Changeling in Exile or, Being Human is Awful, and Hogwarts is Worse

Chapter 2

In which Druella realises exactly how many aspects of this schooling business she's neglected to consider in the past month,
threatens to turn someone into a fish, and is sorted into Ravenclaw House.

The nightmare which was Hogwarts began well before Druella arrived at the school, even discounting the month (twenty-seven days) of shopping and packing and Elladora's utter disregard for Dru's wishes in any and every matter related to the preparations for her removal.

Uncle Luc had received confirmation that the Headmaster would assess Druella's abilities and place her in an appropriate class level. Druella had gathered intelligence on the various professors, the castle itself, relevant customs and traditions, and behavioural expectations from the cousins she would soon be joining in Britain, and informed Madame and Louis Blanchet that she would be unable to attend lessons after the end of the month, as instructed.

Louis had been shocked and surprisingly disappointed. The upyri boy (actually seven years older than Dru, but upyri matured slowly compared to humans) was probably the only person Dru could consider a friend outside of the House. Madame had introduced them shortly after Druella returned from Beauxbatons, informing Dru that she was ready to begin partner work, and both she and Louis would benefit from the opportunity to practise with each other. Louis had told her later that he'd been pleasantly surprised by her abilities — when Madame had told him that she needed him to help teach one of her private students lifts and dips and moving together, he'd feared that she would be another of Madame's spoilt little human girls, some bumbling child with all the grace of a wounded duck and the self-important pride of a cat — so perhaps that was why.

He did have to dance with other partners for actual performances, but he had admitted more than once that he liked partnering Dru better than the would-be professional ballerinas. He could have been flattering her, but she didn't think he had been. The other girls were well-trained, of course, but they were apparently incapable of matching her degree of skill, much less Louis's. And most of them were somewhat uncomfortable with an upyri partner, both for racist reasons and because he made them look awkward and incompetent in comparison to himself without even trying. The latter was a problem with which Dru could sympathise, though in this particular case, she had to put in a great deal of effort to even come close to matching his vampiric grace and precision. She didn't think that she was really a good partner for him, either — he was far more proficient than she, having been dancing longer than Druella had been alive, and it was his life, while to her it was only another in a long list of artistic disciplines in which she really only ever dabbled — but he insisted that she was, and seemed genuinely as though he would miss her when she departed for her exile.

Madame simply rolled her eyes at his dramatics and admonished Dru to keep up her exercises while she was at school. That she could not attend regular lessons was no excuse for laziness, and Madame would certainly know if Dru had been lax in practising when she returned over the Yule holiday. Dru had promised that she would, of course. From everything her cousins had told her about Hogwarts over the years, she would have plenty of free time to do so, and quite honestly Dru wasn't certain she could bring herself to be lazy, even if she wanted to. The idea of not doing something she knew she was supposed to do, that she had committed to doing, was...deeply uncomfortable.

When the day of her departure inevitably arrived, she made her farewells stoically, tucked her shrunken trunk in her pocket, and allowed herself to be side-along apparated to the carpet depot in Brest to catch an early morning flight to Penzance (from whence she could floo to London). Ella attempted to accompany her all the way to King's Cross, but Dru waved her off. She did not appreciate her mother's company at the best of times, but the woman was insufferably smug today and only wanted to come, Dru was certain, to ensure that Dru wouldn't run off rather than board the school train. Which was, of course, highly insulting — she had agreed to go, she wouldn't break her word.

It was better all around if Ella simply left Dru at the carpet depot and returned home to take Felix and the twins to Beauxbatons. Not only did Julia and Claudia like their mother considerably more than Dru, but they were also obscenely excited to be going to school and would probably require considerably more help finding their way and settling in than Dru had when she had arrived at Beauxbatons. There were plenty of signs and volunteers to help orient new students, but the twins were terribly flighty, silly little things, and hardly inclined to listen to Felix when he tried to help them with anything.

Ella had rather gracelessly conceded that the twins would need her more today only after she recalled that Dru would be attending Hogwarts alongside at least a dozen first and second cousins (both Rosiers and Farleys, not to mention all of the closely-related Carmichaels, Urquharts, and Davises), most of whom were aware that Druella was to join them this year and some of whom had actually met her. Surely at least one of them would write to Elladora if Druella never arrived. (Ella would probably write to them, actually, requesting that they keep an eye on her eldest daughter and report to her on Druella's activities. Purely out of 'concern' for their odd young cousin, of course, given how catastrophically poorly her last attempt at formal schooling had gone.)

