikea catalog. Modern-looking chairs and sofas had been arranged in front of the fireplace while feathered quills, ink-wells, and scrolls of parchment littered the coffee table. Two bookshelves flanked the hearth, housing both glossy paperbacks and ancient, leather-bound volumes. On the mantle Sophie saw a number of strange instruments, like the clever toys that decorated office desks, only antique looking. Last of all, Sophie let herself puzzle over the fireplace where hung what appeared to be a large, pewter cauldron.

“There then, have a seat, I’ll make you a cup of tea.” Tristan’s mother headed off to the kitchen but turned back just as quickly. “I’m so sorry, where are my manners, I’m Mary. What’s your name dear?”


“Sophie, lovely,” Mary replied absently as Tristan’s still-bewildered father paused at the edge of the sitting room.

“This is my husband. Tristan’s father,” Mary added unnecessarily.

“Eddie.” He smiled.

“Eddie dear, why don’t you have a seat too, I’ll make you a cup of tea as well.”

Mary strode back toward the kitchen and Sophie heard her hiss something up the stairs at her son. Sophie got the distinct impression Eddie was meant to watch her lest she flee.

“So sorry, Sophie, for all the anxiousness,” Eddie said. “You see, my wife and I do very confidential work for the government. Developing technology and that. Tristan knows we’ve got loads of—oh thank you dear.” Mary was back already with two steaming mugs, pausing for a moment to consider each with a frown before passing them over. “Anyway,” Eddie went on. “We’ve got loads of stuff round the house, confidential government projects, all very hush-hush.”

Sophie listened politely, blowing on her tea, but still felt baffled by Eddie’s casual tone. “Those moving… photographs?”

“Yes, those for one. Microchip computer technology, amazing what we can do these days.”

Sophie sipped her drink and sighed despite herself, feeling her long-tense muscles begin to relax. Eddie started explaining more about wireless communication and covert cellular devices and with each sip her unease and curiosity faded. A warm calm began to envelope her. Mary took a quill from the table and slipped out of the room while Sophie leaned back into her armchair. The beginning of a laugh began as she reflected on the baroque writing utensil but her mind soon wandered. A glorious dawn streamed in through the sitting room curtains.

There followed sounds of a gentle ‘hoot’ from the kitchen, a window sliding open, and a rustle of feathers, but Sophie didn’t register the noise. Her attention was absorbed in the motes of dust glittering delicately in the morning light.

* * *

TRISTAN had been sitting on the top step for outside of forty-five minutes, head in his hands, as he reeled over his mistake. He’d broken the Statute of Secrecy in a big way by bringing a Muggle into a wizarding household. While overwhelmed by his guilt, furious jabs of injustice still broke through the surface. His father was a Muggle, after all. Eddie lived in the house and made tea in the same kitchen where Tristan’s mother stocked first aid potions. His father’s landscaping business only got those huge contracts because, Tristan suspected, Mary charmed the flowers into blooming year round and hexed away the snails.

It was stupid, though—inexcusably, illegally stupid—for Tristan to bring Sophie over. But how could his parents expect him to live one life at Hogwarts, another in Muggle London, and keep the two apart? He’d gone fifteen years (well, nine, he conceded) living a double life and respecting the Statute. He’d gone all the way through Muggle primary school lying about his family and never being able to have mates round. Was it so wrong for him to, for once, want to do something normal?

He’d met Sophie at Amy’s party the night before and she’d been interested in him. Not interested in the curious, prying way everyone else was—including Amy. Sophie hadn’t asked probing questions about his ‘school in Switzerland’ or what his mother did for a living. The pair of them had talked about music and films and she’d seemed perfectly content to let Tristan wear his protective shroud of secrecy. He’d never meant to bring her to his house, but what was he supposed to do?

Tristan had had a lot to drink on top of other things, and after midnight he’d started to feel like he might start talking too much. Instead, he‘d decided to do the smart thing and walk home. Then Sophie'd said she fancied a walk as well. It’s not like he could have just said ‘no,’ even if he wasn’t dull enough to think she really only fancied a walk.

And it had been Sophie who’d suggested they walk through the park, and then that they sit on a bench and spark a spliff. And when Tristan had said ‘well my house is this way,’ she’d replied, ‘I’ll walk you.’ And when they were at his door she’d snogged him, and they’d snogged for a long time. And when Sophie had asked him if he would show her his room Tristan knew she didn’t want to see it just because no one else had, but because he would be in it.

The doorbell rang, and Tristan watched his mother rush to answer. “Arnie, thank you so much for coming. This is just—you’re a lifesaver, really. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“All part of the job, Mary, no need to fuss. You’ve done plenty of favors for me over the years, and boys will be boys, eh?” He wiped his feet on the mat before stepping into the house. “Best to take care of this without too much of a mess anyway. If we let it go it could get very complicated indeed, and no one in Reversals or Enforcement would appreciate the paperwork, I can tell you.”

Tristan recognized Arnold Peasegood as an Obliviator from the Ministry and felt another stab of misery. He’d known what to expect, but the reality was humiliating and devastating in equal parts.

“So where’s this girl? Sophie, is it? You’ve given her something to calm her down?”

“Yes, yes, she’s just here,” Mary said, showing him into the sitting room. “Eddie’s been watching her, rattling on about MI6 and Muggle technology,”

Tristan crept down a step to get a clear line of sight.

“Hah! Good man.” Mr. Peasegood clapped Eddie on the back before directing his attention to the matter at hand. “So, Sophie. You met Tristan at a girl named Amy’s house?”

“Yeah,” she replied in a dull voice.

“And then you came back here, and you saw strange pictures?” The obliviator took out his wand.

“Uh-huh.” Sophie was slouching in her armchair and gazing absently at some fixed point in space.

“That was some strong stuff, Mary,” he muttered out the corner of his mouth. “And were you drinking at this party, Sophie?”


“Ok.” Mr. Peasegood turned his wand on her. “So last night, you made the mistake of drinking too much, and felt quite sick. Tristan, the gentleman that he is, took care of you. You woke up and found nothing unusual in his house. Now Mary is going to drive you back to this Amy-girl’s. Do you understand?”

Tristan would have been crying, if he ever cried. Had it been his nature, he would have felt immense self-pity for his lot in life. Instead, he found himself mired by self-loathing, eyes dry. Especially so, as he’d accidentally slept in his contacts.

Tristan felt the urge to pounce the Obliviator and insist that not everything from the previous night be forgotten. Then again, he suspected that Mr. Peasegood was not completely oblivious. This was Tristan's punishment for acting so foolishly.

* * *

A curl of smoke twisted up through the air toward the ceiling. Tristan had looked at little else in the week since Sophie had been obliviated. The record player, which usually blasted at full volume whenever he was home, sat silent and untouched in the corner and trays of food lay stacked in a heap beside his bed. His parents hadn’t bothered grounding him. To do so would have been redundant. Tristan had barely left his bed in days.

“Bring him a tray?” his mum’s voice floated up from the kitchen.

“He’ll just stay in there if we keep bringing him food. Let him come down when he gets hungry.”

Tristan could imagine his father’s shrug, his mother’s bitten lip.

“I dunno,” Mary’s distant voice sighed. “You know how his appetite gets when he’s like this. Remember back when he was six?”

Tristan glanced at his cigarette, tipped with three centimeters of cylindrical ash, and realized it had gone out. It had been his last one.

Dressing for the first time in a week, he seized his headphones and rucksack and stepped out of the smokey bedroom into the hall.

“That you, son?” Eddie called as footfalls creaked on the stairs.

Who else would it bloody be? Tristan thought.

“Where are you off to, then?” Mary asked in too bright a voice.

“Out,” was all Tristan said as the door snapped shut behind him.

The sun blazed bright and he squinted, accustomed to the gloom in his bedroom. He needed enough tobacco, papers, and spliff to last at least the first few weeks at Hogwarts. But only so much could get passed off as ‘potions ingredients’ before Filch got suspicious.

It was fully dark by the time he returned home, rucksack stuffed with contraband and the last of his summer allowance spent. His parents were sat up in the sitting room but none of the lamps were lit, as though they hadn’t noticed that the sun was set.

“Did you have a nice day?” Mary tried, but Tristan only shrugged as he set up the stairs. Then the phone rang and he stopped in his tracks, listening hard while Eddie picked up.

“Oh hi Dan, yeah we’re booked for tomorrow…”

Just his dad’s co-worker. Tristan’s heart sank and he slammed his bedroom door without meaning to. It had been stupid to think that the phone had been for him. Sophie wouldn’t be ringing again.

He’d spoken to her once, the day after she’d left his house, while his parents were at work. She’d said she was embarrassed he’d had to take care of her, thanked him for being such a gentleman, and was grateful that his mum hadn’t told her mum what happened. She spoke to him like one might speak to a near-stranger and Tristan thought about the proverb about trees falling in forests and whether or not they made sounds. Before, it had seemed obvious that they did, even if no one was around to hear. Now, the answer seemed less sure. If Sophie didn’t remember, did it even count at all?

“Sure, no problem,” was all he said before they rung off.

End Notes:

1. Arnold Peasegood is a character first mentioned in
GoF as one of the Obliviators at the 1994 Quidditch World Cup. Because the Wizarding World is such a teeny population, I tried to recycle as many briefly-named characters from canon as I possibly could.

2. Tristan's mum is Mary MacDonald, mentioned in

3. While seemingly innocuous, the text on the Chapter Image ("my name is Tristan") is actually a quoted lyric from the song, 'Tristan' by Patrick Wolf (it suits the character weirdly well).

A/N: As some people have expressed curiosity, I'll let you know now--Sophie does not return in any significant way. But the next chapter (the official Chapter One) introduces the central characters; I hope you'll find them all much more engaging than Sophie ever was!

Special thanks to everyone who reviewed to leave feedback and suggestions, and to Crestwood, Pixileanin and Aphoride for helping me edit the chapter and weave in that concrit. You guys all rule!

[Chapter Edited 9 Sept 2015]

Chapter 2: The Hex Head Express
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The Hex Head Express

ISOBEL listened while her parents repeated a thousand-and-one reminders for the upcoming term. As with every year, they’d arrived at King’s Cross station an hour before noon, but she was still among the last left on the platform.

“And don’t spend too much time cooped up in the library,” her mum said. “Be sure to keep your grades up but try to get some fresh air and exercise in when you can.”

“Right, yes.” Isobel nodded at the contradictory advice.

Her mother began smoothing her hair, dark and course and so different from her mum’s own blonde curls. They barely even looked related. Mrs. Doge-Mostafa had a complicated sort of face, all curves and hollows and dimples. Isobel looked almost formless in contrast.

While she wasn’t rosy like her mother, she was paler than her father and older sister—but pale in a way that suggested she ought not be. Sometimes she liked her swollen-looking lips, but they required lipstick in order to offer some distinction. Without it, Isobel thought she best resembled a bowl of custard that had been left out overnight and developed a skin.

“—And you could always still get it next year, habibi.”

Isobel snapped out of her daze to realize that her father had been talking. While she hadn’t heard a word of it, she knew what he was on about. No prefect badge had arrived over the summer and her parents hadn’t stopped complaining since. (But you were top of your year and you’ve always made the top five! Your sister was named prefect AND Head Girl!) She’d even had to stop her mum from owling Hogwarts to say that there must have been some sort of mistake.

“I still don’t know what Flitwitck was thinking,” her dad went on. “You’re the obvious choice for Ravenclaw prefect, and it’ll be harder to make Head Girl without two full years of leadership experience.”

Isobel just shrugged and repressed a smirk. With the company she kept, she’d never make prefect.

“Oh that’s the whistle!” her mum noted unnecessarily as they all flinched at the piercing sound. More hugs gave way to more reminders until Isobel had to wrestle herself away lest she miss the train entirely.

A familiar chaos had come alive aboard the Hogwarts Express. Frenzied students loitered in the passage, darted between doors, or shouted out for friends they hadn’t seen all summer. And the prefects were well outnumbered. It was almost funny to see them try in vain to usher the student body into order, but the hectic thoroughfare was difficult to manage. Isobel began to sweat as she hauled her trunk through carriage after carriage, peering into compartment windows. She’d made it almost to the very back before spotting Emily and Laurel.

Of course they’d be in the back, she thought. It was obvious from the animated way Laurel was talking that she’d had a charm already. It was barely even noon. Emily must have done it for her, which annoyed Isobel, but then Laurel did tend to insist and grew surly if refused. Isobel closed her eyes and promised to keep from becoming too aggravated. Her patience with Laurel had begun to wear thin over the summer.

Pushing the door open with her trunk she was met with an enthusiastic welcome. “Izzy!” the others roared, pouncing to hug her despite Isobel being barely through the door. They nearly fell over in their affection, trading hugs, kissing cheeks, and ruffling hair. Laurel’s excitement was wholly unnecessary; they’d seen each other only the night before.

“Morning Sunshine!" Isobel ruffled Em's hair before rounding on Laurel. "And someone’s cheerful early.” She tried to keep the sting of judgement out of her voice as she said it.

“Last day of summer, yeah?" Laurel justified. "Gang’s all back together—well, nearly. Calls for a celebration!”

Isobel heaved her trunk onto the luggage rack before collapsing into the seat by the window. In the state she was in, Laurel wouldn’t care about the view. She was too busy telling some anecdote from her summer anyway.

Laurel could be pretty when she tried, but she never did. What had been a cute bob in their second year had long since grown out to an awkward length. Rather than cut it or style it, she just tugged it back into a hasty bun which exaggerated her garlic-clove nose and the thinness of her lips. Dishwater-blonde strands had a habit of falling loose, and it was hard not to notice how lank and greasy she kept them these days.

Taking cues from Emily on how to arrange her face, Isobel pulled off a passing impression of someone who actually gave a damn about the Muggles of Manchester. Not that it mattered if she hadn’t listened to a word of it. Laurel soon dissolved into so much laughter that the story ended prematurely and she never even made it to the punchline. Emily just offered a polite chuckle but Laurel had yet to register the awkwardness.

Exactly on cue, Tristan clambered through the door towing his trunk behind him.

“Tristan!” the three witches chorused, but Isobel was quick to note that he looked pale and exhausted. The headphones around his neck were still playing the Velvet Underground (Isobel recognized them from his attempts to ‘educate’ her), and it was one of their moodier tracks.

Hugs given and his trunk stowed, he collapsed into the seat beside Emily. There was nothing out of the ordinary about Tristan being forlorn, yet it appeared somehow amplified. He would always get uncharacteristically excited before holidays, explaining to them all about the Muggle nightclubs and cinemas in London and the music magazines he would be catching up on, but he always returned to school melancholy and deflated. This time, Isobel thought, his feelings seemed to manifest physically, in his pallor and the dark circles ringing his eyes.

“Morning sunshine.” He nudged Emily, who smiled and hugged her knees tighter to her chest. She’d turned her back against the window in order to face him.

“We missed you at Diagon Alley!” Laurel bounced in her seat. “We saw your mum, and she said you were sick!”

“Yeah sorry,” he mumbled, “I was sick.”

Laurel pushed past the awkward moment into a blow-by-blow account of their day shopping as the Hogwarts Express finally grumbled to life. The only real interesting point to her story was that Tom the barkeeper had finally served them at the 'Cauldron. Tristan listened patiently and feigned interest (Isobel assumed) until Laurel was done.

“So, I don’t mean to be an arse, but…” He lifted one ear-phone, “last chance, you know.”

“Here, take the window then.” Emily jumped up so he could scoot into her seat. Tristan thanked her before replacing his headphones and resting his forehead against the glass.

Definitely moodier than usual, Isobel thought before Laurel began dominating the conversation once more.

It was some time before the lunch trolley came by their compartment. Everyone ordered off it save Isobel. It was all crap food anyway, and she much preferred the brown rice and vegetables her mum had packed.

Tristan let his headphones rest around his neck during lunch (even though he still had one ear to the music they issued) and Laurel’s charm had worn off enough that she was letting the others get a word in edgewise.

As they had nothing on for the rest of the day except the journey and the feast, Isobel figured they might as well have the best time possible. Tristan at least seemed like he could do with a bit more to improve his mood.

“How ‘bout we cheer this place up a bit, then?” Isobel suggested to a resounding chorus of ‘yes’s’ and ‘please’s.’ Clearly they’d all been waiting for her to say something.

“I’ll take Laurel’s.” Tristan raised his hand to smattered laughter. Laurel had already Cheered once that day (at least), so she was likely to overdo her spell.

That was the good thing about him, Isobel thought. Even though he tended to brood, he was self-aware enough to make jokes about himself. It made it less awkward, anyway.

“Let me do Laurel, then,” Isobel said, and everyone—even Laurel—laughed. “So Em, you’re doing me, and Tristan, you do Emily?”

“Yeah." He winked. I’ll do you, Em.”

Isobel knew he was compensating for his sullenness but she wished he’d consider his innuendos (and their recipients) nonetheless. Laurel brought down the flimsy blind over their compartment window, eager to get started.

“Ok, count of three,” Isobel instructed and each of them raised their wands; Laurel’s pointed at Tristan, Tristan’s at Emily, Emily’s at Isobel, and Isobel’s at Laurel. “One. Two. Three—”

Hilaris!” They cast their spells in unison and Isobel felt awash with warmth, skin tingling as though she’d only just become aware of her edges. Feeling a giggle bubbling up in her throat she looked around at the others. All around her wide grins stretched lips. It wasn’t long until their belligerent joy came frothing to the surface.

And then, a toad hopped right into Emily’s lap.

* * *

“See look, I love the ‘happy intense look!’ This is what I meant!” Isobel was roused by Laurel’s voice, and realized she’d been spacing out completely.

“Happy intense look?” she asked, suddenly aware, but not bothered, that the other three were giggling at her. She’d long since stopped caring about directing the dynamic of the group and let her own mind retreat.

The sun was setting and the wee chandelier above them jingled merrily as the train rocked and jolted. Everyone looked so lovely as they laughed and joked, gesticulating wildly in the rosy light. She almost felt as though she'd extended past her own body, like some part of her reached up and against them even if her boundary of flesh remained apart.

“Yeah,” Laurel went on. “It’s like that Intense Look you get when you’re thinking about stuff, but all dopey-like and blissful.”

Isobel felt her head loll to one side as she smiled. “Well that’s nice.”

The others just laughed harder.

“What were you thinking about, then?” Tristan asked. “Non-Western Magical Theory? Because I know it’s usually Non-Western Magical Theory.”

“I was thinking about…” She tried to remember but couldn’t; she’d just been looking at Emily’s hair. It fell in a mix of waves and tight ringlets like some Muggle storybook picture of a wood nymph. Isobel had wanted to try pulling on one because she felt certain it would bounce. Reaching forward across the compartment she took a light coil between her fingers and gave it a tug. It bounced just exactly as she had predicted and she giggled, delighted. “I was thinking how pretty Em’s hair is.”

Everyone laughed and ‘awww’d’ and Emily leant out nearly to the point of falling down to plant a wet kiss on Isobel’s forehead. This show of affection inspired a bout of hugging and ‘I love you guys’’ amongst the group.

Then the door burst open and they all froze with a gasp.

“Well, well, well,” A critical voice called. “Unfettered hugging, curtain rolled down, take a look at these Hex Heads.”

“Weasleyyyyyyyyys!” the fifth-years cried at the sight of the ginger twins striding into their comparment.

“Yes this does appear to be a cheerful bunch,” agreed George, settling down on the purple brocade beside Laurel.

The Weasley twins were only just starting their third year, but Isobel and her friends much preferred their company to their elder brother, who was their own age.

“Did Master Percival make prefect, then?” Emily asked

“Oh yes,” Fred sighed. “And over the summer his head tragically over-inflated and burst.”

“We assumed that’s why you lot were celebrating,” George chimed in.

“Is this not the wake?” Fred asked.

His brother waved an agitated hand before going on. “In all seriousness though, we have much more interesting news than the new Gryffindor prefect. Guess who’s on the train?”

The fifth years only blinked and Isobel couldn’t even imagine how to begin guessing an answer.

“HARRY POTTER!” the twins yelled when their audience failed to answer.

Tristan looked stunned. “Really?”

Even as Cheered as she was, Isobel was surprised that Tristan was even interested. He didn’t usually care at all about wizarding celebrities. Then again, he did have a lot of feelings about the war, which she attributed to his muggle obsession.

“Huh… Yeah I guess he would be ‘round eleven now.” Laurel shrugged. “I still always picture him as a baby.”

They all agreed. For as long as Isobel could remember, Baby Harry had been such an important symbol. And since nothing new had been written about him in ten years, she’d somehow forgotten that he was capable of aging.

“What does he look like? Did you see him?” Emily asked.

“Our mother helped the bleeding thing onto the platform,” George gloated. “He didn’t have a clue which way was up before we showed him.”

Fred nodded emphatically. “He’s a ratty looking bugger. Clothes look like charity shop rejects, hair’s all askew. And I’m a Weasley!”

“Has he been in an orphanage?” Tristan asked. “I just always assumed he’d been adopted.”

“Dunno the details, but we can find out. Little chap has befriended our youngest brother,” Fred explained. “Ickle Ronny.”

“Newest Weasley to the Hogwarts family,” added George.

“Probable embarrassment to the House of Gryffindor,” concluded Fred.

* * *

As the sun came down and the Hogwarts Express pushed north through the countryside the six students discussed the famous Harry Potter until nothing new could be said. The oil lamps in the compartment flickered to life around the time they passed Aberdeen, and the Weasley Twins soon got annexed by most of their Quidditch team (the lot of whom seemed fanatically consumed by the question of filling some position left vacant by one of the twins’ elder brothers, Chuck).

Isobel and her friends found sport rather idiotic, and enjoyed private jokes about the fervor of their fellow students (with the exception of the twins, who, the group had decided, could play Quidditch ‘without being complete twats about it.’)

The fifth years realized they were approaching Hogsmeade once the music warbling from Tristan’s earphones grew crunchy with static.

“About that time then,” he sighed, turning off the device and coiling the headphone wire round it.

It was difficult to dislodge their trunks and dig for their uniforms in such a confined space. Laurel cursed a good deal while trying to disentangle the sleeves of her robes. They appeared to have been packed in a hurry without being folded and the mildewy smell implied that they hadn't even been fully dry. Tristan soon bowed out to change in the loo and Isobel heard him stumbling down the narrow passage as the train jerked.

“So did Tristan mention anything to either of you about his holiday?” Emily asked, stripping down to her bra and knickers without making any attempt to cover herself or turn away. She’d always been the least modest when changing, and Isobel imagined she probably shocked the Hufflepuff girls in her dorm by wandering around naked or something like that. Then again, Hufflepuffs.

But of course Emily wouldn’t be bothered to hide her body. Waiflike and dainty, she had a perfectly flat stomach and narrow little thighs. Isobel pulled her own nylons up to her bra before taking off her shirt in an attempt to smooth the lines of her hips before saying that, no, she hadn’t had any owls from Tristan about his summer. Emily bit her lip with the stress of keeping a secret until she looked like a mouse.

“You’ve been talking?” Laurel asked and Isobel wished she wouldn’t sound so surprised.

“Well… We had a few owls... It’s really bad,” Emily whispered before catching them up.

The line of boys and the otherwise self-conscious waiting for the toilets was sure to be long, but the girls dropped their voices to furtive whispers just in case he suddenly returned. Isobel’s gut sank to hear the story.

“Was it his first time?” Laurel asked as she struggled to yank off her too-small jeans.

“That’s what it seems like.” Emily shrugged. “And I can’t think of anyone else that it could have been.”

“Nor can I,” Isobel agreed. “That’s really awful.”

“I know.” Emily shook her head. “But let’s change the subject, can’t we. He doesn’t need to come back and catch us all talking about him like this.”

Isobel quietly agreed and appreciated Emily’s consideration. Hufflepuffs, she thought again fondly. Of course Tristan would talk with her—Emily was by-and-large the most compassionate of the bunch. And while no one would ever guess just by looking at her, she was also the most sexually experienced.

The compartment door opened with a bang and Isobel and her friends froze. A wee first year with an unruly brunette mane stood framed in the doorway, eyes bulging as large and round as galleons. The young girl blushed scarlet, clearly embarrassed to have walked in on three half-dressed fifth-years.

“Sorry—Toad?” the little witch spluttered. Isobel and her mates had completely forgotten about the toad's sudden appearance some hours earlier—the screaming, the laughing, and Tristan haphazardly ushering the unexpected amphibian out of their compartment.

The girl scampered off just as quickly as she had come before the others even had time to register what exactly she’d wanted from them.

By the time Tristan returned, Isobel and the others had successfully changed the subject away from Sophie-the-muggle-girl's memory modification and were fully engrossed in a discussion of Penelope Clearwater’s many crimes against humanity.

“You on about that bouncy Ravenclaw again?” He dropped back into the seat beside Emily.

“You may judge us for being shallow—” Isobel began.

“—But you don’t have to share a room with her!” Laurel shouted around a mouthful of brutalized chocolate frog.

“Oh yeah.” He gave Emily a nudge. “So what’s your excuse?”

“Nothing specific,” she chirped. “I just think she’s a bitch.”

The compartment exploded into laughter once more. Emily was so rarely mean that it was always something of a treat.

Distant yellow lights blurred behind the frosty glass as the train pushed ever closer to the castle. Isobel felt the cold and wet under the pad of her finger as she traced a spiral in the fog.

“Oh by the way, how much hash did you bring?" Tristan broke the silence. "The twins were asking."

“Oh no, we've corrupted them!” Emily cried. Her genuine concern showed even as she tried to play it off as a joke.

“It’s for their dad.” He waved a hand. “They smoked with him over the summer and apparently he really rated it. According to them he likes to spark one out in his workroom and polish his battery collection.”

Tristan and Emily laughed quite hard at this while Isobel and Laurel offered a polite chuckle. Isobel supposed it was a joke you had to grow up around muggles to really get.

“Well, I can always get more. My brother grows it, so I can send him an owl if ever we run low.”

“Is that safe?” Isobel raised a brow, pulling her attention away from the dark countryside passing outside the windows.

Emily shrugged. “He does the ‘potions ingredients’ trick. Filch can’t tell the difference.”

“Besides,” Laurel said “Outside of us, it’s only the Hufflepuffs who smoke spliff.”

“That’s how we got our name!” Emily cried, bouncing in her seat. “You know Fred and George swear they saw some weed plants out in Sprout’s restricted greenhouse. Then again, they were high when they broke in, so take it with a grain of salt.”

“I believe it.” Laurel nodded.

Emily beamed. “Let no one say that Hufflepuff House has no ancient and noble traditions.”

“Hufflepuff: rolling fat spliffs over a thousand years.” Tristan smirked.

The four were silent for a moment, occasionally giggling at the memory of some long overplayed Hufflepuff joke (‘Huff le Puff,’ and ‘Hufflepuff puff pass’ being the most amusing to date). Rattling wheels against the tracks seemed so much louder when no one was talking. The urge to introduce some new topic tugged at Isobel before she noticed Emily’s lips part with a thought.

“I can’t believe Tonks won’t be back this year,” Emily offered. “What’ll Hogwarts be like without her?”

The others murmured in assent but Isobel knew Tonks’ graduation left the biggest void for Emily. They’d been in the same House and Tonks was something of an idol to the younger Hufflepuff. All of them would miss her, though. A few years above them, Tonks and her crew had been the only other group like their own at Hogwarts. They hadn't divided neatly along house lines and had provided the model for Isobel, Laurel, Emily and Tristan.

“I guess that makes us the new reigning druggies and Hex Heads at Hogwarts.” Laurel chuckled.

Tristan stared out the window as though deep in thought. “I really think," he began. "If Slytherins weren’t so categorically opposed to Mug-Drugs, they would bloody love cocaine.”

Emily found the idea hilarious but Isobel didn’t recognize the reference. Glancing over at Laurel she found that her fellow pureblood appeared equally bewildered.

Tristan and Emily spent a few fumbling minutes trying to explain, talking over one another and waving their hands as though that might help. Most of the context they tried to offer was just as foreign, and Isobel squinted as she tried to make it all out.

“So, like an Alacratus charm?” she summarized, confused. “But those aren’t all that strong.”

“The important thing,” Emily said. “Is that in the Muggle world, it’s very sort of posh and elite. Kind of like a status thing.”

“Ohhhhhh,” Isobel laughed as the joke finally clicked.

Enjoying this new game, she and her mates then spent the next quarter hour debating which Hogwarts House corresponding to which substance. Eventually they all agreed that Hufflepuff was Ganja (as had long been established), Ravenclaw was Speed (for studying), Slytherin was Cocaine, and Gryffindor was Whiskey.

Soon after she felt the Hogwarts Express shuddering to a stop and heard the sound of a thousand students burst to life inside the train.

End Notes:

1. According the Rowling, there are “about a thousand” students at Hogwarts. That seems impossible, as there would have to be about 35 students per House per year—and Harry's year averaged only about 10 students per House at most. BUT, Rowling's word is LAW, so 1000 it is.

2. The chapter text is a lyric from the song "She's So High" by Blur.

3. “Habibi” is an Arabic term of endearment. It’s very casual, and in this context basically translates to “sweetie/darling/etc.”

4. On the Isobel Faceclaim: ugh. So I really didn’t want to white-wash my own characters, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find a faceclaim for a teenage character of mixed English/Egyptian Arab ancestry who fits all the criteria and has enough moody/interesting photos. Also, I really wanted Isobel's faceclaim to be somewhat unnecessarily beautiful, while definitely not falling into the 'thin' category (ALSO HARD). So I went with the logic that Kat Dennings is Jewish and Israel is in the Levant and that’s sort of near-ish??? IF YOU HAVE SUGGESTIONS, I WILL GIVE YOU SO MANY OF MY FIRST-BORNS.

Anyway, I hope you liked the chapter! The bit about the adventures of Trevor the Toad was really funny in my head so I hope that came off!

Thank you to everyone who reviewed and gave feedback for improving this chapter. A lot of what I changed here was specifically because of super on-point reader feedback (like including a bit about Isobel's family here).

And infinite appreciation also goes to Aphoride and Pixileanin for taking the time to so thoroughly beta. (Definitely check out Pix’s story,
Rabbit Heart if you haven’t already. It’s one of the most perfect fics I’ve ever read).

[Edited 09/09/15]

[And as of this writing, I still haven’t had a final beta to slap me for dyslexia, so DEF let me know if you see any issues. Whenever I try to fix one thing I end up creating like ten more typos, because editing best resembles attempting to decapitate a hydra.]

Chapter 3: Some Sacred Questions, Some Marijuana
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EMILY and her mates jerked and bounced in their seats as the horseless carriage sped toward the castle. With the threat of separation looming, they each realized how much more they still had to tell one another. During regular meals, it didn’t matter so much where they sat, but Feast Nights demanded House segregation. The twinkling lights of the Hogwarts windows loomed closer and Emily anticipated the loneliness of having to sit the feast without her friends. It wasn’t as bad for Laurel and Isobel, both Ravenclaws.

At Isobel’s welcome suggestion, they shared another Cheering Charm before passing through the Hogwarts gates.

Emily stumbled out of the carriage and dawdled with her friends at the end of the loose line of students snaking its way up the dark grounds. Voices lowered and footsteps slowed as they drew near to the great oak front doors, each of them grasping at what little time together remained. But eventuality won out, and she found herself in the dazzling Great Hall in no time at all.

“Meet up tomorrow?” Isobel gave her a firm squeeze.

“Yeah, definitely,” Emily said, then threw an arm around Laurel’s neck before the two Ravenclaws made their way to their own house table. Once alone with Tristan, the air in the Hall seemed to thicken.

“Be strong, little one,” he joked.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” She smiled, but her heart broke for him.

Tristan had it worst of all. They hugged each other, putting off joining their own tables for a precious few seconds more. Then accepting the inevitable, he sighed before slouching over to join the other Slytherins.

Arriving at the Hufflepuff table, Emily saw Cedric Diggory giving her a wave.

“Budge up there,” he called down the table, making room for her to sit.

“Wotcher, Ced,” she chimed in homage to Nymphadora Tonks: fearless leader of Hufflepuffs.

“All right, Em.” Cedric appeared to have grown about a foot since last term. He was in the same year as the Weasley twins but almost a year older for having a September birthday.

“You look great, Ced. Good Summer?” Out of politeness, Emily didn’t specify that his acne had all but cleared.

A hush fell over the Hall as McGonagall marched in the first years. Emily noticed that the Sorting seemed quieter than previous years, before remembering that Harry Potter had arrived at Hogwarts. The other students were probably eager to get a look at him. She picked the Boy Who Lived out at once from the twins’ description: skinny, wild haired, and walking alongside yet another ginger Weasley.

Emily thought it appropriate that the famous Harry Potter would become friends with little Ron. She’d seen five Weasley boys during her time at Hogwarts and they seemed like a kind of school institution. Being Muggle Born, Emily figured that the wizarding traditions she observed were likely different from what some snooty-ancient-bloodline-Slytherin might recognize. But they appeared real to her nonetheless.

The sorting was dull and the arriving class was much larger than her own had been. Not recognizing any but two of the children she had little to do except cheer for new Hufflepuffs. She glanced over at Tristan hoping to make faces as they usually did at the sillier names. Finally McGonagall read an absolutely perfect one: ‘Longbottom.’

Tristan’s head jerk up but he didn’t look over at Emily. Even when little Longbottom tried to abscond to his table still wearing the sorting hat, he didn't laugh.

The Sorting finally concluded after the better part of an hour. Super Baby Harry Potter had ended up Gryffindor—to exactly no one’s surprise—and Dumbledore made his perfunctory absurd remarks before the gleaming platters filled with food. Emily’s section of the table included a good portion of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team so the conversation ultimately steered in that mind-numbing direction. Not knowing or caring about the terminology, Emily entertained herself by sculpting mashed potatoes with her fork.

After some time working on a potato model of her family’s compound, she looked up to realize that Tristan had been watching her, red-faced from trying to withhold his laughter. What? she mouthed, but he simply shook his head and laughed harder.

Terence Higgs must have noticed because he smacked Tristan in the back of the head as he passed. Emily clapped her hand over her mouth in surprise before bursting out laughing alongside Tristan at the stereotypically Slytheriny display.

It was reasons like these, Emily thought, why the whole school assumed that Emily and her mates were a bunch of weirdos and Hex Heads. But she didn't care, and the knowledge that they were being absurd only augmented her and Tristan's long-distance-laughing fit.

Across the Hall at the Slytherin table, a Cheering Charm was really all Tristan had to buffer against outright suffering. Emily felt guilty that she had been complaining so much, even if it was only inside her own head. She gazed up at the enchanted ceiling into the glittering night sky. Privately, she promised herself that she would never, ever, take that ceiling for granted.

Before she knew it, the plates cleared themselves. Dumbledore reminded the students that the Forbidden Forest was, as the name implied, Forbidden, and the Hall exploded with the echoes of scraping furniture and the din of hundreds of young voices.

Emily paused to wave at the Headmaster before following her House out of the Hall. Dumbledore waved delicately back, his eyes twinkling.

This tradition had started in Emily’s first year, when she was still terrified and shy. She’d arrived at Kings Cross Station clutching a redwood wand, a suitcase full of magical books she couldn’t understand, and a million anxieties. To make matters worse, she had the misfortune of sharing a compartment with now-Quidditch-star, Marcus Flint. He’d teased her ruthlessly, eventually reducing her to tears.

Even though she’d never heard the word before, Emily had guessed correctly what ‘mudblood’ might mean. She spent most of the remaining train ride hiding in the girls’ toilets.

Later, she was sorted into Hufflepuff, or ‘the Idiot House’ according to Marcus, who hadn’t been great with off-the-cuff puns. She’d felt so miserable that she wanted nothing more than to just go home and forget about learning magic all together.

Then during the feast, Emily had started to have fun. Tonks, a fourth-year at the time, had seen the first year trembling quietly down the Hufflepuff table. Surely, Emily's face had looked as mortified as she had felt. After ordering some other Hufflepuffs to rearrange seats, Tonks had plopped down next to her.

At first Emily had been shocked when the older girl had changed her hair color from Hufflepuff-yellow to hot pink. By the time Tonks managed a near-perfect impression of the Headmaster's long, crooked nose, Emily was laughing.

They spent the rest of the feast talking, and Tonks answered whatever questions popped into Emily’s head about the magical world. When she finally confided in the older Hufflepuff about what Marcus had called her, and her anxiety about her family’s status, Tonks grew furious and offered to 'curse the Slytherin git what said that.' She’d promised Emily that only the worst sort of wizards cared about one’s heritage.

That night when Emily was getting up to leave the feast she’d briefly made eye contact with the apparently great and famous Headmaster. Tonks had told to her all about Dumbledore and his many accomplishments, and he had waved to her! Stunned, Emily had waved back. It was a ‘see, it all worked out’ sort of wave, and Emily promised herself that she would remember it.

Accordingly, every major feast since her first, Emily made sure to wave to Dumbledore before “trotting off” to the dormitories—and every feast, he seemed to expect it.

* * *

Emily leaned far out of her circular common room window to blow out a plume of cigarette smoke. While she could get rid of the smoke smell afterwards, she didn’t want to upset her Housemates with it in the meantime.

She didn’t smoke often, because she knew her parents wouldn’t like it, and she had made a rule never to smoke alone. At that moment, however, it seemed like a nice time to break the rule. The grass outside the window rippled in the gentle late-summer breeze and the peppering of dandelions shone bright under the moonlight.

She was just stubbing out her fag on the stone windowsill when a big black owl landed on the ledge beside her—Tristan’s owl, Siouxsie. Emily detached the letter.

Keen, I know. Siouxsie just got in from mum and dad (they have this whole rant about how it’s kinder to let her fly here then to make her stay in a cage for the trip up, and I won’t bore you with it). Anyway, Higgs and Flint have already started their campaign of terror, but I’ve got something up my sleeve! I bought 31 posters this summer, all muggle bands (obv), and I perfected a sticking spell. I trust they’re both too dim to undo it, and Pritchard isn’t much good at anything except potions and curses anyway. They should stay up a while.

Anyway, what’s up?


PS, continuing with the same electives this term?

PPS, I’m reading Slaughterhouse 5.

Emily padded up to her dorm and rummaged through her trunk for parchment and ink, striking an awkward balance between quick and quiet, trying not to knock over any of the many potted plants in the dark. Once back in the common room, she climbed onto the back of one of the striped armchairs in order to reach the window. Perching herself on the sill circular sill, she jotted down her reply.

How in the bleeding hell does your owl deliver you post in your dorm?!?! You told me the Slytherin lair was under the lake! Anyway, I’m continuing with Creatures, and decided not to drop Divination (it’s a load of rubbish, but I get good marks, and I might as well try for an E on the OWL before I drop). Also, Amisha (our prefect) told me we have double potions together first thing tomorrow! Seems cruel of the admin to schedule Hufflepuff and Slytherin together for potions, but I’m not complaining. Hopefully some of Snape’s crush on you will rub off on me, House prejudice be damned!

Who are the posters of?

I’ll roll another fag in the event that Siouxsie doesn’t drown delivering this.


Emily Sunshine Madley

She signed her full name with her big, swooping signature, considered for a moment, and then added a postscript.

PS: have you listened to Nirvana at all? They have a new album coming out this month and it’s supposed to be ace. I heard their first record and I suspect they might have distilled you as a person in order to make it.

PPS: How’s Slaughterhouse 5? I loved Breakfast of Champions.

Emily had just lit her second fag when she saw Siouxsie diving toward her window with Tristan’s reply.

Never question Siouxsie!!! Her powers know no bounds! If you liked Breakfast of Champions, you’ll like Slaughterhouse 5. Ditto on Magical Creatures, plus Muggle Studies again. On a related note, just saying “Snape” and “crush” in the same sentence makes me need a shower. And there I go doing it, great. Anyway, I’ve got about a third of the posters up—the Smiths is hanging on our bathroom ceiling, so hopefully T or M will get a face full of Morissey when they least expect it.

I bought “Bleach” on tape this summer, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. If it’s my soul distilled or whatever, then I will be sure to snap it in two at my earliest convenience. Also, I found this new band, Blur, that I think you’ll like. We should start making a list for the next Hogsmeade visit.

Bleach by Nirvana

Leisure by Blur

The Fairies? The Nymphs? The Doxies? Whatever, the one you were gushing about on the train.

The sun was thinking about rising by the time she finally surrendered to bed. Her and Tristan’s letters had grown longer and longer, and their ‘to do’ list of records reached several centimeters of parchment. She’d smoked too many cigarettes to pass the time between notes and had developed a sore throat and stuffy nose as a result. She wondered vaguely whether a PepperUp potion would fix it, but that was only a distraction from the main question she was avoiding. Tristan had signed his last letter with a swooping parody of Emily’s own signature, right down to including his middle initial.

She knew better than to ask about it again.

The girls had only even discovered he had a middle name when they all swapped exam results the previous year. At first they all found it amusing that Tristan might have an embarrassing name, but he’d become almost hysterical trying to quell further discussion.

Surely no name could be so embarrassing that someone would guard it as vigilantly as Tristan had done. After all, Emily’s middle name was ‘Sunshine,’ and she was alright with it.

“Maybe it stands for ‘Rape,’” Laurel had joked, seeing his inappropriate levels of dismay.

Shut up about it,” he’d hissed, sending paranoid glances around the Great Hall.

* * *

Despite how little sleep she got, Emily woke up at once the following morning. The copper lamp over her four-poster switched on automatically at half eight, bathing her in warm yellow light. Tearing off her patchwork quilt, she rushed towards the washrooms and showered underneath the burnished tap.

After throwing on a pair of robes she raced down the stairs toward the Great Hall, mousy hair still damp. Emily was usually the only student to sport wet hair at breakfast, since magically drying made it go frizzy and she never bothered with hair styling potions. She was the first of her friends to breakfast, as usual, since it was her job to save seats at the Hufflepuff table.

Hufflepuffs were more open to sharing their space with other houses, and with Tonks and her crowd gone, there was no longer an established precedent for major cross-house fraternization. Isobel was the first to arrive, dragging a sullen and puffy-eyed Laurel.

“Pass coffee, add arsenic,” Laurel croaked, before collapsing into her seat and dropping her head into her crossed arms.

Isobel looked annoyed as she climbed into the seat beside Laurel. “Morning, Sunshine.”

“Morning,” Emily chirped as she poured a coffee for Laurel.

“Oh don’t encourage her, she can do it herself.” Isobel glared down at the back of Laurel’s head. “She can also learn how to wake up herself, can’t she?”

“Just give me a Cheer, will you?” Laurel’s muffled voice begged.

“No! It’s the first bloody day back!” Isobel’s fork clattered angrily as she measured out neat little portions of scrambled eggs and fruit.

“Just a little one? Please.”

Isobel made a frustrated sound. “If you overdid it last night then you should know better than to overdo it today.”

“Why do you hate me?” Laurel moaned.

Emily nodded to the time-table in Isobel's hand, eager to change the subject. “So what have you got on today?”

“First thing off is Transfig—” Isobel was interrupted by another outburst from Laurel. The exasperation sounded to Emily like a cross between a groan and a scream.

“Bad time?” Tristan’s voice sounded behind Emily as he took the space beside her.

Laurel’s head popped up and she fixed him with a commanding stare. “Tristan. In the name of Merlin, Cheer me.”

Hilaris,” he conceded without question.

“You shouldn’t have done that.” Isobel shook her head, defeated. “She’s been doing this all summer.”

Tristan’s spellwork did manage to end to Laurel’s whinging though, and the four were able to carry on comparing timetables.

“Identical schedules,” Laurel trilled and she gave Isobel a nudge, oblivious to how it annoyed her friend. “Same Ravenclaw timetable, plus Runes and Arithmancy.”

“I think I might skive off Binns this term. I’m not really bothered about the O.W.L. anyway,” Tristan mused while buttering another slice of toast. “Anyway, me n’ Sunshine have got Snape in a bit. Smoke?” He raised his thumb and forefinger to his lips—the universal sign for 'spark a spliff.'

The others agreed, even though Isobel didn’t smoke before classes, and they all headed out to the grounds. Once behind the furthest greenhouse from the Entrance Hall doors, Tristan lit the joint and passed it. They made quick work of finishing, since Emily and Tristan still had to make their way down to Snape’s dungeons for double potions.

Twenty minutes later, Emily and Tristan pulled open the heavy door into the potions classroom. She was glad that she was arriving ‘late’ to her double potions session with the Slytherins. Technically they weren’t late, but they were the last to arrive, which felt to Emily like the same thing. At least in Snape’s class.

She knew how brazen it seemed to the class—Hufflepuffs on one side, Slytherins on the other—for Emily and Tristan to take a table together at the back. He was a much greater fan of the subversive than she was, at least openly, but she enjoyed the entrance nonetheless.

Once they’d seated, Snape rose and glided between rows of tables, unexpectedly criticizing petty flaws and docking points in his usual method of keeping students on edge while he lectured. Emily scribbled on without flinching when Snape swooped past her. She felt guilty that she alone of the Hufflepuffs was immune to the potions master’s intimidation, because she alone had a talisman against it. Snape began the class by explaining the devastation that a Potions O.W.L. below ‘Exceeds Expectations’ would affect. To him, this was a perfect reason to expect his students to work on a highly complicated concoction for the duration of the double period. In this model, Emily thought, any mistake would result in failure. There were dozens of steps in the process and even if executed perfectly it would take the whole of class-time to complete.

“Let’s just throw the potion, get kicked out, and take the morning,” Tristan whispered.

“No,” Emily hissed, individually re-counting beetle eyes.

By the end of class Snape had unjustly kicked out four Hufflepuffs and sent one badly burnt Slytherin to the Hospital Wing. Most students moaned over ruined potions or worked furiously to prevent them issuing any more foul smelling gas or shooting off blinding sparks.

“Three times anti-clockwise, now one time clockwise,” Emily instructed before adding six and a half drops of bobotuber pus to the brew. She had adopted the leadership role and Tristan seemed perfectly happy, if not amused, to be following her instructions.

Snape slinked over to their workstation.: “Very good Mr. Bryce, but perhaps stir more slowly. This may be the best of the class; ten points for Slytherin.”

End Notes:

1. On the music and literary references: it isn't necessary to have pre-existing knowledge of these bands or books. They're more to set the tone of the era. ‘Siouxsie’ is a reference to Siouxsie and the Banshees—a new wave punk band first formed in 1976 (Tristan’s the sort of guy who names his owl after a Muggle.) Morissey is the lead singer of The Smiths—a very melancholy group active during the '80s. Blur is a Britpop band that released their first album, Leisure, in August of 1991. Slaughterhouse 5 and Breakfast of Champions are both books by Kurt Vonnegut. And, because we're talking about angsty teenagers in 1991—Nirvana can't be avoided. Bleach was released in 1989, followed up by Nevermind in September of 1991. Nirvana was significantly influenced by The Pixies (who Tristan misremember as The Doxies).

2. The Chapter Image text is a lyric from "Gouge Away" by the Pixies

3. At the end of the last chapter I mentioned “a thousand students,” while here, I described “hundreds of young voices.” So while JK Rowling's word is divine law I also said that Harry's class was much larger than Emily's had been. Therefore, in order to resolve the paradox, I switch randomly every time I describe the total student body, because: magic.

4. The character ‘Reece Pritchard’ is derived from ‘Graham Pritchard’—named in The Goblet of Fire, and Sorted into Slytherin. Reece is his cousin.

5. Emily's Wand is Redwood, with a Unicorn hair core, twelve inches, and delicate. According to Pottermore: '[Redwood wands] are strongly attracted to witches and wizards who already possess the admirable ability to fall on their feet, to make the right choice, to snatch advantage from catastrophe'—for that reason, they are considered lucky.

From the online wood database: 'Redwood heartwood color can range from a light pinkish brown to a deep reddish brown…Figure such as curly grain and/or burl clusters are occasionally seen… Redwood lumber is very soft and lightweight, with a decent strength-to-weight ratio.'

And from Pottermore again: 'Unicorn wands generally produce the most consistent magic, and... are generally the most difficult to turn to the Dark Arts. They are the most faithful of all wands,' but 'are prone to melancholy if seriously mishandled, meaning that the hair may ‘die’ and need replacing.'

Chapter 4: Loose Lips
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Ci by me.
Loose Lips

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.

End Notes:

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.

Chapter 5: Three Times Charmed
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Three Times Charmed

ISOBEL was up much earlier than usual for a Saturday, but it was the last Saturday of September and the first trip to Hogsmeade of the term. She was in the dormitory bogs brushing out her thick, dark hair. Once detangled, she swept up the many strands that had fallen into the porcelain sink (wondering how she could lose all that everyday, and still have so much). She wet her hands under the tap and ran her fingers through the mane, tempting it to wave, before starting on her eyes.

Isobel liked to draw thick rings around them with pencil, making swooping ‘cat-eyes’ with liquid liner after. Finished off with mascara, it had a good effect emphasizing her dark, nearly black irises, and highlighting the exotic edge to her features.

Isobel laboured over her skin, and as a reward, she didn’t often get spots. This morning, though, a painful bump was threatening to rise on her left nostril. She went over it with a cover-up sporting a blemish reducing charm before dusting oil-reducing powder over her face. Lastly, she applied the crimson lipstick she’d worn every day, without fail, since her third year.

Isobel stepped back from the mirror to get another look at the overall effect. She was the only Hogwarts witch to wear makeup every single day of term, and other girls had taken to whispering about it behind her back, calling Isobel vain.

She was.

She wore the criticism like a badge of honour—no other student could arrive to every class expertly made up and still make top marks. That took discipline.

Satisfied with her makeup, Isobel lifted her pajama shirt, and turned to her side. She tried sucking in her stomach, before observing it again in its general state. She patted it once, and pinched the excess flesh around her navel. She must have overdone it at supper last night (probably because of the Cheering Charm she’d shared with Laurel), and promised herself to keep better track next time. Isobel hated that she barely had a waist—her breasts were so large, and her arse so wide, that she felt huge in her Hogwarts robes. She was generously proportioned in all arenas: thighs, hips, lips, and tits—and at 5' 2", Isobel was the shortest of her friends. Letting her shirt fall back down she adjusted her hair once more before returning to the dormitory.

“You done with the good mirror?” asked Laurel, who was sitting on her four-poster painting her toenails.

“All yours,” replied Isobel.

Laurel had been wearing makeup less and less recently, except when she was Cheering, when she tended to over-do it. She’d also developed the bad habit of forgetting (or not being bothered) to wash it off once she came down, and her complexion had paid the price. What’s more, her oversleeping had gotten out of hand, and she rarely had time to wash her hair in the mornings. As a result, her shoulder length mop was often stringy, and her signature bun had become a necessity. This morning, however, she came out of the bathroom with clean hair, expertly applied foundation, and looking lovelier than she had all term.

Emily almost never wore makeup, and it looked a bit funny when she did. Then again, Emily didn’t really need to. It was no wonder she’d seen so many boys last term, thought Isobel. Emily's skin didn’t seem to have pores, and her lashes were so light that mascara tended to ruin, rather than improve, their appearance.

Isobel chuckled to herself, remembering last Hallowe’en when Tristan had worn eyeliner for a costume, and for a wild moment, she wondered again if he might be gay. Probably not. He’d had a thing for a Gryffindor witch the previous year. They went to Hogsmeade together and even got snogged a bit behind the greenhouses—but she hadn’t had much interest in music, and he couldn’t be arsed about Quidditch, so it didn’t last. If the whole thing with Angelina Johnson died down, it was because they had nothing in common. Not, Isobel concluded, because Tristan was secretly gay. Besides, it was starting to look like something might happen between him and Emily soon. Isobel would have suspected that it had already, but Em was terrible at being sneaky.

For some reason, Emily’s interest in Tristan annoyed Isobel. Em had gotten something of a reputation the previous term, after bedding three of the four Quidditch team captains, as well as every male Ravenclaw then in year seven. Isobel had admired the way Emily’s many conquests clashed so starkly with her gentle, kind personality. It seemed ironic that such a Hufflepuffy Hufflepuff, who never wore makeup, would log more hours behind the greenhouses by the age of fifteen than the rest of their year combined.

And then, all of a sudden, Emily had just given up on boys, in order to wait patiently for Tristan to start paying attention to her.

Privately, Isobel had enjoyed being friends with a notorious slag.

* * *

Emily was, as usual, waiting at the Hufflepuff table when they arrived for breakfast, her hair still damp. Cedric Diggory made room for the two Ravenclaws to sit opposite Emily; he’d learned the score.

Isobel committed to skip breakfast, to make up for her indulgence the night before, and perhaps go for a jog round the lake after supper.

“Morning Sunshine,” chimed Laurel.

Isobel suspected that Laurel’s good spirits this morning were something of an act, and that Laurel was only putting it on because she knew they’d all be Cheering later.

Isobel poured herself coffee, and revisited the miserable idea that Laurel’s Charming was starting to become a real problem. Just then, a Great Sooty Owl swooped through the window, and down toward the Hufflepuff table.

“Is that Siouxsie?” asked Isobel.

“Ooh, yes, it’s for me,” replied Emily as the owl landed. “Tristan let me borrow her.”

“What’d you get?” asked Laurel, leaning in to see Emily unwrap the package. Emily, shook her head, almost indiscernibly.

“Potion supplies,” she said lowering her voice. “From my brother,” she added, quieter still.

Tristan arrived at the table as Emily was offering Siouxsie some toast to nibble on.

“From Lucas?” he confirmed, sitting down. “Brilliant, we’re nearly out after the stuff I gave the Weasleys for their dad.” Tristan helped himself to scrambled eggs, and Emily slipped the parcel into her pocket—glancing around rather obviously as she did.

Just terrible at being sneaky, thought Isobel, as she blew on her coffee.

At Tristan’s insistence, they started off for Hogsmeade as early as they were allowed.

“Well you’re out early,” Filch remarked, ever suspicious, while he checked to see they were on the list of collected permission slips. “What’s the rush?”

To Tristan’s grave annoyance, Filch spent a quarter hour examining the contents of Tristan’s bag. The muggle instruments he had brought for listening to music were unfamiliar to Filch, who seemed to think they might contain dark magic.

“Cassette tapes,” hollered Tristan, enunciating like he was speaking to a foreigner. “For listening to music. Muggle technology, I can’t use them in the castle.”

Filch turned over the plastic rectangle.

“No!” barked Tristan, reaching out to stop Filch’s probing fingers. “Don’t touch that ribbon. That’s where—it’s where the music is… written. The plastic is to protect it, see?” Tristan held the cassette up to the light so Filch could see how the tape was wound.

Finally satisfied that Tristan’s stereo and music collection couldn’t be used as a weapon, Filch let them get on their way. Tristan railed against Filch for a good portion of the walk, until Laurel mentioned that her mum reckoned Filch was some sort of squib.

Tristan reversed his position with head-spinning rapidity, pointing out that Filch probably had a hard time dealing with so many students, and that he likely saw Slytherins trying to smuggle dark magic all the time. (It was something of a private joke amongst the girls of the group: Tristan Bryce, Slytherin Champion of Muggles.) Honestly, Isobel sometimes found Tristan’s rants about ‘ingrained prejudice’ and ‘unmerited superiority’ tiresome. Worst of all was when he accused her or Laurel of being 'willfully ignorant about the non-magic community.' Emily was a full-fledged muggle-born, and she didn’t make a fuss of it.

They arrived in Hogsmeade out of breath from their trek. Rather than turn right into the village, they turned left, crossing the train tracks, and set off past the shrieking shack into the open country. Once they reached the point, recognizable only because of deep familiarity, they sat down and took out their various supplies. Tristan set up his stereo, pulling out tapes and bickering over them with Emily, while Isobel took over spliff-rolling duty with Laurel.

“Shall we then?” asked Laurel, trying not to appear too eager.

“I’m ok without it,” replied Tristan.

“Yeah, I don’t need one,” agreed Emily. “Maybe later.”

“Just you and me, then?” Laurel nudged Isobel, struggling to keep the anxiety out of her voice. Isobel conceded (not because of, but despite, Laurel’s desperation).

After sharing a spliff together, Isobel and Laurel head out to the village, leaving Emily and Tristan to listen to music. Laurel linked arms with Isobel, and the two saw the little houses grow bigger before them. They didn’t say much, but the charm made them giddy and delighted nonetheless.

Their first stop was Zonko’s, where they tried out joke wands and trick quills, before deteriorating into hysterics and being asked to leave. Laurel had the inspired idea to take tea at Madam Puddifoot’s, but fell apart just as soon as they encountered an egregious collection of doilies. They stumbled, cackling, back out of the fussy little tea shop as quickly as they’d come in, letting the door swing shut on the affronted proprietress.

