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Facing Tomorrow by Flavia

Format: Novel
Chapters: 9
Word Count: 34,106
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, General, Romance
Characters: McGonagall, Cedric, OC
Pairings: OC/OC, Other Pairing

First Published: 03/22/2013
Last Chapter: 11/14/2013
Last Updated: 11/14/2013


As the youngest Hogwarts professor in 300 years Emily Morgan should be proud, not terrified that everything is a heartbeat from falling to pieces. Despite the fact that it’s been 5 years since Voldemort’s defeat at the Battle of Hogwarts, She is still struggling to find peace with all she experienced and lost. Grief and fear are pressing in on Emily, but with the help of new-old friends and a wise Headmistress, she may just find hope.

Chapter 1: Expectations
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AN: Hi! This is a story I had an idea for a long time ago, and I jotted down some details, but didn't think about writing it until recently.  It's not a fluff piece like I usually write, but I'm totally in love with this idea of what the recovery process might be like for just a regular witch or wizard.  It also looks at the treatment of mental illness in the wizarding community and my interpretation of the life of a Hogwarts teacher.  I'm hoping to include some romance, but mostly, this story is about one witch's experience with the war, and putting her life back together in the aftermath of Voldemort's defeat.  I hope you like it!

Edit: I just have to point out the beautiful story banner by Sol @ TDA.  I couldn't fit it in the Summary so after an hour of trying, I decided to give proper credit here.  It is so perfect for this story so I'm very excited!

Did you know that Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration has five Principal Exceptions?

I do.

I’m sure you don’t really care though.  My sixth year transfiguration class couldn’t give two hoots.  They’re far too interested in things like who will win Saturday’s Quidditch match or when the next Hogsmeade weekend is.

Wait…a hand!  A student in the back row is raising his hand!  Maybe I haven’t lost them all just yet!

“Yes Mr. Hawthorn?”

“Professor, may I go to the loo?”

So much for that glimmer of hope.

“Yes Mr. Hawthorn.”  I sigh a little to myself as I turn back to the notes written on my blackboard and continue my monologue.  I turn my voice onto auto pilot, and let my mind wander.  The students will never notice anyway.

Was transfiguration always this boring?  I loved it when I was at school.  Granted I had professor McGonagall, and despite the fact that she was incredibly strict, she had been able to make the subject come alive.  She made transfiguration interesting.  Not that it needs all that much help, after all you’re learning how to turn something into something else.  It’s pretty exciting really.

So it’s not the subject then.

It must be me.

That sounds about right.  I must be the most boring professor Hogwarts has ever seen.  And yes, I am including Professor Binns in that assumption!  Oh Merlin, how depressing.  You know, because my life needs to be even more depressing.

Mercifully, the bell rings at that moment; I break from my stupor long enough to mutter something about homework and then dismiss the class.  It’s the last one for the day, and as the door closes behind the last student, I sink gratefully into my chair and lay my head on the smooth wooden desk top.  I don’t know how much longer I can do this for.  I think to myself. 

Two years.  I have been teaching at Hogwarts for nearly two years, and I am more than ready to quit.  I still can’t believe I came back this year, although it’s not like I had anywhere else to go really.  The sound of hundreds of student footsteps die away as they disperse to their common rooms or out onto the grounds to enjoy one of the last sunny afternoons before the summer completely fades.  I close my eyes and soak up the calming sound of silence.  It occurs to me how strange my appreciation for silence is these days.  It was only recently that I have grown to enjoy the peace and quiet.  Those who had known me in my younger days knew me as one who liked noise, crowds, loud music and laughter.  I gave a snort of bitter laughter at myself.  My younger days!  I’m only 25 years old! 

A light tapping at the door startles me and I sit bolt upright in my chair.

“Come in.”  I hear my voice call wearily.  The door swings open and Eric Hawthorn stands there, the boy who needed to go to the loo. 

“Sorry Professor, I just need to get my things.”  He points across to room to where his bag still lays next to the very back desk in the room.  I nod.

“Of course Mr. Hawthorn.  Go ahead,” I reply.  He hurries over, scoops up his things and is back out the door in 30 seconds.  I prop my right elbow on the desk and rest my chin in my hand.  I realise that Eric is less than ten years my junior.  It was less than a decade since I’d sat in this very room as a student, optimistic and so full of ideas for the future.  Yeah that worked out well.

I was eleven years old the first time I heard about Hogwarts.  My parents are muggles, and for those eleven years, we all assumed I was too (When I say we assume, it’s not like we actually knew any different, but you know what I mean).  Then the letter came; that wonderful letter that changed my life.  Mum and Dad were never completely sold on the idea of Hogwarts, in fact the headmaster even had to come to our house and meet with them before they were convinced.  But eventually they agreed, and I found myself amongst other magical youngsters, ready to learn how to harness these powers I had been blessed with.

The seven years I spent at Hogwarts were some of the happiest of my life.  I loved learning about magic, I even enjoyed potions as long as I kept my head down and avoided eye contact with Professor Snape.  My house (Hufflepuff) were like my family and I was so happy with my friends.  We would sit up in the common room chatting happily at night while we finished our homework.  We would giggle about boys and dream about our futures (I always joked that I would marry Timothy Briar who was a year above us and he would become minister for magic and we would have 15 children). We would passionately cheer on our team at the Quidditch matches, or whoever was playing against Slytherin.  Every few months we would have a glorious day down in the village of Hogsmeade, buying sweets and quills and butterbeer.  For those seven years, my life was almost perfect and I stupidly thought it would stay that way for ever.

I should have known things were going wrong when Cedric died.  Cedric Diggory was a good friend of mine.  He was Quidditch captain, a prefect, incredibly smart and rather handsome too.  We had gone on a few dates to Hogsmeade in fourth year, but really we were just mates.  Everyone liked him.  And then he was killed, by Voldemort.  I should have known then, that things were going to get bad.

One year after Cedric’s death, I finished my schooling at Hogwarts and headed out in to the big bad world.  Without the safety of the castle, the future didn’t look so bright anymore.  I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do with myself.  Mum and Dad wanted me to come and live with them again, enrol in a muggle university and try a nice ‘normal’ life as they called it.  It was never an option though.  How could I go back to being a muggle after living in a wonderful world of magic for seven years?  So I moved into a little flat in London and got myself a job at Flourish and Blotts.  I was there for only a year before my whole world collapsed before me.  One year after I left Hogwarts, Voldemort, the most evil of dark wizards, tried to take over the world.  When I say it that way it conjures to mind images of a silly villain from a muggle cartoon, but it really was horrible.  You see, Voldemort hated muggle born witches and wizards, and tried to ‘register’ us all.  I wasn’t about to fall for that nonsense, and I went into hiding, taking what little money I had saved with me. 

I was on the run for about a year, and to be perfectly honest I don’t know how I survived it sometimes.  I never stayed anywhere for too long, sometimes living out in the woods, sometimes hiding in an old abandoned barn or tool shed.  A couple of times I met up with others in the same situation, and we would live together for a few weeks but then the snatchers would find us and we would get separated in the rush to hide.  Sometimes I thought I wouldn’t be able to last another day, and I would hope that when I closed my eyes to sleep, they would stay closed forever.  But then, one day, when I was camping out with some other witches and wizards, we heard the news: there had been a battle at Hogwarts.  The school was badly damaged and many people were dead, but Voldemort had been defeated.  The reports said that he’d been killed by his own rebounding curse while fighting Harry Potter – a boy who had been a few years below me at school.  He’d been there the night Cedric died, and even run a secret Defence against the Dark Arts club in my seventh year when that troll of a woman, Umbridge, wouldn’t let us practise defensive spells for our N.E.W.T’s. Eventually, as all the reports were confirmed, we were able to come back out of hiding and try to re-assemble our lives. 

I had thought about going back to Diagon Alley to see if I could get my old job back, but then I heard about the ministry jobs.  They were calling them ‘Junior Associate traineeships,’ but it was sort of like cheap labour to help rebuild the Ministry of Magic after the destruction of the past year.  I was so dumbfounded when they offered me a job since I had very little experience, but I think they felt guilty about the fact I had been forced into hiding and wanted to show they were supporting muggle-borns or something.  Either way, I found myself being shunted around the Ministry of Magic for three years, working in one department for a few months until they decided I was needed somewhere else.  This wasn’t exactly my calling, but it wasn’t too bad.  I did enjoy the three months I spent working with a middle aged, red headed man named Arthur Weasley in the ‘Misuse of Muggle Artefacts’ office. He was a jolly fellow, although he had very sad eyes, even when he was smiling.  I had heard his family were involved in the battle, but I didn’t like to ask.

Then, one day in late spring, after getting home from a long stretch in the Department of Magical Transportation, I discovered a big grey owl sitting on my kitchen table.  The envelope was stamped with the insignia of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  It was from Professor McGonagall, my old Transfiguration professor.  She had been acting as the Headmaster of Hogwarts since the battle, I’d learnt as much from the Daily Prophet.  The letter was inviting me to meet with her at Hogwarts, but it didn’t say why. 

I had gone to the meeting of course; a woman like Minevra McGonagall, well you just didn’t refuse her.  It was a bit odd going back to the castle after what had seemed like an eternity.  The buildings themselves looked very much the same, the rebuilding effort had restored Hogwarts very well after the battle.  There were a few little changes here and there.  Mostly plaques of honour and the like.  I had met with McGonagall in the headmistresses office – it had belonged to Dumbledore when I was a student, although I never once set foot in it as a student so I didn’t know if it had changed much.  Portraits of past headmasters and headmistresses watched us carefully from inside their frames.  I tried not to look at them, they made me nervous, like I was on stage.  Mercifully, the Headmistress had moved right to her purpose of calling the meeting.

“Miss Morgan, I hear you are working for the ministry as one of their junior associate trainees.”  I had nodded silently.  “I hear you are doing quite well at this.  I seem to remember you having quite the aptitude for my old subject when you were a student here; top of the year in both your Transfiguration O.W.L and N.E.W.T if my memory serves me correctly.”  I continued to nod as McGonagall spoke, “My sources tell me your transfiguration skills have not waned, if anything they have improved significantly.”  She looked at me as though she wanted an answer this time, but when I opened my mouth, no sound came out.  McGonagall decided not to wait and kept talking.  “My request is simple Miss Morgan.  After I was made Headmistress, we took on a new Transfiguration teacher.  He is no longer able to serve this school community and therefore I am in need of a new teacher to fill his role.  I would like to offer this position to you.”  She stared expectantly at me, and I knew I was going to have to answer this time. 

“Me?”  I replied.  “As a teacher?  Really?” 

“Well you are younger than usual for a Hogwarts professor, I will grant you that,” McGonagall began.  “But you understand the subject matter better than most, you have experience in the practical application of high levels of Transfiguration due to your work at the ministry and the war,” She hesitated briefly, and her eyes clouded over, as though a thousand painful memories were rushing back to her.  “You will, of course need to undertake a short training course to qualify you as a teacher, but that can be easily arranged.” 

I opened my mouth but couldn’t think of anything to say so promptly closed it again.  I knew my eyes must be wide with surprise and I wondered if I was giving the impression that I was an oversized goldfish.

“You would not be required at Hogwarts until Mid-August,” McGonagall was continuing, “So you will have three months to get everything in order and organise the appropriate training.” 

“But I’m…” My voice faded out as quickly as I had found it.  I didn’t know how to finish that sentence; I’m… too young, too inexperienced, unqualified?  McGonagall had already tackled my arguments, before I’d even thought to make them!

She fixed her gaze on me and I noticed her features soften slightly.  “Emily,” She said, using my first name for the first time in many, many years.  “I would not have asked you here to discuss this if I did not think you were more than qualified for the job.  Whether you believe it or not, you are a talented young witch, and I want more for your life than being a Ministry lackey.  You were meant to do so much more.”

Of course her words had lured me in, and I’d faced my new future with a sense of purpose and excitement.  Even my parents seemed pleased about my new career change, and even they could understand how prestigious it was to be sought out by a woman like Minerva McGonagall.   For a few months my life was filled with a new sense of purpose and excitement as I gave in my notice at the ministry and for my flat, enrolled in the two week basic training course at the Ministry and packed myself up for a new life.  I’d loved Hogwarts when I was a student there, loved the fresh mountain air and the brisk Scottish mornings; hundreds of memories of trips to Hogsmeade and Quidditch matches filled my mind, developing an expectation that I should have known reality could never live up to.

I sigh again and push up from my chair, gathering my books and notes and heading down the hallway to my office.  It is getting late and I need to go over my lessons for the next day before dinner, although I can’t really bear the thought of going in to the Great Hall and facing all those people tonight.  I’ll just ask a house elf to bring something up to my study once I am done with my work, maybe a big slice of chocolate cake for dessert too.

I wonder exactly how pathetic it is that that slice of cake is going to be the highlight of my day.

AN:  So, what did you think?  I know this chapter is a bit information heavy, but I feel like it was the best way to set the context of the story.  I'm really nervous about this story because it's so different to my usual fanfics, but I'm really excited about it too.  I would really love to hear your opinions, so pretty please leave a review, they always mean so much to me.

There's more action and dialogue in the coming chapters so I'll update soon :)

P.S. I promise I won't put 2 author notes in every chapter!

Chapter 2: Old Friends and Scented Quills
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I’d never seen the inside of a Hogwarts professor’s quarters until I became a Hogwarts professor myself.  When I was a student, I suppose they just seemed to be some far off, almost imaginary location which students rarely got to witness; I didn’t really give them a second thought.  When I was a student, I also thought our dormitories were delightfully luxurious, and whilst the Hufflepuff dormitories certainly are pretty comfy, they’ve got nothing on the little apartment I now live in, tucked away next to my office. 

It’s only a three roomed space, with a bedroom, bathroom and small sitting room, but there is something so warm and comfortable and private about it that it feels like a small slice of heaven.  Plus there’s the added bonus of the house elves, something I’d only ever experienced as a student.  There is something truly delightful about having your meals made and your floors swept when you get home, and a nice warm fire crackling away each morning when you wake up.  (You see, I don’t hate everything about my life as a teacher, there are even certain things I love; I just wish I didn’t feel like such a failure every time I set foot in the classroom!)

It’s Saturday, one of my favourite days of the week and I’ve enjoyed the blissful luxury of a lie in, followed by breakfast at my cute little blue table by the window of my sitting room as I watched the late November snow drifting down outside.  Of course, the luxury is short lived once I remember the pile of essays from my O.W.L level students sitting on my desk in the next room, so with resignation, I shower and find myself once more confined to my study, running my red quill along lines of handwriting akin to chicken-scratchings. 

Oh yeah, Hogwarts Professor…it’s a charmed life.

I stretch my arms above my head, trying to work out the kinks that come from sitting hunched over a desk for three hours straight.  Picking up my wand, I levitate the stack of newly graded Hufflepuff essays to the cane basket I use to transport student work to and from classes.  I only have the Ravenclaw essays left now and they’ll be easy enough as Ravenclaw homework is always more concise and accurate with fewer spelling errors (it might be a gross generalisation but this is one stereotype that’s based on truth), but I can’t bear to look at another paragraph on Vanishing Spells.   Anyway, it’s lunch time and I am suddenly famished.

I walk over to the window, gazing down at the students playing in the freshly blanket of snow.  My quarters are on the fourth floor, so they all look very small as they dash about having snowball fights or building snow wizards.  The snow must have stopped falling at some point over the course of the morning, and the clouds have parted enough for the pale winter sun to be shining through.  Suddenly, I feel claustrophobic at being cooped up all morning and I am overcome with the desire to get outside; a walk to Hogsmeade is exactly what I need. 

It only takes me a few minutes to tuck my purse into my pocket and throw my favourite purple cloak over my shoulders.  Locking the door behind myself, I make my way downstairs, passing the occasional group of students as I descend.  Despite the occasional call of ‘Afternoon Professor!’ I make it outside the castle without being stopped, and as I yank my knitted beret over my ears and pull my scarf tighter around my neck, I felt a lightness in my chest; maybe today will be a good day after all.

When I was a student, Hogsmeade weekends were one of my favourite things about school.  Having grown up as a muggle, I was naturally fascinated by the wizarding world and the way that the magical community conducted their daily tasks.  Every year I looked forward to my trip to Diagon Alley to get supplies; and in third year, when I made that first trip to Hogsmeade, I felt like I’d walked into my own personal fantasy land. 

Another thing I love about being teacher at Hogwarts is the freedom to come and go from the castle as I please.  When I was a student and underage, my life and daily activities were dictated by school rules, classes, timetables and scheduled weekend trips to Hogsmeade.  During the War, I had no freedom, being on the run, living where I could find shelter and existing in a constant state of fear that I would be captured or killed.  I’d never appreciated my freedom as much as I did once the war had been won and I was able to work properly and live in an actual permanent building once more.  When I first came to Hogwarts as a teacher, I’d made the trek down to Hogsmeade almost every weekend and even some evenings after classes were finished.  As the novelty wore off and my workload increased, my trips have become less frequent, but I still enjoy having the liberty to get away from the castle and its inhabitants when I want to.

I glance around the main street as I approach, allowing my eyes to take it all in, to see it once more through my thirteen year old eyes.  Today is a particularly good day to do so, since the morning’s snowfall has settled on the cobblestone streets and thatched rooves of the shops and cottages, giving the impression that I am standing in the middle of some giant Christmas card scene.  I glance at Honeyduke’s as I pass, briefly considering going in to stock up on my stash of sweets, but the grumble in my stomach makes that decision for me and I head for the Three Broomsticks instead, making a mental note to stop at the sweet shop on the way home.

The pub is about two thirds full, and I have to do a quick scan of the room before I spot an empty table, not far from the vast stone fireplace on the far wall.  I stop at the bar to order a glass of what I like to call ‘grown-up butterbeer’ (which is basically butterbeer with a dash of elf-made liqueur) and the soup of the day, which just happens to be pumpkin and broccoli - one of my favourite Three Broomsticks dishes.  I make my way to the table, drink in hand and have just settled down when I hear my name.

“Emily?  Emily Morgan?”  I look up to see a young woman with long, strawberry blonde hair and pale blue eyes standing a few feet from my table.  There is something familiar about her face, her smile and the stylish, purple-framed glasses balanced on her nose.  “It’s Michelle,” She adds helpfully.  “Michelle Briar.”

Of course.  The name seems to make everything click into focus, and in my mind I see Michelle age in reverse, getting younger until she is about fourteen or fifteen years of age.  A fellow Hufflepuff, Michelle had been two years below me at Hogwarts, so we weren’t exactly in the same social circle but we’d known it other a bit through Gobstones club and general house-mate, common room camaraderie. 

“Michelle!” I exclaim, feeling the smile stretch across my face.  “Of course!  I can’t believe I didn’t recognise you, you’ve hardly changed at all!”  Michelle has moved towards me, arms open, and I stand to receive the hug she is offering.  As I pull away, I note that my comment was not a lie.  Despite the aging process that we all go through, she does look incredible considering the last time I saw her she was a teenager, untouched as of yet by the cruel hand of war.  I know I certainly don’t look as good.

When I was at school, before Cedric died, I took a lot of pride in my appearance.  I’ve always been short, but since I have what my mum always called ‘petite’ features, I got away with the whole ‘cute’ façade.  I’ve always kept my honey brown hair short, although these days I just let it frizz where it may, unlike my teenage years when I spent hours perfecting hair-styling charms to make smooth, gentle curls that framed my face every single day.  My friends and I loved makeup, and I had pored over muggle magazines and beauty spell books until I found the best way to make my hazel eyes ‘pop’, although now I imagine they are just dull and lifeless and I can’t actually remember where my makeup bag is.

“Are you meeting someone or may I join you?” Michelle asks, and I indicate to the empty seats at my table.

“Please, sit down,”  I beam, amazed to hear the normal tone to my voice; it’s grown so tired and defeated in my head that I’d forgotten the normal musical ring of my Welsh accent.  “It’s so great to see you after all these years.”

