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“You’re late, Ron. Where have you been?” Nicki asked.

She was tearing pieces of paper into strips and adding them to the piles that already lay on the table, and each pile was separated according to color.

“Blimey, woman, you’re starting to sound like Hermione,” Russell answered.

Nicki clapped her hands excitedly. “I am?”

“If you keep nagging about being late, then yes.”

Russell eyed the piles of paper laid out on the table, wondering what Nicki was going to do with such rubbish.

“No one’s ever compared me to a character before… Ooh, this is fantastic! So, Ron, where were you, anyway?” she rambled, while making her strips of paper even narrower by tearing them in half.

“Harry and Hermione came by to visit,” he said proudly.

Nicki’s eyes widened two-fold and she gripped the edge of the table with both hands. Astonished, she asked, “They did!?”

“Yeah, just to see me,” he bragged. “But they’re gone now.”

“The real Harry Potter was here… My, my, my—how extraordinary! Did you happen to ask him if he knew anything about the Death Eaters in the basement? I know he’s got more contact with the Order than the lot of us, so I reckon he’s happened upon a bit of information, perhaps? You know, they’ve been here a lot longer than I have. Nobody ever talks about them, either. It’s like they don’t even exist…” Nicki rambled.

The entire time she talked, the strips of paper became smaller and smaller. Russell thought she just wasn’t paying attention to what she was supposed to be doing, because she’d never be able to use the paper now.

“Well, no, not really. He actually told me I should stay out of the basement. Said it might be dangerous.”

Nicki tilted her head to the side as she said, “Hmm, that’s quite out of character for Harry; he usually loves dangerous stuff like that—especially with his hero-complex. I doubt the moderators would allow such OOC-ness…”

Nicki laughed heartily at her joke, but Russell failed to see what was so funny.

“Look! Finished!” she exclaimed, while marveling at her bits of paper.

Russell also failed to see the purpose for the confetti-sized bits, as it looked to him like trash. Then, in one sweeping motion, Nicki pushed each pile of shredded paper off the edge of the desk and into the bin she had positioned underneath.

Well, that was pointless… Russell thought.

Nicki peered down into the bin to admire the array of colors all mixed around like a kaleidoscope. She beckoned Russell to take a look with her. At first, he didn’t see what she found so interesting, but the more he looked, the more the liked the way the colors meshed.

“Err, cool, I guess.”

Suddenly, Nicki shouted in his ear, “Christina! I’m finished! Come look!”

The dark-haired manager made her way around the room towards the two residents.

Nicki pointed into the bin and repeated, “Look! I’m finished. It’s pretty.”

“Isn’t she the manager?” Russell asked.

“Ooh, lovely art work, Nicki!” Christina beamed. She gave Nicki a yellow smiley sticker; Nicki took great pride in placing it on her shirt for everyone to see.

“Yeah, but she’s our Arts and Crafts teacher, too. She gives stickers.”

“And where is your artwork, Ron?” Christina asked, noticing that there was nothing on the table in front of him.

“Oh, I haven’t… I’m not much of an artist,” he answered.

“You don’t have to be an artist to make art, Ron. Just like you don’t have to be an author to write, you don’t have to be a musician to make music, and you don’t have to be a dancer to dance,” Christina smiled.

However, Christina’s attempt to encourage Russell only made him more confused. Her entire spiel made no sense whatsoever. By definition, anyone who did art was an artist, just like anyone who wrote was an author, just like anyone who made music was a musician, and just like anyone who danced was a dancer. Surely she must have known this.

What Russell had meant by “not being much of an artist” was not that he couldn’t make art, but that he couldn’t make art very well. Christina obviously missed his meaning and interpreted it as something…Well, he didn’t know exactly what to call it other than mad. Russell had noticed that the people at Deerfield Home did seem a bit peculiar, and Christina was proving to be no exception.

“So, what kind of art do we do?” Russell asked, not having the slightest idea where to begin.

“Well, you see how Nicki did her collage of colors in the trash bin—that was very artistic. Leah over there is tracing the lines on her hand with a blue marker… Clarence is pasting the pages of some of his favorite books to his spot on the table… Alison is making small figurine people out of modeling clay… The possibilities are endless. Remember, art is about creativity; do what you feel.” Christina stressed the last word with a particularly whimsical air.

Russell looked around the room at all the weird things his fellow residents were doing. How could all of this be considered art? He decided not to ask, as the answer would probably just confuse him more.

“Err, ok. I’m sure I’ll find something to do.”

“Perfect. Well, I’m going to go help William with his self-portrait, if—“

“Wait, Christina! Can I go to the library, since I’ve already finished my art?” Nicki asked, before Christina had a chance to walk off.

“We’ll have library time later, Nicki. You know that.”

“But I can’t wait two whole days!”

“Nicki, you need to calm down. One, two, three…. Breathe…”

Russell watched the exchange in bewilderment. Nicki really didn’t seem all that hyper, but Christina still pretended she needed to do some sort of calming exercise.