Next they headed back down the High Street to stop in Honeydukes, where they tried to surreptitiously grab samples out of bins when no one was looking. No one told them off, so they deemed the venture a success.

After calming down enough, they went to Gladrags and tried on hats (an operation that veered dangerously close to offending another shop owner), and left with a few pairs of lurid socks. Laurel had opted for a pair of hold-ups decorated dragon pox pattern and topped with lace (“Why? Just… Why?” was all she could say, before sneaking them into her robes pocket.) Isobel went for a pair of stockings sporting Haitian vodou symbols, and a pair of socks knit with a pattern of muggle artifacts like 'plugs' and 'telephones.' Tristan’s birthday was a month away, and they were too perfect.

The weather hadn’t gotten cold yet, but they decided to stop in the Three Broomsticks for Butterbeers anyway. The pub was overflowing with Hogwarts students. Isobel and Laurel waved to the Weasley twins, who were off in a corner with their friend Lee Jordan and some members of their Quidditch team. Angelina Johnson smiled warmly at them, and offered a little wave. Isobel and Laurel had stayed friendly with her even after her thing with Tristan had ended. They also spied Cedric Diggory, sitting at a small table near the back with Emma Ackerley, and giving very much the appearance of being on a date. After a few minutes, a pair of Gryffindor fourth years vacated a table near the door, and Isobel and Laurel were able to sit down. Because it was so crowded, Laurel offered to order at the bar, but it still took quite a while to get their drinks. Madame Rosmerta, the friendly-but-tarty barmaid, frantically served Butterbeers and shot down students attempting to order firewhiskey (the Weasley twins being a member of that group).

“You know,” said Laurel, handing Isobel an overflowing glass mug as she sat down. “The Hog’s Head is probably empty, and I bet they would serve us there.”

Isobel thought about it, giggling slightly and trying not to spill her Butterbeer.

“I’d much prefer a vodka soda to this,” she agreed.

“If they have vodka soda," snorted Laurel. "From what I hear they make their ales in a bathtub.”

They left the Three Broomsticks some fifteen minutes later, surrendering their seats to Penelope Clearwater and Percy Weasley, and trying to avoid being roped into a conversation. Penelope had very unnecessarily introduced Percy, which Isobel took as some desperate hint that the two were on a date.

“Yeah, we’ve met,” said Isobel, shaking Percy’s hand. “We have potions together. And Runes.”

“Right you are,” said Percy. “How’s your translation chart coming, then?”

“Oh, it’s… coming,” responded Isobel, beginning to lose her composure.

Laurel, who’d been giggling steadily throughout the encounter, let slip a brief squawk of uncontainable amusement. Isobel hastened to leave.

“Well, have a good… time, then,” she said.

“See you back in the dorms,” replied Penelope, waving to them brightly as they pushed out of the doors.

Once outside they collapsed against the wall, rent with malicious glee.

“Blimey she’s nice when she’s trying to impress a bloke,” gasped Laurel.

“Oh god they’ll have the most terrible babies,” squealed Isobel, doubled over, clutching cramps from laughing too hard.

Laurel started rolling a cigarette, and Isobel recovered herself somewhat. Laurel passed the roll-up to Isobel, and began on a second.

“Hog’s Head, then?” she asked around the filter perched between her lips, sprinkling tobacco on the paper.

“Yeah,” said Isobel, still giggling little aftershocks.

Laurel finished rolling and lit both of their fags with the tip of her wand. The Hog’s Head was down an alley at the other end of the High Street, so they retraced their steps for the third time. Their series of activities had been anything but efficiently planned.

They reached the corner where they would turn right, but stopped at the intersection to finish smoking before heading down the narrow lane (steeling themselves for the adventure).

After much ado, they marched purposefully toward the pub.

Laurel shoved open the doors.

And then Laurel turned back.

“No. No. No. No,” she said, seizing Isobel’s arm and steering her back up toward the shops, beginning to break into a giggle.

“What?” asked Isobel, who hadn’t seen inside.

“Just trust me,” said Laurel, starting to laugh again, quickening her pace. Isobel started laughing as well and they broke into a run. "There were maybe ten teeth between all the wizards in there, and we'd be the only girls."

Isobel was disappointed that she wouldn't be getting her vodka and soda afterall, but supposed it was unwise for two pretty young witches—high as they already were on mind-altering charms—to drink in such a seedy establishment.

Without much left to do in the village, the two Ravenclaws wandered back out past the train station where they’d left Emily and Tristan.

The Hufflepuff and the Slytherin were laying sprawled on the grass. Clearly, they’d been through quite a lot of the hash Em’s brother had sent that morning. The song in the stereo sounded grating and antagonistic to Isobel, but Emily and Tristan were immersed, barely registering Isobel and Laurel when they sat down.

Eugh,” came a sudden, gutteral sound from Emily. It took Isobel a confused moment to realize that she was singing along to the song. “Said the lady to the man she adored...” Emily took a deep drag from her spliff, humming, and passed it to Tristan. Isobel listened to the song lyrics, whose perversion clashed with her own magically affected mood:

And Mary ain't you tired of this, huh
Is the sound that the mother makes when the baby breaks...

Laurel giggled, almost inaudibly—it would have been louder, if not for that dark and frenetic song.

Tristan passed the spliff to Isobel, and the four of them listened to the rest of the track without speaking.

“That song,” Tristan said, when the last haunting note had died down. “Was everything.”

Tristan was blasted.

The group was silent for the space of a breath before Isobel and Laurel surrendered to the hysterical laughter that had followed them all day.

A slow song came on, and Emily started picking out a new tape. “You liked Blondie, right?” she asked Isobel.

“Uhh, yeah” replied Isobel, not remembering whether she did or not.

Eat to the Beat,” said Tristan. “Side B.” Isobel gathered that these were instructions of some kind. Muggles, she thought, almost fondly.

“So that was the Doxies?” asked Tristan.

“The Pixies,” corrected Emily, play-punching him. “Hey, are either of you fit to Cheer me?” asked Emily.

“I could do another,” said Laurel, predictably.

“I can cast it,” offered Tristan, sitting up with some difficulty. “I’ll take one when we head back.”

Isobel was glad that he offered, since Laurel was liable to cast it too strong in her state. Tristan charmed Emily and Laurel, and Isobel rolled some tobacco.

Tristan and Emily let Laurel and Isobel have some influence over the music choices for the next few hours, but the two Ravenclaws had a difficult time recalling band names.

“It’s the one like, ‘doodoodoodoo… I’ll run away with you,’” Laurel explained.

“Ohhhhhh,” responded Emily. “‘Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick.’”

“Yeah! That’s the one!” clapped Laurel.

“The Cure, good choice,” Tristan said pedantically, rummaging for the correct tape.

The muggle technology was awkward; Tristan had to screech through bits, and finding the exact start of a song seemed difficult for him. He pulled out a few additional cassettes from the same group for Laurel to look through. Isobel reached out for one.

“Huh,” she said, turning it over. “They don’t look like muggles.” Emily and Tristan found this hilarious.

“They’re goth,” explained Tristan. “Or, they used to be, anyway.”

“It’s a fashion where muggles dress up like wizards,” Emily explained.

“Basically,” agreed Tristan. He could be remarkably doctrinaire when it came to music.

They headed back to the castle around sunset. Isobel, who hadn’t Cheered since that morning, charmed Tristan (she was glad he asked because he’d grow sullen otherwise), but not until after he’d given Laurel another (bringing her up to three that day). Isobel opted out of a second. She’d only had sweets and Butterbeer all day, and was afraid that she’d lose track of her portions at supper again.

“Oh, by the way,” Emily said, when they were nearly to the gates, “do you guys want to give me money for tobacco and things? I’m writing my brother tonight.”

The other three started digging in their pockets, measuring out gold, and specifying quantities and brands.

“Is it ok if we pay you in normal money?” asked Laurel.

“I’ve got muggle money in my room to exchange it with,” Emily replied.

Isobel was glad that Tristan had Cheered. Otherwise, the phrase 'normal money' would have set him off on another you-are-'othering'-the-non-magic-population-by-treating-wizardkind-like-the-norm rant.

* * *

October arrived, and with it came a dramatic increase to their workload. As it was their O.W.L. year, the professors seemed to think that their students wouldn’t be prepared unless they were pushed to the brink of nervous breakdowns. As a result, the balance on how Isobel and her mates spent their time in Cadogan’s Corridor shifted spectacularly in favor of actually studying. More than once, Isobel and her friends cursed at Sir Cadogan for interrupting them, and Emily had broken all of her rules regarding tobacco (she was now chain-smoking with abandon).

The Weasley twins weren’t stopping by as much; the Quidditch season had begun, and they were now practicing three times a week.

It was the third Tuesday of the month. Tristan had his evening Astronomy class with the Slytherins, so it was only the girls in the corridor that night. Isobel was hunched over Laurel’s rune translation, simultaneously copying and correcting. They’d established an eloquent system of cheating together: since they had identical timetables, they could divide the work between the two of them and trade (Isobel figured they were still both learning that way, but it cut the time to complete assignments nearly in half).

“What’s your topic for Squirrel’s essay?” asked Laurel, who was rephrasing Isobel’s paper for Snape.

“Defensive Magical Theory,” replied Isobel. It bothered her when people called the new Defense professor ‘Squirrel,’ no matter how appropriate. Professor Quirrel had taken a liking to Isobel after her first essay (when she had suggested that non-Western magic was often needlessly classified as ‘dark').

“What are you gonna say?” asked Laurel.

“I have no idea,” admitted Isobel, crossing out Laurel’s mis-definition of Ehwaz. “I honestly can’t see a situation where you couldn’t just use Expelliarmus or Protego.”

“Huh,” said Laurel. “Good point… Yeah, once you disarm them it’s through, isn’t it.”

“I think I’ll focus on resisting Imperio and shite like that,” replied Isobel. “By the way, Ehwaz means ‘partnership.’ And also ‘horse,’ apparently. Eihwaz means defense.”

“I bloody hate runes,” sighed Laurel.

Emily turned the corner, cautiously levitating three mugs of coffee. She knew some secret about how to procure coffee and tea between meals, one she refused to share ('ancient Hufflepuff wisdom,' was all she would say, tapping her nose sagely).

“Milk and sugar,” she announced.

“Thanks,” replied Laurel, taking the mug.

“Skim milk,” she continued.

“You’re the best,” said Isobel, accepting the coffee from mid air.

“And a double latte with clover honey,” finished Emily, pleased, as she sat down cross-legged.

“How’d you swing a latte?” demanded Isobel, nearly choking on her coffee. Emily replied by tutting and shaking her head with a smile. Because it was Emily, this wasn’t annoying.

“Can you do food too?” asked Laurel.

“Oh yes,” nodded Emily. “That’s how it all started.”

“Leave it to the stoner house to figure it out,” laughed Isobel. “You know,” she continued. “If you told us how you do it, then you wouldn’t have to make the trip every time.”

You’ve got a kitchen in your common room, don’t you?” cried Laurel, certain that she’d cracked it.

“No, I wish,” sighed Emily, sipping her latte and sifting through parchment. “Do either of you have your season charts for Herbo? I can’t find mine.”

“What are you looking up?” asked Laurel.

“The planting season for Screechsnap,” said Emily, checking under her textbook.

“Libra through Sagittarius, at dusk. I was just making my list if you want it,” Laurel offered.

Emily scribbled the information down, but passed on copying Laurel’s homework—the Hufflepuff still had some reservations about the Ravenclaws' system of labor distribution. Isobel guessed that as the O.W.L.s loomed closer and the workload increased, Emily’s qualms over cheating would (like her rules about tobacco) become compromised.

End Notes:

1. I took the name Emma Ackerley from Stewart Ackerley, who appeared in GoF, when he was Sorted into Ravenclaw in the 1994 school year—the two are related.

a) The “dark and frenetic” song Emily sings along to is “Hey” by The Pixies, from the 1989 album,
Eat to the Beat, released 1979, is an album by Blondie. One of the more popular songs, “Atomic,” is on the B side.
c) The song Laurel tries to remember is “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure, from their 1987 album
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. (The CI text is a lyric from this song).
d) The tape Isobel looks at when she mentions that The Cure "don’t look like muggles" is Pornography, released in 1982.

3) Hermione also misidentified
Ehwaz in OotP. (Plus, Harry pretty much only ever used Expelliarmus and Protego, proving Isobel's theory correct!)

4) Isobel’s wand is Olive Wood with Sphynx hair, 10.25 inches, and rigid. From Wikipedia: ‘Olive wood is very hard and is prized for its durability, colour, high combustion temperature and interesting grain patterns... Olive wood and its products are relatively expensive.’


Chapter 6: Behind the Mirror
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Behind the Mirror

Authors Note: This chapter is mostly fluff—'the last good day,' if you will.

EMILY sipped coffee at the Hufflepuff table late on Saturday morning. It was the last weekend before Hallowe’en and Tristan’s party would be later that night. She’d been looking up at the windows without realizing and saw, with great relief, Siouxsie soar into the Great Hall. It had been five weeks to the day since she’d written her brother, and all would have been lost if her package had taken any longer to arrive. Not to mention that she felt bad hogging Tristan’s owl for so long, but she didn’t feel safe sending a school owl to her brother. Emily was hastily stowing the parcel in her bag, not wanting its girth to draw suspicion, when the Weasley twins sauntered over.

“So we’re on tonight for Tristan’s do?” asked Fred.

“Where have you planned to hold this gala?” added George.

“Corridor, I guess,” replied Emily.

The twins shared a meaningful look.

“We think we might be of use in that department,” began Fred.

“Clearly, no one knows more about this castle than us,” said George.

“Not even filthy Filch,” added Fred.

“And we think we’ve scouted the perfect location,” concluded George.

“Where?” asked Emily, curious.

“It’s private,” said Fred.

“It’s secret,” said George.

“Uh-huh?” said Emily, urging them to continue.

“Just meet us on the fourth floor. The mirror near the library. We’ll show you,” finished Fred.

“Ok brilliant, thanks!” from what little they had divulged, Emily got the sense that it must be some sort of secret passageway. She’d suspected that they used secret passageways for some time now.

“Oh, sit down, won’t you!” Emily commanded, and the twins obliged.

“Who can we expect to see this evening?” asked George, pouring orange juice.

“Hogwarts’ finest, we presume,” said Fred.

“Me, Isobel, Laurel, you two, Angelina. Lee I suppose—but not too many third years, ok?” said Emily. “No offense,” she added.

“None taken,” Fred assured her, busy scooping eggs.

“And Tristan was thinking of maybe inviting Oliver Wood? Do you think that would be a bad idea?” asked Emily.

“Extend the hatchet!” cried George.

“Bury the olive branch!” agreed Fred.

“We like your style,” said George. “Consider him invited.”

“Great,” said Emily, relieved. She’d felt uncomfortable inviting Oliver herself, lest he get the wrong idea. “And do you know Siobhan Quirke? Ravenclaw? She’s a seventh year, and pretty busy studying for her N.E.W.T.s, but she’s cool. You’ll like her.”

Siobhan had been a friend of Tonks’, strictly speaking. She was the one Emily knew the least well because Siobhan studied so much, but from what Emily remembered she was a good laugh.

“Was she on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team last year?” Fred asked as he finished his sixth strip of bacon.
“Yes! That’s the one,” exclaimed Emily, wondering why she hadn’t thought to mention Quidditch straight off. “She left the team this year to focus on exams. I think she’s planning to go through auror training like Tonks and needs perfect marks.”
“Tonks had perfect marks?” asked George, surprised.
“Nearly,” nodded Emily. The twins had never really met Tonks, and Emily supposed that from the look of her, you wouldn’t guess.
“Always pegged her as a real Hex Head,” said Fred. “No offense,” he added. “To yourself, as a Hex Head, or your friend, in the event I’ve misjudged.”
“No, she wasn’t really,” mused Emily. “Some of her friends were. A bit. Not Siobhan though, I don’t think.”

Too late, she elbowed Fred in the shoulder, “Oi! I’m not a Hex Head either!”

“I was wondering when you’d catch that,” laughed George.

Isobel came down just as the twins were bowing out to the Quidditch pitch, and Tristan showed up shortly thereafter. Laurel didn’t come at all.

Despite wanting to keep third years to a minimum, they decided it wouldn't be right to exclude Cedric. Emily was rather proud of the party, even though it hadn’t happened yet. Every house of Hogwarts would be represented, including players from three of the four Quidditch teams. Take that, house rivalries, she thought.
Despite their heavy workload, they decided to head up to the North Tower to watch the Gryffindors practice. Emily took a brief detour to stash her package in her room, which wasn’t far from the Great Hall, and stocked up on a few supplies on the way back.
They ascended the castle stairways, and once on the seventh floor, Isobel turned west to Ravenclaw tower to try and rouse Laurel. Emily and Tristan continued north together. At his request, they passed by Sir Cadogan’s portrait to say hello.
“Ho, ho, ho, gentlelady and dear sir. Do I mistake the date, or is this not the sixteenth anniversary of your birth?” called the knight.
Tristan was clearly considering Sir Cadogan’s possible double negative—he had on his ‘overthinking’ face.
“Yeah, I’m turning sixteen—well, on Thursday,” replied Tristan.
“Then good health to your mother, to whom our greatest gratitude is due,” replied Sir Cadogan, descending into a deep bow.
“Hear, hear,” agreed Emily. She liked Tristan’s mum, Mary, quite a lot.
“Yeah,” was all Tristan said.
“So when, may I ask, are the upcoming nuptials?” continued Sir Cadogan. “And I may add,” he went on, his voice significantly lower. “It isn’t fitting that you two carry on your stroll without a proper chaperone.”
It took Emily a second to work out what the knight had just implied, then she hastened to correct him: “Oh no, we’re not—” she began, but Tristan interrupted her.

“June,” he improvised, throwing his arm around her shoulder. “And our chaperone only just stepped out.” To Emily, he whispered, “play along, it’ll make him happy.”

“Uh huh,” she said, feeling awkward.

“Then your chaperone should fall well beneath your esteem. As a man of chivalry myself, may I offer you an armored escort on your way?”

At this, Emily and Tristan resumed their journey with Sir Cadogan flitting through paintings beside them atop his fat little pony. They bid him farewell at the tower’s base, before climbing up the spiraling stairs. It wasn’t long before Isobel joined them.

Laurel was still in bed, but Isobel had been sure to transmit their whereabouts in the form of a note spell-o-taped to Laurel’s forehead.

“Ok, so it was gonna be a surprise, and I was planning on saving this for later, but I couldn’t resist,” Emily was fitting to burst.

See,” Isobel smirked to Tristan. “Just terrible at being sneaky.”

“Shut it,” Emily scowled, unzipping her rucksack. After a moment's rummaging, she produced a bottle of bourbon, a bottle of lemonade, and four steel mugs.

“You really need to let me in on this ancient Hufflepuff wisdom,” Tristan said, impressed, while Isobel clapped and squealed.

“The Wisdom only accounts for the cups and juice, I asked my brother to send the whiskey,” she said, setting up the supplies in the gap between two parapets.

“Then thank Lucas for us,” said Tristan while Emily began fixing their drinks.
“To Tristan, the coolest Slytherin ever,” said Isobel, raising her glass. “Sixteen!” she called.

“Sixteen,” they cheered, and clinked their mugs together.

They did make a bit of an effort over the following hour, if halfhearted, to watch the Gryffindors practice. But the pitch was far across the grounds, and none of them knew what they were supposed to be looking at.

“Maybe it’s more interesting during a real match?” suggested Emily.

“Which one do you reckon is Potter?” asked Tristan.

“Well that one keeps diving a lot, but right now he’s just sort of sitting there above everyone else, so I think that one,” offered Isobel. “Is this lemonade fresh squeezed?” she added considering her mug.

“Maybe,” responded Emily, coy.

“Come on, how do you do it?” asked Tristan.

“You know, it’s really not all as exciting as I’ve made it out to be,” sighed Emily. “If it’s ever a situation where you need to know, I’ll tell you how to do it.”

That said, the Hufflepuff, the Ravenclaw, and the Slytherin fell into a comfortable silence and watched the distant Gryffindors zoom around on their brooms.

* * *

Emily, Isobel, and Laurel met on the fourth floor at half five. Laurel was furious with herself that she’d slept through their noontime cocktail hour. Tristan had gone back to the dungeons to shower, giving them enough time to set up. Emily felt a little childish scheduling a party so early in the day, but there being a curfew, she saw no way around it. The twins soon arrived, and directed them to a cracked mirror hanging on the wall.

“Watch and learn,” said Fred.

“But never tell,” added George.

“Hello gorgeous,” Fred winked at his own reflection before sliding the mirror aside, revealing a dark passageway.

“As you can see,” said George. “The place could use a little brightening up.”

Lumos,” the five said in unison as they climbed through the hidden doorway.

It appeared to be some sort of corridor that had caved in, but what was left was a space like a large room with one wall built of rubble. It was more than enough room, as Emily only planned for a party of about ten.

“This is amazing!” cried Emily, throwing her arms around the neck of each twin in turn. “Thank you for this!”

“Cheers, mate,” said Fred, and they got to work setting up for the party.

Isobel magicked bunches of glowing bubbles to hover at the ceiling for light while the twins got to work hanging a brightly colored banner Laurel and Isobel had made. Emily began rearranging the rubble she felt comfortable shifting to be used as furniture. They set up one rather large block of stone to serve as a bar.

“What did this place used to be?” asked Isobel.

“Secret passage, led straight out the castle,” answered George, admiring his handiwork with the banner.

“Been caved in since forever,” added Fred.

“And Filch doesn’t know about it?” asked Emily as she changed the colors of each chunk of rubble, transforming the caved-in passage into a riot of color.

“Nah, can’t, can he,” George said to Fred.

“We’ve hid from him here more times than we could count,” agreed Fred.

“Nice work,” said Laurel, while Emily transfigured a hefty rock from gray to orange. “I see you haven’t gone with a green and silver motif, then?”

They were putting their finishing touches on the room when the other guests started to arrive. Cedric came first, followed in quick succession by Lee Jordan and Angelina Johnson. Oliver Wood and a fellow Gryffindor fifth year, Ian, followed shortly thereafter. Oliver added a bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey to the bar, and thanked Emily for the invitation.

“Well it came from Tristan,” Emily rushed to assure him.

“That was big of him,” replied Oliver, unsarcastically.

Siobhan brought her boyfriend, Stan Perkins, as well as a case of lager. How she managed to sneak in an entire case was beyond Emily.

At first, Emily felt uncomfortable that Stan was there, Head Boy of Hogwarts as he was. He added an additional firewhiskey and some nettle wine to the growing bar, and her fears vanished. Best of all, Lee had brought along a wizarding radio so that they could have music. It only tuned into magical stations, and Tristan considered wizard rock ‘uninspired,’ but it was far better than nothing. Lee tapped the radio with his wand until he found a station playing the Hobgoblins, and set it on a turquoise boulder near the bar.

“Can you wait for him outside?” Emily asked Isobel at five o'clock. “He should be arriving about now, and I’d like to run get some mixers and water.”

The two witches stepped back out from behind the sliding mirror. Isobel busied herself reading a library notice—to keep her loitering from arousing suspicion—while Emily leapt down the stairs two at a time. Emily was so fast that she arrived back at just the same time as Tristan, levitating four bottles of lemonade and four of water alongside her. The bar had increased with each guest, and Lucas always said it was a mistake to get dehydrated while drinking. Emily wished she could think of something else aside from lemonade to drink with whiskey, but came up at a loss.

“So, why are we meeting here?” asked Tristan.

“You’ll see,” trilled Emily.

Isobel took control of the levitating bottles, and Emily moved to push the mirror aside.

“Huh,” she said, and tried again. It wouldn’t budge. No matter how hard she shoved, the mirror stayed firmly in place. Emily began to grow embarrassed. After heaving a few more times, She gave up. 

“Er, well,” Emily mumbled. Tristan looked bewildered and Isobel looked anxious, struggling to keep the hovering bottles afloat. A foolish thought struck Emily, and out of desperation, she tried it:
“Hello gorgeous,” she muttered, and tried for a clumsy wink. 

To her surprise, the mirror shifted easily after that. Emily stepped aside, and waved for Tristan to go in.

“Surprise!” rang a resounding chorus.

Emily and Isobel followed Tristan and the mirror slid shut behind them. Word of the party had clearly spread through the castle, and what was originally meant to be a party of ten had expanded significantly. Every Hufflepuff years five through seven had turned up, as well as most of the upper level Ravenclaws and Gryffindors. Tristan was still the only Slytherin. 

Emily set the bottles down at the bar, and was pleased to see that Tristan looked genuinely surprised. One by one, members of the party stepped up to give him hugs or shake his hand. Oliver Wood went for both, turning a handshake into a gruff embrace, followed by a sportsmanly clap on the back. Tristan and Angelina greeted each other awkwardly, but in good humor. Emily guessed that Ian Abercrombie was one of the friends Oliver had been with when he pushed Tristan, based on the meaningful nod he gave. Tristan saved his last, longest hug for Emily, who had been pouring drinks at the bar—which had tripled in her absence. It seemed to her like every smuggled bottle of liquor had found its way into the passageway behind the mirror.

“Thanks for this,” Tristan said in her ear. “Really, it’s… Just brilliant.”

The party set into full swing after that. Tristan was in such good spirits that he even enjoyed the Weird Sisters, whose music he usually referred to as ‘daft and two-dimensional,' and whose frontman he liked to call 'a derivative shagger.'

Whatever Emily had said about Siobhan not being a Hex Head turned out to be wrong. What she took at first to be too much coffee was in fact an Alacratus charm. After a few drinks, Stan admitted to Emily that she’d started using them to study, and had grown rather dependent. Apparently, ‘Study Spells’ were pretty common among the high achieving N.E.W.T. students. They didn’t think of it as Recreational Magic, though, since they weren't doing it for fun.

“So long as she isn’t self-spelling,” explained Stan. “That’s when it turns into a real problem.”

Without meaning to, Emily glanced over at Laurel. She was glad to see that Laurel had been in good spirits all day without the assistance of a Cheer. What’s more, she hadn’t asked for one, and seemed to be enjoying the party for its own sake. Out of respect for Laurel’s restraint, Emily tried to be as inconspicuous as possible while trading Cheers with Tristan, and later, Isobel. 

The Weasley twins, despite being the youngest guests in attendance, were easily the life of the party. Emily wasn’t naive to the fact that they’d consumed a good portion of the beer. She wasn’t sure that they’d ever drank before.

Emily looked around considering the younger guests; Cedric and Angelina were two grades below, but only about a year younger than Isobel. Angelina seemed a lot older than fourteen, and was nursing a flask of elderflower wine, while Cedric stuck primarily to smoking spliffs with Stan. Emily imagined that Cedric gravitated toward Stan because of his Head Boy status, as if it granted him permission. Ced was pretty straight laced outside of spliff.

To her delight, Emily saw that Oliver and Tristan seemed to be getting along famously. Ian still looked out of place, and consistently turned down every drink, smoke, or Charm offered to him. For a wild moment, Emily realized she was behaving a bit like Isobel—keeping track of everyone else, staying tuned into the collective mood, and adjusting things to keep everyone on a positive keel (negotiating toilet trips without drawing attention to the party was complicated). In some psychic inversion, Isobel appeared uncharacteristically ‘in the moment,’ and was talking animatedly with Siobhan. The mood as high as it was, and the drink flowing as freely, Siobhan’s Charming wasn’t very obvious anymore.

And stay tuned for the Muggle Music Hour, coming up next on WWN Radio 3,” the radio DJ announced after an upbeat dance number by Circe. “As always, our request line is open.”

Tristan abandoned his conversation with Lee mid-sentence, and dashed over to make his requests. Soon, the opening chords to “Atomic” by Blondie were issuing from the radio. Isobel squealed and grabbed Laurel’s hand, making her way closer to the speakers. It wasn’t long before other guests followed their lead and started dancing as well, even though most didn’t know the song.

For the next solid hour, every one of Tristan’s requests got played. Emily guessed it was because he was the only one to make any. 

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to,” clap-clap, “run away, I’ve got to” clap-clap, “get away…” Emily and Tristan shouted, mildly out of key. Everyone soon gathered the gist of the song, and clapped along in the right places—Even Ian Abercrombie. Granted, he was slightly out of sync.

They were dancing, and all together, rather than paired off into couples. Tristan had obviously gone for the most accessible and danceable requests, to great effect. The caved-in passageway was crowded with bobbing, swaying bodies—everyone dancing with everyone. Cliques gathered into loose circles, and muggle-borns sought out other muggle-borns who knew the lyrics to their favorite songs, but mostly your partner was whoever you were adjacent to at any given moment. Because they both knew the songs the best, Tristan and Emily danced beside each other most of the time. 

"People always told me, be careful what you do, don’t go around breaking young girls’ hearts

Michael Jackson succeeded in distinguishing the exceptional dancers from the mediocre.

As it turned out, Oliver was the best, with Isobel as a close second. Oliver’s athleticism on the Quidditch pitch transferred easily, and Isobel was naturally sexy, so the two gravitated toward each other for five astonishing minutes. They twirled and shimmied, seizing a large swath of the dancefloor for their antics. The whole display could have been choreographed, they were so synchronized. The song ended to widespread applause—which surprised a blushing Isobel. She surrendered to a squinting grin, squealing, tongue between her teeth, and curtseyed. 

After several hours strong, the party inevitably wound down. Predictably, the Hufflepuffs were the first to leave. Emily felt ashamed that she hadn’t invited them herself, but she’d been uncomfortable bringing them to a party with drink and drugs. It had turned out alright in the end, though, and Emily was glad to have spent the time with them.

One by one, the other guests trickled out until only six remained. They were sitting on the brightly colored rubble near the bar sharing a fresh bottle of whiskey and the remaining case of the beer (no one had bothered with the nettle wine) when Isobel produced her present to Tristan. He seemed to think the party itself would be the end of it, and laughed long and hard over the gift: socks, stitched with clumsy images of floppy disks and racecars. Tristan gave Isobel a long and appreciative hug in return. Emily had gotten him a cassette of Nevermind by Nirvana, which had only been released the month before, and a copy of A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. Laurel and Isobel didn’t easily grasp the perfection of the latter gift, but they knew it had to be brilliant, after it left Tristan speechless. Laurel’s gift was straightforward, but brilliant in its simplicity: she’d charmed a Slytherin pin from Madam Malkin’s to read Fuck Slytherin instead. It was beautiful, and Tristan affixed it to his robes front immediately.

The twins had been entertaining each other easily while Tristan had received his gifts, and the fifth years only realized that George had drunk too much when he vomited. 

It was almost funny—what with them being twins—that Fred retched immediately thereafter.

Emily rushed over while Isabel scourgified away the sick. George was clearly the drunker of the two, and slid down to the ground, his head lolling to the side. Fred shook his brother, but Laurel stopped him.

“Emily, can you get them food?” asked Isobel.

“I’d better. Come on, help me,” said Emily as she hoisted George up.

He retched once more, nearly passing out. Fred followed them out through the secret door, not needing any help walking. Fred took over transporting his sick brother once they got to the stairs—he was much stronger than Emily or Isobel, and best suited to support the weight of his staggering twin.

“Where are we going?” he asked, seeming to have sobered up rapidly out of concern for his brother.

“We head down like we’re going to the Entrance Hall,” she directed. “Do you know where the Hufflepuff Basement is?”

“Of course,” snorted Fred, offended that she’d question his knowledge of Hogwarts.

Once they’d descended into the lower levels of the castle, Fred started off in the direction of the Hufflepuff Common Room.

“No, that painting down there. Of the fruit,” corrected Emily.

Isobel said nothing, not knowing the precise location of the Hufflepuffs or their destination, and generally oblivious as to what was going on. Emily approached the still life and tickled a pear until it giggled. The painting swung aside to reveal a door. Fred followed her, half carrying George.

“Drust because I’m junk, doesn’t mean I won’t remember this,” mumbled George.

“Good trick,” Fred agreed, taking in the full splendor of the Hogwarts kitchens.

House elves in their neat little uniforms surrounded the foursome, offering assistance.

“Hi,” said Emily. “This boy is, er, sick. Can you help?”

“Certainly,” squeaked a tiny elf.

“Thank you, Toggy,” gushed Emily.

Five house elves had already begun setting up a camper bed for George. Toggy took Fred’s hand, and lead him over. Three other house elves pulled out chairs. Isobel took a seat, and thanked the elves awkwardly. A tea tray arrived, set with cakes, biscuits and clotted cream. Fred occasionally stopped worrying over his brother long enough to stare in awe.

“This. Is. Brilliant,” he said once George had been provided with bread, water, and a bucket. “Emily!” he cried, ruffling her hair.

“Just don’t take advantage,” she replied, tentatively, while she blew on her tea.

“Oh, we won’t,” assured Fred, and Emily was inclined to believe him.

Isobel, who’d been quiet aside from thanking the helpful elves, finally spoke. “I’m glad it’s only the Hufflepuffs who know about this,” she said, looking around thoughtfully. “Well, aside from me and Fred now. And George, it he remembers.”

“Oh I’ll remember,” George warned from the bed.

The mixture of excitement and worry seemed to have enervated Fred, who barely seemed drunk anymore.

“It’s nearly curfew,” he remarked. “If you think it’d be ok, I could stay here with George ‘til he’s alright to move, and you two could head back. I mean, we can manage the castle after hours, and even if we’re caught, there’s no reason we should all get in trouble.”

Emily considered. They had only ten minutes to get back to their dormitories, which was barely enough time for Isobel if she ran.

“Yeah, ok,” she agreed. “Isobel, you should start out now. I’ll explain to the house elves.”

Isobel and Emily shared a swift hug and kissed each other’s cheeks before she set off out of the kitchen, wishing the Weasleys well as she went. Emily asked the elves if it was alright that Fred and George stayed a bit, and they insisted it was.

“Ok so my dorms are just that way. If you need anything, the password is ‘Hufflepuff,’” said Emily. “I’ll kip out on the common room sofa.”

“Thanks,” said Fred. “You're a good mate.”

“Any time,” smiled Emily.

“But I do reserve the right to tease you about that later. The Hufflepuff password is Hufflepuff? Seriously?”

“Only this week,” countered Emily, defensively. “And who would ever guess it?”

“Therein lies the genius of your House,” George cried from the camp bed with as much drama as he could muster. 

“Do you know when your prefects patrol?” asked Fred.

“Oh, they don’t bother,” said Emily. “Hufflepuffs never break curfew.”

“The glory of your House grows ever more in my esteem,” George interjected again. His eyes were still closed but he made a show of rolling his r’s theatrically.

Emily left the Weasleys in the care of the elves, and set up some pillows and blankets on her common room sofa. She felt like she’d only just closed her eyes when she awoke the following morning to the sound of a running shower.

According to the house elves, Fred and George had left the kitchens the previous night without incident. The Gryffindor hourglass in the Great Hall seemed to have the same amount of rubies as the day before, so no points appeared to have been docked. Emily crept through the castle, illuminated by the rosy light of dawn, back to the fourth floor.

Behind the mirror lay the wreckage of their party. Many of Isobel’s bright bubbles from the previous night had popped, and the rubble was beginning to fade back to grey. Emily scoured the bottles borrowed from the kitchen, and struggled to vanish the rest of the debris. Every last drop of alcohol had been drunk.

End Notes:

1. Quirke is a surname pilfered, yet again, from the 1994 Sorting—Siobhan is the elder sister of Orla, Ravenclaw. Ian Abercrombie is the elder brother of Euan, who was mentioned in The Order of the Phoenix. Euan was sorted into Gryffindor in 1995, and believed The Daily Prophet’s smear campaign against Harry Potter (hence my bashing Ian’s sense of rhythm.) Stan Perkins is related to the old wizard that served alongside Mr. Weasley in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office.

2. To put ages and years into perspective, in American terms, Tristan would be a Junior in High School. Laurel, the second oldest, would be a sophomore, alongside Emily and Isobel. Isobel has a summer birthday, and is the youngest of the four. Cedric Diggory and Angelina Johnson would both be High School freshman, while the Weasley Twins would be Eighth graders.

a) “Atomic” is still by Blondie, off Eat to the Beat.
b) “Sometimes I feel I’ve got to [clap clap]” is the Soft Cell version of “Tainted Love.”
c) The line “People always told / me be careful what you do / don't go around breaking young girls' hearts” is Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” off Thriller.
d) “Rosy light of dawn,” is a phrase that crops up in all sorts of literature, in homage to Homer’s epithet “rosy-fingered dawn” (Iliad and Odyssey). And I think Rowling used it too, wot with being a Classicist and all.

4. I had originally been under the deluded impression that there were inconsistencies in canon over how to gain access to the Hufflepuff basement (I wrongly believed that one source suggested a "pass-rhyme" while another source indicated a "pass-rhythm.") As a result, I decided to screw all that noise, and limit canon to what appeared in the text (so my default was a password--and I really liked the idea that the password was "Hufflepuff.") NOW, as it turns out, there wasn't any inconsistency after all (curse you, dyslexia!) BUT I LIKE THAT JOKE SO MUCH. So, I suppose it would be more honest to say that this story is 99% true to canon. Apologies.

Dyslexics of the world, UNTIE!

Chapter 7: Troll in the Dungeons!
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Troll in the Dungeons!


TRISTAN woke up on the morning of Hallowe’en and made it halfway to the washroom before realizing that it was his birthday. If it hadn’t been for his mum’s owl perched atop his four-poster, he might not have remembered at all.

The details of his birth were nothing Tristan wanted to think about, and its official date didn’t hold much significance, after being well overshadowed by Saturday’s party. His resulting hangover was been so great that it had persisted, relentlessly, until just the night before. Too many fags, and an foolish admixture of Nettle Wine on top of Whiskey, had left him with a sore throat and painfully chapped lips. And he’d ended up sleeping in his contacts again by accident, causing one of them to rip when he tried to remove them.

He was glad, he guessed, that he was feeling better, now that it was birthday. It had been an epic party, he reflected, lathering shaving potion over his chin—if only it hadn’t ended so weird. Tristan and Laurel had realized, too late, that it was after curfew, and opted to remain behind the mirror until early the next morning. At least, he thought, he’d perfected Auguamenti. Dehydrated and trapped, mastery of the sixth-year spell had been a necessity.

The whole group hadn’t been all together since the party behind the mirror. Tristan had taken all of Sunday to recover, and they had different Astronomy night classes Monday through Wednesday. He looked forward to spending the time after the Hallowe’en feast together in Cadogan’s Corridor even if--or especially if--all they did was study.

After seeing how the guests at his party had interacted, Tristan had felt a surge of jealousy. He didn't like anyone in his own House. Tristan had always, out of probable sour grapes, considered sticking strictly to one’s own Sorting assignment to be uncreative. Isobel and Laurel were a fair exception in his mind, their having grown up together and all. But after seeing how Ravenclaws got on with Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs with Hufflepuffs, Tristan wished that he and his best mates had more than some distant stretch of corridor that they had to vacate every night before curfew.

If only he could come back to some private place designed for the sole use of a group of people he enjoyed—which, he supposed, was the theory behind Sorting in the first place.

So why hadn’t it worked for him? Why had he been cast down to the Slytherin Dungeons, rather than in with the Hufflepuffs or Ravenclaws? Or, and Tristan hated admitting it, even to himself—even when the Sorting Hat had been on his head, he’d eschewed this, most private, thought—Gryffindor. Gryffindor like Mary.

"I’m going to be in Slytherin, aren’t I?" was the first thing Tristan had thought, over four years ago, inside the dark Sorting Hat.
"You must agree that the Slytherin bits are obvious," the Hat had responded.

"Go ahead then, get it over with."

It wasn’t until after Tristan had first resigned to the Slytherin table that he let himself privately mourn that the Red and Gold were lost forever.

Laurel’s voice echoed in his head, ‘Fuck Gryffindor.’ Tristan remembered the present she’d given him and almost pinned it to his robes, but for various practical reasons, decided against it.

Finally, Tristan plucked up the courage to unwrap the package from his parents. There was a copy of NME, the first of a subscription paid for by his father, and a note from his mum saying that she would post each copy by owl after it had arrived. It was a painfully thoughtful present. Also included was a cheque from his “Nana” in Ireland for 100 quid. Tristan felt guilty--guilty that he had spent the last several days hungover, guilty that he wasn’t a better son. Mary and Eddie deserved more than Tristan, but now it was too late, and Tristan was all they had. Moody, aloof, incorrigible, and broken.

Why couldn’t they have just sent socks? he thought, overwhelmed by his own many faults.

* * *

Tristan was the last to arrive at breakfast. Emily, Isobel, and Laurel smiled and waved brightly, and Emily stood up to hug him when he approached the table.

“Alright Tristan,” called Cedric from beside Emily. “Happy birthday, mate.”

Tristan scooped scrambled eggs onto his plate and took a brief scan of the Great Hall. His popularity had increased significantly in the days after the party. At least one member of each of the Quidditch teams save Slytherin had been present, and the ripples of that fact had spread throughout the school.

Before his sixteenth birthday Tristan had occupied one of two roles: Hex Head, or Slytherin Hex Head. If he took into account what the Slytherins thought, which he didn’t, there would be a third category: Mudblood.

Emily straightened her back, and glanced shiftily down the table, a sure sign that she was about to do something sneaky. Under the table, she passed him a bag of hash.

“Happy birthday,” she whispered.

Tristan wished she hadn’t, she’d done enough already, and his feeling of undeserving threatened to overwhelm him. His guilt was made worse by her gift’s excellence: in an attempt to combat both his hangover and confused feelings, he’d kept himself consistently high since Sunday. As a result, he’d burnt through most of the stash he’d last bought from Lucas.

Laurel, who’d been quiet but in good spirits, excused herself to the toilets.

“Has she Cheered this morning?” whispered Emily as she leaned in toward Isobel.

“No,” said Isobel, looking in the direction that Laurel had gone.

“She seems a lot,” Emily paused. “I dunno, better?”

“Yeah, I guess whatever it was,” Isobel considered for a moment. “I guess it’s gotten better. She’s been pretty cheerful—I don’t mean,” Isobel corrected herself. “Not, you know, cheerful. Just…”

“Happy,” finished Emily, nodding.

“Do you wanna…” Emily lifted her fingers to her lips, the universal sign for ‘spark a spliff.’

“No,” Tristan surprised even himself. “I have McGonagall first thing, and I think she could tell I was high on Tuesday.”

More pragmatically, he didn’t want to rush through this stash as quickly as he had the last.

“Lunch though,” he promised, getting up. “I only have Charms, History, and Herbo after, so definitely lunch.”

Tristan rushed back down to the dungeons to stash Emily’s present in his trunk before making his way back up to Transfiguration.

Tristan hadn’t been paying much attention in his lectures over the last few weeks, and the consequence of his apathy was most visible in Transfiguration. Professor McGonagall was quizzing the class on Gamp’s Law when Tristan miserably realized that he probably wouldn’t pass his Transfig O.W.L., before reminding himself that he didn’t actually care.

“Mr. Bryce,” McGonagall called, stirring him from his thoughts. “What do you think about water?”

“Water?” Tristan repeated, idiotically.

“Yes, water,” confirmed Professor McGonagall. “Is water an exception to Gamp’s Law?”

“Well it can’t be,” interrupted Terence, leaning his chair back on its hind legs “Professor,” he added quickly, before setting himself forward again. “We drink it, so it’s a food. And food can’t just be created.”

“It is,” countered Tristan, piecing the question together. “It’s an exception to—to the law. Auguamenti.” He summoned a jet of water to make his point, splashing a few unsuspecting students as he did. 

“Very good, Mr. Bryce,” said McGonagall, a little stunned by his bold display

“Water does not fall under Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration. Scourgify,” she nonchalantly flicked her wand, clearing away the puddle left by Tristan’s demonstration.

He dozed through the remainder of the lesson, and McGonagall didn’t call on him again. After class he slouched to the Entrance Hall and waited for Emily, who had to come all the way down from Divination, so they could walk to Care of Magical Creatures together.

“Ok, let’s smoke,” was the first thing he said when Emily joined him.

Magical Creatures might as well have been called ‘Free Time, and Also: Animals’--that’s really all it was. Professor Kettleburn was nearly blind, mostly deaf, and didn’t have many fingers left. But In the two years he'd taken his class, Tristan had to admit, Kettleburn's head had slowly returned to normal.

“These here are Kneazle-housecat hybrids,” the professor explained to the class. “Pure Kneazle’s classifed too dangerous by the Ministry, but this’ll give you an idea. Watch ‘em. Interact, with ‘em. See what they’re like,” were Kettleburn's only instructions.

The students filed into the paddock, and spent the remaining hour and a half playing with what amounted to very large, very smart, cats.

Tristan and Emily met up with their Ravenclaw friends at the front doors, and headed off to the lake together to smoke again before lunch. Isobel and Laurel were both frizzy haired and sweaty from their double potions with the Gryffindors. Laurel had maintained the calm good spirits that made her friends so happy.

After a rushed meal of chicken sandwich, Tristan made his way to Charms with Isobel and Laurel. The three of them were easily at the top of their class, owing, Tristan imagined, to the fact that they practiced recreationally. They’d already mastered nonverbal spellwork a year early—a necessity if they wanted to trade Cheers in public. It seemed, though, that the secret to their success was out.

Flitwick usually showered praise on any students showing progress, but ostentatiously ignored Tristan and his mates whenever they managed to affect a flawless charm. Tristan felt momentarily jealous of American wizards, most of whom attended wizarding school by day and went home at night. There, one’s free time could be kept private. 

Ideally: to be a muggle. Only posh kids attended boarding school in the muggle world.

As he’d promised himself at the start of term, Tristan skived off Binns’ lecture and wandered along the rocky edge of the lake. November was fast approaching, so his time outdoors wasn’t nearly as pleasant as it would have been some weeks ago. After over an hour without any sign of the giant squid, Tristan trudged off to Herbology, where he arrived late.

“Mr. Bryce,” said Professor Sprout when he shrugged through the doors.

Tristan scowled, and thought about what a useless thing it was to say. Yeah, that’s me, and? He resented the look she gave him, at once strict and entreating. He neither needed, nor wanted, her guidance
Oliver beckoned for Tristan to work with him and his mates. Tristan wished he could just sit alone, but didn’t want to act an arse. He pulled on his dragon-hide gloves and traded ‘alright’s’ with the three Gryffindors.

They were re-potting their fanged geraniums, so it was good, really, that Oliver had invited Tristan to join his group. Tristan had killed his own geranium back in September.

“You lot coming to the match then?” asked Oliver. “A week from Saturday. You can support us when we smash Slytherin,” he finished, clapping Tristan on the back.

“Yeah, could do,” Tristan agreed, absentmindedly, trying to avoid exposing his forearms to the geranium’s hooked fangs.

“Brilliant,” gloated Wood, looking across the greenhouse at Marcus Flint, Slytherin team captain.

The sun was nearly down when Herbology ended. In order to avoid walking back to the castle with Oliver, Tristan took extra time washing his gloves and tidying the greenhouse. He was almost through the door when Sprout spoke up again.

“Good work today,” she said without raising her eyes from her parchment. Her knowing tone infuriated Tristan. “Five points for Slytherin,” she said gently.

“Fuck off your points,” Tristan mumbled, loud enough for her to hear.

Laurel was pulling on a fag, waiting for him outside the greenhouses.

* * *

Of course Tristan’s birthday fell on Hallowe’en, a feast night, when he couldn’t sit with his own friends over supper. As usual, Tristan took a seat beside the Bloody Baron, so he would have his space from the other Slytherins.

He didn’t like Laurel’s new mix. It made him feel queasy.

He hadn’t noticed so much behind the mirror on his birthday, but he’d already been pissed then. Laurel seemed to like it though; she’d been on it since the party. Maybe even before. Tristan couldn’t see the point, though, in a Charm blend that canceled itself out, but still left you feeling Hexed out of your mind. To him, adding Tranquilus to Hilaris pretty much defeated the purpose.

Tristan picked at his food, nauseated by the decadent spread on the table. He caught a glimpse of a particularly unpleasant first year—either Crabbe or Goyle—eating, and pushed away his plate. Tristan crossed his arms on the table and laid his head down, but shot back up. Hexed as he was, the motion made his head spin. But he didn’t want Emily to see him nodding off in case she looked over. He was just considering heading down to the dungeons alone and skipping the Corridor after supper when Squirrel ran into the Great Hall, screaming about trolls. 

All at once, Tristan’s Charms were lifted. And even as he experienced the painful crash, he was glad for it. He looked instinctively at Isobel, who was looking at Laurel. Clearly, Isobel didn’t trust her friend’s newfound contentment. But why Finite Incantatem, Tristan wondered, why not just Finite? Why had she gone through the extra effort of broadening her spell to the whole room, instead of just focusing it on Laurel, which would have been easier? Was she doing anyone who might have Charmed in the hall a favor?

Of course, Tristan realized, she’d seen him walk in with Laurel, and she didn’t trust him either. They’d been too Hexed to realize how obvious it looked.

“Bryce, move,” barked Reece Pritchard, who was ushering his house toward their common room.

“Not back to your common room,” hissed McGonagall. “Stupid boy, the troll is in the Dungeons.”

“Professor, where—” started Pritchard.

“Just,” McGonagall waved her arms flustered. “Wait here until a faculty member provides further instruction.”

Tristan slumped back down. There couldn’t actually be a troll in the dungeons?

* * *

The first Quidditch match of the season was scheduled just over a week after the Hallowe’en feast. Apparently, there had been a troll. Only not in the dungeons. And Harry Potter, all of eleven years old, had somehow managed to kill it. But he'd also lost about a million House Points from Gryffindor in the process.

Tristan wasn’t really that clear on the situation.

With the exception of the wild Harry Potter rumors, the last week had passed very much the same as the one before. Tristan sleepwalked between classes, jerking unexpectedly from apathetic to hostile. He felt awkward around his friends because of the thing with Laurel, and awkward around Laurel because of the thing with Laurel. What he needed was a Hogsmeade trip, but the next one wasn’t until December. In the meantime, he still liked Cheering better than Laurel’s new thing, but he sort of understood. He felt dumb Cheering alone, and the Tranquilus/Hilaris hybrid left you more even around normal people. He fully recognized that the routine they’d establish was veering dangerously into full-blown Hex Head territory. Then again, he’d been pegged as a Hex Head since his third year, and he wasn’t sure he cared.

Anyway, it didn’t make him feel nauseous anymore.

Tristan joined the others at the Hufflepuff table, and poured himself a coffee. They’d somehow been roped into watching the Quidditch match for real. Each one of them half-heartedly agreeing to someone had added up, and now people expected that they’d be there. Tristan wondered how anyone would know the difference whether they came or not. He then reminded himself that those were the sorts of thoughts that made him an arse, and picked at his toast instead.

“Shall we have a Cheer before the game?” asked Isobel brightly when it was clear they’d all finished their breakfast.

The whole concept had lost a lot of its novelty. Like most drugs, most of the fun lay in the anticipation, and process of actually doing them. Cheering was fun once you were on one, but the excitement around them had subsided. Emily was the only one who seemed very enthusiastic, and Isobel seemed sated by Laurel’s lack of desperation.

Under the table Laurel’s wand pointed at Tristan, Tristan’s at Emily, Emily’s at Isobel, and Isobel’s at Laurel. Isobel counted off, and at the same time, they cast their spells in silence.

They climbed out of their seats and headed out the Entrance Hall, when Laurel gestured for Tristan to hang back.

“Let’s do another,” she murmured, moving her lips as little as possible.

At the constant level of Cheer and Tranquil she stayed on these days, Isobel’s gentle spell must have had little effect.

“Come on, before they can tell I’m faking,” she pleaded. Tristan agreed, and they each cast a second charm.

The piercing autumn air was exhilarating as they huddled together, stumbling around the lake. Hair still damp, Emily was the chilliest of the group. Her teeth chattered violently.

“Are you very cold?” asked Tristan.

“No,” she said, and her jaw went still. “I just like the noise,” she explained, and her teeth began chattering again. “See!” she yelled, running toward the edge of the lake.

She stripped off her boots and stocking and stomped her feet in the water.

“Oh please, Emily, don’t,” yelled Isobel.

“I grew up in Scotland!” Emily shouted back, thumping her chest with her fist.

Tristan ran to retrieve her, and almost giddily agreed to join her in her splashing, before convincing her to wade back out.

“I’ll put on my tights, but not my shoes,” she negotiated, like a child being babysat.

Tristan and Isobel each put an arm around her and continued around the lake. Laurel carried Emily’s boots, and occasionally span in circles, her head thrown all the way back so she could face the sky. 

“I feel,” Laurel said in a mild voice. “What do I feel…”

I feel,” countered Emily, contrary and stomping.

The rest of them laughed so hard they had to stop walking.

“Wait, look,” Isobel pointed. “People! We’re people!” Isobel explained, indicating to the swarm descending on the Quidditch pitch.

“Let’s go be people!” yelled Laurel, and she took off sprinting in the direction of the game.

The other three followed suit, and Emily leaped barefoot like a gazelle, giggling wildly.

Soon, they were absorbed into the queue for the stadium, crammed onto the rickety wooden stairs leading to the bleachers. Emily had to scramble to a corner to relace her boots. None of them knew what they were doing or where they were going, and they kept finding themselves in people’s way. Tristan got told off by a bossy first year, and to her frustration, Tristan found her hilarious. Her friend, the youngest Weasley, had to drag the offended little witch away.

"Only brush your hair when it's wet!" Isobel called after the hysterical Gryffindor. She meant it to be kind, but was too hexed to realize the criticism might be rude. "Once it's dry, the curls will break up and go all frizzy like that!"

As the four friends represented different houses, none of which they were supporting, they ended up sitting with the Hufflepuffs. Cedric Diggory waved them up, and they jostled into the remaining space.

Tristan didn’t understand what was happening in the game, but enjoyed it immensely. He had a hard time following points or positions, but Lee was being very funny as he announced, and Tristan settled into watching the colorful blurs zoom around the pitch, seemingly at random. When the Hufflepuff box roared and clapped around him, Tristan got swept up in the excitement, whether or not he actually knew what they were celebrating.

At one point, Gryffindor’s celebrity seeker, who everyone agreed was a magnificent flier, began jerking about like his broom was a mechanical bull. Tristan failed to comprehend the purpose of this move. Later, Harry Potter caught the little gold ball in his mouth, which apparently constituted a win.

Quidditch was, Tristan concluded, a very strange sport.

End Notes:

1. Oh, yes, I DID create class timetables for each of them! Special thanks to HP Lexicon and HP Wiki, without whom, I never would have been able to write this.

2. NME is a popular british music magazine. In the 80s/90s, they covered a lot of the music Tristan was interested in.

3. The CI text is a lyric from 'Tristan' by Patrick Wolf (are you sensing a theme? Yes, all of his chapters have a lyric from that song)

A/N: special thanks to marauderfan for catching errant typos!

Chapter 8: Self-Spelling
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Self Spelling




ISOBEL was sat against the wall in Cadogan’s corridor, hunched over a long scroll of notes. It was the last day of November and the four friends were actually working, even though it was a Saturday.

“Are those your notes for the Defense paper? That’s not due until after the Holidays!” cried Laurel. “We should be doing the goblin uprising timeline for Binns.”

“Oh, I was just about to start that,” Emily said. “I’ll do seventeenth century, you do eighteenth, then swap?” she offered.

Isobel had been right—Emily’s ethical standards about cheating had indeed shifted.

A few weeks had passed since they’d all Cheered at the Quidditch game and Laurel hadn’t asked for another afterward. She also wasn’t rocketing so dramatically between up and down like she had done during the first two months of term. Then again, Isobel didn’t trust this new calm, good-spirited, Laurel. The two of them shared every class and a dormitory and it would have been impossible for Isobel to miss the way Laurel kept making excuses to go off on her own. Surely wanting some alone time was healthy, but Isobel suspected that Laurel had been meeting up with Tristan during these unsupervised stretches. 

Maybe, Isobel thought, this had nothing to do with Charming. Perhaps Laurel and Tristan were seeing each other in secret, and maybe Laurel’s newfound demeanor could be attributed to having a boyfriend (which would still affect friend-group dynamics, not to mention Emily).
But Isobel was sure that she’d seen something on Hallowe’en. She’d cast Finite Incantatem after Quirrel had dramatically broken his news about the troll, and Isobel was certain that she’d seen Laurel show signs of crashing after.

