Asmo Serpentia was enjoying a sunny afternoon in Hogsmeade. The streets and stores were hella jammed, due to the massive reconstruction efforts at Hogwarts.
Asmo walked alone, because no one he knew had any interest in wasting their time in some pissant wizards’ village. Asmo, however, had been stoked to meet his cousin Serena for breakfast at the Three Broomsticks before she stormed the Hogwarts castle. He’d wanted to go with, but she was all, you are so not cramping my style. So he was just hanging out, waiting for his official invite to see whatever freaky jack she’d done to the dungeons.
He wore a stylish wizard’s robe, to better blend in with the crowd. Asmo was the kind of guy who tended to stand out. He was tall, solid, and unabashedly ugly. His face was craggy and pockmarked, his features large and coarse. He got his hundred-dollar haircuts on Rodeo Drive, but he wouldn’t let anyone change the strange, silvery, faintly lavender color of his hair, which was already beginning to recede. Against his tanned olive skin, it seemed to glow. Thanks to his uncle Sidney, his teeth were perfect, but when Dr. Serpentia offered his services as a plastic surgeon, Asmo turned him down. His skin and his features made him look tough, and there were advantages to looking tough.
Asmo was the first Serpentia to go to Hogwarts. It would never have occurred to his parents to send him there, but the summer after his freshman year at the Academy of Magic, California, Los Angeles (which was really in Santa Monica,) his Quaddo team played an exhibition game before the British National Youth Quidditch Championship. After the final match, Asmo’s team crashed this raging party in Wiltshire thrown by this totally wicked dude named Octavius Flint and his seriously hot sister Annalise. That party marked the beginning of Asmo’s three years abroad.
It wasn’t the sort of thing you could just sneak into. In fact, most of the Quidditch competitors didn’t even know it was on. Asmo and his teammates only learned about the party because they were actively eavesdropping in the locker rooms, corridors, and stands, hoping to find some action in England. Once they caught wind of it, however, they were frustrated by a serious lack of identifying details.
By the time the championship was concluded they’d reduced themselves to shameless begging, but to no avail. Even the Charms Girls they’d brought along couldn’t get invites, and that wasn’t for a lack of trying by infatuated Quidditch players. Disappointed, the Quaddo team packed up their gear, and were crossing the rapidly-emptying Quidditch pitch when a funny-looking little kid got their attention.
“Oi! Americans!” he shouted, running up to them. “Do you think I could give it a try?”
“Give what a try?” asked Jamal, the team captain.
“Quadpot! I think could do it, but no one has the gear around here.”
The team members snickered. Jamal pointed upwards and said, “You realize Quaddo’s played in the air?”
“I’m a right fair flyer,” said the kid. “I play Quidditch with my brother. He’s captain of the Slytherin team.”
“I don’ care if he captain of the Bats, that don’ make you Finbar Quigley.”
“Aw, gimme a chance, mate, I know I can do it!”
“What’chor name, kid?”
“Well, Marcus Flint,” said Jamal, “we ain’ got time for —“
“Hold up!” said Asmo. Jamal looked at him in surprise.
Asmo said to the kid, “Your name’s Flint?”
“You related to the Flints having that blowout tonight?”
A sly expression formed on the kid’s face. “Maaaaybe….”
The Charms Girls giggled. One of them said, “He’s so cyuuute!”
Another Quaddo player said, “What, your mama’s not sure who your daddy is?”
The kid was quick. “Hey, I know my dad. He would’ve been your dad, too, only the guy behind him in line had the correct change.”
The team burst into laughter. Someone shouted, “Oh, BURN!”
“You all right, lil’ dude,” chuckled Jamal. “I tell you what. You get us into that party, and we’ll let you practice with us tomorrow.”
“You’ll all be hung over tomorrow!”
More laughter. Stacey, the Charms Girls who’d called Marcus cute, stepped forward.
“We’ll make you a promise,” she said, indicating the Charms team. “If they crap out on you, you can practice with us.”
Asmo thought maybe the kid was too young to be bribed by that, but he was wrong. Marcus broke out in a huge grin and pulled a wand out of his pocket. He said to Stacey, “Gimmie your hand.”
A chorus of whoas and ooos filled the air.
“Don’t do it!” warned one of the Charms Girls. “They don’t let little kids use wands over here. It’s probably not even his.”
“It is mine!” said Marcus indignantly. “And I’m not a little kid; I’m eleven!”
He turned back to Stacey and repeated, “Give me your hand. You get the first invite.”
Stacey held out her hand, palm up. Marcus took it, and pointed his wand at her palm.
“Hold still. Invitantis Ad Embed.”
