Disclaimer: I don't own one hair on Harry Potter's head. Or any other character in the series. It all belongs to JK Rowling. Likewise, The Cynic’s Dictionary (source of the adapted definitions for natural selection, neurotic, Ministry of Magic, yoghurt, Hogwarts, lady, erogenous zones, werewolf, kindred spirits, factionalism and negotiation) is not mine - it belongs to Rick Bayan. I am extremely proud not to own the custom of gouging out a cynic’s eyes so as to improve their vision - blame the Scythians for that one.
A/N: A big thank you to my awesome SQ beta reader, Igenlode Wordsmith!
Chapter Two - Blue Vein
I couldn't stay in the dormitory. Nydia and Juno had decked it out with all kinds of tacky Christmas decorations and it was suffocating me. Besides, while I was in the dormitory, Kevin Quindle knew where I was.
So that is why, on the evening of December 16, 1994, Sylvia Fawcett could be found in the library, reading Majorly Hard And Incredibly Complex Charms For Absolute Geniuses. Well, actually, that wasn't what I was reading. In between the pages, so Madam Pince wouldn't see, I was reading The Cynic's Dictionary (Second Magical Edition). My favourite book in the whole world, but unfortunately one that Madam Pince doesn't approve of. Why I don't know, because if you ask me, Madam Pince is a born cynic.
'Natural Selection: Positive proof that Providence favours the lusty over the learned, and that human evolution will eventually return us to our rowdy Palaeolithic roots.'
If only natural selection would remove Kevin Quindle from the gene pool.
"Well, hello Sylvia."
I looked up from the entry on 'neurotic' (sane but unhappy about it) to see Edmund Stebbins sitting opposite. "Hello Edmund."
Edmund Stebbins was a sixth year Ravenclaw, and was, like me, a twin. His brother Archie was in Hufflepuff, and they were quite different. While Archie was, to be frank, a bit dumb and more interested in Quidditch than economics, Edmund was good company. He had a biting sense of humour and, moreover, actually understood when I was talking about when I was bemoaning a) Christmas or b) being a twin.
"What are you reading?"
Wordlessly, I passed him The Cynic's Dictionary.
He flipped it open to a random page then grinned at me. "Sylvia, Sylvia, Sylvia. Do we have to play Guess The Definition again?"
I smiled and leaned back in my chair. "Hit me."
"Okay." Edmund ran his finger down the page. "Ministry of Magic."
"A miniature totalitarian state governed by an unelected hierarchy of officials who take a dim view of individualism, free speech and equality. The backbone of all Western magical democracies," I replied instantly. "That's an easy one. Your turn." I took the dictionary back off him and opened it at another random page. "Let's see… yoghurt."
"A thriving colony of bacteria swimming in curdled milk; a pleasantly sour concoction said to extend the life spans of Caucasian mountain-folk, at least when consumed in conjunction with fresh air, vigorous goat-chasing and a stress-free work environment. Popular in the U.S., especially among dieters, who enjoy it laced with sugar and preserves," Edmund replied.
Damn. He was getting good. I might actually have to start trying. In all my days of playing Guess The Definition with Edmund, I'd never once had to try. He always screwed up on the really long ones. And I loved the book so much I practically treated it as a textbook. That's Hufflepuff dedication for you.
He took the dictionary back off me. "Hogwarts," he said.
"An institution that offers impressionable magical adolescents a first-rate education in sociology, especially the dynamics of clique formation and pecking orders. Other subjects include Comparative Partying Techniques for Minors, Awkward Adolescent Romance, Celibacy for Arithmancy and Potions Wonks, Empty Rhetoric for Ministry Aspirants, Male Bonding Through Social Alcoholism, and Living with Zits."
Edmund grinned. "You're too good!" he replied, passing the dictionary back over.
"You know you can't win," I replied, opening the dictionary at another random page.
"Not Sylvia Fawcett."
I shot Edmund a Look, but I was grinning. "Edmund, I won't play Guess The Definition with you unless you play nice!"
