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Disclaimer: Some of the people in this chapter don't belong to me. Most of these people belong to J K Rowling. Some of them belong to random people off the forums, though. Violetta Harbringer is the property of DeaVanity. Dan Gunn belongs to the esteeméd Scooterbug8515. Shayna Cohen belongs to Raielle. Matthew Kennedy and Matthew Kennedy's sister belong to a certain person. Let's see if you can work out who.

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Charms was taught by Professor Flitwick, the tiny, ancient man who’d overseen their Sorting, and who had to stand on a pile of books to see over the desk.

“Professor Flitwick?” Faith asked. “How come you’re standing on a pile of books instead of on a stepladder?”

Professor Flitwick laughed until the corners of his eyes creased up. “Because they’re such terrible books! It keeps them out of the library!” He was still chuckling softly five minutes later as he told them all about Charms, and then set them to propelling squares of paper across their desks with Mobilius.

Half an hour in, Al and Score had both managed to propel their paper a few inches across the desk.Kitty was still trying to get the hang of swishing and flicking. Faith had surprised everyone by sending her paper skidding off the end of the table on her second go, and had earned twenty points for Slytherin. Professor Flitwick was just trying to convince her to join the Charms Club when Al noticed that there was a Ministry owl perching on the windowsill, hooting and tapping its beak on the glass to get his attention.

“Professor, may I-”

“By all means, Albus!”

Al let the owl in and took the letter.

Al, are you sure that’s the best thing you could be doing?



Al clapped his hand over his mouth. He had to be doing the right thing!

You should be working and trying to make friends, not setting out on some epic quest to make everyone love Slytherin. Al, I don’t want you to get yourself into anything you can’t handle.



Dad didn’t think he could handle it? Al bet Dad wouldn’t be telling James he couldn’t handle things.

Can you just concentrate on settling in and making friends for now?

I told your Uncle Ron an hour ago. He said Blimey and went into a state of shock. We had to drag your Aunt Hermione in to sort him out. She thinks we’re making a big fuss over nothing.

If James is being a pain, just ignore him and he’ll stop doing it. Be careful with Scorpius Malfoy, because his father and I never got on and he might have a grudge. If any of the Slytherins are gits to you, they aren’t worth being friends with. Work hard and listen to Rosie. She won’t let you go wrong.

Dad.



But Rosie wasn’t even talking to him! Al spent the rest of the lesson feeling sick and panicky and unable to focus, and as soon as Professor Flitwick dismissed the lesson he ran for the Owlery. Once he was there, he yanked out a scrap of parchment and his quill and scrawled,

Dad, you told me it was cowardly to let other people do bad things. And you said it was wrong to know the right thing to do and not to do it. Why isn’t the right thing always the best thing to do?



He found his owl snoozing next to Rosie’s, prodded her until she woke up, and sent her off with the letter tied around her leg. He watched her dwindle to a speck on the horizon and vanish, and then he sat down under the window and tried to concentrate on breathing calmly. It didn’t work. Al jumped up and paced around the Owlery, tiny bones cracking under his shoes, trying to ignore the sick twisting in his stomach.

Then another Ministry owl burst into the room, circled Al’s head, and dropped a letter at his feet. Across the envelope was written, in his dad’s handwriting, DON’T PANIC. Al scooped it up hastily and tore it open.

I thought the first letter would have given you the wrong impression - Don’t get me wrong, Al, I think it’s good of you to want to help, but I don’t want you to get yourself into trouble. Don’t tell anyone about your plan, work hard, and try to make friends. Dad.



Al sat down hard on the floor and breathed out, more relieved even than when his dad had said it was okay that he was in Slytherin. He read the letter through again - working hard, making friends and staying out of trouble - that had been Al’s plan all along, though, to make friends and do well in class. Become a Prefect, maybe - that ought to make his dad proud, as well.  And he’d never meant to tell people about his idea - people went all funny and suspicious when they knew you had a plan about them, even if it was a nice one.

Al read both letters through again - he hadn’t wanted to upset Uncle Ron, but he was sure Ron would be fine really - and if Score’s dad hadn’t liked his dad, maybe Score wasn’t just shy after all? Al would have to try harder to make friends with him.