“I know, isn’t it just?” Michelle smiles as she removes her gloves and sits next to me.  “I know it’s been a few years, but I still get that happy, relieved feeling inside when I see someone that I haven’t seen since before…well, you know,” The smile falters from her face for a moment and I nod in quick, solemn understanding.  Since before the war, was how that sentence was supposed to end, and I know exactly what she means.  So many people we know – and many more that we don’t – didn’t make it through the war; and even though it’s been nearly five years since that fateful battle that finally brought peace back to the magical community, the wounds are still fresh, and survivors are met with relief.

“So what are you doing here in Hogsmeade?” She continues, the smile back on her face, the moment of painful memories passed.

“I live here now, well not here in the village, up at the school actually,” I say. 

“Oh?” Michelle looks understandably confused.

“I’m teaching,” I add and her smile widens.

“Teaching?  Wow!  That’s fantastic Em –”  I almost gasp at the nickname, nobody has called me Em since I left school.  My family always insisted on calling me ‘Emily’ and my whole working life I have been Emily or Miss Morgan or Professor.  A warmth fills my chest and for a second I almost feel like a teenager again as the memory of girlish laughter fills my mind.

“Merlin’s Pant’s Em!  That was so funny!” Patricia Hughes giggles, doubled over on her bed, her cheeks red as she shakes with laughter.  I am laughing too, lying flat on my back on the floor of our dormitory where I fell after sliding across the freshly polished floor in my new wool socks.  “You made a good distance there – about fifteen feet in 0.2 seconds!  You should make sock-sliding a sport!”  And we both explode into giggles again.

“…You must be the youngest teacher they’ve had there in a while then?” The memory dissolves into the air around me as I realise Michelle is still talking.

“In about three hundred years I think,” I nod over my butterbeer with a small smile as the waitress approaches with my meal.

“Mmm, that smells amazing!” Michelle exclaims before turning to the young barmaid.  “Can I get a Gillywater and Steak and chips?” She turns back to me as our server makes her way to the kitchen to place the order.  “Please, go ahead before it gets cold,” She says, waving a hand towards my food.  “So what subject are you teaching?”

“Transfiguration,” I reply, breaking open the baby’s head-sized bread roll that accompanies my soup and spreading a liberal amount of butter on it.  The bread is still warm and the butter melts straight away, making my mouth water.  “They had someone else, but he was offered a job in Canada, and since he has a son over there, he decided to take it and, well, here I am.”

“How did you even hear about it?”  Michelle asks curiously as the barmaid returns with her drink.  “I didn’t see anything advertised in the Daily Prophet.”

“Oh, it wasn’t advertised; at least I don’t think it was,” I explain after swallowing a mouthful of soup.  “McGonagall just offered me the job.”

Michelle is staring at me like I just told her I’d grown an extra head for the fun of it, and I suddenly feel a bit self-conscious.

“But that’s amazing!” She says, her voice a reverent stage-whisper.  “McGonagall sought you out to offer you the job?  She must have so much respect for you Em, you must be so proud.”

I’m suddenly just a little too warm.  I untie my scarf and shrug nonchalantly at my old friend. 

“I guess so, but you know people are a lot busier these days what with the rebuilding efforts and everything that’s been going on at the Ministry,” I say.  “There’s less people willing or able to take a simple teaching position.”

“You always were too humble,” Michelle laughs, and whilst I don’t agree, I don’t bother to correct her.  Instead I ask my own question to change the subject.

“So what about you?  What brings you to Hogsmeade on a Saturday afternoon?” I sip my soup and smile expectantly at Michelle over the top of my spoon.

“Oh, well I live here now too,” She replies cheerfully.  “I got married in the summer and my husband’s family business is here so I moved here to help him run it.”

“Married, wow, congratulations,” I can hear the tightness in my voice as I say this, but I doubt Michelle notices it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge people getting married and I’m certainly not jealous that I’m unmarried myself (I’m 25 for Godric’s sake!  Not exactly an old maid just yet), but Michelle is younger than I am, and marrying young is a very common side-effect of the war.  People did it before the war, during the war and even though it’s petering out now, Michelle is evidence that the fashion isn’t dead just yet.

“Thanks,” She smiles, her cheeks glowing with pure happiness.  “He’s really wonderful, he was a year ahead of me at Hogwarts, in Ravenclaw.  Anthony Scrivenshaft?”

“Oh, I think I remember him,” I nod.  “His parents own the stationery shop.”

“Yes,” Michelle’s face falls slightly.  “Well, his father passed away about five years ago and his mother didn’t want to run the business anymore, so Anthony took it over.” 

I’m not stupid.  She said that Anthony’s father died five years ago – that’s code for the war.  A shiver runs down my spine even though the room is warm and I’m sitting next to the fire.  The wizarding world might be moving on with our bright new future, but the war hasn’t quite released us from its cold, stone-like grasp.  Maybe it never will.

“I really love working in the store,” Michelle continues.  “I always had a bit of a love of stationery, and now Anthony says I’m developing an addiction!”  She laughs and the gentle, familiar chime of her giggle warms me up again. 

“I always loved those quills with the scented ink,” I laugh, and Michelle gasps in recognition.

“Yes!  I had one that smelled like strawberries and it always gave my books that artificial strawberry scent.” She smiles at the memory.  “We’re looking at developing a new range just for the Hogwarts kids,” She explains.  “We may not be as popular as Honeyduke’s or the new Weasley’s shop that opened last spring, but students need quills and ink and parchment, so we may as well make a necessity a bit more enjoyable!”

“You really are enjoying working at the shop aren’t you?”  I laugh as Michelle’s food arrives.  She nods her thanks to the waitress and laughs too.

“I am Em, I really am.”

AN: I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who's read this story, especially those who have reviewed it too.  I'm really loving writing this story and I hope you're enjoying it too.  I have a banner request in over at TDA at the moment too, so hopefully this fic will be extra pretty soon enough :)

Thanks again for reading, and I'd love to hear what you thought of this chapter so please leave a review.  I know it's a bit short but I promise they do get longer as they go.

Chapter 3: Purple Pixies
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Merlin I love first years. 

Not in some creepy, ‘you should probably be fired and then locked up in Azkaban for the rest of your life’ kind of way, but just in the sense that their classes are the only time I don’t feel like I’m completely rubbish at being a teacher.  That, and their homework is dead easy to correct, only takes a fraction of the time it takes with the older kids.  The main reason my first year classes are so good are because first years are still young enough and new enough to be impressed by anything I teach them.  I say we’re going to spend the afternoon turning toothpicks into matches and they’re fascinated for hours!  Sometimes they remind me of my little niece Charlotte when my brother Owen puts her in front of their television to watch teletubbies.

“Switching spells are the most widely used in the branch of transfiguration,” I explain to my Gryffindor/Hufflepuff first year class on the Friday morning a week after I bumped into Michelle in Hogsmeade.  “Who can remind the class of what a switching spell is in your own words?”  Several eager hands shoot up into the air, it’s an easy question and they’re all keen to get the glory of getting the answer right and maybe some house points in the process.  I scan the students quickly and decide on a quiet, blonde, Hufflepuff girl who is incredibly shy and rarely speaks up in class even though her homework and spellwork indicates she’s quite intelligent.  “Ellie Jones,” I smile towards her and the sea of hands disappears back to laps and desk tops.

“A switching spell is when you transfigure an object or part of an object so that it is switched with something else.  Like switching a rock into a dog.”  Ellie’s voice is quiet but clear, and she looks up at me, waiting for my approval.

“Excellent.  Ten points for Hufflepuff,” I say, and her face lights up at the affirmation.  See what I mean?  First years are brilliant.  “We have been working on switching spells for some time now, so I’m hoping somebody can tell me the three main things to remember when performing a switching spell.”  Instantly the hands shoot up again and to make sure I’m being fair, this time I call on a Gryffindor.  “Peter Taylor,” I nod to a tall, gangly boy in the back row.

“Focus on the thing you are switching to, say the incantation correctly and…” Peter scrunches up his face in concentration as he tries to remember the final point.  Several eager students raise their hands again, waving them at me frantically in the hopes I’ll let them finish the answer but I wait patiently, giving Peter the time to remember.  “Be confident!” He suddenly exclaims, and several of the frantic hand raisers let out disappointed sighs as they lower their arms again.

“Well done, ten points to Gryffindor,” I grin at Peter.  “Confidence is key in transfiguration.  Spells are like dogs, they can smell fear,” I say and the students twitter.  I smile, pleased that they’ve found my rather pathetic joke to be vaguely amusing.  “We’ve been working on transfiguring small items but today we’re going to take it a step further.  As Peter said, you need to focus on the item you are switching to, you need to picture it in your mind.”  I walk over to my desk where a simple glass cup sits.  With a flick of my wand, it is transfigured into a simple wooden jewellery box.  There is a ripple of murmured approval from the students, even though they’ve seen me transfigure other things before.  My first lesson with the First years, I took a page out of McGonagall’s book and transfigured my entire desk into bicycle and back again.  Their expressions had reminded me of my own first transfiguration lesson.

“What exactly are we going to learn in this class?” I whisper to the tall girl sitting next to me.  She is one of the girls from my dormitory but her name has slipped my mind.

“Transfiguration,” She says, a teasing look in her eyes.

“Well duh,” I giggle.  “But what exactly is Transfiguration?”

Before the girl can reply, the tall, severe looking professor steps out from behind her desk and the entire room falls silent.  All eyes are on her, waiting to see what her first words to us will be, but she doesn’t speak.  Instead, with a sudden flourish of her wand, she turns her desk into a Shetland pony.  Gasps fill the room and I think my eyes are about to fall out of my head.  This is, by far, the most amazing magic I’ve seen performed since I found out I was a witch.  With another flick of her wand, the Professor turns the pony back into a desk.

“I am Professor McGonagall, and I will be teaching you the art of Transfiguration.”  The professor says, her voice stern and just a little scary.  “Transfiguration is a complicated branch of magic and requires a great deal of application and focus.  If you are not willing to focus in my class and would prefer to play around, you may leave right now.”

Not a single person moves or even makes a sound.  None of us are that brave or that stupid.  I don’t feel comfortable breathing again until we are being handed matchsticks to be turned into needles.

“She’s scary,” The girl next to me whispers.  I look down and notice a small name printed on the cover of her text book: Patricia Hughes.  I commit the name to memory and smile at Patricia.

“Yeah, but I think she’ll be fair,” I reassure her

“Now this is a simple wooden box,” I say to the First Years, using my wand to point to the box on my desk.  “But what if I want something a bit fancier, what if I want a different looking box?”  With another flick, the box is a glass again. 

“You would just have to picture it, wouldn’t you professor?” The ginger Hufflepuff who I call on next answers.

“Exactly,” I nod.  “But the more detailed your item is, the more complex the transfiguration and the greater the difficulty.”  Pointing my wand at the glass I transfigure it once more, this time focussing on a mental image of the ornate silver jewellery box on my mother’s dressing table.  The glass is replaced with an exact replica, right down to the pattern of the blue gemstones on the lid.  The students murmur a few oohs and I pick up a bag full of coins.

“Your task today is to turn these coins into buttons.  Now that probably seems like a simple task, but what I want you to do is try to make the buttons different, more detailed each time.  See how creative you can get, but remember, the more complex your button, the more concentration required.”  I hand out the coins and my students get to work, chatting quietly as they work.  I stop occasionally to help a student, offering advice like “you almost had it that time John, but try to ignore distractions,” and “You’re a bit too eager there Katherine, just focus on the pattern on the button first and then add the jewels in once you’re ready.”  The lesson is a roaring success and my first years leave with smiles on their faces.  I load their buttons in to a box to look at later, and check the classroom for any forgotten items.  I don’t notice the person sitting on a chair in the back corner of the room right away, and when I finally do, I give a little jump.

“Oh Headmistress!  You startled me,” My heart is racing from the sudden shock.

“Emily, I’ve told you before that you should call me Minerva now,” McGonagall says kindly as she steps out of the shadows.  “I am your colleague now, not your teacher.”

Well you’re my boss actually, I think to myself, but out loud I simply say, “Right, sorry Minerva.  What can I help you with?”

“Well I just wanted to say that you taught an exemplary lesson this morning,” She says, looking less stern than usual; I find it to be a little unnerving.

“You saw the whole lesson?” I ask, surprise evident in my voice.

“Most of it; I didn’t want to disturb you,” McGonagall replies.  “But I must say I was very pleased; your first years are coming along nicely.”

Yeah, pity about the other years though, I think to myself while mumbling out my thanks to the woman who taught me everything I know about my subject.

“I’ve noticed you’ve been keeping to yourself a lot this year,” She continues, appraising me over her wire rimmed glasses.  “I hope you’re not overworking yourself.”

“Oh no, I just like the peace and quiet,” I lie, and from the incredulous look on her face, I can tell that McGonagall hasn’t bought it.  Obviously she hasn’t forgotten what I was like as a student, always the social butterfly, earning my fair share of detentions for chatting or writing notes in class.  I pick up a scrap of parchment from the floor and turn it over, checking for notes or a name.  There’s just a doodle of a broomstick in one corner so I crumple it up and walk over to drop it in the waste paper basket; I try to ignore the fact that McGonagall’s eyes are still on me.

“How are the N.E.W.T classes coming along?”  McGonagall asks conversationally.  “You’ve got quite a big group of sixth years, don’t you?”

“Seventeen,” I nod.  “Although I will be surprised if they all make it through.”

“Occupational hazard I’m afraid,” the older woman commiserates.  “As you no doubt remember, Transfiguration isn’t the easiest of subjects.”

“I remember,” I laugh, thinking of the hours I’d spent practising my conjuring spells.  “There were times I thought I wouldn’t make it myself!”

“I never doubted you would succeed,” McGonagall smiles kindly at me; she’s a tough woman, a strong woman who’s been through more than anyone should have to endure, and yet there is a still a softness to her.  I suddenly feel guilty that she has so much faith in me and I’m failing so miserably to live up to her expectations.  I don’t know what to say, and I shuffle my feet awkwardly.  McGonagall nods once in my direction before speaking.  “We’re very glad to have you on staff Emily, I hope you know that.”

“Thank you profess…Minerva,” I stammer.  She nods again before turning and exiting the classroom, leaving me standing alone in the classroom. 

I mull over my visit from McGonagall during my morning classes, and even though I’m exhausted after battling with a group of very talkative third years, I decide to join the rest of the school in the Great Hall for lunch. 

Sitting at the teacher’s table with a plate of Shepherd’s Pie, I observe the cheerful babble of the students.  It’s Friday and another Quidditch match is scheduled for tomorrow, although I can’t remember which teams are playing.  It’s not terribly surprising that the students are bubbling with excitement, although I’m slightly jealous when I think of the work my weekend promises.  I’m trying not to dwell on this when I’m startled by the arrival of a tiny scops owl landing next to my water glass.  It cocks its head at me and drops a small folded piece of parchment from its beak.  I give the owl a curious smile as I open the parchment to find a short note.


Are you free for a drink this evening?  I was thinking six o’clock at the Three Broomsticks.  Send your reply back with Sketch.


I look up at the little owl again who I assume Michelle was referring to by Sketch.  Ripping off the bottom of the parchment and digging a spare quill out of my robes, I scribble a quick reply to Michelle,

I’d love to.  I could always use a drink on a Friday night!  See you then.


I give the note back to the owl who flies impressively quickly above the tables and out one of the halls high windows.  Suddenly, my weekend doesn’t seem quite so depressing.

The pub is bright and warm as I step inside it at two minutes past six that evening, already starting to fill up with patrons.  I look around as I pull off my hat and gloves, finally spotting Michelle at a table in the middle of the room, waving to me.  I skirt around a group of barely legal looking witches, obviously out on a girl’s night and nearly trip over a house elf that is cleaning up on a spill on the floor before I get to the table.  Laughing, Michelle stands to give me a hug before we both sit at the table again.

“It’s busy tonight,” She comments.  “I was lucky to get us a table.”

“Are all these people from Hogsmeade?” I ask, looking around curiously.  I haven’t made a lot of visits to the Three Broomsticks in the evening, and I have to admit that it’s quite a different crowd.  There are a lot of younger wizards and witches in brighter coloured robes and even several in Muggle clothes.  There is music playing from a large radio in the corner, competing with the hum of cheerful voices and laughter. 

“Mostly,” Michelle nods, looking around the room too.  “A lot of them commute down south for work during the week, but some people come up on weekends.  The Three Broomsticks is one of the best wizarding pubs in Britain, and their food is a lot better than the Leaky Cauldron!”  We both laugh at that, the pea soup at the Leaky cauldron is deadly!  “Drink?” Michelle stands and nods towards the bar, “I’ll get this round.”

“Firewhisky please,” I reply.  “It’s been a long week,” I add when she raises an eyebrow at me.  With a grin, Michelle moves to the crowded bar.  I notice her chatting with a few people while she waits for our drinks.  When she returns, she raises her glass of elderflower wine towards me.

“To old friends and new beginnings,” She smiles, and I raise my glass too.

“Cheers,” I reply before we clink our glasses and take a sip.  The firewhisky burns my throat a bit, but once you get past that I’ve always quite enjoyed the taste.  I also instantly feel warmer, and as Michelle and I chat, I feel the stress of the week falling away.

The conversation flows easily, and I am soon reminded why I liked Michelle so much at school, even though we weren’t really in the same circle of friends.  Occasionally someone will stop at the table to say hello and Michelle introduces me to her neighbours and even a few old school friends, though I only recognise one or two faces.  At one point, a young couple we are talking to mention something about a New Year’s Eve party and Michelle suddenly turns to me, swallowing the mouthful of wine she had just sipped.

“Oh Em, I completely forgot, Anthony and I are having a party on New Year’s Eve.  I’d love for you to come if you’re free.” She says.

“Um…sure.  I’m visiting family for Christmas, but I think I’m free for New Year’s.”  I reply.

“Fantastic,” Michelle smiles at me before turning back to the couple.  I listen to the conversation as I sip my drink, feeling rather amazed that Michelle is being so nice to me, but I have to admit that it is nice to be out with friends my own age again. 

After two firewhiskeys, two glasses of elderflower wine and some sort of cocktail called a ‘Purple Pixie’ (one of Madam Rosmerta’s signature drinks apparently), I’m feeling a little tipsy and am beginning to find everything around me hilariously funny. 

“And then Sprout said, ‘Sybill, if your inner eye is so attuned, then why don’t you predict this!’ And threw the whole spadeful of moon calf dung in her face!” I exclaim, and Michelle and I both dissolve into giggles. 

“That’s too funny for words!”  Michelle gasps.  “I can’t believe it, the professors at Hogwarts always seemed so boring and uptight when we were students.”

“Oh some of them are,” I say.  “The worst I’ve ever seen from McGonagall is at last year’s Christmas party when she had one too many glasses of sherry and I actually heard her giggle, but that’s it.  What you see is what you get with ol’ Minerva.”

“Is it weird calling them by their first names?” Michelle asks.  “I don’t even think I know all of their names.”

“It is weird with some,” I admit.  “McGonagall for one, Flitwick too, and of course I could never call Filch Argus,” We both pull faces at the thought of the nasty old caretaker.  “But then there are others that I’m used to now, and there are a few teachers that are new to the school since…well since…you know.”

Michelle nods, and we fall into the brief moment of silence that always seems to follow a mention of the war.  Then, an old Hobgoblin’s song crackles through on the radio and both our faces light up.

“I love this song!” Michelle exclaims and we both break in to slightly drunk, off-key singing.

It’s late when I slip through the main gates at Hogwarts.  I had considered apparating, but since I’d had a bit to drink, I wasn’t sure if that would be the safest option.  Knowing my aim, I’d probably end up in bloody Campbeltown.  The moon is bright tonight and I can see my way up the long winding drive to the castle without lighting my wand, though once inside I do need some help so that I don’t trip on the stairs. 

