Alexandra Sutton and the Death Eater's Snitch
It was just after six o'clock, one Saturday evening in early March, when I trudged down an alleyway and through the half-hidden door of a pub called the Hobgoblin.
The walls were a dirty nicotine yellow that might have been last painted white in a fit of patriotically inspired spring cleaning when Victoria got crowned. The tables, chairs and benches were made from blackened heavy oak that was substantial enough to survive two hundred years of bar-brawls. Behind the bar there was the usual accumulation of postcards, photos, peculiar knick-knacks and pewter tankards you get in any pub with a community of regulars who have been coming for years, if not decades. Just discernible on the dirty wall above the bar were the words Meum est propositum in taberna mori, ut sint vina proxima morientis ori. This should have been enough to tell anybody who got their Apparating very wrong that they had accidentally washed up in Cambridge - a town where you can't throw a brick without hitting somebody who speaks better Latin than Cicero, is a bigger drunk than Petonius and has an outlook on life even more sour than Juvenal's.
Latin tag included, it looked like any one of a dozen similar establishments in the city. The details that said there was more to this place were subtle. As well as the Guardian, the Times and Varsity, a copy of the Prophet was provided for customers. A battered ancient broomstick was mounted over the fireplace and surrounded by team photos. Each showed groups of people in pale-blue robes clutching broomsticks yet they were motionless - obviously Muggle pictures. Behind the bar, a bottle of Ogden's Old sat next to the regimented row of Scotch whiskies and some dusty bottles of butterbeer. The wizard-brewed Dragon's Breath beer was available, but I had tried this before and knew it lived up to its name so I ignored it and ordered a pint of the more mundane London Pride.
If the pub was a curious mixture of wizard and Muggle then so were its customers. In wizard terms, Cambridge is hicksville. Wizardry here isn't an alternative world filled with wonder and terror. More like a tiny obscure secret sect, like some offshoot of Freemasonry that only hangs onto its secrecy to keep people from finding out how dull it is. Most of the customers had Muggle jobs, many connected with the university in some way or other. A few worked for some of the hi-tech companies that clustered around Cambridge - don't ask me how they managed that. The rest were students, like myself.
I admit, when I shocked Professor Snape during my fifth-year career interview with my notion of going to university after Hogwarts, it never occurred to me that it might be Cambridge - the competition to gain entrance is fearsome and I have a realistic idea of my own abilities. But wizardry has a habit of handing you opportunities you never dreamt of wrapped around choices that aren't really choices. Thanks to a thirteenth century rule Muggles had long forgotten, Cambridge was the only place that technically could accept NEWT's as fulfilling their entrance requirements - not that that mattered. What was more important was the senior admissions tutor who was an ex-Ravenclaw and who, on behalf of the Ministry, was prepared to discretely rubberstamp the yearly handful of application forms that arrived by owl.
As Henry Ford might have put it, you can have any colour you like so long as it's light-blue.
With my beer in one hand, I sat alone on one of the hard benches and pulled a dog-eared paperback out of my book bag. The pub wasn't my usual haunt and I had only came in on a whim and because I happened to be passing. With one exception, I kept wizard things out of my life these days. Even my wand now rarely left my sock drawer.
But before I properly settled down, I was startled by a flash from the fireplace and the emergence of a couple of figures. I wasn't the only one to jump - the recent headlines in the Prophet about the war had made a lot of people nervous. However, it quickly became apparent that this pair were mostly harmless. They strode out of the fireplace, leaving a cloud of white ash in their wake and attracting angry glares from nearby customers whose drinks got a light dusting. They had almost reached the bar when one of them saw me. He pulled the sleeve of his companion and nodded in my direction. A moment later, they were sitting in front of me.
"What do you two bastards want? I heard you were busy with that shop of yours, catering for all those people, like you, who have the sense of humour of a six year old."
"Alexandra Sutton," said George Weasley, "is that a way to talk to old friends and former classmates who you've not seen in nearly a year? We just fancied trying a new hostelry for our well-earned after-work beer."
Of all the crappy luck! The first time in months that I had come in here and it had to be the same night they picked. I cursed the sudden impulse that made me do it. If I had gone to another pub, like the Mill, by the riverbank, then right now I could have been trying to hit on one of those fit blond Australians that take tourists punting on the River Cam.
"Well bugger off; I've been in the library all day and I'm not staying long because I've still got an assignment to finish for Monday. I can't do it tomorrow as I've got Sunday Quidditch practice for most of the day."
