When Grayson opened it, it sounded like the screaming of the tortured souls, warning him to stay away from the building.
Grayson looked up to the house that it seemed as if it had been in the neighborhood forever. It looked like any typical haunted house looked. The old façade was gated off by thick, onyx bars, which were topped by little trident points. They reminded the people of the stereotypical staffs the demons would hold. The large entrance gate was broken and barely holding on to its hinges. When Grayson opened it, it sounded like the screaming of the tortured souls, warning him to stay away from the building.
The grass and garden, if one could call it that, were overgrown, the green and gray shoots spilling onto the narrow path that led to the door. The nearby trees were dead, as if life itself got sucked out of them and would never return. With a feeling of trepidation, Grayson moved down the path.
He stopped before the front door. The wood looked weathered, but still sturdy, with an eyeless demon’s head for a knocker. It was painted black, but had dark silver sigils all around the outer edges.
Grayson sucked in a breath and rang the bell. It had a deep, sonorous tone so loud that he was afraid the whole block would wake up. But after it stopped, silence reigned. Even the usual sounds of the night stopped, as if the smallest animal was looking at what would happen next.
With a creek, the old gothic door opened and soft candle light spilled onto the porch.
“Oh, what a lovely ghost you are, my dear,” the old widow that lived in the house commented and threw a full fist of candy in his pillowcase. “You’re the first one I’ve seen in a while.”
Grayson grinned as he thanked the old lady and skipped to his friends who were waiting on the sidewalk. “I didn’t get eaten!” he screamed and that brought a volley of middle-schoolers to the old lady’s doorstep.
Eat mine first.
“You can’t be serious,” Keisha incredulously said as she looked at two of her friends whom she had known since third grade. Both looked pretty serious, actually, as they nodded almost in unison and pointed at the two plates on the table in front of her. “Come on, Claire, Sam…” Keisha tried again, but in reply, the pair each pushed one plate closer to her. There were several more people around as well, who were whispering to each other and exchanged money.
“Eat mine first,” Samuel offered and glared at Claire’s snort of disgust.
“You’ll be able to cleanse your palate with mine,” Claire commented and jumped when Samuel’s elbow found her ribs.
Keisha sighed and resigned herself to her fate. She picked up the food from Samuel’s plate, wincing at the feeling of slight dampness from the top slice. Keisha took a bite and nodded. “It’s good,” she commented as she ate it all. Audibly letting out a moan of despair, Keisha pushed the empty plate away and pulled the second one closer. Taking a moment, she just stared at the other piece of food.
Claire leaned towards Keisha and whispered in her right ear. “Come on, you know you want to.” On Keisha’s left, Samuel rolled his eyes, but ultimately said nothing.
Keisha frowned and looked at the food on the plate. She lightly poked the remaining option and took it in her hand. Looking at it distrustfully, Keisha tried to ignore the stares from the people around her and took a bite. She chewed and rolled the food around her mouth before swallowing.
People waited with bated breath at Keisha’s decision. The woman in question turned to Samuel and shrugged. “I like this one better.”
Samuel closed his eyes in regret as Claire and three other people cheered. Claire pointed her finger at Samuel and jeered, “Told you peanut butter slices and jam in between is the more superior option than your stinky half-half.”
Money and other trinkets exchanged hands between friends as the winning group all hugged Keisha and chanted ‘one of us, one of us’ much to the other group’s exasperation and rolling eyes.
The letters dipped and looped: she was sure that A towards the end of the line was deliberately doing cartwheels.
She cracked the window open, then thrust it wide. She closed her eyes, hoping for an in-rush of cool, rain scented air. She got a slightly soupy breeze with a faint tang of exhaust fumes. She wrinkled her nose and plopped down in her office chair.
Nothing was quite right here. She’d thought moving to the city would lift her spirits a bit: that the feeling of being in a huge, bustling space would be refreshing. Something to get rid of that itch, somewhere deep inside. It just felt lonely. And right now, hot. Very hot. She pushed sweaty hair away from her face and irritably shunted herself back to the desk. She’d left the report this late in the hope she could work better at night. Turns out, it was no cooler and no quieter. She’d feel awful tomorrow and there would be nothing to show for it. More fool her.