Feeling much better, Al stood up, tucked the letters from his dad into his robe, and got out some parchment to write to Hagrid. Then he remembered that he’d just sent his owl to London. He’d just walk down to Hagrid’s hut, then. It took Al about half an hour to find his way down to the entrance hall from the Owlery. He thought a staircase or two had changed around on him, and a door had opened out somewhere it usually didn’t, or maybe Al just wasn’t very good at finding his way around.

When Al finally got down to Hagrid’s hut and knocked on the door, Hagrid flung it open and stared down at Al, who hurriedly stuck his foot in the door so that when Hagrid slammed the door shut - Al screamed. The door burst open again and hit the wall.

“Al! Yeh all righ’?”

Al fell down, clutched his foot, and stared up at Hagrid, letting his lower lip wobble a bit and his eyes get huge and miserable. Hagrid scooped him up, carried him into the cabin, and set him down on one of the chairs, then started pulling Al’s shoe off. Hagrid’s boarhound Spike sidled up to them looking for attention.

“’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,” Al said in a sad voice, scratching Spike’s ears. His foot did hurt, but he’d been wearing sturdy shoes and he thought the results had been worth it.

Hagrid snorted, yanked off Al’s sock, and glared at the deep red crease that had appeared in the side of Al’s foot just below the big toe. He prodded it.

“Ow!” Al said.

“’s fine,” Hagrid grunted. “Prob’ly won’ even bruise.” He stood up and put Al’s foot down, and went to the kettle.

“I’m sorry, Hagrid, I didn’t mean to ignore you at the Feast,” Al said forlornly. “I was just distracted.” He wondered if he should start sniffling. Al had been able to cry on command since he was seven, but he didn’t want to overdo it.

“Dunno what yeh were thinkin’,” Hagrid said to the kettle, “Bein’ Sorted inter Slytherin, Al. I was countin’ on yeh bein’ in Gryffindor, reckoned James could keep an eye on yeh there-” In the sense that James would be watching intently as he shoved him out of a Gryffindor Tower window, Al thought.

“It’s not too bad,” Al pointed out. “I’m doing well, and I made some new friends - besides,” he added, producing the first letter from his dad from inside his robes, “Dad said he didn’t mind.”

“He did, did he?” Hagrid said grumpily, pouring out two massive mugs of tea and grabbing a rock cake from the cake tin. He dumped the tea and the rock cake in front of Al, took the letter and read it through. Al broke pieces off the rock cakes and dunked them in the tea until they were soft enough to eat.

Hagrid sighed and put the letter down. Al retrieved it hurriedly and tucked it back into his robes.

“Well, if yer dad don’ mind-” Hagrid suddenly sounded much less annoyed. “Dunno what tha’ ruddy Hat was thinkin’, though.” And then, much more seriously, “Al, yeh’d bes’ keep away from that Malfoy.” People kept telling Al to avoid Scorpius Malfoy. Al thought that would be hard considering that they shared a dormitory and all their classes. “Nasty pieces o’ work, the lot of ‘em, summat in the blood-” He shook his massive shaggy head and sighed. Al wondered exactly how nasty a piece of work Score Malfoy was, on a scale of one to Voldemort. He would have to find out. If he was going to make everyone like Slytherin, he’d have to know which of them were especially unlikeable.

“An’ that Professor Hun’,” Hagrid added gloomily. He looked like he was itching to add some Firewhiskey to his tea. “Shouldn’ be tellin’ yeh this, Al-” Hagrid tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially “- but tha’ Professor Hun’ is a bit peculiar.” He leant back in his chair, which creaked unsettlingly, and took a swig of his tea. Al thought about that - if Professor Hunt was a bit peculiar, at least she was friendly. And Hagrid would have mentioned it straight away if she hated Muggleborns and wanted to use them as potions ingredients, so she wasn’t a problem like it would be if Score turned out to be evil. So he had to ask about Score first.