I flapped an arm in the general direction of the team photos, one of which included me. "I'm second reserve Beater for the Cambridge Cormorants."
"The Cambridge what?" said one of them, incredulously.
"It's one of the non-league amateur teams, Fred," said George, straight-faced. "You know Appleby fans used to shoot arrows from their wands? Well, Cambridge gets pelted with fish."
I closed my book with a snap and stood.
"He's joking, Sutton," said Fred, in exasperation. "Sit down. I'll get some drinks."
Oh wonderful, I had the choice of being the idiot who's the butt of everybody's joke, or an uptight humourless dolt who gets in a filthy snit because somebody is taking the mickey. I sat down - because with a choice like that, you might as well pick the option with the free beer.
During beer number two, we exchanged small talk about the doings of our classmates who were now out in the big scary world. During number three, they described the latest product range from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. My idea of "Tourett's Toffees" intrigued them once I explained what Tourett's syndrome involved - "Remember Patrick Sullivan, our year, Hufflepuff? Just like him."
Soon though, we were onto more serious topics.
"How's your sister?" asked George.
"Coping with third year." I shrugged. "I went up to see her on the last Hogsmeade Saturday. Like everybody else, she's worried about the war and Hogwarts has hardly been immune from it. My parents are abroad again, Father managed to wangle a secondment as assistant military attaché at the British embassy in Oslo. It's a very bad career move but mixed marriages are supposed to be targets - it's best that they're out of the way for two years."
"And how are you?"
"Peachy. The work is much more interesting than Hogwarts and the people are weirder; I like it here."
And that was true. The rare times I saw a copy of the Prophet made me glad of the choice I had made. The magic world and its war seemed a long way off, and that suited me.
On the questions of how many more beers we had, or the point at which we switched to Ogdens Old, I can't give reliable answers. But I know I felt quite shocked when the barman announced closing time and I looked at my watch and realized it was long past midnight. Fred claimed they couldn't Apparate home in their present state as that would guarantee a splinching that would see bits of them spread across most of southern England. After sniggering for half a minute at this thought, and to my complete surprise, I heard myself offering to put them up for the night.
We took the time-honoured route round the back of Trinity College and then through King's. All the while, the twins were singing a lewd song that mentioned each species of dragon in turn and various reasons why intimate relations with them would be a very bad idea - I didn't dare ask where they had learnt it. Eventually, we got into my college after climbing over several walls, falling over and giggling a few times and charming open a couple of locked gates. I suppose it would have been easier to go in through the front entrance. But the Porters already thought I was a bit odd, God knew what they would say amongst themselves if I staggered into the Porter's Lodge at quarter to one in the morning, looking like I had trouble staying vertical and wanting to sign in a pair of identical twins as overnight guests.
Once inside, our meandering course led us through courtyards, along corridors, up a flight of stone steps and finally to a heavy door. I saw it had a small card with "J Beaufort, A Sutton" written on it. Even though the world was moving around more then I liked, I felt a blurry surge of pride that I had found my own room.
"Jus' a sec', I'll find my key... my key... keys...where are you, keys? Oh bugger it!
Oy, Weasley, gimmie your wand... Alohomora! "
Unfortunately, Fred's wand turned out to be a little more twitchy than mine. I gave it too much oomph and the door slammed open with a crash that would make my neighbours think I was being raided by the police.
"Welcome... to my non-humble abode," I said, waving them in with a rough approximation of old-world courtesy. "My house is my house, break anything and I'll break you."
"This is nice, Alex," said George. "It looks a bit like school."
It did rather. For my first year, I'd been lucky enough to get a place in the college's old courtyard. It was a huge shared sitting room with heavy roof beams and leaded glass windows, dominated by a stone fireplace (complete with 17th century graffiti). Two oak doors led to the tiny adjoining bedrooms that belonged to myself and my room-mate.
"Sit! Make y'er sel's at home. I'll make coffee..."
"You've got a room-mate, Sutton?" asked Fred. He clearly spotted the invisible line that precisely divided the room into two zones of very different personality.
"Umm... yeah, Julie. Don' worry 'bout her - she's fas' asleep."
"Or she was," observed Fred, as I noisily stumbled over a library copy of Gardiner's Egyptian Grammar I'd left on the floor.
"She goes t'bed at 10:30 precisely and she thinks a half of shandy counts as a Baccic orgy. Every evenin', she phones the boyfrien' she met at church camp - back in Watford or Walsall or wherever the hell she comes from. Oh yeah... listen, this'll make you laugh, she-"
"You were making coffee, weren't you, Alex?" said George forcefully, before I said enough to irreparably damage my already strained relations with her.
