House Category: Hufflepuff
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Original Characters
Beta Reader(s): melusin_79
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Note: Many thanks to my wonderful beta.
Summary: Once upon a time, a Malfoy asked for Hufflepuff.
Taog Julius Ruthven-Malfoy held his breath and crouched even lower behind the gooseberry bush.
It had been a fine day, exceptionally warm for late September. The orchard, drunk on this unexpected gift of sun, filled the evening air with the rich fragrance of dark earth, intertwined with a sharp note of green leaves, the spicy resin of heated bark and, bursting forth and above the other scents, the glorious, fierce perfume of the pears.
Night was falling quickly now, and the black towers of the Abbey had almost faded against the darkening sky. The bell for vespers had rung quite a while ago, and all the monks should have retired to their cells by now.
Yet someone was walking in the orchard, coming in their direction.
Taog felt the tiny elf shudder and huddle closer against him. He looked down, but there was nothing to see - the elf had reflexively Disillusioned itself. Twiggy had Apparated them both to the orchard; Taog, as a first-year, couldn't Apparate and, should the terrorised elf Disapparate back to Hogwarts without taking him, he would be stranded here.
He wrapped a protective arm around the elf's invisible shoulders and closed his eyes, his mind fleeing back to his first evening in the Great Hall.
There had been fear there, too, huddling against each other in the tightly-packed antechamber. Some of the first-years - he had remembered what his older brother Asmodeus had said about Gryffindors - were boasting nervously, but even they had fallen silent when the great doors of the Hall had opened to admit them.
For Taog, however, that had been the moment when his resolution had firmed. He had noticed, when they had been led to the antechamber, a faint but delicious aroma wafting up from a corridor on the left. When the doors to the Great Hall had opened, a powerful draft of air had brought a tenfold scent back and, for a brief moment, it had enveloped Taog in the warm, absolute paradise of a pear pie freshly out of the oven.
He had filled his lungs fit to burst, stepped into the Hall, trying not to look at the Slytherin table where Asmodeus was making faces at him, and waited patiently in line until the witch in the green robes had called his name.
Unlike Asmodeus, Taog had a round, happy face. The Hat, smelling of frayed leather, had slid roughly over his brow, only stopping on the very tip of the small, upturned nose.
"Oops," the Hat had giggled.
"No matter," Taog had thought. "I'm used to it."
"Does a Malfoy get used to anything? I'm getting used to putting all Malfoys in Slytherin, though."
"I would prefer Hufflepuff, please."
"You're more than a match for your brother, you know. Your mind is much subtler."
"I know," Taog had thought immodestly. Then, as the Hat was pondering, he had concentrated with his whole soul on the memory of the glorious orchards of the Abbey and of his Muggle uncle, the Abbot, driving a silver knife carefully through the golden heart of a steaming pie.
And, at long last, the Hat had snickered: "I think you'll be an even truer Slytherin if you go into... HUFFLEPUFF!"
That night, seated at the Hufflepuff table, he had seen the pear tart appear in front of him, and it had fulfilled all the promises of its scent. Tart and sweet, crisp and juicy, spicy and mellow, it had an exquisite balance and a fathomless depth of taste, with layer after layer of ever-renewed sensation: the mark of the truly inspired.
It wasn't difficult for a Hufflepuff to access the kitchens. His older housemates were constantly in and out of the elves' den, and they showed the first-years how to gain entrance.
At first, Taog was a bit lost. It was easy to spot the senior elves working at a table raised on a dais, which clearly matched the High Table in the Hall above. They were being directed by a very old, grumpy chef, who inspected every plate before it was sent up. He wore a pleated tea-towel embroidered with the letter "G," and a conical strainer, which he used to hit the offending assistants if any dish was found wanting.
The other elves worked at four long tables corresponding to the House tables in the Hall above. Each of the tables had an important-looking elf standing at the head, whose towels had a corner thrown over one shoulder like a toga, and who surveyed their tables almost as severely as the supreme chef surveyed the whole kitchen. Apart from them, it wasn't easy to discern what each of the elves was preparing. They kept darting to and fro, vanishing and summoning ingredients and sometimes Disapparating noisily when pressed for time in that frantic half-hour just before meal times. Also, he had never seen so many different elves; the only one he knew well was his family's old Tammy. Of course, the Malfoys visited regularly with the Rosiers, the Averys and the Blacks, but as in all the old families, their elves were styled not to show themselves to visitors.