“How exactly are the Malfoys nasty pieces of work?” Al asked. Hagrid eyed him doubtfully for a second, then launched into a long story about how Score’s father had provoked a Hippogriff in a Care of Magical Creatures lesson and been injured, and then Score’s grandfather had tried to have Hagrid sacked and the Hippogriff executed but then Al’s dad had fixed everything heroically, as was traditional. Al wasn’t sure how exactly Score’s granddad is a git + Score’s dad is a git = Score is a git, because his dad was always very clear about not judging people by their families or blood status, but he didn’t want to start another argument with Hagrid when he’d just fixed the last one. Besides, by then it was a quarter to six and Al had to go back to the castle or he’d miss dinner. Al  said goodbye, hugged Hagrid, and set off back to the Slytherin common room to get rid of his book bag.

Grimalkin, who had been sitting on the arm of Avery’s chair watching him write an essay, looked Al up and down as he came in and muttered something to Avery.

“Potter, why are you limping?” Avery said, without looking up.

“A door closed on my foot,” Al told them. Luckily, he didn’t have to elaborate because just then Faith burst in, singing loudly, informed Slytherin house as a whole that she was a rocking ship on a collision course with Mars, a satellite out of control, a sex machine ready to reload, and was going to explode like an alligator. Then she vanished up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories.

“Permission to ban Harper from general votes?” Grimalkin asked.

“Permission not granted,” Avery said, and pointed his wand at Al’s foot. “Episkey!”

Al kicked the air experimentally, felt the difference, and said “Er, thank you.” Avery had already gone back to his essay.

“Faith?” Al called up the girls’ stairs, while being very careful not to go near them. “Can I talk to you?”

Faith flung herself back down the steps and demanded, “You know the Muggle Queen? She’s old and wears a lot of hats?”

Score Malfoy, lying face-down on a sofa nearby, made a sudden movement which caught Al’s attention. He’d clenched his fists. Did Score not like the Muggles’ Queen?

“Did you know she used to be in a band?” Faith continued without noticing. “In the seventies and eighties. Yeah, her and this guy called Freddie Mercury grew their hair really long and played guitars and sang all these amazing songs? Lew knows all of them. But then Freddie Mercury died of something so she quit, I guess she was depressed or something. Also she wrote this song about how she used to kill people with guillotines.” Kitty started to giggle, hands pressed over her mouth to muffle it. Faith blithely ignored her. “Anyway what did you want to say?”

“I was wondering if I could come and study with you and Lew at some point,” Al said.

“Sure, tomorrow’s fine.” Oh. That had been easy.

“Also if Professor Flitwick told you when Charms Club is.”

“Wednesdays before dinner,” Faith said promptly. “I’m not going, though. I can practise Charms in the common room and the bonus there is no-one will be like-” She flung her hands out wide and made a comically surprised face. “‘Bwargh! Snake!’ Why?”

“I wanted to go,” Al said, and then lied, “To learn interesting new Charms.”

“We have a device for that, Potter,” Grimalkin said. “It’s called a book. There are large numbers of them in the library.”

“I thought about going too,” Kitty volunteered, kneeling up to look at them all over the back of a sofa. “But I didn’t want to go by myself, so-”

“You won’t be by yourself, we’ll go together,” Al said, pleased to have that settled.

“I’ll come too,” Score said abruptly, still face-down on the sofa.

“Well if you three are going, I’ll come with,” Faith said. “In case something funny happens to you that I wouldn’t want to miss."

“Six o’clock,” Avery informed them all, a bit unnecessarily, and led them up to the Great Hall for dinner. Dinner was delicious. In general, Al thought, his first day had gone pretty well.

* * *

Faith was almost literally bouncing off the walls when they left Transfiguration the next day, because she’d been the best at turning a matchstick into a needle - it wasn’t perfect, since though it was the exact shape of a needle it was still made of wood - and earned fifteen points for Slytherin. Al was pretty sure Faith was the only one who’d understood the complicated theory talk Professor Rabnott had given them, as well. She’d nodded and scrawled notes and asked questions until Professor Rabnott had gotten fed up and just given her a list of books to read, while Kitty doodled over her notes and the rest of them struggled to keep up.

When they got to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, the professor - Professor Brand, according to the schedule - was waiting for them just inside the door, leaning against a huge wooden crate. Al knew a bit about Professor Brand, because he was James’s favourite teacher in the whole world. He’d been an Auror until he’d lost his wand arm fighting a serial killer of some sort, and then Neville had suggested he start teaching. So logically, he shouldn’t have been very frightening. Al knew Aurors and he liked most of them, and Neville wouldn’t have suggested he become a teacher if he was secretly evil.

