The war was ended. Ended for them, at least. She wondered how many of her people would celebrate.
She took the stairs two at a time. She knew she ought to be back in the council chamber seeing to things. There were preparations to be made, official notices to be drafted for the city and letters to send. Grovelling, complimentary letters. She balled her fists.
At the top of the stairs, she burst through the door and out onto the battlements. The sun was shining brightly, burnishing the stones with gold. A stiff wind threw her hair back. Usually, she’d have luxuriated in a day like this. Now it just stirred her rage.
She stalked along the walkway to her favourite look out spot: the wide opening bracketed by two large bears. She stood between them, unconsciously assuming their position: arms out before her ready to attack, chin up and eyes towards the sky. She could hear the sounds of the city very faintly over the gusting of the wind. The news would be spreading. The war was ended. Ended for them, at least. She wondered how many of her people would celebrate.
She lowered her eyes from the clouds and surveyed her home, set out before her like a child’s city of blocks. And perhaps that’s what they were, what they all were. Toys for these kings to squabble over. They had fought and bled and died for the last one. For his father too. And he had given them up. Offered up their city, her people, to the Western Lord just so that he might live in peace.
She kicked at the great legs of the stone bear to her left, then tilted her head in apology. A chill ran over her, lifting the hairs on her arms. The King must have heard the tales of the Western Lord just as she had. What he did to the lands he took or that were thrown at his feet to appease him. She squared her shoulders. Whatever happened, she would not bow to him. She closed her eyes. But what if that defiance meant trouble for her people? Her restless spirit twisted uncomfortably under the weight of her title and what it meant. A bell rang from the city: strong, deep and not a celebration. The fire kindled in her again. She flung back her head and answered it with her own voice. She would not tell her people that war was over. She would tell them a new one had begun.
Something clicked in the house behind her and she jumped. It was amazing how empty and cold a place could feel without furniture.
Rochelle awkwardly wedged another box onto the growing pile. Daniel was clattering about in the kitchen, probably looking for the box with the kettle in it. She rocked back on her heels and surveyed the bare room. The stairs were carpeted in a murky brown. She couldn’t tell if that had been the original colour or one created by time and muddy feet. There was a large stain on the ceiling above her head too and she tried not to think what that might turn into.
“Cheer up,” Daniel suggested, wandering by her towards the open door, “It’ll look nice once we’ve had a chance to spruce it up a bit.”
Rochelle smiled weakly at him as he went out for another box. Daniel had wanted a project and boy had he found one. She didn’t want to spoil his enthusiasm by showing just how panicked she was at the thought of living here. Her feet scuffed over a hole in the black and white tiles.
She wandered into the kitchen: more murky brown. The windows were letting in lots of afternoon sunlight though. She imagined it glimmering off blue counters and brass fittings.
She went over to the sink. More stains she really didn’t want to speculate on. In the garden, a bird was hopping on the weed clogged patio. There was a stretch of lumpy lawn (yet more murky brown, rather than a true green), rising gently to a line of shaggy evergreens. Something clicked in the house behind her and she jumped. It was amazing how empty and cold a place could feel without furniture. She rubbed at her arms, feeling like she was five again and lost somewhere unknown.
The bird took flight, skimming across the garden. She imagined emerald grass unfurling as it flew, bright orange flowers rising up in orderly beds and the paving slabs shining new and white. A swing gently swayed from one of the branches of the trees.
“Found it,” Daniel announced.
Rochelle blinked and turned to him. He was smiling nervously and holding up the kettle.
“Alright?” he asked, his eyes darting around the dingy kitchen.
She smiled back and went to take the kettle from him.
“It will be.”
With all the buzz I had not had the time yet to read her mind, to see its wonders, hopes and dreams.
Ever since I was a child of just five years, I have been able to read minds. It is not like the movies show it, not at all; it is like… playing a video game, so very immersive. It’s as if I am really there, in people's minds.
Opposite to what you might think, adults are really boring to read. Now, children on the other hand, they are phenomenal. They are not weighed down with work, taxes, university, deep personal problems or stress. Their minds are filled with the wonder of the world, and are rich in imagination. This is a big reason of why I became a kindergarten teacher.
I feel a tug on the hem of my dress and look down at the little girl in pigtails, who just handed me a piece of paper.