Laurel had been aggravated and withdrawn as the prefects had ushered them sefely up the winding steps to Ravenclaw tower.

“Of course I'm upset,” Laurel had spat when Isobel mentioned her mood. “You should be upset! A bloody great troll in the bloody dungeons. How’d it get in then?”

But Isobel wasn’t convinced by the explanation. When Laurel had returned to their room after washing her face, she had seemed perfectly fine again.

* * *

Snow began to fall in earnest the first Monday of December. That morning, Isobel and Laurel took notes on McGonagall’s lecture about the differences between Transfiguration and Alchemy, which were mind-numbingly technical. Their second class was Arithmancy, where Professor Vector wrote down complicated equations on the blackboard explaining the typical magical function of Twelve (less powerful but more stable than Seven, Isobel gathered). After a meager lunch (Isobel had been avoiding dairy and bread), the two Ravenclaws marched up to Defense Against the Dark Arts with Tristan.

They were practicing using Shield Charms to defend another person, and the three friends partnered up. It soon became a nasty business. The Syltherins kept cheating, and Quirrel was useless to stop them. They were supposed to be casting only simple jinxes, like leg-locking that could be easily reversed, but more than a few Ravenclaws had been rushed to Madam Pomfrey sprouting painful boils or shriveled ears after being hit with more powerful hexes. Tristan, who was supposed to be casting Protego to shield himself and Laurel, became distracted when Penelope Clearwater shrieked unexpectedly (Terence Higgs had summoned a viper). Isobel’s jelly-legs jinx hit Laurel full on.

“Not S-serpentsortia!” Quirrel whined, vanishing the snake. “Only j-j-jinxes d-d-d-defended by p-protego.”

“Sorry about that,” Tristan said to Laurel, who was wobbling uncontrollably.

Finite,” Isobel cast, lifting the jinx.

All at once, Laurel crashed to the floor and groaned, not (Isobel noticed) as a result of her jelly-legs.

“You ok?” asked Tristan.

“I’m fine,” she snapped, pulling herself back to standing and ignoring the hand Tristan extended to help her up.  “Ok, my turn,” Laurel huffed. She looked like she might be sick.

Isobel cast a loose-lips jinx, only to be pushed back several feet at the force of Laurel’s Shield Charm.

“Very g-g-good,” stammered Quirrel and Laurel glanced around vengefully.

Quirrel concluded the lesson by offering the point Isobel had made in her first essay (she’d noted that Protego would likely be useless against West African fire magic). Under different circumstances, this would have made Isobel swell with pride.

Isobel made it nearly to the Entrance Hall before she realized she’d lost track of Laurel. She waited by the front doors, where Emily joined her in short time. Laurel finally bounced toward them some minutes later; her sudden foul mood had vanished.

“Where’d you get off to?” Isobel asked.

“Forgot my book in Squirrel’s,” Laurel replied brightly.

Isobel didn’t know how to voice her suspicion, and so the three witches tramped off to the greenhouses together without another word about Laurel’s disappearance.

Laurel’s work in Herbology was careless. She continually added far too much dragon dung while they repotted their screechsnaps, and seemed immune to Emily’s annoyance (Emily was particularly sympathetic toward the little whining plants).

“If you can’t be arsed, then bloody well sit down,” Emily fumed after Laurel, pruning haphazardly, had nearly chopped off a good portion of healthy growth. Laurel, who didn’t seem bothered, sat down and began playing with her shears.

They marched back to the castle an hour later, Emily heading to her Transfiguration lesson while Isobel and Laurel turned toward Ancient Runes. 

Professor Babbling was in a fervor, and started the lesson by assigning an impossible number of chapters reading for the week. While Isobel marked the appropriate pages in her copy of Magical Hieroglyphs and Logograms she noticed that Laurel was doodling absentmindedly in the corner of her parchment. Laurel continued to be of little help throughout the lesson and Isobel was left to do their set of interpretations alone. It was only when the professor called on Laurel to draw an intricate string of symbols on the board that Laurel paused her doodling.

Isobel was distracted throughout supper, retreating into herself. Without realizing it, she finished a large portion of mashed potatoes, which she'd drowned in gravy. Emily was the only one talking much, and even when the subject of the next Hogsmeade trip came up, Tristan (who looked like he was falling asleep at the table) offered only one-syllable answers. Laurel was resting her chin in one hand and picking at her food. Emily seemed to grow weary of her friends’ reticence, and set out to her Astronomy class early.

“Miss Mostafa, Miss Braithwaite, Mr. Bryce,” came Professor Flitwick’s voice a few minutes later. “I’m sure the Hufflepuff students enjoy your company at their table,” he said, apologetically. “But it really is against protocol for you to sit here without an invitation from a member of the House. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind joining your own tables?”

“It’s ok, professor,” said Cedric. “They’re with me.”

The three non-Hufflepuffs thanked Cedric, but decided to head up to their stretch of Corridor anyway. Isobel offered to procure coffees from the kitchens, and separated from her friends in the Great Hall. She took a pit stop, however, to the nearest girls’ toilets.

Despite sporting multiple stalls, Isobel locked the main wash-room door and stared for a long moment at her reflection. The fullness of her stomach was causing her intense discomfort—not because she’d eaten too much, but because she missed the delicious feeling of it being empty. Isobel gathered her robes and lifted them to assess the damage. To her misery, she found that the traitorous food had robbed her midsection of its recent, carefully orchestrated, flatness.

Isobel closed the lid of the nearest toilet, and crashed down onto it. In the back of her mind, she knew exactly what was going on with Laurel, but she didn’t want to give voice to her concerns. Not yet. She knew she shouldn’t have left Laurel alone with Tristan, but she wanted something for herself. After all, Laurel was taking time to indulge in her, much more destructive, vice. Isobel always worked so hard to help everyone else, she figured, resentfully, she deserved to help herself a little as well.

The more she thought about it, the more the feeling in her stomach sent shockwaves of guilt and disgust. Isobel prized her discipline, and when robbed of it, she felt like some necessary characteristic of her nature had been compromised. Despite what her friends thought, Isobel wasn’t the cleverest. Laurel received almost as good of marks (or, at least, she used to) without nearly as much work. And Emily was rather brilliant as well as hardworking, but no one ever seemed to give her credit (they so rarely did with Hufflepuffs). Tristan was naturally smart, but couldn’t be bothered with school, preferring to waste his great intellect memorizing facts about muggle music.

Isobel was often told that she was beautiful—mostly as a lead-in for people to ask about her mixed heritage. But it was her sister, Elphia, long and lithe, who was the great beauty of the family.

Isobel’s perfect skin was only the result of expensive skin potions and diligent care. Her striking looks were no more than a commitment to makeup.

No, both Isobel’s good marks and appearance (her two most prominent features) were merely the products of her discipline. Since she couldn’t hide in the toilets all evening, Isobel made her decision with a heavy heart. She stood, pushed open the toilet seat, and knelt before it.

Evomere,” she whispered, turning her wand on herself.

Isobel retched, hating herself. The coughing and gagging was so severe that she might not have managed to stop the spell had she not become so good at nonverbal magic. Her eyes wet with involuntary tears, she was left shaking in the wake of her jinx.

Isobel rinsed her mouth in the sink, taking water directly from the tap. She wiped her running mascara, shared a hateful look with her own reflection, and left the girls’ toilets.

Laurel seemed to have nodded off by the time Isobel finally reached Cadogan’s Corridor, levitating three coffees beside her. Tristan didn’t seem to notice or care, stooped over the star charts he would need to finish before his next day’s lessons. What little work he did, he did last minute (outside of Muggle Studies).

“Laurel,” Isobel said sharply, nudging her fellow Ravenclaw with her foot.

Laurel inhaled sharply as her head jerked back up.

“Bloody hell,” she mumbled before taking her coffee. “Thanks mate, looks like I needed this.”

Tristan grunted his thanks, not looking up from his parchment as Isobel set down his mug. “Sorry,” he said suddenly, snapping himself from his deep concentration. “Thank you, Isobel.”

This was typical Tristan: it was as if he were engaged in some constant battle between the conflicting Arsehole and Sweetheart sides of himself. Isobel took her seat and began leafing through her scattered Transfiguration notes.

“Are you doing that Alchemy vs. Transfig summary for McGonagall?” Tristan asked.

“I was just about to start, yeah,” replied Isobel.

“Can I see yours after?” asked Tristan. “I got fuck-all from the lecture.”

“Yeah alright—I know it has something to do with fundamental instead of reorganizational elemental change, or some bollocks,” said Isobel. “I’m checking now which one’s which.”

“Alchemy is reorganizational,” answered Laurel, without looking up from her potions essay. “You reorganize the physical manifestation of lead to make gold like, so it isn’t true transfiguration.”

“Thanks,” mumbled Isobel.

“Then does anyone else see how Gamp’s Laws doesn’t make sense?” Tristan demanded.

“There’s debate in the field on that,” recovered Isobel, wanting to outdo Laurel. She went on to explain the contention, but no one was really listening.

They left the Corridor with just enough time for Tristan to make it back to the dungeons. Laurel shrugged off to bed at once, but Isobel remained in the common room, finishing off her essay for Snape with the help of Laurel’s completed draft. 

Therefore, she scribbled, Bezoars are ineffective against more complicated poisons. She’d decided to include an example about antidote concoction, a sixth year subject, in order to create sufficient difference between the two essays.

Sighing, Isobel gazed out the tower window from the best armchair. As illustrated in antidote/poison relationships, she started her next paragraph before crossing out the sentence. The essay wasn’t actually due until Thursday, so Isobel rolled it up, deciding to finish the following evening. She gathered her school things and climbed the stone steps into the dormitories, leaving Ava Gardener, their dorm-mate, alone at a table by the bust of Rowena Ravenclaw. Ava was tugging at her hair, surrounded by teetering tower of spell books, mumbling to herself about runes.

The hangings of Laurel’s four-poster were shut tight and Penelope was already asleep, curlers obnoxiously in place. Isobel rinsed off her makeup in the washroom and began her several-step cleansing/toning/moisturizing routine. After braiding her hair into one, long plait down her back Isobel returned the bedroom. She climbed into her own four-poster, hearing soft noises coming from Laurel’s.

“Come on Laurel, not now we’re all in the room,” Isobel hissed, but Laurel didn’t respond in her own defense.

Isobel stopped, listening carefully. It sounded indecent, and like Laurel was struggling to breathe. Despite how embarrassing it could turn out, Isobel had a bad feeling. She shrugged back off her own bed with an annoyed sigh and tore open Laurel’s hangings.

“Laurel!” she cried, terrified.

Laurel’s wand was pointed against her own temple—her eyes were glassy and she seemed, indeed, to have stopped breathing properly. Her lips were closed tight in a strangled smile, and she managed only short, shallow sniffs of air through her nose.

Isobel shook her, knocking Laurel’s wand out of her hand, but Laurel’s wide eyes gazed past her, unseeing.

“Laurel!” she called again, slapping her friend.

“What is all the trouble,” called Penelope, pompously, from her bed. “Some of us are trying to sleep.”

“Get Madam Pomfrey,” Isobel roared, shaking Laurel. “Now!”

“What is—” started Penelope, grabbing a hold of one of Laurel’s bedposts.

“I don’t think she can breathe, Go!” commanded Isobel, still shaking Laurel.

Penelope threw on a dressing gown and rushed down the stairs. Laurel’s lips and fingernails were turning blue, and she had begun to shiver violently and spasm. Isobel considered the danger of what she was about to do for a terrified moment, before resolving with one, deep, breath.

Finite!” she incanted, bursting into tears. “Finite! Finite!” she repeated thickly,

Laurel drew a ragged breath, as if saved from drowning.

Then she started screaming.

She flailed her arms and tore at Isobel, unaware of her surroundings, scratching at her face and ripping at her hair. Isobel tried to restrain her as Laurel thrashed and shrieked, her face a mask of agony.

The following hour was hectic and confusing. Laurel had been carted off to the hospital wing and Isobel tried to explain what she had done to a pale Madam Pomfrey. Laurel, now silent, continued to twist and bend against her restraints, still seemingly oblivious to where she was. At Madam Pomfrey’s insistence, Isobel returned to bed where she lay sleepless until the dawn.

The following morning Isobel did about a hundred sit-ups in her dorm while waiting for visiting hours to begin. But Laurel’s bed in the Hospital Wing was empty. She had been transferred to St. Mungo’s a few hours before.

* * *

Isobel sat alone at the Ravenclaw table Thursday morning, scribbling out a rambling conclusion to her potions essay. Tristan and Emily were a table over with the Hufflepuffs, but Isobel hadn’t wanted to face them in the days since she’d had to relate what had happened. Rumor spread quickly through the school that one of the Ravenclaws had hexed out, and been spirited away from the castle during the night into recovery.

Sideways glances followed Isobel around the school, and she’d been tortured by the alternately terse and sympathetic looks afforded by her professors. She was almost looking forward to double potions that morning. Snape was the sole faculty member who appeared unaffected by the news.

Isobel rolled up her essay sloppily concluded essay, smudging some of the ink, and stole off to the dungeons without a glance at her friends a table over. A hush fell over the students as Isobel entered the potions classroom, and she made her way to Snape’s desk without meeting anyone’s eye. She added her own essay to the neat little pile, before producing Laurel’s.

“I’m turning this in for Laurel,” she said with as little emotion as she could muster.

“Yes, any word when she’ll be back?” asked Snape casually, as if she’d only come down with the flu.

“Not until after the holidays, they think."

“Well, be sure to take down her assignments," Snape said without looking up from his papers. "If she can manage to catch up while she’s away, she may still have a chance at sitting her O.W.L.”

“Thank you, professor,” she said, before turning to seek out a table alone at the back of the class.

“Psst, Isobel,” whispered Oliver as she passed his table. “Is it true Laurel hexed out? I heard she’d been self-spelling.”

Isobel only nodded, feeling her eyes begin to sting.

“That’s why I don’t mess with Rec Magic,” he said, obnoxiously.

Well bloody good for you, thought Isobel, pushing on to the back of the dungeon.

* * *

After Isobel’s lunch of water and coffee, Tristan approached Ravenclaw table so the two could walk to double Charms together.

“Don’t figure you’d fancy we skive?” asked Tristan.

“So everyone would think we’re off getting hexed? No thank you,” replied Isobel gruffly.

“Hey Iz,” began Tristan. “I’m—I’m really sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” she replied automatically.

“It might be,” he admitted, sounding ashamed. “Me and Laurel had been getting hexed together a lot. She was on this new hybrid charm,” he explained.

Isobel stopped walking and considered Tristan.

“You’re not self-spelling too?” she demanded.

“No!” he shot back. “Definitely not. I’m honestly ok being off it,” he kept her accusing gaze. “Honest.”

“Did you know she was?” Isobel asked as she started up the stairs. "Self-spelling?"

“No,” he said. “Not for sure. I mean, it occurred to me that she might be.”

Isobel might have been mad at him for not sharing this had she not entertained the same private suspicions herself.

They pulled the door of the charms class open and made their way to the most separate table in the class—Laurel’s empty seat acting as a buffer against the next table over.

Penelope Clearwater kept glancing at Isobel, and when her back was turned, Isobel stuck her tongue out at the back of Penelope’s stupid blonde head.

Once the rest of the class had trickled in, Flitwick decided to open his lesson with a lecture on the dangers of Recreational Magic. Of course, this prompted the other students to covertly eye Isobel and Tristan. Flitwick tried, unconvincingly, to act as though his lecture hadn’t been prompted by any particular event.

“Professor,” called Terence Higgs, without raising his hand. “Why are you telling us? The Hex Heads what need a lecture are sitting back there.”

Isobel was devastated. Tristan looked furious. His hand darted, reflexively, toward his wand, but Isobel caught him at the wrist.

“Don’t,” she hissed out of the side of her mouth.

Flitwick looked flustered and put out.

“This information is of critical importance, and intended for the students of this school in general,” he insisted, unconvincingly.

“Yeah right,” muttered Marcus Flint in a carrying whisper.

With that, Tristan violently seized his rucksack and stormed out of his seat.

“Mr. Bryce!” Flitwick called after him, stunned.

Without looking back, Tristan raised two fingers to the class and was out the door, leaving Isobel to sit the rest of the double period alone.

If Isobel thought Snape didn’t care about the incident with Laurel, he was nothing compared to Professor Binns’ aggressive disinterest in his students. The ghost hardly remembered his pupils’ names, and as he didn’t sit meals or have use for the faculty lounge, he remained willfully oblivious to the comings and goings of Hogwarts.

Isobel and Emily sat together, glassy eyed, while Binns droned on about the lead up to the Giant wars of the 19th century. Isobel laid her head down on her book and napped through the rest of class, comforted and protected by Emily’s presence beside her.

The void left by Laurel loomed so large, Isobel wondered when it might swallow her up.


End Note: The (incredibly sarcastic) CI text is a lyric from "Some Girls are Bigger than Others" by the Smiths.

Chapter 9: The Big Thing
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The Big Thing

EMILY sat alone at the Hufflepuff table, which had been happening a lot more over the last week. The frosty December sun blazed out of the enchanted ceiling into the Great Hall. It was the first Saturday after Laurel had been taken from the castle, and the day of their second Hogsmeade trip. Emily thought how sad it was that Laurel would miss it. The gloom cast by her absence would surely put a damper on their day in the village. Tristan slumped down next to Emily at half ten, bleary eyed, and they didn’t bother to make much conversation.

Emily wondered what they would even do in Hogsmeade. It was snowing more heavily now, and she was sure none of them would feel much like Cheering. They had originally planned to take some Peruvian potion Isobel had nicked from her father’s office. According to his notes, it was used by Shamans along the Amazon to amplify psychic energy. Since Isobel didn’t put much stock by Divination, she’d concluded that it was probably “just trippy as all hell.”

Right as Emily was thinking that their plans for the potion were likely dashed, Isobel emerged. And for the first time in nearly two years, she wasn’t wearing any makeup. Her usually crimson lips were pale, chapped, and foreign looking. Emily marveled at how young Isobel appeared. At just over five feet, with youthfully over-large lips, and a smaller bosom than she’d started term with, the young Ravenclaw looked no more than her fifteen years.

“Have fun,” Isobel said blandly, plopping a crystal phial on the table. “I’m skipping Hogsmeade today,” was all she said before turning around and slouching back up to Ravenclaw tower.

Tristan looked at Emily, phrasing his silent question. She shrugged, and stowed the phial in her pocket.

Emily and Tristan trudged through the gently falling snowflakes up to Hogsmeade in silence. The little village glittered in the distance, its pointed roofs snug under white blankets of snow like a mugle Christmas card. Hogsmeade remained ostentatiously pure and quaint, untouched by the horror of Laurel’s hex-out down in the castle. It was the first time Emily had ever made the trip without her Ravenclaw friends.

They reached the familiar spot just north of the Shrieking Shack, and busied themselves melting a clearing in the snow and drying the frozen ground. Tristan summoned a protective bubble of insulation to defend them from the frigid wind, and Emily retrieved the phial from Isobel. Take no more than half between the two of you, read the parchment note affixed to the potion.

They took delicate sips in turn, sure not to exceed a quarter phial each, before Tristan rummaged through his tapes.

“Can we listen to Blur?” asked Emily.

“Yes we can,” Tristan responded, glad that she had taken to the group.

The two lay back as they heard the first strums of guitar. Emily started to feel a floating sensation caused by more than just the music, and determined that the potion must be taking effect. The song swelled from inside Tristan’s stereo, and Emily drifted, feeling the universe stretch out around her. A meadow in the north of an island in the sea of a planet rotating gently through space.

Emily closed her eyes to an explosion of geometry writ in violent pink and acid green. Intricate images shifting and rearranging, complex molecules becoming cave paintings becoming solar systems. And she saw, just beyond the morphing, melting patterns, the shape of reality itself—infinite and perfect.

She’s so high, she’s so high, she’s so high,” Blur sang, and Emily wondered whether they’d written the song for her, meant for that precise moment. After all, time wasn’t a straight line—looking at it, it was more of a fractal. Sometimes moments that seemed to be separated by years were in fact pushed up right next to one another. Surely, she thought, little pieces must bleed across the membrane every so often.

Emily opened her eyes again, but the undulating patterns stayed in place, like a veil over everything she looked at. The vivid, complex colours brought the white expanses of the Scottish countryside to riotous life around her.

Emily noticed, also, that she knew things.

Looking at Tristan, she saw the patterned screen whisper over his visage. But it was the boy himself, beyond the intricate veil, that screamed out his secrets. Emily marveled at how easy it was to see into him, the truth about Tristan etched into the way he reclined on the frozen ground, or adjusted his shoulders.

Emily also saw the Big Thing. She’d never called it that before, but that’s what it had always been. The thing that, in its secrecy, had always defined who he was. But she caught only glimpses; it was too big for to see all at once. 

“Why don’t you like being a wizard?” Emily asked. The question felt like it had always been there hiding in plain sight, disguised by its simplicity. Tristan wasn’t surprised by it.

“Wizards don’t have souls,” he said, without sidestepping or attempting to confuse, as he did so often when asked about the Big Thing. “Wizards still dress like it’s the Dark Ages, and we only really have any progress because of muggle borns. We only have the Hogwarts Express because we nicked it. Muggles have creativity, and innovation, and literature, and art. They’ve done more than wizards ever have, and without magic," he explained. "They have souls.” Tristan's voice was more mild than it ever was when he talked about this stuff, like a sleeptalker. It felt like he hadn’t meant to tell her, but couldn’t prevent the deluge.

Tristan went on about the virtues of muggles and faults of wizards, but he wasn’t ranting or reasoning this time, he was telling the truth. It wasn’t Emily’s truth, since she appreciated the whimsy of the wizard world against the sterility of the muggle one. But she didn’t care to argue the point, there were a lot of truths, and they all existed at once.

Tristan’s father was a muggle, and his mother born to muggles; that was his story. But it refused to settle. He wore it like a mask. 

Over the years Tristan had tried to recruit Emily into his resentment of the magical world, and invite her to share his angst against wizarding superiority. Privately, Emily understood, a bit, some of the prejudices against non-purebloods. More progressive families were less likely to uphold wizarding traditions, and carry on the culture through generations. They named their children Fred or George, rather than Draco or Belvina. Changing attitudes about blood purity were, Emily recognized, resulting in the loss of wizarding culture. She also knew that change wasn’t bad, and the driver of the ‘progress’ Tristan celebrated in muggles. She could, however, sympathize with the fear of change.

Draco and Belvina, the names had come to Emily, but she wasn’t sure from where.

“Do you know a Draco or a Belvina?” Emily asked, and Tristan opened his eyes, surprised.

“Yeah,” he said, looking genuinely shocked. “They’re both Slytherins, why? Have you heard of them?”

“I dunno,” Emily replied.

Emily knew that Tristan liked her because she was muggle born. But it wasn’t, as it might appear, the kind of liking that came from being similar. He liked her because she was different from him. A proper muggle-born, and a Hufflepuff, rather than a Slytherin uncomfortably straddling two imperfect societies.

Emily felt Tristan close his eyes again, and how he was threatening to be carried off into oblivion by the tide of the music.

“You can change the song,” she said, and he didn’t ask how she knew he was fading.

Tristan fumbled with the cassette she’d given him for his birthday, with the naked baby in a swimming pool on its cover, and slid it in the stereo. The guitar began gently enough, before roaring into vicious life. Emily felt it consume him. When the handsome American lead singer joined in, his voice sounded like the inside of Tristan.

Tristan groaned, almost inaudibly, with appreciation. The chorus had given words to the riot inside his mind. Emily laid back and joined him there. His nerves were electric—the song was channeling all of Tristan's loathing and violence and wrath into something that didn’t feel bad anymore.

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt
. Emily heard the words drift to the surface of Tristan’s psyche, and she knew it was a quote from Slaughterhouse 5--even though Emily hadn’t read that book yet. 

“I don’t think you’re contagious… or stupid,” Emily gently offered in the brief pause after “Smells Like Teen Spirit” ended. Tristan’s mind had been woven into the lyrics of the song, and while they listened to it, it was really the inside of Tristan that had been singing.

The stereo came to life again as the second song began, and the two friends finally surrendered to being carried off on its wave.

It was a little while after they’d turned the tape over to the B side when Emily knew what was about to happen. They were listening to a song about junkie love, and about two minutes in, it fell into a foreboding and persistent instrumental, giving Emily the space to feel what was coming.

She sat bolt upright.

“S’matter Sunshine,” asked Tristan. He was still lying back, oblivious.

“They’re coming,” she said. She knew they were there before she saw them appear in the distance.

“Who?” asked Tristan without opening his eyes.

Slytherins,” she whispered.

Terence and Marcus were shouting jeers at them just as soon as they got close enough to Emily and Tristan’s bubble. She had a hard time discerning what they were actually saying aloud; the words they left unspoken added their own deafening clamor to the din. It was all fear and hatred and confusion. In no time at all, the Slytherins were upon them, bursting their magical insulation.

Tristan staggered to his feet, far too blasted for a duel, and Terence pushed him back to the ground. Marcus tugged Emily back, and his hand touched her arm with an explosion of hot rage. She understood, for the first time, how much he hated her.

She’d known, obviously, about the prejudice. She’d learned that on her first train ride to Hogwarts. But she’d never fully grasped its depth. Marcus thought, he really thought, that muggles and mudbloods were stealing magic. It was because of her that he didn’t get better marks, and it was her fault his family wasn’t as rich as it had once been. That formerly aristocratic families huddled in crumbling manors with only a few galleons to their ancient names. Emily was a mudblood and a slag—seducing students from noble lineages in order to dilute the bloodline and foster her half-breed children. Wet hair at breakfast—a reminder that she’d just showered, just been naked. Marcus found it erotic, and he hated her for it.

Emily was already screaming before she realized it, and Marcus let go of her arm as if shocked by static.

She saw it happen a second before it did, and Emily lunged to stop it, but was too late: Terence stomped on Tristan’s stereo. Once, twice, thrice, crushing the metal and plastic beneath his boot. The muggle device issued a warped death rattle, and went silent.

The air itself was ringing, screaming, deafening. Emily took hold of Tristan and yanked him to his feet, grabbing the bag of tapes with her other hand. Once he was up, she brandished her wand.

Locomotor mortis! Locomotor mortis!” Emily jinxed the two Slytherins, and dragged Tristan away from the scene.

They were speeding through Hogsmeade when Tristan began shaking violently. The experience had made the potion to turn on them, and the world revealed itself, threatening and strange. Emily wrapped one arm around Tristan’s shoulders, and steered him out of the village, down the path, and through the Hogwarts gates to safety.

Without stopping once or taking off their heavy cloaks, they made it into castle and began climbing the many shifting stairwells. Compared to the icy grounds, the castle was sweltering. They got to the Corridor, which felt safe and protected, as if haunted by the benevolent ghosts of their own younger selves. Tristan tore off his gloves and cloak, throwing them against the wall. Emily removed her excess layers with less fury, gathered Tristan in her arms, and pulled him with her onto the flagstone floor. His head in her lap, his fingers tightly wound with hers, he felt like he should be crying but he wasn't. A million confessions wordlessly tumbled out of him as Emily stroked his hair. In his mind, he allowed the Big Thing take form and narrative.

“It’s ok, I don’t care,” Emily assured him. “It doesn’t make me think any less of you.”

“How are you doing that?” he asked. “Reading my mind?”

“The potion. I guess it does the clairvoyant thing after all,” she said. “But really, it don’t think that makes you a bad person.”

“How can it not?” he pleaded.

“It wasn’t your choice, Tristan,” she insisted. “You have to stop blaming yourself, you were only little.”

“Please don’t tell,” he moaned.

“I won’t, but I think you should tell the others,” she didn’t mention that, maybe, it was a good idea to continue keeping it secret from the school at large. “It’s a big thing to keep all to yourself.”

Oh no, love, you’re not alone, Emily tried to sing to him inside her own head. No matter what or who you’ve been. No matter when or where you’ve seen... You’re not alone.

It was several hours before Emily started closing herself against Tristan R. Bryce’s interior, where nothing was beautiful and everything hurt.

* * *

The following Monday Professor McGonagall began taking down the names of the students who’d be remaining at Hogwarts through the winter holidays. Emily thought how sad it was that some students wouldn’t be returning home for Christmas, and noted, with some curiosity, that the famous Harry Potter was among them.

She hadn’t seen Tristan since the day of the Hogsmeade trip; neither he nor Isobel had shown up in the Corridor on Sunday, and he hadn’t turned up to breakfast. Emily was glad when Isobel arrived at the Hufflepuff table, even if it was only for a few minutes before the start of their lessons. Emily had been carrying the crystal phial around with her in case she might see Isobel to return it.

“How was it?” Isobel asked, taking the phial under the table, and pouring herself a coffee.

“Pretty intense, kinda like magic mushrooms, I guess,” said Emily.

Isobel looked confused by the words ‘magic mushrooms.’

“They’re a muggle thing. They aren’t actually magic. I don’t think.”

“So no psychic stuff?” asked Isobel, having already assumed not.

“Nope, not that I could tell,” lied Emily.

“Where’s Tristan?” Isobel asked, just realizing he wasn’t at the table.

Emily explained about what had happened with Higgs and Flint, leaving out about the Corridor afterward and everything she’d learned. Isobel’s expression grew dark; she’d been feeling like everything had been turning to shit (Emily was still feeling aftershocks of the potion).

Emily had noticed that Isobel was barely eating. Her cheeks had hollowed out dramatically, and she’d developed dark circles around her eyes, which she tried to cover with foundation. Emily saw how thin Isobel’s wrists were when she reached for the coffee, and wondered how much she’d withered under those flowing Hogwarts robes. Laurel’s hex-out must be especially hard for Isobel, Emily reasoned; the two had grown up together.

Emily remembered the first time she’d met Laurel. It had been on the Hogwarts Express, so many years ago. Emily had been trying to read through puffy eyes in one of the two stalls of the girls’ toilets. She remembered lifting her feet out of view at the sound of the door, but Laurel must have heard Emily’s sniffling.

“Hello?” Laurel had called out. “Say something if you’re indecent,” she’d commanded, and Emily had remained silent, hoping she’d just go away.

Instead, Laurel’s head popped under the door.

“Hiya, I’m Laurel,” she’d said brightly. “Why are you hiding in here?” she asked, climbing in under the door.

Emily had explained to her about the mean boy who’d made her cry, leaving out the name he’d called her, in case Laurel had similar feelings about Emily’s family.

“What a load of shite,” Laurel had responded, startling Emily with her swear. “He sounds like a right Slytherin. Evil slimy gits to the last.”

At Laurel’s insistence, Emily had followed her to the compartment she’d been sharing with Isobel, and sat with them for the remainder of the train ride. As shy as she was, Emily had been mostly quiet, but was glad for the company nonetheless.

Emily had met Tristan in History of Magic during her second week. Marcus Flint had knocked over Tristan’s books on purpose, and Tristan had jinxed him in return.

Emily had cornered him after class.

“Hi, I’m Emily, I’m in Hufflepuff. I saw you jinx that boy. I don’t like him either. Would you like to be friends?” the words had rushed out ungracefully and all at once, as they tended to when she was eleven and still so timid.

Tristan had looked delighted, which put her at ease.

“You’d really want to be friends with a Slytherin?” he asked.

“Why not?” she responded, honestly still unclear why she shouldn’t.

“Hufflepuffs don’t usually like Slytherins,” he said.

“Why?” she probed.

“Are you muggle born?” he asked.

“Does that matter to you?” she responded a little sharply and straightened her posture, remembering what Tonks had said.

“No, just asking,” he said. “My dad’s a muggle,” he added hastily.

“So why shouldn’t I like a Slytherin?” she asked again. “Someone told me your lot were all ‘evil slimy gits.’”

Tristan laughed. “They were right,” he said.

“You don't seem like an evil, slimy git.”

“I try,” he said. “I don’t really like other Slytherins.”

“Then let’s be friends,” she concluded.

“The enemy of my enemy,” he agreed, offering her his hand. “I’m Tristan.”

“Emily,” she said again, shaking his hand. “So why are you in Slytherin, if you don’t like them?”

“Stupid reasons,” he mumbled. “It tends to go in families.”

The next day, Emily had been invited by Isobel and Laurel to meet them by the lake. Her new friends had promised to tell her all about Hogwarts. She brought Tristan with her, since he didn’t have any other friends. When the two Ravenclaws saw the Slytherin approach, they grew wary.

“This is Tristan,” announced Emily. “He’s in Slytherin, but that’s not his fault, and he doesn’t like other Slytherins.”

“Is that true?” inquired Isobel of Tristan.

“Uh-huh,” he confirmed, nervously.

“He even jinxed the boy who upset me on the train, but for a different reason,” added Emily.

“Sounds like a Slytherin,” Laurel rolled her eyes.

“What if I jinx all the Slytherins you don’t like,” Tristan negotiated, half jokingly.

This seemed to work on Isobel and Laurel though, and Tristan became their friend.

Sitting at breakfast with Isobel, remembering being eleven by the lake, Emily was startled that she’d managed to overlook what Tristan had said during their first ever talk. It was such a big clue--like he'd wanted her to figure it out some day.

* * *

Emily parted ways with Isobel, leaving her to set off to Transfiguration alone, while Emily headed down to the dungeons. She took their usual table, and after a few minutes, determined that Tristan was probably skiving again. She wished he wouldn’t, since they’d be starting their Strenghthening Solutions, which needed to be left to mature until Wednesday. If she couldn’t get her potion to the proper stage by the end of the double lesson, it would be ruined. Then again, if she managed to get it right, Snape would be forced to give her the credit instead of Tristan.

“And where, pray tell, is Mr. Bryce,” asked Snape, stopping his terrifying gliding beside Emily’s table.

“Oh he’s been ill,” lied Emily, in too bright a voice. “Caught cold in Hogsmeade.”

“Hungover, I reckon,” Marcus told Reece Pritchard in a carrying whisper. “Was hexed out of his mind on Saturday.”

“Be sure to relay today’s assignments to him,” said Snape, pretending not to hear. “And tell him I urge him to visit Madam Pomfrey for a Pepper-Up potion to clear up his, ah, ‘cold.’”

Emily hung her head, blushing furiously, and got to work measuring out the proper amounts of ingredients, sure to distinguish the salamander blood from the pomegranate juice.

End Note:

1. Harry confused pomegranate juice with salamander blood while making his own Strengthening Solution.

2. The psychedelia in this chapter was inspired, in part, by some real-world phenomena. The stuff about time, fractals, and the shape of the universe is based on actual physics that I can barely understand (also some Doctor Who), and the “peruvian potion” is based on a real potion traditionally used by shamans in that region for for divination and psychic healing. Apparently, while under the influence, shamans draw out complex patterns, some of which have looked like images of molecular compounds (some being the psychoactive ingredient in the potion itself), which scientists find freaky-deaky.

a) “She’s So High” is the first track off
Leisure, by Blur.
b) “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the first track off of Nevermind, by Nirvana, and contains the lyrics “I feel stupid and contagious.”
c) The B side track about “junkie love” is called “Drain You.”
d) “Oh no, love, you’re not alone, no matter what or who you’ve been. No matter when or where you’ve seen… You’re not alone”  are lyrics  from David Bowie’s “Rock n Roll Suicide”  off the Spiders from Mars album.
e) “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”  is a line from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5
f) “Haunted by younger selves” is an idea I nicked off Rowling, from Casual Vacancy, when she wrote of parents being haunted by the ghosts of their living children.

4. According to Pottermore, the Hogwarts Express was stolen from muggles.

A/N: This story is almost a generalized JK Rowling fanfic. I took a lot from Casual Vacancy and Cuckoos Calling--not any characters or anything specific, but I definitely tried to emulate her prose, pacing, and penchant for social criticism. (Also, alliteration is her jam.)

Chapter 10: War Children
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War Children

TRISTAN had three times started a letter to Emily apologizing for avoiding her and explaining himself, and had three times torn the parchment to shreds.

He was chain-smoking out his window on the last Saturday before the winter holidays, and his dormitory was mercifully empty. Every time he looked at one of his thirty one posters, he felt a pang of misery for his broken stereo. But he tried to avoid facing that raw wound head on. It felt as though he’d lost a loyal and beloved friend.

Two friends, once he thought about Laurel, but Tristan tried not to think about Laurel. He hated to admit it, but a secret part of him was relieved that she was out of the castle. He tried to reason that she was getting the help she needed—but knew that was bollocks. Tristan was being a coward.

Needing a change of scenery, he resolved to head out to the grounds and maybe spark a spliff. He’d almost polished off the stash Emily had given him for his birthday, but he figured he’d be stocking back up again in London—though nothing he’d get in London could compare to Lucas’ home grown supply. He stubbed out the last of his roll-up on the windowsill and cleared the smoke from the room before heading out of the dungeons.

The massive groundskeeper was heaving the last of twelve Christmas trees into place in the Great Hall, and Flitwick was using his wand to string up yards of fairy lights. Tristan stopped briefly to admire the effect before seeing Snape slither around the corner.

Tristan had skived off potions class all last week, and turned to avoid his professor. It didn’t work, though, and Snape was coming straight at him.

“Join me in my office, Mr. Bryce,” commanded the potions master, without bothering to stop as he continued his trajectory down the stairs.

For a wild moment, Tristan considered just running, but obliged instead, turning back toward the dungeons. Snape held the door open for Tristan, and indicated that he should sit. Tristan had never been in this office; shelves of menacing jars decorated the walls of the windowless cavern and the air was stale.

“Tea?” offered Snape, too polite, as he busied himself with a kettle.

Tristan was confused—he’d been expecting Snape to lecture him about skipping classes, not politely offer tea. Perhaps, thought Tristan, this was some bizarre intimidation tactic. If it was, it was working.

“No thanks, professor,” replied Tristan. Snape set a teacup in front of him anyway.

“I hear from Miss Madley that you’ve taken ill,” observed Snape.

“Yeah, I… I’ve been ill,” Tristan said, kicking himself.

“And Madam Pomfrey’s Pepper-Up potion has had no effect?” continued Snape.

Tristan didn’t know exactly how to respond--besides simply repeating whatever his interrogator had just said.

“I am inclined to suspect,” began Snape, taking a sip of his own tea. “That this illness of yours is not confined to the body.” 

Tristan was dumb-founded. He had no idea what exactly Snape was playing at.

“Don’t look so worried,” added Snape. “I did not ask you here to punish you. I merely thought you might want to talk.”

Snape's attempt at warmth was more unsettling than his usual disdain. Tristan wondered why on earth he’d want to share his feelings with him, of all people. 

“This has been a difficult year for many of us, with so many war children starting school. There are recognizable names from both sides. Bones, Goyle… Potter,” Snape spat the name, and sank into a thoughtful silence. “Yes, it’s been a difficult year,” repeated Snape, rousing himself from his short reverie. “Not least of all, for you, what with the trouble Miss Braithwaite has had.”

“Thank you for your concern,” said Tristan warily. “But I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”

“Quite a few recognizable names—more than any year before,” mused Snape. “Longbottom. For instance.” 

Tristan felt his stomach drop, his eyes focused on the tea rapidly growing cold in his hands.

* * *

MARY was sitting on the sofa, sipping tea from one of their ‘Bryce Landscaping’ mugs. Her husband was at work, but Mary had boxing day off. Music pounded from her son’s room, and even though this particular song wasn’t to her taste, she found the racket comforting. She missed Tristan terribly when he was away at school, and she and Eddie worried to no end. 

This term seemed to be shaping out to be the worst he’d had yet. Tristan didn’t write home anymore, unless he grudgingly scrawled back a few lines to one of the notes they enclosed when they sent him fresh contact lenses. Either way, she had gathered from a kind letter from Emily that one of his friends had developed a real problem with Recreational Magic—which Emily insisted Tristan had never tried—and that Tristan had been the victim of some bullies. Mary took Emily’s advice, and purchased him a new battery operated stereo for Christmas.

She’d been so glad when her son had made friends at school; Mary was worried sick when he’d been sorted into Slytherin. Then again, she thought, it seemed typical that the sorting would go how it did—Tristan had never had it easy.

Even his name had been an unfortunate accident accident. Tristan, “Child of Sorrow.” An unpleasant nickname, and Mary had wanted to rechristen him something nice. But Tristan stuck like nothing else would, and then it was too late.

Mary had been in that exact chair, twenty-four years old, holding Tristan in her arms for the first time after taking him home from the hospital. He hadn’t liked being touched.

By age six Tristan was developmentally behind; barely speaking, much less starting to read. He was a sullen child, easily upset, and prone to violent outbursts. But, with relentless affection and limitless patience, things started to change. He managed to catch up, even excel, at primary school. He began playing, making tepid friendships, and overall grew to be more like a normal child. 

Then, only a few years later, he was whisked off to Hogwarts where Mary could no longer look after him.

The blaring from Tristan’s room stopped.

“Tristan, dear,” she called up, before he could turn his record over.

“What,” he called down.

“Would you come sit with me a moment?”

Tristan didn’t respond, but she heard him stomp down the stairs a few minutes later while she fixed tea in the kitchen.

“What?” he said again, collapsing at the scrubbed wooden table.

Mary sat down a mug of tea for him, and took her place opposite.

“I know this isn’t something anyone wants to talk about with their mother, but I’m truly sorry about what happened this summer,” she said. “With Sophie,” she added, probably unnecessarily.

Tristan took his tea and said nothing.

“I wish she’d been a witch, or you’d been a muggle, and we could have just lectured and grounded you like normal parents, because the truth is,” she took a deep breath. “The truth is I honestly don’t care. At least, not enough to think it’s all right what happened. I hope you understand that I didn’t feel I had a choice.”

“You had a choice,” Tristan said under his breath.

“How do you mean?” asked Mary.

“You had a bloody choice!” he hollered, pushing himself up from the table.

“And what should I have done, then?” Mary shot back, defensively.

Not modified her memory,” shouted Tristan as he stormed back up the stairs, slamming his door behind him.

TRISTAN heard a knock on his door through the pounding music; he’d been listening to Nevermind on repeat since the twenty-fifth. More bloody presents, he thought to himself. 

He wondered how his mum had known to get it for him on vinyl, and wondered again whether Emily was secretly writing to her some of those times when she borrowed Siouxsie.

“What,” Tristan barked, after his father—from the sound of it—knocked a second time.

“Can I come in?” asked Eddie from the other side of the door.

“Whatever,” answered Tristan.

His father pushed open the door, and sat down on the edge of his son’s bed, turning down the music as he did.

“Fancy the record then, eh?” Eddie said, referencing the near constant blare of Nirvana from Tristan’s room.

Tristan lit another fag with the end of his last.

“You know I wish you wouldn’t smoke,” entreated Eddie, without any conviction.

“Can I help you?” asked Tristan, hearing the brattiness of his own voice. He took a deep drag and tried for a smoke ring. He knew his parents were past the point of trying to intervene.

“Now, your mother would prefer I didn’t say anything, but I’m worried about the sound of this—of this ‘recreational magic.’ Mary got something about it from the school. It seems one of your friends had quite a problem with it,” said Eddie.

Emily, thought Tristan.

“I’m not getting hexed anymore, don’t worry,” said Tristan flatly.

“Anymore?” inquired Eddie.

“Yeah. I was. A bit. I've stopped. After Laurel hexed-out,” said Tristan.

“Now, ‘hexed-out,’ that’s like, it’s like overdosing?” asked Eddie, trying to understand.

“Pretty much,” said Tristan, wanting very much for the conversation to be over. “And self-spelling is like shooting up. That’s what she’d been doing. Anything else?”

“And were you ‘self-spelling’ as well?” asked Eddie, struggling to keep the worry from his voice, avoiding accusations.

“No. Never,” lied Tristan. He tapped a long tower of ash into an empty pumpkin juice bottle.

“Do you have any idea why she’d do that? That self-spelling?” asked Eddie, no longer interrogating, but concerned.

“I don’t know,” sighed Tristan heavily as he sat up. “Why does anyone get addicted to any drug? I guess she preferred it to having to be normal.”

Tristan stood up, and twisted the volume knob on his record player until it was deafening, indicating that it was time for his father to go. Eddie took the hint and left the room, leaving the door open behind him.

Tristan was overcome by a sudden and fierce desire to self-spell after all, and decided instead to leave his house. He threw a few tapes and a book into his rucksack, pushed his headphones over his ears, and pulled on his coat. He pressed play as he opened his bedroom door, and tossed his ebony wand onto his bed before heading down the stairs and out the house.

Tristan’s dealer lived in a council house in Dalston with his mother. He was a shaggy man in his late twenties who, Tristan now realized, quite resembled Kurt Cobain. People called him ‘Spider,’ owing to a tattoo of a web on his neck. Spider let Tristan in and led him into his cluttered sitting room. The dealer sat down on his sofa before thinking to stash a mirror (on it, a few lines of white powder, a plastic baggie, and a razor) under the coffee table. Tristan slouched into the adjacent armchair.

“Cheers mate,” Spider said as Tristan passed him a rumpled ball of banknotes, and exchanged them for a bag of weed. Without preamble, he passed Tristan a Sega controller, and took a rip from his bong. Tristan took the bong second, and after setting it down on the coffee-table, pressed start on the game. He and Spider spent the next few hours smoking bong, and taking turns running the blue hedgehog through a series of environments in order to collect gold rings.

It was dark when Tristan rang home from a payphone in SoHo to tell his parents he wouldn’t make it for supper. He lit a fag, heading north up Charing Cross. He had taken a line ‘for the road’ from Spider. It made him feel jittery, weak, and sweaty. Tristan had never tried smack before—it was a lot like Laurel’s charm blend, which was a scary thought.

Amy, his neighbor since he was six, was waiting for him with a few mates outside the pub. 

“All right Tristan,” she called.

“All right Amy,” he replied, and stamped out his cigarette.

“Tristan, you know David and Claire,” she said, and David and Claire waved hello. “This is Louise, Stuart, and Paul. Everyone, this is my mate Tristan.”

“Cheers,” said Tristan, taking each of their hands in turn.

They took a big table in the back of the pub and Tristan lit another fag while Louise went to the bar to order their pints. He didn’t feel much like drinking, but thought it would be awkward not to. 

“Tristan goes to school in Belgium,” Amy informed the group.

“I thought you said Switzerland?” Claire asked him.

“Whatever,” said Tristan.

Louise returned to the table, followed in quick succession by a barmaid balancing a tray of seven pints. Stuart, who towered over Tristan by at least a dozen centimeters, leaned in toward him.

“So I got it from Amy that Soph slept over yours last summer,” said Stuart. “She says she blacked out—doesn’t remember a lot from that night.”

“Nothing happened,” said Tristan, gulping his beer. “She slept on the couch and was sick in a bucket, that’s it.”

“Good,” replied Stuart. “And thanks for taking care of her, mate. She’s my girlfriend, you know.”

“Oh,” said Tristan, gulping his lager.

“We were on a bit of a break at the time. The way she told it when I asked, I reckon she was trying to make me jealous. Get me to take her back n’ all that,” said Stuart.

“Well, glad it’s been cleared up,” said Tristan. “Whatever she remembers, that’s what happened.”

Tristan returned home just before dawn. A letter lay on his bed beside his wand, and Siouxsie was back on her perch, so he guessed it was from Emily.

Hope your holiday is going well! Get anything good for Christmas?

Anyway, I understand why you don’t want to come Sunday, but I really, really think you ought to reconsider, I know Laurel would be happy to see you. From what I get from Isobel she isn’t allowed owls in her ward, and I bet it’s depressing as shite. Also, Isobel’s been working on the most amazing present for you! You won’t believe what she’s managed. I won’t say anything else about it so I don’t give it away, but it’s bloody BRILLIANT.

Also, also, Lucas gave me “Slaughterhouse 5” for Christmas and I’m almost done. I might like it better even than “Breakfast of Champions,” but probably not. They’re both ace.

Emily Sunshine Madley

PS, I nearly forgot the best thing! My sister Laura got upset the other day because Lucas wouldn’t give her one of his biscuits (for obvious reasons) and a teapot exploded! I haven’t said anything to anyone yet, but it’s not the first time something like this has happened, so I’m thinking she’ll get an owl when she turns 11! Fingers crossed!

Tristan smiled to himself. Emily’s family loved that she was a witch, and he was sure they’d be delighted to have another in the family. Being such big hippies, they practically lived like wizards as it was. Tristan grabbed a parchment and quill, and scribbled down his response.

Go Laura! Make sure she arrives at Hogwarts a Hufflepuff.

As for Sunday, I’m sure. It really doesn’t seem right to me that I go, after everything I did to help her along. Give her a hug from me. I feel terrible whenever I think what it must be like for her there.

I got “Nevermind” on vinyl and I’m making a new tape of it. I also got a new stereo. I wonder how mum knew to get them. I’m still working on “Brief History of Time,” it’s slow going but I’m loving it. It’s giving me loads of ideas for a Muggle Studies paper I might do. I also started reading a lot of Kafka, he’s incredible.

Say hi to Isobel for me, and thank her in advance for whatever it is she’s doing. I found a muggle book on runes that I think she’d find interesting. I’m not sure what to get for Laurel, let me know if you think of anything.

Also, I had an awkward run in with Sophie’s boyfriend tonight. Obviously, I went with the Ministry’s story. The bloke was a bloody giant anyway, and I didn’t much fancy a row (been leaving my wand at home).

He hesitated, quill poised, before finishing a swooping signature with his full name.

End Notes:

1. Apparently, Sega hadn't come out with a two-player version of Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991. (PS I did not invent/do not own any rights to Sonic the Hedgehog)

2. Laura Madley was named in GoF, and Sorted into Hufflepuff.

3. The CI text is, as always, a lyric from "Tristan" by Patrick Wolf.

Chapter 11: Muggle Magic
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Muggle Magic

ISOBEL was humming to herself, hovering over the bubbling stock-pot. Nothing compares, nothing compares, she sang, stirring the cabbagey slop. Nothing compares to soup!

After months on end picking  the most edible components out of the heavy Hogwarts fare, Isobel relished having access to a kitchen again, and control over what and when she ate. She’d spent several of the last days labouring over intricate meals for her family. It usually took most of the late afternoon and early evening to artfully pare, fillet, dice, and soutee, but Isobel never joined her parents in the dinner she cooked. Instead, she chose to slurp a supper of anemic-looking cabbage soup night after night.

Florence and Ahmad were each taking half-days off work, under the pretense of spending time with their daughters. Isobel's sister, Iman was staying at home in Godric’s Hollow and apparating to St. Mungo’s for her internship. Even Isobel’s Great Uncle, Elphias, spent a few days at the Doge-Mostafa house. They all said a lot about ‘family’ and ‘the holidays.’  In reality, Laurel’s hex-out hadn’t reflected well on Isobel, and they were keeping an eye on her.

“There are about a thousand students at Hogwarts--she could have been using rec magic with any one of them!” Isobel lied angrily. “All those N.E.W.T. students are hexed out their heads on study spells! Why don’t you go ask one of them how they feel and stop accusing me?”

The worst thing for Isobel was finding the time to smoke, with the eyes of her family trained so hawkishly on her comings and goings. By and large, the most effective and least suspicious cover she’d found was smoking while running a shower--but she could hardly take four showers a day.

“Oh, these socks are Laurel’s. I think she’ll be wanting them--best go bring them round to her mum,” that was worth at least one good cigarette. 

“I need a different type of cream for the bechamel sauce, I’d better dash down the shops,” could be enough time for nearly three.   

Otherwise, it was nice enough having some family around. Isobel loved Elphias, he was an interesting and jovial old wizard, not unlike his best friend, Albus Dumbledore. Isobel wondered vaguely whether the Headmaster was gay, and if he’d ever had a thing with her uncle. Elphias was gay, and something about the way he talked about the 'old days' made her think there might have been something there.

Isobel’s father had also invited Laurel’s mum to join them Christmas Eve, but Betty had turned down the offer. Isobel was privately relieved, since she wasn’t sure how she’d face Ms. Braithwaite after Laurel’s hex-out. Despite the stories she made up about returning socks, Isobel hadn’t seen Laurel’s mum since the summer. 

Finally, Isobel’s father agreed to take her up north to Emily’s house using side-along apparition. It had taken many long interrogations, and much negotiation, but in the end, Isobel had won furlough through New Years day.

Early on the Friday after Christmas, Isobel sat at the kitchen table reading The Prophet over coffee, waiting for her dad to get ready.

“Morning, Izzy,” called her mum, gliding into the room. “Have they printed anything else about that break in at Gringotts? Last I heard, the investigation was considering it might be an inside job. Can’t imagine a goblin would ever rob the place, though.” Isobel’s mother worked in the Goblin Liaison office and knew quite a bit about them. Isobel scanned the paper for updates, but it seemed like The Prophet had gotten tired of the story. Instead, there was a long piece about Myron Wagtail’s sordid personal life (“Weird Sisters Womanizer Back on the Brew. Circe Says: It’s Me or the Potions.”

“Florence, have you seen my glasses?” called Isobel’s father from the stairwell.

“Bedside table,” she called back, pouring egg whites into a skillet. “And tell Iman breakfast is nearly on.”

The eggs and fruit salad were nearly done when Isobel’s father eventually reappeared in the kitchen, dressed in muggle clothes and ready to go. Isobel jumped up at once, grabbing her overnight bag from beside the table.

“Oh Ahmad, do stay for breakfast,” entreated Florence. “And Izzy, honey, you can’t just eat cabbage soup every night, iare you certain you're getting enough protein?”

“Yes mother,” Isobel sighed.

“I know your OWL year can be stressful. It hasn’t been getting to you too much, has it?” asked Florence, the worried parental gleam returning to her eyes.

“I’m fine,” insisted Isobel.

“They’ll have food in Scotland, I’m sure,” Ahmad told his wife. “I’m glad to see you exercising honey,” Ahmad said, leaning in to kiss Isobel on her annoyed forehead. “But your mother’s right, it’s unhealthy to lose too much weight too quickly.”

Isobel scowled. When when she'd been twelve and thirteen, her parents had frequently offered thinly veiled hints that their rapidly developing daughter might do well to 'tone up.' The hypocrisy stung like a doxie bite.

Finally, Isobel and her father were permitted to disapparate. Within an uncomfortable second, they popped into Emily’s front yard so many miles north of Godric's Hollow. The whole Madley family had been outside awaiting their arrival, and burst into applause when Isobel and her father appeared from thin air.

“Well that is incredible,” remarked Emily’s father, striding up to them and taking Ahmad’s hand. “Jim Madley, Emily’s dad.”

Isobel noted that he had long hair for a muggle, and a wizardly looking beard as well.

“You must be Isobel, heard so much about you,” Jim said, shaking Isobel’s hand vigorously.

“Hello Isobel, dear,” said Emily’s mum, brightly, as she took Isobel up in a warm hug. They’d met a few times at King’s cross.

“Levinia, hello,” said Ahmad, taking her hand.

“Pleasure to see you again,” she replied warmly.

Emily’s parents were English, and apparently her mother originally came from some sort of important muggle family, but Emily had never met her maternal grandparents.

Isobel hugged Emily enthusiastically while the adults made their niceties. Laura and Eli, Emily’s younger siblings, jumped excitedly around Isobel’s legs.

“All right Isobel,” said Emily’s older brother, with a nod.

He was bloody gorgeous, and looked very much the boy version of Emily—he too had long hair.

“Lucas, yeah?” replied Isobel, and the handsome older boy took her in a one armed hug.

The group then tramped into the little house where the adults set themselves down in the sitting room. Lucas distracted the children in the yard while Emily gave Isobel a tour. There were a number of crystals, and a great deal of Buddhist art decorating every room.

Emily’s home was more of a compound than a house. They had a great stretch of land where they grew their own food, and there were several clusters of structures committed to muggle things that they couldn’t do without magic. Emily explained how everything worked, and how it was meant to be ‘environmental,’ which was an issue that didn’t matter to wizards since they were already ‘environmental.’

Emily lead Isobel up to a loft above a barn where they kept the chickens in the winter so the two could share a fag.

“Your brother’s fit,” commented Isobel.

“Trust me, he knows,” said Emily. “Oh, by the way,” she said, pushing aside a sack of feed. “Lucas came through with the shake.”

True to her word, Emily dislodged a massive bag of marijuana.

“Why are you hiding it?” asked Isobel. “I thought your parents were ok with us baking it?”

“Oh, they are,” replied Emily. “But Lucas thought it best they don’t see how much we’re using.”

“How is it that he can grow so much? I thought you said weed was illegal for muggles,” wondered Isobel.

