House Category: Ravenclaw
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Anthony Goldstein, Terry Boot, Michael Corner, Anthony's father (OC)
Beta Reader(s): Criddle
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): language, dark themes.
Summary: Anthony Goldstein's used to being different. His place as a wizard was never well-defined. As that world becomes more dangerous, he's forced either to find where he belongs or leave Hogwarts behind.
September of my fifth year, Dad and I walked to King's Cross. For the past four years, we'd taken this trip- just the two of us. Mum's a Muggle (or "mundane," as Dad prefers to say), and my younger sister never showed signs of magic. Emily, the youngest, is already shattering teapots from across the room, but who wants to take an eight-year-old to King's Cross?
"This trunk is unwieldy. Should have gotten a luggage case, like your Mother said."
"Here, let me. And I can't bring a luggage case to school, Dad. I'll look silly."
"No worries on that," he muttered, glancing back. "We look silly enough as it is."
We tried to speak of anything but Hogwarts. I'd never asked Dad what he knew of the death of Cedric Diggory, and more importantly, of the alleged cause of his death. It's hard to speak of these things in general, much less in a house full of Muggles.
"I'll never understand why our people insist on being peculiar."
"Hm?" I asked, struggling with my end of the trunk.
"These silly trunks. And even worse, what's in the trunk. Hats, robes, moving pictures- it's unnecessarily peculiar."
"It's just a boarding school trunk. And what's wrong with hats and robes? It's tradition."
"Tradition," Dad scowled. "Wizards cling to tradition as if they'd cease being magical without it."
"Perhaps they would."
Dad didn't answer. He spotted a cart for my trunk, and we gratefully loaded it. I sat the cat carrier atop the trunk, suddenly sorry that I'd been swinging the poor cat around with one hand. As I pushed the cart, I wondered where I fit in all of this. I carried a trunk full of tradition- robes and magic books, but also logic primers, history texts, and biblical commentaries. The latter belonged to Grandpa, my Dad's father, known to most as Rabbi Goldstein. Grandpa doesn't find magic very useful, and it makes him frantic that I'll spend years studying it.
We walked through a wall and appeared on the hidden platform. Dad, visibly relaxed, surveyed the crowd. He nodded here and there to a Ministry coworker. For all his disdain for peculiarity, Dad must've seemed strange. Muggle-born, Jewish, upper-level Unspeakable- even better, he had radical politics and a television set.
"Right, have you got everything?"
"I think so."
"You should be certain. Did you make a list?"
"I did, but one can never be certain about anything, can he?"
Dad rolled his eyes. "Do you have your schoolbooks?"
"Did you remember Grandpa's books? He'll be wroth if you go all term without studying."
"Got them. And I borrowed your Spinoza."
"Did you, now." He gave me a wry smile. "You'll have to take your nose out of those books once in a while, now you're a prefect." Dad pulled a shiny piece from his coat.
"You left it on the dresser. While you were looking for Spinoza, no doubt."
"Of course," I sighed, feeling suddenly put-out. "Dumbledore shouldn't have given me this, really. I don't care for having authority."
A horn blew, and the huge red engine puffed impatiently.
"Look, Anthony. Being prefect is a great honor. Don't let on to the others that you're ambivalent- there's many who want this badge, and they won't show respect if you wear it poorly."
I barely heard his last words over the roaring engine. Dad pulled me into a quick hug, then placed the badge in my hand.
"Bye, Anthony. Good luck."
I turned to go, but he grabbed my hand.
"Nothing." Dad shook his head. I could barely hear him over the noise. "Just be careful."
"OF COURSE," I shouted, waving good-bye.
Quickly, I pinned the badge to my sweater. There wouldn't be time to change into robes just yet, with the prefect meeting and all. When I looked up, Dad had gone. I didn't relish the idea of loading my trunk by myself, but I was content to take my time. Boarding the train meant becoming a prefect, and that meant telling my friends that I'd gotten the badge. I had suspicions that Terry Boot and Michael Corner would've liked wearing it.
Thus I boarded the Hogwarts Express that year, worrying only about the badge on my sweater. Somewhere near the back of my mind, I also worried that I wouldn't have time for all my studies. I thought about my cat, alone until the prefect meeting finished. But for the last time that year, I didn't consider the world at large. I didn't think about dark lords and witch-hunts and Muggle-borns. Just myself, and how little I wanted to begin docking House points.
