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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.

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