Your name is DIAMONDS DROOG, and you think you’re going to like the library. It’s quiet, and people leave you alone there. You’ve chosen a table off in the corner, and you’re reading there, studying for your next class. Not because you enjoy studying or learning - a lot of people think that about you, but a lot of people are wrong. No, you’re studying for your next class because you like to know more than anyone else in the room.
And considering your next class is transfiguration, you think it’s probably smart to get a head start.
There’s someone joining you, too: CLUBS DEUCE, the latest installment in a long line of witches and wizards renowned for their wit, intelligence and creativity in tight spots. And while you’ve only known Clubs for a little over a day, you are pretty sure Clubs, while a nice kid, is a total whittle. You’re a little stunned he ended up in Slytherin at all; part of you wants to think he might have hidden depths, but a much larger part thinks the hat was off its game last night.
In fact, you’re almost certain the hat was not up to par, because while you’re still sort of undecided about Clubs, you’re totally shocked by Jack. Hufflepuff? If there was ever a born Slytherin, you think, it was most certainly Jack Noir. And while you’ve been trying to be stoic for him - if you flew off the rails, God knows what Jack would do - you can’t say you blame him for his reaction. You expected his parents’ reaction, too, which helped, but by the same token you now feel responsible, at 11, for fixing a problem out of your control. It’s sort of making you nauseous.
“Why are you studying?” Deuce asks, looking up from his comic book. “What for?”
“Transfiguration,” you say, startled out of your reverie, not that Clubs could probably tell; you’d just been staring blankly at the page open in front of you. “Want to get a head start.”
“Oh.” He sits back in his chair and turns a page, his legs swinging. “You’re pretty smart, aren’t you?”
You frown. “I … guess so …”
“I mean, you knew all the spells in Defense! I hadn’t heard of any of them. Well, most of them. Some of them,” he says, amending himself as he speaks. “Two. Did you parents teach you magic before you came to Hogwarts?”
“It’s illegal to do magic outside of school,” you say, hesitant.
“Well I know that,” he sighs, exasperated. “But did they tell you about things?”
You think about it. “No. I just paid attention.”
He taps the side of his nose, a gesture which is almost like a caricature in someone so small and baby-faced. “Clever; they’ll never expect it.”
That bewilders you, and you blink a little. “But they … knew I was in the room,” you point out.
Clubs shrugs. “You think Jack and Hearts are going to come?”
Talking to Deuce has been like this since the beginning, and you’re starting to wonder if you can actually get conversational whiplash. “Maybe,” you say, wide-eyed and a little startled. Deuce nods.
“I hope so,” he says, before bending back over his comic book. “Jack seems pretty upset, but I think that Hearts guy is pretty calm! Maybe he’ll calm him down.” He reads a little before he says, “I like Hearts.”
“Yeah,” you agree, tentative. “He seems alright.” You glance at your watch, and to the door of the library. Morning lessons let out forty minutes ago, and you’re starting to have your doubts about Jack showing up before lunch. You might see him then, you think, but if lunch is like breakfast, then it’s a chaotic event in which you barely have time to talk to your own housemates, much less find someone from another house.
You finish considering various ways to track Jack down before the end of the day, and start back in on your studying, when you hear a pop. No, not a pop, you realize, because the sound ‘pop’ is rarely followed by the acrid smell of burning … something. An explosion, you think, if a small one. Clubs’ eyes light up.
“Something’s burning!” He sniffs. “Hair, and … wool. And skin.”
You both exchange a look and you’re out of your seats in a flash, Deuce stuffing his comic away and you abandoning your textbooks and bookbag; if anyone wants your quills and elementary textbooks, you figure, they’re welcome to them. You dart for the door, but the librarian beats you to it, flinging the doors wide and drawing herself up to her full height in the entryway.
“What is the meaning of this?” she snaps. You and Clubs shamble to a halt behind her, and your mouth falls open. There’s no fire, not anymore, but there was one, if the scorch marks climbing the walls are any indication. That, and the fact that Snowman is currently missing an eyebrow and the better part of her robe. Her shirt, thankfully, seemed to have escaped.
