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Chapter 4

Like a Sponge

The doors swung wide. A collective gasp escaped from the first years. It seemed not even those from witchy families were expecting such antique luxury. My head however had short circuited with all the possibilities and simply gave up once the castle came into view. It was the closest thing I had to a blank slate.

It was something straight out of a really expensive King Arthur movie. As I passed beneath the key stone, I absently rapped against the pier just in case it was styrofoam.

"Ow," I muttered, blowing on my knuckles and rubbing them on my chest. In the frosty air they stung like mad.

Drifting along beside me, Felix pulled her tall witch hat over her ears and smiled so eagerly her eyes, still dripping thick black mascara, could pop at any moment. "Nup, they're authentic! Pretty unreal, huh?"

I didn't reply as my eyes roved the flagstone floor and then rose up to the ceiling where an iron wrought chandelier bathed the hall with in light and shadows. Far away over the forest of heads was a magnificent staircase and from behind the carved door it lead to came a gabble of voices, laughing and cheering, the sounds of classmates reunited. Obviously where we were heading.

"Step on line, you break your spine!" Both Felix and I started as Kalchas, on his brother's heel singing cheerfully as he hopped from flagstone to flagstone, his untidy hair belling with each jump. With better illumination I could see it was much paler than I thought, almost bleach blonde.

"Step on a crack, and break your back!" I whispered blithely, following his footstep, and then Felix right behind me, trying to bump me off. Leo didn't want to join our fun but as he slowed his gait I realised we were floating to the back of the mob. They parted around us like we were obstacles in a creek bed. A few rolled their eyes at us but most were too enamoured with the castle around them to pay us any attention.

As I paused unsteadily on one leg, your typical straggler, a suit of armour caught my eye hanging beneath a bright red and gold tapestry. I mean, like an actual suit of armour! My head cocked to the side as I drank in the novelty. Not even in a museum had I seen one, and this one was wiggling its fingers at me. While I wrestled with the idea if this was normal, the group had vanished out of sight. All that were left in the vast entrance hall were Kalchas, Leo, Felix and myself.

Without lifting her eyes from the stones whilst hopscotching with the dreamy eyed boy, she said, "Its just armour, I bet there's a lot here. We had-" she grunted as she jumped two at a time, "an old museum down from our place, all rusty. The curator Mr McConner wouldn't let me touch it to figure out how the joints worked."

"Hey you guys," Leo broached hesitantly, "Everyone's gone into that room over there."

"So? We know where they are, I just wanna look at this."

Felix snorted and fought Kalchas on one leg for his stone while I stood beneath the tall, hulking metal carapace. It was now stock still and I wondered if I had imagined it. One arm balance some kind of ancient axe on its shoulder, the other dangled by its side. Unable to resist, I drummed my fingers on the knight's chest but it rang hollow and then lifted the arm to let it flop clanging back to its side. The other three froze suddenly at the noisy clunking of joints in contrast to the unexpected silence. Above, the hall had gone quiet and I could feel their anticipation.

"Yeah, we better get back to the others," I tried to say nonchalantly feeling distinctly uneasy, spinning abruptly on my heel. Even as I turned I felt the swift whoosh of motion and instinctively froze as something raked past my hair. The other three had frozen too, their mouths gaping. Behind me came the sounds of slow but purposeful squeaks and scratches that came when you tried unwiggle something rusted shut. I didn't dare turn around for fear of what I would see, magic world or no.

"It's an animation charm!" choked out Leo, patting down his robes. "It has to be!"

"Do something!" Felix hissed, tugging out her own wand and aiming it over my head. "The only spell I can do is Lumos!"

"Immobilis," Kalchas offered offhandedly, twisting his robe sleeves and looking around for something more interesting. The portraits lining the second tier of the hall all seemed to be staring with intense fascination, their eyes appearing to follow our conversation.

"Perfect!" Leo exulted, finally freeing his wand from his pocket. With an exultant cry, his wand twinkled! "Immobilus!"

The creaking sounds ceased, but the hair raising feeling of someone right over my shoulder didn't. Gradually feeling flowed by into my arms and I ventured a look over my shoulder. The knight loomed over me with both hand gripping the axe above its head. I uttered a hoarse squeak of relief and refrained from crumpling onto my knees.

"Fee-yew!" Felix breathed, unlocking her jaw. "Now lets-"

FAH-WUMP!