A jagged, sparking beam of white light came out of his wand, and he used it to draw something on Stacey’s palm.
“Ow!” said Stacey, jerking her hand away and shaking it.
“Sorry!” said Marcus. “I’ve just learned how to do that.”
Stacey stared at her palm. Asmo, who was standing near her, leaned over and saw a bright white, five-pointed star, which turned into a red, star-shaped mark, and then disappeared entirely.
“What does it do?” asked Stacey.
“You just show your hand to security at the gates, and they let you through.”
“Wicked!” said another Charms Girl. “Do me next!”
While Marcus drew stars on everyone’s palms, Jamal asked, “So where’s this party at, lil’ dude?”
“It’s in Wiltshire. But you don’t need to find it. There’s a bunch of Portkeys at the Knight Bus terminal outside the stadium. They look like those paper cups Muggles use to drink from. If you have invites, a bunch of you can all touch a cup and it’ll take you there.”
“Righteous!” said the player who’d teased Flint about his mama, looking at the star on his palm. “And you can find us right here, tomorrow at three. We’ll see if you can really stay up on a broom.”
Several hours later, the AMCLA Quaddo and Charms teams were enjoying the British magical world’s teen event of the summer. The Flints had concealed a big field. Inside the perimeter there were bonfires, cauldrons of ale, and a slamming band. The place was jammed with people from the youth Quidditch leagues, dancing, drinking, and hooking up. There were some fine ladies there; apparently they were kind of the point of Flint parties.
As Asmo passed one of the bonfires, this rad group of kids called the Southfielders asked him to sit down and tell them about Quadpot. The first thing he told them was that no one called it Quadpot anymore.
Some of the Southfielders went to this ancient school called Hogwarts. Asmo knew about Hogwarts, because this guy who was a Potions counselor at his aunt’s Gifted Potioneers’ Summer Camp, this intense British dude named Snape, was a teacher there. Snape liked to tell the campers about Hogwarts, and he made sound like a prison. Asmo asked the Hogwarts kids how bad it sucked, and after they figured out what he meant, they said it wasn’t bad there at all; in fact, Hogwarts was a great place to go to school. Hogwarts had a stellar Quidditch program; every year a few of the students turned pro. The teachers could all do stuff that blew your mind, and they would teach you really advanced magic if you could handle it.
And the Southfielders loved Snape. They called him “professor” and said his classes were the best. He was their “Head of House,” which meant he was supposed to supervise them when they weren’t in class, but he never even set foot in the dorms, so they basically did whatever they wanted. They invited Asmo to visit, but he said no thanks, it really wasn’t his speed.
The party host, Octavius Flint, overheard the conversation as he was walking by. He stopped and told Asmo he needed some new blood on the Slytherin Quidditch team, and he’d seen the AMCLA exhibition game and he’d just been thinking that it would be a big advantage for his team know some Quaddo dodging moves, and Asmo was a good junior player who could learn Quidditch easy, and then suddenly the incredibly fine Annalise was sitting in Asmo’s lap, saying it would be a shame if Slytherin broke its winning streak in her seventh year; she would be really, really grateful to end the year cheering for her House — could Asmo understand that? And Asmo found himself saying yes, yes he could understand that, of course he’d ask his parents if he might give Hogwarts a try.
It turned out the Southfielders were right about Hogwarts. Asmo liked it there. Bel and his shallow friends all thought he was crazy. Who would want to live in a medieval castle in the middle of nowhere? No parties, no clubs, no concerts, no remotely suitable girls.
Asmo didn’t bother to tell them that they were wrong about the girls. Not that there was anyone he found too interesting at the actual school, not after Annalise left, but Octavius and his kid brother Marcus threw some wicked parties with the Southfielders during school vacations, and those Southfielder babes…. they thought Asmo was all that because he was from L.A., and he didn’t want any other Americans showing up and jacking his thunder.
The Cali crew were wrong about Hogwarts parties, too. Slytherin house was rocking every weekend. The Slytherins were way down in the dungeons where no one could hear them, and Snape didn’t care what they did as long as they kept it underground.
But it wasn’t just the parties that Asmo liked about Hogwarts; the classes were really cool, too. They didn’t even have arithmancy at AMCLA, or Care of Magical Creatures. There was a dueling club, and in his seventh year Asmo was captain of his team. Asmo liked Snape’s Potions class, but his favorite was Transfiguration with Old Lady McGonagall. She always looked like she wanted to blast him out of the room, and that only added to the fun.
