The Darkness Visible
It’s dark as the first years sail, accompanied by Hagrid, who is by now nothing short of a Hogwarts institution, across the lake under a moonless sky, and cold in the Scottish autumn air, and Phoebe is ridiculously grateful for the temperature regulating charms on her uniform. As the castle comes into view, she has the breath knocked from her, and she grips the sides of the boat. She’s been to Hogwarts before to see Scorpius and Apollo and Julian play Quidditch, but there is something about this view, this approach under starlight, that means the full glory of the castle, the full realisation of where she is, begins to sink in. The water tonight is quiet and clear; a perfect mirror of both the sky and the land, the universe repeated ad infinitum in the depths of the lake. The silence too; there is no wind, and here in the Scottish Highlands trees grow in concentrated places, and the Forbidden Forest is on the other side of the castle. The Castle itself is little more than a shadow against the night sky, the darkness made visible through the twinkling of candles in castle windows, a thousand pinpricks of light, a thousand hearths, a welcome omen for the tired travellers that they all are.
Before long they have reached the other side of the lake and disembarked at the boathouse, and then begins the trek up the causeway to what Phoebe knows to be the side-door to the Entrance Hall, where beyond lies the Great Hall, and the Sorting and the Start of Term Feast.
Hagrid bangs the door knocker once, and the door swings open silently. The first years follow quickly, eager to get out of the chill and the dark.
Waiting to meet them is a man dressed in neat blue robes with chin-length black hair elegantly slicked back and sharp grey eyes.
“Thank you, Hagrid.” The man says, and Hagrid trots off in the direction of the Great Hall. “Come in, all of you, come in to the light and the warmth.” Phoebe recognises the words from the traditional ritual of welcome. She thinks it’s the 1815 version, which piques her interest. She makes a mental note to ask the professor about it during a class.
“My thanks,” Phoebe and about a quarter of the others reply. She sees the Professor’s eyes brighten in approval. This gains them strange glances from those students who remained silent; notably James Potter and Victoria Martin, whom she notices whispering together at the back.
“Welcome, all of you. You’ve had a long journey, but I must ask you to bear with me a bit longer.” The professor says in a clear, measured voice that he does not have to raise in order to get their attention and keep it. “My name is Professor Rafferty, and I am the Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House at Hogwarts. In a few moments, I will ask you to follow me through the doors behind me into the Great Hall, which is where we shall have our Sorting and our Feast. I will call your name, one at a time, whereupon you will come to me, I shall place our Sorting Hat on your head, and you will be sorted into one of our four Houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. Each of the four is named after one of the school’s founders, and each has had its share of exceptional wizards and witches. When you are sorted, you will take your places within a tradition that stretches back more than one thousand years.”
“Some of you,” the Professor’s even gaze scans the group of first years, “belong to families who have trod these halls for centuries; even, for some, since the School’s Founding. With such great heritage comes great responsibility. Some of you belong to families who have not been seen here in centuries, and who now, in this time of peace, return. You are a most pleasant surprise; it is my great privilege to welcome you back. Some of you are the first of your line; you, too, are most welcome. Nevertheless I would caution you; though we speak the same language, our culture may be vastly different from what you are used to. Do not be afraid to ask questions; if you are polite, you will find that the very great majority, if not all, of your peers who have grown up in the wizarding world, are eager to help.”
“You are all of you here to learn and grow. You are not here to start another war. Remember that.”
Phoebe and the other first years nod.
“Good.” Professor Rafferty turns and ascends the staircase. “Follow me, if you would.”
And then the doors to the Great Hall open, and the Sorting begins.
There are no surprises; Phoebe finds herself in Slytherin, as she has always known she would. Georgiana joins her to murmurs of interest and sustained goblet drumming, and James Potter and Victoria Martin, brash and bold, both find themselves in Gryffindor Tower tonight.
The Headmistress, Professor McGonagall, dismisses them from the Feast with a wave of her hand, but Phoebe and the rest of the Slytherins remain seated, waiting for their Head of House to lead them to the Slytherin Quarters, as is the custom.
