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Behind the Sketches by JamesandLily4ever

Format: Novel
Chapters: 16
Word Count: 78,247
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature

Genres: Romance, AU, Young Adult
Characters: Snape, Sirius, OC
Pairings: Snape/OC, James/Lily, OC/OC, Remus/OC, Sirius/OC

First Published: 01/19/2007
Last Chapter: 04/24/2018
Last Updated: 04/24/2018

Summary:
Abigail McGain is a Ravenclaw student, a talented artist, and a loner. Her sixth year begins just like any other year: sketchbooks, friends, and worrying about school and the student body itself. Yet, it's until one of her favorite models sees her that everything begins to change, bringing about new adventures and the thrill of self-discovery.


Chapter 1: Planning
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Disclaimer: You already know that Harry is only J.K.’s and that I am only exercising my writing skills with Harry Potter. What happens in this plot (that has gotten its way out of one crevice of my brain) might not be what really happened in the Marauders' time.

Chapter 1: Planning

The McGain household was composed of five parts: mum, dad, Claude, Maurice, and me.

Claude had moved to France on apprenticeship, and my brother Maurice had been transferred from the Wimbourne Wasps to Germany with the Heidelberg Harriers, following his dream whichever way he could. On sabbatical, mum had reclined back into the steady hum of hobbies like working on the family album, taking up knitting with great anticipation, and baking to her heart’s content. Dad, however, continued to work at the Ministry of Magic in the Portkey Office as a portkey specialist.

Me… well, I was just a Hogwarts student.

“Abigail.” Knock. “Abigail.” Knock, knock, knock. “You’re going to be late, dear! We have to be on schedule!”

I sleepily rubbed at my eyes and mumbled, “Coming…”

September first, 1976.

I rose from my bed and all of my pillows, and threw my duvet off like a vampire would spread open its cloak. I am awake, I thought. I am very much awake. Groggily finding my way to the door, I dragged myself over to the second floor washroom, took a shower, dressed in my room, dried my hair with a towel, brushed it, and went down the stairs. One hour of self-care: done.

The kitchen smelled of Colombian coffee beans. I smiled when I saw mum and dad. Mum always called everyone down for breakfast, and dad was always the first one at the table with a mug of coffee and a copy of the Daily Prophet. Sizzling bacon, sausage, sunny-side-up eggs, jam and buttered toast, and an empty glass waited for me at the table.

“Quickly; we have thirty minutes ‘til we take the car,” mum reminded, standing by the stove.

Thirty minutes went by minutely, via the fact that I stuffed my face and savored each bite. I served myself a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and lied back in my chair.

“Mum, dad… that was great. Great,” I moaned and patted my stomach.

Mum grinned, and dad chuckled and swung on his messenger bag. “Alrighty, kiddo. To the car.”

The sun was up, the birds were chirping, and the car roared and purred to life. Mum had locked up the house door with a discrete wave of her wand and climbed into the passenger seat. I sat in the back and wrapped my favorite knit blanket around me. We set up the family car the night before for today’s adventure, so I was glad I included my current sketchbook in the backseat with a spare pencil.

The road was smooth and bumpy and silent. Mum and dad were typically quiet and affectionate, especially in these difficult times. Sometimes they mentioned that they were glad that Claude and Maurice were somewhere else where people weren’t showing up missing or dead. True, these events happened most of the time, but no one actually heard of them often enough to give them so much notice. I couldn’t remember when it started; it was difficult to pinpoint when everyone began making claims in the newspapers and wireless that everything was somehow linked. I didn’t know what my family and I had to do with it either.

We arrived at the train station not long after we left the house.

Mum ran off to get a cart for me and dad hauled my trunk out of the trunk of the car.

“Abby, dear, are you sure you aren’t carrying boulders to school?” he joked, wiping the sweat from his brow.

I smiled and laughed, “Of course not, dad! It’s only the books that weigh so much, and the cauldron.”

He raised both of his eyebrows when I mentioned the cauldron. I had upgraded it to brass for the sake of N.E.W.T. potions. It cost quite a bit, but I was excited for it. Truth be told, I was better at potions than I was at understanding transfiguration.

We went down to Platform Nine and Three Quarters, where I stood hesitantly before both of them. Summer had come and gone, and now they’d be without me for another part of the year. Christmas was always for home. I looked up at dad and saluted. He came down and hugged me enough for it to have been for both of them, like he would never get to see me again. Maybe he did it because Maurice and Claude were already miles and countries away and because I was the last one left. That, and the dark times, but I didn’t give that too much thought. We were going to be okay. We had been since I could remember, and it would be this way for at least two more years. So I reminded him because all parents needed reminding.

“I won’t up and disappear, you know,” I laughed. “I’ll be back for Christmas. Just like last year.”

And he reminded me that I should keep in touch regardless. Mum hugged me next and squeezed me. I squeezed her back, too.

“I love you so very, very much, Abby,” she whispered. “Please take care of yourself.”

“I love you too, mum,” I replied softly. “And I take care of myself very, very much.” Otherwise, I really wouldn’t be here right now, would I? But I was there… not like Mark Lee or Emma Pommington, both of whom had told me explicitly that we were going to meet up on the hour…

Well, they might be on their way.

“Remember to send owls, dear. I don’t partake too much in late replies either,” dad insisted. He rubbed at his forehead, a nervous gesture. We all knew he was quite the worrywart.

"Owls, dad; yes, I'll send owls!" I'd smiled so hard my cheeks hurt. “Please don’t worry so much. It’ll all be A-okay.”

He smiled back and then I was on the train back to Hogwarts, waving one of my last waves to him through the window in my compartment. They waved back, and then they waited. The train wouldn’t depart for another five to ten minutes. I walked along the corridor until I found an empty compartment.

So I opened my sketchbook. It was new then. I could almost see it in the future, much like an old stuffed bear kept throughout my life as a hidden keepsake: with yellowed pages and faded moments that brought back fond memories. I could see it like the others with its spine detached from my habit of keeping anything as big as a pencil for a placeholder inside its many pages. I knew, more or less, that these pages would be full of sketches.

The train departed. I got up and went to a window. Every single Hogwarts student, all either in Muggle clothes or Wizarding robes and cloaks, gathered any which way, and I almost had to hop on my toes to get a good view of where my parents were standing. But a handsome, black haired boy made room for me.

“Thank you,” I couldn’t even speak, but I looked down, blushed, and moved myself in to stand against the glass and waved. My parents saw me quite instantly and waved back.

Not a moment later, the train moved on, forward and away. I breathed and turned around, ready to return to my compartment. Soon, Mark and Emma would find me, but this boy… this very handsome boy, who I recognized from his sharp features: black hair, grey eyes, magnificent square jaw, and clear, porcelain skin. My brain stood befuddled and abstract, like my thoughts were the random (but well picked) pieces of a Picasso I couldn’t quite figure out.

“You’re welcome,” the handsome boy replied with a smile so broad…

I was sure that he knew how to make people faint at the slightest curve of his warm, pink lips. I swore that he could. I was, in the cliché sense of the phrase, a dear caught in the headlights. And he looked like he was going to say more, but someone called him from down the corridor.

I looked to the side and saw a short and somewhat portly boy with a mess of dirty blond hair. He seemed to squeak in his own words; I guessed that he was still in the thralls of puberty, not quite yet shifting his voice into the deep tones of manhood. Then I looked back to the boy, who I had drawn last year… whose name I didn’t know.

“Sorry,” he said, and moved away with a glance back. He flashed me his smile again. “See you ‘round.”

I blinked owlishly, but he only laughed. I thought it peculiar how his laugh was both rich and … odd. Like, sharp.

“Pff,” I blew that awkward side effect of handsomeness off my mind.

There were other girls more in tune with the way they were. Girls like Rebecca. I shrugged and walked back into my compartment and smiled. I could definitely draw him again. From memory. With that smile of his. Yes, divine.

I sat down by the window and held my sketchbook and spare pencil in a hug. Warmth buzzed through me at the thought of his sharp angles and the soft lines of his hair. Breathing in deeply, I sighed. And then, much like I did anywhere, no matter how wild or natural, I sank deep into a new drawing, a new sketch. They, these people I browsed like books, were much like trees during summer or winter. They were in a world within a world. Not much for small talk or talk, but more immersed in the conversation of pencil and paper, I glimpsed within their world of cliques made out of best friends, classmates, housemates, teammates, and lovers. I glimpsed within his gray eyes.

People are a versatile genre.

There are those who are red headed and have the tendency to tap the frill of a quill against their pointed chins. Others with chestnut tresses or curls with eyebrows sunk deep in thought. And there were blond haired people who gathered and flocked together much like monarch butterflies in summer. Short, tall, round, thin, and portly with dreams beyond compare: they were all one of a kind, a kind all their own.

And that was how my September had begun. With my life: as it had been, as it had begun to unravel.

~*~

A/N:

I'm back! With changes xD

I hope you'll like this better than the last time. :)

And a big thank you to one of you who found me. Let's get this all tied up and knotted, shall we?

Chapter 2: A Trio of Watercolors
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Disclaimer: this universe belongs to J.K. Rowling (yes, even if it’s an alternate universe).

Chapter Two: A Trio of Watercolors

I loved creating new things out of anything, like a different aspect of what I saw or a using a new medium. So, this time I worked with light twirls in the sky and horizontal lines for the plain. I used the edge of a spare sheet to make windows, and I traced out the curved lines of the seats and some light crosshatching (stacked lines) for the shadows. Then I filled the spare sheet to list the colors I was going to use for every aspect, including the clouds. I thought about how I could go through the outlines with watercolors, and smiled at the thought of guiding blooming petals of color along the lines I’d created.

My heart raced and my stomach filled with anxious butterflies as my gaze fell upon the brand new day above the fields that whizzed past us. A new term was about to start. If I needed any sort of social stimulation, it was evident in my empty compartment and the crowded train that I did. It was easier said than done to relax and wait for the impossible Emma and Mark to find me, and luckily enough for me, it was easy blocking people out despite being by myself.

I slid my sketchbook into my messenger bag and glimpsed out into the corridor. There were teeming teenagers looking for friends and, perhaps, the sweets trolley. It was difficult not to overhear them, and I found it intriguing to think that some of them had already closed their curtains to change. I bowed slightly to the Ravenclaws who recognized me when they passed by. It was still difficult to believe that they knew who I was regardless of whether or not I knew them. It was something I loved and aspired to continue – that bit of recognition was endearing, and I lived for it. I supposed that it also attributed to how quiet and reserved most of us were.

Yet, we were pretty outgoing amongst ourselves. Little know-it-alls among know-it-alls: a place where anyone and everyone who loved knowledge could belong. I loved it. Positively loved it. Then again, it had taken me a couple of years to get situated. I was shaken when Mark and Emma had taken me in our third year.

Hogsmeade for the first time had been quite the thing. I remember having planned to draw the place as magical as it had felt: all of it decked in snow with warm yellow and orange light spilling outside of its candlelit lanterns and windows. Of course, that had been that very night. I had stayed until five to capture the three-point perspective and a value study for what I decided to be a watercolor painting.

It had been embarrassing and flattering to have found someone looking over my shoulder.

“That is remarkable!” Emma had said, her brown eyes wide with newfound astonishment. “Oh, pardon me. It’s just that I couldn’t help seeing you out here in the cold, but apart from that – actually drawing. I always wondered about that, you know, just seeing you draw. You keep to yourself quite a lot.”

That was the first thing she had said and also the first bit of rambling that I had experienced in close vicinity to her. I liked how she let her thoughts flow once she started, and I didn’t mind it. She didn’t talk much herself. Hardly anyone let her go on after she’d answered questions in class. It was rather embarrassing to watch her suffer some teacher or other who went on like they weren’t listening, and it was terribly sad to see her own emotions flutter on her face. She would go from meekly answering to whispering with a blank expression until she halted to a stop, and her eyes looked anywhere but her open palms.

I could never bring myself to speak to her. I never spoke at length to anyone unless I was spoken to, and it wasn’t like anyone minded. Everyone had their own rules.

I remember when I smiled at her and the slight nod I had given her. “Thank you.”

“Well, seeing as it is cold, would you like to come over to the Three Broomsticks? We’ve an extra drink a friend accidentally ordered. He’s terribly shy and he doesn’t want to make it anymore worse on the … uh, bartender or server. No one,” she had said in a rush, patting her meager mittens together. “So, um… you can have the free drink if you want. Mark’s obviously paid for it, not wanting to cause much trouble.”

“Alright,” I had replied, not knowing what to say. I remember my insides squishing together in a tight breath of air.

She had nodded on and took me there, and the introductions began. She was Emma Pommington and he was Mark Lee, both suddenly my close friends in Ravenclaw house and the seeds of my social existence.

I had not seen it coming. Not even when Emma and Mark suddenly took me out of my reverie. Knock, knock, knock; tap, tap, tap. My trip through memory lane was over. As soon as I turned the lock, they were both pink cheeked and full of questions. Emma had become brighter and rosier faced over the summer. She also spoke only as much as she needed to. Mark… Mark was something different. He’d grown five inches taller and was still growing.

I smiled.

Emma was the first to burst. “Where were you out there? We looked everywhere!”

“Why didn’t you meet up with us first? I thought we agreed to do that last term? When we all left?” Mark clipped his sentences in question marks. “I demand answers.”

Emma shoved her trunk by the window and continued, “Did you get up late today? Is that why we didn’t meet up?”

“I got here on time. At ten thirty. On the dot,” I answered, putting my sketchbook and pencil away. I tucked my blanket around my shoulders. It was cold. “Like I said I would be in our letters.”

It’s not my fault you don’t wake up early. I thought, but … to be honest, my mother had woken me up. So I didn’t express the thought aloud for either of them to hear.

Emma closed the compartment door and went to sit in front of me.

“Well, we’re here; we’re here and we’re clear of stuffing ourselves in other compartments with strangers. Thank Merlin,” Mark said, fitting his trunk under the seat opposite me. “Because I wouldn’t have been able to deal with that.” He sat down with a huff.

Emma rubbed his shoulder and smiled reassuringly. “We know.”

They were already talking and weaved me into their constant on and off conversation as if I hadn’t just appeared, as if we had been sitting together the whole time. Summer was the topic and each of us had been up to something different. Of course, we started with our OWL scores and worked our way from there.

There was nothing more endearing then than the sight of the city changing for that of the rural plains up north. By then, I told them that I was glad that I wasn’t alone without a good book. I answered their confused expressions with how dad ended my book allowance because my OWL scores were not as great as he and mum had expected.

“Not as great?” Emma asked, perturbed if anything else. “You studied Transfiguration well under the book.”

“How much is ‘well under the book’?” Mark asked with a questioning glance.

She answered it with that sweet teasing tone of hers, “I caught her mumbling from the text in the dorms before OWLs had even begun!” Mark nodded in understanding, and Emma remained unperturbed. “And she probably could have recited it word for word if she tried any harder.”

“Oh, quit it, you! I still wouldn’t have,” I retorted, tentatively curled up in my corner by the window curled up with my blanket around my shoulders. I liked how it was big enough to spill over my legs and stomach. I had Nostradamus’ Prophecies on the seat beside me for later reading. It was a wizarding art textbook with detailed illustrations and descriptions of those prophecies. In my defense, very Dark Ages (plus Renaissance).

“Well, it’s not the theory I had points taken off for, anyway. It was the practical and the wand waving… and all that stuff,” I said.

I frowned, remembering how my transfiguration spell had not changed the sewing needle into something other than what it was. Well, it had turned it into a pine needle, but it was not an outstanding achievement. The testing instructor had even raised his eyebrows and laughed a little, as if my wits were worth nothing more but a simple, “Ahaha…” of embarrassment, which had set my face aflame.

Exams are not practicals, to say the least, and my pun, though unintentional, had not gone unnoticed. Even though the proctor had given me additional points for it, my marks couldn’t reach that beautiful Acceptable.

“You are too harsh on yourself. That is actually pretty stunning. Maybe it might’ve been your concentration slipping,” Emma remarked and clasped her hands on her legs. “Charms use visualization as the twenty-five percent necessity to making a spell come true.”

“We are not all Muggles here to understand that… but I suppose the theory works,” Mark decided, and then turned to look at me with a knowing look, “Then again, all that stuff is actually pretty ea—”

Emma shoved him before he could utter the next word. She pursed her lips and looked away.

“Well, bugger, you made a pun happen anyway,” Mark corrected himself, soothing his shoulder with a stern rubbing. He seemed well vexed, then, his eyes glimpsing continuously to Emma. “Not that it means that you didn’t do well enough. You got an Acceptable! And, if anything, transfiguration is diff-i-cult, and your parents should leave it well alone.”

But I was on a good road to redemption, I told them and smiled at Emma and Mark’s tirade to keep me from feeling awful, for not being in good form for something that came easily to others.

“McGonagall kept me on for her NEWT course, though.” I’d never seen Mother and Father look so pleased with a professor before, but they had been adamant about it without letting go of how great Professor McGonagall had been to give me a second chance.

Oh, see how she believes in you, Abby dearest? You should believe in yourself twice as much!

Mum wouldn’t live it down! And dad nodded and paraded along with her as she had served him his dinner. What a terrible accusation of my own character! I’d thought. Didn’t anyone care to lay the blame on me and my inability to… make a needle into a matchstick? Mind, they were two completely different things regardless of their proximity in size. And how could I handle a NEWT Transfiguration course when I couldn’t even keep up?

“Well, good,” Emma said sagely, “It’s a good thing that she did that, because then I don’t know what I’d do without you in Transfiguration. You’d have left me stuck with this bloke.” She nudged Mark with her right arm, and he gave her his best scowl before he burst out snorting.

“All fun and no work, which would’ve left me without a job to look forward to. Save becoming the caretaker of some place or other like Beauxbatons… or Durmstrang!”

“Hey, I’m not that bad! Right, Abby?” Mark asked, grinning. “I make class interesting, don’t I?”

He crossed his arms and jutted his chin out cockishly, very sure of himself even though there was a certain drawback…

“Make class interesting? You probably meant too interesting; you are bloody hilarious, always egging Emma on!” I snorted, and pointed to Emma. “You keep her from her work and all that other stuff. Like her future apprenticeships, if she gets any! Which she will, of course.”

“Of course!” Emma repeated cheerfully and with a delighted smile afterward. “And thank you, dearest Abigail. For I wouldn’t know what to do without you!” She leapt up and joined my seat so she could hug me.

Of course, I knew a thing or two about how right I was, but so long as she hadn’t caught on… I was safe.

~*~

In the time that it took for us to get to Hogsmeade station, we changed into our uniforms, bought candy from the passing sweets trolley, and compared notes on our summers. Emma had been ushered by her cousins to go out and leave her textbooks for a later time, and so had enjoyed a time away at Brighton with some family at the beach. Mark spent his summer down in Sidney, Australia for a family wedding. It turned out that one of his closely related cousins had married and that both sets of grandparents (those of the groom and the bride) had decided that everyone be there.

“No wonder you look so… tan,” Emma mentioned, gingerly taking his arm in her hands. “Quiet tan. Your moles stand out less.”

“They’re not moles. They don’t scurry down under the ground and come out every now and then to feed the myth of when spring is coming. They’re… beauty marks,” he finished in almost a whisper.

I raised my eyebrows. “From one pun to another, I suppose I agree.”

They both aha’d, but were still looking down at the mole Emma had decided to poke.

“I honestly hope they don’t ever become asymmetrical,” she whispered. “That’s the last thing you need. An anomaly.”

“I am a thousand percent anomaly,” Mark replied, glancing at his arm and then glancing up at her.

She let go of his arm and shook her head. “You don’t even know.”

Sometimes I thought that they were both on the same page, and that I was the one typically reading it. That being the case, I looked out of my window and let my arm fall on the sill, a place where I could feel the vibrations of the train chugging down the tracks. Note to self: ask Emma why she’s smiling warmly and shifting awkwardly in her seat whenever she discusses random matters with Mark.

It was only to set my suspicions straight, anyway.

~*~

The train arrived at Hogsmeade’s station when night was a canvas lit up with a crooked line of lights on a hill. The Ground Keeper’s lantern showed the way out, and draw the first years like moths to flame. We went uphill, following the mass of cloaked students, and chose a carriage with a few strangers. A pair of fourth year Gryffindors, judging from their uniform’s colors, but I was in good company. Mark and Emma, my comrades in Ravenclaw house, made the best of the fifteen minutes it took for us to get to the castle by playing a Muggle game of I Spy.

“I spy something rumbling,” Mark offered.

Emma crossed her arms and tilted her chin up. “There’s no way that you can see your stomach, Lee.”

“But that’s the thing,” he uttered, then, “it’s called I spy, so I spy, my friend. And yes, you are correct on the assumption that it’s my stomach, because it is. And because you were right, it’s your turn.”

“Alright, then, I spy the best part of term,” Emma countered, this time leaning forward with her hands clasped on her knees.

“Hey, that’s not something we can see—“

“Like your stomach, you mean?” Emma looked at him dubiously and smiled, self-satisfied with her wit.

I snorted as the carriage creaked onwards.

“The best part of a term at Hogwarts is obviously easy,” Emma began, smiling assuredly with a wink in my direction, “I’d imagine that you’d get it faster than that.”

“It’s obviously not a riddle…” Mark began mumbling to himself. He held his right hand atop his stomach, which growled audibly now, surprisingly. “…best part of term… finals? No… holidays? But holidays aren’t part of term, they’re after…”

His dark eyebrows were furrowed as he took the concept apart and placed other variables together: yes, very much the Ravenclaw way to get things done. But despite trying to change his perception and perspective to come up with the right answer, Emma hummed aloud.

“Tiiime!” she said. The carriage had come to a full stop. “The answer is—”

We hopped off after the two fourth years and walked towards the open doors that led to the Entrance Hall and then up the stairs to the Great Hall.

“No!” Mark uttered, plastering his hands to his ears, but Emma went right along with an evil grin, “The best part of term is…”

She pursed her lips and looked at Mark, who took her closed lips as a sign of silence and answers that would never be revealed, but as soon as he’d let his guard down, she uttered her answer, “The Great Feast!”

And he slapped his left hand onto his face and spoke a muffled, “Bugger,” right through it.

“Language, Mister Lee,” Professor McGonagall lectured, standing by the Great Hall’s doors, a place she lurked by to address the first years who were on their way.

Mark sheepishly looked down. “Yes, professor.”

And by then we were beneath the star-filled enchanted ceiling of the Entrance Hall, surrounded by staircases, tall doors, floating candles, and housemates of all ages.

“Nice to see you again, Mister Lee, Miss Pommington, Miss McGain,” Professor McGonagall acknowledged as we passed.

Members of fellow Ravenclaws began to flock around us as we went on towards our table. We greeted each other with nods, secret handshakes, and waves. Some were those who had left as idle minded students before the holidays returned as irksome adolescents ready to prove their wit. Certain students apprehended that their craniums looked larger and that they were ready to raise the capacity of information for the rest of term. Others were more preoccupied about who had lost weight, gained muscle mass, and escaped the horrors of puberty. Stories were swapped on what everyone had done during the summer. Then there were the more curricular questions. Who had reviewed the chapters of certain books ahead of time, who was planning to try out for our Quidditch team, who had Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans or novel Sugar Quills to share before the feast officially began?

Who was the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor this year?

A roundabout of new regional dishes appeared on the empty platters as soon as everyone was seated. Some of the students wore their black pointed hats, hoping to keep some semblance of tradition intact, as the first-years-to-be walked in after Mrs. McGonagall.

The hat sang of the four houses and their founders, and then the sorting started. We waited, all curious of who would be the new additions to our house. Of the few, there was yet another Abbot (Hufflepuff), a Patricia Clara who seemed of Spanish origin (Ravenclaw), a Davis (Gryffindor), an Ovidius (Ravenclaw), an Asian Bridget (Gryffindor), a twin who made it to Ravenclaw (while the other headed for Slytherin), a Scottish Scott (Gryffindor), and a pair of gossipy girls with freckles (Hufflepuff and Hufflepuff).

We applauded heartily, we were allowed to eat just as soon, and then the Headmaster gave his address.

“A reminder that the forbidden forest is out of bounds, and that the Quidditch Pitch is not to be used this first month of term,” Dumbledore began. “Let us, however, greet Mister Crateus Singer, who will be joining us as our new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.”

We applauded the small man with the blond hair and big white mustache, but at the same time I wondered what would happen to this seemingly innocent fellow, especially after Professor Brunhilda hadn’t survived her fall down her stairwell that one unfortunate afternoon.

Always on the right foot, Mark couldn’t resist mentioning our past professors, “So, that’s one fall, one disappearance, one gone for half a year, one dead by class demonstration, and a Dark Arts practitioner. I tell you, we’re the most unfortunate class to have lived through the cursed post. I keep hoping that at least one of them will stay full term without splitting on us.”

“And the year after,” Emma added, settling her fork down by her plate. “My education is suffering, too, you know. All of ours are.”

“Save for Durmstrang and Beauxbatons,” Leonel Bingetti joined in from alongside us. He kept an eye on Dumbledore at the podium, his face plain and unamused. “I tried to transfer, but my parents wouldn’t let me. They said that it’s as tough as it is out there down south with talk about dead folk found with a skull and a snake seared on their arms.”

“A skull and a snake? That’s dark, that is,” Kit McKelsy muttered, leaving a biscuit back where it had been on the heap beside him.

Mark agreed heartily. “Quite. I’d imagine something worse, but even that doesn’t come close.”

“But there’ve been other goings-on. Like Alice and Frank? I really hope they’re alright,” Jane Wells seemed to titter in her seat as she worried.

She had also alleged herself as a best friend of Alice’s, but that had been partly because Alice had taken her under her wing. Jane was about as sweet as a dollop of caramel, and a tad overwhelmed because of that, too, but we served as a stronghold for our own. United, we were strongest. Divided, well, we’d be at each other’s throats for the best marks… and now wasn’t the time for that.

“I went to visit the week before last to see how they were, and the healers said they had to be left alone for the next few days to find their footing. It appears not so. Otherwise, they would’ve been here already.”

Emma and I shared a glance. She seemed just as unnerved as I was. But if Emma had ever gone through such an ordeal as Alice had, for she’d gotten kidnapped just after exams, I would be just as worried, if not more. I reached over and patted her hand.

“Have some pumpkin juice. I’m sure she’ll be fine in due time,” I told her softly.

Time would tell if Alice would get back. She was a year older than us, but she did well anyway she could.

“You know what? I wish you’d all just keep your commentary to yourselves,” Rebecca Smith sighed. “All this talk of stupid things is frizzing my hair.”

Angelique Brown, who was beside her, huffed and followed up, “Oh, the mood does unsettle the nerves.”

“Ha, as if hair has nerves,” Leonel muttered with an eye roll, but he turned to Jane. “Not to worry. I’m sure Alice’ll be on her feet again.”

“Everyone’s sure to be well soon. I mean, even Potter and Evans are here, see?” Kit mentioned and jutted his chin to the Gryffindor table.

True, I glanced to the Gryffindor table and saw that Potter was huddled up with his mates. One of them was the handsome boy from the train and something else I couldn’t remember, but I gleamed over his great aesthetic and breathed deeply at the same time. I exhaled when I saw Evans with her band of trustees, probably talking about something academic or other.

They seemed about normal to me even though they’d gone missing at the end of the last term like Alice and Frank due to unknown causes. I supposed that only the four knew of their goings-on, and I hoped it wasn’t something that the boys, specifically Leonel, could come up with, like how the four of them were up to some undercover work for the Headmaster. We all reluctantly agreed with a seventh year’s suspicion that they had been given some preordained apprenticeships because they were Slughorn’s favorites, which was the more plausible reason. Frank and Alice were two of our best in all the material we studied, even in Defense Against the Dark Arts, which was rarely covered throughout a whole year. Yet, it would have been better to hear it from either Alice or Frank than hearing it through other secondary sources and gossips were never the way to go (they always told a story in an unlimited number of ways, none the same as the one before).

Yet, I glanced at my housemates, from Leonel who suddenly smiled, to Emma who seemed to be sneaking glances with Mark, and back up to the high table. The Headmaster wasn’t as well off as Evans and Potter had been. He was more somber than anything, with shadows beneath his eyes as the chatter had taken the Great Hall.

That night, I picked my bed and sunk under the covers with my stomach caught in an invisible knot. It was an apprehension that even Nostradamus’ prophecies couldn’t get rid of. What of the Marauders? What of the handsome boy? What of the school year? What of Transfiguration?

I swallowed.

Tomorrow my term would begin along with a possibly wider future of a thousand trials. The less I thought about it, the more I let myself fall asleep.

~*~

Author’s Note:
Here are some Ravenclaws! I’ll update soon for the third chapter. Something wicked this way comes? (Maybe after a few chapters, though, but who am I kidding? Team work sounds pretty wicked on its own.)

Edit: Much better! I edited the spacing through the Simple Editor; I'll be back in a few weeks to edit the content, though (I went the wordy route with this one...). This is also my master page of OCs since I mention them sparingly as the fic goes along.

Chapter 3: A Crayon and a Pastel
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Disclaimer: this universe belongs to J.K. Rowling. Also, I apologize for this horrid double spacing in the last chapter… it was the work of the new editor. New chapters will be handled uniquely (through the simple editor).

Chapter 3: A Crayon and a Pastel

The first month back was a blur.

First there was a missing stair.

“Did you hear about the missing stair? Most of the first years are losing our points because they’re getting to class late,” Emma said, setting up her breakfast platter. “Plus, a number of them fell through it.”

“Must be the so-called Marauders again,” Mark replied.

I was glad I hadn’t been one of the first years to have fallen through it, but even then, the whole of Ravenclaw was glad that the first year was in the hospital wing.

And then there was Transfiguration.

The past many years were a testament to how hard Hogwarts tried to promote House Unification, which was total hogwash considering how we drifted to our own house. That year it was different.

I was cozied up with Emma and Mark until the beginning of class. The tables and Professor McGonagall’s high desk were in their place, but there was a dizzying array of green, red, and yellow among us. I scooted my chair under the table until I could feel my stomach blob under the tabletop.

The chair beside me whined as it was dragged back and it clattered as the person beside me sat forward. I suddenly froze from my head to my toes. Mark and Emma shared a look and Emma just stared at me with her very round eyes.

Sweet Merlin.

It was tragic. I couldn’t bear to turn around. I just couldn’t.

The introduction of the course commenced. McGonagall paced by her desk and glanced continuously in my direction over every other syllable pertaining to the wealth of NEWT exams.

“Some of you may have endured the past five years of Hogwarts by looking over each other’s shoulders or putting in your own efforts to surpass yourselves. These next two years will be no different. If you are here, you have been quite fortunate to find yourselves in the journey to your chosen profession – such that you were interviewed for only last year… I expect the best of your work here in spell casting, pronunciation, and your understanding of the theory. You will be tested every two weeks, and a foot of parchment will be expected in full for your knowledge of theory each week. There will also be a project of how this material pertains to your profession, which we will discuss further this month.

“This week’s assignment will be to read chapters…”

Quills were scribbling at the speed of light. I glanced sidelong to see who it was that chose to sit beside me as my quill wandered over my own sketchbook.

Black hair… swished at the ends…

Black cloak…


His right hand merely twirled the red feathered quill in his hand.

Red and gold on his tie…

He was murmuring to his left, and I momentarily let my eyes wander above his head and then I saw the messy black hair and round spectacles and very brown eyes.

In a swoosh, I glanced back to my sketchbook when he glanced over.

Yep, studious Ravenclaw, right here.

~*~

Later on that day, I stayed behind with Mark and Emma, my eyes and ears lingering with the handsome boy from the train.

“Oh, Prongs, what would I do without you?” he joked with James Potter.

Oh, what a time to be alive. I thought to myself.

How did I not know this boy’s name? I blinked owlishly at Emma, and Emma narrowed her eyes at me suspiciously.

“Have the two of you ever crossed paths before? I would have sworn you had at some point,” she commented, and then she elbowed Mark in the side. “Have we ever been in contact with Potter and his mates?”

“The Marauders? No, never,” Mark replied, and then he continued for my benefit since I must have leaned forward and raised my eyebrows incredulously, “They don’t dig into other people’s graves to steal things. They just named themselves that. It’s rather mysterious, I find.”

Mysterious indeed, but Emma followed reluctantly. “I didn’t think that it would ever be possible for Sirius Black, of all people, to sit by Abby, though. I would have thought him to single out someone else.”

Someone like Rebecca, I thought. Rebecca was a modern and contemporary beauty. She had hazel eyes that happened to fit her face pleasantly, and long, dark hair to frame her oval shaped face and shoulders. She even had an hourglass curvy figure that showed through her robes and uniform. I frowned at my predicament. I wasn’t one to compare myself to others, but I knew myself to be quite hidden in terms of a slimmer body with an almost barely noticeable chest.

I could masquerade as a boy simply by binding my chest a couple of times. I tucked my hair back and looked up only to chance Emma in the eye.

“Do you have anything to say, my dearest Abby?” she asked me.

I did not, but I knew better than that. “What if he sits beside me every Tuesday and Thursday?

What would I tell the student body?

‘Oh, I have no claims to this boy!’ I found myself thinking, imagining several girls holding torches and pitchforks. ‘Take him if you want him! I don’t even know his name!’

I wasn’t his friend, and I most certainly knew nothing of him to even get that close. Nor did I want to be that close, I thought to myself.

And yet… something fluttered at the thought of it. Just something, not much of anything to begin.

~*~

The next couple of days brought me to another series of events.

Slughorn decided it would be absolutely perfect to learn how to work in pairs for a year.

“This term will be realized through team effort! I have already done part of the work and I expect you to do the rest.”

His part of the work was dividing us into twos, and the rest was the concept of preparing different potions together. There would be three to four potions to create until Christmas and another three after holiday until exams. All the successful brews would be given to Madame Pomfrey in the Hospital Wing and sold to the Apothecary in Hogsmeade. There would be a prize at the end of the year. I supposed he might have meant a potions book or some kind of special potion.

All good things! I hoped, but here I was again with other students from each house, and I was vulnerable to lose both Emma and Mark.

“…McGain….Snape,” I vaguely heard.

I swallowed and floundered, and then I raised my very clammy hand into the chilly dungeon air.

“Mr. Severus Snape, Miss McGain is at the other side of the room… if you could humble us in directing yourself there, that would be much appreciated,” Slughorn cheered along.

My neck and cheeks burned. I kept my hand up while I hugged myself with my other arm; all the while I cursed Slughorn for doing this to me.

Who was Severus Snape anyway? I glanced and saw a lean, brooding type with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and an intense stare. I stepped aside to make room for him. He merely crossed his arms firmly around his books.

I glanced over and saw his heavily annotated textbook.

“That’s remarkable,” I mentioned quietly.

He sneered and hugged his books, shielding them from my view.

I frowned. Who does that?

~*~

Later on that day, I bemoaned my luck. Was I really going to spend every Potions class with this boy?

Emma had a gag reflex any time we talked about the house unification going on in our NEWT level courses. Mark was suddenly affected after our Charms class. He was blank faced for a portion of the time when it came to his partner from Hufflepuff.

He charmed his dinner to be smaller and wrapped the whole thing, platter and all, in napkins. He gathered his books and excused himself from the table.

“I can’t hear myself think,” he explained.

“You’re not the only one,” I replied.

Emma looked after him and began to push her food around her plate.

~*~

Weeks into the change, we all began the steep climb to save our grades.

It was easier when I dealt with Gregory Boot, a Hufflepuff who helped relentlessly in any task. He put everything down on the first day in Herbology: “I am not going to risk anything here, but I will end you if my Outstanding plummets.”

“My Exceeds Expectations could be worse, but I’d rather it stay the same,” I declared my argument.

After that, we both became fast friends, I think.

~*~

McGonagall paired us up on certain days, but she insisted, “Despite this… you will all be graded individually.”

Needless to say, I tried to create a tolerance around Sirius. He had decided that he would never move from his seat beside me. This confused me since no one was really assigned to sit anywhere, but he hadn’t moved or switched seats with his friends. We also didn’t talk much, but he was insistent on talking. And me, well, I couldn’t stop blushing.

“How is your day, Miss McGain?” he asked, trying to catch my eyes.

As if I would ever take my eyes away from a book! …or stop listening to the giggling that happened whenever he was out and about with his friends.

I swallowed thickly and replied quietly, “Good, thank you.”

Minutes passed in which I couldn’t figure out what to say besides spell work. We were researching theory before starting wand waving techniques. The first two weeks were mainly about transfiguring small objects. At last, I was starting to understand why my exam didn’t go that well.

“Well, my day is fantastic,” he replied as he nimbly flipped through his textbook.

I flipped through mine and nodded. “Well, that’s good and fine; let’s get back to work.”

The less he talked, the better.

I’m very sure that he smiled, and I turned slightly to hide my face.

Maybe I should have cursed all the cute boys to never see me… Maybe I should have hoped to fall back into how blissfully unaware I was of him. Maybe, but despite this, it was flattering to talk with someone of the opposite sex (who wasn’t Mark)… even if it was a couple of sentences at a time.

~*~

Slughorn left most of us to do our work on our own, but he strutted by between our stations and remarked on everyone’s good work. He paused by the desk I shared with Severus, and he chuckled.

“Perfect sleeping draught! The coloring is coming along, I trust?” Slughorn asked.

Severus nodded and I aha’d, both of us too involved in chopping ingredients and turning the cauldron.

It was remarkably difficult for me to focus on the time. We had moved from timing the stirring to letting it rest meanwhile we each wrote down our observations. He was getting pretty good at following my lead, and I was glad that he wasn’t that difficult to follow. We corked our flacons, labeled them, and placed them all together in our holsters.

After that we paused. I tentatively turned my quill in my hand. What now?

“Miss McGain, I trust that you will take these to the Hospital Wing, as they are to be dropped off with Madame Pomfrey,” he began.

I looked up from the holsters and frowned. “Why don’t you go with me to drop them off so that Madame Pomfrey can tell Professor Slughorn that we both delivered our potion, as it was mentioned we would at the beginning of term?”

I was not one to forgo something so simple as following directions (which is why I did alright in Potions – not extraordinarily, but alright), but really? Our first impression with this new impression left me confused, but I so yearned to know more about his reaction. Why the attitude?

His eyes narrowed and he sneered. “As you say, it shall be done.”

Terribly Slytherin, I couldn’t help the thought. What irked me further was that it was so distinctive that I found myself all the more curious.

Once we gave the holsters to Madame Pomfrey and stepped out of the Hospital Wing, he turned to me and snidely remarked, “Good work for a Ravenclaw, but I begin to wonder if you will fail.”

That reminded me of Gregory, but Gregory was happier about our mutual responsibility to stay afloat. I began to wonder if the Sorting Hat did actually place people into the house that better suited their personalities, but then… this was inexcusable.

“I hope not, but will you?” I replied, looking him dead in the eye. “You must not know me as you may know Slughorn’s other star pupils, but I follow directions to the letter and I have never failed.”

“How droll,” he said, and he had the nerve to glance me up and down. “How blatantly average.”

I raised my eyebrows. “You, sir, will not test me. I have other places to be, so good day, sir.”

Curious! My whole body was throbbing and my fingernails were biting into my palms. No one had ever, ever, made me so angry before. I was also glad that I didn’t look back. I would have said too much, especially with the internal heat wave I was going through.

I was going to see his face again in our next class and I was going to prove him wrong. I knew I was not remarkable, but I was not average. At least not in the way he had shown me.

Maybe I could hold him to his unspoken wager.

Maybe I’ll let him find out.

He didn’t know me, and Potions wasn’t that difficult.

~*~

My stomach turned whenever I thought about how Transfiguration would be like later on during the year, especially after the easy part of researching and writing down how the theory worked. I balked whenever I thought about Sirius seeing me fail as I had failed before. Stupid Transfiguration!

In order to calm down, I retreated to the library and drew meanwhile I read from my Charms textbook.

Who would find me here? Probably Mark and Emma, I gathered, so I delved further than my favorite place. Somewhere new would help.

I sat at the table in a dark alcove by the railing on the second floor – it was a nice place for me to look down into the first floor without being seen at first glance. It faced the tall windows and provided a great view of the first floor. It was a far cozier nook than the nook by the windows downstairs.

I breathed deeply and settled into the soft paper.

That day, I brought with me crayons and pastels. My fingers smudged arcs around lilacs and apple green flowers. A swift inhale became a blossoming exhale.

My mind also began to wander. I thought about my future. I couldn’t really do anything about Transfiguration… at least not yet. I knew that I needed to practice the theory. I also knew that I had so much to work on how to distinguish the spell work there than in Charms, which was confusedly easier and I had no idea why.

And then I thought back to Severus Snape.

Throughout the first month of working with him, I found that Severus was different. His silence was melodious with mine. We created a steady rhythm in which we would only talk when we needed something or motioned to each other before something was amiss. Yet, his attitude and his very protective reaction to his things and his person… I wondered about that. What happened that made him build such a thick wall around himself like that?

I was also befuddled as to how I would ever get back at Sirius Black’s antics. I wasn’t really one to linger around company like that. Books were just as good looking, but they weren’t as unapproachable as a boy like that. My cheeks flamed at the thought of talking to a drawn version of him. It could help in my approach, but it was just so embarrassing. Who did that anyway? Maybe I could just watch Rebecca to see what she did whenever she was on the rampage for a new boyfriend.

Hm. Did I need a boyfriend?

No. Not ideally, but… what if I scared all the boys away? No. My future profession counted for more than that. I didn’t know what I would do just yet, but I was set on not letting boys stop me from attaining my education.

Once I was done, I waved my wand on it and the wax solution I had gotten for myself three years ago at Hogsmeade. The solution spread evenly across the page and I left it to dry meanwhile I finished reading the current chapter about animating objects.

It was around then that I heard a thud against the bookcases behind me. I turned and saw no one, and I shrugged. A moment later, I glanced around me to take in my surroundings.

The fun part about the library was that the whisper of books returning to their shelves was always there. I watched as they sailed across the huge gap in the middle between the railings and the other walkways. There was also the slight hiss of flipping pages. Everyone was always immersed in a book. I glanced downstairs to the center where many tables were being occupied by some reading on their own and others gathered in groups. There was one where a gaggle of girls surrounded an auburn haired Lily Evans.

Remarkable. They weren’t all Gryffindors. I stared. A Hufflepuff, a Ravenclaw, and a Slytherin?

Another Gryffindor sat beside them. They were all gesticulating and pointing at their open books, which were almost overlapping each other’s pile of textbooks.

Hm. Well, we were all in several multi-housed courses this year and perhaps even next year. Maybe it was a good thing for study groups like that to emerge.

I tentatively touched my drawing and found it dry. Having relieved my stress, I gathered all my things and went back to the tower before going to dinner.

~*~

Everyone was in their individual groups. Some read by the fire or in different armchairs, and others played Gobstones or played with Quidditch through the Ages trading cards. New developments, I guessed. Kit was discussing Quidditch players with a couple of seventh years and fifth years, and Leonel was the head of the Gobstones club. I gleamed over the house board. Nothing new just yet, I supposed.

