The Sugar Quill
Author: Elsha (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Distractions  Chapter: Chapter 1: Chances
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Distractions

Chapter One - Chances

Anne Fairleigh was glad she wasn’t really interested in Quidditch. Everyone else in the school became so wound up in the game, glory and competition … it just gave her a headache. Not to mention the fact that it encouraged fighting. At a time when the Sorting Hat was actually giving them advice, telling them to be united, everyone was at odds. It felt as though a good half of that was over Quidditch. Oh, sure, there were other issues that split the school - Umbridge, You Know Who's return - but Quidditch was the one thing guaranteed to start an argument. Anne herself felt almost removed from it all. She was Muggle-born, and had only found out about any of these issues that her schoolmates considered life and death when she’d started at Hogwarts nearly four years earlier. To a great extent she still felt like an observer into another world. Then again, that was the type of person she was: an observer. She clung to quite a few things from her previous life, before Hogwarts, before magic … like her music. Today was the Quidditch match between Slytherin and Ravenclaw. Since her House was not playing, her friends felt no need to hustle her into the stands to watch and cheer, even if they themselves went. Anne, meanwhile, was off to one of the small rooms set aside on the fourth floor for the few students who did play music. They were rarely used, and she had every chance of being able to practise her flute in peace and quiet. At least, that was the plan.

As Anne rounded a corner on the fourth floor, she walked straight into a much taller boy hurrying the other way. The flute case and folder she was clutching flew out of her hands, and Anne herself managed to skid for a few seconds before catching herself on a tapestry.

"Watch where you’re going!" exclaimed an angry voice. She looked away from the wall to see a weedy Slytherin boy picking himself up from the floor. His dark hair flopped over his eyes, and he reached up to push it back. "You could hurt people, you little Hufflepuff idiot!"

"Oh, thanks, I’m quite alright," she muttered to herself, nettled by the unexpected insult. "Damn! My flute!"

Her folder had landed next to the Slytherin, and seemed to be okay, but her flute case had fallen open (the catch needed fixing) and was laying half-way across the corridor. She took a few quick steps and fell to her knees to pick it up. Anne breathed a hasty sigh of relief to see that the pieces had not fallen out of their bedding, and appeared to be unharmed. Her parents had bought it for her last summer, and she was deathly scared of breaking it.

"That’s OK, then," she said, half to herself.

"It’s generally considered polite to inquire if people are OK, too," commented a still rather contemptuous voice from behind her. She closed the case and rose to face him. He was holding out her folder. "This yours?"

She took it. "Thanks. Look, sorry about that. I probably wasn’t looking where I was going." Now the shock was wearing off, she felt herself retreating back into her shell. "I’ll just, er, just be going now."

"Hold on a minute," said the boy, curiosity apparently getting the better of Slytherin arrogance. "What’s your name?"

"Anne Fairleigh. I’m a fourth-year. I was just, er, going to practice my flute."

"Fairleigh? I don’t recognise that name. Is your family from down South?"

The boy was sizing her up now, obviously trying to decide if she looked like anyone.

"Oh, you wouldn’t know my family. My parents are Muggles. What’s – what’s your name, anyway?"

Anne was taken aback by the sudden change in his expression. Wary curiosity was replaced with open scorn. "Oh. A Muggle-born. No wonder you’re not at the Quidditch match."

He sneered, turned on his heel, and walked away. Anne stared after him, her cheeks reddening. He had no right … he … what had she done …?

Cheeks flaming, she turned to head quickly down the corridor in the opposite direction, intent on finding that spare practice room and getting out her flute. Music was an excellent distraction from both boring Saturday afternoons and Slytherins who looked at her like she was dirt.

About half an hour later she had finished running scales on her flute and was launching into the first part of a Handel sonata when she became aware of someone watching her from behind. She broke off and wheeled around to look at the door, which was open. The Slytherin boy was lounging in the doorframe, looking at her.

"Oh, don’t stop on my account." The Slytherin waved a hand. "Go on. It sounded very good."