As I tiptoe down the corridor and ease open the door to my quarters, I feel like a naughty teenager, and resist the urge to giggle.  Once inside, I don’t bother lighting the lamps and change in to my pyjamas by wandlight before almost falling into bed.  It isn’t long before sleep begins to draw me in, and despite that fact I know I’ll need a good dose of Pepper Up potion in the morning, I’m terribly glad I accepted Michelle’s offer.

AN: Yay, chapter 3!  Thanks for reading and reviewing to those of you who have already been doing so and to any new readers and reviewers, Welcome!  I'm so glad you've given my little fic here a go.  Please leave me a review, I love them so much and it would mean the world to me to know what you all think :)

P.S. Who loves the new banner?  Massive thanks to Sol @ TDA for the brilliance that is that banner :)


Chapter 4: Memories
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“Deck the Halls with Bubotubers, Fa la la la la, la LA LA LAAAA!!!!!”  Peeves is singing at the top of his lungs outside my classroom as I let my fourth years inside.  I roll my eyes at him and he blows me a raspberry.

“Merry Christmas Peeves,” I laugh.  I learnt pretty quickly that unless you want to be summoning the Bloody Baron every five seconds, it’s best to humour Peeves as much as you can.  Getting cross only encourages him, and ignoring him tends to make him more determined.  But if you play along a bit, he will usually leave you alone.  In this case, he blew another Raspberry at me and then floated off down the hallway, cackling and singing his twisted versions of Christmas carols.

Less than a week, I remind myself as I close the door and make my way to the front of the classroom.  There are only three days of classes left until the end of term and I, for one, am very much looking forward to the break.  I’m going home to Swansea to visit my parents like I do every Christmas, which doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but it will be nice to see my family again.  My brother Owen and his wife Natalie are coming over from France with their two children Charlotte and Jack, and there will no doubt be a few aunties, uncles and cousins to catch up with. 

Of course, Mum will tell me I’m too skinny and need fattening up, or too fat and need to lay off the pudding (it varies, she can’t seem to make up her mind), whilst Dad reminds me how to use various muggle items as though I’m an amnesia patient who is also a little bit thick (he once spent ten minutes reminding me how to dial the telephone when I offered to call up for a pizza delivery!).  My parents can be a bit overbearing at times, and they’ve never fully embraced magic, but I imagine that’s normal for the parents of muggle born witches and wizards.

My brother and his beautiful French wife are the only members of my family who know about my ‘abilities’ and don’t have a problem with them.  Owen was rather jealous of me when I got my Hogwarts letter, although he is four years older than me, so he soon got over it.  It probably helped that I wasn’t allowed to use magic out of school.  It’s a bit like that old saying, ‘what the eye can’t see, the heart can’t grieve for.’  

“Ok, settle down,” I say to the room of fourth year Slytherins and Ravenclaws; whilst not my favourite class, this particular group aren’t too awful.  Slytherin classes aren’t always the best, and you usually have to keep your wits about you, although it isn’t lost on me that not only are there less Slytherins than there were when I was a student, the green and silver bedecked students are also certainly less outspoken than I remember my Slytherin contemporaries being.  Ravenclaws are a bit of a double-edged sword in the classroom; on the one hand they are generally very studious, grasp things quickly and rarely give me cause to chase down missing homework, but on the other hand, they sometimes pick things up faster than expected (more than once I’ve had a class of Ravenclaws who finished the entire week’s worth of exercises in one lesson, leaving me scrambling to find lessons I hadn’t yet planned), and it’s not uncommon to get a couple of ‘know-it-all’s’ who take great pleasure in correcting every mistake I make.

They take a little longer than usual to stop talking and turn their focus to me, but since they were just out in the corridor being serenaded by our resident delinquent poltergeist, and it’s only a few days until holidays, I can understand their restlessness.

“I was very pleased with most of your essays on part-isolation transfiguration,” I begin, waving my wand so that the rolls of neatly graded parchment float gently to their owners.  “Most of you have shown a good understanding of the theory behind transfiguring only part of an object, although some of you may want to think a little more about appropriate practical application.  I can promise you that turning your own toes into chocolate éclairs will not come up a whole lot, Mr. Newitt,” I raise my eyebrows at a cheeky looking Slytherin in the back row and the whole class giggles.  Andrew Newitt is a surprisingly sweet kid for a Slytherin, and ever since I laughed at one of his jokes in my third week as a Hogwarts teacher, he has put something ridiculous in every piece of homework he has done for me, just for my amusement.

“But you never know, Professor Morgan,” He beams, pointing a finger at me, and the whole class laughs again.

“You never know,” I nod with a smile and continue my instructions.  “Today, we are going to begin attempting some part-isolation transfiguration, but please be aware that it can be tricky, so don’t get discouraged if you struggle to isolate the part of an object you want to transfigure.”

I hold up a teapot and demonstrate transfiguring the spout into different things, first a ribbon, then a stick of liquorice and finally a sprig of holly, just for something festive.  I quickly multiply more teapots and hand them out for students to try turning their own spouts into liquorice since it’s the least complicated of the three.  It isn’t long until the room is full of muttered incantations and wand flicking, interspersed with the occasional groan of frustration or cheer of success.

“Professor, look!” I hear after about fifteen minutes, and look over my shoulder to see that Andrew Newitt is beckoning to me.  “I know it’s not the spout, but it’s still part-isolation transfiguration!”  I reach the table he is sharing with fellow Slytherin, Jason Cleese, and notice that he hasn’t transfigured the spout but the handle of his teapot.  A very human looking ear is now in the place where one would pick up the teapot, and I fold my arms across my chest, trying not to look too amused.

“That’s very impressive Mr. Newitt, but I am interested to know why you are transfiguring body parts on to crockery.”  I raise one eyebrow at him.

“Well I already did the liquorice thing, see?” He says, and with a quick demonstration, his spout is replaced with a stick of the black sweet.  “So I thought I’d be a bit more creative.  Plus, I like the idea of transfiguring body parts.”

“Why am I not surprised by that revelation, Andrew?” I ask rhetorically, before turning and moving away to help some Ravenclaw girls near the front of the classroom.

“I thought it might be fun to transfigure my own nose into a bright red one for Christmas, Professor, see?”  I hear the words but it takes a second for their implications to register.  I spin around on the ball of my foot, but by this point, his wand is already pointed at his own face. 

“Andrew!  No!” I exclaim, reaching for my own wand, but I’m too late.  With a loud crack, a spell that is far too strong and too unstable explodes out of Andrew’s wand and hits him square in the face.  His face registers shock as the spell hits and he is thrown from his chair and against the wall behind him.  Gasps of shock echo around the room as I dart towards the back row of tables, my mind already searching for an appropriate spell.  I round the edge of the table where Jason is staring at the floor in surprise, and am struck by what I see.  

Andrew is crumpled on the floor, his left shoulder partially pushed up against the wall.  His legs are bent slightly and his right arm is splayed out to the side.  He is unconscious, but there is no blood and none of his joints seem to be bending at unnatural angles so I should be relieved; a serious crisis seems to have been averted and I should be able to fix this.

Except that when I look down at Andrew’s body, my blood runs cold and my legs suddenly feel like they’re going to give way.  Andrew’s body, lying on the cold stone floor of the Transfiguration classroom fades away, and is replaced by another body, of a boy a few years older.  He is covered in sweat and dirt, his light brown hair a tangled mess. He is lying on the cold grass of the Quidditch pitch where a huge maze has been grown.  A younger boy is bent over his body, a large, glimmering trophy cup dropped carelessly on the ground next to them.  The younger boy seems to be crying, but the older boy is not moving, his open eyes glassy and lifeless.  Fear bubbles up in my throat and bursts out as a scream.

“Cedric!  No!”  I hear the shout echo around the room as my legs give way and my knees hit the hard stone floor.  Sobs overtake me and my body begins shaking with grief.  I’m oblivious to my surroundings, trapped by the horrific image before me of my friend lying dead on the grass.  Occasionally I hear voices, but they are muffled, as though they are coming from people several rooms away.

“Emily?” The voice in my ear is warm and gentle, and I drag my eyes away from the image of Cedric’s body to look into the face of the headmistress.  “Emily, can you hear me?”  I stare at her for a moment, and then fall against her shoulder, weeping like a child.

I wake up sometime later in a room I don’t instantly recognise.  There is late afternoon sunlight streaming through the high windows, and I’m vaguely aware that I’m lying on a bed, covered with a soft blanket.  I move my head around, ignoring the stiffness in my neck and take in my surroundings.  There’s a cabinet next to my bed with a jug of water next to an empty glass.  My wand has been placed there too.  A plain wooden chair sits next to the bed and a privacy screen has been pulled around the bed, blocking my view from the rest of the room.  This is enough information however, for me to deduce that I am in the hospital wing.

My mouth is dry and my head is pounding, but otherwise I seem to be unharmed.  Pushing myself up into a sitting position, I reach over and pour myself a glass of water, enjoying the relief it gives to my dry throat.  I try to remember what happened before I woke up here, but it’s a bit patchy.  I close my eyes and try to focus; my memory is a blur of colour, myself screaming at Andrew Newitt, a flash of green grass, my knees hitting the floor, McGonagall saying my name and a pair of lifeless, glassy eyes.  I gasp and my eyes fly open again.

“Emily?” Madam Pomfrey, the school healer, appears around one of the privacy screens.  “Good, you’re awake.  How are you feeling dear?”

“I…I don’t know,” I stammer, my voice sounding gravelly.  “What happened?”

Madam Pomfrey frowns and lets out a small sigh.  “I think you had better discuss that with Minerva,” She says.  “I’ll let her know you’re awake, and you really should eat something.”  She disappears again, leaving me feeling somewhat confused and a little bit frightened.  I pull my knees up to my chest and hug my legs while I wait for Madam Pomfrey to return. 

However, it’s McGonagall who appears in my small, makeshift hospital room a few minutes later, her face arranged into its usual stern expression; only her eyes give away her concern and compassion.  She sits in the wooden chair next to my bed and watches me for a moment before she speaks.

“How are you feeling Emily?” She asks, her voice surprisingly soft.

“Incredibly confused,” I admit honestly.  She nods at this as though to indicate she is not at all surprised.

“How much do you remember?” She prompts.  I sigh and press my eyes closed again for a second; I open them and speak slowly.

“I was teaching the fourth years,” I begin.  “Andrew Newitt tried to transfigure his own nose,” I pause, my eyes flicking to McGonagall in panic.  Am I going to get in trouble for not stopping him?  A good teacher would never let her students accidentally stun themselves in class, right?

“That sounds like Mr. Newitt,” McGonagall says, giving me a wry smile that tells me I’m not in trouble.

“Is he ok?” I ask suddenly, remembering the force with which his body had hit the wall.

“He’s going to be just fine,” She replies.  “Just a little bump on the head, he’ll be back to making trouble by tomorrow.”

“Good,” I nod, staring at a small scratch on the foot of my bed.

“What happened after Mr. Newitt fell?” McGonagall prompts me.  I continue to stare at the foot of the bed while I speak.

“He…he was lying on the floor, and then suddenly it wasn’t him anymore.” I say, feeling rather stupid.  “It was someone else.”

“Who was it?”  McGonagall’s voice is so soft, and yet incredibly clear, like she’s whispering right into my ear.

“Cedric,” I practically choke the word out, and I feel the tears welling up again.  I squeeze my eyes shut tightly to stop them, but as soon as I do, the image of Cedric appears.

“Cedric Diggory?” McGonagall sounds surprised, and I open my eyes before nodding.

“I…I don’t know what happened professor,” I whisper, and it’s a credit to McGonagall’s sense of empathy that she doesn’t correct me for using the old idiom.  “It was like I was there again, at the triwizard tournament.” The tears are pouring down my cheeks now and I can barely get the words out through the sobs that are fighting to resurface.  The headmistress conjures up a handkerchief and passes it to me, waiting silently while I wipe away the tears and try to compose myself.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m turning in to a complete mess.

“I…I can’t really remember what happened after that,” I finally manage to say.  “It’s all fuzzy.  I remember seeing you and then I woke up in here.”

“Emily, I’m not entirely sure what happened either,” McGonagall admits, and even though it’s childish to think so, I’m slightly stunned that there’s something she doesn’t know; Minerva McGonagall is the smartest witch I’ve ever met.  “From what you have told me, and the accounts of your students, it sounds as though Mr. Newitt’s accident invoked a rather painful memory, causing you to have some sort of emotional reaction.”

Madam Pomfrey appears at that moment, carrying a tray.  She places it on a small, wheeled table in the corner and pushes it towards the bed.  There is a covered plate, a glass of pumpkin juice and a tall, thin vial of a purplish liquid.  The healer picks up the vial and passes it to me. 

“Calming draught,” She explains.  “It will help you to rest.”  I don’t think twice before swallowing the entire vial.  “Make sure she eats something.”  Pomfrey says to McGonagall, before leaving us alone again.

“You need rest,” McGonagall says to me.  “You seem to be fine, although understandably shaken up by the whole ordeal.  I want you to take the rest of the week off, leave early for your Christmas holiday, and we’ll see how you feel when you get back.”

“What about my classes?” I ask.

“Well it’s been a few years, but I have been known to teach the odd Transfiguration class myself, you know.” McGonagall raises an eyebrow and I can’t help but smile.

“Thankyou Minerva,” is all I can say.

“Now, you had better eat something or Poppy will have my wand.” She pushes the table closer to the bed so that I can reach it.  I lay my legs flat again and pull the table so that the top of it stretches across my lap.  I’m suddenly famished, and when I lift the cover to reveal a plate full of roast pork, vegetables and gravy, I almost start drooling.  McGonagall stays until I have taken a few bites, then leaves without a word, just a gentle nod in my direction.

My small suitcase is deceptively heavy as I make my way down the Hogwarts driveway the next afternoon.  After sleeping for a good fourteen hours, Pomfrey deemed me well enough to leave the hospital wing, and I didn’t lose any time in packing my bag.  At her request, I stopped in to see McGonagall in her office before I left, promising her I would be fine to apparate, and that I would be in contact over the break.  She, in turn, promised to look after my classes, although I didn’t let on that I hadn’t given my classes a second thought all day, except to decide that I’d slip out of the castle unnoticed when the students were in afternoon classes.  I felt a small stab of guilt about that, but let it pass.

Once I’m outside the school boundaries, I am free to apparate to Wales.  Even though I’ve been apparating for years now, I’m still not terribly comfortable with long distances and Hogsmeade to Swansea isn’t exactly your run of the mill pop down to the village.  However, since I’m apparating to my parent’s house – my childhood home – which probably ranks second only to Hogwarts in terms of familiarity, and it’s a trip I’ve made more than once before, I’m not too worried about the journey.  With one last look at the castle gates, I focus on the tool shed in Mum and Dad’s garden, grip my suitcase tightly in my hand and turn on the spot.

What apparition lacks in comfort, it certainly makes up for in convenience, and it’s only seconds later that I appear with a loud ‘pop’ in the middle of the dusty old garden shed.  I find the door and push it open, stepping out into a perfectly maintained garden.  It’s noticeably warmer here, and I’ve removed my gloves before I even get to the house.  The back door is unlocked, and as I make my way through the boot room, the smell of delicious Christmas baking reaches me.  The large, country-style kitchen is empty when I walk in, although there are mince pies in the oven, so I know my parents can’t be far away.

“Mum?” I call out.  “Dad?  Anyone home?”

“Emily?” I hear my father’s muffled voice coming from the next room, followed by footsteps and then the swinging door that leads to the dining room opening.  My father looks the same as always, although he perhaps has a little more grey hair on his head.  “Baby girl!” He exclaims, moving forward to wrap me up in a bear hug.  I drop my suitcase on the floor and hug him back, enjoying the feeling of the familiar arms around me. 

“Hi Dad,” I say, although the words are muffled against his shoulder.

“Charles?  Who are you talking t…” I heard Mum’s voice behind me.  Dad lets me go so I can turn towards the entrance to the hallway, where my mother is standing, feather duster in hand.  “Emily!  What are you doing here?  You’re not due until tomorrow.” She says.

“Nice to see you too Mum,” I laugh.  “The headmistress gave me permission to come home early, she thought I could use a break,” I answer, talking quickly.  It’s not exactly a lie, but I’m not entirely comfortable sharing the whole story with my parents just yet.

“Well it’s lovely to see you dear,” Mum gives me a warm smile and steps forward to kiss me on the cheek.  “You look well,” She adds, and I wait, knowing there’s a ‘but’ coming.  “I suppose you don’t get a lot of sun up at that school of yours, do you?”

“You mean in Northern Scotland during the winter, where there’s only six hours of daylight?  No mum, not a whole lot of sun.” I can’t help but smile; at least she’s not going on about my weight or my height (yes, she has been known to suggest I’m too short – like I have some sort of say in the matter!).

“Well we’ll just have to get some colour into you while you’re home,” Mum pats my cheek before turning to the oven to check her baking.  “We’re having a very mild season this year.”

“I think I’ll just go upstairs and unpack,” I say, picking up my suitcase again.

“Emily?” Mum’s call stops me as I’m about to leave the room.  I turn around, wondering what request or instruction she has for me.

“It’s lovely to see you dear.” She says, before opening the oven to remove a tray of pies.

AN: Ok, super quick update, I know, but I probably won't get a chance to update again for at least a week, so I thought I'd treat you all to a new chapter :)

Thanks to everyone who is reading and reviewing, it means a lot.  See that little grey box down there? It's hungry, please feed it with reviews!  Ta!

Chapter 5: Midnight
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“Unnie Emmy!” At two and a half years old, my niece Charlotte has her own adorably unique way of saying my name. 

“Hello my beautiful girl!” I exclaim, reaching out to catch the toddler up in a hug as she comes barrelling down the hallway towards me.  I pick her up and cuddle her close, planting kisses on the top of her head.

“I miss you Unnie Emmy,” She smiles at me, all dimples and wide eyes and perfect golden curls, her chubby little arms around my neck.

“I missed you too angel,” I say, kissing her again on her forehead.

Six year old Jack is slightly more reserved and smiles at me shyly as I lower his sister back to the ground.

“And who is this young gentleman standing before me?  Surely this isn’t Jack?  You’re so tall and grown up!” I exclaim.

“Hello Auntie Emily,” He says slowly and clearly, as though determined to prove that he is grown up and can speak with a greater depth of skill than his sister.  I crouch down to hug him, planting just one kiss on his soft cheek.

“Hello there little sister,” Owen wraps me up in a big hug once I’ve straightened up, lifting me right off my feet.

“Hey big bro,” I grin, kissing him on the cheek too before moving to my sister in law, who has just walked in the door behind her husband.  “Nat,” I beam as we embrace. 

“It eez so good to see you Emily,” She replies, her French accent tickling my ear.  She kisses me on both cheeks and then scoops Charlotte up in her arms.  “Leetle Charlotte ‘as been asking about you since we left ‘ome yesterday.”

With the addition of my brother’s family, Mum and Dad’s house is soon buzzing with activity and preparations for Christmas celebrations.  The children help Mum decorate gingerbread biscuits with coloured icing and little silver balls before Owen takes them outside to build snowmen and play with our family dog, Astro.  Natalie and I catch up over hot chocolate in front of the antique fireplace in the sitting room and one evening after dinner, we all gather to decorate the tall pine tree that Dad has brought inside. 

Christmas Day is overcast and snowy, but inside the house it is all brightness and cheer as the children delight over their gifts and the stockings stuffed with goodies from Father Christmas.  By late morning, more family has descended upon the house and the rooms are filled with the smell of turkey and vegetables roasting away in the kitchen.  The anxiety and depression I had experienced only days earlier seem a distant memory, and as we sit around Mum’s antique mahogany dining table, eating until we are almost bursting and laughing at old family memories, I can almost forget the disastrous events that led to my early departure from Hogwarts.  Almost.

After lunch, my cousin Claire and I decide to take Astro for a walk before it gets too dark out.  Claire is the daughter of my Father’s brother, my uncle John, and is one year older than me.  We went to primary school together and though we grew apart when I went to Hogwarts, we are still good friends.  She’s a social worker and spends most of her time counselling disadvantaged young people at a local youth centre; she is a very good listener, which is probably why I found myself opening up to her about the incident in my fourth year class.  Of course, Claire doesn’t know that I’m a witch, and like the rest of my extended family, she thinks I teach history at a Scottish boarding school, but with a few omitted details, I was able to explain the main points of the situation.