Upstairs in the dormitory, Rebecca was entertaining Jane Wells with her make-up box.

“Interesting… developments…” I commented as I stepped around Angelique’s bed.

Angelique mumbled behind her pillow and flipped a couple of pages back and forth meanwhile her quill scribbled away.

Rebecca smirked, “It’s the least we can do that doesn’t have to do with revising again.”

It wasn’t a secret that Rebecca didn’t have to revise her essays in order to get full marks. Jane puckered her lips and looked up so Rebecca could apply mascara.

“Well, at least Jane is better preoccupied this way,” Emma commented from her bunk beside mine.

I loved that we both had gotten a spot by the window; we had a nice view over the area where the forbidden forest and the black lake met. A light fog had descended over the treetops and the glen.

“Are you ready to go to dinner, Lady Pommington?” I asked as I pried open my trunk and rearranged my books inside.

“Quite, Lady McGain,” Emma replied, and then she muttered, “Quickly, quickly!”

“See you at dinner, ladies!” Emma cried as we both skirted by Angelique and Rebecca’s stylistic goings-on.

We talked meanwhile we walked.

“How was your day, Miss McGain?” Emma teased.

I sighed, “Please stop that. It’s not funny, you know.”

“But it is rather dashing… and I’m serious. How was your day?” Emma contested, delighted. “What’s happening with you and your partners as of late?”

“Emma!” I didn’t want to indulge her, but that was a step too far in the wrong direction. “Gregory’s great. Sirius could be better. Aaaaaaand Severus is alright.”

“Alriiiight? My goodness, that sounds lovely. What about Patricia Jenkins in Charms?” Emma continued. “I’m surprised you haven’t complained like everyone else has.”

Patricia Jenkins was a very talkative Gryffindor who happened to like filling the silence with things going on in her life and in Witch Weekly… and everything else. Despite being nonsensical, she was entertaining to hear. I didn’t necessarily fact check her because I wasn’t so interested in who had the award for the best smile or who was sporting the newest hair style, but she did sneak in bits of info about what was going on at the Ministry and other things besides. I was glad she didn’t quote the Daily Prophet word for word, but she did go into other sources like the Scribe, a very underground and new wizarding news magazine. My own mum had copies herself, most of them were from the late fifties and sixties, and she was always stating that it was fresh compared to what dad got by owl post.

“She is alright. She does her best,” I answered. By that, I meant that she did pause every now and then to focus, and the girl didn’t lack that much focus like Jane would.

“Two alrights… I wonder about you sometimes,” Emma said with a flip of her short brown hair. “But that’s alright. At least you aren’t like Rebecca.”

I raised my eyebrows at that. Rebecca and Emma had fallen out years ago over the trivial thing of who liked a boy first. The boy in question had been… I tried to remember, but then I guessed it. Jonathan Gray, a boy who had graduated a year ago. I wondered about him. Did he work at the Ministry now? Did he have a job? Was he living with his parents?

Pff. Probably.

We reached the Great Hall and went to our part of the table where Mark was idly eating his fill of scalloped potatoes and roasted chicken.

“Good evening, ladies,” he greeted. “Good day and month thus far?”

“Yes,” I replied, reaching out to carve some roasted chicken breast.

“Of course,” Emma said, biting one of her fingers meanwhile she perused the steamed vegetables. “I’m glad I got a capable few; I mean, even Pettigrew has been alright, as Abby would say.”

I rolled my eyes.

Mark smiled. “Well, that’s all well and good. I’m glad.”

I scooped myself a baked potato and dressed it with cheese and butter.

The rest of the time was spent in silence. I looked over Mark’s spiky hairdo and suddenly clasped eyes with Severus. He glanced at me with appraisal, and I smiled in return.

Perhaps the rest of the month wouldn’t be so bad, I gathered. Some of us were hospitable enough.
All good things, I thought.

Little did I know that all good things have a way of turning around.

~*~
Author’s Note: Yeeeeeyyyy, new developments :D

I hope you guys enjoy this one. I’m going to try to evolve the narrative so you guys get more of a feel for Abigail and her perspective of others (through indirect characterization). I don’t feel that confident about the second chapter I have up… but I might go back to rearrange a couple of things and remove some unnecessary parts.

Thank you for reading and/or reviewing, however :D

Sincerely,
Meli :B

Edit: I decided to change a couple of things around since they seemed too tranquil… especially with Severus.

Chapter 4: Charcoals
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Disclaimer: this universe belongs to J.K. Rowling.

Chapter 4: Charcoals

“Alright, I understand, I think,” Gregory began, clipping away at a couple of branches off our mandrake shrubs. We were taking care of a group of siblings the first week of October before the first years got to handle them. “You don’t like the concept of crepes because they’re too thin, but you like to eat them anyway because they are soft and fluffy.”

“Personally, yes. It’s so self-contradictory, isn’t it?” I wondered. “I always wonder about self-contradictions.”

Gregory grinned, “Aye, so do I.”

I had begun to understand that he was one of those self-contradictions in that he could exist in harmony with the possibility of civil unrest around him. I had discovered, not long into October, how easily Gregory blushed around one cute male Quidditch player, another Hufflepuff, who was also in Herbology with us. I was also glad that I had asked him outside when our class went out to gather herbs because it was too difficult to bring up the subject during class inside Greenhouse 5.

He didn’t give me a yes or a no.

“Whatever it is that you think of me, keep it secret, keep it safe,” he had said. “My life depends on it.”

“I promise not to tell and it’s not like I’ll tell anyone. You’re pretty inconspicuous,” I told him naturally. “Besides, you didn’t tell me if my assumption was based on fact or not.”

“Then let us speak of other things… What’s your favorite color?” Gregory was really good at diverting the topic.

His was maroon and mine was olive green. We chatted on and off like that for a while, and then we were silent when we mixed the fertilizer for the larger pots.

“Alright, despite how easy we get along here, I find it difficult to believe that you trust me enough to ask me for advice,” Gregory said, passing me a spade. “I wonder about your other friends, the two that you are always with outside of class? What would they say?”

We moved onto two Venus flytrap type flowers. Its bulbs had grown out nice, sturdy, thick and tall stems, and new leaves surrounded closed buds, both of them the size of our heads.

“They’d think that I’m too ambitious,” I sighed and shrugged. “And I know, but you opened the gates and the flood came crashing through. Mark and Emma know nothing of our treaty, so rest assured, all is well.”

“Alright,” Gregory countered, “Ambitious in the way of your house, maybe, but it’s alright to fail every once in a while, even with Transfiguration.”

“I guess you might say that since you don’t have to worry about taking the class, but yes, I understand,” I sighed again, downcast.

“Oh, Abigail, don’t be so distraught. There’s always something happening on our house boards. Maybe there might be something helpful now,” he paused for a moment and then continued animatedly, half comforting and half informing me, “Tell you what, I’ve heard about a small inter-house study group that goes into every subject. It’s NEWT level and it preps sixth and seventh years for their exams. There should still be hope out there, ready to be transplanted and nurtured.”

“I will make sure to look into that, then. Thank you for your counsel,” I said, checking the leaves for telltale traces of pollen.

Gregory followed my example and said, “Oh, yes, it’s never a problem for a Hufflepuff to help a friend in need.”

~*~

Emma was waiting for me outside of the greenhouse when class was over, and she glanced skeptically at me and Gregory. I looked at her dubiously.

“What?” I asked.

She replied, affronted, “Oh, I don’t know. You’re talking and working with a Hufflepuff? And the two of you seemed to get along cozily? And I don’t know him?”

Clearly… I had forgotten to introduce them, and I hadn’t really talked to Emma about Gregory since term started.

“I am not interested,” I replied, “and he isn’t either. His name is Gregory Boot, by the way. Gregory, this is Emma Pommington.”

I introduced them and they shook hands. Emma still looked at him curiously, and he glanced at me momentarily.

Alright… I suppose I’ll head out, then. See you next week, Abigail,” he dismissed himself with a wave.

I waved and wished him a great weekend, and then I walked with Emma back into the Entrance Hall.

“He’s agreeable,” Emma commented. “Nothing noticeably remarkable, but agreeable nevertheless. At least now I know where you got your new favorite word from.”

I snorted, “Alright, mum, but please realize that we’re just classmates who aren’t even interested in each other.”

I let my gaze wander.

Everyone was heading to lunch before their next class, and I was tempted to find a place at the table to eat already. Emma and I sat at our table and conferred with Mark, who was nosed into a Charms book.

“What are you up to?” I began.

He looked up and meticulously placed a feather in between those pages, and he explained, “Just putting together my research for the latest assignment for Study of Ancient Runes. We’re to find connections to everyday spells … and that includes tidbits from History of Magic, so you can see why I have several books open to Charms of the age… and so on.”

“Looks… lengthy,” Emma commented, admiring the layout. “How much do you have done? Have you eaten already?”

Mark stacked his books and put away his scroll of parchment, quill, and inkwell. “Yes, I’ve been trying to work out different layouts and that one worked out the best. As for eating food… no. I was waiting on the two of you. How has October gone for each of you thus far?”

Emma stuck out her tongue at him and then sat down to serve herself some slices of baked ham and French bread. “Everyone’s been pretty great except for Pettigrew. I feel like I have to cajole him into doing what he has to do. He’s always distracted from our potions, and I keep wanting to whack him with a scroll of parchment. Do you reckon that it would do any good to give his brain a jumpstart?”

I went for chicken soup and rye bread. “I hardly think that violence would solve the issue. The two of you might need to talk… he might need a bit of reminding before he fails terribly.” I began to wonder why any explosions hadn’t happened yet… and then I remembered that Emma was always ten steps ahead and always careful. She’d make a great mum, I gathered. “How did he get into NEWT level Potions anyway?”

“With a little help from his friends, maybe. There are so many acronyms and tips you can make to remember how to make any kind of potions, but… maybe he does have a knack for it. I’ve never seen him explode anything before, but then… we haven’t really seen him work alone, have we?” Mark suggested, tearing a piece of roast chicken into a hash for a quick sandwich. “Anyway, onto other things… I think that I finally conquered the Patricia problem. There’s this new spell going around, and I don’t know where it started from, but it makes this delicate silencing that isn’t noticeable to the person outside of the silencing bubble. It’s brilliant and I wish I’d known who’d made it so that I could thank him or her. It’s literally saved my life, I tell you.”

“Oh, really?” I raised my eyebrows. “Intriguing. Are you not sure if it’s an older spell that’s just resurfaced?”

“I guess it could be, but it’s still pretty bloody brilliant. It’s allowing me to work without delay in Charms. I can finally think,” Mark said adoringly to his sandwich. “I just love life so much right now.”

“Is he making out with his sandwich?” Emma asked me silently.

I seconded her, “Yes, yes, he is.”

“Ha, in love with life,” Emma chuckled, and then she went back to her own sandwich.

~*~

I glanced sideways at Severus as I crushed the bezoar in the mortar with a pestle. He seemed so taken by checking the temperature of the cauldron and I was very taken by the last time we had talked.

Did I expect an apology? Maybe.

Did I want one now?

Not really, but I was really hoping to see what else he might say. I was suddenly sad that he never said a word in class and that the only way we communicated here was through motions. I paused to check how crushed the bezoar was and then I added four measures of the powder into a separate flacon before moving onto measuring the standard ingredient, whatever that was. Mark, Emma, and me thought it was definitely some kind of dried herb related to basil.

He added them carefully and then lowered the temperature. Then he waved his wand. I backed away a little with the bag of unicorn horns we had set to the side. It wasn’t time for it, but it was good to have the ingredients lined up for when they were needed.

During the thirty-minute wait, we both went into Slughorn’s storeroom and gathered the last of the ingredients. I liked this part. I took the ingredients I wanted to work on and he took his, and then we worked on them until it was time to continue. We paused for a bit there until the potion swirled into a different color.

I added the unicorn horns, and he stirred.

He added the mistletoe berries, and I stirred anti-clockwise.

But then he did something strange.

Instead of waving his wand to finish the potion as it was in the book, he added honeywater, mint sprigs, stewed mandrake, and essence of lavender.

“What do you think you’re doing? That’s not in the book!” I hissed, wanting so badly to slap his hand away.

He sniffed, “Not in the book? Well, isn’t it in the book?” He took the spoon away from me and nudged me to the side.

“That’s the thing. It’s not,” I digressed, but oh, I felt my chest squeeze at the sight of him doing whatever he pleased, regardless of the rules. I pursed my lips and paced back. I swallowed. “It is not going to be my fault if this goes awry, and I’ll make sure to tell Professor Slughorn what you did, down to the last detail. If this potion fails, it’s on you.”

“Tell him,” Severus sneered, “If you are so inclined.”

I gasped for breath and pursed my lips again so that I wouldn’t whine. I hated whining over things like this. I thought that I’d grown up by now. I gathered my wits and stepped up to Slughorn, who was busy gazing at Lily Evans’ primordial healing brew.

“Sir,” I spoke so softly that it was no wonder that no one heard me. I must have squeaked like a mouse right then and there because only then did someone beside me notice and clear his throat.

“Sir, Miss McGain requires your attention,” James Potter spoke up.

I widened my eyes at him and then breathed in deeply to look back at Slughorn who had blinked back at me as if he had just woken up from a very pleasant dream.

“Good, good work, Lily,” Slughorn praised lightly. His eyes were foggy with distraction. “Yes, dear?”

I would have snapped my fingers at him to get him started, but I snapped quite cleanly, I guess, “Mr. Snape has added additional ingredients that weren’t in the recipe for our potion. I had nothing to do with it; it was of his own volition.”

One thing that many students associated with us Ravenclaws was that we had a manner of speech that incremented our use of verbose prose just as we became flustered, upset, or angry. I was so incredibly upset, and so worried, that I was on the verge of crying. My grade shouldn’t reflect my lack of presentation. I was not the creator of a failing potion that someone else had a hand in creating. This was most definitely not my work.

“Oh, dear. I begin to wonder,” Slughorn was suddenly alert. He pressed by me and floated to my workstation like a bubble of soap. “What have you there, young sir? And why have you not worked with your pair in this?”

“We worked together in this,” Severus replied.

I crossed my arms and staggered to the table, watching closely as he waved his wand.

By then, everyone was at my elbows, crowding around to see. Lily Evans stayed at her workstation meanwhile James Potter and his other friend, Remus Lupin, gathered around the others. Emma glanced at me and gaped. I frowned deeply at her and then back at Severus. Mark tried to look in on the scene on the tips of his toes.

For a moment there was nothing. Not a single movement beyond the bubbles of the cauldron…

And then…

The color changed from black to teal.

“Put it in a flacon, if you will. The color may just be different in the cauldron—” Slughorn was just being cautious, I guess.

Severus expertly prepared the flacon and held it up to Slughorn who raised it into the light, sniffed it, and tasted a small drop of it. Slughorn raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Why this is fantastic, young man! Simply fantastic!”

I didn’t hear the rest. I sighed and huffed, and then I walked out of the dungeon.

~*~

“Oh, Abby, dearest,” Emma found me not long after. She carried my books and things with her. “I thought you’d be here.”

I didn’t make it to the alcove by the rail on the second floor, but I did find my place and I barricaded myself with the table by the window. No one could see me if I sat in the corner, cut away from view, I thought. No one would see me cry like this. Not in here.

I had cried until I couldn’t breathe, and I had curled up and fallen asleep by the shelves. I was glad that I wasn’t smacked or thumped by a book yet. I was even more glad that no one had thought to come into my place. I wouldn’t have been able to deal with a headache or a random bystander who probably didn’t want to be disturbed.

“That wasn’t great of him, I know. The show off.” Emma started to burst at the seams, supporting me with equal anger and judgment. “He didn’t deserve recognition for it like that, but… but he did give you credit, you know.”

“What?” I stared at her incredulously. “Are you accusing him or defending him?”

“…both,” Emma replied quietly, half-smiling.

“Both?” I asked, burrowing my eyebrows.

Mark showed up then and he winced when he saw me where I was, still sitting on the floor. “Oh, Abby. Here, I brought this with me just in case. It’s a quick brew, but I think it’s pretty efficient compared to what they give at the Hospital Wing. It doesn’t taste like celery soup.” He handed me a flacon of clear blue liquid.

I took it with a soft, “Thank you, Mark.” It was minty and my throbbing headache disappeared.

“I loathe myself for acting like such a child,” I told them. “I could have just faced it like any of you.”

“Faced? We watched it,” Emma began.

I sucked in air through my teeth when she said that.

“It was remarkable, but it wasn’t that remarkable. He added elements that might only affect the flavor and other side effects…” She raised one hand and lowered the other as if making sense of the situation.

I stared at her incredulously again because her argument was on both sides. But she was right. Severus, or Snape as I decided I would call him from then on, added a couple of variables to the potion that would have only reacted with one portion of the potion related to taste. If anything, he was thinking outside of what we had been taught. Maybe his calling was that of a Potions Master… maybe, but then… I despised the idea of how he was bringing attention to us and our table for something I was not made aware of.

Emma rushed through, “But it doesn’t change that it’s a project that was created by a pair of talented and accomplished students!” She complimented me so easily that I sighed at my lack of optimism, which she had in great supply. “Some of us are more accomplished than others, but the two of you are pretty accomplished. Besides, I’ve seen him get livid before, and it’s no different than what happened today. Heck, I’ve been that livid before, too. So has Mark.”

“Yes… Patricia tends to do that to me, as does Emma, to be honest…” Mark teased Emma lightly, and she blushed.

I sighed and hugged myself before getting up. “I still wish that I hadn’t done that, anyway. I don’t know if I’m ready to show my face down there any time soon. Especially to him.” The idiot.

“I’m not sure I want to do that either, but… it happens… sometimes we can only move onto better things by taking the first step forward…” Emma dillydallied softly, stepping to the side.

I frowned slightly. “But it’s this arrogant boy who is very difficult to work with.”

“Sometimes the best way through… is to just get it over with,” Emma said, smiling slightly at me. “But I have some sort of advice to go with this, alright? First, if he annoys you that badly, then you annoy him back. Second, you can always complain to Slughorn about the partnership; he might even shuffle the whole classroom – which wouldn’t be too bad for me and Peter Pettigrew. Third… you can just deal with it as it is and try to make it better. I’m not a great judge of character most of the time, but… he did give you credit, after all.”

I wondered if she was angry with me or only pretending, but then I thought about the fuss that had happened. From Severus Snape’s five minutes of fame to … well, me running away and leaving my things in the classroom over nothing truly important. He had even given me credit, but he had crossed a boundary.

Was it so bad to ask for a little bit of respect?

“But he’s such an idiot,” I remarked, trying my best not to whine. I frowned at the thought of him getting away with that ridiculous bit of experimentation… but then… was it really experimentation if he was staging it? And what was he staging it for? And why hadn’t he told me anything about it first so that I would have been able to say that I was involved in it?

The action of giving credit where credit was due was only credible when whatever parties involved are actually in it together, and I wanted so very badly to argue the concept because it still bothered me.

Emma sighed and just helped me up. She hugged me once I was on my two feet. “Then let him be an idiot. Maybe the two of you are in this predicament because you’re meant to change that, but… really… you’ve dealt with worse – other Slytherins, Hufflepuffs, Gryffindors, and Ravenclaws who aren’t necessarily the top of their class.”

True… I eyed Emma up and just hugged her back. “Thank you. I guess I’ll try.”

“And the rest of the year awaits. I personally can’t wait for Hallow’s Eve,” Mark added cheerfully.

~*~

Not long after, we had dinner and we went back to the tower. I seemingly ignored the others who were in their everyday stances. Kit with the Quidditch players, Leonel with the Gobstones team… Rebecca, Jane, and Angelique chatting in different social circles…

“What is it, Abby?” Emma asked, lingering by my side.

I had paused in front of the house board and I skimmed over every post.

Free butterbeer, free seat. We meet whenever a meeting is needed.

“I’ll see you two tomorrow. I have to have something written by morning and I’m almost done editing,” Mark commented. “Goodnight, Abby, Emma.”

Silence and good study with housemates of different houses…

“Goodnight, Mark. Best wishes and sweet dreams!” Emma called after him.

I narrowed my eyes on the paper that had the least amount of sentences. It was a mellow shade of yellow, easy to look over… not quite as easy to forget.

We help with all subjects, mainly core classes…

Come join us at the library!

Further still,

Contact Students United House leaders (Lily Evans, Liliana Goodwin, Alea Beck) for any questions or concerns.

~*~

I sent an owl, and I slept. I woke up early, and I showered and dressed. I held my sketchbook under my arm and I brought my charcoals. I treaded deftly into the dark corridors and up… and up to the astronomy tower.

I sat by the stair and the stained glass window, and then I opened it to begin to work. The light of day was placid and the tower was quiet.

I worked slowly, deliberately.

First I lightly rubbed out the outline, and then I implied the softness of his cheeks and the harsh folds of his furrowed eyebrows. Slowly and deliberately, I created the inner workings of his face. I lingered on the hook of his nose, the slight dip of his thin lips, and I lowered his gaze. Light and dark, plus shadows. The last bit of my anger and resentment became the shade of his oily hair.

I heaved a deep breath over this never ending project, and I just left it at that: those black pools of color and the pale light that contrasted and created weight in the space he took.

“Good morning,” she crept up the stairs. “I got your owl. Luckily enough, we’re both early birds, eh?”

“Yes,” I replied, flipping a page and putting away my charcoals. “So… what do you think?”

“Well… we can start soon, but it would be best not to anticipate change to happen right away. Sometimes spell casting calls for a lot more than a couple of exercises in one week… You would have to practice consistently for it to stick,” Lily Evans said, standing down the stairs and looking up at me. “That would have to be up to you.”

The question now was if I would join them in this secret group, and it lingered between us.

“Alright,” I replied, “But I want to help, too. If there’s anything I can do.”

She smiled. “Let’s not worry about that just yet. We’re only just getting started. So… if I may… my name is Lily Evans.”

“And mine is Abigail McGain,” I replied in kind.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

~*~

Author’s Note(s):

So… I guess I dragged out that last bit, but it’s a thing. I’m kind of ridiculously excited about what might happen next. This chapter has less words than the past two… I really hope that the changes will be validated soon…!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to readjusting a couple of things. One is that I totally forgot the names of the girls in the last version of this fic… and I’m rehashing that… as well as a couple of other things.

I hope my OCs are in character. I also hope that Severus Snape, Sirius Black, James Potter, and Lily Evans are in character… Then again… I guess you’ll be the judge of that in the next couple of chapters.

Anywho… anyway…

Thank you for reading and/or reviewing!

I’ll see you guys in another couple of days, yea?

Positive vibes,
~Meli

Chapter 5: Burnishing
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Disclaimer: this universe belongs to J.K. Rowling.

Chapter 5: Burnishing

In November, I was keeping all my assignments in line and I wasn’t falling behind. Not yet. Of course, this was because I included time to practice new spells alongside the time I allotted for my schoolwork. It was difficult because I had to study for my next Astronomy exam and research for the many essays I had left to write for my NEWT classes. If anything, I thought I had the work ethic down.

Sometimes I practiced while I was in the library right before meals, after dinner, and sometimes just before I got ready to go to sleep.

It was a hectic arrangement.

“Hey, Abby, where are you going?” Mark asked after me.

Emma teased after me, “Tsk, tsk! Get your lunch first!”

But sometimes it gave me an adrenaline rush throughout the day.

“I’ll meet you both at the Great Hall; I won’t take long,” I called back and then I ran down the corridor and down the moving staircases to the library.

After Charms, Emma and Mark were on their way to lunch, and I was, again, on my way to the library, intent on making every second count. Everyone became a blur on the way down, but I saw them with complete clarity: James Potter and his friends, namely Sirius.

Sirius had the nerve to swing his seemingly perfect black hair to the side. I wondered suddenly what it would be like to tread my fingers through it. Would it feel like silk thread? I blushed afterward and hid my face with my books. Curse my shyness.

I wondered about it when I arrived at the library. I gasped at my misstep and I tried to avoid collision with the person in front of me.

But when a situation like that happens, I shield myself with my arm, and sometimes the situation doesn’t turn out the way I want it to be: we didn’t stay on our two feet; we toppled to the floor like two fallen towers.

I automatically gathered the other person’s books and handed them over to his or her insistent hand.

“I am so sorry,” I blurted, and looked up through my shock of dirty blond hair. “I didn’t realize—”

This didn’t typically happen.

I saw his hooked nose and surly frown, and I just chucked his books into his hand.

“Oh, never mind, then. It’s you,” I corrected myself.

It came out more bitter than I wanted it to, but it felt good to be bitter. Potions wasn’t as easygoing as it had been in the beginning. Snape failed to follow the book’s instructions, and he meticulously hid whatever new and unexpected ingredients he added to our potion. Away from me. I would go to the storeroom and return to find the potion a different color. I would also balk and glare at him before moving onto the next step in the recipe.

We didn’t talk, but I knew that he was proud of himself and his sudden bursts of fame.

“The apology was just as tolerable, I assure you,” he responded, tucking his books under his arm, but then he surprised me.

He knelt down and picked up my books and gave them to me.

“I apologize as well,” he said, nudging my books softly towards me.

Strange.

“It won’t last long. Just until winter.”

There it is. The reason why he somehow always got to me. My temper became an unknowable blob I had never dealt with until recently. It just wasn’t right, it wasn’t—

I took my books, rose up, and strutted away without looking back.

~*~

November was also the month were I got to know the girls from Students United a little better. They were a creative bunch, and they gave me a place where I wasn’t angry, confused, and bothered by anything.

At first, I had only met the house leaders. There were only three of them: a Hufflepuff, a Slytherin, and a Gryffindor.

Liliana Goodwin, the Hufflepuff, was silly and helpful. I liked her and her free spiritedness, but I also happened to like Alea Beck, the Slytherin, who was more silent and withdrawn. Alea happened to be interested in magical theories in Ancient Runes and Astronomy. She was quiet and observant, if a bit dark and solemn. Yet, the two of them were always sitting together and talking about upcoming events.

Then, there was Lily Evans, the Gryffindor, who happened to have a gift for potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts.

At first, Lily worked with me on my wand waving technique, and then she paired me up with Liliana. Both of them helped me understand similar wand waving and flicking techniques that were used in both Transfiguration and Charms.

“Some of these are confusing because… the rules of each motion change depending on what the spell is meant to do,” Lily explained when she sat down with us to review my progress. “Flicking your wand can enhance a charm, but it could also affect the metamorphosis of a plate becoming a basin.

“Waving your wand, for example, can enhance the transfiguration of items in Transfiguration, but several charms typically require you to wave your wand to levitate items. Notice that we always wave our wands from left to right or right to left in Transfiguration depending on what we want to change and what we want to change back.”

The three of us worked on transfiguring objects by waving our wands, and then we waved our wands again to levitate them. I caught on slowly, but surely.

Not long after, I said my goodbyes and I went to lunch where I sat with Mark and Emma.

“Well, look who’s cheery!” Emma greeted me with a grin. “How did it go?”

“Better,” I replied heartily as I served myself a baked potato and prepared it with butter and mozzarella cheese. “I think I’m finally understanding what it all means.”

~*~

That same week, I wasn’t as terrified to practice spells in class anymore. McGonagall even raised her eyebrows in acknowledgement when she paced by our desks the day we transfigured pin cushions into porcupines. Sirius continued to be oblivious to my progress, and I was glad that he had never looked at me once in the past six years that we had actually been at Hogwarts together.

I would have failed horribly at turning in my assignments on time, and I would have lost so many allowances a couple of years ago. I would have probably spent most of my time admiring his broad chin, his straight and aristocratic nose… and I would have spent hours trying to somehow find a discreet alcove where I could see his fleshy posterior and trim body without being seen.

I wondered why I hadn’t heard of him before, especially that same week when his name started to appear more frequently in the corridors, classrooms, and even the tower and my dormitory.

Was I suddenly not immune anymore?

He was difficult to ignore when he had the keen sense to figure out when to start talking, and he also knew how to break the silence without being strange about it. Or at least I hoped I wasn’t being strange about it, but at the same time, it seemed so normal to be asked questions now.

“So… how is your day going, Miss McGain?” he asked.

I wondered how he continued to concentrate on his pin cushion.

How did his head not turn over like mine at the thought of me running my fingers through his hair and possibly even tracing his lips with my fingertips?

Oh, my goodness, those lips. I loved how they dipped into a slight v and spread out… I longed to figure out how his thicker lower lip felt between my teeth.

Why did he continue to call me Miss McGain?

“Great,” I answered cheerfully. “How’s yours?”

Calm down, Abby! I felt tense and inanimate. Wasn’t I supposed to be transfiguring something here?

“I’m glad to hear that,” Sirius said, swishing his wand to the side.

The pin cushion sprouted a snout and it shook out its needles, which spread out into porcupine needles. It wiggled around and squeaked to life. He chuckled at the sight.

“That’s how I feel about my day,” he told me and he waved a hand at the prancing porcupine. “I can’t see where it’s going, but I’m still happy to be here.”

It was true, his porcupine didn’t have eyes. It was eerie seeing it scamper about on his part of the table. He surrounded it on all three sides of his table and laughed.

“Alright, there, calm down!” Sirius laughed and swished his wand to the left.

The porcupine toppled back onto its little feet and it dwindled back into a red pin cushion with silver studded needles.

I stared like an idiot and let out the laugh that was caught in my chest. What a silly, cute boy, I thought. I caught myself and redirected my attention away from how quickly he had created a solution to his problem. Besides that, it would have been so strange to have him see all of this unnatural behavior on my part. My cheeks were hot and most likely reddened.

“Hmmmmm,” I could hear McGonagall at my shoulder.

My laughter caught in my throat. I tightened my sweaty hand around my wand. I automatically straightened and centered my focus on the pin cushion. It just sat there in the middle of my half of the table. It was red and dimpled with needles. Well, here I go. I waved my wand from my left to the right, all the while thinking the spell.

Alright, transfigure yourself!

Okay, so I tried.

The red cushion tumbled from side to side on the table and the pins lifted out. I was surprised at how it slowly blossomed feet, legs, a snout, eyes, and porcupine needles. I had a sudden urge to pick it up and I did, and—

Awwwwwwwwww!” I squealed, holding it to my chest.

It wiggled and actually breathed. I could feel a hearty heartbeat palpitating quickly against my chest.

Emma turned around at the sound. At first she just stared at me with her wide eyes, but then she grinned and clapped.

I was even more surprised by McGonagall, who gave me an approving nod.

“Well done, Miss McGain,” McGonagall said as she passed by our table.

I gulped and nodded, truly left without a single word to express myself, but I could scarcely believe it. It seemed like everyone was staring, but I didn’t care. I glanced over at Sirius and saw him grinning.

“Bloody hell! Good job. Now just sneak the little fellow into your backpack. I bet she has a hundred stashed away somewhere,” he encouraged me once McGonagall was out of earshot.

I elbowed him in the arm and laughed, “Does it look like I would do that? No.”

I was a rule-abiding Ravenclaw, and I would think that he knew that. I also wondered if that was why he only talked to me here. Was I too uptight? Ah, well. Even if I was more academically oriented, he didn’t really pose as a threat.

He raised his perfect eyebrows and shrugged it off. “Ah, well, suit yourself. A waste of a good opportunity, I’d say. Porcupines can make great familiars.”

They weren’t even on the list of acceptable familiars on the annual school supplies shopping list. I looked at him sidelong and wondered if he was really that big of a troublemaker. I brushed back the porcupine’s needles back and set it on the table.

“Maybe next time,” I said before waving my wand right to left.

The porcupine squeaked one last time before shrinking back into the pin cushion and needles it had been before. I sat down and gathered my books, proud of the hours I had spent.

~*~

That same week after Charms, I went to the library just as before and this time I made sure not to bump into anyone. Thankfully, Snape wasn’t there. He was probably haunting his dungeons, experimenting with his new brewing techniques and whatnot. I frowned at the thought.

“Miss McGain,” I heard suddenly. “What a pleasure it is to see you at this establishment—”

I looked back and saw Sirius Black leaning against one of the wooden beams in the corridor. I wondered if he thought he looked slick with his hair fanning down into his eyes. Was that why he got away with so many things?

I could have stepped into the library so as to not say a word.

Instead, I leaned back on the balls of my feet and I gathered my books against my chest and said, “Hello…”

My throat caught and I forced some words out.

“Mister Black,” I continued, “What brings you to the library?”

I could feel my cheeks heat up.

“I wish to study…” he answered, walking up to me. “Nothing much but that.”

He was quiet as a cat, and just as quick. I looked him up and down… and back up again. Besides his aesthetically pleasing face—oh my goodness, that symmetry and the gray of his eyes—, his chest was broad. I wondered about how broad it was. Did Quidditch build muscles? I could distinctly remember boys from the Ravenclaw team training with Quaffles and Bludgers on the ground before training up in the air on broomsticks. Kit often remarked that it was heavy work on the arms. Of course, he seldom flexed his arms for girls unless he was around his girlfriend.

I blinked and caught a trace of sweat, pine trees, and soap waft as he stepped around me.

“Not to say that I don’t admire your presence,” he said from behind me; I figured he had said it on the sly. “I do intend to study…!”

I turned and drummed my fingers against my books.

“Good to know,” I spoke through the tightness in my throat, holding my books together with my tense arms.

“Well, I suppose I will let you have your peace,” he said, all charm and grace.

“Have a good… Study… Time…” I replied, leaning from side to side.

I wondered why it was so difficult to talk to him. I also wondered when he would leave so I could go to my lessons with the girls on my own. Shoo, shoo, go away!

He bowed, waved, and left, and I took a deep breath to recompose myself.

Should I stop coming to the library?

Perhaps I could still get practice with the girls. Would I ever let a boy stop me from living my own life the way I wanted to? No, I was not going to. I supposed I could get my day over with, and I went anyway.

~*~

I flicked and swished my wand to the right on two different things: a book and a silver goblet. I had no idea where the girls had gotten the goblet from, but it became a silver dusted duckling. The book itself became a paper and leather badger. Liliana gave a little cheer when I turned everything back to what it was.

“That was marvelous! We should tell the others and then… we’ll have to see if you can…” Liliana grew silent as she tapped her chin. She got up from the table we were sitting and I followed her to wherever it was the girls would gather.

I did it! I did it! I felt warm and bubbly on the inside like I had inhaled a portion of the sun. I lingered by another table as Liliana made a beeline to Lily. I traced the wooden grains in the table as I waited, and I sat down, suddenly wanting to create the union of brown, yellow, and green… Perhaps I could burnish it in different layers of yellow, white, and sienna… And then I would etch his face into the color, the silk of his hair, the point of his nose. I could include that in the beginning, though.

“You look like you’re in a daze… are you alright?” Alea asked.

I jumped, and she was in front of me, her ice blue eyes narrowed curiously. I had been staring into her without realizing it.

Before I had been able to reply, Lily and Liliana gathered at the table.

“So…” I started.

Lily smiled brilliantly and finished, “Yes… and we could lay off the practice now… I think you’ve gotten a good grasp on what troubled you before. You’re probably wondering if your stay with us is over…”

I nodded slowly, but then I asked, “What if I have difficulty with other spells later on?”

“Well, I was just about to mention that. You are more than free to visit us at the library, especially when exams come around the corner,” Lily answered.

Liliana added, “Can we also hang out with you, Abby, when we’re not otherwise preoccupied with schoolwork?”

She looked so hopeful. I had actually hoped to just go back to my days of studying, drawing, and napping in the library and going to Emma and Mark whenever I needed verbal stimulation… but this… I took a deep breath. I couldn’t say no, not when I was meeting new people who were actually interested in talking with me. Alea was even inching forward, her eyes narrowed, even as Liliana pursed her lips in that quiet anticipation. Lily only smiled and sat back in her chair.

“Yes, of course. I’ll come by to see you three.” The tightness in my chest vanished.

“Good,” Alea said, smiling with everyone else. “At least now we won’t be appearing in random nooks and crannies just to say hello. Goodness knows that Liliana would have done that today or tomorrow.”

The girls laughed and teased Liliana for being so friendly. I laughed and couldn’t help the happiness that swelled in my chest.

~*~

The rest of the month was filled with exciting days and difficult afternoons. I ignored Snape even when we were doing pretty well as a team. We hardly talked, and I was thankful for that. I only ever thought about doing everything the way it was put in front of me. I had no intentions of failing my sixth year and I was surprised at how willing I was to concede to his edited potions. Our potions took less time to be completed and that only gave me more time to lollygag.

Sirius.

It was difficult to concentrate during my free hours, which were then free because I wasn’t failing so much at being proficient. Sadly, that included my sleep on most nights.

After visiting at the library and having dinner, I couldn’t get my head around why this had happened, and it was frustrating.

There was something about Sirius that I couldn’t set aside: he was talking a lot more to me. I was still his classmate, obviously, but what else was there that he was looking for? Did he want me to do his homework for him? I would never stoop that low, but at the same time… I just couldn’t stop pondering about his actions. Was he just being nice? Did he need someone to talk to if he wasn’t talking to his housemates?

Did he like me?

I sighed and stared at the blue curtains and the bronze eagle pattern that ran across it. Why would he even like me? There were so many other girls from my house who weren’t a social mess like me. Besides that… besides my lacking sociable nature, I had other things to do. I reached for my sketchbook, but I couldn’t be bothered to open it or light up my canopy. My head was in a haze and my arms were too heavy to lift.

Was it too much to have my mind back?

I twisted and turned onto my side. Why did I have to overanalyze the situation? Couldn’t I just go back to focusing on my textbooks and school material? I typically went to sleep thinking about Astronomy and the Arithmancy runes that labeled the constellations, but even that was foolhardy.

What if I counted the stars… would that make this go away?

I let my fingertips caress the silk curtains and I closed my eyes and let my mind wander.

~*~

Author’s Note:

I DID IT. I added more nonsensical stuff to this! Yay! Okay. I’ll be back soon with a new chapter.

Thank yous and ice cream sandwiches,
Meli

Chapter 6: Color Schemes
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Disclaimer: this universe belongs to J.K. Rowling.

Chapter 6: Color Schemes

That night I dreamed about the night sky and his eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever compared them to stars, but maybe they could be… or they could be the silver lined clouds that lingered beneath the moon.

And then McGonagall chased me and said, “I regret to tell you that you have failing marks, Miss McGain. You will have to drop my NEWT class—”

“That’s not true!” I yelled back. “That’s not true!”

“That’s why I want to meet with you next class. You are failing—”

“That’s most certainly. Not! True!

How could I get her to understand?

I had worked so much and for so little?

What a lie that I was failing. What a blatant lie.

I choked, and then I woke up to gasp.

“What in the world,” I hissed and heaved.

It was dark and light was streaming in from between the curtains of the tower windows. I rubbed at my eyes and breathed deeply. I was so glad that I was surrounded by snoring girls. No one was awake to witness how I put all my thoughts in an orderly manner… with the first being to calm down and the second that I wasn’t failing anything in my life just yet. Well, nothing yet except that I failed at having a good night’s sleep.

~*~

That’s how December started. It began with a nightmare that kept me on edge the rest of the day. Of course, there was also breakfast and chatter about how close holidays were and where everyone planned to go.

“Holidays are almost here. I can almost hear the comfortable silence of my room where I won’t have to see or hear any of you again until January,” Emma sighed as she slathered a piece of toast with butter. She showered it with sugar and cinnamon.

Mark laughed from behind his open Arithmancy book. “Blessed are those who get solitude. I get to spend the holidays with my extended family this year.” A piece of parchment levitated over the back cover. “Also, salutations from my mother.”

The letter included a little drawing of Mark’s mother waving to us. Her script waved like a flag beside her, Hello, Abby and Emily! Please come by to have some dumplings!

“She does know that Emma’s name isn’t Emily, right?” I interjected just as Emma glanced at the note.

She laughed. “Typical of Mark’s mother.”

“Yes, very typical. She’s assuming, though, since… you know…” Mark glanced at Emma with a grin and said, “We only refer to you as Em at my house.”

“Em? What’s so bad about two syllable words like Em-Ma?” she wondered before turning to her porridge.

Mark blanched and hid behind his book. “Oh, nothing. That…” he finished softly, “…my fault…”

I raised my eyebrows. Curious.

“Oh, well. I’ll see you two in class,” I said a little too brightly… mainly because Emma had stopped eating her porridge to glance up as if enlightened.

Mark, not aware of what Emma had realized, waved from above his book. “See you later, Abby.”

“Yes, yes, Abby! And you! You only call me by my pet name at your house, don’t you? Why is that?” Emma asked suddenly, waving to me as well.

I wondered then if anything was going to change between them in that instant.

~*~

I was glad that I had nabbed a scone and that I had slathered it with strawberry jam and butter. I was also glad that I had time to study for the next Transfiguration assignment we had next. Another essay! Thank goodness I was too focused (and somewhat nervous) to realize that Sirius, James, and Peter were around the corner. I was too carried away to realize that Sirius had greeted me.

“Hi,” I greeted him back, already on my way to my first class of the day.

Afterward, I wondered if he had cast me an amused glance, but then I thought back to my school things… and I thought back to how droll life had been when my parents had taken away my book allowance… and how I nearly failed to get into McGonagall’s NEWT Transfiguration class.

She was the first person I saw on the way into class.

She merely glimpsed my way and said, “Remember to come to my office after class, Miss McGain.”

I nodded and everything just felt cold all of a sudden.

The rest of the class went by smoothly. Sirius appeared beside me and asked me how my day was going. I replied like it was natural.

“How are you?” he asked.

“Fine in all the senses of the word,” I said, and asked him back before I forgot that people were supposed to do that when holding a conversation, “How are you?”

“I’m quite well, thank you.” His voice was a bit higher than usual.

I concentrated on writing notes for my next essay – one on the history of animal transfiguration – and I just glanced in his direction. He masterfully flipped through his book and dog eared certain pages. He wasn’t writing anything and he most certainly wasn’t keeping up with things like Emma and Mark, who were both marking up their textbooks and writing notes. He glanced over at me momentarily and I froze in place.

I quickly turned and flipped through my book. It was difficult to keep my lips pursed when I really, really thought that I was going to peep. He caught my right hand as I was about to turn the page after a wand waving illustration.

“Can I talk to you after class?” he whispered.

His fingers weren’t even on my skin. They were just millimeters away… tickling the surface.

I choked and cleared my throat, and his hand shifted away, leaving mine suddenly icy cold.

Oh Circe, what do I do?

I spread my fingers and put my hands together. What a time to fidget!

Just say yes, you fool. Say yes.

“Yes, of course, sure,” I replied.

The rest of the class transpired silently, but my stomach was fluttering.

~*~

I had forgotten that I was supposed to go to Professor McGonagall’s office after class if it hadn’t been for her quick and attentive stare. I looked at Sirius who stayed behind, and I did my best to look away from Emma’s gape and Mark’s silent bewilderment. Mark ushered Emma away and they both waved.

“See you in Charms!” Emma called back.

I waved, and then I just stared at Sirius.

Gods above, his hair and eyes and face!

Calm down, calm down, calm down.