She blinked. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, I’m not all that interested in watching Quidditch, and you did mention you were off to play the flute, so I thought I’d come and see if you were any good. After all, Muggle-borns may be bad at magic, but there’s nothing to stop you playing well."

She tightened her fingers on her flute, feeling suddenly uncertain. "You … what?" She rather wanted him to go away, but wasn’t quite sure how to put it. "What’s your name, anyway?"

"Theodore Nott. Fifth-year." He said it with the air of one conferring a favour.

"Right. Erm. What … what do you have against Muggle-borns, anyway?" The uncertainty, and the urge to send him away, were even stronger now. But she really had no idea how to do it. The way he was acting, she doubted he’d listen.

"Because you’re – Muggle-born. I mean, obviously, that’s not your fault, or anything," he said patronisingly."But you’re not proper wizards. Not like us, anyway. Everyone knows that marrying Muggles - and Muggle-borns - dilutes the magic. It should have been stopped centuries ago."

"You can’t just … you really believe all that? Who told you - why on earth do people believe those kind of things?"

"My family told me, of course. They’re right. Actually I’m quite broadminded about it. There are a lot of people in my House who think you Muggle-borns shouldn’t be allowed to come here. Like Malfoy, you know him? I’m not so sure about that. My father -"

For the first time he stopped, sounding uncertain. "He's very … vehement about it all, you know. He … really dislikes Muggles very much. I agreed with him, but, coming here, there are some of you who aren’t so bad … you’re almost like us -" He cut off very abruptly. "Anyway, what are you doing? You were playing. Go on."

Anne’s patience was worn very thin by this point. He’d just come in here, insulted her, and expected her to keep playing like it was some sort of performance –

"No," she said in a very small voice.

"What?" He looked utterly taken aback. As if the question of her refusal - or even her opinion - had not crossed his mind.

"I said no." She raised her head slightly, and met his eyes. "I – I‘m playing for me, and I would prefer it if – if you left. Please. I don’t want to be – you to stand here and talk to me like – go. Please go, now. Or I – I won’t play anymore, if you do stay." He was staring, now, but he recovered enough to eye her with a disturbing amount of disdain.

"Fine. Play for yourself, little Hufflepuff. Why should I care?"

With that he was gone. It was several minutes before Anne felt sure enough to start playing again, and then she did not stop for half an hour or more. The music was soothing, distracting. The way he’d looked at her, what he’d said …

She felt like she wasn’t quite human to him. That was more than unnerving.

*

Theodore Nott walked away from the small practice room with a definite sense of unease. He knew he shouldn’t have followed the girl, but he’d been bored, not interested in the Quidditch, and she’d been a musician. He liked music. Obviously, however, Muggle-borns weren’t worth talking to. He’d known that, but … she’d almost looked like she might be worth conversing with. Then she'd had to go and speak back to him. The cheek of her! Did she know who she was talking to? He was a pureblood Slytherin, son of a Ministry official, and to be talked back to by a silly fourth-year in Hufflepuff … then, what had he expected? She was a Muggle-born. They weren’t like proper wizards. They weren’t really wizards at all. For so many years his father, all his relatives had told him that Muggle-borns and Muggles were nothing, they were not human, and they should be thrown out of the wizarding world. He had gone along with that, without question - why should he question it? Now - It was true they weren’t the same, but…he had become unsure of late at whether they weren’t … going a little overboard. Ever since the Dark Lord had returned, his father had become increasingly fanatical about it. Had spoken with a look that made him more than uneasy of the day when the Dark Lord would reveal himself and take rule of the wizarding world back into the hands of the purebloods, where it belonged, and the Mudbloods and Mugglelovers would be punished and destroyed…