"Sit with us," Michael insisted. "Forget the other prefects."
I did as told, slipping into a seat between them. My friends had given me minimal hell for the prefect badge. Michael commended me on being "an officially-recognized goody two-shoes." Terry eyed the badge with a glint of jealousy, musing that I'd gotten it for my O in Potions. He'd only managed an E, the only blemish on his otherwise perfect record.
Michael sat slowly, scanning the Great Hall for recognition. A tall Hufflepuff- Smith, was it?- nodded, his nose turned even higher than Michael's. A pair of Slytherins told him 'hi' as they slipped past our table. The Weasley girl gave him quick little wave, and Michael winked.
"Is that how you're acknowledging admirers?"
"They're dating," said Terry, ever quick to explain. He waved to the Gryffindors, but none returned it.
"They met at the Yule Ball, remember? He's been writing to her all summer."
"We must forgive Anthony. He's often more interested in himself than anything else." Michael smirked at me. He had the nicest lips I'd ever seen, full and perfect for smirking.
"You?" Terry yelled. "Calling someone self-absorbed!"
"What else can you call someone who stares at himself in the mirror? It's Anthony's favorite pasttime."
Michael would know, since we often met eyes while doing so. He caught sight of himself in every glass, smirking each time. Mirrors were a fascinating horror to me. Each confirmed that I wasn't handsome, and this depressed me. Sometimes, I covered parts of my face, wondering if my features were ugly individually or if it was a cumulative effect. My eyes were large and dark, and With Michael's strong jaw, my lips would've been lovely. But my face, like the rest of me, was too thin, so my mouth looked wide. My nose was too long and fleshy, and again, too large for my narrow face. It was hopeless.
Terry nudged me.
"It's the Sorting, mate!"
"Anthony's dreaming about his handsome face, no doubt."
Abercrombie, Euan looked terrified. His chin trembled as the Hat fell over his face.
"Gryffindor," I agreed, as the Hat shouted its verdict.
"I knew it!" Terry beamed. "The Gryffindors always look scared to death."
"Everyone's scared to death," Michael complained.
Baugh, Leonard had very tidy hair. He clenched his jaw, perhaps unwilling to be trembly like Abercrombie.
"Slytherin." I was very certain about this one.
"I've never heard of 'Baugh' before. Slytherins are often from well-known families."
"Not always. I'm with Anthony on this one."
I shot Terry a smug grin.
We continued this way until Zeller, Rose- a placid-looking girl- went to Hufflepuff. Terry was convinced he could guess where the Hat would place a person simply by looking at them. His conviction was contagious, and we'd been playing the Sorting game since second year.
The feast appeared not a moment too soon. I filled my plate with the first few dishes I saw. Roast potatoes, gravy, lamb chops, carrots-
"Asparagus," I groaned. "Creamed asparagus!"
"Pork roast, Corner?"
"Don't mind if I do."
We didn't talk much while eating. Put teenaged boys on a train for several hours, even with mountains of cauldron cakes, and they'll be famished when they arrive. The feast passed in a frenzied blur, and only when I sat back in an overfed daze did I glance at the staff table.
"Defense and Magical Creatures," Terry muttered.
"Are you continuing with Magical Creatures?"
"Yeah. I quite like it, and it's sure to improve with a new professor."
"Dad's unhappy that I'll only get nine O.W.L.s, but I told him Herbology is bad enough."
Michael leaned over. "Anthony doesn't like getting his hands dirty unless it's catching doxies for Lockhart."
Terry sniggered. Somehow, they'd gathered the correct assumption that I'd fancied our second-year professor. In my defense, so had everyone else.
"Sorry to tell you, mate, but this one's not much of a looker."
I grimaced as Dumbledore introduced Professor Umbridge. "I see she likes pink," I muttered, clapping politely. As Dumbledore continued speaking, I realized I shouldn't be whispering to my friends; my prefect badge glittered impressively in the candlelight.
I tuned in just as Dumbledore gave Professor Umbridge the floor.
"Did she just-"
"Hem, hem. Well, it is lovely to be back at Hogwarts. And to see such happy little faces looking back at me!"
Terry made a sound like a muffled rasperry, and I realized he'd burst out laughing.