I had never stared into his eyes before. The grays swirled together and strands of starlight seemed to peek through.

“Well, I have to talk to McGonagall… so… I’m sorry, um,” I stumbled and broke eye contact.

“I’ll just wait outside,” he replied warmly. “Don’t worry. Go ahead.”

I glanced up, the back of my mind momentarily cold. Oh. “Alright, thank you.” I held back the sudden urge to say I was sorry again… and I just stepped around him to get to McGonagall’s office.

~*~

Professor McGonagal’s office was dark. She followed me in and drew open the curtains.

“Hello, Miss McGain,” she greeted. “Take a seat at your leisure.”

I sat down at one of the two leather chairs in front of her massive oak desk. Once there, I glimpsed at the bookshelves and cabinets that were full of books and baubles. Some of the trinkets hovered and others held flourishing plant life. There was even a golden vine on the desk. I followed it down from right to left and glimpsed buds growing and receding among its leaves. There were glittering red lady bugs on the foliage, and the vine circled the glass inkwell and silver cup where a couple of quills lingered.

“You must be wondering why I requested that you meet me in my office last class,” McGonagall began.

I glanced up at her. She was sitting down behind her desk now, and she had her head slightly cocked to the side. I held my hands on my lap. Well, she looks concerned. For starters, very.

Perhaps her statement was rhetorical because she continued, “First of all, congratulations. Your keen understanding of the subject precedes you.”

Keep calm, keep calm. I bowed my head a little. “Thank you, Professor.”

“How did you improve so quickly? I am not in the habit of asking my students from time to time about the difficulties in this subject, and…” McGonagall glanced up and then continued, “it does come as a great help to provide a feasible solution when a situation like yours arises.”

Yep, like when a student is just a step away from failing.

I took a deep breath and just told her about the girls at the library and all the practicing I was doing in between homework, classes, and meals. I had never spoken at length with a professor before, but that moment was a relief in itself. I remembered it always as the time when my frustrations against McGonagall’s teaching style vanished. She nodded empathetically as I expressed how difficult it was to understand the wand techniques that were so similar to those in Charms, and she smiled when I told her that I hadn’t really focused that much on Transfiguration because of how difficult I thought it was.

“It is absolutely normal for anyone to put something new last… and it is understandable that something different can seem difficult to comprehend,” she said. “Anyhow, I hope you can continue your new regimen as the rest of my NEWT class comes to pass; keep doing well. And thank you, Miss McGain, for this new recommendation.”

I smiled and got up.

“That will be all.” McGonagall wrote a quick note with one of her quills and handed it to me. “And take this with you.”

~*~

I gathered my books and slung my satchel over my shoulder. Who knew that talking with McGonagall would feel so freeing and give me so much confidence? I nearly skipped out the door before I stopped and noticed that Sirius, Sirius Black, was outside glancing down the hall.

“Oh.” I almost teetered back. Go ahead, talk to him. Talk to him now that he’s here! I took a deep breath, and then I looked down at my very black and gleaming black shoes. “You’re here. I’m so sorry about how long that was. She just wanted to know about how I was doing so well in her class. Turns out that not everyone picks the material up so quick.”

Oh, what a gibe that was!

“It’s quite a feat, of course,” he replied, and then went on, “Did she give you a pass?”

“Yes, and oh! I am so foolish! You probably have a class now, don’t you?” I asked, glancing up at him, and oh gods, I looked into his gray washed eyes.

“Actually, I have a study hour at this time. That’s the delightful bit about being a sixth year, isn’t it? Not taking the classes you don’t need for your profession? Merlin, what sort of professions are there when we’re only sixteen?” he joked.

I could have told him that there were many in between Hogwarts and the Ministry. My mother and father had persuaded me that I could become an Unspeakable or at least a Historian at the Ministry’s Records office. Both were excellent places for someone who liked to read a lot—at least that was my parents’ understanding of it. Sadly… they didn’t know that I had other ideas in mind.

Instead, I opted for, “There’s never a better time to begin than today, don’t you think? We’re all getting a head start here at Hogwarts. You can choose whatever subject at this age to learn more about topics we wouldn’t have learned about by ourselves otherwise.”

He hummed and said, “…True.” And then he asked, “Do you have Charms at the moment? Sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing your friend when she mentioned it.”

How very, very honest this boy was being! I nodded and hugged my books tighter. I almost said something, but I just walked off.

“Well, then, I suppose I will walk you after all!” Sirius caught up with my quick steps.

I grinned and blushed all over. “Oh, don’t be so silly. I can walk myself.”

“Honestly, I’d say that it’s a pleasure,” he reassured me.

I didn’t think that it would be possible to bend over my books any more than I already had, but I did. I almost fell into a missing step and then I gave him a side glance. What tempted me to be in his presence more than anything in the world was my anxiously beating heart. Oh, what a mess I am. What a mess, indeed.

The walk up to the tower to Professor Flitwick’s NEWT Charms class, which was on the fifth floor, was lengthy and full of moving staircases.

I paused as they rearranged themselves and Sirius took a deep breath beside me.

“I have been meaning to ask you… for quite a while now,” he started.

“What?” I couldn’t help asking.

He raised his eyebrows and glanced at my books. “Have you drawn anything lately?”

“No, not really. I’m surprised you’re asking! But, erm, lessons, essays, and readings don’t really leave me any time to draw anything,” the words just flowed from my brain to my mouth. Amazingly, they didn’t cease either. “Why the question, anyway?”

“You carry a sketchbook, and it’s a curious book to carry… and I, myself, am quite curious,” he answered.

We took the who more staircases up and then we treaded down the nearest corridor that led to the stairwell that went to the fifth floor.

“How does someone of your society come to know about sketchbooks, though?” I contemplated aloud and almost gasped. YEP, those weren’t thoughts that were supposed to be spoken aloud, but somehow… my mental filter had vanished.

He laughed suddenly. “My society? What are you, a purebred witch?”

“Excuse me, no. I apologize if you were offended by the way I asked,” I said, staring down the hall to the corridor where my class was. “I just happen to cross different groups of people… and we’re all different. Some have more exposure to Muggles than others… as I’m sure you know.”

“What are you exactly? Also, I never thought that I’d talk so much in depth this far into a conversation with someone I barely know.”

Sirius Black, a stranger in a world where everyone knows more about him than he knows about them. Must be bizarre. I laughed. Never would I have never expected to be one of the people to acknowledge that, not in a hundred lifetimes.

“WELL… I myself am a half-blood… fourth or fifth generation. Something like that. Magic runs strong in my family,” I replied as if this was an everyday conversation I would hold with Emma or Mark. Or at least that’s what I was telling myself. This was completely normal. Somehow. “What about you?”

“Pureblood, but who cares about these things? Anyhow, I have a couple of friends who live among Muggles, and these Muggle things are exotic to come across. It’s also pretty wicked that you have such an item yourself,” he said, and then asked, “Aw, are we already done with this conversation? So soon?”

“Quickly done,” I answered and smiled.

I had stopped in front of Flitwick’s classroom door, which was open with a slight smell of something burning.

“Thank you for walking with me,” I bowed my head over my books again, and I wanted to swish in my skirt from all the energy I had from the walk and the medium-sized conversation.

“You are more than welcome! We should talk more on another day. Perhaps next Transfiguration class?” He leaned against the wall on the other side of the door.

I smiled and looked up at him, and then I said, “Yes, why not. Thank you. I guess I’ll see you.”

“I’ll see you. Have a great time with Flitwick.”

I gave a little wave and bowed my head as I stepped into the brightly lit classroom.

~*~

The rest of the day seemed to billow past me, and nothing had been more grand.

“It was hilarious to see Rebecca’s hair catch on fire. Em, did you even see that?” Mark whispered and had a giggle.

Emma tried to keep her face straight. “Oh, you hush. The poor girl’s in the hospital wing trying to grow it back.” She laughed suddenly and covered her mouth. “Oh God, please forgive me.”

I wish I had seen it, but I had missed the sight of it during the first fifteen minutes of class.

“Calm down, you two. The others will tell her and then you’ll be the ones she’ll glare at from now until the day we all graduate,” I reminded them. “And Mark, you promised you would help me with this last week. I need to see if I’m carrying a good argument, and I don’t have anyone else to compare notes with.”

Mark took my sheets of parchment and held them up at arm’s length. “Aha, aha… aha. You’ve got quite a snobby way of getting around Agrippa’s constant.”

I flipped a page of my Magic Theory textbook and marked a couple of useful rune combinations. “Well, I do try my best when it comes to writing about runes.”

They were all easy to draw and easier to make connections to than wand movements that changed things. Then again… I didn’t really think of Magic Theory as anything but an additional motivator for my drawings. There were rune combinations that could make my drawings move. And that was one part of my studies in Charms.

Kit McKelsy rushed by the table and sat down with us. “I’ve got news from the hospital wing! Alice and Frank are back!”

I glanced at Mark and then Emma, who had suddenly looked up from her slice of Victoria sponge cake and her class notes.

“Oh, how great to hear! Good things on the horizon. Has either of them said anything about what ailed them?” Emma wondered as she set down her quill. “I assumed that news would travel faster.”

Kit raised his eyebrows and pointed out, “Aye, news is coming quickly. They’ll also be here after holiday—”

“Do they need to catch up? I have no idea if they’re caught up since it’s almost time for holiday…” Mark pressed.

“Their friends are on it,” Kit answered, and then he turned to Leonel and said, “And yes, Rebecca is alright. Her hair will be good as new. She also said that she’d curse you back where you came from.”

“All of that from the hospital wing?” I asked, holding back laughter in spite of myself.

Leonel blanched and returned to his dinner, and Kit grinned. “Aye. Nothing better than good news today.”

~*~

I don’t think I could ever forget how Snape looked at me the following week. It was like he had seen me grow another head.

The first thing he did was slide me the list of ingredients he needed from the store room, and the second thing he did was insult me after I took a little too long gathering everything. We had switched roles now. He took care to turn whatever was in the cauldron and he checked the time.

“Where were you? Dillydallying with Sirius Black?” he asked. “I thought you were more occupied with things of substance, not off bestowing some inane act of kindness.”

I almost laughed aloud when he sniffed the potion. His long nostrils were masterful at inhaling the whole strand of fumes that rose from the potion he was preparing.

“Well, rumor has it that having you as my partner is one of those inane acts of kindness,” I replied as I began the methodical work of peeling, slicing, measuring, and grinding ingredients. “Anyway, I only took a bit longer because the boomslang skin was at the back of the shelf.”

He took it from me and added it to the cauldron. “I’m sure it takes less time when you don’t spend the whole morning daydreaming.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but then I realized that it wasn’t anything directed towards me. I did not daydream in Potions. Not now or ever.

So I glimpsed at the recipe to move onto the next ingredient.

“What is it to you what I do with my time anyway?” I asked suddenly as I peeled a portion of aloe. “We don’t interact and we most certainly don’t speak or see each other outside of this class.”

I looked up at him and into his inky black eyes.

He turned away instantly and turned the pewter spoon in the cauldron. “It is nothing… Only it’s absurd for someone of your caliber to waste time with him. He will defame you, and you will fall into disrepute.”

He stood silent and kept vigil over his… our cauldron. I stared at the olive green it had become and then I went back to slicing the fleshy and slippery green aloe.

I had nothing to say to him, but I felt that I had to say something… and yet…

“Whatever goes on in my life is none of your business,” I said so quietly that I could almost say that I hadn’t said that. “Even if you think it is.”

He only maintained my eyes for a long moment as he reached out for the aloe. I handed it to him, and then he said, “Then do as you will, but never say I didn’t warn you.”

~*~

I went to the library during my study period and practiced with the girls of Students United. I only transfigured a couple of things before sitting down and finishing my notes for Herbology.

“What’s wrong?” Alea asked, appearing beside me.

Lily and Liliana were a few meters away helping a couple of fifth year students, but Alea had stayed with me to practice with me. She sat down with her legs folded under her and she also carried her own books about Ancient Runes and Magic Theory. It hadn’t been until that year that we realized that we took the same class together on Fridays… or that we had History of Magic on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“I’m not inclined to say… I’m just… I’m confused,” I said, putting down my quill and slouching in my chair. “It’s nothing to do with my course load. It’s just… It’s ridiculous. I can’t even talk about it!”

“Well, I have two ears, and nothing can beat two ears except walls,” Alea replied.

I looked up at her and she smiled nervously at me. “Hey… what can I say? I’m not the talker… I leave that for Liliana to do, and I’m glad for it. The other girls in my house aren’t quite so chatty or intriguing.”

She cast that aside with her hand and said, “Anyway, what’s on your plate? It can’t be more ridiculous than… well, any of my nonsense. Do tell?”

I took a deep breath and glanced at all the flying books that were going from one shelf to another… and then I just decided to tell her.

“I have hated… or despised… disliked? Disliked this boy who I can contemplate as having the largest ego in the whole world! I could pop it to see if there was anything there, but… he does have something there. It’s an intelligence like no other. I wonder at times what it is that he wants to do… what it is that he’s doing it for… and what is it that really flusters me so much about him besides that.” I couldn’t keep myself fixated on Alea’s face to tell her with eye contact. My eyes wandered like my mind wandered.

It was true. There was more to him than met the eye, and I did want to know. And I was confused about that. So terribly confused.

And then…

“On the other hand… there’s this other boy… who is so handsome it almost hurts to look at him. Yes, it almost does. I just get so incredibly wobbly on the inside and on the outside, and he’s funny. Granted, he could be smarter about a couple of things… but he’s so… he’s so…” I sighed and blushed through my monologue. “He’s so unreachable, but still nice, helpful, and so normal. Sometimes I wonder why he even talks to me… and it’s just so nice to talk to him. I’ve never really talked to anyone before. Not even this much! But… Merlin, everything’s so upside down this year. I almost wonder why… why is this happening to me?”

“Oh.” Alea blinked. “Boys.”

“Yes, boys,” I whined. “Why couldn’t it just be classes?”

“…If you look at it like that… You’re a Ravenclaw… it would have to be boys. I myself am confused about boys as well from time to time, but only because I ask myself what they’re useful for,” she replied offhandedly, and I laughed at that.

Mark would have been confused, but he would have asked the same question. There was hardly anything wrong with finding arguments and looking at the different solutions that stemmed from them… or the problems they created in actuality.

“Alas, we are only sixteen… maybe even seventeen, and we’re only coming into a very thin understanding of ourselves and those who surround us. I myself am more than prepared to understand the most academic path to my profession…” Alea continued, and she grinned as she produced a box onto the table. “Sugar quill?”

“Yes, thank you,” I said as I took one and sucked on it. It was lemon flavored.

She took one into her mouth and spoke around it, “But despite our ambitions… I must say that, yes… you are in quite a situation, and it doesn’t sound like you’re at a crossroads just yet. I say… see where it goes with both situations… See what it is that answers those questions inside you.”

I nodded and then she wiggled her dark eyebrows. “See what that handsome boy’s intentions are… and then tell me all about it.”

~*~

A/n:

Yup. This is getting intense, but at least we’re going somewhere. I’m also figuring out what Abby’s timetable would look like. Yes, I’m just making things up as I go, but I’m planning as I write on. I’m also looking back at earlier chapters to get a sense of what to include… and how to keep future chapters coherent… So if you see anything that doesn’t make sense, please feel free to bring it up in a comment.

Ta,
Meli

Postscript:
Whoaaaa, this is the longest chapter I’ve put together! (Or so I think?)

Chapter 7: Impressions
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Disclaimer: this universe belongs to J.K. Rowling.

Chapter 7: Impressions

November became a weighty month filled with practicals and topical essays. I found it to be a breeze, but I halted whenever I had to contend with the upcoming transfiguration practical: to transform some aspect of ourselves out of everyday objects.

“I have not yet specified what your NEWT level project will be, but if you do well in your practical, then you will do well with your project in the next half of this course,” she told us during the last week of the month.

I asked what she meant by transforming an aspect of ourselves, and she answered, “You will display a virtue, principle, or characteristic of your personality or character through the use of transfiguration. The concept is yours to provide. If you feel underprepared, visit Students United in the library; a couple of your peers provide tutoring for this NEWT level course.”

“Good to know,” Sirius said, idly flipping through his Transfiguration textbook. “I suppose that you’ve gone to see them, haven’t you?”

I opened my mouth to reply, and I felt heat rise up my face when I swallowed and answered, “Yes.”

I have nothing to be ashamed about.

“That’s good. Evans talks about her projects all the time, and I only wondered what that was about,” he replied as he sat back in his chair. “Are they any good? I’ve only gone once when she and her friends started it last year, I think.”

“Yes, they are quite good,” I said, making little stars next to Movement and Texture.

Perhaps I could make my project about what I wanted my profession to be. Of course, I was very sure that being a business owner wasn’t part of it, but… I did want to do something amazing for myself, especially with what I had learned so far.

“Do you have any ideas about what you could do for your practical?” I asked in turn.

He whipped back his hair from his face. “Yes. I’m thinking about transfiguring a miniature wolf out of silver.”

I raised my eyebrows at that. Could that have anything to do with his easygoing nature? I wondered if that would be up for discussion, but I knew it could feel intrusive.

“Are you resilient or are you fierce?” I thought aloud, suddenly curious beyond my own reckoning. “What does the wolf represent?”

“Being resilient, I suppose. Overcoming adversity, most surely,” he replied, suddenly catching my eyes as I glanced back at him. His gray eyes held a cloudy sky and I couldn’t look away. “What about yours? What do you have in mind?”

I looked away and said, “Something creative. I’m thinking about making a wooden grove and a river out of everyday objects. I just haven’t figured out what objects… and whether they will be used metaphorically or literally.”

I wanted to ask McGonagall about that since most of our Transfiguration spell casting had been literal.

“I hadn’t thought about that,” Sirius pondered aloud, “That would be interesting to see.”

I smiled and agreed, “Yes, it would be.”

I resolved to ask during class and raised my hand. McGonagall echoed Sirius’ words and she opened the restrictions for it, “It will be open to interpretation so long as you transfigure your vision from something tangible – as I mentioned, everyday objects.”

I nodded and grinned. Open to interpretation was a good thing.

Sirius continued to wait for me after each Transfiguration class. Sometimes we talked for a few minutes and continued in silence, but this time around, we talked from beginning to end.

“We never got to talk about your profession,” he started, and I was glad for it because I didn’t know what we could talk about.

I laughed and then asked, “My profession?” My heart beat faster and I smiled. “I don’t really have one, but I am planning to make my own.”

“How so?” he asked, amused.

We walked up the usual corridor that lead to the moving staircases.

My throat caught. I wanted to tell him that I wanted to start my own business. I wanted to freely say that I wanted to create moving paintings and photographs, and other décor that involved motion. I wanted so very badly to tell someone, tell anyone, what I planned to do with my life.

But I didn’t know if anyone would praise me or tease me for dreaming of doing something different. I didn’t even know how my parents would react. I mean, even my brother, Maurice, had gone out to pursue an athletic career. Quidditch was a career. That in itself was plausible even though I found it annoyingly ridiculous that it was even considered a career when it was a sport.

I felt ill prepared to speak just then. Completely naked and desperate to cover myself completely and say nothing… give no indication as to who I was entirely.

“I am planning it… I haven’t done it yet,” I said instead, “But I really want to do something of my own that is my own.”

He was silent after that, and so was I. Maybe he was waiting for me to explain myself, but I couldn’t.

“I hope that goes well for you, whatever it might be,” he replied, tastefully respectful.

He will defame you, and you will fall into disrepute. Snape’s voice echoed in my head. I shook my head of it. How could Sirius do that if he was keeping his distance meanwhile he was being amiable and kind?

We walked alongside each other all the way to Charms class.

“Wait,” he said, a short walk away from the door.

I glanced toward him, and I waited.

He was so handsome with his slightly opened pink lips and his bobbing Adam’s apple.

He brushed his hair back from his face and said, “I know this may seem too soon to mention, but—”

I blinked and my heart stopped. I felt a sudden chill embrace the back of my head as I waited. I could not say anything or think about anything.

“I really enjoy your company,” he continued. “I hope that we can talk more after our winter holidays are over.”

I nodded and kept my jaw clenched. I didn’t know what I could have said after that.

“Well,” he finished and smiled tiredly. “That was all I wanted to say.”

“I… I appreciate that. I would like that also,” I replied hastily, rocking on the balls of my feet. I held my clammy hands together since I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I patted down my skirt afterward because it was too much.

I think the same of you as well! My elation spread as if a tide of lukewarm water had crashed right over my insides.

He seemed like he was going to say more, and I backed away, suddenly overcome with the self-conscientious fear that maybe I was wasting his time… and I let myself be taken by it.

“Well, I have to go now! I have class, I’m sorry,” I blurted matter-of-factly.

He smiled and nodded. “Yes, yes, true. I have… a study session to get to! Of course, of course.”

I waved and mentioned, “See you at dinner!”

He waved and then we turned to our separate directions. I wondered if he felt as relieved as I did after that.

~*~

“He what?” Emma asked during Charms.

I simply returned to charming a couple of ribbons to revolve around each other. I had to initiate the movement with a little circular turn of my wand after using Wingardium-Leviosa.

“He told me that he appreciates my company,” I told her again, in my own words. “He also seemed so nervous when he said so.”

“I wonder what both of you are getting yourselves into,” Emma said, adjusting her ribbons so that they were all equally vertical and neatly spaced apart. “You don’t even know how a relationship begins—”

I know,” I sighed, suddenly sad at myself for being so young and ill-prepared… unwanted. I kept in mind that I also felt offended. “What I don’t know is if this is going to become a relationship. I doubt that it will be. I actually like staying friends with him.”

I hadn’t daydreamed about kissing him ever since he started talking to me. The thought just jumped out of the window and left me like a blubbering know-nothing in his presence. I wondered how I could have ever thought about kissing him when talking to him was more of a dangerous task.

“Are you even friends? Has that transpired already? How can you even tell with things like that?” Emma wondered. “Actually… don’t answer that. It’s a very gray area until someone says that they just want to be friends.”

Suddenly, I remembered how he was about to say something else before I cut in. Was he going to tell me how he felt?

“That would have been helpful,” I replied as I sat down and watched my floating ribbons.

They were all at a diagonal and somewhat closely spread apart. Everyone’s levitating ribbons reminded me of kites hovering about in the wind. The only thing we were missing was being outside.

Emma agreed with me as she glanced every so often in Mark’s direction. Mark, being the one to focus on his work 95% of the time (the missing 5% being his meals), kept on, completely oblivious to her sudden… dare I call it fawning?

“Have you told him yet?” I said, hoping that I had lowered my voice enough for her to be the only one to hear.

A red tint appeared in her cheeks and she gushed, “Goodness, no. It would be too much for him… too much for me. We’ve been friends for so long that even if I did have feelings, he wouldn’t even see them for what they were. I should tell him, though. I was so close to telling him just the other day… and the day before that… oh, God, it’s so terribly difficult.”

“Surely you’ve been skirting around being direct. Why don’t you just say it?” I apprehended her with a knowing look.

She blanched as soon as she had blushed. “I can’t. I just… I can’t.”

“Alright, then, I’ll leave you to that, and I’ll wait for something to materialize itself with Sirius. Maybe I’ll even ask him to tell me what he’s doing outright,” I said.

It seemed like a good idea in contrast to what was happening with Emma and Mark.

Would Sirius ever tell me what it was he was playing at? Would he think of me as one of those demented twelve-to-thirteen-year-old girls who hovered like priestesses who prayed for the attention of an unconquerable god?

I sincerely hoped for the best.

Emma patted my arm and said, “Alright, you’re on. If you can do that, then I’ll try my best with mine.”

I grinned despite how my left cheek twitched and how my stomach turned.

~*~

In Potions, Slughorn had us all create advanced recipes for the hospital wing. Snape was creating them a degree less quickly than the other potions he had created before, but they were still coming out on time with Lily’s creations. I had an inkling that she was also involved in the same line of research as Snape’s… except that Snape was a bit more forthcoming; he always seemed to be a step ahead.

True to his word, winter brought the end of the whole commotion he had orchestrated with his potion-making. He did, however, continue with smaller improvements. This time he told me what he was going to change and why… and I found it all intriguing and ridiculous.

It was ridiculous because I couldn’t figure out why or how a sixteen-year-old boy was capable of coming up with shortcuts in a subject that was hundreds of years older than us.

And then I figured out the intriguing part of it.

Just as easily as most of us were off studying further into subjects recommended for our respective professions—whatever those might be—there was a great chasm of possibility in the midst of our periods of study. Indeed, there were those of us who studied beyond the surface material of whatever our calling was.

Snape was following his calling and I stood back in awe as he showed me what he had discovered from his research… or at least a portion of it. I hoped it was a portion of it. I shrank back inside of myself, slightly stark in disbelief.

“Please don’t tell me more than is necessary… your findings are yours and yours alone,” I told him once when he was in the habit of telling me why it was less common to excrete liquids from roots than slicing them.

This was standard in our own house. We valued academic honesty like no other house did. If we could help each other study, then good. If someone’s wit excelled in some material or other, they became a tutor (much like the girls in Students United) or they became infamous among us. Sometimes the ambition in itself was too much, but the bottom line was that we did our best not to tread the gray area… the largest gray area known to all of us was revealing our own creations.

If anyone did, it was because it was a declaration that there was a silent pact of trust between both parties. That trust thickened the thin bond of new friendships or budding relationships. Of course, this didn’t apply to lowly gossip. No, this was intellectual property, and we Ravenclaws valued the sanctity of knowledge. To take it a step further, we prized those of us who never used that knowledge for their own gain. If they did the opposite of that, well… they were ostracized for it.

He might have found that rude, but I hoped that he was intelligent enough to know that he was in the right. I also didn’t want to lean in too far into what I considered to be a classmate-to-classmate partnership.

The inter-house unity projects were indefinite, but… would they continue after our sixth year was over?

Would I get to work with him again?

My mind turned. Why would that be so important to consider? If the projects continue, then… we would all be shuffled around again. That thought put my mind to rest. Logic was a good shield, the best one I could protect myself with. I burrowed my eyebrows at how sad I felt at the thought, though.

“Are you done with the lacewings?” he said as he narrowed his eyes suspiciously at me.

I smiled slightly despite myself, finished grinding the dried lacewings, and added the crumbs into a small dish. He took it and sprinkled the crushed lacewings into the cauldron.

All the while, my mind drifted back to what he had explained before. I figured that slicing roots saved more time than taking their liquids the other way around… which would enhance potions in other aspects besides those found in our textbook.

Our textbook. What a time-saving load of hodgepodge.

“Stop staring at the phials, they aren’t going to fill themselves,” he hissed.

I held back the sudden urge to glare at him and glared at the glass phials instead. “I was not staring at anything, much less the phials.”

At least we talked more than usual now.

He laughed.

The sound was like new charcoal splitting onto a blank page. It held the promise of a smooth baritone.

I stopped myself before I went further, and I turned to fill the phials one by one.

~*~

Gregory and I exchanged notes for our current project: how to cultivate a spring of belladonna with monkshood (with supporting theories by known Herbologists who say it is possible).

“We can just place both beside each other and see which one survives without killing the other…?” I asked, eyeing the wide, rectangular pot we were going to use. I switched my spade into my right hand. “I’m just not sure that these plants could learn to live with each other. They’re not sisters… or closely related cousins, you know?”

“True,” he replied. “Technically they’re very… very distant cousins… They could be members of two rivaling houses, almost.”

We stood in silence. My mind automatically drifted to Sev—Snape. Suddenly all I wanted to do was go to my table on the second floor in the library and not see or hear anyone at all. Ohmygoodness, what is wrong with me?

“It’s not likely. They’ll both obscure the other from sunlight… Maybe we need to be less ambitious and just choose something else… Like bowtruckles?” he wondered as he leaned against the table. He probably saw me frown because he said, “There’s nothing wrong with the little guys. They’ll tend the plant and create a home of it. Better yet, the belladonna will protect them too! What do you think?”

“Agh, fine. You’re too good a Hufflepuff to be too ambitious,” I replied, my mouth suddenly too dry.

This had been my idea of a challenge in the least challenging class I had.

He laughed and grabbed a quill to make adjustments on our shared sheet of parchment. “Just you wait! It’s going to get top marks.”

I sighed and threw a couple of oranges at our Venus fly traps of doom. After a month or so, the buds had opened into salivating purses. It was feeding time and one of us had to catch the magical saliva.

“Your turn, Hufflepuff,” I told him. “Go be the seeker you always wanted to be.”

“Just keep the oranges coming and you’ll get a third of the galleons the apothecary gives us,” Gregory joked as he grabbed a bucket and lunged under the green monster of a plant we had.

I laughed and tossed the oranges up into the air before throwing them at the waiting plant. “Why don’t we just switch places? I can’t let you be the only one putting your life in danger!”

Professor Sprout walked up to the archway of the greenhouse and clapped her hands twice, “That’s a good lad, Mister Boot! Keep those oranges coming, Miss McGain!”

She left and I laughed. “That’s it, I’ll do the saliva-catching next time. I want to be called a good lass.”

“Keep the oranges coming; I’m the only one here who deserves Hufflepuff pride in this greenhouse,” he yelled.

I huffed, but he kept the bucket steady.

~*~

Later on that day, just before dinner, I received an owl from Professor Sinistra for NEWT Astronomy.

My dear students,

Classes are canceled until the new year. In spite of this terrible weather and my equally terrible health, I write to you with the stars in mind.


I let out a deep breath. Included in the letter were precise instructions on what assignments were due for class once we returned from holiday. The main assignment was to use our telescopes the day of the winter solstice and to map the major stars. I had no qualms about that since my family didn’t really stay up on the 21st of December, but it was exciting to think about the warm mug of hot cocoa and marshmallows that I would prepare for myself alongside a blanket and a blue flame in a jar just in case the cold was a bit too crisp that night. I took note of the assignment in my class notes and then tucked the letter away. Thus, I was free that Friday after Herbology.

What do I do that night? I wondered. I knew that we all had to go to the train station at Hogsmeade the day after, but the night before… Perhaps I could sleep earlier in order to sleep in? I thought about writing to my parents, but I knew that they would write the day of. I thought about reading and sparing myself the company of others until Christmas arrived, but I couldn’t focus on the page in front of me.

I put away my class planner and I ventured out of the dormitory and down the stairwell. The rest of my housemates were either in the Common Room, in their dormitories, or somewhere else. I ducked from an oncoming paper broomstick and narrowed my eyes to slits down over the rail at the group of second years who were all bent over a broad and leather-bound Charms textbook. They visibly gulped and returned to their huddle around the ankle-thick tome. I instantly grinned and continued down the stairs.

There were familiars creeping over the sofa and the hearth. A tabby cat rested on Emma’s lap, sleeping soundly as she read. I quietly waved in her direction when she yawned and she waved back before succumbing to her book’s pages once more.

I crept out of the tower and made my trek down to the library.

Perhaps there was another way in from the seventh floor? I set aside the thought for another time… maybe once I had a study period. Maybe I could remove Herbology from my timetable during my seventh year? There was so much I could do with understanding plants after this N.E.W.T. course was over… and I could easily research into it. I had enough experience as it was.

Going this way and that, I pranced down the moving staircases. It was all second-thought until I stepped into the silent walls of the library.

I needed a book to read since Nostradamus’ Prophecies only extended so far… I carried on like the Grey Lady, guiding myself so smoothly between the bookcases that I didn’t make a sound.

It was heartwarming to know that there were books written about every little imaginable thing. There were studies by third century scholars who had begun to look deeper into Magic. It was all supplementary reading for Arithmancy and the study of ancient runes. I flipped through the manuscript and set it back into its place in the Historical Archives section (which wasn’t as forbidden as the Forbidden Section, thank Merlin).

I reconsidered the Charms area.

Perhaps I could develop my made-up profession. I could collect ideas and get started? It was so close to the winter holidays, though, but… knowing myself, perhaps my parents wouldn’t mind a thing. I pressed my lips together and took a deep breath.

Yes, I could do it.

I took a couple of books off the shelf and gleaned their contents.

Movement… Flat surfaces… Dimensions… Illusion...

I ended up leaving with three books. I could have left with ten, but there wasn’t enough room in my trunk for extra books. At least in this way I wouldn’t have to worry about my book allowance. I had something to read in case things went awry at home.

Sometimes family reunions were harmonious and sometimes they were hectic. I wondered if I’d have to share my room with Claude and if Maurice would play Quidditch with his practice Quaffle and hoops against the other side of my bedroom wall. I sighed and brushed back my hair.

Maybe I can bear it all if I have something to read and a project to work on. It was a basic supposition of faith I had in myself.

One thing about daily life at home was that I had to share space with my parents and seclude myself with my books until I could see my friends the week before school started again. I had two weeks to go par to par with Claude and the rest of our extended family. That included our grandparents and a couple of aunts and uncles… and some cousins. Of course, that depended on whether or not we were hosting Christmas dinner at our house. It was highly likely that we would, but it was always nice to be open to the realm of possibility.

Maybe this time Aunt Glenda had decided to invite us to her home in the magical wilderness of Norway where she created her handmade magical instruments. Maybe Uncle Bartholomew wanted everyone to enjoy Egypt for a couple of weeks just because it would be too cold for him to be with us in England.

A shuffle of parchment brought me back to the library where I was standing by the window and staring out at the Black Lake and where it entered the Forbidden Forest. I glanced behind me at the tables and their lamps. Only about two students were there on the first floor in the aisle between the Charms section and the Historical Archives. One was a studious fourth year and the other was a stunning Sirius Black, lounging back in his chair like he was there to nap not to read.

I stood by him in an instant.

“Hello there,” I said, a smile already pulling at the corner of my mouth.

“What the—” He jerked upright, suddenly pale.

I sat down in front of him and held my three books on my lap. “What brings you here?” I arched an eyebrow.

He calmed down just as quickly and his coloring returned to its slightly peachy tan.

“Nothing…” he started.

I raised my eyebrows as if to say… Are you sure about that?

“Bloody hell, well, yes, I decided to come here to enjoy the peace and quiet. Pardon me if that’s all too unbelievable—” he went on, his emotions flitting on his face from calm to anxious, and to calm again.

I grinned, “It isn’t unbelievable, but it would be a great help to get some kind of context—”

“My, my…” he said, and then he slumped back in his chair. “Your curiosity has no boundaries, does it?”

“It does… I practice its boundaries every day because a Ravenclaw can’t know everything. Sometimes we have to leave bits and pieces so that the problem can solve itself in a timely manner. This works for all of us, even those of us who want to talk first and not define what it is that we are later.”

“You little Ravenclaw!” he said as he sat up and stared me right in the eyes with a playful squint to his very gray eyes. “You want to know what we are?”

I breathed in deeply through my nose, and then I figured why not?

“Yes, it would help get a lot of displeased young women to stop surveilling me at all hours…” I explained as I gave the room a sweep.

True enough, there were a couple of younger girls sitting at a table a couple of seats down and they hid their faces behind their copy of the Daily Prophet.

I looked back at Sirius and continued, “So, what do you say?”

He paused for a moment and I swore that his eyes glanced down before he began again, “Would that be enough to get them off your trail?”

“I believe so, yes,” I answered.

My heart thudded so hard beneath my sternum. I wondered if I was going to faint if it went any faster. I also just couldn’t help to sit at the edge of my seat from the anticipation. He was finally going to tell me! My hands and feet became damp and sticky, and I tried to sit back as my stomach twisted and turned.

He leaned forward and wet his lips slightly, and I swore that I lost the air in my lungs for just a moment.

He glanced at the girls and then he told me, “I regret to inform you that we are friends.”

I bit my lip to avoid gaping, even as his lips became that sweet smile I had seen on the train to Hogwarts. I withheld myself, the portion that had become so easily consumed in a daydream, as I stared into his glinting gray eyes.

“Is that all there is to it, then?” I asked, suddenly comfortably unaware of the girls sitting far behind us.

He furrowed his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

“Friendship,” I replied, calm beyond reckoning.

I felt utterly safe and withdrawn at the same time. Empty and a fool. It also seemed that I wasn’t even there… like I had become a ghost that was sitting beside me. I had suddenly stepped into an alternate universe.

What was this love for his features if not only his features? What was this love of his self if only for the idea of who he was? Was it love at all? What was love?

It was too confusing for me to understand why it was that I no longer wished to know how he kissed or how he felt. It just felt wrong all of a sudden. My stomach ached and my eyes were so incredibly heavy in my face. I could feel the weight of my tears like a river against a dam.

There was nothing to do but admire him from afar, and that would be enough for me. I mean, it had to be. I wasn’t a demented girl to think that I could force him to be something he wasn’t — what was he even?

I needed time to understand what I thought and why I had thought it that way.

Just finish this as quickly as you’re able to.

“If you mean the sudden interest… yes.” he replied, also suddenly forgetful of his secret fan club. “To be honest…” He looked away suddenly and sighed. “I just really don’t want to be in a relationship right now. I could pretend to be as lovesick as Romeo, to be in love with the next girl with substance, but… this heart, this heart of mine—” I could have never imagined him to be such a prima donna, but now I did as he pressed his palm to his chest. “It needs time. I need time.”

Yes, we both did, but who was she who had taken that certainty away from him?

I couldn’t help but feel annoyed by the thought of this girl who I didn’t know a thing about.

He glanced at me again, his eyes suddenly saddened. I nodded, a meek young girl, a nobody, who was there to only listen and to understand. There was so much I did not understand, but I was glad that the bits and pieces had come together in a concise manner.

“It’s rare to meet someone who listens without inflicting judgment. Especially a girl who understands these things, these emotions,” he continued. “I hadn’t understood what it was that they were until just recently.” He paused again and he asked, “Have you ever been in love, Abigail?”

I covered my mouth as I thought to ponder about it, but I answered anyway, “Oh, I’m sorry, no.”

Love was a mystery to me. No one had ever gotten this close, and that didn’t count Mark and Emma. Perhaps that was what Sirius had just revealed to me. I didn’t know what love was.

For all I knew, he had been a crush that evaporated just as quickly as the truth materialized itself.

Or maybe somewhere deep down inside of myself, I knew that I would never attain someone like him… even if I was this close.

“I hope you find it and that it does not hurt you… and that you are careful to tend it before it tears your heart out,” he began an unfinished story on a broken record just like that.

I went back to my dormitory after we had talked. I glanced at Emma and I told her everything as quietly and as calmly as I could.

Was there anything more devastating in the world than losing the impression of something I had imagined, and then seeing it become so false in reality? The thought of him, so sublime and sweet, had easily crumpled like paper and left a bitter aftertaste.

I hugged her for what seemed like forever, and then we went to sleep in our own beds and I cried into my pillow. I knew what I had lost, but I had no way of knowing what it was that I had gained.

~*~

A/n:

I got in too deep… Maybe this might have been too much. I went to a coffeehouse today and I added a little more to this xD I think I have an idea on where to go from here, and there will be parts of the older version incorporated into this failed romance. I think I might’ve just killed the mood, but she is sixteen… going on seventeen. :) Things can only get better from here.

Yayyy… life.

Apologies and cookies,
Meli

Chapter 8: Collages
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Disclaimer: the Harry Potter universe belongs to J.K. Rowling. I just write in it for fun :)

Chapter 8: Collages

There was more to life than this.

My notion of time had become a blur.

But, of course, I knew that it was the day we would be going to Hogsmeade station, but I felt like I couldn’t get up from bed without thinking about it. Sirius, Remus, and James seemed to twitter and tweet in circles over my head. Lily and Alea joined the flock, and then my parents made an entrance.

By tradition, it wasn’t until the last day before holidays that my parents would send me a letter by owl. My parents were used to carrying on without a word from me, but, being parents, they sent a little piece of home every now and then. This term was exceptionally different with how mum had sent me a knitted scarf, hat, and mittens throughout the last week before I would get to see her. I sat up in bed and delayed my early morning routine by fifteen minutes.

First I let in the owl and I read the letter that sported my dad’s side-to-side, quill-and-ink scrawl.

Dearest Abigail,

We will be waiting for you at Kings Cross, as per always. Dress warmly; the forecast says there’ll be snow. Your mother is very insistent that you wear what she made you. Her sabbatical is near its end and she will be going abroad soon. We were going to tell you as soon as we would meet up at the station, but you know how I am—better to know ahead of time than in the nick of it! Or as you know, before it’s too late.


I smiled. Dad was somehow still forgetful despite his way of taking notes for everything.

Anyhow, the larger-than-ever-before-news… your brother and sister will be home for the holidays! Since our party will be small and merry (yes, even with five), we always have two more seats available at the table! Please extend our invitation of merrier celebrations to your friends, Emma and Mark. If they say no, also tell them that we send our greetings and hugs. That is… unless we see them at the station, where your mother will only repeat what I’ve just written.

And you know how redundant we are in the best and worst of times.

Anyhow, dear child of mine, what have you to say about Hogwarts thus far?

Send a quick word. Your poor father is still practicing salutations to an empty portkey office…

Really, the holiday rush will only just begin at the last minute.

Love and a thousand hugs,
Your dear old dad


Merlin, he was too good for the Portkey office… or maybe he fit just right.

I scribbled something quickly and tied it to the Ministry owl before opening my window to let it out.

Dad,

You do realize that this is last minute?

(And that I will see you in six hours henceforth?)

I love you dearly (please send some of my love to mum),
Abigail


And with that, filled with a bit of sunshine, I started my routine and headed down for breakfast.

~*~

I paused at the top of the last moving staircase and took a deep breath.

I can do this.

I met Mark and Emma at our part of the table and I took an even deeper breath as everyone arrived to eat.

Sirius called to me, and I waved to him and his friends with a reluctant smile. My hunger shriveled at the bottom of my stomach as I turned around and stared at my friends and the array of breakfast food. Emma held out her hand to me. I held her fingers and gave them a gentle squeeze. There was nothing more helpful than her solidarity.

I did glance at the girls from Students United, though, and some glanced at me. Liliana waved hysterically from her group of Hufflepuff friends and Lily smiled and winked from beside her friends in Gryffindor house. I glanced down at the Slytherin table and found Alea scribbling on a small mountain of parchment, too lost in symbols of logic to notice me.

Part of me had wanted to go and sit beside her so that I could tell her everything that had happened, but this was just a simple, small problem compared to her assignments. I would talk to her after we got back from our winter holidays… when it would be easier to talk to her.

I pondered this even as Emma slid over a plate of honeyed chicken and greens.

“It will be alright,” she said as she served me another goblet of pumpkin juice.

I gave her a small nod and then I tried to shroud part of my face with my shoulder-length hair. What to do, what to do? I pieced apart my chicken and stabbed pieces of kale and spinach together with my fork. I could start on my Charms project? I could work on my proofs for Arithmancy? What could I work on?

I stripped away some bits of chicken. My birthday was around the corner, too.

“Why so lackluster?” Mark asked over his Ancient Runes textbook. “What happened?”

Emma and I glanced at each other.

She raised her eyebrows as she mouthed, “What do I say?”

I slashed my hand through the air as I mouthed back, “Nothing.”

Mark flipped a page and hummed, “Hm… No, really, what happened? You two are rarely this quiet, especially when we have absolutely nothing due.”