Professor Rafferty rises from High Table, at which point all of Slytherin House stands behind their benches in silence. The other houses are already leaving the Hall, chattering noisily about the Triwizard Tournament, which will take place at Hogwarts again this year. He leads them out, down the stairs, and then down again through wide stone corridors that are vaulted in the gothic manner, until at last they come to a space of blank wall.
The Professor turns to the wall, and enunciates the password clearly. “Parseltongue.” A gothic archway forms itself from the wall, and the first years step through it.
Scorpius and Apollo have told her about the common room, of course, but she doesn’t think, now, that their descriptions do it justice. High roundel windows let in moonlight in circular shafts of light, reflected off the surface of the lake. There are no fewer than four fireplaces, roaring and crackling with log fires, with elaborate silver grates and instruments to bank the fires with, white leather armchairs and sofas, carved wooden side tables and thick silver and emerald embroidered carpets to protect them against the cold flagstones. Slytherin banners hang from the walls, and Quidditch match and duelling results are chalked onto the stone in flowing gothic script. It is a sophisticated, inviting room, and Phoebe is immediately comfortable in it.
Once all of Slytherin House has entered, (woefully depleted since the last war; very few want to be Slytherins now) Professor Rafferty joins them, and the door closes. The students stand facing him, first years at the front, seventh years at the back.
“Good evening to you all.”
“Good evening, Professor.”
Professor Rafferty smiles, white teeth flashing. “Welcome back, and first years, welcome. For the benefit of our newest and youngest, allow me to say a few words. The rest of you, bear with me.”
“Always, Professor,” Scorpius replies. The others laugh easily. Professor Rafferty throws her eldest brother a glare, but Phoebe can see there’s no real weight to it. So the Professor does have a sense of humour. She hadn’t been sure.
“Thank you, Scorpius.” The Head of House replies sardonically. “Slytherin House has a few rules. They are not difficult to follow, and I expect you to do so at all times. I will not lie to you. It is not easy being a Slytherin here, now. You will be insulted. You will be attacked. You will be hurt. But the Sorting Hat placed you here because of your ambition, your cunning and your skill. These are all obstacles you will overcome.” The Professor holds their gaze. He does not move unless he needs to, Phoebe notices. Economy of movement - the true mark of an accomplished dueller. He knows how to command the silence and the stillness - he is not afraid of it; another indicator of political training. “As your Head of House, it is my responsibility, my duty, to care for all of you. If you get into trouble, tell me the truth and I will defend you to the hilt. Slytherin only has one family on the Board of Governors; the Malfoys. The Duke’s influence is limited for this reason, but ever have we worked with what we have. Expect the other teachers and students to be prejudiced against you purely because of the colour of your tie, as distasteful as that is.”
“I want you to remember this: no matter what you are told, you are not evil,” the Professor continues. “Even Voldemort was not, at the age of eleven. Evil he became, of course. But he is not the only one to have fallen through the cracks, and indifference and rage that was not constructively channeled conspired to warp him into something that was indeed evil. But that will not happen to any of you, not under my watch. That is my oath to you, as your Head of House.”
“The rules, therefore: you will present yourselves immaculately. You will not give any professor or prefect any reason to dock points because your hair is not combed properly or your shirt is untucked. You will be polite. If you must retaliate: don’t get caught. Come back to the common room, and discuss your plans with your housemates, but don’t do it within my hearing - if you do get caught, one of the principal ways I can defend you is through plausible deniability. The only exception to this is if you are retaliating if one or more of you have been hurt. Then I can make full use of the Slytherin network which is still substantial in Ministry departments such as Law Enforcement. Some of the best barristers at the Guild were Slytherins at school.”
Phoebe shivers; the Professor is beginning to scare her. But she takes a deep breath, sets her shoulders and grits her teeth. She is a Malfoy, and she will not be afraid.