After a fortnight, however, he had begun to distinguish between the little green faces, and on the third Friday of the month, just before lunch as he hovered in the kitchen besides the Hufflepuff table, he saw a tiny elf bending over a pan. It was a lady elf; the embroidered tea towel was wrapped around a slender waist, and she had to be very young because her long fingers were smooth and supple, and the delicate ears, perked with concentration, looked like fresh, translucent green leaves. She'd been arranging pear slices over the crust in a careful pattern.
Taog had cleared his throat. The elf, startled, had looked up from her work.
"I just wanted to thank you," he'd said awkwardly. "For the marvellous pies."
The elf's ears had drooped, and she'd stared at him with tearful eyes.
Taog had known instantly that he had said the wrong thing, though he didn't know what, and he'd wracked his brains desperately for something that could regain the elf's sympathy.
"I want to be a cook," he'd blurted out finally. "When I'm grown up... I hope I'll be as good as you are."
The pan had crashed, and the pear slices had rolled all over the stone floor. The elf had Disapparated.
He'd been so distracted by the incident that he'd added four porcupine quills instead of three in his Furnunculus potion that afternoon. The cauldron had exploded, covering everything in a sticky, fuming, purple slime. Professor Newt had vanished the potion from the students' faces and ordered Taog to clean up the classroom without magic, but he'd lent him a pair of (too big) dragonhide gloves and allowed him to work after curfew if needed. Professor Newt had the reputation of being a pushover.
When he'd stumbled after midnight into the common room, everyone had already gone to their dormitories. He'd slumped on the couch in front of the smouldering hearth and, with a sigh of relief, thrown the heavy dragonhide gloves on the seat of the nearest armchair.
The armchair cushion had squeaked and jumped, throwing the gloves off.
Taog had jumped to his feet, too. A tiny, slender elf was standing where the cushion had been, and she was wringing her hands in despair.
"Please not to be throwing clothes at Twiggy, sir!" she'd squeaked.
"They are not clothes," Taog had answered. "More like tools, you know - for work. And what are you doing here?"
The elf had sat down on the edge of the armchair, her little legs dangling. She'd looked both dejected and defiant.
"Twiggy is hiding, sir. Twiggy is not going back to the kitchens."
"But, but... why?"
"Twiggy wants to cook for the Slytherin table, sir, and old stupid Gordy" - she'd stopped to twist her left ear hard- "says I'm too nice, sir. All I'm fit for is the Hufflepuff table and cooking sweets."
"Hmm..." Taog was thinking fast now. "The Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin."
The elf had thrown him a look that was half awe, half resentment.
"Look," Taog had resumed, "what would it take to convince Gordy you belong to the Slytherin table?"
"Twiggy would have to make something with a twist, sir, something new, something that's both good and bad, something a Slytherin would enjoy!"
"I think I've got an idea, but let's sleep on it first."
And that was how, on the next evening, they'd ended up crouching behind a gooseberry bush in the orchard of the Abbey, huddling desperately against each other and holding their breath while they listened to the sound of heavy footfalls growing ever nearer.
At last the soft crumbling of the soil and the rustling of leaves halted a few yards in front of them, a little to their left, and there was an ominous silence as if that person was trying to find their quarry among the shadowy bushes.
Taog felt his body stiffen; his heart clenched as if an icy fist had closed around it.
It was better to retreat. He tightened his grip on the elf and whispered: "Take us back."
"Twiggy can't," whimpered the elf. "Twiggy already tried. We is blocked."
"Come out of the bushes, you two," said a calm, deep voice.
Without releasing the elf's hand, Taog stood up, pins and needles running through his legs. Twiggy stood bravely at his side, visible again, her thin fingers threaded through his.
The Abbot's bulky outline was unmistakable, and so was the pinprick of light at the tip of the wand he was pointing at them.
"But, but..." stammered Taog.
"I can trust you not to run, I assume? Let's go back to the Abbey." Without waiting for an answer, Uncle Robert turned and set on his way back.
The boy and the elf followed in stunned silence, guided by the tiny Lumos dancing like a firefly from the Abbot's wand.
The last logs burned with a yellow, subdued flame in the fireplace, filling the large kitchens of the Abbey in soft light and mellow warmth.
Taog struggled to keep his eyes open; he was tired and very full. Twiggy, seated at his left, gave the tiniest ladylike burp.
She had honoured the victuals laden on the table with an appetite that belied her dainty frame, but the two of them had barely managed to make a dent in the array of pastries, pies, darioles, fritters, baskets of fruit, dragees. And the cheese.
