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First Year at the Louvre

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CHAPTER I

LA GRAMMAIRE LOUVRE ET PENSIONNAT

Nervously playing with the hem of his blazer, d’Artagnan glanced around the platform. It was packed with parents and students, all hurrying to board the black steam engine in front. A boy with dark hair fumbled with his case as he said goodbye to his family, a small boy clinging to him as he attempted to wrench the youngster from around his waist. The hand on d’Artagnan’s shoulder tightened.

‘This is it,’ said his father at last. ‘I used to look at it like that, you know. It really is magnificent, even after all these years.’ He gave his son a last once-over, straightening his tie, a gleam of pride in his eyes. ‘Your mother was in Sirius,’ he said quietly, ‘you should be proud.’

D’Artagnan smiled up. ‘And what about you, Papa?’

‘I was in Andromeda,’ he responded. ‘I was with my best friend, Jean Treville. We were a pair of troublemakers—or so they say.’ He chuckled fondly at the memory. ‘I haven’t kept in touch with him as well as I should have, but from what I know, he teaches at the Louvre. He was always going to, I should think.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Enough of an old man’s wistful ramblings, anyway. You’ll miss the train if we stand here any longer.’

D’Artagnan’s face split into a grin and he hugged his father before grasping his case and making his way onto the train. Most compartments he passed were full of students; one had only two students in: a dark-haired Sirius and a fair-haired girl from Andromeda. She entranced him for a while, dainty movements and gleaming blue eyes, until the Sirius boy saw him staring and gave him a stern glare. D’Artagnan, surprised at the boy’s boldness, retreated further down the carriage, deciding to follow a group of boys, who were all getting into the same compartment.

‘Hey,’ he called out breathlessly. ‘Do you have room for one more?’

The boy at the back, donned in a purple-and-silver tie—the colours of Andromeda, his father’s and Jean Treville’s house, d’Artagnan remembered—stopped and grinned. ‘Sure do,’ he called back, and d’Artagnan hurried to catch up to them.

He entered the compartment and nodded to the other two boys. One was a fellow Sirius, and the other was the same boy d’Artagnan had seen on the platform. His Cassiopeia tie—blue and gold—hung loosely around his neck.

‘Oh, cool!’ exclaimed the Sirius boy as d’Artagnan reached up to put his suitcase on the shelf. ‘We’re in the same House!’

The Cassiopeia boy made a noise that might’ve been agreement or annoyance; it was difficult to tell, but then he suggested, ‘You can stick around together, can’t you? It’s bollocks,’ he added in a sudden passion. ‘I can’t believe they separated us!’

The Andromeda gave a snort, startling d’Artagnan. ‘I told ya we shoulda split up on the intake day, Athos. I told ya they’d catch on.’ He bared his teeth in a grin to show he was being friendly.

Athos huffed. ‘We’d only just met, Porthos! How were they to know? We could’ve fallen out by now!’

The Sirius rolled his eyes. ‘And yet, we haven’t.’ He turned to face d’Artagnan. ‘Anyway, I’m Aramis, and these two are Porthos and Athos.’

‘I’m d’Artagnan. So you guys met at the intake day?’

Porthos nodded in the affirmative. ‘I don’t remember seein’ you there.’

‘That’s because I wasn’t,’ d’Artagnan responded. ‘I live on a farm, so, uh—’ He paused, rubbing his arm, a little embarrassed. ‘There were things I had to do over the summer.’

Porthos nodded understandingly. ‘So you’ve never seen the school before?’ he asked.

D’Artagnan shook his head. ‘Never.’

‘Oh, wait until you do!’ exclaimed Athos with wide eyes. ‘It’s magnificent.’

‘Do you know anyone else?’ demanded Aramis with vigour.

D’Artagnan shook his head.

‘Shame,’ continued the Sirius boy, ‘seeing as there’s someone I would love to get to know.’

Athos huffed. ‘Aramis has a crush,’ he explained, to which Aramis’ cheeks flared a brilliant red. ‘She’s the daughter of the Spanish aambassador.nd besides,’ he added, ‘she’s gotten doubly friendly with Louis Bourbon recently. They’ve been friends since they were children but they were practically attached at the hip on the intake day. Something you apparently missed.’

D’Artagnan pondered over this information, trying not to laugh as Aramis made a fruitless attempt to return his cheeks back to their natural colour. ‘How’d you know all this?’ he asked eventually.

Athos averted his eyes. ‘My parents,’ he said quietly. ‘My father is the count of La Fère.’ He shrugged loosely, as if it was nothing to be proud of.

