Part Seven:  Early Morning Chaos I

Echizen woke to the feel of sharp claws pricking his arm.  He sniffed and grumbled at Karupin.  A hard furry head was doing its best to burrow under the small
of his back.  He groaned and rolled onto his side in a loose fetal position, giving his cat a better 'hollow' to curl up in.  A sleepy part of him wondered why
Karupin was being so restless tonight.  Then a muffled groan sounded from somewhere in the room.  So that was it.  Echizen scowled beneath his cocoon of
blankets.  What was Momo doing in his room and how the hell had he gotten past his dad?  The way those two bickered, he should have heard him coming the
second he set foot on the property...

"How does that thing keep getting in here?"

That sleepy mutter was definitely Momo.  Echizen cracked an eye open.  Not that it did any good.  He had no intention of peeking out from under the blanket.

"Mnyeh...!  Not again.  That thing's crazy.  I don't even think it's a cat..."

A yawning nya?  That had to be Kikumaru.  Momo and Kikumaru both in his room at the same time?  First thing in the morning, too?  Even his nightmares
weren't that traumatic.  Echizen cracked open his other eye and scowled at the blanket covering his head.  Now he really didn't want to peak out there.

"Mn...the kitty again?  Jeeze.  Come here, kitty.  I'll take you downstairs..."

Who the hell was that?  Those two and someone whose voice he didn't even recognize?  No way would he dream that.  

Echizen let out a loud sigh and sat up to scowl around the dark room.  There was a canopy surrounding his bed.  Now that he was awake, he remembered
closing it earlier.  Something had opened the curtains on him just enough so he had a good view of the intruder.  That big ugly orange cat was back.  He knew
they should have brought one of the chairs up from the common room to prop against the door.  Either the cat knew how to turn doorknobs, or someone was
letting it into their room.  A tousled looking redhead was picking up the cat.  Marui Bunta.  No wonder he hadn't recognized the voice.  Talk about messed up
rooming assignments.

Oblivious to the freshman scowling at him from the nearby bed, Marui yawned and picked up the heavy cat.  It squirmed a bit before it gave up and allowed
itself to be escorted from the room yet again.  The moment the door closed behind them, Momo flopped back on his bed with another groan.

"That's the problem right there," said Momo.  "I know you're all cat lovers, but seriously.  You have to throw the thing out.  If you keep being so nice about it, it'll
just keep coming right back in.  That girl's cute and all, but her cat needs a kick in the ass."

"Animal abuser," Echizen sniffed.

Marui returned before Momo could voice a retort.  He sent an envious look at the fifth bed in the room.  Jiroh hadn't so much as twitched since he collapsed on
it, not even when the cat had bounded over him the second time they'd caught it rooting through their stuff.  Must be nice to sleep through everything.  Marui
knew he probably had two hours at most before Sanada would be down, expecting him to already be up and ready for practice.  Yukimura might accept an
intruding cat as a valid excuse for oversleeping and being late to practice, but Sanada wouldn't.

"Why do you think it keeps coming in here, anyway?" asked Marui.  "It's not after food, or it would have gone for Kikumaru's snacks."

"Karupin's afraid of him for some reason," said Echizen.  "But they've been ignoring each other every time he gets in.  Maybe it's not a cat.  The only thing
Karupin's afraid of are dogs and bugs."  

Momo snorted at that.  "Your cat's afraid of bugs?"

"Shut up," scowled Echizen.  "He's an indoor cat."

"Whatever," Momo shrugged.  "That thing was rooting around in my clothes the first time it got in.  I don't care why it's doing it, I just want to know how it got
that trunk open.  It took me forever to figure out the latch."

"Momo-senpai outsmarted by a cat," Echizen smirked.

Eiji groaned and kicked at his covers.  "Come on, you two, don't start.  The cat's gone, right?  Let's just sleep.  I'm so tired...!"

"Here," Marui said to the grouchy, sulking Momoshiro.  "Help me move our trunks.  We can block the door with them.  If it still gets in, I'll hold the kid back while
you kick it down the stairs.  Deal?"

Momo perked up eagerly.  "Deal!"