“It’s easy to do in the states,” answered Emily. “He works on a farm in California, and he’s trying to make it legal to grow for sick people.”

Isobel marveled at the idea of a whole weed farm.

“Fancy a spliff?” offered Emily. “I have some better stuff in my room, this is really just for baking.”

“After my dad leaves,” replied Isobel.

The two rejoined their parents in the sitting room, where Isobel’s father was explaining what he did for a living.

“It’s academia, really,” Ahmad said, taking a sip of tea.

“Comparative Magic, you say?” asked Jim, tentatively.

“Precisely. I look at the magical traditions of different cultures, see how it’s been done, and then use the information to integrate with western magical theory,” he went on.

“How exciting,” said Levinia.

“It can be,” agreed Ahmad. “Especially when one of my discoveries goes into practice. About five years back, Damocles Belby cited my own research into Aconite when he first synthesized the Wolfsbane potion. That might be my proudest accomplishment.”

Emily’s family looked impressed, even though they didn’t know a thing about werewolves.

“What were saying about Unspeakables?” asked Lucas, who was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed casually across his chest. It was difficult for Isobel not to look at him.

“The Department of Mysteries is kind of like the wizarding MI6,” explained Emily. “And Unspeakables are like the people who make magical James Bond gadgets.”

Whatever she’d said seemed to make sense to her family, who nodded along.

“What’s the trouble with them?” asked Jim.

“Well, they tend to interrupt my research,” said Ahmad. “They’ll show up unexpectedly and take all of my work with them, including my notes and samples, to use for some confidential project. Sometimes its years of research they take, and I’m never allowed to talk about it again. The worst thing is that I never know how it turns out.”

“Don’t they pay you?” asked Levinia, shocked.

“Oh they do, but not enough,” said Ahmad.

“Government tyranny even in the magical world,” chuckled Jim,

The Unspeakables had called the very first day Isobel had been back, in fact, taking with them all of her father’s notes on Spirit Walking as well as the draft of the paper he was just getting ready to submit for publishing. All they left him in return for his hard work was a few hundred galleons and a Non-Disclosure contract.

“Is there anything you’re working on now?” asked Jim. “I don’t mean to pry, if it’s confidential.”

“Not at all,” Ahmad assured him, sipping his tea. “I’m looking into Native American divination rituals at the moment. There’s a specific potion I’ve been researching, but I can’t tell yet if there’s anything to it. Not until I’m approved for testing, anyway.”

To Isobel’s great annoyance, Emily began fidgeting nervously. Thankfully, Emily’s parents decided to take Ahmad for his own tour of their compound, where he found their 'solar panels' just as fascinating as they had his stories about magic. The adults left Isobel, Emily, and Emily’s brother alone in the sitting room.

“What’s with the spasms, Em,” teased Lucas. “Know something about Mr. Mostafa’s magic potion you’d like to share with the class.”

“She’s just terrible at being sneaky,” Isobel said, play punching Emily.

Emily buried her red face in her hands.

“So, is it magic?” asked Lucas, leaning forward and causing his upper arms to bulge.

“She said it was like magic mushrooms,” offered Isobel.

“Sweet,” replied Lucas. “My kind of magic.”

That night they joined Lucas in a shack near the chicken coop that he’d set up as a bedroom for his visit. Isobel was having a hard time not using magic, and since they were in a muggle dwelling, she’d surely set off the alarm if she worked any spells underage.

“How do you muggles do it?” Isobel demanded, trying to locate the lighter she’d just had so she could relight her spliff. Her frustration prompted Lucas and Emily to wail with laughter.

“So, you were saying about Arithmancy,” Lucas reminded Isobel, leaning forward to light her spliff with a match.

“Right, it’s the study,” she inhaled deeply, and passed the spliff to Emily. “The study of numbers and their magical properties. Seven is the most powerful magical number, but it can be unstable. Twelve has to do with time, but also nature. Twelve months in a year, twelve hours in each half of the day, and so on.”

“Numbers are magic,” Lucas mused, leaning back and blowing a smoke ring. “I like that.”

Emily reached into the cooler beside Lucas’ bed and cracked herself another can of lager.

“Emily told me what happened to your friend. That she overdosed on magic, or something?” said Lucas, after a pause. “You lot weren’t messing around with that, were you?”

“Not since she hexed-out,” replied Emily, honestly. “And none of us ever did it as much as she did. Tristan came close, but he’s off all that now.”

* * *

Emily was asleep when Isobel crept out back for a fag some hours later. The highlands were beautiful and vast, and Isobel wondered what it must have been like to live somewhere so remote without the option of apparating. Technically, Emily’s house wasn’t that far from Hogwarts, but it was unique in its isolation.

Isobel had never spent much time around muggles before, but was starting to see what Tristan meant about their being magical in their own way. Isobel heard the door to Lucas’ shack creak open, and saw the cherry of his spliff bouncing as he approached her.

“All right,” he said, perching at the edge of the deck next to her chair.

“It’s really amazing up here,” she said, and took a drag of her roll-up.

“Yeah,” he replied, looking up at the wide open sky.

“What’s California like?” she asked. She knew from Tristan that it was where all the famous muggles lived.

“Mostly a lot of trees,” said Lucas. “I’m pretty far north, and the state is huge. Much bigger than England. In the south it’s all desert, and a lot of big cities like Los Angeles.”

“That’s the one with the famous people, right?” asked Isobel, and Lucas found the question hilarious.

“Yeah, it’s the one with all the famous people,” he said. “Where are you from?”

“Godric’s Hollow?” she responded, unsure if he’d ever heard of it.

He shook his head, so she went on.

“It’s an historic old village in the West Country, mixed muggles and wizards. It’s where Harry Potter is from, I dunno if you’ve heard of him?”

“He’s the one what killed that evil bloke when he was a baby?” confirmed Lucas, and it was Isobel’s turn to laugh.

“That’s about right,” she chuckled.

Isobel stubbed out her fag, and accepted the spliff Lucas offered.

“What’s the story there?” he asked.

“Well, he was about one when you-know-who—”


“Shhhh!” Isobel cut him off. “We never say the name.”

“Right, sorry,” he apologized.

“S’alright. I know it seems silly, but we take it pretty seriously. Anyway, you-know-who broke in and killed Harry’s parents, right, but when he went after Harry, the curse backfired and killed you-know-who instead. It’s a big deal, since no one’s ever survived a killing curse. Not ever. And little Harry only got scratched.”

“Wicked,” said Lucas. “So what made the little boy so special?”

“No one knows,” said Isobel. “I figure he must have some sort of strong magic though. He took down a full-grown mountain troll and rescued a little girl on Hallowe’en.”

Lucas began coughing violently.

“Wait, a troll?” he croaked, still coughing up smoke. “Emily hasn’t mentioned trolls. What about unicorns?”

“Uh-huh, we have those,” replied Isobel.

“Unbelievable,” he marveled. “Dragons?”

“Yup,” she said.


They spent a pleasant half hour with Lucas listing off magical creatures, and Isobel confirming or denying (mostly confirming) their existence. Isobel was well high after they finished off another spliff, and Lucas walked her the five steps to the back door.

Isobel woke up the next morning to the smell of breakfast. Emily was already sitting up on her side of the bed reading Slaughterhouse 5.

“I thought you’d finished that,” said Isobel, groggily.

“I’m reading it again, it’s brilliant,” said Emily. “Breakfast?” she asked, and Isobel nodded.

Emily pulled a pink dressing gown over her cloud pattern pajamas and stepped into a pair of slippers. She offered a robe to Isobel, who slipped it over her nightdress. The smell of cooking sausage got stronger as they descended the stairs.

“Mmmmmm,” said Emily, kissing her dad on the cheek.

“Sit down, girls, breakfast’s nearly on,” said Jim. “Levinia, will you go and wake your son?”

Isobel sat down next to Laura, who was staring at her, looking amazed.

“Hi Laura,” said Isobel, but Laura continued to stare silently.

“Laura, say hi to Isobel,” Emily chastised.

“I made a teapot explode,” Laura whispered. “Lucas wouldn’t let me have one of his special biscuits so I exploded it.”

“Oh,” replied Isobel, confused.

“And three weeks ago,” Laura’s voice grew quieter still. “Eli wouldn’t give me back my doll even though I asked nice, and then it was in my hand,” Laura confessed, almost inaudible.

“Wait,” said Isobel, catching on. “You got upset and a teapot exploded?” Isobel looked at Emily, who nodded excitedly. “Well, be careful you don’t blow anything else up.”

“Ok,” said Laura, solemn, finally tearing her eyes away from Isobel.

Eli, who was ten, clamored into the room and sat down noisily.

“My friend at school said witches are bad,” he informed Isobel while munching on a breakfast roll.

“Eli, remember we’re not supposed to talk about Emily’s school or witches outside of the house,” Levinia scolded.

“I didn’t!” cried Eli defensively. “It’s Michael said it.”

“Some witches are bad,” replied Emily, fairly. “Like any people, there are different kinds.”

“Green skin?” he asked.

“Do me or Isobel look green to you?” asked Emily, tickling her brother. He erupted in laughter.

“No,” he said, bringing his arms down tight and dodging her wiggling fingers.

“No. That’s right,” said Emily.

“Hags are kind of green,” Isobel told Eli. “Well, greenish.”

“How come?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, really,” replied Isobel.

“How do you become a hag?” asked Laura, looking terrified.

“You don’t become a hag, it’s like a separate species,” explained Emily.

“That’s probably what your friend was talking about when he said ‘witches,’” Isobel told Eli.

Levinia started loading serving dishes onto the table, telling them all to eat up. Isobel put a little bit of everything on her plate, not wanting to seem rude. Over the meal, Isobel explained all about unicorns and fairies, much to the delight of Laura, as well as dragons and vampires, which most interested Eli.

“I can’t believe you never told them about this!” Isobel said to Emily.

“It just never came up,” she replied, pouring herself more orange juice.

After breakfast, Levinia cleared the kitchen and took out the baking supplies for the girls, before sending the two younger children outside to play.

“So this is for your friend? The one who’s in hospital?” asked Levinia, checking that she wasn’t assisting anything untoward.

“Yeah,” replied Emily. “She got sick from a spell, and there are loads of painful side effects, but since she got sick from magic they aren’t supposed to use magic to help her, and she’s in a lot of pain.” Emily summarized the protocol that Isobel told her, leaving out the more grim details.

“Well I hope it helps some,” said Levinia, leaving them to their work.

Lucas came by and showed them how to render the butter. It was a complicated process whereby they boiled the butter with the shake, separated the leaves from the mixture, and removed the ‘chlorophyll,’ before ‘refrigerating’ the concoction--which took hours to get cold. It reminded Isobel forcibly of potions. At every step Lucas lectured about chemicals like ‘THC’ and structures called ‘trichomes.’ It wasn’t until after tea that they finally looked proudly upon their big block of highly potent butter. Isobel was rather proud of her muggle handiwork. When their work was done, they’d filled three old tins full with their special biscuits.

“No. No. No,” Emily said, grabbing her younger sister’s wrist.

Laura had snuck a finger into the bowl that Isobel was fixing to wash (without magic), and Emily had stopped Laura just in time before licking. Emily, who was crouching at her sister’s eye level, licked Laura’s finger off herself.

“Ewwwww,” cried Laura, wiping her hand off on her jumper.

“These are medicinal biscuits,” Emily scolded. “For sick people and grownups only.”

End Notes:

1. Myron Wagtail is the lead singer of the Weird Sisters.

2. "Nothing compares to soup" is a reference to Sinead O'Connor's cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U," which would have been on heavy rotation at the time of this story. Since Godric's Hollow is mixed muggle and wizard, Isobel would have heard it in the village.

3. Levinia came from an upper class aristocratic family. In the late 60s, she became an ardent environmental activist and joined the hippie movement. She met Jim while following the Grateful Dead on their 1972 European tour. Levinia was disowned by her family shortly after becoming pregnant with Lucas, and moved to the Highland’s with Jim to set up a small, sustainable, organic farm--mirroring the American 'back to the land' movement of that era.

4. In OotP, Slughorn mentions that he knew Marcus Belby’s uncle, Damocles--inventor of the Wolfsbane potion. It had to have been invented after the mid-1970s, because it wasn’t yet available when Lupin was at Hogwarts.

5. All rights to James Bond are not belong to me.

6. The "Cabbage Soup" diet was a very unhealthy crash diet popularized in the 1980s.

A/N: The validators have been on FIRE the last few days! I dunno if it's considered tacky to give a shout-out to them, but props where props are due! :)

Chapter 12: Recreational Magic Abuse Recovery
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Recreational Magic Abuse Recovery

EMILY woke up early on Sunday morning wanting nothing more than to put on The Velvet Underground and Nico, and salute the sun. It was a special Sunday morning routine that Emily was only ever afforded at home, since she couldn't listen to music at Hogwarts. Surely, though, it would bother Isobel to be woken at dawn.

Except--Isobel's side of the bed was vacant. 

Isobel couldn't have woken up before Emily; Emily had gone to sleep hours before her friend. In fact, Emily couldn't recall Isobel climbing into bed last night at all. She pulled on a pair of woolen socks, and crept out of her room. The Madley house was quiet and sleeping in the early hours, and Emily fought violently against her worry. What if Isobel went jogging, as she often did, and couldn't see the steep edge of the glen... Emily determined that Isobel must have woken up in want of a fag, and was simply smoking out back.  

Emily slipped on her boots and overcoat at the back door and checked outside, but Isobel wasn't on the deck either. Crossing the vegetable patch, hidden under a deep blanket of snow, Emily headed towards Lucas' shack. Isobel had spent the previous night late with him, surely he'd know where she was. 

“Lucas,” she called as she got near. “Lucas, you haven’t seen Isobel?”

The shack door creaked open, and a sliver of Isobel revealed itself in the crack. 

Emily stopped dead.

“You haven’t,” Emily whispered, stunned, and Isobel looked down on her feet.

Isobel squeezed around the corner of the door and said something to Lucas before closing it behind her.

“You got off with my brother!” Emily said, in something that was at once a scream and a whisper. 

Isobel nodded, embarrassed, and Emily punched her playfully on the shoulder.

"What is with that bleeding shack?!” demanded Emily. 

“Is that where you and what’s-his-name…?” Isobel asked. 

“Yeah,” replied Emily. But there was newer news than that old story: “I want to ask, but he’s my brother…” Emily considered her quandary. “You didn’t go all the way?”

Isobel’s silence spoke volumes.

“Get out! You could be my sister in a few years!” cried Emily.

“Shh,” hushed Isobel as the two trudged back to the main house.

“So was it,” Emily began, but stopped. “Ergh, I wish he wasn’t my brother so we could discuss this proper.”

Emily was supposed to be the most experienced, after all, and her friends usually came to her to talk about these things.

“Not that it’s bad you shagged my brother. He’s a great bloke,” she added.

Yes, it was good. Yes, we might see each other again. But no, it’s not a big deal,” Isobel curtly summarized.

“And that was your first time?” asked Emily unnecessarily. Isobel nodded. “Well like I said, Lucas is really nice, and I’m sure he won’t behave an arse about the whole thing.”

Isobel just nodded, looking half humiliated, half pleased, and totally overwhelmed.

“And if he does, I’ll hex him,” Emily promised. “You watch out now, Lucas” Emily yelled, before Isobel could throw her hand over Emily’s mouth, and steer her back into the house.

“I’ve got a wand!” Emily shouted, breaking free of Isobel’s grip.

The two stumbled back to Emily’s room, giggling wildly. Isobel collapsed onto Emily’s bed.

“I feel like,” Isobel considered her words, rolling onto her back. “A woman.”

That set Emily back off again, and it took her several minutes to regain her composure. “I just keep thinking that that shack is now haunted by the ghosts of both of our hymens!” Emily giggled.

They took showering in turns, and Isobel borrowed some muggle clothes from Emily for their trip down to London. Emily watched, concerned, as Isobel zipped up the denim trousers Emily had long since outgrown without any difficulty. Once Isobel wasn’t drowning in flowing robes, Emily was shocked to see how little was left of her.

Isobel didn’t fit into any of Emily’s trainers, and resolved to wear her own shoes. They were pointed and witchy, and somewhat at odds with the rest of the outfit, but Emily insisted that they wouldn’t break the Statute of Secrecy.

Isobel’s father apparated onto the front yard shortly after breakfast to take the two girls down to London. Emily had packed the tins of biscuits in her rucksack, hoping against hope that Mr. Mostafa wouldn’t recognize the lingering pungent smell. After exchanging pleasantries with Emily’s parents, they were off.

A brief squeezing sensation, half a second of nothingness, and Emily felt solid ground rise up to meet her feet. She opened her eyes, and found a dingy alley in Muggle London on the other side.

“I’ll walk you girls in,” said Mr. Mostofa, as he strode purposefully toward a condemned department store called Purge and Dowse, Ltd.

“Have you been to St. Mungo’s before?” asked Mr. Mostafa.

“No,” replied Emily, curiously inspecting the window display that Isobel’s father had lead them to. The mannequins behind the glass sported garish leisure suits, heavily faded from from what were, originally, shocking shades of orange and turquoise. Emily guessed they’d been there since the ‘70s.

“It’s like platform nine and three-quarters; you just go straight through the window,” Mr. Mostafa instructed. 

For a frantic moment, just like when she first crossed through the platform at King’s Cross, Emily wondered if it were some sort of trick; as if she would actually just smack into the window for their amusement. She knew the notion was foolish, and after seeing Isobel disappear through the glass, Emily followed suit.

Passing through magical barriers was always confusing. Like the moments before and after full anesthesia, it was hard to determine what had happened in between. As with dreams, the memory dripped like water through fingers. What should have been the interior of the garish window display was instead a gleaming entrance hall, bustling with Healers and patients waiting to be seen. A little girl sitting to Emily's left was burping moths while her mother prattled hysterically to a hospital administrator. A few rows behind, a woman casually read Witch Weekly, seemingly unfazed by the fact that her head was blown up four times its original size. Emily was just wondering if she recognized a young, round-faced boy accompanied by a stern old witch, when her thoughts were interrupted.

“Dad!” yelled Isobel’s beautiful older sister, Iman, from behind the reception desk.

Emily had always been intimidated by Iman, but had also courted vague thoughts of setting her up with Lucas. After last night’s events, Emily supposed that she'd succeeded by proxy.

Isobel’s sister was stunning, and had been Head Girl at Hogwarts. Iman came around the reception desk and hugged her father and sister in turn. After making a show of grasping Isobel's withered hips, Iman whispered something of apparent gravity into her sister's ear. It wasn't difficult for Emily to guess the general theme of the exchange.

“Hey Em,” Iman said, hugging Emily as well.

“Your mum is making a roast for tea,” Mr. Mostafa informed his daughter. “So see that you don’t stay too late.”

“I’ll try,” replied Iman.

“Alright girls, send Laurel our support. Emily, be sure you call your parents when you get to your friend’s house. Izzy, send an owl straight away,” Mr. Mostafa said, and kissed his daughter on the forehead.

It had taken a great deal of convincing for Emily and Isobel to be allowed to spend the night at Tristan’s house. Emily’s parents were fine with it as soon as they spoke to his mum, but Isobel had needed to beg for days, and insist that they would be chaperoned the whole time. A good few owls were sent between the households as Isobel’s parents discussed every detail of where the girls would be sleeping, and exactly how far it was from Tristan’s room.

Emily considered the whole affair to be rather pointless; if either of them were going to shag Tristan, they could bloody well do it at school. What’s more, the Doge-Mostafa’s didn’t think twice about Isobel staying at Emily’s house, where it had been so easy for her to find herself in Lucas’ shack, sans virginity.

That bloody shack, Emily thought again.

“Alright, we’re going up to the fifth floor,” Iman informed the two, handing over guest badges.

“Miss Doge!” called a frazzled looking hospital administrator as she ran towards Iman. Isobel's sister unloaded a heavy stack of files from the older witch.

“Hope you don’t mind we take the long way ,” Iman said. “I’ll need to drop these off as we go.”

Their first stop was the Dai Llewellyn Ward for Creature-Induced Injuries. Iman dropped a file into a healer’s pigeon-hole, and briefly discussed the best potion to use on infected Hippogriff scratches with a fellow intern. On the next floor, Magical Bugs and Diseases, Iman passed Emily and Isobel each face-masks before continuing with her deliveries. Apparently, there had been a severe outbreak of Scrofungulus near Ottery St. Catchpole. They removed their masks as they climbed the stairs to the third floor, where Iman deposited the last of her files on the ward for Potions and Plant Poisoning. Finally, they made it to the fifth floor: Spell Damage.

Iman directed them left past the Janus Thickey Ward, and used her badge to open a locked door leading to a long corridor. The sign read ‘Recreational Magic Abuse Recovery.’

“Straight to the end,” Elphia pointed them. “Good luck with Laurel, and send her my support.”

The ward was awful. There was a day room; a jumbled mess of games and muggle toys, like one might give to a child. A serious looking witch in a white robe marched up to them and confiscated their wands before they could enter. She went on to search their rucksacks for any concealed magic and, thankfully, didn’t seem bothered by the tins of biscuits. Once they’d been searched, they were informed that Laurel was “in group,” and would be back shortly. Emily and Isobel decided to wander out to the courtyard, and join the other miserable looking people under the white December sun.

“Check this,” said Isobel, producing a pamphlet. “I nicked it when that healer was searching you.”

“‘How Rec Magic Wrecks,’” Emily read aloud. “Bloody hell. ‘Charming isn't charming when your charms marks get charred.’”

Emily and Isobel spent a quarter hour happily criticizing the terrible pamphlet, and it’s trite motivational slogans and platitudes. Just as the literature was beginning to lose its appeal, a little blonde girl hopped up onto the narrow bench beside them.

“Hello,” said the young witch dreamily, as if Emily and Isobel knew, and would be expecting, her.

“Er, hello,” said Isobel.

“I’m Luna, what’s your name?” she asked, wide eyed.

“Isobel, and this is my friend Emily,” Isobel told little Luna.

“Are you a Ravenclaw?” asked Luna, unexpectedly.

“Yes, I am,” replied Isobel, surprised.

Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,” chirped Luna.

The phrase meant nothing to Emily.

“Are you both Ravenclaws?” continued Luna.

“No, I’m in Hufflepuff,” replied Emily, completely unsure how this conversation had started or where it was going.

“That’s nice,” Luna nodded, meaning it. “I’m going to be in Ravenclaw next year. Both my parents were. My mother’s dead now, and daddy got sick after. That’s why he’s here.”

“Oh,” said Emily, quite at a loss for words. “I’m so sorry to hear about your mother.”

“Yes, it was quite terrible,” agreed Luna. “It happened last year.” She opened up a copy of the absurd Quibbler magazine, and began reading. “I know that daddy isn’t sick-sick, like with a cold or dragon pox. I’m ten and a half and I’m not stupid.” Luna didn’t say it defensively or with any violence, but because it was the truth. Luna read in silence for a moment before asking, “is your friend sick in her heart, too?”

Emily considered what Luna had asked for a moment. Sick in her heart. It was about as accurate as anything she’d ever heard.

“Yes, that’s probably it,” said Emily.

“I’m very sorry,” Luna offered, in her mild and airy voice. “Tell her she can have this,” she said, dropping an orange radish-looking thing in Emily’s hand. “I’ll leave you alone now.”

And with that, Luna hopped up and away.

“See you in Ravenclaw next year,” Isobel called after her.

Little Luna turned around and beamed.

* * *

Emily soon found that Isobel wasn't the only one to have lost a tremendous amount of weight. 

In the weeks since her hex-out, Laurel had shrunk to, what Emily imagined, was the bare-minimum of what would still constitute a human body. Her hair was clean and her face was clear of spots, but her complexion had grown sallow and her skin waxen. Emily and Isobel approached their friend’s bed, and a witch in a white robe set out two chairs for them before closing the thin curtains to offer some minimal privacy.

Laurel was sitting cross-legged on her bed, slouching, and braiding a friendship bracelet. She looked up at them when they sat down, but didn’t seem affected by their arrival.

“All right,” she said, returning her gaze down to her work. Her thin, twitchy fingers managed the multi-colored threads with fury.

“All right,” Isobel replied tentatively.

“We brought you something,” Emily began, as brightly as she could, while rustling through Emily’s rucksack for one of the biscuit tins. “Lucas helped us make them,” she said, hoping the reference wasn’t lost.

“Ace,” Laurel responded robotically.

Isobel opened the tin and set it on Laurel’s bed before helping herself to a biscuit. She took a bite, and handed the other half to Emily.

“We made the butter pretty strong. Each biscuit is about as much as a whole spliff,” Isobel told Laurel.

Upon that recommendation, Laurel took a biscuit and nibbled it, and Emily second guessed the wisdom of smuggling drugs to someone in rehab.

“I’m getting really good at these muggle bracelet things,” Laurel told them. “Here,” she said, reaching into her bedside table drawer.

Laurel took out three bracelets, and tied the first around Emily’s wrist. It was a complicated pattern of baby blue, light pink, and yellow string. Isobel’s was deep blue, purple, and brown. The last, Emily presumed, was for Tristan; woven in green, black, and white.

“They’re called friendship bracelets,” Emily told her. “I made them all the time in primary school.”

Emily took the black, grey, and red threads that Laurel had been working on, and carried on where her friend had left off. Laurel picked out some colors for Isobel and began showing her the simplest pattern. Laurel took another biscuit from the tin, and the three friends carried on braiding in silence.

“Tristan sends his love, by the way,” Emily said after a long time without speaking. “He seems to think it wouldn’t be right if he came, or something.”

“He’s not wrong,” was all Laurel said. She was quiet for a long time before adding, “my mum blames him. When I was still really sick, I made the mistake of telling her how we’d gotten hexed together.”

“I’m really sorry,” Isobel said, in a small voice. “About using Finite.”

“You probably saved my life,” Laurel responded without looking up. “The crash was awful—the worst—and I was still reeling until about a week ago. But mum’s talked to the school, and given me the assignments she got off you, so I still might be able to sit my O.W.L.s in the spring.”

It didn’t sound like Laurel was particularly glad about this news, more that it was the only thing she had on.

“What did you do for Christmas?” asked Emily, regretting the question as soon as it was out of her mouth.

“Well we can’t leave the ward, so the hospital did a bit of a do here, and people had their families round,” Laurel told them. “It was pathetic and depressing as shite.”

“Have you had many visitors?” Isobel asked.

“Outside of you lot it’s just been mum,” Laurel replied. “I think Tristan tried to come a while back, but I was still well sick, and mum banned him. But the editor of The Quibbler is in the men’s ward, and his daughter comes to sit with me when her dad’s asleep or in group. I like her,” Laurel reflected. “She doesn’t blather on about ‘one day at a time’ or any other bollocks like my mum and the nurses do.”

“Is she the one with hair down to her arse?” asked Emily.

“Yeah,” said Laurel. “You met her?”

“Out in the courtyard,” Isobel told her.

“She’s dotty as hell, but I think she might be something of a genius,” said Laurel. “When it comes to the big things, anyway.”

A few hours and several biscuits later, Laurel’s spirits had definitely improved. She still seemed to be followed by an enduring gloom, but at least she was putting on a show of acting merry. She finished her lunch tray down to the pudding, which prompted the nurse to make a delighted note on her clipboard.

“Oh no! It was her boyfriend?” Laurel gasped as Emily shared the story of Tristan’s run-in with Stuart. “Bloody hell! Did they duel?”

“Of course they didn’t duel,” Isobel laughed. “The bloke was a muggle, wasn’t he?”

“Well the girl had her memory modified, so Tristan just stuck to the story that nothing happened,” Emily explained.

“Blimey,” said Laurel. “That bloke does get the shite end of the stick more than anyone." A pause, then, "how is he?”

“Well,” Emily considered. “The same, I guess,” she said, but that was hardly good news.

“He’s showing us around muggle London tonight,” Isobel said excitedly before looking guilty. “We’ll miss you. I wish you could come.”

“I wish I wanted to,” Laurel said. “Even if I could leave the ward, I’m really not up for that much these days.”

“What’s it been like?” Emily tentatively asked.

“Like waiting,” Laurel shrugged. “Waiting for the day when you can feel cheerful again all on your own. Waiting for when you stop screaming inside because you can’t turn a wand on yourself.”

It stunned Emily to hear Laurel speaking so brazenly, and to think that Laurel was still feeling that way, but what had Emily expected? She couldn’t tell if it was a subject that she should steer away from or not; it seemed like Laurel almost wanted to talk about it.

“Are most people in for Cheering?” asked Emily.

“A lot of them, yeah,” said Laurel as she finished off Isobel’s bracelet for her. “It turns out it’s pretty common what I was on—a cheer with some tranquil. Nearly half the patients are in for that. Alacratus is another big one.”

It made Emily sad that these were Laurel’s new people. There were so many new words Laurel used, new phrases she’d picked up in the ward, to talk about her problem. It was like she’d become member of a new group, the Hex Heads of Britain, and would define herself in terms of inclusion and exclusion from here on out.

Visiting hours ended at five, and Emily and Isobel bid their farewell to Laurel, leaving her to weave friendship bracelets alone in her bed. Emily watched sadly as little Luna was taken away by a Ministry social worker.

They met up with Iman, who was running late, at the reception desk. Isobel had insisted that they could manage the trip to Tristan’s by themselves, but Ahmad had been unshakable. Having Iman drop them off at Tristan’s was a necessary compromise in their staying over.

After introducing herself to Tristan’s parents and denying offers for tea, Iman hugged the girls goodbye and disapparated back to Godric’s Hollow. Mary, who didn’t eat meat, fixed them all a vegetable curry for supper, which Isobel was thrilled about.

The two chatted amicably over their meal, and Eddie seemed delighted by Isobel’s interest in his muggle upbringing.

“I still have some family up north,” Eddie explained. “Mum’s running the farm with help from me brother. Sis teaches primary school nearby in Great Hangleton. Got a few great aunts and uncles scattered in the area.”

After supper Mary produced an old photo album, to Tristan’s obvious dismay.

“Goodness, you were always like this?” Isobel joked, flipping through identical photos of Tristan looking sullen. “Where’ve you hid all the baby photos, then?”

“We lost that album in the move,” Tristan lied easily.

“Oh, he’s smiling in this one!” Isobel squaled, pointing out the picture to Emily, who was glad for the change of subject. “And you’ve got a broom!” Isobel gasped.

“Oh Tristan used to love flying” Mary said wistfully. “Don’t know why he ever gave it up.”

“Well I was hardly about to play for Slytherin,” Tristan scoffed.

“But I thought you didn’t know the rules,” Emily said.

“I don’t,” he shook his head. “Throwing a quaffle around with your mum once a week isn’t exactly the same as a proper match. Iz," Tristan switched his attention on Isobel. "You grew up 'round Quidditch. Your parents must have forced you onto a broom when you were little."

"I was too fat to fly," Isobel sighed, and the words stung Emily. Isobel leaned in, and lowered her voice confidentially: "tits and Quidditch don't mix."

Emily remembered. Madame Hooch had excused Isobel from flying practice in their first year--eleven years old, and the Ravenclaw sported a chest rivaling every professor save Sprout. 

At around eight o’clock, after Tristan’s parents made him promise that he’d call at ten and be back before midnight, the three headed out into London. Mary traded some of Isobel’s galleons for muggle money, and explained the exchange rate. Isobel had a hard time grasping the relative purchasing power of pounds.

“And if people catch you getting confused, just say that you’re French,” Mary finished, and gave Isobel a hug.

They took the underground to SoHo so Isobel could see the escalators, walked around the city center, and drank in a few pubs Tristan knew off the High Street. At one in the morning they boarded the bus back to Tristan’s house in Lambeth. When they returned, Emily found that Mary had set up the sofa and a camper bed for the girls to sleep on. She reminded herself to thank Mary in the morning.

After guiltily sharing a spliff in Tristan’s room, she and Isobel descended the stairs, and collapsed into sleep.

End Notes:

1. The first track of The Velvet Underground and Nico is titled "Sunday Morning," and the opening line is "Sunday morning, praise the dawning." The 'sun salute' is a yoga thing. Yoga and Lou Reed should hardly intersect, but that's Emily for you. (The CI text is a lyric from "Sunday Morning" as well.)

2. So, as you may have noticed, the purchasing power of pounds to galleons is incredibly inconsistent. To this I say: MAGIC. (If anyone is interested in this variety of nerdy minutiae, I highly recommend the fic "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" by Lesswrong--which is rather a masterpiece of Crack!Fic epic.)

Chapter 13: The Little Things (1992)
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The Little Things

LAUREL arrived at King’s Cross station with her mother on the morning of January 5th, a week after being discharged from St. Mungo’s. Somehow, Laurel found it was worse at home in Godric’s Hollow than in the hospital. Betty had confiscated Laurel’s wand, and even so, insisted that her daughter keep her bedroom door open.

Laurel’s childhood bedroom made for an agonizing cell; a horrific museum exhibit of herself, aged eleven. There were stratigraphic layers of rubbish from each of her visits home over the last four years, with another life preserved beneath them. Just being in the room made Laurel want to either scream or set it on fire. Returning to that room meant accidentally uncovering old trinkets, things she'd once loved and squirrelled awat, that reminded Laurel of just how far she had fallen.

Laurel took to wandering the cemetery when she could, but she’d been mostly shut up in her house slowly pushing her way through towers of makeup school work. After a screaming row that had surely carried down the block, Betty had allowed Laurel to practice her wandwork, but only under supervision. Laurel wasn’t sure if it was because of lack of practice, or her mother’s hovering, but Laurel had trouble casting even simple spells. Her wand seemed reluctant to perform what Laurel asked of it, like it had lost faith in her. While she struggled, Laurel’s mother criticized and disparaged her daughter’s abilities.

Betty had taken the week to work at home, and Laurel had to sit through six days of claustrophobic misery without a break from her mum in their cramped flat. The Braithwaite witches managed to live in the only apartment block in the whole of their picturesque village.

At least Laurel had Isobel, who broke up the tension at home when she came round to help Laurel with her work. But Isobel had her own studying to get on with, and Laurel didn’t like going round Isobel’s house, where the air was thick with her family’s judgment and scrutiny.

“And if you have any problems, or start feeling tempted—” Betty was saying, for about the billionth time, while the Hogwarts Expressed whistled.

“Go straight to guidance,” Laurel parroted.

“Exactly. And I really wish you’d stop hanging round that Slytherin boy,” Betty said again.

“Mum, it’s not his fault I hexed-out. I got him into it, not the other way round, so quit with the blaming,” Laurel fumed. “If you want to blame someone, just blame me, ok.”

“I just think… It’s just old habits, you know, if you’re—”

“Mum!” cried Laurel. “With that logic, should I stop hanging round Isobel?”

“Of course not, but that’s different,” Betty rolled her eyes.

Laurel’s mum was under the impression that Isobel was a golden child; perfect, and capable of doing no wrong. Every year Betty heard from Florence and Ahmad about Isobel making top marks (“it’s a wonder she hasn’t made prefect” Ahmad had taken to saying last summer). Because their parents were friends, Laurel had been sure not to divulge that Isobel had had any part in the Charming. If only mum knew, Laurel thought ruefully. It was Isobel, after all, who’d always initiated that they Cheer, and before Laurel and Tristan started getting hexed together, Isobel did as much rec magic as the rest of them. If the Doge-Mostafa’s wondered why their daughter hadn't made prefect, it was because all the teachers knew (even if they couldn’t prove it) that Isobel broke nearly as many rules as the Weasley twins.

“—send me an owl anytime, day or night. And if anything happens—”

“Straight to guidance, yes, I get it,” Laurel interrupted.

“Alright,” her mum said, fortifying herself. “Now this is a big step, and it’s to show that I trust you.”

Betty reached into her cloak and retrieved Laurel’s wand, passing it to her ceremoniously. Laurel knew that her mother didn’t actually trust her, Betty just recognized that Laurel needed her wand for lessons. Laurel wanted, for a reckless moment, to say something inflammatory, just to see if her mother might lose it and slap her again.

Surely not on the platform, with all the other parents around, Laurel thought. But her desire to unveil her mother’s hypocrisy failed to dredge up any appropriately devastating turns of phrase, and so Laurel turned away without another word.

Climbing aboard the train, Laurel tried to ignore the students who were alternately staring openly or trying not to stare. After a few minutes, she found her friends in a compartment near the rear of the steam engine. Tristan pulled down his headphones as Laurel maneuvered her trunk, and they all traded awkward greetings and hugs.

Laurel wondered vaguely what might have happened had she arrived first to the compartment, armed with her wand. Her desire to erase every other feeling was immense.

POMONA SPROUT had her first guidance session with the Braithwaite girl after breakfast Monday morning. She shuffled into the office and located Laurel’s file. An addiction to recreational magic resulting in toxicity, followed by a recovery period at St. Mungo’s—there was no new information here for Pomona, who was already quite familiar with Miss Braithwaite’s story. They didn’t get much problem with drink or drugs at Hogwarts, and it had been a long time since any student had been caught self-spelling. Pomona thought guiltily of the Cannabis Indica she'd been nurturing in her own restricted greenhouse (for personal use only). What on earth would she say to the girl, she wondered; before reminding herself that the most powerful thing she could do was listen.

Pomona closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose, then rifled through Laurel’s file for anything else that might be relevant. There were dozens of glowing notes from professors remarking on Laurel’s natural aptitude and strong spell work, mixed in with a few more recent ones noting how she'd seemed to be taking less interest in her lessons. Pomona located the one-sheet summarizing Laurel’s family history: witch mother, Elizabeth Braithwaite, graduated Hogwarts 1970. Yes, Pomona remembered Betty, who hadn’t been much for Herbology. Laurel’s father was listed as a muggle, Mr. J. Rubenstein, and no other siblings were mentioned. That was all standard enough. But then again, that’s how it usually went. A student’s troubles were rarely the result of one big thing, but rather a lifetime’s sum of little disappointments adding up.

Pomona generally counseled muggle-borns through their transition into Hogwarts, as well as those students whose families had been broken by the war. One file in particular, though, had piqued Pomona’s curiosity: fifth year, Tristan “R.” Bryce.

His records were as enigmatic as the young wizard himself, with their many blacked out pages and his tantalizingly withheld middle name. Pomona knew that he was a reluctant Slytherin whose only interest lay in Muggle Studies. Intelligent, but rarely applying himself in lessons, and prone to acting out. Most curious of all, Pomona had taught his mother, Mary MacDonald, when she had been at school. One of the few historical details that hadn’t been censored out of Tristan’s file was his birthday—and Pomona didn’t remember Mary being pregnant during her N.E.W.T. year at Hogwarts. The guidance counselor was left to assume that Tristan had been adopted, but from where, was anyone’s guess.

Laurel Braithwaite appeared, tentatively, at Pomona's office door at ten past nine.

“Come in, have a seat,” Pomona called, hopping up from her own chair rather foolishly. She cleared the many scrolls of parchment from her desk, and tapped her kettle with her wand.

“Sorry I’m late,” Laurel mumbled, slouching off her bag. The young witch sat down, and hugged her knees up to her chin.

She was incredibly thin. And thin in a way that caused Pomona almost physical pain to see. She couldn’t imagine fitting into a body so small that it might fold up so easily on that little wooden chair.

Pomona passed Laurel a cup of tea after adding a liberal quantity of cream.

“So the purpose of these meetings is two-fold,” Pomona began. “Firstly, they are meant to help you in catching up the material that you’ve missed so that you might sit your O.W.L.s in June. I will help act as a mediator with your professors so that we can determine how to best prepare you for the exams. Second, this is a space for you to share your feelings. Anything you tell me here is completely confidential, and will be received without judgment from me. That said,” continued Pomona as she approached the sticking point. “There are two exceptions to this confidentiality: I am legally obliged to inform the proper departments if you are having serious thoughts of suicide, or if it appears that you have been the victim of abuse. Do you understand?”

Laurel mumbled that she did.

Pomona spent the first half hour of their session collecting the makeup work Laurel had completed, and handing her lists of fresh assignments that the instructors had drafted.

Finally, they approached the the point where the conversation would turn personal. Laurel had so far remained reticent and withholding, offering only single syllable responses to each of Pomona’s questions.

“Can you tell me about your break?” Pomona opened.

“I was at St. Mungo’s, then I went home,” Laurel replied, picking at her fingernails.

“How was that?” Pomona tried again.

“Ok, I guess,” Laurel said without looking up.

“'Ok'? Well that’s good. I’d imagine it might have been rather a difficult experience,” Pomona offered.

“Yeah, I s'pose,” agreed Laurel.

“What made it difficult?” asked Pomona, pouncing on the admission.

“You know,” mumbled Laurel.

“I don’t know. Only you can speak to your individual experience,” replied Pomona gently.

“I dunno, it was shite, ok,” Laurel said back.

“What made it ‘shite’?” Pomona mimicked, trying to open Laurel up.

“Being there with all the other Hex Heads, all the staff acting so superior like they were so much better and knew so much,” Laurel replied.

“So you felt as though you were being judged?” Pomona clarified.

“Well yeah, ‘course. That’s what it was, wasn’t it,” Laurel said.

“Is that why you’re hesitant to talk about it with me?” asked Pomona. “Because you’re afraid I’ll judge you?”

“Isn’t that the point of this, for me to talk about stuff and you to judge if I’m ok, or if I’ll start getting bad again? Aren’t I supposed to tell you stuff so that you can judge it, and tell me why I’m messed up?” Laurel said, still looking at her nails, but her voice was strengthened by defiance.

“Well I am glad to tell you that that is not the point of these sessions. I mean what I say, this is purely a space for you to speak freely,” Pomona said. “May I ask, do you feel judged often?”

“Doesn’t everyone?” replied Laurel, rhetorically.

“Perhaps, from time to time. But I imagine people feel that way to varying degrees,” Pomona mused. “Perhaps, and do correct me if I’m wrong, but perhaps you often judge yourself, and do so harshly?”

Laurel paused for a moment, and then nodded.

“Why do you judge yourself like that?”

“Because I’m shite, aren’t I?” Laurel cried out, her eyes rapidly filling with tears as she looked at Pomona for the first time.

Pomona pushed a box of tissues across the desk before continuing.

LAUREL waited for Isobel outside of Arithmancy an hour later after leaving Sprout’s office. It felt strange, and somehow perverse, for her to go about her old routine as if nothing had happened. She had been through a massive and violent change, and couldn’t believe anyone would think it reasonable that she just get on preparing for her O.W.L.s with everyone else. Laurel’s failure had left a mark, one that distinguished her from the rest of the student body.

Isobel soon arrived, giving Laurel a massive hug, even though they’d only just seen each other at breakfast.

“I’m so glad you’re back,” Isobel whispered into Laurel’s ear. “Please stay off it. I can’t lose you again.” They stayed like that hugging for some time.

Laurel and Isobel filed into Arithmancy with the other Ravenclaws, taking their usual table in the second row.

“Welcome back, Miss Braithwaite,” Professor Vector called mildly while she drew complicated equations and symbols on the board.

Laurel remained mostly quiet during the lesson, preferring not to draw attention to herself by answering questions. She was glad that Professor Vector had been sensitive enough not to call on her.

After lunch, Laurel and Isobel made their way to Defense with Tristan. Squirrel was stuttering worse than ever, which Laurel was sure was sure had been impelled by her return. To make matters worse, they were starting on Dementors, and the subject nearly reduced Squirrel to hysterics. After stammering theory for forty-five minutes he asked the class to rise and try Expecto Patronum. By the end of the lesson, only a few students had gotten as far as producing some indistinct silvery vapor from the end of their wands. Laurel hadn’t even managed that, and left the lesson feeling drained.

The exhaustion of attempting to conjure a Patronus followed her all the way through Herbology, and Laurel said barely a word while she worked with Isobel and Emily in the humid greenhouse.

“Good work today, Laurel,” Sprout called gently from her desk as Laurel and her friends traipsed out at the end of class.

Laurel was glad that Sprout had made no other indication to her crying that morning, and managed a tense nod back, before pushing open the doors to the grounds.

As Laurel followed Isobel to Ancient Runes, she thought about how Tristan was probably skiving off History of Magic. He’d be chain-smoking by the lake and listening to the music in his head. She could tell Isobel that she’d forgotten her homework and double back to meet him there and, if she hurried, still make it back to Runes on time.

But Isobel would be able to tell, and she’d get that look on her face, and who knew where that road might lead anyway. It felt to Laurel like every second of every day since she’d hexed-out, she had to make a decision. She could either go about as she was supposed to, or jump off that cliff into a dark unknown. Laurel was still lost in thought when she took her seat next to Isobel and opened Spellman’s Syllabary.

Later that night, Laurel and Isobel decided to do their homework in the Ravenclaw common room instead of meeting Tristan in the corridor after supper. Laurel still had a mountain’s worth of catching up, and the other Ravenclaw’s in their year would be sure that the room stayed silent while they studied.

“Why don’t you read in the library if you need quiet?” cried Roger Davies, third year, after Penelope had shouted at him for interrupting the peace. “I’m allowed to talk to my mates in my own common room!”

It wasn’t until Penelope chucked Hogwarts, A History at him—nearly dislocating his shoulder—that Roger stomped up to his dormitory defeated.

Laurel tried to lose herself in study, but kept finding herself distracted by painful jabs of humiliation and shame. Thrice now she’d mislabeled some point on her diagram of a chomping cabbage, and she was copying it directly from Isobel’s, complete with Snape’s corrections. Laurel felt as if her only goal in life was to keep off the charms, and she wasn’t even sure what she actually got from that abstinence. The wand had taken away every sting of discomfort and inadequacy, and now she was off it, they came back stronger and more ruthless than before. At least she’d been happy when she was hexed, even if the happiness had been somehow artificial. Laurel wasn’t sure that there was a difference between real and fake happiness anyway. No matter how you looked at it, it was all just people doing things to themselves in order to squeeze some joy out of life. It might be Hilaris, or a hobby, or moderate exercise--the goal was the same regardless of the means.

And when Laurel had truly really failed—when she’d first turned her wand on herself and cast the spell—at least she’d known that she couldn’t fail any worse. There had been peace in that knowledge.

“Oh what’s the point?” Isobel sighed to herself, shaking Laurel from her thoughts. “It’s all just Protego or Expelliarmus anyway.”

Of course, Isobel was referring to Defensive Magical Theory.

“Do you really think they’ll expect us to produce a full patronus for the O.W.L.?” Isobel worried out loud. “I mean, that’s incredibly ambitious for fifth-years…”

Laurel retied her bun, and returned to her diagram with renewed commitment.

“What are you writing about for the Flitwick essay?” Isobel asked.

“Cheering charm toxicity,” Laurel replied, and Isobel looked stunned. “Joking,” added Laurel, even though she thought it should have been obvious.

Laurel was fully aware over the next few days that she’d adopted an awkward habit of joking about her Charming problem, and that it was making her friends uncomfortable. She resented that. It had happened to her, after all, and she should be able to talk about it, especially with her friends. Isobel and Emily kept reminding her to come to them if she ‘ever wanted to talk,’ but they would freeze up any time she tried to lighten the subject with some humour.

Tristan seemed to want to avoid the emotional, and Laurel found his perspective refreshing. His feelings of culpability had faded somewhat, and he’d grown more comfortable around Laurel.

It was soon raining every day, and so the four friends found themselves increasingly secluded in Cadogan’s Corridor. Their workload might have accomplished the same end despite the weather, as they wouldn’t have had time to kick about by the lake even if it had been sunny. It seemed like every time their workload met its absolute maximum, the professors came back with a resounding Oh yeah? Take that, and piled on even more.

It was Saturday, and the rain was pattering against the corridor windows. Emily had burst into frustrated tears when she couldn’t find her star chart, and Isobel kept making annoyed little noises in the back of her throat without realizing it. Tristan seemed mostly unfazed, since he increasingly couldn’t be bothered about exams. Laurel was managing only because she’d found a sort of rhythm. The daunting tower of material she had yet to catch up on got taller every day, so rather than become stressed, she resigned herself to her Sisyphusian fate.

“No, Tristan! You can’t copy it word perfect, it has to look like you wrote it yourself,” Isobel raged.

“If Sprout catches me cheating, she catches me,” he sighed.

“And she’d know I let you copy and fail me too, so don’t be so selfish!” Isobel shot back.

Tristan exhaled loudly, and started over. Ever since Laurel had returned to Hogwarts, Isobel had gotten more fierce in her self-assigned role as commandant of the group, as if it were her responsibility alone to keep everyone together. Without really realizing what they were doing, the other three responded by rebelling against her at every turn. It had become a rather vicious cycle.

Isobel announced that it was time for everyone to head back to their own common rooms at ten to nine. There was very little debating the point, so they began packing their school things and clearing lingering smoke from the corridor. Laurel and Isobel waved goodbye to Emily and Tristan and turned toward Ravenclaw tower. They worked for a while longer in silence before Isobel gave up and left to get ready for bed. Once she’d gone, Laurel fell into a staring competition with her wand that seemed to last an eternity.

“Bay, seven inches, Dragon Heartstring,” Mr. Ollivander had said. “Rather heavy.” And so it had been that Laurel's wand had chosen her. Eleven-year-old Laurel had been overjoyed. 'Bay' was another name for 'Laurel'--she and her wand shared the same name!

Over the years, her wand grew to feel like part of her own body, as connected to her as an arm or an eye. To have it turn on her, to suffer by it—grief swelled within Laurel’s chest. And now it won’t even do what I ask it to. It was like being betrayed by her own nose...


Finally, the restraints are off. It’s been two days since Laurel's hex-out, and she's only pretending to be a good patient. She’ll go along with their recovery bollocks, and once she has her wand back…

Laurel tried to push aside her darkest moments from recovery.

Somehow she did it! She snuck out of the ward, and managed to nick some potion off a Healer’s cart to boot. She doesn’t know what it is, but they use it to treat aggressive patients in the Janus Thickey ward, so…

Laurel’s eyes stung with the humiliation of remembering.

Laurel is blasted. A Healer from her own ward finds her. She’s slurring, yelling, denying the accusations that she’s used, but obviously she has. She tries to seduce him, or flirt her way out of it, but she hardly feels sexy with her stringy hair and thin hospital robes. Not to mention that she’s wasted and pathetic--cowering in a supply closet, out of her mind on sedatives. The healer looks embarrassed for her, and he’s angry that she snuck out on his watch, and that she’s lying to him. Laurel is crying. She leans back against the wall and slides down to the ground. Laurel’s face is a mess of snot and unwiped tears--her body’s salt laid bare like a sacrifice.

The healer ushers Laurel back to her ward, but doesn’t put her back in restraints. He’s professional and curt, but doesn’t report her escape either. Laurel should have been in extra trouble. She thanks him, crying again, and he affords the sniveling patient a sympathetic look.

Laurel wiped her eyes, ashamed by the memory. What if that healer had been a different type of wizard? How far would Laurel have gone to feed the beast of her addiction?

There is something wrong with Laurel Braithewaite. 

It was nearly an hour later when Laurel climbed into Isobel’s bed, and fell into a fitful sleep beside her oldest friend.

* * *

The following Monday, Laurel found herself alone with Tristan for the first time in a long time. Emily was at Astronomy and Isobel was getting coffees, leaving the two of them to climb the stairs to the corridor in silence and pretend that it wasn’t awkward.

“Classes, eat, corridor, sleep. Classes, eat, corridor, sleep. It’s enough to make you want to off yourself,” Tristan said heavily as he pulled out his books and parchment.

“Hey Tristan,” Laurel said after a moment’s thought. “Do you like me?” She wasn’t sure what made her ask, or why at that moment, except for the obvious lack of a chaperone.

“Yeah, 'course,” he replied, searching for a quill.

“No, I mean, like, like-me like-me. Like, back when were getting hexed together… all those times…” she clarified.

Tristan thought for a moment.

“I guess sometimes, I did,” he answered, and she wondered if he was feeling as vulnerable as she was.

“Why did you like me?” Laurel asked the question before she knew she was thinking it.

“There’s this song,” Tristan said, after a pause. “It goes ‘I’m so ugly, but that’s ok, ‘cause so are you—we broke our mirrors.’”

Laurel understood, she thought, what he meant. In those moments when they were getting hexed and everything else, Tristan seemed, if temporarily, to stop hating himself.

“Why are we so fucked up?” Laurel asked. “I mean, your parents are nice and all, and they let you do whatever you want. And you don’t get all caught up in things like marks. Why is it?”

“I guess I have my reasons,” he said, scribbling on a piece of parchment. “What’s your excuse?”

“I dunno,” sighed Laurel. “It must be something big, or I wouldn’t be, right? I guess I never knew my dad and that whole cliché. And my mum’s bonkers. It doesn’t feel like that’s it though.”

“Maybe it’s all the little things,” Tristan suggested.

End Notes:

1. The song lyric Tristan quotes is Nirvana's “Lithium,” off Nevermind.

2. Betty Braithewaite is a
Daily Propher writer, mentioned in Deathly Hallows. She wrote the review of Rita Skeeter’s Dumbledore biography.

3. From Pottermore: “It is said that a laurel wand cannot perform a dishonourable act, although in the quest for glory (a not uncommon goal for those best suited to these wands), laurel wands have been known to perform powerful and sometimes lethal magic. Laurel wands are sometimes called fickle... The laurel wand is unable to tolerate laziness in a possessor, and it is in such conditions that it is most easily and willingly won away...

“As a rule, dragon heartstrings produce wands with the most power, and which are capable of the most flamboyant spells. Dragon wands tend to learn more quickly than other types... [Dragon wands] can change allegiance if won from their original master.”


Chapter 14: The Trouble With Laurel
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The Trouble with Laurel

TRISTAN was taking notes on Professor McGonagall’s lecture without really thinking what he was doing. The endless repetition of every day had become anesthetic, and all that was left for Tristan to do was actual work. Where before he felt like he was struggling to withhold a silent scream, he now felt nothing. The trouble with Laurel had taken the fun out of having fun, not that there was much time for it anymore anyway. Worse still, Emily and Isobel’s preoccupation with Laurel’s well being made their time all together tense. Isobel measured every move Laurel made and every word she spoke as if she were trying to read some clue written in them. Tristan was just relieved that Laurel was relatively ok, and wanted to leave it at that.

Even Care of Magical Creatures, which usually broke up the monotony, was uncharacteristically dull. They were huddled under umbrellas in the forest trying to study thestrals, which was difficult, since most of the students couldn’t see them. Tristan guided Emily’s hand to pat the neck of the beast. It must be a strange sensation, he thought. Feeling the thestral’s leathery skin emerge from nothing, watching your own hand fall down on its invisible body—but this passing curiosity wasn’t sufficient to combat his hollowness.

Tristan had felt since Christmas like he was nearing the end of a long fought war with himself, and both sides were losing.

Double charms with Ravenclaw was equally tedious, and Tristan wished he still had the fire to just storm out, as he had after Laurel’s hex-out. Instead, he practiced wand motions and memorized spells for the three-hour lesson without disrupting the class. Tristan wondered, half-heartedly, how it could be that learning magic didn’t interest him, before losing interest in that thought as well.

He packed his books and wandered to the greenhouses in a daze, where he met Oliver Wood. The spark of friendliness that had been ignited at Tristan’s birthday party had long since cooled to a lukewarm acquaintance. They traded ‘alright’s’ as Tristan lumbered over to a table some rows down. He worked with his back to the sunset.

Tristan was at the back of a loose line of Slytherins and Gryffindors twisting a path back to the castle doors when he saw Laurel. The sight of her waiting was so familiar, and he shook himself from the idea that she was some ghost of months past. She was shivering just beyond the greenhouses, one arm pulled tight across her breast, the other bringing a fag up to her lips, eyes darted uncomfortably across the grounds.

“Laurel?” he said, with the same caution one might use approaching some dangerous creature.

“I need you to give me one,” she said, without preamble.


“If you don’t do it,” she said, producing her wand. “You know I’ll just do it myself.”

* * *

Tristan and Emily were working alone in the corridor. Isobel had gone to bring food to Laurel in the dormitories, since she hadn’t joined them at supper. Tristan was nauseous.

“Why so quiet?” asked Emily, and Tristan merely shrugged.

Isobel returned some minutes later, and appeared to be carrying something rather large behind her back.

“So I was hoping to have this finished by Christmas, but it was a little longer going than I thought,” she said. Tristan straightened his back; he’d completely forgot that Isobel was working on something for him. Crashing waves of guilt overwhelmed him—it was the first time he’d felt anything aside from numb in weeks, and all it had taken was betrayal. From behind her back, Isobel produced what appeared to be his old smashed stereo, haphazardly reconstructed.

