Reluctantly, I looked up. There was a decent crowd in tonight and every member of it was watching me.
The rain was pooling on my cloak as I dashed across the courtyard. It had started up around a mile back and had drenched me in moments. It was just one more thing to contend with on a day of hard travel that had already well filled it’s quota of unpleasantness. I swatted at my face as I neared the inn building but my sleeve was so sodden that it made no odds. I caught a fleeting glimpse of a crescent moon in flaking blue paint before ducking beneath the swinging wooden sign and into the brightly lit common room beyond.
I stood there dripping for a moment, trying to stamp mud from my boots. When I realised that I was making a ridiculous squelching noise with each step, I stopped it. It was only then that I became aware of the hush. Reluctantly, I looked up. There was a decent crowd in tonight and every member of it was watching me. Expressions ranged between wary interest, through irritation and right to open hostility. I didn’t so much as flinch. I was well used to it. All the same, the warmth of the fire in the grate didn’t seem quite to reach me as I made my soggy way between the tables and benches.
There was a loud scraping and my hand twitched towards the hilt of my sword. I stopped myself just in time. These people had enough reason to despise the uniform I wore without provoking them. A large man in the apron of a blacksmith had got to his feet. He regarded me, his jaw working as though there was something he’d very much like to say. I waited politely. If he swung a punch, then I’d have to defend myself and the room would erupt like an ants' nest splashed with hot water. He wavered for a second, then shambled off, taking the long way to the door so that he didn’t have to come within a foot of me. I let myself relax ever so slightly. I never liked causing trouble.
I made it to the bar without further incident. Slowly, talk resumed. People who had been watching me now seemed intent on pretending I didn’t exist. It was a mite more comfortable, but no safer.
“What can I get you?” the man behind the bar asked, giving me a broad smile.
Perhaps the cold and wet had caused my mind to stiffen up like my joints but all I could do was blink at him for a moment. “I can warm something up for you, take the chill out of your bones.” He was still smiling.
“Warm would be welcome,” I said, finding my voice a much smaller and halting thing than usual.
“Right you are,” he nodded and bustled off. I stared after him. It might just be good business sense, but the kindness kindled something in my chest. Whatever the reason, it was once in a blue moon that anyone had a friendly word for a royal guard like me.
[...] she remembered hurrying along here with her mother’s lightweight jacket held over her head, trying to ward off raindrops the size of golf balls.
She parked in the same place they always had, a little square of gravel surrounded by tall plain trees. The hike into the village centre was a hot slog along shimmering asphalt. It hadn’t always been this hot. Coming in the spring had always meant playing dice with the weather: she remembered hurrying along here with her mother’s lightweight jacket held over her head, trying to ward off raindrops the size of golf balls.
The little Lebanese restaurant was still open, its sign looking a little worse for wear. They’d always intended to try it one year and never had. She considered it for a second, then hurried on. It wasn’t time for lunch just yet.
One of the bakeries had closed and become a fancy homewares shop. The bright casserole dishes were pretty in their way, but nothing to the layered cakes and slabs of nougat that used to reside behind that window. The café with the green awning was still there and the site of the tables outside made a phantom taste of vanilla ice-cream dance across her tongue. That had always been her reward for good behaviour on the long drive down south.
She peered through one of the dusty side windows of what had once been a church. From the looks of the rickety stands and information boards inside, the little town museum was still in business. Rounding the corner of the building, she experienced a tiny thrill when she noticed that the sign was actually turned to ‘open’. She couldn’t remember a time when that had happened. She paused on the threshold but couldn’t quite bring herself to go in. It would ruin the magic of many years to finally solve the mystery of what was inside.
Walking on, she found herself in the square. Water splashed up from the fountain and cascaded back down over the back of the statue in the centre. She went over and peered in. People still dropped coins in it, despite the notice nearby pleading with them not to. She reached mischievously for the loose change in her pocket but the memory of what her dad would have said stopped her in time. She let the fountain mist her face for a second, listening to the distant hum of traffic and the sound of chatter from one of the café terraces. She let time collapse in on itself, spring after spring overlapping and merging into one past present. Then she straightened. As lovely as it was to dwell amongst the ghosts of happy times that inhabited this place for her, there was lunch to eat and still a long way to drive. She set off across the square, enjoying the feel of the sun and the moment.