I yelled, shoving myself backwards between the armour's legs just as the axe dropped! Sparks flew and cleaved the flagstone it buried itself in two. The armour's neck screeched agonisingly as it twisted. The empty helm stared dully at the other three and then on me squatting in amazement between its legs. Again instinct came to fore and threw my weight against one wobbling leg. With my thick tail swirling around my face obscuring my vision, my legs skittered and pedalled the stones to tackle him like a rugby player.

One arm relinquished the axe to swat me away but with a war cry Kalchas lunged over the axe and his skinny body smashed into his other leg, clamouring like a brass bell. Grunting and groaning and gazing around wild eyed, mine locked his through a wedge free of hair. Though pale they shone with clarity, meeting my own for a brief second in time before slamming his weight against the knight again. It teetered dangerously, and Leo joined us, running and hurling his shoulder into its chest. He narrowly evaded the arms windmilling for balance! His face blanched close to mine as a whirring hand scarcely missed my ear and cuffed him upside the head.

"Count of three!" I puffed to Kalchas who was also straining to grip the slippery metal. "One!"

"Two!"

"Three!" With all my upper strength my elbow smashed behind the knee turning the joint inwards as did my partner. Leo, who had somehow manoeuvred behind the monstrosity shoved too.

"WHOA!" As one we toppled forward. The armour broke apart, raining down on us in bits and pieces. I cried out in pain as my arms failed to ward off a falling glove and Leo clutched his knee buried beneath the suit's cavernous chest. My own elbow throbbed!

"What is this!"

Our heads turned in whiplash unison, and shrank away. The lady, Professor McGonagall glared at the mess, more so when she caught sight of my face. A look of patience under severe test fought and lost to the one of authoritive calm.

"Its not what it looks like!" I babbled to be heard over my mates own excuses. "Like I was staring and I felt this weird pull and the armour glowed and it wiggled its fingers and said 'Come to the dark side' and I couldn't help it and then it swung its axe at me and like I dodged it quick as lightning and it missed so I tried to tackle it and Leo tried to stop it but he couldn't so Kalchas and I tried to tackle it and so did Leo and it tried to kill me!" Somehow, beyond all reasoning my voice ended with righteous indignation as the others trailed away. My hands groped and came up with a handful of neatly shorn hairs and then pulled my own tail up for her inspection.

Leo stared at me. "Come to the dark side?"

"Shutup," I flushed. When lying my head could be strangely resourceful and remembered the wizarding world didn't have television or movies or anything like that. I felt safe in knowing that Luke Skywalker would not be recognised.

Patiently I could feel the professor peeling back our stories and was quickly bearing down on the truth. "You said it waved at you," she asked sharply and I nodded fervently. "Peeves!" she growled dangerously.

"Aww!" I jumped out my skin as puny, silver hued man floated from the wall cackling. Beady black eyes twinkled impishly. "Did I scare da widdle firsties? Did mean owld ghostie whosty Peeves harm a hair on her widdle head!"

"My head isn't little!" I squawked indignantly but was waved silent by the Professor McGonagall.

"Well it matches the rest of you!" he taunted shrilly. "Its like looking at a needle! Needlehead! Needlehead!"

"Enough! The Baron will hear of this, Peeves. Be off!" He spiralled above us as if on an invisible rollercoaster before vanishing through the wall again with pop. Still glaring ferociously after the man she turned it on us. "Follow me."

There was no argument, our bodies simply formed a line behind her as if towed invisible leashes and into the cramped and gloomy room.

"The Start-of-Term Banquet will begin shortly, but before you are seated you will be sorted into your Houses. These Houses are Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor and Slytherin. Each has their own unique history and lore behind it. They will be like your family while you are here. You will sleep in your House, spend free time in your House and have classes with your House," Professor McGonagall pronounced carefully, scanning crowd of First Years and daring them to say a word. Her gaze lingered on me and I gulped. I tried a broad smile and to communicate a look that said Oh please please don't punish me, I learnt my lesson and I'll never ever ever do it again, I promise, cross my fingers home to die in the space of .5 of a second. "Your triumphs will earn you House Points. Any rule-breaking," she paused meaningfully, picking up a three legged stool that was mouldering in the corner, "and you will lose points. And at the end of the year, the House with the most points will win the highly contested House Cup. I will leave you for a moment, use this time to tidy yourselves up."

