It was a minor incident, as such things went, and no one pretended otherwise.
If it had happened to Ted himself, he probably would have brushed it off and gone on to his next class. He'd been doing so since Bellatrix Black had started in on him during his first year, though this was largely because he didn't want to make things any harder for Bella's sister, Andi, who was one of his two best friends. If it had been Bella and she'd thrown a handful of dragon dung at him, nothing would have come of it at all.
But it wasn't.
It was Lucius Malfoy, coming back from his Care of Magical Creatures lesson with the other Slytherins (followed by Andi and the Gryffindors), and he had chosen to drop a dead salamander in the robes of a first year Gryffindor boy named Benjy Fenwick.
It was a beautiful afternoon, probably the last really great one of the autumn, and nearly everyone was out on the grounds, enjoying the last golden rays of sunlight. Ted himself was sitting by the lake with Gilderoy Lockhart (his other best friend), trying to puzzle out a star chart for Astronomy while Gilderoy practiced Charms on insects crawling around in the grass. Gilderoy spoke disparagingly of Charms, referring to it as "playing," and claimed to believe that Defense Against the Dark Arts was the only class worth doing well in, though Ted had noticed long ago that Gilderoy was more likely to use his skill in Charms (which was considerable) than anything he learned about Defense (which he declined to discuss his marks in). Gilderoy was always daring himself to go into the Forbidden Forest, and always backing out at the last minute. Someday he'd do it. Ted was convinced that there was a backbone somewhere in there, if only because Gilderoy did dare to befriend Muggle-borns in a climate like this. He only hoped Gilderoy wouldn't freeze up when something nasty came out at him.
He was just looking up to ask about the moons of Jupiter when Benjy Fenwick's startled yelp broke the lazy afternoon.
Everyone turned, some with interest, others with concern, most with bored curiosity.
Benjy was slapping at something on his neck while Lucius Malfoy and his Slytherin friends laughed. Ted stood up--Benjy was Muggle-born, as he was, so he'd taken note of the boy at his Sorting--and started over. Gilderoy remained sitting, but did raise his wand away from the insects.
Benjy found the source of the discomfort and pulled the salamander's body out from the neck of his robes. He glared at it, disgusted, and then...
Ted broke into a run, but it was too late to stop the inevitable.
Benjy flung the salamander at Lucius Malfoy, hitting the corner of his open, laughing mouth.
The laughter was cut off immediately as Lucius spat the animal away and wiped at his mouth. He glared and advanced on Benjy. "How dare you, you Mudblood filth?"
"What did you think was going to happen, you inbred dolt?"
Lucius stopped. Froze. "What did you say?"
"You heard me."
Lucius raised his wand, and he didn't look like he was in the mood for an amusing Charm.
Ted didn't think about it. He just raised his wand and called out, "Tarantellegra!" It was the only hex he knew that would succeed in throwing of Lucius's aim.
Immediately, Lucius started twitching and dancing, his wand swinging wide into the air. He managed to turn and glare at Ted, but his feet slipped on the grass. Ted glanced back at Gilderoy, suspicious, and wasn't surprised to see him smiling daftly, his wand pointed surreptitiously at the ground. Lucius fell backward, arms flailing, and landed on the salamander. When he stood, it was clinging to his fine robes by its spilling innards.
Ted turned. Professor Sprout, his head of house, was running out from the greenhouses, looking furious. Lucius's legs stopped moving.
"What is going on here?" she demanded.
Lucius pointed at Ted. "Ask him. He's the one who cursed me."
"He was about to curse Fenwick."
"You were scrying in the lake and saw this?"
"No. It was just... obvious."
"It was, Professor Sprout," Andi told her. "If Ted hadn't beaten me to it, I'd have cursed him myself."
Ted suppressed a grin at this. Andi hexed Lucius Malfoy as often as she could possibly get away with it (he and Bella hexed her right back when they could, but she was better at ducking than they were). Of course, Professor Sprout was new and didn't know this, so she just sighed. "Well, whatever happened, it's gone quite far enough. All of you, inside."
Ted had thought that was the end of it. Everyone drifted back inside, the subject was dropped, and Lucius presumably changed his robes. Ted had, in fact, mostly put it out of his mind by the time he wandered up to the Great Hall for dinner.
As usual, he started out at the Hufflepuff table, where he belonged, and laughed about Divination with Bitty Eastman and Persephone Dexter. When he finished the main part of the meal, he drifted over to Ravenclaw, where Gilderoy was regaling his housemates with the tale of the lakeside battle (they had not, apparently, had an especially good view), and sat there for awhile. He stole Gilderoy's pudding, then they both headed over to Gryffindor, where Andi and her friends Katie Forrester and Mickey Kilbourne were puzzling over tea leaves for Divination.