On the other hand, there wasn’t any other way of putting it: Professor Brand was very unsettling. He didn’t say anything as they filed past him into the classroom, just stared at them all, examining Al and Score Malfoy particularly, like he thought they might be a problem. Al looked away from the stare automatically and realised that there was no furniture, not even chairs. Where were they supposed to sit?

Professor Brand broke the silence by slamming his right hand down suddenly on the crate. Al and the other Slytherins all jumped. The crate started to buzz like a wasps’ nest.

“This box is full of Doxies,” he informed them all, in a broad Welsh accent.

“Um, what are-” Kitty started.

“Doxies,” Professor Brand said, much louder, and Kitty ducked her head apologetically, “also known as Biting Fairies, are a type of Dark Creature classed as XXX by the Ministry of Magic. The XXX rating means that any competent wizard should be able to handle them.”

Suddenly Al had a very bad feeling about this. Professor Brand waved his wand and four spray bottles full of a black liquid popped up from behind the crate and dropped onto the lid.

“These spray bottles are full of Doxycide. One squirt should paralyze them. Since Doxies are poisonous,” Professor Brand continued, “you should get to the Hospital Wing within ten minutes of being bitten to avoid serious damage. It takes around fifty Doxy bites to kill a fully-grown wizard.”

Al’s bad feeling got worse.

“That's all,” Professor Brand said, took three steps to the door and pointed his wand at the crate. “Alohomora!” The lid burst open, the spray bottles crashed to the floor, a cloud of Doxies rose buzzing from the crate, and the door slammed shut behind their professor. Kitty shrieked and dived behind Score, who pointed his wand at the window and shouted “Adaperius!” The window swung open silently just as the Doxies dived, between them and the Doxycide -

Al froze up. He couldn’t think, he couldn’t move, and Kitty let out one high piercing scream, and then the swarm was on them. It was like being caught in a sudden hailstorm. A hailstorm with teeth.

“Out the window!” Score shouted, backing towards it and hitting out with his book bag at the swarm. “Cook, move!”

 Kitty just shrieked even louder and the swarm whirled around them like a cyclone, darting in to snap at exposed skin. Al tried to swat away the Doxies roiling around him, but there were too many of them and they were far too fast - Faith leapt onto the window ledge dragging Kitty with her and shoved her out the window.

“Jump, Harper!” Score yelled. She didn’t jump. She dashed back across the room, with her eyes screwed shut and her arms over her face, grabbed Al, and started hauling him towards the window, and suddenly Al could move his feet and was running with her. Score was casting fire spells to clear the air around the window, and for a second Al could smell burning meat before Faith dragged him up onto the windowsill and shoved him, hard.

The ground hurt a lot when it hit him.

Faith landed next to him and yanked her robes off over her head, spitting curses.  “There’s one in my robe still-” She kicked at her robe until the Doxy flew up with its teeth bared, just as Score dropped to the ground.

Petrificus Totalus!” Faith barked. The Doxy stiffened up and dropped like a stone.

“We can’t stand around here. Hospital wing,” Score ordered breathlessly, and Al could see that Score was furious; he had gone stark white and his eyes had narrowed to slits.  The Doxies didn’t seem interested in following them once they’d left the classroom, though. Al thought that was a bit - Then Al noticed suddenly that his hands were covered in bite marks, and held them up to the light to see them better. Kitty had both of her hands pressed over her eyes. That wasn’t going to help her see anything.

Score led them all around to the front door and up the stairs. The stairs were very hard to climb today, and Al had to concentrate on each step. His head felt light and fuzzy, like it was full of Pygmy Puffs, and his hands were itching. Professor Brand was still leaning against the door to the DADA classroom, but he came towards them when he saw them coming up the stairs.

“Congratulations on your speedy exit,” he greeted them cheerfully. Al thought he should be upset about that, but he couldn’t exactly remember why.

Faith rasped something incoherent at him. She was having trouble standing up; she braced herself against the wall and stared slightly to the left of Professor Brand’s head. “You stupid git - stupid git, with a, a stupid face and…” She swayed and lurched forward, one hand raised and in a fist. Score caught the back of her robe, but Al wasn’t sure whether it was to stop her falling or stop her attacking the teacher.

