This is going to be one of the last day-to-a-chapter chapters for a while, I think... maybe we'll get through the week, depends how we go. :D
I may be playing about with POVs in the near future, too- that, and adding in some more delightful flashbacks. Again, we'll go with it.
Obligatory disclaimer- I don't own Harry Potter or any of its affiliates. I've created a good many characters within; all references to JK's creations are both humble and fun for me. :P
I had my first proper experience with the post.
At first, when the letter dropped- into my scrambled eggs, mind- I was surprised that Guy had replied so quickly. Then I had realised his reply was too quick to be plausible. Then I realised the envelope was a veritable wad, and covered in about six different hands of writing.
My friends had written!
I pulled open the wax seal, extracting the sheaf of parchment from within. Quickly, I noticed there were four sets of folded pages- each one labelled with a name; Cina, Ado, Dids, Flo. I put my siblings' back and laid them aside, folding out my messages with gleeful anticipation.
Chere, Flo cherie!
How's Hogwarts? Cold? It's beautiful here- Thierry's been moaning he can't go flying with you. The team's already missing the triplets, apparently. Not that we've played any games yet. The boy's overreacting, as usual.
Speaking of overreactions, Isaac says hi.
We're all missing you- Noémi, Zach, Thierry, Isaac… and me. I miss you a lot, in all truth, Flo. You had better write back quickly, and send Luc with all speed.
I hope you're finding new friends and such- and I hope they're good, but not good enough to replace us. We will find them. And we have wands.
I expect to hear all about them, and your teachers, and classes, and anything you're allowed to let slip about Hogwarts itself. Although Zacharie, Thierry and Noémi will be seeing it soon enough- very jealous, you know.
Not much in the way of news to report as yet- all assembled are still single, we're getting back into studies, no catastrophes as yet, we're all doing the subjects we wanted to. One gossip point- Prof Gaspardient's getting married. We all think it's rather strange, as he's such an ugly little old man, but as we know, it's the personality that wins them. Zach disagrees… but what would he know? Anyway, Prof G seems happy and we're happy for him. No idea who the lady is, but I'm sure she's nice. And short. And possibly ugly. Most probably old.
Enjoy yourself in England, Florence Ames, and if you're writing to Guillame anytime soon, send him our love, too.
We all send our love, Flo dearest, to be specific (and I apologise for all our handwriting- we're not over holidays just yet!);
Embrassser, Flo! Isaac x
Je t'aime bien, cherie, x Noémi x
Souhaite tu a voici, x Thierry
Bises pour ma cherie, Florence! xx Zacharie
Et, pour moi, c'est embrasser, bises et tout.
Amour, Flo cherie,
Ta meilluer amie,
"Who wrote the essay?" Max leaned over my shoulder.
"My friends." I showed him. "Zey wrote to us."
"I can see that. Do you have more hours in a day in France? How did they get time to write all of this?" he fanned the full envelope in front of me.
"Maybe zey are just very good friends." I stared at him with a hint in both my voice and eyes.
He got it. "Ouch. Touche."
He munched the rest of his breakfast thoughtfully, occasionally peering over my shoulder to read my letter. Since the whole lot was in French, there wasn't much point.
I tucked the letter inside my book-satchel, resolving to pass the other sheafs on to my siblings as I saw them today. The first would of course be Didier, as double potions was first.
"On time today? Congratulations." The Professor chastised mildly as I shuffled in with the rest of the class.
I took a place at a bench anxiously, hoping Celina would not be forced on me again. To my immense luck, it turned out we would not be working in partners today, and I found myself surrounded with Ravenclaws on one side, Didier on the other.
"I'll be honest with you- yesterday's results were astoundingly low. Frankly, I had expected better from my fourth-years, but there you go. I promise to give you all a break, if the start of the school year's proving a tad trialling- so today, we'll be brewing a Wit-Sharpening Potion."
Several people groaned.