I flicked a glace at Leo whose face was burning beside me. Rule breaking was not his forte. I let out a gusty sigh and reflected on what had happened in the space of thirty minutes. This was not the impression I had hoped for. Trying to make up for it I raked back my hair and tried to rub away the rusty red stains beneath my armpits and dusty knees.

"How come you look like you just got off the train?" I muttered after Leo.

"How do you think?" he said in the composed voice. The rip vanished beneath his wand. "I wonder what we'll have at the banquet. Michael said it'll be beyond my wildest dreams, but I can dream pretty well."

"And you," I turned on Felix, who was carefully reapplying her makeup from some kind of compact. It looked like a real one, not the kind you gave to plastic kind you gave to your kid sister on her birthday that was really just talcum powder. "Where'd you go?"

"Someone had to get the Professor," she said without missing a stroke, artfully flicking a brush across her lashes. I stared puzzled how an eleven year old would get her hands on makeup let alone why. "Do you think we'll be doing our spells skyclad? I read a lot of that in these occult magazines. I hope they separate the boys and the girls at least."

As she slipped the compact back into her pocket, Sebastian was attempting storm up to her but too many excited students in his way ruined the impression, especially when he tripped. As he stood up again and wiped his knees, she regarded him airily. His eyes strayed to Kalchas, once again staring at his shoes like they were a million miles away.

"What did you do to him," he demanded querulously. "He's all dirty! And," he lifted his hand roughly up for examination. "His skin's all ripped!"

"Don't be so over protective of him Sebastian," she rolled her eyes. "You're okay, hey bro?"

"Don't eat that mushroom, you'll explode."

"See."

Before he could launch his sermon, Professor McGonagall stuck her head back into the room. "The Sorting is starting now."

I shrugged. A House was a House and probably wouldn't mean a thing once we were sorted, like school houses for athletic carnivals. I had about as much House spirit as a cabbage. As she ushered us out into the hall Leo halted sounding deeply disappointed. "Where's the banquet?"

"Food smood! Look at the ceiling!"

"Enchanted," Sebastian and Leo said in unison. Sebastian sniffed and went on competitively. "It was bewitched to follow the constellations by Rowena Ravenclaw in 945 AD soon after opening the school."

"Clap clap," I said dryly, standing on my tip toes. We were being herded onto a low stage, and the focus of attention was centred solely on a moth-eaten conical hat and the stool it perched upon, which was quite a thing because over a dozen misty forms floated over the tables, in and out of hundreds and hundreds of brightly burning candles. Before I could say, Now what? a rip around the brim opened wide, and began to sing.

"Just over a thousand years ago
In the time of Founding Four
A quartet that are still known today
Their names entrenched in lore

A school!' they cried.
'So perfect
A place to learn and grow
A sanctuary, a paradise
For those who seek to know'.

Wisdom of the witchy crafts
And secrets of wizardry
Of potions and brooms, beast and brood
Spells, books and history

But it seems they were divided
Which no one had predicted
Of who to invite to join the ranks
Their choices all conflicted

Gryffindor, a mighty man
Chose whose hearts ruled their head
Bravery and valiant deeds
And following where adventure lead

Ravenclaw, of wisdom true
Suggested intelligence and wit
She thought only the most knowledgeable
And cleverest would fit

Slytherin, sharp and shrewd
Demanded forebears uncontaminated
Nothing will stand in their way
All rivals eliminated

Last not least, dear Hufflepuff
Not brave, nor smart, nor muggle
She would not turn away
Any unafraid of struggle.

The argument rode back and forth
Until they could agree
If they could not choose themselves
They left it up to me

The Sorting Hat, though battered
Has never steered students wrong
I will see what's in your head
And decide where you belong

Whatever chosen, all beware
Be cautious and mindful of your flaws
From timid first year student
To Headmaster Dumbledore!"

Its jolly croak died away and the students burst into applause, some rising from their tables. I stared down at them through the gaps of the student. They seemed to be divided by colour, each table on its own, green beside blue, next to yellow and then red. So much for houses not meaning anything. Catcalls and jeering were being passed between the tables, even between the red table and the green table.

Behind them was a table full of adults gazing loftily, at its head was the epitome of what a wizard should look like, a long snow white beard garbed in a rich purple robe with emblazoned in stars and moons. On one side was an empty seat, presumably Professor McGonagall's and on the other a very short man, perhaps a dwarf in blue robes chattering excitedly. There was a dreary young man with hooked nose and a woman who looked like a better class of pirate and half a dozen others, murmuring as they evaluated us.