“So the headmistress took over my classes and sent me on holidays early,” I conclude my story as we start a lap of a nearby park.

“Have you told your parents about this?” Claire asks.

“I haven’t told anyone,” I reply.  “Until now.”

“And it’s never happened before?”

“Not like this,” I say, stopping so Astro can sniff the trunk of a large tree.

“But something else has happened?” see what I mean?  Claire is a good listener – she doesn’t miss a thing.

“I…I’m just…”  I sigh and walk across to the playground.  There’s a set of swings, and I sit down on one.  Claire follows and sits on the swing next to me.  “I’m sad Claire; all the time.  I don’t enjoy teaching anymore, my students seem to always be so bored in my classes, and at the end of the day I don’t want to see anyone, I just want to curl up in bed and cry myself to sleep.”  A few tears sting my eyes and I wipe them away roughly.  Claire reaches over and holds my hand over Astro’s leash.  “And this isn’t the first time I’ve thought about Cedric and…and…other people like him.”

We sit in silence for a few minutes, Astro, sitting at my feet, rests his head on my knees and looks up at me sadly. Eventually, Claire speaks.

“I think you should talk to someone Emily, not just me or your headmistress, but a professional.” She’s staring at me earnestly, and whilst her gaze makes me feel self-conscious, I can’t deny her words are somehow comforting.  They are a call to action, a plan of attack that I could possibly follow.

“A professional?” I ask.

“A doctor, or a counsellor.  But someone you’re not related to,” I raise an eyebrow at her and she smiles.  “Not that I don’t love you, but it’s sort of a conflict of interests to treat your own cousin.  Just think about it, ok?”

I pull my cloak tighter around my shoulders as I stare up at the small, unsuspecting cottage-come-healer-office.  The thatched roof is covered in a fresh blanket of snow, as is the small front garden.  The front door is painted a friendly shade of duck-egg blue and I assume the same paint has been used on the window boxes that hang from the two windows on either side of the entrance way.  There is a small sign hanging to the left of the door which simply says: Heather Jensen, Healer.

After our conversation in the play park, I gave Claire’s advice some serious consideration. I realised that a muggle doctor or therapist wasn’t going to be any use because I couldn’t explain everything to them about Hogwarts and the war and Cedric; so on Boxing Day I wrote to St. Mungo’s, the wizarding hospital in London, asking for a list of healers that might be able to help me.  I had thought it might be a little while before I would hear back, but the next morning I was woken by an owl tapping on my bedroom window.  The administration office at St. Mungo’s had sent me a list of healers that deal with ‘emotional and psychological effects of magical incidents and accidents’.  There were eight healers on the list, one of whom operates out of Hogsmeade, so it was a pretty easy decision to make.

Which is how I have ended up standing in front of Heather Jensen’s office on the day before New Year’s Eve, absolutely frozen with fear.  Claire’s idea of talking to someone had seemed really good, right up until this moment when all my doubts have suddenly ambushed me.  What if she’s mean?  What if she doesn’t believe me?  What if she can’t help me?

Taking a deep breath, I force myself to push  openthe white painted, iron gate and walk up to the blue front door.  The door knocker is shaped like an owl, which makes me smile and gives me the confidence to knock three times, albeit quietly.  I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, maybe someone who looked like McGonagall or Madam Pomfrey, but when a woman of about thirty-five with long, curly, blonde hair and friendly blue eyes opens the door, I’m slightly taken aback.

“Emily?”  She asks in a sweet melodic voice that reminds me of birds singing; I nod mutely.  “I’m Heather, please come in out of the cold.”

“Thank you,” I say shyly, walking into the narrow entrance hall.  Heather leads me down the hallway to the last room on the right.  Inside is a modern looking glass-topped desk and three squashy armchairs set around a coffee table.

“Please, take a seat.”  Heather indicates to the armchairs.  “Can I get you something to drink?  Tea, coffee, pumpkin juice?”

“Tea please,” I reply and with a wave of her wand, Heather conjures up a tea tray with a china teapot, two cups, milk, sugar and a plate of biscuits.  It takes several minutes for Heather to go through the process of pouring the tea, during which she chatters away about her collection of antique teapots that she has been collecting since she was a girl.  By the time I’m settled in my armchair with a cup of tea and chocolate biscuit, I feel as though I’m sitting down for a chat with a friend.

Oh wow, she is good!

Heather moves to her desk and picks up a clipboard and a quill.  She hands them to me and I notice there is a form on the clipboard.

“Would you please fill this out for me Emily?” She asks kindly.  “I just like to have some basic information about my clients before we begin.”  I take the quill and parchment and begin filling out answers.  Name, date of birth, marital status, blood status (optional it says, though it still surprises me), medical history.  Heather sits silently, sipping her tea as I write.  Once I have finished, I hand the clipboard back to her and she looks at it briefly before placing it on a small side table next to her chair.

“So in your letter you said you work at Hogwarts?” She asks, smiling at me. 

“Yes, I teach Transfiguration.” I reply.

“That’s very impressive, I imagine Minerva McGonagall wouldn’t let just anyone teach her old subject.”  My cheeks suddenly feel warm at this comment, but if Heather notices, she doesn’t say anything.  Instead, she conjures up another clipboard with parchment attached, and an ivory coloured quill.  “I like to take notes when talking to clients, would that be alright with you?” She asks kindly, and I just nod, once again lost for words.  “Do you enjoy your work?” Heather asks, continuing with her former line of discussion.

“I…well…yes,” I stammer.  “I do enjoy it,  but it’s very challenging, and…” my voice trails away as I watch the movement of Heather’s quill, her hand skating across the parchment even though she barely takes her eyes off me for a second at a time.

“And?” She prompts.

“And…” Suddenly I feel ungrateful that I am complaining to a healer about my job.  It’s a good job and I should be proud to have it.

“I’m not surprised you find it challenging,” Heather says when it becomes clear I don’t know how to finish my sentence.  “When I was at Hogwarts, I never understood how the professors got our homework back to us so quickly.  He was a grumpy old thing, but Professor Snape must have spent every night in his office correcting essays, because we always had them back by the next lesson.”

“Sometimes it feels that way,” I smile, thinking about the old potions master.  Despite the fact that he scared the daylights out of me at school, since Harry Potter had written that series about Snape for the Daily Prophet, I had developed a much deeper respect for the man who had given everything up to help save the world from Voldemort – including his own life.

“Perhaps you could tell me why you decided to come and see me, Emily,” Heather’s voice breaks through my musings and I look up at her again, a small but genuine smile on her face.  I take a deep breath and try to arrange my thoughts.

“Well, just before Christmas, there was an incident in one of my classes.” I begin.  I try to explain the situation as best I can, stopping only once when I am explaining about Cedric and I can feel the words getting caught in my throat.  Heather’s quill continues its pattern back and forth across the parchment, but she rarely looks down.  She is listening to me, and it seems to make me braver somehow, less afraid to share.

“That sounds like a very frightening incident,” Heather says, her hand pausing while she speaks.  “I’m not surprised that it upset you.” Heather pauses for a moment, looks down at her notes and then meets my eyes.  “I agree that it sounds as though the incident in your classroom brought up some very painful memories, but it seems to run deeper than that.  Emily, as a muggle born witch, I am curious about your experiences during the war.  Would you be willing to share that with me?”

“I suppose,” I say, my heart rate picking up at this new line of questioning.  Heather gives me another one of her small, perceptive smiles.

“It’s alright Emily, we don’t need to go in to it now,” She says and automatically let out a breath I didn’t realise I was holding.  “But I would like to discuss it in the future.”  She lays her clipboard and quill on her lap and folds her hands over the top, smiling across at me kindly.  “I am very glad you came to see me Emily, it was very brave of you to do so.”  I nod stupidly, looking down at my knees nervously.

“There are few areas of Muggle medicine that surpass our own level of treatment,” She continues.  “But the area of emotional and psychological injury is one such area.  It is unfortunate, but the second Wizarding War has brought this oversight to light, and what you are describing to me is not uncommon or unusual.”  I look up at her, surprised and yet relieved at her words.  “It is also very treatable.”

“Treatable?” I ask, my voice barely a whisper.

“Yes, though not with a potion or a spell I’m afraid.  I can recommend several calming and sleeping draughts to help you in times of high stress, but the only way to truly deal with these issues is through regular emotional therapy.” Heather’s face is more serious now, but her eyes have not lost their compassion.  “I would like to meet with you regularly Emily, to help you to work through the depression and anxiety you are experiencing.” 

“Depression?” I say.  It’s a word that Claire uses a lot when discussing her counselling work and it surprises me to hear it come from a Healer’s mouth. 

“Yes,” Heather says gently.  “Emily, it is obvious to me that you are very depressed, and you also seem to be exhibiting signs of what Muggle doctors call ‘Post Traumatic Stress’.”

“What I’m feeling has a name?” I ask, and suddenly my eyes are brimming with tears.  I wipe them away, felling stupid at such an emotional reaction, but I’m just so relieved that Heather is taking this so seriously.

“Yes it does,” Heather replies, summoning a box of tissues from her desk and handing them to me.  “And with your permission, I’d like to help you overcome it.”

I leave Heather’s office feeling lighter than I have in weeks, months even.  I’m still not sure what Heather’s ‘emotional therapy’ is going to look like, but for the first time in a very long while, I am filled with a sense of hope, and a determination to face tomorrow.

“Emily!  You came!” Michelle wraps me in a big hug as I step inside her house.  It is light and airy inside with an open floorplan and modern fixtures that are at complete odds with the traditional façade of the building.  “Come in, come in,” She beams, taking my arm and leading me through the entrance hall to a large, open living area at the back of the house.  A bright, airy, country style kitchen runs into a dining area, and through an archway on the right, I can make out a large sitting room.  There’s music blaring from somewhere, and everywhere I look, people are talking, laughing or dancing.  A tall guy with spiky, light brown hair approaches us as Michelle and I enter the throng.  He looks vaguely familiar, but then again so do about a third of the people at the party and I assume it’s because we were all at Hogwarts together at some point.

“Em, this is Anthony,” Michelle says.  “My husband,” She adds proudly, smiling lovingly at him.

“Hey Emily,” Anthony smiles at me, extending a hand.  “Michelle’s told me a lot about you.”

“Likewise,” I reply, shaking his hand.  I realise it’s the first word I’ve spoken since entering the house.

“Can I get you a drink?” Anthony asks.  “Michelle made her Mum’s famous Pumpkin Punch.”

“That sounds lovely,” I smile as he pecks Michelle on the cheek and makes his way over to the kitchen counter that seems to have been set up as a makeshift bar.  “I love your house,” I compliment Michelle.

“Thanks,” Her smile widens and I realise just how proud she is of her life here.  “We bought it when we moved here to run the business, I wasn’t too keen on living with Anthony’s mum!”  We both laugh at that, just as Anthony returns with two glasses of punch.  “It was pretty old and run down but we did a bit of rebuilding and modernising.  I’m rather adept at painting spells now, you know.”

“I’ll keep that in mind next time I need some painting done,” I laugh, taking a sip of my punch.  I cough as it burns my throat.

“Sorry, I should have warned you!” Michelle gasps, though she does look like she’s trying not to laugh.  “It’s pretty strong.  I mean the base drink is pumpkin juice, but it also has firewhisky and redcurrant wine.”

“Not to mention a touch of conjured flame,” Anthony snorts.

“It’s fine, it’s good,” I gasp, finding it hard not to laugh myself.  “I just wasn’t expecting it to be quite so…”

“Flammable?” Anthony suggests, and we all start laughing.

Michelle and I chat for a little while, but eventually, both she and Anthony answer to hosting duties that cannot be ignored.  I get myself another glass of punch, even though it is incredibly strong and wander around the rooms, taking in the party.  I spot a few familiar faces, even nod hello to the odd person here and there, but before too long, I find myself growing awkward.  I don’t know anyone here, not really, and I seem to have forgotten how to talk to strangers.  In the back of my mind I note the oddness of this, I used to be so good at talking to new people that for a while I was sure my mother was terrified I was going to get myself kidnapped.  I let the thought drift away though, it makes me feel uncomfortable when I consider how much I have changed from who I was before the war.  I find a blank space of wall and press my back up against it, wishing I could just blend into the background; I’m sure that I must look as awkward as I feel. 

All around me people are talking and laughing.  A space in the middle of the sitting room has been cleared as a dance floor and about two dozen people are moving to the music.  The sound is blurring together and I’m finding it hard to breathe.  I glance down at the almost empty glass of punch in my hand as the noise of the party seems to blend with another party, one from ten years ago.

“We won!  I can’t believe we beat Gryffindor!” I squeal as Patricia and I make our way back up to the castle, arm in arm.  We pass a group of second year Gryffindors and a small red-haired girl gives me a dirty look.  Giggling, Patricia and I skip away.

“I do feel bad for Harry Potter though, do you think he was very badly hurt?” Patricia asks as we catch up with Kate Peters and Sophie McKellan, our other dorm mates.

“They took him up to the Hospital wing, Pomfrey will fix him up in a heartbeat,” Kate says.  “Meanwhile, how fantastic was Cedric?  The way he caught that snitch…” She puts her hand on her heart and gives an exaggerated flutter of her eyelashes, causing us all to giggle.  We laugh all the way to the common room, where some of the seventh years are already setting up for a party.

“Please tell me we have chocolate cake,” I say, peering over the shoulder of Mary Cauldwell who is arranging a few trays of food on one of the study tables.  I see a plate of chocolate cake and sneak a slice before anyone can stop and go to join the other girls on one of the sofas.  Someone puts a record on the old gramophone in the corner and I perch myself on the arm of the sofa, singing along quietly to The Weird Sisters.

“You’re in a good mood,” Sophie laughs.

“It’s a party, and a victory celebration at that, why wouldn’t I be?” I grin.  “And I have chocolate cake.”

“You know what Em’s like, any excuse for a bit of fun,” Patricia teases, but before I can retort, a cheer goes up from the common room entrance way.  The Quidditch team appear, greeted with slaps on the back and shouts of congratulations.  The four of us stop our conversation to watch with pride and happiness.  It’s not just that we won the match, but we beat Gryffindor – that never happens! 

“Do you think they got butterbeer?” Sophie asks curiously, and we fall back into comfortable conversation as the conquering heroes move further into the room.  I half listen to the girl’s talk of O.W.L prep, but I can’t help singing along to the record when the next song starts.

“Nice singing Em, you should write us a team song,” I look up into the smiling face that matches the new voice.

“Cedric!”  I exclaim, throwing my arms around his waist.  “Brilliant job today, you are a bloody superstar.”

“Thanks Em, but you know if Potter hadn’t fallen off his broom…” Cedric shrugs as he drapes an arm over my shoulder.

“Oh pish posh, you did a great job, accept it,” I grin.  Cedric just smiles but doesn’t argue any further.

“Do you ladies want drinks?  I heard someone say that the house elves had got us some butterbeer,” He moves back into the crowd to find us some drinks and Sophie practically swoons.

“He is so sweet – and gorgeous!  Em, why did you break up with him again?” She asks and I give a derisive snort.

“Cedric and I didn’t break up, because we were never a couple.  We just went to Hogsmeade together a couple times last year,” I shrug.

“And you snogged too,” Patricia says, and I lean over to slap her arm.

“You snogged him?” Sophie and Kate gasp in unison.

“Twice,” Patricia grins, holding up two fingers.  She leans away before I can slap her again.

“Trish!  So much for keeping secrets,” I try to sound annoyed but I’m really not all that upset.  A new song begins, a faster one this time and I jump off the sofa, grabbing Patricia by both hands.  “I love this song!  Come on girls, it’s a party, let’s dance!”

“You know they’re pretty sturdy walls, you don’t need to hold them up.” I look up, startled out of my reverie by a vaguely familiar voice.  The guy standing next to me is only slightly older than myself.  He’s dressed in muggle jeans and a button down shirt with the cuffs pushed up.  His brown hair is slightly too long, as though he’s overdue for a haircut, and there’s a smile on his lips.  He’s not unusually tall, but I’m so short I have to look up to meet his green-blue eyes; eyes that I spent many an hour at Hogwarts daydreaming about.

Timothy Briar. 

It’s odd, but since my renewed friendship with Michelle, I hadn’t once thought about the fact that her brother was Timothy Briar, the boy I had a huge crush on for the better part of three years.

That was until about five seconds ago when he walked up and spoke to me and, I suddenly realise, he’s probably expecting me to speak back to him.  I open my mouth, but I can’t seem to make the words form.  Fortunately, Timothy seems to realise he’s taken me by surprise and offers me his hand.

“Timothy Briar,” his name leaves both our mouths at the same time, and Timothy’s confident smile turns to a look of surprise.  Before I can stop myself, I take his hand in mine and shake it firmly.

“Emily Morgan,” I say.

“Emily Morgan?”  His eyes suddenly register understanding.  “You were in Hufflepuff, right?”

“Yeah,” I nod, slightly disappointed that he hardly remembers me, but then again he barely noticed me when we were at school, so why would he remember me almost a decade later? 

“Yeah, I remember, you were the year below me.  You were friends with Cedric,” My stomach drops about a foot at Cedric’s name and I just nod.   I glance down and realise I’m still holding Timothy’s hand.  I let go and drop my hand to my side, blushing.  I lower my eyes to my almost empty cup and Timothy’s eyes my follow mine because the next thing he says is, “Can I get you a refill?”  I look up again and he’s pointing at my cup.

“Oh…um sure,” I nod, handing him my cup.  His hand pauses on mine and he leans in close to whisper in my ear.

“Don’t disappear while I’m gone.  I can see it in your eyes that you want to run away but I want to talk to you some more.”  He pulls back and takes the cup, winking at me before turning to make his way through to the kitchen.

“Ok,” I mutter, a few seconds too late for him to actually hear.  My heart had started beating faster than normal when he leaned in to whisper, and my skin is still tingling where his breath had touched my neck.  All these years later, and Timothy Briar can still reduce me to a puddle of nerves.

“You didn’t leave,” He says with a smile when he reappears a few minutes later and hands me the fresh glass of punch.

“How could I, when you made such a specific request,” I tease, surprising myself as the old Emily resurfaces for a second.

“Well when I first noticed you across the room, you were leaning against that wall as though you were hoping it would swallow you up and you looked like you were heartbeat away from apparating right out of the room!” Timothy grins and I feel myself blush again.

“I don’t really know many people here,” I admit.  “Michelle and I only reconnected recently and –”

“You’re the Hogwarts professor!” Timothy exclaims suddenly, cutting me off.  “Sorry, I interrupted you, that was really rude of me.”

“That’s ok,” I hear myself laugh.  “And yes, Hogwarts professor – that’s me.”  My voice sounds surprisingly light.

“Transfiguration, right?” Timothy looks genuinely interested and before I know it, we are deep in discussion about work and Quidditch and family Christmases and everything else that people talk about at parties.  It seems like only minutes have passed when Anthony comes by with a tray of full champagne glasses, warning everyone that it’s nearly midnight. 

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t make a run for it?” Timothy grins at me as the radio presenter announces the ten second countdown.

“I’m glad I stayed,” I agree with a smile, and I genuinely am.

“Happy New Year!”  Everyone cheers at the end of the countdown, and the room erupts with laughter, noisemakers and a few Weasley’s Wildfire Whiz-Bang fireworks, which explode over our heads.  Everywhere I look people are hugging and kissing and wishing each other the very best for the New Year. 

“Happy New Year, Emily Morgan,” Timothy says and I have just enough time to smile at him before he leans down to kiss me on the cheek.  Before I can respond, a firework explodes above us and purple sparks flutter down, turning into confetti as it hits my hair and shoulders.

“Happy New Year, Timothy Briar.”