As I predicted, he was adamant. He insisted I could not keep the kitten and told me to take her back outside.
It was a cold afternoon as I ran down the side street on the way home from my friend Emily's house. I hadn't planned to stay as long as I had, but I was enjoying myself so much I lost track of time. Now it was sprinkling rain, and it appeared a storm was approaching, I was late, and my father was going to be upset.
I just barely heard the piteous cry. I stopped and noticed a metallic looking box placed beside the side of the road. The box contained a tiny, shivering kitten. The poor creature had long, black matted fur, and its eyes were barely focused. “Someone must have just dropped it outside and hoped someone would pick it up!” I thought. I had always wanted a cat, but my father had refused. He said I needed to focus on my future studies and once I graduated from Hogwarts I could do as I pleased, but no cat for me until then! And yet, I knew I couldn't possibly leave this kitten here to die. If I did, I'd be haunted by nightmares for the rest of my life.
I used a charm to dry the kitten and carried her home under my robe. I briefly considered sneaking her into the house and hoping my father would never notice, but I decided to go ahead and face the music. As I predicted, he was adamant. He insisted I could not keep the kitten and told me to take her back outside.
“But, father, no one would have picked her up, and they won't here, either! Can you blame me for bringing her home? It had begun raining, and the box was filling up with water. The kitten nearly drowned. I noticed her suffering. Nothing deserves to die like that!”
“There's a reason for that, Sandra!” my father responded. “No one wants her. A waste of perfectly good food, time, and energy if you ask me. I'm going to release her into the woods.”
I looked at the small, matted fur cat, and decided the kitty was meant for me. “I'll take her! I'll love her and take good care of her.”
My father spoke up. “Wait one minute, young lady. Do you know any thing about taking care of a cat? Feeding it? Grooming it? The theory and practice of cat litter boxes?”
I looked at the cat, and then back to my father. “No,” I replied. “But I can learn.” I stuck out my lower lip, having made my decision and determined to have this kitten. “I'll change her litter box every day if I have to. And I promise I'll brush her fur regularly. I want her, father!”
My father, recognizing his daughter's mind was made up and secretly proud of his daughter's spunk, agreed to the cat. Besides, daughter and kitty would be leaving soon, and the cat would be Hogwarts' problem – not his.
“Ok, you can keep the kitten. But when you go to Hogwarts, she goes with you! Just remember that!” I smiled. I saved a life, and gained a new companion!
“The kitchens? Aunt Viola says only the really good Potions students get to go there, since they're the ones who brew the Pumpkin juice. Pumpkins can't produce their own juice without help, you know.”
I'll never forget the my own Sorting Ceremony! Ihad never seen anything more beautiful or overwhelming. There were sixteen of us, walking up the aisle towards the front stage, Four long tables, two on each side, were packed with staring students. Long tables in front of us were packed with staring professors. An odd looking, tattered hat, was placed on a stool, and we were quickly approaching it.
I felt a tug on my sleeve. “Noxanne look up! Floating candles! They don't drip wax, do they? That could be really painful!” I had met my fellow new student Rosalie on the train ride, and somehow she seemed more nervous than I was. I forced myself to smile and considered words of reassurance, when Voldemortina, another new student, responded. “No, Rosalie, those are special candles. I hear they've added flobberworm wax to them this year so they won't drip. We're perfectly safe.”
My mouth dropped open, but I was too stunned to speak. Unfortunately, Joan, another 11 year old I'd met on the train, piped up: “Who cares! All that matters is being sorted into the right House. I'm going to be sorted in Slytherin. My entire family is always sorted into Slytherin!.” I managed to step aside, just barely avoiding being hit by a mass of golden curls.
