She didn’t know where she was going until she spotted them, a small group of Hufflepuffs, laughing as they made their way out of the Great Hall. They couldn’t have been headed to a lesson as classes were finished at this point in the day. She’d never been to the Hufflepuff common room but this was one way to find it. Following them from a distance, Tabitha watched the group make their way into the Entrance Hall, however, to her surprise they didn’t ascend the large marble staircase.
Instead they slipped through a door located beside the stairs. Tabitha didn’t think she’d ever been through that door, partly because she’d always assumed it was just a storage cupboard, or Filch’s office; she’d had the fortune of never being sent there. However, through the door, she found a long corridor, where the walls were adorned with large paintings of food.
Poking her head into the hallway, she noticed the Hufflepuffs crowded around a sizeable collection of wooden barrels to the right of the corridor. The tallest boy of the group took out his wand and began tapping one of the barrels. After a short pattern of taps, the lid swung off the barrel. Tabitha watched as one after the other, the group filed through the barrels and out of sight. As the barrel lid snapped shut behind the last student, Tabitha ran out from behind the door and along the corridor. It was only once she stood in front of the towering rows of barrels, that she realised she had not watched closely enough. She didn’t see which barrel the boy had tapped. Tentatively, she held out her wand, waving it over the selection.
Seeing no signs of movement, Tabitha simply placed her wand onto the barrel in the centre and tapped the rhythm as best she remembered it, two taps – pause – three fast taps.
But the barrel lid did not open. Tabitha raised her wand to try another barrel, when several lids swung open. Although instead of revealing a passageway, they revealed several gallons of a deep brown liquid. The substance cascaded down, dousing Tabitha from head to toe. On contact, Tabitha recognised the strong acidic taste and smell of vinegar. It burned down her throat and sent sharp stings shooting up her nostrils. Her hair was matted to her face but she could just make out the shape of someone in yellow crawling towards her.
“What do you think you’re doing?” cried an angry voice.
Pushing the hair from her face, trying not to get vinegar in her eyes, Tabitha stammered, “I was just, looking for the passageway.”
Through the barrel entrance, she could see a dozen eyes staring back at her, a small crowd had formed to investigate the disturbance.
“The passageway? This isn’t for just anyone to come snooping at.” The angry voice piped again. The speaker was a boy in Hufflepuff robes with a shiny Prefect badge pinned to his uniform.
“Is this the Hufflepuff common room?” Tabitha peered behind him, blinking back at all the curious faces.
“Yes. Not that it’s really any of your business.” He gestured at her Gryffindor robes.
“Right. I was just looking for Theophilus Ainsley.”
A murmuring broke out from the crowd. Tabitha could her the muttering of Theo’s name passed from student to student. Soon after, a head of curly hair appeared, pushing through to the front of the spectators.
“Tabitha!” He said happily as he crawled out into the corridor.
The whisper of her name rippled through the onlookers.
“What are you doing here?”
“You said I could come visit.”
The Prefect whipped his head sharply at Theo. “You said what?”
“Sorry Ari.” His cheeks flashing a rosy shade of pink. “But Tabs is different. We can trust her.”
Ari looked sceptically at Tabitha, who shivered slightly, the vinegar had seeped into her socks, making her feet quite cold.
“Plus, I don’t think she’ll try sneaking in again in a hurry.”
Pursing his lips, Ari finally said, “Fine,” perhaps satisfied that she had suffered enough for her crimes. He stepped aside, indicating for Tabitha to follow Theo through the barrel entrance towards the common room.
The passageway sloped gently upwards as Tabitha crawled behind Theo. At the end of the tunnel, she was surprised to find herself blinking in bright sunlight. The common room was washed in a warm glow from the series of port-hole shaped windows dotting the circular space. Like the Gryffindor common room, there was a crackling fire flickering heat onto a collection of chairs and tables. However, the room was uniquely Hufflepuff in that it was teeming with a menagerie of plant life. Pot plants covered every surface while dangling greenery hung from the ceiling. At once Tabitha could tell why Theo liked it so much.
