Disclaimer and acknowledgements: Harry Potter and all associated characters and settings are the property of J.K. Rowling and various corporate moguls or, as Charlie Brown’s Lucy once said of Christmas, “It’s all owned by a big eastern syndicate, you know.” In addition, a number of details concerning the background and family life of Cho Chang, as well as the character of MacArthur Culligan are borrowed (with permission) from Patrick, aka Monkeymouse, and his epic biography of Our Girl, Or Die Trying, which can be seen on ff.net.
Author’s note: This is the first of four linked stories set in Ravenclaw House during Harry Potter’s (and, more to the point, Padma Patil’s) first through fifth years at Hogwarts. They can be read independently; although this first one serves as a general introduction to the set. All of them are a reworking of parts of a longer story that I have posted elsewhere, and I am pleased to acknowledge my original beta readers CurrerB and Monkeymouse, who make me look a lot better than I really am. Thanks also to Gretchen, my PS beta.
What was Hogwarts like before the War? What was it really like? We know remarkably little apart from the legend of Harry Potter, in which all Gryffindors are brave, all Slytherins despicable... and the rest are largely invisible. These descriptions of life in Ravenclaw are all the more valuable for that, but how reliable are they? Are they really, as claimed, fragments from the memoirs of Padma Patil, the largely unknown sister of Parvati the Seer? We may never know.
The very title leaves us wondering: ‘A Few Things I Remember...’ Does this mean all that the author can remember, or all she chooses to share? For what it’s worth, I suspect that the latter is true.
This first fragment seems innocent enough, the story of a close friendship between two very young girls. And yet it may hold vital clues to the events that followed. Readers can judge for themselves. It may be worth reminding those too young to remember that, when Cho Chang fought in the War, she was known to be capable of producing a corporeal Patronus, and that her guardian invariably took the shape of a swan.
Of the many traditions that ordered the life of Ravenclaw House, the first encountered was also the most important. The Partnering, we called it, or second sorting. Immediately after the Sorting itself, and the feast in the Great Hall, the house’s new first-years were ushered into the book-lined stillness of the common room. There were always eight, four girls and four boys, never more and never fewer. In the middle of the room, they were herded into a reasonably straight line and told to hold up their wands. Opposite them, the eight second-year students took their place with wands similarly raised, each with a third-year behind him or her, as the older students gathered round to encircle them.
On the command of a senior student, and without a word of explanation, the lights were magically quelled. Following a further word of command, thin bright beams issued forth from the uplifted wands. At first seeking around the room like so many miniature searchlights, they quickly established a pattern, linking the students two by two, each second-year to a first-year. The students so linked were Partnered, a relationship that lasted throughout their years in the House and formed the very essence of their existence within it.
And so it was, as the lights came slowly up, that I, bereft of my twin and numb with the long terror of the day, beheld a smiling face and knew that here too I would never be truly alone. I knew without knowing how that the girl across from me was called Cho, but that her proper name was Chang Cho Li, and that true intimates might address her simply as Li. I knew that Cho was willful and passionate and ambitious, but for all that also kind and fiercely loyal, and that this kindness and loyalty and protectiveness were now to be mine without asking and without measure. And I knew as well that Cho would, without explanation, have a similar understanding of me; would know how incomplete I felt in this first ever separation from Parvati—it had never occurred to either of us that we would end up in different houses—and, at the same time, would understand the terrible dawning joy unacknowledged even to myself, at the prospect of being a unique individual and not one of a matched set.
These revelations were the matter of an instant, and as I stood there trying to take it all in, I saw Cho turn to embrace the girl behind her—Marietta, the name came to me unbidden, Cho’s older just as I, Padma, was now to be Cho’s younger—and then walk over to take me by the hand and lead me to a seat by the fire.
“Welcome to Ravenclaw House and to the line of Astraï.”
The words, like the gestures, were ritual, I knew, and throughout the room other pairs were repeating similar ones, but Cho’s hand was warm in mine and she spoke for me alone. Some sort of response seemed to be expected, but words just then seemed superfluous and, in any case, altogether impossible. It was the most natural thing in the world, on the other hand, to gather my new friend and protector into a tight embrace and cling to her as if nothing else existed. Cho seemed to understand.
At last, the tide of emotion receded somewhat, and I slowly returned to a world in which information was exchanged through spoken words rather than magical congress, impetuous gestures, and raw emotion. Partners, Cho told me, were links in a chain; an unbroken line going back to the original group of students gathered by Rowena Ravenclaw herself at the founding of the School. In each line, the elder students gave advice, assistance, and protection, the younger answered with respect, affection and, within certain limits, obedience. Within the larger family that was the House, each incoming student now had a group of older siblings, and would in the fullness of time acquire younger ones.