AN: Thanks to everyone for your brilliant reviews :) 

Chapter 6: The Cackling Stump
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Breathe in.  Breathe out.  You can do this, you can do this, you can do this.

I sit on the edge of my desk in the Transfiguration classroom I use with the N.E.W.T students.  In four minutes the bell is going to ring and I am going to walk out in to the corridor and let my seventh year class in for their first lesson of the new term.  I just have to stay focussed, remember to breathe and, you know, not have a complete break down again in the middle of lessons.

Oh sweet Merlin, I can’t do this!

Three minutes.  I stare at the back wall of the classroom, trying to remember the structure of the lessons for the day.  Listing the details in my mind seems to calm me somewhat. 

First lesson: Seventh years.  Human Transfiguration, specifically animagus.  Review basic aspects of animagi and responsibility of witches and wizards who choose to become an animagus.

Two minutes.  The first lesson is easy, it’s a theory lesson and my seventh years are a clever bunch.  There shouldn’t be too much trouble.

Second lesson: fifth years.  Vanishing spells, review small vertebrates and then begin practising medium vertebrates – guinea pigs.

One minute, don’t forget to breathe. 

Third and fourth lessons: Double sixth years.  Review botanic conjuring spells, assess practical application, students need to conjure a bouquet of flowers featuring a minimum of five varieties of flower.  If time permits, begin explo –

The sound of the school bell echoes in my ears, causing me to jump in surprise.  Taking a deep breath, I stand up and walk towards the door.  I pause for a second, my hand on the door handle and take another deep breath for good measure. 

Breathe in, breathe out, you can do this.

I pull the door open and smile at the ten students waiting outside.  Good old seventh years, they can always be relied on to be punctual.

“Welcome back everyone,” I say, holding out an arm to indicate they should enter.  I smile at the students as they pass and they smile back; I even get a couple comments of ‘welcome back professor.’

“We’re on page one hundred and forty-three,” I say, holding up a copy of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration.  “We are going to begin looking at the most difficult area of human Transfiguration – personal Transfiguration.  Now, who can tell me what we call a witch or wizard who can Transfigure themselves into an animal?”

“Professor Morgan!  You’re back!” I let out a gasp of surprise as Andrew Newitt throws his arms around me.  I pat his back awkwardly and try to hide my smile as best I can as the other members of my fourth year Slytherin-Ravenclaw class file in to the classroom.  “I’m so sorry professor,” Andrew continues as I usher him inside and close the door behind us.  “I promise to never do anything stupid ever again.  Ok, I promise not to do anything stupid in your classes.  Well I won’t point a loaded wand at my own face.”

“That’s all I could ever ask for Mr. Newitt,” I shake my head with a smile.  I couldn’t possibly admit this to anyone, but I am relieved that Andrew is so happy to see me.  I was petrified about this class, more than any other I had to teach today, and his jovial yet genuine attitude has put me at ease.  Andrew moves to his usual seat in the back row and I move to the front of the room.  “Now Professor McGonagall tells me you have all mastered Part-Isolation Transfiguration of inanimate objects, so today we are going to begin looking at how to Transfigure part of a living thing – I’m talking about an animal Mr. Newitt, not yourself.”  I add and the whole class laughs, helping my confidence to grow. 

The class is one of my best in a while, no doubt due in part to the fact that the students are noticeably on their best behaviour and I realise for the first time that my ‘incident’ must have frightened them just as much as it had frightened me.  I feel a little bit guilty that the thought hadn’t really occurred to me before now and I make an effort to be extra nice to them all, to prove that everything is normal – that I am normal.

“I’m glad you’re ok Professor,” Andrew Newitt says on his way out of the classroom at the end of the lesson, stopping at my desk just long enough to share the sentiment in a stage-whisper before he disappears into the crowd of Slytherins.

After lessons, I drop my work off in my office and then make my way up to the Headmistresses office to meet with McGonagall.  It was her suggestion that I check in with her at the end of my first day to make sure things are ok, and I am happy to comply, especially since the day went better than I had anticipated.

“Golden Snidget” I inform the stone gargoyle that guards the Head’s office and make my way up the stone staircase, knocking gently on the door before entering.

“Come in, Emily,” McGonagall calls.  She is standing by the painting of Professor Dumbledore when I enter, obviously just finishing off a conversation.  She gives one last nod to the painting before turning to me indicating towards the chairs in front of her desk; the painting of my old Headmaster winks at me, before closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep. “How did today go?” McGonagall asks kindly as we both sit on opposite sides of her rather large desk.

“Very well actually,” I smile.  “The students were all well-behaved and focussed.  Thank you for everything you did with them before Christmas, they’re all further along than I could have hoped for.”

“We have some very good students,” McGonagall nods, her face still rather serious despite the kind tone to her voice.  “And what about the fourth years this afternoon?  Any issues with that class?”

“None whatsoever,” I smile again.  “Andrew Newitt even apologised for trying to transfigure his own face.”

“I’m not surprised,” McGonagall gives me a small, knowing smile.  “He was very upset when he realised you were ill.  He thinks very highly of you.”

Well I let him make his jokes and probably don’t reprimand him as much as the other teachers, I think to myself, though I just smile and nod politely.

“And how are you feeling in general?” This last question catches me off guard, and it takes a few moments for me to formulate a response.

“I’m feeling better.  The whole…incident last term wasn’t pleasant, but things seem to be fine now.”  I turn my lips up into what I hope is a smile.  McGonagall doesn’t return the smile so maybe she doesn’t quite believe me; but then again, a serious facial expression is perfectly normal for the Headmistress so maybe I’m just imagining things.

“I actually have a request for you…Minerva,” I say, still unable to say McGonagall’s first name without stumbling over the word.

“A request?” She looks genuinely intrigued.

“Yes.  The seventh years began looking at Animagi today, and I thought their study might be helped by a practical demonstration from you.  If you agreed, we could also have a question and answer session.” I fold my hands in my lap and look at the Headmistress expectantly.  She gives me another small smile.

“Of course, I would be glad to.  Do you have a lesson in mind?” 

“Well, they are writing an essay on the basics of personal human transfiguration which is due on Monday.  Perhaps next Wednesday’s double lesson would be best, if that works for you?” I suggest.

“Next Wednesday would be fine,” McGonagall says, making a note on a piece of parchment on her desk.  “Have you ever thought about becoming an Animagus yourself Emily?”

“Me?” The question catches me completely off guard and I can’t disguise the surprise in my voice.  “I don’t think…well I…it’s incredibly difficult isn’t it?” I stammer.

“Yes,” McGonagall nods seriously.  “But certainly not impossible if you are skilled enough at Transfiguration.  And you are.”

“Thank you,” I mumble, blushing furiously.  “I’ll give it some thought.”

It’s not quite as scary the second time I go to see Helen Jensen, but I do hesitate at the front gate of her Healer Office nonetheless.  I organised for the appointment to be during my free lesson on Wednesday afternoon, and for a moment I’m distracted by the fact that I’ve never been off school grounds at this hour on a weekday in my entire time as a teacher.  The sun is already setting behind me as Heather opens the door and greets me with her kind smile.  We go to the same office and settle in the same chairs, following the same ritual with pouring the tea again.  And just like last time, I feel calmer and more settled by the time Heather summons her clipboard and quill, though this time it has a blue feather.

“So your lessons have started up again?” Heather asks, resting the clipboard on her knee.

“Yes,” I nod, feeling oddly formal.  “For nearly two weeks now.”

“And how was it returning to classes after what happened just before Christmas?”

“Not as bad as I thought it would be,” I say.  “I was very nervous, but things have been…alright.”  Heather nods her head and writes something down before looking straight at me.

“Do you enjoy your work, Emily?” Wow.  Straight to the point.

“Well I…” I begin.  “It’s a very…well it’s such an honour…The students are…and I always loved Transfiguration…” I realise that none of what I have just said would constitute a complete sentence and it certainly doesn’t fit in to the category of ‘making sense’.  I give Heather a rather pathetic look, kind of hoping she’ll take pity on me and change topics, but she doesn’t say a word, she just waits.

The problem is that the question just isn’t that simple; it’s not a yes or no sort of situation.  Realising that Heather isn’t going to let me off the hook, I do my best to explain.

“Hogwarts is a really good school,” I begin, “And I’m teaching an area of magic that I really enjoy.”  Heather nods once and continues to watch me with her kind eyes which tell me that she’s listening.  “The staff are really fantastic and I love living here, I’ve always had a soft spot for Hogsmeade…” Heather’s smile widens a little at this, but she knows as well as I do that I’m avoiding the point.  “I…it’s just that I don’t want to sound ungrateful…” I can feel the lump rising in my throat and I try to blink back the stinging in my eyes, but I’m fighting a losing battle. When the words come out, they are half sob-half whisper.  “I’m just so miserable.”

Heather doesn’t speak, or move, or raise an eyebrow or do anything at all.  She doesn’t look surprised and yet she doesn’t have that smug ‘told you so’ look people get when you give in and tell them something they already knew you had been hiding.  I take a deep breath and try to compose myself, but the tears aren’t about to be stopped and I find myself swatting at them as they try to roll down my cheeks.

“I’m sad all the time,” I hear myself saying.  “I just want to be happy again.”

Heather nods, and scribbles something down on her clipboard.  I take another deep breath, this time managing to gain a little more control over my emotions.

“I imagine it is an incredibly demanding job,” Heather comments and I nod in agreement. 

“It can be.  Sometimes it’s not so bad, I mean the first years are a lot of fun, and some of the students are really great,” I smile to myself for a moment, remembering some of Andrew Newitt’s funnier jokes.  “But it’s a lot of pressure, especially for the students sitting their O.W.L’s and N.E.W.T’s.  Did you know that you need a Transfiguration N.E.W.T for almost every single job in the Ministry of Magic?  The only departments that don’t require it are Muggle Relations, the Archives, Security and Administration.  Even then, Administration and Security still expect a Transfiguration O.W.L.”

Heather’s hand is flying across her parchment again, but her eyes stay on me for the most part. 

“And if a student wants to be a Healer, they need their N.E.W.T’s and if they don’t pass, then how are they supposed to achieve their goals later on in life?”  It’s a rhetorical question, although I find myself wishing that Heather had an answer for me.  Instead, she answers my question with one of her own.

“And you feel a lot of responsibility for your student’s success?” She says.

 “Of course I do,” I reply.  “If they fail, it’s my fault.  I mean that’s my job isn’t it?  To make sure my students pass Transfiguration?” I can feel the tears returning and I look down at my lap, embarrassed at how I am carrying on.

“So if a student doesn’t study, never turns in their homework, makes no effort whatsoever and fails their exam, that’s your fault.”  Heather says this calmly, as though she’s drawing the most obvious conclusion. 

“Yes,” I say, and Heather raises her eyebrows at me, looking almost amused.  “If a student is behaving that way, I should deal with it well before we get to exams.  I would be shirking my duties if I ignored a student who never did their work.”

“And what if, despite all your efforts, that student just wouldn’t work?  Even if you met with their parents and got the Headmistress involved.  Would it still be your fault then, when that student failed his or her exams?” I can’t read the expression on Heather’s face this time.

“I would still feel guilty about it,” I concede.  “I would have let that student down.”

Heather looks down at her clipboard for a full thirty seconds as she writes.  When she is done, she puts her quill down and meets my gaze.

“Emily, it is understandable that you feel responsible for your students,” She begins.  “In fact, it is a quality of an exceptional teacher that they care about their student’s success.”  She smiles at me for a moment before continuing.  “But your students are human beings, some clever, some not-so-clever; some are dedicated and driven, whilst others will be happy to coast through life; some of them will be serious whilst others are funny, or pranksters, or airheads – ” I let out a small laugh at this. “– or quite possibly a combination of several of these qualities.  You can guide them, you can instruct them, you can even care for them.  But one thing you cannot do, Emily, is control them.  By believing that you are responsible for the happiness and success of every student you teach, you are setting yourself up for failure.”

I’m stunned by Heather’s words, but she isn’t finished just yet.  “You will have students that will fail, I would almost put money on that,” She says.  “But it will not be your fault.  You can only control the actions of one person, Emily.  You can only control yourself.”  These words are somewhat comforting, but they are confronting too.  I nod slowly to show Heather that I’ve understood her.

“I don’t expect it to be as simple as all that,” Heather adds.  “Changing your perception isn’t an easy thing to do.  But, you do need to be more compassionate with yourself, and try to remember that some things are out of your control.”

Heather and I talk for another half an hour; she asks about my life outside of teaching, and I confide that I don’t really have one.  When I tell her about Michelle, she smiles encouragingly, and near the end of our session she makes a suggestion.

“Have you got a pet Emily?” She asks.

“A pet?” I repeat.  “No.  No I don’t.”

“It has long been known to magical people that animals possess a special kind of power, and that an animal companion can be very beneficial to the work and mood of a witch or wizard.  You might like to consider getting a pet; if nothing else, having an animal familiar will give you something new to focus on and invest your affections into.”

“I’ll think about it,” I reply honestly.  The thought of getting a pet had never occurred to me, but it was something that sparked my interest.  I like animals – maybe a pet would be a good idea.

I glance at my watch as I leave Heather’s office, it is already dark outside and the lampposts in the street have been lit.  Classes will be finished back at the school, but there is still an hour or so before dinner will be served.  I’m really not in the mood to go back to the castle and do any work, so I make the quick decision to stop at The Three Broomsticks for a drink.

The pub is nowhere near as busy as it had been on the Friday night I’d visited with Michelle, but there are still plenty of occupied tables in the main bar.  I make my way to the bar where Madam Rosmerta, the lovely and incredibly pretty middle aged owner of The Three Broomsticks, is standing, chatting with a wizard in charcoal coloured robes.  He has his back to me, but there’s something about his slightly too-long brown hair that looks vaguely familiar.  Madam Rosmerta glances up and notices me approaching, flashing me a friendly smile.  The wizard, obviously following Rosmerta’s glance, turns to look over his shoulder.  As he does so, I realise why I recognised that hair, although the last time I saw him he’d been in Muggle clothes not wizard’s robes.

“Emily Morgan,” Timothy beams when he sees me. 

“Hi,” I reply shyly, hoping that I’m not blushing bright red.

“The usual, Emily?” Madam Rosmerta asks at that moment.

“Yes, thank you,” I reply, reaching in to my pocket for some sickles to pay for the drink as the barmaid turns away to make my drink.

“Allow me,” Timothy says, pulling a few coins from his own pocket.  “Your ‘regular’ isn’t 400 year old Ogden’s that costs thirty Galleons a glass is it?” He adds.

“No,” I smile.  “Just butterbeer with elf-made liqueur.”

“Sounds good,” he says thoughtfully as Rosmerta returns with my glass.  “Would you like to join me?” He adds once he’s paid for my drink, indicating to the bar stool next to him.

“Thank you,” I pull myself up on to the wooden stool, hooking my heels over the foot rail.

“So, teaching’s that bad that you need to pop out for a pint after classes?” Timothy raises an amused eyebrow before taking a sip from his own glass.

“Sometimes,” I laugh nervously, wishing I didn’t sound so awkward.  “But actually I just had an appointment in the village and decided to stop by for a drink.”

“Well I’m glad you did,” He says, tipping his drink towards me slightly as if to toast my presence.  Despite the relatively comfortable conversation we had on New Year’s Eve, I am feeling slightly embarrassed to be sitting in the pub having a drink with Timothy Briar.  I’m trying not to stare at his lips, but I seem to be fighting a losing battle, and as I remember the kiss he planted on my cheek, I feel myself blushing.

“So what about you?” I ask, forcing the adolescent fantasies out of my brain and asking something grown-up and sensible.  “What brings you to Hogsmeade on a Wednesday afternoon?”  On New Year’s Eve, Timothy had told me he lived in York, and even though his sister lives in Hogsmeade, it’s still odd that he would be sitting alone in The Three Broomsticks on a weeknight.

“I’ve bought a pub,” Timothy beams.

“In Hogsmeade?” I gasp.  There are only two pubs in the village and I hadn’t heard anything about Madam Rosmerta or old Aberforth Dumbledore selling up.  Although, I wouldn’t exactly say my finger is on the pulse when it comes to local gossip.

“No,” Timothy laughs.  “Just outside of York in a little village called Bishopthorpe.  The old wizard who owned it wants to travel so I got it at a really good price.”  The excitement is evident in his voice.

“That still doesn’t explain why you’re here.”

“Oh, right.  Well I worked here in the summers after my sixth and seventh years at Hogwarts, so I knew I could get some good advice from Rosmerta.” He explains, nodding towards the barmaid who is wiping down the bar not far from where we are sitting.

“Buys a competing pub and wants my help!” She teases.  “Timmy boy, you have certainly got nerve,”

“Aw Rosie…it’s halfway across Britain, and I don’t think you need to worry about competition, not when the proprietor of this place is such a good-looking witch,” Timothy gives her a wink and she shakes her head.

“Watch this one Emily, always was too much of a flirt for his own good,” And with a roll of her eyes, she moves further down the bar to serve two elderly looking wizards who have just sat down.

“So what’s this pub called?” I ask.

“The Cackling Stump,”

“Like the story of Babbity Rabbity?” I ask.

“The very one,” Timothy nods.  “But how do you know that story, I thought you said you were muggle born?”

“I worked in Flourish and Blotts for a while after Hogwarts,” I explain.  “Assistant manager in charge of children’s literature.”

“That’s a far cry from Transfiguration teacher.”

“Teaching’s my third career path,” I shrug.  “I worked in the ministry for three years before I came back to Hogwarts.”

“Oh yeah, I think you said something about that on New Year’s,” Timothy nods.  “Sorry, I had one too many glasses of Chelle’s punch that night, a few details were bound to slip through the cracks.”

“It was potent,” I grin over my glass.

“And the scariest thing is that Mum makes it with an extra bottle of firewhisky.  I don’t know how the adults at all those parties my parents threw when we were kids were able to stand up at the end of the night.  Although I suppose it does explain my old Aunt Bertha’s tendency to sing Celestina Warbeck songs whilst waving her pants in the air every single Christmas!”

The laugh that escapes my throat is completely natural and involuntary.  It’s also a sound I don’t make very often these days.  Timothy smiles at me.

“You have a lovely laugh,” He says and I feel the blush creeping back into my cheeks.  I look down at the polished wood of the bar.  “Hey Rosie, can I get one of these butterbeer and liqueur concoctions?” I hear Timothy call out after a few moments of silence, and I glance up at him again.  “Hey, I’m going to be running a pub, I better know what’s good and what isn’t.” He shrugs.

Rosmerta wanders over with the glass and Timothy hands her another three sickles with a cheeky wink. 

“Stealing ideas for drinks now are we?” She scolds him in a clearly not-serious voice.

“Rosie, I’m telling you that I am not your competition, not when you single handedly have wizards coming here from all over the country, just to have you serve them and give them your incredibly alluring smile.” Timothy flashes her a rather charming smile of his own.

“Timothy Briar, after the months spent pulling butterbeer behind this very bar, you think you would have learnt not to flirt with a barmaid while you’re having a drink with an immensely pretty young witch; especially one as smart as Emily.”  Rosmerta plants her hands on her hips and fixes her eyes on him.

“Right, good point,” Timothy looks suitably abashed and nods his head in understanding.  “Terribly bad form.”

Rosmerta winks at me before leaving us alone again.

“Do you like it?” I ask, as Timothy takes a sip of his drink.

“Not bad,” He nods, licking the foam from his lips.  “Is this your creation?”

“Well, sort of.  Patricia Hughes and I may have snuck a bottle of liqueur into the celebratory party after Cedric Diggory won the second task at the Triwizard Tournament.” I say, trying to look suitably ashamed of myself.  “We tested this combination out on a few people and everyone seemed to love it.”

“Are you saying that you’re the reason half of Hufflepuff house ended up drunk that night?  Three chairs were broken, a fifth year was found sleeping in the kitchens and that corner of the common room near the fireplace was covered in someone’s vomit!” Timothy raises his eyebrows, looking half shocked, half impressed.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” I try to sound nonchalant before taking another sip of my drink.