“We’ve just been working on our own assignments… like we usually do…” Emma began as she tore apart her piece of baguette, an attempt to be tediously nonchalant. “How are your own assignments?”

He proceeded to list his duties, “Talk to the other Prefects, pack my trunk, and get on the train. Oh, I also got a new copy of the Gongsun Longzi by owl post this morning! I’m planning on making my Transfiguration piece into something related to that.”

I raised an eyebrow as he set the book on top of his textbooks. Its leather cover was pressed with gold ink, and the binding… the title changed every ten seconds from Chinese characters to English lettering.

“I love his paradoxes,” Mark went on, and Emma nodded empathically.

I found it funny when she looked down and then looked back up at him as if she wasn’t sure if he was truly there. When would she ask him out?

I grabbed a roll from a basket by Leo and Kit, and then I glanced up and down the table to submerge myself into the world around me. It had been a while since I had created anything, but something inside me stirred at the thought of pushing out how lifeless I felt. In some way… it seemed that my classmates existed and I didn’t.

Rebecca kept glaring down the table at Leo. Kit caught a makeshift Quaffle and tossed it back to his mates further down the table where the Seventh Years were.

“So, Abby, I was thinking that we could go to Fortescue’s in Diagon Alley,” Emma said, taking me completely out of my reverie. I looked at her expectantly and she raised her fine eyebrows at me. “Maybe after Boxing Day?”

I clasped my hands together on my lap and leaned forward. “Sure. You know, what? I’m going to lie down for a bit before we go. I’ll see you both on the way down?”

Mark nodded as he went back to his Ancient Runes textbook.

Emma shot me a concerned glance and patted my hand as I got up to leave.

~*~

Lying down, I thought about being on the train and being back home. I felt the weight of the unread books I’d brought for myself, and I felt the drag of time as I hauled myself down all the moving staircases and out the Entrance Hall doors with Emma and Mark. We got on the horseless carriages and then we got off by the station. I got onto the train with them and we sat in silence in our own compartment for the first part of the hour.

“So…” Mark started, and we both turned to look at him.

He seemed at ease with his closed book and notes. “My Mum sent an owl asking if you were all going to the Chinese New Year festival with us?”

“Isn’t Chinese New Year during next term?” Emma said, closing her book onto her lap.

I looked up from my myriad of crosshatching. I hadn’t quite yet made up what I was drawing, but the negative and positive space were too spread apart for them to convey any particular form. What was I making? A mess? A mess of lines in the center of the page. A waste of paper? I decided to start hatching the profile of someone I had memorized over the past few months.

“It is during term, but part of the student body is going to go to Hogsmeade for the festival,” Mark answered. “It’s not that broad; I know it’s a rather small festival, but I just wanted to know if you two would go, is all. What with… it being something different to do besides being indoors.”

I burrowed my eyebrows at that as I finished the outline. Maybe I could paint the outside white?

“I’ll go. Yes, if only to see what that’s like. I did wonder about the Asian student body that would take part in it, but I didn’t think that it would be anything big or major. Yes, it is major! Leaving the grounds to celebrate it somewhere else? Actually, are you sure that it’s going to be at Hogsmeade? What if they just do it at Hogwarts? Have you talked to them?” Emma asked.

I set my quill and notebook on my trunk, and then I lied down.

“Yes, yes, of course, I have. I’m part of the group,” Mark said, sounding sheepish about something so proximate to himself. “We ran it by Dumbledore the last time we met and he’s said that it’s okay.”

Emma patted my knee. “Will you be going, Abby?”

I hummed my agreement and I closed my eyes.

Just four or five more hours of this and I’d be home in no time.

I decided to take a nap, and time just happened to fly by then.

Flickers of short dreams presented themselves. In one, I was floating in the abyss of an ocean, and I was surrounded by midnight blue water. In another, the water became someone’s eyes. The blackest of black, bottomless. My lips parted and I swore I could kiss that tantalizing mystery so deeply that—

I woke up to the sound of the train trotting on the tracks and the sliding of the compartment door.

“Sweets?” the elderly lady with the trolly opened her repertoire of hard candy and chocolates.

I rubbed at the sleep in my eyes and sat up. Emma stood up with her coin purse and chose a variety from the cart. This included chocolate frogs and cauldron cakes. I yawned and got my coin purse as well and I rummaged for a couple of knuts and sickles.

“Do you have any caramel truffles?” I asked.

The lady bent down and looked at her levels of boxes and cellophane-wrapped treats. “Yes, I do. A couple of bags, though.”

It turned out that there were five truffles in each, so I bought two bags. We all shared for the next hour, and we returned to our silent corners.

I gathered my sketchbook, quill, and ink. I carefully set the latter between Emma and me, and then I ripped out the page. The sound tore into their silence so much that Mark and Emma only glanced, but I knew that they could have glared at me if they wanted to. I looked down and I felt the paper. It was smooth and thick. Good paper.

I took the lower left corner and tore it upwards. Again, I felt Emma and Mark’s eyes on my hands as I created a river of ridges and mountains around the silhouette I had so mindlessly crisscrossed and pockmarked. Once I was done, I dipped my fingers into my inkwell and started rubbing them on a new sheet of paper. Then I took my quill, let it soak in the well for a few minutes, and then I prodded the paper in quick bursts. I created small splatters that way, and then I drew lines. Thick lines bloomed as I wiggled them around as if making a blobby web without anything to hold it all together. And then I tipped the ink well and let a few drops dribble onto the page. I held still and held the corners of the pages up so that the ink wouldn’t run right off.

I glanced around for something that could soak it all back up since the paper obviously couldn’t, but I didn’t find anything. Why not tip it back into the well? I did so, and it was done.

The paper wilted and wrinkled with a few impressions that I had made with my quill. I looked back at the silhouette and I thought about how it would go together. There could be some layers beneath it that could add volume. I could easily crop a few out at home and then I would assemble it accordingly.

Yes, that would be perfect. I waited for the ink to dry and then I put in the silhouette and the scraps I had torn out, and I turned the page. I stared at my inky fingertips and sat against the wall of the compartment.

I breathed.

A soft inhale and a gradual, long exhale.

The weight inside me seemed to have lifted away a little.

I breathed until it felt like it was enough.

Emma looked up and met my eyes. I smiled and she gave me a motherly sigh of relief before returning to her book.

I looked back at my sketchbook and everything just felt good again, if at least for a moment.

~*~

The train arrived at King’s Cross Station not too long thereafter.

I hugged Emma and Mark as soon as saw my parents. Well, I thought dad would’ve been there since I saw mum.

Instead of dad, Claude stood alongside her. She was so tall. I used to marvel at her long legs, which I knew she’d inherited from dad’s side of the family. I was average and slightly short like mum. Mum who was rosy cheeked and mellowed out with her knitted sweater, black coat, and crisscross-patterned pants. Her damp hair smelled like vanilla and freesias. She hugged me and then held me at arm’s length.

“Dad couldn’t make it. He’s still authenticating portkeys. He said he’d be home by nine at the pace they’re going, though,” mum said as she looked me up and down. “Now, how have you been? We asked you to send an owl or two this time around. And where is your hat? Your scarf? Where are your mittens?”

“I know, but I couldn’t help it,” I said, and then thought about the past four months, “I got sidetracked with a lot of assignments and practicals. My hat, scarf, and mittens are in the trunk.”

“Goodness, you could get a cold in this weather,” she hissed. Her concern lingered like a paint-loaded paintbrush. Her gaze could have gone right through me. “Well, alright, then. We’ll have to catch up with each other once we’re home, then.”

Her eyes lingered on my hands and she sucked a tooth at that. Claude merely laughed and pinched my cheek.

“My, my, dearest sister. Did you break an inkwell in the train or something? What were you making this time?” she went on like it was nothing. “Maury will be home in a couple of days. He says he’s going back to Brussels after Boxing Day. The team’s expecting a friendly game before the actual match. Exciting.”

I rubbed my cheek. “You don’t say. Well, that sounds good.”

“Yes, and ye gods, your trunk’s heavier than a load of boulders!” Claude complained as she rolled it back against the barrier. “Did you pack the whole library again? Mum, she’s always packing the whole library and she never reads it all.”

“You know how your sister is, and we talked about this in the car on the way here. No complaining this Christmas. This year we are aiming for peace and unity,” mum countered.

We walked into the Muggle world and then walked out toward Claude’s very periwinkle Volkswagen Beetle, where she opened the boot in the front to put my trunk in.

“It’ll be a miracle if this even makes it all the way to the house and back after holidays are done,” Claude went on. “Seriously, it’s downright heavy!”

I rolled my eyes and sighed. Of course, it was; what did she expect?

“Was your trip any more eventful than my trunk?” I asked as we got into the car.

I was glad to see my knitted blanket in the back seat. I caught Mum’s eyes in the rearview mirror and we smiled at each other.

“It was quite good. Anthony asked for my hand in matrimony and I said yes. The wedding will be in about a year, after my apprenticeship is over,” Claude said, turning the key in the ignition.

The little Beetle rumbled to life. She looked back at me as she took the car out of park.

“It will be a summer wedding. And I expect to see you there, a Hogwarts graduate…” she trailed off as she concentrated on getting back into line with traffic.

I nestled into my blanket and curled up behind Claude’s seat. “I will be, don’t worry.”

The thought of reading my Transfiguration and Charms books niggled at the back of my mind, and my heart budded at the idea of putting pieces together and making something new out of them.

My profession.

My life.

Myself.

~*~

Home took a while to get to. We were a couple of hours into arriving in Aylesbury, a town not too far off from London. We passed down the high street where all the shops were and then we narrowed into our neighborhood and onto Little Orchards where our house lay in between the many identical packed semi-detached homes.

It was broad for a start and it had a trick door for what was supposed to be the entrance of the other half of the house. It led to an ordinary brick wall, but it showed the illusion of the mirror image of our home. Dad had placed the illusion and Mum had placed the memory charm on the door that caused many curious visitors to suddenly lose interest in living beside us.

The matter became a kind of joke between both of my parents; they occasionally liked to tell stories of our elusive neighbor who happened to vacation in Majorca for many years at a time. Both of my parents also wished that they had whatever job he (or she) had to be on holiday whenever they pleased.

The few Muggle friends who had stayed over never asked about the size of our home – which was double the size of any single semi-detached home in the neighborhood – and I supposed it was because my parents kept a disillusionment charm on the half that wasn’t supposed to be there.

“How is Anthony anyway?” I asked.

Claude hauled my trunk up to the door where mum fiddled with her keys, out of habit, into their respective locks.

“He’s fantastic,” she said, cutting short my idea of a long and intriguing conversation. “He just bounced back into his work. You should see it when you’re in London during holiday. He’s put up a gallery in Diagon Alley. It’s positively riveting.”

Anthony was Claude’s artist friend (turned boyfriend, now turned fiancé) who had been a fellow Ravenclaw. He created what Muggles would call post-modern art. Wizards and Witches in the Wizarding World thought that his pieces were rather interesting than the usual moving portraits that were customarily made a la Renaissance… or the innovative moving photograph portraits that were steadily becoming the norm.

I merely smiled as we stepped into the house. Claude levitated my trunk up the stairs and I followed just as mum turned on the telly in the lounge. I looked over the sofas and the rug by the hearth, and I smiled when I caught sight of Camille, our Persian cat, and Renard, our cream-colored Labrador, napping alongside each other.

Then we entered my room, which was plenty spacious and located at the end of the hall. I was intrigued to see that her bed was back on the left side alongside her violin case, music stand, and open suitcase.

“Getting comfortable?” I wondered.

She stretched as she settled my trunk at the end of my mahogany bed. “Yes, yes. I’m only staying until New Year’s Day, though. Don’t mind me afterward. I’ll be with Anthony by then.”

“Well, you’re quick,” I murmured as I let my knit blanket trail along my ankles.

I took off my shoes, lied down on my bed, and sighed from deep within my chest… It was as if all the air had fallen out of me, and I felt cocooned and protected from all the evils of the outside world. I was far away from my teenage troubles. Of course, it helped that my duvet felt like the softest of fluff.

I was back with my book-filled bookcases and the smell of freshly sharpened pencils… and I fell asleep.

~*~

Not long after dad arrived, everyone met together in the dining room. I set the table and fed Camille and Renard, and Claude helped mum bring in the food.

“Thank goodness we are well and whole, and thank goodness we have food at the table and work waiting tomorrow,” mum always said grace. “Thank you, Lord; amen.”

“Amen,” we all concluded.

We dug into the platters of scalloped potatoes, roasted chicken and asparagus, and butter-sautéed peas and carrots. Dad got a dinner roll from the basket at the table and proceeded to trim the chicken.

“So, I expected a little more this year than a hello,” he started, his tone aimed directly at me, but I noticed Claude shift in her chair.

“There was just so much to be done,” she started.

I closed my mouth and served myself some scalloped potatoes with melty provolone cheese.

“Well, I never,” Dad said, worried and a tad concerned. “Although, I did expect it from you, Claude, but not our dearest Abigail.”

Claude raised her eyebrows at this and then went on to take the sliced chicken breast dad was offering her. I took my piece in silence all the while looking at the vapor rising from the platters on the table.

“I will write more in the spring; I promise,” I said, more quietly than I intended.

Mum and dad shared a glance and then she looked over at us. “It’s for your safety. There’s just been so much going on these days. It’s difficult to be on top of things with you both so far away. We already talked to Maury, and he sends us owls every other fortnight.”

“He sends photographs of the team, too… We talked about not taking a camera up so high on his broom, but my boy loves living on the edge,” dad added, this time readying his napkin and cutting into the food on his plate.

“I think we get the point, dad; write more, write often,” Claude interjected and raised her eyebrows again.

After the commotion, the rest of dinner went by in silence.

Claude collected the dishes and I helped mum put away the leftovers. Dad tossed the tablecloth and napkins into the washer.

“Dad… I’m going to need access to the roof on the twenty-first of this month… Do you think that there’s a way to get up there without using magic?” I asked him before he escaped to the den.

He grinned, “Yeah, there’s a way. I could show your right now, if you like?”

“That would be amazing!” I replied, and then he led the way.

~*~

The second floor sported a hidden trapdoor that only appeared with a knock on the wall. Dad said that it was a bit of old magic that came with the house.

“You have to be patient and courteous. I discovered this thing by mistake, you see, when Maury and his friends weren’t in his room or in the house like he said he would be… You know, when they snuck out?” Dad asked.

I nodded, partially in the know about the concert the boys had slipped out to see. I also remember seeing dad keeled over from the ladder that had appeared in the doorway.

“Well, the stairs slide down… as I discovered on that fateful evening,” he went on. This time he motioned to the ladder, which aligned to become a spiral staircase. “Anyway, tally ho, up we go.”

We went up the staircase and into the dark attic.

Dusty boxes upon boxes were stacked there alongside the impartial windows that were on the opposing sides of the T-shaped landing. Dad held his hand out for me on the last step and then led me to a string of cobwebs that hung from the slanted roof.

The cobwebs fell away when he tugged on it. A click sounded and a rectangular piece of the roof slid down flat with two steps.

“This is the landing,” he said as he stepped onto it.

I followed him onto the metal sliding of our roof, both uncertain and in awe. The sky was open wide and starlit. Clouds lingered in between like mist.

“I’m not sure about what it does… I haven’t been completely sure that I wouldn’t fall of the house…” Dad hopped on the landing, and I stepped back and held onto his hand so tightly my hand was white.

“Dad! DON’T DO THAT!” I scolded, “How can you say that when we’re up here?”

“How couldn’t I? There’ll be moments like this when you can’t be completely certain and you have to see what it’s like, and that’s life. Alright? That’s your tip of the day, young lady,” he scolded back, but less scolding, more soft and comprehensive. “It’s the reason why your mum and I are together.”

I gaped at how ridiculous that connection was – to put it briefly: I could have died. Then I pouted and thought about how I didn’t understand that yet. I was also taken by how much I ridiculously wanted to understand what it felt like to love someone like they loved each other.

“Now, can I please keep my hand before I’m left without one?” he asked, still talking softly.

I sighed and let go.

“Thank goodness,” he sighed, clenching and unclenching his hand back to life. “Well, my dear, you have free reign over this dominion. I shall be in the den and I hope that you get this back the way it was, because your mum would kill me if she found any traces of rain in here.”

“Alright, that sounds fair. Thank you,” I said as he made his way out. “How do I close it back up?”

“Pull the string again, but make sure you aren’t on the ceiling when that happens,” he said on his way down the staircase. “Your mum would never forgive me if something ever happened to you.”

Of course, I knew that. I smiled, sat down, and stayed on the roof for a while. All thoughts of the past drifted back to this present moment. Maybe I could enjoy some hot chocolate here. Maybe I would be alright on my own.

~*~

A/n:

Wow, this is long. I am going to edit it down.

Feel free to tell me if you liked or didn’t like this chapter. Also… what would you like to see next?

Thank you and cupcakes,
Meli

Chapter 9: Parchment
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Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling is the sole owner of the Harry Potter Universe. I just write in it for fun.

Chapter 9: Parchment

I spent the rest of the week in different places. I made it a morning routine to draw whatever an idea came to mind. I treaded downstairs, with Renard on my ankles, as I went to make breakfast before anyone woke up. I set up my easel in the attic alongside my telescope and star map; I worked when I had nothing better to think of. I even sat up and listened when Claude lingered in our room just before dinner. It was the best time to reconnect after spending a year apart.

“How is your apprenticeship, then? We never really write to each other about it… less speak about it,” I started, both curious and wanting some human interaction.

Claude glanced up at me from where she lied down on her bed, eagle-spread. She was so strange despite her otherwise “normal” attributes.

“It’s been alright… I mean, writing spells and their properties is the least fun it could possibly be, but the conjuring part is what I look forward to the most. I’ll be making my own spells next year if my mentor thinks I’m up for it,” she informed me, and then paused in question, “Oh, that’s right… I haven’t told you about that. Michel Lachance, my mentor, is going to test my knowledge of the material before letting me advance to writing my own incantations.”

“That sounds reasonable,” I replied, thinking about my calculations for Study of Ancient Runes. “You do have to know the principles before you write them.”

Claude looked up at the ceiling and clenched her hands into fists. “Yes, but it’s taking so long. I already took Study of Ancient Runes and Arithmancy at Hogwarts. You would think that the N.E.W.T.s, especially with my scores, would show how much knowledge I already have. It’s not like I’m going back in after a couple of years. I have some sort of experience in writing spells and knowing what makes them what they are.”

“Experience and knowledge are two very different things…” I told her as I took out my sketchbook and flipped back to my unfinished collage. I ran my fingertips over the bumps and ridges on the etching of my face. “It’s better to make sure you have the principles right before you delve right into spellmaking, especially if you’re expected to start from scratch.”

Claude sighed and relaxed her shoulders into her bed. “I guess you’re right.”

“I’m your most witty and brilliant sister, to be sure,” I replied in kind as I looked for some kind of adhesive. “Your only witty and brilliant sister.”

“Pff, you give yourself your own accolades, don’t you?” she joked back, and I smiled.

“Yes, yes, I am great and grand, after all,” I said seriously before laughing a little.

“You great and grand narcissist!”

We had our chats for a while.

I finished the collage of myself and I went on to do other things. I wanted to paint the night sky in the attic. I asked dad if I could do it. He said that I would have to clean it up first. Chores weren’t at the top of my list, but they weren’t a difficult thing to do. Or at least that’s what I tried to believe when I started taking out spider webs with the feather duster.

Maurice was supposed to come home at the end of the week (yep, right after my birthday… on the 18th of December), and we were all very excited about it. Well, everyone but Claude. She was the calmer one. I couldn’t wait to see him and see what wisdom he would impart upon us. I was also interested in seeing any changes that might have occurred over the past year.

The day of, Renard paced around the front door in anticipation. Mum followed in his steps, but each circuit she made was to check the clock in the lounge.

It was funny seeing the two of them from the lounge, where the rest of us waited as patiently as we could.

Perhaps it was because Maurice hadn’t written his choice of transportation.

Camille lounged on my lap. I smoothed back her very fluffy white fur as I glanced up at the clock above the fireplace.

Maurice’s grin looked at me from his very tan complexion and his messy shoulder-length brown hair. His place in the makeshift clock shifted from Abroad to Home in an instant. The whole house was quiet until there was a knock at the door.

Renard barked his head off, and mum nearly tripped on her way to the door. Dad followed in her stead.

“Careful, dear!” my dad warned.

“I’m being as careful as I can be, Richard!” she hushed.

“Oh, honey, darling, dear!” she cooed when the door clicked open.

Maurice let out a booming laugh, “Oh mein Gott, Mum! Renard!”

Renard growled and huffed and woofed. I gingerly lifted Camille from my lap and held her fluffy body in my arms. Claude got up and followed me into the entryway.

“Abby! Claude!” Maurice cried out.

He was hugging everyone, even Renard… Renard who kept licking his face. I laughed at the sight. Silly, silly Renard, I wanted to say.

“Hello to you, too. Where’s your stuff?” I asked. “And where’s my hug?”

~*~

It turned out that Maurice hadn’t brought anything new except the black Quidditch duffle bag that he slung across his back.

“I brought a couple of jerseys… keychains, sweaters… the works,” he answered up in his room. Renard sat on his lap and panted like he’d never had water in his life. “Good birthday presents, right?”

Claude filled Renard’s upstairs dish, which was in Maurice’s room, with water just in case. I smiled at her eyeroll. Camille meowed and pawed at my arms as I sat down beside Maurice. Claude picked up his desk chair and brought it over in front of us.

She sat up straight and joined her hands on her lap, and then she inquired, “So, what good tidings do you bring?”

“You’re so funny, Claude,” he replied, this time zipping open his duffel bag and taking out several pieces of clothing and plastic emblazoned with the team’s colors: black, orange, and gold, like the German flag. “I brought a couple of jerseys with my number on the back… I also brought you the other popular favorites…”

Claude hummed at this and sat back. “Nope. You forget that I like the Holyhead Harpies more.”

“Really? You can’t even take my jersey, then? I thought family supported each other?” Maurice pouted like he used to pout when he had been 10.

Claude inspected her nails. “Nope.”

“Well, fine, then. What about you, Abby?” he turned to ask me.

I glanced at the mass of silken shirts. “Alright, I’ll take one of your jerseys. It’s better than the broomstick you gave me a couple of years ago.”

It was bigger than what I typically wore, but I figured that it would either win its value (my brother wasn’t a bad Quidditch player) and I thought about wearing it as a night gown or something. The broomstick, on the other hand… I blinked at the memory. I had been fourteen and ridiculously terrified of getting on a broom.

“Well, that’s one… and several to go,” Maury contemplated, slightly downcast. “I suppose I could pack some away as presents for our other family members. And let’s not bring up the broomstick. It never happened.”

Long story in a nutshell: I got on it after tons of insisting, it went higher than it was supposed to… it malfunctioned and I was stuck 60 feet in the air for about fifteen minutes until Maurice got me down. He had insisted that there had been nothing wrong with the broom, and I had insisted that I would never play Quidditch. Not in a million years, not then, and most definitely not now.

“They won’t be coming for Christmas this year, though. Actually, I find it rather strange that no one is hosting this December,” Claude remarked. She got up, reached into the bag, and took out a silver keychain. “You can owl a few, I guess.”

“Aw, what a terrible time to have merchandise,” Maury said, ruffling Renard’s ears. Renard barked and started licking at Maury’s arm. Maury hugged Renard and rubbed his tummy. “Silly, boy, what a very silly boy you are, Renny. Missed me, did you?”

“Maybe I can sell a couple to one of my Quidditch-crazed classmates,” I mused, thinking about Kit and his friends at school. “I’m sure that they’d appreciate it a bit more than Uncle Bartholomew.”

“I’d say a whole lot more. Egypt’s too hot for cloth like this,” Claude explained as she sat on the bed. She lifted one of the jerseys up into the air to get a good luck at it. “Yes, really, it’s a tad heavy.” She handed it to me so that I could see what she meant.

“Aye, I can attest to that. I wear mine in the field on the regular… all seven of them,” Maury said, his words directed towards Renard who was happily coasting on his master’s affections. “Let us hope that others enjoy them as much as I do… because I most certainly do not want to take them back with me!”

~*~

After much needed time with my siblings, I retreated to my room and left Maury and Claude talk about their lives together. Camille clawed at my arm and then padded away when I let her go. There was only so much I could do so that she wouldn’t get fed up with me.

I leaned against my door after I closed it behind me. The stillness of my room made my skin vibrate. My stomach twisted at the sight of my trunk and I thought of escaping this line of thought with another line of thought that would lead me to the attic where I had already started a mural. I took a deep breath and pushed myself forward.

There was only so much I could do to get over my hesitation.

I was scared. My hands trembled.

This was something I had to do.

I really do have to do this.

My Transfiguration grade depended on it. My future self would find solace in my findings… whatever they happened to be. I had so much to look forward to – even if my research proved to be fruitless. It was better to get started than to wait until the last minute.

I opened my trunk and rested my hands on the fabric cover of the first book. I spread my fingers around its sides, and after a deep breath, I began to unpack the books I got from the Hogwarts library.

~*~

Camille clawed at the door. The rasp could be heard from where I lied down on my bed with my books piled against my elbows. I tapped my quill into the ink carefully and delicately scraped it on the lip of the inkwell.

My notes went on for a good two feet.

I tipped the feather of my quill onto my lip and waited. Inspiration was at work, and everything was at the tip of my tongue. Each thought became a manacle that latched onto another.

I had divided the parchment into two halves just by running a line down the middle. One side was for Transfiguration and the other was for my career. Each strip held the possibilities of my fate, one more short-term and the other more long-term. I had written down what I liked to do, what I wanted to do… and then I wrote down a variety of charms and incantations.

What could help me convey my need for knowledge? A book? Water? I thought of creating a fountain of knowledge… of words. I wanted a charm that could animate words in a flat surface. Would it be in three dimensions? Could it stay two-dimensional? What were the constraints?

I wanted to paint, I wanted to draw, I wanted to create something imaginative… I wanted to expand on this concept. Perhaps it could be like a moving portrait?

I sucked on my teeth as I looked through two different charms textbooks. One was from the first great awakening, and the other was from a couple of years ago. There were several charms to animate inanimate objects, and some that delved deeper. I wondered if it would be classified as dark magic to replicate a person into a book. I wondered why this book wasn’t in the forbidden section.

The hours passed by like treacle syrup.

By the time I was done taking notes from four of the five books I had brought, it was already dinner time, and Camille had long left my door alone. I wondered how far the claw marks went.

I blinked at the dim lighting of my room. I must have lit one of the lamps when the sunset had faded to night. The streetlamps lit the street in a hazy orange and our back garden was shrouded in darkness and gentle white light from our windows. I rubbed at my eyes and yawned. My stomach growled.

“Dinner’s ready. Mum says to wash your hands,” Claude told me when she opened the door and popped her head in. She was holding Camille in her arms. Aw, the poor thing.

She glanced at my array of parchment, ink, and books. She probably thought that my hair looked terrible piled up on top of my head like a fountain held up with a drawing pencil.

“I suppose I’ll see you downstairs…” she drawled as she slipped back into the hall – out of sight and out of mind.

After stowing away my books and placing my notes underneath my lighter reading on my side table, I took to the washroom on the second floor and stared at myself in the mirror. I hadn’t realized how dark the shadows under my eyes had gotten, nor had I noticed how lanky my face was.

“Gee, I thought I was eating… properly,” I mumbled.

I washed my hands, dried them, and then I drew down my eyelids and stuck my tongue out at myself. Ridiculous, positively ridiculous. What could I do to become less like a corpse?

Eat?

I joined everyone downstairs and partook in the meal with the hearty resolution to be more aware of myself in the future… even if that might be difficult when my concentration is taken away by more precarious circumstances.

“Are you alright, dear? You were awfully quiet up there. Maury and Claude have been rather rowdy since Maury took out his practice gear,” dad mentioned, adjusting his napkin around the neck of his button-down shirt.

“I was just doing a bit of work, is all,” I told him. “What did these two get up to, then?”

“They played Quidditch for a good half hour… until Claude tackled your brother,” mum filled me in.

Apparently Maury, with his boyish charm, had gone on to introduce Claude to a “friendly” game of Quidditch in the stairwell. She hadn’t taken to being thrown a quaffle – at her head – very kindly, and so… the two ensued a game very much like the games they had played when they had been much younger. Probably a game I couldn’t remember because I had been big enough to be in a crib and not old enough to record and contemplate my siblings’ rowdiness.

“Don’t do it again,” Claude reminded Maury again.

Maury laughed and tied his hair back. “Not a chance. That was the most fun we’ve had since last Christmas, and you might have to get used to it since we won’t have any cousins over this year.”

He was the most energetic and child-friendly one of us, so he attracted our younger cousins like a magnet. They would all play Quidditch during family reunions – sometimes in the back garden under a disillusionment charm… or in Maury’s room with his practice hoops.

“Really, dear sister of mine. I’m very sure that your reflexes need the exercise, what with you spending so much time on runes and equations,” Maury continued to tease her.

I simply ate my broccoli and cucumber salad and broiled fish.

Today had been a grandiose day. I only thought about putting my ideas into being. Maybe I could surprise myself this time. I didn’t even think about McGonagall’s reaction.

~*~

Winter solstice came around the corner, and I got prepared.

“What are you up to?” Maurice asked.

He was shooting bone-shaped doggy treats over to Renard in the kitchen. A forgotten bowl of cereal lingered at the table meanwhile Renard waited in the middle by the countertop island, snout raised and wide open.

I paused at the sight, and went along, very dubiously, to the closet pantry. “Nothing, just getting prepared for tonight.”

“What’s happening tonight?” Maury wondered.

I heard a crunch and ridiculous panting, and I figured that Renard had caught another doggy treat. “Are you playing Quidditch with Renard?”

“Renny loves it. I happen to prefer it next to total boredom myself… What are you doing tonight, though? You keep going around my questions. Are you ignoring me on purpose?” he asked.

“I’m just finishing an assignment for Astronomy. We’re supposed to write a journal and map out our star charts based on what we see today from our homes. I’ve got everything set up… I just wanted to make some treats for the night,” I explained.

Crunch, crunch.

“Good boy!” Maury exclaimed. “Who’s a good boy? You are, you are a very good boy.”

I had no doubt that Renard was wagging his tail like mad.

“What treats are you making? And didn’t you think to invite me?” Maury interjected meanwhile I gathered some chocolate chip biscuits, marshmallows, and hot chocolate mix from the pantry.

I spread out my tidings on the countertop by the stovetop and prepped the kettle.

“Hmm… hot chocolate and biscuits? I want some too,” Maurice whined. “Take me with you, wherever it is that you are going.”

I glanced down at where he was, lying down on the floor with Renard lying down on Maury’s stomach, sad and pouty-like.

I frowned slightly as I got the water going. “I don’t know… You don’t make it easy to get much work done…”

Maury pouted and Renard grumbled – if it was possible for a dog to grumble, yes, Renard grumbled like a disgruntled child. The two of them looked up at me like I had abandoned them.

“Please take us with you?” Maury held his joined hands up at me. A plea for inclusion.

The water boiled.

“Fine,” I said, glancing at the box of hot chocolate mix. “I’ll take you with me if you clean up your cereal and if you help me take up two mugs of hot chocolate… and if you take the biscuits with you.”

A moment of silence passed.

I took two mugs down from the cupboard and filled them with water and hot chocolate mix. I swirled them and checked the flavor. Goodness, it was good. The molten chocolate fell on my tongue like sweet froth.

“Hm?” I hummed down in question.

Maurice sat up and crouched back onto his feet. “Alright. I’m going.”

The three of us went up to the attic. Maurice seemed in awe at the very blue attic.

“I did not know that your influence would reach these heights,” he said, too fancy-like – very much like when we would pretend to be fancy-like and proper – to make it seem like what I was doing was ridiculous. He sounded amazed, really. “Did dad show you how to get up here?”

“Yep,” I replied and held onto the silver strand connected to the ceiling. “Just wait until you see this, though.”

“See what exactly? Oh, my,” he sounded almost like mum when he said that. “We have one of these? How didn’t I know about this?”

“Dad probably has a couple of events in mind that stopped him from showing you,” I replied, and Maury looked so confused for a moment until he put both events together and nodded.

“What? Oh… right, true. I can see where he’d come from with that in mind. Anyway,” he turned and walked onto the step and held Renard on his lap. “What are you up to?”

I handed him the blanket I had stored upstairs and then I walked around him to set up my telescope and my star map.

“Well, just this weird thing called Astronomy… the study of the stars and galaxies… Very cosmological, I guess you could say,” I explained as I sat down beside him.

Maury nodded slowly, his gaze confused even if he was accessing the telescope and the star map I had brought along with me.

“Okay, so… maybe try this. Yes, go ahead. Put your eye here on the lens… yes, that’s okay,” I helped guide him to look down into the telescope.

“Wow, this is so unreal,” he said, and then he gasped.

Renard toiled in the blanket like a toddler rolling around in some new sheets. I was instantly reminded of the time when my parents had gotten him as a very tiny puppy. He would often get lost in the house…

I smiled at my brother’s interest, though, and his willingness to do something different. “I like what you’re doing. This is so freaking brilliant, Abby.”

“I know, right? The equations are ridiculous, but the sight of it all out there… it’s enough to not feel so insignificant. It’s enough to feel like we’re part of something… something bigger,” I murmured.

We sipped our hot chocolate and I fed Renard a couple of doggy treats for staying on the landing. The rest of the night went by alright. I didn’t think that I would ever share this much time with Maurice of all people, but maybe that was one of the things I’d cherish the most in the future. I didn’t know that things would be changing again, but I knew that I’d be glad for it… just as glad as I was being there.

~*~

A/n:

I feel so hyperactive with Maurice. I’m trying to flesh him out as we go along. I figure that this chapter might be a bit short in comparison with the other chapters that came up beforehand… but such is life, right?

I’m probably going to write a little more often now that my finals are over.

The next chapter will have a bit of Severus and a bit of Marauder action in there… somehow.

Anyway, I hope this has been pretty simple and relatable. I’m taking inspiration from my own siblings. 2 girls, 1 boy combo is pretty interesting to work with, I find. Hehehe, I’m excited to see how much I can adjust for the next chapter…

Good tidings and apple pie,
Meli

Chapter 10: Collaborations
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Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling is the sole owner of the Harry Potter Universe. I just write in it for fun.

Chapter 10: Collaborations

That same week, we started our day-by-day tradition of setting up the tree and decorating the space around it. I vacuumed, Claude and Maury brought down the Christmas Decoration boxes from the attic, and mum baked two batches of Christmas biscuits (one with chocolate chips, and the other with ginger, cinnamon, and sugar).

We all sat in the lounge together after the boxes were stacked by the telly.

“That should be it,” Maury sighed as he sat back into the sofa by the fireplace. Renard barked and jumped up on top of his lap. “I’m done.”

“Same,” Claude echoed; she stretched out her back and sat on the other sofa.

I sat at the loveseat between them with my sketchbook opened on my lap. “Good to know. What else is next? Are we getting the tree tomorrow?”

“Yes, I think that would be best,” mum said, entering the lounge. “I do need a couple of volunteers, however…”

Claude and Maury looked away, both suddenly preoccupied with the boxes. This left me in the open, I who was sitting on the loveseat and minding my own business.

“Abby, dearest—” mum started.

I looked away from my siblings and stared down at my sketchbook. There was no way out of this, so what other choice did I have?

“Say no more.” I finished for her, “I’ll go.”

Maybe it would be fun?

~*~

The following day, I got up early to make breakfast. I made a couple of maple syrup shortbread doggy treats and set them into Renard’s bowl. All the while, I thought about the future.

In the past week, I had revised my list and set aside the items I would use for my Transfiguration practical. I had also set aside all the books I had gotten from the Hogwarts library. I was already done researching and discovering aspects of my profession, but I wanted to give myself some time before getting into my first moveable painting. My mind was still drawn to other things like Sirius and the nice things I felt when I thought about love.

What was love? When would I be caught up in love? Why couldn’t I hold it in my hands?

The bacon sizzled on the pan and the pancakes began to smoke. I blinked and grasped the metal spatula to flip them. The pancakes were a toasty brown; I sighed with relief.

I set the table with a jar of orange juice, a couple of cups, plates, cutlery, and napkins. I added a small maple syrup dispenser, a tub of butter, and a jar of raspberry marmalade. I set up the coffee machine and let it brew. Soon, the kitchen smelled like Colombian coffee beans.

Then, I propped up one of my books on the wooden book stand we had in the kitchen, and I sat down to eat.

It didn’t take long for everyone to come down. Dad popped in, gave me a one-armed hug, and proceeded to serve himself a cup of coffee and a couple of pancakes. Just then, there was a peck at the kitchen window. He let the owl in, took his copy of the Prophet and slipped a couple of coins into its little purse, and then he closed the window after its departure.

We sat in silence.

Claude came down with mum, and then Maurice came in through the den. Mum turned on the wireless and set it on the jazz station.

“Please set some aside for me, Abby; I don’t know if Claude’ll eat them all again,” he mentioned when he passed me on his way upstairs.

Claude scoffed, “What? I did not eat all of the pancakes before!”

Dad kissed mum on the cheek on his way to leave his dishes in the sink, and he kissed her on the forehead on his way out of the house.

“I love you all. Make sure the tree’s a good one,” he said.

“Don’t worry, dear, it’s always the best one there,” mum replied; she raised her eyebrows and went on to sip her coffee.

Claude yawned and cut into her pancakes. Camille meowed on her lap.

Not long after, we set our dishes in the sink and mum waved her wand to the brush, the soap, and the faucet, and the dishes started washing themselves.

“Thank you, dear, for the lovely breakfast.” Mum kissed me on the cheek, and then she turned to Claude. “Where are the keys to your beetle?”

Claude took her wand and swished it. The keys sashayed downstairs and into the kitchen. She caught them and gave them to mum.

“Have fun, you two… We’ll be here to set up the tree when you get back!” Claude smiled her widest smile.

I sighed and waved on my way out. “Thanks; don’t fight too much meanwhile we’re gone.”

Maurice, who was on the stairs with a towel on his hair, laughed and waved goodbye as well. “Don’t worry. I always win the war.”

Mum kissed them both on the cheek before leaving. And then we were on our way.

We took Claude’s car and drove out of town. Mum drummed her fingers on the steering wheel and turned on the wireless. Christmas music began to play. It was a Muggle station, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer played as we drove past the identical houses and their identical gardens, and then we passed our concrete town. I skimmed its very green parks and the golden wheat fields that began beyond the town limits. The sky was cloudy and white.

“There will be snow soon… and it’ll stick and pile up,” mum mentioned.

I nodded and lied back onto the passenger’s seat. “Yeah.”

Mum wasn’t the kind of person to indulge in silence like Dad was. She liked to fill the silence with questions or random thoughts and observations. Sometimes she proved to be too good of an observer. In fact, in that moment, she eyed me from where she sat.

“So… what did you do this autumn?” she began.

I sucked in a deep breath and glanced at her and then back at the road in front of us. Where would I begin? Would I be able to tell her everything except for the whole fiasco with Sirius?

“Er… it’s all been very much the same… Charms, Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, and Astronomy have turned out alright. Herbology has been pleasant… and Potions has been excellent,” I mustered out everything I had done.

Snape appeared at the forefront of my mind. What would it be like to talk to him again after the holidays were over? Could we become friends?

I looked out at the field from my window and buried my eyebrows. What would he have to say about that, anyway? Even if I did feel something for him? I sighed and sunk into the passenger’s seat. Who could know or even care if I did feel anything for him? He never appreciated a second of my time.

Mum dug further. “What about Transfiguration?”

My mind turned at that, and I relaxed into the other moments of my daily life at Hogwarts.

“Oh, that’s gone alright. I met a couple of tutors,” I answered this straight away and that time I thought about Lily, Liliana, and Alea.

“Mhm,” mum hummed. It was as if she had asked, And who might they be?

“There’s Lily, a Gryffindor, Liliana, a Hufflepuff, and Alea, a Slytherin—” I went on.

She gasped. “Oh my, all the houses?”

“Yes, all the houses,” I confirmed.

“How very interesting,” she said and smiled. “So, you met them, and then?”

I told her how well I was doing in Transfiguration. I also mentioned how great the girls had been in helping me… That portion of term was the easiest to get off my chest. Sirius was something else altogether. He was at the forefront of my mind, but Sev—Snape was also lurking beneath the surface… like a pillar, a very dark and protective pillar.

“I knew that you would do great, my dear, you always do,” mum said, glancing off to the right side of the left side of the road.

I turned and saw a field of pine trees and a low wooden fence that separated the field from the roadside. Ah, reality.

“We’re here,” she said. “Are you ready to pick the best Christmas tree?”

~*~

The couple who ran the tree farm rendered us nearly sheepish when they led us to the last of the trees they had. It was almost Christmas, so there weren’t many trees left; there were five that remained, and most of them were too thin, sparse, and almost as short as my mother and me. And then there was the fifth one.

“Oh, we love this one; how much will it be?” Mum only had to look at it once before she took out her clutch and turned to the couple.

I ran my fingers over the pine needles from one branch to the next, and I just found the fifth one stunning. It towered over me by about a meter, and the trunk of it was shrouded with branches, so many branches. It was also the most vibrant evergreen.

Mum paid for it and the couple helped us take it back to Claude’s car. We hauled it onto the roof and tied it up. Then we waved and made our way back home.

~*~

Back home, the smell of hot cocoa permeated in the front hall. Well, the smell of hot cocoa and fresh pine mingled together when Claude and Maury helped set up the tree.

Claude lost her breath. “It’s so beautiful!”

Maury grunted and said, “You can admire it after you help me.”

Claude sniffed and picked up the rear of the tree.

Once it was in its stand in the corner of the lounge, we all lingered by the coffee table and admired its branches. It was the living rendition of O Christmas Tree.

“God, it’s beautiful,” mum sighed, somehow echoing Claude, who was also mesmerized by its presence in the room.

Maury walked over to the box of decorations and started taking out the beaded garlands, the ornaments, and the wreaths.

“Alright, then, let’s get this done before dad gets home,” he said, keeping the garlands away from Renard.

Soon there was a wreath on the front door and garlands on the walls with bits of holly. The tree was decked with lights and ornaments. The embroidered skirt was around the tree stand, and it was done.

I raised my eyebrows at Claude and Maury high fiving each other.

“We just need to add the presents tomorrow, and then we’ll be ready for Christmas Day,” mum rejoiced.

~*~

The next morning, I quietly tip-toed out of my room with my satchel under my arm, so that I wouldn’t wake Claude, who was snoring softly in her bed. It was funny seeing Camille curled up in her armpit; I could only imagine how Claude’s surprise would materialize when she’d wake up.

Going down the stairs, I lingered at the corner where the stairs wrapped down the side of the room. The presents were now at the bottom of the tree, and all the fairy lights were on. Pine garlands and holly graced the railing and the walls. Mum had put up her deep red curtains with their embroidered white linen sashes, and she had placed a bowl of potpourri – rose petals, dried orange peels, mint, and cinnamon sticks – on the coffee table. The sofas and the loveseat had also been changed. I laughed a little at the color coordination.