"Tha's right... now tell me if you find the kettle, I'm sure I saw it here somewhere-"
When I woke, I was lying on my bed. I was still dressed but somebody had removed my boots and my glasses were on the bedside table. There was also a cup of tea that had either been there less then a minute or had been charmed to stay hot. I sat up, but felt like somebody had just invented a jelly-head curse and tried it on me at point-blank range, so it seemed sensible to collapse back onto the pillow. There was a note with the tea so I put on my glasses and read it, being careful to stay prone.
Tea with six sugars, powdered asphodel root and a tiny dash of
leech juice. It's a guaranteed hangover cure and we speak from
experience. Look after yourself, Sutton.
F & G
PS We like the toffee idea and are prepared to offer a ten percent
royalty if we can get it to work.
There was a furious staccato rapping at the door. Somebody was full of annoyance and in a mood to broadcast the fact. The door opened before I could shout at them to go away.
"Alex Sutton, is it too much to ask for you to tell me when you're planning to invite people to spend the night? I found two strange blokes sleeping in the sitting room when I got up this morning. I was going to call the Porters but they said they knew you from school - though they could have been anybody. And another thing-"
I buried my head under the pillow.
People who can read Cuneiform are thin on the ground. So it's no wonder that my tutor jumped on me when he found that, thanks to an outstanding grade in my Runes NEWT, I was competent in Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Akkadian Cuneiform. On a good day, I might even make an educated guess of a text in Venetic, Lombardic Futhark or even Old Norse (excuse my preening.) My tutor didn't ask how I'd learnt all this - around here, unusual talents aren't unusual - but he happily took advantage by offering me a job translating a pile of Babylonian tablets that had been seemingly ignored since they were dug up in the fifties. I got five pounds an hour, a key and a twenty-four hour access pass to the Archaeology Department, and the promise of co-authorship of any papers that came from this. So as menial work went, it was a lot better than stocking shelves in a supermarket and I could cover what I spent in Heffer's and in Galloway and Porter's without having to sell a kidney.
One evening, about a month after I had seen the Weasley twins, I was in the small space I had been given in a shared office, straining through a magnifying glass at a particularly obstinate example. It seemed to be a copy of a letter from a district official to his immediate superior in the food chain. He was explaining away that year's bad tax yield with a mixture of whining, sycophancy and passing the buck - your typical corporate memo. However, the scribe had used some form of shorthand he apparently had mostly made up. For a man who had been dead three thousand years, I was beginning to hate him intensely.
It was half-past eleven and I had been there since after dinner. My longing to give up and my obstinacy had been having a little war for some time. But before I made a decision on whether to call it a night, I needed to visit the little girl's room, or rather, the little boy's room. The layout of the building meant that the men's toilets were right next to the office, the women's were a five minute walk along corridors and downstairs to the ground floor. When I was here late and unlikely to encounter anybody else, it was an obvious thing to save myself the trip.
I was doing up my trousers when there were four muffled cracks in quick succession. The noises you get when a bit of air, minding its own business, is violently forced aside by a materialising body. I froze; these days wizards simply didn't make unannounced visits by Apparition. At least, not if they didn't want to be instantly hexed on arrival. And four people at once...
Oh dear God! I could hear them talking outside, in the corridor.
After finding my office empty, the smart move would be for them to leave as quickly as they had come and return in a day or two, thus keeping what they thought was the element of surprise. That's definitely what I'd have done in their shoes; to waste time searching a large building for me would be completely inept. I desperately clung to the hope that the one in charge had enough brains to see this.
The muffled conversation ceased and I heard the door to the toilets open.
I lifted my feet from the floor to make my cubicle look empty. Bizarrely, the embarrassment of being found in the wrong toilets seemed as bad the sharp fear of who it might be that had just entered. With desperate intensity, I to tried to absorb every scrap of noise that reached me. The measured footsteps of a single person crossed the floor then a crash harshly echoed around the room as a cubicle door was kicked open.
With a bang, the second cubicle was opened.
I knew it was safe to stand up. You can't be kicking doors and simultaneously be on your hands and knees, peering underneath the cubicle partitions.
Crash! I had his rhythm now. I was slowly counting off the number of seconds it took him to kick a door and move on to the next.
He should be at mine, right about...