Is it any wonder that I fell immediately, totally, and hopelessly in love from the depth of my eleven-year-old heart?
Even then, of course, the rationalising voice that I can never quite turn off was telling me that I was just reacting to trauma, that the partnering ceremony was crudely manipulative, that I was allowing myself to Act Without Thinking (usually Parvati’s sin, not mine). It was all true. None of it mattered. A saviour had come to me when I most needed and least expected it, and I wasn’t about to let her go.
Imagine my surprise when the sentiment proved mutual.
Only later would I learn that Cho’s capacity for love was already legendary. In any other setting the intensity with which she gave her affection, and her utter disregard for exclusivity, would have earned her a dubious reputation. In Ravenclaw, it was otherwise. Even on that first day in the flames of my own sudden passion, I felt what we all did, the instinct to admire and protect this beautiful and fragile-seeming creature in our midst. Our Girl Cho, I would soon come to call her, and shake my head ruefully. But her best and most fitting title had already been bestowed before I arrived. MacArthur Culligan, Captain of Quidditch and a Welsh bard at heart, had dubbed her the Fair Flower of Ravenclaw. The name, he claimed, came from an obscure Muggle folk song that only he seemed to know and of which he only ever shared the refrain.
“And, oh her love, it was easily won...”
But he always smiled as he sang it.
To grow up in Ravenclaw House in the protective aura of the love of Cho Chang was a privilege that I was unable to appreciate fully at the time. In youthful self-absorption, I simply took it for granted. She was my princess and I was her handmaiden and that was obviously how things were meant to be. It never occurred to me that they might someday be otherwise. Nor did it occur to me that Cho was very young and would change as she grew older. Twelve and a half, as seen from barely eleven, is a very great age. She was my older, the fixed point in my universe.
She was a good older too. For the first time in her life, she had someone to care for, someone who not only admired her but looked up to her and needed her, and she found that she liked this enormously. She took me in hand, showed me the secret ways of the castle, and saw to it that I did my homework. She comforted me when I missed my family and didn’t laugh when I told her that I had always been secretly jealous of Parvati because, even though everyone said we were identical, I knew that she was prettier. It was she, and not Madam Pomfrey, who explained in graphic detail the cruel jokes that my adolescent body had in store for me and, coming from her, it didn’t seem so dreadful.
For my part, I was the one-girl cheering section for her solitary Quidditch practices at a time when no one else in the house would acknowledge her talent, and agreed solemnly that it was indeed her destiny to be Seeker for the Tutshill Tornados. I held her close when letters from her mother left her in tears with their regular reminders that there were some expectations to which she would never measure up, and then told her rude jokes to cheer her up.
Our Christmas presents to each other, that first year, were a tribute to Ravenclaw scholarship as well as to our mutual obsession with each other. Cho gave me a brooch in the shape of a blue lotus flower, which of course is the meaning of my name. I went three months pocket money into debt to my sister to get her a small but elegant string of coral beads, one of the possible translations of hers. We took innocent delight in this spontaneous singleness of purpose, and in our own cleverness. Both of our mothers, I believe, were impressed—and perhaps just the slightest bit concerned.
Home, the summer after my first year, I frankly pined. Reunion with my sister now seemed but a pale imitation of what I had become accustomed to with Cho. I wrote to her weekly, and would have done so daily if my parents had permitted it. She answered briefly and occasionally with notes full of charm and tidbits of news, mostly about Quidditch, but altogether lacking in the constant reassurance I craved.
September could not come quickly enough. But when it did the harvest was bittersweet. From across platform nine and three quarters I spotted her, and was off at the speed of thought.
“Cho! I missed you so much. Why didn’t you write to me?”
“I did write, silly.”
“Not very much...!”
The tears I had been holding back all summer came pouring down my face.
“Silly Padma, come with me. It’ll be all right.”
Silly Padma, I blush to recall, made many appearances over the course of that day, and indeed of that year. The welcoming banquet was proceeding in its usual festive excess. I sat under the blue Ravenclaw banner, drinking her in and ignoring all else.
“Padma, you have to eat something.”
“I can’t. I’m too... I’m too full of happiness!”
“It’s apple tart, Padma, your favourite. Eat some for me.”
I was twelve years old. I wanted her all to myself. I wanted her all the time. And it simply wasn’t to be.
