First-floor Corridor

A wave of loud raucous laughter and frightful yells assaulted the ears of the First-Years in the first-floor corridor.

"It sounds like it's coming from over there!" Severia led the way around the corner at the end of the corridor.

There at the Stone Bridge stood Miglurz Alistair and two other Slytherins. Between the three of them stood Matt Havson, cowering in fear and shutting his eyes, yelping as the Slytherins pushed him back and forth to each other. Matt hugged one of his textbooks close to his chest and screamed at the top of his lungs. His ears rang with the Slytherin's harsh laughter.

Alistair caught Matt by his elbows. Matt shivered fearfully at the Sable's callous unnerving grin. Alistair seized Matt's copy of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1, and wrenched it out of the poor Squirrel's paws, holding it high in the air.

"No!" Matt jumped up and down as Alistair raised his book out of reach. "Give it back! That's mine!"

"Oh, ya want it?" Alistair laughed sadistically. "Go an' get it!" He slammed it hard on the ground and pushed Matt down beside it.

Matt fell to the ground and tried to grab his book. "You right foul gits! I won't let you bully me any longer!"

"Are you sure about that?" Joshua Starheart drew his wand, a rod of dogwood. "Epoximise!"

A sticky substance was expelled from the wand and wrapped around the book. It stuck to the floor in thick adhesive ropes. Matt pulled hard with all his might. But he could not free his poor textbook. The Slytherins laughed uproariously; Alistair patted Starheart's shoulders.

He kicked Matt hard in the stomach. The impact knocked him flat on his back. His glasses flew off his face and crashed on the pavement some few feet away. One of the lenses popped out of the frames and shattered. Matt held his aching stomach, gasping from having the wind knocked out of him.

"It's your friend Mathay Havson!" Severia exclaimed to Benjamin, and she sprinted towards the crowd, drawing her wand. "Hey! Leave him alone!"

When Alistair spun to face her, she flicked her wand at him. "Flipendo!"

A strange purplish-red ray struck Alistair in the chest, punching him backward. He landed flat on his rear but sprang up quickly. His characteristic blithe sneer remained, untarnished, and he wiped dirt from his robes.

"Consortin' with Mudbloods, eh?" He ignored Severia and smirked at Benjamin, who gripped his wand furiously beneath his robes. "This bloke deserved what 'e got." He nodded at Matt, who was pawing around blindly on all fours, trying to locate his glasses. Alistair spitefully kicked them farther away. Matt let out a strangled sob and crawled after them.

Alistair turned and scoffed at Benjamin. "I tol' ya I'd rise above ya, Suntail. I tol' ya I warn't afeared ter do what's necessary ter get ter da top." He watched Matt feel around the Bridge for his glasses and smirked. "Mudbloods. Pathetic! Ya're mixin wit da wron' crowd, all o' ya! Are ya that dimwitted? Whaddaya thin' ya're doin', makin' friends wit' Muggle-borns?"

He seized Matt by his hair and wrenched his head back to hiss in his ear, "Don't try ta get ahead o' us in 'Ogwarts if'n ya know what's good fer ya, Squirrel!"

"I didn't even do anything!" Matt begged, starting to cry out of fear for his life.

"Be quiet!" the Second-Year Burnnik Tottering, the Rat, held the tip of his wand to Matt's neck. "Ye're not allowed t' speak, Mudblood, unless we say ye are!"

"Oy!" Carver rounded the corner, joined by Mello Jubathus. "What's going on here?"

Matt struggled against Alistair's grip and pointed to the Slytherins. "It's them! They're bullying me! Help!"

"I say!" Mello drew his wand and pointed it threateningly at Alistair and his cronies. "Bad form for you rotters, wot!"

"Alistair! Starheart! Tottering!" Carver's eyes flared like white fire, pointing his wand. "Release him this instant! This is your only warning, or it's detention for you lot!"

Alistair glowered at Carver, and with a final angry huff, he threw Matt onto the ground. Matt pushed himself up and moved to slump against the ramparts, where he sat sobbing silently.