“Twenty points from Slytherin for insulting a professor, and ten for profanity,” Professor Brand said cheerfully. Faith snarled. “Your homework is a foot-long essay on Doxies. The hospital wing is just down the corridor.”

The matron, Madam Zeller, hurried out of her office carrying several jars of mustard-yellow Doxy antidote as soon as they came in. Score was towing Faith behind him because she couldn’t seem to walk in a straight line; her eyes had gone huge and unfocused, and she was whispering soft disconnected sentences and profanity to herself.

“Brand’s class?” Madam Zeller asked, gesturing for them to sit down on one of the beds. They nodded. “Third group today. Don’t know what he’s thinking.”

She  applied the antidote to all of them, with enthusiasm and, as far as Al could tell through the fog, a trowel, and once she’d smeared the stuff liberally over a bite on Score’s left ear she vanished back into the office and reappeared carrying a huge orange bottle.

“Umble’s Brain Unfuzzer. Half a cup each, that’ll do. Drink it quickly. Then lie down until the lunch bell.” She poured out glasses of it for all of them and started back to her office, then stopped dead suddenly and spun on her heel. “What year are you?”

“First,” Kitty said miserably, curled up on a bed with her face in the pillow.

“Hm. Last ones were third-years,” Madam Zeller said, and disappeared into her office.

Al rested his head on the pillow and tried to figure that one out. His head felt better. Like it had been full of cobwebs, and then someone had shown up with a thing that got rid of cobwebs, and then used it. Faith had gone from murmuring to talking angrily, but she still wasn’t making much sense.

That had been awful, how he’d behaved. He’d never been any good at duelling or anything, like that, even though his dad had wasted ages trying to teach him and practising spells with him. James was brilliant at it, obviously; Al just panicked and fell down things or off things and broke his elbows. All Al was good at was talking to people, which wasn’t much use. No-one ever defeated a Dark Lord by talking at him. Al rolled over, face in the pillow, and tried not to think about that.

He was pretty certain Professor Brand had set the Doxies on them because they were in Slytherin. Why would a professor want to do that?  He knew lots of students didn’t like them, but he wouldn’t have thought a professor would - Al swallowed. There was nothing to worry about. His dad would never let one stupid DADA professor scare him. It was just another reason why Al was doing the right thing. Besides, he had much more important things to think about than one stupid professor.

Al turned his head to look at the others. Kitty was curled up with her eyes closed, and he thought she might be trying to sleep. Score Malfoy was lying in the bed next to his, staring at the ceiling.

“Are you all right?” Al asked.

Score turned to look at him and smiled pleasantly. “I’m fine. Thank you for asking.” Al found that hard to believe. Besides, it was far too friendly considering how distant Score usually was. Surely someone who was just shy wouldn’t be faking like that?  It was very annoying, Al thought, how Score could be clever and talented and good-looking and competent and generally the perfect person to help Al with his plan, and so obviously not like him.

When  they stumbled into the Great Hall for lunch twenty minutes later, Grim inspected them and said “You all seem a tad covered in goop. That’s rarely a good sign. Why is that?”

Faith immediately started off on a long furious tirade about Professor Brand and his gitness and jackassery while spooning mashed potato onto her plate. Avery silenced her with a gesture.

“Is that Doxy antidote?”

“Professor Brand set a box of Doxies on us,” Kitty said. She was sniffling. “So we had to jump out of the window, and then we had to go to the Hospital wing and - and then he gave us homework to do on getting attacked by Doxies and - and I think my book bag is still in the classroom and-”

Faith swore and threw her fork down. “She’s bloody right, we left our stuff there! It’s probably crawling with Doxies by now!”

Avery got up and left.

“Doxies are horrible little toerags,” Lia agreed. “We ran into a swarm while we were exploring Avery’s house over the summer. Of course, we hadn’t taken any Doxycide with us so we all ran screaming like tiny girls. Except Avery. He ran screaming like a man.”

“Professor Brand doesn’t like Slytherin,” Grimalkin explained a bit unnecessarily. “He fought in the Battle of Hogwarts back in 1998 and it seems to have left him with something of a grudge.”

