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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.'

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