The next morning at breakfast, Steven looked over at the Slytherin table to see Tom and Sylvia sitting together. He was glad they were friends now. Sylvia caught his eye and waved him over to the Slytherin table. Steven smiled and stood up to sit with next to her. A couple of the other Slytherins nearby shifted uncomfortably and turned up their noses, but that was normal.
"Hey Steven!" Sylvia said cheerfully. "How did you sleep?"
"Well." Steven smiled. "We covered a lot of ground last night. Did you and Tom get back to your common room okay?"
Sylvia nodded. "We did take a detour, though. I can even add it to the map if you want."
Steven pulled out his map, handed it to Sylvia, and started digging into his scrambled eggs.
"Great! Where did you go?"
"We explored that S hallway from earlier."
Steven almost choked on his eggs. He looked up at Sylvia and noticed that Tom next to her was quietly picking at his toast.
"You did? But… But it was so…"
"It was definitely menacing, that's for sure. But we were just so curious, we had to see what was down there."
Tom kept his eyes down, still not saying anything.
Steven gripped his goblet of orange juice and felt a shiver go down his spine.
"So… um… What did you find?"
"We found nothing." Tom blurted. "It was just an old dusty hallway."
Sylvia sighed. "Yeah, it wasn't anything too special. There weren't any rooms off of it or anything. But what was really cool was that the farther we went down the hallway, the more carvings were on the walls. The stone actually started looking more like smoothed marble instead of an old gross cave. We actually didn't even make it to the end, it just kept going. So you never know," she shrugged, "there may be something more down there."
Steven gave a sigh of relief. "Well, that's good news. I was worried you guys would run into a cursed mummy or something."
Sylvia laughed. "Maybe if we had gone down far enough. The corridor was kind of spiralling down, so maybe it went down to a secret sarcophagus or something. We had to head back though, it was getting late and Tom said he had an early class this morning."
Tom nodded, and Steven went back to his eggs. "I'm glad you two were safe, anyhow. I don't know if I would want to go down there even during the day."
"You don't need to," Tom said quickly. "It seemed like it didn't lead anywhere. Besides, I'm sure there are thousands of other passages in the castle that are much more important to record on your map."
Steven nodded slowly, then turned back to his eggs. Tom was usually a lot quieter than this.
"Well, I would like to go back sometime." piped up Sylvia, biting into a piece of toast. "It looked really cool. And it's probably not nearly as creepy during the day."
"There were no windows." replied Steven. "It would still be really dark."
"Yeah, but still." Sylvia had another bit of toast. "Maybe I could get one of the ghosts to go with me if you two are too chicken. The Bloody Baron seems like he'd be up for it."
Tom snorted, and Steven smiled.
"Bringing him would make it ten times creepier." laughed Steven.
"Of course! That's the point!" said Sylvia. "He would scare away anything potentially life threatening on the way down."
The three of them laughed. Steven glanced over at Tom. He seemed back to normal again. Steven made a mental note to talk to him alone later. He wanted to make sure Tom was feeling alright after last night. It had been a busy evening.
Steven looked down the Slytherin table, and happened to see Walburga Black slam her schoolbooks down onto a seat a few yards down. It looked like she hadn't noticed him. She didn't look at anyone else as she grabbed a plate and started scooping eggs onto it.
After all the excitement of the scary hallway, Steven had almost forgotten about the scene at Slughorn's party last night. It all came rushing back to him, and he glanced over at Slughorn at the staff table. Slughorn seemed unphased, but as soon as Steven caught his eye, he looked away and tucked into his breakfast with renewed vigor.
Steven looked back down at his eggs, suddenly not hungry anymore.
"Hey, Tom? Do you think I'll be invited back to the Slug Club? You know, with what happened last night?"
Tom paused, orange juice halfway to his mouth. "I haven't a clue, Egbert. I suppose you'll just need to wait and see how it plays out.
"Wait," said Sylvia, "did something happen at the party last night?"
Steven and Tom were both quiet for a moment.
"Steven and Walberga Black had a… well, I'm actually not sure what to call it." said Tom.
Steven took a deep breath. "Walburga was being abusive to one of my good friends. Polly was serving her salad and got kicked for her trouble. Polly's fragile, Walberga could have really hurt her."
"Wait, wait, wait. Who's Polly again?" asked Sylvia.
"Polly is a house elf." said Tom.
"Oh, right. I forgot you have a thing about house elves."
Steven bristled. "A thing? What does that mean?"
"I just meant you're overly sensitive about how houselves are treated." Sylvia saw Steven's hand clench. "I mean," she said quickly, "not that that's a bad thing, it's just different. Different can be good. It think it's sweet that you're friends with the kitchen elves."
Steven unclenched his fist, and tried to relax a little.