“It’s all crumpled looking, but it works,” she beamed.

“You rebuilt this?” Tristan asked in awe.

“Uh huh,” Isobel chirped. “Emily gave me some muggle books, and explained a lot about batteries and things.”

“Tell him the best part!” Emily urged.

“Oh yeah, it’s all held together with magic now. I used charms to get it to work again, so it’s more magic than technology,” Isobel explained happily. “It works in the castle!”

Tristan wanted to either cry or die. It was too much. Instead of doing either, he threw his arms around Isobel and hugged her for a long time.

“Now be careful with it,” Isobel eked out, patting Tristan on the back. “I’m sure it’s breaking about a dozen laws, and qualifies as a major misuse of a muggle artifact.”

That night, Tristan fished the tape of Nevermind out of his trunk, closed the hangings around his four-poster, and plugged his headphone jack into his newly improved stereo. Laying back, he felt a rush. He’d never before listened to music in his dormitory.

For the first time, the Slytherin lair didn’t seem entirely terrible. The eery green glow from the lake perfectly suited Tristan’s mood. While Kurt Cobain shouted, Tristan began a letter to Emily confessing himself, but abandoned it in seconds.

I’m worst at what I do best, and for this gift I feel blessed
Our little group has always been, and always will until the end.

The lyrics blared from Tristan's headphones, and he marveled again at how Nirvana always managed to write his feelings, as if Kurt were speaking across an ocean of time directly to him.

* * *

Laurel’s birthday was the following Saturday. She insisted that she didn’t want a big do, so as requested, the four of them just hung ‘round Cadogan’s Corridor like they used to do before her trouble began, and O.W.L. preparation kept them so busy. Emily made sure to provide whiskey and lemonade, and at Isobel’s suggestion, a few bottles of butterbeer. Butterbeer and whiskey, as it turned out, mixed together fantastically.

The Weasley twins stopped by for a spliff after Quidditch practice and gave Laurel their presents: trophies nicked off various professors. They handed her what looked like one of Trelawney’s shawls, a hairpin they claimed was McGonagall’s, and a sinister looking bottle that had come from Snape’s office. Tristan didn’t know what they expected Laurel to do with these things, but she was delighted.

“Be careful with that last one,” Fred warned.

“We reckon it could be poison,” agreed George.

Emily gave Laurel a muggle craft book with supplies for weaving bracelets, for reasons Tristan didn’t understand, and a pack of multicolored hair-bands, for reasons that were obvious. Isobel gave Laurel some makeup and a special type of lotion that she said was from France. Tristan’s gift was a tape of Standing on a Beach by the Cure, which Laurel instantly unwrapped and popped into Tristan’s stereo.

“Why is this bloke singing about killing Arabs?” Isobel asked, a little hotly, after the first chorus of the first track.

“The lyrics are from a book,” Tristan explained. “Camus.”

“So it was Cam-oo what had problems with our friend here?” joked Fred. “Glad we cleared that up.”

Tristan started trying to explain about the novel, The Stranger, to nobody’s interest, before giving up and simply mumbling about it being “a muggle classic.” Fred and George said their goodbyes before the B-side.

They succeeded in getting well pissed by eight o’clock, and it started to feel like old times again. Tristan found it difficult to lose himself in the moment, and instead began wondering if their ‘good old days’ were already behind them. Classes, eat, corridor, sleep. It had become his mantra--like a song stuck in his head. A distillation of what remained of his life in four words. He fixed himself another drink, trying to coax himself into enjoying their last hour together before curfew.

Emily, who’d been drinking the butterbeer-whiskey concoction with enthusiasm, shot suddenly to her feet, and stumbled down the corridor to the nearest toilet. From the sound of it, she didn’t make it.

“Shit,” mumbled Isobel, getting up to chase after Emily.

Isobel popped her head back around the corner, told them she’d help Emily down to the Hufflepuff Basement, and asked them if they could clear the mess.

“Just leave the lemonade bottles in the hall,” she explained. “The house elves will pick them up later.”

House elves! Thought Tristan, that’s how they’d been sneaking food and drinks between meals.

After Isobel carried Emily away, Tristan leaned back against the stone wall, closing his eyes against the corridor, which had begun to spin. He felt Laurel shift in closer beside him and rest her head on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry about Thursday,” she offered quietly. “I know it was a shite spot to put you in. Thanks for not telling.”

“You haven’t started it up again, have you?” Tristan asked without opening his eyes. “The self-spelling?”

“No,” Laurel said firmly. “That was just… a bit of a rough patch. It won’t happen again.”

“Good,” Tristan said.

“Sometimes I feel,” Laurel began thoughtfully. “Like people like me better when I’m hexed.”

“That’s the charms making you think that,” Tristan promised. “We much prefer you as you are.”

“Really?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said, opening his eyes. He turned his head toward her, and her face was very close to his.

I’m so ugly, but that’s ok, ‘cause so are you—we broke our mirrors.

It had been a long time since Tristan and Laurel had snogged. It had only happened before when they were hexed out of their minds--intoxicated bodies, Tristan had found, seemed to develop a kind of magnetism. The furthest they’d ever gone before was behind the mirror at his birthday party, when they'd been blasted off an admixture of spliff, alcohol, and too many charms. Now, with only alcohol and weed fogging their senses, it seemed much more real.

Tristan knew he was making a mistake. He knew that by kissing Laurel like this he was letting everyone down, including Laurel. She didn’t like him in that way, that wasn’t why she was interested, and he knew it wouldn’t make her feel good about herself if they continued. Emily did like Tristan in that way, but he knew if he snogged her, it would only expose her to all the bad inside him. It hurt Isobel too, who cared so much about the friends’ dynamic, and messed up all of her work keeping them afloat.

But it was easy to start kissing, and hard to stop. He knew he and Laurel were both spent every moment battling against all the little things, the little mistakes they could make, and that they were both finally exhausted enough to surrender.

Eventually there came a point, lying on the flagstone scorched by the ends of hundreds of cigarettes, where Tristan found himself on the precipice of a dark unknown. But his will wasn’t good, so they jumped.

* * *

Their next Hogsmeade weekend was different from any Tristan had had. Now that he could listen to his music whenever he fancied, thanks to Isobel, he actually joined the other three in the village. Out of habit, they still stopped at the same spot north of the shrieking shack first to spark a spliff, and then set off to spend the day meandering along the High Street.

Tristan found it difficult to enjoy the day with his friends; he couldn’t help but feel antsy and paranoid. Laurel was behaving mostly normally, but Tristan was acutely aware that her behavior with him had changed subtly.

She was at once more distant—a clear attempt to maintain a casual air—but also a bit warmer. She spoke more softly around him, and smiled gently whenever he spoke. Isobel, in turn, was in no-stops Isobel mode. As the constant observer and custodian of their group, she was manic in her dictation of the day’s activities. What’s more, she was openly cold to Tristan.

Laurel’s soft smiling was countered beat for beat by Isobel’s narrow-eyed glares.

She told her, Tristan concluded. Of course Laurel had told her. Tristan kicked himself.

Worst of all was Emily’s complete obliviousness to the silent bubbling of discord between her friends. The guilt this inspired in Tristan was all consuming, and abetted by Isobel’s harsh attitude.

It wasn’t turning out to be a particularly fun day. There was a consistent drizzle throughout the morning which had left the four of them damp haired and chilly. The Three Broomsticks was full to bursting with Hogwarts students escaping the wet exterior of the village, and Tristan and his friends were unable to find a private table. Butterbeer didn’t hold much interest for Tristan when it was unaccompanied by whiskey, so he and his friends turned out of the pub and back onto the cold, gray street.

“I’ve got to call it,” said Isobel irritably. “This is a bust. Shall we just head back to the castle?”

The other three grunted in assent, and they made the muddy hike back to the Hogwarts grounds. They arrived in time for a late lunch to find the Great Hall scarcely occupied. Isobel didn’t join them, choosing instead to change out of her damp and muddy robes. She said goodbye, offering Tristan only a cold glance, and turned up the stairs leading to Ravenclaw Tower.

“At least bring some food up with you,” begged Emily.

“Nah,” Isobel called over her shoulder. “I’m still full from breakfast.”

Tristan gaped at the absurdity of her statement—she’d only managed a few pieces of fruit and several black coffees that morning. He wasn’t totally clueless to the fact that Isobel had been slowly shriveling under her robes. Tristan shamefully remembered how her, once marvelous, breasts used to bulge from beneath her Hogwarts uniform. Now, her robes hung lank from her shoulders. These days, her already deep-set eyes glared out of skeletal sockets and her cheeks were so sunken that the bones were sharp, and imminently visible. Then again, Tristan had no idea how he could possibly confront the issue, and decided to leave it to one of the girls instead. He took a droopy sandwich off of the gold platter nearest him—they’d been sitting out since noon.

“You should take something up for Isobel,” Emily timidly suggested to Laurel.

“Huh?” replied Laurel, looking up from her plate. “She can get something later if she wants, she knows your trick now.”

“Take something up,” Tristan insisted. “Really.”

“Ok, ok,” sighed Laurel, conspicuously put upon. She grabbed a few sandwiches at random and wrapped them in a napkin. “Bye,” she said, irate, as she got up from the Hufflepuff table.

Tristan found himself alone with Emily, caught between the conflicting desires either to tell her everything, or take his transgressions to the grave.

“Well apart from being oblivious to what’s happening with her friends, she does seem to be doing better,” Emily said thoughtfully, referring to Laurel.

“I think I’ll go change as well,” Tristan said, unceremoniously taking his leave of Emily. He was still hungry, but abandoned his half-sandwich rather than spend another unbearable moment with the witch he should have snogged.

“Ok, bye,” called back Emily, put out.

Tristan head to the stairs leading down to the dungeons, but was intercepted by Professor Sprout.

“Mr. Bryce,” she called, a little out of breath after climbing the stairs from the Hufflepuff basement. “I’ve been meaning to speak to you. Would you please come with me to my office?”

“Er—” Tristan said, wondering if he could just say ‘no.’ Before he had a chance to reply, Professor Sprout practically frog-marched him away from the Entrance Hall. Now he really did want to change out of his damp robes and sodden socks.

POMONA deposited her files onto her desk while the young wizard, unsure of himself, took a seat.

“There you go,” she said, summoning the brightest expression she could. “Shall I put on some tea?” she asked, settling in behind her desk.

Tristan made a noncommittal noise, and Pomona tapped her kettle with her wand.

She had finally gotten the reluctant student into her office, not out of his own volition, to be sure, but it was a slight victory nonetheless. It wouldn’t have been unlike him to simply refuse, or to swear at her and storm off. His attitude in classes had gotten better, Pomona had heard from his other professors, but at the expense of becoming withdrawn and sullen.

“Well I have to say,” she began, having decided to open on a positive note. “I’m very happy to see your taking a more active interest in your studies.”

Tristan looked bewildered. Clearly, Pomona had been correct assuming that the change in him was more the result of his just giving up, rather than genuine interest. Even Charity Burbage, Tristan’s favorite professor, had confessed that Tristan’s fire, which had been a positive force in her class, seemed to have gone out.

“That said,” Pomona continued as she busied herself with their teas. “You’ve been through an awful lot this year—not the least of it being the unfortunate incident with Miss Braithewaite.” Tristan’s eyes shot up at her suspiciously.

“What’s she said?” Tristan demanded.

“My sessions with Miss Braithewaite are confidential,” Pomona responded mildly, but her suspicions were confirmed.

Even if Laurel had been self-spelling near the end of it, she must have started off using recreational magic with others. Laurel, Tristan, Emily, and Isobel—what an odd little gang they were. Hogwarts had had students like them from time to time. Most recently it had been Miss Tonks and her crew, though none of them had ever actually been caught in any major drug use. Then again, these cliques that formed over the years were generally more alike than they were different: talented, to be sure, as well as deeply subversive. Too often, their natural sense of rebellion resulted in going too far and crossing some line, and rampant rule breaking was a common theme for these students. In fact, Pomona reflected, it was in much the same way that the first Death Eaters had emerged. Not that Tristan and his friends resembled those dark wizards in any way that mattered.

“I’d like to give you the opportunity,” Pomona went on. “To enjoy that same confidentiality. You are at a very difficult age, which is made worse by the stress of your upcoming exams. There is no reason you should go through this experience alone.”

“I’m not,” Tristan replied defensively. “I've got friends.”

“Yes, of course you do, and by no means did I intend to imply otherwise. But sometimes it can be helpful to speak to someone who isn’t also dealing with these same issues themselves,” Pomona offered.

“Ok,” said Tristan, defiant.

It wasn’t an agreement, it was a challenge. Give me your best shot, he seemed to say.

“You don’t get on well with the others in your House, is that correct?” Pomona asked, and Tristan conspicuously rolled his eyes.

“Would you?” he shot back.

“I can’t say,” Pomona responded. “Why is it, do you think, that you prefer the company of those outside your House. Feel free to tell the truth, there are no wrong answers here.” Tristan exhaled, signaling that he wanted very badly to rant about this precise issue.

“Well that’s the thing, isn’t it?” he began. “This Sorting nonsense. I don’t understand why the school thinks it ought to divide the students up based on some bollocks criteria, and then create these artificial rivalries between them. Based on Quidditch. It’s just some daft sport. And we put this mangy old hat on our heads when we’re eleven, and bam, we’re told that’s who we are, like we can never change. And the categories themselves are a joke. Hogwarts thinks you can only be either a teachers pet; a self-righteous loud mouth; a racist psychopath; or quite a nice person—but too bad—you’re a bit dim.”

“You know,” Pomona replied, amused, once she was sure Tristan had concluded his rant. “Professor Dumbledore would agree with you on that point.” Tristan offered a surprised expression as a response. “We’ve often discussed it; that perhaps we Sort too young at Hogwarts.”

“But why Sort at all?” Tristan demanded, refusing to give up any ground.

“I suppose some might say,” Pomona mused. “That Sorting does have its utilities. That students might benefit from a close alliance with like-minded individuals.”

“Yeah, the Slytherins and I are real like minded,” Tristan huffed, and brazenly produced a pouch of rolling tobacco from his school bag.

“I’m sure you know you can’t smoke in here,” Pomona said gently.

“I’m not smoking, am I? Just rolling one,” he shot back.

Pomona acquiesced, but sighed in disapproval. It was interesting, she thought, how cigarette smoking and drink or drugs were so often intertwined. Many older wizards liked their pipes very much indeed, but cigarettes, a muggle invention, occupied a separate social realm within the magic community.

Pomona had heard from an American witch that it was more common among Wizards on the other side of the Atlantic. As a newer country, their magical community had many more parallels with their muggle neighbors. While European magical education was exclusively available as either boarding or home schooling, the United States offered a number of day schools, and young witches and wizards would commute. As a result, drug use and recreational magic was more widespread in America, as students had considerably more unsupervised free time. At Hogwarts, so much was shared with Professors, and individual privacy was less available. Pomona weighed the pro’s and con’s of each of these cultures, but came out unsure of which was preferable, all things considered.

The traditional wisdom in Britain, if not elsewhere, was that recreational magic and self-spelling were the sole domain of those witches and wizards living on the edges of mainstream magical society. Families that had, for generations, home-schooled their children and passed down heirloom wands made of questionable materials. This class of rural people, many pure-bloods representing ancient lineages, were seen as backwards by the majority—their blood status hardly a redemption even in the eyes of the most ancestry-obsessed Slytherin. These individuals lived their lives with two-fingers up to the Ministry, resentful of the Statute of Secrecy, and carrying on without the slightest respect for magical law—or so many people imagined. Yes, a vocal minority of any group is quite enough to define their community to an outsider; Pomona had seen this many times before. While most of these families were respectable enough, the few that fit the stereotypes were enough to maintain a confirmation bias.

Pomona had been lost in thought, but Tristan didn’t seem to mind. He finished rolling a fag, then started on another one, keen to fill the time on his own terms.

“Your mother,” she began, convinced that the word barely told the whole story. “Has written me. She’s concerned, after what happened with Laurel, that you may be using recreational magic.”

“I’m not,” Tristan lied, deadpan, seemingly unconcerned about whether or not he sounded convincing.

“I told her that I have seen no evidence of such behavior,” Pomona informed him. “Having said that, it is clearly something that has affected you, if only in the form of Laurel’s addiction. I’d like to remind you, everything you say here is confidential.”

“Well, not everything, right?” Tristan shot back rhetorically, and met her gaze.

“No," Pomona agreed. "There are two exceptions."

Clearly, Tristan had had counseling before.

TRISTAN was walking around the perimeter of the lake smoking one of the fags he’d rolled in Sprout’s office. Dumpy old bat, he thought to himself. It was twice now that a professor had insisted on talking to him about his feelings, and twice that they had failed miserably. Talking about things, Tristan concluded, even mentioning them, just brought them closer to the surface. It was much better, he thought, to push them down, somewhere where they couldn’t be so loud.

Tristan sat down heavily at the rocky bank of the lake and ran one hand through his hair. Some of his wrath was bubbling closer to the surface, and he blamed Professor Sprout. He was furious with Laurel for being unable to hold her pain inside and acting on it, and for inviting him to act as well. He was furious at Isobel for her self-imposed managerial role—and worse, for failing, and having problems of her own. He hated Emily’s constant and unwavering sweetness and compassion, which only made her friends appear worse in contrast. Most of all, Tristan hated himself.

Little horrors from his first six years had been unleashed after his conversation with the potions master. A dark room without windows, a wooden playpen that represented the extent and boundaries of his entire world. Darkness, hoods, voices, names.

“Bones, Abbot, Longbottom, Potter..." Snape had said, and the stale air of his dungeon office was cold.
"The war left many orphans..." 

The sky was getting darker around Tristan as he sat on the shore of the lake. His cigarette had long since gone out, and he’d been painfully clenching his fist around a rock without realizing it.

He cast the stone into the lake, let out an animal yell, and felt around for another one. Tristan’s memories felt like a contamination of his psyche. He felt polluted, like the lingering touch of evil would never be washed clean.

Lighting another fag, Tristan thought about Emily. Emily, who’d lead a charmed life. A muggle born, whose childhood had been spent blissfully ignorant to the wizarding war. Tristan wondered what possible source of pain she could ever have had—outside of himself, that is.

Tristan thought of Emily, and for two reasons, he pulled up the sleeve of his robe, and put out his cigarette on the back of his forearm.

End Notes:

1. The lyrics Tristan listens to in his dorm are from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.

2. The words “I’m so ugly, but that’s OK cause so are you” are still from “Lithium.” The phrase "his will wasn't good" are loosely adapted from the same song.

3. The song “Killing an Arab” is by the Cure; it’s based on the existentialist novel, The Stranger, by Camus.

4. The CI text is, once more, from "Tristan" by Patrick Wolf.


Chapter 15: Torture
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ISOBEL was in agony as she lay in her bed, the hangings drawn, fighting the all-consuming urge to dash to the kitchens and put something in her violently protesting stomach. She wondered if this was how Laurel felt; if Isobel’s battle against food was in some way similar to Laurel’s battle against charms. 

Isobel decided that it must be, and admired Laurel for the first time in a long time. Laurel had sobbed, and whispered to Isobel about how it had felt like her whole body was screaming out for magic. About how every second involved the active decision not to take her pain away with her wand.

Then again, thought Isobel resentfully, withdrawal fades while hunger only grows more fierce.

The sound of the shower running in the washroom off their dorm had become a soothing white noise, and it jarred Isobel to hear it turn off. She was unnecessarily annoyed by the fact that she could hear Penelope changing for bed, as if it were somehow inconsiderate that Penelope even existed at all. (Penelope had recently taken having long heart-to-hearts with Ava Gardner about how Percy hadn’t kissed her yet, and how they weren’t officially boyfriend-girlfriend, and blah blah blah…) 

It was some time after Penelope had begun to snore that Laurel finally came up from the common room. Her mountain of makeup work had been keeping her up well past midnight every night, and she'd taken to climbing into Isobel's bed rather than her own.

Isobel felt guilty about it, but she’d long since grown frustrated by this routine. She felt it difficult to get to sleep when she knew Laurel would only wake her later. On most occasions, they would end up creeping back down to the empty common room where they could speak more freely, and remain there until well past dawn talking about Laurel’s feelings. It took three weeks to cover everything, and for the conversations to grow repetitive. Then of course, Laurel had gone and shagged Tristan--giving them weeks more material to analyze and dissect.

As Isobel had expected, her bedside was soon occupied by Laurel, who hadn’t showered and stunk of fags and stale sweat. Isobel tried to quell her resentment toward her friend, but her hunger pains were torture, and she felt incapable of offering support in her current state. After a few moments of whispered exchanges, Isobel suggested they go down to the common room. At least there she could crack a window and have a fag (they always helped repress her desire for food).

“Well, do you want to do it again?” asked Isobel, stubbing out her cigarette on the deep windowsill. They’d re-opened the Tristan discussion from the night before, and had addressed nearly every angle of the situation. Isobel found it best to ask direct questions because Laurel had a difficult time explaining her feelings.

“No,” said Laurel half-heartedly. “I dunno… Maybe?”

“Do you think you will?” asked Isobel. “Do it again?”

“I dunno.” Laurel hugged her knees to her chin.

“Well, if it’s all the same to you,” said Isobel. “I don’t think you should. It might mean losing Emily as a friend.”

Laurel groaned and buried her head in her knees in response. “Is that fair?” she begged, her voice muffled by her robes. “Em got off with loads of boys last year, and Tristan didn’t mind…”

“Laurel!” Isobel chastised, but her friend had a point. For some reason, that hadn’t counted to Isobel. “None of them were close friends of ours, and most of them are graduated now. So it’s not the same.” Isobel was satisfied by her own answer.

* * *

Isobel found it difficult to pay attention during Transfiguration the following morning, having only scraped a few hours of fitful sleep the night before. She knew her eyes were bloodshot, and her throat was sore from all the fags she’d smoked. Worst of all, she’d surrendered to an enormous breakfast (lack of sleep always seemed to intensify the rumbling feeling of hunger). Isobel wished she could just share an Alacratus charm with Laurel to help her through the day, but suggesting such a thing was out of the question. Instead she resigned herself to drinking far too much coffee, as she’d grown accustomed. 

Laurel sat beside her, gazing, glassy eyed at a series of diagrams in Intermediate Transfiguration depicting an owl turning into a pair of opera glasses. Laurel didn’t even pretend to pay attention to McGonagall’s lecture. After Transfiguration the two traipsed to Arithmancy--a fresh wave of torture for Isobel. She was uncomfortably aware of the Weetabix she’d gorged herself on over breakfast being digested, and wished desperately that she’d shown some restraint. More than once she considered taking a trip to the girls’ toilets to reverse her mistake. But enough time had passed that it would surely be a pointless exercise.

At lunch, even the look of food made Isobel nauseous. She wondered how she could have been so hungry before, and yet now feel so disgusted by the buffet at the table. Isobel thought she would have been better off skipping lunch to take a nap in her dormitory, but it was too late now. She pushed salad around her plate, too tired and too uncomfortable to pay much attention to the discussion around her. 

Isobel stepped outside of herself long enough to reflect furiously on Tristan. He was, as usual, sitting next to Emily—even now he’d gone and shagged Laurel, he was still leading the poor Hufflepuff on. How could he have been so stupid as to do anything with Laurel in the first place? Isobel thought.

Unexpectedly, Isobel’s anger turned into loathing, and she realized she didn’t even likeTristan anymore. He was moody and pretentious, he was a huge component in Laurel’s hexing, and now he was practically a womanizer. Everyone else (except for Laurel, who’d become incredibly self involved) consumed themselves so much with keeping him happy, but he was totally careless about how his behaviour affected others. Not to mention, he did have an undeniable Slytherin air about him, which the others were too sensitive to ever mention. He was haughty, and possessed the capacity for cruelty. While other Slytherin’s manifested their elitism as a preoccupation with blood status, Tristan’s took the form of snobbery about music and literature.

In the past, Tristan had been great. He’d buried his dark streak under a commitment to being kind and generous, and he’d been dedicated to having fun (probably selfishly, as a distraction from his own tiresome depression). He’d never seemed to mind, or at least didn’t let it show, when the others wanted to be girly, the way most young wizards would have. Now, though, he’d become all but unbearable. Tristan was, at best, a non presence—a vacuous space of sullen silence. At worst, he was a negative influence on Isobel’s friends, and threatened to break the whole fragile group apart. She wondered vaguely if there was some way to effectively kick him out of their circle, but to try such a thing would surely cause Emily and Laurel to turn against Isobel.

It wasn’t until Tristan smiled weakly at her that Isobel realized she’d been openly glaring at him.

“Defense then?” Laurel chirped while stretching her back. Isobel drained her cup of coffee and Tristan shoveled a few more bites of jacket potato into his mouth.

The three of them gathered their bags and climbed out of their seats, making their goodbye’s to Emily as they went. Isobel glanced back at her, abandoned at the Hufflepuff table. Cedric turned to Emily and said something, and Isobel felt a surge of affection toward him. Isobel followed Laurel and Tristan to Quirrel’s class and thought that Emily might be far better off with Cedric Diggory than with Tristan Bryce (Cedric was a year and a half younger than Emily, but he was quite tall).

Isobel was glad to see that the desks in the Defense classroom were arranged for a lecture, as she didn’t feel she had the energy for a practical exercise. Then again, they were covering Unforgivable Curses, so it would certainly be solid lectures for the next two weeks. Laurel and Tristan lagged a bit as they crossed the threshold into the classroom, and Isobel seized the opportunity to lead them to their usual table. She stepped aside briefly to allow Laurel to take the seat furthest to the right, then Isobel took her own, successfully situating herself between Laurel and Tristan. The three proceeded to rummage in their bags for parchment and quills.

“L-last week we finished our d-d-discussion of Imp-perio,” stammered Quirrel. “To review, can anyone t-t-tell me when the Imp-perious Curse was first d-developed?”

Penelope’s hand shot in the air, which annoyed Isobel. She’d wanted to get a question in near the beginning of class so that she wouldn’t have to speak again.

“Miss C-c-clearwater?”

“The early middle ages,” Penelope offered, without giving a specific year.

“And w-w-why was it originally in-invented?” Quirrel asked.

“To brainwash people into slavery,” concluded Penelope.

“G-good. A p-p-point for Ravenc-claw. And c-can anyone t-t-tell me what year it was b-b-banned?” asked Quirrel. Isobel jumped at her chance and quickly raised her hand, nearly upending Tristan’s inkwell in the process. “M-miss Mostafa?”

“The Imperius Curse gained Unforgivable status in 1717,” replied Isobel.

“Th-thank you, another p-p-point for R-ravenclaw,” said Quirrel. “Today we will m-move on to our d-d-discussion of Crucio.”

Tristan flinched, and this time his ink was upended. Isobel glared at him as a big black stain blossomed on her fresh piece of parchment. But her expression soon softened into one of confused curiosity. Between rushed whispers of ‘I’m sorry,’ Tristan siphoned off the mess with his wand, but had a difficult time—his hand was shaking violently.

After class, Tristan accompanied Isobel and Laurel to the Entrance Hall where they met up with Emily for Herbology. He still looked pale and shaken.

“Are you skiving off Binns again?” asked Emily as Tristan made out for the grounds with them.

“Yeah, don’t reckon I’m up to it,” he said, pulling out a fag. “Laters,” he said, turning toward the lake.

The three witches strolled across the muddy grounds to the Greenhouses, which were hot and even more humid than ordinary. Isobel and Emily borrowed bands from Laurel’s wrist and pulled back their hair. Isobel went about gathering their various supplies while Laurel identified the self-fertilizing shrub they had planted the previous week. It had only been five days, but their project had grown over a half meter. Isobel thought wistfully that the shrub’s incredible growth seemed appropriate; it had only been a few days since Laurel’s birthday, and a lot had changed since then, too.

“I don’t think we’ll be needing the dragon dung—unless you just like the smell,” Emily joked when Isobel set down the supplies. 

Isobel was clueless for a moment before she realized that, as per its name, their shrub was self-fertilizing. After she returned the dung the three got to work repotting the plant, careful not to tickle its roots lest it spontaneously shed all of its leaves. They had only just finished repotting and pruning when it came time to pack up their things and wash up. Laurel finished a new team label for their shrub (‘The Whinging Minges’) before they all sloshed back to the castle in the rain.

Isobel was damp and exhausted by the time she and Laurel took their seats in Ancient Runes. She retied her frizzy hair with Laurel’s hairband and longed for her four poster, hoping for a lecture she might sit through in a daze. To her disappointment, Professor Babbling handed out several ancient pieces of cracking parchment for the students to painstakingly translate. Isobel glanced at her and Laurel’s hand-outs, which were different (probably, wisely, to prevent copying), and sighed heavily while fishingSpellman’s Syllabary out of her rucksack. After an hour of double-checking and many crossings out, Isobel and Laurel traded their finished translations.

“I don’t think,” Laurel whispered as she frowned at Isobel’s work. “That ‘the horse is athorn to princes.’

“What?” whispered Isobel, harried, as she snatched back her translation. “Ugh, þorn and wynn look exactly the same in this script.”

“Professor,” Percy Weasley called, raising his hand. “Professor, some students are collaborating on their assignment.” Isobel and Laurel froze, eyes fatally sharp.

“Miss Mostafa, Miss Braithewaite, please keep your work to yourselves,” replied Professor Babbling.

“Seriously?” Laurel hissed at Percy. Penelope smirked to herself and held her head high, clearly overjoyed that her little non-boyfriend had gotten her roommates in trouble.

“How long would I spend in Azkaban for smothering Penelope in her sleep, do you reckon?” seethed Laurel as the two trudged toward Ravenclaw Tower to finally change into fresh robes.

“Oh you’d get off,” replied Isobel. “Just claim self defense. Her snoring probably qualifies as an Unforgivable Curse anyway.”

Once back in their dormitories, the two made quick work of showering and changing. Laurel decided she might as well just go down to supper in her pajamas, rather than sullying another pair of robes. Isobel convinced her to at least bring a cloak, but laughed at the idea nonetheless.

“You’re coming down in pajamas too?” Laurel asked from the edge of her bed when Isobel emerged from the bogs, drying her hair with her wand and already wearing her pajamas.

“No, but you have fun with that,” Isobel replied. “Going straight to bed. I’m bloody knackered.”

“Shall I bring you something up then?” asked Laurel.

Isobel shrugged ‘yes,’ she could always just throw it away after Laurel fell asleep and say that she ate it. With that, Laurel disappeared down to the Great Hall looking absurd in a cloak over her polka-dot pajamas. Isobel climbed into bed, still laughing to herself, and braided her long hair into a plait down her back before lying down. The combined effect of sleep deprivation and excessive coffee consumption made her feel loopy and hysterical. 

After over an hour’s tossing and turning, Isobel determined that sleep wasn’t coming just yet, and her time would be better spent doing coursework. What’s more, Emily had astronomy that evening, leaving Laurel and Tristan unsupervised in the corridor. Isobel climbed back out of bed and, in a fit of silliness, wrapped a cloak over her pajamas rather than changing into fresh school robes.

“Is this a trend then?” Tristan asked, referring to Isobel’s pajama/cloak ensemble, as she turned the corner into Cadogan’s Corridor.

“You don’t want to get caught like that,” Laurel said, spitefully.

“What? Is it against the rules?” asked Isobel. If she’d had more sleep, she might have thought of that.

“Bloody uniform infraction!” Laurel cried. “Snape wrote me up. I’ve got detention in his office all next week!”

“That seems extreme,” replied Isobel, sitting down.

“Well he’s got it out for her,” laughed Tristan, and Isobel resented his familiarity.

“I may have ‘accidentally’ spilled hair-growth potion on him during my last makeup session,” Laurel coyly explained. “He had to rush to Madame Pomfrey.”

“Tell her the best part,” Tristan goaded.

“Oh yeah, I spilled a lot on his crotch!” Laurel exclaimed, and all three burst into uproarious laughter.

“Poor Madame Pomfrey!” squealed Isobel, covering her mouth.

“We should take up a collection,” Tristan joked. “To pay for the therapy she’ll need.”

The three spent an enjoyable quarter hour abusing the potions master and procrastinating their work. It was Laurel who left first, exhausted from her and Isobel’s late night. Isobel was very much awake at this point, energized by a second wind, and decided to get some actual work done.

“Oh, your sandwich is just there,” Laurel said, indicating to a lumpy mass wrapped in a napkin.

“Cheers,” Isobel responded.

Laurel bowed out of the corridor, yawning, and left Isobel alone with Tristan. As soon as she’d gone, the atmosphere in the corridor billowed. Isobel had nearly forgotten her newfound hatred for Tristan. 

“How ‘bout Charms, then?” Tristan asked. “I’ve got my list of spell definitions if you’d like to copy.”

“I’ve done that one already,” Isobel sniffed. “How about Quirrel’s essay on Crucio,” she asked, at once wanting to wound, but also curious about how he would respond. 

Isobel accomplished what she’d intended; Tristan immediately blanched, and began fumbling with his parchment.

“N-n-no,” he stammered in a perfect imitation of Quirrel, although Isobel doubted it was intentional.

“Well then, we’ll just have to work separately,” snapped Isobel.

Tristan was silent for a long time, and only spoke again once his color had returned and his breathing had become more regular.

“I know that you’re mad at me,” he said. He stopped writing but didn’t look up. “I’d be mad at me too.”

“Then why’d you do it?” Isobel shot back, plunging the sharp point of her quill deep into her ink. 

“Because I’m stupid, and weak, and an all around bad person,” he wasn’t being sarcastic. “I’m honestly not sure why you lot hang around me.”

This melted some of Isobel’s chill, and she looked sympathetically at the young wizard who’d been her friend for so many years.

“It’s just, you know Emily likes you,” Isobel said earnestly. Tristan said nothing. “Why don’t you just go for it with her? You’re practically a couple as it is.”

“Because I’d only end up hurting her,” he confessed.

“You’re already hurting her!” cried Isobel. “And, what, it’s ok to hurt Laurel?”

“It was different with Laurel,” he said. “It was about wanting a break from hating ourselves all the time. It was about wanting to shag someone who might actually remember that it happened the next day.”

Isobel was struck; she’d somehow managed to forget about what happened to Tristan over the summer.

“Oh Tristan, I’m sorry. But,” she cast about for the right thing to say. “It just wasn’t a smart thing to do. It'll eventually get awkward with Laurel, and what if she starts getting hexed again? And what will happen if Emily finds out? She’ll be devastated. I mean, Emily hasn’t slept with anyone all term. Emily. That means something!”

“I know,” Tristan groaned, dropping his work entirely. He leaned back, and hit his head three times against the stone wall—not very hard, but not gently either.

“I mean, you could have got off with any witch in the school and it would have been fine. It didn’t have to be Laurel,” Isobel remarked wildly.

“Hardly,” Tristan rolled his eyes. “You three are the only witches at Hogwarts who don’t think I’m some sort of psycho, and I suspect even you lot have your suspicions from time to time.”

“Well,” Isobel laughed. “I’m sure plenty of sixteen-year-old girls would make an exception and shag a psycho if he looked like you.”

“Why thank you,” Tristan replied, with a dandyish bow. Tristan wasn’t traditionally attractive, but Isobel recognized that he had a quality. Over the years, several Hogwarts girls had developed masochistic crushes on the enigmatic Slytherin. But Tristan was ever-aloof, and grew suspicious whenever someone took too keen an interest him. His admirers usually replaced their affection with resentment after only a few weeks. Rumours typically followed shortly thereafter. 

It was for this reason that Isobel and Laurel had fallen out with Penelope Clearwater. 

“What about Angelina?” asked Isobel. “She’s fit.”

“Eh,” Tristan said. “I think she only got off with me because she was curious about the whole ‘I’m a Slytherin’ thing. And I only asked her out get on the same level as Emily anyway.”

“Penelope might still fancy you, and apparently she’s single after all,” Isobel joked.

Tristan offered an exaggerated frown. “The blonde one in your House? Half the school still believe the story she spread second year about my being the illegitimate child of the dark lord, so..."

“I’ll file her under ‘maybe,’ then,” Isobel giggled.

“I should switch teams,” Tristan sighed. “Cedric and I would make a beautiful couple.”

“Really?” asked Isobel, mistaking his joke as genuine.

“No,” Tristan shot her down.

* * *

The following Wednesday Isobel skipped supper to check out several books she and Laurel needed from the library. As she climbed the stairs, she saw Quirrel step out from his study.

“Ah, M-miss Braithewaite,” he said. “I’ve j-just been grading your essay on the Cruciatus C-curse. S-superb work, a-as always.”

“Thanks,” beamed Isobel.

“If you d-don’t mind, I’d b-be interested to here m-more about some of the foreign m-magic you referenced. I’ve just p-put on some tea.”

“Alright then,” Isobel replied, and followed Quirrel into his office.

Isobel was proud that her professor took such an interest in her essays. While other students simply regurgitated the information from their textbooks, Isobel liked to draw connections with other magical methodologies, and hypothesize possible links with a spells’ archaic conception. Ever since her first essay, Quirrel had taken to inviting her for tea in his office to discuss the points she brought up in her papers. He seemed keen to understand the magic she referenced, and wasn’t so quick to label non-western practices as necessarily dark, just because they weren’t recognized by British magical law.

“N-now you discussed in your paper,” Quirrel began as they took their seats. “Other magical torture methods from abroad.”

“Yes,” Isobel enthusiastically responded as she accepted a cup of tea. “They’re different, in a lot of ways. Crucio inflicts severe physical pain, but these are more often about causing psychological torture—usually by putting ideas, or images, into people’s heads.”

“Fascinating,” he responded (his stutter was far less pronounced when it was only the two of them). “How precisely do these spells work?”

“Rituals mostly, or like the voodoo dolls I mentioned” Isobel explained. “Sometimes they’re done in tandem with a type of dance, and brewing a potion which the caster drinks.”

“Amazing,” Quirrel was rapt. “And where did you read about these?”

“Oh,” shrugged Isobel. “More stuff I got off my dad. He only knows about it from foreign witches and wizards he met in the field.”

“Would you be able to direct me to m-more information?” asked Quirrel. “I’d l-like to look at it f-from a defense perspective.”

“I dunno,” said Isobel. “My dad’s research on this stuff hasn’t been published, and it’s unlikely it ever will be.”

Quirrel looked disappointed.

End Notes:

1. “The horse is a joy to princes” is a line from an ancient Anglo-Saxon rune poem of unknown authorship. The rune for 'joy' is wynn, while the rune for 'thorn' is þorn--if you look them up, you’ll see they look could look tremendously similar in certain scripts.

2. The CI text is from "Paper Bag" by Fiona Apple--which hadn't actually been released yet at this time. But! It had been written. If you read this story carefully enough, you might notice that music is capable of time travel (as it's a time based medium).

Chapter 16: Interrupted
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EMILY was worried that Isobel was skipping another meal. She could have just gone to the library tomorrow, Emily thought. In contrast, Laurel appeared to have gotten her appetite back since returning to school.

Everyone had been on edge since the start of Spring term, but after everything that had happened before the Holidays, Emily had expected as much. All that day Isobel had been less distant with Tristan, and Emily hoped that she’d finally begun to forgive him for his hand in Laurel’s charm addiction. Emily and Tristan finished their supper and bid Laurel farewell as she turned to the dungeons for detention with Snape. 

Emily was excited to spend some time alone with Tristan, outside of a few minutes at meals. It had been a week since they’d had the corridor to themselves—and the week was made longer by the fact that he hadn’t written once.

“I’m sorry I haven’t written,” Tristan said, dropping his school bag heavily, once they arrived at their seventh floor hideout.

“I thought mind reading was my job,” Emily joked, and Tristan smiled weakly. There followed an awkward silence. “And speaking of the thestral in the room--”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s like an elephant being in the room, only invisible…”

“Oh, I see what you did there,” Tristan evaded.

“You really should tell them.” Emily knew her eyebrows were arching at the middle beseechingly.

“No,” Tristan said flatly.

“You can’t go on keeping this from your friends!”

“I hate to say this to you,” sighed Tristan. “But you really can’t understand.”

“Because I’m muggle-born?” she asked, defiant.

“Yeah,” Tristan replied without backing down. “They remember the war, they knew people to have died. Reading about it in a book, or hearing about it from other people isn’t the same as having lived it.”

Emily didn’t know what to say to that. 

“Do you wanna blow off homework?” Tristan asked, standing up again. “Let’s just take the night off.”

Emily could tell he would get cagey if they didn’t go on a walk, so she agreed.

They pushed through the oak front doors of the Entrance Hall and Tristan automatically set a course for the lake. It was freezing, but the rain had temporary let up and the worst of of the snow had been carried off with it. The lake was beautiful at night, and the clear sky allowed moonlight to ripple across its inky surface. Tristan lead Emily to a rocky bank where they climbed up onto a wide boulder.

Emily wrapped her cloak tightly around herself and began to shiver, and Tristan responded by summoning a shimmering protective sphere around them to keep the wind and cold out.

“Hey,” Emily began tentatively. “Can we hotbox this bubble?”

“Oh my god I love you yes,” rushed Tristan enthusiastically, who immediately got to work rolling a spliff.

The interior of their bubble soon became thick with smoke, and their eyes grew red as they reached the end of their joint. Emily took a long pull off the spliff, and held the air in her lungs. She turned to Tristan, waving a hand towards herself in the universal symbol for ‘shotgun’-- they had to conserve what little pot they had left. Tristan brought his mouth to hers, their lips only just grazing. Emily blew the smoke into his mouth while he inhaled.

They took turns with this technique until the roach could no longer be held between two fingers, and needed to be stubbed out. Emily never told Isobel or Laurel about her and Tristan’s marijuana-conservation-tactic, knowing the Ravenclaws would read too much into it. But whenever Emily and Tristan were alone and running low on weed, they closed their eyes and brought their lips together. It wasn’t a kiss, but it wasn’t far off either.

LAUREL had her second detention with Snape on Wednesday evening, which was a shame, because it meant she had to miss Astronomy with Isobel. She couldn’t skip any more lessons if she was ever to dig herself out from under the mountain of catching-up that threatened to crush her. Slowly, Laurel was transitioning away from her previous nihilism, and starting to feel real anxiety about her upcoming exams. For the first time that year, the importance of her O.W.L.s was finally hitting her. Laurel knew it was entirely possible that she could fail all of her exams, and be forced to leave Hogwarts without any qualifications. In that event, she wouldn’t even have a choice; her only available career option would be to pursue a life of homelessness and hex-head-dom.

Laurel knocked on Snape’s dungeon door, and briefly considered the possibility that her stunt with the hair growth potion hadn’t been worth it.

No, it definitely was, she corrected herself.

The potions master let her in and glided, robes-a-billow, to his cabinet to retrieve the potions she’d begun re-labeling on Tuesday. It was tedious, and dangerous, work to open the many dusty bottles and take samples to test. Some had labels that were only faded, but still legible, yet Snape insisted she test them too, just to be certain.

“Now there should be thirteen bottles here, and I only count twelve,” Snape frowned to himself. “I have a very strong sedative, incredibly difficult to brew, which I do not see. Have you catalogued it already?”

“What was it called?” asked Laurel, checking the list of potions she'd ticked off.

“Draught of Tranquility,” replied Snape, looking over the tray of phials again. “It takes a deep indigo. Effervescent.”

“I haven’t seen it,” Laurel said too quickly, thinking of the bottle Fred and George had nicked for her birthday; the bottle rolled up in a jumper at the bottom of her trunk.

Laurel had been consumed in her work for an hour before the monotony broke.

There was a bottle labeled with two words, the first letter of which appeared to be an ‘L.’ Laurel glanced down the list of possibilities, and determined ‘Living Death, Draught of’ to be the most likely. Carefully, she uncorked the concoction and removed a sample with an eyedropper, depositing several drops into a test-phial. Next, she tipped crushed porcupine spine into the potion to see if it would react with the asphodel. Just as the sample began to fizz, Laurel saw Squirrel bouncing, in his awkward gait, past the dungeon doors. Laurel heard Snape’s chair screech across the floor behind her.

“Excuse me, I will be back presently,” he said, and he slid out of his office.

It was a moment before Laurel realized that her sample was still emitting a high pitched wail. She stoppered the phial to cut off air and stop the reaction, then glanced around for a blank label for her newly confirmed ‘Living Death, Draught of.’ Not finding any, she leaned her chair far back, the tips of her fingers grasping at the labels on Snape’s desk. 

Her chair lost its balance, and Laurel had to seize the edge of the heavy marble-topped desk to keep from crashing to the ground. The neat little tower of labels scattered into disarray, and an envelope slipped out from beneath the class roster and fluttered to the ground.

Laurel did a double-take: ‘For Tristan R. Bryce.’

The inscription, written in Snape’s spikey hand, stared up at her from the ground. For a wild moment Laurel wondered if it was a love letter, but more reasonable curiosities cast the whimsical thought aside.

Laurel checked the door. Snape’s footsteps were still fading, and she would have time for a peek before he got back. Laurel picked the envelope up gingerly and unsealed it with her wand before dumping out the contents: photographs.

Laurel was bewildered.

The first was of an unfamiliar young woman holding a baby and glowering into the camera. Laurel wondered why on earth Snape would be giving Tristan photographs of random people, and turned over the picture. Belvina and son, 1975 was scrawled on the back. Laurel picked up another photo. This one was a group shot, probably taken around the same time as the first. Several young witches and wizards wearing fine dress robes posed inside a mouldy looking sitting-room. It took only a moment to register a familiar face among the crowd: young Snape. Within seconds, Laurel recognized other familiarities—the young woman from the previous photo, but others as well. Known Death Eaters, many now in Azkaban. Laurel groped for another picture, this one a family portrait with several adult members. The fourth was of a small boy, perhaps four or five, and grubby. The child blinked at her from the photograph, clutching the bars of his playpen like a prisoner. Laurel was struck.

She flipped back to the family photo and found she recognized those round eyes, slight chins, and narrow mouths. Even the expressions on the adult faces betrayed something of Tristan “R” Bryce.

“Miss Braithewaite,” came the cool voice of the potions master from behind her.

EMILY and Tristan gazed out at the lake in silence, the heat from their bodies warming the protective sphere to a pleasant temperature as they enjoyed the silhouette of the castle; a jumble of towers and battlements perched on the high cliff-face above the lake.

They had forty-five minutes until curfew, and Emily could think of no better way to spend the remaining time than to sit with Tristan and watch the candle-light dance behind the castle windows. Tristan finished rolling two fags, and handed one to Emily. He lit hers off the end of his wand before igniting his own.

“I don’t mean to make it small,” Tristan said.

Emily found, even without the psychedelic potion, that she already knew exactly what he meant.

“It’s not just because you’re a muggle-born that you don’t care, it’s because you’re better,” he explained, and confirmed what Emily already knew he meant. “A lot of muggle-borns figure out right away what Slytherins are about, and they aren’t quick to change their minds. When you introduced me to Isobel and Laurel, do you remember how they acted?”

Emily did.

“It would be like that again.”

“But this time they know you,” Emily plead. “And I honestly don’t think anyone, anyone who understood what happened, would think any of it was somehow your fault. You didn’t choose your family. Think about the actual choices you’ve made. It’s your choices that define you.”

“I’ve made big mistakes, Emily,” Tristan said without looking at her, and she wondered if she might see him cry for the very first time. She found herself tearing up instead, tried to blink it away.

“No Tristan, that’s your problem,” she insisted. “You make everything so big, but sometimes it’s ok to make something small.”

“There are some things that don’t deserve that,” Tristan said, meeting Emily’s eyes. “Some things should be given the attention they deserve.”

The conversation was tricky and their language had grown vague, so actual meaning was difficult to squeeze out of their murky half-truths. Emily couldn’t tell if Tristan was pivoting away from a difficult subject out of cowardice, or toward a difficult subject out of courage. He evaded as he breathed.

LAUREL inhaled--sharp and shallow--aware of her own heartbeat.

“This, I believe,” Snape said calmly. “May have been the last straw, Miss Braithwaite.” Snape slowly began collecting the photographs and returning them to their envelope. “I will speak to Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall tomorrow to negotiate the terms of your expulsion.”

“Oh yeah,” Laurel cried--loud, and more confidently than she felt. “Well what if I tell them to check your arms for any tattoos, then?”

“Do not threaten me, Laurel,” Snape's voice was cold and measured. “I have never lied about my past. What’s more, I suspect that if we conducted a search of your dormitory, we might just find the potion that has so suspiciously vanished from my private collection.”

“Then you’ll be ok with it when I tell the whole school how you spent the war?” Laurel shot back, and Snape’s eyes narrowed.

“Out,” he said once, hardly audible. “Out!” he screamed, and Laurel tore from his office.

It was less than an hour to curfew as Laurel raced to Ravenclaw tower taking the stairs two at a time. Isobel was getting dressed for bed when Laurel crashed into their room, but Laurel didn’t spare a moment to explain. Instead, she flung open her trunk and began ripping through its contents. Finally, she found the rolled up jumper, and shoved the lumpy mass down the front of her robes. Laurel shot from the dormitory as quickly as she’d come, leaving the contents of her trunk strewn across the floor, and a confused Isobel in her wake. Laurel didn’t even know whether or not her friend had tried to follow her; her speed toward Cadogan’s Corridor rivaled only her original ascent through the castle.

But Laurel found the corridor empty. She glanced at her watch: forty minutes to curfew. Tristan couldn’t possibly have retired to the Slytherin dungeons so soon.

The lake.

In a matter of seconds Laurel was flying back down the stairs, through the oak doors, and out through the grounds.

EMILY and Tristan looked at each other for a long time, and Emily marveled that the moment had finally arrived. She’d seen it coming for months, and part of her wanted to make it last forever. At the same time, she didn’t want to let it pass without acting. She knew that she’d always liked Tristan, and she knew everyone else could see it too.

Many girls, Emily had found, second guessed boys. They tended to assume that they weren’t liked when they obviously were. This usually resulted in excruciatingly long courtships and coy game-playing. This denial was also how girls justified stringing along blokes that were hopelessly in love with them.

Others suppressed or avoided their attractions. These girls were the types that only go after blokes once they get girlfriends. To these girls, it seemed, that if a boy wasn’t already desired, he might not be worth wanting.

Emily was of neither camp.

It wasn’t for lack of self-awareness that Emily and Tristan’s relationship hadn’t yet turned physical. Their feelings for each other hadn’t actually changed since they were eleven. Rather, they had changed around their feelings. Because they never denied their affection, the reality of their relationship hadn’t yet needed to be addressed. But it was inevitable, everyone knew, and the only question remaining was: when?

Emily had spent a lot of last year thinking about ‘being ready,’ and since last June, she had worked on becoming that.

Emily leaned her head, slowly, toward Tristan, and he followed suit. She let her eyes close and—

“Tristan!” a voice rang out in the distance. “Tristan!”

It was Laurel, speeding toward them. Tristan shot bolt upright, bursting the protective bubble he’d formed around them. All at once the thick haze of smoke dissipated, and the bitter air assaulted Emily’s hands, neck, and face.

Laurel was out of breath by the time she reached the boulder. She pulled a rolled up ball of fabric from inside her robes and stammered, incoherent and frenzied.

“You have to hold on to it, Tristan, the potion the Weasley’s nicked. My room will be raided and I’ll be expelled if they find it.”

“Yeah, ok, calm down. I’ve got it, don’t worry,” Tristan promised.

He should have chucked it in the lake right then.

LAUREL rushed back to the castle, leaving Tristan and Emily at the edge of the lake. She wanted to get back to the common room as quickly as she could. Hopefully Tristan could slip in, undetected, and stash the potion before anyone could determine that she’d passed it off to him. The Slytherin dungeons weren’t far from the Entrance Hall, and Tristan always came back just seconds before curfew anyway. Laurel pushed into the Ravenclaw common room and paced wildly, pressing her hands against either side of her head.

“Laurel?” called Isobel timidly from the top of the stairs.

Isobel had one of Laurel’s pajama shirts in her hand, and appeared to have been restoring the scattered contents of Laurel’s trunk. She cautiously descended the stairs, still gripping the plaid flannel top.

“I’m gonna be expelled, Isobel. They’ll kick me out, and” Laurel suddenly remembered the photos, and how the whole trouble with the potion had begun. Her own fear and self-preservation had temporarily wiped the revelation from her memory. “And I found out something really bad,” Laurel said, clapping her hand over her mouth. “It’s really big.”

Isobel wrapped her arms around Laurel as she broke down into fitful tears. Between her fear that she would be expelled and her shock at the truth about Tristan, Laurel’s mind was ablaze with intense, confused emotions. All she wanted to do was erase them.

“What is it? What’s going on?” asked Isobel, squeezing Laurel tight.

“Snape,” Laurel managed between sobs. “He thinks I stole a potion from him, and he wants to expel me.”

“But you didn’t,” replied Isobel. “Did—”

“Fred and George,” explained Laurel. “My birthday.”

“Fuck,” said Isobel, releasing Laurel.

“But I mean, that’s not grounds for expulsion?”

“After everything else this year, and--” Laurel exploded into another fit of tears. “He’s a Death Eater.”

Isobel looked stunned.

“Well,” she recovered. “That’s… big. But, also, you know, not that surprising.”

“There’s more,” said Laurel, pressing her lips together against her tears.

“What?” asked Isobel.

“Tristan,” started Laurel, before realizing that she couldn’t tell Isobel what she’d discovered—that this was probably a very important, and long protected, secret.

“What about him?” urged Isobel.

“He snogged Emily,” Laurel said, another confused detail floating up to the surface of her mind. Now that the imminent threat of expulsion had subsided, Laurel had the space to process the scene she’d just interrupted.

“Oh fuck,” replied Isobel.

* * *

Laurel was lying next to a sleeping Isobel, awake, and unable to stop the night’s events from stumbling around inside her head. She hated letting Isobel attribute her tears to Tristan kissing Emily--objectively, Laurel would be happy for it--but it was the perfect disguise for her reaction to a much more serious discovery.

After an hour of nothing but Isobel’s rhythmic breathing to distract her from her scared and confused thoughts, Laurel crept carefully out of the bed, carrying her wand with her to the toilets off the dormitory.

* * *

EMILY was smoking out one of the circular windows of the Hufflepuff Basement, her head just above ground level, reading Tristan’s note for about the millionth time.

I’m sorry about tonight. You should probably stop hanging around me. I really am a lot worse than you realize. It’s better nothing happened.

A quiet tear slid down Emily’s cheek as she pushed up the left leg of her pajama shorts, revealing an angry patch of skin—shiny and discolored. A second tear joined the first on Emily’s chin as she took a deep drag of her fag, then pressed the glowing cherry out against her left thigh; the fresh burn joining the scars.

* * *

Emily arrived to breakfast before sunrise on Thursday morning, keen to avoid Tristan and knowing he wouldn’t be up yet. While she munched her Wheetabix, she weighed the pro’s and cons of simply skiving off Divination.

They had been working on dream interpretations for the better part of the term, and Professor Trelawney tended to ask highly personal questions while assisting her students with their readings. Emily was not inclined to share her dream from the previous night, and wanted very much to avoid Trelawney’s probing questions about Emily’s private life. She determined to make something up, ideally something involving the banalities of muggle life, to prevent the old fraud from analyzing too deeply. While Emily considered what she would say, the dawn unfolded in pink and gold above her.

She soon had to shield her eyes against the morning sun blazing from the enchanted ceiling, vaguely annoyed to have such a concern whilst indoors.

Isobel strode into the Great Hall earlier than usual, unaccompanied by Laurel, and without any makeup on. She looked anxious and upset, and Emily instantly assumed the worst. Perhaps Laurel had gotten into trouble after last night’s episode? Or had gone back to self-spelling? Maybe she’d had another hex out? Isobel sat down sideways next to Emily and leaned in confidentially.

“Can you come with me? I need to talk to you,” Isobel said, her eyes wide and her brows knit with concern.

“Is it Laurel?” Emily asked.

“What?” Isobel appeared stunned. “No, she’s fine,” she recovered. “I just… really need to talk to you.”

“Can’t it wait ‘til after breakfast?” Emily begged with a glance at her bowl of cereal, hoping that Isobel might follow her lead and have a decent meal for the first time in weeks.

“No,” Isobel insisted, eyes darting to the doorways.

The cryptic discussion took on a furtive air; Isobel seemed unwilling to be discovered by their friends. She started tugging at Emily, insisting they leave the Great Hall.

Isobel practically dragged Emily out to the grounds, becoming increasingly distressed as each second passed.