The professor who had shown us into the hall was pointing to the hat, which began to sing. I listened, mesmerized by the sheer wonder of it all, my curiosity growing as the song progressed, wondering which House would become my Home. A special, never to be forgotten moment when that hat would be placed upon my head and my fate would be sealed. I was lost in the moment until Rosalie tugged on my sleeve: “I'm so scared! What if I'm put in Gryffindor? They don't really expect us to be brave and all that, right?”
“You, Gryffindor?” Joan hissed. “You'll be lucky if you aren't assigned to the kitchens!”
“The kitchens? Aunt Viola says only the really good Potions students get to go there, since they're the ones who brew the Pumpkin juice. Pumpkins can't produce their own juice without help, you know.” Voldemortina again.
“Noxanne Alabaster!” My name! I noticed the professor motioning to me to have a seat on the stool, and the hat was placed on my head. I waited with nervous anticipation.
The hat began to speak. “Let's see. No more than an average amount of bravery, I see. You seem to have no ambition, and you fear hard work. Ah - but you actually believe Hogwarts: A History was the most fascinating book ever published. Stranger still: you've actually read it. Interesting. Very interesting. RAVENCLAW.”
The professor removed the hat from my head and I jumped off the stool and ran to one of the center tables, where people with blue and bronze badges were beckoning me. My new home for the next seven years! They seemed so friendly, and I knew I'd feel right at home there, amongt my new friends.
I thought my happiness could know no bounds, but then Voldemortina, Joan, and Rosalie joined our table. They'd gotten Ravenclaw, too. Merlin's beard! To be honest, I was hoping they'd be in a different House, but that's ok. Surely we won't all be in the same dorm room.
Pop! A mouth watering feast suddenly appeared in front of us. Rosalie shrieked and Joan rolled her eyes, while only Voldemortina seemed as impressed as I was. Deep in admiration for the feast, she turned to our Prefect and asked who the Potions professor was, and he pointed out a man who looked really intimidating and like something out of a muggle B movie horror flick. Voldemortina, undaunted, waved at the man and thanked him for the Pumpkin juice. The blackest eyes I have even seen simply stared at her. I wanted to hide under the table.
Finally! The Prefect was showing us to our Common Room. A riddle to answer! Finally: a chance to show off my riddle solving abilities! With shiny fangs , my bloodless bite will bring together what's mostly white. What am I?
My stomach hit the floor. I had no idea! Rosalie started crying, afraid she'd never be able to enter her own Common Room and hoping we'd be taught how to conjure floor mats on the first day of lessons. Joan glared at the door. Voldemortina, however, piped up: “Oh, good, an easy one!”
And it was.
Feeling a bit annoyed with myself for not guessing the riddle, I entered the Common Room. We were in the west wing of the fifth floor, in the most beautiful tower I had ever seen. White walls, deep blue furnishings, bronze accents, stars on the ceiling, and books! Lots and lots of books. A marble statue with the name Rowena Ravenclaw was listed on the plaque. The setting sun was shining through 12 ft. tall windows, which offered stunning views overlooking the lake. I was lost in admiration and having happy thoughts of my good fortune when I was startled by a bundle of fur landing in my lap: my cat, Muffin! She was here! I hugged her warmly and was rewarded with a small meow.
The door opened, a wizard entered and introduced himself as Professor Anderson, our Head of House. He told us about the history of Ravenclaw and some general information about Hogwarts, During his warm greeting, my cat jumped out of my arms, off to explore the beautiful surroundings. I smiled at the wonder of it all.
“The following will be sharing a dorm room: (I held my breath)
Oh, well, I sighed. I refuse to allow this to ruin my perfect, never to be forgotten day.
Rosalie, however, was still sobbing. “Professor, we're awfully high up! What if we have an earthquake? What if the tower falls?”
“Never fear, my dear child! This tower has stood for over a thousand years," smiled Professor Anderson warmly. I liked him. “Here, have some delicious little cupcakes. I bet if you ask them to, they'll even dance for you!” The Professor turned towards a small table, but suddenly looked confused, as if he'd lost something. “Has anyone seen the cupcakes?”
Muffin chose that precise moment to jump back into my arms, her little furry face covered in blue and white frosting.
It was going to be a very long year.
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.