“Does McGonagall know that her Transfiguration teacher is responsible for promoting underage drinking and destruction of private property?” Timothy can’t hide his smile.

“No, but I’m pretty sure Sprout knows I had something to do with it,” I grin.  “She’s always dropping hints at staff parties about me having ‘one too many’ and being a bad influence!”

It’s Timothy’s turn to laugh this time.

“Are you hungry, do you want to get something to eat?” He asks, when his chuckles have subsided.

“Oh, I can’t,” I say, glancing at my watch.  It getting rather late and I still have work to do.  “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I have a rather gargantuan pile of essays waiting for me back at the castle.”  I gesture in the general direction of Hogwarts.

“No rest for the wicked, eh?” Timothy says with a smile, although he does look genuinely disappointed; or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

“Unfortunately,” I smile as I slip down from the bar stool.  “Thanks awfully for the drink, this was fun.”

“Dinner next time, then,” Timothy grins and I can only nod.

“Good luck with the new pub,” I stammer, before walking away, although I can’t resist the urge to chance a quick look back at him when I reach the door.  Timothy is still watching me with a smile, and I step out in to the cool night air, blushing as violently pink as a WonderWitch bottle.

AN: Thanks so much to everyone who is reading this.  To those of you who have left reviews, thank you so much!  Your thoughts and encouragements are amazing!  I'd love to hear what you think of this chapter so please leave a review :)

Chapter 7: Fairy Floss Hair
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“Can I get you anything else dears?”

I smile up at the elderly witch standing over our table.  Her hair is an unnatural shade of lilac and held up in some sort of permanent-wave-quaffed-within-an-inch-of-its-life style that vaguely resembles a ball of fairy floss.  Her baby pink robes feature a row of glass, heart-shaped buttons around the neck that match the hue of her hair exactly.  She looks down at us over the top of her gold-rimmed glasses, which are attached to a beaded chain around her neck and holds up the silver coffee pot in her hand expectantly.

“No thank you, I think we’re fine here,” I reply, glancing at Michelle across the table for confirmation.  She nods her head, first at me, and then at our hostess.

Madam Puddifoot’s is relatively quiet for a Sunday afternoon.  However, it isn’t a Hogsmeade weekend for the students and there is a steady fall of snow, which is no doubt keeping people inside by their fireplaces, so the lack of patrons is to be expected.  Coming here for coffee had been Michelle’s idea, and I was rather amused to note that the décor hasn’t been altered since I’d last visited, about ten years ago.

Michelle giggles into her hand as the older witch moves away from our table, catching my eye and causing me to stifle a laugh as well. 

“Did you see that hair?” Michelle whispers to me and we both snort into our cappuccinos.  “It’s a bit kitschy and tacky, but the coffee’s really good.” She adds, stirring in a lump of sugar before taking a sip.

“And the cake’s amazing; that hasn’t changed,” I take a bite of the carrot cake in front of me and close my eyes blissfully as it melts in my mouth.

“Do you think it was perhaps a little over the top for us to order five kinds of pudding?” Michelle asks, using her fork to break off a piece of a rather large chocolate éclair.  A second after putting in her mouth her eyes widen comically, and I can’t help but laugh out loud.  “Oh wow, that’s amazing!” She says after swallowing.  “You have to try it!”

Our little round table is crowded with so many pieces of china crockery that I can barely see the cream coloured lacy tablecloth beneath.  A delicate sugar bowl with a rosebud pattern painted on it sits next to a small crystal vase of real roses, which seem to be softly humming.  I pour some milk into my coffee from a delicate milk jug and stir it with an antique teaspoon, enjoying the soft tinkling sound it makes as the spoon hits the side of my cup. 

“So, we get this box of quills, which are supposed to be just the plain old spell-checking variety,” Michelle says, continuing the story she had been telling me before lilac-hair-lady brought over our coffee and cake.  “And stupidly, I didn’t think to check the quills out before I put them on display, did I?”  Michelle is incredibly animated as she talks, waving her teaspoon around in her left hand as if to punctuate particularly important points.  “Well, what Anthony had failed to mention is that we get our spell-checking quills from the same place that makes all the Weasley Wizard Wheezes stationery, and even in a well-run quill factory, mistakes do happen and things get put in the wrong box…” 

She pauses dramatically, on the cusp of her punch line, and in that brief moment, I am struck by the similarity between Michelle and her brother.  Michelle’s eyes are a sort of crystal blue, similar to the sky on a clear winter morning, whilst Timothy’s have more green in them, reminding me of the surface of the black lake in the summer months; and yet the way the skin around her eyes crinkles when she smiles, and the easy curve of her nose are almost identical to the features of her sibling.  I force myself to ignore the image of Timothy that has just popped in to my mind, and smile at Michelle in what I hope is an amused and expectant manner.

“Well, when old Mrs Spencer, who never gets cross mind you, starts yelling at me for allowing such inappropriate items in what has, for generations been a highly regarded establishment,” Michelle starts giggling again, obviously remembering the old lady’s tirade.  “I knew something had to be wrong.”

“There was something wrong with the quills?” I prompt, not quite putting the pieces of the story together, but wanting to be in on the joke.  Michelle supresses a snort and nods her head.

“They weren’t spell-checking quills, they were rude word quills!” She gasps out.  “She had been testing one out on a spare piece of parchment and it kept calling her things like ‘bum-face’ and ‘poo-head’.  The poor old dear was so shocked; this quill was spelling out words she’d never even heard of before!”

“Really?” I grin, tickled by the story, but not quite enough to be laughing like Michelle.  I force a giggle out, and Michelle seems satisfied, though I can’t say I feel the same.  Normally, a story like this should have me in stitches, but it feels like I’ve forgotten how to laugh.  This isn’t the first time this has happened, and I make a mental note to ask Heather about it at my next session with her.

“So I took the box over to the Weasley shop, and guess who was there?” Michelle has calmed down enough to continue talking.

“Who?” I ask, genuinely curious.

“George Weasley.”

“Doesn’t he own the shop?” I feel my brow furrow in confusion, wondering why his presence in his own shop would be considered gossip-worthy.

“Well yeah, but he usually works at the shop in London during the week.  Wasn’t he in your year at Hogwarts?”

“Oh…um, yeah,” I nod, taking a sip of my coffee.  “I didn’t have much to do with them though,” Michelle and I pause for a second, both of us catching my slip.  I’d said ‘them’, because when we were at school the Weasley twins were inseparable, so we always referred to them as a unit.  But, of course, they hadn’t been a team in nearly five years, not since Fred had been killed…

“I worked with his Dad,” I say, the thought tumbling out of my mouth before I’d had a chance to process it.


“His Dad, Arthur Weasley,” I explain, though it’s partially to myself.  “At least I think it was his dad, he looked like them, red hair and all.  At the ministry,” I add, finally breaking out of my contemplations to direct the last three words at Michelle.

“Oh, ok,” She nods, still looking confused.

“Sorry, I only just realised, I can’t believe I’d never put two and two together before,”  I remember the way Arthur’s eyes would glaze over with sadness when he thought nobody was looking, but I often noticed it because I’d always thought his eyes looked like my own when they did that.

“…dating Angelina Johnson,” Michelle is saying, and I snap my attention back to her.  “He said they were always good mates and it just led to something more.”

“That’s nice for them,” I nod, shovelling a forkful of treacle tart into my mouth.

“Do you want to come to Gladrag’s with me?” Michelle asks forty minutes later when we step out of the teashop and on the small side street.  The snow has slowed to a very light fall, but the sky above us is a light grey colour, like ash drifting up from a bonfire.  “They’re pretty good these days, they’ve even got a whole Muggle clothing section now.”

“Sounds good to me,” I reply.  Gladrag’s Wizardwear is where I bought my very first pair of dress robes for the Yule Ball back in my sixth year at Hogwarts, and the silly Christmas earrings I’d bought in fourth year that were little Father Christmases that dance the hula when you cast the appropriate incantation.  For a teenage girl, it had been almost as fun as visiting Honeydukes.

“You promised!”

“Come on, we have to walk right past it to get there anyway!”

“No way, you promised that we would go there first this time.”

“Em, you’re being ridiculous, let’s just stop in at Honeyduke’s on the way.”

“Trish, you promised,” I stop to face my friend, putting emphasis on the last word.  Patricia stops next to me a rolls her eyes.

“You’re being a bit dramatic Em,” She says.

“Look, last time we didn’t get around to everything, so we decided that we wouldn’t go to Gladrag’s because we’d come here first on the next visit.  This is the next visit Trish, is it not?” I fold my arms across my chest, and stare at her, refusing to blink.

“Oh, ok, fine,” She grumbles.  “We’ll go to Gladrag’s first.”

“Brilliant,” I beam, pulling on her arm and skipping down the lane towards Hogsmeade, well as much as one can skip in ten inches of snow.  Kate and Sophie who have been walking with us and watched this entire interchange between Patricia and me burst out laughing.

“Why are you so keen to go to Gladrag’s?” Sophie asks.

“I’ve never been to a magic clothing shop before,” I shrug.  “Well except to Madam Malkin’s to get my school robes but that’s kind of boring.”

“I’ve always wanted to go shopping in a muggle shop, you know those big ones they have in London, with heaps of levels of muggle clothes,” Kate’s voice has a rather dreamy quality to it.

“You have loads of muggle clothes,” I counter.

“Yeah, but mostly Mum buys them or makes them, or if we ever go to a muggle shop it’s just this little one in the village near our house.  Nothing very exciting,” She explains.

“Look, look!” Patricia half whispers, half squeals as we pass by Honeyduke’s.  She pulls on the arm of my jumper.

“Trish, we’ve been through this, we’re not going to –”

“No, look!  It’s them!” Her voice is getting louder and more excited, so I follow her gaze to where three boys are standing outside Zonko’s joke shop.  They are all from our year and they’re all laughing about something funny in the shop window.  Cedric Diggory, the tallest of the three looks over at us as we pass by on the opposite side of the street, and catches my eye; he smiles at me and I look away, blushing.

“Oh sweet Merlin, they are so cute!” Patricia sighs.

“Shhh, Trish they’ll hear you!” Kate giggles as I glance back over my shoulder at the boys.  Cedric is still watching me and I turn away from his gaze, feeling oddly excited by the whole exchange.

Gadrag’s is everything I expected it to be –and more.  There are racks full of robes in every colour, some for everyday wear, others obviously for formal occasions (‘Dress robes,’ Patricia explains, ‘My Dad has a really hideous set in powder blue!’).  The accessories section has a range of magical jewelry (‘colour change bracelets to match your mood or outfit,’ one sign says), and clever accessories like the scarf and mitten set with a warming charm on them.

We leave after looking at everything twice and even trying on a few things; Patricia is practically dragging me out the shop by the end of it.

“I want to go to Honeyduke’s!” She exclaims, although I notice the way she glances into the Zonko’s window as we pass and then around the sweet shop as we arrive and deduce that it’s not chocolate frogs and sugar quills she’s really interested in.  Patricia has had a crush on Will Caulder since second year when he drew her a picture of Snape being eaten by the giant squid after the Potions master made her cry in class.  He’s completely oblivious to her, but it doesn’t stop her patting down her blonde hair and straightening her fringe every time he’s around.

“Let’s go to the Three Broomsticks again for lunch,” I say as we are all waiting in line to pay for our sweets.  “I am simply dying for a butterbeer, I think I may be addicted.”  Even I know this is an exaggeration.  It’s only my second time in Hogsmeade and I’ve only ever had butterbeer once before, so ‘addicted’ is a strong word; but my friends understand me.

“They are pretty scrummy,” Sophie agrees.  “I heard some of the sixth year boys saying they were going to try and get the house elves to get us some, next time Hufflepuff has a party.”

I laugh at that, because Hufflepuff don’t have a lot of parties.  House parties are generally reserved for celebrations like winning a Quidditch match and that hardly ever happens to our house.

The pub is busy when we walk in, and we do three laps of the room before we conclude that there are no spare tables.

“What do we do now?” I whine, knowing I sound like a spoiled brat but not really caring.

“Hey, Morgan!  Girls!” We all looked towards the voice that had called us and see the three boys from earlier sitting at a small table in the corner.  Cedric Diggory is standing up, waving his hand at me in a ‘come here’ motion.

“Come on,” I say, hoping I look as confident as I sounded.  I don’t normally have trouble talking to boys like other girls my age do, but lately I’ve been finding myself a little tongue tied around Cedric.  Patricia lets out a small squeak of protest as I pull her with me, but I ignore it.  “Hi!” I beam when we reached their table.

“Do you want to sit with us?  It’s pretty crowded in here,” Cedric asks.  The other boys are watching us curiously, as though they’d never seen girls before.

“Sure,” I reply for my friends, and we scramble for seats.  Unfortunately, we are one short, and I am the person left standing.

“Here, have my seat,” Cedric stands and pushes it towards me.

“Oh, no I couldn’t,” I respond instantly, my mother sure has drummed those manners in to me.

“You can’t stand up all afternoon,” Cedric reasons.

“Well why don’t we share it then?” I say, sitting down so I am only on half of the seat.  Cedric looks at me uncertainly for a second and then lowers himself onto the chair next to me.  We are both pretty skinny, but we’re squished up pretty close together nonetheless.  I smile at him and blush and, surprisingly, his cheeks look a little pink too.  He moves his arm to the table and it brushes against mine, causing my stomach to feel like it has just dropped down to my knees.

“So, who wants a butterbeer?”

Michelle was right about Gladrag’s being different these days.  The shop looks very much the same from the outside, although the sign hanging above the door has been repainted and only one of the windows featured dressmakers mannequins sporting traditional robes, while the other has shop dummies like the ones in muggle shops, wearing a range of trendy muggle clothes.  Unlike muggle shops however, these dummies move every ten seconds into different poses. 

Both the muggle clothes and the witches robes in the windows are far more fashionable than anything I own, and as we enter the shop (which is significantly larger than I remember, no doubt thanks to some nifty magic) I can’t help but feel a little dowdy.  I can’t even remember the last I went shopping for clothes – last Easter with my mother perhaps?

“I still wear robes when I’m working in the shop obviously, but I like wearing muggle clothes.  I suppose it’s not such a big deal to you being muggle born though, is it?” Michelle talks to me over her shoulder as she looks over a rack of muggle blouses. 

“Not really, although I probably prefer muggle clothes in my own time,” I reply, pulling a blue jacket from a rack and comparing the sleeve length to my own arm.  “I always seem to end up in some sort of mixture of the two,” I add, and Michelle laughs.

“I noticed that.”

I look down at my clothes and smile. 

“I always end up throwing my cloak on over my jeans and a jumper, because it’s just so easy.  Plus, if you’re going somewhere in the magical world, you don’t get mistaken for a lost muggle,” I say, hanging the jacket back up and moving on to a rack of dresses.

“You should wear dresses more,” Michelle comments, appearing around the opposite side of the rack.  “You have the legs for it.  At least you did, you always hide them under trousers or robes these days.”

“Thanks,” I mutter, glancing down at my jean clad legs.  I know that under those legs is a forest of two inch hairs because I’ve been too lazy to use a hair removal charm, not to mention a few nasty scars that I didn’t have when I was a student.  I tell Michelle as much.

“Oh there’s that beauty witch down on Fluxweed Lane,” Michelle says, holding a purple dress against herself as she turns towards the mirror.  The bright indigo contrasts beautifully with her strawberry blonde hair and I feel a little jealous as I catch my own bedraggled reflection behind her.  “We should go there sometime, apparently she trained as a cosmetic healer, so she’s really good at getting rid of scars.”

“Sure,” I reply with a smile, although I’m not completely sure I want anybody seeing my scars, even an ex-healer, beauty witch.

“I’m so glad you live around here Em,” Michelle says, turning away from the mirror to smile at me.  “I always really liked you at school, you were always so nice and so much fun.  I’m glad we can be friends.”

“Thanks Michelle,” I say, stunned at these sudden words of kindness.  “I’m glad we’re friends too.”

Michelle convinces me to buy a green knee length dress (‘It brings out the green in your eyes,’ she’d said), and I give in and get the jacket I’d looked at, even though it’s expensive.  I talk myself into it by promising I’ll get Flitwick to show me how to perfect a colour change charm on fabric so I can make it match anything.

“Do you want to come over for dinner on Friday night?” Michelle asks as we part ways outside the shop.  Anthony and I have been taking a couple’s cooking class in York.  It’s silly, I know, but it’s fun too and it would be good to have someone to cook for.”

“Sure,” I reply with a smile as Michelle hugs me.  I wrap my arms around her, allowing myself to enjoy for a brief second the comfort of the embrace.  I don’t get a lot of hugs these days and the physical contact is like a drug.

“Seven sharp!”  She calls over her shoulder with a wave as she jogs through the snow towards her house.

I apparate to the castle gates and unlock them with a flick of my wand, glancing up at the winged boars as I pass through the barrier.  The boars were both partially destroyed during the Battle of Hogwarts, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they look now.  Like the rest of Hogwarts castle, they don’t look like they’ve had to weather more than the occasional snow storm over the last few hundred years.  They’re perfectly aged, guarding the school just like they had when I was a student, no doubt having been repaired with one of McGonagall’s skilful spells. 

If only people could be put back together so easily.

I should have known something was wrong on Sunday night, but I’d passed the odd feelings off as end-of-weekend anxiety, which wasn’t terribly uncommon for me to experience when I looked at the piles of ungraded homework that were much bigger than I wanted them to be.  I’d skipped dinner since I was still full from my mini feast at Puddifoot’s and went to bed early, sure things would seem better in the morning.

However, when my alarm clock sounds on Monday morning, I feel as though a large, dark cloud is hanging over my head.  I drag myself into the shower, almost falling back asleep under the gentle torrent of warm water, but I manage to stay awake and get myself dressed in fresh robes.  The sound of student chatter in the Great Hall echoes in my brain during breakfast, making me feel like I’m slightly hung-over, although I didn’t have a drop of alcohol the day before, but I guzzle down two cups of coffee all the same, hoping it will help.

The tired feeling is replaced with a jittery sensation as the day wears on and I mutter curses at myself for drinking too much caffeine in the morning.  My blood feels like its electrified and I can’t seem to sit still for more than ten seconds.  I’m not very hungry and only get down half a plate of chicken casserole at dinner time before escaping to my quarters.

I try to mark some homework, but I can’t seem to focus on the words in front of me, so I decide to read a book instead.  I pull one about Human Transfiguration off the shelf first, but after re-reading the first paragraph four times, I give up and try one a Fifi LaFolle novel, which isn’t brilliant, but is a good, easy read when I don’t want to think.  Unfortunately, I can’t seem to focus on the stunningly beautiful but disadvantaged young heroine in the book either, so I toss it on the coffee table, defeated.  I wander around my quarters for the next half an hour, picking up this or tidying that, but I can’t seem to focus on any task for more than a couple of minutes. 

My heart feels like it’s beating too fast and my hands are tingling, though they’re not really shaking, more like vibrating; I just don’t know what’s wrong with me but I try not to think about it, because I’m getting a little bit scared.  Eventually, even though it’s still early and I know most of the students are probably still up, I change into a clean pair of pyjamas and crawl in to bed, hoping that sleep will come quickly.

At first, things are dark and meaningless, but gradually shapes seem to form around me.  I’m in a forest and from the colour of the leaves on the trees, it’s late Autumn.  It’s not the forbidden forest near Hogwarts, but it still looks vaguely familiar.  I’m cold and I wrap my arms around myself to keep warm.  There is no sound except for my own breathing and the slight rustle of the breeze in the trees; it’s twilight but I can’t quite work out if it’s morning or evening.

