Steven flipped through A Brief History of the Goblin Wars, rereading the same sentence four times before realising that he hadn't actually absorbed any information from it. He was worried about Tom. Sylvia was pretty self sufficient, but Tom… there was something strange going on there. He wasn't always friendly with Steven, but he was civil most of the time. Steven had never seen Tom act so… dismissive of him. And Tom had never been overtly rude to Steven before.
Steven laid his head on the book. He just couldn't concentrate. What with Tom and that weird Hufflepuff girl and Dumbledore all buzzing around in his head, it was a wonder he could even see straight. He sighed, and heaved his book over to a cubby in the wall with his name on it. It had appeared after his third trip to the Wishing Room, right next to a tank of studious frogs. He slipped A Brief History of the Goblin Wars into the hole, waved goodbye to the frogs, and set off down the seven flights of stairs to the his common room.
As he walked, Steven pulled out his map. It was getting quite extensive. He was excited to look at it on Friday with Sylvia. He wanted to get the moving staircases right, and he couldn't make them float around the page without her help. Steven hoped that she would be able to get the staircases on the parchment to match the movements of the floating stairs in real life, thus helping the map reader know which staircase was leaving when. It was really such a bother to need to get to class on the fifth floor in two minutes, but then having to wait ten minutes for the fourth floor stairs going up to come to you. Sometimes there would even be a staircase going the opposite way of what you needed taking up the space for the correct stairs. Then you had to try and shoo it away or trick it into thinking that the next floor down would be a much more comfortable spot. Having a predictor of where the stairs would be and when would be enormously useful.
There were still so many empty patches on the map, places where a hallway just faded into nothing. He still really wanted to explore some of those corridors, even if it was just to get them down on the map. And Steven had barely even started on the grounds yet. So far he just had a line showing where the Forbidden Forest was, and a blobby circle for the lake. He had heard some of the other students talking about fairy circles and secret passages on the grounds, but there was so much to do inside the castle that it was hard to focus on the outside as well. Plus, it had been getting colder outside, and less pleasant to stroll around outdoors.
As Steven walked past the Great Hall on his way to the common room, he caught some movement out of the corner of his eye. He stopped, and looked into the Great Hall. There seemed to be no one there.
"Hello?" Steven called. "Is anyone there?"
Not a sound. He was feeling a little creeped out from starting into the dim silent hall, so he was about to turn to leave, when he heard a small shuffling sound behind the door. Then two wide eyes appeared in the darkness.
"Master Steven! Nibbs thought that might be you!" Nibbs the house elf skipped into the light.
Steven breathed a small sigh of relief. "Nibbs, it's so good to see you! How have you been?"
Nibbs folded his hands. "Fine, sir. Well.. I mean, that is to say… not too well, I'm afraid, Master Steven." He started wringing his hands nervously. "You see, well, my smallest one, Tibbs, has come down with the flu, sir. He's quite small, sir, and we're hoping he pulls through, sir."
"Oh Nibbs, I'm so sorry." Steven knelt down so that he was eye level with the elf. "Is there anything I can do?"
Nibbs looked away, then looked at Steven, his eyes filling with tears. "N-no sir." he sniffled and covered his eyes. "N-Nibbs is so sorry. Nibbs doesn't know why he is crying, sir. He-he never cries."
Steven pulled the house-elf into his arms. Nibbs was stiff for a moment, but then started shaking with silent sobs. They stayed there for a few minutes, in the entryway to the dark hall. A couple people walked by, and one glared at Steven. Steven glared right back. His friend was hurting, and Steven was going to stay right there until he felt better. Nibbs was crying too much to notice anyone else.
Steven pulled a handkerchief out of one of the pockets of his robes, handing it to Nibbs, who blew into it with a trumpeting sound.
"Nibbs apologizes, Master Steven. Nibbs doesn't know what came over him."
"It's alright Nibbs, you don't need to apologize. I just wish there was something more I could do to help."
Nibbs folded the handkerchief. "No sir, but that's very kind of you to say so, sir. Could Nibbs return this when it is clean, sir?" Nibbs held up the handkerchief.
Steven smiled. "Keep it as long as you need to, Nibbs. And if you really want to give it back, I'll be visiting the kitchens again soon. Does your family live in the kitchens too? I'd like to come and visit Tibbs."
Nibbs paled slightly. "Sir, no human has ever come into our living place before… I don't know if… but perhaps-"
"Oh, if I can't come in, that's okay. I can just write him a card or something."
Nibbs scratched his head. "If Master Steven did want to see Tibbs, Nibbs could bring him out to the kitchens when master comes. I think he would be glad to meet you, sir. Nibbs would just be worried that Master Steven would catch the flu."
Steven grinned. "I think I might be quite a bit bigger than Tibbs. Even if I did catch the flu, it would be a much smaller flu."
Nibbs chuckled. "Yes, Nibbs supposes that would be true." He suddenly looked down at the floor, and then looked around. "I-I suppose Nibbs should get back to work, sir. Nibbs was just sweeping when you came in. Was Master Steven looking for his friend?"
"Yes, he just came in a moment ago. Went down that hidden hole in the corner. Master Steven sits with him sometimes. He be short for a first year, black hair, very quiet, sir."
That sounded like Tom. Going down the secret trapdoor to the dungeons? Why didn't he just go by way of the Slytherin common room? And it was almost curfew. Steven didn't want to elbow into Tom's private business, but he did want to make sure Tom was okay.
"Nibbs, I think I need to follow him. I need to make sure that he is alright."
Nibbs nodded. "Very good, sir. Do you want Nibbs to come with you, sir?"
Steven swallowed. He thought of that dark hallway, and the voices that only Tom could hear. He pulled out his wand and lit it. "No Nibbs, I think I should go alone. But if I'm not back soon, maybe come and make sure everything's alright?"
Nibbs nodded again, clutching his broom. "Yes, sir. Be safe sir."
Steven crept to the corner, and pulled up the flagstone that was actually a trap door. He gulped, and crept down into the hole.