The Undiluted Truth @lorde_shadowz
Chapter 15

The Undiluted Truth, Chapter 15

There were a few hours before the party was due to start, which, thankfully, gave Harry enough time to clean himself up and get ready. When at last the time came, he and Blaise (Daphne had other plans, as she and her sister were going to floo back home for Christmas itself, having gotten permission from Snape) made their way through the dungeons towards the kitchen. Further down the passageway that led to the said kitchens was a stack of barrels in a little alcove in the stone walls. Blaise stopped and blinked, and Jewel's tongue flickered out.

" does this work?" Blaise asked.

Harry grinned. Unlike the Slytherins, the Hufflepuffs never had to worry about their password changing (except in the case of a security breach) and they were also nice enough to actually tell their firsties what it was. "I'm going to trust you not to tell anyone," he began.

Blaise just rolled his eyes at him. "If I was going to tell anyone your secrets, I'd maybe start with the bigger ones than just how to get into your alternate common room. Besides, I'm already keeping the Gryff's password secret for Towler, when he needed help sneaking back from the kitchens."

"Oh. Ok then. So you tap this barrel- two from the bottom on this row here- like so. If you do it wrong-" At that moment, the top of one of the other barrels blew off, and both boys were drenched in foaming vinegar. "That happens," Harry finished, wiping vinegar off his nose. Jewel spit in displeasure from beneath his collar. "Either I got distracted or they changed it, then."

~It isss sstill Heisssha Hussleshff, isssn't it?~ Jewel clarified just before Harry went to tap it again.

"Yes, I think I tapped it too many times," Harry told her, and carefully repeated the passcode, this time correctly. The door swung open, letting out a long shaft of buttery yellow light and the tinkling of what seemed like soft chimes and flute music. Within, the Hufflepuff students were touching and retouching their decorations and making sure everything was set out. The common room itself was small and cosy, with rounded, softened edges and earth walls, rounded windows that softened the chilly winter glare, and a large collection of furniture in soft browns with bumblebee bright pillows and fur blankets. Ivy dripped over top of all the bookcases and over the mantle, and little pots of cacti and miniature bromeliads in little clay pots hung from the ceiling with twine.

Then there were the decorations-a mixture of greenery and wild berries and black and gold crepe, all illuminated by wild, candy-like lights charmed so as not to scorch the plants they wound around (the entirety of Hufflepuff house, up to and including Harry, had signed a petition to get Flitwick to enchant them) as well as the traditional fat wax candles that floated in the corners of the room, guttering a little with the stir in the air.

As they cautiously entered (Harry less so, since it was, technically, one of his houses), Hannah looked up from where she had been laying a long velvet table runner with Susan and a couple of the other Hufflepuff firsties and called out a greeting.

"Hi Hannah," Harry replied grinning. "Can I help?"

"We're about done." That was Susan. "You can help order the food though if you want- oh, hi Zabini!"

Blaise shifted from foot to foot. "Uh, hello. It's just Blaise..."

"Ok then. I'm Susan and she's Hannah and that's Penny," she nodded towards one of the upper schoolers, who was effusively listing off foods that they "just have to have!" while a small green creature with large, bulbous eyes nodded in front of her, seemingly having no problem filtering through the mile-a-minute chatter. "And the house elf is Twinkie, she's the one you want to talk to if you have food allergies or you want party food or a picnic basket or something that isn't ordinarily on the menu. We haven't quite set everything up, but I think we're just about ready. Cider and eggnog are over there on that table, and there's also a hot chocolate bar," she added, nodding to a table practically groaning with little yellow dishes filled with whole candies, wizarding and muggle, and sprinkles of all sort and description, and enchanted edible glitter, and crushed ice mice, pixie puffs, glacial snowflakes, pink cocoanut ice for the season and spices for topping, and whipped cream (charmed so as not to lose its fluff) and all sorts of other things that Harry hadn't even seen before. Nearby, Nymphadora Tonks showed off all the different faces and hairstyles she could make with her talent and a little bit of charmwork, trying to distract a few of the younger students from eating all the sweets before the party even started.