Mello noticed the book stuck to the stone. "Finite Incantatem!" The sticky substance disappeared. Mello picked up the book and held it under one arm, shaking his wand disdainfully at the Slytherins. "Again, blasted bad form, I say, sticking a textbook to the floor! A jolly good scrubbing of your brains would be a good punishment for the likes of you!"

"Five points from each of you!" Carver bellowed at the top of his voice. "Your Head of House will hear about this! Now scram, before I do something I'll regret!"

The Slytherins shuddered under Carver's furious stare-down. They bolted off the Stone Bridge and disappeared through the entrance to the Viaduct.

"Ya've been warned, Mudblood!" Alistair shouted over his shoulder before vanishing into the distance.

Carver and Mello both let out a stressful sigh. Severia and Daphne held their paws to their hearts in relief. Benjamin immediately hurried over to Matt's side.

Matt sat against the rampart, his knees pulled up to his chest and his face in his paws, his entire body shaking within sobs. He whispered one word repeatedly, painfully, audible to all within range: "Mudblood...Mudblood...Mudblood..."

Severia gathered the pieces of Matt's glasses. "Oculus Reparo." The broken lens resealed inside the frame, good as new.

Carver shook his head and put his arm around Matt's shoulders. "I'm so sorry, Matt. I should've arrived sooner. I would've been able to stop them."

"It's all right," Matt reassured the Fox weakly, lifting his face and wiping tears from his eyes. "It's not your fault. I'm okay."

"No, Matt, ye are not okay." Daphne ran her fingers through Matt's hair and sighed forlornly. "Ye've been bullied, Matt. I don't understan' what drives those kids t' bullyin'. They strut roun' th' castle pushin' other students about like they own th' place! Why can't Gryffindors an' Slytherin's just get alon'?"

"Aye, who do they think they are?" Severia returned Matt's glasses to him.

"Oh..." Matt took his glasses and donned them gratefully. "Thank you..." His voice still sounded cracked from crying.

Severia sat in front of Matt beside Benjamin. "Those cruel beasts, picking on innocent creatures because of their blood status! Again, who do they think they are that gives them the right to do that? You know, Matt, the name 'Mudblood' means-"

"I know what it means!" Matt snapped, heaving. "And I wish I didn't!"

"Why, those devils!" Mello sprang to his feet and redrew his wand. "Calling our dear old Mathay Havson a Mudblood? How dare they! Doncha worry about your cute little head, Matt me chap. I'll hunt down those guilty old blighters, wot! Them ruddy pumpkinheads! Give them the old magic one-two, one-two, I will! That'll show them!"

"That won't be necessary, Jubathus," Carver shook his head disapprovingly and pushed Jubathus' wand paw down. "If we pursue payback, we'll just create another problem and make the whole issue worse. We don't have time to go on a hunt for troublemakers and cause a chain reaction of drama. The job of a Prefect is to prevent these sorts of things."

Mello, completely humbled, pocketed his wand and stood to attention. "Right. I wholly agree, Darkclaw. Mum's the word and all that. But that won't stop me from complaining about what's happened, donchaknow?"

Carver studied Mello for a split second, then smiled. "I like your attitude, Mello. You'd make a fine Prefect someday, I think."

Matt wiped the last of his tears from his eyes and fearfully stood up. He held his stomach where Alistair had rudely kicked him and winced. Jubathus handed him his textbook. His eyes blazed with righteous, courageous anger through his glasses.

"Thanks, Mello. I'll show them. Mudblood or not, I'll show those Slytherins what I can do as a wizard! I may be a Muggle-born, but that's not going to stop me from becoming a Gryffindor!"

"We'll be right here with you, Matt!" Benjamin stood proudly beside him. "It's time for Flying class. Maybe this is an opportunity to show what you can do! In the meantime, we'll work on a plan to keep you safe from those terrible bullies!"

"With your brawn and our brains," Severia added, standing abreast of Benjamin. "We'll be unstoppable witches and wizards!"