The carpet ride had been uncomfortable — Druella had been on an edge, with a very large man on her other side who seemed convinced that she was going to fall off and kept grabbing her arm to prevent such a catastrophe, no matter how many times she assured him that there were spells to prevent such a thing and she would prefer he not touch her — but compared to King's Cross, it went swimmingly.

The moment she stepped out of the hearth, she was assaulted by a veritable wall of sound — children running in every direction, dragging their luggage on rattling trolleys, shouting to their friends and parents from halfway down the platform; salesmen hawking trinkets and last-minute school supplies students might have forgotten to pack; captive owls screeching at the indignity of being caged for transport; the train whistle shrilling as the engine let off steam. There were hundreds of people surrounding her in every direction, swirling around each other in a chaotic, blurry mess as she habitually tried to anticipate each of their next moves, the degree of uncertainty almost instantly giving her a headache.

Even more annoyingly, she couldn't stop herself from doing so — she never could, this was just one of those obsessive things her brain seemed to do of its own accord, like remembering things or answering any question she heard (even if she managed not to say the answer aloud), or dwelling on how absurd and disgusting physical bodies were and the fact that she was stuck in one. ...And now she was doing that, too, damn it!

It was actually making her feel a bit ill, she thought...though that might also have had something to do with the fact that she felt like she was suffocating on engine fumes (did that thing actually burn coal? why?) and the anticipatory excitement of the crowd, and an unsettling relative lack of magic. It wasn't the first time Dru had been to a magical locale where the concealment and space-bending wards almost entirely monopolised the ambient magic, rendering the atmosphere so thin she felt an instinctive need to flee, her palms instantly growing clammy as she struggled to resist an irrational sense of panicked certainty that she was in some sort of existential danger — one of the magically-concealed shop-districts in Paris was worse than this — but it definitely didn't help her general discomfort.

She was so distracted trying to ground herself and get her bearings that she entirely failed to notice her cousin Sean approaching until he touched her shoulder, startling her badly — she actually threw off sparks whirling to hiss at whoever it was who had had the temerity to lay a hand on her to back off, which she might have been embarrassed about if she weren't so out of sorts. It betrayed an inexcusable lack of self control to involuntarily manifest one's aura.

He held his hands up in surrender, taking a step back. "Woah, there! Don't you recognise me, Dru?"

Of course she did, they'd met before on multiple occasions, most recently at New Year's, the year before last, and while he looked rather different in his school robes, with his prefect badge pinned over his right breast, than he had at the family holiday celebration, she would recognize that odd combination of Black colouring (dark hair, though not quite black, dark eyes, rather pale) and Davis baby-face anywhere, no matter how much taller he grew or how he tried to style his hair to make his face seem less round. (It wasn't working.)

"Oh. Sean." She made an heroic effort to draw herself together — focus on the interaction before her and offer a greeting, though she couldn't quite bring herself to apologise for snapping at him or force herself to physically relax, her posture still stiff, arms wrapped defensively around herself, for all the good it would do. "Good morning."

"Morning. Auntie asked me to keep an eye out for you," he explained awkwardly, hesitating for a moment before asking, "Are you quite well?"

Even as out of sorts as she was at the moment, she managed to muster a scornful glare. Do I look quite well, Sean? "Not particularly."

He stood there staring at her for a long moment, obviously waiting for her to say something else, though she couldn't honestly imagine what, before prompting her: "...Is there anything I can do?"

Oh. Right. Aunt Caelia had asked him to look out for her. He had just said that, hadn't he? Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do about it being loud and busy in here, and even less he could do about there not being enough magic— Unless... "Do you know a generalised sensory limitation curse?" she asked hopefully.

"Are you joking?"

That was a ridiculous question. Even if she hadn't spent much time with Sean — Uncle Evan and Aunt Bella lived in Wales, and of course Sean had been at Hogwarts for most of the past four years — she did have somewhat of a reputation, even within the House. "No, Sean. I don't want you to completely blind and deafen me, but it's too loud here and there's too much going on. I can't focus. I know it's peculiar to ask someone to curse you, I normally wouldn't—" She did at least try to avoid doing things that she knew were peculiar. "—but please?"

