A/N: I have been admiring the inertia of Septimus Heap's opening scenes, an old series I liked that I have been reading. The story is set up in such a way that each perspective smoothly sets up the next, giving it an increased pace and speed that culminates in the plot and characters being set up and going on a journey together - down a garbage dump. I've found that I've really admired children writer's writing, because it is often quaintly and charmingly written, and full of many subtle life lessons too. The writing itself is usually colorful and full of many similes or metaphors, and mostly realistic behavior, if exaggerated. It's just good storytelling, and good for adults too I think. I try to accomplish something a little like this here.
Also known as, hey, I'm rebooting this story, hope you guys like it!
Chapter Two: Hufflepuff
Over the next days, I became quite used to the Hogwarts routine.
Inane children chattered, grouping up in loose circles in the yellow chokingly-cozy Common Room as they peered at the messenger board for their next classes. They liked to talk about silly, trivial things as they stood there, like oh Pansy in Slytherin was so mean to me, what did you think of Professor Snape?, did you see Harry Potter?, and such and such. They seemed immensely focused on personal natures rather than deriving anything of intellectual worth. It made me feel somewhat putout - I felt I had nothing worthwhile to say to my classmates - at least nothing that would be interesting to either them or me - and so often found myself standing aside from them and rushing to classes alone.
In those moments, I often commiserated to myself, it would have been better if I was in Ravenclaw. I knew it - there I would have found like-minded people. People who enjoyed dissecting the world around them, breaking it down into fundamental laws, and understanding.
But there was someone different. Someone who, like me, stood apart from the other wide-eyed Hufflepuff children, watching them from afar in the Common Room, a crimp in his gaze, like he didn't quite belong.
It was Elric.
He had startled me, again. I had thought him to be bold and brilliant, the way he had spoken on the train, compelling and confident. It had drawn me, his bold yet quiet gravitas, and had made me full of curiosity.
But now, instead, he was shy, and distant with the other children our age.
I hadn't spoken to him much the past days. I had been a bit bitter about having been drawn in by his - aura, I suppose, and having chosen this House for myself rather than the one I preferred. No - that wasn't the truth. I was just nervous. I had to admit it to myself. The truth was this. I pretended to prefer to be alone, but really I just hadn't yet gathered the courage to speak to him again, not after things had gone so well on the train. I had thought Elric could be a friend, but that expectation made it all the more intimidating to talk to him. And so after acknowledging this truth, I had to resign myself to being a coward.
As such, it came as a surprise when he approached me, just on the last day of classes for the week. We were in the boys dormitory, standing side by side but separate as we quietly packed our things, while the rest of our group streamed loudly out the door in small knots and cliques.
"Hey," Ed had said when most of them were gone, grunting as he packed his satchel on the top of his trunk one-handedly, slowly, methodically, "Want to walk to Transfigurations with me?"
I shot him a startled glance, catching a hopeful look on his face, before he averted his gaze.
He really is shy, I noted, surprised despite myself. After a pause, I nodded, before I realized that Ed hadn't seen the motion since he seemed so focused on packing his books into his too-big bag. I cleared my throat loudly instead.
"Of course," I said finally, trying for confident and casual, though my voice came out maybe too loudly and shrilly. It didn't matter, because then Ed gave me a crooked grin and I know the invitation had been accepted properly.
And that's how it started. We began walking to classes together regularly, somewhat apart from the other Hufflepuffs. At first it was somewhat awkward and silent, unable to regain the stride we had struck up on the train intuitively, when it was still just our first meeting. Yet, after the next week wore on, and I tentatively brought up the topic of my favorite fantasy book, we began hitting a new sort of stride, one where we talked about science and magic and how it all combined, and various theories about how lives and different worlds connected to one another.
It was quite fascinating, and I immensely enjoyed the conversations. In our classes, too, I initially enjoyed the chance to observe Ed, to try to crack at his mystery, picking up on various clues and character quirks.