As Professor Umbridge invoked the Ministry of Magic, I nudged Terry quiet. I always marveled at the views people attributed to the Ministry, even at the views the various officials espoused. It seemed bizarre, picturing my father working in a place like that. They must have not known how he felt about the International Statue of Secrecy.
"Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school," Umbridge continued. "And that is as it should be. For without progress, there will be stagnation and decay. Then again, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering."
Wizards cling to tradition as if they'd cease being magical without it, I thought.
"Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness, and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited."
"What the-" Michael began. His dark brows drew together worriedly.
"Sounds like propaganda," Terry quipped.
"Sounds like? It is propaganda! Whoever this lady is, she's obviously sucking on the Ministry's reactionary-"
"Wonder which practices she wants banned," said Terry, straightening his robes.
"Anything that doesn't fit her agenda. And if the Daily Prophet gives a clue, they're trying to make-believe there aren't still dark wizards running loose. That's what they mean by 'tradition,' you know. Pureblood supremacy."
Terry yawned. "You'll have to excuse Michael. He's quite political."
I laughed, though nervously. "Right, I have to go."
"Already? Corner's just warming up!"
"Fuck off, Terry."
"Have to show the first-years to the common room."
"Good luck! Hope you solve the riddle before a clever little firstie!"
"Fuck off, Terry." I grinned.
On our way up to the common room, I let Padma Patil do all the talking. She explained things here and there, and the first years hung on her every word. I expect that half the kids wanted to be her and the other half had fallen in love. I trudged along beside her, saying nothing.
Wizards cling to tradition. That's what they mean by 'tradition.' Pureblood supremacy.
I often found Michael excessively radical. Really, can one reasonably jump from the word 'tradition' to institutionalized prejudice? And does this prejudice necessarily imply interest in dark magic? My head ached, but I suspected my father would agree with him.
"What's up?" Padma said softly. We walked together, leading the trail of students up Ravenclaw Tower's winding staircase.
"That speech Professor Umbridge gave," I began, hesitantly. "Did it disturb you?"
"Disturb me? Can't say that I heard very much of it. I tuned her out when it began sounding like drivel."
"Yeah," I laughed nervously. "I should've done the same."
"Will you answer the riddle for us? You're so good at reasoning them out." She returned my smile.
"Oh, I'd much rather if you did. My head's practically splitting."
"Sorry to hear that," and she did seem sorry. "The sooner you get some rest, right?"
I fell into bed before Michael and Terry came up. Michael would still be ranting, with Terry egging him on. I didn't want to think about such things. Thankfully, with classes beginning the following morning, I would be too occupied to bother.
"I need to talk to you two."
Michael tossed his scarf on my bed. Several weeks into the term, and we hadn't once stopped thinking about the Ministry. Umbridge's presence made it impossible, and outside of class, Michael's fury kept the topic alive. Reluctant to shut Spinoza, I skimmed to the end of my paragraph before glancing up.
"What's up, Michael?" Terry asked. He joined me on the bed.
"All right, this is strictly between us. I need your words."
"Sure, what the hell."
"I like knowing what I'm getting into, thanks."
Michael rolled his eyes. "Quality defense against the dark arts instruction. Interested?"
"Instruction by whom?"
"Someone other than Umbitch, I hope."
"Of course," Michael smirked. "Harry Potter's getting a group together this Saturday. Wonder boy will be teaching us himself."
"And Hermione Granger?" Terry blurted.
"Then I'm definitely in. I talk to her in Arithmancy, but I don't think she knows I fancy her."
"Can we get details, please? Where is this meeting, and who else will be there?"
"We're meeting at the Hog's Head. Trying to keep it under the radar. Ginny didn't say much else, just to bring anyone who's interested."
I shut my book, mulling. "We could get detention for this."
Michael barked. "Yeah, and we could get killed with this shitty preparation."
"He's right," said Terry. "I'm no chosen one. If You-Know-Who ever points his wand at me, I'm over. But try telling that to the Undersecretary."
I sighed. Stalling, I glanced out the window. The sun was on its way down, and students would be heading to dinner soon. "This Saturday as in tomorrow, Michael?"
He stared at me so long I became unnerved. In disbelief or disgust- I couldn't tell which.
"I can't believe you're acting this way. She's a fucking fascist, Anthony! Do you know why she isn't teaching us? All the little purebloods get taught by their families, she figures, so when You-Know-Who strikes again, no one else will be able to defend themselves."