“C’mon!” He said, grabbing Tabitha’s hand and pulling her towards a small plant perched on a nearby windowsill. “Look! It’s still alive.”
He proudly presented the plant to Tabitha, which she recognised as Moondew. Its delicate blue flowers glistened in the afternoon light.
“How did it survive the summer?”
“I think one of the House Elves must have taken care of it. I’ll take you to visit them sometime.”
Tabitha only mumbled in reply.
“Is everything okay?”
The common room was quiet, but a few curious eyes still lingered in Tabitha’s direction.
Theo nodded his understanding, and swiftly lead her down one of the mainly circular tunnels branching off from the common room. Through a perfectly round door at the end of the tunnel was Theo’s dormitory. Each bed was decorated with copper detailing and covered with a bright patchwork quilt. Theo snapped on the copper lamp that sat beside his bed. It illuminated the dormitory in an orange light, casting long shadows across the room. Theo patted a spot next to him on the edge of the bed. Tabitha joined him, tucking her knees in towards her chest as she did.
“Tell me.” Theo said firmly.
“Sophie found out, about Mum.”
To her surprise, Theo didn’t reply. His eyes darted away from hers. She noticed his hands were fidgeting intensely.
“I may have known Sophie had found out.”
“I may have told her.”
Tabitha’s mouth fell open.
“Accidentally!” He added hurriedly.
Tabitha glared at him, her nostrils flaring. She might as well have eaten an entire bag of Pepper Imps because she felt as though smoke was gushing from her ears.
“Theophilus Ainsley, you have 10 seconds to explain yourself before I turn your legs into jelly.” She pulled out her wand, pointing it at him, unblinking.
“Well uh, you see”, he stammered, staring down her wand, “I saw you two at the feast and I assumed you’d already told her.”
“Theo, it’s not exactly something I advertise!”
“I’m sorry!” he flinched as her wand moved closer. “But after I brought it up, I realised she didn’t know and I stopped talking.”
“Is that right?” Tabitha said sceptically.
“Yes! It was Cecilia who told her the rest. I didn’t even know she’d been listening.”
Tabitha lowered her wand to scowl at Cecilia’s name. “That giant piece of Flobberworm dung.”
“And she said all these things that weren’t even true.”
“That’s the problem.” Tabitha said flopping back onto Theo bed, gazing at the roof of the four-poster. “Everyone thinks they know what happened. But they weren’t there.”
Theo laid back to join her. “Tabs?” She turned her head to look at him. His kind eyes glistened in the warm light. “What did happen?”
It was the first time in 2 years that he had asked her that question. She’d never fully explain it to him, always avoiding the topic whenever she could. He had been there to comfort her, but respected enough that she didn’t enjoy talking about it. But now Tabitha thought that if anyone should know, it was Theo. She turned her head back to the ceiling, she couldn’t look him in the eyes while she told it.
“It attacked her. This thing. It had the palest skin I’d ever seen, like it was made of light. Mum told me to run. I had to, there was nothing I could do. I could hear her fighting it behind me, but then when I turned around she was ... it had her. I screamed and it started coming toward me. Then my wand just ... I don’t know how but I stopped it. I killed it I guess. But Mum ...”
She sat up, hiding her eyes as they swelled with the tears of memories she’d tried to forget.
“Why couldn’t I save her? If I had just stopped it sooner, she’d still be alive.”
Theo rose to join Tabitha. All it took was their eyes to meet for a second, and the dam broke. Tears flooded down Tabitha’s cheeks. Theo took her hand, holding it in both of his, just letting her cry.
“They c-couldn’t figure out,” she stammered through sobs, “why I w-was alive, and she was dead. And I ... I don’t know either!”
Gripping Tabitha’s shoulders, Theo said firmly, “Because your mother chose you. You’re alive because she wanted you to be. She loved you more than anything, and that meant your life was more important to her.”
“To hell with anyone who believes any of those stupid rumours.” He continued, a fire blazing in his eyes. “You know what happened. And you have to keep living, for her.”
She nodded lightly, tears still running. They stayed there, hands intertwined, until Tabitha had finally run out of tears.
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