She didn't bother trying to explain that she suspected being under an ongoing curse would help with the fact that there wasn't nearly enough magic around. No one else ever seemed to be aware of the relative lack of magic in certain areas as long as they could still perform wizardry, much less felt ill and inexplicably terrified upon entering such an environment.

He winced. "Sorry, kiddo, I don't know anything like that. Pretty sure sensory deprivation is a restricted, post-OWL topic, actually."

Dru scowled. "You're useless to me." Should she try to explain about the magic and see if she could convince him to do some other ongoing spell on her? She would say a minor transfiguration, but one directed at her clothes wouldn't help (and would ruin the enchantments on her robe), and she couldn't make transfigurations stick on her actual person, so she seriously doubted anyone else could. Self-transfiguration was easier than transfiguring someone else—

Sean laughed as though he thought she was joking, despite very clearly telling him not thirty seconds ago that she wasn't. "Come on, Gemma—" His older sister. "—and Felicity—" One of Aunt Caelia and Uncle Luc's grandchildren, she would be a third-year now. "—are holding a compartment. Drake—" Draco, Sean's younger brother, was a second-year and one of her more entertaining cousins, if (intentionally) aggravating most of the time. "—is around here somewhere, too. He was supposed to be looking for Calliope and Alex." More distantly related cousins she'd never met (they were Wilkeses, and so didn't come to Rosier Family Events), but whose names she was familiar with. Calliope would be starting her seventh year with Gemma, while Alexander would be in fourth. "Where's your trunk?"

"In my pocket, of course." Where else would it be, honestly?

He winced, turning to head for the train. "Didn't you have to fly over from Brest this morning? If I were you, I'd get it loaded as soon as possible. You're lucky Aunt Ella's charms haven't expired already and torn your robes right off..."

Dru followed, vaguely annoyed by the implication that she couldn't cast her own shrinking and weight-reducing spells. She hadn't, she'd actually enchanted it — the shrinking element was externally transfiguratory, with a linked compensatory space-expansion charm to keep the internal volume constant, and figuring out how to make it work with the weight-reducing field and the security charms she'd chosen was the most fun she'd had in the past month — but still, she could have. And they would hold at least six hours, like they were supposed to. Already out of sorts, she couldn't resist saying as much. "I don't need Ella to cast basic charms for me, Sean."

He nearly tripped over his own feet, turning to throw a sceptical look at her over his shoulder. "Basic—? I mean, sure, Featherweight is a second-year charm, but reducing the volume of an object that drastically isn't easy, kiddo."

"Well, no, not if you conceptualise it as reducing the volume of an object instead of compressing the space the object occupies..." she grumbled, though she was more than happy to focus on her cousin being an idiot rather than the chaos surrounding them at the moment or the paucity of free magic — still making her feel a bit shaky and ill, though the initial shock had started to wear off a bit.

"Eh?" he said absentmindedly, scanning the crowd, presumably for his brother.

"Reducing the volume of an object is a transfiguration effect. Compressing space is a charm effect. Obviously it's not easy if you don't understand what you're trying to do. But it's only a Level Nine spell, and the trickiest part is anchoring it to the object. The initialisation threshold is lower than most Level Seven transfigurations..."

"Uh-huh. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Level Nine is the equivalent of a fifth-year spell, is it not?"

"Well, yes, but—"

"And aren't you eleven?"

She glowered at the back of his head. "Do you have a point?"

"Sure: I can't shrink a trunk small enough to fit in my pocket, and I'm actually a fifth-year. You're not going to be making a lot of friends trying to impress the other firsties by claiming that OWL-standard spells are easy. Oi! Draco! Over here!" he waved, drawing his brother's attention and pointing at a particular car before Dru could come up with a response other than if they're not easy, you're doing them wrong.

I don't think these compartments were meant for this many people, she thought two minutes later, baulking at the idea of trying to fit into the small space with not just Sean, Draco, Gemma, and Felicity, and two people who must be Calliope and Alexander (they were the right ages and looked like siblings), but also Narcissa Yaxley (one of Felicity's maternal first cousins), Gemma's intended (Dru hoped — Gemma was sitting on his lap), and two younger students Dru didn't recognise — a girl about Alex's age, and a boy who was clearly a friend of Draco's.

Sean quickly realised she had no intention of following him into the already overcrowded space. "Oh, come on, sit down, no one's going to bite you."