"Food will be up in like half an hour, and we got slips from Dumbledore, so if you want to stay in-house for the whole day and then for supper you can do that," Susan continued while the boys still just stared. "Because there's nothing better than staying with your house for Christmas, unless it's with your family. Everyone is welcome," she added as Blaise looked like he was about to slink off. "There's more than enough food and it's really nice getting to know people from other houses."

"Well go on and mingle!" Hannah finished, grinning. "We'll join you in a couple minutes; we've got to get Chauncy and Professor Sprout to enchant the Yule log."

After that the party seemed to blossom almost organically, like the little pots of flitterblooms on the coffee tables. Harry and Blaise wandered around, just soaking up the atmosphere, so different from Slytherin where everything was subdued and ornate and calculated so as to facilitate social climbing and power plays between the sixth and seventh years. Though a few of the students were a bit chillier at first, when they saw the green and silver on the boys' ties, they were soon warming up. Harry had never even seen some of the games that they were playing- everything from what seemed to be a magically enhanced game of dunking for apples (the apples would try to bite your nose and hang on) to gobstones (a complicated board game that involved pieces which squirted foul-smelling stinksap at certain wrong moves) to Hnefatafl (which was apparently an old Nordic game that many of the purebloods played to celebrate Yule). There were foods of every type and description, too, goat and venison right along with roast and turkey and duck, and spiced breads, and saffron buns, and parsnips and winter squash and potatoes, and all sorts of deserts, right along with sides and desserts that Harry was familiar with. Gabriel Trueman, one of the Hufflepuffs he knew vaguely, grinned at his wide eyes.

"A lot of this is traditional," he told him, "and specifically related to Hufflepuff house. I mean, we're Hufflepuff, we all like any excuse to party and we don't mind celebrating different peoples' traditions, but when it comes down to it, Hufflepuff is all about old customs and deep roots, kind of like Slytherin. You wouldn't see this kind of food in the Main Hall, or in Gryffindor tower, per se. Dumbledore likes to cater to the muggleborns, see? I mean, purebloods and traditionalist halfbloods tend to stay home for Yule, or Christmas, or whatever they call it, you know? But Hufflepuff house wouldn't be where we were today if only accepted new and shiny stuff, you know? Someone has to keep the old traditions alive. Like wandless magic. You ever seen Professor Sprout pull out a wand?"

"Uh, now that I think about it, no."

"That's because she doesn't use hers very often, and when she does, it's either as a ritual focus or it's an instinctive reaction because a venomous tentacula tried to bite her or something. Unless it's absolutely necessary, she uses wandless or even uses the more ancient, unpredictable foci like crystals or amulets. She also does Latin tutoring for Puffs in the mornings, if you can prove you're responsible enough to take it; the board has been trying to shut that down for years but she's been at Hogwarts longer than most of the people have been alive, much less on the board, so they don't dare sack her or anything. They took Latin as a class out of Hogwarts years ago because firsties would try to smash a bunch of words together to make the ultimate superspell or whatever and end up blowing up their towers; that's one of the reasons why Ravenclaw tower looks newer on the left side; it got reconstructed because some idiot made up a stone-eating spell and chewed a hole through the original." He snorted. "Anyway, Puffs are about tradition along with all the other stuff like being honest and nice and so on and so forth."

Harry had to take a few moments to digest that, along with the absolutely delicious food. All around, the chatter continued; one of the third years was telling a story "...and so Connie McGregor used a permanent sticking charm to attach a yardstick to the top of Gryffindor tower, and not even McGonagall could get it off, so now Gryffindor tower is a meter taller than Ravenclaw tower, and the Gryffs always use that whenever they want to talk about how their tower is better..." and on the other side of the room some of the upper scholars were levitating mistletoe over each other wandlessly. Jewel flicked her tongue wetly against his neck and he absentmindedly fed her a bite of duck, not even noticing the startled looks from Gabriel and the closest other Hufflepuff.

"I thought wandless magic was like, nearly impossible, and you needed a really powerful core," Blaise butted in.

