Rey notices him the moment she walks into the Great Hall with the rest of the seventh years.
In her defense, he's hard to miss.
Severe black robes do nothing to hide the breadth of his shoulders. He's sitting down— at the High Table with the other teachers— but he looks tall, the top of his head almost level with Chewbacca's chin— and Chewie definitely has giant blood, even if no one dares mention it out loud.
The genetic makeup of the Hogwarts gamekeeper and Care of Magical Creatures professor is currently the last thing on Rey's mind. All of her attention is focused on the stranger next to him.
He's striking even from afar. A lush mane of raven hair gleams in the amber light of the thousands of wax candles floating above the tables. His eyes are as dark as coals, embedded in a pale, narrow face, the sharp features of which are offset by the unexpected fullness of his lips.
Rey nearly trips over her own feet, she's staring at him so.
His gaze happens to sweep over to her at the exact moment that she stumbles. Her cheeks grow hot with embarrassment as she rights herself, and the corner of his mouth lifts in the ghost of an amused smirk before he looks away.
"That's the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor," Rey hears Tallie whispering excitedly to Jess as they take their seats at the Gryffindor table. "Rumor has it he's American— the son of Leia Organa—"
"The MACUSA president?" Rey blurts out. Too loudly.
Tallie and Jess— as well as a nearby gaggle of sixth years hitting pause on their own conversation— blink at her in surprise.
"No, the Queen of England," Tallie finally says, rolling her eyes. "Merlin, Rey... Oh, are you all right? You seem a bit flushed."
"I'm fine," Rey mutters.
Tallie nods, then turns back to Jess, leaving Rey to wallow in her own awkwardness. She's known Tallissan Lintra and Jessika Pava since they were eleven, but she isn't what anyone would call bosom buddies with them— or, indeed, with a good majority of her housemates.
It's not an I'm not like other girls thing. Rey barely gets on with most of the boys, too.
She's just... socially inept.
She sneaks another glance at the High Table. The new teacher sits as still as a coiled spring, but those intense dark eyes of his are roaming everywhere, taking stock of his surroundings. She wonders what he thinks of the Great Hall, with its long wooden tables and plethora of hovering candles and the cavernous ceiling that's been enchanted to mirror the sky outside— currently, it's like black velvet, dotted with icy silver stars.
Seeing it for the first time had been a transcendent experience, although, granted, she is Muggleborn. A bewitched ceiling is probably nothing to him, being the MACUSA president's son and all that.
True enough, he glances upwards only briefly. Then his head starts to turn in her direction again. Rey freezes, waiting for the moment their gazes collide with a mixture of anticipation and dread.
She nearly jumps out of her skin when Finn plops into the empty chair beside her.
"Where have you been?" she demands. She'd lost sight of him in the crush at the main doors of the castle— maybe she wouldn't have made a total cake out of herself in front of the new teacher if she'd had someone to talk to.
"Somewhere," Finn mysteriously replies. His school tie is crooked, like someone's been yanking on it to within an inch of its life.
Acting on a hunch, Rey peers over her shoulder at the Hufflepuff table. Sure enough, Rose Tico's only now just taking a seat, blushing and bright-eyed, shiny black hair in disarray.
"Missed each other, did you?" Rey quips to Finn, who turns scarlet and patently refuses to dignify her with a response. He and Rose had danced around their mutual attraction for ages before he worked up the nerve to ask her out on a proper Hogsmeade date towards the end of sixth year. Rey knows she should be happy for her two best friends— and she is, but—
But sometimes she can't help feeling that they've left her behind.
Which they have, in a way. There's a place now where it's only the two of them, where she can't follow.
Her gaze slides back to the new professor. His face is turned to her in profile as he stares somewhat moodily off into the distance. Save for the occasional grunted remark from Chewie, none of his colleagues are talking to him. It doesn't take long for Rey to figure out why— he's easily the youngest staff member at the High Table aside from Dameron and Hux, who are all the way on the other end, and his demeanor doesn't exactly scream welcoming.
It occurs to her that he might be lonely, too.
"Pity he took the D.A.D.A. post," Jess is saying to Tallie. "He's so fit, I'll be sad to see him go."
"Jessika!" Tallie squeals, slapping her shoulder. "You're naughty—"
The two girls giggle.
Defense Against the Dark Arts is traditionally held to be a cursed subject— they've never had a teacher stay for more than a year. Something unfortunate always happens.
"Well, that's why Obi-Wan had to hire from overseas, isn't it?" Jess continues. "No sane Hogwarts graduate wants the job. Poor Professor Veers, last I heard he was still at St. Mungo's— and they never did find Professor Jerjerrod, did they?"
Before Tallie can respond, Mon Mothma— the Transfiguration professor and head of Gryffindor House— places a frayed, battered, rather moldy-looking wizard's hat on a stool at the head of the Great Hall.
It's time for the Sorting.
A mouth slashes open along the brim of the hat and it breaks out into song. The lyrics are different every year, but it's always about the four founders of Hogwarts and the qualities that each one favored in a student.
Courage and determination for Gryffindor.
Justness and loyalty for Hufflepuff.