Echizen dropped back on his bed, spooned his fluffy cat, and jerked the blankets over his head once more.  All of their bags had been placed next to specific
trunks earlier, following some sort of preplanned rooming assignments.  It was late enough that no one thought about moving things around.  Come tomorrow,
though, he was definitely picking his own roommates.  Somehow he managed to doze off again.  And he was more annoyed than surprised to be woken up a
few hours later to screams and someone jumping on his bed.  His roommates sucked.

.-.

Sanada was in a very bad mood when the knock came.  He hadn't slept well to begin with, so he was the first person to wake up and get the door.  His glare
was hateful enough to make even Seigaku's overconfident freshman take a sharp step back.  The kid was lucky he didn't get a growl to go with the glower.

He'd had his reservations from the start.  Most of it came down to the letters.  He still remembered Yukimura pulling them aside six years ago to show him and
Renji that first letter.  They'd spent weeks trying to find the culprit, someone who'd managed to get into Yukimura's bedroom and slip an envelope under his
bathroom door without his parents being any the wiser.  They'd actually suspected one of his relatives for a while there.  And it turned out to be nothing more
than an owl and an open window.  

Yukimura thought it was funny.  He'd spent the rest of the school year looking over his shoulder, sticking close to his friends because he was afraid to be
alone in his own room, and now he laughed it off like a silly misunderstanding.  Sanada wasn't that quick to forgive and forget.  He was relieved to know there
had never been a real threat.  And he could see - if he tried really hard and had Yukimura reminding him to think about it calmly - how these strange people
might have honestly thought there was nothing wrong with entering a little boy's room to delivery an invitation.  These wizards were bizarre and they didn't
know any better.  That still didn't make it okay.

To add injury to insult there was that instant teleportation bus jump thing.  Kirihara and Yukimura were the sort to downplay an injury, and from the look of it
Atobe was the same way.  But it had clearly been painful.  Even he'd felt light-headed and queasy afterward.  All that from one second of exposure.  And now
these people had the nerve to separate the teams - not only by 'House', but by room as well?

It wasn't that he disliked his roommates.  Tachibana and Tezuka were certainly less of a headache than Marui and Niou would have been.  He had an idea
Sengoku was biding his time before causing trouble, but even he'd gone to bed without saying much.  True, what little he had said was troublesome in itself,
but that was Kirihara's trouble, not Sanada's.  As long as Sengoku didn't plan to rape or kill him - or be killed by him for trying to rape him - it was none of
Sanada's business what his teammates chose to do with rival players off the court.  If it didn't affect Kirihara's game, he didn't care.  He didn't even want to
know about it.  He certainly didn't want people asking his permission to stalk his teammates.

No, his roommates weren't the issue.  The problem was that all of the captains in this group had been placed in the same room.  God only knew what their
teammates were doing without supervision.  And he swore if Yukimura hadn't been roomed with Renji, or at least Yagyuu, he was going to have a talk with that
Headmaster.  That old man, even if he was a magic-using headmaster, did not want to see Sanada Genichirou angry.

Echizen Ryoma was watching him warily from under the bill of his cap.  Sanada ripped his glare away - no sense wasting it on an innocent bystander - and
stepped aside so the boy could enter.  He assumed Echizen was there to see his captain.  He was only partially correct.

Tezuka was up and alert as soon as he realized it was one of his teammates.  "Echizen?"

"There's a mess downstairs," said Echizen, not quite meeting Tezuka's eye.  He winced a little and turned to include Sanada.  "We think Momo-senpai killed
someone's pet.  And Marui broke the window and cut his arm.  He said it was fine, but it was bleeding a lot so Kikumaru-senpai and some guy named Jordan
took him to the nurse.  They have an entire hospital wing here.  Momo-senpai and those Weasley twins went to try and identify the body so I figured I should
let you know where everyone is.  We sort of woke up the guys in the room above ours, or maybe the one beside ours.  The rooms in this tower don't follow
common sense.  Oh, and Jiroh's gone, too.  He was really upset because of the window thing, so we didn't get a chance to see if he was hurt before he ran
off.  They have rats here."

There was a stunned silence in the room.  Part of that was because Echizen's voice never wavered from his seemingly bored monotone.  Sengoku grimaced
and spoke up first.

"Rats?"

"Yeah," Echizen frowned, "big ones.  Those twins said that's what the pets are here - rats, frogs, owls, and cats.  Every student here has to have a pet.  
They're pretty sure that rat was their little brother's.  It's been missing for a while.  They thought it got eaten and was dead.  It probably is dead now.  It was in
Momo-senpai's bed."

