I had only gotten a few hours of sleep the first night in my new bed when my mother called. Groggily, almost cursing her for interrupting my dream of Hollywood actor Brad Pitt adopting a baby with me, I answered my cell, and immediately froze.

It was times like these when I hated my mother’s profession. Though her being a reporter for The Quibbler would still barely pay the bills - and she was earning way more than she did in the States, from where we had moved just this morning, I didn’t mind the microwave meals and hand-me-down clothes. It was the worrying that got to me - especially when she called in the middle of the night to tell me she was going to ‘cover’ a crime scene.

“Ember, there’s been a Dark Mark sighting over the Avery Abode - it’s near the suburbs. I have to go - this could be my big break. I’m not sure I’ll make it back in time to make breakfast, so make sure Tal gets something to eat. And don’t worry, I can take care of myself. I love you. Bye!”

She hung up before I could even get a word in (this has happened before - she knows how much I hate the risky part of her being a crime reporter). Of course, now I couldn’t sleep - and the babies with Brad Pitt dream would probably be replaced with nightmares about wars and Dark Marks, and my mother getting hurt..

I shook my head, literally. I was not going to think like this. I should busy myself. I thought of getting a head start on my schoolwork, and reading the textbooks, but decided against it - I didn’t want to be branded a freak as well as a transfer student from the minute I joined Sixth Year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I thought of organising my clothes, but I had just done that this afternoon - reorganising wouldn’t make sense because it would barely take fifteen minutes - I had such few clothes anyway.

I finally settled on decorating my mirror with pictures of my best friends from the States. There was a picture of Melanie and me, in which she looked adorably dorky with brown pigtails and colourful spectacles, and I just looked dorky (no adorable for me), holding up a story book I had written myself (we were both seven). In another (we were much older here), both of us had dressed up for our third best friends’ birthday party - she had obviously tried to go for the gothic-chic look, her brown hair cut in a bob, and her neck adorned with a choker, while I still looked like a dork, albeit a prettier one - I had put my mom’s red lipstick and worn a yellow sundress that she had stitched just for the occasion (I still had it, although it fit me a bit differently now). The last picture was of all three of us. Melanie and I sat with our arms around each other, while Delilah made funny faces from behind us. All of us were laughing. I would miss them terribly.

After decorating, I paused in front of the mirror, observing myself. At sixteen, I looked like a carbon copy of my mother Kate. While I share her plump, upturned lips and brown eyes, I hadn’t inherited her grace or skinny figure. I was svelte enough, yes, but I had bigger boobs and a butt a boy had once described as “perky”.

From my father (who I had never met - my mom doesn’t remember what his name was, even), I had inherited auburn coloured hair. I had let it grow long this summer; it almost reached my waist, and when I moved, it swished around, in all its silky auburn-ness.

I know that I might seem vain - but I’m not, really. I am not as graceful as my mother, and my baby sister Tallulah, only just eleven, already seems to be surpassing me in beauty. She has her father’s piercing green eyes (a man I remember, but only just - he left us when I was eight, and Tal three), and blonde hair, all tumbling locks and pretty curls. Add to this our mum’s grace and features, and you’ve got a child who looks like an angel.


The next morning (I spent the rest of the night cleaning the floor - of not just my room, but the entire house - no, I don’t have problems), I woke Tal up at 9, for a breakfast of bacon and eggs, that I had (very) painstakingly prepared. I was also hoping it would distract her from asking where our mum was.

“Where’s mummy?” she asked. She didn’t beat around the bush, that one.

“She’s working, but she’ll be back soon,” I told her, without batting an eyelid.

“How soon?” (Why are children so curious?)

“I don’t -“ but just then, the door to our tiny house flew open, and there was our mum, looking tired, even bruised (how did that happen?) but with her arms wide open. While Tal abandoned the food that I had so painstakingly cooked for her and ran into mum’s arms, I stood there, smiling at her, and feeling like I had just gotten an O in all my exams.

Later that afternoon, the three of us sat watching the muggle movie Clueless in the living room. We’d huddled up on the one tiny sofa, and covered ourselves with blankets. Cher had just been called a virgin (I felt the pain as well) when Tal’s head dropped on my shoulder, and I realised she had fallen asleep.

