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Russell sat on his bed, bouncing up and down to test it again. He took his little sister’s doll in his hands and thought of how much it reminded him of Hermione. Despite Annie’s constant efforts at brushing the doll’s hair, it somehow always seemed to become tangled, thus making it big and bushy just like Hermione’s.

He looked up from the doll’s plastered smile and out the open door to his room when an unhappy looking nurse pushing a medicine trolley creaked slowly by. Russell had a terrible feeling he would be seeing her often in the future. Still watching blankly down the hallway, he saw the top of a girl’s head peak around the corner and tiptoe quickly to the other side of the hall, where she opened and entered a room.

He had no idea who she was, or even if he had just imagined her being there, until he kept watching and saw her again. This time the lanky girl in a flowing black cloak looked both ways down the hallway and skittered stealthily past a few more rooms, including his. Russell wondered who she was hiding from and was about to follow her to find out when she doubled back and poked her head into his room.

“Stay quiet,” the girl commanded “or she’ll hear us.”

“Err, might I ask who you are?”

“Shhh!”

Russell was intrigued to learn what this strange new girl was on about but obeyed her orders. He moved closer to where she was peering out the door and whispered, “Who are you hiding from?”

The girl stuck her hand in her pocket and replied, “That old bat, Barrington. She’s a Death Eater, I tell you, and that’s not medicine she’s pushing around in that trolley. She’s trying to poison us, she is. Slowly, she’ll kill us all off.”

Russell gasped as he listened to the girl talk of Death Eaters. She knew about the magical world! He had so much to ask her…

“Thank Merlin, you know! I can’t believe it, a witch! I’m Ron Weasley. It’s nice to meet you, err…”

“Nicki. The name’s Nicki. No last names, you never know who could turn spy,” she said, squinting her eyes and giving him a look over as if to detect whether or not she could trust him.

“Pleased to meet you, Nicki. Did you go to Hogwarts? I’m afraid I don’t remember seeing you there.”

“Shhh! She’s coming back! Nox!” Nicki whispered as she flipped off the light-switch in Russell’s room.

“Oooh, I’d like to hex that horrid traitor into next week!” she exclaimed vengefully while taking her wand from her pocket.

Nurse Barrington continued on down the hallway as Nicki and Russell crouched down behind his door.

“Are—“ Russell began before Nicki jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow.

“Quiet. She could still be lurking.”

He tried again, more softly this time, “Are there anymore Death Eaters at Deerfield?”

She shifted around on her knees and stared as hard as she could at him, trying to make out where his eyes were in the dark.

“Not any that can get loose, but you can never be too careful. Barrington watches all the time, constantly looming and threatening our existence, though it is the higher-up she listens to. Takes orders to keep us in line, ‘medicates’ us to lose our thoughts, our memories, forget who we are and where we come from. She sedates us, controls us. Woman’s a genius really, liquefying the Imperious Curse as she does,” Nicki explained. “If she ever offers you a clear orange liquid, don’t take it. You’ll never know what hit you.”

“Ok, I’ll remember that,” Russell said, making a mental note. “And by higher-up, you don’t mean Christina, do you?”

“Oh, no. I highly doubt she’s with them, though anything is possible. Plus, she’d be one on our side. Too smart, you know, and Muggleborn. She’s so Muggleborn, in fact, that she pretends to not even know the wizarding world exists. No, the higher-up Barrington answers to is none other than You-Know-Who, himself.”

“Voldemort,” Russell said.

“You dare speak the Dark Lord’s name? You’re with him, aren’t you!?” Nicki accused as she turned her wand on him, nearly poking him in the eye.

“What? NO! I’m not, really! It’s just, my friend, Harry Potter, always calls him by name, and—“

“You know Harry Potter!?” Nicki clutched Russell’s shoulders and dug her sharp nails into him out of sheer excitement.

“Err, yeah, he’s my school chum, though I haven’t seen him in quite a while. Must be on a mission for Dumbledore or something. I should be with him, but these people in funny uniforms keep stopping me from going back to Hogwarts or letting me do anything magic-related. Even had to sneak my wand in.”

“Oh my! You mean you’re THE Ron Weasley?? The famous side-kick…or, I mean…you know, the famous boy who’s done so much to stop the advance of You-Know-Who’s assailment!”

“The same,” Russell answered, feeling himself blush. He knew he’d never get away from being in Harry’s shadow, but at least he was given some credit.

“Well, I’ve got to go. Almost dinner time and Barrington will be by with my ‘medicine’ soon. See you around, Ron. Lumos!” Nicki said and flipped on the lights. She looked down the hallway for signs of the Death Eater nurse and scampered off on tiptoes down the hallway.

Russell went back to sit on his bed, his head swimming with everything that had gone on that day. This place is weird, he thought, but at least someone else here understands about magic.

A light knock rapped on the wooden door and big brown eyes peered through the tiny window hole.

“Ron, are you there?” came Christina’s soft, friendly voice.

She can’t be a Death Eater. There’s no way.

“Yes, I’m here.”

She walked in and asked, “So you’ve got all settled then? Ready for some dinner?”

