Tantalisingly Close

Welcome to Hogwarts

DISCLAIMER: Only the OCs and plot belong to me.

A/N: Beta'd by the wonderful FartyArtyPartyPooper on FFN.

2016

Clove scratched her Patti's cat Adhira at the base of her tail as she thought about her current predicament. She'd promised herself three years ago: 'I will never use magic again.'

There was a small problem with that, however.

Clove Tanner was on a train speeding towards a magic school.

.oOo.

It was sixth-year Gryffindor Prefect Callum Walker who first figured out that it was a bulk year after glimpsing the absolute hoard of students trailing after Professor Dowell like little lost ducklings. As word began spreading around, silent groans came from the students; no teenager enjoyed delayed food.

After the Hat sang its song, the first student was called up.

'Aaron, Isaac.'

'HUFFLEPUFF!'

His black robe and white rope belt were shaded into a yellow robe and black rope belt.

'Aboulain, Pascal.'

'RAVENCLAW!'

His robe and belt also shaded into different colours, except blue and bronze this time. As time went by, the first-year students waiting between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables one by one got up to the stool and the names trickled down from Baker, Harry (Gryffindor) to Davids, Ford (Slytherin) to Fenwick, Faraday (Hufflepuff).

Clove was not the only first-year who was nervous but she was fairly certain that she was the only one nervous for her reasons. She gnawed on her knuckle as the names went by - Greengrass. Hayes. Johnson-Weasley. Longbottom. Misces. Park. Quirke. Shir. Sutcliffe. And-

'Tanner, Clove.'

Clove's mind raced as she walked up to the stool and sat, gnawing on her knuckle as her vision was obscured by the dark fabric of the Sorting Hat.

'How in the world are you allowed in a school?'

Clove flinched at what she presumed was the Sorting Hat speaking in her head.

'Yes, that is me. Ah, nevermind, I've got a job to do.'

Its presence as it burrowed deep into her mind was felt quite clearly by the girl, who was panicking slightly at what the Hat may be able to see.

'Don't worry, don't worry, child! With issues like that, you would do well in Slytherin… But you don't want to do well. What a pity.'

Clove bit harder on her knuckle, tasting blood. Back when she was still friends with Faraday, the other girl had talked about Slytherin with an almost reverent way. Maybe it would be best to go there; after all, Faraday was Sorted into Hufflepuff and Clove sharing a dorm with her would be quite awkward.

'Hufflepuff, eh?'

No, Hufflepuff wouldn't do anything for Clove at all. Slytherin sounded… fitting, but they all seemed a bit judgemental. Ravenclaw was the best - but wouldn't they just figure out-

'No, no - go back to Hufflepuff.'

But Clove didn't want to go to Hufflepuff-

'That just won't do, dear. This is out of my hands. HUFFLEPUFF!'

The fabric obscuring Clove's eyes was taken away and she got off the spindly stool on shaky legs, trying to get accustomed to the light. She made her way towards the clapping table adorned in yellow and black and sat as far away from Faraday as possible.

By then, there were only ten first-years left and all of the elder students were anxious to see the bulk year go by so that they could have their food.

Clove leaned her head on her palm, slapping her forearm with her hand when Tesar, Rolphe got into Hufflepuff. Pointedly avoiding the gaze of anyone around her, she traced patterns on the table until the final round of clapping (Zaal, Laurie to Gryffindor) had ceased and a woman's voice reverberated around the hall.

Looking up, Clove saw an old lady clad in green, impressive robes with a piercing purple gaze that made her fidget.

'Welcome and welcome back to Hogwarts,' she said. 'Now, I am sure you are all hungry, but before our Feast, I would like to say a few words.'

Clove could see various elder students glaring at her and smirked slightly; only having sweets for lunch would do that to someone.

'Bullying is not tolerated at Hogwarts,' the woman said, sitting down. Clove watched her pensively until the boy sitting next to her elbowed her side and pointed to the table.

It was absolutely covered with food. Large slices of pork. Jugs of gravy. All the salad one could ask for. Potatoes of all shapes and sizes.

For a moment, Clove wondered how they got there - but then she remembered: Magic. Right.

Reaching out, she took a couple of spoonfuls of brown rice and a ladle of butter chicken masala.

'SO,' a loud voice called out from right across from her. She looked up to see a black-haired boy resting his chin on his hands staring at her. 'You're Clove, right?'

She blinked.

He pouted ('You're no fun.') and turned to the girl next to him. Clove rolled her eyes and left them to their fate. Conversations carried on enthusiastically around her and covered all topics from classes to families. By the time dessert came, Clove had already eaten around five plates of food, including (but not limited to) pho, spaghetti bolognese, and sweet potato salad. So, instead of stuffing her face with thick, delicious ice cream, she brought out her current book from one of the inside pockets her Patti had sewn into her robe.