He made a face. "Awww…"
I stuck my tongue out at him. "Go on. Lady."
"Lady: (archaic) A gentle creature who spoke in melodious tones and wore a corset around her earthly desires, at least in public. A seriously endangered species, now approaching extinction as careerism sweeps across its former range," Edmund replied. He really was getting good.
I passed him the dictionary. "Up the ante, Edmund," I told him. No matter how good he got at this game, no-one had read The Cynic's Dictionary more times than Sylvia Fawcett.
He opened the dictionary at a random page and grinned. He looked up, eyes twinkling. "Erogenous zones."
I opened my mouth. Then shut it again. Had I just heard correctly?
"By current reckoning, any region of the human topography with the possible exception of the elbows," Edmund read from the dictionary. "And the victory goes to me." He opened the dictionary to the very front page, where a tally was scrawled. "Fawcett: 34, Stebbins: 1," he read, after scratching in his victory. "Your perfect record is somewhat tarnished now, Sylvia."
I was still somewhat flabbergasted. Never, ever, in my whole life, had I heard an innuendo cross the lips of Edmund Stebbins. "Edmund!" I exclaimed at last.
He looked at me, blinking angelically. "Yes, Sylvia dear?"
"That was playing dirty!"
He laughed. "And who taught me to play dirty, darling?"
I blushed. I remembered a certain game of Guess The Definition at the end of last year when I had won through playing embarrassment techniques. I asked him the definition of werewolf (a legendary predator prone to monthly bouts of FMS [Full Moon Syndrome], which, like the more mundane monthly affliction observed in human females, has been known to trigger wanton attacks on the innocent - with the added embarrassment of rapid hair growth and a serious underbite that defies the efforts of the best dental wizards) while Professor Lupin (whom we had just found was a werewolf) was about two metres away, returning some books to Madam Pince. He had left the school later that day, and I had always felt slightly guilty about it.
"I taught you to play dirty," I conceded.
"Yes. Yes, you did," he replied, handing the dictionary back to me. "Oh, and while we're on the topic of dirty things, I've got a proposition for you."
This time, I didn't flinch. If there's one non-cynical thing I can say about myself, it's that I learn from my mistakes. I mock-sighed. "No, Edmund, I will not buy you a harem for Christmas. How many times do I have to tell you?"
He grinned and swatted my hand gently. "No, silly. Will you come to the Yule Ball with me?"
I thought about it. Then I thought about it some more. "Well, if I have to indulge in the cheesy commercialisation that is Christmas, I may as well do it with someone who hates it almost as much as I do," I told him. "I'll come."
He grinned. "Excellent." He leaned conspirationally closer. "But you know you're only doing it so you can say you dated me when we're both forty-five and I'm the Minister of Magic."
"And what a spectacular midlife crisis it will be."
Edmund laughed. "I love you, Sylvia. I hope you know that."
I pretended to file my nails. "You know I'm only using you to escape from Kevin Quindle, Stebbins, Minister of Magic or no Minister of Magic."
He pretended to cry. "Oh, Sylvia! I thought we were kindred spirits!"
"Kindred spirits," I began.
"- Unrelated relatives whose souls bear an uncanny resemblance to our own. A precious commodity that dwindles as one drifts from the herd: cows and chickens enjoy them in abundance, as do Quidditch players, Order of Merlin recipients, feminists and construction workers; but the stray individualist, uniquely warped by years of independent thinking and eccentric reading, may encounter them only in dreams," we finished together.
Life in terms of The Cynic's Dictionary. Fan-bloody-tastic.
Unfortunately, my reasonably good mood did not last long. When Edmund and I left the library a few hours later, we were serenaded by a chorus of first-year students singing 'God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs.' They were being led by Professor Flitwick waggling his wand like a conductor's baton. "Hello there Mr Stebbins, Miss Fawcett!" he said cheerfully. "'Tis the season to be jolly! This first year Charms class have all received detention and I thought I'd give it a bit of a Christmas theme. They will be singing Christmas carols in front of the library for an hour every night till Christmas!"