"'Lo, Ted," she said. "I don't suppose you have a brilliant insight on my cup?"
Ted glanced into it. Nothing came to him. He concentrated a bit harder, and the water around the tea leaves glimmered, but the leaves themselves still told him nothing. Professor Kapila--who thought Ted really did have the makings of a Seer--had told him not to worry overmuch if one method or another didn't work quite right.
He shrugged. "If you look right, you can see a star sort of shape. I think that means something."
Andi frowned. "I don't see a star."
"'s right there," Gilderoy said, gesturing with his wand toward a non-descript clump of leaves. "Plain as day."
"I still don't see it. I--" Andi looked up, glancing at someone behind Ted. "Benjy. Did you need something?"
Ted turned. Benjy Fenwick, whose expression was normally either manic good humor or anger on the brink of boiling into rage, looked humble. "I, er... I wanted to thank you," he said. "I don't know your name, though."
"This my friend Ted Tonks," Andi told him. "And our friend Gilderoy Lockhart."
Benjy nodded vaguely at Gilderoy. "It was good that you... well, helped."
"You'll get used to Malfoy," Ted said.
"Why would I get used to him?"
"Well, because he's really not going anywhere."
Benjy grimaced. "We don't have to just take it," he said. "I think... well, every time, we should..."
"Have a war?" Ted asked pointedly. "'Cause that's what it would be, mate."
"It's what it already is."
Andi stood and craned her neck, checked something in the direction of the head table, and sat back down. "Well, if Benjy doesn't mind a bit of support from an inbred dolt"--Benjy smiled sheepishly and muttered an apology under his breath--"I think he's right."
"Andi, it's your sister who--"
"--leads a whole bloody gang of her Slytherin chums. It was just Lucius earlier, but you know as well as I do that he might have been with Bella, or that big firstie Goyle, or Richie Candlemas, or all of them, and they'd still have set on Benjy. When it's just Bella, you can ignore her. But all of them? You need to hit back. I say that as someone who knows them quite well."
"Exactly!" Benjy said. "They have a whole gang. We need one as well. We should, I don't know, fight back somehow. Hit them twice as hard for every one of us they hit."
A few scattered people at the Gryffindor table heard him, and craned their necks. One was a second-year Muggle-born named Jason Quinn, and he got up hesitantly and followed Benjy over. A Ravenclaw boy with whom Ted had seen him noticed and made his way over as well.
"This is getting out of hand," Ted whispered to Andi.
She nodded. "Benjy, the Great Hall isn't the best place for this."
Ted frowned. "Not exactly what I meant."
"We could meet in the library," Gilderoy suggested. "In an hour. It's still before curfew, and there's a table behind the almanacs with plenty of space. I work there a lot."
"I think--" Ted began, but there was already an agreement forming in the growing crowd. Ted looked over Benjy's head toward the Slytherin table, where Bella and Lucius were watching them with narrowed eyes. He held up a hand. "An hour," he said. "And not until then. Bring anyone who wants to come. Will you use your brains until then?" He jerked his head at the Slytherins.
Benjy Fenwick picked up on it first, and turned on Andi with a sneer. "And next time you think I need help," he announced, as loudly as he could, "I won't. I don't need help from Puries." He wrinkled his nose at Ted. "Or Purie-lovers." He stalked off, mouthing, "Sorry," at Andi as he left.
"Show's over," Ted said, waving the others off. Some looked confused, but most played along.
Andi, looking at most of them, and facing away from the Slytherin table, mouthed, "Library. One hour."
"Are you sure you didn't see anything in my cup?" Andi asked when they left.
Ted sighed. "Honestly, this is not one of our better ideas."
"That's why you're not in Gryffindor."
"Bloody right that's why I'm not in Gryffindor!" There was no space beside Andi at the table, so Ted sat cross legged in front of her and looked up. "I don't want to pick fights with your older sister and her friends. I just want to be left alone. Have a bit of fun here."
"If Bella has her way, you'll be having a bit of fun back in a state school in London." Andi sighed and leaned forward. "If you don't do it together, Benjy will do it by himself. D'you really fancy the thought of him doing it his way?"
Something jabbed the small of Ted's back, and he looked up to see Gilderoy looking extravagantly away. His toe was nudged forward.
Ted looked up as casually as he could. Bella was on her way over.
"Hello, Bellatrix," Gilderoy said, bowing. "We were just saying how good it would be to see you--"
She shoved him out of her way without looking at him, and strode to Andi. She kicked vaguely at Ted, like he was a pile of laundry she wanted to hide under the table, but didn't look at him when he failed to move. "Interesting company you're keeping, Andromeda," she said, raising her pointed chin in Benjy's direction.