The only weak class was Charms. Hogwarts was way behind the Academy in that. Maybe it was because most of the British kids hadn’t even picked up a wand until they turned eleven. It was a shame, because Asmo thought the Quidditch games could’ve used some Charms Girls, and there was no way the Hogwarts girls could’ve done even the easiest routines. Plus maybe they wouldn’t’ve looked so hot in the gear — there were a lot of couch potatoes at Hogwarts.
Even without Charms Girls, however, Asmo did learn to like Quidditch. It was fun, whacking the Quaffle as hard as he could through the goal hoops, or into an unsuspecting Gryffindor. He liked the freaky castle, too, with the stairs that moved around and the maze of hidden rooms and the blatant ghosts.
It was a bummer for Serena that Hogwarts changed at lot after Asmo left, especially since she’d never wanted to go there. She’d been splitting her school year between Wizards’ Way Primary School in Wiltshire and Charming Children Day School in Beverly Hills, and she was looking forward to attending AMCLA with her American friends full-time. But her mother insisted on Hogwarts because for some reason Snape had to stop teaching at the Potions camp so he could spend all his time in the U.K., and Aunt Adjoua believed that Snape was the best Potions teacher around and Serena had to study with him.
Apparently Uncle Sidney agreed, or maybe he’d noticed that Asmo was recruited for the honors program at the University of Magic, while Bel was wait-listed for general admission. Which really wasn’t a fair assessment of the Academy of Magic, because Bel never put much effort into school. Ironic that Bel now spent hundreds of hours immersed in spread sheets, reports, books, and websites about business, and earned a fortune doing it.
If only things had stayed the same, Asmo thought, Serena would’ve been the queen of the school. Unfortunately, the year Serena started at Hogwarts, the son of this tight-ass aristocrat, Lucius Malfoy, started too, and Malfoy used his position on the Hogwart’s Board of Governors to totally screw everything up.
Malfoy’s jerkface kid told his dad about the Slytherin parties, so they were banned.
Flitwick let Serena start a Charms Team, but it was axed after Malfoy bitched to the British Ministry of Magic that it was “inappropriate.”
No more dueling club — after his kid got blasted on his ass, Malfoy wrote an editorial in the Prophet saying that dueling was dangerous. Like Quidditch was safe!
Malfoy must’ve liked Quidditch, though, because Serena said he tried to bully his son onto the team as a first-year. Well, the joke was on him. That was the year Slytherin started losing to Gryffindor. Eventually Malfoy’s kid played seeker, and from what Asmo heard from Serena, he never caught the snitch.
Between the Malfoys, who wanted to keep Hogwarts in the twelfth century, and Dumbledore, who had accepted Serena only under very strict conditions that basically disqualified her for awards and appointments, her whole high school experience was whack.
Asmo stopped by Gladrags for a new cape, which he shipped home, and by Honeyduke’s for some licorice snaps that really snapped. He took the candy with him and sat on a bench in a little grassy park area, where an old witch was playing even older songs on a harp. Asmo couldn’t understand why Bel didn’t like this kind of music. It was soothing. Sometimes he thought Bel didn’t notice whether there was music playing or not.
Asmo popped a handful of the snaps into his mouth and sucked on them them as they raced around his cheeks, biting with their tiny teeth. Finally he crunched them up while they were still hopping; they were better that way.
The old-timey music made him think of the thousands of generations of magical beings who had passed through Hogsmeade. He wondered what it would be like to live among wizards, to wear robes and cloaks and not have to worry about who saw you do what.
That was a fantasy, he decided. He’d still have to worry about what people saw, and it really did get old fast, trying to use magic as a substitute for technology. Seriously, owls?
He’d just swallowed another mouthful of snaps when someone called to him.
Asmo turned to see Marcus Flint entering the park, looking as funny as ever. It was the teeth, thought Asmo; he really should fix those.
Asmo wondered what Flint was doing in Hogsmeade. Weren’t the Falcons playing a home match in Falmouth this week?
Flint dropped down on the bench beside Asmo.
“Hey, mate, long time no see. How ya been?”
The two clapped hands.
“Awesome. Really busy. What’s up with you?”
“Not much ’til all this.” Marcus waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the castle. “We’re rebuilding the Quidditch pitch.”
“What, the Falcons wised up and canned your ass?”
“If you mean did they sack me, no, you rude duffer!” Flint shoved Asmo’s shoulder. “Just thought I’d help put this place back together. Why’re you here?”
“Just cooling my jets ’til Serena gives me the all-clear to check out the common room. I think she gutted it.”
“Serena’s here?” said Marcus, perking up and looking around as if he expected to see her pop up from behind a bush.
Asmo shoved Flint back, harder. “Back off, lil’ dude. You had your chance.”