"We'll stamp out those bullies fer you, Matt!" Daphne put her paws on her hips. "Or, at th' very least, we'll find a way for all o' ya t' get alon' an' be friends." She hefted her bookbag and waved goodbye to everyone. "Have fun in Flyin'! I'll see y'all after Charms!"

"That sounds like a Gryffindor!" Mello clapped Matt heartily on the back and ruffled his hair. "Dash all your worries, Matt! Now off to Flying class you go! One foot in front of the other, wot! Forward march! Left, right, left, right, left, right!"


Castle Grounds

"Broomsticks?"

Matt furrowed his brow at the line of broomsticks lying on the grass of the Castle Grounds. He scratched his head and cluelessly paced the flanks. Benjamin and Severia stood on the opposite side, examining the brooms.

"Yep, broomsticks!" Severia confirmed. "Look, Benjamin, there's a Comet 310!"

"And this is a Cleansweep Fourteen!" Benjamin indicated the two brooms on either side of him. "I had no idea they still produced these!"

Madam Rinneliah Larka appeared from the tower and marched energetically towards the assembled class. She was a tall and lean brownish-grey Wildcat with sharp sky-blue eyes, and wore a white button-down dress shirt and a red-and-gold necktie with the Gryffindor crest, under an ankle-length obsidian cloak. A silver whistle hung on a string around her neck.

"Good afternoon, students!" she greeted them cheerfully.

"Good afternoon, Madam Larka!" they greeted her back with sparks of enthusiasm.

Madam Larka walked the length of the assembly line and pivoted on her heels to face them, wearing a glowing smile. "Welcome to your first ever Flying class! In this class, you will learn how to fly on magical broomsticks."

"Wicked!" Matt whispered under his breath, unable to wipe the anticipatory grin off his face.

"Well, without further ado, let's get to it!" Larka announced. "Everyone stand on the left side of their broom!"

The students obeyed and choose their brooms. Larka clapped her paws together in anticipation.

"Now comes the exciting part. Stick your right paw over your broom and say, with feeling, Up!"

"Up!" A wall of sound filled the afternoon air as the students attempted to summon their brooms.

"Up!" Matt Havson cried. His broom leaped up into his paw instantly. His eyes widened and he laughed eagerly. "Whoa!"

"Up!" Severia's broom rolled around on the grass, deliberately avoiding her command. "Up!" she shouted again, more sharply.

The broom swung upward and smacked her in the face in response.

Severia recoiled and held her nose and forehead painfully. She opened her stinging eyes to see the others laughing.

"Come off it!" she pretended to scold them. But she laughed at herself all the same.

"Now, then, once you've got a firm hold on your broom, you must then try to mount it," Larka instructed, walking down the flank. "Keep a tight grip and sit down on the handle. You must avoid sliding off the end and hurting yourselves on the bristles."

Everyone mounted their brooms, and Larka corrected their grip and posture. Matt clutched his broomstick tightly, his face hurting from smiling wide in unfettered excitement. Benjamin held his more confidently, but Severia had a tentative grip, as if nervous and uncertain.

"Have you ever flown before?" Severia asked Benjamin.

"A few times," Benjamin admitted. "Colton is the Captain of the Ravenclaw Quidditch Team, so he taught me how to fly a broom as well. You?"

"Er...A little bit," Severia shrugged anxiously. "I don't like it all that much if I'm being honest. My parents never played Quidditch themselves, so I didn't have much broom exposure growing up."

"Matt seems fine, though," Benjamin pointed to Matt, who was playfully leaning forward and back on his broom, imagining flying without actually moving. "He looks like he knows what he's doing."

Larka returned to her position at the front of the flank. "All right, listen up, students! Steady your brooms. I want you to take flight by kicking off the ground. Rise in the air a few feet, then land back on the ground by leaning forward slightly. On my whistle! One, two, three!"

She blew her silver whistle. Every single broom lifted off the ground, to the mixed astonishment and amazement of their riders.

Matt whooped as he hovered in the free air, both hands firmly gripping his broom and his hair blowing in the brush of air. Benjamin cheered, lifting effortlessly as well. Severia, however, held on for dear life, cringing.