Wit and wisdom for Ravenclaw.
Cunning and ambition for Slytherin.
After the last lines of the song fade away, Mothma calls the roll from a long piece of parchment. One by one, the first year students approach the stool. They sit down and put on the Sorting Hat and, after a varying amount of time, it announces in a booming voice which House it's selected for that particular student, and they stand up and join the appropriate table to applause and handshakes.
Over the years, Finn and Rey have made it a game to try and guess ahead of the Sorting Hat. He's so much better at it than she is; he knows everyone and everything. They're both Muggleborn, but Finn had taken to the wizarding world like a duck to water, and although Rey sometimes tries to console herself with the fact that she's better at other things— like flying and Arithmancy— she can't deny that it hurts, on occasion, to see how well Finn fits in.
It's yet another area where he's left her behind.
"That's Pamich Nerro Goode's younger sister," he's telling her now. "Definitely Ravenclaw, all their family have been in—"
"RAVENCLAW!" yells the Sorting Hat.
Finn pumps a fist in the air. "Yes!"
The next student is as scrawny as the rest of his peers— in that way that eleven and twelve-year-olds so often are— but his robes are exquisitely tailored and he carries himself with a haughtiness unique to the old pureblood families.
Rey snorts. "Slytherin, that one. No question."
"SLYTHERIN!" the Hat confirms a few seconds later.
Rey smirks at Finn. "Bringing my A-game tonight."
They keep it going for several more names down Mothma's list, but there comes a point when Rey looks at the next first year girl to be Sorted and finds herself wondering if she had ever been that small. That anxious. That unsure of magic.
It sinks in that this is her last Start-of-Term Feast, and that this will be her last year at Hogwarts.
Finn catches on to her mood. He must be feeling it, too, because he drapes an arm over her shoulders and gives her a reassuring squeeze.
"I know, peanut," he says— a little fondly, a little sadly. "I know."
When the Sorting ceremony comes to an end, Headmaster Obi-Wan Kenobi rises from his seat of honor at the center of the High Table. "The very best of evenings to you all!" he says cheerfully, with that ever-present, enigmatic twinkle in his blue eyes. "To our new students, welcome, to our old students, welcome back! Another year full of magical education awaits..."
It's more or less the same spiel as always. After a few gentle reminders— Curfew is at ten, the Forbidden Forest is out of bounds— Obi-Wan pauses. For effect, Rey thinks as he beams at the assembly.
"This term, we have a new faculty member joining us all the way from across the pond—"
Rey's stomach flips. She tells herself that she's just hungry, but she's already back to staring at the dark-haired stranger. His expression has shut down and his right hand has curled into a fist where it rests on top of the table.
He's nervous, she realizes, her eyes widening.
"— I've known his family for years and it is my honor to bring such a brilliant lad into the fold, and to introduce him to all of you," continues Obi-Wan. "Everyone, please welcome our new instructor of Defense Against the Dark Arts— Professor Ben Solo!"
There's a smattering of polite applause throughout the Great Hall that's markedly more enthusiastic among the older female students. Chewie pokes him in the side and Professor Solo reluctantly stands up, his head jerking forward in the barest of nods.
Rey doesn't clap, mostly because she's forgotten how to move her hands. Hell, she's forgotten how to breathe.
He's well over six feet tall. And he's so broad that it's honestly not even fair.
"Merlin's beard, Tallissan," Jess groans. "I want to climb him like a tree."
"Bugger off, I saw him first," Tallie hisses.
No, I did, Rey thinks, feeling warm and strangely hollow all at once. Unlike Jess and Tallie, she's not even remotely joking.
And it scares her.
With the feast at an end, her belly full of steak and kidney pies and roasted potatoes and lamb chops and peppermint humbugs and treacle tarts, Rey troops up the winding stairs with the rest of Gryffindor House minus Finn, who'd gone off to walk Rose to the Hufflepuff dorms. Everyone's chatting about what they did over summer vacation and what they're looking forward to and dreading this term. Rey's silent, a pebble in a fast-moving stream, bobbing along with the current but never truly part of it.
Left to her own thoughts, she realizes something— Obi-Wan had made no mention of Professor Solo's parentage. Is it supposed to be a secret? But if Tallie knows, the whole school is sure to find out.
Sooner rather than later.
Rey broaches the subject when she and Tallie are alone in the communal bathroom and brushing their teeth side by side. She gargles one last time, spits into the sink, then watches her housemate's reflection do the same.
Sapphire blue eyes blink inquisitively at Rey in the mirror, slim fingers coaxing long copper hair into neat braids. Tallie's one of the most beautiful girls at Hogwarts, along with Jess. Rey always feels like a cave troll next to them.
"How did you know about Professor Solo being Leia Organa's son?"
"Oh— Mum told me," Tallie replies. "A friend of hers was in America on business last July and heard about it. I'm surprised the Daily Prophet hasn't shouted it from the rooftops yet, to tell you the truth, but Solo does strike me as the private sort. Why do you ask?"
Rey seriously considers Obliviating the other witch. "Nothing, just curious." It's not a lie— she can't even articulate her reasons to herself.