Suddenly, there’s a loud noise behind me and I spin around to see two hares racing through the underbrush – something has frightened them, something in the trees to my left.  Without thinking or even knowing why, I instinctively turn and run, my heart pounding in my chest, branches ripping at my clothes and my skin as I stumble over rocks and shrubberies.  I can hear them behind me, whoever it is, and I’m pretty sure they’re gaining on me, any second now and they’ll catch me and then it will all be over…

I wake up with a gasp and my body seems to freeze for a second as though I’ve been hit by a full body bind jinx.  Then, as though the spell is removed, my body curls in on itself and a horrible sound fills the room; a loud, guttural, animalistic noise which I eventually recognise as a gut wrenching sob, although it takes me a little longer to realise that the noise is coming from my own throat.

Fear seems to burn in to me like a branding iron and the sobs make my whole body shake.  I fight to control them but it only seems to increase their intensity, as though they are separate from me, uncontrollable and all-consuming.  I close my eyes, but when I do, the forest it still there, the panic and adrenaline so real that it’s terrifying.  My breath is coming out in short, shallow gasps between the sobs as I continue fighting to supress them, but it’s no good, I’m too far gone.  The fear is too strong.

Suddenly, my bedroom door flies open and I see a flash of tartan moving across my room.  I am vaguely aware of the weight pressing down on my mattress and the gentle hand on my back.

“Please fetch Madam Pomfrey immediately,” a familiar voice says, followed by a loud crack, though the hand stays pressed softly against my spine.  I force my eyes to focus on the form of McGonagall, sitting on the edge of my bed, dressed in her tartan robe.  Oddly, in that moment, my mind wonders if it’s the same robe she’s had since I was a student at Hogwarts; it must be quite old if it is.

I open my mouth to speak, but I’m still crying, my eyes blurry with tears and my throat sore from the sobbing.

“I’m sorry,” I gasp.  I had meant to say more, but it’s the only thing my voice, or maybe my mind, will let me say.  “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.”

“Shhh, it ok,” McGonagall’s voice is so soft that it doesn’t even sound like her.

“I’m sorry,” I repeat. “I’m sorry.”

AN: I just want to say a massive thank you to my loyal readers out there.  I know this story doesn't get a lot of reads, but to those of you who are reading, I'm so grateful for you all :)  And an extra big thank you to those of you who review, I love the reviews I get for this story, they make me so happy :)

I hope you enjoyed the chapter!

Chapter 8: Starlight
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I’m not sure exactly how much time passes before my sobs reduce to a series of sniffles and tearful hiccups, but Professor McGonagall doesn’t leave my side once.  By this time Pomfrey, accompanied by a House Elf named Bitsy, has arrived in my quarters, bearing another one of her incredible calming draughts.  McGonagall explains that Bitsy had come by to do her usual tidy up of my sitting room and bathroom and to make sure the fire was out.  When she heard my sobbing she was worried, and fetched the Headmistress. 

“Thank you Bitsy,” I whisper to the worried looking elf.  She’s twisting one ear in an anxious fashion and looking from me to McGonagall with wide eyes.

“You is welcome Miss Emily,” Bitsy squeaks nervously.  “Bitsy has work to do now Professor,” She adds, looking pleadingly at the Headmistress.

“Of course Bitsy, thank you so much for all your help.”  The house elf is gone in a matter of seconds, disappearing with a loud and familiar sounding crack.  “I think she will be alright now until the morning Poppy,” McGonagall turns towards Madam Pomfrey who is watching me carefully.  “It might be wise if she stays in the comfort of her own bed as there is no physical injury.”

“I think that would be best.  I will come back in the morning to check, but – ” she turns her gaze to me, “ –You should rest tomorrow, no teaching.” 

“Agreed,” McGonagall says and I nod mutely.  “Is the calming draught working?” The Headmistress asks after Madam Pomfrey has left.  Now that the uncontrollable crying has ceased I’m able to sit up in my bed, and McGonagall stands up from her perch on the edge of my mattress.

“I think I could sleep again soon,” I reply wearily.

“Would you like me to leave?”

“Can you stay just a moment longer?” I request, sounding like a small child and feeling rather like one too.  McGonagall nods and summons the winged chair that lives in the corner of my bedroom so that she can sit again.  “I don’t know why this keeps happening,” I say, hugging my knees to my chest.  “But I am trying to do something about it.”

“Oh?” The confusion in McGonagall’s voice is clear.

“I’ve been seeing a healer in the village by the name of Heather Jensen.  She specialises in these sort of…situations,” I hug my knees a bit tighter and stare at the foot of my bed, not able to look McGonagall in the eye.

“How long – ”

“Since just after Christmas, I’ve only been to her twice,” I figure I may as well tell her everything, she’s seen me fall apart completely on two occasions now so it’s hardly a secret anyway.  “I just thought that, well, maybe she might know what to do.”

“I think that’s admirable, Emily,” McGonagall’s voice sounds a little thicker than normal and I glance over at her.  She looks tired and I suddenly feel overwhelmed with guilt that I’ve dragged her out of bed in the middle of the night because of a stupid nightmare.

“I think I’m ready to sleep now,” I say.  “I’m sorry to keep you up.”

McGonagall nods and leaves the room silently, stopping momentarily to briefly touch my shoulder on her way past.  I flick my wand to extinguish the overhead lamps once I hear my office door close but don’t make any move to lie down, not just yet.  I’m tired, dreadfully tired, but I’m afraid to go back to sleep.  The calming draught is keeping the fears at bay, but they’re waiting there, in the shadows, to pounce just as soon as I let my guard down.  The dream wasn’t just a dream; that’s why I’d lost my head.  The forest, the smell, the sounds, the person pursuing me in the semi-darkness; no, that was no creation of my imagination, it was a memory.

I lie on my side and curl up as tightly as I can, squeezing my eyes closed.  Using every ounce of self-control I can muster, I force my mind to go blank, to think of nothing and no-one. 

I’m asleep in seconds.

The sound of quiet voices nearby is what wakes me from my dreamless slumber, quite some time later.  I’m not sure what time it is, but the light streaming into my room tells me that the night has passed.  I yawn and stretch my stiff limbs, realising that I didn’t move from the tight, curled up position all night.  The room is still slightly hazy around me, but through the open door I can see two familiar figures standing just outside my bedroom in my sitting room.  Heather and Madam Pomfrey are in deep discussion, and whilst I can hear the murmur of their voices, the exact words are too soft to make out.

I yawn again and push myself up into a sitting position, rubbing my still slightly blurry eyes.  Glancing at my alarm clock, I’m surprised to discover it’s two o’clock in the afternoon; evidently Madam Pomfrey’s calming draught helps with sleep too.

“Emily, you’re awake,” I look up at Heather’s voice to see her standing on the threshold of my room, Madam Pomfrey has disappeared.  Not having found my vocal chords yet, I simply nod, aware of how odd it feels for Heather to be standing in my bedroom; seeing her outside of her Healer office reminds me of what it felt like to see one of my professors outside of Hogwarts when I was younger.

“May I?” Heather indicates to the chair McGonagall had been sitting in the night before.  I nod again and she summons the arm chair closer to my bed before sitting.  “Professor McGonagall contacted me this morning and explained what had happened.  She thought you might like to talk to me.”

“I’m fine now,” I reply in a gravelly voice, swinging my legs out from under the covers to sit on the side of the bed.  “It was just a….a nightmare.”  I’m not sure why I am suddenly lying to Heather, perhaps it is because I don’t want Heather to think I am moving backwards, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it is also because I don’t like admitting to myself that I am experiencing a setback.  Heather was supposed to be helping me make things better but I don’t seem to be doing so well at that particular goal.

Obviously, Heather doesn’t buy my thinly veiled lie because her lips form a thin, tight line for a moment before she smiles gently at me again.

“We can talk about it more at our next session if you would prefer; you’re probably still very tired and want to prepare for classes tomorrow.  I did want to discuss some potions with you though.  I have given Madam Pomfrey my recommendations for certain calming and sleeping potions that would be appropriate for your situation.  Obviously the decision to use them is completely yours, but given the current circumstances, I thought you might appreciate the option.”  I nod mutely while Heather speaks, although I’m only partially taking in what she says.  Potions?  I’m not sure if I like that idea, doesn’t medicine mean I’m getting worse?  Although, not having to worry about nightmares when I sleep does sound nice, and Heather wouldn’t be prescribing something unless it was safe.  Maybe the potions could help me avoid these setbacks.

“Thank you,” I manage to croak out and Heather stands up.

“I meant it when I said I wanted to help you Emily, and please, don’t feel discouraged about this nightmare or the potions.  The healing process isn’t always a straight line, but we’ll get there in the end,” She briefly touches her hand to my arm as she leaves me and I’m once again alone in my quarters.  With a sigh, I get up and head in to the bathroom for a shower; deciding that I may as well use the rest of the day off to get some work done.

The night sky is clear but the air is freezing as I make my way towards the school boundaries on Friday night for dinner at Michelle and Anthony’s.  I’m running a little late after a full day of classes, a quick shower and the old dilemma of what to wear, so once I’m past the winged boars flanking the gates, I turn on the spot and apparate to the sweet little cottage on the far side of the village.  I’m only five minutes late when I rap my knuckles neatly on the red front door.

“Hey Em,” Anthony greets me as he opens the door, giving me a friendly kiss on the cheek as I step inside.  I stifle back a small giggle at the rather grown-up greeting and remove my cloak which Anthony takes from me before leading me down to the living area at the back of the house.  It looks a lot larger without the crowd of people that filled it on New Year’s Eve, but it is essentially the same space.  Michelle is standing at the wood stove, stirring a pan of sauce; a delicious smell is wafting from the pan and whatever is inside the oven.

“Em!”  She grins at me, placing the large spoon aside and wrapping me up in a hug.  “Nice dress,” She teases as we pull apart.  I’d decided to wear the green dress she’d convinced me to buy at Gladrag’s, teaming it with black tights and ankle-boots.  I’d even bothered to use the hair removal charm and dig out my make-up bag. 

“This old thing?” I tease back, brushing invisible dust off the skirt.

“Drink, Em?” Anthony asks as I move across the room to have another proper look around the kitchen-dining area. 

“Anything but pumpkin punch,” I say and the three of us laugh. 

“How about some elderflower wine?”

“That sounds great…” My voice fades away as I notice something odd.  The wooden dining table is decorated stylishly with white flowers, silver candles and linen napkins; what is confusing though, is that the table is set for four, not three.  “Is someone else – ”  My question is cut off by a new voice shouting from the direction of the front hallway.

“I’m sorry I’m late, I had to wait around for the delivery of my new bar stools, the bloke was supposed to come at three and he didn’t show up until five-thirty!”  Timothy appears in the doorway, dressed in muggle clothes like he had on New Year’s Eve.  He walks over and kisses Michelle on the cheek.  “Hey sis, smells amazing!  Oh thanks,” He accepts the glass of wine that Anthony has just handed him and then turns to me; I feel my heart skip a beat.  “Emily Morgan,” He gives me an amused smile.

“Timothy Briar,” I manage to reply calmly even though I suddenly feel warm.  I’m grateful for the glass of wine Anthony hands me, because it gives me something else to focus on.

“You know Tim, right Em?  I thought I saw you guys talking at our New Year’s party,” Michelle calls over her shoulder to me from the stove.

“Um, yeah,” I reply stupidly.  Timothy continues to give me that amused smile as he moves around the kitchen bench to talk to me.  Anthony, his drink-pouring duties done, makes his way over to help Michelle in the kitchen.

“So, Emily Morgan,” Timothy says to me, “How’s good ol’ Hogwarts going?”

“Same old same old,” I smile.  “How’s the pub?  Obviously you have bar stools, so that’s a good start.”

“I have a bar too.”

“Well you probably need one of those,” I deadpan.  “A couple of drinks to serve might be helpful too.”

“I knew there was something I was missing,” Tim smacks his head comically.  “Do you reckon I’d actually get some customers if I had food and drink available?”

“It may help.”

“Appetisers are up!” Michelle announces as she finishes placing some elaborate looking canapés on a platter.  “I hope they taste ok.”

The dinner is delicious and by the end of the four course feast, I am so full I can barely breathe.  I’m relieved that my dress is made from a stretchy fabric that is forgiving of my over-indulgence.  The company is good too, and conversation flows easily as jokes are told, stories shared and good natured teasing inflicted.  Despite the ever present feelings of awkwardness that never quite go away, I’m amazed to find that my old, sociable self is still there underneath the surface, and she seems to thrive on the company of people my own age.

I find myself struggling throughout the night to not stare openly at Timothy across the table, and he doesn’t help matters by smiling or winking at me every time our eyes meet.  I feel slightly giddy that he’s even noticing me, after spending three years being crazy about him at school; my fifteen year old self is threatening to burst out and start squealing with excitement.

“So you need to know the general direction of the object you’re summoning?” Patricia asks, flipping the pages of her Charms book, but my mind is far from our Charms homework.  “I’m sure Flitwick said that, didn’t he Em…Em?”  Patricia finally looks up from her book and follows my line of sight.  “You’re a hopeless case Emily Morgan,” she says, hitting me on the arm.

“What?” I mutter, scowling at her as I rub my arm.  Three sixth year boys have just walked into the common room and my attention is solely on the boy with the long-ish brown hair, his Hufflepuff tie pulled loose and the top button of his school shirt undone.

“Every time your ‘husband’ walks in to the room, your brain turns to complete mush,” Trish teases.

“Shut up,” I mutter, but I can’t hide my blush.  Timothy and his friends collapse into some armchairs near the door that leads to the girl’s dormitory, laughing about something.

“Em, Charms essay?” Patricia sing-songs, waving her parchment in my face.

“Right, sorry,” I say, turning my focus back to my essay, although it probably takes twice as long to write as it should since I keep glancing up whenever I hear that familiar laugh. 

Eventually, and long after Patricia has finished her homework and headed to the dormitory for a shower, I stretch my arms and yawn before packing my things.  The sixth year boys are still sitting in their armchairs, having taken up a third-person-plays-the-winner wizard’s chess tournament some time ago.  I notice that Timothy is currently the spectator, good-naturedly teasing his friends with fake strategy suggestions.  I try to saunter nonchalantly past them, playing it cool, except I can’t stop myself from sneaking a peek at Timothy out the corner of my eye as I pass.  Because I’m not watching where I’m going, I don’t see the ottoman in my way and my left shin bumps into it, just enough that I trip, my books, parchment, quills and ink crashing to the floor.

“Merlin’s Pants!  Are you alright?” My heart skips a beat at that voice, and when he jumps up and comes over to help pick up my things, I think it may actually just stop working all together.

“I’m fine,” I squeak as he crouches down next to me.  My shin is burning with pain, but I don’t want him to think I’m a baby.  I continue to grab my things, arranging them messily in my arms.

“Gotta watch out for the furniture, it attacks if you’re not on your game,” He jokes, using his wand to repair a broken ink pot and then syphon the ink from the stone floor back into the glass bottle.  I scoop up the last of my quills as he holds out the ink pot and my charms text; our fingers brush as I accept them from him and I feel myself blush.  I get awkwardly to my feet, knowing my cheeks must be bright red.

“Thanks so much,” I mumble, and then turn and disappear down the girl’s corridor, my heart pounding in my chest and my hand tingling where we touched.

“You guys, that meal was amazing,” I compliment after coffee and two nightcaps.  “But I should probably head home, it’s kind of late.”

“We’ve got anti-apparition charms on the house, but you can apparate from the front porch,” Michelle says apologetically as she gives me a goodbye hug.

“Oh, that’s alright, after four glasses of wine and two firewhiskeys, I don’t think I could apparate without splinching myself,” I laugh, feeling decidedly light-headed.  “I’d better walk.”

“Are you sure that’s safe?” Michelle asks. 

“It’s not far,” I nod.  “I do it all the time.”

“I’ll walk you back,” my head snaps towards Timothy, hoping my face doesn’t betray my feelings.  “I should be heading off myself anyway.”  I can only nod my assent and before I know what’s happening, my cloak is over my shoulders and Timothy and I are waving to Michelle and Anthony as we make our way down their garden path.

“Well that was suitably grown up,” Timothy laughs as we wander through the quiet village. 

“My first adult dinner party,” I smile.  “It was pretty good.” 

“I did notice the conspicuous absence of pumpkin punch,” Timothy says.

“Probably for the best,” I laugh.  “Though maybe you should bottle it and sell it at your pub.”

Timothy laughs, “I think I’d prefer my patrons not to be completely sozzled after one drink, might not make much money otherwise.”

“Well if you’re going to be a sell-out…” I tease, trying not to think about how close together we are walking.

“You’ve caught me out; my secret ambition to become the world’s richest wizard through the lucrative industry of independent pub ownership is discovered!” Tim cries dramatically.

“Shhh!” I giggle as we pass Honeyduke’s.  The lights are out in all the various village businesses; even The Three Broomsticks is closed up for the night.  It’s obviously later than I realised.

“Don’t want it getting out that the young, pretty Transfiguration teacher from Hogwarts is sneaking through the village, completely pissed?  I understand Emily, your secret’s safe with me.”

“I’m not pissed,” I insist, punctuating my statement by slipping on a particularly icy piece of road and stumbling forward.  Timothy reaches out and grabs my arm to steady me.

“No…not at all,” the sarcasm in his voice causes us both to giggle like sugar-fuelled children and I find myself wondering if the light-headedness I’m experiencing is because of the wine, the firewhisky or the fact that Timothy’s gloved hand it still holding my arm.

“Your sister is a bad influence,” I say.  “This is the second Friday night she’s invited me out only to get me drunk.”

“Good thing I offered to walk you home then, isn’t it?”

“You know, you didn’t have to walk me home Timothy,” I say, feeling a little self-conscious.

“You can call me Tim,” he nudges me with his shoulder and I can’t stop myself looking up at him, he’s still holding on to my arm and I suddenly feel very warm, considering we’re walking down a snow covered lane.  “And I didn’t offer to walk you home because I thought I had to, I did it because I wanted to walk you home.  I wanted to spend the time with you.”

“Oh,” is the only word my lips seem to be able to form.  We’re past the buildings of the village now, the lights of the street lamps gone, although I notice that there’s more than enough starlight for us to see the way.  Glancing up at the celestial twinkle lights, I am struck with how romantic the whole situation is, and before I can stop myself, an incredulous laugh slips out.

“What’s so funny?” Tim asks, but I can’t seem to stop laughing; suddenly everything seems so ridiculous.  “Why are we laughing?” He asks again, joining in with the laughter himself, but I can only shake my head at him.  I try to suck in air but it causes me to snort, only further fuelling our giggles.  “You are pissed!”

“Maybe just a little,” I gasp through the laughter, nearly stumbling again as my foot meets a concealed tree root.

“I think you are the bad influence Emily Morgan,” Tim says as we round a bend and the gates of Hogwarts come in to view further down the lane.  Disappointment washes over me as the winged boars grow closer and my time with Tim draws to a close.  I slip out of his grasp when we reach the entrance to the school grounds.

“Thanks for walking me home,” I say, pulling my wand out and non-verbally performing the staff unlocking charm on the gates.

“Wait,” Tim reaches out and grabs my wand hand, forcing me to turn and face him.  I look up at him expectantly.

“I…um…” he looks a little sheepish.  “It was really nice to see you again.”

“It was nice to see you too,” I say nervously, wondering where he’s going with all this.

“It’s just that…well I mean…Oh to hell with it!” And suddenly, before I can ask what he means, Tim leans down, puts one hand at the back of my neck and kisses me.  My body reacts before my mind, and by the time my brain has registered what is happening, my own hands have already gripped his shoulders, my lips kissing him back.  It’s not a long kiss, but it’s exciting and the air is charged when we pull apart.

“Thank you,” is all I can think of to say.  Then, biting my bottom lip, I turn and slip through the school gates, locking them behind me.

“Goodnight!” Tim calls and I glance over my shoulder to smile at him before hurrying up to the castle.  I practically skip up to the fourth floor and let myself into my quarters, igniting the lamps with my wand.  I close door from my office behind me and lean against the wood, closing my eyes for a blissful moment as I remember the feeling of Tim’s lips against mine.  I haven’t kissed a boy in such a long time and I’d forgotten how wonderful it could be.