Russell nodded his head feverishly. Boy was he ever ready to eat. He followed the tanned lady down the staircase near his room and emerged on the first floor in what he could only compare to the Great Hall back at Hogwarts. But really, the only thing that was comparable was the fact that other kids like himself sat around ten different tables with plates of food, because other than that, the room looked nothing like Hogwarts. It wasn’t bad, but it had a slightly homelier feel that the stately dining hall of Hogwarts. It was definitely smaller and smelled of sterilizing cleaner and potpourri.

Many of the residents didn’t bother to take a second look in Russell’s direction once they had seen him enter, and a few didn’t look up from their plates at all. Russell noted that two people who had taken interest sat at a table on the far side of the room. Nicki waved and pointed to an empty chair across from her at the table, and the blonde boy beside her stared blankly at him. Christina took her leave of Russell, telling him that she’d come back after dinner to show him around, and let him take a seat with Nicki and the blonde boy.

Russell greeted the two and sat down, watching as Nicki buttered a roll by dipping it into the butter dish. He titled his eyebrow at her but she gave him a rather contemptuous look as if to say, “You should know they don’t let us use any sharp utensils here…not even butter knives.” But, just as quickly as her annoyance struck, it faded as she saw the elated smile that adorned his face when a kitchen lady sat a plate, piled high with food, down in front of him. Russell began to tear into his roast chicken breast, letting his hunger get the best of him.

“Ron, this is Clarence,” she introduced, referring to the blonde boy at their table. Clarence nodded but didn’t say anything. He didn’t even smile.

“Err, hi, Clarence. Nice ter meet you,” Russell said, trying to hide the food in his mouth. After swallowing, he decided he should make polite conversation with the boy; after all, they would be living in the same building and he might as well attempt to make friends. “So, how long have you been here, Clarence?”

Clarence looked at Russell seriously, studied him without blinking—almost as if he was counting the freckles on Russell’s nose, and nodded again a few more times. Russell wondered if he’d said anything wrong, and made up his mind to ask Nicki about him later. All throughout dinner, Russell and Nicki talked while Clarence joined their conversation with intermittent nods. Nicki mostly just answered Russell’s questions about Deerfield and pointed out some of the other residents in the dining hall. Some looked like people he might like to get to know (like the curly-haired, constantly smiling Leah McQuain), and others looked like he might ought to stay away from (like Barnaby Steel, who wore a constantly sour expression). But, on the whole, the other residents did seem quite friendly, albeit a little strange.

The food was good, though it could have been better—nothing compared to his mother’s cooking—but dinner was a pleasant experience that he hoped would set the tone for the rest of his stay here at Deerfield Home. Christina came to get him when he was done eating, and Nicki and Clarence left the dining hall together. He suddenly remembered that he didn’t know how to find Nicki and hoped it wouldn’t be too hard to locate her. Maybe he’d see her tiptoeing around the hallway after his tour…

Christina led him all around the first floor: the dining hall he had already seen as well as the lobby, but in addition, several rooms lined one narrow hallway that he had never seen before. He could only compare them to classrooms, though there were no individual student desks; rather, half the rooms were filled with couches and comfy chairs all set up in a circle, and the others had large tables made to seat about twenty people. The rooms with the large tables, Christina explained, were the Arts and Crafts and Learning rooms, and the rooms that looked more inviting were the Group Therapy rooms.

At the end of the hallway, Russell found the place he’d most likely find his girlfriend if she’d ever come to live here: the library (or as Christina called it, the Exploration Room). The room was small, and had nowhere near the amount of books that Hogwarts contained, but to him it seemed all the better and much less intimidating. Maybe he’d actually start to read for fun…Oh, wouldn’t Hermione be proud?

Just across from the library, Russell noticed a staircase that only went down, presumably to a basement.

“What’s down there?” he questioned. “More classrooms?”

“No, Ron. The basement is confidential and off-limits to residents. You are never to go down there, no matter what anybody may tell you. Do you understand?”

Russell nodded but made a note about the basement. He was sure that whatever was down there was nothing he couldn’t handle, especially after all that he, Harry, and Hermione had faced during the war.

“Ok,” he agreed.

Their tour ended, and Christina escorted him back to his room on the third floor. He opened the door and commanded, “Lumos!” while flipping on the light switch as he had seen Nicki do earlier that day. Oh yeah…Where is Nicki?

“Right here,” came a voice at the door.

“Wicked! Are you a Legilimens?” Russell gaped.

“No, you were talking out loud. How was the tour?”

“It was fine. Those couches in the Group Therapy room look really nice.”

“Did she show you everything?” asked Nicki skeptically.

“Yeah,” he answered. “Well, everything except the basement, but we’re not allowed down there so it doesn’t really matter.”

“You know why, don’t you?”

“Why what?” Russell said, only mildly interested as he took the broom from his closet and examined its rough handle. Even his Cleensweep looked better than this old thing.

“Why we’re not allowed in the basement, of course,” she said knowingly.

Russell gave her a puzzled look.

“Because it’s off-limits?”

Nicki shook her head slowly and said, “Death Eaters.”



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