Theodore himself wasn’t sure he wanted the Dark Lord back. He knew his father had been punished – and painfully - for his failures. He knew that it meant being on the same side as Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle - the people he spent time with - because it was the appropriate thing to do. Crabbe and Goyle were idiots, but Malfoy made him more than uneasy with his total disdain of anyone who didn't meet his standards of family, his cruelty, his refusal to ignore insults. Malfoy never understood that if someone was that far below you, that what they said couldn't possibly matter: it was irrelevant. Theodore had escaped so far by being a follower; but he felt the time might be coming when he would have to be an active follower, and choose a side, the Dark Lord’s side. His coming of age was only a year and a half away, now - too close. That’s why he’d skipped the Quidditch match, and followed the Muggle-born. He’d needed a distraction from those thoughts. Music was a distraction. Music, and the absence of his classmates, and someone who didn’t know anything about what was going on, or would have dismissed it as Harry Potter's ravings. Then he’d had to go and talk to her, and she’d had to ask questions, and he’d almost said too much. So now he was going to go back to the Quidditch match, cheer Slytherin, agree with Malfoy, and avoid thinking about anything except his schoolwork and the OWLs and being in Umbridge’s good graces. Thinking was dangerous. Especially for him.

*

Over the next three weeks, as a chilly January slipped unnoticed into a rainy February, Anne was more than relieved to not see Theodore Nott at all. She buckled down to school and practising her flute, and fading into the background like she always did. It certainly worked. So well that her dorm-mate Gabby Hill turned to her at breakfast one day and said "Anne, what’s with you at the moment? We barely know you’re there!"

The other Hufflepuff girls agreed loudly. Anne shrugged, and stirred her porridge.

"I’ve just been feeling quiet, that’s all," she said. "I’m not really a noticeable person anyway."

"Hmmm … s’pose that’s true," mused Gabby. She turned back to the others. "Hey guys, guess who asked me to go to Hogsmeade with him on Valentine’s Day?" They dissolved into giggles and chatter.

*

Unnoticed, Anne finished her breakfast and headed off to the Owlery to check in on her owl. Gwaihir was a small grey barn owl, the pet she'd chosen when she had received her Hogwarts letter. (The name was a slightly unfortunate by-product of her then-current reading material; she had fortunately been dissuaded from her first choice, Gandalf.) The letter had also contained a note telling Anne's startled parents who to ask for help with the wizarding world: their rather eccentric neighbours, Priam and Roberta Martin. Priam Martin, it turned out, was a wizard. His wife, a Muggle who had adapted splendidly to the world, had come with Anne and her mother on their first-ever trip to Diagon Alley, to buy her school supplies. It had been Roberta who'd advised an eleven-year-old Anne to get an owl, so she could write home to her family. It had been the Martins, too, who'd come to King's Cross to show Anne how to get through the barrier to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. She saw them quite a bit in the holidays. She had babysat their children, Elise, Hector and Andromache, over the summer holidays - they were fairly typical kids, talkative and apt to play up for a stranger, but on the whole well-behaved. Elise was now a first-year in Hufflepuff. Anne liked the Martins; they provided a connection between the two worlds she uneasily inhabited, and they were always there to talk to about the things her parents didn't quite get (like Muggle-born-killing monsters, escaped convicts, and Triwizard Tournaments). Plus, she was looking forward to a fairly steady source of income over the holidays, if she continued to babysit for them.

Anne didn't spend too long in the Owlery, though; she had Potions first, and absolutely no desire to be late. It wasn’t one of her favourite classes, but she managed to avoid Snape’s ire for the most part. If she had favourite classes, they would have to be Charms and Defence Against the Dark Arts – well, not this year, but last year had been fun. She enjoyed the practical aspect more than anything, and Professor Umbridge was disappointing if not downright creepy. Anne disliked her a lot, but Umbridge, most thankfully, didn’t know Anne existed. Most teachers didn’t. She did the work, achieved reasonable marks, and was only remarkable for her flute playing. Since she had received permission to use the practice rooms in first year, she doubted anyone but Professor Sprout even remembered she played. Unfortunately, Herbology was the one subject hard work had never helped her in: whatever the opposite of a green thumb was, she had it.

*

That Valentine’s Day the entire school above third year vanished to Hogsmeade. Anne vanished to a practice room. She would have a whole morning and maybe afternoon to play, and no-one to disturb her. The one thing about Hogwarts she disliked was the lack of music groups; while she knew other students played instruments, there was no orchestra or chamber group to join. She had played in a group a little when she’d started the flute, before Hogwarts, and loved it. Sharing music was the point, she felt. A pity all the girls in her year (the only people she knew well) were decidedly unmusical.