Only Claude would be so meticulous about that.

Down in the kitchen, it wasn’t surprising for me to see Maury making himself breakfast.

“You’re late,” he said, “by an hour, but still late.”

Suddenly, I thought about how excited I had been and all the notes I had scribbled down. It had been one thing to be in the attic for my Astronomy assignment, but it was another to be there after I was done plotting stars. I felt restless. I couldn’t stay in my room because I couldn’t concentrate over Claude playing her violin at random times during the day. I also felt like escaping the familiarity of my bed and the sight of all the books I had hoarded and didn’t want to read (this being because it wasn’t the right time yet).

Naturally, I began working in different nooks. Sometimes I worked in the kitchen (it was the best place in the morning and the late afternoon), sometimes I read in the den (except for when dad suddenly appeared at after dinner – dad had the den to himself in the evenings), and sometimes I worked in the lounge.

It was in the morning that I shared the kitchen with Maury, and his self-satisfied attitude attributed to his getting out of bed first (because everything was always a competition for him, even if it was a harmless inside joke).

I reminded myself to relax as I set my satchel up on the kitchen table and flopped down into a chair. “I stayed up reading this time. How was practice?”

“It was good. I even did a few laps on the ground with Renny.” He turned from the stove with a grin.

I wondered if he ran the laps with or without a broomstick, but I imagined that running with a broomstick wasn’t really all that comfortable to begin with.

The bacon sizzled. The coffee machine whirred and the aroma of Colombian beans wafted into the air. The toast jumped out of the toaster, and Renard yawned on his bed by the den. I sighed and leaned forward against the tabletop and rested my chin on the palm of my hand. I missed mornings like this.

“So, what are you reading now?” Maury asked. “And do you want a helping of toast, eggs, and bacon?”

“Well… are you sure you want to hear a spiel about reanimating flat dimensions with charms and incantations?” I asked, “and yes, please! I thank you for your offering to nourish the starved of this household.”

“I’m on it,” he replied, getting a couple of plates from the cupboard. “What about the spiel? I know that none of it’ll stick to my brain, but it’s still interesting to know what’s going on with you and where you go. Especially since you’re the other kind of quiet… like dad.”

I glanced up at the sun and moon clock on the wall. It was only seven o’clock in the morning; we had about an hour before dad would join us downstairs.

I guess he was partly right, and it was comforting to be compared to dad. We were both introverted individuals, after all. And so it was that I told him what I’d read the night before.

I had so many theorems now, and all I had to do was practice them. I was anxious about it. I took out my notes from my satchel, and I held my sketchbook. My notes were practically revisions on top of revisions. I intended to make a new copy soon. My sketchbook, on the other hand… It had been a while since I had finished anything after I worked on my collage.

Maury set my plate in front of me and then sat a seat over on my write, where he could face the doorway and the front hall. “That sounds like a clever idea, but what are you going to do with it?”

“I guess… I want to do something different.” I set my sketchbook on the table and flipped the pages over until I landed on piece I was adding onto.

He looked at my sketchbook thoughtfully and bit into his egg and bacon sandwich. “So… you want to do something different with a charm that brings flat things to life. Does it have to do with your artwork, by any chance?”

I smiled. It didn’t feel so bad hearing it from Maury, and I didn’t feel like I had to hide the truth from him. He wouldn’t pick at my idea and grind it down to nothing; he would entertain it. He was always great at helping me find the gaps when we talked about ideas… even if he wasn’t too fond of getting into specifics.

“And so it goes,” he laughed, “I’m right? I’m actually right, brilliant!”

I rolled my eyes and started working on my notes. Arithmancy and the study of Ancient Runes included a series of arguments with runes that represented variables. I wasn’t particularly fond of putting the arguments together and solving them to see if they made sense… but the process of translating each rune (even the ligatures) into its Latin counterpart was methodical and calming.

But I didn’t want to do that for a living.

Maury took me out of my reverie: “So what’s the plan you’ve got so far?”

“I want to start my own shop where I can sell my work. I want to be one of those moveable artists… kind of like what Claude’s boyfriend is doing,” I said in one mouthful.

Maury raised his eyebrows and tilted his head to the side. “Intriguing. Have you made an actual plan yet?”

I waved my slab of charcoal to my notes and books. “It’s in progress. I already set up a combination of spells and I have a list of the services I want to provide. Moveable Art – paintings, drawings, and photographs.” I could make anything that could become a gift to anyone.

“Tell me about it once you get there. I have a couple of friends who work at the ministry who know about available spaces around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade… and the paperwork to own said available spaces,” he commented as he got up to put his plate and glass in the sink.

I smiled, suddenly reassured. “Alright, and Maury… thanks for listening.”

He turned to wink at me. “Never a problem, sis.”

Then he went back to the pantry to get Renard’s doggy treats, and I went back to work.

~*~

When dad came down, I set my notes aside and just decided to read. I figured that it was time to relax and to stop working so hard. Mom and Claude followed him into the kitchen.

“What are you reading now? Not academia, I hope?” Claude spoke by my ear and I nearly jumped. “It’s almost Christmas and you’re studying, aren’t you?”

“Don’t do that,” I snapped at her.

She hid her smile behind her baggy midnight blue sleeves. “Sorry, can’t help it. I’m just curious, though. What were you up reading last night?”

Claude bent forward and tried to glimpse the title at the top of the page I was on. I slid my book closer to myself and arched an eyebrow.

“Ah, secretive,” she said with her eyebrows raised. “I’ll let you be, then.”

She got up and walked over to the coffee machine and made herself a cup.

“Does anyone want to help me prep Christmas dinner later?” mom asked. “I’m going to start around mid-afternoon.”

I turned and saw mom taking out the skillet, her scale, and a couple of containers. She asked Claude to take a carton of raspberries out of the fridge, and then mum took out a bowl and a wooden spoon.

“Why are you asking us if we want to volunteer? We always help you cook dinner,” Claude mentioned as she set her mug and the box of raspberries on the countertop island.

Mum sighed and plopped some butter into the bowl. “It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

I put away my books and headed to the counter. “Alright, but first of all… how are you?”

Mum raised her eyebrows and carried along the conversation. Dad folded up his copy of the Daily Prophet and joined us, and Maury brought up a stool to sit beside me.

At the same time, I thought, I can’t wait for Boxing Day.

~*~

It was around early afternoon when we all donned aprons and started prepping Christmas dinner. Mum had a chicken she wanted to marinate, and Claude wanted to make a Christmas trifle. I cut up vegetables with Maury, who peeled the potatoes and began slicing them.

Camille and Renard took a nap together by the den around sundown, and I put some treats in their dishes by the back door. By the end of the day, the fridge was full of different dishes that we would put into the oven in the morning. Maury tossed his apron into the washer and then went into the lounge to lie down on the sofa by the stairs. Claude yawned and commented that she would be up in the room for a quick nap before dinner.

The only two people who lingered in the kitchen then were just mum and me. She had put small red potatoes and asparagus stalks into the oven to roast alongside a large salmon fillet doused in honey and lemon with garlic, salt, and pepper (which she parceled in parchment paper).

I took out my book about charms and proceeded to read.

“I’m going to make some tea… would you like a cup, Abby, dear?” mum asked as she filled the kettle.

I turned a page with a, “Mhm. Please and thank you.”

She added tea leaves to two separate mugs and then sat beside me. I blinked ahead at my book and I wondered when it would begin. The silence was pressing down on me, and I felt mum’s ever looming eyes. Her breath also sounded constrained. Just say what you want to say, and leave it at that.

“I know that we don’t talk much—” she started.

I slowly closed my book and glanced at her. She looked away and patted the pale pink tiling of the countertop.

“I’m sorry, you were reading, weren’t you?” she sighed.

I shrugged. “It’s alright. The book will always be there. My time with you is less predictable.”

“Oh,” she said softly.

We sat in silence for about thirty seconds and I just wanted to tell her everything. I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t going to become an unspeakable and that I wasn’t going to be a professor. I wanted to tell her that I was going to forge my own path. I wanted to—

“How did you decide to become a Herbologist?” I thought aloud.

She opened her mouth to speak, but then closed it and stared at me in an almost pensive state. “I liked going outside and speculating about plant types. It was an interesting world that they lived in. I wanted to know what made them wake up, what made them sleep… and I wanted to know the other varieties and how to breed them. I wanted to know their medicinal purposes… and it was just exciting for me… I suppose you can say that I followed that excitement and my curiosity.”

I nodded, and thought about what I wanted to do… Would she be supportive like Maury or would she be against it?

“What do you want to do, Abby?” she asked suddenly.

I widened my eyes at the question. My voice was caught in the pit of my stomach, the only place where my self-doubt could hide from her perusing stare.

But… in some way, words have a way of blossoming out from the depths of what we love.

“I want to own a shop and sell my artwork.”

It was different. It wasn’t a Ministry job. It wasn’t something related to books. It was something that could be my own.

She looked taken aback by my answer, and I looked down at the pale pink tiles that were as wide and as lengthy as my palms. I traced the thin lines of concrete and waited for my mother to say something.

“…well, I know it isn’t what you wanted to hear—” I started, but the kettle whistled from the stovetop.

Mum got up to get it. The water was poured, the spoon tinkled as she added the sugar and the cream, and then she set one of the two mugs in front of me. I thanked her quietly.

“It isn’t about what I wanted to hear,” she said in response. “I am glad that you have decided what you want for yourself. Your father and I were quite worried when you didn’t know what your profession was going to be, especially so far into your stay at Hogwarts.” She turned to look at me. “Maury has always had his athletic streak, and he made the team in his third year – and I am very sure that you can remember how much he practiced.”

I nodded.

“And Claude – she has always been so proficient at Charms. She was so obsessed with Charms when she started going to Hogwarts. Professor Flitwick gave us an owl about how she was top in the class. It wasn’t long before Professor Slughorn admitted her into his club.” Mum went on listing things, and then she sipped her tea. “It was just troubling for us to see you struggle. You do so well in all your subjects, but we have never seen a spark in your eye for any of them. We’ve only ever seen you read and draw… and we did what any parent would do: help you in any way we could.”

That wasn’t the first time I had heard that.

“So I am glad, my dear, I am very glad that you have a notion of what you want to do, and I can only wish you the very best,” mum finished and grasped my shoulder. She gave it a tiny squeeze. “We will support you in any way we can. Just make your ideas known and we’ll be there.”

I nodded and held my mug. “Thank you.”

That’s what I would have loved to hear, and what I imagined her saying.

I wanted to be accepted.

Instead, she stared at me and burrowed her eyebrows. The silence paralyzed me. I couldn’t turn back to read my book, and I couldn’t turn back time so I could take back my words. There was no way back; the moment was now. I patted my sweat-drenched hands on my pajama bottoms.

“I… I don’t understand,” she started. “You have every opportunity to do better for yourself. You have so many gifts.”

She listed them like reasons, but they were more like qualities to me: punctual, a voracious reader, a dedicated pupil. There was just so much that I could do, and she couldn’t list a single thing.

“A shopkeeper doesn’t make a livable income… You won’t be the first unspeakable to unveil discoveries from within the Ministry.” She sat up and exasperated each justification.

I took a deep breath and turned on my stool so that I could face her. Mum seemed to have become smaller in her distress, and I wanted to take it all back and to make it all better… But my heart pounded and moved me forward.

“I know that it isn’t want you want to hear,” I started, and I swallowed down my fear. This was the moment that would change everything. This was when I would take all accountability for my dreams and aspirations. “But I’m going to be the one to do it, not you, Mum. It’s going to be me, and I think I know what to do to make my plan work.”

I didn’t mention Maury. I didn’t mention my book allowance. In fact—

I spoke before she had the chance to speak, “Actually, starting today, I do not want a book allowance. I will find work and pay for what I need on my own.”

This was puzzling and slightly unsettling, but I knew that there had to be something I could do for myself. If I needed help, I would ask Maury and Claude, even.

“Well, then, you have made your point clear, but…” she paused to look up at me. I didn’t break my eye contact, and she was taken aback by it. “We will talk about this later.”

I let go of the breath I had been holding and turned to get my book. I knew that she needed time to think it over, but I was glad. A weight had been lifted off me and I nearly floated to the doorway that led to the entry hall and the lounge.

“Abby,” mum called.

I turned and she pursed her lips before she said calmly, “I don’t want to hear about it until after Christmas.”

“Alright.” I turned and walked away.

My body felt foreign to me; it seemed almost like I was paralyzed from the inside out. I walked past Maury, slipped around Claude, and I didn’t stop until I lied down face-up on my bed.

The ceiling was blank, but my thoughts became a blur.

What was I going to do next?

~*~

A/N: WELL… I tried to make this bearable. I guess I also tried to reinforce the theme (hehe, every chapter I’ve written has a title that has something to do with art and a character’s storyline xD).

Here’s to hoping that you liked it and that 5k words doesn’t seem like too much to read…!

(Also, thank you for reading if you’re reading along as I post ^^)

Greetings from the next chapter,
Meli

P.s.
Please comment if there’s anything that seems amiss or confusing in any of the episodes I’ve posted thus far. I’m working without a Beta reader and editor, so… yeah. Feel free to point out inconsistencies or anything that doesn’t seem feasible or realistic? (Especially English and British things – because I’m obviously using very little colloquialisms like telly and mum, not colour, etc.)

Chapter 11: Movement
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Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling is the sole owner of the Harry Potter Universe. I just write in it for fun.

“It is generally thought to be more pleasing to the viewer if the image encourages the eye to move around the image, rather than immediately fixating on a single place or no place in particular.” – Wikipedia, Composition (visual arts)

Chapter 11: Movement

That Christmas, I woke up to the tap-tapping of raindrops on my window without Claude to keep me company. She was probably downstairs drinking her coffee and casually judging anyone in her orbit.

But, then, I stopped myself in the effort to roll over to close a textbook I had stayed up reading. I lied flat in my bed, realizing that Camille had curled up against my stomach sometime during the night.

I gently and gradually inched away to the other side of my bed, where I stretched and slowly crept out of bed.

My head was all mothballs and dust bunnies – a cloud of confusion and bewilderment. I needed to fall down to Earth and compose myself. What day was it again? What happened yesterday? Who am I?

I was 17 now. I had become of age about a week ago. I was now the right age to begin my seventh year, but I was still a sixth year. I also expected to see a handful of birthday gifts under the Christmas tree because my relatives didn’t send birthday presents the day of.

Dread built up in my stomach at the thought of presents and family. I had told my mother that I was going to be a shopkeeper in the future instead of a career-building apprentice in the Ministry. Maybe she was still angry at me. Maybe she would be angry forever.

I winced at the thought.

No, she wouldn’t be angry forever. This was probably going to blow over after New Year’s Eve. Even then, it didn’t change that it was strange being in this situation. There was hardly a time when I felt like my mother didn’t want to know a single thing about me. It was always straightforward: I told her about what I’d learned, how well school was going, and I had always told everything she had wanted to hear. There was never a moment like this when I felt like being in her presence would ice me out of her world.

I was practically a stranger in my own life.

I wrapped myself in my knitted blanket and decided to just get on with the rest of the day.

No problems, no fuss, no disappointment.

~*~

Downstairs, it was like a regular day but with presents.

The tree was circled by a massive pile of parcels.

“It looks like everyone misses us, doesn’t it?” Claude commented from the sofa, where she was holding a big mug of hot cocoa and marshmallows. “…Dad, why was it that no one hosted Christmas this year?”

“These are troubling times and no one wanted to chance it,” he answered from where he sat on the loveseat. He folded up his copy of the Daily Prophet and placed it on his knees.

I frowned at his solemn tone and leaned against the railing of the stairwell. “Well, they seem in good health and tranquility to have sent us all these presents, don’t they?”

Maurice and Renard came down the stairs. “Good morning, Abby. Good morning, dad… Claude.”

“Good morning, little brother,” Claude cooed. “Still upset from yesterday?”

Maurice paused on his way to the kitchen and glanced to the side to scoff, “No. What would I be upset about?”

“Well, yesterday—” Claude started.

Maurice laughed a bit louder than necessary on his way to the kitchen. “Nothing happened!”

I glanced at the two of them dubiously, and then I stared at dad.

Dad simply shrugged and unfolded his newspaper back up again.

I sighed and I washed up in the washroom downstairs.

Breakfast. I gathered my food and sat at the table by the doorway. I half-expected Maurice to be in the kitchen so that I could talk with him about anything, really, but… he wasn’t there and neither was Renard. I supposed that they might have gone outside into the back garden where Maurice always tossed his Quaffle into different hoops.

The only mistake I had made then was that I hadn’t brought a book, so I had to contend with awkward silence. Of course, this had to do with how mum was sitting at the island countertop by the sink, also sipping from a mug and staring at her plate.

I glanced up, she saw me, and I looked down just as quickly.

We’ll talk about it, but not until after Christmas.

I almost choked on my food, but I downed it with a splash of water and I was done in less than five minutes. Never had I been as quick as I was to put all my dishes into the sink. My neck and back ached from how I hunched over on my way out.

Now, the lounge was a different prospect.

Claude was already opening her presents. She smiled gleefully as she tucked her long legs under her and started ripping through a small pile on the sofa.

“Ooolala!” she cried. “Clothes!”

I kneeled on the floor and gathered about 10 parcels with my name labeled on them. A couple were book-sized, and some were saggy and lumpy, obviously holding some items of clothing. I opened them carefully and smiled at my small collection of sweaters, cardigans, scarfs, and books. Books.

Among the books there were two journals from Emma, a Famous Charms in Composition art book from Claude’s fiancé, an assortment of brand new quills (swan feathers?) from Mark and paint brushes from Claude, a new hardcover sketchbook from Dad, some colored inks and another sketchbook from Aunt Glenda, and a copy of Uncle Bartholomew’s Creatures of the Desert. Mum’s side of the family, comprised of Great Uncle Felix and Aunt Beatrice among others, sent books about Charms and the history of defensive spells and curses.

“Hm… Grave much?” Claude commented over the latter.

She gathered her scarfs, sweaters, and socks into a pile. She’d gotten a couple of spellbinding books too, for her line of work.

“I suppose they are a bit vague to be considered grave…” I said, thinking more along what she said. It was rather strange to see a book about defensive spells.

Then again, most of the family probably knew that I was going to get a Ministry job not long after Hogwarts, and it could be possible that mum was the one behind it. But these were books about defense… and I would hardly be defending myself while doing research and keeping records.

I looked up at dad and I asked, none too perturbed, “What has been going on? I haven’t really been on top of things… like I should be.”

I supposed it was mainly because the Prophet barely talked about dark things. There were more ads than stories in it these days.

He swallowed and said, “Some people have met strange fates. None will come to either of you if you do what we’ve always talked about.”

When we were younger, mum and dad used to always advise us to never walk out on our own after sundown. Bad things happened to people, and mostly young girls. That didn’t leave Maurice out, though.

He came in at that moment, dirty, sweaty, and wet. Renard sat up beside dad and yapped before remaining silent.

“Why’s it so cold in here?” Maury asked, confused. “It’s snowing outside, but did I break the ice in here or something?”

Mum came in after him. “Oh, dear. It’s really coming down. We might have to use the floo powder for the next few days.”

Dad nodded and then he raised an eyebrow at Maury. “No, son. I only wanted to talk to your sisters about how dangerous times have become. There have been leaflets about the situation, too; albeit, not as many as there once were in Grindelwald’s time.”

“Let’s not talk about it, then. It can’t be that bad if you’re comparing it to Grindelwald. We’ve been done with all of that for so long that it shouldn’t even be a problem for us. It’ll stop happening after a short while, truly. So don’t go worrying about it,” Maury replied in kind, making a beeline around the tree and up the staircase. “I’ll be right back to open my presents. Thank you for arranging them for me, Abby.”

“Never a problem,” I replied, and then sat up by the coffee table.

After a moment’s silence, I glanced at dad worriedly. “…do we have something to fear?”

“I suppose the Aurors are working on it,” dad replied too casually to be reassuring.

Mum, who lingered at the doorframe of the entryway and the lounge, spoke softly, “Yes, indeed. Maybe we don’t need to worry. Maybe things will get better…” Her very brown eyes lingered on mine for a long moment. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

~*~

Mum set some Christmas crackers on the dining room table later during the day. Claude went to help mum bring in the food meanwhile I set the table with Maurice.

He had been dead set on being quiet for the remainder of the day that I couldn’t get him to talk to me with more than two syllables.

“How was it outside?” I tried to kindle some sort of conversation from him.

Maurice shrugged as he set the silverware. “Fun.”

“You’re lucky that you haven’t caught a cold. It was raining this morning.” I decided to think aloud and speculate. “Oh, Merlin, it must have been freezing rain!”

He signed, then, and grumbled, “Fine. I took a warm bath and I had some orange and ginger tea afterwards.”

I smiled. “Well, good. I wondered about that. You shouldn’t be going out there like that when you have Quidditch games to get ready for. Claude told me that you have a friendly match after Boxing Day.”

“I am perfectly capable of handling my illnesses and ailments. We have a healer who travels with us to make sure that we’re in tip top shape, you know,” he replied, and then he leaned alongside the chair at the head of the table. “Pepper-up isn’t that difficult to come by.”

I stood behind one of the chairs that faced the open doors of the dining room that led into the entry hall, and I crossed my arms on top of the velvety magenta-colored cushion. “About earlier—it was abrupt how you interrupted dad from giving us another lecture about being cautious and careful.”

Maurice gaped and gave a big sigh. “Look, I’m scared, too, all right? I try to send them an owl every now and then so that they won’t be so worried about me. And have you seen how they get when anyone asks about being away or leaving home?”

I nodded, and he continued, “Sometimes I wonder if these killings will amount to anything. So far, they’ve been random deaths of family members. Fathers, mothers, cousins, uncles, aunts. I think about how you’re at Hogwarts and then how Claude’s in France doing her apprenticeship, and how I’m constantly going from one city to another in Germany.”

He took a deep breath, leaned against one of the chairs, and dug his fingers into the cushion. “It’s not exactly comforting only talking to mum and dad about things. Sometimes I wonder when I’ll be the one hearing from the two of you. Sometimes those killings remind me of us.” He pointed a circle around the whole table. “All of us. And it scares me more than I can say.”

I pursed my lips and nodded.

“Please, just stop worrying, and please stop asking about it. It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake,” Maurice sighed.

“Okay, I’ll stop,” I snapped. “I can’t help not knowing what’s happening, but I’ll stop.”

There was so much I didn’t know that I suddenly wanted to research every obituary that was related to the strange murders that caused Maurice and our parents to react the way they had. There were probably other families that were just as insecure of maintaining their sliver of a peaceful life.

“I’ll also try to write to you,” I promised.

Maurice’s golden brown eyes shone with his unshed tears. “Thank you.”

He ruffled my hair and I playfully elbowed him in the side for it.

We stopped talking for a while, and during that time I wondered how Christmas dinner would go.

Mum had spent the whole day in the kitchen with a Witch Weekly magazine and a quill meanwhile she baked the dishes we had prepped the day before. I only darted in to get a bowl of crackers and cheese with a glass of water, and I darted out before she could notice I was there. Of course, it was more than likely that she did notice my presence; mothers always seemed to have the same invisible eyes behind their heads.

I also missed her.

Obviously, not even a day had gone by since I had told her about my career plans, and I still felt that I had wronged her in some way… but it was my life, after all.

But I still missed her.

Camille lingered by the door to lick at her paws and Renard raced into the dining room with a bark until he sat calmly by Maurice’s side.

“Renny, you rascal!” mum cried, stepping over the threshold with Claude right behind her. “You almost made me drop the stuffing!”

I didn’t understand why she was bringing the platters in the Muggle way, but I supposed that it came with relieving stress or feeling like she was doing something her own way.

She and Claude set the platters on the table and proceeded to get back, but this time she called, “Maurice, Abigail! Come and help us with the rest.”

We followed right after her into the hall and down to the kitchen where mum propped all the muffin-shaped Yorkshire puddings out onto a plate Claude had placed on the countertop.

“Maury, you can take the roasted potatoes, and Abigail can take the sauces and the mince pies,” mum directed. “I’ll be in the rear with the Brussel sprouts.”

Claude came back for the trifle she had made and she settled it around the middle of the table.

“This looks delicious. When can I have some?” Claude joked, licking away the cream from her fingertips.

Mum brought in the serving spoons and tongs. “Soon enough. Your father will be home any minute now, and he’ll place the turkey in the middle… Then we’ll say our thanks, and before you know it, you’ll get to have a little bit of everything.”

I leaned against one of the open doors, and I almost jumped when the fire in the lounge flared from sunset orange to a brilliant green. Puffs of smoke and ash fell when dad stepped out onto the hearth.

He waved the gray clouds away and set his briefcase by the coffee table. “Good evening, all!”

Maurice and I waved from the doorway.

“Good evening, Richard. Please be a dear and get the turkey? It’s on the counter, cooling off a little.” Mum stepped past us and gave dad a kiss on the cheek. “And please be careful; I just took it out of the oven!”

Dad nodded and got to it, and mum ushered us to the dining table. “Come along, you two, to the table.”

We stood behind our seats as Dad brought in the turkey inside a porcelain tray. He took the chair in front of it and mum took the chair opposite him. Claude sat to dad’s right, Maurice sat to dad’s left, and I sat in front of Claude on mum’s right.

“Don’t worry, I washed my hands first,” dad said, answering mum’s pointed look.

Mum’s shoulders fell and she raised her palms up. We all followed suit and joined hands with each other, and then she began.

“Thanks be unto God for all we have here: our family, our work, our life,” she said.

Everyone bowed their heads and said in unison, “Amen.”

Mum brushed her thumb over my fingers before she let my hand go.

Then we all sat down. Dad continued to stand, and he began carving the turkey.

“You could not believe how long the line was!” dad said, serving us each carrots and sweet potatoes with our slices of turkey.

“We always can’t believe how long the lines are. Luckily for all of us, you’re off tomorrow,” mum replied, serving herself a couple of sautéed Brussel sprouts. “We should go to Diagon Alley, don’t you think? I need to get new stationary and some other supplies before I get back to work.”

Dad agreed as he sat down to organize the food on his plate. Maurice set the sweet potato aside on his own plate. Claude cut her turkey into neat bitesize pieces. I tore apart the Yorkshire pudding, poured some cranberry sauce on top of it, and had some with my turkey.

“And we,” mum said to me quietly, “we will talk after dinner.”

~*~

After dinner, Claude and Maurice put away the leftovers, and dad stayed behind to take the napkins. Mum and I stacked the plates; I took them into the kitchen.

I set the plates into the sink, and stood aside, thinking that mum was going to charm the dishes into washing themselves. Instead, she looked at me and leaned against the countertop.

“Go ahead and wash them,” she said.

I added soap into a small bowl and filled it with water, then I took the brush and dipped it into the bowl.

It was so quiet that I could only hear the clinking of the porcelain being stacked beside me.

“Thank you, Abby,” Claude said before departing. “I’ll see you upstairs. I’m going to play a sonata, and Maury will be my audience for the time being.”

“But—” Maurice started, and Claude asked him, “What, do you have something else you should be doing?”

Maurice sighed, “Fine, whatever. I’ll take Renny with me and we’ll see who likes the music more.”

I want to go too! I didn’t want to stay behind and wash the dishes. I sighed, wishing to say something, but I wasn’t able to voice my thoughts since mum was so close beside me. Besides, I knew that she would probably say something along the lines of: Oh, Abby, be a dear and finish. You’ll be upstairs soon enough.

“It will be spellbinding, I promise you. Even Renny won’t mind it,” Claude mentioned before turning to me again, “Bye, Abby; bye, mum.”

Maurice said his goodbye as well, and suddenly it was quiet save for the tiny screech of the brush on the soapy porcelain.

Mum filled the other side of the sink with clean water, and doused each of the plates in it.

“I’m still unsure about your career choice,” she paused to rub the first plate clean before placing it into the dish rack. “…but it is your career choice, and if you stand by it… I suppose I’ll have to stand by it, too.”

A wave of relief went through me. Thank goodness. I thought that this was going to go differently.

She reached in for another plate, and I passed it onto her.

“I do want to help you with your plans, though. Perhaps you can get work at the Ministry until you have enough set aside to get a down payment for your shop?” mum suggested.

“I don’t know…” I said automatically, my eyes widening at the idea. “There is so much that I have to research, so much that I have to plan—”

“You will have more than enough time to plan, besides—” Mum laughed a little at that, and then she gingerly rubbed my arm and her tone softened. “It was just an idea! Think it over?”

I sighed and finished rinsing the last plate in the water. “Fine, I’ll think it over.”

Mum hugged me. “Good, now go on upstairs. I’m going to let the other dishes wash themselves.”

She waved a charm on top of the porcelain trays, and then retreated to the den… leaving me both weightless and redeemed.

Upstairs, I organized my presents on my window sill. This allowed my mind to wonder to more pleasant thoughts.

I was going to see Emma tomorrow for ice cream, but after that… after that I would be at home until the week after New Year’s Day. I wondered if I should have asked to stay at Hogwarts, and would it be a terrible idea if I stayed at the castle for next Christmas?

Merlin, after this Christmas, I was going to work with Snape again and I was going to see Sirius again… and my life would continue. Life will go on, like it does: it will just go on.

Claude played “Greensleeves” on her viola meanwhile Maurice and Renard sat transfixed on the bench by the door. I sat on my bed and listened as I drew out my Transfiguration practical.

~*~

“So, how was your Christmas?” Emma asked.

It was the day after Christmas, and I had made it to Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor. Mum had suggested that we all use the floo powder since it was still snowing outside and no one wanted to take the snow out of the drive, save for Maurice who did it sans-complaining each year. Claude went to the Leaky Cauldron to meet some friends, and mum and dad went for a stroll together to the Magical Menagerie.

Maurice… well, he and Renard were most likely at the Quality Quidditch Supplies shop. He would also be coming back to get me so we could meet up with mum and dad at Flourish and Blotts.

“Well, it’s felt like a decade since I’ve seen you, and it’s so strange to be here after spending so much time with Claude and Maury. Goodness, it’s never enough being around them, but then… I suppose it has helped me with my lack of human interaction,” I said, feeling so severely unrestrained to keep every thought to myself.

Emma laughed and giggled. “Goodness, Abby! So many words at once!”

“I know, but if you’d rather I be quiet—”

Her eyes widened at that, and she negated, “No, no, no, carry on. Tell me about your Christmas. Tell me everything.”

I sighed, comforted and relieved to be able to communicate without judgement. “Well, the dinner was alright. The socializing was minimal, and the food was so delicious.” I wanted so very badly to add my career to the list and how mum had finally accepted it. Maybe I would tell her afterwards. “How was yours?”

Emma sat up and smiled, her cheeks suddenly aflame. “It went well. Mark came by to visit. That sounds so lovely, by the way. How are your siblings?”

“Oh, my,” I started and dipped my spoon into my strawberry ice cream. “How was it?”

She gaped, and I questioned, “What? You’ll see my siblings later. I want to know about Mark. What happened to Mark at your house? Did you finally ask?”

She narrowed her eyes at me, but there was no denying the spark in them. I smiled through a bite of ice cream.

“It was lovely, like it’s always been, but this time, oh, Abby.” She covered her mouth and sighed. “I just can’t believe it.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Well? What happened?”

“Nothing, nothing happened,” she answered, smiling despite what she’d said. “We just enjoyed the day together.”

I snorted. “Merlin, I thought you had finally stopped postponing.”

“Oh, hush, you,” she replied, waving me away. “I’ll say something sometime.”

“Right, by then someone else might come along and sweep him off his feet for you, and it won’t be for you, you know,” I said, quite matter-of-fact. “Besides, what if he doesn’t reciprocate your feelings? What then?”

“Oh, Abby! Please don’t resent me for this, but he isn’t Sirius Black,” she chastised me quietly. “Besides, he… his hand touched mine yesterday. It was meanwhile we were reading together, but it was still rather nice. I doubt that he does that to just about anyone, anyway.”

“Still, if it isn’t said, then what is it?” I asked, leaning back with my icy ice cream bowl in my hands. “Also, Sirius never happened, so why bother? Anyway, besides that, how are things going with your practical? We have to display them for our first class of the term with McGonagall.”

“…If you say so… Oh, that.” She looked up thoughtfully with a crunch of her chocolate wafer cookie. “I’m thinking about kindness and productivity: a ribbon that becomes a flower?”

“That’s a smart solution,” I replied, raising my eyebrows. “Simple, not overcomplicated.”

“Thank goodness! It took me days to figure something out,” Emma sighed. “What about you? What did you have in mind for your practical?”

“Well, I researched charms and I looked up kinetic transfiguration… so that it could move with my wand movements when it transfigured. I haven’t tried the idea yet, but it should be interesting.” I knew I was stalling, but I couldn’t help divulging my process before saying what it was. Emma also looked slightly interested; she was sitting on the edge of her seat, her eyebrows raised with expectation.

I sighed; my stomach twisted when I compared our ideas. “I haven’t figured out what to do. I have a list of ideas… they go from my resourcefulness to how much of a recluse I am.”

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” she chastised me again. “You’re hardly a… recluse,” she said slowly. “In your defense, there are plenty of Hogwarts students who prefer the library to the Great Hall and the common room.”

I sighed, suddenly feeling glum. “I suppose so.”

“So maybe you don’t go with recluse,” Emma went on, scooping up her ice cream with her wafer cookie. “Go with resourceful and your other redeemable qualities.”

“Fine,” I replied. “That seems fair.”

Emma smiled. “It’s beyond fair. It’s true to yourself.”

“True,” I said, looking away into the window beside our booth. “Oh, look, it’s snowing again.”

The world was moving forward and it was snowing again. Emma looked out, too, and awed at the flurries. And in the midst of it, the bell of the door rang. I automatically glanced over and I raised my eyebrows at the sight of Snape entering the shop alongside another shorter person who was huddled in an oversized brown robe and covered by four to five wreathes of scarves up to her nose. Her cap covered her ears, and her black hair shrouded her forehead and her very inky eyes.

Her gaze and mine stayed for a few seconds, but it wasn’t long before Snape had turned to see whatever it was she was looking at, and I turned to look back to Emma.

I had never smiled so broadly in my life.

“Are you… alright?” Emma asked, looking disconcerted by my smile.

I spoke through my grimace. “Let’s go. Flourish and Blotts, let’s go.”

She raised her eyebrows, gathered her shopping bags, and stuffed the last of her wafer cookies into her mouth. “Fine, let’s go.”

We got up and left. My face burned through the ordeal of seeing Snape waving at me. My heart raced. I waved back and tried to glide across where he stood.

A loss of breath later, and we were outside in the nose-biting cold.

“We should go to Flourish and Blotts… and oh my goodness, did you just say hi to Snape?” Emma gaped.

I opened my mouth to say absolutely nothing, and then I changed my mind. “Let’s go to Flourish and Blotts. My face is freezing off.”

“Oh my, oh my, oh my!” She wouldn’t live it down, even after we walked quickly to the bookstore down the current of passers-by. “Are you friends?”

“I suppose we could be,” I said quietly as we stepped into the warmth of the bookstore.

There was no telling. It had also been a long time since I’d seen him. Emma glanced at me thoughtfully, even as I rubbed my arms. I could barely feel my fingertips.

“Anyway, we’re in a bookstore now and I want to get a couple of books,” I mentioned, now moving to get a basket from the stack beside me. “We can talk about it if you want, but I might be too distracted to tell you anything.”

Emma gathered her bags and walked alongside me between the shelves. “So… what has been going on?”

“Nothing,” I replied, gleaning the titles on the shelves. Into the Tea Leaves, a guide for beginners? I looked up and noticed that we were in the Divination section. “We just talk.”

“You ‘just talked’ with Sirius, too,” she commented softly.

“It’s nothing serious like what I might have thought I felt for Sirius,” I said, and frowned at the unintended pun. Would I ever use those words together? No, not at all likely. “Remind me to never say those two words ever again.”

Emma giggled. “Granted. I like hearing you talk more than you usually do. I don’t like that it had to do with us not talking for a whole week, though.”

“You and I both.”

We ventured further into the bookstore until we reached the Non-fiction area, where I browsed for charms books. I had some galleons on me, but I didn’t know if I wanted to save them up for my shop-in-the-clouds or if I wanted to haul a whole bookcase full of books back to my house.

“Abby, can we sit down and have a proper talk?” Emma mentioned at some point between moving aside for other book browsers and making room for her bags. “I don’t think that I can keep doing this for much longer.”

We burrowed ourselves in a nook where some shoppers had left their children sitting on the floor trading Chocolate Frog wizard cards with the chocolate-stained wrappers lingering at their feet.

Emma easily set her bags by an unoccupied armchair, and then she bent down to collect the wrappers. She looked for the rubbish bin and ducked out of sight for an instant before coming back to sit down. I found a stool beside her and glanced around to see if any of the shelves nearby needed one, and then I sat beside her when I noticed that there were more than enough in sight.

“You’d make a wonderful mum, Emma,” I complimented her. “Cleaning up after your children, and making yourself comfortable enough to look after them.”

She nudged me for the remark and gave me a disapproving look, but she raised her chin proudly. “I know I will, but that’s up to me whenever I choose to be a wonderful mum. Anyway, as much as I want to stay here meanwhile you do your shopping, I want to hear the whole story first.”

I frowned and clenched my jaw. “I don’t know if I should tell you. It’s odd.”

“Well, then, we’re all strange in Ravenclaw house,” she mused, “Some are wiser than others, but you must agree that there are some odd ends and loose ends among us.”

“And I am none the wiser,” I told her. “I’d rather that we not get into specifics. We’re all Ravenclaws, and we were sorted there for good reason.”

She smiled at that and beckoned to me to spill the beans. I divulged everything in a matter of minutes until I was empty of thought and reason.

“It’s really just… friendship, I guess. I didn’t even want to be his friend,” I sighed. “And the thing about my plans… I don’t know. What if it’s a fool’s errand?”

Emma rested against the high back of her armchair. “Sometimes we find friends in the strangest of times, but he might also be in need of some friendship. I’ve seen that he keeps to himself and that he doesn’t really… have a good variety of friends? I mean, Slytherins do stick together, but we need other influences besides those of our own house.”

She had a far-off look suddenly. “That must be why we have that house-united thing going on this year, isn’t it?”

“Anyway,” she said, blinking rapidly. “You are hardly a fool, but this is a dream we are talking about. You are thinking of doing something brave, this whole thing about making your own profession. It sounds like a lot to handle, too, but… don’t overthink it. We have another year to go, and we have the rest of our lives to figure things out. Realistically, we are only sixteen going on seventeen, and we don’t have to choose one thing right now.

I might work at the Ministry, or I might work for Gambol and Japes. You might even work here, for all we know.”

Emma looked up from where I sat idly listening, and then she tapped me on the arm.

“What?” I asked, looking up, slightly disoriented.

She sat up and pointed to the wall of the nook.

I hadn’t seen it in our haste to sit down and talk, but there was an animated poster on the wall.

NOW HIRING ADVENTURERS
and LOVERS OF THE WRITTEN WORD

Do you love books? Interested in the nooks and crannies of these shelves?
Please send an inquiry by owl post or ask to meet the owner at the front desk.


~*~

A/n:

I don’t know if I’ve done this any justice…

I tried to update after three weeks, and I couldn’t do it. This chapter was a bit difficult to compose since there had to be movement. Things had frozen over after the end of the last chapter and I’m fleshing out Abby’s family. I’m also writing my own fiction on the side and working in a small writing group with two of my writer friends, so this fic has suddenly become a guilty pleasure of mine?

(I shouldn’t be writing fanfiction, and here I am, trying to finish my abandoned fanfics --- haha, the joke’s on me! Because I love this story and I want the story inside my head to get out already!!!)

Anyway, I hope you guys enjoy this as much as I enjoy writing it :D

As per always: please tell me if there are any inconsistencies, ooc characteristics for any of the characters, and any plot holes… anything weird in the pacing, and I will come back to readjust it. (Seriously, I’ve come back to read the chapters and I edit them if I see a typo that I didn’t catch when I edit before I post.)

Also keep in mind: I have no beta editors; I’m doing this solo (sola?).

Thank you for those who read and/or review; I love you guys.

I hope you like your cake (and that you’re eating it too),
Meli

P.s.
My author’s note might not be this long afterwards. Also: MY BIRTHDAY IS THIS MONTH. And I will be updating around then with the next chapter. The romance is coming along, don’t worry. And this time there will be no hallucinations of any kind. Maybe daydreams, but those daydreams will not be like they were in the first version of this fic lol.

(Also: this winter break will be over in the next chapter. I’m super impatient to write us forward into Abigail’s 7th year.)

Chapter 12: A Rule of Thirds
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Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling is the sole owner of the Harry Potter Universe. I just write in it for fun.

Chapter 12: A Rule of Thirds

Emma gave me a hopeful grin and a wave.

I swallowed and took a deep breath.

The chime of the register resounded around the corner of the waiting room. It sounded as though the bookseller was punching in the price from within a tunnel. The bookcases towered on both sides of me with their section signs suspended above them. The candlelit chandelier, a stack of five rings with ornamental curlicues, hung from the dome of the second floor; its candles flickered as I passed beneath it.

Today, there were few witches and wizards coming and going between the bookcases at Flourish and Blotts. It was so quiet that I could hear someone flipping pages at a leisurely pace a few rows back. The wooden floorboards also creaked, reminding me that I was finally at the front.

The only other person at the front with me was a woman wearing a thick fur coat who waited in line. I lingered by one of the notebook display cases and waited. She stepped up to the front desk and started to stack a grand pile of books onto it.

The wide space between the front desk and the shelves was divided with a couple of black crowd control barrier posts and shoulder-height display cases filled with bookmarks, notebooks, quills, and ink dispensers of all shapes, sizes, and colors. There were even revolving display cases full of Honeyduke’s Best.

Oooo, cauldron cakes! I could almost taste their creamy milk chocolate filling.

“Thank you so much for the help,” I overheard her say. “I’m just so terrible at buying gifts. The last time I attended a wedding, I bought the bride and the groom matching Babylonian candles, thinking that they were the cutest thing for candleholders… You know, for romantic candlelit dinners? Well, you see, they were not decorative table pieces, after all.” She sighed. “One of them turned up in France, and the other in China.”

The bookseller laughed. “Oh, my. Did they find each other afterwards?”

“Oh, they did, alright,” the lady replied calmly. “Well, at least this time I know that I won’t be the source of a bad gift, or a good one as it were. They’re using the candles correctly now. Anyway, books can’t be that dangerous to begin with, can they?”

Le Chat Noir peeked at me from behind a journal of a sleepy-eyed hooting owl.

“Yes, but sometimes they are,” the bookseller said, typing in prices with the chime of the buttons. “When is the wedding? These also look like useful books—practical choices for newlyweds. Great choices.”