"In his bed?  That's horrible!" Sengoku shuddered.

Echizen smothered a yawn and then grimaced a little.  "It was really ugly and big.  Everyone freaked out.  It ran all over the place, too.  Kikumaru-senpai
tossed a shirt on it and Momo-senpai thew it out the window.  The window got broke right after I woke up, so I didn't really see that.  I think they fell off the bed
and crashed into it or something."

Tezuka took a deep breath.  Then he tossed a jacket on, grabbed his glasses and stepped up to Echizen.  "Where's Momoshiro?"

"Outside looking for the body," said Echizen.  "The twins said they'd be able to tell if it's their brother's or not."

"Were you or Kikumaru injured?"

"No, just Marui and maybe Jiroh."

Tezuka nodded and headed for the door.  He stopped a moment later and went back to put shoes on.  "Wake up Kaidoh and have him wait downstairs."

"Okay."

Sanada caught Echizen before he could leave.  "Do you know where this hospital wing is?"

"No."

Of course not.  They didn't know where anything was because no one had bothered to tell them.  Sanada sighed and shook his head.  Now he was almost as
tired as he was annoyed.

"Would you wake Niou as well?" asked Sanada.  "I have to go find Marui..."

"Ask the paintings for directions if you get lost," said Echizen.  "That's what that Jordan boy said before they left.  I guess they're all like that fat lady picture
with the password to get in.  This place is weird."

"I'd say," Sengoku said, shaking his head.  He watched them leave and then tossed a grin at Tachibana, who was still sitting on his bed with a dazed look on
his face.  "Glad we didn't get the rat room."

"This is going to be a long month," Tachibana said slowly.  "A very long month..."

"Ah, don't wig out yet.  Just think what's happening in the other Houses.  I know for a fact Jin hates rates more than he does owls.  And don't even get me
started on frogs.  Egh!  This place will be petless before the week's out."  

Tachibana turned to stare at Sengoku.  "I shouldn't...wig out...because things are bound to get worse?  That's every reason to be worried."

"Well, yeah," Sengoku admitted.  "But at least it's not your team causing the trouble.  I've gotta deal with Akutsu Jin.  I'm pretty sure you've got it easy
compared to that.  And speaking of which...!  I'm gonna go see what those Sillythingy guys are up to.  Ten to one that's where that sleepy kid took off to."

"Slytherin," said Tachibana.

"I like mine better," Sengoku winked.  "Say hey to Rhythm-kun for me.  I'll probably pop by those courts later on.  I've a Kiri-kun to track down.  Gotta be careful
stalking those..."

.-.

Ravenclaws were petty geeks.  Shinji had a tendency to judge people according to first impressions, and that was what he came to.  They were petty and
smart and completely uninteresting.  The only person he'd met in the House who wasn't boring was that crazy girl who read things upside down.  Actually, she
was probably rich if her dad owned a magazine, so he guessed eccentric would be the better term.  She was still insane.  He sort of liked it.  He'd never met an
insane person before.

Luna Lovegood. Yes, eccentric did fit her better than crazy.  She had the funniest name.  She was pretty, too, in a careless sort of way.  Long sandy blonde
hair and dreamy eyes - dreamy as in distant and almost glazed over.  She looked just like Shinji felt most of the time, like she wasn't all there.  And she
believed him when he said there were things moving around in his room.

He'd spent the entire night watching shadows where there shouldn't have been any.  There had been some bickering over where the people put their stuff
until that Hyoutei guy left and didn't come back.  He hadn't really paid attention to that since he'd been tired and eager to sleep so he could wake up and see
his team in the morning.  He'd gone right to sleep, too.  Only he'd felt something, like someone really small was creeping around beside his bed.  And when
he'd turned to see what it was, it disappeared.  There was no way he could sleep after that.  Every time he started to doze off it would come back.  It smelled
bad, too, like dirty socks or a locker room after a rough practice.

Eventually he gave up and went downstairs.  That was when he ran into her and found out how petty her roommates were.  