"But Professor- that's in about the eighth chapter!" A boy next to Finn complained.
"Good to see you're reading the textbook, Dilys, but that doesn't mean you teach the class. My job, remember?"
"Yeah, and it's our job to make the damn things-" Richard started.
"You think I've never made a Wit-Sharpening Potion before, Bosworth?"
"De Morgan, you can't be serious." He protested. "We're in holiday mode."
"Exactly. If you brew your potions correctly, you'll have the wit enough to write the essay I'm going to set at the end of class."
Anyone who hadn't groaned before, did so now.
"Right. Open your books, yes, all the way to chapter eight- and begin. Remember not to add the ground scarabs until your bile and ginger is blue. You do, you have very little nose left- got it?"
"Zis is explosive?" Didier asked with the faintest hint of excitement in his voice.
"No- I'll knock it off if you get that wrong. Feel free to let it go dark green when you remix the armadillo bile- it should be yellow, but it's an easy mistake to make. I'll just point out to the whole class you've made it, take a few choice points from your House, and set you all an extra essay, on the colour difference between green and yellow. Clear, fourth-years?"
We scuttled away to grab ingredients, desperately hoping no cauldron would show even the faintest tinge of green.
I stayed back a little after potions with Didier, mainly to beg for some lenience on our essays. Didier asked if we couldn't just write the whole lot in French.
We could not.
Gloomy and intimidated by the prospect of two-and-a-half feet worth of English spelling and grammar by next Tuesday, we trudged to the Great Hall to meet our respective friends. Along the way, I passed him the letter I had been too scared by Professor de Morgan to give to him during class.
He read it about three times, then tucked it inside his jumper before Richard leapt on us to take Dids away to their next class.
I, on the other hand, found Arica, who helped me re-find the Runes room.
I spent the entirety of the next hour having a ball helping and being helped by my friends in what was turning out to be one of the communal, chatty classes.
At one stage, we were convinced a certain passage was talking about Pheonix- or at least, Hugo was convinced- until we realised the inked bird was in fact a fwooper, and it was talking about four brave muggles, not Pheonix the muggle-born Gryffindor.
"Why the hell does fwooper mean four? The unicorn meaning 'one' I can understand. The quintaped for 'five', I get. Acromntuala, yeah, that's 'eight', but why the hell is a fwooper 'four'? "
We stared at her until I quietly explained a fwooper came in four colours.
"Someone's bitter about not being in the Syllabary after all." Hugo patted her shoulder.
Pheonix swiped at him. "Get off."
We laughed at them both, and pretty much didn't stop laughing until the bell went for lunch.
Lunch passed, interrupted only by a terrific thunderclap that announced an imminent storm.
"I doubt we'll be able to hear classes over this." Lottie commented, glancing upwards at the broiling ceiling.
I checked my timetable quickly. "We 'ave 'Istory next."
"What a shame..." Max grinned.
I agreed guiltily.
As it turned out, Charlotte had been correct. It was almost impossible to make out Prof Binns' monotonal drone over the thundering rain.
It was also almost impossible to concentrate on my reading (I'd given up listening again) whilst there was one very annoying leak in the ceiling of our classroom.
Right on the corner of my desk.
"In Mille six cent sioxante-dix huit,Areza ze Enchantress-"
The exact same place.
"-allied 'erself wiz-"
A small puddle was beginning to form.
"-ze English muggle King-"
This time, the splash hit my page ever-so-slightly.
"Charles deuxieme, fooling 'im into believing 'erself to be a-"
I slammed down my heavy textbook, causing the rest of the class to jump.
The hand-holding couple were so surprised they let go of each other- just for a second.
Charlotte stared at me. I made a gesture of apology back.
Once everyone had returned to their Professor-induced stupor, I set to work aiming my wand at the ceiling.
"Reparo." I muttered. The spiderweb cracks began to seal themselves.