"I can hardly help who's Sorted into my House, Bella."
Now, Bella glanced down at Ted, her dark eyes filled with malevolence. "Or who's not," she said.
Andi pantomimed an exaggerated yawn.
Ted's eyes were on an exact level with Bella's left hand, which was twitching nervously, her long nails seeming to dig at the air. She reminded him of his cat, Dodger, who flexed his claws in just this way before deciding to attack a piece of furniture.
Andi stood up. "If you're planning to hit me, Bella, just do it. I haven't time for a game just now. Homework."
Bella shook her head. "How much of our world will you watch them destroy before you come around? Or are you going to help them do it?" She didn't wait for an answer. Ted had to move his hand quickly to avoid her treading on his fingers as she left.
"Always a pleasure," Gilderoy muttered after her. "I'll go to the library now," he said to Ted. "Make sure the table is clear."
"Good idea." He looked up at Andi again. She was frowning, more upset than she usually was at Bella's taunting. "Are you all right?"
She shrugged. "I... suppose. It's just Bella. Bloody Bella. I really hate her sometimes."
She looked at him strangely. "She's my sister."
"Right." He stood up. "Look, I want to make sure I'm there first. I want to talk before Benjy starts."
"Wise choice." She smiled. "Don't worry about me," she said. "I'm fine. I'll be along as soon as she and Lucius go."
Ted left the Great Hall behind a screen of Gryffindor fourth years, and broke off toward the library once they got outside. When he got there, Gilderoy had already claimed his table. Ted often worked with him here; maintaining a friendship between Houses meant having a lot of habitual spots in the common areas of the school, so they could find one another without any special planning. It was a practice that had developed without any of the three of them noticing it, though when Andi had pointed it out, Gilderoy had jumped in with the explanation.
He lit a candle against the dusk and bit his lip. "Maybe now that you're here, I should go. I mean, this is... something of a Muggle-born issue. They may not want me here."
"If Andromeda Black can be here, I reckon you can."
"Are you scared?"
"Oh, no. No, of course not."
"I am. This is stupid. You know that, right?"
"It's our chance to be heroes!"
"It's our chance to be hexed into next year by Bella and Lucius. Every time we turn around."
Gilderoy gulped. There was sweat on his brow and his hands were shaking.
Andi found her way down twenty minutes later, still looking a bit subdued. She sat down at the table and rolled out a blank scroll. Gilderoy handed her a quill and a bottle of ink (she always seemed to forget hers), and she wrote "Meeting" at the top of the scroll, then doodled a few dots after it. She connected them, making a confusing little design, then drew a curved line through the middle of it. It now looked vaguely like a flower stem with leaves, and she drew a daisy shape at the top of it. Next, little blades of grass. And a butterfly. Then her initials, A.D.B. (her middle name was Danae). Then--
"Bother," she whispered, closing the ink bottle and forcing herself to put the quill down.
Gilderoy glanced at her doodles and pointed his wand at them. He said a Charm that Ted didn't know, and the butterfly fluttered its wings once, weakly, then was still again. He shrugged.
The others started to arrive, a few at a time, Benjy first, followed by the Gryffindors who'd overheard him. Ted was about to begin when another group drifted in, Jason's Ravenclaw friend with two or three others.
Ted wasn't sure when he'd made it a hobby to find out who else was Muggle-born in school, but he certainly knew his own year and the two years under him. He'd sought out the others in Hufflepuff, and they'd told him about others in their years.
It had always seemed like a such a small number. One or two a year in a House, none (at least at present) in Slytherin. Nothing signficant.
Within fifteen minutes, thirty-nine Muggle-borns had crowded around Ted and Gilderoy's table. Some were looking suspiciously at Andi, but Benjy sat down beside her and started chatting comfortably, so they relaxed. Most took no notice of Gilderoy at all. There were others there as well, people Ted didn't think were Muggle-born at all, whose names and faces he didn't know. In all, he guessed there were close to fifty people standing shoulder to shoulder in the little alcove.
Madam Pince walked up to the edge of the shelves, looked at them with something like desperation, then glanced at Gilderoy.
"It's all right, Madam Pince," he said. "They're with me."
"This is not to be a regular occurrence, Mr. Lockhart," she said sternly, then waved her wand and cast a silencing Charm. Ted noted that she did not return to her desk, but instead sat at a table where she could keep an eye on them, bringing a stack of books with her to mark in.
Ted stood on his chair. "There are quite a lot of us," he said. "I never reckoned on this many."