The unmistakable clink of a fork tapping against glass reverberated throughout the Great Hall.

Trapping her middle finger inside the book to keep her page, Clove turned towards the High Table where the old woman was standing again.

'Now that you've had your delicious feast,' she started, 'I can hand out a few start-of-year notices. First of all, no student should attempt to go past the wards in the Forbidden Forest that are specifically designed for your safety. I do not want a repeat of last year.'

All of the elder students' heads turned magnetically to a Gryffindor third-year with a face almost as red as her hair.

Acknowledging this, the woman continued, 'As always, magic is expressly forbidden in school corridors, no matter what "he said, she said" matters come to light.

'And, lastly, Quidditch trials will be on the second week of term. For more information, go to the captains: Callum Walker for Gryffindor, Michael Fenwick for Ravenclaw, Amber Selhurst for Hufflepuff, and Ferrus Flint for Slytherin. You are dismissed.'

A great balloon of chatter blossomed up from the Hall as Prefects shouted for the first-years to follow them and second-years upward tried to get out of their seats but couldn't for the throng of people squeezing them as they walked by.

Clove joined the end of the single-file line of Hufflepuff first-years following a boy with a shiny badge on his chest. Pushing their way through the crowd, they eventually made their way out of the great double-doors of the Great Hall and into the Entrance Hall.

In the Entrance Hall, there were two staircases: one leading up to a balcony that split off into two doors, and one leading down under the Great Hall. The boy led the Hufflepuff first-years down the second one and turned abruptly to the left down a wide stone corridor with paintings of food adorning the walls. Finally, he stopped in front of a pile of barrels.

'Welcome to Hufflepuff,' he said in an American accent so stereotypical Clove wasn't sure if it was fake or not. 'These barrels may nart look like much, bud they hide the entrance to our calm-un room. Warch closely 'cuz if you tap the rarng code, vinegar will get everywhere and that shi- stuff stinks.'

All of the first-years craned their necks to look at the boy as he drew his wand and rapped it on the barrel smack bang in the middle of the second row to a 'don't-clap-this-one-back' rhythm. To Clove's surprise, the barrel jumped down off its perch, then another one, then another one, slowly revealing a round, yellow door until all of the first-years could see it quite clearly.

The boy stepped up to it and declared just loud enough that the others could hear, 'Prefect Matthew Lopez, fifth-year, with the twelve noo Hufflepuff first-years.'

The yellow door opened and 'Prefect Matthew Lopez' stepped through, ushering the first-years in behind him.

The room that they entered was bright and well-lit. It was circular and had a fireplace opposite the door. Similarly rounded windows dotted the curved walls, their black frames contrasting beautifully against the sunshine-yellow paint that covered the stones. Plants spilt over the windowsills and crept along the walls, circling numerous bookshelves and snaking down to tables and couches. Many students were already sat upon these couches and contributed to the quiet hubbub of noise that seemed to fill the room.

The Prefect led the first-years across the wooden floor and onto a large black sheepskin throw next to the fireplace, taking a seat in an armchair and squashing next to another Prefect who blushed fiercely. Above the fireplace was a richly-detailed painting of a woman clutching a golden chalice, smiling warmly down at everyone. As she began to talk, the noise died down.

'Welcome back to Hogwarts, my dear Hufflepuffs. To our new first-years,' and here she gestured down to said first-years sat on the black sheepskin throw, 'my name is Helga Hufflepuff, and I am this House's founder. This is our first House Meeting of the year. We will have one at nine o'clock in the evening on the first of every month unless it's a holiday, but you are still welcome to come and speak to me at any time.'

Clove's lips twitched slightly at what Faraday must have been thinking of Helga Hufflepuff's word choice.

'There are a few rules here in Hufflepuff,' the portrait carried on, 'but I don't think any of them are that difficult to follow.

'The first is given names only. A House is a family, and we don't go around calling our family by their titles and surnames.

'The second relates rather nicely to titles. In Hufflepuff, we are absolutely fair. This means treating those who are different from you in whatever way exactly the same.

'The third and last is not really a rule, more of a statement: you are not alone. Teenage years are some of the most difficult, and magical teenagehood is all the worse. If you need help with anything, from homework to friendships, do not hesitate to talk about it with an elder student, your Head of House, or even with me.

'And with that, allow me to introduce your new Head of House; after Professor Babbling left, we had to have a replacement. This is Professor Anita Shafiq.'

An elderly witch dressed in purple robes stood up with difficulty, her brown wrinkled hands gripping the armchair she had been sat upon to give her leverage. She walked up to the fireplace and smiled at the gathered students.