"Whose idea was it to place a Flying Charm on this thing?!" she cried, shaking her legs frantically. Her broom bobbed up and down and side to side erratically as if outright rejecting its rider. Severia's body jerked every-which-way in tandem, getting dizzier by the second.

Larka immediately drew her wand and pointed at the broom. "Arresto Momentum!"

The broom slowed to a complete stop in the center. Severia instinctively leaned forward and breathed a sigh of relief when she landed smoothly on the stone pathway.

"Nope!" she politely laid her broom on the ground and stepped away. "No flying for me, thank you very much!"

Larka filled the rest of the class hour by tasking those in the air with navigating an obstacle course made up of magical suspended green rings. Matt passed through every single ring faster than a missile, Benjamin not too far behind. They swerved and turned and spun through the afternoon breeze, laughing and whooping wildly, their headfur rippling through the air from the thrilling speed of the brooms. The zephyr currents formed an invisible cylinder around them, guiding their brooms from one ring to the next. Rising high up to the sky, diving hard down to earth, then pulling sharply up again; left and right, top and bottom, diagonally and across, curving and looping, the enthusiastic brooms rocketed their elated riders through the obstacle course with relative ease.

When Matt and Benjamin passed through the last ring, Larka blew her whistle as the signal to return to the ground. They landed smoothly back on the stone sidewalk (Matt more dramatically so) and dismounted their brooms.

"You were brilliant, Matt!" Severia praised Matt when they regrouped.

"More than brilliant!" Matt straightened his glasses and smoothed back his brown windswept hair. "That was bloody exhilarating! Who knew flying broomsticks could be so much fun? The feeling of the wind in your hair and your face and the sensation of riding with the breeze! I'll show those Slytherins I can be a wizard for sure now!"

"Your enthusiasm is infectious, Mr. Havson!" Larka snapped her claws and winked. "If you're interested, you might consider trying out for the Gryffindor Quidditch Team." She winked discreetly. "I reckon they could use somebeast like you, provided you've got the skills and fortitude for it."

"Quidditch?" Matt tilted his head to one side quizzically. "Pardon my lack of knowledge, but I'm Muggle-born, Madam Larka."

"Oh!" Larka raised her eyebrows in surprise and nodded. "Well, in that case, please don't think me prejudiced in the slightest, Mr. Havson. Come to my office. I think I've got a Quidditch rulebook lying around somewhere that I can lend to you. Class dismissed!"

Matt turned to Benjamin as they returned inside the castle. They exchanged high-fives. "You were amazing up there, too, Benjamin! I'll admit, I got a bit worried I flew too fast for you!"

Benjamin shook his head and leaned confidently on his broom. "No, not at all! You outflew me, is what you did! I wasn't in any rush, and this isn't a competition of who can fly faster or higher. What matters is that you live in the moment! Me," he shrugged nonchalantly. "I don't play Quidditch. I like my sports to be more for mental exercise." He tapped the side of his head knowingly. "Training what's up here."

"I'll live rooted on the solid ground, if you don't mind," Severia laughed and exhaled to ease her nerves. "I prefer to keep my brain intact, thanks."

"Anyway, I think you're the best flyer out of all of us, Matt," Benjamin admitted, watching Madame Larka come up behind them. "You're becoming more like a Gryffindor every day. Those daft Slytherins won't know what hit them, and before you know it, they're no longer a problem for you anymore."

"Do you think so?" Matt shrugged in disbelief. "I dunno. I hope the Sorting Hat didn't make a mistake putting me in Gryffindor. I'm sure it did right in putting you two in Ravenclaw, though. Daphne belongs in Hufflepuff, I'm telling you."

"Well, that remains to be seen," Severia removed her copy of The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection from her bookbag. "This is your life path, Matt, and only you can pave it. It'll take time, but you'll come to understand why the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. It's the same as how we'll come to understand why it placed us in Ravenclaw."

Matt looked down at his feet, then nodded thoughtfully. "I certainly hope so."

"Come with me, Mr. Havson," Larka beckoned Matt to follow her into her office. "I think it's time you were taught to rise above your adversities. Pay no attention to the rubbish those bullies say to you. We'll make a Gryffindor out of you yet!"