Satisfied, I went back to my reading.
"-common muggle, 'oom 'e took on as a new mistress-"
A shower of sparks scuttled across my page.
I looked up- Kirk was grinning between me and the ceiling.
I stuck my tongue out at him, most maturely, and went back to my studies.
I was utterly confused by the next portion of my timetable.
"Astronomy? 'Ow can we see ze stars now?"
"We can't. We get free time now, but tonight we have to be in the Astronomy tower by midnight for the lesson." Max explained.
"Oh. So- we do not 'ave classes now?"
"Cool." I sat happily in the Ravenclaw common room, staring out the window every now and then to distract myself from the Potions essays I really should have been writing.
The rain was still hammering against the glass.
"Depulso!" Someone was yelling, across the room, evidently trying to practice their Charms.
I ducked, almost hitting my nose on the table as something that sounded heavy rushed over my head.
There was a violent tinkling, and suddenly the window was gone.
I squealed, covering my half-finished and much-laboured essay as best I could from the onslaught of cold water.
"Glacius!" I yelped, successfully turning the surrounding rain into shards of ice, which dropped neatly to the floor. The window was covered in a thin sheet of black ice, only just holding back more rain.
A few other fourth-years started yelling, mainly directed at the Dilys boy, evidently Peter Dilys, who had been the one to cast the ill-aimed Banishing Charm. A few, though, were directed at me, for having both comprehensively showered them in ice-shards and shown off a spell they hadn't learned yet.
Charlotte flipped open her Charms book and showed me the page that dictated the Freezing Charm- from the looks of its placing, we were due to learn it on Friday. I therefore got to show off for a minute, casting the spell a few more times to create a proper ice barrier between us and the outside elements.
My cohort was suitably impressed. Nate and Dan spent a while rapping on the improvised pane, before sitting down next to me and asking if I was so good at that, how come it had taken me fifty minutes to write two and a half paragraphs of a Potions essay.
I told them, in not altogether polite, but certainly altogether French terms to go away unless they wanted to help me.
"Think, roughly translated, that means sod off, guys." Charlotte thumped her books next to mine and read over my shoulder.
"'Ow am I going?" I asked her.
"Looks fine. Except in English, we tend not to put circonflexes on our 'c's..."
I groaned and took my wand back out, searching for the incantation to the ink-scouring spell.
I gave up on my essay for the day, telling myself I'd pick it up again tomorrow.
I pulled out my other homework- the Creatures notes I'd done, I was already ahead in Charms and Transfiguration, Herbology I'd been pouring over in every available moment to me- I was sick of it for the time being. Amazingly, we'd completed all our Runes work in class. That just left Defence Against the Dark Arts. We had been set some reading on hexes, which I took to eagerly, hoping this meant an end to the boggart episode.
"You know that's not due for ages?" Finn slumped next to me, at a loose end now Peter had accidentally flung his Rune Dictionary out the window.
"But… we 'ave Defence again zis Friday." I showed him my timetable, puzzled.
"Yeah, Mouse always gives us reading to do when she wants to let us off heavy homework- makes the other teachers think she's working us hard enough." He grinned. "Then, a few weeks in, she will start setting us homework…"
I was already standing before his grimace had formed on his face.
"So- we are not finished wiz ze dark beasts?"
"Hope not." Finn slouched back in his chair. "Love learning the counter-spells to ward those bad mother-"
"Excuse-moi." I hurried away, and was out the door before anyone asked me where I was going.
The high-ceilinged corridors gave no clues to aid my navigation, so I just set off in a general downwards direction. I skidded on trick carpets that folded maliciously under me, tried to force two separate bits of walls that resembled doors and put my foot through a false step before finally stopping, conceding that I was lost.
I looked around for someone- anyone- to help me. There was a whisk of black hair, disappearing around a corner.
I followed it.
The corridor was empty.
Nothing. Empty suits of armour stayed in their places, crushing my hope of asking any animated ones the way.