Slipping into an empty room (not that any were likely to be occupied) she cast a silencing spell around the door, to stop sound leaking out, before looking around. The practice rooms were small, and windowless, but they had seats, a small table, and in this one’s case what looked like a very ancient piano. She unpacked her flute, set up the stand, tuned to the piano (it seemed to be in tune, thankfully) and started on a few scales. C Major, A Minor, E-flat Major … The door opened.

"There you are," said Nott’s voice. "I figured you must be here. I had to look through all the rooms. Did you ward this one for sound?"

She turned to glare. "It’s you again."

He ignored this, looking around the room with disdain. "Not cleaned very much, are they?"

"Was there – I mean, why – look, what are you doing here?" She hadn’t seen him since the incident three weeks ago, and had no particular desire to.

He looked at her. "Yes, I thought – I want you to try playing something."

The unutterable gall! But instead of yelling at him, like a small part of her desperately wanted to, she just said "Oh … erm … what is it?" She felt herself going red under his gaze, before he eventually held out three pages of music.

"This. It’s a flute sonata. Try it. Could I come back in an hour or so?"

She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and glared. It didn’t do anything appreciable, but she forged ahead anyway. "Look. Why do you think I’ll play this for you? Why do you think I want to talk to you at all? Have you ever heard words like please and thank you? And why aren’t you down in Hogsmeade like everyone else? It’s Valentine’s Day, don’t you have a girlfriend to go and see? Or are you too much of an arrogant …"

Nott's expression darkened, but he didn't reply directly, instead stepping fully into the room. "Well. It seems you can talk, after all. You did seem very quiet before."

Fuming, she snatched the music off him, and scanned it. It didn’t look awfully hard. A voice in her mind whispered ‘go on, you can do this, it’ll only take half an hour or so to run through …’ She looked up at him. "Get out. And you can come back in half an hour. Or not at all. I honestly don’t care. Oh, and you’d better have something to contribute because I am not playing this for you. OK?"

He continued to stare at her with that look of - well, barely controlled irritation, for one thing, and for another…the way that made her feel like he wasn't seeing her. Just something … lesser.
She felt herself reddening again.

"Erm. Go. Please? I mean, that is, just – look, go."
He nodded, as if her outburst had never happened, and replied, "I’ll be back, then." With that he left, shutting the door behind him.

I wish he would stop making those exits, thought Anne miserably. If only the boy would talk to her like she was on his level, it would help. Instead of looking at me like I'm a house elf, or something of the sort. But this is nice music…where’d he get it?

Putting it on the stand, and smoothing the crease she’d made when she snatched it, she began to play.

Exactly thirty-two minutes later, by her watch, there was a brisk knock on the door. She opened it, and Theodore Nott stood there, some music in his hand.

"May I come in?" he asked, with a modicum of politeness. Startled, she mumbled something, and stepped back to let him enter. He closed the door behind him.

"What’s that?" she asked, pointing at the music, by way of conversation.

"My contribution," he said blandly, walking over and pulling out the piano stool. "Also known as the piano part. I thought…do you want to try playing it?" He set out the music, then turned to look at her.

Anne blinked. "You could have explained this before", she said with a touch of asperity.

The idea seemed to be new to him. "I … I suppose I could have", he allowed, looking puzzled. "I just didn’t think …"

"No, you never think, do you? Do you even think I’m a person?"

Anne said it in passing, picking up her flute, but she was startled herself to find she’d spoken aloud. She often thought things like that, but saying them was not something she did often.

"No. Oh, hell." Nott went red. "That’s not what I meant. I mean – no – that is – you’re Muggle-born, and I always …" He struggled for a moment, before continuing. "I was brought up to think your sort was … not like us. I still … well … anyway, I was … rude. I apologise." He looked like he was swallowing something unpleasant.

"You’re only saying that so I’ll play the music."

"Yes, I am, aren’t I?" He frowned. "Look. Sorry. Just keep reminding me if I…I don’t mean to insult you, really. You’re just not like me."