She stared at the screen, her eyes itching like they were full of sand. The letters dipped and looped: she was sure that A towards the end of the line was deliberately doing cartwheels. She reached out and slapped the laptop lid shut. This was no good. She lurched to her feet and stretched her arms high above her head. At home, she’d go down to the bottom of the garden and indulge in a good long scream to get all her tension out. If she did that here, that nice couple next door would likely ring the police. Something itched, deep inside.
Her lips twitched up in a grin and she could feel laughter bubbling up instead of the scream. She took a slight run-up and cast herself onto her bed. That was one advantage to having downsized into such a tiny place, at least she could pull stunts like that. That thought made her laugh harder and she buried her face in her pillow, muffling the sound. She really was an idiot. Thinking a move would be enough to make her happy. She knew it went far deeper than that. She would really have to do something about it this time. Something drastic: maybe quitting this awful new job would be a good start. But to do what? Did it matter? So long as it was different. She punched the mattress lightly. There she went again, hoping that she would one day find the right fire to light under herself. She rolled onto her back and took a deep breath of the too-warm air, letting the faint sounds of the city wash around her.
Seeing them in the early morning when he was half asleep, it almost felt like it was his flat that was the wrong size.
He glanced out at the balcony. The sunflowers were bobbing their heads in the slight breeze. They looked absolutely ridiculous out there, far too large for the 2 foot by 5 foot concrete box. Seeing them in the early morning when he was half asleep, it almost felt like it was his flat that was the wrong size. Like it had shrunk, so that flowers towered over the rooftops. Jessie, with her best worldly wise look, would tell him that was how insects felt. Just like she’d looked when she’d informed him that putting the seeds from her breakfast cereal in empty soup tins full of soil would produce a garden for him. She’d insisted, no matter how many times he’d told her that the seeds were roasted beyond any hope of germinating. And there they were, nodding their shaggy heads in the sunshine.
He set down his coffee mug and stood. He needed to get to work. But part of him just wanted to watch those flowers as they turned to follow the sun: turned so slowly over the course of the day that you’d have to watch them for hours on end to see them do it. He wasn’t sure, even then, he would be able to swear that he’d seen it happen. Would they last until Jessie came for another weekend? He doubted it. He must remember to gather the seeds so that they could try again. She’d probably have lost interest by the time it was the season for them again (did sunflowers have seasons?). She’d be off chasing some new miracle of nature or science, glancing over her shoulder occasionally, bemused as to why her old dad wasn’t keeping up. She’d probably have shot up a few more inches as well; would Danielle remember to take her shopping for new jeans, not just school uniform?
Jessie was nothing like the sunflowers: she moved so fast. And yet, he wasn’t sure he could ever swear that he’d seen her do it either. Particularly not now he only got to see her for those few, precious weekends. He nodded back at the sunflowers, sighed and turned away.
I'm sorry, Susan, but the child is one of us. She always has been. It can't be changed.
“I'm sorry, Susan, but the child is one of us. She always has been. It can't be changed.”
This was the third time in six years that Susan had heard the dreaded pronouncement. The first time, she'd been confused. The second time, she'd been concerned. Now, she was upset. She was going to lose another child!
Susan had had a very normal upbringing and adult life. She fell in love with and married Mathias, an attorney, and they began their family. Her life was perfect, until Mathias passed away only seven years into the marriage. His death was one of the worst things that could have happened to Susan, and she missed his calming presence every day.
Not long after Mathias passed away, strange things began happening around her eldest daughter, Zola. Glasses would shatter when Zola became angry. Ink pens would levitate towards her. She'd hear a popping sound, and a lightbulb would blow whenever Zola stood under a light fixture for an extended period of time.
When Zola turned eleven years of age, she received an acceptance letter to Hogwarts. She thought that was really odd, until her mother-in-law began telling her the truth she and Mathias had to keep hidden from Susan for all these years: Mathias had been a wizard! And, apparently, Zola was a witch. The strange incidents surrounding Zola were starting to make sense! Before long, Zola was off to Hogwarts, and Susan only got to see her daughter at Christmas and during the summer. She missed her dreadfully, and she was upset with Mathias for not telling her about being a wizard before they married. Maybe she wouldn't have wanted to lose a child to an entire world she could not be part of!
Two years later, her second daughter received her letter and was gone as well. And now, her third daughter, Vangie, was apparently a witch as well. Susan didn't want to lose her last child! She burned the letter, but another arrived. She cut that one to shreds, but another appeared. She called her mother-in-law. She finally contacted Hogwarts herself. “Isn't there some way I can keep my daughter?” Susan pleaded.