Suddenly, the compartment door opened. Eager to take the attention off of himself, Athos turned his head, and the other three followed suit. Stood in the doorway was a blonde boy who casually leaned against the doorframe once they had noticed his arrival. His steely grey eyes gave them all a once-over before he started speaking, an air of false pleasantness about him. ‘Olivier de La Fère,’ he smirked. ‘I heard from my father that you were in your first year, too. Please, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Rochefort, Henri Rochefort. Future Comte de Rochefort, of course.

Porthos sniggered at his arrogance, and sharply Rochefort glared at him, brows furrowed in annoyance. ‘You think my name’s funny ? Well, there’s no need to ask who you are. Look at the state of you: your blazer’s more grey than black!’

D’Artagnan was ashamed to admit it was true. Porthos’ clothes were shabby; the bottom of his black trousers were worn away at the hem; his shoes were scuffed; his shirt, where it should have been white, was yellowing in colour. In fact, it seemed the only new thing he was wearing was his tie.

Rochefort screwed up his nose. ‘Honestly, I think it’s disgusting. My father’s had a word with Bourbon over the summer about taking in strays like you. Olivier, trust me when I say you don’t want to be spending your time with the likes of him. What a pity party. He’ll only beg for scraps at the table and rob you blind when you aren’t looking.’ He paused to stare at his fingernails, ignoring Athos’ glare and the way Porthos retreated into Aramis at the words. ‘You’ll soon find out that some families are better than others. Believe me when I say you do not want to be going about with the wrong sort.’ He stared directly at Porthos for at least a few seconds, before directing his gaze back to the Cassiopeia. ‘I can help you there,’ Rochefort continued cooly.

Athos snorted in amusement. ‘I think I can tell the wrong sort for myself, thank you.’ He was flaring with anger, and Rochefort took a step back.

‘Suit yourself,’ grunted the boy, turning on his tail and storming from the compartment.

D’Artagnan relaxed a little. ‘What was that about?’ he asked hesitantly.

Athos took a moment to compose himself, keeping his eyes on Porthos, who was prising himself reluctantly away from Aramis.

‘Olivier is my real name,’ he explained softly. ‘Since my father is a count, Rochefort came looking for other rich people to befriend. The Comte de Rochefort isn’t particularly open , as you can probably tell. No doubt he’s taught his son everything he knows.’

‘Which includes lookin’ down on people like me,’ added Porthos; his face was somewhat pale and his hands were shaking dreadfully. ‘I’m from the Court o’ Miracles; the biggest orphanage in Paris.’

‘Why didn’t he say anything to you?’ asked d’Artagnan, turning to the Sirius boy.

Aramis shrugged. ‘Either he didn’t know anything about me, or he just didn’t care. My father’s an abbot, so we’re not not well-off, but we’re nothing special either.’

‘You said you lived on a farm?’ Athos prompted.

D’Artagnan nodded. ‘I’m a Gascon.’

The Cassiopeia boy nodded. ‘I thought I recognised the accent.’

‘Well, anyway,’ interjected Aramis, ‘at least none of us are in the same house as him.’ At their intrigued looks, he continued, ‘He’s a Perseus. Didn’t you see?’

‘We could always prank him,’ suggested Athos with a light shrug. A crafty smile appeared on his face at the thought.

‘Oh, that would be a delight,’ agreed Aramis.

D’Artagnan leaned in curiously. Just as he was about to open his mouth to suggest one of many pranks they could use against him, an auburn-haired girl appeared in the doorway. D’Artagnan resisted the urge to groan loudly at yet another unexpected visitor.

‘I hope you’re not plotting mischief already,’ she said sharply. She looked at each of the boys, her eyes settling finally on Athos. ‘Oh!’ she exclaimed. ‘I know you; you’re Olivier de La Fère! I read about your father once, you see. And—and—’ she glanced at Aramis, ‘ you must be René; the son of the Abbot d’Herblay. I’ve read about your father, too. It’s all very interesting. And Porthos!’ She turned once more, to the grinning Andromeda. ‘We met at the intake day, I remember.’ Finally the girl took a breath, looking at d’Artagnan in confusion. ‘And you are?’

D’Artagnan felt incredibly flustered. ‘Um—uh, d’Artagnan,’ he stammered. ‘I’m d’Artagnan.’

‘I’m Constance Bonacieux,’ the girl introduced, beaming at the four boys. ‘Are you all boarding here, then? I know some people choose not to board. I wonder why? I’m a scholarship girl; what about everyone else?’

‘Scholarship,’ confirmed d’Artagnan and Porthos, almost in sync.

‘Paid,’ offered up Athos reluctantly, and Aramis nodded in agreement.

‘Me too.’

‘My parents could only afford to pay for my brother Jacques, you see,’ continued Constance. ‘The school let me take the entrance exam and I got in. I was very pleased. We should be arriving in about half an hour,’ she added, before turning and walking away.