'Hello,' she began. 'As Helga said, my name is Professor Shafiq and most of you already know that I teach Potions. There's really nothing more to say about me, other than the fact that I'm rather partial to cherry-flavoured sweets if anyone wants to bribe me.' Here, she winked, and several students chuckled. 'Now,' she continued, 'because our first-years deserve a proper welcome, I think that we should try this simply delightful muggle game that I came across during the summer called Werewolf.'

Whispers broke out across the Hufflepuff common room and Clove heard Faraday mutter to someone, 'I wonder if she knows what the Werewolf is, let alone how the game is played.'

.oOo.

It turned out that Shafiq did, in fact, know how to play Werewolf. When everyone was sitting in a circle, she handed out - well, levitated - little slips of folded-up paper each saying a different thing: VILLAGER, WEREWOLF, SEER, and HEALER.

Clove got Werewolf and rolled her eyes slightly. Of course she'd get that one.

Shafiq raised her hand to quiet everyone and began explaining the rules. The game was going to be played non-magical style and she trusted everyone to play it fairly. Each 'night' every role would 'wake up' and do what they had to do. In the morning, everyone would discuss who they thought was Werewolf and evict one person from the 'village' as it were.

'Night has fallen in the village.'

The rich alto of Shafiq's voice settled over everyone as they closed their eyes.

'Each and every man, woman, and child is tucked up safely in their beds, with not a care in the world weighing down their souls… Well. Not each and every, as the Healers are aware of an evil presence in the village. Healers, awake.'

Clove squeezed her eyes tighter as the person beside her - some second-year, if her memory served correctly - rustled.

'Healers, please agree on someone to protect.'

Silence. Then, more rustling.

'Healers, please pick your battles.'

Someone sniggered.

'Thank you, Healers. Go back to sleep. The time has come for the Werewolves to make their pre-arranged, organised strike against the village. Werewolves, please open your eyes.'

Clove opened her eyes and turned her head slowly. A girl with a badge reading 'HG' was also awake, as was a fifth-year boy from across her. A few seats away from him, a third-year girl was blinking.

Slowly but surely, Clove pointed her thumb at the second-year boy next to her, mouthing 'he's a Healer' at the others. The fifth-year boy nodded, swiftly followed by Little Miss HG. They all stared at the third-year girl, who eventually nodded.

'The Werewolves have chosen someone to kill and now retire to their beds. Werewolves, you may close your eyes. However, the Werewolves did not go around at night unheard. Seers, please open your eyes. Point to the person - ah, thank you for choosing someone so quickly. After a swift Sight, the Seers go back to sleep. Seers, please close your eyes.

'Morning has risen in the village.'

Everyone opens their eyes and looks around blearily.

'Clove Tanner-'

Here Clove froze up, looking at Shafiq in confusion-

'-as Lorcan Scamander's next-door neighbour, usually checks on his cats in the morning since he has to get to work. However, as she opens the back door with her spare key, she spots Lorcan lying on the floor completely bled out from bite marks all over his body. She screams, alerting the Villagers to come rushing over.'

Faraday, with a wicked glint in her eye, announced: 'I suspect Clove.'

Shafiq glared at her. 'I had hoped that I could explain how suspecting works to those who haven't played this game before, Faraday.'

Faraday grinned and winked as she leaned on the back legs of her chair, hands behind her head.

Shafiq went on to explain how suspecting worked: someone could nominate someone else but for that nomination to be valid it would have to be seconded by someone else. Then, once everyone's nominations and seconds had been taken into account, whoever got the most votes would be chased out of the village and would be forced to reveal their slip of paper. Immediately after explaining, the fifth-year Werewolf's hand shot up.

'I second Clove.'

It was, actually, a masterful move: if she was chased out and showed her slip, then the fifth-year would be absolved of all suspicion. If she was discovered later on in the game, he could loudly proclaim that 'I TOLD you!' right at the beginning. And if she wasn't discovered at all, well, no harm done.

Shafiq nodded. 'Reuben seconds Faraday's nomination. Clove, stand up. Anyone else?'

By the end of the 'discussion' (really just a glorified argument), a boy and a girl from Clove's year named Kelsi and Parvus respectively, and a sixth-year Prefect called North was standing up with her.

Shafiq's voice rang loud and clear: 'Votes for North?'

Several fifth- and sixth-years sniggered, before putting their hands up.

'Votes for Kelsi?'

A few people put their hands up, including Clove.

'Votes for Parvus?'

North and around a fifth of the other Hufflepuffs raised their hands.

'And, finally, votes for Clove?'

An astounding half of the available hands were up, including Kelsi and Parvus.