"It's the other way around. Your core gets more powerful because you are exercising it in different ways when you go wandless. A wand is supposed to be a focus, not a thing to try to intensify a tiny little sliver of magic because you don't know how to properly cast a spell. You need to learn a spell wandlessly, then use your wand. Then you can tone down the strength of your spell from there."

Blaise's eyes went really wide at that. "But it's still hard, right?"

"Yes, but that's only because most firsties aren't taught occlumency or meditation or anything like that anymore. The Ministry didn't want students, like, cheating off of other people's brains or using it for nefarious things."

"Occlumency?" Harry asked. "Is that like mind reading or something?"

"No, it's basically the art of making sure other people can't rifle through your brain. It also helps against the imperius- that is an 'unforgivable', meaning that it is a spell forbidden by the Ministry an all cases and punished with either prison or having your soul sucked out."

Harry did not like the sound of that.

"Legilimency is the art of mindreading though, although it really's more like looking through a photo album of people's memories or skimming the surface of their brains and seeing whatever memory is closest to the top. Really kind of scary, when you think about it, especially since it's usually only purebloods, some half bloods, and wizards training to be curse breakers or unspeakables who get to learn it. It's illegal to teach it unless you're an unspeakable or registered cursebreaker, you know, but some of the purebloods get away with it because the older families keep it alive. S'what my family did," Trueman added, smiling. "Our entire 'thing' was mindmagic."

"What do you mean?"

"Most old families have magics associated with them," Blaise revealed. "The Zabini's were into magi-toxicology- study of magical poisons- and the Princes did potions, and the Peverells were associated study of the afterlife and immortality. Flamels did- do- alchemy, and- oh yes, the Malfoys do Dark Arts. And of course Salazar Slytherin and his line are associated with parselmagic and Dark Arts. Um, what else. "

"The Bones are associated with necromancy," Susan chipped in, making the others jump. How long had she been there? "They just kind of stopped practicing when they went lightside, but we still have some books floating around in the library and my grandmother has a skeleton cat who never leaves her lap. Potters do spellcraft, and Sprouts, Spores, and Longbottoms do herbology, and Scamanders tend towards magi-zoology. Lovegoods are prophets, and Dumbledores do 'Old Magic' and Blacks used to tend towards transformational magic like metamorphmagi and animagi- that's changing your body, like Tonks over there, or turning into an animal, like Mcgonagall, and I think the Mcgonagall clan specializes in making magic infused scotch, which is kind of a weird specialization but whatever floats their boat..."

"Wow. So every family has this?"

"Yes, pretty much," Susan said, smiling. "I'll have to find you a book on family trees."

At that point one of the upper formers (Patrick, Harry thought?) called everyone over for the white elephant, where they exchanged gifts that ranged from fairly simple ones like books and magical candies and makeup and stacks of chocolate frog cards to the more interesting ones like a magic pen that was enchanted to take notes for you in class and embellish them if the teacher didn't elaborate (Harry really wanted that one) and a working golden snitch, and Weasley pranks, and so on. Multiple people didn't know how to play the game (Harry included, what with the Dursleys) and so it was a bit frustrating starting out as everyone tried to work out the rules from Patrick's quick summary. By the end of it, though, Harry had ended up with his own Wizarding chess set (enchanted so that the pieces would fight in as goofy a manner as possible; it had apparently been slightly used and the sixth former who'd owned it didn't think it was dignified to have a chess set where the knights and rooks hit each other with pies instead of weapons).

Then they went on to play a number of other party games: pin the horn on the unicorn, truth or dare (but with minor truth charms- cast by Flitwick to be safe-) and a stipulation that everything was to remain pg, magical pictionary (it didn't seem all that different from regular except the pictures moved, which, incidentally, resulting in some pretty unnerving scenes since half the room didn't know how to draw) and they swapped stories, and they pulled wizarding crackers (how on earth had they managed to put live mice in crackers- were they transfigured?) and by the end of it, as Harry and Blaise headed back to their dorm at midnight, practically draped over each other in exhaustion with Jewel snugly digesting her duck on Harry's neck, all thoughts of that morning had been washed out of Harry's mind.

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