Dru continued to hover in the doorway, because Sean didn't seem to have noticed, but there were already two more people than seats. How he hadn't noticed, Dru wasn't sure. Draco had elected to sit on the floor. Sean had to step over him to reach the only empty seat.

"Drake might bite you," the as-yet-unnamed boy said, earning him a rude hand-gesture from the cousin in question.

"I only bite people who think I won't, soft penis," Draco shot back, tagging on an insult in Gobbledygook...sort of.

"You pronounced soft wrong," Dru informed him. "And that word actually means soft in texture. The word you ought to have used is limp. Though it's not really insulting to malign the virility of a twelve-year-old, anyway." She didn't bother mentioning that his mother would tell him off for attempting to use vulgarities in public. He already knew that. Even if Aunt Bella were actually here, it wouldn't make a difference.

"Good morning to you, too, Dru. Will you do all of my homework this year if I tell you the wrong answers I'm planning on turning in?" he asked, smirking like a fool.

He ignored his friend's overly-exaggerated offence over having his (non-existent) manhood maligned, so Dru did the same, glowering down at him. She hadn't even considered that coming to an actual school meant that she would necessarily be surrounded by people being wrong and incompetent all the time. Yes, they were here to improve themselves, but in the meanwhile— This is going to be even worse than I expected. Also, yes, if he told her his wrong answers, she would have a very difficult time not correcting him. Manipulative brat. "Your professors would realise you weren't doing it if all of the answers were correct."

"Must you be so reasonable all the time?" Draco pouted. "Also, why are you even here? School is for people who don't already know everything."

"I don't know everything," she responded automatically. Draco gave her a very unimpressed, I don't believe you look. "Specifically, I've been informed that I need to learn how to interact with people my age. I'm here to practise. Theoretically."

He giggled. "So...you're going to hide in the Hogwarts Library for the next seven years, rather than the House Library?"

Seven years sounded like an awfully long time, when she was only three hours into this ordeal and already miserable. "At the moment, I'm going to hide in an empty compartment, but yes, probably."

"You can stay if you like. You can have my seat," Draco's friend offered, clearly intending to be gallant. "I can sit on the floor with this dolt," he added, tipping his head toward Draco (redundantly, since there was only one dolt sitting on the floor at the moment).

Bother. Bantering with Draco was easy, she didn't have to worry about offending him, and being annoyed with him for his terrible grasp of Gobbledygook or for implying that he would manipulate her into doing his homework, like focusing on Sean being an idiot earlier, gave her something to focus on other than how little magic there was here and how loud everyone was, or the four other conversations going on within their compartment (and six more muffled ones she could hear through the too-thin walls) and all the possible directions they might go if someone said one thing rather than another, or—

"She doesn't want to stay," Draco said, addressing his still-unintroduced friend before Dru could escape the sinking sands of the surrounding distractions to find an appropriate response for herself. "She's a spaz. I'm kind of surprised she's stayed long enough to talk at all. I guarantee she'd rather be put under an isolation curse than come in and sit with us."

"No, I wouldn't," she corrected him. Isolation curses seemed like they would be wonderful, completely cutting off one's perception of the external world, but on the one occasion she'd experienced one — after reading about them, she'd asked Father to cast one on her because she was curious what it felt like to not see or hear or feel anything — she'd spent what felt like days getting lost in her own thoughts, only to discover when it was lifted that it had only been five minutes. She didn't want this train ride to take a subjective eternity, thank you very much. She didn't debate the characterisation of herself as a spaz — she didn't think she was, but it was hardly as though spazziness was a clearly-defined trait, and she was well aware that literally everyone found her somewhat peculiar at best. "But I would rather not join you either. Thank you for the kind offer, Mister...?"

"Lowell," Draco provided, when his friend didn't. "Stephan Lowell, muggleborn second-year Hufflepuff. Stevie, Dru Rosier, first-year Ravenclaw," he added, apparently realising that she hadn't been introduced.

"She hasn't been sorted yet," Lowell objected, though from what Dru knew of the Hogwarts House system, she would almost certainly be a Ravenclaw.

"If the Hat doesn't put her in Ravenclaw, it's wrong," Draco informed the other boy.

"In any case, thank you for your kind offer, Mister Lowell, but no, I would prefer to sit alone. Please excuse me," she said firmly, taking her leave before they could try to drag her back into conversation.

