As Deryn made her way over to the Gryffindor table, the rush of noise seemed to slide over Alek’s ears. He hadn’t realized that a knot of anticipation had grown in his stomach until the relief washed over him. The girl drifted white faced over to an empty space between two muscular boys, who grinned and jostled her shoulders. As the cheering died down, the last of the new students were assigned to their houses. When all of them were seated, a woman drifted to a podium addressing the great hall.
Evangeline was tall, her fair hair worn loose to her waist. Like the other professors lined up behind her, she was dressed in a long robe, but in a pale pink silk with embroidered sleeves. More a nightgown than formal wear. She looked young to be a headmistress, and despite all of the words Alek had heard of her severity, her face held a cheerful and vacant expression, as if she were unsure how she had gotten here, but was enjoying herself nonetheless.
“Greetings, one and all,” she said, her voice light with an almost sleepy sound to it, “Welcome new students, and old as well. I, as well as the majority of my staff I am sure, am excited to open the new year of learning, development, and prosperity.”
Alek tried imagining her writing the letters to him those weeks ago, the urgency in them, the stubbornness, and found that the confused woman standing there didn’t fit the description at all. Her speech continued, and Alek found himself more interested with the candles hovering above him. From the candles Alek’s eyes dropped to the Hufflepuff table, positioned next to the Gryffindor table. He looked over the faces of the Hufflepuffs, making eye contact with a few of them. One rather large boy shifted, and Alek got a view of the Ravenclaws. He recognized Lillit, and quickly looked up again.
The hall began to clap, and with a jolt of embarrassment Alek realized that Evangeline had seated herself back at the teacher’s table. There was a universal clatter as the students and teachers of Hogwarts began their meal, which had appeared out of nowhere to Alek’s astonishment. There were no servers, instead plates of food were positioned in the center of the table. Forks shot out to spear turkey legs, potatoes, and vegetables. Alek tentatively managed to claim a portion of the feast for himself. The talk began then, a cloud of conversation spreading across the great hall. Some students were recalling their summer with great enthusiasm, while other first years awkwardly discussed their homes and various interests. Alek was seated between a girl who looked to be in her fifth year, and a boy he recognized as Eugene Newkirk. Both were occupied with someone else, and again Alek felt alone in the crowd. He to looked to Deryn, who seemed more interested in eating than conversation. The two boys on either side of her persisted however, prodding her with questions that Alek couldn’t quite make out in the noise. It wasn’t until she looked up at him that he realized he was staring. Deryn smiled and waved, and over the din Alek managed to hear her say:
“We’re in the same house after all!”
After that she turned to her companions and began to talk, and Alek was left to eat silently. While he didn’t utter a word throughout the entirety of the meal, Alek learned a bit about his fellow Gryffindors. By dessert, Alek had learned that the fifth year girl next to him was named Penelope Finch. She had spent the summer visiting her mother’s side of the family in London, and had to go the entire stay without magic, because they were muggles. Across from her a boy named James was retelling with great enthusiasm about his father’s new job in America, and how the family was to move there. Next to him Sarah was in a panic about her classes, as there had been a mistake, and she was missing a requirement. Eugene Newkirk was muggleborn, and lived in Hampshire with his mother. His mother didn’t approve of his coming, thinking that his gifts were a mark of the devil, but had given in after the abundance of acceptance letters had become troublesome. It wasn’t unlike Alek’s own experience, and Alek was about to muster the courage to say so when a he heard a voice cut through the ruckus.
He, Penelope, Eugene, and their companions turned to face Professor Blackwood, and behind her, Count Volger.
“Your chaperone has arrived,” She said simply, “Come this way.”
Alek could feel his tablemate’s eyes on him as he stood, trying not to meet Volger’s steely gaze. It was as if the man were judging him for sitting with commoners…wizard commoners.
As he left, he heard low muttering, but couldn’t make out the words. Professor Blackwood led them though a small arch and down a corridor. Volger stared stiffly ahead, his stern silence unnerving with the roar of the great hall fading into the distance. Soon it was gone completely, and only noise was their footsteps. Up flights of stairs they went, through arches, down a hallway, through countless doors. It might have been Alek’s imagination, but the pictures seemed to be moving, as if their subjects were alive. He heard more hushed muttering, and he realized with a sickening jolt that it wasn’t his weariness making the images move, rather, they were all watching him and whispering behind cupped hands.
“A student out of the great hall?”
“How can one be in trouble? Its been hours since the student’s arrival!”
Just as Blackwood was about to step onto a stairway, the stone slid away from her foot as if the steps were suddenly uninterested with her, and looking at something else. When Alek looked away from the stairs he met eyes with a portrait of a young woman, and when he darted his eyes upwards to escape her stare, he saw white figures floating above.
Moving pictures, moving stair cases, and now ghosts? Feeling quite ill, Alek decided to keep his eyes on the floor.
Finally Professor Blackwood stopped, and quite out of nowhere announced:
Alek looked up from the floor to find them in front of a painting. The subject, a rather large woman holding a glass of wine, raised an eyebrow.