Kiera is the new kid on the block and has only been with the class for a few days. With all the buzz I had not had the time yet to read her mind, to see its wonders, hopes and dreams. I reach out, mindful to keep a soft touch.
I see nothing. Where other children’s minds are active, full of colors and imagination, with Kiera, there is only darkness. It’s like the little girl is an empty shell which learned how to mimic emotions from the children around her. The oppressive darkness which seems almost alive, reaching out with writhing tendrils into my brain, seeking to snuff out everything it touches.
With a soft gasp, I let go of Kiera's mind. Blinking fast a couple of times, I find myself back in the classroom. I try to compose myself, hoping Kiera and other children cannot see how badly I am shaking.
“Such a nice drawing, Kiera,” I whisper. “Run along now, dear, and get ready for recess,” I give a smile, watching her join her friends. Children’s minds can be a wonderful thing, the most beautiful, colorful thing in the universe. There was only darkness in Kiera’s.
But, perhaps, it was not too late. Perhaps, I can yet help her see the light.
With a growl that could rival Sparkie’s, I went to check on him, let him out in the backyard, but he quickly came back in.
Barking woke me up in the middle of the night. Again. Five times in a row.
"Go to sleep Sparkie!" I yelled from the bedroom, knowing that the dog wouldn’t heed me one bit.
My husband and I had a normal nightly routine of having a mug of hot cocoa, brushing our teeth, checking doors and windows, and then putting Sparkie to bed.
Do not get me wrong, Sparkie was not a bad dog. He was simply just not the dog I wanted. I fought hard against getting him, but I acquiesced to my husband, because really, how bad could a mutt be compared to a purebred?
His barking kept waking us up though. My husband would defend him, “He just gets scared sometimes.” Really, a dog scared of the dark? Usually, if you settled him in his crate, that would be it, though. Gave him a boop on the snoot, told him “nighty night”, as my husband would say, and then he would calm down.
Tonight was different though. Tonight he just wouldn’t quit. Frankly, it was starting to grate on me. I resented my husband a little, since he could sleep like a log. Gosh, even now he slept calmly by my side.
"Sparkie, enough!" I scream, defeat slowly creeping up on me. He just wouldn’t stop. With a growl that could rival Sparkie’s, I went to check on him, let him out in the backyard, but he quickly came back in.
Oh, now you are quiet, you mutt, I thought angrily, glaring at the four-pawed beast. For a moment, I thought about just locking him out of the house to get some peace. But, I put him back into his crate bed seamlessly. He was rather anxious still when he went in. As soon as I stepped into the bedroom, the barking started again. I yelled in frustration and turned back to the hallway, but something made me pause.
I stared at the figure at the end of the hallway, taking a step back when it took a step forward. “Now, now, don’t yell,” it, no he, whispered with a hoarse voice. “It’ll all be over soon. Can I tell you something though?”
I couldn’t do much at the absurdity of the request, just nodded. “Quite a mutt you have there,” he said, walking faster towards me.
“You should listen to it more, man.”
... What animal in the Forbidden Forest would possibly want to be friends with ME? Which snake or bird? And how can you and I have midnight jaunts?
It was 7 pm in the Slytherin Common Room, and two students could been seen whispering conspiratorially. Their behavior didn't attract much attention, because the other students were very used to the two of them sharing confidences, crafting schemes, and getting into trouble.
“Ok, Celestra, we've been practicing the animagus charm and we've been brewing and drinking the corresponding potion for months now, and I have a really good feeling about tonight! We are finally going to morph into our animal forms and roam about the castle grounds!”
“I can feel it, too, Noxanne! Tonight's the night our dreams become reality! When do you want to sneak outside the castle?”
“I say we leave around 9 pm. You take one hallway and I'll creep around the other. I'll meet you near the Forbidden Forest. Just think: once we've transformed, we can run into the words, or fly around, free as owls!”
Noxanne and Celestra arrived at the Forbidden Forest at the appointed hour. “I hope I morph into something like a doe or a wolf!” exclaimed Noxanne. “How much fun it will be to run through the forest, make animal friends, and be free from castle restraints!” “I heard that!” replied Celestra. “I hope I become an owl. Imagine flying anywhere I want to go, and the absolute freedom that brings! I can even deliver my own mail! Heck, maybe I'll even be a tiny bug, and if so, I can get the answers to all of our exams. Wouldn't that be great? I cannot believe we waited until our fifth years to become animagi!”