The door exploded open. I had a glimpse of a hood with two eye-slits before I launched myself forward and smashed the heavy porcelain cistern lid down on his head. He collapsed to the floor as if he had been shot, leaving me with a vague sense of surprise that this had actually worked.
I snatched up the man's wand and tucked it under my belt. The most painstaking search of a toilet isn't going to take more than a few seconds so it would only take a few seconds longer for his companions to wonder what was delaying him and come to investigate. I had no idea who or what was outside the door, so I would leave via the window. I picked up my faithful friend, the cistern lid, and hurled it at the glass with both hands. It sailed through and out into the night followed by a glittering constellation of glass shards. I climbed onto the window ledge and kicked out the remaining big bits of glass. As I lowered myself out and let go, I heard somebody shouting.
My last thought was a feeling of stupidity for forgetting to seal the door with a spell.
I hit the pavement with a snapping crunch that was too loud to be good news. The only thing that kept me from screaming at the sudden explosion of pain was that all the breath had been knocked from me.
Get up, Sutton. Up! MOVE, DAMN YOU!
I pulled myself to my feet by clutching at a lampost, noticing with surprise that I was smearing it with blood. My hands had been badly cut by the broken glass but pain from my ankle made it seemed only of academic interest. The Department of Archaeology sits on the corner of Tennis Court Road and Downing Street (which they happily point out, long predates the London one). And it was in Downing Street that I had landed. At this time of night, it was quite deserted - Cambridge is far from being a twenty-four hour metropolis. If there had been traffic, I might have tried to flag down a car but it was so quiet I would have to wait minutes for one to pass and I didn't have time to waste, so I limped across the road, dragging my left leg and headed up a side street.
Anybody who's read Robinson Crusoe will know the man had the heart and soul of an accountant. At one point, he writes down a long list - a balance sheet really - of good and bad points associated with being shipwrecked on a desert island. The gist of it is that loneliness was a bit of a bugger but at least he was alive, he had food, he was more or less sane, and, if he prayed enough, the Good Lord would see him right. Pious twaddle aside, it's a good mental exercise at times when the only obvious alternative is to curl up in a little screaming ball of terror.
Bad - there appears to be at least four Death Eaters after me. If they catch me, I'm dead. The best outcome will be that they don't have time to gang-rape me first.
Good - they're already down to three - possibly two if a companion stayed behind to look after the one that I knocked out. Furthermore, they seem to be idiots. They've failed once and I only need to evade them for a little while longer because they won't dare stay long - they'll be afraid Aurors might soon arrive.
Bad - equally, Aurors might not be here for hours. I've cut my hands to ribbons and broken an ankle. I'm not moving very fast and probably leaving a trail of blood splashes. They've had time to fetch reinforcements and they won't give up easily because - if what I read about the first war is right - what happens to Death Eaters who fail isn't a million miles from what happens to their victims if they succeed.
Good- I have just cast a pain deadening spell on my ankle so, if necessary, I can run on it. This would pulverise what's left of the joint and probably leave me with a permanent limp but I can worry about that later.
Bad - they somehow knew how to find me in the Archaeology Department so I must assume they know where I live. They might even have posted somebody outside the Hobgoblin to stop me getting to the only magic fireplace in the city and calling for help.
Good - I'm smart enough to have anticipated all that. Much of central Cambridge is a random maze of narrow cobbled streets; I know my way round pretty well and they don't. All I need to do to be safe is to get off the street and hide up until morning. I've got one of their wand so I can charm open doors and defend myself as a last resort.
Hold on! Was I too abrupt in dismissing divine intervention? Without thinking, I had stumbled up Corn Exchange Street and the city's multi-storey car park was on my right. I crossed the street and entered it.
Come on, Alex! Out-think the bastards! Don't climb to the upper levels - you might get cut-off and cornered. Don't hide here - it's too close to where they last saw you. Cut through the car-park and head for Sidney Street. You can break into some shop and hide up there until dawn.
Unlike the last one, the one that Apparated in front of me wasn't wearing a pillowcase. Just a little half-mask that covered the top of his face. That and his cloak made him almost comically resemble a silent-movie villain - though they tend not to be quite so tubby. This one clearly didn't believe in wasting time.
It was the gripping charm they put on Quaffles. My wand gave a tug that felt like it would dislocated my fingers, but I still held it. Never let it be said that hanging about with Quidditch players is a waste of time.
"You've given us quite a chaise, little Mudblood girl. Drop that wand and-"
"Incendio, " I bellowed, giving it everything I had.
Why do these twits always have to talk?