A few smiles.
"Do you all know what happened earlier?"
Most people nodded.
"I can't say I've ever had a dead salamander put down my robes, but I've had enough food thrown at me to feed one of those starving villages my mum goes on about when I don't finish my vegetables."
"I've been kicked," a fourth year said, lifting his robes to show a dark purple bruise on his calf.
"Albert Goyle poured ink all over my Herbology notes," a Ravenclaw girl said. "He almost poured it on my stinging nettles, but Professor Sprout caught him."
"Lucius Malfoy is always knocking my books out of my hands--"
"Bella Black spit on me--"
"Tolman Vayle shoved me into a broom cupboard--"
"Kermilla Dalton pinched me on my... er... well, on my arse, actually... and called me Mudblood filth--"
"Gytha Wulfrith hexed my hair to turn purple--"
"Morton Lud made my hands shrink--"
Ted held up his hands, thinking that it would never work, but it did. They were all watching him for some reason. He looked back at them, not sure what he meant to say. "Er... I reckon we've all had things happen with that lot. What Benjy suggested earlier--or at least what I think he meant--is that maybe we should all look out for one another. Does everyone think that's a good idea?"
The people lucky enough to have gotten a seat at the table clapped their hands on the wooden surface. Those standing stomped their feet.
Before Ted could stop him, Benjy Fenwick climbed up onto a chair. "I didn't just say look out for each other!" he said. "I said we should fight back! Look how many of us there are! We can take them!"
Fewer people responded this time, but there was something sinister in the low stomping of feet, something dark in the eyes that were now shifting over toward Benjy.
"Wait!" Ted said, but didn't know how to follow it up. He felt something tug on his robes, and looked down to see Andi.
She was biting her lip very nervously. Her scroll had a few sentences of notes on it, but was mostly aimless doodling. "May I say something?" she asked.
He nodded. "Andromeda's got something to say," he said.
"Purie!" someone in back shouted, and there was more foot-stomping.
"D'you want a brawl?" Ted asked him. "'Cause I'll take you."
Shocked silence. Ted wondered dumbly when someone would realize that they were sitting here taking orders from a third year, but either no one did, or no one cared.
Andi climbed nimbly onto her chair, somehow looking fey and delicate in the midst of the grumbling crowd. "I know you're all angry," she said. "And I'd reckon you're not all that happy listening to someone named Black."
No one spoke up to disagree, but no one took the opportunity to express unhappiness, either.
"They..." She took a shaky breath. "They look at Muggles and they think they're all thugs and criminals. They're afraid. They... they think something's slipping away. Something that's... something that's worth something. Something good."
The silence was sullen now.
Andi looked around, and Ted gave her a supportive smile. Gilderoy was watching her without much expression.
"Anyway," she said, "I think that we... that you... should be... good. You know, not give them anything to make them believe more bad things than they already do." She sat down again, not meeting anyone's eyes.
Ted frowned. His first thought was that she looked afraid--and who was to blame her with this lot calling her names?--but when he looked more closely, it seemed to be something different. He couldn't place it.
A hand waved in back, an older boy whose name Ted didn't know. Ted pointed at him.
He came forward. "I'm Chet Egerton," he said. "Seventh year. I'm with Miss Black over there. I don't want to be at war with the wizarding world. I just want it not to be at war with me. Do you all know what I mean?"
There were a lot of murmured assents.
Chet went on. "It's better here. In a lot of ways. You all know that. I mean, if any of us had a chance to go back, how many would do it?"
No one answered.
"So I think what--what's your name?"
"What Ted said at first is better. We look after one another. Just a Muggle-born defense squad. We don't let anyone be hurt, but we don't start anything, and we don't do more than is necessary to stop someone from being hurt."
"We'll never beat them that way," Benjy Fenwick said. "There's something going on with them. It's in the Daily Prophet, too. Letters and articles and so on. Something's happening."
"And if it comes to fighting out in the world, I'll do it."
"Right," Ted said. "But in here... it's not like there's anywhere else to go. We're stuck living with them, and they're stuck living with us. Just because they make it difficult doesn't mean we should."
No one argued.
"All right, then," Ted said. "We'll be a Muggle-born defense squad."
Benjy Fenwick giggled suddenly. "Muggle-born united defense squad," he said.
"M-U-D-S," Benjy said. "Muds!"
Andi and Gilderoy both looked shocked, but a slight twitter ran through the Muggle-borns, who had all been called "Mudblood" at one point or another. It was ugly, but it was also... sort of amusing.
Ted grinned. "All right, then. MUDS it is. Now, does anyone have the first notion how to do this?"
And so it began.