Standing discreetly to the side was Professor McGonagall holding a scroll in both hands. "When I read your name you will sit on the stool and put on the hat to be sorted. Don't be nervous, you will be a tribute to whichever one you join. Now," she paused momentarily, smiling benevolently and no longer looking like a librarian of piss and vinegar. "Able, Steven."

Somewhere to the left a twig of a boy pushed through the other kids and padded over reluctantly. He paused before the stool, maybe looking for instructions before lowering himself on it and sat the hat on his head. The Sorting Hat shuffled, like a cat circling to be comfortable on a doona. The brim bent, and – "HUFFLEPUFF!"

Cheers erupted from the yellow table, the working class as the black satin that framed his collar and hems melted into a canary yellow and a portly ghost in a monk's habit patted his shoulder. He held up his sleeve marvelling at it with just a hint of disappointment.

"Astrid, Belinda!"

A copper hair girl scampered across the stage. As the hat slipped over her ears the hat cried, "RAVENCLAW!"

As the list was read, Todd Auld joined Ravenclaw as well while Ida Avernus became the first Gryffindor to a mighty roar from her new house followed shortly by Candace Beutel. Alice Babel, kept Steven company in Hufflepuff. Treasure Bole became the first Slytherin. I was enjoying the atmosphere thoroughly, despite all the loud noise. It was contagious! I whistle and shouted with each student.

"Bottlewot, Algernon!"

The whistle died on my lips as I let out a choked hiss. It was Shorty! As he squeezed past a sharp nudge from Leo kept me from stamping down on his robe and watching him smash his nose on the steps. Then we'd be a matching pair! As the hat dropped onto his head it, Shorty looked smug and certain that it would cry- "SLYTHERIN!" He tossed the hat disdainfully back onto the stool and joined his housemates.

"Brize, Viridante!" called Professor McGonagall, looking scandalised that a student would be so blatantly disrespectful. Already waiting quietly at the front, the boy who had dragged Leo to the boat settled onto the stool, he set the hat on his head with a cool look across the crowd still crowing over their own additions. Having witnessed him jumping into frigid water to rescue a couple of idiots from a giant squid, I had him picked for Gryffindor but as the Hat shifted with an inner debate, its beetle eyes widened and emerald green spread across his collar. "SLYTHERIN!"

A Bruce followed, and then Cardigan, Carmine, Doldrum and Edgar. One by one they were sorted amongst the houses seemingly at random until another familiar face crossed the stage. "Fiddleback, Andrea," the Giraffe. She was even stranger to look at in the bright but ever flowing candlelight. She skipped passed us and up the steps, flicking a contemptuous at me as she passed. Ever the witty one, I poked out my tongue.

She squashed the hat onto her head lowering herself onto the stool like a queen. She bestowed her 'subjects' a look of pure confidence. She cocked her head as if listening to an inner voice and slowly drained of colour. I smirked with satisfaction. Maybe it's seen what a brat she is and is slowly sucking her brain out through her ears! I thought cheerfully.

Her mouth moved as she spoke in an inaudible whisper. She listened again and her voice came in hoarse disbelief. "I'm not!"

"Are," rasped the Sorting Hat indifferently as yellow ate away at her black satin like bacteria on an agar. Murmurs and giggles were blossoming over the hall. "HUFFLE-"

"I don't belong in Hufflepuff, you steeeew-pid bonnet! I am Slytherin!"

Finally, she ripped the hat of her head and stared at it furiously. "I don't belong in Hufflepuff you stupid hat! Put me in Slytherin! I belong in Slytherin! I deserve to be in Slytherin! I AM PURE-BLOODED!"

Unable to speak telepathically now, it admonished crisply, "No you aren't. Your grandmother was a halfblood, but it matters not. You are most definitely a HUFFLEPUFF!"

"I DON'T CARE! LET ME IN!" she squealed at it like a neurotic piglet, her freckled face turning a brute red.

"No."

Beside me Leo snorted into his sleeve but ended up chuckling aloud while I stared in open mouth delight. Professor McGonagall quickly guided Andrea offstage, almost in tears, and lowering her gently into a Hufflepuff seat. Too exhausted and shocked to argue, her anger deflated like a torn balloon, sinking into a despondent puddle on the table. I felt my inside churn as the next boy put the hat on, unable to take my eyes of Andrea, the smirk dwindled away.