Matt flashed his usual cheeky grin and pushed his glasses up to the bridge of his nose. "I feel like a Gryffindor already!"

The three made their farewells. Benjamin and Severia went off to Defence Against the Dark Arts.


Classroom 3C, Defence Against the Dark Arts

They met none other than Miglurz Alistair at the door of the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. The Sable smiled his typical arrogant sneer.

"Ya again?" Alistair shot Benjamin and Severia a disdainful look, curling his lip. "I tol' ya ter stay outta my bizness. If ya're here ter get payback fer yar Mudblood frien', ya won't get nuthin' o' der sort, ya hear me? Ya'd better stan' clear o' us if'n ya know what's good fer ya." He narrowed his eyes contemptuously at Severia. "'Especially afta what ya did ter me, Ermine."

"Watch your bloody mouth," Severia growled through gritted teeth, glaring back. "Or I'll fill it with slime. My name is Severia Avelle-Livenworth. Don't you forget it!"

"Matt Havson is under our protection now," Benjamin threw his arm out in front of Severia protectively. "Don't you dare try to hurt him again, or we'll know!"

Joshua Starheart, who'd be eavesdropping on the conversation, laughed uproariously. "Oh, please! We didn't even do anything at all! Havson was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time!" He smirked at the two Ravenclaws. "Why are you so defensive of him, then? What's it to you?"

"Aye, why are ya so protective o' that Mudblood, anyway?" Alistair hung his paws in his pockets and smiled smugly.

"Stop calling him that!" Benjamin snapped angrily. Severia held him back by his shoulders. "You bullied him because he's Muggle-born, but you don't have any right to call him a Mudblood, particularly when he's not here to defend himself! Lay off him, or I'll do it for you!"

Alistair swaggered up to Benjamin until they stood nose-to-nose, his stare turning scornful. "I'd avoid sidin' wid dat Mudblood if'n I was ya, Suntail. It's gonna getcha inta some real trouble someday."

"I'm not the one who got intimidated by the Prefect earlier," Benjamin remarked scathingly, smiling crookedly at his witty riposte.

Alistair growled aggressively from the back of his cream-colored throat. "Why, ya ruddy excuse fer a Mouse," he hissed. "I'll getcha back fer remindin' me o' that. We'd 'ave taught Havson a lesson he'll neva forget before yar little Prefect frien' showed up ter stop us."

"I'll bet there are worse ways to get punished at Hogwarts," Benjamin pointed out, clenching his paws into fists. His left paw tightened around his wand inside his robes. "Besides, Carver Darkclaw was just doing his job."

"Worse things than detention, ter be sure," Alistair snarled back. "But an' come ter Havson's aid again, an' I won't be as charitable as I was before."

"Well, you bully him one more time," Benjamin lowered his voice to a threatening whisper laced with protectiveness. "And I'll take you out with the rubbish myself, without my Prefect."

At this, Alistair stepped back, laughing snidely, a grating breathless laugh. "Don't go makin' empty threats, Suntail, unless ya got der strength ter back dem up. I'm not afraid o' ya. Brin' on der surveillance, den. I'll be keepin' my eyes on ya, both o' dem!"

"We'll see about that," Benjamin whispered back venomously.

"Who the bloody hell are you?" Severia demanded of the Squirrel.

"Joshua Starheart," Joshua jerked his thumb at himself, puffed out his chest, and lifted his nose in a rather prideful manner. "Brother of Sariah Starheart and cousin of Eolin Sandeye, grandson of Jared Sandeye."

"Sandeye!" Severia gasped out loud. Then she shook her head in disapproval and instantly reverted to glaring. "I know that name. Everyone in the Ministry does. You're giving the Sandeye bloodline a bad name, I tell you. I would've expected better from somebeast of the Sandeye family."

Joshua shrugged nonchalantly. "Well, I ain't done anything bad...yet." He winked decisively and stuffed his fingers in his pockets, trying to appear innocent. "My grandfather will never know, and what he doesn't know won't hurt him."