Possibly worse that the implied insult was the fact he meant it. He truly, really, thought that she wasn’t, and that it was acceptable to think like that.

Anne shook her head. However easier it would be to send him out again, her sense of fairness - he was trying, after all - and, yes, her curiosity, would not allow it. "Oh...forget it. Have you practised this before?"

Nott seated himself on the stool. "I know it well enough, if you’re ready, I have the intro, so I’ll give you two bars -"

"One’s fine, just make sure it’s crotchet beat -"

"Ready, then? One, two, three, four -"

He was quite a good piano player: not brilliant, but competent, and Anne could see he loved the music. It had been so long since she’d played with someone else, except at home, that it felt unnatural at first, but then she slipped into the rhythm and the music. It wasn’t a particularly long piece, so when they reached the end – still together – she felt rather disappointed.

"What do you think?" she asked Nott. He tapped his music with a pencil he’d found somewhere, voice enthusiastic.

"Okay, but we did get about a bar out here, I think that was my fault, so if we could try taking it from bar fifteen to get that straight -"

Anne nodded absently. "Right, and I’d like to go over that first repeat, the fingering’s nasty and I missed some of the high notes."

"From fifteen, then? Three, four -"

An hour, nearly two, later Anne looked at her watch. "Oops, I think we’ve missed lunch …"

"We what?" Nott looked at his own. "Damn, we did too." He had loosened up a little, in the playing of the music – enough to speak to her as a person, forgetting his prejudices, because this was music and they were both players.

"We might make the last of it…probably not. I think we should stop, though. I’ve got homework." He scowled. "Potions."

"Hmm, so do I, big Transfiguration essay …"

Anne hesitated. Should she ask…she hadn't played with anyone else for so long. Nott had been…almost reasonable, while they were playing. The snide comments had been nearly left aside. Although why a Slytherin like him would want to ever speak to a Muggle-born…

But there was no harm in music, was there?

"Listen," she began, twisting her flute apart with more force than necessary, "do you want to…maybe…practice this again sometime? I know I have some other music with piano parts kicking around somewhere. Where’d you get this, anyway?"

"Library, there’s quite a nice section up the back. No idea why, Hogwarts is terrible for music." Nott was packing up the music as he spoke. His head had jerked upwards slightly at her timid suggestion, but at least he hadn't dismissed it scornfully. "Is Saturday afternoon okay? Unless you’ve got something else on -"

"No,er, no, I’m fine." A flood of relief mingled with embarrassment swept over her. It had occurred to her about two seconds too late that asking to meet a boy by themselves somewhere could be misconstrued very badly. "Two-ish? In here? I don’t think the other rooms have a piano."

"Oh, they don’t, I always practice in here."

"Really?" Anne looked at him curiously. "I’m surprised we haven’t bumped into each other before."

"We might have, but I wouldn’t stop to talk to a Muggle-born Hufflepuff usually."

Anne was taken aback by the return of this topic. "You did."

"I was … thinking."

"Why does me being Muggle-born matter so much to you?" She picked up her flute and slowly began to take it apart. "I know you’re Slytherin, but …"

"Slytherin, Slytherin, evil nasty Slytherin." He said it mockingly. "But of course it matters, it's how things are. It's not just me, though. It’s…a family issue." For a moment he looked bleak, and much older than fifteen. "I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention I …"

"No one listens to me anyway," Anne said simply, and it was true. She was the listener, not the one who talked. It was always assumed she had nothing to talk about.

"Good." Nott nodded. He walked over to the door, put his hand on the knob, and then looked back at her. "See you on Saturday, then, er, Anne." It was an attempt to talk to her as an equal, and they both knew it.

"Erm, see you then, er, Theodore." Anne smiled nervously at him as he left. Why on earth was she doing this? Arranging to play music with a Slytherin fifth-year who thought she was…not his sort? It wasn’t as if he’d even been very likeable. Although he did play quite well. She had missed playing with someone. She'd definitely be silly to give up the music just because he had issues. After all, they had managed to get along well enough when they stuck to music, hadn't they?

Yes, why not?

//
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