I felt a breeze. A very cold breeze.
Something grabbed my face forcibly, and I screamed out.
"GOT YOUR CONK!"
I clutched at my heart, staggering backwards. A small man had materialised in front of me. He was dressed alarmingly- the worst offense being a bright orange bow-tie with abhorrent puce spots. He also wore a wide, slightly malevolent grin.
I screamed again.
"Got your conk, got your conk, Peevsie's got your- hold it- who're you, then? Not an ickle firstie... who're you?"
I almost whimpered. "Florence Ames."
"That's a stupid voice you've got there, Flo-ronce Aaaames." He mocked my accent.
"No stupider than yours, you jumped up pile of lurid ectoplasm."
I spun around to meet the voice. Mouse! I sighed with relief.
"What big words for such an ickle weeny mousie, ey?"
"Go away, Peeves."
"Don't make me get the Baron. He doesn't like me- you know... he won't be happy you forced me to talk to him."
"Your problem, Mousie- not mine." He cackled evilly.
"It is if he decides to take it out on you, Peevie."
Peeves spat some words I didn't quite recognise, and spun away, clanging the visors on the armour as he went.
Mouse turned to me, idly flicking her slick ponytail off one shoulder. "Watch that thing, newbie. Peeves gave me hell when I was your age." She winked. "As you can see, now I'm a professor, he gives me the utmost respect..."
I hadn't really understood most of what she'd said, but I was glad to see her anyway.
"Prof..." I began.
She waved a hand as if to bat away my address. "Mouse." She corrected.
"Mouse." I amended. "I was wondering if... if I could speak wiz you?"
She looked at me carefully. "Sure." Nodding, she gestured to a door three meters down the next corridor. "Step into my office."
I followed her cautiously, not entirely certain of what to expect.
Her desk, a sprawling slab of ebony that dominated the room, had great chunks hewn out of it, leaving splinters dangerously askew. It was littered with stacks of parchment, weighed down by framed images- only about two-thirds of them moving. The static ones, I assumed, all depicted muggles. Quills were stabbed into the wood or the wax of a foot-high candlestick melted onto one side. As for the rest of the room; there was one large, clear space, but everywhere else odd objects were strewn across the floor in semi-ordered piles, and the walls were adorned with paintings of either famous sorcerers duelling or magical beasts snarling, spitting or skipping from frame to frame. As I watched, she prodded one picture, where a manticore had initiated a melee with a chimera, with her wand, drawing the figures' attention.
"Stop it, you two." She growled at them before turning to me. "Don't know why I bother. Tried hanging them on opposite walls- they just attacked poor Remus- and he can't really hold his own, unless it's full moon..." She trailed off and gestured towards a portrait of a scarred, greying man. "My hero. Anyway. Newbie- you wanted a chat."
"Err..." I paused for thought. "Oui. Yes."
Mouse strode around to the only chair in the room- a faded red velvet affair. "Sit down." With a wave of her hand, a stool reattached a leg and scooted under me.
"Now- is this about the boggart, or the homework?"
"Ze boggart. Sort of."
She raised her eyebrows, inviting me to elaborate.
"I was wondering... I mean, Finn was saying zat-"
"O'Kelly? God, newbie, don't listen to a word that boy tells you about me." She winked. "Friends with his mother at School."
I shifted uncomfortably.
"Newbie-" she leaned across the battered desk. "Relax. What's the issue?"
"I- I was wondering if... if we 'ave finished wiz ze boggarts."
She leaned back on her chair. "Ah. Boggarts." She sucked her mouth for a moment. "You didn't do so well against it, did you?"
"You were scared?"
"Well, that's the point of them. That's why we're learning to defend against them."
My shoulders sagged. "I- I just do not want to- to see... what I saw... again."
Her voice softened. "You weren't prepared. Your brother stepped in, right?"
"It didn't turn into what you expected."