“I can't either! What were we thinking? Ok, let's do this. On the count of three. One.....Two...Three....”
Noxanne and Celestra drink the potion and cast the Animagus charm at the same time. Success! Noxanne transforms into an Occamy while Celestra becomes a Shark.
“A Shark!! I've become a Shark! Why on earth would I become a Shark, of all creatures??” Celestra rushes off to the Black Lake, because her animagus requires water to breathe.
“Look at ME!! I'm a flying snake, of all creatures!! What animal in the Forbidden Forest would possibly want to be friends with ME? Which snake or bird? And how can you and I have midnight jaunts? I guess I can swim sometimes.” Sighing, Noxanne follows Celestra down to the lake.
“Well, this isn't quite what I planned, but I suppose we should make the best of it. Cheer up, Noxanne! I wonder what the Slytherin Common Room looks like from the Black Lake? Let's swim over and find out.”
Back inside the castle, Tully Tobias can't sleep and has wandered down to the Slytherin Common Room. As she is looking out the window and daydreaming, she notices two very unusual creatures staring back at her. “Shark!! Shark!!” she screams. “OH! And an Occamy!”
Her screams awaken Prefect Polly Jeffers, who agrees that these two creatures are not commonly found in the Black Lake. Polly awakens their Head of House.
Less than five minutes after the Shark and Occamy are spotted, Noxanne and Celestra feel themselves pulled from the Black Lake and transformed back into their human selves, with Professor Yaxley standing over them. “We will discuss this in the morning! Now go to bed!”
Sometimes the dream doesn't quite match up to the reality.
Lysandra asked everyone she knew, and even students she didn't know, if they had some suitable robes she could borrow for the big night. No one had any robes they could loan her.
Lysandra had had a crush on Tobias ever since she could remember, but no matter what she did, he never seemed to notice her. She had purchased cute Valentines professing her feelings, did her best to join in his conversations and laugh at his jokes, and even went so far as to get her best friend to ask him how he felt about her. Tobias had said he just wasn't interested, and Lysandra had cried for days.
The Yule Ball was fast approaching, and all Lysandra could think about was how happy she would be if Tobias would ask her to attend the ball with her. She knew he had had a girlfriend but the two had broken up and he didn't have a date. Lysandra would have gone to the ball alone in order to be near him, but she was only a third year and could not attend without a date, and no one had asked her. She wasn't sure if she would accept, anyway. It wouldn't be fair to her date.
Two days before the Yule Ball, Tobias approached her in the hallway on her way to Potions class and asked her to be his date to the ball. She accepted on the spot. This had to be the happiest day of her life! But then it hit her: the Yule Ball was in two days. There was no way she'd have time to purchase dress robes.
Lysandra asked everyone she knew, and even students she didn't know, if they had some suitable robes she could borrow for the big night. No one had any robes they could loan her. Although she was extremely disappointed, she had no intention of missing out on her date with Tobias. But what could she do? She needed a dress!
Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the saying goes. She went back to the students who had stated they did not have dress robes for her to borrow, and instead asked for their copies of the Daily Prophet. Those they gave her without hesitation. She was going to make her dress from the newspapers!
The night of the Yule Ball, she took her measurements. Next, she took several pieces of newspaper, opened them up and laid them down side by side, making sure they overlapped. She waved her wand and glued them together. Over the bottom of those newspapers, she added another layer, and then a third layer, until the newspapers reached her ankles. Next, she opened up more newspapers, laid them side by side, and once again made sure they overlapped. She glued those together and wrapped them around her bust and waist. She added some black ribbons as trim around each layer of the skirt, and a black bow on the top. Finally, she cast a charm which added a protective coating around her gown so it would not tear. Voila! She had her dress for the Yule Ball.
To say that Lysandra's dress was the most noticed and commented upon would be an understatement. As a result of her choice of garments, Tobias never asked her for a date again, but she met several guys who were drawn to her quirky personality, and she quickly discovered that perhaps she wasn't meant to date Tobias after all.