Unfortunately, they'd already managed to waste enough time most of the compartments were already occupied, if not nearly as full as Sean's. She did manage to find an empty one at the very end of the train, but she didn't have time to cast an avoidance charm on the door before a gaggle of other first-years — all muggleborns, from their clothing and hairstyles (They'd probably bought their school supplies together — Dru had never considered how muggleborns would outfit themselves for Hogwarts, but it would make sense if the school organised a group excursion — and planned to meet on the platform rather than attempt to make their way through this foreign, chaotic hellscape individually.) — asked to join her.

Equally unfortunately, it would be incredibly rude for her to refuse, especially given that there were no other compartments left where a group of seven might sit together. Every one Dru had passed before reaching this one had at least two occupants already. She would simply have to tuck herself into a corner and try to avoid their attention, she decided, nodding and moving out of the way.

That plan failed immediately, however, as they began dragging their trunks in and attempting to heave them into the overhead storage. It was physically painful to watch them struggle so very incompetently, and there was, she judged, a very good chance they were going to injure themselves. Casting Featherweight Charms on the trunks did save Dru the drama of being witness to a hapless first-year dying when she lost the struggle against gravity and her own heavily-loaded trunk and found herself crushed beneath it, but it also drew attention to the fact that she clearly knew more than they. And she couldn't not answer questions, especially when they were put to her directly.

Rather than allow her to curl up in a corner being quietly miserable — it seemed the entire rail line was wrapped in space warping enchantments similar to those on the platform, allowing muggle automobiles to drive "through" the space "occupied" by the train as it chugged through their towns and across their roadways without being any the wiser, which Dru had to admit was a nifty bit of magic, but it also meant that the sickening paucity of free magic persisted until they actually reached the Hogsmeade Valley, with its triple-confluence of ley-lines — and attempting to ignore them, they interrogated her mercilessly for the entire day, even while snacking on candy and sandwiches from the luncheon trolley.

Horribly rude, but then, what else should she expect? They were clearly commoners, and she couldn't even really blame them for wanting to take advantage of a resource like herself, when she clearly knew much more about the school and Magical Britain in general than they, and was evidently far less intimidating than whatever adult representative of the school they ought to have asked. Either that or they trusted another student to give them a more realistic portrayal of Magical Britain than officially-endorsed authority figures, she supposed. Or it could have been that this was the first opportunity they'd had to question anyone about magic without their parents present.

She gathered from some of their questions that they had spoken to both the Deputy Headmaster (who had recruited them for the school, explaining to their families the existence of magic), and the Head of Hufflepuff House, who had helped chaperone a shopping excursion, but adults did often ignore the enquiries and concerns of children (or perceived children) in favour of answering the questions of other adults.

But they didn't even introduce themselves! Or ask Dru's name. They just peppered her relentlessly with questions ranging from "How exactly are we sorted into Houses?"

("It's supposed to be a secret, but there's a Hat which was invested with consciousness by one of the Founders which analyses your personality and values and decides to which House you ought to be assigned.")

to "What exactly is Herbology? Is it like...gardening, or something?"

("Herbology is the study of the magical properties of plants and more broadly magiflora. You may hear magiflora referred to as magical plants, but they're technically part of a different kingdom of life which is magically dependent and unable to survive and/or reproduce without magic. Herbology as a school subject includes cultivating herbs and other plants which are commonly used in potions, as well as learning the magical properties of each plant and common species of magiflora, and how to process them for use. Though to be perfectly clear, hardly anyone actually processes their own potions ingredients — it is considerably more efficient to buy ingredients from an apothecary. It's a required subject to give students an appreciation of the entire scope of traditional witchcraft and to expose students who may be interested in pursuing careers as potioneers or apothecaries or herblore experts to the craft.")

to "How did you do that?!" when she drew a glass of water for herself. They had offered to share their food, including a butterbeer, but Dru was already quite uncomfortable enough, thanks ever so. She would probably have to eat at some point tomorrow, but not when she was already feeling ill from the extended exposure to the low-magic environment of the train (though it was probably just as well — there was enough metal on this thing that if there were a decent amount of ambient magic, its motion would be causing a substantial degree of disorienting turbulence) and overwhelmed by the presence of so many loud, overly-excited strangers.

("The glass is conjured — magic compressed into a physical form, it will unravel in a day or two if I don't vanish it first. The water is condensed out of the air with a charm."