“Battle of Hogwarts?” Kitty asked, and Faith started trying to explain the entire Second Wizarding War to her through a mouthful of peas and apparently in mime.

“What should I do about it?” Al asked.

“Ignore him,” Grimalkin suggested. “It won’t stop him, but it’ll seriously get on his nerves.”

“We’ll have to gag Harper, then,” Score said, pushing a chip in circles around his plate. Faith made a rude gesture at him, but in a friendly sort of way. Al wasn’t sure exactly how she did that.

 Any trouble with the Doxies?” Grimalkin asked Avery, as he returned and dumped the first-years’ book bags on the table.

“No. I killed most of them. Hopefully he needed the swarm for another lesson,” Avery said. Al and the other first-year Slytherins immediately showered him with thanks and praise, since that seemed to be what was expected of them.

* * *

When Faith and Al got to the library after lessons, Lew was already waiting for them at a table near, but not too near, the other first-year Hufflepuffs. He raised one hand in a sort of lazy wave as they approached.

“Hi!” Faith said, in a loud whisper, dumping her book bag on the table. “I’m going to get those Transfig books. Back in a minute.”

Al sat down opposite Lew, who was making notes from Magical Theory.

“Er. Hi?”

“Hi,” Lew said. Al glanced over at the other Hufflepuffs, who were muttering to each other.

“They don’t like me talking to you very much,” Lew said. “They’ll get over it.” He turned a page.

“I saw one of your prefects talking to you yesterday,” Al remembered. “What did she say?” He got his copy of Magical Plants and their Uses out of his bag and opened it to the D’s , so not to appear suspiciously interested.

“She told me that Slytherins were in general not very nice,” Lew said. “I said yes, Faith seems quite proud of that. She said that Slytherins were also quite deceitful and asked me how I knew that Faith was trustworthy. I said that she seemed all right to me. She said ‘But how do you know?’” He turned another page. “I felt a bit sorry for her. If she won’t make friends until she can read their minds and decide whether they’re trustworthy or not, she must be very lonely.” He went back to his book.

Al nodded agreeably and unrolled a length of parchment. “Hufflepuff gets that sometimes too, doesn’t it?”

Lew tilted his head slightly to one side without looking up.

“I mean, I’ve heard a lot of people saying that Hufflepuffs are useless,” Al said, dipping his quill into his inkpot. “Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Not especially. Why would it?”

“And the other people in your house don’t mind either?” Al tried, careful to still sound very casual. Lew’s quill paused for just a second, leaving a puddle of ink. Al decided to leave it there for now, since he didn’t want Lew getting suspicious, and laughed.

“I guess most of them are like you…are you going to Charms Club? Me, Faith, Kitty and Score are.”

“I might, then,” Lew said, just as Faith dashed up, yelled “I’m back!” and flung a stack of books across the table. Lew started asking her about Charms and Al busied himself with his essay on Dirigible Plums, like that was all he’d come to do.

* * *

When the Slytherins arrived at Charms Club the next evening, conversation seemed to die mid-sentence and almost everyone in the room turned to stare at them. Lew, standing by a long table filled with jugs and plates of snacks, nodded to them and ate a biscuit.

Al tried to ignore the gawkers, went over to Lew and gave him a brilliant smile. To be honest, Al wasn’t feeling very optimistic, but he knew better than to let that show.

“Hi! It’s good to see you!” That was a little too cheerful. Al toned it down a bit. “Have you had a good day?”

“It wasn’t too bad,” Lew said, and offered him a plate of biscuits. Al took a chocolate one and nibbled on it while he checked out the room. There were only about thirty people there, mostly Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. There weren’t any Slytherins apart from them, but Al had expected that from the hysterical laughter when he’d asked Lia and Grimalkin if they’d ever gone to Charms Club. Rosie hadn’t come, which was irritating; Al had been hoping he could ambush her somewhere and make her talk to him. They’d had another double Herbology today, and she’d pretended he wasn’t there.

The Charms Club members started to talk again just as Faith caught Lew up in a bear hug, and Al took advantage of the distraction to head down to the other end of the table. He overheard snatches of conversation as he paused near one group, and started carefully pouring out a glass of pumpkin juice so he’d have an excuse to stick around.