Benjamin rolled his eyes and led Severia away. "We don't have time for this, Severia. C'mon, let's go to class."

Alistair peeked inside the classroom and scoffed. "Defence Against der Dark Arts? Good luck wit' dat. Ya're gonna need it."

"Thanks a bunch, Alistair," Benjamin scowled back and led Severia inside. "Now shove off!"

Alistair and Joshua came hot on their heels.

As Benjamin sat down at Defence Against the Dark Arts, he noticed Severia's complexion had darkened somewhat, as if an invisible shadow had descended upon the female Ermine's face, covering her usual brightness. She stared transfixed at the revolving magical projector on the far end of the classroom, which was cycling between slides of Vampires. Severia's pupils were shrunk and unblinking, her expression a clear acrylic portrait of white-faced shock. She hadn't even opened her textbook, and the sound of Benjamin doing so did not faze her. Benjamin crushed the urge to poke Severia to attention with his quill.

Professor Terrance Hallamand looked to be somewhere in his mid-forties, a round-bodied, vaguely slim brown-and-white Bankvole whose sky-blue eyes, slender silky gray hair, and a lengthy beard tied in a neat Merovingian knot enhanced his wrinkled complexion creased by the tides of great age. He wore a hooded yellow-green monk's robe with a sapphire braided twill rope that secured his wand on his hip. He gifted his students a welcoming smile as he stepped down the stairs from his office to the classroom floor.

"Good afternoon, Ravenclaws and Slytherins. Welcome to Defence Against the Dark Arts. I am your Professor, Terrance Hallamand." He spoke with an unassuming gentle comforting voice, light as a feather and calmly reassuring. "In this class, you will learn of the Dark Arts and all its associations, and how to defend yourselves against both Dark spells and Magical Creatures; as well as both the practical and theoretical nature of jinxes, hexes, and curses. You'll also be given a crash course in dueling in the future. So you'd best be ready to put your best self forward. Embrace courage and find your inner duelist. Your wand will reward you for it."

He raised an emphasizing finger in the air. "Rest assured that absolutely no harm will come to you whilst I am present. The majority of the creatures you learn of in my class you may or may not encounter directly, or at least not until your subsequent Years at Hogwarts. You may all sleep soundly in your beds tonight. With that in mind, let us begin our first lesson."

Hallamand walked to the back of the classroom, closing each large window as he went. Benjamin heard a sharp intake of breath from Severia as the projector screen brightened in the sudden darkness, and she shuddered in her seat. Benjamin turned to her in concern, but she did not notice him.

"For our first class, we shall learn about the nature of Vampires," Hallamand explained, coming back to the front of the class. "Can anyone here tell me the characteristics of the Vampire?"

"Vampire..." Severia whispered timidly under her breath that only Benjamin heard.

Alistair instead raised his paw before anyone else.

Hallamand pointed at him. "Yes, Mr…?"

"Alistair, sir; Miglurz Alistair." Alistair gesticulated as he explained. "A Vampire is a Creature who has been afflicted wit' der curse o' vampirism. Dey are dark evil magical bein's who bite beasts on der neck an' suck the blood of their victims. Pale an' gaunt in appearance, Vampires possess sharp fangs fer puncturin' th' throats o' their victims. They wander der shadows o' der nigh' searchin' fer livin' beings ter feed upon, as dey cannot go out in dayligh'."

"A flawless explanation, Alistair," Hallamand smiled affirmatively. "Twenty points to Slytherin. Now, then, vampirism is an incurable infectious magical disease." He adopted a more teacher-like tone, pointing at the projector screen rotating slowly between different detailed images of Vampires.

"It is spread through the contact of saliva and blood, through biting; meaning that a victim has to be bitten by another Vampire to be turned into one themselves. As Alistair stated, they have a weakness to daylight. They cannot go out in it. But they are most powerful and least suspicious in the darkness of night. On the upside, they do have a powerful aversion to garlic. Garlic can therefore be used to keep them at bay for a time. Retain this knowledge should you ever encounter a Vampire yourself, although the odds of that do seem probabilistically low.

