"What," Theta Sigma says. "What is this."
"It's a birthday party," Koschei says. "Like humans have, you recall? I thought that since we were loomed within the same 24-hour stretch we could have one together. I know they're your favorite species and... I thought... you would like it...?"
Under the force of Theta Sigma's incredulous glare, he subsides into a level of abject, miserable embarrassment only attainable by adolescent males who have suddenly remembered they have a small pink paper hat on their head for no adequately defensible reason.
Theta Sigma draws himself up to his full, not particularly considerable height, and stares around at the ribbons and balloons as if each and every one of them was a personal affront. "We're not all venerable Oakdens, Koschei," he says severely, "we're not all perfect geniuses right off the loom who can waste their time with silly fripperies and frivolous primitive parties! Finals are only eleven months away! I have to study!"
Theta storms off to his bedroom, and slams the door. Koschei sighs, deeply, and goes to take down the streamers.
In Oakden House, according to Theta Sigma, everyone is perfect. And noble. And old. And dignified. He won't hear a word about Koschei's crazy Aunt Berylathaxinina, who has been attempting to assemble the perfect chocolate cake atom by atom for the last five hundred years, or the way Koschei's father makes terrible chemistry puns, or the way Koschei's cousins are all mostly bureaucrats or research scientists, respectable men one and all, but hardly perfect. Or noble. Though most of them are old. And they never get him what he wants on his loomday. Oakden House is a good House, venerable, well-connected, and with quite a respectable number of Time Lords to its credit, but all that hardly makes Koschei the second coming of Rassilon. And yet Theta insists on treating Koschei's genetic stock with a kind of envious reverence, mocking him for it it one moment, exploding with hysterical resentment the next.
Lungbarrow House, it is agreed upon by both Theta and Koschei, is where every other House has been quietly sending their reject stock since before Rassilon's balls dropped. Lungbarrow House, in fact, might specifically exist for the express purpose of receiving reject stock. Lungbarrow House might not even have its own looms, but in point of actual fact might simply acquire new members via baskets of malformed babies left on its doorstep. Theta smiles at this, a tiny secretive smile, and does not say a word to the contrary.
Theta Sigma seems perversely proud of the low reputation of his House, equal parts masochism and schadenfreude, one moment spinning improbable stories of how his cousins would fight under the table like dogs during the House supper, and the next moment cutting an underclassman down to halfsize for daring to raise a dismissive eyebrow at his peerage, or lack thereof.
I am a wretched creature, he seems to say as he struts about the halls, I am a mad, uncultured, loathsome thing, and doesn't that just get right up your nose?
Theta is the first of his House to even attend the Prydonian Academy, much less to make it so very close to success. He is the worst student in the Academy, and, yet, round after round, year after year, test after test, he scrapes by. He begs, he borrows, he steals, he sabotages, and he's what Koschei thinks of, when they learn of mathematical constants: if there is one thing that never changes in Koschei's life it's that Theta Sigma will be there next term, slouching down into the seat next to his in every class and grumbling in the very first week about studying for his finals.
Theta is bitter and stubborn and hopeless at everything from Astrophysics to Zero Rooms and Koschei couldn't possibly imagine a universe without him there, striding around muttering darkly, blowing things up and pretending it was someone else's fault, shouting at the teachers until they give him a second chance and then a third and then a fourth, fifth, fifteenth...
There are rumors that his House is going to kill him, the day his luck finally runs out, the day he finally falls too far behind; that while he is his House's darling it is only so far as he continues to persuade them of his success, to promise them the power and glory of a Lord of Time to call their own. His classmates whisper to each other that the day he is sent home he won't be shown to an air car but to a dematerialization booth, that it's a clause written into the contract the House had to draw up with the Academy to get him considered in the first place. But then, everyone knows that Theta lives to be a Time Lord, that he hungers for it, yearns for the mastery of Time as a bird yearns for the sky. His House wouldn't need to expend the slightest to effort to erase him and his shame: Theta would die the moment the Prydonian gates close in his face, he would crumble into ashes all on his own.
He's going to be the worst Time Lord ever, but no one wants to imagine a world in which he won't be one.
Koschei sits down outside Theta's door, and knocks gently.
"I brought cake," he says. "It's traditional."
"Silence, foul saboteur! Your cake is but a lie, designed specifically to mock me!" Theta shouts.
"Yes, and it's chocolate."
The door creaks open. "Give it here."
Koschei pushes the plate of cake through the crack. The plate is pulled inside, and the door closes with a crisp click.
"Happy birthday," he whispers.
"I am studying!" Theta shouts, his voice thick with cake. "I require absolute silence!"
Koschei lets his head rest against the door. After a moment, a piece of paper slides out from underneath, only slightly chocolate-stained.
Happy Birthday, dear Koschei, it says, in blocky English characters. From, Theta.