My great rival that year was not a boy—those came later, and never came between us for long—but a broomstick. Cho’s all-consuming passion, in those days, was Quidditch. She had been kept off of the House team in her first year because of age and in her second because she was a girl and, by a tradition whose origins no one remembered, girls didn’t play for Ravenclaw. In this her third year, she was determined to be denied no more. She fought like a demon to win the respect of the team, flying even in practice with a reckless abandon that, on more than one occasion, landed her in the hospital wing. Guiltily, I cherished those moments; during her all-too-brief periods of convalescence she was all mine once more. Before long though, she would be back on her broomstick, flying faster and more dangerously than ever. Through undeniable talent and sheer stubborn determination, she forced them to make her a reserve. To play on the first team, though, she needed to win over the captain, and that took more than skill.
With the departure of MacArthur Culligan, Roger Davies had become captain, and Roger was nothing if not a traditionalist. Unfortunately for his peace of mind, he was prey to two additional and conflicting emotions. The first was a burning desire to do what Mackie had never done, put together a team that would bring home the House Cup for the first time in living memory. Cho Chang, by an increasingly general consensus, was the best Seeker to come through Ravenclaw in a generation. No present member of the House even came close. That was the first thing. The second became increasingly and amusingly obvious over the course of the year. Roger, against his will and all his better judgment, was altogether smitten with Our Girl.
Cho was much too busy trying to fight her way onto the team and resenting Roger for his irrational opposition to even think of returning these feelings, at least just then, but they did provide considerable entertainment for the rest of us. And no, I wasn’t jealous. Surprised? I gave Cho all my love and desperately craved hers in return, but love for us in those days had very little to do with boys. The wisdom handed down from older to younger in the Line of Astraï held that boys could, if rightly handled, be more fun than Exploding Snap. They were, however, simple creatures, not worth getting upset over, and in any case you could always find more.
Love, real love, was what we all sometimes felt for each other, and the very fact that it remained largely intangible made it a very complicated business indeed.
Love was small caring gestures and kind comforting words. Love was secrets shared and hopes revealed. Love was a blinding intensity of mutual faith and absolute trust. Looking back at that time, I still know that what I felt for Cho Chang when I was twelve years old was the best and purest love of my life. It was also the most painful. Because, on one point, Cho and I differed altogether.
For me, love was exclusive. Unconsciously I put her in the place that had been my sister’s when, for all those years, there had just been the two of us. My love was about mutual possession and shared identity. The gestures of Cho’s life, great and small, became part of my own. I learned to drink my tea black, unlike the rest of my family, because that was how she took hers. I ate my bread without butter because she didn’t like it. Before an important occasion, I trimmed my fingernails very nearly to the quick and applied three layers of clear varnish in conscious imitation of Cho’s pre-game ritual—for all the world as if I, like her, were preparing to go after the Golden Snitch.
Cho Chang, on the other hand, the sheltered and secluded only child of stern demanding parents, reveled in her newfound freedom. She had a boundless capacity for giving affection and an endless delight in receiving it. In small things, though, she was careless. It never occurred to her that I would be jealous, now that she was practicing with the team, no longer to be her only fan. She never understood why it bothered me that, more and more often, she went through the hallway surrounded by friends and admirers. She went so far as to take me to task for not spending more time with my own younger, now that I had one.
I may as well admit it. I was a very bad older to poor Luna Lovegood. I left her to her own devices and took care of her not at all. Not that she minded, or seemed even to notice. In her own way, she was as obliviously self-absorbed as I. Still, it was a Ravenclaw sin and I knew it at the time—and couldn’t bring myself to care.
By the beginning of my third year, I was perilously close to hating Cho Chang as much as I loved her, and the contradiction was tearing me apart. I was saved by a small act of rebellion, the understanding of a rival, and the adolescent lust of a very confused boy.
Arithmancy had a well-earned reputation as a very Ravenclaw sort of class. It was a place for Eagles to soar and for the crawlers—as we were wont privately to refer to our less fortunate schoolmates from other houses—to avoid. In the year I began the class there were only three.
One of them was Hermione Granger, and on the very first day she asked to be my partner.
Hermione was famous, even then, as the brains behind the Potter entourage. She adored Arithmancy and made sure we all knew it. Somehow, though, her total lack of self-consciousness made this endearing rather than annoying. In Professor Vector’s class, unlike the Gryffindor common room, it was Good To Be Clever; the sign above her desk said so. For Hermione, it was a haven. There were days when I could see her stand up straighter as she walked through the door, as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders for the duration of the lesson.
Working with Hermione ensured that I got top marks but sowed the seed of dissention at home, because our girl Cho was in the class too, and to tell the truth she wasn’t very good at it.