The lady gave a delicate laugh. “Yes, I hope they will be! They’ll need all the help they can get. The wedding is this weekend; this Sunday, to be exact.”

“Well, isn’t that lovely! I wish I could go to a wedding this weekend. See all of my friends got married ages ago,” the bookseller told her with a friendly air. “Now I have to contend with getting my own wine down a couple of blocks here instead of getting them for free at one of their terrific parties.”

A few chimes later—

“These are good to go. I hope you have a lovely day. Happy wrapping,” the bookseller said after a short pause. “I hope you have a blast at that wedding, too.”

The lady gave a grand sigh. “Thank you so much, Gerald. I shall do my best.”

And with that… she left and the bookseller stood where he was. I gathered two cauldron cakes, one for me and one for Emma, in my sweaty hands and stepped up to the line stand.

“Are you ready?” the bookseller asked, motioning to the cauldron cakes.

I nodded and he motioned me forward. “Well, come along, then, poppet. Today’s as dead as it’s going to be.”

True… There was no one coming up to form a line, and I was the only one there, so I just stepped forward and set the two cauldron cakes on the table.

The bookseller was middle-aged man with a long face and angular cheekbones. He wore a pair of black slacks, a white pressed, long-sleeved shirt, and a soft, earthen brown apron. He also had the strangest hair. It was skunk-like: all black except for the white streak that topped his full head of hair. His hazel eyes glittered and his smile tucked in at the corners.

“No books to purchase, I take it?” he asked.

I timidly tilted my head to the side and said, “No… I haven’t.”

“Ah, well, isn’t that something,” the bookseller commented, leaning back with a look of feigned shock.

I stopped myself from humming and brushed my palms on my cloak. Why didn’t I ask him? I struggled to recompose myself. What if I could do this? What if I could say something?

I felt a burst of energy in my abdomen, and I tried to stand straighter. “Actually—”

He chimed up the cakes, and then gave me the price. “Three galleons and two knuts.”

I sighed and reached into my satchel and opened my coin purse. I took out what I had from my allowance, and then I placed the coins in the palm of his hand.

“Are you hiring?” I asked, thinking aloud rather than actually talking.

I looked him in the eye and he raised his salt-and-pepper eyebrows.

“I am…” he said as he worked the register to open. My coins clicked into their respective slots.

Standing straighter and with my shoulders back, I arched an eyebrow. “May I work for you?”

He clicked it shut and then he eyed me and my scarf. “You look a bit young for the job. Are you still at Hogwarts?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Which year?” he asked, curious.

“Sixth, but I’m of age now,” I answered.

“What do you know about books?” he asked. “What do you know about the bookselling business? Give me a good pitch.”

“I know a great deal about books. I frequent the library at Hogwarts and… I’ve also bought many of my books here. I think I also know how the process works from the outside…” I rambled. “I really do believe that it would be a great learning experience for me. I would like to learn how to be in the service of others.”

He looked a bit uncertain at that point, but he gestured to go on. “What is it about these books that has you so enthralled to be here?”

“They reveal themselves to others when we need them most,” I answered. “I find that books are the best keepers of secrets and knowledge.”

I thought about what it meant to be a Ravenclaw, and I added smoothly, “Books also help prepare us for the worst. Sometimes secondhand knowledge was the best I could acquire for situations I had never gone through. Books are guides in that way… silent mentors.”

This was starting to sound like a foot-long essay, but it felt more like I was telling a story about myself.

“I find myself the happiest when I see books,” I continued, and I took a peek at the bookseller. He was smiling and he gestured for me to continue again. “I can’t imagine a world without them.”

I’d be lost without them, really.

He nodded, and then he asked, “What could you possibly do for the shop, then?”

“I could tend the to the front, restock the shelves…” I paused, and thought it over again.

What could I possibly do for the shop itself?

“I could make some book arrangements in order to sell more books? I’ve noticed that some of the arrangements aren’t as prominent as they should be. I could make sure that there are some in between the bookshelves themselves. I could also keep an eye on the register,” I said, thinking more about what I wanted to change about the shop. “Maybe we could have books in this section, too. Just some best sellers in different places?”

I smiled, both sure and unsure. He nodded and gestured for me to go on.

“Why Flourish and Blotts?” he asked.

I looked around the high ceiling and spotted the chandelier, the second floor, the bookcases, the shelves, the chairs, the quills, the notebooks, the candy, and the plethora of books and readers alike.

“It’s familiar. We came here for my first book and the books that followed,” I explained, thinking back to the first book I’d ever read. It was such a silly thing… a book about a caterpillar that ate too much and became something completely different in the end.

“Splendid responses,” the bookseller said, his enthusiasm spreading warmly on his face.

He glanced around the front. I also turned to observe the display cases and the line stands. There was no one there. I wondered if this was a good investment of my time. I wondered if it was worth it. My stomach dropped at the thought of me failing, but I stared at the bookseller even then.

He rubbed at his nametag. Gerald was engraved in the gold bar with small caps. “I suppose you can talk to the owner. He might be able to bend a rule or two.”

“…where is he?” I asked, trying terribly hard not to rock on my heels.

He stepped back and then stepped forward. “It’s me, young lady. I am the owner!”

It was difficult not to roll my eyes.

“We typically take up Hogwarts students after they’ve graduated—” he started.

Oh, no.

I squinted and smiled as widely as I had in Fortescue’s. My nervousness was my version of liquid luck. “Why yes, I know that,” I mean, I imagined it, “but imagine if I could look after the front desk for you… or restock your shelves.”

“I was getting there, actually… like I said, the owner can bend a rule or two,” Gerald said, blinking a few times and smiling. “I can make an exception for you since you seem so eager, but I do need some paperwork filled out so that you know the terms and the rules of the shop. We will owl you if we’ve decided to hire you.”

He brandished his wand and twirled it. Page by page, a small packet came together. He clipped it with a bronze paperclip from a small cup at the desk.

“Owl this to us, and then I’ll let you know,” he told me with a happy smile. “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you. Happy holidays, poppet.”

“Thank you,” I said softly, “Happy holidays…”

I took it and bowed out, a small smile on my lips and a drop of joy spreading on my heart.

~*~

Back in the waiting room, the children were gone and I caught Emma flipping through an issue of Witch Weekly.

She looked up at me when I sat down on the stool beside her. “So… how did it go?”

“I got this. Paperwork. I have to owl it in and then I’ll have to wait and see what happens,” I told her.

She cheered and hugged me, never mind that she almost fell out of her armchair.

“At least that’s something! I’m so proud of you; that took guts,” she went on to say.

I nodded and stared at the packet in my hand, both bemused and overwhelmed. “I suppose it is; I suppose it did.”

I’d have to fill it and owl it to Flourish and Blotts as soon as I was able. I placed it in my satchel, and at that moment there was a sniff and a bark.

I raised my eyebrows, already knowing that it was Renard who had found us. Renard, the golden Labrador, who pounced on Emma and whined soon after.

“Oh, my!” she cried, taken aback from the sudden attention of my brother’s familiar. “What’s this about? I know, I know. I haven’t seen you in a while, either, I’m sorry.”

She petted him down and then waved to Maury.

I laughed at the sight of him leaning against the doorframe, catching his breath.

“I thought you were both going to be at Fortescue’s! Had I known before, I wouldn’t have gotten in the blizzard,” Maury said, breathlessly. “Good to see you again, Emma.”

Emma beamed, ruffling Renard’s fur attentively. “Likewise. How’s the team doing?”

Maury cleared his throat, having regained his stamina. “They’re doing pretty well. Some stayed with their families, and a couple are out in Cannes, enjoying the beach.”

He turned to me and asked, “Have you seen mum and dad?”

“Well…” I started, thinking back to what mum had said. “They did say that they were going to look at the stationery, didn’t they?”

“Knowing mum, they’ve probably been there for hours, and knowing dad…” he trailed off, and we both shared a knowing look.

Dad was probably somewhere else, lost in a book.

“I’ll go and look for them,” Maury decided before I could say anything. “You two can stay here and treat Renard to a good time.”

We didn’t object to that.

After Maury found our parents, we all decided to go home via the fireplace at Flourish and Blotts. Many of the other families, couples, and shop patrons were using it because of the blizzard outside. Others were also apparating in and out.

I said goodbye to Emma as she took to the fireplace and shouted, “Number 1 Walnut Close.”

She waved before she vanished in a burst of green flames and smoke.

Gerald waved happily in my direction when mum, dad, Maury, and Renard made room for me in the fireplace. I waved back before we vanished in the green flames.

Back home, I took to my room and started filling out the forms. There were pages about basic information about where I lived and my education, and then I went through the pages about the shop rules. There was a uniform everyone had to wear, including the stockpersons: white pressed shirt, slacks or knee-length skirt (brown, green, or black), and a pair of sensible shoes. There was also a small questionnaire asking about my height. I supposed that was for the apron size. The last few pages were about shop protocols. There was also a note there that said that I only had to owl back all the pages whose forms I had filled out.

Roll it up, tie this ribbon around it, and owl it in.

I put them together without the clip and rolled it up. I gently lifted the taped ribbon off of the paper and tied up the roll. Then I went down the hall to Maury’s room.

“Where’s the owl?” I asked. “Do we have any family owls?”

I tried to remember if any of us had adopted an owl as a familiar. I was pretty sure we didn’t have one, and Maury looked just as thoughtful about it.

He was sitting up and tossing a Quaffle over against our shared wall, a place where he had lined up several moveable hoops.

“To be honest… I don’t know?” he replied, unsure. “Why don’t you just wait until tomorrow morning to send it with the Daily Prophet owl?”

“That wouldn’t work because it’s a Daily Prophet owl, and I’m not sending a letter in to the editor,” I said, tapping my chin. “I suppose I could just wait the week out until I get back to Hogwarts.”

He agreed. “Ah, true. The owlery.”

I nodded, wished him the best of luck with his hoops, and then I closed the door.

~*~

Not long into the night, I lingered half-awake and half-asleep, almost close to dreaming. I thought about the day’s events and I fantasized about my future.

Maybe I could work at a bookstore. Maybe I could save up enough to have my own shop. Maybe things wouldn’t be as difficult as mum feared they would be.

I could already see the open space, my pieces on the walls, and my desk not too far away from the front doors. I smiled at the thought of a drawing room where I could have sittings, and a list I could keep for future appointments. I thought of all the owls I would send out with invoices and dates of delivery. My heart thudded steadfast like a fluttering bird in a cage.

And then the door creaked open, and I sluggishly opened my eyes against the moonlight in the windows and the darkness at the other side of my room.

“What is what—” I started and fumbled for my wand. My wand which was supposed to be on my nightstand but, but wasn’t.

I struggled feeling my way around my tower of books.

Shh, it’s me Claude,” her voice came out at me as her dark form made it across the room and onto her bed.

I rubbed at my eyes. “Where were you? I told mum that you were probably staying at Anthony’s.”

“Oh, I couldn’t,” she replied. “Even if I wanted to.”

“Why?” I bothered, deciding to let Claude feel the weight of my sleepiness. Maybe this would make up for my lack of sleep. “Did he want to shag you senseless?”

“Abby,” she spoke a few notes louder than a whisper. “We are not going to talk about this.”

This reminded me so much of the time when she had gushed about him before he had declared his feelings to her. I had been a little too young to understand the follies of love and crushes—I’d been eleven—but I did think it was something curious that my sister wasn’t as invincible as I thought she was.

“You know that you could have gotten away with it. You’re definitely overqualified. You’re overage, you have an apprenticeship that pays… and he’s your boyfriend. Well, he’s your fiancé, but isn’t it supposed to be lovely?” I asked.

She made a little sniff that sounded like a half-laugh. “It is, but sometimes it isn’t all roses and rainbows. Sometimes there are thorns and storm clouds.”

“Yes, but so long as there are roses?” What then? I thought about my lack of knowing.

She replied softly, “Yes, so long as there are roses.”

It wasn’t until the next day that I noticed that her mascara was smeared and that her lipstick looked rubbed off. I wonder what had happened yesterday and why she hadn’t told me.

I took one of my books and went downstairs to make breakfast. Camille padded down the steps and raced me there. I smiled at the sight of her fluffy white fur as she phased by me like a shooting star.

For the first time since I saw him, I thought about Snape. I thought about how he had waved and how I had left so suddenly, my heart almost stopping in my chest. Why the sudden reaction? Why did I suddenly want to leave as soon as I had seen him, and why had he waved?

I added the grounded coffee beans into the coffeemaker and loaded the tank with water.

Would it be so difficult to be friends?

I placed the carafe back under the coffeemaker and set it to brew. Perhaps time would tell.

~*~

New Year’s Eve passed quickly. We all gathered in the lounge and watched the telly. There were fireworks at London again. We had champagne and cake. It was mum’s idea to make a black forest cake for the occasion. Maury broke a couple of Christmas crackers and placed his bright pink, orange, and green Three Wise Men figurines on the coffee table around the bowl of potpourri. Their camels galloped around it.

Renard and Camille lied down by dad’s feet as he filled our glasses with bubbly.

Claude hugged me and combed back my hair. “You needn’t any bangs.”

“I know,” I replied. My forehead felt cool underneath her warm hands. “What do I need, though?”

She sighed at the question.

Maurice sat down beneath us on the floor, where he grinned up at me. “What’s this about what you need?”

“I don’t know. Claude was just telling me about my hair and how bland it is,” I replied.

Claude’s laugh vibrated under my head. “I did not say any of that. You just don’t see your own beauty, little narcissist.”

I rolled my eyes. I could see myself just as I was, drab and quiet. I liked myself that way. What was there to change? Who would I ever need to see? I had my own dreams and aspirations. What did I have to look good for? Who did I have to compete against?

And for what?

“I’m enough,” I said aloud. “I am enough as I am.”

I had so many things to do, after all. I had plans to follow through, and that didn’t include a boy who would sweep me off of my feet. My plans never did, anyway.

“I would like to hear something constructive from you one day, though… when it won’t have to be about boys,” I told Claude.

She playfully tapped my forehead. “You little smart aleck. You’ll figure it out eventually. How are your plans going, anyway?”

“As good as they’re going to be. I’m still drawing ideas up,” I answered, thinking about my sketches and notes. I had the floorplan ready to go. I just needed to figure out what shop would sell me the cheapest items (the art shop in Diagon Alley or the art shop in Hogsmeade?).

Maurice also looked tired. “I can’t believe that I have to go back tomorrow. I won’t get to see your lovely faces until a whole year goes by again.”

Claude sighed, agreeing. “Same. I have to talk to Anthony about our plans and hash things out properly. And then I have my internship to get back to.”

Again, I wondered what had happened, but I kept quiet. She would tell me if she ever felt like telling me, and I would prod for an answer in the post if she took forever to spill the beans.

“And I have school again,” I added my breadcrumb to the feast. “With NEWT exams in June.”

“NEWTs are the least of your problems, sis. You’ll always pass with flying colors,” Maury said, looking up at me again. I stuck my tongue out at him and he smiled. “Let’s just count our blessings.”

Mum came by and gave us each a glass of bubbly. “Come on, my loves. The countdown is starting.”

We turned to look at the telly and we toasted to the new year. Good ol’ 1977.

~*~

We all said our goodbyes the next day after breakfast. Claude took her bags and stood by the fireplace.

“So, I’ll be back for my Beetle after a few days… you know, when the snow stops falling,” Claude informed our parents.

“Yes, it’s a shame that it can’t be apparated, shrunken, or turned into a portkey,” mum commented, regretful. “It’s quite alright, though, dear. And you’ll be staying at Anthony’s, won’t you?”

Claude hummed, “Mhm.”

“Well, then, we might be seeing you in a few days, then… before you go to your apprenticeship,” mum said, her eyes shining. “Now come here. I want to hug you one last time before you go.”

We all hugged Claude and Maury goodbye after mum had her fill.

“You should still stop by Anthony’s shop when you’re at Diagon Alley next… I think he would be able to help you with your own plans someday,” she said when she hugged me.

I nodded and pressed my lips together, trying to spare myself the sudden tears. We weren’t going to see each other for another year, and we hardly hugged. Besides, I would write to her even if I was in between assignments.

“See you next Christmas,” I murmured through my agitated throat.

“Until next Christmas, then,” Claude replied warmly, her blue eyes smiling.

“Remember to write,” mum reminded. “I’ll be traveling again, and I’ll be on the lookout for owls no matter the time and place.”

“Yes, mum, we will write,” Claude said, hugging mum again. “I will do my best to make time to write, busy schedule and all.”

Maury seconded her response and went to hug us all in turn.

“I love you all. Please keep in touch,” he said; his voice shook on the edge of clarity. “I’ll send pictures.”

Maury had his bag slung over his shoulder again and Renard was whining at his feet, moping.

“It’s alright, boy. We’ll see each other again,” Maury comforted him and ruffled his fur one last time.

Renard whined and Maury paused.

I raised my eyebrows as he lifted Renard into his arms.

“Actually,” he said, grunting, “I’ll take you with me. They’ll just have to deal with it.”

Mum was about to protest, but dad rubbed her arm and said something softly to her. Mum covered her mouth and sniffled. And then Maury and Claude apparated without a moment’s notice, leaving behind two delicate pops in the air.

~*~

A week later, my parents and I went through the motions again.

I got up early, got ready, rushed downstairs, and had breakfast with my parents… Dad packed my trunk into the family car, we all got in, and off we went—to London and to King’s Cross.

I marveled at the hazy purple horizon, admired the layered pattern of brick buildings in Aylesbury, and gleamed the snow-covered fields as we passed. Soon, the clouds made themselves sparse on a rich, blue background and the sun glinted on our windows. The muddle of rumbling traffic and a different pattern of stacked buildings greeted us into London. I rolled down my window to breathe in the smell of damp earth and car exhaust.

In less than fifteen minutes, we had arrived in front of King’s Cross Station. Mum took my trunk out of the car and dad closed the doors. I smiled at the familiar bustle of a million footfalls on the pavement and the intelligible mixture of conversations of passers-by.

I wrapped myself in my knitted blanket, and then I inhaled the fresh air. Was I nervous? I wondered why I would ever be nervous, but my legs felt almost foreign on our way in and to the wall between platforms 9 and 10.

“Is the coast clear?” dad asked mum quietly.

We all looked around and noticed everyone going about their business.

“Seems so,” mum replied.

We casually slipped through the wall.

“Will you look at that, we’re half an hour early,” dad noticed, looking up at the clock.

Mum rubbed his arm. “Yes, we are. Perhaps we should sit somewhere and wait it out.”

I glanced around the small crowds, hoping to find a trace of Emma’s brown wavy hair or Mark’s neatly combed jet black hair (always accompanied by a book).

“Abby, dear, come and sit down with us,” mum beckoned, waving her wand. Her charm stretched the bench to make room for me.

I rocked on my heels. “No, thank you, mum. I’ll be fine.”

Mum sighed and then returned to chatting with dad.

It wasn’t until the train arrived that I spotted them. Of course, it was impossible not to feel a thrill of familiarity when I heard the screeching whistle or the rumble of the moving train on the tracks, but there was nothing that could compare to the happiness of seeing my best friends again.

Mark tucked his book under his arm and Emma walked alongside him, trying to keep her pink knit cap on her head.

“Abby, oh, Abby!” she cried, racing up to hug me.

I would have toppled over from the sheer force of it, but I rested on my heels instead.

“I missed you too, Emma,” I said, and then looked at her a second time.

She was smiling so broadly that she glowed, and her eyes were sparkling. Hm. I began to wonder.

Mark simply stood by us with a sideways smile. “Both of our mums send their greetings, Mrs. McGain.”

Mum smiled at that and brushed off her skirt. “Why, thank you, dear. Send them my greetings in turn.”

She looked up at the clock and then mentioned, “Perhaps we should get the trunk loaded onto the train and then say our farewells, don’t you think?”

She said this to my dad, who agreed and looked to me and my friends expectantly. “Where to?”

After he had loaded it into the compartment, we all stood on the platform and said our swift goodbyes. Mum hugged me fiercely. Dad hugged us both. I sighed in the warmth of it, and I made sure to remember the bristle of his winter beard against my forehead and mum’s forever freesia-scented being. When I looked up and let them go, I noticed that my dad had tears brimming his eyes, and mum had the most intense stare I had ever witnessed.

“Please just write this time,” he urged.

I nodded and snorted back the flood of love that threatened to break me down.

“Oh, sorry,” I said sheepishly, and then I forced a smile. “I’ll do it; I’ll make sure to.”

And then I backed away with a weak wave and got on the train. I wiped at my eyes with my knitted blanket. Even though my winter break had finally ended, my mood softened. I wouldn’t get to see my parents again until June.

But I would be writing to them, and I would be writing to Claude and Maury.

I wondered how Renny was doing.

I wondered what mum would get up to after her sabbatical.

I wondered what Claude’s life plan would be.

I stayed close to the window as a crowd of younger students gathered behind me to wave ecstatically to their relatives before the train departed.

The train started chugging out of the station. I pressed my hand to the cold glass and watched as my parents waved, and then they disappeared with everyone else… in a blink of an eye, into a finite vanishing point.

I took a deep breath. What would Hogwarts be like this year? I thought this over as I turned back to my compartment where I had become a missing third.

~*~

A/n:

Okay, so that took a while. I didn’t know how to close this one off… I’m in the process of editing and revising, though. I know that there might be some confusion earlier on (maybe around the December to winter break chapters…?), but I can’t help asking for your help again…! If you see anything inconsistent, odd (OOC-ness), or confusing (even silly typos), please leave me a review! I will get on top of it sooner than you know.

Anyway, we’re finally going back to Hogwarts! Yay, fun times.

I know I said I was going to add this in July, but July was busy and amazing. So is August, I think.

Anyway, thank you for reading and/or reviewing! It’s always a pleasure.

Yours in storytelling (with cake),
Meli

P.s.

Yes, I took this down to adjust it a bit more (a friend suggested a couple of changes). BUT... I will be back soon with another chapter, I promise.

Chapter 13: Proofs
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Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling is the sole owner of the Harry Potter Universe. I just write in it for fun.

“An artist's proof is, at least in theory, an impression of a print taken in the printmaking process to see the current printing state of a plate while the plate (or stone, or woodblock) is being worked on by the artist.” – Wikipedia, Artist’s proof

Chapter 13: Proofs

The train ride back was less quiet than it had been when we had left for the winter holidays. For one, Mark had brought along a couple of Remembralls. He gave one to me and another to Emma.

“As we all know, this is a Remembrall; it’s meant to show you that you’ve forgotten something,” he said. He lifted his as I looked at mine. It was a glass sphere filled with smaller glass baubles inside; a golden band ran around it. The runes engraved into its smooth surface gleamed gold and silver. “We got a couple for Christmas from our family friends in Japan.”

I raised my eyebrows at that. “Are their runes different than ours?”

“Yes, they’re from a completely different alphabet… They aren’t letters that are taken from Latin. Each character stands for one idea or image, so the Japanese use shorter spells to the same effect as a word does in ours… And, yes, they still work the same way,” Mark answered, displaying each of the characters to us. Each character seemed to have its own block, and each block housed its own composition of lines that seemed to come together to form their own harmony in their own space. Then he said, “I thought that maybe we could start playing a game of ‘I forgot…’”

“And I would win in a heartbeat and you know it,” Emma said, sitting with her back against the window. She placed a bookmark in her book and hugged her folded knees.

I kept on dragging my charcoal up and down a brand-new page in my sketchbook. It was smooth now, so it glided with a hiss and whisper, soothing my nerves.

“Then we won’t play the game,” Mark went on to say, tossing the spherical Remembrall up into the air and catching it. “What did you both get up to during our winter break? Anything fun, interesting… revealing?”

I glanced between the two of them, especially at the last word Mark used. He said it so calmly, but he also glanced at Emma with a slight bounce to his eyebrows. Suddenly, her cheeks had a delightful smear of pink that seemed to rise to the top like clouds blending into the setting sun.

“Well,” she started as she recomposed herself and sat up, tapping on the hard cover of her book. “I met with Abby after Boxing Day, like we said we would. It was snowing so much. You just wouldn’t believe how much. It became a blizzard. So we were practically snowed in at Flourish and Blotts. Oh, and Abby should tell you about that, actually.”

Mark raised his eyebrows and bent forward slightly. I glanced at her curiously, but rolled my eyes at the premise.

Emma smiled and leaned back against the window. Her hair became a halo around her shoulders. “She asked to get a job there.”

“You don’t say!” Mark glanced at me with a look of surprise and then a nod of approval. “That’s great. Do you know if they’re hiring more people? And could you smuggle me in there by chance?”

I snorted at that. “I’ll let you know if I’m able to, Mark.”

On a more serious note, I added, “I’ve yet to send in my paperwork. See… we don’t have any owls at home, so I’m going to the owlery first thing tomorrow.”

“Good,” Mark replied, grinning. “I’m glad.”

There was a moment of silence in which Emma returned to her book and I returned to my mindless doodling. I had gotten to doodle a stick figure with a cape when Mark started talking again.

And,” he began, “my own winter break was lovely. Thank you for asking.”

I snorted and Emma sighed.

“I’ll let you both read and draw now…” he continued.

Sometime later, he interrupted us again, this time with a groan, “Ladies… I am beyond boredom.”

“Oh, no,” I said, glancing up at him. I teased him in a monotonous voice, “How terrible. Mark Lee, not reading at all. Is anything wrong?”

He pouted and shrugged. “I just feel like talking. Isn’t it normal for human beings to communicate every once in a while?”

Emma let out a soft laugh. “It’s normal for all human beings, but it’s definitely not normal when it’s you.”

“Merlin, I am appalled that you’ve said that,” Mark replied, turning the Remembrall in his hands, “considering how long we’ve been friends. I thought my feelings mattered!”

“You’re such a… a…” Emma paused and sighed again.

“A what?” he slowly grinned at Emma’s uncertainty.

She looked up at him like he was being ridiculous. “You’re such a prima donna!”

“I am not,” he laughed. “I’m a human being with emotions.”

She snorted and raised her eyebrows. “So you have emotions. What about your attention span?” She pried her book open again, but glanced his way.

My eyes widened at that, and I laughed when Mark retaliated, “And I take offense in that. No, seriously, Abby, I am a professional concentrator.”

Emma laughed in that in turn. “That’s not how you use that word—”

“Well, I concur that I must work on that,” Mark replied, opening his own book, but then he stopped and closed it. “But yes, I admit that I can’t really focus right now, so could we be civil human beings and talk to one another in earnest?”

“Could we ever? What happened in your book?” Emma inquired with a slight tilt of her head.

I sat back and listened to the same interaction that I was used to seeing, but now… now I could see the duality of it. I glanced from Mark’s side of things to Emma’s. I could see how wistful she seemed behind every remark. I could see how her hands would slip in and around her book, and how she would tease the pages and the edge of the cover. I could see how her eyes would linger on Mark, even when he was laughing.

But there was something different about how he replied. His eyes lingered with their crinkled corners, and his smile was softer. His posture was also relaxed and he seemed to lean forward slightly.

I pursed my lips, casually listening but still focusing on the movement before me. I flipped a page in my sketchbook and set up my arm on my knee to lightly draw. I took the underhand approach, holding my stick of charcoal underneath my hand between my forefinger and thumb, and I made swift strokes.

Up, around, in between — I etched the diagonal lines of Mark’s leaning body and Emma’s, who didn’t even notice how she also leaned in his direction. They were both balancing each other out on both sides of the compartment, in their respective seats. I was almost reminded of Michelangelo’s the Creation of Adam, but in a more withheld stance. She was the one withholding, but so was he.

I lifted my eyebrows at the latter. Would they ever notice? Were they already in their own little world? I made little thin lines that hinted at the folds in their shirts, their jeans, their trainers, and their facial expressions. I would delve into it with ink later.

I wonder how they would react if they ever saw this.

Would they see how I had created an intimate implied line between their eyes, where they clasped in deeper understanding or was it unnoticed flirtation?

I paused there and closed my sketchbook. Any notion of the idea would be met with disbelief on both sides. It was often easier for others to avoid mutual feelings than to acknowledge them. Maybe it was better for them to figure it out on their own.

After all, maybe they were only friends. Affection seemed like something that could muddle the idea one had of a friend; it could make a bond clearer, stronger, deeper. A friend could become a family member or something more, a companion.

Could it be that love changed people? Or the notion of love itself?

I closed my sketchbook and put it away in exchange for my Transfiguration notes. Soon, it would be time for my proofs. I paused when I felt a smooth sheet of paper, and I glanced back in my satchel and caught sight of the job packet I had to owl to Flourish and Blott’s.

Perhaps things would be coming together soon.

Perhaps.

I flipped through my things and found my other set of notes, and I delved deeper.

~*~

We got ready, the train stopped at Hogsmeade station, and we arrived at the gates by carriage. Food, topical conversations, and recurring events. Christmas and Boxing Day had come and gone, and so had New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Everyone was either talking about what they had given, what they had received, what they had done, and how happy they were to see each other again. The whole table was merry and glowing. Alice and Frank, now returned to us, were surrounded by their niche of friends. The seventh years embraced them and then showered them with stories and welcome presents.

I smiled at that, but my stomach rumbled at the grand scheme of things. It casually reminded me that we hadn’t really eaten anything on the train. The trolley was never quite enough; we couldn’t really call big assortment of sweets a meal. So, quite naturally, I followed Kit and Mark’s lead, and I dug in.

There were Yorkshire puddings and a great expanse of roasted turkey, roasted chicken, potatoes, and gravy. The buns were sweet and buttery. The beef Wellington was so moist and savory that I mopped up the sauce with a piece of barley bread and licked my fingertips right after. The pumpkin juice was also cool and refreshing. I sighed and kicked back after my first plate. Mark and Emma served themselves and talked through dinner.

Our own topical conversation revolved around the approaching date of McGonagall’s practical (or the test that would tell her if we were ready for the second part of the course).

“To be honest, I can’t wait to get it over with,” Mark started after taking a swig of pumpkin juice. He frowned. “I have other assignments to catch up with.”

“You’re always working ahead of us; don’t you ever give yourself a break?” Emma asked, her eyebrows creased with concern. “You’re only sixteen. The world isn’t going to leave you behind, you know.”

“Yes, I know that, but there’s so much I want to know before it’s the end of term. Can you imagine almost getting to the end of the book… and then PAH, we get assigned the next edition in the series?” Mark said as he served himself a slice of chocolate tart. “And that’s happened to me already. The first two years.”

Emma arched an eyebrow and he retorted in response, “Before you say it: yes, I read during the summer.”

“Well, you should still… rest a little, like you did on the train today,” she suggested as she leafed through the same book she’d been teasing on the train. Her pavlova was left in shambles to the side as she annotated through her book.

“Anyway,” she said, glancing at me now, “I hope you’re ready for the practical, Abby.”

I smiled nervously at that, thinking about the weight of my work and how it had become a thick stack of parchment.

“I guess I’m more than ready to start on my proofs,” I said, resting my weight forward on my arms. My palms were suddenly sweaty and warm against the wood of the bench.

“Oh.” Emma parted her lips in surprise and then she added warmly, “Well, there’s still time yet, so don’t rush more than you should.”

Mark glanced up at me from his second slice of chocolate tart. “I would wish you the best of luck, but we all know that your work and effort will be worth it.”

I said that I hoped so, but I wasn’t feeling at all hopeful. I felt like the little hairs on my arms were on end, and I wanted to get up and do star jumps. I wanted to shout into the void, above everyone’s heads. My heart beat faster and my fingertips were itching to do something, anything.

“Well, jolly good,” I said, then, from within this alertness.

Mark and Emma looked up; their eyes widened a little.

“I’m going to the dormitory, so… goodnight,” I registered in a blink, and then I upped and left the Great Hall for the night.

~*~

I lied awake some five hours after returning from dinner. The girls had all climbed into bed and they had blown out their candles. It would have been pitch dark had it not been for the moon glimpsing in from a crack between the curtains. I stared at the sharp silver rays that cut through the dark.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I had to go off on, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the words, the books, and the job packet. The reminder lingered at the pit of my stomach, weighing me down like an anchor in the most unpleasant way: through the cream pie I shouldn’t have eaten. My stomach grumbled in agreement.

But then there were my notes.

I thought about my notes.

I thought about the practical.

I thought about doing something to stop my thoughts from going around my head like serpents and whizzing fireworks.

Somehow, I did, I suppose. In a split second, I took a deep breath and decided to just get it over with. I sat up in bed, turned to the side, walked to my trunk, opened it, retrieved my notes and materials, took my wand from my bedside, and I lit my way out of the tower. In one fluid set of movements, my slipper-clad feet were softly falling on the steps.

The common room was dark and the moon beaconed the way, its light leading down to the bottom of the great door. I glimpsed up the stairs and looked back to the handle. Again, I pressed forward on my decision. I was already half-way there, so I figured that I should continue.

The door moved soundlessly, and on I went. My thoughts lingered on the Astronomy tower, where the alcove overlooking the lake resided. The dim light of my wand lit the way there. I thought of myself as a disembodied light, like a will-o’-the-wisp, that hobbled down corridors and up staircases. No one and nothing could hold me back.

I breathed deeply when I arrived.

My thoughts paused in their rotations.

I sat on the stone floor and prodded my stack of notes with my wand. “Separatum.”

The pages separated from each other and stacked beside me like dominos. The first I lifted off of the ground and waved a hover charm over it so that it could rise to the level of my eyes.

I set a book in front of me and straightened my back.

A wave and a flick were necessary to show the movement of the spell on an object, especially in the spells I had taken from my charms textbook. I waved and flicked, and the book raised itself up into the air and leaned back a little. The cover opened slightly and its pages flipped through as if they were being turned by a soft breeze.

Next, I lifted another set of notes up to my eyes and I tapped the book twice with a wave to the right.

The pages became leaves, brown and crisp to the touch. Then I returned to my notes again. I just needed two more sets…

The next two pages focused on its growth. It was a charm, of course, but I couldn’t help myself with charms. There was always something one charm had in common with another, mainly through the change of meaning and intention, but I had an inkling that it pertained in the structure of the spell itself, the language. This one was more aligned with the aspect of transfiguration. I set my wand on the bookplate I’d left on the floor beneath the book, and then I struck up, thinking Insurgo. Vines erupted from the bookplate and they connected to the spine of the book.

I prodded the book and its leafy pages and I whispered aloud, “Crescere…

The book opened, virtually bloomed like a flower, and the vines that came from the pages became branches. The spine of the book became a trunk that was three fingers wide. I gasped at the movement, and then I stopped it.

Desino!” I hissed, pressing my wand to the book spine.

The quickly erupting vines reached for the sky and wilted down a little. It seemed then that the plant-like aspects of the tree were sleepy, and the green was slowly fading away.

I brought up another page from my notes and circled the plant with my wand very slowly. The last spell was a homeostasis charm from our Advanced Herbology textbook. I sighed, then, and lied down on the floor with a groan.

And that’s where I lingered in the moonlight with a plant I had created, perhaps not the first of its kind, but a work all my own. Buzzed with satisfaction, I glanced up into hits thin and wide leaves. The buds were opening in flat rectangles, and the petals were rough, thin squares.

Merlin, I thought. Would Flourish and Blott’s profit from this? Or would it change things in the book-buying industry?

I couldn’t possibly imagine having a shrub or a tree that grew books, but there it was, before my eyes, a combination of so many spells… and I had to repeat the process in front of McGonagall.

~*~

In my haste to hide and tend to this new phenomenon, I had to go down to the Greenhouses that same night so I could plant the bookplate in its own pot. Then I had to let the plant prosper behind the several plants Professor Sprout had set aside for next fall. It was the best place to put something that wouldn’t startle anyone, much less ask for attention. I watered it and gathered fertilizer around its trunk and vines.

Then, after I hid it, I headed back to the tower and prayed that no one would find it.

But there was this presence I couldn’t shake off. My skin itched at the feeling of being watched as soon as I entered the great hall. I glanced in all directions that were in the moonlight. I slipped into the shadows so that my eyes could adjust.

I hid behind a pillar, and I thought long and hard about what was going on.

There was a tap tap and a hiss of fabric. I gasped and pressed forward against the wall. I looked from the slants of moonlight across the flagstones of the Great Hall and the archways that led to the moving staircases and the classrooms.

Quickly! I thought. The chance I had of escaping this moment and this place was slim, but I couldn’t make progress if I stayed here. I thought about my bed and the safety of the dormitory in Ravenclaw tower, and I pressed my slipper-clad feet forward. I walked quickly down the hall and kept my thoughts on that bed and the comforting darkness that would hang around the bedposts. I thought about the coolness of the curtain by my nightstand.

Quickly, I pressed forward, never once resting on the balls of my feet. I used them to grab momentum on my way down the hall, so fast that my legs ached. It barely phased me how dimly lit my stumbling walk went onward to the moving staircases. All that mattered was that I could see.

Quickly, quickly, quickly!

I raised my thighs up the steps and I subsided the burn in my legs for the adrenaline in my step. Faster! The fear of whatever might be behind me dived deeper than anything else I had ever felt in my life. Would the caretaker find me? Was it the caretaker who had followed me? What was it that had made that tap tap and hiss of fabric in the Great Hall? I covered my mouth and breathed through my nose so hard that my nose and nasal passages burned whenever the air flow went in. My heart beat frantically against my chest and my lungs blew up with pain, expanding so far as to feel like they would pop out of my breast.

I stopped at the fifth staircase up where I fell onto my hands and knees. I sucked in several deep breaths and paused. I hoped that it would stop the pain, end it. My fear was still present at the back of my head, still, like a hat that I wasn’t really wearing.

I turned to look down the stairs.

The dark spaces between the faintly flickering candlelight echoed a sense of urgency in my now cold and clammy body. My legs felt flimsy underneath my calm and steady heart. I raised my lightweight arms and pulled myself up. I pursed my lips and huffed at my legs. I needed steady footing for this, and I thought it was so ridiculous how my feet stumbled and caught on the steps. Maybe we would all be wimps at the end of a chase like this. I had never thought of my lack of exercise until the moment I limped my way up those stairs.

I went on, anyway, with the notion that maybe they were many floors below me. My breath rasped against my throat when I reached the Great Door.

What a moment to answer a riddle.

“What begins and has no end?” the eagle asked, its question only a voice in the dark.

I glared into that dark nothingness. “Eternity.”

The door opened, and I stepped in behind it and lied down against it with a heave and sigh of immediate relief. It was all literally behind me.

~*~

“You look… exhausted,” Emma commented at breakfast the next morning.

I looked up at her from my sunken gaze. I really did feel like my eyes were sinking into my skull, but I got past it with little bits of shut-eye. I also said little bits because there were moments of instant darkness that I couldn’t tell apart (did I choose to close my eyes or did they close themselves?).

I was definitely never going to do that again, I decided.

“I… could be,” I admitted. “There are worse things, though.”

Like getting caught in the middle of the night and getting detention for being up past midnight without a pass.

Thank goodness I didn’t get detention.

Although, I could have been ashamed, but my triumph was worth more than that.

“You look pleased with yourself. I can only wonder why,” Emma went on, this time going on to serve herself potatoes and scrambled eggs.

There was no way she would have known, I realized. All the girls had been fast asleep when I made it back to the dormitory. The need to tell her of last night’s adventure tickled me from the inside, but I stopped it from becoming too much. I had McGonagall’s practical due the next day.

~*~

Mark and Emma sat away from me with their respective partners in Potions that same day.

I sat at my table and I rested my head on my arms soon after.

Maybe this would be the worst day of my life, I thought.

That was until Snape arrived.

“Long night?” he inquired.

His presence lingered over me like an obelisk. I squinted my eyes up at him, thinking to hear a sneer in his voice. I was right; he was sneering ever so slightly, the edge of his mouth curved upwards, simply a teasing twinge of a facial muscle.

I wanted to throttle him, but I knew I never would bring myself to act on it. I wasn’t the kind to act out violently for teasing or getting offended by anything. I bit my tongue and thought over what I would say. What would I say? Did he deserve any words?

I huffed and turned my head away from him. He didn’t deserve my acknowledgement.

“Well, long night or not, we have work to do,” he continued in a more civil, softer note.

I sighed and debated the pros and cons.

If I got up and worked, I wouldn’t be at my best, and he would notice. I wasn’t sure if he would tell on me for it, but I dreaded it. There wasn’t anything more disheartening than seeing pity in a professor’s eyes, and I did not want to see Slughorn look down on me.

And if I left for the comfort of my own bed — No. I couldn’t do that either. It was ill witted an excuse to lose a day of schoolwork. It would end up like a blimp on my good work ethic, and that would never look great to anyone I would want to apprentice with.

I forced myself to get up and follow up with him.

“For the sake of a productive day… please speak softly to me. I don’t think I’ll be able to take anything loudly.” I hoped that he would understand, but I doubted that he would.

He lifted his dark brows at that, and he asked, “Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of staying awake?” Wouldn’t it make it easier for me to fall asleep?

I blinked up at him in bleak confusion. “What?”

“Speaking softly to you would only make it easier for you to fall asleep. Speaking clearly and loudly to you would make you concentrate and stay on task,” he explained, now shifting to remove his textbook from his bag along with a quill and inkwell. “Being so, I will speak loudly to you. For your own sake.”

I glared at him, still confused. Why was he being so nice to me?

Wait, no— I looked thoughtfully at him. He was giving himself an excuse to raise his voice at me.

“Well, then, we won’t get anything done if you just stand and gawk at me like that. Slughorn’s written the potion on the board, don’t you see?” He pointed to the front of the classroom where Slughorn had indeed set the list of necessary potions in five chalky lines.

“Let’s get to it, then,” I sighed.

I turned my textbook to the page of the first potion just as he set a list of ingredients beside it. I caught sight of about two ingredients that weren’t on the original recipe.

I arched an eyebrow up at him.

“Choose the freshest ingredients,” he advised, already starting the burner.

I frowned, but went on to get the ingredients.

Peculiar as he was acting, the rest of the class went by smoothly. He spoke clearly and loudly, but he also spoke gently when he didn’t have to. I observed him closely, but I kept my distance. What could have possibly changed his attitude this much? He didn’t even hide his book when I looked over his shoulder at the annotations he’d scribbled down.

God, his writing was slanted and spidery. The curve of his cursive was impeccable and consistent. My mouth propped open of its own free will and I forced myself to close it before he got the wrong idea. I was not a guppy, and I was most certainly not a fish to be gaping about everywhere I went. I noticed from his glance that he got that impression almost at once — and I most certainly was not going to give him the pleasure of uttering a single word against my person.

I looked away that one time, realizing how intimate it was to even look at his annotations, anyway.

“It doesn’t become you to flatten your mouth so much; it makes you look like an old hag,” he said instead.

I gaped at him at that, and for the nerve of him.

The bare nerve of him!

He was smirking to himself. Pleased with himself.

I fumed, breathed deeply, and counted to ten.

One.

There was nothing wrong with us being partners.

Two, three, four, five.

He was such a dunderhead. I had more important things to be worried about.

Six, seven, eight…

Honestly, I had Transfiguration to focus on. I had a practical coming up.

Nine.

Merlin.