“Furthermore; never leave the common room alone. First years especially. Merlin, there are only three of you, and whilst I am certain your tutors have taught you well, don’t go around defending yourselves with NEWT level spells or non-verbal magic or what have you; you’ll be branded the next dark lord before you can blink. To this end; first and second years will be accompanied by those of you that are of age at all times. Scorpius, Hadara, I’ll give you everyone’s timetables after this so you can organise a rota.” Scorpius and Hadara Flint, a tall seventh year with plaited dark hair and blue eyes, nod. “Breakfast is from eight to nine every day; we will meet here at seven-forty five promptly and all go up to breakfast together. If I have any notices to give you, that is when I shall do so. The password to the common room changes every fortnight. Today is Friday, so you have the weekend to organise yourselves before lessons start on Monday, first years. Third years and above, no such luck, I’m afraid; you have lessons tomorrow morning.”
Professor Rafferty lowers himself elegantly into one of the armchairs. “I’ve done enough talking. Prefects, introduce yourselves, and then we’ll move on to you, first years.”
Scorpius, ever the gentleman, gestures for Hadara to go first. She throws a half-hearted glare at her friend, but moves into the centre of the common room. “The name’s Hadara Flint, seventh year prefect.”
She steps back, and Scorpius steps forward. “Scorpius Malfoy, seventh year prefect. What Hadara forgot to mention is that because of NEWTS, the sixth year prefects are your first port of call. Come to us or the Professor if it’s serious.”
Her cousin Julian steps forward. “Julian Nott, Quidditch Captain. I can’t take House points, but apart from that I have the same rights and privileges as your prefects.”
Another girl steps forward. “Freya Travers, sixth year prefect.”
“Hadrian Burke, sixth year prefect.”
“Hebe Guiscard, fifth year prefect.”
“Tristan Fawley, fifth year prefect.”
“Good.” The Professor nods. “First years.”
Phoebe steps forward, into the centre of the room. “Phoebe Malfoy.”
Georgiana goes next. “Georgiana Darcy.”
The smirks that greet this combination are terrifying, the glint in the sixth and seventh years’ eyes is truly wicked.
“Sebastian Vainamoinen.” The boy with the black, black hair and blue eyes says.
The Slytherin dormitories look out over the lake (Hebe tells her there’s a glamour on the outside, so the truly magnificent roundel window that is twice her height in diameter simply appears as normal stone from the outside) and Phoebe has her own room, because with less than fifty students in the House, there’s enough space for each student to have their own room. She still has to share a bathroom, but sharing with Georgiana is no great hardship.
The starlight is bisected by the roundel’s art nouveau green-leaves-and-waves design, falling onto a thick white rug. Her bed is parallel to the window, but the thick drapes around the four-poster should keep her from being woken too early in the summer, and her trunk already lies at the foot of her bed. Randolph, she knows, will already be in the Owlery, so she has no need to worry about him. There’s a comfortable armchair next to the fireplace, and an obliging house-elf has already set out one of her woollen blankets, her furry slippers, and a mug of steaming hot chocolate on the little side table.
Contrary to what she fears, Phoebe does indeed sleep on her first night at Hogwarts.
On Monday morning, Phoebe gets up at seven to have a bath and get dressed in time for breakfast, after having spent Saturday morning reading up on her set texts on Professor Rafferty’s recommendation, the afternoon watching her brothers and her cousin at Quidditch, and Sunday lazing around the common room with Georgiana and Sebastian, being taught what she is pretty certain are illegal variants of card games by some of the fifth and sixth years.
Professor Rafferty explains that it is his custom to give out timetables at House Meeting instead of at breakfast. There’s some murmuring when the Slytherins realise they have Potions with the Hufflepuffs instead of the Gryffindors, and Professor Rafferty smiles.
“I finally managed to persuade the Headmistress that a Gryffindor-Slytherin Potions class was simply asking for trouble.”
“The House has been complaining about that for decades, Professor! How on earth did you manage it?” A fourth year called Sapphia Faramond asks.
“Ways and means, Sapphia, ways and means.” The Professor replies with a wry smile.