And not ten feet away, wand still in hand, is Jack Noir. “My hand slipped,” he says, but it’s not very convincing. Snowman splutters something, pointing an accusatory finger, and Madam Pince looks severely down at the dark-haired boy.
“Your hand,” she says slowly, “slipped.”
He shrinks back, into the shadow of Hearts Boxcars. “You know how it is,” he mumbles.
“I could have died!” Snowman finally manages. “You almost killed me!” A couple boys gathered around her - Ravenclaws, her year - stand defensively in front of her. One of them, the one with the ugly scar across his forehead, harrumphs like he’s eons older than fourteen.
“We were studying,” Jack says quickly, frantic. “Talkin’ about charms that we looked up an’ I didn’t realize somethin’ might happen and I didn’ mean to -” He looks up to Hearts. “You know I didn’t mean to do anything!”
Madam Pince looks from Jack to Hearts, while one of the older boys offers Snowman his robe. She accepts, and runs her fingers over where her eyebrow formerly existed. You don’t laugh, although you think you hear Jack snickering; mostly, you feel bad for her. She’s always been nasty to Jack, but losing an eyebrow is a terrible thing.
It sort of occurs to you that at least that’ll grow back, and his eye never will, but still, losing an eyebrow. It’s like choosing between losing a finger or your hand: one’s clearly less dramatic, but both are still horrifying.
“Well, Mr. Boxcars?” Pince asks, crossing her wire-thin arms over her chest. “Is Mr. Noir telling the truth?”
You wince, inwardly. Hearts Boxcars is an okay guy, because he’s a Hufflepuff through-and-through. Big, dependable, solid, not too bright and honest as the day is lo -
“Yeah, it’s my fault: I asked him about the one with the fire.” He shrugs. “We didn’ know what would happen, ma’am, honestly …”
Pince takes a deep breath, and then turns away from the two boys; instantly, you realize the danger has passed. You stare at Boxcars, wide-eyed, and you swear in that moment you have never been more grateful to anyone in your entire life, and that includes your sister, that one time she pulled you out of the dumbwaiter and didn’t tell your parents. As the librarian bustles over to Snowman and tends to her - all her injuries are at worst cosmetic - you and Deuce sidle to Jack and Boxcars.
“What the hell,” you say, flatly, to Jack. “Are you stupid?”
“I swear I didn’t think it would work!” he hisses. “Besides, are we forgettin’ last summer? She deserves it!”
“You could be expelled!” you snap, hands contorting into claws at your sides. “Christ, Jack, day one and you’re setting fire to other students!”
“I wonder if that’s a record,” he muses, unphased.
Your face falls. “You’re impossible,” you decide, while Clubs bursts into giggles. You’re about to say something to Hearts - Jack’s too infuriating for you at the moment, and the least you could do would be to thank the big guy - when Madam Pince turns back around.
“And that will be thirty points from Slytherin!” she huffs, voice shrill. You and Clubs whirl.
“What’d we do, ma’am?” Clubs asks, wide-eyed and honestly confused.
“Not you,” she replies irritably. “Jack there - oh. Oh, I did forget.” She frowns, although this time it’s more thoughtful than angry. “I suppose thirty points from … Hufflepuff, then. Not Slytherin.” She shakes her head.
Snowman, in spite of her singular eyebrow, looks smug at that. “Yes, Jack’s in Hufflepuff. Not Slytherin. Sorry, I should have told you.”
“No, dear, it’s quite alright. I ought to have remembered and even then, he should be wearing his tie,” she finished, sharp and cold. Jack shifts uncomfortably and pulls his tie, crumpled and sad-looking, from his pocket. “An additional five points from Hufflepuff for improper uniform.”