The boys glanced at each other, eyebrows raised in confusion and surprise.

‘She was a little annoying,’ said d’Artagnan quietly; the compartment door was still halfway open, and he didn’t want to risk her overhearing.

‘And a know-it-all,’ muttered Aramis, rolling his eyes at the thought. ‘How does she know all that?’

‘She’s nice, though,’ said Porthos swiftly, quick to defend her honour.

D’Artagnan nodded. ‘She seems it,’ he said.

The conversation drifted, and the young Sirius rested his head against the back of the seat, eyes fluttering.

He was awoken by someone shaking his arm urgently. ‘We’re nearly ‘ere,’ said Porthos, and d’Artagnan groaned and rubbed his eyes. His body felt stiff, so he stretched his legs and arms out, letting his bones pop as he did so. The train began to grind to a halt, and Porthos passed his suitcase into his hands. ‘I got it down for ya,’ he explained.

Excitedly the four clambered from their seats and off the train. They were stood on a cobbled train platform, and Aramis pointed to where five teachers were stood, furthest away from them. ‘Those must be our Heads of Houses,’ he suggested. ‘Look, I can see the ring for Cassiopeia, and the sword for Perseus.’

‘There’s the dog; that must be Sirius,’ added d’Artagnan.

‘Let’s go, then,’ said Aramis. He turned to the other two boys. ‘See you in class!’

He and d’Artagnan headed over to their Head of House, who was a short, grey-haired woman, dressed in a shirt, tweed blazer and a skirt. Already stood next to her was the boy who had glared at d’Artagnan on the train. Seemingly unable to recognise him, he grinned at the two.

‘I’m Louis,’ he said.

‘Hey,’ greeted Aramis. ‘I’m Aramis and this is d’Artagnan.’

‘Nice to meet you. Are you scholarship boys?’

‘I am,’ said d’Artagnan, ‘but Aramis isn’t. What about you?’

At this, Louis’ face cracked into a wide grin, and he began to laugh loudly. ‘You’re funny. Isn’t he funny?’ When he realised that neither boys were joining in with his laughter, he sobered a little. ‘I’m the Headmaster’s son,’ he explained to them.

‘I wish Athos was in our House,’ hissed Aramis to d’Artagnan. ‘He’d have told us this. Now we look stupid.’

‘Come on, children,’ came the voice of their Head of House; it seemed like everyone else had arrived. ‘It’s time to see your dorms.’

They followed her down a bright, grassy path, past a sign that directed them towards their dorms, and in the direction of seven green houses. The children stumbled in awe towards the first house, blinded by curiosity and amazement. They were ushered inside, and d’Artagnan hurried to sit with Aramis on one of the few bean bags in the common room.

‘I warmly welcome you to the Sirius dorms, and, of course, to the Louvre,’ announced the Head of Sirius. ‘This will be your home for the next six, or seven, years. My name is Madame Berthelot, and I will be your Head of House until your very last day of Upper Sixth. I am the person you come to if you experience any problems, whether it’s to do with friends, your lessons, or you just want advice. Your dorms are up the stairs: girls are on the left, and boys are on the right. Our matron has prepared some food for you in the kitchen if you are hungry. Does anyone have any questions?’

No hands went up in the air, presumably because most—if not all—questions had been answered on the intake day.

‘With that, then, I must bid you adieu,’ said Berthelot; she gave a stiff little bow and left.

‘Do we choose our own dorms?’ asked d’Artagnan.

Louis, who had chosen a spot on the floor just next to them, nodded. ‘Be grateful. You don’t get to pick next year.’ He stood up as swiftly as he could. ‘You’d better hurry or all the good ones will be gone.’

The three hurried after the other students, and Aramis pulled them into an empty dorm. It was a little small, but it had one single bed and one bunk bed, which was enough for the three of them, and that was good enough for them. They had a small en-suite bathroom; the rooms were bright and warm. The three boys began to unpack silently, all suddenly realising they were quite exhausted. They changed into their pyjamas and studied their timetables.

‘Looks like we’ve all got Mythology first period tomorrow,’ said Aramis. The other two nodded in response. ‘I think we should go to sleep,’ he advised sleepily. ‘It’s been a long day and tomorrow will be busy.’

‘Good idea,’ responded Louis. ‘I’m going to have the single bed, if neither of you mind.’

‘No, that’s fine,’ said Aramis, laughing silently as d’Artagnan yawned. ‘Do you want the top bunk?’

D’Artagnan considered it for a while before accepting.

He crawled into bed, wrapping himself up in the blankets. His eyes were closed before he could even think to say goodnight.