She was of divine race, not of men, in the fore part a lion, in the
hinder a serpent, and in the middle a goat, breathing forth in terrible
manner the force of blazing fire.
Betsy was going to die. She would go down in history as the only person to ever die of boredom while waiting on a bloody damn cold rock in the middle of arse-plug Scotland, waiting for a butterfly or a fan or whatever twee item poofters at the Academy decided to throw down as a portkey while her swot of a brother finished reading the latest blasted Jinyong novel as though it would reveal the mysteries of the ancients. Bloody romance novels for boys, that's what they were.
She kicked Brian's shin. "Oi, have you got the time?"
Without look up from his book, Brian muttered, "Half past a hair and stop bothering me."
"And please don't say 'oi,'" continued Brian, "You sound like an American pretending to be British."
Huffing, Betsy sat back and tapped her foot. Really, Brian took his role so seriously. Outside of wizarding society, tiny in comparison to the rest of the world, what did it matter that he was Guardian of the Otherworld and had to know every spell known to man? There were billions of muggles... baselines... whatever out there, fighting to fix a million other problems and--
Oh, bugger it. She needed a cigarette.
Five seconds later, a small phoenix dropped out of the sky and bopped her on the head.
"There's our portkey," said Brian, tucking his book away.
"Cute," she snarled at the sky.
Picking up their bookbags, Betsy and Brian Braddock touched the portkey and whirled from Scotland to Lantau Island in Hong Kong.
Miserable, wet, and well on her way to getting the summer flu, Cho shimmied out of her English robes. Three sneezes exploded out of her as she pulled a costume box from her bag and a hanfu from the costume box. The silk didn't take well to being shrunk; the cuffs and hems wrinkled beyond repair.
"Cho! Thank the heavens and all the fuckin' dragons, mate!"
Surprised, more at the intruder than the vulgarity, Cho snapped the hanfu around her body. The change rooms at Glorious Academy of Wenchangdi were large enough for five to scramble into their uniforms but this late in the year, no one else would be changing. She relaxed when she saw who it was.
"Betsy!" she started to smile but her mouth quickly dropped open. "What did you do to your hair?"
Grinning, Betsy swung her hair fro side to side. "Like it? My parents don't and they're being all stiff-upper lip about it."
"Purple, actually. Violet is a touch redder." A ridiculous number of ornaments hung from a half-knot on top of her head, tinkling softly as she walked. "I have decided that purple is my colour. I shall flaunt it shamelessly."
Looking down at her rather simple black and salmon hanfu, Cho said, "Will the Academy allow you to wear purple?"
"What can they do?" retorted Betsy, "Keep me from half the classes? Whoopsie-daisies, all ready done. Maybe we can just narrow it down to tea-making." Sighing, she perched up on the sink. "I'm sorry, I'm in a rotten mood."
That squeezed a smile from Betsy. Cho wondered what her friends at Hogwarts would think of Elizabeth Braddock, adopted daughter of James Braddock, and so Brian Braddock's twin of sorts. Brian was in Ravenclaw a year above Cho, quiet, handsome in that ordinary way, not the best student but certainly no slouch, and painfully shy. Betsy on the other hand was... Betsy. Cho suspected they wouldn't have gotten along were she not a Squib, a study-mate for summer school, and a fellow card-carrying member of the Banana Brigade-- yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Born Chinese, raised in Britain, and not really a member of either society.
The two bonded at their first study group session six years ago. Cho helped her with Betsy magical theory homework, being a squib, she couldn't do the practical, of course, but her father wanted her to keep studying anyway. Betsy, in turn, helped her with martial arts. Cho would not have done as well as a Seeker if it wasn't for Betsy's tutoring. More than that, it was just easier to talk with Betsy sometimes. There were things that her British friends couldn't understand because they were too British and her Chinese friends couldn't understand because they were too Chinese.
"We're chimaeras," Cho once told Betsy. "We're bits and pieces of both countries patched together and they know we're strange so they tend to keep away."
"Says the girl who always has a crowd around her," Betsy had retorted.
"That's not the same. When I'm with them, I'm trying so hard to be British. It's like putting on a Hogwarts robe and a Wenchangdi one."