Marcus rounded on Asmo. “I’m twenty-flippin’-five years old! I think we can give “lil’ dude” a rest.”
Asmo popped a handful of snaps into his mouth and grinned.
“That right, lil’ dude?”
Marcus snatched the bag of candy from Asmo and helped himself.
“Piss off!” he said, mildly. He munched some snaps thoughtfully, staring at the old harpist.
Asmo signed inwardly. Serena and Marcus had a relationship that was volatile, and in Asmo’s eyes, doomed.
Asmo supposed it was all his fault. Seven years before, Serena had been so obviously not happy about the Hogwarts thing that Asmo felt bad and offered to take her for a private look-see of the school. He thought if Serena could see the castle and Hogsmeade through his eyes, she wouldn’t be so bummed about going there. He brang along the Finnegan kid, too, on the theory that his enthusiasm might get Serena pumped up.
After meeting Hagrid, Madam Hooch, and the school ghosts, Seamus was psyched to the max, but Serena could not have cared less. Accepting defeat, Asmo took Serena and Seamus to the Summer Youth Quidditch Leagues tournament in New Forest. The little Flint dude was captain of his summer league squad, the Goshawks. After the match, which the Goshawks won, they found him surrounded by fans, mostly Slytherins and Southfielders.
Marcus was stoked to see Asmo. He was the new Flint family party-master and was hosting his first event that evening, and what more impressive guests than the University-going Asmo and, if they were available, some of his fine American lady friends?
Although Serena and Seamus were too young to come, Marcus gallantly drew invites on their palms, and by the time he was done, Serena Serpentia had developed a heavy crush on Marcus Flint.
Serena had to wait a long time for Marcus to notice her, but a few years after he finally graduated — after his second seventh year — Serena got her chance. To celebrate his spot on the Falcon’s second string, Marcus threw an epic midsummer bash, to which he invited Serena, her cousins, and her spectacular friends from the Academy of Magic Charms Team.
Marcus finally saw the charm in Serena, and soon the two were blazing as hot as the bonfire before them, something Bel was definitely not down with when he found out about it. He tried to drop some science on Serena about hanging out with brainless party boys like the Flints, but his intervention just inspired Serena to stick to Marcus like white on rice until she had to go back to Hogwarts.
Serena kept on dating Adrian Pucey, and Marcus hooked up with a series of Quidditch groupies, but the two kept finding ways to meet up. That is, until Marcus finally screwed up royally, and Serena finally saw what Bel was talking about.
Marcus turned back to Asmo and said, “Honestly, I’d like to see her. She up at the castle?”
“Don’t go there, dude. Seriously, she’ll tear your freaking head off.”
“She’s not still angry?”
Asmo shrugged in a “what can you do?” gesture. Marcus threw his head back and sharply sighed.
Apparently Bel was a big influence on Serena after all, because she began to resent anything Marcus did that reflected badly on her by association. She was annoyed when he was interviewed at a trashy pub, spotted at a second-rate Muggle nightclub, seen at a party at the Crabbe’s.
The final straw was when he was photographed with a groupie who was patently too large for her tacky clothes. Serena didn’t care who was on Marcus’ social calendar, so long as they fulfilled the basic AMCLA requirements for glamour. For Serena, the fat skank was the last straw. This time it looked like their relationship was toast.
“Sorry, mate,” said Asmo.
Marcus smirked. “You sound funny when you say “mate.”
“You sound funny every freaking day of the year!”
“I believe that between the two of us, I’m the one speaking proper English.”
“It’s not your accent, it’s your damn teeth. Why don’t you get those fixed?”
“I dunno. Why don’t you fix your face?”
“My face doesn’t make me look like Krusty the Clown.”
“Who’s that? Wait… was that an insult?”
Asmo grinned wickedly. “No way I’d insult you… lil’ dude.”
Marcus looked like he was about to reply, but then he just chuckled. He clapped Asmo on the shoulder.
“Good to see you, mate.” He stood and said, “I gotta get goin’ and pick up some things for Flitwick.”
Asmo stood also, and the two clasped hands and pounded each other on the back.
“Take care, man,” said Asmo.
He stretched his legs as he watched Marcus leave the park and head into town, then sat down again to listen to the old witch’s harp.
Asmo’s encounter with Marcus had put him in a good mood, but as the music grew inside him he became serious again. The tunes the old witch chose reminded him of his next stop, Ireland, where he was going to scope out Seamus Finnegan’s mother, a powerful witch named Eileen.
Asmo’s plans were on the down-low. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was something sketchy about that woman.
If Eileen Finnegan was up to no good, he was going to put a stop to it.