“What is it?” Emily demanded, stopping dead, when they were nearly to the lake. Isobel pulled out a roll-up and passed it to Emily, as if she’d rolled it special, in advance of this confrontation.

“It’s about Laurel and Tristan,” Isobel said, biting her lip. “They’ve been, well, getting together.”

“I know,” Emily said, annoyed by her friend’s concerned face. “I’ve known for ages.”

“Do you know about what happened at Laurel’s birthday?” Isobel asked, infuriatingly confident that Emily did not. “Em, they shagged,” she said after a pause.

“I know,” Emily lied. “Blimey Isobel, there’s no need to treat me like I’m some little child that will fall apart if you don’t protect me. No one asked you to get all involved in our lives, so stop acting so put-upon all the time.”

Emily threw the unlit fag back at Isobel and turned on her heel back toward the castle. She had never felt so foolish. Of course she was the last to know, and it would be Isobel—the self-assigned mum—to tell Emily.

Emily: the sweet-but-gormless one of the group.

In less than a year, Laurel had become a mess, Isobel had become a skeleton, and Tristan had become a tosser. It seemed logical that Emily should be allowed to change roles as well.

Emily skipped Care of Magical Creatures, not yet sure how to act when she saw Tristan, and opted to visit the owlery instead. She scrawled down a rambling note and tied it to the leg of an unfamiliar owl, not entirely confident that her letter would make it to its recipient.

Later, Emilytook lunch in the kitchens in order to avoid the lot of her 'friends.' Surely they would discuss everything behind her back. She pictured them sitting around the Hufflepuff table sharing concerned whispers about Emily’s fragile emotions.

Then again, without Emily’s invitation to the table, they probably wouldn’t be sitting together at all. Thinking of this ignited a savage pleasure within Emily, and she smiled to herself. Then she imagined Tristan cut adrift and forced to take his meals with the Slytherins, and burst into tears. Emily hated the idea of causing Tristan torment but found herself enraged by her own continued empathy.

It was Emily’s nature to cry whenever she confronted any strong emotion.

“Miss Emily, why is you so sad? Why is you not eating with your friends?” squeaked a tiny house elf in a crisp little toga.

“Oh Bonky,” Emily cried. “I’m so sorry to bother you like this, I just didn’t know what else to do.”

“Tis no bother,” the little elf insisted. “Bonky is just sorry to see Miss Emily sad.” Bonky gently laid a miniature hand on Emily’s.

Emily was sitting in a far corner of the kitchens and trying to stay out of the elves’ way. She’d told them not to fuss over her, but the elves waited on her nonetheless. Emily felt guilty imposing on their hospitality; they were so busy sending plates up to the Great Hall as it was.

“It’s just,” Emily sniffed, and Bonky stared up at her with massive yellow eyes. “I’m not getting on with my friends at the moment.”

“Sometimes,” Bonky confided, lowering her voice. “ We house elves is not always getting along, so we is needing to find other elves to work with.”

“Does it ever get better?” Emily asked, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. “Do you ever start getting on again?”

“Sometimes we is,” Bonky said thoughtfully. “But we is needing to work together, and house elves is good at working together even if we is not wanting to.”

At the house elves’ insistence Emily left the kitchens with enough food to take her supper in the Hufflepuff common room. She sat double Defense with the Gryffindors, but skived off History of Magic where she would have to see Isobel and Laurel. With her O.W.L.s rapidly approaching, Emily knew it was unwise to miss any classes. But Given Binns’ style of lecture, she figured it wasn’t much different simply reading the chapter on her own in the library.

Emily pored through twenty fascinating pages about the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy summit of 1692. She was sure that the ghost’s monotonous droll would have been inadequate to convey the seven week drama that had included delegations of goblins, centaurs, merpeople and giants. Emily thought, with a pang, that perhaps Tristan had the right idea in skipping more history classes than he attended. Her mind drifted painfully to Isobel, who she knew would take issue with A History of Magic’s phrasing.

It’s hardly universally recognized, Emily imagined Isobel saying. A vast number of populations around the globe are fully aware that they live amongst witches, wizards, and magical creatures!

Emily’s eyes began to sting as she pictured the conversation. Tristan would be intrigued by the idea, and manage to transition into a rant about the magical community’s responsibility to share their knowledge with the muggle population, and finally cure muggles of cancer and AIDS. Laurel would make a hilarious joke, or at least she would have, if this imaginary discussion took place before all of her trouble began.

Madame Pince ousted Emily from the library shortly before eight, and she arrived back in her common room--for the first time in a long time--well before curfew.

Emily had quite forgotten what it was like at this hour. First years played gobstones near the fire while fourth years laughed and joked from the squashy armchairs. A group of fellow fifth years were huddled around a table, quizzing each other on charms, and Emily timidly approached them. She was friendly with the others in her House but didn’t mix with them much more than was necessary. It wasn’t out of dislike, but rather a preoccupation with spending time with her other friends. To Emily’s relief they appeared delighted to welcome her into their study group.

“What about Hilaris?” Archie Summerbee asked some twenty minutes later. “Does it have a wand motion or—ow!”

Judging by the way Amisha Singh was glaring, she appeared to have stomped on his foot under the table.

“No,” offered Emily, anxious to appear unfazed. “Strength is determined by intent, and the volume of the incantation.”

Rather than relaxing her fellow Hufflepuffs, Emily’s knowledge of Cheering Charms resulted in an awkward hush.

“So how’s that work nonverbally?” Archie piped up again, and this time it was Gemma Cauldwell to reprimand him with a sharp elbow to the ribs.

“Cheering Charms are highly unpredictable when performed nonverbally,” Emily explained, with as formal language as she could manage. “But I’m not sure about Chilling Charms,” she lied, wanting to change the subject. “How do you control the intensity?”

Emily listened with mock appreciation as Amisha explained the proper ‘swish’ length to chill a cup of tea to a drinkable temperature. The embarrassed atmosphere dissipated as they moved on to the D section in the index of A Standard Book of Spells. By half past ten, the study group had devolved into bewitching various objects into dancing across the table.

“Tarantellegra!” Hypatia Dagworth incanted at her quill, which in turn sprouted stocky little legs and started to lindy-hop. Michael McManus roared with laughter, inspiring a few exasperated seventh years to hush the raucous table.

“Sorry,” Michael called over as his fellow fifth years stifled giggles.

After a few minutes repressed laughter, Amisha began yawning, and packed up her school things. Gemma and Hypatia followed suit, and within a short time they each retired to the dormitories. Emily reflected that Hufflepuffs generally went to bed rather early. Then again, when she wasn’t at school and keeping up with her friends, Emily tended to keep the same early hours. It also occurred to her that she hadn’t had a fag all day.

Emily returned to her bed last, and her heart leapt when she saw the barn owl she’d chosen earlier at the owlery perched atop her four-poster. In her improved spirits, Emily had all but forgotten that she'd written the letter at all . Emily hadn’t had an address, and so had simplymade it out to, N. Tonks, Auror Office, Ministry of Magic, London.

So Tonks had done it, then! She’d made it to Auror training! Emily was overjoyed as she ripped open the parchment envelope.

Wotcher, Em!
I’m so happy you wrote me, please keep it up! Yes, I’m in training now, and I have a mentor. He’s very brilliant, at the top of his field, and quite mad. I’m over the moon.

As for your troubles—I hate to say it, but this kind of stuff happens. Year Five at Hogwarts is rough. From experience, I can tell you absolutely every student freaks out before OWLs, and it’s not just school, it’s life. It’s a hard age.

Stay strong, surround yourself with good people, and keep in mind what’s important. I’m not saying ditch your friends, just that sometimes you just don’t stay close with the kids you met on day one, and that’s OK. There are enough great people in the world, Emily Madley will never be at a loss for allies.

And it might blow over still.

On to the finer point about Tristan—and I know I lectured you about blokes last year, so I’ll be brief: it’s about what you want. Remember that always. It’s not just about him, or his terms, or any other lad’s. I’m actually quite pleased to hear you’ve taken a break from the un-fairer sex, and this whole experience with Tristan proves you were right to take it slow. If Auror training has taught me anything, it’s to follow your instincts. And we Hufflepuffs have the strongest instincts of all. Stay true to yourself, and you won’t cock it up—I promise.

I can’t say how glad I was to hear from you.

Don’t be a stranger!

End Notes:

1. Gemma Cauldwell is a relative of Owen Cauldwell, who was Sorted into Hufflepuff in 1994 (GoF). Hypatia Dagworth is a relative of Hector Dagworth-Granger (OotP), founder of the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers. Michael McManus was a beater on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team in 1993 (PoA). Archie Summerbee is the descendent of Felix Summerbee who, ironically, invented the Cheering Charm.

2. The CI text is adapted from Nirvana's "Drain You."

A/N: phew, so a lot went down in that chapter. This is the first time that the POV rotation got significantly disrupted, because everyone’s lives are getting messier and more tangled. The whole story has been setting the stage for the primary conflicts and drama, and this chapter is where that explosion finally happens. The shrapnel flies from here on out.

Chapter 17: The Disappearing Room
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The Disappearing Room

TRISTAN gazed out the window at the lake. February was nearly spent and the weather remained steadily bitter, as if it had dropped into an unpleasant lull and had simply given up there. His mind was far from McGonagall’s lecture, already considering the Care of Magical Creatures class he would be attending within an hour’s time.

It had been nearly five weeks since he’d almost kissed Emily by the lake. She didn’t ignore him outright, and maintained a civil attitude during when he couldn't be avoided, but all familiarity had vanished. When Tristan had written Emily that note, after Laurel had passed over her contraband, he hadn’t actually expected Emily to stay away from him. He had been sure, and selfishly comforted, that Emily would remain his friend.

But Tristan wasn’t daft enough to think that his note was the sole reason that she’d severed contact. In fact, it probably hadn’t had any effect on her decision at all. Tristan had noticed that Emily had also stopped hanging around Isobel and Laurel, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine what might have inspired the change.

Over the past month, Emily had taken to spending her time with her fellow Hufflepuffs, and try as he might to ignore it, Tristan experienced a surge of jealousy whenever he saw her with Cedric Diggory. Surely, he thought, nothing would happen between them. At the same time, he realized he had no reason to be so sure. It wasn’t his business, either way; Emily was probably better off in the company of the Hufflepuffs. What she did and whom she did it with was her decision, and Tristan’s only choice was to try to accept that... Cedric is a bit younger though, Tristan thought, not her style.

He kicked himself for thinking it.

As he slouched through the castle after Transfiguration, Tristan crossed paths with Isobel and Laurel. Isobel averted her eyes while Laurel grimaced. He and Laurel still spoke, but it was always covert, even if she tried to pretend it wasn’t.

* * *

"One bag is one galleon," George explained. Tristan and the twins were huddled together in Cadogan's Corridor. "All outdoor grown, premium quality kush."

"Yeah, I know Lucas' stuff," Tristan replied. The price and quality were familiar to him, but Tristan enjoyed drawing out the sale anyway.

The Weasley twins had remained friendly with Tristan, but clearly wanted to stay  neutral about whatever had broken apart his most notorious clique. They spent the most time with Emily, who they'd gone into business with. Emily had been receiving almost weekly shipments from her older brother over breakfast, which she parceled out to the twins to sell.

"I'll take the lot," Tristan replied, after making a show of examining the bag.

"You bought a full ounce last week!" Fred looked dumbstruck. "You can't have been through it already!"

The twins may have been working with Emily, but they saw Tristan nearly as much.

Tristan paid the twins handsomely for the spliff before they made their leave of him. It was true, he still had most of an ounce still buried in his trunk--but buying off the twins meant having contact with people. And, however indirectly, contact with Emily. Without his friends, Tristan's world had become incredibly small. He marveled at his own selfishness in the months past, and how little he'd appreciated their all being together when they were.

He’d even gone to the last Quidditch game, just for something to do. The match had been short; Gryffindor beat Hufflepuff in what had seemed like a matter of seconds, which wasn't surprising. Weekly Hufflepuff practices seemed to involve more smoking with Emily than actual flying. 

Tristan had got to see Snape on a broom though, which was something.

For what it was worth, Tristan still spent his free evenings in the corridor, but with only the mad little knight for company. Tristan amused himself by describing various muggle technologies to the medieval portrait, whose reactions were alternately impressive and absurd. Once, at the mention of the World Wide Web, Sir Cadogan had declared war on ‘Sir H. Titipee,’ and torn off on his squat pony.

“Don’t forget about Lord Colon Slash-slash,” Tristan had called after him, but there was no one left to appreciate the terrible joke.

* * *

Saturday was Emily’s birthday, which should have been perfect. It was made all the more perfect because, falling as it did on the 29th of February, she only had a proper birthday once every four years. It should have been huge. And after everything she’d done for Tristan when he’d turned sixteen, it should have been him to make it special. But Tristan had single-handedly destroyed everything, and had lost any right to participate in the anniversary of Emily’s birth. He’d started writing her a birthday note, which soon stretched on to cover a lengthy scroll of parchment, but ultimately discarded it. She clearly wanted to be left alone, and it would have been unfair of him to deny her that after everything he’d done.

Tristan was sitting by the lake sampling the stolen Draught of Tranquility from a flask in a sort of private, somber birthday celebration. The potion was indeed a successful sedative, and all the dark and thorny thoughts that had been roiling inside of him for the last several weeks seemed to float away. It was like taking a vacation from himself, and he felt the sensation of floating, suspended, in some cleansing water that washed away all of the bad. His mind had just begun to drift pleasantly when Laurel found him.

“Hiya,” she said, too brightly.

Since they were out by the lake, she must have assumed they could pretend like nothing was wrong. At that precise moment, it felt like nothing was. Laurel perched herself on an adjacent rock, and the two of them shared a spliff.

“Where’s Isobel,” Tristan asked, exhaling.

“We aren’t conjoined twins, you know. We can go places separately,” Laurel rolled her eyes.

“Could have fooled me,” Tristan quipped back.

“Oh, she’s gone after Emily,” Laurel sighed, stretching, and trying not to seem upset. “It won’t work though. Em’s furious with her.”

“Why Isobel?” Tristan croaked, inhaling, the passing the joint to Laurel.

“I suppose,” she considered. “It’s easier to be mad at her, that way she doesn’t have to be mad at you.”

Tristan closed his eyes, feeling the sting of that sentiment. This was what he appreciated about Laurel: their friendship was destructive, and messed up in a thousand different ways, but it was always honest. Nothing was left to implication, nothing was concealed, and they never said anything except what they really meant.

“Destroying the evidence then?” Laurel asked, peering into Tristan’s flask. She took a swig, scrunching up her nose as she did. “It’s the bubbles that get you,” she coughed.

Before long they’d polished off the remainder of the potion in his flask, and shortly after that, Tristan began feeling ill. The marijuana on top of the draught, of which he’d had far above the recommended dose, made him feel nauseous and disorientation. He tumbled off his rock, hoping to walk it off, but retched instead. Laurel insisted on performing Alacratus, to even him out. The charm was somewhat successful in countering the effects of too much potion, and his train of thought started running faster--but the thoughts they carried were still dim.

LAUREL and Tristan had fallen into it again. She’d managed to convince him to give her a cheer, and then had insisted he do one too so that ‘it wouldn’t be weird’ that she did. Her thoughts were, as they always were when she cheered, immediate and wild. Once again, Laurel and Tristan’s better judgment had lost.

They tore through the castle, stoned and feverish, searching for privacy. But the castle was fighting back. Stairwells switched more rapidly than usual, and familiar hallways spat them out in unexpected passages. Hogwarts antagonized the intruders like a body battling an infection. Laurel and Tristan might have left the castle as students, but they’d returned as manic lust monsters.

“I would live outside. I don’t need walls. I’ll live in a bubble, one that takes the air in but takes the cold out, and stops the rain--” Tristan was babbling disjointed half-thoughts.

Show some decency you putrid excuses for magicians,” screeched the portrait of a hairy warlock.

They stumbled toward the stairs to Cadogan’s Corridor, but remembered that Isobel would be there and doubled back, hitting a dead end.

“I would live in your bubble. We could all live there. And we could have a bubble kitchen, with a bubble ice-box, that uses all the cold from the air that we took out--” Laurel’s mouth was on autopilot.

You besmirch the illustrious founders of Hogwarts with your wickedness” seethed a painting of a matronly old witch, clearly offended by the wild students’ haphazard snogging.

Laurel, cackling, dragged Tristan by the hand back the way they’d come. He was feral; eyes shining, delirious. His every gesture sweeping and untamed.

“Maybe there’s a spell to wash your brain. Lather it up and wring it out, and take out all the bits you don’t need.”

Swine! Buffoons! Lacking basic dignity and decorum!”

“What’s the opposite wanting? Not satisfaction, or just ‘not-wanting’--like, the inverse of desire itself?”

How dare you terrorize this most noble institution!

They found a door, beyond it, a room, but they didn’t take in much of their surroundings. Tristan and Laurel had left themselves out by the lake a long time ago.

* * *

Tristan was gone when Laurel woke up. She should have been hurt, but was tepidly glad to have the privacy. At that moment, Laurel couldn’t feel much of anything.

What was that? She demanded of herself, trying to piece together what she’d done. She’d scared herself.

“Kiss me like it’s the first time,” Laurel says, wanting something clean. Tristan does. He summons a slow sweetness, an unexpected tenderness. It’s almost perverse in its intimacy. “That’s how you should have kissed Emily.” She admits, but she doesn’t know why.

“Fuck Emily,” Tristan says.

Never before had Laurel felt so out of control. The girl of a few hours ago had seemed like someone else entirely.

Laurel adjusted her robes, and took in the room for the first time. It seemed to like some sort of storage space. A massive old mirror, nearly as tall as the ceiling, stood in the middle of the room on a pair of gilt, clawed feet. Laurel decided it was as good a place as any to have a fag, and began rummaging in her pocket for rizlas. Just before she could light her cigarette with her wand, the door creaked open. Laurel froze.

Framed by the doorway was none other than the headmaster himself. And there was Laurel: sitting on the dusty floor in the early hours of the morning, a roll-up hanging from her lips, squinting up against the light streaming in from the bright corridor beyond.

“Miss Braithewaite, what a pleasant surprise,” Dumbledore said in a cheery voice as he strode into the room.

Laurel was stunned. She’d never spoken personally to the headmaster, and was shocked that he even knew her name. Then again, after her hex out and subsequent committal to St. Mungo’s, it was unlikely he hadn’t heard of her. Her shame was devastating, and she hastened to hide her cigarette.

“Er,” she said, not sure where to start explaining herself.

“I was under the foolish impression that students would be unable to access this room,” Dumbledore said in a light voice. “Absolutely my fault, to be sure.”

“I’m sorry, I was just—” but Laurel didn’t know what she was ‘just...’

“You see,” Dumbledore went on, apparently unconcerned with her reasons for trespassing. “It’s the mirror,” he said, casting a glance at the ancient looking-glass in its ornate frame. “I’ve been trying to find a temporary place where it is out of the way of students. And I dare say,” he added confidentially. “I seem to be failing spectacularly.”

The two were silent for a moment, Dumbledore looking in deep thought.

“Would you like to see how it works?” he asked after the pause, eyes twinkling.

“Er,” Laurel replied, still wondering when exactly she would get in trouble.

“Take a look,” the Headmaster said, beckoning her in front of the mirror. “What do you see?”

“Myself, I guess,” Laurel replied.

“Ah, but do you recognize any differences?” Dumbledore inquired.

“Not really,” she responded, examining her odd, inexact reflection.

“So am I to understand,” he began curiously. “That when you look into the mirror, it functions as any other mirror would?”

“Well no,” Laurel replied. “Not exactly. I mean, it’s not just a reflection.”

“And what would you say the difference is?”

“I dunno, I guess,” Laurel thought for a moment. When she pushed a strand of hair, her ‘reflection’ mimicked the motion; but it wasn’t quite her mirror image. It was smiling, for one. “I suppose I just look, you know, happier?”

“Fascinating,” Dumbledore exclaimed. “You see, Laurel, when I look into the mirror, I see a great number of things. I see myself in the context of a very different life. A life in which I have not made the same mistakes. I see,” he explained. “The life I believe I would have, had I been a much wiser man.”

Laurel was struck by the very notion that a wiser man than Dumbledore might exist; she’d read his chocolate frog card.

“Do you understand why this makes you so unique?” he asked of Laurel.

She shook her head, thoroughly lost.

“This mirror reveals the deepest desire of whomever should look into it. Some will see themselves surrounded by riches, others will see themselves as more beautiful than they believe themselves to be. It seems that what you desire is something incredibly pure, but also infinitely more complicated. According to the mirror, which I must tell you is very accurate, your greatest desire is simply to be happy. This is to say, Miss Braithewaite, that in all other areas of your life, you are otherwise content.”

Laurel considered the headmasters words. They sounded stunningly incorrect.

“Now while that may seem a simple thing, the great flaw of this mirror is that it provides no instruction,” Dumbledore stopped. “Yes…” he mused to himself. “It would be vastly improved if it provided some instruction…”

Dumbledore trailed off and contemplated for some time. Laurel thought it best not to interrupt.

“Now,” he said, his attention snapping back to Laurel. “In my old age, many have accused me of having lost a marble or two, but if I am not mistaken, you are in Ravenclaw House?”

“Yeah,” replied Laurel.

“Ah, a picture grows clear,” Dumbledore clapped his hands together. “It is an unfortunate hazard among many young Ravenclaws that they seek always to achieve, being as they are, under such a great deal of pressure to perform spectacular things. As such, students too often fail to find satisfaction. While dissatisfaction can be a powerful motivation, and many have been fueled by it to accomplish greatness, we must always stop to appreciate our little victories. Why just today, I determined the most brilliant method of devising passwords for my office,” Dumbledore leaned in, and lowered his voice conspiratorially. “They are all names of sweets,” he confided with a wink. “You see that way, even if I forget, I have a good shot at a guess." Dumbledore winked. "Quite a small victory indeed!”

Laurel wasn’t sure whether everything the Headmaster had said was some subtle brilliance, or if he’d indeed lost quite a large sum of marbles.

“Now, it is rather late, and I must suggest that you trot along to bed. As it is well past curfew, I should like to offer to walk you. It is your choice, but I don’t imagine that Argus Filch would be so bold as to dock me any House Points.”

Laurel accepted his offer, stunned, and the unlikely duo made their way together towards the Ravenclaw tower--silent, apart from the Headmaster’s humming. At the top of the spiral staircase, Laurel tapped the bronze eagle knocker against the heavy door. The eagle sprang to life.

“What is the source of meaning?” requested the eagle.

Laurel glanced at Dumbledore, and an answer came to her instantly.

“Interpretation,” she declared.

“True,” agreed the eagle, and the door swung open obligingly.

Without stopping to think, Laurel turned around and hugged the headmaster around the waist. He did not appear upset or surprised when she did, and gave her a warm pat on the back.

“Goodnight,” Dumbledore said, waving Laurel through the door.

Isobel was still awake when Laurel climbed up to the dormitory, sitting up on her bed and worriedly gnawing on a fingernail. Laurel produced her wand, and offered it to her friend.

“I think you should take this,” Laurel said, determined. “You can give it back to me before lessons and things, but it’s too much temptation to have it on me all the time.”

Isobel took the Laurel Wand, but said nothing—her face betrayed her respect and appreciation. With that, Laurel climbed into her own bed, and closed the hangings around herself.

TRISTAN woke up several times on Sunday, but determined to repeatedly roll back into sleep. He wanted nothing more than to put off facing the events of the previous evening. It was already sunset when he lost the war against wakefulness, but he still lay in his bed for a long time. He’d crept out of that supply room the night before in order to find the gent’s, but hadn’t been able to locate the room again after. Tristan had checked behind every door on the seventh floor, but failed to discover Laurel behind any of them. That unfamiliar room seemed to have vanished entirely. He'd wandered, distressed, until well after curfew before resigning to his dormitory.

Tristan experienced a cold shiver when he remembered the strange, enchanted object he’d passed when he’d taken his unintentional leave of Laurel. He’d expected it to be a mirror, but rather than a reflection, it offered the image of someone else entirely. The other sixteen-year-old boy on the other side of the glass had reflected Tristan's every gesture, as a mirror would, but did not resemble Tristan in the least. Something about it had disturbed him—a familiarity in the foreign double’s features. Tristan had seen, he’d thought, something of his mother and father, the Bryce’s, in that otherwise unfamilliar face: the crinkle of Mary’s smiling eyes, Eddie’s nose. It wasn't the first magical object Tristan had encountered whose purpose he didn’t understand, but he was struck by how the ancient ‘mirror’ appeared to take images directly from Tristan’s own mind. He hadn’t the faintest idea what it meant.

Having finally grown too uncomfortable to remain in bed, Tristan reluctantly climbed out of his four poster and began dressing himself for what little remained of the day. Over the past weeks, Tristan had taken to sleeping twelve hours or more. Some nights he went to bed as early as seven, but still woke up exhausted and rushed for his morning classes. He’d managed to sleep twenty hours straight through the previous weekend, and decided that doing so was far preferable to existing in reality--even if his dreams were tortured and anxious.

Tristan sat double potions with the Hufflepuffs the following Monday, casting sideways glances at Emily, who was working a few tables down with Amisha Singh and Gemma Cauldwell. Without her, Tristan had the Hobson’s choice of either partnering with a Slytherin, or concocting his Confusing and Befuddlement Draught alone. Snape hadn’t protested to Tristan’s working without a partner the past several weeks. Despite Tristan's abysmal potion-making, the professor reserved any harsh criticism. At least, Tristan thought, Snape was finally forced to recognize that Emily had been the one responsible for their old team’s prior success, even if he withheld any praise.

Distracted, Tristan tipped too much sneezewort into his bubbling cauldron. The potion immediately went opaque black, and began issuing a peppery steam that made his eyes water. Tristan frantically leafed through his Encyclopedia of Potions, and Snape swept across the dungeons toward his sneezing student, eyeing the ruined draught.

“A half scoop of powdered Moonstone and one drop syrup of Hellebore to set it right,” Snape determined in a low voice. “Be sure to turn down the heat as you stir in the scurvy-grass, lest it combust.”

Snape slid back across the classroom, and Tristan rummaged through his potions supplies for the ingredients the professor had suggested. A handful of Hufflepuffs, and even a few Slytherins, glared at Tristan over their shoulders as he measured out his Moonstone. His face grew red and hot. Were a Hufflepuff to have made the same mistake, Snape surely would have curled his lip and hurled abuse at the student—not helpfully suggested how to fix the error. The injustice of Snape’s favoritism felt like a spotlight, and Tristan shrunk, embarrassed, at the attention it attracted. Turning down the heat below his cauldron, Tristan was relieved to see that his potion had stopped issuing any acrid vapors, but remained outraged at Snape’s bias nonetheless. Emily, Tristan noted to himself without meaning to, had finished brewing a perfect potion, and bagan stoppering a sample in a delicate glass phial. She hadn’t shot any backward glances at Tristan.

Near the end of the class, while the students milled about replacing potions ingredients and scouring cauldrons, there came a knock at the dungeons. Snape, who was examining Archie Summerbee’s sample at his desk, rose to answer the door. It creaked open to reveal the miserable person of Argus Filch.

The Potions Master and the Hogwarts Caretaker exchanged a few hushed words, attracting curious glances from the students. Mrs. Norris was winding her way around Filch’s ankles, her eyes fixed, disturbingly, on Tristan. While no expert on the facial expressions of cats, Tristan could have sworn that she looked triumphant.

“Please remain behind after class,” Snape hissed as he passed Tristan’s work table.

Ten minutes later the students filed out past Filch and his terrible cat, who hovered expectantly outside the dungeon door. Tristan remained, conspicuously, in his seat, having to endure each curious pair of eyes slide over him as the other students made their way past him to lunch.

To Tristan’s horror, even Emily spared him a sideways glance.

“Mr. Bryce,” Snape approached Tristan after the dungeon had been vacated. “Over the past few weeks, Argus has discovered that many of the rule breakers he has searched have been carrying a certain substance. The students claimed it to be a potion ingredient, but after several such interactions, he wisely sought my counsel.”

Tristan’s mouth went dry. He was certain he knew precisely what this ‘certain substance’ might be, but didn’t know what it had to do with him.

“Professor Sprout has identified the material,” Snape went on. “And Professor Burbage has confirmed that it is, in fact, an illegal muggle substance of immense psychoactive potency.”

There came a pregnant pause. Snape was glaring down at Tristan, expectantly, and Tristan wasn’t sure what exactly Snape expected him to say.

“Well,” began Tristan, insolently. “I wouldn’t say immense.” It was all he could manage.

Was Tristan being accused of using said ‘muggle substance’? Well, he did. A lot. Mystery solved.

“And I checked,” Tristan added. “Marijuana hasn’t even been classified as illegal by the Ministry.”

“Oh you've checked, have you?” Snape flashed dangerously. “So you think that entitles you to distribute this material among your fellow students?”

Tristan was taken aback. So they thought that he was the one responsible for the sudden influx of marijuana into Hogwarts...

“While you were checking ‘marijuana’s,’ legal status, did you go so far as to check the Hogwarts rules?” Snape spat. “Were you surprised to discover that all intoxicating compounds, regardless of legal status, are banned for students at Hogwarts?”

Tristan could only blink, still trying to absorb the charges laid before him.

“This is a school,” Snape concluded in a furious whisper.

Tristan had to watch while Filch searched his dormitory for evidence. The caretaker unceremoniously flung aside cassette tapes and novels before he found Tristan’s stash. Weeks of excessive purchases from the Weasley twins had left Tristan with a damning quantity weed. Professor Sprout, who had been brought along to identify any contraband, examined the contents of the plastic bag briefly before offering Snape a curt nod.

“Is that all of it?” Snape demanded of Tristan.

“Yeah,” Tristan gulped. “I reckon.”

“Keep searching,” Snape commanded, and Filch renewed his forage through Tristan’s possessions.

Filch set aside an innocuous seeming item and Tristan flinched. Snape saw Tristan’s moment of panic, and his eyes slid over to the empty glass bottle that had once resided in his own potion stores.

Why had Tristan been so careless? In the weeks since Laurel had entrusted Tristan with the contraband, he’d been sure to hide it under Higgs’ bed in the event that this precise situation might occur. Indeed, the remainder of the potion was still concealed there in Tristan’s flask. But he’d stupidly left the empty bottle in his trunk. Tristan could have kicked himself.

“Mr. Bryce,” said Snape icily. “I believe I may recognize that bottle. Am I mistaken?”

Tristan could have lied. He could say that he just happened to have the same bottle, just as he could deny selling weed to the students of Hogwarts. Tristan wasn’t guilty on either charge, but that wouldn’t do. While they might not suspect Emily immediately, they would figure it out eventually. Either that, or they would go after Laurel. Surely she was next on their list of suspects, and any search through her belongings would certainly reveal some amount of evidence. What’s more, she was already suspected of having stolen the potion, and Snape might correctly deduce that she’d passed it on to Tristan to hide.

After everything this year, Laurel would surely be expelled if Tristan denied the crimes he was innocent of. Even if Laurel didn’t get blamed for dealing drugs, the truth about Emily and the twins would most definitely surface--and the twins’ record was hardly clean. Tristan had never considered it before, but it suddenly occurred to him how very illegal it probably was for Lucas, a muggle, to ship marijuana internationally via owl to his younger sister’s school.

“I take it from your silence that I am correct,” said Snape. “Did you steal the potion yourself, or did someone else?”

“I nicked it,” Tristan replied. “Ages ago.”

“And the marijuana?” piped up Professor Sprout. “How did it come to enter the school?”

“Just in my trunk. I bought it in London.”

“Are we to believe you acted alone on both counts?” Snape asked.

The potions master looked angry—furious—but also disappointed.

“Haven’t you noticed?” Tristan exploded. “I haven’t got any friends any more!”

MARY finished her lunch in the Ministry of Magic cafeteria and crossed the vast gleaming lobby toward the lifts. She was disappointed to see Lucius Malfoy waiting as well, and hoped privately to get a separate carriage. Mary wasn’t so lucky, and found herself speeding down the many levels alongside the unpleasant aristocrat.

Lucius found any reason he could to slink around the Ministry and throw the weight of his influence at unsuspecting clerks. Mary knew him from her days at the Division for Magical Education, when Lucius was bidding for the position of Hogwarts governor—a position he won. Confined to such a small space with the pompous wizard, Mary privately wondered if Lucius ever suspected...

Shortly after the end of the Wizarding War, Mary transferred to the Child Protection Office at the Ministry. There were so many orphans, and an increased demand for Social Workers. Twenty-four years old and idealistic, Mary spent several fulfilling months reuniting children with aunts and grandparents. Occasionally, Mary saw truly distressing cases, but none so much as little 'Tristan.'

After the arrest of his remaining family, Aurors had discovered the little boy in the decaying manor. Six years old, small for his age, and showing signs of severe neglect and chronic abuse. He'd been filthy and underfed, kept in a windowless room and confined to a magically enhanced playpen. Healers soon discovered that inadequate access to light had permanently damaged his vision. He spent his time in Ministry custody as an inpatient at St. Mungo's.

Shortly after being discovered, a woman came asking after him--adamant that he should come into her care. The witch's interest in the boy had caused a screaming row between Mary and her supervisor, and Mary had nearly been fired over it. Luckily, Tristan's case was confidential, and the Child Welfare office could not confirm or deny that he was in custody at all.

“The family have money, a good home, and their own child appears to be perfectly well looked after,” Mary’s boss, Mrs. Kim, had shouted. “And What’s more, they actually want him. Few families want to adopt older children, and Tristan's condition is especially poor. Caring for him would be a massive undertaking for any family. In these cases, we try to locate the closest living relatives, and they are it.”

“They’re only tenuously related! And there seems to be a lot of unanswered questions about the father’s loyalty during the war,” Mary had insisted.

“He has been acquitted of all charges by the Wizengamot,” Mrs. Kim replied coolly.

“And I’m sure that proves his innocence,” Mary scoffed. “We both know that they’re dark wizards. How could you think that they could possibly provide a good environment for him, after everything he's been through?”

“Mary, you can’t expect our office to make decisions based solely on your suspicions,” Mrs. Kim huffed. “From what I could tell, that woman seemed to exhibit genuine affection for the child, and that’s the best we can ask for.”

Mary cast about for a more convincing, less sentimental, argument.

“The Ministry has already determined that it’s in Tristan’s best interest to undergo a change of identity,” Mary began calmly. “And we both know that that won’t be possible in their care.” Mrs. Kim paused thoughtfully. Mary had offered a solid point against the placement. “And if ‘genuine affection’ is your only criterion for a decent home, Eddie and I can take him. Tristan already knows me, it’ll ease his transition.”

With that, Ministry adoption papers were produced, signatures were gathered, and Tristan Bryce entered the world.

Standing in the Ministry lift beside Lucius Malfoy, Mary couldn't help but feel a pang of sympathy for the Malfoys. The adoption of ten years previous had been quiet, and with Tristan's identity under government protection, Narcissa never found out what had happened. As far as the Malfoys knew, Tristan might have died from neglect.

Mary’s sympathy didn’t last, however. Surely Lucius would have put the pieces together if he ever bothered to ask about Mary’s son, but the haughty wizard had no interest in the child of a muggle and mudblood. He had never even asked Tristan’s age.

“Mary,” Lucius bowed his head almost imperceptably, rousing her from her memories, as the lift made a bumpy stop on Mary’s floor.

“Lucius,” she replied, nodding back. Such was the extent of their interactions.

Mary pushed her office door open, and found her secretary, Sandra, looking nervous.

“Any messages?” Mary inquired, and Sandra dithered at her desk.

“Yes,” Sandra said as she rifled through a stack of parchment. “One from Hogwarts,” Sandra blushed. “It’s about your son.”

“Is he alright?” Mary started, suddenly overwhelmed with worry as a thousand familiar fears flooded her.

“Yes,” began Sandra tentatively. “He’s in trouble.” The secretary’s embarrassment deepened. “He’s been suspended.”

Fifteen minutes later Mary was marching, furious, toward the colossal castle from Hogsmeade. It had been over sixteen years since Mary had traced this path, and she’d never imagined she would be making this trip under these circumstances. Or perhaps that wasn’t true, she supposed. After all, she and Eddie had been laissez-faire in their parenting, and were probably overly permissive of their son. He smoked openly in his room, went out into the city at all hours, and they never stopped him. It was her own fault if Mary’s son was getting into trouble at school.

To be sure, Mary’s heart had broken into a million pieces when Tristan had first come home smelling of tobacco; when she’d started finding loose rolling papers in his room, and circular burns in his clothing. She and Eddie had lectured, had tried putting their feet down, and had told him how much they hated it, but nothing would do. Eventually, they could only manage to grit their teeth disapprovingly, and eventually he stopped trying even to hide it. Mary was at a particular loss to tell him he shouldn’t smoke, and Tristan seized every opportunity to throw her sentiments back at her.

It’s just that Mary had always had more patience with Tristan’s behavior than, perhaps, if he’d been her natural son. Considering the trauma he’d experienced during the first years of his life, Tristan had managed to grow up so well. Some depression and some behavioral problems were, Mary reasoned, to be expected. As such, Tristan had grown expert at grasping any liberty his parents offered, expanding it well beyond what they’d intended. Mary painfully wondered if she’d inadvertently held him to too low a standard; if she'd damaged her already fragile son.

Surely, Mary and Eddie had done the best they could, and they loved him unconditionally. Surely she’d given him a better life than the Malfoys would have. Mary’s resolve strengthened. She reasoned that it was far worse to grow up to be prejudiced and spoiled, than it was to sell marijuana. Then again, if Tristan had fashioned himself a drug dealer by age sixteen, where might he be ten years down the road?

Minerva McGonagall met Mary at the Hogwarts gates.

“Professor,” Mary called, seeing the familiar face.

It was a comfort, even in Mary’s shame, to see her old Head of House. McGonagall grasped Mary’s hand in both of hers, and offered a sympathetic squeeze.

“Mary dear, it is good to see you, despite the circumstances,” the deputy headmistress said, leading Mary to the castle.

“Yes,” Mary agreed weakly. “Although I do wish the circumstances were different, professor.”

TRISTAN was grounded. His parents had never tried the punishment, and were hazy about how to enforce it. Theoretically, Tristan was to remain in his room and do his coursework independently, and he wasn’t to leave the house. But both of his parents worked during the day, and Tristan was left unsupervised most of the time.

For the first few days Tristan hadn’t subverted the penalty in any way, save for their ‘no smoking’ rule. He’d expected to be expelled from school merely to be suspended. He’d fully anticipated his parents might disown him, only to be grounded. While he hadn’t stolen the potion, he did drink it. While he hadn’t the sold the drugs, he did use them.

Not to mention the other many crimes of which his parents and the school were ignorant. Tristan determined that the disciplinary action he now faced was relatively mild, and resigned himself to endure it.

For the first few days.

By Friday, Tristan’s confinement had become excruciating. He marveled at his luck: somehow, his world had managed to become even smaller still. His legs ached for lack of use, and being stuck inside was making him cagey and anxious. Even during the coldest of winter, Tristan relished his time out of doors.

I’ve spent enough time stuck inside for a lifetime, Tristan thought to himself. He couldn’t help it.

Men and women in cloaks, touching tattoos, smiling terrible smiles, if they look at you at all. Darkness, solitude, and physical pain so great you forget who you are, that you have a name, or that you even exist in three-dimensions. Every nerve in your body catching fire and screaming out at once...

Tristan crumpled, hyperventilating, one hand steadying himself on the back of his desk chair. Just as soon as he could stand again, he was out the door.

He walked for several blocks, fast. He walked away from his house, and if he walked quickly enough, he might outrun his terror. He had already crossed Waterloo Bridge before his breathing returned to normal. Now he actually had to pick a destination, if he didn’t, he might suffer another attack. He needed to keep moving, but he needed purpose to do so. He was near a tube station, and decided his favorite record shop was as good a destination as any. Soon, he was zooming north on the Picaddilly line toward Holloway.

Once back above ground, Tristan made his way up Hornsey Road, almost to Seven Sisters, and into the shop. The owner, Rob, wasn’t in, which was a shame. Rob was always keen to recommend new records and discuss various bands. The two employees were less interested in the teenage boy, and their attitudes tended toward smug and superior. Tristan flipped through the boxes of used vinyl, enjoying a half hours browsing before the shop employees grew bored of talking music with each other, and rounded their attention on him.

Dick, the more assertive of the shop employees, spent several minutes abusing Tristan for his interest in Nirvana, before shoving the entire Pixies discography into his arms. With a pang, Tristan thought of Emily.

While Barry, the more polite employee, rang up Tristan’s purchases—four full length albums and one EP—Tristan gathered some courage.

“Do you think I could get an application as well?” Tristan asked.

“To work here?” Dick demanded from the blues section.

“Yeah,” Tristan replied weakly. “It’s just, I’ve been suspended from school, and I’ll probably fail all my exams.”

“Why were you suspended?” Barry was curious.

“Selling drugs,” Tristan admitted, hoping to appear more grown-up and edgy.

“What kind?” Dick’s voice rang out again.


Dick rolled his eyes, and Barry raised his eyebrows.

After grilling Tristan about his all time top five favorite records, and criticizing his choices, Dick informed Tristan that his interests were too narrow and too ‘obvious.’ Barry explained that business hadn’t been great, and that the owner couldn’t afford to hire new staff. Tristan slouched, discouraged, out of the shop, a paper bag of records under his arm. Why bother with the interview if they weren’t hiring, he seethed as he boarded the tube back home. Apparently, there really weren’t any options in the muggle world for an accused drug dealer with no qualifications.

End Note: The record store Tristan visits is Champion Vinyl--officially making this story (probably the first ever) Harry Potter/High Fidelity crossover fic. All rights belong to Nick Hornby, except for the Rowling stuff (obv).

Chapter 18: The Question
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ISOBEL went through most of the week without realizing that Tristan had left the castle. He skipped a lot of classes as it was, so she simply assumed that his absence had been the result of his most recent indiscretion with Laurel. Isobel would have been furious with her fellow Ravenclaw, as it had been that poisonous relationship that had pushed Emily away from them all. But, in the days since, Isobel had noted a significant change for the better in her friend’s attitude. It was tedious hiding Laurel’s wand every night and recovering it every morning, but far preferable to the alternative.

“Tristan was out again today,” Laurel mused after Defense with the Slytherins.

“Yeah I saw,” said Isobel as Laurel handed back her wand.

They only had Herbology and History of Magic before supper, so Laurel wouldn’t need it again until Monday. Isobel skipped the beginning of History in order to store the wand over the weekend (Binns wouldn’t notice if she arrived late). She was cautious as she moved through the castle, not wanting to be caught skiving. After carefully peering around the corner, Isobel turned into the corridor leading to the Hufflepuff dormitories, and stopped in front of the painting of fruit. After checking again that no one was coming, Isobel tickled the pear in the still life, and was admitted to the Hogwarts kitchens. The little elves scattered as she stepped into their domain, averting their eyes and rushing to various tasks far away from Isobel. Gone were their days of gracious hospitality.

“We is not supposed to be having wands, miss,” an elf had told Isobel when she'd first thought of the kitchens as a hiding place.

“I just need to keep it here, I’ll put it out of your way,” Isobel had pleaded.

“We is not stopping you, miss,” the elf had responded, wide eyed. “But we is having no part in it.”

From that point on, the Hogwarts elves had treated Isobel like she was contagious every morning and night that she visited the kitchens, and they avoided the cupboard where she stashed the wand as if it might explode. Isobel felt bad exploiting the kitchens in this way, but she could think of no safer place (and the elves’ fear of the wand only made them more ideal caretakers).

Isobel pulled the painting closed behind her, guilty, but resolved. Laurel still didn’t know about the kitchens, or how to get in, and Isobel had no other choice. She was distracted, lost in thought, as she climbed the stairs into the Entrance Hall, and found herself face-to-face with professor Sprout.

POMONA looked the young Ravenclaw up and down; their little clique would be the end of her.

“And what exactly are you doing out of class, Miss Mostafa?” she demanded.

“I was—” the girl gulped. “I was looking for you.”

Pomona sighed, and directed the girl to her office. She’d been considering inviting, or demanding, Isobel to guidance for weeks. Pomona had encountered several eating disorders during her time as a guidance counselor.

“How can I help you,” Pomona asked, kindly, as Isobel took her seat across the desk.

“It’s Tristan,” the Ravenclaw responded, throwing Pomona for a loop. “It’s just he hasn’t shown up for classes or meals.”

“Yes,” Pomona recovered, adjusting to the unexpected topic. “Yes it was a very serious incident, but I dare say he’ll be back soon enough.”

“He hexed out,” Isobel guessed, and as she did, her world seemed to collapse.

“No, not at all,” Pomona assured her, startled for the second time. “No that isn’t the reason, dear.”

“Then what?” Isobel asked. “Where’s he gone?”

Pomona considered the situation. It was, she suspected, some violation of ethics to divulge the reason for a student’s suspension. Then again, it seemed cruel to worry the young witch unnecessarily.

“Mr. Bryce has been suspended,” came Pomona’s judicious reply. “I do not know for what period of time.”

“Why?” Isobel demanded, furious, presupposing some injustice.

“Mr. Bryce was selling narcotics to the students of this school,” Pomona replied, more severely than she had intended. Despite her liberal views on marijuana use, Pomona maintained that it was absolutely wrong to distribute the substance to children—and some of the students Filch had caught had been as young as thirteen.

“No he hasn’t!” Isobel insisted. “You got it wrong!”

“A search of his dormitory provided ample evidence,” countered Pomona, curt.

“Yeah I bet,” Isobel rolled her eyes. “But he’d never sell it, he wouldn’t spare it.”

“He confessed,” Pomona offered, hoping to eliminate further doubt. Isobel looked stunned, and groaned something that sounded like 'Emily.'

“I’ve got to tell Emily,” Isobel gulped, looking up. “It’s just,” Isobel glanced around, pained. “She’s been so worried.”

ISOBEL waited for Emily at supper. She should have sat History of Magic with Laurel, but when Laurel appeared at the Ravenclaw table, Emily was nowhere to be seen (probably out, carelessly sharing a spliff with some Hufflepuffs). It was twenty minutes before Emily sauntered into the Great Hall, her face pink with cold, flanked by the entire Hufflepuff team. How long until she shacks up with another seventh year? Isobel thought for a cruel moment.

She kept watch over dinner, but didn’t find an opening to speak with Emily. Isobel had to do it soon, tonight, and she had to do it in person—she couldn’t risk an owl. Finally, Emily excused herself, and headed toward the girls’ toilets. Isobel waited a beat, then followed.

“Oi,” shouted Emily, uncharacteristically gruff, as she emerged from a stall. “What’s with the stalking, then? You know I saw you watching me at dinner.”

“You’ve got to stop,” Isobel said, stronger than she felt.

Emily, who was halfway to a sink, froze and turned.

“What?” she asked, piqued, for some reason.

“With selling spliff, you and the twins both,” Isobel replied, and her voice had the edge of begging. “No more deliveries from Lucas, you’ll be caught. Get rid of what you have, I don’t care how.”

“Yeah, you don’t care,” Emily snarled, approaching the sink and turning the tap. “I swear,” she said, sparing a backwards glance. “It’s like you’re in love with me.”

The accusation came like a slap, and Isobel fought back.

“What’s gotten into you,” Isobel cried, shoving Emily, who looked stunned and wounded. “Can’t you see I’m trying to help?” Isobel pushed her again.

“Bugger off,” Emily yelled back, recovering, and shoving Isobel in turn. “I don’t need you to protect me all the time.”

“Don’t be so bloody dim,” roared Isobel. “They think it was Tristan,” Isobel shouted, then lowered her voice. “They caught on someone was dealing, and he confessed. He took the fall for you.” Isobel saw Emily deflating. “He’s been suspended.”

Emily reached into her robes pocket, and produced a piece of folded parchment. Isobel raised an eyebrow as Emily handed it over.

“Siouxsie delivered this Monday night,” explained Emily, her gentleness restored.

You have to stop doing what you are doing, it read.

“I didn’t know what he meant,” Emily went on. “I thought he was just being an arsehole, really.”

“Well like I said,” Isobel spat. “You’ve been dim. Just do as I said, yeah. Get rid of what you’ve got and stop the deliveries from Lucas, because I won’t help if you cock it all up again.”

Isobel shoved the note back to Emily, turned on her heel, and left the Hufflepuff alone in the girls’ toilets.

* * *

Over the next two weeks Isobel and Laurel discussed every angle of Tristan’s suspension, their distance with Emily, and Laurel’s role in their group’s destruction.

“Well it’s not just your fault, is it?” Isobel said again, they’d rehashed this subject several times already. “If Em wanted him, she would have gone for it. It’s not like she doesn’t know how to get a bloke in bed. And if Tristan really liked Emily, then it was up to him to go after her instead of you.”

“But it isn’t like that,” Laurel moaned, picking at a loose thread in the common room carpet. “We didn’t like each other in that way. It’s just once we did it and it wasn’t weird after, we knew we could do it again.”

“It wasn’t weird after?” Isobel countered rhetorically.

“I mean just with us two, it wasn’t. And he does like Emily, he really does a lot, he just didn’t want to hurt her.”

“Yeah shagging you was a great way to avoid that,” Isobel scoffed. “And what about you, doesn’t it hurt you that he liked her?”

“Well, it’s not like I’m properly jealous of her,” Laurel said. “I’d actually be glad of it if they got together. I suppose it’s just that I’d like to be a person who could be loved like that.”

Isobel crooned appropriately, and assured that Laurel could be loved and everything else a friend should say, but privately the sentiment struck a familiar chord within Isobel. She tried to recover:

“Well it’s not that Em really deserves all that love,” Isobel suggested cruelly. “She’s been a right bitch and a duffer.”

“Oh, Em’s great and you know it. She’s the best, really,” Laurel mused. “I know you miss her too.”

Isobel tried to shoot down the notion, true though it was, that she missed Emily. Emily had, even without meaning to, forced a question—a question Isobel didn’t want, and wasn’t yet ready, to ask.

It was Saturday, almost four weeks into Tristan’s suspension, and he hadn’t come back yet. This close to exams, Isobel wondered whether he’d be able to come back to Hogwarts at all next year. She was still angry with him for destroying everything, and she had no intention of being his friend again, but Isobel wasn’t unreasonable. She didn’t want him to end up destitute or dead.

Laurel, on the other hand, had finally managed to catch up on her coursework, and stood a fair chance at scraping a few O.W.L.s. They’d spent most of the day reviewing practical material like wandwork, which Laurel had been having an easier time of. Isobel wanted badly to finish an essay for Quirrel, even though it wasn’t due for another week (without meaning to, she kept drafting brilliant paragraphs in her head, and wanted to get them down before she forgot). Laurel really only needed practice, so Isobel handed over her own wand, and Laurel got to work transfiguring and charming. Isobel supervised her friend’s wand access as her essay grew to several centimeters of parchment over the requirement.

Around nine o’ clock, Isobel stretched and considered turning in her essay early. They’d barely left the common room all day, and she was happy for some exercise.

“Come on, I’m just getting really good at color changes,” Laurel pleaded, not wanting Isobel to go, taking with her both the wand, as well as the supervision it required.

“Yeah, I think you’re doing ace,” agreed Isobel. “You don’t need any more practice.”

Laurel groaned, and passed Isobel her wand back.

Isobel was glad for having dropped off her essay when she did, because Quirrel invited her in for tea, as she’d hoped. Her mind was on fire with new ideas, and she found her discussions with the Defense professor immensely rewarding.

“Obviously, it’s very crude magic,” said Isobel, an exciting concept almost fully formed. “But I think with some research and experimentation, wizards could absolutely free-fly.”

They had been discussing the possibility of flight, unassisted by broomsticks or carpets. The most serious issue with any theoretical model was landing: the impact would break your ankles.

“Suppose you just s-sort of,” Quirrel mused. “Just, p-patch it up after.”

Isobel balked and gave a nervous laugh. “What, let them break?”

“Sure." Quirrel smiled back. "Why n-not?”

“Well like I said," she went on. "The magic that can create controlled hovering is a far way off from flying, and it would need a lot of rethinking, during which time someone could surely solve the landing issue."

“So do you know what’s in this potion?” Quirrel asked for the second time.

“I don’t know the names of the ingredients, they’re all native to Tibet, but I know it reconstitutes your chest and abdomen to have these sort of air cavities, and it reduces bone mass, to make them lighter. I think someone could figure out a spell to accomplish the same thing, and it would be less destructive, and reversible.”

“Fascinating,” he whispered again, gripping his tea in both hands. “Dear m-me, look at the time. I regret to say I might have kept you past curfew.”

Isobel glanced at the clock, and realized that her professor was right.

“Shall I walk you back to Ravenclaw T-Tower then?” he offered. “It would be a p-pity if you got detention on m-my account.”

Isobel accepted his offer (reminded of Dumbledore escorting Laurel) and continued chatting on as she followed him to the door. Rather than open it, her turned back around. Isobel stopped short, surprised.

"Sorry." She took a step back, dropping her eyes to the flagstone.

Cold fingers came as a shock at her chin. She recoiled with a sharp breath. Quirrel was standing ever closer, face mere centimeters from her own.

"Dear me," he said, drawing back, and any hint of a stutter had vanished. "I believe I may have misread you."

Isobel's mind raced but struggled to catch up. A few confused words spluttered at her lips as her eyes darted between her professor and the door.

"I... don't..." Blood pounded in her ears and she felt sure that the world had just lurched violently to one side. "Don't know what you mean, 'misread'..."

Bumping into the chair, she realized she'd been edging backwards. Quirrel's posture straightened, face harder than she'd ever seen.

"Don't play games, Miss Mostafa." His words came sharp. "You've been seeking out these little talks all year."

"But-" She felt helpless. Dizzy. "You're m-my professor, and..."

"Are you now pretending that you hadn't been encouraging this?"

"N-no! I never... That wasn't..." Isobel reeled, feeling sick and foolish.

A wince shuddered over Quirrel's face and his raised a hand to his temple. One muscle twitched under his eye.

"Yes," he said, but it didn't sound like he was talking to her. "Yes I understand."

Wringing the sleeves of her robes, the sound of her own breath rose around her. "I'll just... go, then."

"Not yet!" he snapped and she flinched. Her eyes began to sting. "I can't have you go off and make... Wild accusations about me."

"I w-won't."

"It would only be your word against mine, and I've done nothing here."

Isobel just nodded, nodded, nodded, vision blurring.

"You're just a silly schoolgirl with a crush."

"I'm not! I wasn't-" The words struggled against the lump in her throat. The tears felt like acid against her cheeks.

"You will say nothing."

There were no longer words with which to reply. Eyes and nose ran while shoulders shook, and the Defense professor just stood, looking.

"Get out," he finally said and the door opened with a groan.

Torchlight flickered in the corridor, casting long shadows along the stone walls. Isobel heard each of her hesitant footsteps. Clack. Clack. Clack. Every detail seemed enhanced and hair stood on end. The sound of the door snapping shut behind her shook her to her bones.

And then, she ran.

Faster, faster through the gloom she tore, propelling herself further, further away. Waves of nausea broke and crashed, and her sharpened eyes saw something in the shadows. Movement in the statue of the one-eyed witch. The firelight dancing over its face made it look almost alive. And it's hump was beginning to open.

A scream tore from Isobel's throat as her heels slid against the floor. She landed hard, feeling grit under her palms as she scrambled backwards away. A dark space was gaping ever wider in the statue.

A sharp pain pierced at her back, followed by a deafening crash. She'd knocked over a suit of armor. The noise continued to echo in the dark as the helmet rolled across the flagstone.

Stumbling frantically to her feet, she looked again at the statue of the witch, and a face emerged. Then another. Red hair, freckles, index fingers pressed against their lips.

"Come on," they urged, tugging Isobel into the secret passage.

“Lumos,” said Fred or George and she held up her hand against the glare. Nerves screamed with everything from fury to fear to shame.

One of the twins hushed her, and what might have been meant as comforting, Isobel took as a warning. She began scrambling up, up through the passage, away from the corridor where she'd made such a racket, and her professor in his terrible office.

“What’s happening, Izzy?” came a voice, maybe George’s, but lacking its usual jaunty air Isobel couldn’t be sure.

“Iz, come on, what’s going on?” Fred asked. It was definitely Fred.

Isobel kept walking, sobbing, not sure what to say.

“Have you been attacked or something?” asked George.

“I dunno.”

“You were crying so loud we could hear you in here. And why were you running?”