Even in anger, Michael was compelling. His full lips parted as he breathed heavily, and his flushed face looked striking under his dark hair. I glanced at Terry, perched on the foot of my bed, but he was unmoved. His brows drew together as he stared at Michael, considering.
"Anthony," he said, still looking at Michael. "Your dad works for the Ministry, right?"
"Yes," I said slowly.
"He must know Dolores Umbridge. Have you asked? What's his opinion of her?"
"He won't say. I asked him in a letter, and all he wrote was, 'She's a very capable employee.' I can't imagine he's fond of her, though. All that talk of progress being dangerous- at the feast, remember? Dad hates that stuff."
"Because he's Muggle-born," Michael growled.
"I suppose. But I'm practically Muggle-born, and I see the value in tradition. What if cultural traditions are just as important to wizards as magic itself?"
"I can't believe you! You really think it's all right to live in the Stone Age, where we kill anyone who's not just like us?"
"I'm talking about robes, Michael. Toad spleens, Sorting Hats, Hogwarts history. Things that have nothing to do with dark wizards and Muggle-borns."
"It has everything to do with that! Why'd you think tossers like Malfoy hate those who aren't purebloods? Because they're different. Muggle-borns don't grow up around wizard things, so they don't understand it in the same way. Some try to assimilate, but those who refuse are threats."
"Sometimes assimilated people are even scarier," I said "Because you can't tell that they're different. They're hidden threats."
"Exactly! And they're threatening because they're different," Michael shouted, gesturing widely.
I frowned, not sure when I'd begun agreeing. My words didn't originate in response to Michael. They swam up from memory, as if I'd heard them in another context.
Terry raised a finger. "So, the Hog's Head."
"Right. You two are coming, aren't you? This is really fucking important."
"Fucking right, I'm coming!"
"Anthony?" Michael asked, unaware he'd been mocked.
"I'll think about it."
"Can you be serious? Don't you know what this-"
"Please say you'll go," Terry said. "I don't wish to hear more paranoid ravings."
Michael glared at him. "You should come, Anthony. If anything, you should care about your education. We aren't learning shit with Umbridge. Now, I'm going to dinner. Are you coming to that?"
"It's Friday. I'll be down in a minute."
"Me too," Terry chimed.
"I'll save you seats."
Terry and I watched Michael leave.
"Why's he so angry?"
Terry shrugged. "I called him paranoid, and you're being noncommittal."
"Of course I won't let you two go without me. Curiosity would kill me."
I slid off the bed and began rummaging in my trunk. I let the conversation slip off my mind, and Terry didn't speak of it, either.
"You lighting candles with me?"
"Nah. I'm just watching you. I like hearing you pray in Hebrew.”
“But you can’t understand it,” I laughed. “I’ve tried to teach you a bit-“
“But I like it better when I can’t understand. You already told me what eloheinu meleleleh means, and it completely ruins it. Master of the universe? I imagine a huge Dumbledore wearing purple robes, stirring a cauldron of galaxies.”
“It’s melech ha'olam, and that's not it at all.”
Still laughing, I pulled out a pair of candles and a small hat.
“Wingadrium leviosa,” I muttered, and the candles rose to my eye-level.
“Is that...can you do that?”
“I suppose I shouldn’t.” I sighed, lowering my wand. “Grandpa says magic isn’t allowed on Shabbat. One time, Dad summoned dessert from the kitchen- to save Grandma the trouble of getting up- and Grandpa nearly lost it.”
“But your Grandpa’s a Muggle. And I’m certain your holy books don’t mention summoning charms on the Sabbath.”
“Driving automobiles isn’t specifically mentioned, either, but both are prohibited. It’s impossible to argue with Grandpa, especially when he’s right.”
I put up my wand and dug around for a book of matches. I wasn’t certain why I bothered; after saying my prayers, I’d be off having dinner with the rest of the school. I’d wake up the next morning and start on my Potions essay. On Saturday afternoon, I’d buy lots of useless crap from Zonko’s. Grandpa would call me goyish, but I also knew what Dad would say: why bother with matches when you’ve got a wand in your pocket?
While I mused, Terry stretched out on my bed. He cushioned his head on my pillows, folding his arms behind. He shot me a clever grin before closing his eyes, still smiling.
“Will you sing it like you do? When you think no one’s listening? It’s beautiful.”