I figured it was a safe time to ask mum, “so, what did the Dark Mark mean?”

She looked surprised, but recovered quickly. “The Ministry is saying that it didn’t mean anything, but I think that’s just to allay our fears. When I went to the Avery’s, poor Bridgette was howling, and holding her son. He was fine though. They all were. But of course, the Dark Mark hasn’t been sighted for years now.. ”

“Hmm..” I looked at her, and she looked back at me, smiling reassuringly.

“Hogwarts is the safest place to be, darling. You don’t need to worry.”

“I need to worry about you,” I said.

“Hey, you know I’m a bomb with a wand!” she said, laughing, and I couldn’t help but join in. My mum rocks.


I didn’t think about the Dark Mark after that. I didn’t have reason to - mum’s reporting was mainly restricted to stolen heirlooms for a few days. The saturday before Tal and I were to board the Hogwarts Express, mum suggested we go buy our textbooks and Tal’s wand. Our school robes mum was procuring from an old friend of hers, whose daughters had graduated Hogwarts a few years ago, and whose uniforms she saved purely for sentimental value, which I found very sweet, and Tallulah very creepy.

Tal and I set off for Diagon Alley. We attracted many stares; she had decided she wanted to be Queen Tallulah (my little sister is random) and had donned an old bottle green dress of mums’; it was hilariously loose and long for her, but I figured that the longer she remained uncaring about what people thought of her, the better. She’d decided to make a crown out of flowers (“how can a queen roam around without her crown, Em? It would be..bhlaas-femy!”) and now looked quite funny.

To balance out the weirdness quotient of the Johnson sisters, I had decided to dress normally, in a green sweatshirt and denim shorts. My long hair was pulled up in a messy bun; there are days when I just can’t be bothered to deal with it.

It took a while for us to figure out how to get past the brick wall to Diagon Alley, but once there, we were enchanted. There were so many stores! Quills and robes, an apothecary right next to an expensive looking clothes boutique, an ice cream parlour I had to convince Tal we didn’t have time for - something Florence, I think, and even a huge joke shop - no, joke building!

I bought our textbooks from a second hand store. She needed a wand, so I took her to a charming, albeit creepy store called Ollivander’s, where, the very old shopkeeper told us, proudly, that the wand chose the wizard. After a few disastrous tries (she broke the chair he had been sitting on) we finally got lucky. Her wand was 11.5 inches, with bowtruckle hair.

Because we had time to kill, we decided to get ice cream at that Florence place - well, Tal did, pulling me along. I should have been careful; I should have paid attention to where she was leading me; I should have made sure we took the left next to Madame Malkin’s.

But I didn’t. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a dark alley, with dirt strewn on the pathways. The shops here weren’t as brightly decorated - they seemed darker somehow. The few people that were there had their faces covered. I figured I’d approach a man standing in front of a shop named Borgin and Burkes for directions.

“Excuse me, sir?” I asked, regretting it as soon as my lips spoke the words. For the man suddenly said, in a snaky tone, “well, look who we have here, Nott..” Another man, sterner, older and crueller looking, exited the store. I saw him look at my face and lick his lips. I clutched Tal’s hand, pushed her behind me, but my wand was in my pocket. I couldn’t extract it without the men noticing; the shopping bags were in my hand. I could feel Tal shiver.

“Could this be..,” said the man called Nott. “And she’s starting term at Hogwarts, it seems..” said the first man, making to touch the bags in my hand. He had bent forward, and I seized my chance. Grabbing Tal, and kicking his shin simultaneously, I ran, pushing Tal in front of me.

I was expecting a few curses from Nott at least, but that was before I noticed that the street had suddenly become more crowded - with less shady-looking crowd. Three boys, all extremely hot, had emerged from a store, looking shifty. One had beautiful olive skin, and a wild mop of unruly raven hair; another had blonde hair and a smirk, on a very attractive face, and the third, definitely the best looking boy I had ever seen, had a fit, lean, tall frame, a chiseled face, and very messy black hair.

I didn’t notice the third, the one with the messy hair, look at me as I ran away, as fast as I could, pulling Tal along.

We never told mum what had happened.


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