Once Dumbledore announced dinner, Sophie became quite chatty. Clearly over her shyness now, she told Tabitha all about her family, all witches and wizards, and how they were sure she was going to end up in Hufflepuff.
“Hufflepuff’s not bad,” Tabitha chimed in. “My best friend’s in Hufflepuff.”
“Really?” Sophie sputtered through a mouthful of chicken sausages.
Tabitha turned, pointing to Theo and his curly mane of hair. Unfortunately, at this time, he happened to be shoving a mountain of mashed potatoes into his mouth. But if anything, this earned him respect from Sophie.
“Maybe I should be in Hufflepuff,” she laughed.
“Well the Hat put you in Gryffindor for a reason.” Tabitha was surprised that she’d just uttered that sentence, considering how much she questioned her own placement. Maybe she was just trying to make Sophie feel better.
Not slowing down in fear of missing any of the food, Sophie plunged into another plate of quiche, along with another story about her Great Aunt Glinelda, who happened to be the first witch to swim the English Channel.
She was in the middle of explaining how she’d accidentally set her brother’s birthday cake on fire at age five, when she was interrupted by the arrival of the puddings.
“Treacle tart!” She exclaimed, grabbing the nearest plateful.
Tabitha chuckled, amused by Sophie’s wide eyed innocence.
“So, what do your parents do?”
Her heart thumped. Sophie was looking sweetly up at her, treacle tart smattered all over her chin.
“Oh um,” Tabitha stammered, searching for the right words, “a bit of this and that,” she finally landed on.
Sophie was not sold. “Like what?” She pressed.
“Well they work a lot,” Tabitha babbled, “my Dad’s actually a teacher.”
“Which one is he?” Sophie asked excitedly, turning to the teacher’s table at the head of the hall.
“Um, he’s a Muggle teacher.”
“Oh. That’s nice.” With a smile, she turned back to her tart. “What about your mum? Is she a...”
“Yes. A witch. A full witch.” Tabitha interrupted hastily.
“Is she a teacher too?” Sophie had moved onto finishing a large platter of ice cream now, but she was not moving on from the topic of Tabitha’s parents.
Tabitha could feel herself going red. Her face was boiling up as a hot sweat started to spread across her body. She squirmed uncomfortably in her seat.
“No, she’s not a teacher.”
Sophie opened her mouth to question Tabitha further when, much to Tabitha’s relief, Headmaster Dumbledore cleared his throat, drawing their attention.
“Now that your bellies are full, I’d like to fill your heads with a few words of wisdom for the year ahead.” His eyes twinkled as he looked out across the student body. “While it is important to remember where you have come from, it is more valuable to look to where you are headed, lest you wish to fall head first into a nest of Venomous Tentacula.”
Tabitha was sure she heard Theo’s laugh from across the room.
“In summation, walk forward with both eyes open.” With that Dumbledore clapped his hands once and said, “Now off to bed!”
The hall erupted with chatter, first years buzzing excitedly, older students chatting amongst themselves, and above it all the call of “First years this way!” as the Prefects attempted to corral the new students towards their respective common rooms.
“What’s the common room like?” Sophie asked, as they rose from the Gryffindor table and began filing out of the hall.
Tabitha, happy for the conversation to be off her parents, replied, “You’ll love it.”
Waving to Theo on the way out, Tabitha followed Sophie and the other first years up the winding staircases and through hidden passageways until they reached the Fat Lady. William Weasley, the red-haired Gryffindor Prefect, uttered the new password, “Nova Lux!”, and the portrait swung open to reveal the cosy armchairs and crackling fire of the Gryffindor common room.
Eager to avoid the many eyes of this space, Tabitha quickly said goodnight to Sophie and hurried up to her, thankfully, empty dormitory. There she sunk into bed, alone again.
She didn’t see Sophie for several days. Tabitha mostly hid in her dormitory, not wanting to draw any attention. However, her classes forced her to join the rest of the school. So far, she’d managed to attend her lessons with only a few snickers of “Hey Treacherous,” as she walked down the hallways.
She was on her way back to the common room after a particularly challenging Charms lesson, when she ran into Sophie by the portrait of the druidess Cliodna on the fifth floor.
“Hi.” Sophie mumbled.
She wasn’t looking Tabitha in the eye, instead choosing to stare at her shoes.
“How are you enjoying your classes?” Tabitha asked, attempting to make small talk.
She still didn’t look up. Neither said anything.
“Okay, well I guess I’ll see you around maybe...”
“I know about your mum.” Sophie blurted out, finally looking up.
Tabitha’s heart pounded at the mention of her mother. Sophie’s awkwardness made more sense now, of course she didn’t want to be seen with the school freak who killed her mum.
“Oh,” was all she could manage to say. “How did you...?”
“Some third years told me after they saw us together at the feast.”
“Right.” Tabitha said solemnly. “I’m sorry. I understand, you don’t want to be seen with me.”
She moved to walk away, but Sophie lightly grasped her arm, stopping her.
“No, that’s not what I meant.” She exclaimed. “I don’t believe what they said.”
“It’s true, my mother’s dead.”
“But they said you killed her.” She paused, gazing up at Tabitha. “You couldn’t have.”
Tabitha drove her thumb into her palm, forcing herself to ignore the dread that was bubbling up from her stomach to her chest.
“I might as well have.” She muttered, biting her lip.
“That’s not true. I know you’re not like that.” Sophie began to babble, unloading her many thoughts on the situation. “They said it was this big Ministry investigation and you had to go to trial? But they couldn’t figure it out cause there wasn’t anything left, just you and your mum. But you couldn’t have done it. I know you didn’t do it.”
“How do you know?” Tabitha burst. “You weren’t there. I was there. I could have saved her but I didn’t. I saved myself but not her. She’s dead and I’m alive and it’s my fault, okay!”
Sophie’s mouth hung open, her eyes as wide as the night she was sorted. She took a slight step back from Tabitha. Seeing Sophie’s shock, Tabitha realised what she’d done. All the emotions she’d done so well at repressing had broken free, crashing down onto poor unsuspecting Sophie.
“I’m sorry.” Sophie breathed, shakily.
Tabitha’s stomach twisted in knots.
“No, don’t ... it’s my fault.” She stammered. “It’s my fault. I’m sorry.”
She turned and ran, back down the corridor, away from Sophie and away from the Gryffindor common room.
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