She was sitting by the fire with her upside down book inches from her nose.  And she was really quick to tell him what those things in his room were.  
Flitterbons.  Very sneaky creatures that snuck around bedrooms at night looking for dirty socks to eat.  Shinji might have thought she was making it up, but
her expression was so serious, and she was the only one at their table who'd known about the carriage monsters.  All the others had looked at them funny
when he and Yukimura said they'd seen the horse-like things.  She'd known all about them - thestrals, things only people who'd seen someone die could see.  
If she knew about that, it was probably normal for her to know about the flitterbons, too.

She warned him not to tell anyone that he'd seen a flitterbon in his room because they wouldn't believe him and he'd get used to it eventually, anyway.  
Everyone else just passed the sneaky creatures off as House Elves picking up after them when they were all sleeping at night.  Those were the magical
creatures that cooked food for them in the kitchen beneath the dining hall.  No one ever saw them, either, so everyone figured anything that moved around
when they weren't looking had to be one of them.  Some of them smelled funny too, since they all wore cast-off rags instead of normal clothing, so it was easy
to mix them up with flitterbons.  But Shinji had definitely seen the little thing - or things - flickering around in the shadow, so it was definitely a flitterbon.

Shinji decided then that she was interesting.  That lying hat had claimed this House was for smart people, so he guessed it was only natural that she knew so
much.  But he liked the way she told him about it.  She made the shadowy things sound interesting, special, and not so creepy and alarming.  He'd been quite
unnerved to have some unknown thing sneaking around when it thought he wasn't looking.  He was already uneasy.  That flitterbon thing had just made it
even worse.

They'd talked a little more after that, and he'd learned that she didn't go to bed until she was sure her roommates were sleeping.  They liked to hex her things,
like her blankets, especially if she were already asleep under them.  He'd met two of her roommates at dinner earlier, but they'd been busy watching him and
Yukimura and giggling to each other, so he hadn't paid much attention to them.  He'd learned a year ago not to look at giggling girls.  That was just asking for
trouble.  And they were already trouble.  Petty.  

When he asked why she didn't tell someone, like the older students, or those Headkids, or the Prefect ones or something, she'd said she already had.  
Everyone knew.  But she was weird and a second year and they needed a scapegoat because Ravenclaws never did anything wrong to people outside their
own House.  They had a reputation to uphold, after all.  And it wasn't really that big of a deal.  It was too much trouble to make a fuss about it when no one
else cared, and she always got her stuff back eventually.  She was good with counterspells, too, so they didn't know any hexes she couldn't get rid of.  She
liked reading before bed, anyway.

Shinji thought she made it sound like everyone in the House was petty.  Maybe they were.  The boy who'd shown them to their rooms earlier had seemed nice
enough, but he was almost too perfect.  All bright smiles, good looks, and the doting gaze of just about everyone he passed in the common room.  He didn't
remember the boy's name, Day-something, but that Asian girl said he was the captain of their flying quid team, like they should be honored he was showing
them to their rooms.  Shinji hadn't been honored, or impressed, either.  At most he'd been amused at the way the guy had stumbled when he talked to Fuji
Syusuke.

Luna smiled when she heard that and explained that they'd thought Fuji was a girl at first.  Davies, that was the boy's name.  His only known flaw was that he
got a little clumsy around pretty girls.  It seemed that extended to pretty boys, too.  He wasn't as perfect as he seemed, either.  She had it on good authority
that he was horrible at potions and had to be tutored regularly.  And his charms were substandard at best.  But then she was criticizing her upperclassmen
and she didn't want to get into that habit.  She lent Shinji her magazine and went off to bed.

Shinji read for the rest of the night.  Upside down.  Because half the pictures had instructions for turning the page in weird directions in order to see hidden
things.  He couldn't find the things that were supposed to be hidden, but it was interesting to try.  Definitely eccentric.  If his parents had made a magazine,
he'd want it to be something as strange as this.  There was even an article on the flitterbons.  They weren't dangerous, and if a person stopped trying to see
them, they'd nab the socks they were after and go away.  Shinji had been going about it all wrong.  It figured.

He ended up dozing for a little while until something added some wood to the fireplace he was sitting by.  He didn't know if it were a House Elf or a flitterbon,
but it woke him up all the same.  Since the sun was rising he decided to head outside early and wait for his team to show.

He'd just stepped out the main doors when he was drawn to the sound of voices near the lake.  That pushy guy Echizen hung around with was waving a black
teeshirt at two identical redhaired boys.  Shinji wandered over to them.