It's a good thing that Tallie doesn't press the issue. "All I know is, if my mum were the president, I wouldn't be a teacher," she says as she continues braiding her hair. "I mean, I'd be free to do anything, wouldn't I? And in any case I certainly wouldn't teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, not even if you paid me a million Galleons. Poor Professor Veers and Jerjerrod and the rest of them—"
Tallie keeps talking and talking and talking. There's really no way for Rey to make a graceful exit at this point— and it's her own fault for opening her mouth in the first place— so she just stands there and nods at what she hopes are the right moments, until, eventually, Tallie finishes wrestling with the last copper-colored plait and chirps an airy good night as she sails out of the bathroom.
Rey's shoulders slump in relief.
One of the taps is leaking. She listens to the drip of water on porcelain for several long moments, and then she grabs her wand and utters the incantation for the Mending Charm.
The sound stops. She studies her reflection in the ancient mirror-glass as the newfound silence rings in her ears. Slowly, her lips move in the barest of whispers as she tries out the shape of his name for the first time.
The girl in the mirror looks like she's telling a secret.
She catches neither hair nor hide of him the next day, or the day after. It would appear that the Welcome Feast had been an outlier and he prefers to take his meals away from the Great Hall. She can't decide whether she's grateful or sorry for that, although she leans more towards the former; in order to prepare the seventh years for their Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests in June, Rey's other professors have hit the ground running with regards to lessons, and she doesn't need to be distracted by thoughts of luscious dark hair and wide shoulders and lonely eyes.
On Wednesday, she turns eighteen.
"Birth!" Finn yells first thing in the morning, prompting everyone else in the Gryffindor common room to pelt her with greetings that she clumsily accepts.
At breakfast, a small lemon drizzle cake adorned with a single lit candle magically appears in front of Rey once she's polished off her fried sausages and bacon and scrambled eggs. Finn leads their table into song, after which Rey gamely blows out the candle— the orange flame transmutes into dozens of peacock butterflies that whirl overhead and then fly out the window, leaving gasps and applause in their wake.
"But that's amazing!" cries Doran Sarkin-Tainer, the current Head Boy. "A stimulus-activated Transfiguration spell— that's really intricate—"
"My girlfriend did it," Finn says proudly. "She's brilliant at that sort of stuff—"
"Oh, do you have a girlfriend, Finn?" Jess quips in tones of good-natured sarcasm. "We weren't aware."
As Finn sputters with indignation, Rey looks over to the Hufflepuff table to find Rose already beaming at her. Rey smiles back, and they toast each other with goblets of pumpkin juice.
Before Hogwarts, Rey had never gotten cake for her birthday. The first time Finn and Rose conspired with the castle's house-elves to present her with one, way back in second year, she'd very nearly cried.
As is always the case, her housemates are nicer to her today out of a sense of pity, undoubtedly noticing that once again there are no packages from home— nary a single letter or greeting card dropped into her lap by owl post. Rey doesn't even think her parents remember when her birthday is, and they wouldn't know how and where to mail her a parcel even if they did. They're drunks. They think she goes to Muggle boarding school on a scholarship.
She can't wait to fully disappear into the wizarding world after graduation and never see them again.
On Friday, Rey has her first Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson with Professor Solo.
Located off of the Serpentine Corridor on the third floor, the classroom is strangely gloomy despite its tall windows and the massive iron chandelier hanging on the ceiling alongside a dragon skeleton. It's as if residue from all the Dark magic that has been cast here over the centuries has been absorbed into the very walls, creating puddles of shadow even in places where there's nothing to block the light.
But Rey has never felt as unsettled in this room as she does now— and it's all because of the man who's poring over scrolls of parchment at his desk when she and the other students walk in.
Due to the fact that not all seventh years had met the requirements or opted to continue this subject at N.E.W.T. level, the class is a mix of all four Houses. Finn and Rose sit together while Rey slides into the chair behind Finn's— next to Korr Sella, the imperious, flint-eyed Head Girl from Slytherin, who deigns to acknowledge Rey's presence with a nod.
Before Rey can so much as nod back, Professor Solo calls the roll.
It should have come as no surprise that someone of his formidable height and build would have such a deep, deep voice, and yet Rey's so incredibly thankful that she's sitting down because she's rendered weak in the knees the second she hears it. It's low and rumbling, as soft as smoke around the edges. Her hands twist in her lap, crumpling the charcoal gray fabric of her school-issue pleated skirt.
"Niima, Eurydice," he says, and— like a sip of the best, most expensive vintage firewhiskey— it goes straight to her head.
"H-h-here," she stammers, her throat suddenly dry.
In contrast to him, she sounds absolutely horrid. Finn and Rose turn to her with eerily identical frowns of concern.
Solo's dark eyes flicker up from the parchment. They capture her face in the third row.
The corner of his mouth twitches in the same vague smirk that she'd seen in the Great Hall. Before she can fully register it, it fades away and he moves on to the next name down the list.
He remembers her, doesn't he? He remembers that she'd tripped while staring at him. Rey would like for nothing more than the floor to open up and swallow her whole.
It's going to be a long first class.
It's going to be a long, long school year.