"And when we're here, we have to try so hard to be Chinese," Betsy had added. "Sometimes I look in the mirror and I'm so surprised to see my winky eyes."
"But when I'm here, I get surprised when I hear myself speak English without a Chinese accent."
"We're going to grow up utterly twisted, aren't we?"
"I'm hoping for just mildly confused," Cho had ended.
Cho pushed the memory of that conversation away, wanting to be there for her friend during her current identity crisis. Rooting through her own back, Betsy shook out her robes, bright purple with black cuffs. "It's Brian," she explained. "He's just… grrrr! He's a better Chinese than I am and he's blond!"
"I know what you mean," said Cho.
"At least Jian is ten years older than you. Compared to my 'twin' Brian, I'm magically and culturally retarded. It's always 'Betsy, you should at least be aware of this' and 'Betsy, don't you want to learn your roots'. As if I weren't some strange diplomatic experiment already and... oh, hell, I wish I was back in Muir Island." With each sentence, Betsy tied her skirt ribbons tighter and tighter until the lines were hopelessly bunched. "Bloody, blasted-- Cho, would you please?"
With a wag of her head, Cho momentarily put her hanfu back in its box to help smooth Betsy's garment out. "Tell me more about Muir Island."
"I sent all those letters."
"It was a little... hectic at school this year, what with the Triwizard Tournament and all."
"How could I forget!" The mischievous shine returned to Betsy's eyes. "Last I heard there was a dishy Quidditch captain in the picture."
"Yes. Cedric." Without meaning to Cho collapsed, sobbing, into Betsy's arms.
Ten minutes later, Betsy was still holding Cho although the sobbing had simmered down to sniffling. She managed to piece together her friend's broken sentences about what had happened during the Tournament and if she had a pinch of magic in her, she'd apparate straight back to Scotland and bash a few people around the head.
"Why didn't I hear about any of this?" she asked Cho. "Brian can be such a blockheaded--Oh, never mind about me. Poor, poor mei-mei! Let's skiv off classes and head down to Mong Kok for some therapeutic shopping. What's the point of feng shui calculations and essays on the correct angle of sleeve-positioning during calligraphy right now?"
"No," Cho sniffed into her handkerchief. "I can't miss a class, my parents will--"
"If your parents don't understand that shipping you to summer school right after your bloody boyfriend was killed by You-Know-Who, then bugger them and the horse they rode on."
Betsy raised her hand. A purple spike flared out from her wrist, surrounding her wrist and wavering almost like a candle flame. "Don't make me use this."
Cho blinked. "I thought you were a... what is that?"
"It's a psi-knife," said Betsy cheerfully. "It's my mutation."
"Mutation," said Cho slowly. "That's the reason why you can't do magic?"
"That's what Professor Cassidy-- oh, wait until I tell you about him!-- says. Apparently, having an X-factor in your DNA negates the gene for magical abilities."
"Jeans? Like trousers?"
"No, no, no, something else. A muggle thing. I'll explain later. What's important is what I can do with this little sweetheart." Betsy tapped the tip of the purple spike in a fond manner. "I point this in your head and you're out cold like that." She snapped her fingers. "So, conscious or not, you're coming with me to Mong Kok."
In Wenchangdi, as in Hogwarts, apparating was not permitted. Betsy and Cho used a side door out to the kitchen gardens. Just past the aubergine patch was a gate normally used by amorous couples to do what amorous couples did. The properties of the aubergines weakened the wards on the wooden gates and if you crossed it at the right time, the Counters couldn't log their departure. Once they left the gardens, they only had to walk a few feet away to travel by portkey.
"Is that portkey... reliable?" asked Cho cautiously.
She didn't ask if it was legal, Betsy noted with amusement. The markets in Hong Kong sold everything, most of them just right of skeevy.
"It'll take us to the Goldfish Market," said Betsy. "Remember that bloke with the phoenix tattoo all down his back?"
"The one who wouldn't stop asking us for maths answers?"
"That's him. Quite brilliant at charms though. I traded it for a snog and a favour."
Cho's eyebrows went up. "What kind of favour?"
"A very well worded one."
