The next day, Steven had Potions class with Slughorn and the Slytherins. He still hadn't talked to Tom since the night they went exploring, and he was a bit nervous to see him again. It was way too easy to fall out of contact with people. He was also planning on apologizing to Slughorn about the dinner party. Steven still had the slim hope that if he apologized, he would be able to come back into the club.
When Steven walked into the Potions classroom, he didn't see Tom anywhere, so he put his bookbag in his usual spot. There were only four students there, he had come a little early. Professor Slughorn was writing instructions on the blackboard in the front of the classroom. Steven nervously walked up to the front of the class and waited for him to turn around. When Slughorn finally noticed him, he smiled.
"Steven, m'boy! How are things?" He went back to writing.
"I… I wanted to apologize, sir. For the dinner party."
Slughorn stopped writing mid-sentence.
"I was out of line." Steven had practiced these lines during lunch in front of a mirror in the boys bathroom before class. "I shouldn't have yelled and ruined your evening. I hope you can forgive me."
Slughorn turned to Steven and spoke slowly and quietly, looking around the classroom.
"I don't blame you one bit, son. I know Miss Black's reputation. And you've got a good heart. Which is why this is extremely difficult."
"I'm afraid I can't invite you back, Steven. There are just too many complications. But I do think you're a brilliant boy, and will do great things. The Blacks are just… not the type of family I can cross. You understand."
Steven could feel his face getting red. He nodded, even though he didn't understand. Not completely. He had known he was out of the club. Why had he even tried to apologize?
"Good lad." Slughorn patted his arm and smiled. "You'd better take a seat. It looks like Mr. Riddle is waiting for you."
Steven turned and saw Tom sitting next to his book bag, setting up his cauldron. He walked slowly back to his seat and sat down. Slughorn started the lesson, and Tom gave him a concerned look. He tore a scrap of parchment out of his bag, and scribbled something on it. Tom passed it over to Steven.
Steven nodded, and scribbled back.
I'm out of the club.
Tom nodded. He put his quill to the parchment, paused, then wrote:
It's ok. I kind of figured.
Tom glanced at the paper, nodded, then turned his attention back to the lesson. Steven scribbled a little more.
But I'm sure you'll have fun.
Tom's eyes flicked down to the parchment, but otherwise didn't acknowledge it. Steven looked back up at the board, still dejected. He wanted to pay attention, but it was hard to focus when he was thinking about so many other things. Luckily, last night he had tried making this particular potion a few times with Casey. It had taken four or five tries, but in the end he had finally made the perfect Boil-Cure potion with the nettles they had collected earlier. Casey had clapped his hands and cheered when Steven had dripped the potion on the boils on his fingers and they had faded away within seconds. Steven had felt so proud of himself. He was confident that today he would be able to replicate it again without a problem.
Academics aside though, Steven was very upset that he wasn't in the Slug Club anymore. For one, that meant spending less time with Tom, who he had really just started getting to know. He had noticed that Tom didn't really spend time with a lot of other people, and Steven wanted him to feel like he had a friend that he could talk to. He'd also noticed that Tom had a little bit of a thing for Sylvia, and Steven really wanted them to spend more time together too. It would be fun to watch how Tom and Sylvia's friendship played out. But even more than that, he liked spending time with Tom, and he didn't know if Tom would even want to hang out with him anymore, now that Steven wasn't important enough to be a part of the Slug Club.
Another effect of not being in Slughorn's club was leading Steven think about what he could and could not do. It may not have been much, but being in the Slug Club had really made Steven feel like he could someday be more than a pudgy Hufflepuff with glasses. He could see that the rest of the school saw Hufflepuffs as the odd house out. They were not brave, smart, or ambitious, so they were just seen as nothing. Steven loved his house, and knew that everyone else in Hufflepuff was amazing, but he wanted to prove that to all the other houses. He wanted to show that he, and anyone else in Hufflepuff, could do great things; they just often chose to do something else.
Steven blinked and shook himself. Everyone else was getting started on their potions. Steven pulled his ingredients towards him, and started finely chopping nettles. He concentrated on his potion, putting his self-reflections on the back burner. Steven glanced over at Tom, who was re-reading the instructions from his potions book.
"So," Steven said quietly, "how have you and Sylvia been?"
Tom said nothing, and didn't meet Steven's eyes.
"I know I haven't been around much lately. I've been working on a lot of school stuff; I haven't been doing that great."
Again, Tom said nothing, focusing on his potion.
"I'm sorry, Tom."
Tom turned to look at Steven. "Why do you keep apologizing to everyone? You don't owe me anything."
"I… I just hoped we could still be friends, even though I'm not in the Slug Club anymore."
Tom paused, holding his nettles above the cauldron.
"Yes. I… suppose we can."
He dropped the nettles into his potion.
Steven breathed a sigh of relief and started working on his potion. He had hoped this friendship would last.
At dinner that evening, Steven looked around the Great Hall for Tom and Sylvia, but couldn't see them anywhere. He didn't want to sit at the Slytherin table to wait, as there was always the chance he would run into Walberga. He looked around at the Hufflepuff table for somewhere to sit. A girl with short dark hair sat by herself, fiddling with her wand as she read the Daily Prophet.
Steven thought she looked lonely, so he sat himself down right next to her.
"Hello. May I sit here?"
The girl looked him up and down.
"Too late to say no, in'nit?"
Steven smiled. He was pretty sure that was sarcasm.
He nodded over at the paper. "I haven't gotten used to the creepy moving pictures yet."
The girl was quiet.
"Anything good in there?"
She rustled the paper. "Bloke got 'rested for killin' a Muggle family. Kids 'n all."
Steven looked around uncomfortably, then started piling boiled potatoes and corned beef on his plate.
"Anything… more cheerful?"
"Nope. Lotsa deaf an' 'struction. But it's news. What ya expect?"
The girl folded up the paper and started in on her kale.
Steven shrugged. "I don't know. Just thought maybe people would tell about the good things sometimes instead of the bad. Maybe it would help people try to be better."
The girl shrugged, and kept eating.
"I'm Steven, by the way."
The girl glanced up. "Rina."
"It's nice to meet you, Rina."
Rina kept eating.
"You're pretty quiet for a Hufflepuff."
Rina glared at him. "Don't have to be a bleeding busybody to get 'ere, do ya?"
"I… I guess not."
Steven wasn't sure whether she meant getting into Hufflepuff, or getting into Hogwarts. He was a little frightened to ask.
They ate in silence for a few minutes.
"You a firs' year?" asked Rina abruptly.
"Yeah, I am. And you are?" Steven answered around a mouthful of potato.
"Third. Didn't think they'd stick me 'ere though. Lotsa other options, see?"
"You mean here in Hufflepuff?"
They went back to their food.
"I didn't either." said Steven. "I mean, I thought I would get into a different house. Where did you think you'd go?"
Rina shrugged. "Don' know. Didn't even think I'd be 'ere at all. Mean, me Dad's a wizard, but I 'aven't even met 'im." She took another large bite of kale.
"But," Rina continued, "good way for Mum to be shot of me. Nutin but a drain on cereal anyway." She stood up and put her paper and wand away. "Steven, wa'nt it? See ya."
Rina turned and walked away from the table.
Steven took it back. She wasn't quiet for a Hufflepuff.