"I'm telling you it had to have fallen around here somewhere," Momo was saying.  "No one but Eiji-senpai would wear this shirt.  It's gotta be his."

"Something might have eaten it," said Fred, "or it might have ran away.  But if that's the case it can't be Ron's because-"

"-Scabbers is way too old to have survived that fall," finished George.  "Pity for you, though.  With no evidence you'll have a mess of a time explaining that
window."

"First day here, too," Fred winced.  "If you were aiming to get detention there are much more worthwhile pranks to pull than tossing a roomie through the
window.  Physical violence is so mundane.  At least put a little creativity into it."

George gave a sober nod and eyed Momo sadly.  "We aren't the sort to tattle on you, but that cut was a bad move.  Now everyone's gonna know about it.  
Next time you're looking to get back at someone, drop by our room and we'll hook you up."

"For a price, of course," said Fred.  "Muggle money's good with us, easy as a trip to Gringots to exchange and all, but favors or a cut of the fun would work,
too.  We're always open to negotiations for a good cause.  And you look like a right good cause."

"You spin a tale so well you had us down here looking for a body," George smirked.  "Even got the shirt to prove you threw something or other and your
roomies backing you up to top it off.  We can definitely do business with a fellow like you.  No waiting, either, seeing as how you won't be around too long.  
Just-"

"Well, now," Fred frowned, straightening and looking behind him.  "Eavesdropping, eh?"

"Not very polite," said George.

"At all," Fred nodded.

Momo blinked and glanced over to see who they were talking to.  He was a little slow to react after having almost been...conned?  He wasn't sure what the
twins were offering, or why they thought he'd made up a story about the rat.  Their entire demeanor made him think they were trying to sell him drugs or
something.  He was almost relieved to be interrupted.  Almost.  He still had Tezuka to face once Echizen told him what was going on.

"I wasn't eavesdropping," said Shinji.  "You were talking too loud."

Momo sighed in relief that it wasn't his captain.  Then he winced because it was Shinji instead.  He seriously didn't know how to deal with the guy without
Echizen or Kamio around.  In fact, anything he said right now might end up setting Kamio off on him again.  Through no fault of his own, of course.  Fudomine
was such a weird team.

George sent a curious look at his brother.  "Were we?"

"We might have been," Fred admitted.  "We did think we were alone."

"That we did," sighed George.  "In that case..."

Fred stepped over and clapped Shinji's shoulder.  He flashed a wide smile and didn't even blink when the boy leaned away from him.  "Fred and George
Weasley-"

"-at your service," George finished.  "You were put in Ravenclaw, weren't you?"

"Quite a House you have there," said Fred.  "Not a customer among them."

"Till exam time rolls around," George smirked.  "Then we get them in droves.  Always up for a quick-smart pop, that lot."

"And professors say hard work and effort are important these days."

"Not bloody likely."

Shinji took a long step back and frowned from one boy the other.  Then he frowned at Momoshiro.  His eyes dropped to the teeshirt he was holding.

"I like that band," Shinji commented.

"Really?" asked Momo.  "I met them once.  Eiji-senpai won some contest and they came over to his house.  The plans got messed up, but it was still cool.  This
is his."

"It's signed," said Shinji.  "You shouldn't wad it up like that.  It's all dirty, too.  A souvenir like that is expensive.  You should take better care of it."

"It's not my fault!" Momo blurted.  "There was this...er...yeah.  Yeah, shouldn't wad it up.  Right.  I'll just be getting this back to Eiji-senpai."

Momo turned to get away before he said too much.  The last thing he wanted was for rumors about this to get out to the other teams.  It probably would,
anyway, at least to Rikkaidai and Hyoutei.  That was more than enough people.  He took two steps before he realized his way was blocked by the twins, both of
whom had their arms folded over their chests and bemused frowns on their faces.

"I think we've been ignored," said Fred.

"I believe you're right," said George.  "That's quite rude."

"Quite.  We may have to rescind our offer."

"That would certainly be a shame."

"Indeed it would."

Momo blinked.  "No offense.  It's just, you know, my captain is probably waiting and I don't really want to be running laps around this castle for the rest of the
day.  I don't know how bad your detentions here are, but if I get in enough trouble there's this guy on my team who makes these drinks - poison, absolute
poison - and compared to that-"

"Momoshiro?"