Because so few students took it, Arithmancy was not divided by year. We were all together working at our own pace, which meant that Hermione and I surged ahead while Cho struggled along with the rest finding that, for once, intuitive brilliance and fierce determination were not enough. It was my first betrayal, with the innocent Hermione as my partner in crime, and Cho, herself the soul of inconstancy, couldn’t forgive her. We never spoke of it. I always knew. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Hermione Granger became my friend. My betrayal became a quiet act of ongoing rebellion, a wordless revenge for Cho’s growing crowd of sycophants, a creeping declaration of independence.
Back in Ravenclaw house, that winter, I was about to get help from unexpected directions.
As Cho’s older, Marietta Edgecombe should have been my friend. She was not. Cho had been hers first, had been hers before she was mine, and Marietta wasn’t getting over it. I could feel resentment in her every look, and had done for two and a half years. I was incapable of guilt on this subject, but I did know fear and avoided her whenever possible. Cho, typically, failed to understand or even to notice that there was a problem.
And then there was poor Roger, still prey to a nasty combination of tradition, ambition, and lust. Trapped amongst these conflicting feelings, Roger eventually did a very Ravenclaw thing. He went to see one of the elders of our line for advice and, in a sense, permission. The object of his solicitation was Penny Clearwater—Penelope to the outside world since her elevation to the exalted states of prefect—and, as it happened, he couldn’t have made a better choice. Penny had been watching with increasing concern the growing tension in the line of Astraï, and this was the occasion to do something about it. Not only that but being at the time in the blissful throes of her own first outside romance—with Percy Weasley, but there’s no accounting for taste—she was a great believer in the healing virtues of exogamy. A healthy first step, in her opinion, was to encourage Roger. A necessary second one was to summon Marietta and myself and deliver what could only be characterised as a sermon, the burden of which being that it was time for both of us to grow up and let Cho live her life.
Oddly enough, it did a lot of good. Marietta and I left the room furious at Penny for her interfering busybody ways, but rather in tune with each other. We were, we had finally realised, rather more comrades in misfortune than rivals. It would be too much to say that we became friends that day, but from then on we often found ourselves allies—usually trying to save Cho from herself. On one thing we agreed altogether and from the first. Anyone heard uttering the words “schoolgirl crush” in our presence would next be seen as sausage on the following day’s breakfast table.
Cho and Roger as an item lasted all of three months. He never did really get over his scruples as Captain in dating one of his team members, not to mention his residual guilt in having fought so hard to keep her from being on the team in the first place. She, for her part, was flattered and amused, but no more. However brief, though, her very public conquest of the Captain marked a new epoch for Cho’s life in Ravenclaw. No longer was she a child princess, a House mascot to be flattered and cosseted. By the end of that year, she was a leader acknowledged by olders and youngers alike. It was understood that not only was her position on the team secure but that she would, in the fullness of time, inherit the Captaincy, and that the team was, in this case as so often, a metaphor for the House as a whole. As our greatest treasure, she was to be cherished and obeyed, surrounded and protected at all times.
For me, of course, this could have been hardest of all to bear. I knew now that I could never have Cho to myself, yet seeing her going to class, or to meals, or just about anywhere it seemed, accompanied by her honour guard was a daily reminder of my loss—just as my own presence had been, I now realised, for Marietta. Before long, though, both of us found our place in the new order. Marietta was first among Cho’s public admirers, clearing a path in the hallways, finding a place at meals, securing the best spots in classes. Whether due to shyness or lingering pride, this was a role I refused to play. My own place, though, was vastly dearer to me. In surrendering my claims to public exclusivity, I largely regained what I most treasured and thought to have lost forever, Cho’s private intimacy. It was to me that she came with her hopes and fears, her secret triumphs and tragedies. I knew long before he did exactly how she felt about Roger. I knew that she still despaired of ever pleasing her mother. I knew that she had a secret and growing crush on none other than Harry Potter. It was to me, increasingly, that she turned to for advice. It was from me, she knew, that she would receive eternal and unquestioning support amidst the shifting sands of ambition and romance, and eventually of passion.
As the late winter rains turned to a flowering springtime, the tension had ebbed away, and we were even able to laugh about how odd and uncomfortable it had all been. I was fourteen years old in June; for my birthday, Cho Chang gave me a silver pendant in the shape of a swan, and proclaimed me all grown up. Silly Padma, I fervently hoped, was behind us for good.
That summer, Cho wrote to me more than I did to her.
But I still drank my tea black and ate my bread without butter, and I still remembered why.