Not long after sending the letter, a lady who introduced herself as the Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts appeared at her door, and Susan invited her in. “I'm sorry, Susan, but the child is one of us. She always has been. It can't be changed.” The lady assured her Vangie would enjoy school and learn all sorts of great things and have a wonderful life, but Susan didn't want to lose another child to a world she could never join in or even visit. To Susan, it was as if her entire family had died.
Vangie, who had overheard the conversation, hugged her mother and promised she'd write every week, and spend every free moment with her that she could. She also agreed to do the dishes, which as a task Susan particularly loathed.
Susan sighed. 'I guess we'll see how it goes.”
My name is Headmaster Maverick, and I ran this school for over forty years. Hopkirk listened to me on most things, of course. You will find out I'm always correct.
It had really happened. A wonderful, never to be forgotten day. Professor Amanda Dalloway was now Headmaster of Hogwarts! She couldn't remember the last time she felt so excited.
“Let's see....I'd like the Pensieve here, my hourglass collection over here, and, oh, yes, my fire crab, Godric, gets a special place next to my desk. Thanks so much for helping me move in, Mr. Fletcher! I can do the rest.” Before long, Amanda had arranged her new office exactly the way she had always dreamed it would appear when she held the position and the office was her's.
She heard a “harrumph” sound coming from just above her left shoulder. She was startled at first, but then she remembered: the portraits! How could she have forgotten about the magical portraits of all of those wise, wonderful previous Headmasters who were there to offer her their ageless wisdom on all matters of importance? Amanda smiled warmly at the figure of a wizard who appeared to have lived a very long time ago.
“Young lady,” the Headmaster began, “that purple robe you've hung over your chair is simply not appropriate Headmaster attire. Only black is a suitable color for this important office.”
Amanda was briefly stunned, but she knew the man would not share this information if it were not of absolute importance to the running of the castle. Still, she was a bit surprised. “I'm so sorry! I'm sure you're correct; however, if I remember correctly, Professor Hopkirk preferred to dress in bright colors, especially lime green. Oh, and before I forget, what is....er, was...your name?”
“Present tense will do! My name is Headmaster Maverick, and I ran this school for over forty years. Hopkirk listened to me on most things, of course. You will find out I'm always correct. Now, about those robes...”
“Oh, Maverick, give the woman a break! She just moved in! Hello, I'm Headmaster Mathias Ford. Don't pay any attention to the man over there. He's just upset his portrait doesn't have a window view.”
Amanda noticed Headmaster Maverick's face was turning beat read. He looked like he would explode. “Ford! Don't make me go to the Minister of Magic once again! He doesn't like having to come to Hogwarts every week to shut you up, but he's family and he knows I'm the best source of advice this young lady has, so just one word from me, and he'll be here!”
To Amanda's complete surprise, Ford was laughing. And couldn't stop. His laughter bounced off the walls. Maverick's face became a deeper shade of red.
Amanda heard another voice, this time coming from a lady. “Hello, Headmaster! I'm Headmaster Juniper. Don't worry, you'll get used to those two. Besides, the Minister's weekly visits are almost pleasant. Just be sure to offer him lots of chocolate frogs. Oh, and don't mention anything about your hourglass collection. The Ministry tried to ban them from school property just last year. They're still trying to get that law to be passed. Seems students were removing sand and then insisting the time was correct. Even the clock tower was getting confused.”
Her hourglass collection? Those hour glasses had been in her family for generations!
Headmaster Maverick's face took on the appearance of smug assurance. Amanda knew from the look on his face that she would either need to remove the hourglasses, or Maverick would hold them over her and use them to control her every decision.
Headmaster Ford had stopped laughing. Each face from every portrait was watching her. Waiting. How would she handle her first major decision as Headmaster of Hogwarts?
Amanda turned to her fire crab. “Godric!” The creature looked at her expectantly. “See that portrait?”
Several gasps were heard from the portraits. One “No! Don't!” was distinctly heard. Amanda ignore them all.
“Aim! Incendio!” Fire shot out of Godric's rear end incinerating Maverick's portrait. Amanda felt relief wash over her, until she realized she was probably in much bigger trouble now than she had been earlier. But what could she say? It was the heat of the moment, and she always was an impulsive witch.