I calmed instantly. My mind stopped racing and my pulse dropped to a calm, easygoing pace.

He turned the potion and then asked, “Are you ready to fill the vials?”

“Yes,” I answered, already reaching for the stand on the table. “Do you want to go with me to drop them off at Madame Pomfrey’s office after class?”

“I suppose I might have some time…” he drawled.

I paused to check his skin coloring, his eyes, and his hands. Nothing seemed off. He was still the same pale color he had always been (I supposed that he didn’t go outside much). His eyes were the same inky black; the pupil looked about the right size for a place that was dimly lit. His hands, with their long fingers and broad palms, were still steady. There was nothing off about his posture either.

I remained where I was with the pipette, ready to fill the vials. My mind was in transit, as it had been for the entire time I had been thinking about what I had to do with my life during the holidays. I didn’t stay on this for too long before moving onto the next idea.

I had to send my job packet soon, but to do that, I needed to go to the owlery.

He cleared his throat from beside me, and my eyes clasped onto his.

He casually blinked in return. “The vials.”

“Oh, right, the vials,” I replied, suddenly incredibly mindful of his lashes. They were sparse and delicate. Just like everyone else’s eyelashes. I looked away and took my pipette from the table.

I filled the vials and then I helped him clean the station. After that, I slung my satchel over my shoulder and I carried the case of vials against my chest.

By then, the whole class was busy putting things away. Some students were leaving with their potions in tow. Others had to throw their potions away because they had failed to make their potion properly before the class period was over. Professor Slughorn gave one of his Slytherins, a dark fellow with deep set eyes and a leering grin, a disgusted look. Kit simply went on working alongside the do-nothing student, going along with the book and not really caring for anything except getting done.

I waited for Snape. He put away his cauldron and then he went to get his things.

“Ready?” I asked, leaning away from the desk now.

Emma glanced over from where she was working with Pettigrew, and she did a double take.

I waved to her as Snape slung his bag over his shoulder and carried his books up against his chest.

“It’s good to see that you’re more efficient at readying yourself for the end of class than readying the potion,” he commented with a bit of a nod to me.

I snorted and he looked taken aback by my lack of good manners.

“What? I admit that I was almost asleep at the beginning of the class, but… would it hurt if you let me be human?” I replied, not at all cross but slightly finding his approach amusing.

Snape arched an eyebrow but followed my lead. “I suppose that you wouldn’t want your work ethic to suffer.”

Where was the snide and sarcastic tone? I wondered, but I kept my mind on my to-do list. Potions first, then the Owlery, and then more practice for tomorrow! …I wondered if my book plant had still gone unnoticed in Greenhouse 4.

We walked out from the dungeons and made a trek up to the fourth floor.

“So were you helping me in your own way, then?” I wondered.

He sniffed. “You are capable of creating potions without my assistance, but don’t let that get to your head, McGain.”

A thrill went through me at his tone. There we are. I smiled in spite of myself. Maybe… maybe I could go along with this. We were just classmates and we were teasing that line of closer association. I worried my lips together at the thought.

Would I find it troubling to make him my friend? What sort of consequences did I see in my future? I glanced at his annotated potions book in his arms. Well, for one, we could talk about his findings, and another… I could discuss something of my own. Whatever he wanted to know, perhaps. But did I have anything interesting to bring to the table? I burrowed my eyebrows and focused on the moving staircase that was coming our way. We were almost to the third floor.

“Well, I’m not letting it get to my head. I’m not a Gryffindor,” I replied offhandedly, letting my mind go afloat. I don’t know what came over me, but as we walked up the last staircase, I decided that it would be best to be honest, so I spoke truly of my thoughts, “I do admire your tenacity, though.”

Had this happened a month or so before, I wouldn’t have said a word. I was just as taken aback as Snape was when we strode down the corridor to the great doors of the Hospital Wing.

His inky black eyes shifted elsewhere and he grasped his books tighter to his chest. I wondered if I had been mistaken to have been so blunt and so—

“Pardon me if that was too brusque—” I started, my heart in my throat.

Snape burrowed his eyebrows and opened his mouth to say something, but he stopped when a trio of students – all three were Hufflepuffs, perhaps second years – stepped out into the hall. They burst out loud, laughing, and then they glanced at us once with a confused set of looks. The last of them held the door open for us.

“Thank you for being so kind,” I said, taking the door.

She nodded and stepped around Snape to catch up with her friends. The moment of silence led to an abrupt set of giggles and chatting down the hall.

“Go ahead,” I told Snape.

He had swapped his once confused expression for a more etched-in-stone scowl.

“You shouldn’t do that to your face. It’ll probably stay like that forever,” I said under my breath, and I covered my mouth as soon as I had said it. The box, the case, almost dropped from my arms. The vials! They tinkled in their slots.

He tensed and paused for a moment before we walked forward. “Do. Not. Forget. The. Vials, McGain.”

The vials, I realized, were in a case in my arms. I held them against my chest with my left arm and I used my right to keep it balanced. My cheeks burned with my dignity.

Quickly, then, we met with Madame Pomfrey who accepted the case with the utmost care.

“Thank you so much. Your potions are some of the best in the batch, to be sure,” she said, acknowledging us in one moment and turning to her patients the next.

There were a few cases of the common cold, the flu, and a few others with bodily injuries.

Snape turned and paused. I in turn looked away from the hospital beds and the whitewashed walls. He seemed slightly less sallow in this light. I studied the rise and fall of his eyebrows and the presence of color in his eyes. Black eyes don’t really exist, do they? Maybe his eyes were a deep and darker brown. I tilted my head to the side as I explored the other areas of his face, but he was starting to look at me strangely.

I blinked and straightened up.

“I admire your tenacity as well; good afternoon, McGain,” he said with a curt nod before he left. "Make sure to get adequate sleep tonight."

I lingered there and opened my mouth to reply, but by then he was gone.

~*~

“Well, Merlin couldn’t have cast or made the spell by the usage of the moon’s trajectory in space. The moon, by the way, has no magical properties,” Emma stated. “So it might be more reasonable and factual that he was suggesting the use of a quarter moon or a full moon in his spellwork as a time marker since it’s so… ancient. And you can't use sundials at night.”

I passed by the Great Hall to pack a quick lunch to miniaturize into my pocket; I thought that it would be better to make a sandwich and eat on my way to Herbology. I had to see how my plant was fairing. The proofs I had left at home hadn’t really thrived since I had stunted their growth and set them to ashes in the fireplace.

“…so you are suggesting that he, as well as other sorcerers in his time period, used the moon as a time marker… That would mean that some of these spells took days, wouldn’t it? Or weeks!” Mark wondered and then gasped.

Emma nodded and pointed the feathered part of her quill at him. “Exactly.”

I had to go to the owlery, anyway.

“Oh, hello there, Abigail, my dearest friend,” Emma began.

I glanced up at her and then at Mark. They couldn’t have looked more indulged; they were both writing up a foot or so of their magic theory essays and Emma was preparing sandwiches. She handed me one as I closed my eyes and shook my head in an attempt to regain some level of clarity. My mind was floating in primordial sleepiness.

“I saw you with your potions partner. Have you been playing nice?” she asked me as soon as I opened my eyes.

I blinked a bit and shrugged. “Meh?”

Honestly, I thought, he wasn’t that terrible after all. I also needed a nap. Soon.

“You definitely haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep,” Mark remarked, looking at me speculatively. He was probably taking in my sunken eyes. I could feel them melting into the back of my skull. Or was my skull fluctuating out of my eye sockets?

Emma frowned worriedly at me. “Aw, Abby. You have Herbology soon, don’t you?”

Everything was becoming soupy. I yawned and shook my head again. Alertness! Alertness is key!

“Yes, but I just need to go to the owlery and then it’ll be smooth sailing,” I answered. I could do this. This wasn’t the first time I had been working on four hours of sleep.

I needed a cup of coffee.

I glanced down into one of the empty goblets and held it in both of my hands.

“Please, may I have coffee?” I asked, and glanced up beseechingly into the see-through ceiling of the Great Hall. The sky was a delightful pale yellow with a series of fluffed up clouds and sparrows lingering on the ramparts of the castle.

Suddenly, there was a trickling sound and my goblet felt heavy. I lowered it and looked into its insides. Sure enough, there was a dark liquid in it. I tipped it onto my bottom lip and sipped a little. Bitter, it was bitter and warm.

“Thank goodness for house elves,” I sighed, and sat down.

Mark and Emma glanced at each other with mirrored amazement, and I settled in to use the milk pitcher and the sugar jar. I didn’t stay long after, and their voices disappeared from my hearing as I drank my creamy smooth concoction. It could have been better if I had added a bit of peppermint flavored pepper-up — healthier, really. Alas, I had to get going. I said goodbye and raced up to the owlery.

The owlery was a high trek up the West Tower. The wind bit at my cheeks and I held my cloak closed around my neck. Perhaps I could start using my scarfs tomorrow. Inside, the owls flew to their perches while others lingered on glassless window ledges and dark cubbies. My heart calmed as I caught my breath; I was also alone, thank goodness. I walked up to a cream-colored barn owl and held its eyes as I came up towards it. It stared so steadily with its beautifully round honey-brown irises that it was difficult to figure out if it was terrified or unafraid. I stopped three of four steps away to test it. I took out my rolled up packet from my satchel and held its eyes.

“Steady does it,” I spoke aloud.

There was no one here to see me speaking to myself. I took a slight step forward and asked aloud, “Is it alright if I—”

The cream-colored barn owl blinked owlishly and scooted side to side on its claws. It hooted at the crunch beneath my shoes. I took a step back and contemplated it and the ground; there were brittle and whole pieces of bones and graying droppings. Then I looked back up at the owl.

My hands grew clammy. I didn’t have the time for a test of wits. The lunch hour would be short lived with the walk I had to take down to the greenhouses from here. I didn’t want to give up, though. Why would I give up? I thought about Flourish and Blotts — the books, their shelves, the spiral staircases, and the chandeliers. My aspirations became a thick burst of air in my chest as I took in a deep breath.

Then I stepped forward until I was a nose’s distance from the bird. Its eyes, so amber and smooth, were still so eerily wide and always watching. I swallowed and wiped my damp palms on my cloak. At first, I hesitated. Would if I had had an owl as a pet before. I needed the practice, but then I reached out and took the owl’s leg as tenderly as I could.

The owl, in turn, allowed it. I tied my scroll to its leg with the safest knot I knew and I finished it with a bow. Then I stepped back and almost cowered in fear as the owl spread out its wings. They were so wide with their layers of fluffy white and cream feathers. The wings bent and began their trajectory — flapping up and down, up and down, until the owl glided up and away, out of one of the windows.

I stood there for quite a while, surrounded by the sound of flapping wings and owls hooting and preening.

“You did well.”

I jumped at the voice and turned and almost froze in place. My heart thudded against my ribcage, in fear and astonishment.

It was Sirius, and I was definitely going to be late to the greenhouses.

~*~

A/n:

Sorry that it took a while. My schoolwork got heavy and I just finished my finals last week. I’ve been tediously working on this throughout my free moments, and now I’m free until classes start again in January.

So… I guess I’m making up for it in the length of this chapter… I’m hoping that I’ll at least be forgiven for it? (There are nice things coming up, I guess. They’ll coincide with the present now, I think. It’s going to be Christmas soon, but it’s winter in the fanfic, so I suppose that works…)

Anyway, I’d like to make this as fun as I can, so if you are a reviewer, I have a question for you:

What would you like to happen next? What are you looking forward to in the fanfic and in these wintery (and perhaps summery) holidays?

I’ll be right back in a couple of days, I assure you xD I have nothing better else to do, and I’ve been itching to write.

(I hope you guys won’t mind the longer chapters…)

Much love and Mexican hot chocolate (of the Ibarra and/or Abuelita brands, I guess),
Melina

Chapter 14: Rhythm and Pacing
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Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling is the sole owner of the Harry Potter Universe. I just write in it for fun.

“Rhythm is the repetition or alternation of elements, often with defined intervals between them. Rhythm can create a sense of movement, and can establish pattern and texture.” — Elements of Visual Design - Rhythm

Chapter 14: Rhythm and Pacing

Had I not had coffee, I would have fainted in an instant, but I almost swayed on the balls of my feet at the sound of his voice. My stomach turned and whined. I thought of the sandwich Emma had given me, and then I thought about heading down to the greenhouses before class began.

But, then… I stared at Sirius.

He was standing there, like how a stick of charcoal stands out against a sheet of parchment. I opened my mouth, but I didn’t know what to say. What would there be to say? I hadn’t seen him for over two weeks, and I didn’t care to return to the awful feeling of my feelings shriveling up in my chest like dead leaves at a door that no one would open. Too much, it was too much.

“I—” he began, and I didn’t want to hear him or look at him.

I sighed and bowed out, past him and out of the owlery so I could walk down the stairway and into the warmth of the castle.

He followed me. “Hey, I say, wait. I know that you have a… lot of stuff to do, but I’ve been thinking—”

Who cared what he had been thinking.

I propped the door open for him and kept walking. He kept at my heels like Renard would chase after Maury when there were treats to be had. I stopped on a step, glanced back at Sirius, and stared him down.

“I have to go to class,” I said, my voice croaking. I cleared my throat and burrowed my eyebrows. I also needed to eat my sandwich and the rest of my lunch. The bread was probably soggy by then. “So, say what you will, but say it now.”

“Well, alright,” he began, leaning back as he brushed back his shoulder-length hair. “Well, I’ve been thinking that I could use your help this term… perhaps we could see each other at the library sometime?”

I blinked and leaned back away from him. “There is a group for that, you know. You do know about Lily’s group, right?”

He blushed at that, and then he sighed and brushed his hair back again. “Yes, I do, but, oh, never mind.”

“What is it that you wanted to tell me, Sirius, that you had to tell me now?” I asked; my annoyance increased and became a fist in my chest. I didn’t care if I seemed impertinent or rude. I only needed to know, and then I needed to leave as soon as possible.

Sirius pressed his lips together and then started again, “Well, I—”

I raised my eyebrows at him and exhaled through my nostrils. He visibly teetered and widened his eyes at me.

“What. Is. It?” I asked. “Out with it, then? Or I’ll leave, because I have a class to get to.”

A couple of students came by around then. Some second year Ravenclaws. I smiled as I stood aside and let them step by. Sirius sidestepped them and glanced down at me. I frowned and raised my eyebrows expectantly just as soon as he looked at me. To hell with this, I thought as I took out my sandwich. My stomach was growling as loud as it could go.

“It turns out that I have an opportunity with my lady love,” he started.

I laughed around my bite of scrambled egg and ham sandwich. All of this commotion for something so insignificant and minuscule. I rolled my eyes at the consternation of it, and I pressed a hand to my heart. The embers of my feelings were still there, and I had to be gentle about them. It was easy to create fantasies about people, and it was just as easy to let them come alive again. I realized that as I glanced up at Sirius in that stairwell.

He was beautiful, he was, but he wasn’t interested in me. Maybe there was something between us that didn’t stick. I wondered if he was oil and I was water. If that was it, then what would stick? I thought back to midnight when we were on the end of an old year and the beginning of a new year, when Claude had brushed back my hair.

I didn’t need anyone. I had to remind myself of that, no matter how much my heart longed for someone else to walk alongside me, who would hold my hand and hold a conversation… someone who would say sweet nothings, someone who would also answer and feed the questions I had within me. Someone who would mirror my fascination and curiosity.

“Or at least I think I have an opportunity to win her over again,” he continued.

That turned my mind. What a daydream. Maybe I could look at it another time. I would write about it.

“Fine, I’ll help you. That’s all you had to say,” I replied, trying not to sound as exasperated as I felt.

I did have a soft spot for this handsome Marauder, after all.

I finished my sandwich and wished for a flagon of pumpkin juice. I’d have to wait until I got down to Herbology so I could get water from the fountains there, specifically the fountain in Greenhouse 6, where class was going to be held today. I hoped that Gregory wouldn’t be disappointed with me once I got there. I was disappointed enough.

“I’ll see you later, then… at the library?” Sirius prompted. He had such a spectacular smile.

I wondered if he would be on a cover of Witch Weekly someday, but then I realized that he wouldn’t. As melodramatic as he was, there was no chance that he would be in that crowd of witches and wizards who only cared about their appearance. He didn’t seem to care all that much about his own. He didn’t fuss about his clothes or his hair. He was just himself.

I sighed and waved. “Yes, I’ll be there. On Saturday, if you don’t mind? I have a busy week ahead.”

“Yes, of course. Busy bee Ravenclaw that you are,” he complimented me, speaking with a note of affection. “Saturday afternoon or Saturday morning?”

I smiled all the more for it and glanced up at him at the end of the stairwell. “Saturday afternoon. I think sleeping in will be a good thing after a busy week back.”

“That’s wise. Well, I’ll see you then.” He waved, I waved, and then I went my way and he went his.

~*~

“Well, look who it is. I thought that the castle had swallowed you whole,” Gregory teased.

I took a deep breath and sighed loudly. The walk down to the greenhouses was good exercise, but my lungs would have to take a while to get used to it, same with my burning calves.

“Alas, you are disappointed in me,” I replied, putting on my gardening gloves. “I got caught up with other matters; oh, I should tell you everything!”

Gregory laughed as he finished preparing our new pots. “Let’s not go that far. We aren’t allowed to stay here overnight.”

I simplified my answer as best as I could, “I applied to work at Flourish and Blotts in Diagon Alley. My Transfiguration practical is tomorrow, I spent most of my break making proofs for it… and I finally made it. Would you like to see it?”

“Yes, please! I’m doubly curious,” Gregory answered. “Just don’t forget that we have to start on our next project today…”

I casually slipped from the greenhouse and ducked into Greenhouse 4, where I gleamed over the slumbering mandrakes. And then I saw the place where I had shrouded my book plant among a line-up of potted herbs. I glanced around to make sure that I was alone — I was — and then I scooped my plant up into my arms as if it were my child. Cautious, I covered it with my cloak and then casually walked back into Greenhouse 6.

Gregory stood at the middle table near the back and he looked at me warily.

“What’ve you got there?” he asked.

I uncovered it and set the pot on the table in front of him. “My project. Leaves and books and all.”

He put on his gardening gloves and then asked me, “May I?”

I allowed it, and smiled as he examined the leaves, the budding books, and the small branches. He tore a bit off and looked at it from underneath.

“This is amazing. How did you put it together? Did you blend two different plants and add the book in the middle?” Gregory wondered. “I’m beyond amazed, Abby.”

I smiled to myself, exhilarated and excited. “I know; it’s the most I’ve ever gotten done with a bit of exploration, and it was all spellwork.”

“Oh,” he replied, aghast. “That’s dangerous. Plant life has to be treated with care. Magic is a wild and untamable force. It’s a miracle that your plant didn’t grow right through the roof and windows of wherever you put it.”

“I used a homeostasis charm on it to keep it from growing exponentially. Trust me, I know these things. I made proofs to calculate what spells would work and which ones wouldn’t, the logical way to problem solve,” I countered, sitting on one of the stools.

Proofing was one thing I could take from Study of Ancient Runes and Arithmancy that I wouldn’t find anywhere else.

“I only need this for McGonagall’s practical. I don’t know what I’ll do after it. I could destroy it,” I went on, thinking aloud.

Gregory flipped a page of a blooming bud. “I wouldn’t destroy it. I quite like the aesthetic. You could make several galleons on a project like this. Perhaps you could ask Professor McGonagall about it and see what she says.”

I leaned on the tabletop and looked up at him with a smile. “I think I will.”

~*~

Gregory helped me hide my plant in our greenhouse and then we each went back to our independent lives. I was glad that I had decided to forget about the boys and to focus on the other things I was both excited and terrified about. Showing Gregory my magically mutated creation was like applying salve onto my wounds; he showed me that he was most definitely someone I could trust. In fact, it strengthened our steadfast friendship.

“Good luck in Transfiguration tomorrow,” he said before waving and walking away.

Emma stood by and waved with me as she said, “What are you going to present to McGonagall tomorrow?”

“You’ll have to wait and see,” I replied with a knowing smile.

We went back to the Great Hall for the remnants of lunch, and found Mark writing up two essays at once. But then we realized that he was just editing the new changes of one essay onto a new sheet of parchment.

“Juggling two sets of ideas, I see…” Emma said, looking over his parchment curiously. “Oooh! It’s just one essay. How long have you been reworking it?”

“It’s been a day now, but I think it’s as clear as I’m thinking about it in my head,” he answered. “I’m just glad that my study period happens to stretch around lunch.”

“We have Magic Theory tomorrow afternoon, so you’re in good time anyway… Ahead of time, but that’s alright,” Emma comforted as she sat down and gleamed the table for any good leftovers.

I returned my miniature plate to the table and resized it, and then I saw it vanish before my eyes.

“I wrote mine over the holidays,” I mentioned as I started to get bits of fruit together on another plate. Mmm, pomegranate seeds and honeydew melon.

Mark paused for a moment before adding the last paragraph on his paper. “I wrote mine over the holidays also, but it wasn’t quite right. I also changed my mind about the topic. There was something more interesting that I discovered through my Remembrall over the holidays, and I just had to write about it.”

Emma raised her eyebrows at me and I smiled at her in return. Professor Binns seemed like he wasn’t going to care about the material as much as Mark, but we were sure that Mark thought the opposite. He always had a ton of questions, and the two of them talked at the end of class when everyone packed up their things and left for dinner. Mark had a long stretch of patience that we had never tampered with or fathomed to understand.

But then I thought about what his calling might be. He thoroughly enjoyed the courses where we learned the fundamentals of magic and the history of it. Never once did he fall asleep in those courses, not even in Arithmancy or the Study of Ancient Runes where we were steeped in questions of logic and magical symbols. He was a remarkable academic in that sense.

Yes, he would be the better Unspeakable.

“Mark, I don’t think I’ve ever asked, but what did you choose as your profession last year during our career advice sessions?” I asked as I finished scooping up the last of the pomegranate seeds on my plate.

He made one last mark and then blew on the paper before looking up at me.

“A Spellmaster,” he answered. “There’s a chance that I could catalog spells at the Ministry and go to conferences where I can meet other spellmakers and theorists around the world.”

I raised my eyebrows at that. Claude was a spellmaker. I hadn’t really thought about Spellmasters before. I didn’t even know that it was a thing that people could do.

He looked down sheepishly when Emma rubbed his back. “I know, it’s a bit of a feat. It’s not a commonly known profession. Professor Vector suggested that I research about it, and it just fits everything I’m interested in. They also work with Unspeakables, so I guess that’ll be something interesting to look forward to.”

“I thought that they were Unspeakables in the Ministry,” I said, thinking about the mysterious department at the Ministry.

“They aren’t,” Mark clarified once more before he got back to his essay. “We do have Arithmancy in a bit, don’t we?”

Emma sat down beside me and made herself a sandwich. “Yes, we do. We should be on our way soon, I guess.”

Thinking about Arithmancy, I thought about Alea. I hadn’t seen her since the day we left on the train. So it came as a pleasant surprise to see her in the dimly lit classroom on the sixth floor. We hadn’t really sat together after we had made the connection that we had the same afternoon class on Mondays and Wednesdays, but this time around, I made a beeline to her table on the right side of the room where she was sitting by herself.

“Oh, Abby!” Emma whispered from behind me.

Emma and Mark had no other choice but to follow me. I quickly introduced them, and then I took out some sheets of parchment, an ink dispenser, and two sharpened quills.

Alea smiled warmly at the company and said, “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Emma replied, and Mark mumbled the same as he directed his gaze back to the front of the classroom where Professor Vector was swinging open the blackboard to write our lesson alongside a set of equations.

The lecture began with traces of chalk dust; we took notes.

“So, how are you, Abigail?” Alea asked as she dipped her quill in her ink dispenser. “My Christmas was not eventful, I assure you. We just had tea and sat with each other in silence.”

“Oh? How large is your family, Alea?” I wondered. “My mum and I just got a tree, then my family — my sister, brother, our cat and dog, father, mother, and I — stayed in until Boxing Day. It wasn’t much… it was more our typical Muggle Christmas.”

The thought of sending letters surged at the mention of family and the holidays. I glanced up at Emma and I wondered if I had the courage to ask her to deliver my letters like I used to. She was staring at Mark ever so often, and she blushed with a downcast look when I caught her looking at him.

I smiled in return meanwhile and glanced over to Alea who hummed and said, “I have a one other sibling. Little Marie. She’s like a glass doll. Mum frolics over her because she’s the baby… and her health is rather feeble. She spent the whole break with a cold and then a fever. Don’t worry; Father made a couple of potions for her.”

I raised my eyebrows at that. “So you’re just four, then?”

“Yes, an even number,” Alea replied with a side glance and then she smiled. “I’m happy to hear that your odd-numbered family did well.”

Professor Vector took in the room with her deep set eyes and stood alongside the second frame of the blackboard where she had drawn a diagram.

“This is Ptolemy’s table of chords. We will be using it today to understand the dimensions of the Chaldean problem. It has proven to be a headache to some, but it is a way to see if you can implement what we’ve reviewed last term,” Vector said this as she wrote the Chaldean problem.

The Chaldean problem was like a waltz that could only be danced backwards. The solution was given and we had to work backward to find the spell that hid in the numbers. Alea was already trying one solution using Agrippa’s constant. Emma scribbled out the T-tabled method. Mark still stared at the blackboard as if analyzing its presence in the real world.

I just sat back in my chair and wondered why I was taking Arithmancy.

Did I need this class as part of my career? No, I really didn’t. I was only here because it was part of the advanced courses our advisors would suggest if we were still undecided about our careers. I mean, I had chosen Unspeakable, but Flitwick had been kind enough to give me some wiggle room with other courses I could take in order to experiment what worked for me and what didn’t.

Arithmancy was a type of divination, but it was a haze of steps that kept me wondering what would happen next. It also went hand in hand with Magical Theory and Astronomy. It described the real world with numbers rather than words… until it became words. It was a form of ancient cryptology. Whoever thought that it was just meant to divine the future or the past was not entirely in the know that some of the problems we had gone over in class typically hid something substantial like a spell.

And yet, in that moment, it became clear to me that I didn’t need this.

~*~

After class, I waved to Mark, Emma, and Aela, and then stood aside to talk with Professor Vector. She smiled gently at my brief and quick explanation before she signed a note over to me. It wasn’t too late to leave the class, after all. Then I paid a quick visit to Professor Flitwick’s office, where I asked him if I could remove the class from my timetable.

“Did you speak to Professor Vector?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Did she give you a note?”

I set the piece of parchment on his desk.

He took it and then asked me for my timetable. With a little twirl and jab of his wand, the class disappeared from is timeslot.

“Would you like to take another course in its place or perhaps take a study period instead?” Professor Flitwick tilted his head a little in question.

I tilted mine a bit as well, thinking it over.

“I think I’ll just leave that and the other courses until the end of the year. A study period sounds fine to me now… what, with NEWTs and all,” I answered after a second thought.

He nodded and added the study period with a wave of his wand, then, once the timetable had been returned to me, I went down to dinner and caught up with Mark and Emma at the table.

“So, what happened?” Emma asked.

Mark held his fork up in anticipation, a golden square of potato lingered in the air with it. “Did you get your questions answered? I could help you if you like?”

“I just decided not to take Arithmancy anymore,” I answered both of their questions.

Emma burrowed her eyebrows and gave a solemn nod. Mark raised his eyebrows and shrugged a little.

“I guess that it isn’t for everyone,” he said around his potatoes. “I’ll still be around for your other spellwork, though… if you ever run into any problems.”

I breathed in and let go of a large sigh. “I’ll be there for you in return, like I’ve always been.”

I glanced at Emma and smiled. “At least now I have a free period. I can focus more on Transfiguration if I want.”

“Ah, yes, NEWTs; good choice. I’ll just miss seeing you, and I think your Slytherin friend will too,” Emma sighed, nodding in Alea’s direction.

I sniffed back a laugh with a shake of my head. “We have other courses together — with Alea just as much as with you, Em.”

She raised her eyebrows at that, but we carried on.

“I can’t wait to see what you two have for Transfiguration tomorrow. I hope to be amused as much as surprised!” My stomach twisted as soon as Emma had mentioned the practical.

I wondered what the feeling was since I was more than prepared for tomorrow. I had outdone myself; I was sure of it. So maybe I was just nervous?

That night, I settled on writing a bit. I moved from my journal to a fresh sheet of parchment.

I wrote to Mum and Dad, to Claude, and to Maurice. Each letter spoke of the same day and what I hoped to accomplish tomorrow. It was heartfelt and incorrigible. I signed off and folded the pieces individually… and then I turned to Emma. The candlelight was still haloing our bedsides. To my surprise, most of the girls were actually focusing on something curricular. Emma was scribbling away on a long sheet of parchment; at the moment I was staring at her, she was twirling the feather of her quill thoughtfully in the air. She was looking up as if in thought.

I cleared my throat and she looked over at me. Her eyebrows lifted with an expecting look.

“Oh, hello… um, Emma, I was wondering if you could take my letters up for me tomorrow? Maybe around lunch?” I wondered as my cheeks burned with my dignity.

She smiled and nodded. “Sure, just set them on my side table. I’ll be coming up around lunch to change my books around, so that’ll work. I’ll let you know their whereabouts afterward.”

I sighed with contentment and relief. Thank goodness! I thanked her for the great but ever so small gesture of kindness. I didn’t have to face the owls again. Not tomorrow, and I was so grateful for it. So, I set the letters on her side table and then I said goodnight and got ready for bed.

I blew out my candles with the thought of tomorrow’s events. Would they go as I wanted them to? I dearly hoped that they would.

~*~

The following day, I surprised myself by waking up earlier than usual. I supposed that it must have been the nervous energy that threatened to keep me up all night. I didn’t even remember if I had gone to sleep. That was one of the curious things about falling asleep. Things were one way when I’d let my eyelids close and then I’d tumble into a total and impenetrable slumber… only to wake up several hours later with no recollection of anything that happened in between those two moments.

That morning, I went to the girls’ lavatory on the seventh floor and I darted for the showers instead of the bath. Although, the bath would have been splendid for a morning like this, but I reasoned that it would be far better after a long week back. Then I got ready and got all my things from my wardrobe before roaming down the moving staircases, past the Great Hall, and onto the path to the greenhouses. My breath burned my throat and my lungs bruised in my chest, producing some slight pangs as I kept a brisk pace to the greenhouse I would be returning to tomorrow.

No one was up this early and everything was a hazy and dark combination of blues and greens. It was a sleepy morning for the world as much as it was for my classmates. I was glad for it, since I could easily slip in and carry out my project with me. I hid it in my bag in a gap I had made alongside my books. I felt like I was carrying a boulder, but it worked well enough to hide something that no one had seen yet.

I smiled at the thought of seeing my classmates as amazed as Gregory had been yesterday.

On my way back to the Great Hall, I caught a glimpse of a dark figure walking on the horizon. I paused and waited to see who it was. It didn’t take long for them to materialize. I blinked as Severus Snape stepped forth into the torchlight of the Entrance Hall.

He in turn continued on as I waited to walk in behind him. His hair was plastered down as if he’d just taken a bath or a shower, and his robes were much fresh. He also carried a rucksack on his back and a set of books at his side.

Did he take walks this early after getting up to get ready for class? I wondered as I walked into the Great Hall. Some of the Seventh years were already sitting at the table, reading and taking notes meanwhile they ate from a bowl of porridge or a plate of flapjacks. I made to do the same as I kept a careful eye on Snape. He slipped into his seat close to the end of the table where the Seventh years typically gathered. I had never paid this much attention to him before. He looked up as if he noticed that he was being watched, I looked down as I served myself a little bit of everything at the table.

And now I felt like I was being watched.

Luckily enough, I was hungry and I was curious about my own books. I still had to return them to the library, and I planned to do that after Transfiguration. If everything went well, then it would be a great day over all. So, I buttered some toast and put some grape marmalade on it, and I ate it and decided to flip through Charms of the Century.

I was gleaming through Runes of Protection in the section for protection charms when someone tapped the table on the other side of me. I looked up and saw Alea, she smiled down at me as she sat at the table.

“So—Wait for me!” Liliana gabbled after her. She gathered her breath in front of me and waved excitedly. “Oh, hi, Abby! Allie, do you really think that it’s okay for us to sit at other people’s house tables? I mean, I’m all for it, but?”

“We’re just here to give our friend moral fiber,” Alea mentioned before serving herself a plate of crepes with a spoonful of fruits and whipped cream. “She’s showing her project to Professor McGonagall today.”

Liliana awed and then said quite brightly, “Good luck, Abby!”

I smiled and thanked her. “Why don’t you sit down and have some breakfast?”

She shrugged and sat down, and then she went for a goblet of tea and two slices of toast with a small wedge of cheese and some fruit.

I thought it interesting to see them sitting there with me.

“So, I wondered how your dilemma had turned out,” said Alea as she picked out grapes from her plate. “I would have asked yesterday, but your friends were there, and it didn’t seem the right time to ask.”

“I hoped to talk about it on Friday during Study of Ancient Runes,” I replied, but then I thought about how Mark would be there, and it just wouldn’t do to have Mark overhearing a conversation about boys. “But… maybe one of these days at the library?”

“Goodness,” Alea began before being stopped in midsentence by Mark who cleared his throat.

“Abby? I see a Slytherin in my spot…” he asked softly, almost nasally. I began to wonder if he had caught a cold.

Emma elbowed him in the side. “Manners, Mark. We could just sit on the other side. Let’s. It’s not good to be rude in front of guests.”

“You do have a point, Em, but,” he started almost matter-of-factly.

Emma simply pulled him and ushered him around the shorter side of the table. “It’s not too much to do.”

Alea raised her eyebrows as she picked out another grape. “Well, if I had only known… I should get up.”

“No, don’t. You’re a guest, and they already went around the table,” I stopped her.

Mark sat to my right and Emma sat to my left. Mark sniffed as he served himself an English muffin with blueberries and clotted cream.

“Mark, don’t be so rude,” Emma said before she turned to Alea and Liliana and smiled. “Nice to see you again. Alea, was it?”

“Yes,” Alea replied, giving Emma a friendly smile. Her smile faltered a little at the sight of Mark tearing his English muffin and using his table knife to spread the clotted cream on both halves.

I whispered to Mark, “Say hi, please? I introduced the two of you yesterday.”

“Yes, I will say ‘hi’ to your guest,” he answered quietly, still looking down at his muffin halves. He bit into one and waved at Alea with it. “Hello, there. I apologize for not saying ‘hi’ and for being so ‘rude’.”

“You sound like you’re quoting yourself,” Emma softly admonished him. “We just don’t talk to… other classmates from other houses…” she smiled apologetically at Alea, and then turned to Liliana who smiled and nodded along.

“Aye, I know how tough that can be,” Liliana started, and then she glanced at me with a pleading look. “Abby, could you please do the honors?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” I started, blinking at my lack of participation. I introduced everyone again.

Mark waved and went back to his remaining muffin half and propped open his translated philosophy book. He definitely wasn’t going to talk to anyone until class started. I still wondered about his attitude, but I shrugged it off and turned to Emma, Alea, and Liliana.

“We have Muggle Studies and Relations together, I believe,” Liliana mentioned to Emma. “I’ve always wondered what your name was. You’ve lovely hair.”

“Oh,” Emma gasped, then self-consciously brushing back her wavy hair. “Thank you. I hadn’t realized. What side of the classroom do you sit? Perhaps we could sit together next class?”

Liliana smiled so wide that she squinted her eyes delightfully. “Yes, we should! I typically sit by the troublemaker Ravenclaws? The one that makes fun of Muggles?”

“Oh, yes, I know the one,” Emma agreed.

Alea looked thoughtful at that. “…makes fun of Muggles how?”

“He just… wonders why they bother with doing things themselves when there’s magic.” Emma tried to be diplomatic. “He’s just not acquainted with the lifestyle, so to put it simply, he wouldn’t know.”

I raised my eyebrow at that. I wondered if it was Leonel or one of the other boys. It was difficult to imagine Kit being capable of that. He was a lively boy, athletic and outgoing, but he was careful about what he said. He knew how to be respectful. Leonel was probably the one, then. Or… I wondered if there was a fourth or a fifth boy I could place in that situation. There probably was.

“He’s learning, though. I mean, he should. We are going to have assignments outside of class that’ll help refine his attitude,” Emma said understandably.

Liliana shrugged and smiled. “I suppose that’ll help. It’s just such a shame. I have Muggle family members. I mean, they married into the family, but they’re still rather nice. I don’t understand how anyone could see them as anything less than what we are? We’re all human beings, aren’t we? Does magic really amount to anything superior?”

Alea raised her goblet to that. “Right on, Liana.”

Emma didn’t say anything afterward, but she smiled and nodded. She turned to me, pressed her shoulder close to mine, and whispered, “I wish that everyone was like that. I so terribly, terribly wish for it.”

“That’s why we have Muggle Studies,” I replied quietly, taking my goblet and taking a sip. “So that we get to understand each other better without messing up in person.”

We all got up when Alea announced that it was going to be nine o’clock in fifteen to twenty minutes. We all had to go.

“Well, it was lovely, this was lovely. Thank you for having us at your table… despite the strange looks we got,” Liliana chimed in and stretched her hand out to Emma and then hesitated and took back her hand when she offered it to Mark. He kept on reading his book, unaware of our little shenanigans.

“Don’t worry about him. He’s just burrowed in there somewhere… learning,” Emma mentioned as she took Liliana’s hand and shook it. “It was nice to talk with both of you, actually.”

Alea shook her hand as well when Emma turned to her. I shook Liliana’s hand and then shook Alea’s. It was so haphazard that Mark broke out of his book and pressed his spectacles up onto the bridge of his nose.

“Oh? The end of breakfast already? Thank you for the company,” he said as he got up and shook their hands in quick procession.

Alea looked at him appraisingly with a half-open smile, and Liliana beamed at the sight.

Emma blushed, but she smiled like a proud mum probably would.

I blinked and nodded. “Ah, yes. We should get going anyway.”

We gathered our things, and then we made to leave the Great Hall. I was surprised to see that the Marauders were just on their way as well. Lily hugged me in passing and then she hooked arms with Alea and waved back before she disappeared ahead where the moving staircases were. James Potter, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin gathered beside us.

“Hello, Abigail,” Sirius mentioned beforehand, and then he nodded to Emma and Mark.

Mark tilted his head at the sight of the three boys together. “Are we going to class or are we staying in the hall?”

“Going to class, ol’ chap,” James replied, “I can’t afford to have any reports from McGonagall on my tardiness this year. I plan to keep my record clean.”

Remus snorted at that. “He says the same thing every year. I’ll walk ahead. Peter’s going to need a hand with his practical, and I need to help Aurora set up.”

“Shouldn’t we all get going, then? If we’re heading in the same direction?” I mentioned. I didn’t want to be late to class.

James made a quick statement, “Ah, don’t worry about him. Marie’s taken a liking to him. I’m sure that he’s all taken care of.”

Remus Lupin raised his eyebrows at that and shrugged.

We all walked together. Emma stayed close to Mark and Mark helped her along the moving staircases as we were seemingly chaperoned toward the corridor that led to the second floor classrooms.

Sirius stayed beside me, and I couldn’t stay out of step with him. It was at that time that I wished that I didn’t have to be in such close proximity to him.

“So, I did tell you about my lady love, didn’t I?” Sirius asked.

James laughed from beside him. I stared when I saw him reach out to catch… a buzzing snitch? Were they allowed to keep a snitch outside of the Quidditch Pitch?

I glanced at Sirius quizzically. “No? Who is she?”

“She is the fair Serafina. The fairest maiden in all the land—”

Again, James laughed, and Sirius glanced back at his friend with a quick quip, “Prongs, don’t laugh. You know she’s the fairest.”

“Ah, yes, the fairest after Emerine and June… but no, I am keen to remember Bea as well,” he remarked.

I raised my eyebrows at that. There were others?

“Oh, shut it, Prongs. Emerine was a lifetime ago. June left me for that other boy, that Seventh year. And Bea… Bea is graduating this year. She would rather see me slobbering at her feet than actually enjoy me by her side,” Sirius kept on as if I wasn’t standing beside him in the corridor.

I wondered if it would be more prudent for me to walk ahead and leave him behind. Poor Serafina. The more I heard about Sirius’ other girls, the less sympathy I seemed to find. Some boys jogged their mouths a bit too much to be considered truthful, so I doubted that he was so steadfast and invaluable.

“Anyway, so, Abigail—”

I was already out of step with him and walking straight to my side of the table. I paused when I saw Remus Lupin there, and he gave a wink. Somehow, he had beat Sirius to his seat.

“I’ll sit beside you today. There’s no chance that he’ll let you go with all that rambling,” he mentioned as he set his books on the table and sat himself down.

I set my bag by the table and I sat down too. I looked up at the vaulted ceiling and the wooden arcs that ribbed the pinched roof. The chandeliers glistened beneath the light of their melting candlesticks. I just wondered when I’d get to empty my mind of everything I’d heard today. I will be in the library after this, I reminded myself. And then I will go up to my spot and sit under the shelves in my alcove and I will let the silence consume me.

Until then, I was here. I sat up and pulled on my earlobe as I heard Sirius’ distinguishable babble.

“I was… Fine, then. I’ll just leave it for later,” he said… and then he was silent.

The whole class was silent as Professor McGonagall materialized from the side door as a cat and then as herself in midstride.

“Good morning, students. Today is the day of your practical. We will see what it is that you – each and every one of you – chose to bring, and what incantations you must have researched in order to transfigure your everyday objects into some aspect of your personality.”

She stood by her desk and clapped her hands. “Begin. I will walk around to each of your desks to inspect your work accordingly.”

I took my potted plant out from my bag and enlarged it to its proper size.

Remus brought out a burly and brown tabby cat that curled up on the tabletop around his books. He then gasped when he took in my project.

“That’s… how did you do that?” he asked, resting his chin on his fist. “A book plant! That’s remarkable.”

I smiled at him and blushed as I answered, “Days and days of research. They’re all transfiguration spells aided with some charms.” I wondered about his, so I asked, “What’s yours?”

“I just transfigured my coffee into a tabby. I thought it would express my silent but empathetic capabilities… I’m not sure how close that is to the meaning. It’s a bit literal, I find, but it’s as close as I was able to figure it out,” he answered as he turned and stroked his tabby cat’s fur. “You can pet her if you like.”

It was so fluffy, warm, and… it had steam that came off of it as well as the smell of roasted coffee beans. I raised my eyebrows at that. He in turn smiled and playfully stroked the cat’s tail. The cat sauntered around his books like a stream of liquid.

Suddenly I wondered why Remus hadn’t decided to sit with me the whole semester. I turned as McGongall went by Emma’s table in front of us. It was from there that I overheard the questions as the students crowded around to get a better look at the specimen.

“What spells did you use?”

“What does this mean to you?”

Mark had created a book, splayed open on the table, that shared pages with another book, that hovered above it upside down. The shared pages became sand in between their trajectory to either book before they became pages again. It was like a book hourglass. The pages that were transfigured had sentences composed of randomized quotes.