I nodded again. "I 'ad expected un Vampire."
She frowned. "And, from memory... you got a truck?"
"A truck 'itting a train."
She drew in a breath. "Ah. Your parents."
I was surprised, before realising of course all the staff knew about our situation.
"Oui, Pro- Mouse."
"Well, look, Florence-" Again I was surprised, this time because she had used my name. "I know it's nasty, but that's what this subject's for. The Dark Arts are nasty. In all honesty, yes, we've finished with the boggart, because you all dealt with it, and I haven't got another, so this Friday we won't have a practical lesson. Deliveries over the weekend, you know." Her eyes widened spookily.
"And zen... next Tuesday...?"
"No boggarts, you can relax- but certainly some other nasty things. And I'm afraid, really, in my class it's either like it or lump it- we learn the defence for a reason. Also, you never know if one mightn't turn up in your exams- so you'll need to work on it, alright?"
I didn't know what lumping it involved, but I nodded anyway.
"Good. Glad we talked. You're always welcome to come again, especially if you need some extra help... newbie." She grinned.
I found myself smiling as I stood up, making for the door.
"Oh, and newbie-"
Hand on the doorknob to close it, I paused.
"Watch out for Peeves on your way back."
"Why did no one tell me zere was un Nain Rouge 'ere?" I ran into Charlotte and Max, who had been apparently looking for me after I disappeared, and immediately stared berating them.
"Because we didn't know." Max scrunched up his face. "What's one of them, then?"
"Red something..." Charlotte mused. "Nain... nain... not... gnome? Really?"
"Well, there's bound to be gnomes somewhere- don't tell Hagrid if you've seen any of them on the grounds- it'll probably make him cry."
Charlotte hit him.
"Ouch- hey, so I assume you're not talking about actual gnomes, Flo?"
"Nain rouge. A small boy, ze trickster..." I searched for more suitable words to describe the horrid thing. "On s'appelle Peeves."
They both said at once.
Max laughed. "Oh- you didn't know about Peeves..."
Charlotte was trying hard not to giggle, too. "He's a poltergeist."
"He's a prat."
I stood there, listening.
"What'd he do to you?" Max asked concernedly, looking as if he might be checking for bruises.
"'E... err... 'e... got my nose."
My friends went very quiet for a moment.
Then they both started to laugh. Very loudly.
I marched away in mock-offense, swinging my arms in an ungainly manner and hmph-ing appropriately... only to sink my foot once again into that pointlessly evil trick stair.
My foot was still aching from being stuck twice, making the climb to the Astronomy Tower somewhat uncomfortable. Charlotte and Max slowed down to stay with me, so I didn't lose my way. I was constantly on the lookout for Peeves, vigilant as I would be on the pitch with a bludger on my tail.
Despite my misgivings, we made it up without any encounters. My friends led me to the uppermost level in the Tower, to what I realised was the highest point in the entire castle.
I gazed out one of the cavernous windows, taking in the murky view. The lake looked like a great dormant Lethifold, draped between the rugged mountains illuminated by the full moon.
"'Ogwarts is beautiful." I breathed.
"Sure is." Max said cheerfully. "When Peeves isn't around."
"Baise Peeves." I muttered.
He laughed, even if he clearly didn't understand what I'd actually said, he certainly got the gist.
"Fourth years? If we could set up, please- the stars will go supernova eventually."
We pulled out our telescopes and began erecting them by the windows at the command of our Professor- a tall, willowy woman, with sleek black hair entwined with strands of what looked like precious metal threads- most prominently silver, but a lot of bronze, too, and some gold.
She moved over to me. "Florence Ames?"
"I'm Professor Absolom. And, since you've been sorted into Ravenclaw, your head of House."
"Enchantee, m'etudiante." She smiled the tiniest amount before striding away to the middle of the room.
"Absolom speaks about nine languages." Charlotte whispered in my ear.