“Sure,” I mumbled, looking away. With him stretched out on my bed like that, I felt uncomfortable. I covered my head with the kippah, hoping I would feel less exposed. The sun was nearly set now, and there was nothing left to do but get on with it. I sighed, struck a match, and lit the candles.
The holidays that year were quiet. Dad worked well into the evenings, and he left each morning before the rest of us woke. One day, I rose earlier than usual. My cat, for some reason, began kneading my back and refused to stop. I pushed the cat off and glanced at the digital clock on my bedstand. 7:20 A.M. Groaning, I shrugged into yesterday's clothes, wondering if Dad had left any coffee behind.
Still on the stairs, I heard two voices from the kitchen.
"I can't believe you're thinking of going in today. Your parents are expecting us tonight, you know. If you go to work, you'll be there all day."
"I know Mum and Dad want us over for dinner. I'm only checking in, Bekah, I promise. I'll be home by noon."
"Again with the 'I'll be back!'" At least try to spend the rest of this holiday with your family, Asher. Do you realize you've been absent every day that Anthony's been home?"
"Does he? I know this is a wizard thing that I couldn't possibly understand-"
"Please don't be petulant. You could understand quite easily, but I can't explain this to you."
"You haven't explained it to Anthony either, I gather. He's been so quiet. He won't talk about his friends or his classes. There's something going on at that school, and I'm certain it's similar to what's happening at your Ministry."
"Of course it is. There are troubling things developing, which is why I must check in today. I am Assistant Head of the Department, Bekah- I have much more responsibility than your average Ministry worker."
"Fine. But I only ask two things of you."
"One, be home for dinner. What else, dear?"
"Talk to your son. He's worried, Asher. Please."
I sat on the stairs until Dad left. If he saw me, he didn't show it.
He wasn't back by noon, but he was home for dinner. He pushed open the door at half-past five, while Mum pursed her lips at the kitchen clock. My parents were silent on the drive to Grandma's, as were my sisters. I had a feeling this had been going on for weeks.
Even Grandma's food seemed tasteless. She moaned at how thin I was, shoving more on my plate every few minutes. Perhaps she was trying to comfort me; I was visibly distressed by Grandpa's interrogation. He leaned back, staring me down under his bushy brows. He quizzed me on the reading he'd given me, and I kept faltering. With defense meetings and O.W.L.s, I'd sorely neglected Grandpa's books.
When the evening finally ended, we piled back into Mum's car, each of us with a plate of food on our lap. Even Grandma and Grandpa looked sad as they stood in the doorway, waving. After the ride home- a second round of silence- I fled to my room. I guiltily flipped through Grandpa's books, but I couldn't concentrate. A gold coin fell off my bedtable as I reached for yet another book. It was a fake galleon, meant to alert the members of Dumbledore's Army. I hadn't checked it in days- most of the D.A. members had gone home for the holidays, so there wouldn't be any meetings or defense lessons until we returned to school.
After several hours later, I heard a quiet knock on my bedroom door.
The door opened, Dad quietly slipped through. He left the door open a crack, and behind him, I saw the dark hallway.
"I need to speak to you, Anthony. Your mother's asleep. It's best if she doesn't overhear this."
I nodded, and he pulled my desk chair near the bed. Up close, I noticed how much older he looked. His dark hair, though still thick, was heavily streaked with silver. Beneath his wire-framed glasses, dark patches pooled under his eyes. He looked exhausted.
"How have you been," he asked mildly.
"Just all right? Not good?"
"I've been busy," I muttered, picking at the cover of Torah and its Interpretation.
"Too busy for the rabbi's lessons?" Dad grinned. "Your Grandpa did the same to me, when I was your age. He was dead-set on me studying at rabbinical school."
"Was he upset when you chose the Ministry?"
"Ah, well, he couldn't stop me. He was certainly disappointed."
There was quiet for several minutes, and then Dad spoke again.
"How are your Defense Against the Dark Arts classes?"
"They're...fine." I eyed him warily.
"Are they," he muttered. "I am acquainted with Dolores Umbridge, you know."
"I thought so. You wouldn't say much about her, though."
"Not in a letter. And by this point, there's nothing left to tell. You know her better than I do."
"But you work with her."
"Work under her, technically. I always did my best to avoid her sort. We keep things quiet in the Department of Mysteries, partially to deflect upper-level officials. We don't bother them, and they leave us alone." Dad chuckled. "The last time she ventured down to level nine, I talked her ear off about coropreal manifestations of cognition. She became so confused that she left after ten minutes."