Phoebe, Georgiana and Sebastian contemplate their timetables, groaning when they realise that First Year Astronomy practicals take place three nights in a row, from Wednesdays to Fridays. Professor Rafferty grins at their downcast expressions, saying, “It’s a rite of passage, I’m afraid. Or that’s the Governor’s Board’s justification.”
But apart from that, Phoebe’s quite pleased with her timetable, especially because she neither has lessons after afternoon tea like the second years and above, or on Saturday mornings as well, as she will once she begins OWL classes in her third year.
The school day is made up of ten fifty-minute lessons, with a break after the first two, the fifth, and the seventh, and supper is directly after the last lesson, except on Saturdays, which only have lessons until lunch. On Mondays Phoebe has Double Potions after breakfast, then a morning break, then Double Charms and Theoretical Astronomy before lunch, and Double History of Magic after it. Tuesdays look alright too: DADA, Transfiguration, Theoretical Astronomy again, and then Herbology. Wednesdays she’s quite looking forward too because instead of Theoretical Astronomy before lunch they have Flying, and she can’t wait to get back on a broom. All of their lessons tend to be doubles, except for Fridays where they only have singles, and Sebastian brings up the ominous point that this is likely to mean that Fridays are when they will probably end up having tests, which would make it a whopper of a day: Potions-Herbology-Break-Charms-Transfiguration-Flying-Lunch-History-Defence.
Professor Rafferty also hands them a map, saying “I don’t want to give the other Professors any reason to dock you points or otherwise make life difficult for you.”
Then they all go up to breakfast in the Great Hall, in what Phoebe quickly realises will be the way they move around the school, with the younger students protected by the elder. Phoebe tucks into her Eggs Benedict and quickly decides with a grimace that threatens to split her face apart that the pumpkin juice Hogwarts serves is even worse than the stuff at the Ministry, and takes some Earl Grey instead.
The seventh years have Potions at the same time as them, in the next-door laboratory, but as NEWT-level Potions is primarily taken by a Slytherin-Ravenclaw cohort, Professor Rafferty gets everyone to NEWT-level by the end of sixth year, so that seventh year is primarily spent on individual Potions or Alchemy research projects, requiring minimal supervision. Scorpius has also explained to Phoebe that the professor sees all his seventh years once a week individually to discuss their projects.
Hence, Phoebe, Georgiana and Sebastian are walked down to the Potions laboratories by all nine seventh years, whilst an annoyed Professor Rafferty talks to Professor Longbottom. They wait outside the oak door in the torchlight, and it isn’t long before the first-year Hufflepuffs start to arrive, as well as the seventh year Ravenclaws. Phoebe realises with a sinking heart that there are fifteen Hufflepuffs in total, and shares grim looks with Georgiana and Sebastian. Georgiana squeezes her hand discretely and Scorpius lays a hand on his little sister’s shoulder, hesitating before doing the same to Georgiana. Hadara and Aristaeus Vaisey do the same to Sebastian. Whether because the Hufflepuffs are sufficiently cowed by the presence of multiple top-year Slytherins or because they haven’t yet woken up, the short wait for Professor Rafferty passes without incident.
The Professor greets them all with a smile, proceeding to unlock the laboratory door. He waves the seventh years into their next door laboratory before pushing open the door for Phoebe’s class, waving them in with a perfunctory, “If you could all stand at the back, please.”
Some of the Hufflepuffs jump when the door slams and the Professor strides past them to stop at the blackboard at the front of the room, before whirling smartly around, robes flaring dramatically as he does so. “Welcome to Potions. This is one of the most dangerous classes at this school. Do as I tell you and you will be fine. Disobey, and there will be consequences I can guarantee you will not like. As I said on Friday evening, I am Professor Rafferty, and you will address me as either Professor or sir.”
“Good. I also expect you on time, with everything you need for class, as I am certain you will be told by the other professors as well. Girls, hair tied up out of your faces, if you please, and no jewellery should be worn by any of you apart from signet rings should you have them. Now, I will be pairing you up with another student, and you will be working with this other student for the rest of the year. It is therefore in your best interest to work together. You will leave whatever conflicts you might have outside of this classroom. Is that quite clear?”