"She can switch between Russian and Arabic like Hugh Hefner with two-"
"I don't know who Hugh Hefner is, but I want you to stop talking about him before the end of this sentence, okay?" Lottie made a face.
Max grinned. "See? The muggle word can be fun."
"That's exactly the sort of fun I'd expect from muggles." A sneering voice came surprisingly from next to me. Celina was looking archly at us, having just arrived with a small group of Slytherins.
"Sod off, Mussvolen." Max growled.
Whether by design or chance, that was the moment that Didier spotted us and rushed up, Richard in tow.
"Salut! Celina, would you mind- could I be... a cote de ma soeur?"
She sneered. "I don't know what you're saying."
"My brozzer would like to be next to me." I regarded her poisonously. "'E would like you to move. As would I."
"My pleasure." She spun away and was instantly engulfed by a gaggle of friends. They most probably delved directly into complaining about muggles and the French.
"Slytherins, hurry up- you're a little late, we'll need to set up quickly!" Prof Absolom narrowed her eyes in our direction, and I got the distinct impression she'd witnessed that entire episode.
We quickly helped Didier and Richard with their telescopes- my brother was shocking at anything vaguely mechanical, such as extending tripod legs.
"Hufflepuffs! In, set up quickly. I know it's the first week, back, but honestly!"
A bunch of yellow-draped students hurried in with bowed heads, fumbling over their telescopes in their rush to placate our Professor.
I smiled at Minuetta before she moved as far away from all Slytherins as possible. I frowned. There was now a conspicuous gap on the other side of Max, Charlotte and I. Even our fellow Ravenclaws had avoided the green group on our left as much as they could. What was this?
"Oh, for goodness sake!" Prof Absolom rammed her hands on to her hips and glowered at the door, which had creaked open with a dribble of Gryffindors, finally making it here. "The point of Astronomy is we do it before the sun's up."
"Sorry, Professor." Pheonix gasped breathlessly, one of the first to clamber into the room.
"I daresay you are. How did every single one of you contrive to be late?" She demanded. "My Ravenclaws managed to make it here on time."
"Yeah, but their common room's the closest." Hugo grumbled.
"And the Slytherins were here minutes ago." She zeroed in on the boy. "Note- they're all set up. I suggest you do the same- with haste, Gryffindors, or there'll be points to be had off."
Adrien led Pheonix and the shamed Hugo over to us, finally filling the niche on our right side.
"She's touchy tonight." The broad boy grumbled.
"Shut up and set up, Hugo." Pheonix admonished. "If you will argue with her..."
"We got here with the Hufflepuffs!"
"And they're down by the kitchens, Channer." Max pointed out. "Good argument."
"Salut, Adrien!" I half-shouted over the top of the bickering.
He grinned back at me, and was about to reply, when-
"Since we're finally ready." Professor Absolom's voice suddenly lost its hardness, and she regarded us all with empathy. "You're fine, it's the first week back. Mind you, anyone this late next week, points. But now- first to find Sirus gets five. Best and most accurate mapping of its trajectory at the end of class, fifteen."
We scrambled for star charts, whirling telescopes this way and that.
In less than twenty seconds, Arica yelled out. "Absolom! Bingo!"
"Five points to Ravenclaw. Now, everybody, get mapping. Sirius, otherwise known as the Dog Star, is the brightest in the night sky..."
We were all congratulating Arica on securing a further fifteen points for Ravenclaw on the way back to our common room. All except Finn, who was desperately angling for a look at her perfect chart.
"Come on, Arica- I'm rubbish at Astronomy..."
"You're not. You've just got to do your own star charts and you'd be fine at it."
"Gracie might help. I won't."
He started coughing awkwardly whilst they guys laughed.
We parted ways, the girls moving towards our dormitory. It was almost half past one. I changed out of uniform with a groan, fell onto my pillow, and fell asleep without even getting under the covers.