I tried to join in laughing, but Dad abruptly quit.
"Anyway, that's not what I came to tell you." He ran a hand through his greying curls. "You must be aware that...ah, strange things are happening. If you still read the Prophet, you'll notice very little amiss. These are things the Prophet doesn't wish to discuss. Even the Minister would pretend they aren't happening." He paused, staring at his long, thin hands.
"My Department's been under constant surveillance," he continued. "As you've gathered, this is quite unusual. It's necessary, however, because someone is trying to gain access to the Department of Mysteries."
"Trying to break in?" I asked, sitting up. "Who?"
"I don't know, but it's someone who doesn't shy away from dark magic."
"You Know Who," I whispered. My throat was too tight to speak.
"No, I do not know who, as I said. What I mean to tell you, Anthony, is that things are getting dangerous. The Ministry's elite will deny this as long as they can. And Dolores Umbridge is at Hogwarts, presumably to keep you all in the dark. I could get sacked for telling you this, but I can't let you remain ignorant."
"You could get sacked for this? What are you going to tell me? You know what they're breaking into the Ministry for, don't you?"
"Oh, no, I'm not telling you any of that. Even the Unspeakables aren't absolutely certain."
"But you have a good guess."
"I do, but one can never be certain about anything, can he?" Dad smiled at me sadly. "What I mean to tell you is to be careful. If you don't feel safe at school, come home immediately. Before it's too late."
"Leave Hogwarts? Dad, I could never. And we're preparing ourselves. I could get expelled for telling you this, but there's a group of students teaching themselves defensive magic. Harry Potter himself is teaching us."
Dad frowned. "Harry Potter? He's just a boy. Please don't think you can defend yourselves against an actual attack. That's foolishness, Anthony."
"So you'd have us remain helpless? Run away and hide?"
"If that means you staying alive, then yes."
I tried to interrupt, but Dad talked over me.
"You would be one of their first targets. Your mother's not magical, and I'm Muggle-born. Blood is everything to them. In their eyes, I'm not even a wizard, and nor would you be. If I have to hide us all in Grandma's attic like I did fifteen years ago-" He sighed. "But you can't remember that, can you? You were barely a year old. Luckily, I left early. At the time, I wasn't important enough at the Ministry to warrant going after. I quit my job, moved you, your mother and I into Grandma and Grandpa's place, and then we waited."
He fell silent. I didn't want to speak, but I had to know.
"Will you leave again?"
"If it gets much worse, yes. I will not put my family in danger for my damned job. We can't take these things lightly, Anthony. What seems like rudeness today can mean death tomorrow."
I looked at my dad- really looked at him. Mudblood. Muggle-lover. I'd never been hit by those insults, but at Hogwarts, he must have heard them regularly. And how strange he must have seemed- small, Muggle-born, cleverer than most. He wasn't from a typical English, presumably Anglican family, like Hermione Granger. Dad had gone from one insular group to another, and in the end, he didn't fit well enough in either.
At least I had him to hide behind. My dad's a wizard. He works for the Ministry. But if anyone cared enough to pry, they would know soon enough. I grew up straddling two cultures, and I had no plans to leave either behind.
"Do you understand? I've said too much. Tell me that you understand, and I'll say no more."
"I understand," I whispered. "If I'm not one hundred percent wizard- in every respect- then to them, I'm a Muggle."
Dad sighed. "No. You are a wizard. In every respect. You're just not their sort." He waved a hand. "But that's only part of my point. Do you understand the rest of it?"
"People died-" my voice cracked. "People died for being Muggles. People died because they weren't the right sort."
"That's right." Dad's voice was tight; his face was deathly pale. "Never forget that it happened."
Dad kissed my head and whispered good-night. After he left, I sat staring at the stripes in my wallpaper. The whole conversation seemed surreal. Even after all that, I couldn't make sense of the hatred. Would someone really want to kill me, for nothing other than who I am? Could such irrational hatred exist?
Of course it could; that's what Dad was trying to tell me. That's what Grandpa had tried to tell me, time and time again, when I'd been a child who'd preferred ignorance. Never forget, they'd said.
I felt cold.