“Good.” The Professor nods. “I will call out your names from this register and you will sit at the bench I have indicated.”
“Millie Harrington, Jonathan Walcott, first bench on the left. Henry Morton, Isabel Kent, second on the left. George Kendall, Lucretia Morton, first on the right.”
“But sir!” George exclaims. “I don’t want to work with her.”
“Ten points from Hufflepuff, Mr Kendall, for being insufferably rude to your housemate. George Kendall, Lucretia Morton, first on the right, or I’ll start handing out detentions.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Kendall,” Jonathan hisses, and eventually the brown haired boy takes his seat, still grumbling and muttering under his breath.
“Georgiana Darcy, Felix Chatterbell, second on the right.” Professor Rafferty continues, entirely unruffled by Kendall’s attempted insubordination.
“I’m not working with a Slytherin!” Chatterbell huffs. Georgiana stiffens, and Professor Rafferty raises an eyebrow.
Another boy raises his hand. “I’ll work with Georgiana, sir.”
Surprise flits across the Professor’s face before the man’s gaze is studiously blank once more. “Well done, Mr - ?”
“Horatio D’Escott-Fitzherbert, sir.” The Hufflepuff answers quietly, with his back straight, tousled chestnut hair neatly parted.
“Take fifteen points for Hufflepuff, Mr D’Escott-Fitzherbert, for exemplary conduct.”
“Thank you, Professor.” The boy takes his satchel and goes to sit at the assigned bench, Georgiana sitting warily beside him.
And so it goes on. Sebastian ends up being pared with one Imogen Darling, a small, curly-haired girl who was so nervous she squeaked when Sebastian offered her his hand to shake. Phoebe ends up with a girl called Lucia St Clair, whom she finds out is a Muggleborn from Devizes in Wiltshire who misses her pony Jeeves.
“I miss my pony too,” Phoebe whispers, and Lucia smiles back.
They spend the class making sure they all know how to hold their knives and chop and crush and dice all their various ingredients properly. When they have to put on their dragonskin gloves to extract Flutterby Venom by creating an infusion which they then distill into crystal phials, Professor Rafferty suddenly halts them.
“Mr D’Escott-Fitzherbert?” Their teacher calls evenly.
Horatio looks up from his and Georgiana’s bench. “Yes, sir?”
“I assume you bought your gloves from Wiseacres?”
“Yes, sir. The standard uniform ones.”
“Take them off, now.” The Professor bites out. “Flutterby Venom and gold do not react well; you’ll burn your hands.” Horatio hurriedly rips off his gloves and steps back from the bench for good measure, staring across at the professor, fear burning clearly in his eyes. “I should have known those idiots at the Ministry wouldn’t have thought of directing you to James & Darlington’s or Twilfitt & Tattings; if you wear a signet ring, you need dragonskin gloves with an acromantula silk lining to protect your hands from this kind of reaction.”
Oh. Phoebe hadn’t known dragonskin gloves were made without acromantula silk linings. But because all the Malfoys wear signet rings, it’s obvious that the lined version would be the one she thinks of as standard.
“Who took you to Diagon Alley, Mr D’Escott-Fitzherbert?”
“A witch called Hermione Granger, sir.” Horatio replies shakily.
“Of course.” Professor Rafferty sighs. “Did she do anything else?”
“She was going on about the war and prejudice against Muggleborns the whole time, sir. It was quite frightening. It almost made my parents refuse to send me here.”
“Yes, I can imagine,” is the gentle reply. “Miss Darcy, do you mind lending Mr D’Escott-Fitzherbert your spare pair of gloves?”
“No, not at all, Professor.”
Horatio sends Georgiana a relieved, thankful smile in return.
Professor Rafferty nods. “Ten points to Slytherin.”
It is, Phoebe can safely say, and interesting start to her Hogwarts career.