When no thing is not the pointed-out, to point out is not to point out.

“It’s meant to be my eternal dilemma… there’s always something to learn and I have an unquenchable thirst for it that transcends time. There just isn’t enough time to learn everything…!” Mark answered, and added, “The quotes are from one of my favorite philosophers…”

Remus and I stood by Emma’s side as McGonagall inspected Emma’s practical.

Hers was a porcelain swan with painted eyes and cheeks that spread its folded paper wings. There were stacks upon stacks of pages on those wings, and each page was folded like an accordion from the top.

“It’s mostly held together by charms… but I did transfigure the base – a porcelain vase – to be an actual swan,” she explained, and then said the names of the spells. Her answer to the next question was, “The wings are composed of my favorite essays from over the six years that I’ve been here… The whole piece is… supposed to show my mind’s versatility. Each essay is from the many different courses I’ve taken, and each has received either an Acceptable or an Exceeds Expectations.”

McGonagall scribbled notes on her endless scroll.

Next, it was my book plant and then Remus’ coffee tabby cat.

“What spells did you use?” McGonagall asked.

I listed each of them: a growing charm, the homeostasis charm, and a couple of transfiguration spells. One was a binding spell and the other was a conversion spell.

“What does this mean to you?”

I thought back to when I had composed an almost endless list of ideas for myself during the holidays. There had been moments when I had lied down on my bed and stared up at the ceiling. I had a good view of my books from there since I could see the top of my bookshelves. I remembered how much I felt the unreachable urge in my chest to rise up, to create, to be. That was why I read so many books… not as an escape from where I was, but as a way to lurch forward. That pull was undeniably…

“My potential,” I answered.

McGonagall nodded approvingly at my plant, scribbled down some notes on her scroll, and then she gave Remus’ cat a quick admiring glance before she asked him the same questions.

A wave of relief went through me. All the tension vanished and I sat back in my chair. Remus was on the same tide, even as he applauded his friends’ pieces when McGonagall moved onto James and Sirius’ table.

The practical was done.

~*~

A/n:

Well, this is a long one… it goes up to 7K words, so give yourselves a pat on the back if you read through it from start to finish.

I’m probably going to add another chapter in a couple of days depending on what I want to happen next.

A huge thank you to those of you who have left reviews :D I’m thankful and grateful for them. I have so much to do to treat you guys, as well as the other readers, to something special in the later chapters.

Anyway, for anyone interested in answering: what’s been your favorite part so far? Which character would you like to see a little more of later on?

Happy New Year,
Melina

Chapter 15: A Gesture
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Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling is the sole owner of the Harry Potter Universe. I just write in it for fun.

“A gesture drawing is a laying in of the action, form, and pose of a model/figure. Typical situations involve an artist drawing a series of poses taken by a model in a short amount of time, often as little as 10 seconds, or as long as 5 minutes. Gesture drawing is often performed as a warm-up for a life drawing session, but is a skill that must be cultivated for its own sake.

In less typical cases the artist may be observing people or animals going about normal activities with no special effort to pause for the artist. For example, drawing from people on the street, performers, athletes, or drawing animals at the zoo.” – Wikipedia, Gesture Drawing

Chapter 15: A Gesture

After McGonagall’s practical, the week picked up speed and suddenly Friday came along, and I remembered that I had other engagements during the weekend and then the months ahead. I had Study of Ancient Runes with Alea later. I also had Herbology with Gregory… and there was something else. I glimpsed through my journal that morning while preparing myself a bowl of porridge in the Great Hall.

Meet with Sirius on Saturday – at the library; talk about whatever is troubling him.

Oh. It was about Serafina. Whoever she was, I thought of her like an ethereal creature that was slender and willowy; she also sounded like she could be the embodiment of sunshine as it peaked through the trees. Her name was the only point of reference I had, but despite the tone of how angelic she seemed in my mind’s eye, there was only so much I could do for Sirius. I had never been placed in a role like this before, where I was giving counsel to a boy about his love life.

Emma would be better suited for something like this.

But he had asked me specifically… because he considered me to be a friend.

A friend. I furrowed my brows. What had I done as a friend?

Come to think of it, not even Mark had asked me. Maybe Emma knew more about that. I pondered on it, thinking about boys with their thinly veiled interest in their crushes and such – their love for the contrary and their voracious appetites. Maury had gone through his own moments of trial and error, but he had been more focused on his goals to be in a Quidditch team. I tried to remember if he had brought any girls home before, but none came to mind.

Even then, it wasn’t like my brother asked for my advice in that area either… so would my opinion be of any value?

I looked up from my journal and took a sip of pumpkin juice from my goblet and just then I caught a glimpse of a dark shape appear from the corner of my eye.

It was Snape again, with his hair drooping behind his ears as if it had just been washed. I narrowed my eyes at his frame. He wore a crisp ensemble of black: black cloak, black shirt, black pants… I wondered if he was wearing black socks. His boots were black too, but clean, not worn down or marked with use.

Hmmm… Even though it was a shame that we didn’t have Potions together today, I liked his consistency. Noticing how he was then taking out his own books, I went back to my journal and flipped the page over. My stomach croaked, and then I turned my porridge with my spoon and decidedly fed myself the warm and milk-drunken oats.

But where did he go so early in the mornings?

I thought about how I’d seen him on my way back from sneaking out to the greenhouses. At my first bite of strawberries and blueberries, I figured that I should really stop speculating.

I had other things to work on.

~*~

After spending an hour and a half with Gregory (and taking several notes about how our belladonna was fairing with its natural pesticide), I passed by the Great Hall to gather some fruit and a sandwich for a late lunch. Emma sat down by Mark to revise his scrolls of parchment.

Miraculously without anything to work on, Mark relinquished his books and glanced at me across the table. “How goes it, Abigail?”

My mind wandered from seeing Alea and the girls at the library to enjoying the sight of the afternoon owls making it back from a long days’ travel. I took a step back as one set itself apart from the flock, flapped down, and landed plaintively in front of me, its broad wingspan not even a couple of centimeters away from my elbow.

I took a deep breath and then bit down on the last three bites of my sandwich and carefully reached out to its foot.

I liked to think that I could undo knots with deft fingers. I was quick to see how it would come apart. It took me two minutes to unfasten the thin leather straps and the tied bits of twine that held their respective letters aloft.

Mark cleared his throat and Emma seemingly elbowed him softly in the side.

“I can’t see you, but I can hear you,” she remarked, her face covered by a page of parchment. “I don’t care if I’ll look like an oddball for keeping the two of you in line, but please behave for yourself just this once, Mark. What’s happened, then?” Emma started again, taking a different tact.

“I just wanted Abby to tell us what her day’s been like,” Mark asked good naturally.

I’m fine; my day has been fine, thank you, I thought. I could have said something, but I was too caught up in the letters. There were three of them: one from my parents, one from Claude, and one from Maurice.

The owl lingered and preened, but I thanked Merlin that it had put its wings away as I placed the letters together. Then I stood against the table with the bench behind my calves so that I could reach for the stately beef that was still steaming on the table.

I cleared my throat and said aloud, “My day has been fine, Mark, thank you. Yours?”

I sliced through the beef and put it on one of the plates close by, and then I sat down to cut it into broad pieces.

“Thank you! Well, for one, it’s been peaceful. Ridiculously peaceful since I haven’t worked with Patricia for the past few weeks. The professor finally opened independent study, and it’s just been the best,” he replied briefly.

Emma snorted at his commentary. “Ah, if only I had any courses like that, but to be fair… Muggle Studies has been so entertaining now that I’ve partnered up with Abby’s friend, Liliana.”

“Good to know,” I said and smiled. I gave the plate a little push towards the owl.

The owl crept back and peered down at the plate’s contents. I wondered if it would take the hint that the meat was for its own sake… but I didn’t know if owls ate cooked meat. Did they just eat it raw?

“The owl could hunt for its own food,” Mark suggested to me before he turned to Emma. “What of the other girl? Are you fraternizing with her too?”

The owl flapped its wings and left just as I instinctively backed away from the table, not the least bit perturbed about whoever might have seen my reaction. Instead, I was focused on Mark’s suddenly flushed face.

I glanced at him questioningly. “The other girl? Are you talking about Aela?”

Mark still had a dead serious look in his eyes and his face was unmoved by what I’d said. “Yes. That is precisely who I am talking about. Now tell me, are you taking sides with her too?”

Emma glared at him. “I am not on anyone’s side. This is not a Quidditch match for perfect grades! She is not conspiring to win more points than you, and she is not trying to beat your scores to become the best of our class. We talked about this already! You need to focus on your own work and best yourself instead of worrying about besting her.”

Mark creased his eyebrows and frowned; then, he seemed to mutter to himself, “I can’t help but feel that she is better than me.”

“She is not better than you.” Emma softened her voice as she patted him tenderly on the arm. “You’ve just lost your nerve and you lost sight of what’s important to you.”

I glanced back and forth between them, from Emma’s sideways smile to Mark’s pouty lips. And suddenly it made sense.

“So… are you saying that the way you reacted the other day when Aela was at the table… wasn’t because of her house, but because of her grades…?” I asked as carefully as I was able.

Mark took off his glasses and massaged his temples. “Not only are her grades good, but she always answers questions in the classes we share together.”

“Only when Mark doesn’t answer them,” Emma added matter-of-factly. She smirked at the notion. “You do realize that being the first or the second of our class doesn’t really guarantee you a job outside of school, right? It doesn’t really—”

“Yes, it does. It does matter. It matters to me.” Mark refused to lose his place, but then he sighed. “I want to earn my apprenticeship and being second best is no way to get there.”

I shook my head disapprovingly and gathered my books. “Well, Aela might just join us for other meals this year because she is still one of my friends… and I’ll see what she thinks about this.”

Mark put on his glasses and sputtered, “No, no. Don’t tell her about what I said.”

“But how else will you know if she’s after the spot you covet so much? Maybe she’s just clever and likes sharpening her wit for her mind’s sake?” I wondered aloud, already categorizing Aela’s quiet and observative nature.

She was always solving things. Maybe there was more to her than met the eye. Maybe Slytherins weren’t all up to no good when it came to their ambition. What if ambition was just another way to say self-willed?

Then what were we as Ravenclaws? I wondered. And what were Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors?

Was the sorting hat right with its different definitions each year? Did the founders even think this far ahead? I doubted that they would have known that we would be so ill-guided after all these years. Then again, I found it invigorating to wonder about this as I looked back at Mark’s desperate plea for help.

“I won’t do it anymore, I promise; just please don’t tell her about this,” he begged.

Emma raised her eyebrows and went back to skimming through his work. “I’ll remember this strategy the next time you butt heads with that crazy idea that she’s ahead of you, Mark… but, Abby, if you find anything out, can you let me know?”

“You’ll be the second to know, and Mark will be the first. And don’t worry about it so much, Mark. I’m not going to tell her anything about you. I’ll just ask her about where she stands with academia and whatever else helps clarify this situation,” I replied, already thinking about what to ask Aela later in the day.

I tentatively stuffed some of the beef from my plate into my mouth before I gathered my books and left. Mark still had the look of a frantic worrywart, but Emma managed to direct his attention to his work. I had no doubt that she’d soothe his nerves well before I’d leave the Great Hall.

~*~

I ventured into the library to seek out the girls’ table in the library just a bit after noon. Liliana was reading up on divinatory runes for crystal balls and Aela waved at me and beckoned me to sit beside her. Her dark hair was like a still waterfall on both her shoulders, and her very blue eyes were relaxed and kind. The only ones there who weren’t otherwise busy with their students in other areas of the library.

“I sense you have much to tell me,” she started with a sly grin.

I glanced at Liliana and I felt a burst of words stuck in my chest, aching to get out, but I couldn’t start. I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to speak about something so personal in front of them. Emma was the closest friend I had, and Aela was the only other person to whom I had confessed my emotional turmoil.

“She’s trustworthy, and even then, her attention span is longer than my own,” Aela mentioned quietly. “That’s why we’ve been friends for so long… that and her kindness.”

“Oh, Aela, I think I found what I was looking for…” Liliana spoke suddenly.

I wondered if she had heard what Aela had said, but Liliana simply looked up and gaped when she saw me. “Oh, Abby! I didn’t see you there; hello! I’m just here reading about my favorite subject. Yes, I love divination. I personally wouldn’t mind traveling the world and just earning my expenditure just by fortune telling. I think my mum and dad wouldn’t mind, but my sisters would.”

“Hi! You have sisters?” I thought aloud, intrigued.

There was only so much that I knew about them, so anything else I happened to learn was a joy of its own.

Liliana nodded. “There are six of us. The others are either married or handling their own careers… You know, minding their husbands, their babies, their colleagues? I’m the last one, the baby, so they dote on me a little too much… I can’t wait to be on my own after Hogwarts; that's probably the only way for them to stop fussing.”

“Isn’t Marie already expecting, though?” Aela wondered at that.

Liliana nodded rightly. “She is, and she’s the second to last,” she added for good measure. “Anyway, I am probably intruding on your conversation. Let me just get back to my crystal ball reading methods… and I’ll let the two of you have some privacy.”

She got up and walked to another table where she ducked back into her book and let us be.

“Do you see what I mean?” Aela asked me before I bent over my own books.

I flipped back and forth between the pages about traditional and transformative runes. “Yes, I do… and I don’t know what to tell you…”

“I think it’s funny when you say that, because it’s the bit right before you relax and slowly tumble into storytelling…” Aela teased.

I raised my eyebrows and relented, already feeling a bit of heat rising to my cheeks. Then I told her everything from the moment before we left for the winter holidays in December.

“So you mean to tell me that the boy you were talking about before… was Sirius Black?” Aela raised her eyebrows, amazed.

I nodded and slumped back in my seat. It was reassuring that I was still there, grounded by my chair and not feeling like the earth had fallen out from under my feet. Only a month had passed, so I supposed that I needed to ground myself all the more to not fall back into the past. From this point on, it was only moving forward that mattered.

Aela furrowed her eyebrows. “And I suppose that you’ve moved on?”

“Moved onto what?” I asked, despite feeling grounded, there was still a faint ache at the bottom of my stomach of the things I had lost and what I was trying to grow back again.

“The other boy. The intelligent one. I think you mentioned that as the difference between the two. One was so beautiful it hurt to look at him, and I really can’t relate to you there. The other you described as being stubborn but still worthwhile, interesting. I’d even say that he sounded sturdier than the first. There could be something there,” Aela mustered to explain, but then she leaned back to add, “But I don’t know him, so I wouldn’t be able to help you there either.”

I sat up in my chair and tilted my head to the side in contemplation. “Did I really say that?”

Had I really said that about… Oh, no, I did… I had.

She nodded and then changed her argument, “Maybe it’s too soon. You do seem like you’re getting back on your feet, and romance isn’t always the answer to life’s problems.”

I agreed with her there. There was so much that I had done over the winter holidays that wasn’t influenced by either (or any) of the boys. I had so much to offer myself and so much to do besides that. I had my own profession to work on now, and the will to do it.

“So, what do we talk about now?” I pondered, not quite sure what else there was to talk about.

Aela sat back and gestured about the room and the books that were shelving themselves to their places. “We can always talk about ideas and the future.”

At least those were more stable than the former, I thought.

Then I remembered Mark’s dilemma, and went on from there.

~*~

That afternoon, I was free to tackle the last item on my list, and that was to listen to Sirius and offer him some sort of counsel. But that was for Saturday. I shrugged and just decided to go by the library just to browse for something instead. I put my school things into my trunk and ventured down from the tower to the library.

Once there, I glanced from table to table between the bookcases and I wondered suddenly if, by chance, he would be at the same table where I had caught him the last time… when I had fallen from my cloud.

Following that line of thought, I ventured to that place by the Charms section and I found him there, twirling a fountain pen from one finger to the next in his hand.

A jolt of excitement ran through me at the prospect of creeping up on him again, and I enjoyed his look of befuddlement when I quietly stepped up to the table.

“Goodness, woman!” he sputtered, the tone of his voice earning him a swift hush from the main desk. “I only have one life to live.”

I smiled at his capriciousness and sat down in front of him. “That’s a shame, but oh, you should have seen the look on your face.”

He looked as if he’d seen a ghost! He simpered and frowned at what I was implying. Being caught unawares probably wasn’t at the top of his list of things he enjoyed.

“If I had done that to you, you probably wouldn’t have lived it down either,” Sirius interjected with a quick flick of his hair to the side.

Had I still been lovestruck, I would’ve caught myself in a daze. It amazed me how he seemed less impressionable now as he sat across from me, at my level of periphery. He was much the same as anyone. More good looking than some, yes, but… still rather average at best.

“Anyway, about the matter at hand?” I asked, ready to listen and to move on with whatever life had in store. I wanted to know more about Serafina.

“Ah, yes.” He sat up straight and took out a crumpled piece of paper from his cloak. “This is what I have for your own understanding of the situation. I’ll give you some time to read it.”

He unfolded it and handed it to me. Oh, a letter. Her handwriting was precise and spaced out… as if she had chosen each word cautiously and carefully. I looked at the date and then looked back at him.

“This is from October of…” The year was 1975, so I counted back. “…two years ago? How old were you then?”

It suddenly occurred to me that this was becoming extremely melodramatic. We were sixteen, perhaps even seventeen, and it was remarkable how everything felt so extreme then.

He looked a bit sheepish at the statement and looked down as he said, “I was fifteen and stupid.”

“Why do you say that?” I wondered aloud. I mean, of course, I thought the same about myself, but everyone had their own drawbacks.

He hinted toward the letter. “Why don’t you read it, so that you can find out?”

I sighed and relented.

October 15, 1975

Sirius,

I think back to the past few months and how they have been a dream for me. I have only ever imagined what they would be, and now that I know… I am glad that I know. And yet, I know that you don’t see things the way I do. I cannot correspond to your feelings if you do not want to move forward together.

I know that you enjoy your time with friends, your Quidditch, and your vanity, but I have a life of my own, too. I have a lot to work on myself. My friends, my family, and my coursework.

Maybe you should do the same, and maybe… who knows, we might be able to see each other again. But right now I cannot see you anymore. I need time for myself.

Goodbye,
Serafina


I blinked at that. What a strong and remarkable fifteen-year-old, I thought. I had been more focused on my studies when I was fifteen, and now I felt proud of those little refinements, especially how she wanted to do things for herself.

…but I didn’t know her and I didn’t know what had happened for her to have done what she did. I considered Sirius across the table from me, and saw how boyish he was beneath the subtle changes of puberty, from how his fringe obscured his eyes to how he slouched despite the width of his shoulders and his height.

Alright… so I see where you’re heading with this,” I started quietly. “What do you plan to do about it? Have you done anything between then and now?”

Sirius sighed and shrugged. “I tried to tell her that I was fifteen and stupid… I tried to win her back. It’s so difficult when it’s a girl who is that smart and dedicated to so many things. She used to be part of Lily’s group, you know.”

“Oh, I imagine she would be, especially after reading this letter.” I handed it back to him, and he folded it up and put it back into his cloak.

“After she left the group, it was difficult to find her again. I even went through the kitchens and tried to look through their underground common room. It was the most I’ve ever done for any girl; to kneel and beg for her to come back. She did see me that day, and she told me to pick myself up and to find my own path,” he mentioned, so sad and crumpled up like that letter that even I wilted on the inside myself. “It’s not like I know what that means when there’s only so much that I could have done as a fifteen-year-old?”

“True…” I said aloud and pondered about how much a fifteen-year-old boy can do. Even then, I thought about what I had done.

Emma appeared in my mind’s eye with a motherly smile. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. There are many others who seclude themselves to the library—

I shook my head to steer clear of that. I wasn’t here to think about myself, after all. I was here to offer advice.

Thinking logically, I talked about it empathically, “But you, like her, have so much to live for.” I didn’t want to be sad and pitiful about anything, so I opted to complement his emotional decline since he was already down to the point of folding his arms and propping his head on his forearms. “What have you done since then to be more… muchier for yourself?”

“I’ve dated other girls,” he offered somewhat hopeful, but then he sighed and frowned again. “But it’s never been the same. They’ve never looked beyond the surface, not like she did.”

I pondered that over. “Have you looked beneath your own surface?”

He didn't say anything; instead he looked into the distance and moped.

“Aw, come on, Sirius. Tell me what you’re good at. Tell me your strengths. What can you do?” I asked, hesitating to raise my voice an octave. We were still in the library, after all.

It was decaying my sense of morale to see him like this when he was always so self-affirming with built-in self-esteem and that confidence he had because of his good looks.

“I do play for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. I’m still a Beater. It just hasn’t felt as exciting since then… I guess I think about her too often. Oh, Abigail, could I just—” he began again with a bit more height and suddenly he leaned forward, his eyes so cloudy, misty, and gray.

I leaned back and crossed my arms across my chest. “Could you just what, Mr. Black?”

This conversation wasn’t a conversation at this point. I was holding up the bulk of it and I knew exactly what he wanted to do. This library was also too quiet and I wanted to shout.

He blinked owlishly at my reaction and my reply.

“Oh, nothing, really,” he sputtered.

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Let’s go outside and take a walk.”

I stood and tapped my foot. “Come on.”

He hesitated before getting up and following me until we were well outside of the library.

The cool air hit my face as I kept walking down the corridor. Thank goodness!

Sirius caught up quickly and asked, “Where are we going?”

“We are going to take a walk by the lake because it was too stuffy inside for that kind of talk,” I told him. “And I think that you need it more than I do.”

Was I being too kind? I wondered. This was something I’d only do for Mark and Emma. I hardly ever thought of doing it for myself. There was so much to rearrange for others. I tried to be more objective about this, but then I had set aside the idea… that maybe, just maybe, he had been attempting to reel me in to take his mind off of Serafina.

We walked in silence as we walked down the moving staircases and out through the Great Hall and the Entrance Hall. Then we stepped out into the chilly breeze outside. The grounds were mostly dead grass and hardened earth, and the wind made ripples in the stillness of the lake. The forbidden forest was bareboned and calm. What a peace.

“So, you like Quidditch so much that you’re a Beater,” I said, taking a bit from earlier and placing it into something more substantial. “What else do you do?”

He was good at Defense Against the Dark Arts and he particularly liked Transfiguration.

“Partly because I share the table with you… until recently, I suppose,” he expressed this as a footnote.

Remus Lupin was my new table partner and he didn’t seem to want to relinquish the spot to anyone else. I suspected that he did it more for Sirius’ health than my own because he was very nice and conversational about the material in class than other non-academic things.

I suspected that he was more the middle ground of the four, the more reasonable and grounded one.

Note to self: ask Remus if he knows.

“You sound as if you’re still discovering yourself, Sirius,” I mentioned as we stood by the shore of the lake. “You should keep at it and don’t trouble yourself too much about girls. Maybe Serafina just wants to see you become someone she can rely on, and that’s something you have to discover for yourself.”

He sighed at that, and then he bent down to get a pebble from the sand. “Whoever is reliable and stays true to himself must be an interesting man. I don’t know him.”

“But you should get to know him. Don’t you rely on your friends? What makes them so reliable? What makes you feel safe when you’re with them?” I wondered, and I pondered on that about my own place among my friends. “And how can you apply that into your own life?”

“So many questions and you’ve done nothing but make my head spin,” Sirius complained, placing his hands atop his head. “I’m really sorry about earlier… I shouldn’t have said what I said before. You are truly one of a kind.”

“What are you on about?” I was thinking more about how my heart had sunk a month ago, and here he was, apologizing for something ambiguous.

I tried not to think about that strange bit in the library since I might have insinuated the wrong thing.

“I… I don’t know. I shouldn’t have shot you down last December when we talked, but then… what could I have done? Feeling the way I do… not understanding myself… all of that.” He waved a hand at the horizon where the sun was still hanging in the vast blue sky along the lining of a passing cloud. “I should have respected you more… especially with what I almost… said in the library.”

I rolled my eyes at the thought of it. It had already played its part. “I think I needed it, actually… what happened in December. You, on the other hand, need to focus on yourself and see what truly matters to you. Otherwise, you’ll always feel followed and chased by your problems. And they’ll hound you until you finally hear them, see them.”

He took one look at me and smiled. “I’ve never really thought of it like that.” He paused and looked to the lake and the back at me. “Thank you, Abigail. I guess I’ll never be the same after this. You’ve struck the ice inside me and plunged beneath my surface, so what does this make us? What are we?”

“Are you always this melodramatic?” I asked in return, raising an eyebrow in question.

“Bloody hell. I’m wounded, ha!” He laughed and spread out his arms before he leaned down to toss his pebble across the surface of the lake. It skidded three times before it plopped.

Then he turned and looked apprehensively at me; his gray eyes were so focused that they could have speared through me. “Perhaps I am a bit dramatic. But honestly… feelings set aside and the past behind us, what are we?”

“Oh, we’re proper friends now, I think,” I answered with my own sideways smile. “And that doesn’t mean that we have to be in a relationship. I don’t really have those feelings for you, and you should reserve them for someone who does if you feel the same way for them. It’s only fair.”

And that was that. I left him by the shore and returned to the castle not long after. I made sure to mention that I honestly did hope that he would entertain himself with what made him happy, and that maybe then the answers he needed would fall into place.

I caught Snape on the path back to the castle, and he surprised me with how pale and fierce he looked. He carried so much contrast; it must have been all the black he wore. Best of all, his oily hair didn’t look so oily that afternoon. I wondered where he was headed.

It was strange that we had almost paused in sight of each other. He gave me an inquiring nod.

I nodded back and smiled despite myself… and I felt like my heart had lifted pleasantly in passing.

How strange. I stepped back into the Entrance Hall and decided to focus on what I had to do for the rest of the day.

~*~

It was after dusk when I met Emma and Mark for dinner.

“Have you had quite a day outdoors?” Emma asked warmly.

I blinked in response, and she added specifics, “You’ve never been outside this much. Can’t I ask if you’re enjoying it?”

“You’re such a mum that I cannot even begin to fathom why you’re like that at your age,” I replied fastidiously with a knowing smile. She had siblings she was used to taking care of, I knew, and her father who had raised them up on his own.

She sighed exasperatedly at my teasing. “I can’t help it, you know. I’m used to taking care of my loved ones.”

That instantly gutted me with so much love and kindness that I winced.

“Ach, I love you too, Emma, I love you too,” I helplessly cried.

She had a pleased look on her face. “I know you do. I care for you just as much.”

Mark opened his mouth to say something, but he returned to his plate with a faraway look.

“Are you alright, Mark?” I asked.

He pouted and shrugged. “I guess I am, dare I say, excluded from this platonic exchange.”

Emma raised her eyebrows at that and sputtered, “How?” She visibly gulped before continuing on, “—Exactly is that?”

I could see her bemusement in her widened eyes. Was she panicking on the inside?

I lightly tapped the table beside her goblet and glanced between Mark and her. Thankfully, Mark was still pouting at his plate.

“Breathe,” I mouthed to her.

She widened her eyes and took a deep breath.

“Thank you,” she mouthed back, still shocked but not quite beyond repair.

Mark looked up and we looked away.

“Not once have either of you said a thing like that to me. Is it because I’m a boy?” he asked, so very clearly and calmly that I could have dipped my face into the cake out of sheer secondhand embarrassment for Emma.

Why she hadn’t told him yet was beyond me. I think that he would have been honored to know she felt more than platonic love for him, and it really didn’t matter how much Emma continuously quoted her “feelings”. I looked up and I could see her fondness in her gaze, which was directed at him just as he was back to looking disinterested in his own meal.

“Well, then, I guess there’s nothing to be said, is there?” he said blandly.

Emma visibly gulped again, and I knew right then and there that I should just leave.

I downed the last of my boiled potatoes and bowed out. “Well, I’ll talk to the two of you after dinner. I have to get ready for tonight’s Astronomy class… um.”

Emma looked up at me curiously, and I merely waved and mouthed, “Good luck,” in her general direction.

Mark looked up a second too soon and suddenly looked confused. “Well, alright, then. See you.”

I smiled and turned without looking back… and I sincerely hoped that Emma would finally get a move on with our bargain.

~*~

It was the hour before Astronomy when I couldn’t get over my own nervousness. I had caught up for class during the holidays, but this… this was something I had hoped had finally taken its first steps over the premature opportunities Emma had taken for granted. Sure, there were more interesting and fulfilling things than romance, but… I had come to realize that failures were just as important as triumphs… and that triumphs should prized just as much. Every experience was worthwhile, even the experiences that had wrecked me.

So I sat in the common room, surrounded by every sound and situation possible. Kit was with the Quidditch team, making jokes and talking with his girlfriend who stood among them in animated conversation with the captain of the team, Rosella Jones. Leonel was caught up with his gobstones club, exchanging pointers while also looking across the common room at Rebecca, who was talking with one of the seventh years, a tall and muscular boy with deep set eyes. I was too out of earshot to muster what was being said, but they were going through notes together, the boy was pointing things out for her and she was just as focused on the textbooks themselves.

I patted my hands on my jeans and waited. The decorative bronze clock on the mantel of our monstrous industrial-sized chimney, chimed at the hour. It was nine o’clock and the Grey Lady prowled by to make her way to the balcony just beyond the juncture of the staircases. A wall of French windows loomed there, overlooking the forest and the lake.

I would’ve gone there to escape the noise, but I needed to know what was taking Emma and Mark so long. And my curiosity made it bearable as I glanced back at the main door again.

It took thirty minutes and rolling my eyes at a game of Wizard’s Chess that finally struck the last patient nerve I had in my body… when I stood up and suddenly Emma peeked in through the door. I gaped and leaned forward as she caught my eye.

My heart stopped as she came closer, too plain and unreadable for me to loosen up my suddenly tightened shoulders. She pulled on my sleeve as she passed and dragged me with her.

“What happened?” I asked through an equally tight throat.

She didn’t say a word until we went up the girls’ staircase and into our dormitory. She shoved me in and closed the door behind her.

Then she waved her wand and struck a nonverbal charm on it. Then and only then did she turn to me and breathed deeply.

I only looked on expectedly. I needed to know.

And then I knew, as soon as she let her guard down and sighed, her eyes closed and her lips faded back into a self-contented smile.

The silence gave way to my suspicion so much that I said it aloud, “So you finally told him? And he took it alright? And then?”

She held up her hand and rapidly walked up to her bed and lied down with another deep sigh. Then she stuffed her face into her pillow and released a muffled reply.

“Please tell me. I don’t speak in pillow,” I said as I teetered by her bedside, leaning from one foot to the other. I sat down at the edge of my bed, facing her. “Come on, Emma; I beseech you.”

She breathed again, and turned so that she was looking up into her canopy. “He likes me back. He likes me back.

I sighed with relief and lied back on my own bed. All the tension I felt across my back and shoulders released itself from me. I had maybe thirty minutes to make it to the Astronomy tower, but I didn’t care so much about how long it would take for me to get there on time.

“Good job, Emma,” I congratulated her. “I wonder what happens now?”

Emma sighed and replied dreamily, “Oh, the same old. School, life. The future.”

“Thank goodness, though,” I sighed back. "That took you long enough."

She laughed and sighed in return.

It had come to pass, and, Merlin, what a wondrous thing it was, this thing called future.

~*~

A/n: Liliana has five other sisters because I just remembered how I used to only draw almost stick-figure-like girls when I was in first grade and I used to make up stories about having six sisters… This is just between us, readers, but I think that it’ll make for an interesting bit of characterization anyway. I’m also reminded of the five Bennet sisters.

(Yes, I love Pride and Prejudice.)

(And Jane Austen rules.)

So, spring break has passed (some of this was me forcing words through my severe indignation to slack off and watch tv shows), and I bring good tidings on the first day back to school.

I hope you guys are doing alright. This has been the most fun I’ve had writing. The last bit was a surprise splurge bestowed by some muse I can’t even see -- what kind of influence takes anyone by the neck and drives them through bliss like this? I just wrote about 2k words today for the last segment. Anyway, despite being wowed by this random force of nature, I hope that you’ll enjoy the more realistic approach I’m starting to take with the story now.

There will be new additions to the plot soon. There will be politics, there will be murder, there will be love, and there will also be scenes of a mild sexual nature (chapter 5 was as light as I could go with infatuation and Abigail’s first meet and greet with lust).

This is just a head’s up that things are going to get interesting (and I’m excited because it’s a challenge and I love a good challenge, especially when I haven’t written fanfiction for the past 3 years or so?). So, abandon all hope, ye who enter here— well, um, you can jump ship at this point if you don’t want to read further. For those of you who are carrying a torch and following the path I’m putting down, uh… I hope that I won’t disappoint.

But that’s where your review will come in handy. I am going to leave sweets along the way. It’s only fair since you’re the ones reading.

So, thank you, this has been a wonderful and long public service announcement! I bid thee well.

Sincerely with cucumber slices and lemonade on a warm, windy, and lovely sunny day,
Meli

P.s.
I’m posting this up without editing the last segment. I’ll come back one day with an edit if it needs it, though (as it often happens… there are typos and even plot holes to stitch up).

P.p.s.
I went through and edited as much as I could. I know that the pace here is pretty quick... um, I might come back to adjust that, but right now it is what it is. Enjoy ♥

Chapter 16: Abstraction
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Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling is the sole owner of the Harry Potter Universe. I just write in it for fun.

Abstracting is the way of simplifying complex shapes or ideas.

Chapter 15: Abstraction

I slept in that Saturday, tucked into a cloud of bliss. I felt fluffy, light, and delightfully awake with my coverlet up over my nose and my pillow fluffed up against my ears. I sighed and closed my eyes. It must have been a few hours after daybreak or a few hours before noon because the rays of sunlight entered from between the curtains and filled the room in a warm, golden glow. I glanced about and saw that the girls were still sleeping, all of them either lightly or loudly snoring in their own canopied beds.

I smiled fondly at our moment of unwarranted solidarity, and then I slipped my hand out of the warmth of my bed to my bedside table.

A tower of new books from the library lingered there. Some were wider and thicker than others, and I was so excited to sink into the ones about Charms and Ancient Runes.

I had just started setting aside notes for anything that could animate objects… especially the objects that would be on a flat space, and I wondered if I could visit an artist or photographer who specialized in these charms. Would they share their secrets with anyone? Alas, the way I was going was like inventing the wheel – everything I had so far were combinations of spells that hadn’t been tried together before.

Tucked between my notes and the library books were the letters from Friday. I resolved to read them in them in silence. I took my wand from my bedside table and waved it with Alohamora’s cousin charm. The curtains of my canopied bed closed around me and added a layer of privacy. Only then did I unfold the sleeves of paper and parchment.

~*~

The first letter was from mum and dad with dad providing the introduction.

Claude, Maurice, and Abigail,

Your mum has finally made it to the Herbologist Conglomerate in the Magical Congress in America. The garden seems a bit less happy to see me in her stead, but the freesia doesn’t mind me reading beside it at all.

Keats would have loved to be here, I think.

Anyway, I have included copies of this note and your mum’s letter.

Please reply as soon as you are able, as it pertains to our good health.

(Felicitations are in order!)

Much obliged,
your father


I smiled at his hint of courtesy and moved onto mum’s letter.

Dearest Abigail,

I have entrusted this letter to Claude so that she can add it to your line of correspondence.

I trust that your father has told you the news of my position in the ministry (keep in mind that my offer is still on the table!)


I closed my eyes for a moment and let the letter fall to my side, and then I let out a long and uninterrupted sigh. Mum was always the one to be an earworm, always finding a way to place an idea into anyone’s mind and getting us to do her bidding. Of course, she only practiced this for the habits she wanted to instill into my siblings and I, like picking up after ourselves and not forgetting to do the laundry. Dad even teasingly called her the Enchantress. Claude often muttered under her breath that mum was probably related to one of the witches in Macbeth, and I’d often remind her not to say such a thing if Claude didn’t mind being a descendent.

But even if it was tiring to have such a mother, I had to remind myself that she was only doing her best to help us succeed in life. I reminded myself in that instant that this was no different. The ministry job offer would always be on the table. Mum would always do her best to make room wherever she could, and she would always make a loophole.

Conceding with this, I lifted the letter and began to read anew.

Ah, I ought to tell you that I was lucky to find my own calling, and there I was taking you back from yours. You should definitely talk to Anthony and see if you can learn from his own experience as a shopkeep. Oh, and you must absolutely speak to your Aunt Glenda. She is the only other independent business owner we know, I think. Maybe you could pay her a short visit one of these weekends. Doesn’t Hogwarts have a floo powder network?

On the other hand, I’ve placed a sum of galleons into your Gringots account so that you’ll have something to add onto. Your father might have added a bit as well. We also received a notification from
Flourish and Blotts that we can get a discount for anything from the store since we’re related to a worker there? I had hoped to ask you in advance about this, but immediacy is often the better choice for a quick bit of news. What did you do, young lady?

Yours forever and always,
Mum


I burrowed my eyebrows at that. True, I could maybe talk to Aunt Glenda. Having a magical instrument shop in Norway must have its own odds and ends. And Anthony. Claude had also recommended that, but where could I begin? We had only exchanged greetings whenever we met, but that was about it. Claude always kidnapped him from the scene, and we barely even exchanged words when we were together. I was merely there as a third wheel and as Claude’s shadow because she was the one meant to get me home at the end of the day.

Thinking of them made me think of Anthony’s ever-present paint-smudged coats. And that related me to thick paint globules on wooden pallets. That in turn took me back to the letter, which I reread again.

Who was the worker at Flourish and Blotts? My heart beat skipped in my chest as I fumbled through the letters and found nothing at all. I let my arms fall down at my sides again and decided to move onto the next letter.

This one was Maury’s.

Abby,

I included photographs with this retelling of a great couple of games I’ve had the past few days. The journalist is a kind and rosy-cheeked girl who likes to watch us play. She reminds me of you, actually. Maybe one day you’ll get to meet her. She’s in one of the photographs.


True to his word, there were photographs of a girl with a wide grin and smiling eyes. Her hair was pulled up in a ponytail and she wore a thick scarf and layers under her cloak. My brother in all his glory, jersey, and shaggy, shoulder-length hair, stood beside her, a few inches taller with a grin of his own, but it was his having-a-great-time-living-my-life smile that he reserved for his I’m-lucky-to-have-a-career-in-a-sport-that-I-love atmosphere. The portrait was treated with magical solution so that the scene was captured in a few seconds of movement. The girl smiled at the camera and also glanced up at him momentarily, but he never noticed. He was more so intrigued with the notion of staring into the camera as if he was saving his eye contact for me.

He was such a good athlete. I smiled back at him and then raised my eyebrows as the other pictures that lingered in the somewhat heavy envelope. I eased them out until they spilled onto the sides of my bed. One of the pictures stayed on my stomach.

Apart from the cheeky girl, I’ve included some photos I’ve taken of the places I’ve gone to, mainly the places I’ve loved.

They were each labeled. Some were of gloomy-looking places with several wooden houses, grayed train stations, and abandoned tracks with gray skies.

You’d imagine that the world is so small when you’re a famous Quidditch player on the cover of some magical newsprint, but it isn’t. I felt quite the opposite… it reminded me of when we saw the stars together with your telescope. It’s felt quite massive and impossible to grasp.

Suddenly, I sunk into myself and my imagination took his words for what they were.

Grindlewand almost pales in comparison to the bloke who started the war. And I worry for so many things, Abby. Is there a time that I don’t worry, you might be asking, and truly there isn’t. There’s this feeling that I get on my shoulders that feels almost like someone is watching me. I haven’t felt like this for quite some time, you know, back when I was first starting out the field… not warming the bench anymore. But this feeling is different.

There was a sighting again, but this one was by the Elbe river, not too far from where I live with some of the team. The boys are also feeling the strain, but not to a heavy extent. We’re not remarkable folks, not like the man who they found there washed up by the riverbank, so maybe we’ll be alright regardless. But I can’t help feeling like the world is shaky beneath my feet, that something will come up under me and push me off of my feet. I wonder if it means something if something this bad happens to someone who specializes in spellmaking, like what Claude does, especially if they work in a neighboring country to our own. We’re wondering how it came down to him… what was the connection there? He was not marked like the others, but it’s difficult for someone like me not to put the two together.

Sometimes I worry about how quiet the news is in the Daily Prophet. Have you heard of anything yet? Anything at all? I’ve talked to dad about it and he agrees with me. It just isn’t important enough to garner galleons, or there little to no information available to scare everyone. I mean,
if it can scare anyone. It’s better to be on top of things, especially if these signs are turning up so close to home.

I can only hope that you’ll be alright. I’m doing my best for the time being, and I’m making sure to keep under the terms of my contract. If all goes well, I’ll be home in two more years.

Until then, please know that I am here if you need anything. Just say the word if you do.

Cheers,
Maury


I put down the letter and the photographs and stared at the eagle print on the curtain around my bed. The swoop of its wings was shaped that way to indicate strength in agility. It was as sharp as the eagle on our house crest. It denounced error and encouraged truth and versatility. The eagle was stern-faced, serious. Did I have the ability to hold still and refuse to feel shaken to my insides? Could I release my fear and contemplate what could go right?

At the same time, I was worried for Maury for worrying so much, but it was difficult not to piece the information together. There was a lot to consider. There was the vagueness of the attacks, the skull and the serpent, and the implausibility that no one knew who had started the commotion led me to think that maybe there was an answer somewhere. Maybe there was enough information to define the problem, but who knew?

That only reminded me of the vagueness of Frank and Alice’s incident. The headmaster, Professor Flitwick (and perhaps the others at the high table), James Potter, and Lily Evans were in the know. What had happened at Hogsmeade Village? Why were James Potter and Lily related to the incident?

Could I ask Lily to see what she knew?

My stomach growled, my tongue was like sandpaper on the roof of my mouth, and my head swam dizzily.

…breakfast first.

I put together the pictures and put Maury’s letter back into its envelope. I tucked mum, dad, and Maury behind the only unopened sleeve. Claude was next. I wondered what she had entailed for me.

~*~

A/n: Hello, there. I’m not posting up the rest of this chapter, but it’s where I’ve been stuck for the past week or so. No worries, though! I’ve just been researching and gathering new ideas (I have the whole chapter visualized, but I’ve yet to run away with the concepts just yet). Anyway, I’m posting this because HPFF is going to be taken down and I want to let you guys know that I’m on AO3 (An Archive of Our Own) as Melibee09.

So, um, feel free to find me there if you’re able to, and leave me a message or subscribe to me… as I’m going to be posting this fic as well as some others (omg, I am going to edit a bunch of them) over there.

(I just realized that messages cannot be exchanged there…! So, I guess y’all can just subscribe to me there if you’re able to. If not, well… my tumblr’s always open: melifullofthoughts.tumblr.com – that’s my tumblr! I post about my fanfics – and my everyday life – there whenever I have a few minutes to spare during the day.)

If we do not see each other again… well, I hope you have a great life out there, wherever you are ♥

Cheers and many, many thanks for keeping up with me thus far,
Meli

P.s.

https://archiveofourown.org/users/melibee09?language_id=en

http://melifullofthoughts.tumblr.com/

AND I am on Deviant Art:

https://invierno1505.deviantart.com/

http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com