Travelling spells were the worst things about being a mutant. Betsy once thought that all Squibs got terribly sick popping in and out of places but according to Prof. Cassidy, the same genetic inconsistency that created mutations create an allergy to magic. It was almost as though nature didn't want any one person to have the best of both words. Really these muggle sciences could be quite clever!
With a pop, they stumbled behind a food stall (conveniently) in the Goldfish Market, the north end of Ladies' Street. Mong Kok had grown to such urban heights that wu pó and wu shi, witches and wizards, could hide in plain sight. They bought cold milk tea with tapioca pearls and some finger sandwiches before heading out into the billboard-and-neon decked street. The crowd pressed into them, swallowing their dark traditional robes in denim, Nikes trainers, and cotton-poly. Their outfits caused little stares (although there was one old woman who began praising them as examples to her strangely dressed grand-daughters) but even then, they ducked into a clothing store to change back into street clothes.
Betsy took her retail therapy very seriously. She emerged from Ladies' Street with three new purses, a lamp, and a dozen matching outfits (a few of them were for her classmates), most of which made Cho blush. Ming or magical, Mong Kok had more exotic fare, true, but since she was now living in cao Mong Kok, she needed cao things. She even persuaded Cho to try on an A-line skirt a good three inches above the knee. Then it was off to Temple Street for some presents for the boys in Muir Island Academy, some CDs and video tapes at ridiculously low prices, and a jade-inlaid mah jong set that she thought Prof. Cassidy would like. Their feet got a bit of a break at Fa Yuen Street where the sales people served them tea and biscuits as they perused jewellery. Betsy indulged, Cho didn't, so Betsy bought some earrings for the younger girl before Cho found one of the many hidden doors leading to ming Mong Kok.
They landed on Pearl Rabbit Street which was actually more of a pebbled lane through a garden. They chose a secluded arrangement of boulders near the east wall surrounded on all sides with a stream where the ducks could alert them should any intruders pass by. Even then, Cho waved a silencing spell over the small area.
"Nothing like useless consumerism to ease your heart," said Betsy.
Cho smiled tightly. "I guess."
"I was going to push Brian in here when we were younger. He was so pathetic though; I couldn't."
"And the giant koi would spit at you."
"Yes, and that." Quite suddenly, Betsy wrapped her arms around Cho's shoulders and squeezed tight. Predictably, Cho broke into sobs again, quieter this time with only her ragged breaths to indicate her feelings. "That's right, mei-mei, let it out, love. It's rotten that you have to be here, tradition or no. They had no right to send you away after what happened to Cedric."
"Buh-buh-but they think they're doing the right thi-thi-thing," Cho said. She pointed her wand at her now-sodden handkerchief and dried it. "And I did want to take my muh-muh-mind off of it with sch-school for a while but I can't! I just can't and I didn't even--" She blew her nose. "I hated being in the funeral because I couldn't... Cedric just couldn't be in... He flew, Betsy. He had wings. He couldn't be in a buh-buh-boooox!" The last word ended on a bit of a despairing note, making Betsy thankful for the silencing spell.
"There's a bloke at Muir," Betsy began, "He's... well, he's quite disgusting really, smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish and he's barely older than we are but he... he lost someone before coming to the school. Her name was Rahne and she was a very obvious mutant. I guess we would call her a werewolf-- she wasn't really," Betsy hurried to assure Cho, "She just looked like one.
"Anyway, Rahne told Wisdom-- his name's Pete Wisdom-- about these men on his team-- it's a long story but I gather they're like Unspeakables-- who'd been giving her a hard time but Wisdom didn't believe her because they were his friends. His teammates."
Betsy swallowed, trying to talk around the lump in her throat.
"They killed her after all. Some crock about fearing her mutated form would be out of control. Wisdom got the notice himself. He locked himself in his room for a week. I think he was just drinking and smoking; it certainly smelled that way when he came out. I know we've gone on and on about how Brits can't seem to understand that bathing and hair-washing ever other day isn't quite sufficient to keep that stale hops smell away but Wisdom pushed this to--"
"Betsy?" Cho shook her head a little and looked a little more miserable.