Transfigurations at first, for example, had bothered Ed, even though he had quickly enough gotten the hang of changing the wooden match in McGonagall's class into a shiny needle. He was the first in our class to do so, even though we were grouped with Slytherins in that class, who were said to be clever and ambitious and whom I thought might've studied beforehand. Professor McGonagall had given Ed a particularly proud grin at seeing the silvery-shiny pointed match, and to my surprise, Ed had grinned widely back at the stern-faced old woman.
I had to admit Ed's intellect when I tried it for myself, and found my match not even able to transfigure even a bit. If it had even gotten a little bit pointy, or a little bit silvery, I would have been satisfied. As it was, only Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott in Slytherin had gotten even the closest to Ed's result, Zabini's match lengthening and Nott's turning somewhat silvery. When Ed had acted somehow both smug and aloof about his victory, I had the feeling that he had earned some petty childhood grudges from the Slytherins, the way they were staring at him with narrowed eyes as he rocked back in his seat and closed his eyes like he hadn't a care in the world, silver needle set proudly before him.
Our fellow Hufflepuffs, of course, performed the worst in that class. While Ed's performance had won the house 20 points, the rest of the points that class were awarded onto Slytherins. McGonagall was encouraging, stating that we had gotten very far for beginners and for our first Transfigurations class, but even I felt depressed as I stared down at my brown-stick match, and had in that instant resolved to practice and pester Ed for the secret. Yet, the other Hufflepuffs looked positively cheery at the Professor's encouragement and I couldn't help but resent them for their lack of trying or ambition.
At least Ed was a genius. The other Hufflepuffs, however, seemed to be content with just bumbling along, being jolly old easy chattering friends, and making merely satisfactory marks without any real understanding.
Such was my impression of them after a mere week, and it only solidified as the month wore on.
Potions with Snape went better. We had it with the Ravenclaws, so there was a fair bit of competition this time - at least in me. Since we got to group up with a partner, I of course chose Ed, and together, we determinedly sliced and diced esoteric ingredients, even if Ed complained loudly often that the ingredients made no fundamental sense and there was some magical hokey-pokey nonsense to it. Snape actually took off points from us for our talk, but since the way Ed talked was fun, I found myself snickering quietly as we traded barbed remarks about Potions and Snape's beak-like expression, and was easily able to forgive Ed for the loss of points.
In fact, when I was brave enough to talk back to Snape myself after he criticized the slowness of our stirring and how we kept double-checking the book for every action to figure out why each ingredient and stirring direction mattered ("Can't you dunderheads even remember a simple instruction?" the man had sneered), Ed had rewarded me with a clap on the back and then we were both in cahoots over losing points loudly and self-righteously. I had felt quite rightly proud of myself for it, even though the rest of the class had stared at us in aghast horror.
But I couldn't bring myself to regret it, or even choke out a false apology like I might have the month before.
Over time, Ed and I had become real friends. There was no real agreement to it - we both talked, and by how often we did it and walked to classes together, and the relaxed grin on his face, I knew it was true. It had made it worth it.
Astronomy Wednesday nights had us mingled with all groups of students, looking up at the stars with Wizarding-enhanced telescopes and trying to find constellations. Professor Sinistra was quite astute, and always explained things clearly, though I felt that the things to be explained weren't quite as clear. Still, I found the reactions and utter belief of the pureblood Slytherins interesting, and I constantly found myself cross-comparing my own muggle-raised knowledge with what was taught there and the attitudes of students in other Houses.
For Charms, Hufflepuff shared a class with Gryffindor, to my detriment. At first, in the beginning of the semester, it had almost seemed quite charming - a Gryffindor raising her hand at every question asked, nearly standing in her seat every time she silently begged to answer a question - but I had easily grown tired of Hermione Granger - and competitive to boot. I had quickly gained another obsession. Granger was obviously a Ravenclaw - so why had she switched Houses too to become a Gryffindor? Had she done so by choice?