Don't get me wrong, I still thought she was an uppity, prejudiced giraffe, but there's something about someone unable to see they're humiliating themselves that makes you cringe and feel sorry for them. As I continued to glimpse her through the waves of heads and hands, a senior Hufflepuff tried to comfort her, offering a goblet of refreshment and a napkin to wipe away her tears. Andrea's lips drew into a grimace and she snapped at her, shoving the glass back and splashing it across the senior's chest.

I shook my head pityingly and only just realised Leo's name had been called. The assembly still cheered as Phoebe Hecaet joined Gryffindor, but it was more subdued. Kids kept stealing looks at Andrea.

He winked at me as he left and climbed onto the stage. He held the Hat for a moment, as if feeling the weight of ages before setting it on his head and perched on the stool. The audience waited and waited for the hat to decide but Leo Helious still remained perfectly patient.

"GRYFFINDOR!"

His body went lax with great relief, and then skipped down the stairs to be swamped beneath handshakes and congratulations of his other housemates.

Names went past in a blur again. Inglewood, Izar, Jackson and Kambridge.

"Kendrick, Maree!"

"Maree?" asked Felix quizzically as I ascended. Unable to reply I shrugged and lifted the hat from the stool. Its crinkled brim was scarred with stitches and the stench of leather and felt floated up from it as it regarded me beneath a heavy fold that gave the illusion of eyebrows. Without thinking I turned it over and reached inside, feeling around for secret compartments. "No rabbit?" I asked Professor McGonagall who returned the look impatiently. Giggles scattered across crowd and the head of the adult table gave a pleased chuckle.

Finally I donned the hat, only just kept from slipping to my shoulders by the thick fuzz of my ponytail.

There was a feeling like tendrils sinking into my brain and an itchy voice spoke. "Aha! No contest. You are a Ravenclaw!"

My lip curled incredulously. The smart guys? Are you joshing? I absorb knowledge like a sponge!

"You're point being."

When did you last see a marine animal with a PHD?

It bridled. "Ravenclaw is not about being intelligent, it's about those who seek to know! A thirst for knowledge! The irresistible lure of puzzle or riddle!"

I like riddles, I conceded reluctantly. Not Hufflepuff? What was I, stupid? I didn't want to be with that homicidal cow!

"No, you haven't the loyalty."

What, and Andrea does? I sneered.

"Oh yes, there are many kinds of loyalty," it said cryptically. "And I now pronounce you- RAVENCLAW!"

I grasped the satin sleeve hem, gleaming as it grew lighter and lighter, eventually becoming blue. I still stared at is as my feet blindly felt for the steps and hustled by Ravenclaw hands into a seat. I sat down heavily, feeding the hem through my fingers, distantly hearing the cheer of the Gryffindor Table. I was a smartypants, huh? Somehow this outstripped a talking mirror and a magic wand on the freaky crap scale.

"Mareeeee!" Suddenly arms wrapped around my waist in a tight hug. My eyes bulged and my air whooshed from my nose in a snort. Relinquishing me from her grasp as I struggled like a hooked fish, Anjuli plumped down beside me! "Isn't this great! Now we can do all our classes together. We can be studybuddies!"

My mouth opened and shut, looking more like a fish than ever. Unfortunately I was saved by the addition of Ingrid Stew. While the two squealed and giggled I took the opportunity to scramble under the table and shuffle down to the end. I may have been under the scrutiny of a rabble of adults, but at least I wasn't next to Anjuli.

"Tybault, Felix!" My ears pricked and I watched keenly as she climbed the stairs. I prayed over and over for her to Ravenclaw. The hat perched on her head for less than two seconds when it cried out- "Slytherin!"

My pent up air escaped in a sigh of disappointment. As she passed me she rolled her eyes and shrugged, joining Viridante at the Slytherin table. Sighing again I rested my head in my hands and peered down the table. The eight other new members of Ravenclaw clustered around Anjuli, nattering. This year was going to be hell.

"Tybault, Kalchas!"

My head jerked in surprise as Kalchas was guided up the steps by his, and evidently Felix's triplet brother! He sat down distractedly and placed the hat on his head. While it inwardly ummed and ahhed he opened his mouth. "Ravenclaw."

Murmurs rippled over the audience again and the Hat confirmed it. "RAVENCLAW!"