“-can’t throw someone out because of their house. That’s very specifically against Society rules,” said a Ravenclaw girl with strawberry-blonde hair. Al finished pouring his own glass and decided that Lew and Faith might want one as well.

“What are they doing here anyway? The Slytherins never join clubs! Not that anyone wants them to,” said a redheaded Gryffindor girl. “I bet Rookwood and Grimalkin put them up to this. They’re such ba-”

“I think we should give them a chance,” the Ravenclaw girl announced loudly, in the sort of voice that wouldn’t tolerate arguing.

“Besides, our club’s so terrible, they might decide to leave by themselves,” said a tall Gryffindor boy - seventh-year, Al guessed - elbowing between them. He grabbed a digestive biscuit off the table, balanced it neatly on top of the Gryffindor girl’s head, and left.

Al wandered over as casually as possible and said, “Hi! We weren’t too late, were we?”

“Did Rookwood and Grimalkin put you up to this?” the Gryffindor girl demanded.

Al blinked confusedly, let his cheerful smile waver and said “No?”

“See, Seancey? Not everything is those two conspiring against Gryffindor,” the Ravenclaw girl said. Seancey sniffed, spun on her heel and marched off.

“Sorry about her,” the Ravenclaw girl said, with a sigh. “I’m Violetta Harbringer. Welcome to Charms Club!”

“What do you do, exactly?” Al asked. “I mean, do you just practise Charms that you learn in class, or-”  Rosie liked people to ask her questions, but he wasn’t certain that all Ravenclaws would. Fortunately, it worked on Violetta.

Violetta launched into an actually pretty interesting explanation of the purpose, merits and history of the Charms Club, only interrupted when her watch chimed and said in a tinny, officious voice, “It‘s half-past four! Time for Charms Club!” Violetta excused herself and hurried to the front of the classroom, while Al retreated back to his housemates. Kitty was twisting her fingers together anxiously; she still hadn’t completely got the hang of swish-and-flick. Score just looked blank.

“Welcome to Charms Club!” Violetta greeted them. She had dragged a chair out into the middle of the room and climbed up on it; the tall Gryffindor boy was lurking a little way away, eyeing her thoughtfully, as if he was thinking about Vanishing the chair.  “We spend most of our time in this club practising Charms; every week, three to five people are chosen to find an interesting Charm and demonstrate it to the rest of the Club, so that they can learn it. However, we also discuss contemporary advancements and achievements in the world of Charming - actually if you look on that table-” She waved towards a table under the window and nearly fell off the chair. “-then you’ll see the July, August, and September issues of Incantations Monthly and the British Journal of Charms. Incidentally, Victoria Frobisher has a very interesting article on the development of anti-Colour-Change Charms in the eighteenth century in the September issue of the British Journal; I’d like everyone to read it- copies are still ten Sickles apiece, so if you give the money to-”
 
“Get on with it!” someone shouted. Violetta frowned but dropped the subject.

“As I was saying, this week Daniel Gunn, Shayna Cohen, and Matthew Kennedy-” She ticked them off on her fingers. “-will be demonstrating their chosen Charms for you. Daniel, if you’d like to go first?” Violetta hopped off the chair and joined the crowd.

The tall Gryffindor sauntered into the circle, grinned at them all a little goofily, and said “Geminio mendacia!” to the chair. Nothing seemed to happen.

“Did he do it wrong?” Kitty asked softly, but then Daniel picked the chair up and carried it off to the edge of the cleared space, leaving a perfect, insubstantial copy behind.

“False Gemino Charm. It’s funniest if you can trick your victim into sitting down on it, but testing has shown that it’ll work on anything up to and including broomsticks, textbooks, purses, and beloved pets. Difficulty-” He rocked back on his heels and thought about it, then grinned a terribly wicked grin.

“I think by that he means ‘fifth-years and above’,” Violetta put in hastily. Daniel just grinned and rejoined the crowd. He was replaced by a tall Ravenclaw boy with a prominent grey patch, who waved his wand and said “Oplizakolpo!” The end of the wand exploded, filling the room with acrid-smelling smoke.