Tom cleared his throat. "After dinner, Steven tried to confront Miss Black about it, but then when she started calling him names, he gave her a hug! Well, she was not happy about that at all. So she pushed him off her, called him the M-word, then stomped out. It made quite a scene."
Steven stared down at his hands folded in his lap.
"Steven stood up to that bully? She's the meanest girl in my year! Well done, Steven!" Sylvia slapped Steven on the back. "First Peeves, then Wally? You are on fire!"
"There may still be repercussions." Tom interrupted. "Slughorn did not seem too happy. Miss Black may be more of an asset to Slughorn's club than Steven is, and he may not want them in the same room if he can help it."
"Psh, so you're out of the Slug Club, big deal. That club's only for prudes anyway. No offense, Tom."
Steven sniffed. "I worked so hard to be there though." he said quietly. "If I'm not supposed to be there, then where am I supposed to be?"
"You're in Hufflepuff, Steven." said Sylvia. "You're a kind, loyal, Hufflepuff."
Steven snorted. "Like being in Hufflepuff is so great. You two are my best friends, and you're in Slytherin. Slytherin are for people who are ambitious, who will go on to accomplish great things. You know who Hufflepuffs go on to be?" Steven paused. "Nobody."
Tom puffed up a little, showing pride in either being called a best friend, or in the reminder that Slytherins go on to achieve great things. Sylvia touched Steven's arm, concerned.
"Steven. You are not nobody. You've done more good for the people around you in your first few weeks at Hogwarts than I have in my two years here. You are someone very important."
Steven looked down at his watch. "I have to go to class." He stood up to leave.
"Steven?" Sylvia called out.
Steven turned around, feeling like a balloon of tears was expanding behind his eyes.
Steven turned back to the door and stomped out, trying to hide his tears from the rest of the hall. He was already a stupid mudblood Hufflepuff; he didn't want to be a crybaby too. He had gotten up a flight and a half of stairs before he checked his bag for his map. It wasn't there. He had given it to Sylvia to write the S hallway down. Steven groaned, and turned around to go back to the great hall.
At the bottom of the stairs, a professor with a long white beard and half moon glasses held out a piece of parchment.
"I believe you forgot this?"
Steven took the folded parchment and slipped it in his book bag. "Yes, thank you, Professor Dumbledore. I was just about to go back and get it."
"Ah, yes. I felt that you may need a walking companion."
"Oh really, sir, there's no need -"
"You have Transfiguration, yes?"
Steven paused. Professor Dumbledore was Head of Transfiguration.
"Yes, I do."
"Well then," the professor grinned, "it would seem that you and I are heading the same direction anyway."
He started slowly walking up the stairs. Steven hesitated, then followed.
"How are your classes going, Steven?"
Steven didn't have any classes with Professor Dumbledore. How did he know his name?
"Um… Fine, sir. I guess… some of them are hard." Steven was struggling in almost every class, except charms.
"Oh yes? Any in particular you're struggling with?"
"I… Transfiguration? I guess?"
Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, there is a lot of complicated science in turning one thing into something against its nature."
"You use science?" Steven asked, surprised. "I thought magic was the opposite of science."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Of course not. The rules of the natural world have claim on wizards as well as muggles."
Steven scratched his head. Maybe he would write home and ask his mother to send some old science textbooks from home.
"How is potions?" Dumbledore asked. "I trust Professor Slughorn treating you well?"
Steven's mind flashed back to the night before, and he grimaced, nodding.
"I heard you were inducted into his club, is that right?"
Steven nodded again.
"You should be very proud. Professor Slughorn only chooses exceptional wizards and witches to be in that particular group."
Steven shrunk in embarrassment. "I don't think I'll be there much longer, sir. I've offended someone too important."
"Yes, I heard about that little squabble last night."
Steven wanted to sink into the floor.
"Even if you are passed over temporarily, I wouldn't worry about it too much. To be involved in certain social circles is nice, yes, but if you distance yourself from them for moral reasons, perhaps you'd be happier without them."
Steven nodded. "I guess that makes sense. But sir… I have a question. And it's… hard to explain."
Dumbledore nodded and listened.
"What if… what if I want to help someone? What if there are people who need me, even if they don't make me happy? Or… what if someone doesn't have the same morals as you, but you know that they are a good person? I just don't understand how to I could help them while being apart from them."
Dumbledore was quiet for a moment. "Hm… These are all very difficult questions, Steven. And they are all part of growing up." They arrived at the door to Steven's classroom. "I can't give you the answers. I wish I could, but you'll need to find them on your own." Dumbledore put a kind hand on Steven's shoulder. "You're a better man than I am. I hope I can grow to be like you one day." With that Professor Dumbledore walked away, leaving Steven just as confused as before, but feeling oddly comforted.