I feel like there is a large balloon in my chest and it’s slowly inflating, making me feel like I could burst and yet at the same time like I could float way.  I can’t remember the last time I felt so good.  I open my eyes again and then, as though the balloon can no longer stay put inside me, I let out an excited squeal and throw myself on to the sofa, letting the old Emily take over for a little while.

AN: Oh, there was a bit of romance in this chapter, wasn't there.  I'm sorry if it was a bit too much, I'm used to writing teenage romance so this was a challenge.  Please review and let me know your thoughts :)

Chapter 9: Peach Taffeta
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As always, Heather and I go through our little tea-pouring ritual.  There is something oddly reassuring about it, and I gratefully accept the cup she passes me.

“How are things at school?” She asks, conjuring up her clipboard and bright orange coloured quill. 

“Fine,” I nod, and for once it’s the truth.  It’s been over a week since my nightmare and things have been suitably uneventful at the castle in that time.  Naturally I’m still stressed, but I’m not doing anything crazy or unexpected; I’ve been far too distracted anyway, since a completely gorgeous guy walked me home and kissed me five days ago.  Did I mention that I haven’t heard from him since?  Yeah, nightmares have not been much of an issue because I haven’t been doing a whole lot of sleeping.  “Really,” I add, and the tone of surprise in my own voice must convince Heather, because she makes a quick note and moves on.

“Your parents are muggles, aren’t they?” She asks in a tone that completely ignores her dramatic change of topic.  I nod my head.  “Can I ask what you did during the war?”  She continues.  “Were you registered at the ministry?”

“No,” I say, my voice surprisingly firm.  “I didn’t want them to take my wand away, and all that nonsense of a muggle-register…it was ridiculous!” Heather raises her eyebrows at me, obviously as surprised by my outburst as I was.

“Well said,” She smiles.  “So what did you do then?  I can’t imagine the ministry was happy about your refusal.  Did you stay with family?”

“No,” I shook my head, my voice calm again.  “I didn’t think…well that is, I was worried that they might come after my parents, so I only visited them once after the register was announced, and that was to put a spell on them.”

“A spell?” Heather asks, her eyes not leaving my face as her hand skirts across the parchment on her clipboard.  “What sort of spell?”

“I modified their memories, not really enough to wipe myself out of their lives – I wasn’t confident enough in memory charms at that point – but enough that they wouldn’t remember to talk about me or write to me or anything.  I also convinced them to take an extended holiday in France with my brother and his wife.  I figured they’d be safer out of the country.” My eyes are on my hands the entire time I am talking.  I haven’t told many people about this; I don’t like talking about the war, or the fact that I had to put charms on my loved ones.  To this day, my parents don’t have a clue what I did to them, and I have no intention of ever telling them.

“That must have been very difficult,” Heather says, her voice sounding for a moment like a concerned friend and not the professional healer I am used to.

“It needed to be done to keep them safe,” I shrug.

“So what did you do after your parents went to France?” Heather asks.  “Did you try to leave Britain yourself?”

“No, I’d heard it was almost impossible,” I say.  “I wasn’t game enough to try.” 

When the news had come out about the Muggle-Born Register, there had been rumours that the ministry was keeping tabs on all of the regular muggle routes out of the country.  I suppose I could have tried apparating but apparating over large bodies of water is significantly more difficult and at that point in my life the most ambitious apparition attempt I’d made was from London to Swansea.  I didn’t own a broom and I’m a terrible flyer anyway; plus there had been rumours that the dementors had joined forces with whoever was running the ministry now and I didn’t fancy running into one of them halfway across the English Channel.  “The easiest thing to do,” I add, “Was stay in the country and keep a low profile.  I had to quit my job and everything, I couldn’t even access the money I’d saved up in Gringott’s.”

“Where did you go?” Heather’s quill continues to scratch notes on her parchment, but she looks more than just a little interested in my story.

“All over,” I shrug.  “I tried my best to stick to out of the way places, sometimes forests or farmland, other times cities or large towns.  The anonymity protected me, but more than once I spotted ministry wizards on patrol.  I stayed with a friend for a little while, but mostly it was constantly moving, covering my tracks and just trying to stay alive.”  I’m stunned with how easily this is all coming out.  It’s almost as if I’m having an out of body experience, like I’m telling someone else’s story and not my own; maybe that’s why I can’t stop the words that continue to spill out.

“I’d had enough sense to borrow my brother’s old tent from my parent’s garden shed before I left their house, so I had shelter for the most part, but finding food could be a real challenge.  Sometimes I wouldn’t see other people for weeks and time began to lose meaning; I could have been out there for years and I wouldn’t have known except for the changing seasons.  Other times I ran into other people on the run, and we would camp together, sharing the snippets of news we’d picked up.  There was a man with our group for a while who had a radio and we managed to hear some of the underground news bulletins.”

“Emily, the dream you had the other night, your nightmare,” Heather prompts when I stop talking, and I feel myself tense up involuntarily.  “Did that have anything to do with the war?”

“Yes,” I say the word quickly, as though ruminating too long on the nightmare might bring it back.  Heather’s line of sight falls to my hands and I look down to notice that I am gripping the arms of the chair so tightly that my knuckles have gone white.  Heather’s smile fades for a moment as she looks down at her parchment, but when she meets my eyes once more, her lips are turned up at the corners.

“You said you stayed with a friend for some of the time?” 

“Yes, Patricia Hughes.” I nod.

“Why did you leave?” Heather asks curiously.

“Patricia was my best friend,” I explain.  “She would have let me stay there forever, she didn’t care if it put her in danger.”  I close my eyes and see Patricia’s face swim in front of me.

“Em, I’m going to put the kettle on, do you want some tea?” Patricia’s head appears around the corner of the small attic room where I sleep and, to be honest, where I keep to for the majority of every day.

“Sure, that would be lovely,” I say, giving a small smile.  I’ve been staying with Patricia at her parent’s house for nearly two weeks now, and in that time I’ve been too afraid to go outside or even too close to a window.  Staying in the small, albeit warm, attic room is luxury compared to the woods or abandoned warehouses I’ve been inhabiting over the last two months; but staying in the same place for too long is making me nervous.

“Would you like to come downstairs?  Maybe play a game of chess?”  I nearly laugh at this comment, because Patricia knows that I hate chess as much as she does.  She obviously notices the incredulity on my face because she gives a bit of a shrug of admission.  “You can’t stay up here all the time Em, you’ll go mad.”

“It’s safest,” I reply automatically.  “For all of us.  You’ll be in just as much trouble if you’re caught harbouring a fugitive.”

“Fugitive?  Oh you always had a thing for dramatics Em!”  She laughs, but I do not join in.

“I’m not being dramatic Trish, don’t you understand how serious this is?  What do you think is going to happen if I’m caught?  The ministry is just going to give me a slap on the wrist and send me on my merry way?  This isn’t Hogwarts, Professor Sprout isn’t going to give me a detention on Saturday night and dock Hufflepuff ten points.  Azkaban, Trish – that’s what’s waiting for me if I’m discovered!”  I’m shaking now and Patricia rushes to my side, wrapping her arms around my torso as she lowers herself next to me on the bed.  The ancient metal springs groan in protest but we ignore the noise.

“Em, I’m sorry.  I do understand, really I do.  I didn’t mean to upset you,” She says into my shoulder as her hand rubs my arm comfortingly.  “I’m sorry if I’m insensitive; you’re right, I don’t take this as seriously as I should.”

“It’s ok,” I whisper, feeling my blood pressure drop to its normal rate once more as I calm down.  I am safe, I am with friends, I will be fine.  Everything will be fine.  “Maybe I will come down for that cup of tea.”

I stay downstairs the entire afternoon, playing hangman and gobstones with Patricia and testing out the fresh batch of scones her Mum bakes.  By the time I head back up to my room after dinner to perform my ritual inventory and re-packing of my bag, I almost feel normal, like there’s no war going on, nobody after me, no dementors or Death Eaters or Ministry muscle trying to hunt me down.

I’ve just brushed my teeth when I hear the disturbance downstairs.  I glance at the clock – half past ten – and wonder what the kerfuffle could be.  I’m standing in the middle of the room contemplating whether I should stick my head out to see what the raised voices mean or simply change into my pyjamas and climb into bed when the attic door is thrown open with an almighty bang.  Patricia is standing in the doorway, looking utterly panicked; I am immediately tense, ready to act.  Something is wrong, something is very, very wrong.

“They’re coming!” She gasps.  “You’ve got to hide!”

“Who’s coming?” I reply, rooted to the spot.  I should be moving, but my need to have details is stronger.

“The ministry, they’re doing random raids and Dad got a tip off from someone at work.  They could be here any minute Em, we need to hide you somewhere!”

This is all the information I need to know.  I whip my wand out of my pocket and begin summoning anything that is not yet packed in my bag; it is a quick process, I have been prepared for this because deep down, I knew my time with Patricia couldn’t last.  I yank on my sneakers, pull a jumper over my head and wrap myself up in a cloak in a matter of seconds.  Patricia is still babbling as I do so.

“They’ll be slowed down by the enchantments, dad set it up so you can apparate out of but not in to the house so they’ll either have to come by Floo or straight through the front door.  But there’s not much time, maybe if we cast a Disillusionment Charm on you and then you can hide in the laundry or the garden shed or something…” She says.  “Em, what are you doing?”  I look up from where I’m crouched on the floor, tightening the straps on my back pack.

“I have to go Trish,” I say, surprised at how calm my voice is.  “They will find me if I am here, no matter how well you might hide me.  The only safe thing to do is get away as quickly as possible.”

“Leave?  No Em, you can’t.  We’ll protect you, we’ll defend you!”  Patricia’s voice sounds increasingly frantic as I throw the backpack over my shoulders and pull my woollen hat down tight on my head.

“Trish I have to, you know I have to,” I say, fighting back the tears that are threatening to flood my eyes, my voice trembling slightly.  Patricia gives me one last pleading look before we throw our arms around each other, gripping tightly as though our lives depend on it – and I suppose they do.

“You’re my best friend Em, I should protect you,” She half sobs, half whispers in to my ear.

“You have been protecting me, and you will be protecting me by letting me go,” I reply, hearing the sob at the edge of my own voice.  I squeeze her even closer for a moment, knowing that this could very possibly be the last time I ever see her alive.  I don’t ever want to let her go, but I know that I must, that the Ministry wizards could be on us at any second.  I pull back, gripping her hands in mine as I notice the tears pouring down her face.  She lets out a small sob.

“I was never here,” I remind her.  “Try not to look upset when they come because I was never here.  You haven’t seen me in months, you haven’t heard from me since I disappeared.”  I need to protect her like she’s protecting me.  Patricia nods, her lips shaking as she presses them together tightly to contain her emotion.  “Tell your mum and Dad thanks from me, ok?”  Time is slipping away and I know that I have to go, now.  I pull my hands away and pick up the bag with my tent and food inside. 

“I love you Trish.  You’re my best friend and I love you.”  My voice is shaking uncontrollably as I choke out these words, and then I turn on the spot, my mind focussed on the first safe place I think of, and the attic room disappears around me in a blur.

By the time the squeezing sensation leaves me and the dark beach appears, the first tears are rolling down my cheeks.  Only hours ago I was eating scones and playing hangman, and now I’m shivering on a deserted patch of the coast, only about twenty miles from my parent’s house in Swansea.  Despite the sadness and fear coursing through me, I’ve been on the run long enough for my survival instincts to take over. 

I scan the beach for threats, and detecting none, I look for a safe place to set up camp.  There is a large formation of rocks about a hundred feet away and I make my way towards them, quickly finding a small half-cave shape between two of the larger stones that is protected from the wind and view.  I cast a disillusionment charm around the area and mutter out a few other protective enchantments that I have picked up along the way.  I then use my wand to pitch the tent and climb inside, lighting a magical flame in a glass canister before wrapping myself up in a blanket and letting the tears fall.

That night, I cry myself to sleep, the sound of the ocean roaring in my ears.

I open my eyes and realise that Heather is staring at me, looking a little worried.  I can’t help but wonder how long I’ve been sitting there with my eyes closed. 

“There was a raid,” I say, surprised that my voice is, in fact, clear and measured and not laced with sobs.  “We got a tip off that they were coming to inspect the house so I got away safely.  Her family was fine, they convinced the Death Eaters that I hadn’t been in contact, but I never went back there.  It just wasn’t safe.”

Heather nods her head and looks for a moment as though she is going to ask for more information, but then thinks better of it.  I think we’re both very aware that I have said all that I can on that subject for one day.

Saturday, I decide to take a break from grading the sixth year’s essays on Gamp’s Laws of Elemental Transfiguration and visit the pet shop in Hogsmeade.  Last year a new pet shop had been opened in the village, and my seventh year’s recent work on Animagi has reminded me of Heather’s suggestion to get a pet.  The day is surprisingly warm and I’m glad I’ve pulled on a pair of wellington boots as I dodge puddles of melted snow along the path. 

It’s a Hogsmeade weekend for the students, so the village is buzzing with activity, but most of it is centred around the golden trio of Honeyduke’s, The Three Broomsticks and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.  A few students wave to me and I smile back, remembering why I usually prefer the quiet of the castle when the students are allowed out for the day.  However, I’ve come this far so I avoid eye contact as much as I can and make my way down the side lane, past Madam Puddifoot’s to the small pet shop.  The wooden sign swinging above the door reads Curious Creatures and in the window there’s a large cage of fuzzy yellow Puffskeins.

I step inside the brightly lit shop, its walls lined with cages and baskets housing cats, owls, several large toads, two rabbits and some sleek grey rats. Various shelves hold a range of apparatus for magical animal care: leashes and collars, toys, cages and tanks, baskets with soft pillows, bottles of anti-chizpurfle potions and other magical tonics.  In the centre of the room is a large pen of what look like Jack Russell Terrier puppies, except they have forked tails.  There are about twelve of them, bounding about the place, fighting and jumping on each other.  I crouch down in front of the pen to watch them, intrigued by how cute they are.  I carefully reach my arm over and several of the puppies scurry towards me, jostling for a pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears.  Their fur is soft and I giggle as a wet nose is pressed against my palm.

“Crups,” I look up at a middle-aged wizard in turquoise coloured robes.  “They’re a magical breed of dog, fiercely loyal to magical folk.”  I straighten up again and face the man.

“How big do they get?” I ask.

“About three times the size they are now,” he replies, nodding towards the puppies.  “So not too big.  They can be kept as indoor or outdoor pets.  You do need to obtain a special license from the Ministry of Magic though, if you are going to keep one as a pet.”

“Ok,” I nod.  “And how much do they cost?”

“Twenty Galleons, and that covers the removal of the tail,” He explains.  “Don’t worry, it’s a painless severing charm,” he adds before I can protest.  “Ministry requirement, in case a muggle sees them.”  He looks down at the puppies and I realise how difficult it would be to explain a forked tail to my muggle relatives.

“Thank you Mr…?”

“Wilson,” the man smiles at me.  “Peter Wilson.”

“Thank you Mr. Wilson.  You’ve given me a lot to think about.” I return his smile.  Peter nods and moves on to an elderly witch who is looking confusedly at two bottles of rat tonic.  I reach down and give the puppies one last pat before leaving the pet shop.  The crups were certainly cute, and if they didn’t grow too big then I could probably manage one.  But I need to think some more about the decision and get permission from McGonagall to keep an animal in the castle.

As I make my way back to the high street, a ray of sunshine breaks through a cloud above, warming my shoulders.  It’s far too nice a day to go back to the cold of the castle, but the Three Broomsticks will be crowded with my students and I never had been terribly fond of the Hog’s Head.  I glance down the street and notice the wooden sign in front of Scrivenshaft’s, swinging slightly on its wrought iron bracket and I know what to do with the rest of the afternoon.

There are a few students in the stationery store when I step inside, the little golden bell above the door tinkling gently.  Michelle looks up from where she’s serving a sixth year Ravenclaw and smiles at me.  I wave and busy myself looking at the range of coloured inks while I wait for her to finish. 

“Em, hi!” She says after the Ravenclaw leaves, moving around the counter towards me.  “This is a nice surprise.”

“I was in the village so I thought I’d stop by,” I reply.

“I could use a break, do you want some tea?” Michelle asks.

“Are you sure?  I don’t want to keep you from work,” I say, looking around at the customers.  Michelle lets out a small laugh.

“Please Em, I own the place,” she says.  “Well half of it anyway, come on.”  She indicates that I should follow her and moves towards a doorway at the back of the shop.  She stops at the counter where a perky looking, blonde witch in her mid-thirties has taken over serving customers.  “Jenny, you’ll be right while I have a tea break, won’t you?”

“Of course Mrs. Scrivenshaft.  I’ll get on to unpacking those eagle feather quills once I’ve served these customers,” Jenny replies with a broad smile.

“Mrs. Scrivenshaft?” I ask, hearing the amusement in my voice as Michelle leads me through the storage room into a small staff parlour. 

“I know, it’s weird right?” Michelle admits as she pours water from her wand into a large silver tea kettle.  “But Anthony says it’s important that I’m respected by the staff and our suppliers.”  She drops her voice to a whisper, “though it does feel strange, especially when it’s someone like Jenny whose so much older than me!  Tea?”

“Please,” I nod, taking a seat at the small wooden table.  “I really enjoyed your cooking the other night, by the way,” I add.  “That cress soup was amazing!”

“That is a nice recipe,” Michelle nods, tapping the kettle with her wand; it immediately begins to whistle and she pours the boiling water into the tea pot.  “Anthony wanted to make split pea soup but that’s really more the sort of thing you’d order in a pub, don’t you think?”

“Definitely,” I agree as Michelle levitates the tea pot, two cups and a biscuit jar to the table.

“And the company was enjoyable too?” Michelle gives me a knowing smile as she pours tea into both cups.

“Of course,” I speak slowly, wondering where she’s going with this.  The suspicious look on her face is unnerving.

“I hear you had a lovely walk home,” She continues, pushing one of the cups across the table to me.

“It was a nice evening out,” I say, refusing to play along.

“Hmm, yes.  Very nice,” Michelle gives me that knowing smile again and I stare down at my tea as if the sugar currently dissolving in the hot beverage is the most fascinating thing in the world.  “Oh come on Em, you have to tell me what happened!  Tim won’t tell me anything,” Michelle pouts at me over the thick purple rims of her glasses.

“There’s nothing to tell,” I shrug.  “He walked me home, we said goodnight, end of story.”  And he kissed me and I can’t stop thinking about it.  I add the last sentence in my mind, hoping Michelle doesn’t notice that I’m hiding something.

“He fancies you, you know,” Michelle says.  “I can tell.”

This time I know she notices my blush because the smile on her face widens.

“Is that so?” I try to sound blasé, but it comes out as a bit of a squeak.

“He was flirting with you all night.  Don’t tell me you didn’t notice.”
“He was being nice,” I roll my eyes.  “And we all had a lot to drink that night.”

“He walked you home!  Come on Em, you can’t deny it,” Michelle suddenly looks like the schoolgirl I used to know as she leans across the table towards me, her face flushed with excitement as she giggles about a boy fancying me.

“Your brother has very good manners,” I reply. 

“You’re as bad as he is!” Michelle throws her hands up in mock frustration.  “Oh but you two would be so perfect together.  And if you married him, then we’d be sisters!”

“Married!” I can’t stop myself laughing.  “Michelle, he walked me home.  It’s hardly a proposal.”

“Still, a girl can dream,” Michelle sighs dreamily.  “You would look perfect as a spring bride, flowers in your hair like a forest sprite…”

“You’re crazy,” I giggle.  “Certifiably bonkers.” 

Michelle laughs too, and I can’t help but wonder what she would say if she knew that her brother had kissed me; kissed me over a week ago and then dropped off the face of the planet.  If Michelle was right and Tim did fancy me, then why hadn’t he owled, or sent me flowers, or asked me out, or anything? 

“Can I be a bridesmaid?” Michelle jokes and I laugh again.  Well at least if men were confusing, friends were still what I had always remembered them to be.

“Absolutely,” I say with mock seriousness.  “I think peach taffeta would look lovely on you.”