Finally, while Professor Crawdler does garb himself akin to a Vampire, I can wholeheartedly assure all of you that he is not one. He simply enjoys making himself look like a vampire to scare you. But don't tell him I said that."

Severia shook nervously in her seat, but Hallamand did not see it. She could not tear her eyes away from the frightening, nightmarish images on the screen before her. Benjamin saw the look of uncharacteristic pure horror on her face, the tiny hint of tears welling in her eyes.

Hallamand continued. The projector carried on rotating. "There is, tragically, no cure for Vampirism. There is no known method for treating vampire bites. As I said, it is an incurable affliction, and a most terrible burden to live with. An insatiable thirst for blood. A weakness to sunlight and avoidance of garlic. An uncontrollable inner and outer physical, mental, and emotional darkness. Most Creatures cursed by this plague would rather suffer death than endure the vampiric curse forever."

Severia bit her lip anxiously, scrunching up her nose and trying to blink back the thin sheen of tears accumulating under her eyes. Benjamin, perhaps instinctively, grabbed her paw and gave it a consoling squeeze.

"It's all right," he tried to assure her. "You don't need to be afraid. I'm here."

Severia squeezed his paw back thankfully, but she could not say a word, nor did her fearful expression change. She kept her head down for the rest of the class.

Hallamand discussed other Dark beings: Imps, magical beasts known for their obsession with slapstick humor, and which enjoyed tripping or pushing their victims; and Ghosts, imprints of a soul of once-living wizards or witches, a type of fleshless spirit unable to pass on to the afterlife for personal reasons. Severia meticulously took notes, still with the same distant, vaguely empty look. Benjamin followed suit, watching her concernedly out of the corner of his eye.

His ears twitched at Alistair and Joshua snickering under their breaths, mocking Severia's unspoken plight.

He hurled them both a condemning death glare. But they did not waver and continued to laugh. When Hallamand turned his back to switch the projector to the presentation on Ghosts, Alistair leaned in towards Benjamin, making a "watching you" gesture between the two of them.

Benjamin gritted his teeth and clutched the side of his table until his knuckles turned white. He pulled himself back to taking notes. The last thing he wanted was to do something rash in front of the professor and earn himself detention.

For the last half hour, Hallamand had them learn practical defensive magic, such as the Red and Green Sparks and the Smokescreen Spell. They also spent a short time reviewing the Wand-Lighting Charm.

"Vermillious!" Donovan exclaimed. A shower of red sparks expelled from his wand and exploded in a glorious crimson firework.

"Verdimillious!" Benjamin added, and a shower of green sparks joined the red ones. The two magical streams cavorted around one another for a few seconds before detonating brilliantly, drizzling the classroom in dual colors.

Benjamin enjoyed these immensely; Severia with noticeably less fervor than her usual level.

Severia found herself paired with Alistair to practice the Disarming Charm. She seemed distracted, lost in a daze of thought, of sorts. Alistair, seeing Severia's loss of focus, raised his wand.

"Expelliarmus!"

Severia flinched as her wand flew out of her paw and landed near the classroom door. Alistair and Joshua's callous laughter rattled her ears as she went to fetch it, her face furiously red with embarrassment.

After class let out, Benjamin spied Severia walking dazedly at the back of the group, her head down staring at her feet, and her textbook held flat on her chest.

"Severia!" Benjamin pushed his way through his fellow Ravenclaw First Years to get to her. "Wait!"

Severia snapped around, her wand pointed straight at him and twirling in a small spiral shape. "Fumos!"

A large dense smoke screen covered the corridor. Benjamin turned away and shielded his eyes defensively. While everyone exclaimed in surprise and covered their eyes, Benjamin pulled out his wand. His mind instantly jumped to the spell that he recalled seeing Mello Jubathus cast earlier. Through the fog, he heard the sound of scampering out of the corridor.

"Finite Incantatem!"

The smoke screen dispersed instantly. But Severia was nowhere to be seen. Benjamin gasped and nearly dropped his wand.

"What did I do?"