On the first day of summer holiday, Terry and I raced off of the Hogwarts Express. Ernie Macmillan- who takes his prefect badge very seriously- was appalled at Terry's suggestion. I blew him a kiss over my shoulder as I ran down the corridor. He turned very pink, and I grinned.
"Beats sticking around," Terry panted. "Someone's bound to find Malfoy and those other two idiots."
"They do check the compartments before leaving, right?" We slowed as we reached the end of the train. Terry gave me a hand, and I jumped down after him.
"I suppose so. Never know when there will be slug people laying in the overhead racks."
We laughed. It's remarkable that we could laugh, given recent events. The Daily Prophet had confirmed what we'd known all along- You Know Who was back, and his followers were active once again. Some of the D.A. members had actually seen him, during the brawl at the Ministry. Still, there's nothing like hexing a few racist assholes to take your mind off things.
"Michael will be sorry he missed it."
"Nah," said Terry. "He'd much rather cozy up to Cho Chang, I'm sure of it."
We piled our trunks on a trolley and walked through the platform wall together. Terry spotted his parents right away, and I waved. I expected to see my dad near them, but it took me a whole five minutes to find him. He was leaning against a wall, glaring at his wristwatch.
"There you are," he muttered.
"Hi, Dad, how are you?"
"Not good. We're only half-done cataloguing the damage to the department. I'm due back after I drop you off at home." He grabbed one end of my trunk, and together we loaded it into Mum's car.
I frowned. "Did the Death Eaters steal anything?"
"Ha! Death Eaters! We would've been better off had the Death Eaters come and gone without trouble. Instead we had them, a team of Aurors, and group of Hogwarts students wrecking the Department of Mysteries."
"You can't be serious. You'd let dark wizards run around without-"
"Of course I'm not serious. Just highly disgruntled, is all." We buckled ourselves in, and Dad turned to me and glared down his nose.
"Those students were friends of yours, no doubt."
"Yeah," I grinned. "They did pretty well, didn't they?"
"I couldn't say. I'm only privy to the aftermath."
We drove for awhile with only the cat's intermittent mewing. Finally, Dad sighed.
"Anthony. I've been thinking about your schooling. If things get any more dangerous- you know what I mean- I will have to leave my job again. I'll give it the summer, but if it comes to that...."
"You don't want me back at Hogwarts."
"I don't think you should return, no."
I frowned. Dad was just being reasonable. With You-Know-Who returned, how long would it be before things got bad? Part of me thought they might catch him, kill him for good this time, before another war began. I knew that was foolish thinking; it was complacent thinking, the most dangerous sort. I knew I shouldn't return to school, but how to explain why I couldn't leave Hogwarts? If not for Dumbledore's Army, I would've taken Dad's suggestion. I would've been too scared to go back.
"I have to."
"No, you don't. We can enroll you in a Muggle school, and you can finish your education there, if that's what's worrying you. I'm sure your grandpa could pull a few strings."
"No. That's not it. I just have to go back."
Dad didn't respond. He drove on, his knuckles white on the wheel. I couldn't explain it to him, and perhaps he knew that. Unless you'd been there, been part of Dumbledore's Army, you couldn't possibly understand. We shared fear in the D.A. As the darkness fell on our group, we found courage between us. Alone, my fears would have crushed me. I couldn't leave the group, no more than I could stand being alone in this.
As we pulled into our driveway, Dad turned to look at me.
"I won't bring this up again. But just remember, Anthony. If it gets too bad-"
"I'll come home," I lied.
He nodded, shut the car off, and helped me with the trunk. When we entered the house, my cat was just as glad to run free as my mother was to see me. She hugged me tightly, kissing my head and smoothing my hair. Dad was already walking to the fireplace.
"I'll be home for dinner," he called.
"Please do! We're having meatloaf."
I went up to my bedroom. As usual, nothing had changed since the holidays. My cat leaped onto my bed, kneading the covers and mewing. Smiling, I scratched him on the head as I dug in my pockets. I pulled out a gold coin and my silver badge, laying them both on my dresser. If I left Hogwarts, what would I do with the D.A. coin? With my prefect badge? I couldn't hold onto them, knowing what I'd left behind. Seeing them side-by-side, I knew I couldn't toss them out. Like it or not, I was linked to Hogwarts, to my friends, to the wizarding world. I couldn't explain this to my father, but it wasn't necessary. There were people who understood, and come September, they would all return to Hogwarts. I couldn't be left behind.