I became determined to prove myself over her each time I entered that class, as the better inherent but converted Ravenclaw, and to my own House's gratitude and amazement, racked up many points for us in the class. This in turn had Granger's eyes slant towards me, and as the semester went on, she raised her hands even more insistently, sometimes even both of them, as if it would fool the professor into picking her twice as often. It had Professor Flitwick chuckling at the "liveliness" of his class, but for my part, I felt no amusement, only vindication as I stole her points for myself.
It could be said to be irrational… but I excused myself on the part that the House of Hufflepuff was intended to be completely irrational anyway, being the house of loyalty and friendship, and that I was merely adopting the traits of my new residence.
Ed, for his part, however, rarely even bothered to answer the questions. Instead, in Charms class, he wore a glazed look over his eyes, like he already knew all of this and was fiercely bored of it. When I questioned him about it one time, he had confirmed my suspicions, and for the rest of the day, I had slunk about, sulking, until he consoled me with the promise to teach me alchemy.
Which was exciting and had cheered me up quickly enough. Alchemy at Hogwarts was usually only reserved for OWL's and up, as a special elective which wasn't even offered regularly or reliably. Plus, I felt it let me dig deeper into the mystery of Edward Elric - though I was somewhat more tentative in attempting to solve that mystery, now that I had claimed him as a friend and not just a far-off elusive puzzle - because I felt that there was still something important there, something essential that I just had to understand, to gain my ever-so-desired wisdom.
There was some secret to unlock in Edward Elric. Even as the months passed, I was sure of it.
In fact, I only grew more certain of it by the day, even as we laughed and talked and bantered.
Often, in the dorms, I caught sight of Ed writing letters to his younger brother. I had surreptitiously peaked over his shoulder once or twice to read them, and even though every time he had stiffened, noticing me, he had never said a word about it. The contents of the letter, however, were gobbledegook - about inane travelling details about places I knew Ed hadn't gone to while at Hogwarts. At first, I had thought he was writing tall tales for his little brother, but eventually, when it continued in serious tones with similar themes, I had realized it was a code.
Which was fascinating. I wished I knew how to write in code, especially a code which didn't even appear like one at first glance. It seemed remarkably useful. For what, I didn't know, but it seemed useful.
I confessed to Ed about my spying and begged him to teach it to me the night I had figured it out. He was understandably upset, and it had made even me feel guilty about it. I had assumed he had been fine with it because he had never mentioned anything. But finally, seeing my genuine interest, he broke, and then discussed with me the very basics of setting my own code.
"If I'm going to teach you alchemy," he said, "you might as well learn it. Every good Alchemist codes their private notes and research so that no one else can steal it. It's a good practice to have." He grimaced, young eyes shifting right and left briefly. "Especially here in Hogwarts, where there's listening eyes and ears everywhere."
That last statement had me curious, but having already asked so much of him already, I kept quiet on it and let him lecture me on the principles of cryptography. Much of it seemed similar to muggle maths I had studied growing up, and seemingly so abstract that it was near-useless, until Ed encouraged me to think about the application more, and try out some examples. Some of the codes were stupidly simple in practice, until Ed gave them to me to try to decode them in reverse.
To my self-satisfaction, Ed had appeared surprised and encouraged at my knowledge of maths and my quick progress - it was more than he had expected of any wizard, he had confessed. He decided that same night to begin teaching me the basics of alchemy too, and had pulled out a copy of the periodic table from his trunk.