Momo cringed and flashed a painful look past the boys.  Sure enough, Tezuka was crossing the yard with a very serious look on his face.  And right behind
him was Tachibana.  Perfect.  He should have known this would get out to all the teams.  Tachibana had probably been in the room when Echizen explained
what happened.  He'd completely forgotten about that.

"His captain," Fred said to George, in a stage whisper.  "That's not good."

"Not good at all," George returned in the same too-loud whisper.  "We should go now."

"I concur," Fred nodded.

Tezuka raised an eyebrow and turned to watch the boys leave.  He'd never seen a more suspicious pair.  That was it.  He didn't want Momoshiro anywhere
near them from now on.  Or anyone else on his team, for that matter.

Tachibana went over to where Shinji was standing.  He was more surprised to see him than he was to not see a dead battered rat on the ground.  He had
enough trouble with live rats.  He'd had to still himself for what he would likely see out here.  He hadn't thought to still himself for dealing with Shinji.

"What are you doing out here?" asked Tachibana.

"I couldn't sleep because a Flitterbon kept trying to steal our dirty socks," Shinji shrugged.  "Is Kamio awake?"

"Um..."

"I'm hungry, too," said Shinji.  "I hope the elves make breakfast soon.  Kamio always eats before practice.  We probably won't be in very good condition this
morning.  I can go a few days without sleep, but I get distracted more and Kamio can't get going at all without food.  These people go to bed early and get up
late.  It's really lazy.  Maybe they only do it on the weekend, though.  That would make sense, I guess.  It would give the elves some time off, too, which is only
right."

"Right," Tachibana said slowly.  He shook his head clear and placed a hand on Shinji's back, steering him toward the castle.  "Right.  Kamio should be up.  
There was quite a commotion this morning."

"Flitterbons?"

"Er...not that I know of..."

"That's good," said Shinji.  "They're not dangerous, so you shouldn't make a commotion about them.  They just want socks.  People lose those all the time."

"Right..."

.-.

Within the first hour of being in the Hufflepuff chambers, Oishi came to the conclusion that the group had more rules than any cult he'd ever read about.  They
were just as fanatical about their rules, too.  Because they were loyal.  Everything was done for the sake of the group as a whole, so anyone who endangered
that group was ostracized immediately.  Ohtori had managed to blacklist every single one of them without even saying a word.  The moment his teammate had
sat down beside him, he'd proclaimed himself a traitor.  The rest of them were guilty by association.

It wasn't entirely hopeless, though.  The older students in the House had clustered together in their common room after dinner and had some sort of hushed
meeting while they waited near the door.  They chose a spokesman and apparently decided they were worthy of a chance at redeeming themselves.  Oishi still
didn't know how to take their behavior.  It was too bizarre.

The fifth year captain of the Quiddich team, a tall boy with gray eyes named Diggory, finally showed them to their rooms.  First he explained what they'd done
wrong, and how they were supposed to act as temporary Hufflepuffs.  His manner was kind and polite, and he didn't seem to notice that what he was saying
came off cultish and bizarre to them.

Hufflepuffs never invited trouble.  Trouble followed them by default, so it was suicide to intentionally invite more upon them.  They traveled in pairs at all times.  
They absolutely never drew their wands first in a confrontation, even if it meant being hexed without a chance to retaliate.  They didn't retaliate or seek
revenge either.  That was petty and pointless.  If one of them was being particularly targeted, the others took turns walking him or her to class until the
attention shifted to someone else.  And they absolutely never, ever, spoke to Slytherins.  Unless it was an order from a professor during a combined class they
avoided them at all costs.

The upperclassmen understood that an exception would be necessary in their case, since some of them had teammates who'd been sorted into the Slytherin
House.  They would have to interact with them during practices and matches.  Outside of that, they were to carry themselves as Hufflepuffs.  They took care of
each other and did nothing that would endanger the younger members of their House.

They'd sat together for a while after the boy left them.  Ohtori and Dan took it the hardest, while Yuuta was clearly furious.  Oishi was more stunned than
anything.  There was clearly a longterm strife between the two Houses, but Diggory hadn't said a word about what the Slytherins had done to make their entire
House avoid them at all costs.  Yuuta flat out refused to go along with their ridiculous rules.  So the entire House hated them.  What was the worst they could
do to them?

