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Facing Tomorrow by Flavia
Chapter 3: Purple Pixies
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 :)
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