"Yeah! Whoot! Whistle!" I screamed loudly, waving madly for Kalchas to catch his attention. Frozen on the steps, his brother's eyes followed him down the aisle, struck dumb by horror. Behind me, Felix leaned backwards and said out of the corner of her mouth with amusement. "Whistle? Who says whistle?" I wiggled my eyebrows and moved over to seat Kalchas.

"Time to go marauding!"

"You said it mate!" I said, still swelled with relief.

"RAVENCLAW!"

On the stage Sebastian set the hat down reverently and then all but cleared the steps in a single jump in his hurry to reach Kalchas and I. He paused time enough to favour me with a disapproving glare, and then squeezed between us.

"Hey, chill mate!" I said, holding my hands up in surrender, but he still continued to stare at me like I was something on his shoe.

Finally the sorting drew to a close with "Zander, Bronson" drawing the lot of Hufflepuff, dressed in a robe even more scruffy than my own. The cheers died away and the head of the adults table stood up, stroking his almost incandescent white beard.

"Welcome to the new year at Hogwarts!" he chuckled, holding up a goblet. "I least of all want to keep you from the succulent feast Mrs Weatherbee and her staff have prepared," he paused and raised a glass to some generously proportioned women at the back of the hall, "Firstly, there will be no magic in the halls between classes, our elder years should know that already it never hurts to be reminded. Secondly, all students are to keep away from the Forbidden Forest, no exceptions. There are many things there that will do you harm that not even the most experienced student can fend off. And lastly, Mr Filch, our caretaker, has asked me to prompt your memory. The list of banned items in the school now extends to Biting Blotters, Irremovable Face paint and Go-Bald Shaving Cream. Thank you for coming and I hope you enjoy your year. And my new practitioners of magic, always remember! There is no history of anything until it happens. Then there is!"

With the final exclamation heaps, no piles! No cathedrals of food suddenly materialised on the plates in front of us. I mean, everyone told me European food was rubbish and after two meals I would long for the anonymousy of a meat pie, but this was a meal! There was roast chicken, roast pork, roast lamb, peas, corn, carrots, three kinds of soup, five kinds of potato, punch, four kinds of juice just what were in the immediate vicinity. Suddenly realising the only food I'd had since breaky was a couple of chocolates, my tastebuds were caught in a flash flood.

Stacking a pyramid of roast meat and potatoes on my plate, I leaned across Sebastian. "Is he one of those teachers who try to be funny?"

Kalchas shook his head. "Don't suffer insanity, enjoy every minute of it."

"Good call," I agreed. It was probably a subtle way of saying he was nuttier than my nanna's fruitcake with the adults so close. Looking over the heads, clutching a greasy chicken leg I caught Leo's eye. He was a very happy chappy, almost dwarfed by his plate. He smiled, unruffled by the clatter of knives and forks around him, and then went back to his mound. Drifting slowly through the table was another silvery ghost, nothing like Peeves. Still, the fork hung halfway between my mouth and the plate as I watched her guardedly.

Sensing my wariness she pulled up a pew on a leg of pork, unmindful of the ravenous hands passing through her. "Salutations child," she purred, clad all in grey.

"You're not going to attack me, are you?"

"Don't be stupid," Sebastian said, sawing delicately through carrot. The boy was unreal! Surrounded by an enormous banquet, he still chewed fastidiously through a balanced meal. Luckily I was in good company with Kalchas, who had more food around his mouth than in it. Any cutlery beginning the treacherous journey from plate to mouth had a 50/50 chance of safely reaching its destination. "She's the Grey Lady, head ghost of Ravenclaw, an intellectual woman tried to rise up against King Bolton and sentenced to death."

The Grey Lady sniffed. "One mistake, some people are soooo unforgiving. And I see you have met Peeves. No one likes Peeves, soooo unrefined. You should avoid him in all ways possible. Good evening." She fluttered a hand and glided back up the table.

Desert appeared a few minutes later in the same twinkling fashion, a smorgasbord of sweets and cakes. Why oh why did I fill up on potatoes? Unfortunately there wasn't a lot of room left so I sufficed with three bowls of trifle.

"You two are disgusting," said Sebastian with revulsion squashed between two children with rings around their mouths and crumbs down their front. I rubbed a napkin around my mouth and Kalchas mimicked me.

"Is everyone happy?" called a girl at the head of the table with a shiny badge pinned to her chest. "I'm Calligrapha, Headgirl of Ravenclaw and this is Matthew, Headboy. It is time to take you to your living quarters!"