What, indeed.  Oishi didn't know, but he was sure it would be something bad.  They performed magic.  They would be united against them.  The hat had said
he was being placed here because this was the House that specialized in loyalty.  If they were all so loyal to each other, what wouldn't they do to outsiders?  
Outsiders that interacted with the enemy and somehow - why were they enemies? - endangered them all merely by being friends with a member of the wrong
House.

They were just getting ready to split up for their two rooms when a girl slipped in the door.  She had long hair in a plait down her back and sharp eyes.  She
winced when they all turned to stare at her.  She sent a quick peak out the door and then shut it behind her and introduced herself as Susan.  One of her
friends was muggle born - meaning his parents were as dumb to magic as all of them - and since the guys were watching each other, he wouldn't be able to
sneak up himself.  So she'd offered to do it for him.  She spent the next hour explaining why there were so many paranoid rules in the House, and why all of
them eventually learned that the rules were for their own good.  Slytherins, it turned out, were evil.

Oishi couldn't believe half the stories the girl told them.  It didn't seem possible that a homicidal dark wizard with a legion of fanatical followers could have
waged a war in England, killing at will and torturing 'muggles' at random - and no non-wizard had any idea anything had even happened.  And all of them, with
one minor exception, had come from the Slytherin House.  

They were raised in that House to hate everyone who wasn't evil like themselves.  And they were trained to be good at torturing innocents by targeting
Hufflepuffs during their seven years at Hogwarts.  Everyone knew about this.  That was the way the Houses were set up.  The Hufflepuffs were the victims for
the Slytherins to play with so that the other two Houses would be able to leave the school smart and courageous enough to be proper Aurors to fight the future
Slytherin line of evil dark wizards.  The Slytherins did sometimes attack Gryffindors and the occasional Ravenclaw, but the Hufflepuffs always took the brunt of
it.  So they had to be loyal and on constant guard or none of them would make it.

Oishi wasn't the only one who couldn't believe it.  Yuuta told her she was crazy, which for some reason made her smirk at him.  Kabaji actually glared and told
her to get out.  Ohtori had to put a hand on the tall teen's shoulder to keep him from stepping forward and making her leave.  He clearly took offense to the
idea that his captain and two of his teammates were being lumped in with some fanatical House of murderers and psychotics.  And Saeki started laughing and
didn't stop until he was choking and gasping for breath.  

The girl just smiled, shrugged, and welcomed them to the Hufflepuff House with a proud statement that Hufflepuffs were not as gullible or weak as the other
Houses assumed them to be.  She left them with a warning that everything she'd said was believed by at least some members of their House, and that if they
were going to insist on being friendly with their teammates in Slytherin, they should at least take precautions that they didn't do anything that might endanger
the rest of them after they left.  If they wanted to eat lunch together, they could sit at the Slytherin table.  And if they even thought about bringing one of them
into their chambers, they'd be hexed so their own mothers wouldn't recognize them.  Then she winked and closed the door behind her.

Needless to say, Oishi didn't sleep very well that night.  Was it a joke?  A test?  Were they serious?  Exaggerations of the truth, surely.  A deep resentment
between the two groups, some history of strife carried down over the years.  And some hazing ritual for new members, which now included them.  Surely they
weren't serious.  It had to be a test.  They'd all seemed so nice and friendly when he first sat at the table.  If they were serious...he'd have to talk to the others
about rearranging their sleeping assignments.  Ohtori and Kabaji could take care of themselves, and Yuuta...well, Oishi had seen what happened to those who
hurt Fuji's brother, so he was covered as well.  Dan, on the other hand...  Oishi would have to keep an eye on him.  Because there was a chance they were
serious and that was just...scary.  

He woke from strange, restless dreams, to find young curly-haired boy standing beside his bed.  He vaguely remembered the boy being the one with two last
names that both sounded similar and were hard to pronounce together.  He thought his first name was Justin.  The kid jerked his head toward the door when
he saw Oishi blinking up at him.

"You guys better get downstairs before all hell breaks loose," said Justin.  "The Fat Friar's gone and let a Gryffindor into our common room.  Said the kid was
crying and pathetic so he just had to show him in.  Why he couldn't get you guys to go out and meet him in the hall, I don't know.  But the prefects catch him
down there and you're all getting blamed.  Hop to it, already.  I'll think of some excuse to get the password changed, but you have to get him out of here right
now."