"Blimey! We going to learn that one, you think?"

"The Water-Condensing Charm is a Level Seven spell. Free conjuration is conventionally considered Level Twelve, though the prerequisite concepts are covered in the Level Nine Transfiguration curriculum. There's a Level Ten spell to conjure a glass specifically, but all specific conjuration spells are redundant."

"So...is that a 'no'?"

"You may learn it eventually, but I doubt even the charm will be covered in any curriculum considered appropriate for first-year students.")

Until she accompanied them to the boats which the first-year students used to cross the lake (returning students took carriages up the Hogsmeade High Street and through the school's main gates, but presumably the school liked to make an impressive first impression, and the view of Hogwarts Castle from the middle of the lake was certainly that), they were apparently under the impression that she was a second- or third-year student.

"Er...I think it's just the first-years going this way..." a short, mousy-haired girl the others referred to as Betty said hesitantly, as she noticed that Druella was following them toward the voice summoning them off to one side of the arrivals platform.

"I am a first-year." Had that— No, thinking on it, she realised it hadn't come up. Not really surprising, given they hadn't so much as introduced themselves before diving into their interrogation, but still. Arriving in the valley and getting off the bloody train (which had begun causing magical turbulence as soon as they'd reached magic dense enough that Dru felt as though she could breathe easily for the first time since she'd reached King's Cross) really had started making Dru feel better almost immediately — enough that their collective expressions of disbelief actually struck her as funny.

An excitable boy whose accent suggested his parents were Indian transplants punched one of the others (a haughty blond) in the arm. "Cor! If she's a firstie too, we're starting even farther behind than I thought!"

"You're not that far behind, I'm that far ahead," Dru assured him, resisting the urge to correct him — It's further, not farther...

"And humble, too!" an unfortunately familiar voice inserted from behind Dru, her words followed by a braying laugh.

Morrigan, preserve my sanity... How had Dru not realised that Cosette would be in her class here? That question was entirely rhetorical: she hadn't realised that Cosette would be in her class because she tried not to think about Ella's relatives whenever possible. As the youngest daughter of Dru's most despised great-aunt (Gertrude), Cosette Laurent most certainly fell into that category.

"'False humility offends the gods no less than open hubris,'" she quoted. Likewise, to scorn their gifts is to offer insult. To excel is not a sin, only to indulge in prideful and unwarranted self-aggrandisement. "I assure you, any pride I may have in my own abilities has been greatly undermined by my involuntary enrollment in this educational institution."

"Oh, poor little Dru. Were you very upset to learn that you're going to have to associate with we mere mortals all year?"

Dru gave her a polite, well-practised smile. "I hadn't realised that you would be attending Hogwarts as well, Cosette, and it is most assuredly not your mortality which renders your company intolerable." Insisting that she was, in fact, also mortal, thereby treating the implication as though it held some credence, tended not to convince anyone that it was untrue.

"Oh, I'm intolerable," her cousin scoffed. "That's rich, coming from a spaz like you. Free advice," she added, pitching her voice to carry to the group of muggleborns who had colonised Dru's compartment. "Whatever Druella tells you, just know that she's also thinking you're all hopeless idiots, and that every second spent condescending to answer your questions is an annoying imposition and a waste of her time. It's nothing personal, she's just so certain she's better than everyone else that she would consider it false humility to refrain from telling you as much to your face."

"I didn't mean it like that, and you know it!" Dru snapped, feeling herself growing pink.

"But it's true, isn't it?" Cosette smirked.

"Well, yes, obviously, but I was being polite! I answered all of their questions instead of charming them to sleep, even though everything about today has been awful and all I want is to be alone! I didn't even excuse myself to the loo and just walk away, even though I don't actually like explaining terribly basic concepts all day, or being treated like a captive oracle, for that matter, and that would have been entirely fair because they didn't even introduce themselves, much less ask for my name—"

Betty exchanged a guilty look with one of the other girls, while the haughty blond boy (Robert?) interrupted slightly defensively, "You could've said something! We weren't trying to be rude! We just got carried away because no one's told us anything about anything, really, and we thought you didn't mind!"

"I know that. If I were muggleborn, I'd want to know everything I could tell you, too, that's why I didn't ask you to stop, and of course you thought I didn't mind, betraying emotional distress is exceedingly unrefined and it would be extremely impolite for me to draw attention to the fact that you were all being very rude yourselves!"