Honestly. Was there no escape from bloody Christmas?
Edmund smiled his Ravenclaw grin. The Ravenclaw grin and the Actual Edmund grin are very different entities, let me tell you. "How very… inspired of you, Professor Flitwick," he told his Head of House. "Well… Sylvia and I had best be going… we've been studying hard… very tired…"
"That's my good studious boy!" Professor Flitwick called after him as we walked away.
I swallowed a snort of laughter. "Oh, the cheese!" I remarked after we'd rounded a corner.
"Pure cheddar," Edmund agreed.
"I'm more of a blue vein, myself," I replied. "Full of cynical mould."
Edmund grinned the Actual Edmund grin. "You should write a book about it," he told me. "My Life As A Piece Of Cheese, by Sylvia Fawcett. I can see it now."
"Why, thankyou." I pretended to sweep my hat off and bow.
"You're too cynical to be a Hufflepuff, Sylvia," he laughed. "The Sorting Hat screwed up big time."
"Whoever said I couldn't be cynical and hardworking at the same time? And anyway, there has to be an even distribution of cynics, Edmund. Imagine if you and I were in the same house - so much competition! And besides," I added thoughtfully, "if you and Archie were in the same house, you'd probably murder each other. I know I'd murder Sabina if I had to live with her twenty-four hours a day."
"I wonder if the distribution rule applies with Quidditch players," Edmund said. "It seems highly convenient to me that each house just happens to have the right amount of players to make up a decent Quidditch team. I mean, if you're going by Murphy's Law, which, in my humble opinion, may as well be the Law of the Universe, they should be all piled up in one house."
"But look at Hufflepuff," I said in reply. "We've got Diggory, for sure, but we've got little Summerby training as reserve Seeker, and he's no pushover."
"Maybe he should have been in Slytherin, then," Edmund said, a mischievous glint in his brown eyes.
I laid my hand over my heart in mock incredulity. "Are you saying that Draco Malfoy is not a REAL Seeker?!"
"Never!" he replied, winking.
I pretended to wipe away tears. "The boy that started the 'Support Cedric Diggory' campaign not a real Seeker! And to think: he started that campaign because he truly believes Cedric is the only worthy candidate to represent Hogwarts! It's not because he hates Potter at all! The 'Potter Stinks' on the other side of the badges has nothing to do with it!"
Edmund chuckled. "I don't see you wearing one of those 'Support Cedric Diggory' badges, Sylvia. C'mon, where is it? Whatever happened to Hufflepuff solidarity and all that?"
"That would be giving into all kinds of factionalism," I replied, grinning. "I'm afraid that I just don't share that abiding human need to create group conflicts based on blood, politics, gender, class or whether toilet paper should be pulled over or under the roll. Or whether Cedric Diggory or Harry Potter is the real Hogwarts champion."
"Such moral superiority you have." Edmund prodded light-heartedly: "But you do believe Draco Malfoy isn't a real Seeker?"
"Of course he's not. We all know he bought his way onto the team," I answered.
Edmund waggled his finger. "Now, now, Sylvia. Play nice. He NEGOTIATED his way onto the team."
"Ah yes, negotiation. The art of persuading your opponent to take the little brown Knut and give you the big gold Galleon," I said. "Or, in this case, the art of persuading your opponent to take the nice shiny broomstick and give you the nice Seeker position even though you are completely talentless. Even your Chang managed to beat him, and she's got about as much sense in her head as Uric the Oddball."
"So young, and so cynical!" Edmund remarked, grinning. "Anyway, our ways must part here, for I have Studious Ravenclaw things to do. See you, Sylvia!"
"Bye Edmund," I answered, as our ways parted.
Cynicism is so much more fun when you have someone to share it with. Where's the fun in seeing things as they are and not how they ought to be if you're the only one who can do it? At least that way, when the Scythians find you and pluck out your eyes to improve your vision, you can share a guide dog.