“Word to the wise,” George said, tripping over the rocky floor. “If you’ve been caught past curfew, best not wake the whole school by blubbering and knocking over a suit of armor.”

"He tried to snog me." The words had barely come out before she was overcome again by convulsive tears.

The twins made disgusted noises but Isobel only cried harder. At their insistence, they stopped and sat, and Isobel relived the confused story.

"What a bloody git," George snarled after much comforting of Isobel and condemnation of Professor Quirrel. "You ought to have cursed him."

Isobel's face felt raw and chapped from crying.

“Alright, someone needs a night out of the castle," Fred announced, standing back up and offering her his hand. "It's no place for you in here."

"But... how?" she sniffled.

George just grinned. "You'll see."

When they’d finally reached the end of the passage Fred pressed a finger to his lips and ever so carefully pushed up a trapdoor on the ceiling. George extinguished his wand, and the three silently climbed up into the room beyond. The dark was oppressive against Isobel’s blinking eyes, but she surmised she was in some sort of cellar. Before she could adjust and get her bearings, Fred was leading her up the stairs.

They were in Honeydukes! George whispered Alohamora, and they crept out the door onto the high street. Fred locked the door behind them and the twins began up the road.

“Where are we going?” Isobel asked in the loudest whisper she could manage.

“To get pissed, of course." George linked his arm with hers, urging her to pick up the pace away from the shop they’d just broken-and-exited.

Within a few short minutes, they were approaching the Hog's Head. Isobel remembered so many months ago when she and Laurel had had the same idea, savoring for a moment the sting of how much had changed. George wet the cuff of his robe on his tongue and wiped Isobel’s ruined eye-makeup from her cheeks. She didn’t recoil at his motherly gesture, but did wipe the spit off her cheeks with her own sleeve after.

“Alright friends,” called Fred, rallying the trio. “A new frontier.”

The pub was grimy and smokey, exactly as Isobel had pictured. A motley group of warlocks played cards off in a corner, among them the Hogwarts groundskeeper. Isobel and the twins stepped hastily out of his eye line. He was drunk, roaring with laughter and ruddy faced, but likely to notice their uniforms if they lingered in his sight.

“I don’t serve students,” the ancient barkeeper barked as the approached.

“Oh, we’re not students,” George said, their uniforms ever conspicuous.

“Yeah, we’ve just come from a fancy-dress party,” Fred invented wildly.

“Three shots of Bilshen’s.” Isobel dropped a purse of gold onto the bar.

The barkeep looked down at the money then up at the three conspicuously underage students. “Two galleons a piece."

The twins began to splutter in protest at the exorbitant bribe, but Isobel fished out the coins without hesitation. Their shots poured, Isobel threw down a few knuts and a sickle as well.

“And we’d like a private parlor,” she ordered. They were out of sight of the groundskeeper, but the card game in the corner made Isobel wary. Another player had arrived, his face obscured by a hooded cloak. He’d been glancing over to the Hogwarts students, and something about him made the hairs on Isobel’s neck prickle uncomfortably. The bartender led the three teenagers to a private parlor up the stairs where they ordered a round of lager.

Within the hour, Isobel and her third year mates were smashed.

“Tristan went down for it, blimey!” Fred exclaimed at the gossip.

“What a bloke,” agreed George. “A real mensche.”

“We’re not messing with all that again, you’ve got our word.” Fred nodded.

Isobel enjoyed a cathartic outpouring of her anxieties, which the twins listened to and commented on appropriately. They kept it light and made jokes where necessary, but withheld any criticism of Emily, Tristan, or Laurel.

“What's his story then?” Fred asked, and he meant Tristan. “A sullen gent if I ever knew one."

“I dunno, normal middle-class kid, I s’pose.” Isobel shrugged as she drained her pint. “Another round?” She pulled the cord to alert the bartender and heard the bells jingling in the pub below.

“A right enigma though,” George went on. “Muggle dad, muggle born mum, and a Slytherin to boot.”

“And you know, I love the old bugger,” added Fred. “And he’s no Slytherin to me, but he does, you know…”

“Act the part at times?” offered Isobel. “He can be a real twat.”

“Not so much act it,” said Fred. “He looks it.”

George nodded, before adding, “you know all them wankers in Slytherin are third cousins at least, and there’s a real family resemblance among the English ones.”

“We’d know,” agreed George. “Our family’s pureblood, you wouldn’t guess it, but we are. They’re our distant cousins as well.”

Isobel took a step back in her mind, into the half formed thoughts she’d had in the past. She shouldn’t say anything, it wasn’t her business, but she was drunk and she did: “My mum reckons that his dad isn’t his dad.”

Jaws dropped at the suggestion, and the twins were hungry for speculation.

“Yeah,” Isobel went on. “It all fits, right? His mum would have been, what, eighteen when he was born? But then she was at Hogwarts then, and wouldn’t have known his dad yet. And he’s really weird about his middle name, because probably, it’s his real dad’s name. And he doesn’t look a thing like Eddie; I’ve met him.”

“Do you think he knows?”

“I bet he does.”

“Does his dad?”

“He must, right?”

“I think Emily knows,” Isobel thought out loud.

Emily wasn’t sneaky. She seemed to know something about Tristan, and it showed. She behaved sometimes like the caretaker of a secret. Secrets were hard for her, so when she carried one, the stress of it tended to leak out in various, predictable ways.

Once the subject of Tristan’s parentage had been exhausted, and three fresh pints delivered, Isobel discovered a functioning radio on the mantle. She tapped it with her wand a few times until she found a pop station, and after cranking the volume, the Weird Sisters filled the room. Within a short time, Isobel and the twins had devised a brilliant drinking game for the station they were listening to: drink every time someone says ‘baby,’ drink anytime someone says ‘yeah,’ and chug every time a commercial for Gilderoy Lockhart’s new book (“Magical Me, six weeks atop The Prophet’s best seller list”) plays.

Their game was a roaring success, and within a few hours the ancient barkeeper burst into their parlor (where the three students were dancing on chairs) to kick them all out.

The three shivered giddily just outside the threshold to the pub, unable to contain themselves. Isobel had spent a small fortune on the night’s overpriced drinks and the cost of the parlor, but decided it had been worth it. The twins promised to compensate her with the money they raised working for Emily, but Isobel wasn’t bothered; she hadn’t had so much fun in a long time. She rolled a fag and lit it at the precise moment that George was sick on her shoes.

“Not again, little brother,” Fred groaned, as he pat his twin’s back.

“Are you the older twin then?” Isobel asked as she exhaled.

“Can’t you tell?”

“He’s exactly seven minutes more mature,” added George, before heaving again. Isobel ushered the twins up the alley, not wanting another shouting-at from the barkeeper, and helped Fred to settle George down onto a stoop. Isobel finished her fag and began rolling another, then expressed concern about George’s state.

“Oh I’ll be alright,” said George, his head between his knees. “Fred’ll lecture my ear off tomorrow though.”

They laid him to rest with his hat inside out—hic!” the song rang out from some other drunken Hogs Head patron. “And his wand snapped in twoooo,” howled the voice. “Which was sad.”

Isobel leaned forward to peer down the alley and saw the hulking silhouette of the Hogwarts groundskeeper approaching their stoop. Isobel tried to remain perfectly still, but just as he passed their shadowy hiding place, George retched again. Hagrid took a double take, wavering slightly as he tried to focus his eyes.

“You’re students!” he roared, their uniforms betraying them. “What’re ya doin’ in the village at this hour?”

“Good question,” Fred said, leaping up. “You see our friend here had a bit of a problem, there’s a professor needing firing, and we needed to have something of a do, you see.”

“Weasleys,” Hagrid called, seeing Fred’s face in the light. “How’s your brother then?”

“Just stomach flu, been puking all week—”

“I mean’ Charlie,” Hagrid interrupted, swaying. “But tha’ one too, I s’pose.”

“Oh, he just needs some bread and water and to sleep it off,” Isobel assured.

“Teenage folk wisdom about drink. S’about as useful as a perforated couldron,” Hagrid straightened his posture. “I’ll be having to carry him back then.”

“Oh you don’t have to—” Fred began, but Hagrid brushed him off.

“You, girl, you’ll be carryin’ this,” Hagrid announced, gingerly handing Isobel a canvas bag.

“What is it?” she asked, opening it to look inside.

“Don’ look, and don’ ask questions,” Hagrid growled. “But be very, very careful with tha’.”

Isobel nodded, terrified of the massive man. Hagrid lifted George by his armpits, and slung the younger twin over his shoulder as if he weighed nothing.

“Right then, off we go,” Hagrid directed.

At his command, Fred and Isobel (treating the bag with the greatest caution) followed the mammoth groundskeeper back to the castle. They’d only just made it past Zonko’s when Fred stumbled, and began dry heaving as well. Hagrid sighed heavily, and clapped him on the back hard enough to wind him.

“You too then,” he called, scooping Fred up in his trash-bin sized hand. “Up you get.” With a Weasley on each shoulder, and a mysterious package (Isobel was beginning to suspect it was some kind of egg), Hagrid and the young Ravenclaw continued their journey out of Hogsmeade. The cold air was sobering to Isobel, and Hagrid (as if responding to some sense of duty) no longer appeared drunk.

“So why are you out of the castle?” he asked, as they lumbered down toward the shadowy fortress in the distance.

“I—” Isobel gulped. “I dunno if I sort of lead him on or something…” her voice was brittle and high.

“Did some bloke not like the word ‘no?’” Hagrid swung around to face Isobel, causing the Weasleys over his shoulders to groan.

“I don’t think he liked the words ‘you’re my professor,’” Isobel said, with a fleeting sense of strength.

“Wha’ professor? Wha’ professor’s done tha’?”

Isobel crumpled, again sickened and ashamed—hadn’t she sought him out in the first place? She hadn’t wanted that sort of attention, but she had been looking for some kind of attention... What did she think was going to happen?

“It’s no’ you’re fault,” the groundskeeper said, placing an assuring hand on Isobel’s shoulder and forcing her feet a few centimeters into the mud. “No teacher should go after a student, s’no right.”

Isobel wiped a stray tear.

“You won’t tell anyone, please, I just don’t think I can bear it,” she pleaded.

“You should tell someone,” said Hagrid seriously. “You don’ have to keep that ruddy secret for him. Dumbledore should know.”

“Yeah,” Isobel said weakly. “Yeah, I will, just not this moment.”

“Sleep off the drink, then go to Dumbledore straight away tomorrow,” Hagrid advised.

Hagrid looked at Isobel, and there was a remarkable gentleness to him. She wiped another escaped tear, and he turned, giving her some privacy. Isobel took a few steps, and Hagrid joined her.

“So what kind of egg is it?” Isobel asked, now sure of the bag’s contents.

“Dragon,” Hagrid replied, nonchalant. Isobel laughed, then stopped in her tracks, considering the massive parcel.

“‘Course ‘s not,” he laughed. “You think I’m mad?”

Hagrid helped Isobel as far as the Entrance Hall, and set the twins down. They were all right to walk once they had railings to grasp.

"Will you tell?" Isobel asked, guiltily. "About our sneaking out?"

Hagrid seemed to consider for a moment, and eyed Isobel sympathetically. "Nah, no' this time. But don' let me catch you again. Tah now," Hagrid said, patting Isobel on the head, before turning back toward the grounds.

Isobel made it up to Ravenclaw tower after escaping a near miss with Peeves. After getting caught in the village after hours, she wasn't particularly bothered getting caught out of bed in the castle. She almost wished that Filch might discover her, and bring her to Dumbledore at once. She was certain that, come tomorrow, she still wouldn't yet have the resolve to speak out against the Defense professor.

But Isobel made it back without incident, and knocked the bronze knocker once.

“What distinguishes good from evil?” the metal eagle asked.

“Not being an arsehole,” Isobel huffed.

“Define your terms,” pressed the eagle, as Isobel had expected.

“The difference between good and evil is, I guess…” Isobel rephrased. She found it easy to define evil in her current state of mind, and surely she could rattle off a list of what good wasn’t. But what distinguishes good? ‘Doing good things’ didn’t seem sufficient. Surely intentions matter. You could do things that ended up hurting people by accident, and still not be evil. Isobel sunk deeper into her thoughts, before an answer emerged. If evil intentions are borne from hate, she thought, then

“Good is distinguished by the presence of love.”

“Succinct,” the eagle agreed, and the heavy door swung open. Isobel ascended the stairs to her dormitory, swung through the doors, and climbed, fully dressed, into Laurel’s bed.

End Note: The lyrics to "Odo the Hero" were written by JK Rowling, and first listed in Chapter 22, "After the Burial," on HBP (not sure of the page number because I used the HP wiki for reference). The song was likely a reference to a character in Beowulf.

A/N: "ear off"--too soon?

Chapter 19: The Presence of Love
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The Presence of Love

EMILY was on the third draft of her letter, and Siouxsie was becoming impatient. The great sooty owl that had delivered Tristan’s enigmatic note on the day of his suspension had stuck around, expectant, waiting for Emily to reply. Every morning the owl flew down, empty-footed, holding out her leg in anticipation. Every evening she perched at Emily’s windowsill, reminding the witch that a response was yet unsent.

The day before the Easter holidays Emily determined to finally write her letter and send the owl home at last.

I’m sorry, but I don’t know what to say.
Obviously, I love you. Obviously, thank you. I don’t know what’s enough.

It was sad, and it was short, but it was honest. More words wouldn’t make it more true, so Emily signed her name, without the usual swoops and curls, and tied the note to Siouxsie’s tired ankle.

Tristan hadn’t kissed her by the lake. If he’d loved her, he would have. But he didn’t, because he did. Somehow, both were true at the same time. Then he shagged Laurel, after he’d shagged Laurel. Then he took the blame for Emily, and got himself suspended. It was hard to work out what he did out of love, and what he did because he hated himself—maybe all of it, one way or the other.

Working out why Tristan did what he did was tiring, so instead, Emily thought about what she should do, and why. She needed to talk to someone, so she decided to talk to Laurel.

* * *

“Eh, I’m not sure, Em,” Laurel winced at the suggestion. “I mean… It’s terrible to say, but he’s already been suspended. The holidays start tomorrow, and getting suspended or expelled yourself won’t go back in time and make him un-suspended.”

“That’s not the point,” Emily pressed. “I want to do the right thing for the right reasons.”

Laurel had beamed at that. She would have hugged Emily, she would have said any number of nice things, and they would have become friends again. But Emily had been clear that this conversation was happening during a sort of ‘time-out.’ After, everything would go back to how it was, because Emily was still working out her feelings. Shockingly, Laurel went along with the arrangement. It made Emily miss her friendship that much more.

“If you do want to tell a teacher, tell Dumbledore,” Laurel insisted.

“How do I even get an appointment with Dumbledore without telling other teachers first?” Emily thought out loud.

“Oh,” said Laurel, looking like she’d just figured out the answer to some complicated riddle. “I know how to guess the password to his office.”

* * *

“Fizzing whizbee?” Emily tried tentatively, but the hideous stone gargoyle stayed firmly in place. She felt foolish, standing alone on the third floor after supper, guessing names of sweets at random. Some of Emily’s, once fierce, resolve was beginning to melt. “Chocolate frog?”

The gargoyle only lifted an eyebrow.

“Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans? Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum? Acid Pops?” Emily was getting frustrated. After ten minutes exhausting her knowledge of wizarding sweets, Emily was close to tears. “Oh bollocks, I don’t know! Mars Bars! Polo Mints! Turkish Delight! Wine Gums!”

“That’s the ticket,” the gargoyle smirked, stepping aside.

“Wine gums?” Emily was thoroughly stunned.

The wall behind the gargoyle split open, revealing a golden spiral staircase twisting upwards like a turning screw. Emily stepped onto rotating escalator and closed her eyes, taking a steadying breath. The staircase soon came to a gentle stop at a landing before a great, amber-bright oak door. With a tentative hand, Emily tapped the gleaming gold knocker at its center once, and was startled by the deep baritone of the boom. The door swept silently open.

“Ah, Miss Madley! What a pleasure,” Dumbledore rose from behind a massive-claw footed desk and bounced toward her with the energy of a much younger man. He looked absolutely, and disorientingly, excited to see Emily. “So may I take it that you are once again getting on with Miss Braithewaite?”

“Erm,” Emily gulped as the Headmaster grasped her hand in both of his. Her shame boiled like ruined potion. Nothing could have prepared Emily for the headmaster’s joy--nor for the agony of shattering his opinion of her.

Dumbledore lead Emily to a chair in front of his desk, before seating himself once again. She wanted to take in the splendor of his office, and examine the many curious items buzzing and whirring noisily from every surface, but her own shame and anxiety kept her eyes trained down at her boots.

“I heard that Tristan’s been suspended,” she began in a shaky voice. “But,” Emily gulped again. “But he shouldn’t have been, because it was me. I did… those things.”

A single tear escaped from Emily’s eye; she’d never felt so guilty in her life. Why had she done it? Not for the money, certainly. It was just that she could. It had been something to do.

One billowing moment stretched out impossibly long--Dumbledore hadn’t said anything.

Emily willed herself to meet those crystal blue eyes, their twinkle now extinguished, replaced with a heart-crushing expression of disappointment. Dumbledore looked impossibly weary, sad even. Emily cried silently, her shoulders delicately shaking. She had, she thought, no right to cry. She was the one who had done something wrong.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Why have you come to me with this information?” Dumbledore asked, his voice even and inscrutable.

“Because you’ve punished the wrong person,” she sniffed, willing herself to composure.

“I’d like to ask,” Dumbledore began gently. “In your own words, what is the nature of your crime?”

“Well, I smuggled drugs into the castle, and sold it to students.” Saying out loud felt miserable. Emily couldn’t believe it of herself. It hadn’t seemed like a big deal before--but putting it into words. To Dumbledore...

The Headmaster sighed heavily. His gentle disappointment was worse than screaming. “What, Emily, do you believe is the purpose of a school? I am less concerned with the legality of your actions, than I am the consequences of them.”

“Well, I mean,” Emily sniffed, thrown by the direction of the conversation. She committed herself to follow its course on Dumbledore’s terms. “The purpose of a school is to learn,” Emily offered. She almost wished he’d cut straight to her punishment.

“Quite right,” Dumbledore agreed, and the shadow of a smile crossed his lined face. “But to say it another way, a school functions to mold young minds. Additionally, Hogwarts makes protecting its students a priority. Now, with that in mind, would you please elaborate on the consequences of your actions.”

“Well, I mean, we’re here to learn,” Emily replied, teasing apart the answer to his question. “And learning is harder when you’re, well, high,”

Emily couldn’t believe she’d just said that in front of her headmaster. He inclined his head subtly, urging her to continue:
“And like you said about molding young minds--I mean, marijuana is mind altering. So it, I guess it gets in the way a bit. And I mean, it’s not the worst thing, but smoking anything is bad for you. There’s tar in it, and our brains are still growing, so putting chemicals in them can’t really be great. And one person’s personal choice is one thing, but creating a situation where it’s around all the time… I mean, peer pressure is a thing...”

“How much happier would we all be were you to have had this epiphany earlier,” Dumbledore mused, and there was the edge of a joke to his voice. “But I recognize that you are young still, and wisdom is something we accumulate over time.”

“So, are you going to suspend me? And take it off Tristan’s record?” Emily asked, eager for the axe to finally fall.

“What do you think is the purpose of suspension? For, really, any of the consequences we impose on rule breakers at Hogwarts?” Dumbledore asked, and Emily wondered if he’d ever read about Socrates.

“Well, as punishment,” Emily replied quickly.

“I would disagree,” Dumbledore offered delicately. “Forcing a student who has behaved poorly to miss school is, objectively, an absurd consequence. We suspend students because they need time to reflect on what they have done, or because they need to be temporarily removed from the student body because they are causing harm. If a student hurts another person in some way, they should be expected to make it up to that person, and resolve the conflict. If a student damages the school or its property, or disrupts lessons, they should make amends by paying it back to the school or to their professor. This is why our detentions are generally tasks that are helpful and gainful. In a perfect world,” Dumbledore sighed. “Azkaban would not be used to punish.”

Emily was struck by the sudden change in subject, and mildly shocked by the suggestion. “What do you mean?”

“A prison’s function should be two-fold: to remove dangerous individuals from society, so that they cannot continue to cause harm. And to rehabilitate those who have, for whatever reason, gone astray. It is my own opinion that, on the second task, Azkaban is rather an incredible failure.”

For a wild, terrified moment, Emily wondered if Dumbledore was lamenting Azkaban’s imperfections because he was planning to send her there.

“Now,” Dumbledore went on. “Have you stopped distributing narcotics to your fellow students?”

“Yes,” Emily hastened to say. “Yes of course.”

“So, you are no longer a threat to the Hogwarts student body, nor are you equal to taking back the tar from your fellow students’ lungs, nor the chemicals from their brains. There is no specific professor to whom you owe favor, nor have you done damage to the school or its property. All that can be done, then, and all that is left to do, is give you time to reflect on your actions, and hopefully learn something from the experience.”

“So I am being suspended?” Emily guessed.

“Yes, I believe one week is appropriate, beginning tomorrow,” Dumbledore nodded mildly. “And we will inform your parents.”

“But,” Emily considered the ‘consequence.’ “But Easter holiday starts tomorrow. I’m going home for a week anyway!”

“Yes, the timing is rather fortuitous. It would be a shame for you to miss any lessons this close to exams.”

* * *

The next day Emily boarded the Hogwarts Express to London alongside her fellow students. Her discussion with Dumbledore had left her feeling lost, hollow, and grateful. After having time to think over the experience, a few key concepts had emerged. Firstly, that Dumbledore had not expressed regret at Tristan’s being wrongfully suspended.

We suspend students because they need time to reflect... or because they need to be temporarily removed from the student body...

Second, that Dumbledore seemed to know about Emily and Laurel’s row--but had correctly guessed that Laurel had provided instruction for divining his office password.

May I take it that you are once again getting on with Miss Braithewaite?

And third: it was entirely possible that Emily’s ‘punishment’ was gentler for entirely logistical reasons.

Being a Scottish muggle-born meant a laborious journey on visits home. After the train ride south, Emily would be picked up by her parents in London, only to drive back up north again home.

Emily had tried to fight this absurdity before, but the arcane rules about where and how parents may collect their children were fixed in both the Hogwarts and Ministry of Magic bylaws. Emily only lived a few hours from Hogwarts by car, but parents could only pick up students directly from the school in ‘extreme circumstances.’

“Living in Scotland does not qualify as an 'extreme circumstance',” professor Sprout had explained the last time Emily had complained.

“You’d change your mind if you lived in Scotland!” Emily had shot back, frustrated.

All things considered, the Madley’s had managed to make a tradition out of the unnecessary journey. They’d grown to love the cross-country road-trips, and on return journeys, they’d arrive in London the day before to sight-see, and spend the night in a hotel.

But the inconvenience required the tradition, not the other way around; they would have found some tradition in any event.

Then again, Emily no longer in any position to complain about Hogwarts rules.

Emily sat with Cedric, Amisha, and Gemma during the ride down. It was pleasant enough, but Emily found herself missing the times she’d had with her old friends. There’d been a sort of energy between them that no degree of pleasantness could match. A passionate and fervent love that, in those moments, had felt eternal. And it wasn’t just because of Tristan. Each of her friends shared a bond with the others that was specific and intense. There was, represented between each pair, some combination of deep affection, fierce defensiveness, private intimacy, infinite loyalty, unconditional acceptance, mutual respect, intellectual joy, and fundamental contrast.

These relationships could each take on either a dark or light nature depending on the circumstances, save, Emily supposed, for intellectual joy: an attribute shared between Emily and Laurel. When she thought about it, Emily realized she’d never actually stopped being friends with Laurel. She’d ended her friendship with Tristan and Isobel, and very much because of Laurel, but no fight with Laurel had ever actually occurred. They’d fallen out merely as a consequence of Emily’s problems with the the others. And there, Emily found, lay the fierce defensiveness—another aspect of their relationship.

Emily stumbled off the train at Kings Cross station, dragging her trunk behind her. After bidding farewell to her fellow Hufflepuffs, Emily situated herself beside a sign post to wait for her parents. She glanced around, but didn’t immediately see them—she usually did. She did see, some yards off, Isobel and her father, Ahmad.

Ahmad waved, and Isobel briefly caught Emily’s eye before demurely looking down. Emily returned the gesture, feeling awkward. At that, Ahmad beckoned.

Deciding it would be rude to ignore him, Emily dragged her trunk over to the Mostafas. She felt uncomfortable as she did, imagining she would lug her trunk across the platform and exchange a few terse and strained words only to lumber awkwardly away again.

“There you are,” called Ahmad. “Ready to go?”

Emily was dumbfounded, before remembering all those months ago when Ahmad had offered to side-along apparate her up to Scotland. Had she neglected to change those plans? Had the two sets of parents scheduled the details recently, ignorant of their daughters’ falling out? It couldn’t be right. Then again, Emily reflected on the last letters exchanged with her parents, and at no point had they explicitly said that they would be picking her up.

After a jilted, awkward exchange, Emily conceded to take Ahmad’s arm. One bone crushing moment, and before Emily could register the sensation of teleportation, her feet landed on ground outside her own house, many miles to the north.

Of course, Emily’s parents invited Ahmad in for tea once they arrived. And of course, the adults expected Emily to bring Isobel up to her room and behave as teenage girls do. Instead, each witch opened a book and situated herself as far as possible from the other in the kitchen.

“Alright, beg me to let you stay the night,” Ahmad joked as he stepped into the kitchen, throwing his arms up in surrender to his daughter.

“Oh, I’m tired, let’s just go home,” Isobel tried. “I don’t want to impose,” she added, in a weak attempt at acting convincing.

“Oh it’s no imposition,” Emily’s mum insisted. “Really,” she said to Ahmad, “It’s a joy having her.”

“We see each other all the time at school,” Emily offered to speed along the proceedings. “I think we both want some time with our families.”

The parents were struck by their daughters’ sudden change of attitude, and after many lengthy farewells, Isobel and her father disapparated from the front drive.

“Are you two fighting?” Emily’s mum asked, too keen for her daughter’s liking.

“No mum!” Emily lied, and stomped up the stairs to her room.

“Time with the family, eh?” Emily’s father called after her as she slammed her bedroom door.

* * *

Usually Emily spent her holidays at home feeding the chickens, helping with the cooking, and playing with her little brother and sister. This time, however, Emily confined herself to her room listening to the moodiest music she had in her collection. There’s been an owl from Hogwarts explaining what Emily had done, and her parents were furious with her. To Emily’s deep annoyance, they were even more furious with Lucas.

That’s what Lucas does for a living, Emily thought. What did they think growing pot entailed?

It was her parent’s own hypocrisy that stung her worst. They liked the abstract idea of Lucas out in the woods, nurturing his plants. But the reality of the drug trade was, somehow, too much for them. Once it occurred to the elder Madley’s that his weed, invariably, ended up in the hands of teenagers, they drew a line. But you could hardly separate cultivation from distribution--no one would grow weed if people weren’t buying it.

Jim’s disapproval was even more ridiculous than Levinia’s--he too had sold spliff during college. Emily refused to accept the excuse that “it was the sixties.”   

With no owl, and only her parents for company, Emily felt completely cut off. Not that she had anyone to write even if she could. A few times her parents knocked on the door and tried to rouse her, but each time they were stunned by the sudden and drastic change in their daughter’s behavior.

One night, she overheard them talking:

“—completely withdrawn,” said Jim. “It just isn’t like her. Something’s off.”

“She’s sixteen, dear, that’s what’s off,” Levinia consoled. “You can’t expect her to stay our little Sunshine forever.”

“But selling drugs! That’s not our Emily.”

Emily turned up the volume on her radio to drown them out. It was the first track of the first album she and Tristan had ever listened to together:

We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
We’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got.

LAUREL’s time back in Godric’s Hollow wasn’t as bad as her last, but it was close. Theirs was  a cluttered flat, its once white walls now discolored by two decades of nicotine. All her life, it had just been Laurel and her mum. They’d been close when she was young, alone in the world and reliant on one another, but somewhere along the way, something had changed.

It was, Laurel reflected, shortly before she left for Hogwarts. Laurel’s bourgeoning adolescence arrived at the same time as Betty’s problems at work--the year her mum’s evening glass of wine became a bottle, and then two.

Laurel’s mum’s whims had, to the young girl, appeared paradoxical. Betty wanted to keep her daughter in the house, and passed down arbitrary restrictions on her time with Isobel, yet alternately ignored, or expressed annoyance at Laurel’s presence. Her desire to control became, at times, absurd.

Don’t close the door of your room, don’t wear those trainers, do these dishes but not like that now look what you’ve done.

Betty was never proper violent, but her fuse was short. Slaps, pokes, slamming doors on Laurel’s fingers. They were always accidents. Because Laurel made her do it; riled her up. She met her mother curse for curse, and mimicked each of Betty’s steps forward with two of her own. By the time Laurel was eleven, their screaming matches rang down the street.

Christmas break had definitely been worse in certain ways. To start, Laurel had still been experiencing withdrawals then. She was allowed out in the village now without a row, and her mother trusted her a bit more. But this time, Laurel didn’t have Isobel.

The Doge-Mostafa house had recently been burglarized--the thief taking with them all of Ahmad’s research into Tibetan levitation, and putting the entire family on edge. But that was hardly the worst of it. Once Florence had seen her daughter, or what was left of her, she’d put Isobel under house arrest for the remainder of the Easter Holidays, and so Laurel was alone.

According to her owls, Isobel’s parents made her remain at the kitchen table every night for hours until she’d finished her supper, and had even threatened to send her to St. Mungo’s if she didn’t start eating. Iman had become, according to Isobel, insufferably self-righteous about the matter. Studying to be a healer had apparently made Isobel’s elder sister believe she was the final authority when it came to eating disorders.

“And quite right they should,” Laurel’s mum had sniffed when she’d discovered the truth about Isobel’s confinement. “The girl looks like she’s been on hunger strike.”

“But they’ve got it all wrong!” Laurel insisted. “Isobel likes to control things and gets scared when she can’t. Locking her up like this only makes it worse, because then the only thing she can control is her own body.”

At Iman’s suggestion, Ahmad and Florence had even confiscated Isobel’s wand so she couldn’t resort to Evomere. Isobel had always been maddeningly proud of her heirloom wand—olive wood and hair of Sphinx. It was unlike any other at Hogwarts. Taking away Isobel’s wand was to take away her power, as well as her sense of individuality.

“You’re not an expert, Laurel,” Betty disparaged. “They ought to send her to St. Mungo’s where she can get some real help.”

“You would think that,” Laurel seethed, storming out of the sitting room. “Everyone knows you’re the first to ship your daughter off to hospital because you can’t handle it!”

Laurel slammed the door of her dingy bedroom behind her, and found herself overwhelmed by a sudden nicotine craving. Tearing off her robes, Laurel rummaged through her trunk for her muggle costume. The trousers had become short and tight, and the pockets bulged from her hips awkwardly, but Laurel wasn’t bothered, and pulled on an oversized jumper to disguise the waistband. After retying her bun and sneaking a handful of gold from her mum’s purse, Laurel shot out of the flat and out onto the road.

She exchanged a galleon for muggle money at the Gringotts satellite bank in the village square before purchasing tobacco and papers from the muggle off-license opposite. Laurel stalked towards the obelisk at the center of the square, observing as she did, how it transformed familiarly into the Potter Memorial once she was near. Settling herself on a bench, Laurel set to rolling a fag, and tried to enjoy the sun on one of the first properly nice days of the year. The ache she felt for her friends, and her loneliness, washed over her with the breeze.

Sometime around dusk Laurel was reclining on her bed, flipping through the Teen Witch magazine her mother still subscribed to, even though Laurel had outgrown it. There was a soft knock before her mother opened the door a crack.

“Can I come in, sweetie?” Betty asked gingerly.

Laurel grunted in reply, and her mother stepped into the room.

“You’re right,” Betty sighed, and she perched herself on the end of Laurel’s bed. “I sent you to St. Mungo’s because I couldn’t handle it. I was just… so caught off guard. You’d always been such a good girl, and I was just blind sided.”

“You know, I’m tired of this,” Laurel said, slapping her magazine shut and straightening her back. “I’m a hex head, but I’m not a bad person. People keep going on like I did something immoral or something, but morality’s got fuck all to do with it.”

Betty flinched at her daughter’s language, but didn’t protest. “What’s it got to do with then?” she asked, her eyes wide and ready to listen. “Because you were right when you said I didn’t understand, so tell me.”

“It’s stupidly simple, really,” Laurel sighed. “If you can make yourself feel amazing and better, it’s hard not to do it. And then when it wears off, you feel more shite than you did before for having done, so you do it again.”

Laurel could tell that the subject was hurting her mother, and she knew her bald honesty cut like a knife. But her mum said she wanted to know.

“What made you feel shite?” Betty asked, mimicking the curse in an attempt to meet Laurel on her level.

“Well there’s the withdrawal, but also, the morality thing,” Laurel replied, surprised by what she was divulging to her mother. “You just feel guilty, and like such a bad person. And after a while, you can’t just keep denying to yourself that you’re a hex head and keep trying to fit and do the right things, and you just accept it. Once you do, everything stops mattering. It’s relaxing, really.”

“You aren’t a hex head,” Betty whispered, her eyes growing shiny. “You’re my daughter.”

“Mum, those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Laurel insisted. “I should be able to be both. Your daughter, and someone who’s made mistakes too. Why does it have to be one or the other?”

“The Charms were just  something you did, they shouldn’t define you.”

Laurel considered, but wasn’t convinced. St. Mungo’s had gone on about ‘once a user always a user,’ and ‘an addict is what an addict does,’ and all that.

“Why did you start?” Betty asked.

“Because it was fun, obviously,” Laurel rolled her eyes.

“But how did it become a problem?”

Laurel felt herself getting annoyed: “What are you, my guidance counselor?” she spat. “Maybe it’s because I never knew my dad, and you never gave him the choice to know me. Or maybe growing up in this rubbish little flat. Or because you’re life’s gone in the bin, so it became my job to be so clever and get good marks so you could have something to brag about, and you wouldn’t look so bad.” Laurel paused for a beat, before shooting off again with renewed venom. “And you were so horrible to me last summer, that any second I was with Isobel I tried to Cheer, and when I couldn’t see her, I tried doing it myself because I couldn’t stand being stuck in here with you.”

Laurel was breathing heavily, her shoulders heaving and her wild eyes running with tears. For once, Betty didn’t grow shrill or defensive. Laurel’s mother intertwined her fingers, head held low, and had began to cry in earnest.

“I didn’t mean—” Betty sobbed, but she was at a loss. “You know I’ll always be proud of you.”

“Well we both know that’s not true,” Laurel snorted. “I think I managed something that no one could ever be proud of.”

“But I am!” Betty insisted, reaching out to smooth loose strands of her daughter’s hair. “Look at you, you got better. And you caught back up, and sorted everything. Your professor’s have written, and they say you stand a good chance at your O.W.L.s.”

“But mum,” Laurel groaned. “Don’t you get it, you just want me to be clever all the time, and it’s exhausting.”

“I’m sorry dear,” Betty said, taking her daughter’s hand. “It’s just, there was no one else around to help me, and I was just so worried that something might happen to you. And I wanted to much more for you than what I could give you. And then you were just so clever, lord knows you didn’t get it from me...”

“You are clever, mum,” Laurel offered, feeling guilty for upsetting her mother so much.

“No dear,” Betty smiled. “Not like you are.”

Laurel couldn’t let her own mum feel dim.

“Are you on about Rita again?” Laurel asked, offering a tearful smile.

Betty made an annoyed noise and rolled her eyes, precisely as Laurel had anticipated. A junior reporter, and former friend of Betty’s, had won out on a promotion over Laurel’s mum (who had seniority). The two witches had had a falling out as a result.

“Rita should be working at a gossip rag, not The Prophet!” Betty fumed, and not for the first time.

“Oh mum,” Laurel pat her mother’s hand. “The Prophet already is a gossip rag.”

Betty let loose a rueful chuckle, despite herself, and playfully pushed her daughter’s shoulder.

MARY changed out of her Ministry robes in the office washroom, before making her way to the atrium to disapparete home. Seconds later, she appeared in the alley behind her neighborhood gastropub, startling a fox, and continued on her trajectory towards Orsett Street and home.

Their's was a two-story brick townhouse that Mary had bought almost ten-years prior from the Lambeth council. It included a small gated area in the front, primarily for setting out the bins. As Mary approached her house she saw Tristan, rucksack on his back, among her many potted shrubs.

Mary had suspected that Tristan was subverting their punishment of grounding for some time, but as the Ministry had no phones, she couldn't call home to check that he was where he was supposed to be. Today, however, he hadn't seemed to have made it very far. Tristan was collapsed, his head in his hands, hyperventilating.

He’d drawn the attention of a few neighbors, who were peering over their fences and out their windows at the dark teenage boy, heaving in the throes of a massive anxiety attack. Mary ignored the neighbor’s stares, and tore up the street to her son. Within seconds she was pulling him into her arms. He was taller than Mary now, who was petite to begin with. But no matter how much he grew, Mary knew what to do when the attacks came.

When Tristan had calmed enough to stand, Mary led her son through the house and into the back garden. She knew he couldn't be inside at the moment, but wanted to spare him the probing eyes of curious neighbors and passing motorists. They walked among the flowerbeds, Mary shouldering most of her son’s weight. Within some minutes of circling and criss-crossing, Tristan’s breathing became regular and even again, and he began to walk more independently, one arm still slung over his mother.

“I didn’t do it, mum,” Tristan’s voice was weak. “I wasn’t selling spliff at Hogwarts. I might have done, I’m not above it, but I didn’t.”

“Why ever would you say you did?” Mary asked, not sure how to reply to such an admission, nor convinced of its verity.

“To protect someone,” he moaned, in the manner of someone talking in his sleep.

“Who?” Mary asked.

“I can’t say,” he replied.

“Why would you take the blame for someone else?”

“Because they’re better than me,” he replied. “They might have done it, but I deserved the suspension.”

“It was Emily, wasn’t it?” Mary asked, but she wasn’t angry. Her question was answered by Tristan’s silence.

Mary helped her son down to the garden bench and took a seat beside him.

“You’re always punishing yourself and feeling guilty for what other people have done, you need to stop doing that,” Mary insisted, voice firm.

Tristan’s breathing grew quick and shallow again, his hands rifling through his hair, tugging.

“Stop doing this to yourself, stop torturing yourself,” Mary protested.

Tristan rummaged in his pocket for tobacco, and Mary closed her eyes tight, but made no move to prevent him. His hands were shaking too badly to roll the cigarette. Gritting her teeth, heart breaking, Mary produced her own pack from her purse, and passed a cigarette to Tristan.

There were many evils in the world, but Mary knew from experience that this one did work wonders against anxiety and stress. Mary lit a fag for herself and exhaled, sharing a cigarette, for the first time, with her son.

It wasn’t the right thing for a parent to do, Mary knew that, and felt guilty for it. Sometimes, though, what’s done is done. Being a parent meant accepting that, at times, she had to choose which battles to fight.

Later, she discovered an owl from Hogwarts waiting for her in the kitchen. Another student had confessed to the crime, and Tristan’s suspension was lifted.

EMILY had careers advising with her head of house on the first Monday back from the Easter Holidays.

Her younger siblings had been dropped off with friends for an overnight stay so Emily and her parents could go down to London. She was glad for it, and felt guilty for having been so withdrawn during her visit home. They’d stayed the night in a hotel near St. Paul’s Cathedral, spent the evening walking around London, and enjoyed a tea of fish and chips from a street vendor on Chancery Lane. The next morning they drove up to King’s Cross station, and Emily bid a tearful goodbye to her parents. They’d been so quick to forgive--or rather, to understand. Like Dumbledore, they’d taken her expression of remorse seriously. Out of penance, Emily hadn't smoked a single fag during her time home, and was resolved to quit the habit.

Emily also felt guilty for not having spent more time with Laura and Eli, but they had made it difficult for her. The two younger Madleys, Laura in particular, had taken an intense, almost hero-worship, liking to Isobel, and pestered Emily with questions about her. More than once Emily had grown cross with her little sister, and was forced to face the uncomfortable fact that she missed her old friend desperately. On the train Emily had joined her Hufflepuff mates in a compartment, and hadn't caught sight of the two Ravenclaws or the Slytherin for the duration of the trip.

On Sunday night, Isobel found her.

“Em,” the familiar voice called out from the dark, and Emily looked up surprised.

She was walking back to the castle from the Quidditch pitch. Try as she might, Emily couldn’t find any interest in the sport, and had set on her way back to the castle once the Hufflepuffs had taken to the air.

“What d’you want?” Emily asked, trying to sound cold, but finding it difficult.

“I miss you, Em,” Isobel said, and once Emily could see her face clearly, she saw that Isobel’s face was contorted by withheld tears. “I’m sorry, I just,” Isobel’s levies broke, and Emily found herself softening. “I really need to talk to you.”

Isobel relayed the terrible story about professor Quirrel, to Emily’s horror. They were sitting on the grass, Emily’s arm around Isobel’s shoulder, stroking her hair as she wept. Whatever animosity there might have been between them melted away. Emily wasn’t even sure anymore what had caused it in the first place. This was big—bigger than any fight. Isobel needed a friend, and Emily had an idea about why she’d sought her out specifically.

“You’ve got to tell someone,” Emily insisted, eyebrows furrowed. “You do know that, right? Tell someone at the school.”

Isobel cried harder.

“I don’t think I can face it, I feel so, urgh,” Isobel shook. “And I just, can’t help but thinking, maybe I…”

“No—” Emily interrupted. “I know what you’re going to say, and you didn’t. You wouldn’t feel this way if you had. And even if a student has a crush on her professor—”

Isobel shuddered, repulsion erupting across her face and down her back.

“Well even if you had,” Emily pushed. “That would have been your right. He’s an adult, even if you came on to him, it’s his job to shut that down. And what happened here, it was obviouslly all him.”

Isobel looked only temporarily relieved, before surrendering to fresh waves of disgrace and shame.

“I know, I understand, I do,” Emily soothed.

Isobel looked up, timidly, and wiped one eye. “I thought you might,” Isobel sniffed. “When you told us about that boy—your brother’s friend—we all took it as you said. Laurel and I were even jealous. But I got to thinking—thirteen is seeming a lot younger these days, and he was what, eighteen?”

Emily’s gaze drifted from her friend.

“Do you mind? I don’t mean to bring it up, but—” Isobel wiped her eyes again.

“S’alright,” Emily said, tearing apart a blade of grass between her fingernails.

It had been the summer holiday before Emily’s third year. Lucas had still lived at home, and his friend, Andrew, had been staying in the shack out by the chickens that Lucas now occupied during his visits. Andrew had been ‘inbetween things’ at the time, and his stay had stretched on for much of the holiday, which began to annoy Emily’s parents, even if they said nothing. Emily had liked having Andrew around, at first. Lucas still treated her like a kid then, but Andrew had treated her like an equal.

It happened the night that Emily had drank for the first time. Lucas had taught her to smoke the previous Summer, but still insisted on enforcing arbitrary limits on how much she could have. Early that August, Lucas had resigned to letting Emily join them in a lager.

Lucas had had a summer job in the town, and couldn’t stay up late with Andrew. After making Andrew promise he wouldn’t let Emily drink too much, Lucas bowed off to bed, leaving his sister and the older boy alone together.

Andrew broke his promise, and more drinks lead to more spliffs, and worse and worse things. Emily had been excited at kissing, at first, but Andrew kept upping the pace. Eventually it became too much too fast. She hadn’t exactly said ‘no,’ her precise words were ‘I dunno’; she definitely didn’t say yes.

Emily didn’t tell anyone, especially not Lucas, worried at how angry he’d be. Jim and Levinia gently suggested that Andrew continue on his way some two weeks later, but the meantime had been excruciating. Emily took to avoiding the young man, but he hung around their house all day, and took meals with the family. Whenever Andrew caught her alone, he hinted that Emily come round the shack, or invited her for a drink, and she spent two long weeks finding excuses to turn him down. It wasn’t long after that Emily had taken to smoking spliffs regularly, and stubbing them out on her thigh.

* * *

Emily knocked on professor Sprout’s office door Monday morning—she’d been excused from the first half of potions for her advising appointment.

“Come in,” Sprout trilled.

Her desk was a riot of colored pamphlets describing various post-graduate fields. The sight of them was overwhelming.

“Take a seat then,” Sprout offered before tapping her kettle with her wand. “So it looks like you’ve got a lot of options, Emily. You’ve got strong marks in all your classes—Herbology is excellent, as well as Transfiguration—”

“I was thinking, maybe,” Emily sat up straighter. “Potions.”

“Potions?” professor Sprout confirmed, surprised.

“Yeah,” Emily went on, more confident. “I’ve been getting really good.”

“Yes, I see Professor Snape’s comments are--” Sprout scanned her notes. “Quite positive.”

Sprout appeared slightly uncomfortable, but Emily knew what she meant to say.

“For a Hufflepuff, I know,” Emily replied.

“It’s important you remember, Professor Snape only accepts N.E.W.T. students with an O.W.L. of Outstanding” Professor Sprout reminded.

“I can do it,” Emily replied, determined.

“Well, if you’re seriously considering potions, you’ll want to continue with Herbology,” Sprout began scribbling a list. “Knowledge of the ingredients and their cultivation is of tantamount importance,” Sprout looked back up at Emily and smiled. “And I’d be delighted to have you. Transfiguration is also good to consider—the more advanced material bears great relevancy. I’d also suggest you continue with Charms, for practical reasons, since you can. Defense Against the Dark Arts is, of course, fundamental for any career in potions—”

“Defense?” Emily tensed.

“Yes, most definitely,” Sprout went on. “You’ll want to keep your options open, and the field of Defense has some of the greatest need for potioneers.”

“I’ll not be continuing with Defense,” Emily concluded; she couldn’t bear the thought of two more years under the tutelage of the stammering gobshite what assaulted her friend.

“And why not?” Sprout asked. “I suspect you could manage an E, if not better.”

“No,” Emily was adamant. “I must be able to do without it.”

“I’m afraid not,” Sprout sighed. “Not if you’re serious about potions. Even in the field of Healing, you'll need a strong background in Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

Emily considered her options, frustrated. Then again, with the Defense department’s track record, Squirrel probably wouldn’t be coming back next year.

End Notes:

1. “Five Years” is a song off of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album.

2. "twisting upwards like a turning screw"--the mechanism of the stairwell to Dumbledore's office is vague in the books, because a rotating spiral stairwell would go nowhere (think of barber polls), you would just stay spinning in place. Therefore, a spiral staircase that actually went up and down would have to function like a screw (like a spiral escalator). That it recognizes whether the passenger needs to go up or down is explained by magic.

3. 'an addict is what an addict does' is mildly adapted from 'celebrity is as celebrity does' (CoS)

4. Tristan lives in the Vauxhall neighborhood of Lambeth, London. It's a very nice, very diverse, and largely working class community (most homes are council housing, and these days, many are privately owned). I got myself into a bit of a pickle, because Vauxhall is mostly flats, and I'd established that Tristan's house was two-stories. I ended up spending a lot of time on google street view before I found an area that had two-story houses with backyards, within close proximity to a park. (Because I insist on making my story about wizards realistic!!!)

A/N: I am SO SORRY it took so long to get this chapter up! Between challenge entries and the queue closure, this got seriously held up.

Anyway, there are only three chapters left now!!!! Ah!!!!!

CI by Me

O.W.L. revision officially began in the second week of May. From that point forward, the fifth years spent their lessons reviewing everything significant they had learned during the whole of their five years at Hogwarts. Each class that week began with a lecture about academic honesty, and lists of banned items, charms, and substances were outlined repeatedly for the fifth years. Penelope Clearwater was on a warpath to keep the Ravenclaw common room perfectly silent, so Isobel and Laurel took again to studying in Cadogan’s Corridor. Their friendship with Emily rekindled, the three spent most of their evenings on the seventh floor near the portrait of the little night, reviewing thick stacks of notes, and chain-smoking.

Laurel was lying on her back, reciting everything she knew about wand legislation to herself, and periodically glancing at her notes to check a date or a name. Isobel was pacing the length of the corridor, drawing runes in the air with her wand, and muttering their translations. Emily was sitting cross-legged, hunched rocking back and forth over a list of potion ingredients and properties, and trying desperately not to join her friends in a fag . O.W.L. revision had turned out to be a terrible time to quit smoking.

* * *

Tristan, who had committed himself to his exile, was poring over five years of Defense Against the Dark Arts notes in the library, periodically closing his eyes to commit some fact to memory. He’d taken his independent study during his suspension seriously, and had managed to stay mostly up to date with his lessons, but he had yet to devise any successful system for studying alone. Three times he mixed up Kappas and Kelpies, and dropped his forehead onto the table in frustration.

After giving up and returning to the Slytherin dungeon, Tristan plugged in his headphone jack and fast-forwarded ahead to the last song on the first album that he and Emily had ever shared.

He cracked his knuckles and dragged his fag in time with the lyrics, feeling exquisitely alone.

* * *

“Gillyweed?” Isobel asked Emily as they marched with Laurel up to History of Magic from the grounds.

“Native to the Mediterranean, active material in root system, transfigurative properties include the formation and gills and digital webbing for underwater survival and navigation. Effects last an hour in fresh water, arguably longer in salt,” Emily recited.

“Honking Daffodil,” Isobel continued down the list.

“Functionally similar to mundane cousins, but they honk. Banned for cultivation in or around muggle communities, what with the honking,” Emily replied, slightly out of breath, as they continued to climb the steps.

“You’ve got it all down, Em, give it a rest,” Isobel sighed.

“No come on, keep going,” Emily insisted. “And I think you skipped geranium-comma-fanged.”

“See, you know it by heart!” Isobel cried.

* * *

LAUREL felt like their revision time sped by lightning-fast, and before she knew it, she was filing into the Great Hall with the other fifth years to sit her first O.W.L. The examiners had arrived during supper the previous night, causing a hush to fall upon every student in her year. Isobel’s mother knew Griselda Marchbanks, and Laurel wondered whether that relationship might be a leg up for Isobel. Then again, once she saw the stern old examiner, Laurel doubted it very much.

Too soon for comfort, it was time to turn over her test paper for her Theory of Charms exam, and Laurel wasted a few seconds closing her eyes and breathing deeply. This was it. She’d spent the last several months catching up and preparing, and now it was finally upon her. Without meaning to, Laurel had entered a perverse pact with herself: if she failed her O.W.L.s, she might as well give up everything and go back to the hexing—it would be all she had left.

The sound of fervent scribbling erupted around, so Laurel swallowed hard and read the first test question:

a) Give the incantation and
b) Describe the wand movement (if applicable) to impart a sense of cheerfulness.

Laurel rolled her eyes, and loaded her quill with ink.

After lunch, Laurel and the other fifth years waited in the chamber off the Great Hall to be called in groups for their practical exam. Isobel was nervously practicing color-change charms on her bootlaces, switching them rapidly through the rainbow. Laurel reached over and grasped Isobel’s free hand, causing Isobel to flinch before squeezing back—Laurel was too nervous to do anything else. She glanced at Tristan across the room, trying to catch his eye to offer an encouraging smile, but his head refused to leave his hands. Emily, who was levitating her hair to an interesting effect, had situated herself with her back to him. Finally, Laurel’s name was called.

“Braithewaite, Laurel—Bryce, Tristan—Cauldwell, Gwendolyn—Clearwater, Penelope,” professor Flitwick read from his scroll.

Laurel’s head shot up, tetchy from adreneline, before she retrieved her wand from Isobel.

“Good luck,” Laurel’s friends chorused as she joined the students clustered around the door.

“Alright Tristan,” Laurel said in a low voice, and he too flinched.

“Alright,” he replied after finding his composure.

“Professor Marchbanks is free,” Flitwick informed Laurel, and directed her over to the severe looking old witch.

“Miss Braithewaite?” she read as Laurel approached, and Laurel observed how professor Marchbanks’ eyes narrowed—could she have heard about Laurel’s trouble with Charms from the Mostafas?

“Yeah—yes. Miss. Professor,” Laurel stammered, but Professor Marchbanks had resumed her business-like manner.

“If you please, cast the appropriate charm to cause this wine glass to levitate,” Professor Marchbanks directed.

Laurel did as requested, and was pleased when she managed to set the wine glass down again gently, without it toppling over as Gwen Cauldwell had done a few spaces down. Ever since Laurel had surrendered her wand to Isobel, she found that it was working for her again.

Tristan seemed to be having a rougher time of it—he managed everything, but in his nervousness, cast each spell a bit too hard. His egg-cup managed a cartwheel display so enthusiastic that it shattered; the rat whose color he was to change became such a fierce shade of yellow that it began to glow; his wine glass shot up with such force that it smashed into the ceiling. Laurel willed herself not to be distracted and complete her own tasks, but she worried for him nonetheless.

Isobel and Emily came out of their practical exam together, and just as soon, the three were back up in the corridor studying for Transfiguration the following day. Emily was having a difficult time with vanishing spells, and her subjects tended to become translucent, rather than disappear entirely.

“It’s because you’re creeped out,” Laurel suggested. “It’s keeping you from casting the spell properly.”

“I can’t help it,” Emily moaned. “Where do the vanished objects go? What if they make me vanish an animal? It’s cruel!”

Sure enough, the following afternoon Laurel found herself vanishing an iguana—all but the very tip of the tail, which was disappointing. Her only other mistake was that the ferret she was meant to transform into a parrot became a cockatiel instead, but she hoped she might get at least partial credit for managing a bird at all. Other students were having a rougher time of it, to be sure. Penelope ended up breaking down in tears after her rat became a mug instead of a teacup, and had to be ushered out of the Great Hall to calm down. At least, Laurel was glad to see, Tristan’s mastery of Aguamenti seemed to impress his examiner.

Herbology on Wednesday went well enough, Laurel figured, but during the written exam she managed to forget everything she’d ever learned about Venomous Tentaculas. But Laurel’s main concern was Defense Against the Dark Arts the following day.

She and Isobel, and later Emily, had staged a sort of boycott of Squirrel’s classes, and they were hardly surprised when the professor neglected to mention their repeated absence to anyone in the faculty.

ISOBEL did fantastically, she thought, on the written portion of her Defense exam. After all, it had been her favorite class until recently. The trouble came when she was waiting to be called for her practical exam. Half of the students had already left the chamber off the Great Hall, and Isobel kept catching herself glaring furiously at the back of Squirrel’s turban. Eventually she and Emily were called, and Isobel experienced a disgusted shiver when she heard the words “Mostafa, Isobel” come out of the Defense professor’s mouth. Emily went so far as to shoot him a look of deep loathing. Isobel simply passed him into the Great Hall as quickly as she could, firmly avoiding any eye contact.

She had a harder time with her practical exam than she had had with the written one.

Protego,” Isobel shouted, and thrashed her wand through the air so ferociously that poor, ancient Professor Tofty fell backwards in his chair.

“Better too strong than too weak, eh,” the bald little wizard said kindly as he righted himself again.

Isobel and Laurel only had Runes on Friday, which required no practical exam, leaving their schedules free from lunch on. They met up with Emily, who had been studying out by the lake (the weather had become unjustly beautiful just as exams began). Laurel produced a napkin-wrapped bundle of sandwiches that she’d taken out from the Great Hall, and divided them amongst the trio. Isobel was still absorbed in her test paper.

“I definitely, got the transliterations right, but I’m so confused about ac and æsc,” she complained. “Which one’s æsc?”

“Straight line with the two slanty down bits at the top,” Laurel said through a mouthful of sandwich.

“So what’s ac, then?” Isobel asked, brows furrowed in bewilderment.

“Nearly identical, ‘cept the topmost slanty down bit has a slanty up bit as well,” Laurel traced it with her finger in the air.

“What's the translation?” asked Isobel.

“Oak tree,” Laurel said.

“And æsc?”

“Ash tree,” Laurel responded. All three witches broke down laughing—their days of pent up anxiety finally giving way.

“I bloody hate runes,” Isobel wheezed.

TRISTAN had Muggle Studies, the only exam he particularly cared about, after lunch on Friday. His biggest issue was time management: he tended to spend too long, writing well over the minimum, on every essay question. What was supposed to be a simple paragraph on electricity extended into a lengthy treatise on the history of alternating and direct current, including a great deal of unnecessary biographical information about Nikola Tesla.

The practical portion of the exam was embedded within the same time block, and Tristan was deeply annoyed that the Wizarding Examination Authority found it acceptable for the Muggle Studies exam to be carried out less formally than the others.