"Betraying emotional distress is unrefined, is it?" Cosette drawled, her tone not quite dry enough to hide her amusement at seeing Dru do exactly that, despite the fact that Dru had never claimed to be perfectly self-controlled at all times. She preferred to be, but as her cousin well knew, being forced to interact with others at family gatherings and the like often left her obviously upset.

"Yes, but now that I've already lost my composure, there's no reason I can't tell you to leave me alone, before I give in to the urge to transfigure you into a fish and leave you in the lake all night! On which note, please excuse me!" she snapped, stalking away to the other side of the small knot of students gathering around a gangly wizard leaning casually on an old-fashioned staff — presumably the one who had called them over.

It was really for the best if Dru simply removed herself from the situation. Cosette would be pleased enough to have embarrassed Dru by breaking her mask in front of the other children, she wouldn't follow her. She would, however, refuse to admit that she was scared of Dru's threat and back off, which would mean Dru would have to follow through on said threat. The staff-wielding wizard would probably un-transfigure her, but Druella would definitely be in trouble for raising her wand against another person. Even if Dru would argue that Cosette didn't count, and she'd started it.

She was still annoyed, as much with herself for publically losing her temper as with Cosette for existing, when they finally reached the lakeside ten minutes later. With sixty-five students in their class, and seventeen little four-person boats, it would have been possible to have several boats with three students in them, but it was also possible for Dru to have a boat to herself, which she accomplished by simply glaring daggers at anyone who looked poised to ask whether they might join her.

Well, aside from the wizard, who both probably wouldn't be deterred by her glaring and also didn't have a boat of his own. But that was fine. He activated the homing enchantments which drew them across the lake, then just sat back to watch the show himself, as the Castle loomed nearer over the dark water, its towers painted gold by the setting sun, though lights already glittered in the windows of the lower stories, shadowed by the surrounding hills.

About half-way there, he noted, "Twenty-six years keeping the keys and ferrying you kids over to the school, and it never gets old," but when she didn't respond, he didn't continue to pursue a conversation.

It really was very pretty, but Dru had already talked more in the past eight hours than she had in the preceding week. The quiet boat ride, appreciating the beauty of the approaching castle without a word, was a welcome respite.

Especially since a new feeling of unease struck as she followed the wizard up to the opulent Entrance Hall — a wrongness and discomfort which she couldn't quite put her finger on, until the Deputy Headmaster mentioned the Welcome Feast after the Sorting, and she realised she'd been able to detect a faint scent of roasted meat and...something candied, she suspected, since the moment they'd crossed through the enormous oaken main doors. They were carved with scenes from the founders' lives, she thought, though she hadn't time to appreciate them as she was ushered in.

The scent of the feast was probably a comforting, homey one to most of the new students, she supposed — not thirty seconds after Professor Dumbledore wrapped up his speech and swept out of the room (the same Dumbledore, Druella was almost certain, who had published an oft-referenced paper on the uses of Dragon's Blood with Master Flamel in 1904), a boy nearby asked how long his neighbour thought the sorting would take because he was famished.

To Druella, it was a reminder that yet another thing she hadn't considered — a thing she must have actively chosen to forget about Beauxbatons — was that students had regular communal meals, where she would be expected to actually eat something, and would probably draw unwelcome attention if she didn't.

Ella still didn't really believe that Dru just...didn't need to eat as much as Ella thought she should, and she lived with her. She knew that Dru was perfectly healthy. She'd dragged her to several healers in the hopes of proving to Dru that she was right and Dru simply must eat more, picking miserably at one meal out of four (and entirely ignoring the other three) simply wasn't enough. The only one Dru considered unbiased performed his analysis charms and proclaimed Dru to be healthy before Ella had told him why she was so certain she couldn't be. He had tried to agree with Ella after that, but it was too late, he'd already admitted that Dru was fine and not actually starving herself to death. (And even the biassed ones couldn't actually find anything amiss with her.)

Other students and possibly even professors who didn't know Dru would probably be even more concerned about her refusal to eat when she didn't need to. And it was rude to refuse to eat at a banquet, especially one held in one's honour (even if there were sixty-four other guests of honour, too). But Dru didn't like food. Just...in general, eating made her feel vaguely ill, as though whatever it was might actually be somehow poisonous to her, in spite of knowing that she did actually need to eat something to support the bioalchemic processes of her body's continued existence.