Yuuta scrubbed his eyes and blinked blearily at the boy, like he might disappear if he looked again.  Jackal sighed and shoved his shoes on, stumbling his way
for the door.  Kabaji was already moving and looked like he'd been awake before the boy even entered their room.  Oishi followed after, detouring just long
enough to wake the guys in the second room.  He didn't bother to ask Justin who was downstairs.  If the wizarding students were united against them, they'd
have to be united as well.

By the time Oishi got the others downstairs, only Justin was sitting in the common room.  The boy flashed a look at them and gave a vague smile.

"Made it in time," said Justin.  "They're out in the hall.  I swear, you guys are trouble.  Even got the Friar breaking the rules for you.  You're just lucky I was
sneaking down to the kitchens for a snack or that kid would have been hexed all the way back to Gryffindor tower.  We get along fine with them, but they still
ain't allowed in here.  Hufflepuffs only, got it?"

"Got it," Oishi said with a stiff nod.  He turned for the door only to be stopped again.

"The kid's a mess," Justin warned.  "When you're done talking to him, head up the right stairs, take two lefts, and talk to the portrait with the guy on the horse.  
He'll show you over to the infirmary.  Make sure it's the guy on the horse, though.  The drunk guy with the hat'll lead you all over the place and you'll never get
there."

Oishi blinked in surprise.  "Thank you."

"Sure," said Justin.  "Caught me on a good day is all."

Despite the warning, Oishi switched to worry mode so quickly his heart skipped a beat.  The others were huddled around Jiroh, who looked like he'd just woken
up and been through hell between bed and their door.  He was mussed, pale, tearstreaked, and...bloody.  A cut was dripping down his cheek and more had
soaked through the shoulder of his shirt to trail down his arm.  Ohtori had an arm behind him and appeared to be trying to make him move away from the wall.

"What happened?" asked Oishi.

"It was my fault," Jiroh sniffled, wilting a little more.

"An accident," Ohtori said firmly.  "Some sort of in trouble their room and he and Marui fell into a window."

"I fell," said Jiroh, "he got pushed.  But I didn't mean to."  He seemed to energize suddenly and turned wide eyes on Jackal.  "I didn't know who it was.  There
was screaming and I fell out of the bed and when I got up someone bumped into me and I didn't know who it was.  I panicked and shoved him and then I
stumbled, too, and we fell into the window and it broke and cut up his arm.  There was so much blood they took him to the infirmary and I had to tell you
because you're his partner and I'm so sorry!  I know it was my fault, but it was an accident, too.  I would never...I wouldn't..."

"I know," Jackal said quickly.  "We should get you to the infirmary, too."

Jiroh dropped his head and sniffed again.  "I'm sorry...I don't know where it is..."

"I do," said Oishi.  "At least, I know how to find it."

"I'll wait," mumbled Jiroh.

Ohtori winced at that.  "You can't avoid him the entire month, Jiroh.  You're in the same House."

"I can switch rooms..."

"Do that and he'll do the same thing," sighed Jackal.  "From the sound of it there was a lot going on before you even woke up.  There's no way Marui would
blame you.  Besides, you're like his biggest fan."

Jiroh flinched and ducked his chin tighter to his chest.  He looked like he was about to start sobbing.

Jackal grimaced and waved his hands at the boy.  "I didn't mean that in a bad way!"

"Come on," said Ohtori.  He forced Jiroh away from the wall.  "If you'd lead the way, Oishi-san?"

Jiroh squirmed out of his grip. "I wanna wait..."

Kabaji sighed and bent over to pick Jiroh up with an arm around his waist.  He slung him over his shoulder and gave a sharp nod to Ohtori.  He didn't seem to
mind that Jiroh was getting blood on the back of his shirt, or that he was kicking the crap out of his stomach.

"Not fair, Kabaji," Jiroh pouted.  

The only response he received was a warm pat on the small of his back.  He wilted and let himself be carried down the hall.  He'd gotten so lost trying to find
the Hufflepuff rooms - who would have thought they were so close to the main doors? - that Marui was probably already out of the infirmary, anyway.  And if he
wasn't...well...he'd just keep his eyes closed. He'd barely thought it before he found himself dozing off.  Kabaji had such a peaceful gait...all smooth and light.  
Like sleeping on a water bed...

.-.
TBC



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