“Did you mean it to do that, Matthew?” Violetta asked, as the smoke cleared to reveal him absolutely covered in soot, and hanging in the air before him foot-high letters of fire that spelled out ‘MATTHEW IS SHORT AND PREMATURELY GREYING’. 

“Evidently not,” Violetta said, and sighed. Al edged through the crowd, surreptitiously trying to get nearer to Score Malfoy.

“It’s his own fault for letting his sister get near his wand again,” someone in the crowd pointed out. Violetta ignored that.

“You can go last then, Matt. Try to get your wand working again. Shayna?” A fair-haired Hufflepuff girl near the back of the group tried to retreat quietly towards the door, but Daniel, who had clearly been expecting that, picked her up and deposited her in the precise centre of the cleared space. Al moved a little further under the excuse of watching Dan carry her around and ended up standing right next to Score.

“What do you think so far?” Al asked him chattily, as they watched Shayna Cohen demonstrate a charm to produce unbreakable golden bubbles from the end of her wand.

“I quite like it. I think I’ll probably come back,” Score said, without looking at him. At least that wasn’t as vague as usual, Al thought, clapping with everyone else as Shayna Cohen finished her demonstration and fled hastily back into the crowd.

Violetta looked over at Matthew Kennedy, whose wand was still sending out fiery ‘SHORT’s and ‘PREMATURELY GREYING’s whenever he waved it, and said “I think we’ll have to wait for Matthew’s demonstration. If everyone would pick a charm to practise-” She hurried across the room to help Matthew with his wand.

Al brightened up - only Shayna’s bubble charm had been simple enough for first-years to learn, so he’d have to be in a group with Score and anyone else - but immediately Score went over to talk to Violetta. Al could hear them talking; first Violetta turned around and said “Hello! Are you a new member? What’s your name?” as she waved her wand over Matthew’s, and he said “Score Malfoy.” For a split second, Violetta’s smile faltered, then she grabbed his hand and shook it. “It’s good to see you here! We have a policy of welcoming anyone who wants to join our society, regardless of age, house, talent, or - have you enjoyed the meeting so far?” The two of them looked like they were going to start a whole conversation. Al glanced between Score and the other first-years, who were already working on the golden bubble charm, and realised that he’d have to leave him until later - some time when Score couldn’t run off and avoid him.

Fortunately, it wasn’t all bad news. Messalina Sheppard, whom Al remembered from Potions class, sidled over to tell him that Al’d been right about James being a bit of a melodramatic prat and introduced him to some of her friends in between Faith pestering him to admire her bubbles.  He couldn’t help but notice that none of the other Slytherins got the same treatment, though.

It was ten minutes before the end of the meeting when Al finally thought he’d been friendly enough to enough people and glanced around to find out where Score had gone. Violetta was by the table, talking to Shayna Cohen and dunking digestive biscuits into her tea; Score was practicing the bubble charm next to Kitty. Al wandered over to Violetta, while keeping an eye on Score and trying not to be obvious about it.

Violetta nodded to him as he approached but kept talking to Shayna. Al waited. Shayna seemed pretty shy, so -  She caught sight of him waiting, apologized, and fled.

And now Al felt bad. He definitely hadn’t expected her to leave that quickly.

“You’re Albus Potter, aren’t you?” Score must have mentioned him, then. “What did you want?”

“I just saw you talking to Score and I was wondering what about,” Al said. “I mean, he’s always pretty shy with us but he was talking to you just fine, and I don’t really know how to get him to-” He rubbed the back of his neck and scrunched his eyes shut. “-open up? So I guess mostly I wanted your help.”

“Oh,” Violetta said slowly. “We were just talking about Quidditch. As it turned out, we went to the same game in August. The Wigtown Wanderers versus Puddlemere United? On opposite sides, though. So we were discussing that match.” She glanced over at Score, who was congratulating Kitty on having successfully produced a spray of golden bubbles. “I hope that helps you.”

Al promised her that it would and thanked her extensively and sincerely before heading back to the Slytherins, while Violetta went over to Score and started talking to him quietly. About three words in, Score turned around and fixed Al with a basilisk stare. Al blanched, but he’d already made a decision. Al was going to figure Score out, and then he was going to make him be his friend.

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