She spent most of the time she stood before the assembled students of the school, awaiting her turn under the Sorting Hat gazing idly out at the crowd, attempting to pick out faces she knew, and wondering whether she might get away with claiming not to be feeling well. It was true, and she just knew that as soon as the students were allowed to talk, it was going to become overwhelmingly loud in here, with dozens of conversations within earshot, all cutting across each other...

And every meal was sure to be the same. Curses. Perhaps she could purloin some toast and a piece of fruit at breakfast, and eat them elsewhere.

Though that wouldn't solve the problem of other people noticing that she didn't come to meals, or didn't eat, and becoming concerned about her. Sean, for instance, would probably be looking for signs that she was unwell, and Dru rather doubted that Aunt Caelia had thought to give him a list of odd things Dru was wont to do which weren't indicative of severe melancholia.

She could just use a charm to deflect attention from herself entirely, but then her cousins (not including Cosette) would likely grow concerned over her not coming to meals at all, even if she did make an appearance. Perhaps she could enchant an amulet to deflect attention specifically from the fact that she didn't eat when she attended meals. She didn't know any Unobtrusive Charms that precise — or at least none which were anchored to an object like a glamour, rather than targeted at a specific individual observer — but enchanting could theoretically be far more nuanced...

"Rosier, Druella!" Professor Dumbledore called, startling her out of her reverie.

She really wished he would hand her the Hat and let her put it on herself, but there was no good opportunity to say as much before he dropped the well-worn thing unceremoniously onto her head.

Feeling its consciousness — it had to be possessed by a demonic entity, or something — percolating through her own was the strangest experience, flashes of other people and times sparking against her own memories — drawing comparisons?

Indeed, the Hat 'said' silently, whispering into her mind.

Not exactly surprising, since it was clearly using magic to assess people's personalities and could speak aloud, but she hadn't entirely expected it. None of her cousins had mentioned speaking to the Hat. Pleasure to make your acquaintance, friend, she thought back. A bit archaic of a form to address a stranger of whom one was uncertain but whom one didn't want to offend, but the Hat was nearly a thousand years old, so. Would it be rude to ask your name? (It was only fair, the Hat knew everything about her...)

It 'chuckled'. I have no true name. I am defined by my role. Sorting Hat is the only name I've ever known. And while I would be pleased to speak to you at greater length on matters of no immediate consequence — few children these days recognise me for what I am, and fewer yet are able to see me seeing themI do have twelve more students to Sort yet this evening, all of whom are likely to be more challenging than you, so we mustn't tarry.

Oh, I shouldn't want to keep you, of course. Ravenclaw?

"RAVENCLAW," the Hat confirmed aloud, adding silently and it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance as well, little dreamer, before Professor Dumbledore equally unceremoniously plucked it away by its point, tipping his head toward the nearer of the two tables on the left side of the Hall, where all the other newly-sorted Ravenclaws were already seated.

She walked all the way to the back of the Hall to take an end seat, rather than clamber awkwardly over the bench and spend the entire meal bumping elbows with her neighbours. This would probably seem peculiar and antisocial to her new 'peers' — the older students down here certainly gave her a few odd looks — but Dru found herself unable to care...even more so than usual, because she'd felt there was some significance to the Hat's form of address for herlittle dreamer? — and she had no idea what it might be.

How much longer until I can just go to bed? she wondered, exhausted by the day's interactions and desperately in need of solitude. Several days of it, if possible. It wouldn't be, of course, lessons were scheduled to begin the day after tomorrow, but the ordeal had barely begun, and Dru was already regretting agreeing to try to stick it out until Mabon.

When the food appeared, she slid her plate out of the way and rested her head in its place. She didn't even care anymore whether she was making a good impression or embarrassing herself and the House, and whether her classmates found her peculiar and concerning was probably a foregone conclusion, so she didn't see why she shouldn't spend the next however long meditating and wondering why the Hat had called her little dreamer, rather than watching everyone else eat and wondering how they could possibly not find the very concept disgusting.

Eugh, she could hear them chewing. Gross. If Beauxbatons's communal meals had been similarly revolting, she could easily see why she'd decided to entirely obliterate the memories.

...Maybe Cosette had a point about the trappings of mortality being a factor in my dislike of other people after all...