“Better?” Christina asked.

“But—“

“Now, you don’t want me to call Nurse Barrington, do you?”

Nicki immediately swallowed her words. It seemed that a trip to the library, no matter how satisfying, was never worth a confrontation with Barrington. Christina nodded her head knowingly and walked away in the direction of a boy Russell presumed to be William.

“What was that all about?” Russell asked.

“She knows Barrington has it in for me. I suppose that’s how they keep me ‘in line.’ You know—that’s a dirty, rotten trick, that is. Maybe she’s not on our side, after all. She probably knows all about magic. I bet she’s even ganged up with Barrington. Oooh, that evil wench…”

“She’s very nice, though. A little weird lately, but nice.”

“Lots of people are nice, Ron, but it doesn’t mean they’re good. People are fake. You can think you know someone, but really have no idea who they are. That’s the mystery of human nature. You only know what they let you know—what they tell you and show you. Everything you know could be wrong.”

Now it was official: everyone Russell knew at Deerfield Home were complete nutters. Even the one witch he’d met seemed to be a bit off her rocker. There was no way Russell could misjudge people as much as Nicki had said it was possible to misjudge.

She was exaggerating, he reasoned, and most likely for her sheer enjoyment. She did like to talk, so maybe it was the sound of her own voice that kept her yakking and expanding her wild stories and philosophical rants.

“Yeah, whatever,” Russell replied. “This art rubbish is a waste of time. Let’s go place chess.”

“How very in-character of you, Ron. But I don’t know how to play chess,” Nicki answered.

“I can teach you. It’s really easy.”

“That’s all right. I’ve got a better idea…” A mischievous glimmer in her eyes was extremely reminiscent of someone he knew—two people, actually. Yes, he’d seen that same light in Fred and George’s eyes countless times before.

Fred and George? Russell questioned, surprised that he had thought of them so randomly. It was true that, as of late, Russell had been entirely preoccupied with life at Deerfield, Harry and Hermione, and his “new family.” But whatever had become of his twin brothers? Yes, he knew what he’d been told about why he had been separated from his family, but why hadn’t he heard from any them? And it wasn’t just his troublemaker brothers—what about his other brothers? His sister? His parents? Surely they would have at least written by now…

Russell’s thoughts were interrupted when Nicki lightly flicked him on the forehead.

“Hey! I asked you a question!”

Rubbing the smarting spot on his head, he answered. “What was that for, Nicki?”

“Got your attention, didn’t I?”

“You could have gone about it a bit differently, though,” he countered, still rubbing his forehead to make her feel guilty about “hurting” him.

“Oh, no. There was no other way. But we’re wasting time arguing over nothing,” she said. “I asked you if you had your—“ Nicki stopped abruptly and lowered her head. In a much quieter voice she continued, “If you had your wand?”

“Of course. Never without it,” Russell replied, while starting to remove the scraggly stick from his pocket.

“NO!” Nicky shouted. “Put that back!”

He immediately fumbled his wand back into his pocket.

“What are you thinking, Ron? Don’t EVER show anyone your wand! Do you want them to know?”

“Err, no…”

“Typical boy. Just never thinking.”

Russell had started to express his offense, but Nicki was clearly uninterested as she had turned away from him and was now beckoning Christina’s attention.

“Is it all right if Ron and I go to the Learning room early today? I want to show him some stuff,” Nicki said. She wasn’t altogether lying, but she wasn’t telling the whole truth, either.

“Of course you can. Just promise me you’ll stay there, and the rest of your class will meet you there when it’s time for the Learning class to start.”

Without answering, Nicki stood up from her chair and dragged Russell along behind her by way of his shirtsleeve. She released him once they had gotten into the hallway, as her tiptoeing seemed to also require the use of sweeping hand motions. Russell followed her example and walked quietly along behind her, but stopped when they passed the room with a “Learning” sign over it.

“Isn’t that where we’re going?” Russell asked.

“Oh, no, Ron. We changed our minds,” Nicki said, as if this fact should have been obvious.

What? he thought. He didn’t remember changing his mind to not go to the Learning room. Then again, he hadn’t remembered making up his mind to go there in the first place, either. But rather than question her now, Russell simply decided to trust whatever she was up to, even if his gut feeling told him it would probably break a number of rules.

Russell saw the library at the end of the hall, and instantly knew where she was going. She had asked Christina to there earlier, so it made sense. He made his way to the small room lined with books, but was called back by Nicki, who remained standing a few feet behind him.

“No, this way, Ron.”

She had her shoulders square with the narrow staircase that led down to the basement.

“Are you ready?” she asked.

“But Nicki, we can’t go down there. It’s off-limits.” Russell said fearfully.

“Just because we shouldn’t do something doesn’t mean we can’t.”

Russell sighed apprehensively as he realized that Nicki was more like Fred and George than he’d ever thought.

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