“Oh, come on miss,” Jack whines, but Madam Pince turns away, ushering Snowman toward the hospital wing. “Fucking uniform horse shit,” he concludes, spiking his tie to the ground. Patiently, you pick it up and start fastening it around his neck.
“Get the fuck off,” he snarls, swatting at your hands. “I don’t wanna wear the stupid thing.”
“I refuse,” you say patiently, as you finish off a neat Windsor knot, “to watch Slytherin beat Hufflepuff for the House Cup solely because you refuse to observe the rules pertaining to uniforms.”
Hearts raises his eyebrows. “What about for refusal to keep from using spells we haven’t learned on other students?”
You shrug. “At least that’s taking some initiative, I guess.”
“My mum always says I need to take more initiative,” Clubs agrees. “We thought you were gonna ditch us, Jack! We were waiting in the library.”
He scowls. “We were comin’, short stuff.” You think Jack likes calling Deuce that, if only because it reminds Jack that he’s not the shortest student in the class. “Jus’ got caught up doin’ stuff.”
“The Professor really wanted us to get the charm he was teaching us down,” Hearts says quietly. “I don’t know if I got it at all. I’m not -“
“Oh for Christ’s sake, here he goes again.” Jack finally manages to evade you, and moves next to Hearts, crossing his arms and leaning up against the bigger boy. “This kid thinks you learn everything you need to know about magic in two hours,” he scoffs. “Never picked up a wand in his damn life an’ he’s upset ‘cause he ain’t a natural.” He pokes Hearts in the considerable stomach, and you marvel a little at how Jack - the same angry, volatile Jack you’ve known your whole life - teases a smile onto the big guy’s face. “You’re not gettin’ this overnight, Boxcars!”
“But you and Renegade and -“
Jack rolls his eye. “Grew up wizards? Knew what we were from the beginning? Spent our entire damn lives around magic?” He pokes Boxcars again. “You’re gonna be one of those goddamn over-achievers, ain’t you?”
“I don’t think so,” Boxcars says quietly, but he’s smiling. “I jus’ thought it’d be easier, since I’m supposed to be able to -“
“You did it!” Jack throws his hands up, glares at Boxcars, and then turns to you and Deuce, gesturing demonstratively at his housemate. “He did it, way before a couple of other kids did. We were late because that Fin kid and those two girls couldn’t get anything done!” He sighs and looks back to Boxcars. “You’re so damn whiny.”
The big guy punches Jack in the shoulder and sends the shorter kid reeling. You and Deuce laugh. “Says you! All I’ve had to listen to for the last fourteen hours is …” he trails off, suddenly aware that this might not be a great idea. “Uh.”
You’ve gone very still, and tense. So has Jack. “Is what?” Noir asks.
“Um. Never mind, Jack, sorry it -“
Jack snarls; Boxcars doesn’t have to say what he meant, because you all know. Jack leaps, straight into Boxcars’ arms. Shocked, the other kid practically catches him. “You think I’m fucking whiny for getting disowned by my damn family?” Jack snarls, wriggling in the bear-hug Hearts has him locked in. He flails, but Boxcars has Jack’s back clamped hard to his own stomach, so all of the other kid’s blows barely do more than glance off. “It ain’t the same!”
“I didn’t think!” Boxcars grunts. “Honestly, Jack, I’m sorry!”
“Jack,” you say, over your friend’s nearly-incoherent death threats. “Calm down. Come on, Jack, settle.”
He does, briefly, hands braced against Hearts’ forearms. His eye patch got knocked loose in the scuffle and is hanging from his neck. Silly as it looks, it only serves to make him more unnerving: his green eye and his white, mutilated one are fixed firmly on you. “He didn’t mean anything by it.”
You’re about to say more when Clubs steps forward and puts one hand on Jack’s knee. “He didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, Jack,” he says, patient and kind. “We’re your friends: we don’t want to hurt you.”
Jack twists in Hearts’ arms. “He’s my friend now?”