The examiners roamed among the tables while the handful of students scribbled their answers, asking them to complete tasks like identifying the correct size of batteries, and inserting them properly into a remote control.

Professor Burbage reminded the students of the remaining time—fifteen minutes—and Tristan rushed to finish his detailed history of the British Parliament. In the remaining seconds left for the exam, Tristan sped through his identifications and demonstrations of various muggle instruments.

“Matches,” he struck one against the strip on the back of the book. “Makes fire.”

“Ballpoint pen,” he scribbled on his test paper to demonstrate. “Like a quill, but less annoying.”

“Casette tape,” he jammed it into the portable stereo and pressed play. “Would play music under different circumstances.”

Professor Tofty seemed impressed by Tristan’s knowledge, however terse, and Tristan suspected the examiner was simply taking his word for it. After Professor Burbage called time, Tristan absconded to the grounds to review his test paper.

To his horror, a little knot of Slytherins were relaxing by the lake, and Tristan made a wide berth of them. One of the big ones, either Vince or Greg—Tristan couldn’t tell them apart and didn’t care to—was throwing stones with the apparent intention of hitting the giant squid’s tentacle while it lolled on the surface of the lake.

“Father will make certain that I’m on the team next year,” the nearly albino first year bragged in a carrying drawl. “Nimbus has a new model coming out, and we’ve got connections with the manufacturer. I should be getting one before it reaches the public even.”

After several failed attempts, a particularly sharp rock made contact with one of the squid’s suckers. Tristan was surprised to see the great cephalopod shrink back as a result.

“Oi,” Tristan called, making a beeline for the three first years. “You knock it off.”

“Or what, Bryce?” young Malfoy asked casually, but his mammoth goons jumped to their feet and adopted their most menacing stances.

“Look,” Tristan rolled his eyes. “You can’t bully me, so don’t embarrass yourself by trying.”

“We could take you,” one of the gorillas bleated.

“No,” Tristan shook his head slowly. He took several steps toward the juvenile wizards until their faces were close, and the full advantage of Tristan’s height was revealed. “You can’t,” he continued in a dangerous whisper. “Because I’m older than you, I’m smarter than you, I’m crazier than you,” Tristan set his glare on Malfoy, who was still on the ground. “And I will fuck. You. Up.”

Tristan punctuated his sentence by jabbing the end of his Ebony Wand into one of the gorillas’ chest, singing a cigarette-like burn in the fabric of his school robes. The boy took a step back, and all three of the other Slytherins looked nervous.

“Now piss off while you can,” Tristan hissed, and the young students scrambled away from him.

EMILY’s most important O.W.L., potions, fell on Monday—which was ideal as it gave her the whole of the weekend to prepare. She only had Care of Magical Creatures, Astronomy, Divination, and History after, and being the least important, she decided she wouldn’t bother with any of them until the night before.

Her written exam for potions went superbly, and Emily was certain she’d managed at least a perfect score. When asked to name at least four uses for dragon’s blood, Emily listed all twelve. When Emily wrote about Polyjuice, she described not only the ingredients and effects, but detailed every point of the process, including which types of cauldrons required different brewing times during the fourth step of part one.

Emily’s practical exam went at least as well. She’d never worked on a potion alone, and she found that when she wasn’t explaining the process, or correcting the mistakes of a partner, she entered a nearly trancelike state. Emily started responding to the subtlest changes of the surface of her simmering brew, and improvised adjustments to her concoctions as if they were speaking to her in some private language.

When her syrup of Hellebore seemed too sticky, she raised the temperature under her cauldron to compensate for the viscosity. Emily also realized that the ingredients for her Draught of Peace were highly flammable, and so alternated clockwise and anti-clockwise stirs to prevent combustion at the higher heat. It worked, and her potion quickly adopted the perfect shade of turquoise and began issuing a silvery vapour.

Emily corked her last sample with time to spare. Her trance state broken, she became  aware of the low level of chaos bubbling within the Great Hall. Oliver Wood’s cauldron was issuing disturbing plumes of grey smoke, but Archie Peasegood had it worse; his potion had adopted the consistency of cement. Even Penelope Clearwater and Percy Weasley, who had managed the next best potions, were fretting over stubbornly orange brews. A sulfur smell was coming from somewhere in the room, and just as Emily deposited her sample with the examiners, Tristan’s potion exploded, catching his robes on fire. Emily was sad for Tristan, but smiled to herself anyway; Snape would have no choice but to accept her as a N.E.W.T. student in the Fall.

Tuesday’s Care of Magical Creatures exam was a joke. Emily was totally unprepared to determine the proper diet for a sick unicorn, and sustained several painful jabs from a bowtruckle. At one point Emily was directed to a cage that appeared to contain several hedgehogs, and merely laughed.

“I’m sorry,” Emily gasped to the examiner. “What’s the question?”

It wasn’t all Emily’s fault, she reasoned. Kettleburn’s lessons were disorganized and his lectures were nearly impossible to follow. Further down along the forest’s edge Emily saw that Tristan had given up completely. He sat alone in a paddock with about twenty humming puffskeins, absentmindedly running his hands through their fur and gazing at the lake. Emily wished for a painful second that she could just join him, but pressed on demonstrating her abysmal Care of Magical Creatures skills for the examiner. Then again, she thought, none of the creatures had actually died in her care, so surely she couldn’t have fared too poorly.

Divination was equally daft. Emily’s written exam was perfectly acceptable, and she correctly matched most tea leaf shapes to their interpretations, but her practical was a load of bollocks. Emily concentrated on the crystal ball, the gentle rippling within refusing to do anything but ripple gently. She rattled off a load of nonsense about ‘a placid surface over teeming waters,’ and ‘secrets submerged’, certain that her examiner could tell she was making it all up.

Tristan didn’t even bother showing up for the History of Magic exam on Thursday morning. Emily was surprised by how intensely he’d followed through on not being arsed about the class. She pushed the thought out of her mind, and scribbled a brief overview on the Warlocks of Liechtenstein. It wasn’t until after the exam that they found Tristan in the lake.

* * *

The general consensus was that he’d fallen in.

Emily knew better.

When they found him washed up on the bank, pushed there, probably, by the giant squid, he was dressed in full muggle fashion. His favorite Joy Division t-shirt, his favorite blazer. He’d lost one of his wing-tip shoes to the waters. Tristan was barely breathing when they got him to the hospital wing, deeply sedated, and Madame Pomfrey almost couldn’t revive him.

Emily edged against the castle wall alongside the high cliff-face on the northern edge of Black Lake until she found the spot where he’d fallen. A flask, now emptied of the stolen potion, several cigarette butts, and his repaired stereo. These were the residue that distinguished the precise location where Tristan had sat, probably for some time, before surrendering to the water below. Emily pressed play on the stereo, and found the place where Tristan had paused the song. With it, a point in sonic time:
Oh no, love, you’re not alone, no matter what or who you’ve been. No matter when or where you've seen...

“Rock and Roll Suicide”--the last song on the first album she’d ever shared with Tristan.

All those months ago, Emily had taken a potion. She’d seen the fractal of time, how some moments pressed against others. Through the membrane, she’d sent him this song. This message: You're not alone.

But the message was a lie, and she'd broken that promise.

* * *

Isobel and Laurel were already sitting, somber, at Tristan’s bedside when Emily arrived. Even Siouxsie was there, lightly nipping at the unconscious boy’s finger with her beak. The three girls began crying, and pressed themselves together in a desperate embrace. There was too much to say, so instead, they said nothing.

“That owl must leave at once,” Madame Pomfrey insisted a quarter hour later. “This is the hospital wing, and no place for animals.”

“Just one second, I need to write a letter,” Emily begged.

“You can write it another time,” answered Madame Pomfrey, resolute.

“It’s to his mum!” Emily cried.

“The school has already informed the Bryces of the accident,” the matron sniffed.

Emily grabbed some parchment and scribbled as quickly as she could before Madame Pomfrey could stop her.

Come at once. Tristan didn’t fall.


A/N: I AM SO SORRY. I really hadn't intended things to go this way, but it sort of happened by itself. I realized that Tristan was showing all of the warning signs, and that it couldn't be avoided. And that I'd done all this subconscious lake foreshadowing! I CANNOT CONTROL THESE CHARACTERS.

End Notes:

1. “Rock and Roll Suicide” is a track off David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album.

2. Laurel’s experience with her Theory of Charms exam parallels Harry’s in
OotP, and some of the language was loosely adapted from Harry's own exam—but none of it word-perfect (all rights to JKR anyway).

3. Of course, we know from Prof. McGonagall that vanished “objects go into nonbeing, which is to say, everything” (
Deathly Hallows).


This is the penultimate chapter! Ah! (FYI: There are a couple of flashbacks indicated in italics.)

TRISTAN’s parents were there when he finally woke up, and no one knew what to say.

The enchanted ‘Fuck Slytherin’ pin that Laurel had given him for his birthday, the one that he had carefully affixed to his blazer front before setting out to the lake the previous day, had been damaged by the water. It now simply read, ‘Fuck.’

Mary’s eyes kept closing as she rocked ever so gently in her seat, in what Tristan suspected was the memory of some Catholic prayer from her childhood. Tristan was relieved that she wasn’t visibly devastated. Rather than falling apart, she sat beside him, mercifully solid.

Tristan hadn’t planned on there being an after. It was humiliating, and terrifying, and he felt like a stranger.

“Did I ever tell you of my uncle Frank?” was the first thing anyone said.

“No?” Tristan tried to reply, but he only managed to grunt. His voice had grown croaky from lack of use.

Tristan had heard mention before of his father’s ‘Uncle Frank, what had some trouble with the law,’ but nothing specific. And he had no idea how it could possibly be important now.

“Uncle Frank was me dad’s elder brother. Looked after the family when granddad died, raised dad himself.”

Tristan tried to lose himself in the view from the hospital wing and float away from the story, but the angle between his pillow and the window was too acute.

“He was drafted to fight the Germans when he was still young, and fell injured. His leg I think." Eddie said. "He’d grown up farming, so he took employment at the big house in the village. Then, when he was twenty-six, he murdered them. The whole family.”

There was a heavy silence while Tristan and his father held each other’s gaze.

“Do you know why I’m telling you this?” his father asked.

“N-no.” Tristan’s voice cracked.

“Me dad swore to his death that old Frank never did it. But he’s guilty. That’s my uncle--my blood--and he killed a family. This is the man what raised my father, and he’s a murderer,” Eddie looked intensely into his son’s eyes. “You can’t choose your blood, son. And you can’t go thinking what you’re family’s done’s got fuck all to do with you.”

Tristan turned his father’s words over in his head.

“You’re granddad were a good man, and he was raised by a killer,” Eddie said, firm. “Least you had me n’ your mum.”

* * *

After Madame Pomfrey gently suggested that it might be time for bed, Tristan’s parents reluctantly set off back to the village where they’d arranged a room at the Three Broomsticks. That night, another patient arrived in the hospital wing.

Tristan awoke to the sounds of little Harry Potter, filthy and unconscious, being carried into the ward by Dumbledore himself. Tristan tried to check his watch while the matron fussed over the first year celebrity, but it too had broken from the lake water.

Before too long, Professor McGonagall arrived in the hospital wing and Tristan feigned sleep, trying to hear the murmurs from beside Harry’s bed. What Tristan did manage to catch, he had a difficult time understanding:

“I am no fool, Albus” McGonagall whispered, conjuring her most terrifying severity. “You primed the boy to go down there. You devised the entire charade with him in mind.”

“Yes, Minerva,” said Dumbledore mildly. “And he performed magnificently.”

“Why would you do such a thing?” she demanded, aghast. “He’s only a child.”

“Harry Potter will need to do a great many things,” Dumbledore mused. “I thought it best that he try his hand under my supervision.”

“May I remind you,” McGonagall seethed. “It is our responsibility to look after the students of this school. Not to use them as mercenaries.”

“In this case,” Dumbledore sighed. “We do not have that luxury.”

“Machiavellian,” McGonagall shot back. “That’s what you are. I hope you realize that.”

There were many more whispers and comings and goings before the various Hogwarts faculty finally vacated the Hospital Wing--or appeared to. One thing was certain: someone had died. A teacher. Tristan suspected that he had a good idea who it was.

“Everyone has gone,” came the headmaster’s voice suddenly from the other end of the silent ward. “If you have been feigning sleep, as I presume you have, simply say nothing.”

Tristan turned the command over in his head, and confused by how to respond, indeed said nothing. Dumbledore made quick and quiet work crossing the Hospital Wing, and settled into one of the chairs beside Tristan.

“Good evening Mr. Bryce,” Dumbledore said, blue eyes glittering in the half-light. “Or I suppose I should say, good morning.”

“Was it Snape?” Tristan asked. “Who died?”

Professor Snape,” Dumbledore corrected gently. “And no, I am happy to say that Professor Snape is quite well. Although, I suspect I may know why you thought of him.”

“So you think he’s alright?” Tristan asked, remembering a particular tattoo he'd seen just before Christman. “You think he’s trustworthy, and all that?”

“I dare say I do,” Dumbledore replied. “I would go so far as to say that Professor Snape is among the most deserving of my trust.”

“But he was…”

“Yes,” Dumbledore agreed. “And he has done everything in his power to right his wrongs, and commit himself to good. Just as, if not more, fervently than the greatest witches and wizards.”

“You really think that someone can make up for that?” Tristan asked. “Being a Death Eater?”

“I believe that the capacity for good exists in everyone, given the opportunity and the time.”

* * *

The gossip of Tristan’s ‘accident’ might have spread throughout the school, but was instantly eclipsed by fantastic stories about three first year Gryffindors. The following morning, Harry Potter’s bed was engulfed by the whole of the Gryffindor team as well as a handful of first years. Madame Pomfrey drew a curtain to give Tristan and his guests some privacy as the swarm on the other side of the hospital wing swelled in numbers and volume.

“What’s that all about?” Emily asked, referring to melee.

“That one,” Tristan pointed out the youngest Weasley. “Played some chess. And that one,” he indicated to a manic little witch with a lot of hair, “did something clever with potions. The rest has a lot to do with some special rock.”

The pertinent details were still murky for the school at large.

“I heard something about you-know-who,” Isobel added, looking concerned. “But it’s all rumors.”

“Yeah I bet if young Potter got a headache the school would assume it was the Dark Lord behind it,” Laurel scoffed.

Tristan was discharged from the Hospital Wing that afternoon, and was glad to get away from the raucous Potter Party. The school still had no reason to suspect that Tristan’s ‘accident’ was anything but accidental, and had failed to inform his parents of his release. Tristan took advantage of what would probably be his only unsupervised hour for some time. It felt odd—making his way through the castle wearing his muggle clothes. He only had the one shoe.

After five years at Hogwarts, Tristan felt like he was seeing it for the first time. Or rather, that the castle was finally seeing him.

Out of habit, Tristan headed to Cadogan’s Corridor, and found his friends were all there. Stunned by his casual arrival, and wary about how to greet him, Tristan felt compelled to steer towards a more neutral subject.

“So I think I’ve got the whole story,” Tristan said, taking a seat on the flagstone.

All things considered, he was glad for the fuss over Harry Potter—it gave them something to talk about aside from what Tristan had done.

“It’s mad. You-know-who was after the Philosopher’s Stone, trying for immortality and all that. Turns out, he isn’t dead after all—or he wasn’t. Those first-years got it in their heads someone meant to steal the stone, and went through a lot of bollocks to stop it, because telling a teacher was clearly out of the question. Then a special mirror told Harry how to get the stone, and he killed Quirrel, because his hands are magic,” Tristan lit a fag. “Oh yeah, and Squirrel had you-know-who living on the back of his head the whole time. So that’s a thing.”

To Tristan’s surprise, Emily and Laurel both directed their attention to Isobel, looking scared. Isobel blanched, her expression twisted into an alarming combination of revulsion and terror.

“You-know-who was on the back of Quirrel’s head?” Isobel asked.

“Yeah, under the turban,” said Tristan, beginning to grin at the absurdity of it all.

“Oh no,” Isobel whispered, clapping her hands over her mouth. “Oh nonono.”

For a moment, Tristan was sure that Isobel would vomit. She heaved a few times and shook violently while Emily and Laurel took her either side. Tristan was bewildered.

“Quirrel assaulted Isobel,” Laurel explained in a whisper.

“He what?” cried Tristan.

“I was almost snogged by Voldemort, is what happened!” Isobel wailed, and for complicated reasons, the four of them laughed.

It was the kind of laugh that comes out of fear; when something dark and polluted gets thrust under a bright light, and no one can help but find it funny.

“I’m so sorry Isobel,” Tristan said, reaching to put a comforting hand on her knee after the group had settled themselves. “I really am, that… shit.”

“Urgh,” she groaned, twisting her shoulders. “It’s just... I feel so contaminated.”

Emily and Laurel launched into assurances that it wasn’t Isobel’s fault, but she wasn’t hearing it. Tristan understood. It might not be reasonable, but he knew what it was like to feel polluted after being touched by something evil.

“I met him,” Tristan said evenly, his knuckles growing white.

“Who?” asked Laurel.

“Voldemort,” he said.

Everyone looked stunned, but no one flinched. They were marching over the shards of the shattered taboo, and where they were headed was darker and more terrifying than any made-up name. It was a leap into the unknown. This, Tristan realized, is what The Truth feels like.


“My birth parents, before I was adopted,” Tristan said. “They were Death Eaters. Bad ones. I got taken away when I was six. My family and their friends tortured a pair of aurors so bad that it damaged their minds permanently.”

You know Bellatrix Lestrange?” Isobel spluttered, terrified.

Yes, Tristan would never forget ‘Auntie Bella.’

“I’m Rabastan Lestrange,” Tristan said with a wry smile. “Junior.”

ISOBEL tried to absorb what Tristan—Rabastan—had just said. She’d grown up with these names and these stories, and all the while, Tristan had lived them. She looked over at Emily and Laurel, but neither seemed quite as affected as Isobel felt.

“You knew?” she cried, and the two girls looked away evasively.

“You did?” Tristan turned to Laurel in shock.

“I figured it out ages ago. The night I gave you that potion. Snape had these, like, family photos of you,” she explained, embarrassed.

“And you didn’t… mind?” Tristan was dumbfounded, looking at each of his friends’ faces in turn.

“Course not!” Laurel replied. “I mean, I felt sorry about it...”

“It’s terrible, Tristan,” Isobel agreed. “But you’re still, well, you.”

Tristan met Isobel’s eyes, as if willing himself to believe what she was saying. She scooted across the floor and wrapped her arms around him.

“We love you, Tristan,” she said, squeezing him tightly. “I don’t care if you were born Tristan, or Rabastan, or Cockface Pimpletits.”

Tristan hugged Isobel tighter, and did something she’d never seen him do before: he cried. Just a little. She only knew he did for the way he shook, and the proximity of his face to hers. It was over in seconds. Tristan broke from the embrace, and Isobel took a look at her friend, seeing him for the first time.

Rabastan Lestrange, she thought, still processing the enormity of what she had learned. She would never tell him so, but Isobel couldn’t help but feel awe at how well the name suited him—how infinitely more appropriate for his manner and appearance than ‘Tristan Bryce.’ Some missing piece of her friend had finally shoved itself into place, and Isobel felt like she’d always been aware of its absence. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, the space this secret now occupied had nagged at her. Even if she hadn’t consciously realized it, there had always been something about him that had put Isobel on edge; some enigma that had inspired mistrust and animosity in her. Magpie like, she'd collected his flaws; turning each on over like it might give her some answer. In his being whole, Isobel felt greater love toward him than she ever had before.

“Can I ask,” came Laurel in a small voice. “How did you meet him?”

“He was around all the time, really,” Tristan remembered. “The house was a sort of a… a Death Eater headquarters. But I remember one time, on my birthday...”

The three witches watched, rapt, and Tristan recalled. As he did, he fiddled with a loose thread on the cuff of his trousers, forcibly reminding Isobel of the photo she’d seen of him as a child at his house.

“I was five—now I think on it, it must have been just hours before he went after the Potters. I remember he came to me, and he conjured this snake,” Tristan closed his eyes against the memory. “It was like, a gift, or something.”

Isobel was still as stone, listening.

“What was he like?” Emily asked, eyes wide, absently rocking back and forth.

“Scary,” Tristan said, opening his eyes to her.

“Blimey,” said Laurel.

* * *

The following afternoon, Tristan was in Hogsmeade with his parents and Laurel had guidance with Professor Sprout, so Isobel went off in search of Emily. The air was warm, almost oppressively so, and Isobel felt the mild discomfort of her makeup melting as she meandered across the grounds. But the day was beautiful. The sky was impossibly blue and vast, highlighting the immense scale of the Scottish countryside where sat Hogwarts, shrouded in its many enchantments. Little insects swarmed above the grass, invisible until the sun hit them. They glittered like motes of dust, recognizable as life only by their erratic movements. Emily came into focus, standing at the edge of the lake, and Isobel picked up speed toward her. Emily was crying, pressing her trembling mouth closed against her tears, and gazing absorbed into the depths of the water.

“Oh Emily,” Isobel said, taking her friend up in her arms.

“We could have lost him,” Emily sobbed.

“I’m so glad we didn’t,” Isobel whispered, and the two rocked from side to side for a while. Isobel couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by a sense of personal responsibility. It was she who had grown cross with Tristan, and exiled him to a haunted solitude in the first place. She wondered how she would have survived her grief and guilt, nearly unbearable as it already was, had he succeeded. What would they do now, Isobel wondered, now this concern had entered their lives? Surely Isobel would be wracked with anxiety every evening when Tristan retired, on his own, back to the Slytherin dormitories. There were many ways a fragile body might break, and each of them were playing out in Isobel's mind.

The two witches turned their attention again, as if it were inevitable, to the lake.

Light danced, refracted, along its rippling surface as beautiful as anything. Isobel felt irrationally sympathetic for the great, quiet span of water stretching out in front of her. It hadn’t chosen to be weaponized, and had even gone so far as to spit Tristan back out again. Then, for a swift and shocking moment, Isobel’s mind plunged beneath its surface, imagining the lake’s seemingly infinite, teeming depths. Vertigo suddenly overcame her, and Isobel felt as though she were standing at the edge of some massive height (which, she determined, she was—if one considered the distance to the lake’s bottom). She unconsciously took a step back.

“Tell me,” Emily said, wiping her eyes. “Do you love him?”

“Of course I do, I’m sorry I’ve been so terrible about him, I really am—”

“No, I mean,” Emily sniffed. “It’s just you were always so strange about me and him, I just wondered…”

Isobel fought every urge to be defensive, and searched the most secret corners of herself for the right answer:

“I suppose I was jealous,” she concluded. “Not because I like him like that, just because of how much he liked you. I suppose I wished someone would feel that way about me.”

“I’m sure plenty of blokes feel that way about you,” came Emily’s congested, but assured, reply.

“They don’t, I don’t know anyone who does, and” Isobel cast about for what she meant to say. “It was about you as well. It’s just, you’re so kind, and so gentle, and so lovely, and I’m so severe, and harsh. I’ve always been so jealous of you.”

Isobel’s self-consciousness was interrupted by Emily’s surprised laugh.

“Of me?” she asked, incredulous. “Tell me, honestly, would you rather be cute, or beautiful?”

Isobel was taken aback, the suggestion seemed ridiculous to her. It was one thing to be told she was beautiful, which Isobel rejected as generally exaggerated. It was quite another for Emily, of all people, to introduce an inversion to Isobel’s familiar jealousy.

“I’m cute, but I’m not beautiful,” Emily went on. “You are. And you’re passionate. It’s daft to be jealous of me. I’m just some naive country girl, and a slag to boot.”

Isobel countered with a swift and sudden outpouring of her every insecurity, and recounted her many tortured years of coveting everything from Emily’s looks to her demeanor. Emily laughed and rolled her eyes while Isobel ranted, both flattered and firmly contrary.

“No, no, no,” Emily insisted, giggling. Their battle of ‘you’re prettier than I am’ / 'no you’re prettier than I am’ eventually became quite silly to both girls. “You’ve got it wrong. You’re much more what blokes want in a girl.”

Isobel’s palms shot to her temples and she found herself unable to hold her uncertainties at bay any longer. It hadn’t been the point, not exactly, but when it came to Isobel, it was always the point. Hidden just at the periphery of her consciousness. Did Isobel really want blokes?

While she'd felt dizzy and proud after shagging Lucas, her her giddiness had faded with time leaving only confused memories of the actual functions. It was your first time, she told herself. It’s never good the first time.

She could appreciate it when a wizard was attractive or charming, but... Of course I find girls prettier; girls try harder and care about what they look like. That doesn't make me gay.

But then there was Emily's skin. Her hair. It always looked so soft. Isobel could imagine running a hand over her smooth surfaces, and that thought pulled at something deep inside herself.

Despite her protests, something was beginning to find focus. A question she'd always been to afraid to ask.

Isobel looked again at the lake, as if it might offer some answer, but saw only a calm surface shimmering over the promise of a violent unknown.

TRISTAN gazed out at the fierce sunset, fractured by the diamond paned window in the rented room above the Three Broomsticks. He found himself missing the dusk in winter, when the clouds softened the sky, rendering blurring sweeps of champagne and periwinkle. The early summer’s horizon in Hogsmeade was as bloody as carnage.

Tristan wasn’t sure how he ought to behave after jumping into the lake, and after being dragged out, and after his parents had had to be summoned. His mother was glancing over a curt little story in The Daily Prophet about the mysterious death of the Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Very few details had made their way to the press, but it was enough to reopen the annual speculation that the position was cursed. Quirrel had been only the most recent in a long line of accidents, scandals, and deaths stretching back over thirty years.

Mary looked up from the paper and offered her son a gentle smile. They had been taking it in turns, she and Eddie, to stay with Tristan during the day. It made him feel terrible that his parents should miss so much work on his behalf. At this rate, they’d burn through every vacation day they’d set aside for a holiday abroad. On a more selfish note, Tristan couldn’t help but resent having to be watched. The shame and guilt for what he’d done were the only things that filled the emptiness that having tried and failed had left.

What’s more, Tristan would be, for the third time in his life, sent to a psychologist once a week, and his parents had already signed him up for guidance next term at Hogwarts. It was a difficult business, finding a wizarding therapist. The field of psychology had been developed by muggles, and very few witches and wizards entered the trade. A muggle therapist was, of course, out of the question. Any talk of Witch-Nazi Parents or the stresses of Magic School would certainly confuse his diagnosis.

“I got an owl from Professor Burbage today,” came Mary’s voice, interrupting her son’s miserable train of thought. “She’s sent her relief that you’re alright, as well as her confidence that you passed your Muggle Studies exam.”

Tristan felt himself released from an anxiety that had gripped him since he'd woken up in the hospital wing. If he cocked up all his O.W.L.s and couldn’t return to Hogwarts, he’d wondered what he would have left.

“Snape—Professor Snape,” Mary corrected herself. “Wrote as well. He’s accepted you as an N.E.W.T. student, preemptive of your exam results.”

Mary shifted uncomfortably, but tried to keep her voice regular.

“He’s sent something else as well,” she added, dislodging an envelope. “Photographs.”

Tristan hesitantly took the stack of pictures and turned them over. The first was of Belvina—his birth mother—very young, and holding a bundle of infant Tristan, who had still been Rabastan then. For the second time in over a decade, Tristan felt his eyes sting as he looked at her, beaming up at him, photographically immortal.

* * *

“Quite a few recognizable names—more than any year before,” mused Snape. “Longbottom. For instance.” 

Rabastan felt his stomach drop, his eyes focused on the tea rapidly growing cold in his hands.

"I think I would like to show you something," Snape said delicately, before lifting the hem of his robes sleeve. "As you may now realize, I was in the acquaintance of your parents."

A skull, a snake, seared into the Potions Master's flesh. More faded than the image Rabastan remembered, but familiar still. The way it almost seemed to move, to writhe, if you didn't look directly at it. Most nights, Rabastan woke up cold from nightmares of that tattoo blossoming on his own forarm.

“Just because your parents swore allegiance to the wrong side, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be curious about your family,” Snape offerred. “You are just as much an orphan as those war children from more glamorous families.”

“She’s definitely dead?” Rabastan asked. He couldn’t help it.

“I’m afraid so. She dueled with an incredibly accomplished auror. Belvina didn’t stand a chance,” Snape sounded sympathetic. “She did, however, manage to take one of his eyes before she went.”

Rabastan wasn’t sure how that was supposed to make him feel. Surely he couldn’t remember his mother, she’d died when he was still so little. But he remembered remembering her.

He could remember loving her, and feeling loved in return. He could remember the sun, and the feeling of it, even though he’d spent every day after she died locked up in that dank room in that dark mansion. Rabastan wondered how a woman so evil could have made him felt so loved...

"Believing that child-rearing was the sole dominion of women, after your mother's death, your primary care fell to your aunt," Snape added tensely. "A most unfortunate turn of events."

“I want,” Tristan cleared his throat. “I think I want to go see him.”

Silence fell in the room over the Three Broomsticks. The offer had been left uncomfortably open ever since Tristan had first been adopted. Never before had Tristan had any interest in taking it up.

“When?” Mary asked, holding back her surprise, alongside a million unspoken protests.

“Now,” Tristan replied, afraid of losing his nerve.

* * *

Tristan let go of his side of the portkey—a wishbone—after he felt his feet hit solid, barren ground. The sudden assault of screaming wind and frozen air was a shock after the golden warmth of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The auror surveyed Tristan, as if worried he might faint or be sick.

Tristan hadn’t been able to set out straight away, of course. Mary had booked them beds on the next Knight Bus to London, and spent the rest of the evening calling in every Ministry favor she had in order to expedite the process. It had been difficult securing Eddie, a muggle, access into the Ministry. And Tristan’s file was confidential, so they dealt only with aurors of the highest security clearance. It was late the following afternoon when he finally found himself approaching the fortress on the island in the North Sea.

Tristan didn’t think his auror liked him very much—not after seeing his file. The tall wizard was brisk, but he was also professional. The auror set the pace, and the two marched together into the dense fog.

With every step, dread and hopelessness set into Tristan’s bones. He'd already lost most of his nerve, and soon he wanted nothing more than to turn back. The despair grew overwhelming, and Tristan began to feel just as he’d done perched on the cliff-face above Black Lake. He was certain his agony couldn’t grow any worse when…

“Tell me where he is, Longbottom!” his aunt’s voice rings, shrill, from somewhere deep inside the manor in Tristan’s mind.

“Dead!” the woman cries.

“Do not lie to me!” Bellatrix shrieks. “Crucio!”

Tristan stumbled, and the palms of his hands hit the rocky ground, hard. The auror stooped beside him, genuine concern on his face, but it was too late...

Rabastan’s cousin is crying.

“Hush now, Draco,” Aunt Cissa says, scooping her baby son up from his cot and sweeping from the room.

Rabastan doesn't want her to go; he likes when Auntie Cissa and his tiny cousin are at the Manor. Rabastan begins to cry. He tries not to, he knows what will happen if he does, but thinking about it only makes him wail louder.

“Bella, don’t!” Auntie Cissa yells from somewhere in the Manor.

“That child has no respect,” Aunt Bella screeches back.

The door bursts open.

“He’s only a child,” Cissa pleads.

Crucio!” Aunt Bella shouts...

Eventually it stops. Bella goes back down the hall and the screams start up again. She isn't even asking questions anymore--she's just angry. She tortures, and tortures, and tortures. The silence that follows is worse.

The auror shook Tristan.

“I’m sorry,” he said, producing a bar of chocolate before summoning a lynx patronus. “I didn’t realize you’d be affected so soon.”

Tristan’s right knee was bleeding freely where it had met a jagged rock. Mr. Shacklebolt drew out his wand to heal the wound but Tristan stopped him. The pain was far from excruciating, but it wasn’t a good feeling, so the Dementors couldn’t take it away. It tethered Tristan to his own body and reality, ensuring he wouldn’t slip back into his own memories again.

At Mr. Shacklebolt’s insistence, Tristan nibbled a few bites of chocolate before trying to stand up and walk again. Soon, they were back on their way to the fearsome prison.

Two aurors with shining patronuses guarded Azkaban’s steel doors alongside half a dozen Dementors.

“Kingsley,” nodded a tough looking wizard with wiry gray hair.

“Dawlish,” replied Mr. Shacklebolt.

“Prisoner number?” inquired Dawlish. Mr. Shacklebolt listed off a sequence of runes and numerals, and the other two aurors traded dark looks.

“Lestrange?” confirmed the second auror, eyes flitting briefly to Tristan.

“Yes,” replied Mr. Shacklebolt, his voice firm.

“Williamson can take you,” said Dawlish, his professionalism restored.

Williamson led Tristan and Mr. Shacklebolt to a side room where he performed a number of security screenings. The pony-tailed auror gave Tristan a sidelong glance while he waved his wand over him, and Tristan saw Mr. Shacklebolt’s jaw tense. Once cleared, Tristan followed the two aurors and their patronuses deeper into the fortress, regretting his decision worse with every step.

The corridor was beset with torches, but their light didn't seem enough to cut through the gloom. Distant wails of prisoners echoed through the halls, and the walls themselves gave off ebbing waves of cold and curses.

“I can take him from here,” Mr. Shacklebolt commanded after Williamson unlocked the corridor to the maximum-security wing.

There were no windows. At the end of the corridor were three doors, each guarded by a robed Dementor. The door to his left read Lestrange, Rodolphus. To his right, Lestrange, Rabastan Senior. And directly in front of him: Lastrange, Bellatrix.

Tristan stared, unblinking. Ice water took the place of blood. Gut dropped, heart froze, breath caught in lungs.

“You have only been cleared to visit one inmate,” Mr. Shacklebolt told Tristan, his voice even.

“What? No!” came Tristan’s strangled whisper. He felt like he’d been slapped.

“She can’t hear us, can she?” Tristan lowered his voice.

Mr. Shacklebolt’s carefully collected features softened. “No, I’m sure she can’t.”

The auror unlocked the door to Tristan’s right, and Tristan waited to follow behind. They stood still for a moment.

“Whenever you are ready,” urged Mr. Shacklebolt, impassive once more.

“What?” gulped Tristan. “Aren’t you coming?”

“I thought you might like privacy with your father,” replied Mr. Shacklebolt, chilly. Tristan stammered, pleading, running his fingers through his hair. The auror surveyed Tristan with curiosity. “As you wish.”

There was another damp stone corridor leading to Rabastan Lestrange Senior’s cell. A wooden chair had been arranged in front of the bars, and behind them Tristan saw, for the first time in a decade, his father. He looked clean under his decrepit prisoner’s robes, sitting upright on the edge of his miserable bed, hands folded delicately in his lap.

Tristan wondered if he’d been scrubbed and shaved in advance of his visit.

“Rabastan,” the Death Eater croaked.

Tristan shrunk back as his father swept to standing and approached the bars, dragging chains along the floor behind him. His wrists wore heavy manacles.

“Do you fear me, son?” the man demanded. He was about the same age as Eddie, but prematurely aged from Azkaban. His face was still proud, but his once shrewd eyes gleamed with the ferocity of a broken mind.

“Tell me what became of you.”

“I was adopted,” Tristan managed to say, incapable of resisting the madman’s command. Rabastan Senior was no stranger, only estranged, and very much the same as Tristan remembered. If more unhinged.

“By whom?” Rabastan Senior demanded, his eyes narrow and cold.

“Mary and Eddie Bryce,” Tristan’s throat was very dry.

“Bryce, Bryce,” the man tried to place the name—forcibly reminding Tristan of the Slytherin prefect.

“You went to school with her,” Tristan added, vying for confidence. “Mary MacDonald, she was called then.”

Rabastan Senior’s face darkened, his hands leapt to grasp the bars and Tristan recoiled another few paces. Tristan had completely forgotten that Mr. Shacklebolt was only a few steps behind him.

“MacDonald? The mudblood!” He spat. “No son of mine—”

“Why?” Tristan shouted over his father. “Why didn’t you ever stop Bellatrix?”

The prisoner faltered, his wild eyes casting about his cell.

“The Dark Lord had greater tasks for me,” Rabastan replied. “Than your upkeep.” But Tristan spied a look of remorse flicker across the madman’s face.

There would be no answers here. Tristan didn't know what he'd been looking for, what clue into himself he had hoped to find. This place, this person; they held no meaning. Rabastan Senior was no more than a footnote. Tristan's past, but not his future. It did not do to dwell.

Without a word, Tristan turned, and strode back out of the cell.

“Rabastan!” the man shouted after Tristan. “Rabastan come back here,” but Tristan didn’t didn't break his stride. The madman’s shouts became screams. The echoed cries and rattling of bars faded into the distance as Tristan marched away.

“That man isn’t my father,” Tristan answered the decade old question that had lurked silently, never being asked. Mr. Shacklebolt looked for a moment like he might say something, but didn’t.

The portkey yanked Tristan from the island in the North Sea, and he saw the auror office at the Ministry shimmer into existence in front of his eyes. It was sweltering in contrast with the biting winds and terrible fog at the prison. Tristan’s parents, pale and anxious, swarmed their son just as soon as he materialized. Mr. Shacklebolt collapsed into a chair while the family was distracted.

Soon the auror was pressing a mug of hot chocolate into Tristan’s hands.

“Your son was very brave today,” he said. The adults in the room remained mercifully quiet while Tristan sipped.

Six years.

His first six years, he’d spent, as Rabastan Lestrange, confined in that terrible manor. Longer than he’d lived with the Bryce’s after being adopted and before going to Hogwarts. Too many times over the last decade, Tristan would repeat his new name in front of his reflection—Tristan Bryce, Tristan Bryce, Tristan Bryce—until the words sounded like nonsense. They’d never seemed to fit. Tristan had felt cold terror at the thought of uttering Rabastan Lestrange, the way muggle children feared their own compulsion to say Bloody Mary. He’d worried that if he said it, it might come true.

In his darkest, most painful moments, Tristan didn’t feel like the Bryce’s were his real parents. That he could never live up to the challenge of being their son. He’d always believed that he was destined to become like that madman in a cage.

The hot chocolate was taking effect, and a brilliant light of defiance flared inside Tristan Rabastan Bryce. He may have lived longer in the decrepit Lestrange Manor, but he’d lived better in the warm Bryce home in muggle London. Anonymous hours of confined solitude couldn’t compare to Eddie teaching him to read, or Mary fussing over skinned knees.

At this, Tristan glanced down to his right knee—his trousers were still torn from falling outside Azkaban, but the skin underneath was now healed. Tristan didn’t know when Mary had done it.

For the second time in over ten years, and the second time that week, Tristan cried. And for the first time in his young life, Tristan cried because he was happy.

End Notes:

1. "It did not do to dwell" is roughly adapted from the Dumbledore quote, "It does not do to dwell in dreams, and forget to live," from PS.

2. "My name is Tristan, and I am alive," is the final lyric from Patrick Wolf's "Tristan."

3. Kingsley Shacklebolt, Dawlish, and Williamson are all canon. Eddie's "Uncle Frank" is, of course, the muggle that Voldemort killed in GoF, who was wrongly accused of murdering the Riddles. So, Eddie was actually wrong about being related to a murderer--but it doesn't matter. Stories have meaning; they are important whether or not they are true.

A/N: So, was anyone surprised to find out Tristan's story? Did all of you totally guess ages ago? This is basically the end, the next chapter is closer to an epilogue, and I hope you think it ties up the story nicely.

Thoughts? Reactions? Feelings? Please let me know!

Chapter 22: Cleaner, More Brilliant
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Cleaner, More Brilliant

ISOBEL met Laurel in the village square at half twelve. The late June air was warm and fragrant.

It took a few owls between parents, and many negotiations, but the adults quickly conceded that their children's plans made sense. No one should spend too much time alone--especially not Tristan. Isobel produced her wand, and held it out in the road.

Lumos,” she whispered, after scanning the area for muggles.

The violently purple triple Decker bus appeared with a loud bang before haphazardly swinging open its doors. Rucksacks in place, Isobel and Laurel clambered onto the Knight Bus.

“Lambeth, London by way of Muir of Ord, please,” Isobel instructed, dropping a handful of sickles into the till.

By way of Muir of Ord,” the owlish old driver muttered, annoyed, before shifting into gear. Scottland was hardly on the wa.

Isobel and Laurel stumbled up the stairs, holding tightly to the rails, while the bus careened through the West Country, scattering cattle in its wake. There were a few other underage or elderly witches and wizards sliding around the uppermost level of the Knight Bus. Isobel fixed her gaze on the rapidly shifting scenery. Bang. Manchester. Bang. Liverpool. Bang. Another anonymous countryside.

They screeched to a stop two hours later in the tiny Scottish village. Isobel watched through the window as Emily nearly toppled over at the shock of it. Emily's house wasn't connected to the Floo Network, and living in a purely muggle area, she couldn’t hail the coach herself without setting off the Trace. The only remaining option for the teenagers was picking her up via Knight Bus in the closest town to her family's home.

Emily waved off her parents and joined her friends. Laurel retched twice before they arrived in London.

LAUREL woke up late the next day, roused by the sound of her mates laughing in the garden. She stared for a minute from her camp bed at the strange device on Eddie’s desk. She’d never seen a computer before.

They’d spent the previous evening watching ‘Television,’ which was equally new to Laurel. The programme had featured a man in a long scarf, who was very much like a wizard, traveling around in a ‘telephone’ box that was bigger on the inside. Emily tried to explain that, to muggles, the premise was all very strange and whimsical.

Laurel joined the others, who were smoking in Tristan’s garden. Mary had imposed a rule during their visits: none of the girls were to take advantage of her leniency to disobey their own parents’ rules. But the Bryce’s were at work, so they figured they could smoke so long as Mary and Eddie didn’t know about it.

Later they went shopping in Camden for better muggle clothes, which was complicated. In the wizarding world, robes were either high quality or low quality, and you could choose which colors you liked. But in the muggle world, there seemed to be an infinite number of options. There was even a wider range of colors in the muggle world. Dizzying patterns, and fierce shades, and garments hewn from strange, unnatural feeling materials. Apparently, when non-magic people dressed themselves, it signified what sort of person they were, or, at least, the sort of person they wanted to be.

"Thing is," Tristan cautioned. "Technically, if you just decide you want to look like a certain sub-culture, and just buy those clothes, you're called a 'poseur.' It's supposed to happen organically, because you're participating in the movement."

"You get a free pass, though," Emily smiled, and Tristan agreed.

Isobel gave up and decided to be ‘goth,’ because it was practically the same as dressing like a normal witch. Laurel spent a lot longer, and asked a lot of questions. She’d never before been given such a straightforward opportunity to decide who she was.

After a lot of discussion, Laurel opted to be ‘grunge,’ because it was the most comfortable, the most inexpensive, and the easiest to maintain. She left Oxfam with a brand new wardrobe for the equivalent of a Galleon.

“What sort of person are you?” Laurel asked Emily while trying on her new clothes at Tristan's house.

“Well,” Emily considered for a second. “I suppose I was kind of a hippie before, because of my parents. And then I sort of wanted to be punk in our fourth year for a bit, because Tristan was. But then he went more New Wave. But I was only little when I started at Hogwarts, and someone’s style is something that changes slowly over time. It’s hard to do that when you’re always wearing Hogwarts uniforms.”

Laurel marveled. How could fashion mean so much about a person, yet change so rapidly? She wondered, had she ever thought to express herself by how she dressed, what she would have looked like over the years.

ISOBEL was halfway through a basket of chips, laughing along with her mates in the corner of a muggle pub. Isobel still counted calories--read the labels on food packaging and considered their implications. She couldn't help it. The habit was carved deep, since Isobel had been taught to do so from a young age by her parents. But, she no longer gave in to these impulses. She knew how fatty was the oil that the chips had been fried in, and how the potato starch turned to sugar in her body--but her basket was half empty anyway.

“Just fake it ‘til you make it,” Laurel had suggested a few weeks back. “I’m still a hex head in my mind, but I don’t act on those feelings. And I promise, eventually, after going through the motions, even that addicted part of you will fade.”

Isobel had been surprised by the psychological similarities between eating disorders and addiction. Anorexia was, in a way, just an addiction to starvation.

“When you skip means, or use a Charm, you feed the beast,” Laurel had explained. “When you refuse to do what it says, you starve it. And eventually, it’ll die.”

At first, Isobel had hated the way her parents had told her how she looked ‘healthy’--she’d felt like they really meant that she looked fat. And in the worst depths of her problem, when she’d been force-fed at the kitchen table and threatened with St. Mungo’s, she’d honestly believed that everyone around her was involved in some conspiracy to make her overweight. She'd known, objectively, what was the minimum healthy weight for someone her stature, but she'd felt that she was somehow an exception. Sure, skipping meals was dangerous, unless you were Isobel. It had felt, to her, like people just didn't think she deserved to be thin.

Looking back, Isobel could recognize how crazy she’d been; how her mind and body had been functioning improperly. It was shocking to her how, in those days, her paranoia had felt real.

Most surprising was that the more weight she gained, the better Isobel felt about herself. At her smallest, she’d felt huge. The realization that she’d genuinely hallucinated it was terrifying. These days, when Isobel looked in the mirror, she felt pleased. She’d strip down to bra and knickers, and turn around to admire how her own bum bulged from the lace, or appreciate the deep canyon of cleavage on her front (her breasts had been stunningly quick to return). She still felt frustrated by how her fleshy belly rolled over when she sat down or bent over, but she no longer obsessed over it.

I see you, Isobel would tell the beast. I hear what you are telling me, but I just don't care anymore. The more she thought it, the more true it started to feel.

“Just let yourself be vain. If you look in the mirror and like something you see, hold on to that,” Laurel had instructed. “I know I’m sexy. I get spots, and my hips spill over my jeans a bit if they’re too tight, but I’m bloody gorgeous. One day, we’ll all get old and wrinkly and saggy, and we’ll want to smack our younger selves for not appreciating what we had.”

Once Summer began, Isobel really began to feel like she was spending time with her best mate again. It had been over a year that Laurel hadn't been herself. First it had been the Charms, then the recovery from St. Mungo’s, but now she was back. Isobel had almost forgotten how wise Laurel could be, in her own gruff and unapologetic way.

Isobel still wondered, though, if that neurotic, diseased part of her mind would ever truly die, just as she wasn’t sure that Laurel’s desire to Charm would ever really go away. But, like Laurel had said, you can be however you want in your mind--it’s what you do that actually matters.

* * *

A young woman stumbled in through the pub door: green hair, leather jacket, laddered stockings, and combat boots. Now that Isobel had been meticulously educated on muggle fashion subcultures, she could recognize that Nymphadora Tonks was a ‘punk rocker.’

“Wotcher, Em,” Tonks gasped after Emily lunged at her, squeezing her tight in an aggressive embrace. “Glad to see you too!”

Tonks hugged the other witches in turn, and playfully mussed up Tristan’s hair. Isobel tried not to grin, remembering the massive crush he'd had on Tonks during their third year.

“You still seeing Charlie Weasley, then?” Laurel asked once Tonks had sat down with her pint.

“Chuck?” Tonks coughed on a sip of lager. “No, Charlie and I were never proper dating, just mates. I knew I wanted to do the Auror training, and he’s off in Romania now. We never got ‘serious’ or whatever. Still just friends, share a few owls. He’s raising a dragon now, actually! It was born in captivity. Only ten weeks old, so Charlie’s taking care of it until it’s old enough to bring to Norway and introduce into a preserve. Refuses to tell me where he got it from, though, except that it was illegally hatched.”

Tonks took another sip from her pint, and Isobel considered the timeline.

“What kind of egg is it?” Isobel had asked.

“Dragon,” Hagrid had said.

Isobel smiled to herself. Luckily, she'd always been good at keeping secrets.

TRISTAN started every summer excited for the holidays, and returned to school every fall disappointed. His anticipation always outstripped reality, and he never ended up having as much fun as he intended. It was, he thought, because his muggle acquaintances took it all for granted. They weren’t as enthusiastic about seizing the city.

But this year, Tristan had his real friends: two witches and a country girl. They were curious, and excited, and luckily, Tristan didn’t mind when they acted bizarrely in front of shop owners or bartenders.

Isobel and Laurel didn’t like everything Tristan had to show them, though. They tried watching Evil Dead II during their second visit, but the girls had been appalled by the simulated violence and gore—no matter how unrealistic. Even Emily kept covering her face, so Tristan stopped the tape after only twenty minutes. Too soon for satire, he reminded himself.

What the witches really enjoyed, Tristan discovered, was the cinema. They had a hard time paying attention while watching videos in his living room, and tended to talk over the films. But they were amazed by the giant screens and assortment of snacks at cinemas. All of them--even Emily--found coca-cola repulsive, but Isobel and Laurel enjoyed popcorn with a passion.

“They draw it all?” Isobel asked, shocked. They had just seen Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. “How do they make the drawings move without magic?” Isobel and Laurel had never seen animation before.

Emily started explaining what she knew about frames, and Tristan retrieved his moleskine notebook from his rucksack. In the right hand corner of every page, he drew a circle of increasing size. Once Emily concluded her lecture, Tristan flipped through the notebook, revealing the illusion of the circle seeming to grow.

Isobel clapped her hands over her mouth, delighted, and Laurel spluttered over a plume of spliff smoke she was trying to hold in. It was nearly midnight, and the four mates were loitering in the park by Tristan’s, as they’d done every night, before returning to his house.

“So it’s like that, but more complicated,” Tristan concluded, after he demonstrated his flipbook a few more times.

“And so they do every individual picture, with all the colors and everything?” Isobel confirmed, stunned by the magnitude of such a project.

“Blimey,” agreed Laurel.

EMILY was sitting out front of her house on the second week of July, waiting for her friends to arrive on the Knight Bus. They’d each gotten Summer jobs to finance regular trips to visit one another, and to placate their parents.

Emily took employment at the neighboring village assisting at the primary school, and rode her bicycle the three miles to Muir of Ord Tuesdays through Thursdays. Isobel got a stipended internship at the Ministry in the Department of International Magical Cooperation, which she said was mostly reorganizing files and fetching tea for the pompous department head.

Laurel washed dishes at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley, and commuted via Floo Powder. Her mum had been disappointed at first that she wasn’t doing a prestigious internship like Isobel, but as it turned out, Mr. Fortescue had a lot of connections.

Tristan wasn’t under as much pressure to start working as the others--his parents were glad for him to be spending time with his maters--but he got a job carrying crates and mopping up at a pub near his house anyway.

The Knight Bus arrived, practically deafening Emily as it did, and her three mates ambled out, slightly green in the face. They’d had to compromise with their parents that the four teenagers would spend alternating weekends in either Scotland, or Godric’s Hollow. The adults feared that too much time unsupervised would “get them into trouble.”

This was a typical parent mistake.

London was massive, with an infinite number of things to do. On their weekends with Tristan they would go to the cinema, or see a gig, or explore any number of shops. Godric’s Hollow and the Highlands were deathly dull in comparison. At least at Emily’s they could wander down into the glen and be as loud as they wanted. They never went to Laurel or Isobel’s home in the West Country.

When they weren’t in London, they drank a lot.

This weekend they'd chosen to go camping. They lumbered north for a mile through a pink haze of Rhodedendron before finding a suitable place to set up their tents. Isobel and Laurel had had some practice living without magic at this point, so Emily and Tristan decided it was time they tried living without technology. They brought an exceptional amount of alcohol to ease the transition.

“Merlin’s dirty pants, how did people ever live like this?” Laurel huffed, trying to start a fire with only a lighter. Once she got it going, they roasted sausages and potatoes, and sang muggle campfire songs.

Isobel had been stunned by the amount of water they’d had to carry for only one night, and expressed concern that ancient muggles could easily have dehydrated and died. Tristan explained that not dehydrating and dying still was, indeed, a major muggle concern in many parts of the world.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was close. Tristan still grew moody and withdrawn at times, and Emily knew he resented how they made excuses to check up on him if he’d been shut up in his room alone for too long. But she also saw him flourishing in their company. All in all, the good times were better than they’d ever been, and the bad times were further between.

THEIR O.W.L. results finally arrived in the second week of July. It was Sunday, and Isobel was roused at dawn by Emily’s rooster. Emily’s sleeping bag was empty.

That bloody shack! Isobel thought to herself, guessing correctly that Emily had crept out in the night to join Tristan. That’s why she let us have her bed, Isobel realized, before rolling back into sleep beside Laurel.

Isobel was only mostly correct in her assumptions. Emily had been sneaking off to climb into Tristan’s bed on their weekends together, but not a lot happened between them. Or a lot happened, depending on how you looked at it.

When Emily thought about it hard, she decided that wanting to be ‘more than just friends’ really just meant ‘wanting to shag.’ She’d gone to bed with several boys, but it was never as intimate as what she had now with Tristan.

Emily had been excited when they’d started kissing the weekend before, and was glad to keep it at that for now.

* * *

They were hunched over their breakfasts of Weetabix later that afternoon when four owls swooped through the open window above the sink and landed gracelessly on the kitchen table.

Laurel straightened her posture, sharing tense glances with each of her friends in turn. The moment of truth had arrived. After several weeks trying not to think about it, the rising sixth-years would finally have to discover exactly how they had fared. Not a single one of them thought they'd performed quite as well as they could have.

Isobel tore open her envelope first. One quick scan told her that she hadn’t failed anything. She closed her eyes and exhaled in relief.

“Two Outstanding,” she announced. “In Defense and Charms. E’s in everything else, except History, which was ‘Acceptable.’”

Her friends cheered and clapped her on the back while she blushed.

“So you can continue with everything if you want,” Emily assured. “History only requires an A to take next term.”

Emily opened her results second, and found a few more O’s, but also that she’d failed Care of Magical Creatures with a grade of ‘Poor.’

“Come on then,” Isobel prodded.

“‘Outstanding’ in Potions, Herbology and Charms,” Emily read, to applause. “‘Exceeds Expectations’ in Transfig, Astronomy, and History. ‘Acceptable’ for Defense and Divination—as good as I could have hoped… And I won’t be going on with Magical Creatures.”

Tristan shook Emily’s shoulder in assurance, and Isobel insisted she’d done great. Laurel unfolded her parchment next. Overall, she was relieved.

“Well I failed Defense and Potions—P’s in both,” she said, getting the worst of it over with first. “But two O’s! Runes and Charms—of course,” she added wryly. “E’s in Transfig, Herbology. ‘Acceptable’ in Astronomy, Arithmancy and History.”

Tristan hadn’t been looking forward to his own results, and wished that his friends hadn’t all read theirs out loud. Within his envelope was not one, but two, slips of parchment. He read his grades first:

“So, apparently T’s do exist,” he informed the table at large as he scanned down the list of marks. “Just the one, though, in Magical Creatures. But I also got a ‘Dreadful’ in Astronomy, as well as P's in Potions and Defense. O in Muggle Studies and Charms, E in Herbology and Transfiguration.”

Tristan sighed. All in all, it wasn’t too bad. He’d managed to fail four out of nine classes, but his good marks were quite good. To his additional surprise, History of Magic was simply listed as ‘Incomplete.’ The second piece of parchment included instructions about how he could sit the exam again the following term, but he would need to receive an E or higher to go on with the subject in his seventh year.

“And didn’t Snape pre-accept you as an N.E.W.T. student?” Emily reminded him.

“But I did poorly on the O.W.L.—P for Poor, see?” Tristan brandished his exam results. “I won’t be prepared for advanced potion making.”

“Oh at least take it so I can have you there,” Emily begged. “So many of us will be splitting up as it is.”

And with that, the two Ravenclaws, the Hufflepuff and the Slytherin discussed their upcoming year at Hogwarts. Anxiety soon gave way to reluctant excitement—tempered by their unspoken, but mutual, hope that the next year would be better than the last. By the time the sun was set, they finally began to feel like year five at Hogwarts was over. Having survived it, their experiences crystallized, and became memories; cleaner and more brilliant than what had actually been.

-The End-

End Note: Neither Ferngully nor Doctor Who are my own inventions.

A/N: I genuinely don't know what to say, finishing this project. I had no idea what people would make of this strange little story, it's just something I'd had in my head for so long! Getting nominated for Dobby's and all has left me quite speechless!

I pray you found this ending satisfying. I think it's true in its way, and there's something hopeful about that. So what if the 'Good Old Days' were messier than we like to remember? It's all just stories in the end, so they might as well be good ones.

Special thanks to Marauderfan, Crestwood, CambAngst, and Emmacweasley for consistently leaving such encouraging and analytical reviews. I really don't have the words to describe how much it means to me!