“Are they letting them out already?”
Professor Blackwood grunted.
“No, this is a special case. The headmistress will be beginning her speech shortly however.”
The fat lady’s eyes widened.
“Oh its him?” she placed the wine on a table and a hand went to her hair, “In Gryffindor? My word, a prince in Gryffindor!”
“Cherry Trifle” Professor Blackwood repeated sternly.
The fat lady giggled, delicately covering her mouth with one hand.
“Oh yes, oh yes, of course.”
With that the painting swung aside, revealing a hole in the wall. Alek and Volger followed the Professor through it, and found themselves in what looked like a living room. There were a number of large armchairs, some placed in front of a fire, which was glowing softly. At the back of the room was a pillar, with two stone stare cases spiraling upwards. Professor Blackwood crossed the carpet to the fireplace, and gestured for them to sit down.
Alek obeyed, sinking into the soft cushions apprehensively. Volger remained standing.
“I am sure you have already been told of your special circumstances,” she announced, facing them, “And we have little time before your housemates return from the great hall, so I will be brisk. As per our agreement, Count Volger will accompany you to your classes for the duration of your first year,” her eyes slid to Volger, “And you will remain outside of the classroom until the class is finished.”
Volger nodded, already made aware of this circumstance it seemed.
“In addition to this, you and your chaperone requested separate rooms from the other boys,” Her eyes narrowed, “While Count Volger will have his own room close to the Gryffindor common room, that in itself is a luxury and His Highness will board with the others.”
“I am afraid I must protest,” Volger said abruptly, “His Highness is-”
“A Hogwarts student now,” Blackwood interrupted, “Just like the others”
“I understand that your kind have little experience with nobility,” Count Volger argued, “But this isn’t done. It is beneath him.”
Professor Blackwood stiffened.
“You are in no position to say what is and isn’t done, Count,” she said irritably, “And here at Hogwarts we pride ourselves in our lack of prejudice. No student is beneath another, yet all students,” She glared at Volger, “And their babysitters, are beneath Professor’s like myself. Our decision stands.”
Count Volger’s face reddened, a sight Alek was unaccustomed to.
“Then might I suggest young Aleksander stays in the room prepared for me?” he said, his voice icy and dangerous.
“You may not,” Professor Blackwood said, “The boy will sleep here.”
She turned her gaze to Alek.
“Have you any objections?”
Alek shook his head, taken aback by it all. Professor Blackwood nodded and turned her back on Volger.
“Then I shall leave you to your own devises. Your fellow Gryffindors are on their way, and once they arrive it is lights out.” She crossed the carpet to the exit, then turned to address Volger. “I will allow you to stay with the boy until his peers arrive, then I must insist you retire to your room.” With that she was gone, the painting of the fat lady swinging shut behind her. Neither Alek nor Volger said a word.
Alek coughed into a fist, breaking the cold silence.
“If you have nothing to say to me, Count, then perhaps you should leave,” He said, trying his best to be delicate.
Volger’s eyes slid over him, a cold shiver running down Alek’s spine.
“It is my job to make sure you are treated properly in this place,” Volger said, his words soft and icy, “And already I have failed.”
Alek rose from his seat, reaching out his hand in comfort, but not daring to touch the man.
“It isn’t so bad. This place has its own traditions that we must honor,” Alek shrugged, “It was strange, sitting there in the great hall with so many people, but I, as well as you, are sure to grow accustomed to it.”
“Another thing,” Volger spat, his voice sharpening into reprimand, “You sitting there between those commoners, practically eating with your hands, you haven’t been here a day, have you already forgotten who you are?”
Alek stiffened, and was about to offer apology when it occurred to him that he might’ve forgotten himself, if not a little bit. The entire week, no, since the letters had first arrived, he had been forgetting that he was a prince.
“I know who I am, Volger,” Alek said, then took a deep breath, “I am a prince, but I am also a wizard in training, and a student here at Hogwarts, and I am a… a Gryffindor!”
Volger lifted an eyebrow.
“And what exactly is a Gryffindor?” He asked.
Alek froze, uncertain what exactly to say. He tried to remember how the sorting hat had described it.
“It means I am brave,” he said, “And loyal, I suppose.”
Volger sighed, his shoulders drooping from their normal stiff stance. Alek sat back down, words escaping him.
“Those aren’t bad things to be,” Volger said at last, “Goodnight, your highness.”
With that, Volger disappeared, and Alek was left alone in the common room. Alek sunk into the cushions of his chair. Of course Volger wouldn’t like this place, or anything to do with magic, for that matter. He had been disgusted and horrified by everything they had seen this past week. From Alek’s wand to his robes, even the books he had purchased, Volger disapproved of the entire business.
So why had he offered to come in the first place? Volger had never seemed to like Alek too much, always belittling him, as if to remind him that he was a mistake, a prince of nothing.
Alek turned his head to the entrance, which had opened and was filling the room with Gryffindors.
A bit short, but I felt it was taking too long