“‘Course he is!” Clubs smiles. “And me an’ Droog. We’re here to help you through everything, ‘cause that’s what friends do.” Jack relaxes a little in Hearts’ grasp as he looks around at the three of you, gathered around him. “And as your friend, Jack,” he says slowly, “I’m gonna tell you that you need to stop bein’ pissed about the sorting ceremony.”
Jack starts growling again, but Clubs keeps going. “You can’t change it, right? It’s done! An’ I know the sorting hat is supposed to be really smart about what people are like, but that doesn’t mean you have to be exactly what the hat says about your house.” Clubs smiles. “You can still be just who you are, just in different colors! And we can all still be friends,” he adds. “Houses don’t matter if you’re a crew.”
You all think about it, and to be frank you’re kind of reeling: maybe you were right when you considered there must be more to Clubs Deuce than met the eye. Jack thinks the longest, before sullenly muttering, “What about my family?”
Clubs makes a thoughtful noise. “Have you ever done bad things before?”
“And they forgave you?” Jack nods. “Then do exactly what you would’a done if you’d got sorted into Slytherin, and they’ll forgive you again!” He beams. “An’ if they don’t by Christmas, I’ll stay here with you.”
“They won’ - you will?” He scoffs. “Deuce, I don’t even know you.”
“I’ll stay too.” The promise falls from your mouth before your brain really has a chance to process it. Fuck, your parents are going to be mad. But, you think, you still want to stay. Jack looks at you, and you nod. “Seriously.”
“And me,” Boxcars rumbles. “My mom won’t mind, she’s got my kid brother to worry about.”
“There you go, then!” Deuce says. “It’ll be fun.”
Jack looks blankly at all of you, craning his neck to catch Boxcars out of the corner of his eye. “You’re serious?”
You decide it’s time to jump in. “On one condition: you gotta stop being in denial about being in Hufflepuff.” Jack blanches, and then flashes his teeth. “Listen, I don’t like it any more than you do,” you admit. “I think the hat was wrong too, okay? But the more you try to sabotage everything Hufflepuff, the more you’re hurting yourself, okay? They’re not going to put you into Slytherin.” He settles down, and Hearts sets him down with a grunt. “Like Deuce says: it doesn’t really mean anything. Not to us, anyway.”
He looks tense, like he’s going to jump, but then he just sags. “I still don’t like it,” he snaps at you, dropping his bag and putting his eye patch back on. “It’s not … I’m not …”
“I know.” You shrug. “But what are we gonna do?”
Hearts puts his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “It’s not so bad,” he says gently. “There’s good stuff. I mean, you’re not gonna be the worst one in the house at magic,” he adds. “‘Cause that’ll be me.”
“No,” he snickers, a smile breaking through the gloom on his face. “It’s Fin.”
“Yeah,” Boxcars agrees. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s definitely Fin.” He starts walking; you think he probably thinks he’s going to lunch, but you’re not ready to point out he’s going the wrong way, yet.
“Hey,” Jack says, laughing harder now, “wrong way, doofus.” He blushes bright red and heads back, the four of you falling into step on your way to the great hall.
“I wish we could sit together,” Clubs says. “Seems silly we have to sit at house tables!”
“Upperclassmen are allowed to eat outside,” you say, thoughtful. “On nice days, that is.”
Jack smirks. “So why only them?”
What annoys you the most about the whole exercise (and even that doesn’t annoy you very much) is that your robe gets stained when you stuff some sandwiches under it. The points you lose for eating out of bounds don’t bother you, nor do the points you lose for being late to class. In fact, you think they may be fully worth it, because for the first time since you’ve come to Hogwarts, Jack seems genuinely happy.
“Hey, Droog.” He shoves you as you walk back into the castle, trailing behind the groundskeeper, freshly reprimanded for your trespasses.
He stops, and you stop with him. “S’my tie on straight?” He averts his eye, and rubs the back of his neck. “Only there’s this girl -“
You break into a grin. “Yeah,” you say, although you fiddle with the black and yellow cloth a little anyway. “Yeah, Jack, you look fine.”