There was no question that he was good, certainly when compared to somebody who only just scraped a pass in her Defence NEWT. He wordlessly cast a flame freezing charm and my spell whistled past him without even removing the smirk from his face.
My stomach lurched as I understood exactly what would happen in the next minute or so. Wizard duels are really no more than playing rock-paper-scissors with pretty coloured lights; we would trade hexes and defensive charms until I made a mistake or was a fraction slow, then...
But my fire-raising spell hadn't been idle. It struck a Mercedes parked behind the Death Eater. It want round every part that could go on fire and told them sternly that they should go on fire, right this instant - they all obeyed. The windows blew out as several hundred pounds of fabric and plastic went up. An instant later, the fuel tank detonated and a lazy fireball engulfed the man. His flame freezing charm kept him from being burned but he was knocked off his feet.
It was only later that I realized what I should have done next - just like you only ever think of the wittiest, most insightful comments long after a conversation. Now, I should have used the opportunity to hit the man with a body lock curse. After that, I could have leisurely snapped his wand then kicked him in the privates and stamped on his head enough times to make me feel better.
But, as I said, I only thought of that later. At that moment, my thought was to keep going with what seemed to be working. This car park was used by guests in a large adjoining hotel so, despite the lateness, it was quite full.
Explosion after explosion rippled across the floor. The level had become a bad day in Bosnia. Twenty foot flames tumbled out of half the cars, bouncing from the concrete roof, the floor was littered with bits of car and the heat washed over me like it was suddenly summer. I knew the Death Eater was in there somewhere. But he would be busy simply staying alive with flame freezing charms, assuming he hadn't been cut to pieces by flying debris. After a few seconds, the fire alarms started to screech and water began flooding out of the roof sprinklers; I was wet through in seconds.
Without looking back, I turned and stumbled away fast as I could.
I was woken by sudden daylight; somebody had pulled aside the black plastic rubbish sacks that had I'd used for both blankets and camouflage. I pulled out the Death Eater's wand and pointed it unsteady at the blurry figure standing above me.
"I think," she said "That would work better if you held it by the handle. Put it down, dear, before you do yourself an injury."
She corrected herself. "Another injury."
I adjusted my glasses. She was a woman - sorry, lady - in late middle-age with a pair of librarian's glasses on a cord round her neck. She looked like a country vicar's wife or a primary school headmistress, the sort of person who inevitably gets described as the pillar, the backbone or the bedrock of something or other. She radiated solid common sense and tweedy good taste. And I don't mean wizard good taste which is nothing more than covering yourself with glue and running through a sequin and lace shop. This dirty alleyway behind a fast food place looked elevated just by her presence.
"I'm Mrs Jordan," she said, stiffly. "I'm with the Magical Law Enforcement Squad. We've been looking for you since your act of grand arson last night. Now do come along please, Miss Sutton. Come with me."
"Sure, if you're prepared to buy coffee." I stood up but the pain deadening spell on my ankle had worn-off while I slept. I screamed and collapsed into her arms.
"St. Mungo's first, I think. Isn't it lucky I have a Portkey? Now hold onto this."
And she presented me with a little porcelain figure of a Scottish terrier; for some reason, it was wearing a kilt.
It was the first time I had ever used a Portkey; I wish it could have been to a nicer destination.
We were deposited in a large waiting room full of uncomfortable looking chairs and old magazines. The walls were painted in colours that must have been carefully chosen to disguise the evidence of anybody accidentally being sick. They were decorated with safety posters written by somebody who seemed to think that picking up a wand automatically cut your IQ in half. The only portrait was empty of its subject - I'm not surprised, given the option, I wouldn't have hung round here more than necessary. At this time in the morning, there was hardly anybody about but the number of empty chairs showed how busy it could get.
I limped along with an arm draped over Mrs Jordan's shoulder but she seemed to know where she was going. I was getting odd looks but I was long past caring. I was a bit short of clothing because my overcoat was still hanging over the back of my chair in an office in Cambridge and, during the night, I had torn up my T-shirt to bandage my hand. I was still clutching the Death Eater's wand like it was a life belt and, from the way the receptionist sniffing and wrinkling her nose, I still carried plenty of evidence of where I spent the night. With little ado, I was deposited in a treatment room and my odd rescuer went off to fetch a healer and locate a fireplace to report-in to her superiors.