"These," he had explained eagerly, shuffling over to put the paper between us, pointing to several square cells on the chart, "are the elements that all life and materials in this universe are founded on." He pointed to the C on the chart, right next to the O and N. "This is the element, Carbon, that mostly makes up life, along with," he moved his finger to the H, "Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen. All the other elements," he wiggled his finger around in a circle, "appear in the world in various mixtures and concentrations. Most of these mixtures form minerals that make up rocks and metals and dirt, in semi-crystalline or amorphous structures. The way the elements are organized together is what gives them properties, like strength and stiffness…"
I had learned some of this in muggle chemistry and biology, but I didn't interrupt him. Encouraged by my nodding and rapt attention, he went on to explain things like S-orbitals and P-orbitals, and how they were built into the periodic chart, until my head began to spin and feel thoroughly worked out and tired, a feeling similar to how my legs felt after they had run a mile except in my brain. I felt he could have gone on for longer, but I had to interrupt him when I felt my head bobbing and my eyelids thick and heavy, desperately desiring to close. The other Hufflepuffs had long since gone to sleep, wrapping their curtains about their beds as we spoke in hushed whispers and occasional loud exclamations, and I had gotten to the point where the sound of his voice seemed to skip every second word in my mind.
"Sorry, Ed," I said, yawning. "I think we had better go to sleep now, don't we?"
He gave me an astonished look, then looked down at the periodic table, as if he couldn't believe I wouldn't stay up the entire night just to learn all about chemistry.
"Alright," he said finally, reluctantly. "I guess my brother and me didn't learn this all in one night, either…"
I looked at him, curiosity dimly awakened in my mind again.
"Your brother knows alchemy too?" Ed had talked about him incessantly, often worrying over how his little brother was dealing with being in a "new place", all alone without him, but had never mentioned this before.
"'Course," Ed grinned, still all bright and energetic despite how the window reflected only deep night and stars outside. "We learned it together, from our dad's books. Mom, she…"
He abruptly halted, looking suddenly very sober and chilled. His eyes met mine, and suddenly I felt very alert and awake.
"Your mom?" I asked quietly, sensing that this was an important point for him.
His lips twisted downwards and he nodded, blonde bangs jostling as he looked away.
"Yeah," he said in a low voice. "She's… gone."
The way he said it, his voice sounded so bleak, so hopeless, that for a moment, I was moved by impulse, and hugged him. He looked at me, wide-eyed, surprised, and I pulled back, somewhat embarrassed.
"Sorry, Ed," I said, looking at my toes. I searched for something appropriate to say. "Your brother… you really, really love him, right?"
The words sounded awkward on my mouth, a little embarrassing too, but I felt it was important to say them, when I looked up and met his eyes.
He looked surprised, astonished. To my alarm, tears had actually beaded up in the corner of his eyes as he stared at me. A full second later, then, he hurriedly wiped them away, cheeks flushing. Ed wasn't the type to like anybody seeing his weakness.
"That's really, really good," I told him, persisting forward, trying to be earnest and sincere. "It's great… that you really love your family. That means they were… are precious to you." No, it wasn't quite finished yet. There was - more. "And your brother, he's still here now, right? You still have him." I paused, then said more quiet, tentatively, but trying to pour sincerity into it. "And you have me too, Ed."
The golden-haired boy then choked out a sob, seeming unable to contain it upon hearing my words, like they had chipped away at a dam he had held long inside him.
He turned to me, shuddering as his body was wracked by helpless grief, in an effort to seek a childish comfort, and, feeling that I had done a good thing, held on to him, trying to provide it. This hurt that my friend felt - it needed to go away.
To be released, vented out, expunged into the clean air until it couldn't hurt him anymore.
When he was done shaking, single hand clinging to my shirt, I found snot on my pajama covers. I didn't mind. The boy looked down, at his feet, breathing in, out, deeply, eyes not quite meeting mine.
"Thanks, Kevin," he whispered finally, after we had sat in silence for some time.
I wasn't sure what to say to that, so finally settled on, "I'm glad to be here, Ed."
Meaning that I was glad to be his friend, and to be able to help him.
In my own life, I had always felt so insignificant - insignificant against the tide of reality, swept away only in cold logic and deductions, detached, sheltered away by my family, unable to really touch the real life. I knew - I felt I knew so many things. But this -
This was what was important.
I wanted to be able to touch the real life.
I was glad I could help Ed, when he was so clearly in need.
I was glad I could help my friend.