"...so," - uncle Robert leaned back in his chair - "you can see it's much more advantageous if a part of the family lives in the Muggle world."
"But won't the Muggles notice? And does Father know?"
"The Muggles notice that people on the Abbey's lands do not die from the Black Pest. Your mother brews the potions; the monks grow the medicinal herbs and pray. It's only natural that pious men work miracles. As for your father, he knows perfectly well that your mother is a Muggleborn - a very powerful one - and that her siblings may or may not be magical. It's a wise man's truce, and it has contributed to your family's wealth. The Abbey's crops are plentiful."
Taog thought of Asmodeus' sneers and said nothing.
"It's a pity not everyone understands that," said the Abbot softly. "I know I can count on your discretion. And now it's time for you to return to Hogwarts." He flicked his wand at the crate sitting on the bench, shrank it until it was no larger than a spice box, and handed it to the elf.
"Twiggy, this is for you."
The elf grabbed the box and her eyes shone.
"And..." He ruffled Taog's hair. "See you next summer, Tuck. I'll tell your mother you can come help tend the orchards."
It was only the second time Uncle Robert had called him Tuck. As the dreaded squeeze of Apparition seized him, Taog was smiling among the sniffles.
"How is it doing?"
The elf's slender fingers looked even longer and strangely spiderlike as they plunged into the large bowl. The single floating candle's light refracted through the pale amber of the perry, making the round cheese look like the reflection of a yellow moon shimmering between waters.
The elf turned over the cheese. "Three more rinses, Twiggy thinks."
"Then you could have it ready by next week?"
Rumour had it that a delegation from Beauxbâtons would be arriving next Wednesday.
The elf poked once more at the soft rind, sniffed her finger and nodded. "Twiggy hasn't found a name."
They were huddling in a disaffected broom cupboard on the seventh floor. Twiggy had insisted on being as far away from the kitchens as possible, and even if some passer-by did detect a pungent whiff, well, cupboards full of old sweaty gear and mismatched socks rarely smelled of roses.
Taog reflected while Twiggy gingerly lifted the cheese out of the perry,laying it with great care on the draining rack.
"Uncle Robert has just been made a bishop. How about Stinking Bishop?"
Two weeks later, Twiggy waved happily at him from the head of the Slytherin table in the kitchens. The right corner of her tea-towel was thrown jauntily over her left shoulder.
The Stinking Bishop had been an immense success, and even old Gordy had been forced to acknowledge that Twiggy's masterpiece, cooked in firewater, was fit for the subtle House of the Snake.
(Six years and almost nine months later)
Taog shoved the cauldron on top of the robes, books, gardening equipment , bags of bulbs and seeds, favourite pots and saucepans, and tried to close the lid. It bounced back by a defiant gap.
Over the Christmas and Easter holidays, he had brought back from the Manor all of his personal belongings. The whole of his short life was now stuffed into the trunk.
With a sigh, Taog forced the lid down as far as he could, and sat on it. That did it; he was taking after his Uncle Robert in bulk.
A faint pop made him turn his head.
Twiggy had materialised by the door. She looked as young and delicate as she had seven years ago, and she wore the conical strainer with all the grace of a queen. She had been unanimously voted to the highest position when old Gordy had passed away two months ago. Not that he was really gone; his ghost still drifted around the kitchens, and very helpful it was too: whenever a dish was too hot, the elves cooled it down by passing the pan through Gordy's spectral frame, which he clearly enjoyed.
"The coach is waiting," squeaked the tiny elf.
"Thanks, Twiggy, but I'm not going back to the Manor." It was no one's fault that his mother's Potions lab had exploded, and it was also sheer bad luck that his father, who was just bringing her a parcel of new ingredients sent by Asmodeus, had been killed too. Asmodeus had been shattered; he had resigned immediately from his Potions apprenticeship in Durmstrang and had come home to direct the funeral and take care of the Manor.
"You is going to be a friar?"
"Twiggy has brought you something." The elf was holding out a pleated tea-towel; the immaculate, freshly ironed linen was embroidered with the letter "T."
"Thanks, Twiggy." Taog stood to take the towel, and the trunk's lid sprang open. He put the gift into the trunk and was about to sit down again on it when Twiggy snapped her fingers. The trunk closed with a convincing click and shrank down until it was no larger than a spice box.
Taog picked it up and put it in the bag over his shoulder.
Twiggy crossed her arms. "You is coming back?"
"I don't know when, but yes, I'll be back. Best friends forever, Twiggy?"
The elf's eyes shone. "Best friends forever, Tuck."