"Oh. Oh, yes. Wisdom and grieving. Well, I hadn't known that he was grieving until he was being particularly despicable to me and I stabbed him with my psi-knife."
With a gasp, Cho glanced down at Betsy's fist then back up to her friends' face. "You... you can hurt people with that?"
"A little," said Betsy. "It's sort of like legilimency from what Brian tells me, only it's a knife so it's forced legilimency. I've heard it feels rather like I'm peeling layers of your brain away."
"Yes." Betsy stared down at her hands. "That's why I'm in school I suppose. To turn the psi-knife into a psi-spoon or a psi-cottonball."
That drew a wobbly smile out of Cho. Betsy smiled too in relief.
"In any case, what I meant to say in my own rambling way is that everyone deals with grief differently. I had to stab someone in the head to figure out that Wisdom was only drowning his misery. You're not horrible."
Cho nodded slowly. "My friends in Hogwarts don't really understand," she said. "They want me to stay home and, I don't know, dress in sackcloth and ashes, wailing every day. They already think my going to summer school all the time is utterly bonkers but now they're..." she shifted a little in her seat. "Marietta-- remember her?-- I overheard someone saying that I didn't really love Cedric; that I was just angling for popularity, first with Harry Potter and then, when he didn't bite, with Cedric."
"Who?" Betsy asked, ready to spear that someone with a psi-harpoon and to hell with Prof. Destine's ethics class!
"It doesn't matter," said Cho, shrugging. "Marietta was ready to tear them a new one as well but I just... couldn't find the energy. I'd been crying for a week straight and I was just tired* of being so sad so I told my parents that I wanted to study anyway." She bit her lip. "But now that I'm here, I feel awful for trying to forget and-- oh, Betsy, I have no idea what to do!"
Betsy dragged her into a hug once more, patting her hair and thinking frantically for advice. She'd always tried to have a more worldly air than Brian and Cho and everyone else in Wenchangdi who didn't seem to think of anything except studying but really, she didn't have anything else. As a squib, she had significantly less schooling than the others and Brian, determined to be the best charms creator in history, hardly paid attention to events. Since starting her studies at Muir Island, she'd become completely out of touch with the wizarding world. How in heaven's name was she supposed to help Cho?
Cho drew away from Betsy, sensing the older girl's discomfort. Really, she'd only wanted to vent to the one person who wouldn't judge her either way. She wished she was like her, not caring about the opinion of others, not ruled by the threat of failing at anything, not so damned dependant. And afraid. By Merlin, Cho wished she wasn't always afraid of the things that mattered.
"Thanks," she said quietly. "I think I just need to do that, you know? Just have my weekly sopping cry and I'll be fine the rest of the time."
"I'm sure you're right," said Betsy. "But if you ever need to have someone witness your sopping cry, never hesitate to send word. I give you permission to bully Brian into contacting me."
"Thanks. Again." Tucking her handkerchief, her a pocket, she said, "We should really be getting back to Wenchangdi. They'll have noticed we were gone."
"If we must." Betsy stood with a sigh. "Master Fa's probably in a tizzy already."
"Master Fa's given up on you."
"I was talking about you." Betsy winked. "You're skiving. I've officially corrupted you and drawn you ever further from the bosom of true Chinese magic, mucking about in barbarian English magic. No, worse! Barbarian English cao! At least Chinese cao know of a few martial arts and ming philosophies no matter how they've managed to muck it up. The English are just hairy and clumsy with badly designed robes."
Cho rolled her eyes. "I really should try wearing Wenchangdi robes to Hogwarts one day just to test the effect of silk and arithmantically designated tailoring on spell-casting."
"I dare you to. I bet they're just being anal retentive." Just before settling her bag on her shoulder, Betsy turned serious. "I've seen how mutants are treated out there in the muggle world. It reminds me of how some pureblood wizards treat half-bloods or muggles. Wisdom nearly died trying to save his friend, Rahne, from xenophobic arse-wipes like those Deatheaters. Merlin help me, I'm going to agree with Wisdom for once in our lives and tell you this: learn how to fight them. Cedric died because no one believed Harry Potter when he warned you all about his fights with You-Know-Who. Learn to fight them, Cho, and maybe Cedric wouldn't have died in vain."