'Clove is chased out of the village by the combined efforts of the Villagers and with her last dying breaths, she says - Clove, confirm your identity -'

Clove unfurled her scrap of paper, declaring her to be a Werewolf.

The rest of the game passed fairly quickly. Person after person was eliminated until there was only one Werewolf (Reuben), no Seers, one Healer (a third-year girl), and three Villagers left.

'I think it's Reuben,' the Healer said. Clove hid a smirk as she saw the boy in question flinch ever-so-slightly. He had been hiding in his cushy position caused by her 'death' all game.

'Any seconds for Reuben?'

There was quiet, until-

'I second,' Faraday piped up.

'Any other nominations?'

Silence.

'No? Well, Reuben, you've been tied at a flaming stake. As the flames caress your skin, you scream out - Reuben, please confirm your identity -'

With a dramatic wail, Reuben screeched, 'I'M A WEREWOLF!'

Some laughed. The rest covered their ears.

Shafiq bit back a smile as she announced, 'Well, the game's over. Congrats to Faraday, Will, Harriet, and Helga. Girls' dorms down the corridor to the left of the door as you come in, boys to the right. As customary, there aren't any classes tomorrow but first-years and Prefects will need to report here by seven to begin the tour. Goodnight, everyone!'

'Night,' most of Hufflepuff chorused back.

Clove followed the girls through the archway and into another circular room. There were eleven circle doors (exempting the archway) all around them. As she watched, the elder years all went into their respective rooms chattering until only the first-years were left.

Faraday pointed to a door, saying, 'I think that's ours!'

And it was.

Clove read off the list (a tree slice hanging off a peg by a string with the letters painted onto the light wood) of who she would be rooming with for the next seven years:

FIRST YEAR GIRLS

Kelsi Duffy
Faraday Fenwick
Norah Quirke
Clove Tanner
Ingrid West
Lei Xu

WELCOME TO HUFFLEPUFF

Faraday opened the door, leaning against it and sweeping into a mocking bow. 'M'ladies,' she sniffed snootily. The other girls laughed and went inside, Clove trailing at the back.

The previously wooden floor had been replaced with a soft yellow carpet and Clove immediately removed her walking boots for fear of spoiling it. She spotted her backpack, suitcase, and empty cat-carrier next to a bed and walked over to it, placing her boots next to them.

Her bed was a large four-poster with a yellow bedspread and black curtains framing it. The stone wall behind it had hollowed-out cubbies for shelves that were coloured black. Underneath the bed on either side, magically extended drawers could be pulled out.

Clove sat down on the bed and looked around the room as she fiddled with her socks. Her bed was one of six arranged in a circle around a curved woodburning stove in the centre of the room situated on top of a fluffy rug. Beanbags surrounded it in varying patterns of yellow and black and Clove could see that someone had put their spoiled patent leather shoes on top of the stove. She rolled her eyes; who brought formal school shoes to a school in the Scottish highlands that had a lake of all things?

As Clove began unpacking her bag and putting her clothes underneath her bed, she surveyed her new dormmates under her eyelashes. The only other person shoeless - and probably Miss Patent Leather, too - was a girl unpacking a backpack with Kelsi written in curly handwriting in the middle. On the bed next to her was a trunk with the top of someone's head visible above the lid. If Clove squinted, she could just make out the name Norah on a tag tied to the handle of the trunk. Meanwhile, in the next bed along, the curtains were closed in a pool of inky black and Clove could hear the faint rustle of someone changing clothes. Her eyes moved onto the next bed and she looked away as Faraday caught her eye and grinned, holding up a pack of cards. Instead, Clove stared very intently at the back of the girl in the bed on the other side of her. Her black hair was shorn on one side and the chin-length remains were streaked with purple in a way that made Clove's stomach turn funnily.

'Anyone up for a game of cards?' Faraday's voice rang out from her bed. 'Clove?'

Clove shook her head.

'Pity. Kelsi? You up for it?'

As the others settled down on the beanbags to a pack of cards, Clove changed into her pyjamas and groaned when she remembered where her washbag was - at the very bottom of her now two-metre deep suitcase (thank you, Ms Parkinson). Finding that she couldn't be bothered to dig it out, she pushed her suitcase off her bed and onto the floor.

Being inside a four-poster bed with the curtains drawn was an experience that Clove was looking forward to getting used to. This was amplified by the silencing charms on the curtains that meant that when they were drawn closed, nothing could disturb her - or at least Clove thought as she drifted to sleep.

Of course, waking up in the middle of the night to a pillowcase being dragged over her face, a whispered 'Incarcerous!' tying her hands and feet together, and being slung over someone's shoulder went against this thought head to head.