The healer was a tall youngish man who, in other circumstances, might have brightened my day. But he turned out to be one of those big bluff hearty types who likes to make light of other people's troubles. The kind of callous swine that would tut at you for crying when your leg's half hanging off, then cheerfully tell you it's just a scratch and his cousin, William, didn't even cheep when he was mauled by a Manticore and his leg was twice as bad. At some point in the conversation, the phrase "stiff upper lip" would be uttered and you would want to smash him over the head with a bedpan.
Luckily, before this happened, Mrs Jordan came back with a couple of men. They brusquely told the healer to go polish his stethoscope and come back when they were finished. Then they listened intently while I told my story to a quick-notes quill.
"They don't usually go after half-bloods" said the one with a moustache, when I finished. "More interested in Muggleborns."
"Who knows? Perhaps it's because she's studying with Muggles?" He picked up the parchment and the Death Eater's wand. It seemed that had got all they came for.
"Excuse me! This is me you're talking about. What the hell am I supposed to do if they come back?"
The two men considered this problem. I got the impression that talking to survivors wasn't something they did very often. The conversation I just heard would have much the same if I had been lying in front of them with a tag tied to my toe, rather than sitting there wearing an embarrassing hospital gown.
"That's not likely," said the bald one. "The four that attacked you last night would have been from the outer circle of Death Eaters. I wouldn't be surprised if most of them had never been on an attack before. You were supposed to be an easy bit of fun for the first-timers."
"That doesn't answer my question," I said icily.
There was an embarrassed silence.
"Oh... well do you have a copy of out booklet on home and personal defence?"
Two weeks later, I was spending lunchtime in the student common room in the Archaeology building. I was on my own apart from a sandwich, some vile coffee from a machine and the current number of an Egyptology journal.
I don't know how I had managed to keep coming to my lectures, perhaps some desperate need for a routine kept me functioning even though I wasn't getting enough sleep and I was starting to get twitchy. At night, any noise seemed to be somebody Apparating outside my bedroom door; I would sit bolt-upright for hours, with my wand in my hand until finally exhaustion got the better of me. On some days I was scared to leave my room. On other days, I was frightened to go home. I had begun to feel a desperate envy for Muggle friends who were wonderfully unaware of the war that had broken out around them - I would have snapped my wand and joined them in an instant, if that had really been an option.
I noticed the Weasley twins the moment they entered the common room because I had sat where I could see the door. Saying nothing, they crossed the room and sat beside me.
"How did you two find me?"
"It wasn't easy, Sutton," said Fred. "You've moved out of your college room, your room-mate has no idea where you went and the forwarding address you left with your college turned out to be some Muggle pub called The Eagle."
Actually, it's one I avoid because it's usually stuffed full of tourists, but I was impressed they had managed to discover even that. The college authorities don't give the personal details of students to outsiders.
"I've moved into a shared rented house," I said, shortly. "I'm not going to tell you where because, strange as it may seem, I'm trying to make it hard for people to find me."
"Well you're still a first year student of archaeology and ancient history, aren't you?" said George. "This is Tuesday, isn't it? And according to the timetable pined to a notice board downstairs -" he paused to consult a parchment. " - you had British and European Prehistory from eleven until one and you'll have Geophysics and Surveying, whatever that is, from two until five. God alone knows why you've chosen to spend another three years in a classroom, but that's none of our business. The point, which I'm about to come to, is that this is the one day of the week you would have lunch here as you would be unlikely to waste your lunch hour by walking to your college and back just to eat at the refectory."
He paused for breath.
"Ignore my idiot brother," said Fred. "We're here because of what happened. There's somebody who want's to talk to you."
Meum est propositum in taberna mori, ut sint vina proxima morientis ori. - My plan is to die in a pub so that I'll have a drink close by as I fade away.
Varsity - One of Cambridge University's student newspapers.
Light Blue is the Cambridge University colour.
Cambridge Colleges - It's worth explaining that all Cambridge students, even though they study a particular subject in a particular department, are first and foremost members of one of twenty or so colleges. Essentially, it's the Hogwarts house system on a grand scale. Like Hogwarts houses, various stereotypes are associated with the different colleges - details of which are quite beyond a mere outsider like the author, who was at the University of London. Alex is in Peterhouse College, by the way.
Shandy is a 50/50 mixture of beer and lemonade. Half a pint of shandy is therefore the mildest alcoholic drink you can possibly order in a pub.
Galloway and Porter's, Heffer's - Cambridge bookshops.
Egyptian Grammar - Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, by Sir Alan Gardiner - First printed in 1926, telephone directory sized and notoriously opaque, but the definitive text on the subject.